This paper identifies and intervenes in the problems posed by reading postcolonial texts as representative, or encompassing of, the nation with which they are associated. Alternatively, it proposes that reading at the scale of the city offers a method for circumventing the elision of particularity which occurs when the nation, continent or globe are foregrounded in Western or Western-facing responses to these texts. The paper models what such a “scaled-down” reading might look like, attending to Dambudzo Marechera’s House of Hunger
(1978) and Ivan Vladislavic’s Portrait With Keys: Joburg and What-What
(2006), and their intricate relationships to the urban spaces of Harare and Johannesburg, respectively. At stake in these analyses are opportunities to identify what Jacques Rancière terms dissensus, or political contestation, rendered in spatial terms. This establishes a pliable counterdiscourse of the city which seeks and discerns meaning not through consensus or “sanctioned representation”; but through the complexities of affective attachments, the plurality of experiences, and the teeming heterogeneity of physical and literary spaces that have been previously flattened.
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