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Title:Unusable pasts: life-writing, literary nonfiction, and the case of Demetrios Tsafendas
Author:Twidle, Hedley
Periodical:Research in African Literatures (ISSN 0034-5210)
Geographic term:South Africa
Subjects:mental health
anti-apartheid resistance
About person:Demetrios Tsafendas
External link:http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/research_in_african_literatures/v046/46.3.twidle.pdf
Abstract:On September 6, 1966, a parliamentary messenger named Demitrios Tsafendas stabbed Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd to death in full view of South Africa's all-white House of Assembly. The apartheid judiciary soon declared Tsafendas insane and without a political motive: 'a meaningless creature' who had acted on instructions from a tapeworm inside him. Often written off as a 'freakish footnote' within the liberation story, his unsettled and complex life has nonetheless compelled a wide range of literary and artistic treatments: from memoir and microhistory to avant-garde fiction and filmic montage. Concentrating on Henk Van Woerden's (auto) biography 'A Mouthful of Glass' (1998, trans. 2000) and Penny Siopis's short film 'Obscure White Messenger' (2010), the author explores what the valence is of avowedly speculative or formally experimental encounters with the archive and to trace how such a 'useless life' (in the words of a presiding judge) might disclose the uncanny remains of South African history. Bibliogr., notes, ref., sum. [Journal abstract]