external and internal dividedness

‘Identity’ bores me, I am simply not interested in defending identity as a kind of — how shall I put it … essential, as a kind of necessary thing…. (Said 2002 3). That, plucked from the middle of a 1997 interview, is the voice of Edward Said, taking up the idea he expressed in Culture and Imperialism that instead of insisting too strongly on our ethnic or cultural (or whatever) identities we should be more concerned with ‘knowing about others’ (Said 1993 362). In a similarly sceptical vein, the following discussion of the issue of personal identity in Bessie Head’s writing aims to test the validity of the concept and the explanatory force of alternative concepts. To this purpose I wish to inquire into two rather mundane ideas that, taken in conjunction, may point to a better understanding of this major twentieth-century African writer whose work and person are as puzzling as they are fascinating.



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