Along the Way is a book inspired by Doung Anwar Jahangeer‘s CityWalk. In December 2007 a call went out to Durban’s creative community inviting proposals for an upcoming art festival, Cascoland. Under the theme of “mobility,” the festival was to take place along a specified route with the aim of interaction with public space. As we walked the city it became apparent that the route was less about the buildings, walls and roads—the traditional infrastructure of the city—and more about the people we met along the way. We decided to focus on these people, to celebrate their lives in some small way.
Space can be read through text. Space is also constructed through text. Literary and critical theory has, however, emphasised time over space. However, space, place and location are crucial determining factors in any literary study. Through reference to theories of construction of place as well as writings on spatial history and the city I will discuss how place is created through text and how the urban environment affects literary production. Using the work of Michel Foucault (1986, 2002) on space and power, Michel de Certeau’s approach to cities (2002) and WaIter Benjamin’s (2002) theories on space, time and the city, as well as South African theoretical approaches to space and the city, I will attempt an analysis of place in chosen pieces of literature set in the postapartheid city by selected writers. I have chosen to focus on the cities of Durban and Johannesburg, and in particular the innercities, because it is here that major transformation in the use and representation of space has occurred. By looking at selected apartheid and postapartheid texts I will be able to analyse how the representation of literary space has altered with political and socio-economic changes. The time period I will look at primarily will be the postapartheid period. The interdisciplinary nature of this project means I will draw from literary criticism, critical theory, geography, sociology and economic history as well as elements of postcolonial and postmodem theory. The South African city today is a post-city; postcolonial and postapartheid. So too, the texts I have selected are post-texts, postmodem and post-struggle and I will conduct my analysis with this in mind. The concept of ‘city’ in literature is much more than just buildings and streets. It exists also in social relationships and links between people, both in the city and places outside of the city. The city is a set of social, political and cultural conditions that manifests itself in space and it is this aspect of ‘city’ which is represented in these texts that I will investigate. Through focusing on the autobiography Man Bitch (2001) by Johan van Wyk together with Never Been At Home (2001) by Zazah P. Khuzwayo and No Way Out (2001) by Zinhle Carol Mdakane all set in Durban, and Welcome to Our Hillbrow (2001) by Phaswane Mpe and the short story “Autopsy” (1996) by Ivan Vladislavic set in Johannesburg, I will investigate the representation of urban space in these texts of postapartheid literature. By way of introduction, I will examine relevant selected apartheid texts that deal with the cities of Durban (Lewis Nkosi’s novel Mating Birds (1987)) and Johannesburg (selected poems of Mongane Wally Serote) and I will attempt to construct a literary image of the space of these cities under apartheid. A close reading of the texts selected will construct a clear picture of the current (and past) urban space through the medium of literature. It will be seen that major issues affecting South Africa’s city inhabitants emerge as themes: AIDS, crime, migration and architectural degradation drive these narratives as does access to once restricted space.
Bettina Weiss (ed). 2004. The End of Unheard Narratives: Contemporary Perspectives on Southern African Literatures. Heidelberg: Kalliope Paperbacks.
Robert Muponde and Ranka Primorac (eds). 2005. Versions of Zimbabwe: New Approaches to Literature and Culture. Harare: Weaver Press.
Review article published in Current Writing.