Imagining and imaging the city – Ivan Vladislavić and the postcolonial metropolis
This thesis undertakes an analysis of how six published works by the South African writer Ivan Vladislavić form the perspective of writing the city – Johannesburg – into being. Beginning from the basis that Vladislavić’s writing constitutes what I have coined dialogic postcolonialism, the thesis engages with both broader contemporary urban and postcolonial theory in order to show the liminal imaginative space that the author occupies in his narrations of Johannesburg. Underlining the notion of postcolonialism being a “work in progress” my thesis problematises the issue of representation of the postcolonial city through different aspects like space, urbanity, identity and the self, and thus locates each of the texts under consideration at a particular locus in Vladislavić’s representational continuum of the continually transforming city of Johannesburg. Until the recent appearance of Mariginal Spaces – Reading Vladislavić (2011) the extant critical literature and research on the writing of Ivan Vladislavić has, as far as I can tell, not engaged with his work as a body of creative consideration and close analysis of the city of Johannesburg. Even this latest text largely consists of previously published reviews and articles by disparate critics and academics. The trend has therefore largely been to analyse the texts separately, without treating them as the building blocks to an ongoing and perhaps unending project of imaginatively bringing the city into being. Such readings have thus been unable to decipher and characterise the threads which have emerged over the period of the writer’s literary engagement with and representation of Johannesburg. I suggest that, as individual texts and as a collection or body of work, Ivan Vladislavić’s Missing Persons (1989), The Folly (1993), Propaganda by Monuments and Other Stories (1996), The Restless Supermarket (2006 – first published in 2001), The Exploded View (2004) and Portrait with Keys: Joburg & what-what (2006), are engaged in framing representations of the postcolonial city, representations which can in my view best be analysed through the prism of deconstructive engagement. To this end, the thesis examines contemporary South African urbanity or the post-apartheid metropolitan space (as epitomised by the fictive Johannesburg) and how it is represented in literature as changing, and in the process of becoming. As a consequence, the main conclusion I arrive at is on how the irresolvable nature of the city is reflected in the totality of Ivan Vladislavić’s writing. In that way, it was possible to treat every text in its own right (rather than forcing it to conform to an overarching thesis). This central insight allowed for the effective application of urban theory to the close readings of the texts.