"May the unfixable broken bone/ … give us new bearings": Ethics, Affect and Irresolution in Ingrid de Kok's A Room Full of Questions

Susan Eileen Spearey


This article makes the case, by way of readings of Ingrid de Kok's "A room full of questions," a sequence of 12 poems that respond to South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation hearings, that it is particularly important in the wake of the critical industry generated by the TRC process to return to artistic engagements with the process. De Kok's poems strikingly resist three familiar tropes which inform much of the rhetoric surrounding the TRC and the liberal media's celebration of the rainbow nation, and which underpin even some of the most sophisticated critical engagements with the Commission's work: epistemological tropes of revelation and transparency, organicist tropes of healing and recovery, and economic tropes of account-settling. In refusing to concede to the logics of any of these tropes, the poems confront readers very directly with our own desires for, expectations of, and investments in projects indexed towards achieving understanding, healing, and reconciliation, our own assumptions about the role of language and narrative as vehicles of social transformation. Because the poems do not fulfill any of the expectations or grant any of the consolations offered by these tropes, and in fact stage breakdowns in the processes upon which they are predicated, readers are invited into the space of ethical encounter and encouraged to consider how other paths towards transformation might begin to be carved out.


South Africa; TRC; poetry; ethics; affect

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