Disaffection and You-Narration in Tsitsi Dangarembga's Tambudzai Trilogy (1988-2018)

This essay explores the representation of unfeeling, or disaffection, in narrative form through the writer Tsitsi Dangarembga’s critically acclaimed ‘Tambudzai trilogy.’ The narrative form I focus on is the shift in grammatical person of nar­ration from the first person I to the second person you. The first instalment, Nerv­ous Conditions (1988), opens with the defiant voice of its first-person narrator and protagonist, Tambudzai, but soonbegins to oscillate between first and second person for self-reference. By This Mournable Body (2018), Tambu’s loss of selfhood is reflected in the narrator’s obstinate refusal to emerge as an ‘I’ at the level of discourse. I argue that Dangarembga inscribes Tambu’s institutional racial other­ing in you-narration and that this self-estrangement parallels the mode of unfeeling that Xine Yao (2021) calls “unsympathetic Blackness.” The trilogy, in line with recent work by contemporary scholars turning away from feeling towards nega­tive feeling or the negation of feeling, unpicks the seams of a Western affective politics of sympathetic recognition.This essay explores the representation of unfeeling, or disaffection, in narrative form through the writer Tsitsi Dangarembga’s critically acclaimed ‘Tambudzai trilogy.’ The narrative form I focus on is the shift in grammatical person of nar­ration from the first person I to the second person you. The first instalment, Nerv­ous Conditions (1988), opens with the defiant voice of its first-person narrator and protagonist, Tambudzai, but soonbegins to oscillate between first and second person for self-reference. By This Mournable Body (2018), Tambu’s loss of selfhood is reflected in the narrator’s obstinate refusal to emerge as an ‘I’ at the level of discourse. I argue that Dangarembga inscribes Tambu’s institutional racial other­ing in you-narration and that this self-estrangement parallels the mode of unfeeling that Xine Yao (2021) calls “unsympathetic Blackness.” The trilogy, in line with recent work by contemporary scholars turning away from feeling towards nega­tive feeling or the negation of feeling, unpicks the seams of a Western affective politics of sympathetic recognition.

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