Performing Resistance in Abani’s Graceland

Recent critics have noted an opening up of 3rd Generation Nigerian novels toward an exploration of generative possibilities within urban Nigerian spaces, the megapolis of Lagos specifically. As Chris Dunton has argued, Abani’s Graceland provides particularly sensitive insight into the possibilities for performance to make meaning within the chaos of the megapolis. Chielozona Eze, likewise, argues that transcultural performance serves in Graceland as an ultimately generative act which facilitates new possibilities of self-formation. While examinations of transculturality and performance typically focus of Elvis’ self-formation through his performance of Elvis Presley, this conference paper reexamines the collective resistance against the demolition of the Moroko slums as an act of specifically transcultural performance. While, as Ashley Dawson and Sarah Harrison have argued, Abani is skeptical or worse about the potentials of meaningful resistance in the megapolis of Lagos, by reframing our understanding of what makes resistance meaningful, that is, to not measure resistance by its material successes but rather in the performance of resistance itself, new interpretations of successful resistance can be drawn. Indeed, Abani frames Moroko’s resistance in explicitly performative and transcultural terms, from singing Bob Marley, to Western symphonic metaphors, to the Tolkien spectacle of Jagua and his magicians. Like Elvis, Moroko forms and fashions itself through this performance, a performance which at onces constructs and asserts itself in opposition to the obfuscating aims of the megapolis. By rejecting invisibility, the performance of resistance makes the violence of the megapolis visible, and thereby vulnerable to further resistance movements. While performing resistance may not produce redistribution of wealth and resources, and while the novel it fails ultimately to prevent the demolition of the slums, it does serve as an important symbolic counter-discourse to discourses of development which seek to obfuscate the violence which underlie them.

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