chapter  4
16 Pages

Ubu and the Truth Commission

The multiple contexts of the TRC and Ubu
WithBaron Glanvill

Ubu and the Truth Commission is a multimedia palimpsest drawing on Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi (Ubu King). Separated by nearly a century, Jane Taylor and William Kentridge chose to relocate Jarry’s Ubu character to the definite context of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa in 1997. Unlike Jarry’s Ubu King of 1896, Taylor’s Ubu figure is indelibly tied to his context. This context is complicated and comprised of various texts. I argue that because Jarry’s original production determines so much of the narrative action in Taylor’s rewriting, in particular the fact that Jarry’s Ubu escapes prosecution for his crimes, Taylor’s Ubu (an apartheid perpetrator) is historically determined to escape prosecution. I link this in turn to the criticisms of the overdetermination inherent in the TRC’s processes, as well as the commission’s inability to address the structural inequalities created through the broader apparatus of apartheid. I work closely with Mahmood Mamdani’s critique of the TRC’s published reports, and suggest that Taylor et al.’s Ubu and the Truth Commission expresses similar concerns surrounding the TRC’s definition of ‘crimes against humanity’ during apartheid.