Under apartheid, discussions of literary function and value in South African literature in English are refracted through an elaborate rhetoric that posits “urgency” as the necessary correlative and consequence of political commitment. My essay examines this “rhetoric of urgency”in the context of the overwhelmingly realist dominant of South African literary culture in English. I suggest that South African literary critics of both liberal and radical orientations have been unwitting partners in a commonly held instrumentalist concept of language. A clear regime of meaning may be discerned in literary studies in English which seeks to effect closure between the word and the world in order to safeguard the ethical claims of South African literary culture.

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