Chaos and Order from the Mind of Nadine Gordimer
Intro | Page Two | Page Three | Page Four | Page Five | Page Six | Works Cited
      Disorder in South Africa
How perfectly such terms as order and disorder characterize South African politics. As Gordimer declares, "I live at 6,000 feet in a society whirling, stamping, swaying with the force of revolutionary change. The vision is heady; the image of the demonic dance ­ and accurate, not romantic: an image of actions springing from emotion, knocking deliberation aside" (LI 262). The violent tension between the established white order and the inevitable forces of opposition became the dominant motif for understanding self and other; politics overwhelmed social niceties and barbed wire symbolized the threats to even the most exclusive suburbs. The apartheid government explicitly sought to outlaw any acts which might promote disorder through the Sabotage Act, with a maximum penalty of death for agitators. With birthrate statistics projecting that whites would be outnumbered seventeen to one by the year 2040, the Nationalist Party relied on the extremes of oppressive order to maintain their privileged white lifestyle, fearing that integration meant chaos. Critic J.U. Jacobs summarizes the psychological price of life in this pressure cooker as a "permanent state of hysteria" and a "psychosis of terror" (25). Nadine Gordimer readily admits that her fiction arises from such heightened consciousness, compelling the essential gesture of transforming raw experience through imagination (EG 298). 
By introducing July's People with an epigraph from Antonio Gramsci, Gordimer frames the novel with the images that recur in her essays and newspaper interviews: the chaos of transition and the "morbid symptoms" arising in the "interregnum" between old and new orders. Science can illuminate the pathological cause of these transitional pains. Briggs and Peat explain: "Turbulence arises because all the pieces of a movement are connected to each other, any piece of the action depending on the other pieces, and the feedback between the pieces producing still more pieces" (52). Shifting roles, redefined racial status, and economic overhaul place competing strains on the social infrastructure. Expansion of black power in turn compresses white power; defiant acts of rebellion trigger last-gasp crackdowns; systemic wounds expose individual bleeding. Whether influencing particles or people, until new patterns emerge from the grand chaotic flow, we only see the fragments. The principle of fractal iteration demonstrates a brutal correlation: the distortion of social chaos repeats itself in personal chaos. Briggs and Peat clarify: "The notion of vortices within vortices ad infinitum suggests that systems close to turbulence will look similar to themselves at smaller and smaller scales . . ." (49). Just as the DNA encapsulates the organism or the spore mimics the fern leaf or the heartbeat mathematically tunes to the pulsating star ­ Maureen, Bam, and July replicate the diseased complexity of a dying social order.
      Desperate Swaying
Morbidity remains the metaphor as Gordimer compares the Smales' desperate escape from revolutionary Johannesburg to feverish disorientation: "People in delirium rise and sink, rise and sink, in and out of lucidity. The swaying, shuddering, thudding, flinging stops, and the furniture of life falls into place" (JP 3). This image resembles the strained eyes and baffled mind of a scientist struggling to see the underlying pattern behind chaotic computer-plotted data; for a moment, vague outlines of pattern rise to the forefront of consciousness and then recede, engulfed by complexity. As order resurfaces, world views shudder in adjustment to strikingly new paradigms of existence. 
The alert reader will recall that the word swaying repeats here, used both in Gordimer's essay "Living in the Interregnum" (quoted previously) and in the first chapter of July's People. Chaos theorists seize on such repetitions, analyzing patterns in the details in order to comprehend the magnified scale of the whole. Swaying implies vacillation ­-  swinging in the current, grappling to remain erect, wobbling but not collapsing; yet the word also alludes to influential forces, the sovereign power that holds sway over its dominion. Indeed the Smales swing between white assumptions of entitlement, liberal compassion for the underclass, and the impulse to once again flee. South Africa also sways: maintaining power through barbaric measures and then granting humanitarian concessions, crushing the protest of schoolchildren and then pleading for international withdrawal of economic sanctions. As the Smales sway in their yellow bakkie, Gordimer summarizes the years leading to South Africa's fictional collapse, years characterized by the polarities ­- "for the hundred-and-first time" -­ of insurrection followed by repressive crack-downs and then followed again by broadcast assurances that "control was reestablished" (JP 8). Like a rubber band stretched so far that the edge wears thin, each snapping back to order seems more fragile, more vulnerable, than before. 
Author: Elizabeth Howell Brunner
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