Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Jayathilake, C.
Muselmann: Incarceration and the mobilised body in Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona’s The Island
(2018) African Studies, 77 (4), pp. 607-625.

DOI: 10.1080/00020184.2018.1497289

This article interrogates the status of incarceration, and prisoners’ rights or the lack thereof, as represented in South African dramatist Athol Fugard’s Anglophone play-text, The Island (1993)–co-authored by John Kani and Winston Ntshona, and premiered in 1973–with a view to shedding light on incarceration and biopolitical violence. The play provides significant theatrical testimonies of political prisoners and incarceration by demonstrating corporeal and psychological dehumanisation processes in prisons during the apartheid era in South Africa. Despite the scholarly attention on the play, it is scarcely read through Foucault’s and Agamben’s biopolitical lenses, coupled with Nelson Mandela’s prison testimonies, and this is where this reading departs from the existing scholarship. This article argues that South African black prisoners were in a prolonged period of oppression and offensive restrictions, and in a sphere outside the normal law, thus in a status of Muselmann. How the incarcerated body is mobilised as the focal point of struggle towards apartheid laws, and how it is linked to decolonisation is also examined. Prisoners attempt to regain their freedom and agency irrespective of their living circumstances–a figurative resistance to biopolitical violence. The article offers a contribution to the critical vocabulary of the play whilst interrogating the praxis of modern biopolitics. © 2018, © 2018 Taylor & Francis Group Ltd on behalf of the University of Witwatersrand.

Author Keywords
Agamben; apartheid; bare life; drama; Foucault; Mandela; modern biopolitics; post-colonial theatre; South Africa; state of exception

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