Office Hours: Max Rayneard

Some say that children who grow up in the United States are ignorant of what goes on in other countries. Now, imagine that this same level of igno-rance existed toward a popula-tion of people that live in the same country. That was the sit-uation in which Max Rayneard, Visiting Assistant Professor in English, Africana and Latin American Studies, grew up. It was the age of apartheid in South Africa.

“I was raised as a white kid in South Africa with all the privi-leges and all of the blitheness and blindness of middle class youth everywhere,” Rayneard said.

However, just as he became a young adult, the realities of apartheid were laid bare to him thanks to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Com-mission. For the first time, he confronted the atrocities in his own backyard.

“There was this moment when I was between 20 and 22 when there was this thing happening on television that changed the way that I viewed myself as a South African,” Rayneard said.

All of this happened exactly when Professor Rayneard was completing his undergraduate degree at Rhodes University in South Africa, and it strongly influenced his educational deci-sions. He had been interested in literature and loved to read since he was a little boy, so he felt it only natural that he continued his passion in college.

“As I grew in awareness of my country’s untold history, lit-erature was no longer about fan-tasy or escape, it started being about what it does to us, how it teaches us to be better people and what it is that literature can achieve,” Rayneard said.

Similarly, as Professor Rayneard continued his educa-tion, he saw literature as his way of righting the cultural wrongs inflicted by apartheid.

“There was this moment when I thought ‘why am I liv-ing in these books when this world is changing around me,'” Rayneard said. “My PhD was really a reconciliation of my personal, national and profes-sional identities coming to terms with one another.”

Professor Rayneard believes that one can use literature to pose deep, profound questions that can really change how one thinks and sees the world. Thus, he believes that the way in which he can most effectively improve racial relations in Af-rica is through his area of exper-tise. But this is not necessarily an easy task for others. Profes-sor Rayneard believes that read-ing literature that asks profound questions can be an unnerving process that not everyone may care to experience.

“What I do is examine that process of being destabilized by text,” Rayneard said. “Liter-ally what these texts do is they turn you upside down. You have expectations whenever you ap-proach a piece of literature…the texts of 1990s South African lit-erature grab your heart and twists it in two and flips it upside down and makes you think ‘now who am I, after undergoing that?'”

Professor Rayneard came to the United States on a Ful-bright Scholarship in 2004 and stayed in Oregon, where he earned his PhD. He moved to Hamilton last year, where he now enjoys his students, the unseasonably good weather and his intellectual colleagues at Colgate University.

Contact Matthew Knowles at [email protected]