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Rewriting Modernity
Studies in Black South African Literary History

By David Attwell

A 2007 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title

“David Attwell gives a strikingly fresh and illuminating reading of a century of black South African writing. Lively, probing, theoretically sure-footed, generous in spirit, this book represents the very best of the new wave of South African scholarship and criticism.”

J. M. Coetzee

“The scholarship here is of the highest order, and it is presented in a readable and often gripping style, with factual detail and literary analysis at all times serving the purpose of the larger argument.... This is a richly detailed, theoretically sophisticated, elegantly written, and politically astute study.”

Derek Attridge, Research in African Literatures

“This is a richly detailed, theoretically sophisticated, elegantly written, and politically astute study that deserves a place on the shelves of anyone interested in the culture of South Africa, past or present.”

Derek Attridge, author of The Singularity of Literature

“For those of us who often teach aspects of South African literature, this is the book we have been waiting for.”

Zakes Mda, author of The Whale Caller

Rewriting Modernity: Studies in Black South African Literary History connects the black literary archive in South Africa—from the nineteenth-century writing of Tiyo Soga to Zakes Mda in the twenty-first century—to international postcolonial studies via the theory of transculturation, a position adapted from the Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz.

David Attwell provides a welcome complication of the linear black literary history—literature as a reflection of the process of political emancipation—that is so often presented. He focuses on cultural transactions in a series of key moments and argues that black writers in South Africa have used print culture to map themselves onto modernity as contemporary subjects, to negotiate, counteract, reinvent, and recast their positioning within colonialism, apartheid, and the context of democracy.

David Attwell is Chair of Modern Literature (post colonial studies) in the Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York, United Kingdom. His previous work includes Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews and J. M. Coetzee: South Africa and the Politics of Writing.   More info →


Ch. 1: The transculturation of enlightenment — The Journal of Tiyo Soga


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Retail price: $34.95, S.
Release date: July 2006
248 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights: World (exclusive in Africa, Continental Europe, and North America)

Retail price: $80.00, S.
Release date: July 2006
246 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights: World (exclusive in Africa, Continental Europe, and North America)

Release date: December 2024
248 pages
Rights: World (exclusive in Africa, Continental Europe, and North America)

Additional Praise for Rewriting Modernity

“It is a timely choice and a searing story, and (Attwell) presents and articulates his fine insights into neglected works with a humility that is passionate, generous, profound, enlightening, and politically sensitive. Summing Up: Essential.”


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