'Against extremity': Eben Venter's Horrelpoot (2006) and the quest for tolerance
Van Schalkwyk, Phillippus Lodewikus
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Eben Venter's (2006) novel Horrelpoot (Clubfoot) responds to the various forms of degeneration in present-day South Africa, taking it to the extreme and, indeed, right to the deepest heart of fear. Horrelpoot is, ultimately, a full-on confrontation with contemporary, largely unspoken/unacknowledged fear, rooted in the age-old dread of the ancestors, and an attempt at getting it out of the system. My reading focuses on this novel's mapping of the interplay of fear, (in)tolerance, and extremity/extremism. The survey begins with a clarification of the two shades of meaning of 'tolerance'. This is followed by a semantic contrasting of 'extremism' and 'extremity', after which extremity within present-day South Africa is considered. This is done with the aid of Lotman's theory of the 'semiosphere', and includes some observations on the role that peripheral texts, such as in Horrelpoot, have to play in relation to the post-1994 hegemonic drive toward conformity in South Africa. Subsequently, Horrelpoot's exploration of the extreme--both in South African and more general, psychological terms--is investigated. Next, the focus is shifted to Horrelpoot's implicit take on the Adornian notions of 'dissonance' and 'authenticity'. I argue that Horrelpoot echoes Adorno's thinking with regard to transcending society's standardisation and conditioning. Horrelpoot could be read as an expression of the dialectical openness to experience/the moment in history that Adorno advocated, and to this purpose it revisits important constitutive texts, most notably Joseph Conrad's Heart of darkness (1902). I conclude with some remarks on Socratic dialogue, pluralism and self(-acceptance) within the context of the (South African) quest for tolerance and reciprocity.
- Faculty of Humanities