Graceland Proposal

In his 2009 article “Surplus City: Structural Adjustment, Self-Fashioning, and Urban Insurrection in Chris Abani’s Graceland,” Ashley Dawson points to the need for post-colonial theory to engage critically with urban spaces in the global south, a neglect he argues stems from a bias toward rural spaces inherited from intellectuals such as Frantz Fanon. Dawson argues that the discourse surrounding the mega-city of the global south shares an assumption of the need for neoliberal governance of spaces. Abani’s novel indicts this discourse through presenting Lagos as a space which negates “social and economic transformation on both an individual and collective level” (20). This is of particular interest to me. Thinking through critical geographers such as David Harvey, my recent concerns have been the ways in which globalized capital works to transform and organize local spaces. I’m particularly interested in the interaction between global models of urbanity and local culture. Can the neoliberal order of the mega-city foster spaces of resistance, spaces in which localized culture can flourish or spaces in which new futurities can be articulated? In other words, what possibilities can emerge from what Dawson calls the “social production of mega-city space” and how does Abani portray these possibilities (or their absence)?

I’m also interested in what connections might be drawn between the African novel–as a discursive space mediating the global and the local–and the physical space of African cities. What is the interplay between the global form of the metropolis and local culture? To what extent might local culture appropriate the global form of the city for its own uses, in a reversal of the assumption of the metropolis’s erosion of local culture? Further, how does the novel form, as a collected set of symbols, draw attention to the symbolic order of the city? In Graceland, we can read the demolition of the Moroko as a refashioning of the symbolic landscape, a means of masking the violence of the neoliberal urban order by expelling the very symbols of that order–the slums and the slum-dwellers–from visibility. Though Moroko’s resistance fails in its attempt to maintain their community, they succeed through the production of symbols which achieve visibility, most notably the King’s televised martyrdom. How does the novel posit such a success, and can we view the novel itself as a means of symbolic counter-violence against the violence of the neoliberal order and the structural adjustment of the 80s and 90s?

I recognize the unfocused and preliminary nature of these thoughts, but I’m hoping to narrow my focus as I do more research on the mega-city, Lagos, and Abani’s Graceland.

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One Response to Graceland Proposal

  1. Anne Gulick says:

    Great start here. I know you’ve begun to compile a bibliography already; Falola’s History of Nigeria is a good touchstone, and you may find the final chapters of Apter’s Pan-African Nation helpful as well. Ato Quayson has a (fairly) recent book on Accra that might be worth looking at. And Mbembe has an article or two, at least one co-authored with Sarah Nuttal, on Johannesburg.

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