A feminist examination of the life of the Afrikaans poet Ingrid Jonker is preceded by a look at the conventional literary biography with its unique dual nature: scientific enquiry combined with the art of storytelling, which is aptly called “fiction under oath” (Gutiérrez 1992: 49). Subsequently, an overview of the theoretical basis of feminist ideology and literary approaches is presented with the emphasis on the psychoanalytical point of departure, which views women’s marginalized position as social instead of biological in origin, and therefore as changeable. Biography owes its important place in contemporary women’s writing to the fact that it documents the history and experience of women in the patriarchal system. Feminist biographers, influenced by Postmodernism, force the genre from its traditionally linear form and narrow focus on a famous, usually male subject. The result is a more fluid, cyclical portrayal of (usually) influential women, shedding more light on the social, domestic and personal spheres. Because this kind of biography does not claim to be authoritative, the biographer’s personal contribution and her methods are made explicit. The intuitive and experimental nature of feminist biography makes it suitable for an intertextual and even interdisciplinary approach. Jonker’s life is analysed against the background of a folk tale, The Red Shoes, which is an allegory for the sacrifice of the instinctive creative self or archetypal “wildish woman”. Ancient myths, which narratives of almost every culture share, are seen as responsible for the tenacious survival of the patriarchy through time, social change, and across cultural boundaries. For this reason, feminists see the creation of new myths or infusing old myths with new meaning as the key to women’s emancipation. Against this background, the following subtexts also act as shaping elements in the Ingrid Jonker biography: · The concept of a person’s life “script” unfolding according to repetitive messages laid down in the unconscious by authority figures; · The “conspiracy” between a biographee and her biographers in forming her public image; and · Six archetypes in the Jungian idiom that characterise a person’s journey to spiritual maturity, Examined with these subtexts in mind, Ingrid Jonker’s life story unfolds as follows: A poet in conflict with her time and “abandoned” by her parents, is displaced in pre-adolescence from a unstructured rural milieu where her instinctive creativity was allowed to develop freely, to a highly structured, limiting and artificial urban environment. She seems prophetically destined for a tragic end. Her obsession with death is fed by an inability to have meaningful relationships and to adjust to society’s double standards. Ever the victim of imagined or real betrayal, she joins the ranks of other female artists who follow the same destructive archetypal pattern. She is spurred on not only by her own feral recklessness, but also by other artists who are inspired by her flirtation with death. Upcoming generations are mesmerised by her “moth around a flame” life and, like children, ask time and again for the disastrous though darkly romantic story with its mythical proportions, which turned Jonker into an icon. In doing so, they manage their own collectively unconscious fear of the annihilation of death. The Red Shoes links with Kristeva’s distinction between semiotic and symbolic language. The former is non-rational, intuitive and signifies the maternal whereas the latter represents language that is masculine, rational, linear and therefore patriarchal and logocentric.
Dissertation (MA (Afrikaans))--University of Pretoria, 2005.