Chaos and Order from the Mind of Nadine Gordimer
Intro | Page Two | Page Three | Page Four | Page Five | Page Six | Page Seven | Page Eight | Works Cited
      Beauty in Randomized Complexity
As soon as the Smales abandon hope of tuning the radio, they recognize signs of the new order: "In place of chaos, the sounds of July's ­ the chief's ­ form of order came to them" (JP 124). Gordimer beautifully lists all the sounds suddenly perceived in the village: "Someone droning song in rhythm with movement" and the "hiccuping wail of a baby" and "old voices" followed by "young shouts"  and "water gouting slowly" and the beckoning of a "cuckoo falcon" (JP 124-25). Without the distraction of broadcast static, these integral sounds of life filter through their consciousness. Alexander Argyros helps us understand "precisely what constitutes the beautiful ­ the unpredictable and discontinuous emergence of higher levels of systemic complexity" (287). 
In a chapter on aesthetics in A Blessed Rage for Order: Deconstruction, Evolution, and Chaos, Argyros explains: "When we read a work of literature that we are tempted to describe as beautiful, I suspect that, at the very least, the work is a self-similar system, displaying similar patterns at different levels of description, and that it functions as a nonlinear, dynamical system able to occasion global leaps of organization in the reader's mind" (287). Indeed, this lovely passage from the novel reveals random sounds, from the village and from nature, converging spontaneously in harmony. Beauty arises not from careful orchestration but rather from the messy overlap of unadulterated life ­- for life is the pinnacle of systematic complexity and the voluptuous appreciation of life's beauty in myriad forms can abolish the ugliness of racism. How tragic that Bam and Maureen listen only momentarily before returning to chatter about finding a second radio.
Individual perceptions determine whether we see chaos only as a terrible void or recognize what James Gleick describes as the "fantastic and delicate structure underlying complexity" (4). While the Smales struggle to regain equilibrium in the turbulent interregnum, July adapts quickly. The white couple moves from highly regimented Johannesburg society to the transitional chaos of displacement, whereas the black African escapes the psychological chaos of passbook apartheid for the self-determined status and liberties of a new order. The bakkie serves as obvious symbol of control and freedom. Once July returns the keys to his pocket, he strides away from Maureen's confrontation, moving his head "from side to side like a foreman  inspecting his workshop or a farmer noting work to be done on the lands" (JP 73). Roles shift: Maureen drowns kittens, Bam reverts to barbarian hunter, and July becomes overlord. And the village chief, an "ill-nourished old man, king of migrant workers, of a wilderness of neglect," assumes authority over the Smales' fate (JP 118). Gordimer's description of her own upbringing in Writing and Being parallels Maureen's limiting and narrow background with "everything in it painted white ­- white morality, white customs, white habits, white values" (W&B 131). Despite Maureen's liberal sympathies, accepting black rule ­- even in the microcosm of this dirty village -­ challenges her willingness to adapt. 
       Turbulence of Revolutionary Change
Gordimer equates the interregnum with "Hegel's disintegrated consciousness," replete with "contradictions . . . between two identities, one known and discarded, the other unknown and undetermined" (LI 269-270). Maureen feels trapped within the contradictions, floundering within the turbulence of revolutionary change despite her periodic efforts to find a resting place or point of stability. Within a short period, she loses her value as pretty wife for an upwardly mobile architect, her role as attentive mother for sheltered children, her duties as supervisor of the spacious homestead, and her pretense of compassionate boss-lady. Gordimer sympathizes with white liberal fears but insists on  reconciliation with a new identity within the new order. Although the author acknowledges that "however hated and shameful the collective life of apartheid . . . has been to us, there is, now, the unadmitted fear of being without structures," she insists that from this "internal friction" between changing identities whites must somehow find the "energy to break the vacuum of which we are subconsciously aware" (LI 269). 
Science teaches us that nature fills always fills a vacuum. As the Smales lose status, July acquires at least the signs of power. Potentially socioeconomic chaos could reverse greed, but Maureen notes how quickly "pride" and the "comfort of possessions" make July forget "by whose losses possession had come about" (94). A lifetime of deprivation turn the claimed relics of economic success into his consuming interest. Ironically, the former servant has become capitalist extraordinaire in his small world while Maureen no longer has "possession of any part of her life"  (139). 
The theft of the gun becomes the final blow to Bam's fractured ego, leaving him face down in a stupor that shames the children. The revolution could free black and white from material concerns, but Gordimer will not release her characters; their identities remain welded to property, through absence or gain. The tug-of-war over material goods corresponds to the economic readjustment between the wealthy white dying order of the diamond mine era and the emerging black order of generational poverty, unskilled labor, and unequal education. Hayles reminds us that "chaotic or complex systems are disordered in the sense that they possess recursive symmetries that almost, but not quite, replicate themselves over time" (51). The complexity of large-scale social transition and the fundamental economic disparities doom the incoming government to repeated financial struggles. Through ongoing awkward negotiations over the vehicle, Maureen and July  form a strange bond  based on feelings "brutally shared" and comparable to "the swelling resistance of a vein into which a hollow needle is surging a substance in counterflow to the life blood" (JP 62). But implied accusations of theft devour the tenuous relationship between former servant and employer. Depression prevents Bam from building a new self. Avarice turns July into a parody of master. And emptiness ­ spiritual and material ­ forces Maureen to run. 
Author: Elizabeth Howell Brunner
Main Web Site: