Abani’s Graceland dramatizes the anxiety surrounding the neoliberal megapolis and invisibility. This invisibility is separate from anonymity, as it involves the making invisible of not just individuals but entire demographics and the spaces they inhabit. If the neoliberal discourse of development must obscure the fact that the maintenance of radical inequality is a necessary prerequisite to the accumulation of capital, the megapolis, as an embodiment of that discourse, must render invisible the abject within its order. With this in mind, this paper examines Moroko’s stand against the developers as not only an act of resistance but of performance as a rejection of invisibility. As such, this paper will examine Moroko’s resistance alongside other moments of performance in the novel, most notably Elvis’s impersonation and dancing. I’m also interested in the transcultural nature of these performances of resistance, both in Elvis’s appropriation of Elvis Presley and in Moroko’s appropriation of Bob Marley. To what extent is the appropriation of transnational culture empowering or disempowering in the novel? By reinterpreting Moroko’s resistance as a performative act, I hope to productively revisit the question of what successful resistance looks like in the novel.
Abani, Chris. Graceland. New York: Picador, 2004. Print.
Abani’s novel is my primary text. My main focus is on the scene in which Sunday Oke leads a resistance against the demolition of Moroko, the slum in which he and the protagonist Elvis live. I’ll be examining the way in which the scene is presented as a performance. As such, I’ll be looking at additional scenes of performance within the novel, as well as instances in which the novel discusses visibility and invisibility.
Dawson, Ashley. “Surplus City: Structural Adjustment, Self-Fashioning, and Urban Insurrection in Chris Abani’s Graceland.” Interventions 11.1 (2009): 16-34. Web.
Dawson’s article is one of the primary backdrops of my analysis, both for its foregrounding of the necessity of examining the ways in which novels interact with discourses surrounding the post-colonial megapolis, and for its insight that novels of the megapolis can provide a way of thinking about “the social construction of mega-city space.” Dawson’s concept of “excremental urbanity” provides a framework for the ways in which the Lagos of Graceland attempts to mask its violence through demolition. Further, he conducts a compelling and complex analysis of self-fashioning in the cosmopolitanism of Lagos.
De Certeau, Michel. “Walking in the City” The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. 91-130.
De Certeau’s foundational examination of the city offers several concepts to think through Lagos as a city. His notion of the tension between the reality of the city and the city-concept–the former of which produces waste products and the latter which tries to manage them–provides a useful model of thinking about the creation and demolition of the slums of Moroko. I would like to roughly map this concept on to the neoliberal project of urban development and its need to mask those waste products of such development.
Dunton, Chris. “Entropy and Energy: Lagos as City of Words.” Research in African Literatures 39.2 (2008): 68–78. Web
Chris Dunton traces a genealogy of Lagos novels from the 1950s to more recent decades, noting the shift from chronicling the socio-economic realities of the city to less realist and more expressive interpretations of the city. Dunton notes that contemporary Lagos novels, Graceland among them, are distinguished by their recognition of possibilities of combatting the high entropy of the city through expressive endeavors such as, in the case of Graceland, Elvis’s performance. If, as my thesis asserts, Moroko’s resistance is an act of expressive performance in itself, it frames the difficulty of maintaining such expression against the spatial and socio-economic realities of Lagos.
Eze, Chielozona. “Cosmopolitan Solidarity: Negotiating Transculturality In Contemporary Nigerian Novels.” English In Africa 32.1 (2005): 99-112. Academic Search Complete. Web.
Chielozona notes the emphasis on transculturality in third-generation Nigerian fiction in general and in Graceland in particular, positing transculturality as an ultimately positive and generative interaction with Otherness. This is important to my argument, as both Elvis’s performance and the performance of Moroko’s resistance appropriate transcultural material, such as the presence of Elvis Presley and Bob Marley, respectively.
Harrison, Sarah K. “‘Suspended City’: Personal, Urban, and National Development in Chris Abani’s Graceland.” Research in African Literatures 43.2 (2012): 95–114. Web.
Harrison examines the way in which the novel critiques development through its interventions on the traditional Bildungsroman format, a suspension of personal development which mirrors of suspension of national development in Nigeria. Most importantly for the purposes of my essay, she examines the way in which Elvis attempts to shape the city through aesthetic and cinematic framing, an act that proves fraught. Harrison reads this as a self-reflexive critique of Abani through Elvis, showing the limitations of aesthetic framing as a means of effecting change. Harrison’s concept of “developmental amnesia” is a key concept for the development of my argument.
Omelsky, Matthew. “Chris Abani and the Politics of Ambivalence”. Research in African Literatures 42.4 (2011): 84–96. Web.
Omelsky argues that Graceland problematizes the possibilities of resistance by presenting an ambiguous image of youth rebellion, at once emphasizing the stifling oppression of the city and the problematic agency of escape through American culture. While Omelsky does argues that the youth of the novel reinterpret and appropriate American culture, he still views it as ultimately an act of escape to something foreign. I would like to put this into conversation with the concept of transculturality to argue that American culture is being integrated into performances of resistance which are not about escape but rather about claiming one’s own space.