The pregnant man: race, difference and subjectivity in Alan Paton’s Kalahari writing

14 Feb 2014

In South African imaginative writing and scholarly research, there is currently an extensive and wide-ranging interest in the ‘Bushman’, either as a tragic figure of colonial history, as a contested site of misrepresentation, or even as an exemplary model of environmental consciousness. Writing and research about ‘Bushmen’ has not only become pervasive in the academy, but also a site of controversy and theoretical contestation. It is in this context that this paper investigates the meaning and significance of ‘Bushmen’ for Alan Paton, one of South Africa’s most well-known writers. Paton’s writing is not usually associated with ‘Bushman’ studies, yet this article shows that the ‘Bushman’ became a highly charged and ambivalent figure in his imagination. Paton’s problematic ideas are contextualised more carefully by looking at the broader context of South African letters. The article initially analyses Paton’s representation of ‘Bushmen’ in his Lost City of the Kalahari travel narrative (1956, published in 2005. Pietermaritzburg: KZN Press), and also discusses unpublished archival photographs. A study of the figure of the ‘Bushman’ throughout the entire corpus of his writing, ranging from early journalism to late autobiography, allows us to trace the shift of his views, enabling us to reflect not only on Paton’s thinking about racial otherness, but also gauge the extent to which his encounter with the Kalahari Bushmen destabilised his sense of self, finally also preventing the publication of the travelogue