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In our current world, questions of the transnational, location, land, and identity confront us with a particular insistence. The Grammar of Identity is a lively and wide-ranging study of twentieth-century fiction that examines how writers across nearly a hundred years have confronted these issues. Circumventing the divisions of conventional categories, the book examines writers from both the colonial and postcolonial, the modern and postmodern eras, putting together writers who might not normally inhabit the same critical space: Joseph Conrad, Caryl Phillips, Salman Rushdie, Charlotte Bronte, Jean Rhys, Anne Michaels, W. G. Sebald, Nadine Gordimer, and J. M. Coetzee. In this guise, the book itself becomes a journey of discovery, exploring the transnational not so much as a literal crossing of boundaries but as a way of being and seeing. In fictional terms this also means that it concerns a set of related forms: ways of approaching time and space; constructions of the self by way of combination and constellation; versions of navigation that at once have to do with the foundations of language as well as our pathways through the world. From Conrad's waterways of the earth, to Sebald's endless horizons of connection and accountability, to Gordimer's and Coetzee's meditations on the key sites of village, Empire, and desert, the book recovers the centrality of fiction to our understanding of the world. At the heart of it all is the grammar of identity, how we assemble and undertake our versions of self at the core of our forms of being and seeing.
Stephen Clingman is Professor of English and Director of the Interdisciplinary Seminar in the Humanities and Fine Arts at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His first book was The Novels Of Nadine Gordimer: History From The Inside, and his edited collection of essays by Nadine Gordimer, The Essential Gesture: Writing, Politics And Places, published by Jonathan Cape and Knopf, has been translated into a number of languages. He is widely regarded as one of the leading critics of Gordimer's work, and has published numbers of articles on South African fiction, as well as on contemporary writers such as Caryl Phillips. Clingman has also ventured into non-fiction: his Bram Fischer: Afrikaner Revolutionary, a biography of the white Afrikaner who led Nelson Mandela's legal defence at the Rivonia Trial, won the 1999 Sunday Times Alan Paton Award, South Africa's premier prize for non-fiction.