Intimate Spaces, Queer Bonds and the Persistence of Selfhood in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions and The Book of Not

This article reads Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions and The Book of Not through the critical perspectives of queer and postcolonial theories to explore how the “love affair” between Tambudzai and her cousin Nyasha, and the same sex intimacies Tambu experiences in her convent school impact the development black African young women’s national and sexual identity construction as they relate socio-economic social trajectories. In particular, it focuses on the roles intimate spaces and the violation of those sites (bathrooms and bedrooms) play in the development or destruction of intimate and racially influenced relationships between female peers, which ultimately lead Tambu to a denial of self. The bedroom and bathroom are sites in which Dangarembga gestures toward explaining how Tambu and the young women with whom she forms homosocial bonds, including Ntombi, define the roles of their bodies as sites of nationalist protest, concession, and rejection. The schism between Tambu and her cousin and Tambu and her peers in the African dormitory is created in part by the identity-fracturing discourses perpetuated by Tambu’s shifting from lodging in semi-private shared spaces to which she does and does not belong—spaces in which she is constantly trying to fashion herself in to a presentable, reconcilable, ultimately impossible, version of a cross between and ideal African and European woman. In my close readings of the bathroom and bedroom moments of these books, I will borrow Elleke Boehmer’s terms “vocabulary of aspiration” and queer as “particular interrogative approach to relations between women,” to argue that in intimate spaces and within intimate homosocial relationships, Dangaremba uses Tambu and her female-to-female relationships to illustrate how those spaces and relations influence and represent the ways in which a young woman can reconfigure her fractured selves to combat the malignant  colonial and neo-colonial forces that impact the viability of her independent selfhood.

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