Imagining the Global Village: Bessie Head’s Narratives of Migration and Boundaries
The critical book on Bessie Head’s literature is fairly conclusive: Head is a consummate writer of place. She is also a consummate writer of migration and breaking free from boundaries. These two claims are so pervasive in the criticism as to be practically axiomatic when talking about the South African transplant in Botswana. But conclusiveness does not equate to clarity, as these two claims lack a natural or easy coherence at some levels. Despite the seeming tension, these concepts of investment in place and movement beyond boundaries are sometimes comingled in a single argument, employing a logic along the lines that in order to belong to a place, one must deconstruct the boundaries of that place—boundaries that may operate in exclusive or repressive ways, but that may also have an important role in defining that place to begin with. Or the argument might be that Head delves into local village life in order to discover a wider African, or global, or human identity and belonging that transcends restrictive place-bound subjectivities. Curiously, these ostensibly competing themes of emplacement and transgression, local particularity and global humanism are rarely scrutinized, their negotiation in Head’s literature moreor less taken for granted. I do not intend to argue against these claims per se, but to interrogate the terms of her geographic maneuvering more clearly, in an effort to counteract the potential to obscure or undercut one side of the negotiation by uncritically defining or privileging the other. In particular, it is critical to consider how Head achieves her multiscalar understanding of locally emplaced and globally expansive Botswanan villages not by lauding migration and the erasure of borders as an end in their own right (something akin to Bertrand Westphal’s concept of transgressivity), but by redefining and reimagining bounded place itself in ways that acknowledge and enable open relationships between places and peoples.
KeywordsAfrican Continent Southern African Region Racial Division Foreign Background Rain Cloud
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