Movement, Memory, Transformation, and Transition in the City: Literary Representations of Johannesburg in Post-Apartheid South African Texts

Anne Putter: University of Johannesburg



“Writing the city,” particularly writing the city of Johannesburg, in post-apartheid South African fiction can be considered a new approach to interpreting South African culture—a new approach that takes into consideration and reflects the changes taking place in present-day South African society. Texts written on Johannesburg such as Kgebetli Moele’s Room 207 (2006) and Ivan Vladislavić’s The Restless Supermarket (2001) are utilizing the subject matter and everyday life of the city as an “idea,” as a means of expressing societal concerns and other important changes taking place in the country as a whole. The paper will identify and consider how depictions of the city of Johannesburg are being altered and modified in contemporary South African literature, and show the ways in which the narratives reveal how transformation is narrated and how this changes in post-transitional South African fiction. Topics such as the depiction of Johannesburg as a palimpsest, as a conflation of historical moments—past, present and future—will be explored. Reasons why this change is taking place and why this reinvention of the city of Johannesburg in fictional works is essential will also be discussed.



automobility, Hillbrow, palimpsest, transitional fiction, walking

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Kritika Kultura
Department of English
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Ateneo de Manila University

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Jan Baetens
Faculty of Arts
Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven (Belgium)

Joel David
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Inha University (South Korea)

Michael Denning
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Yale University (US)

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Universitas Gadjah Mada (Indonesia)

Regenia Gagnier
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University of Exeter (UK)

Leela Gandhi
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Inderpal Grewal
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Yale University (US)

Peter Horn
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University of Cape Town (South Africa)
Honorary Professor and Research Associate in German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

Anette Horn
Professor of German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

David Lloyd
Distinguished Professor of English
University of California, Riverside (US)

Bienvenido Lumbera
National Artist for Literature
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University of the Philippines

Rajeev S. Patke
Director of the Division of Humanities
Professor of Humanities
Yale NUS College (Singapore)

Vicente L. Rafael
Giovanni and Amne Costigan Endowed Professor of History
University of Washington (US)

Vaidehi Ramanathan
Department of Linguistics
University of California, Davis (US)

Temario Rivera
Professorial Lecturer
Department of Political Science
University of the Philippines

E. San Juan, Jr.
Philippines Studies Center (US)

Neferti X.M. Tadiar
Professor of Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
Barnard College (US)
Director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race
Columbia University (US)

Antony Tatlow
Honorary Professor of Drama
Trinity College Dublin (Ireland)