Politics and Bare Life in Yvonne Vera’s The Stone Virgins

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Deborah Pike examines the trials facing a writer in yet another troubled nation, this time modern Zimbabwe, in chapter thirteen, which presents a close reading of Yvonne Vera’s The Stone Virgins in terms of the work of the political philosopher Giorgio Agamben and the postcolonial theorist Achille Mbembe. Pike opens her analysis with two direct questions: “What is the relationship between politics and literature in [using Agamben’s term] a State of Exception? How can human beings whose lives are stripped of political rights, speak out?” Pike sketches the political circumstances of Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe as a way of positioning her reading of The Stone Virgins, understanding it as a State of Exception wherein people live lives “stripped of political significance and civil rights”, a “bare life” that not only entails the denial of rights but also of subjectivity itself. She links this to Mbembe’s reading of sub-Saharan Africa, and to the question of “what it means to do violence to bare life”, to those without political identity, significance or agency. Questions such as these inform her interpretation of the extreme violence that saturates The Stone Virgins, a novel that tracks the history of Rhodesia-Zimbabwe from 1950 to 1986. Despite the often-monstrous action, Pike argues that it is a novel of hope, one that “seeks to ‘desilence’ the horrendous events of Zimbabwean history and in so doing, resist the master narratives of the Mugabe government”.


Due to copyright restrictions this book chapter is unavailable for download.

Literature and politics: Pushing the world in certain directions may be accessed from the publisher here

The Author:

Dr Deborah Pike