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Two of South African literature’s best-known titles from the turn of the twenty-first century are works of campus fiction that rarely get recognized as such. In this article I read J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace (1999) and Phaswane Mpe’s Welcome to Our Hillbrow (2001) as novels whose figuration of the university is far more central to their treatment of the contradictions and ambiguities that characterize postapartheid South Africa than is generally acknowledged. In the course of narratives that seem largely focused on other things, these texts offer up a distinctly South African but also distinctly postcolonial variety of campus fiction, and a critical engagement with the neoliberal university and the conditions under which upward mobility and intellectual inquiry take shape in the twenty-first-century global south. Coetzee and Mpe suggest capacious and transformative, if also deeply ambivalent, ways of imagining an as-yet unrealized decolonial future for universities.
Inspired by the reinvigorating theory of Wai-Chee Dimok and Rita Felski, I argue that The Tempest resonates with current theory and performance of Indigenous resurgence in North America. With reference to the work of Indigenous performance theorist Floyd Favel, political thinkers Leanne Simpson and Glen Sean Coulthard, and to plays and performances by Yvette Nolan, Monique Mojica, Kevin Loring, and Spiderwoman Theatre, I describe resurgence as culturally recuperative practices of movement on the land that make it feel more comfortable, establish an Indigenous sense of sovereignty, and diminish shame. I emphasize the ways in which the physical and imaginative mobilities of Shakespeare’s Boatswain and Gonzalo anticipate the comforting—and insurgent—land-oriented movements of Caliban. I argue that Caliban’s sense of natural sovereignty is understood better in terms of free and secure mobility than in terms of rule or possession.
Teju Cole’s Open City is often read as the quintessential Western cosmopolitan novel. But despite the protagonist’s fixation with European aestheticism, the presence of African antecedents looms almost as an unacknowledged shadow in the acclaimed cosmopolitan novel. This article traces how Yorùbá visual registers about perception, subjectivity, and representation provide interpretative cues for understanding the meta-text of Cole’s novel in ways that illuminate the conflicted, contradictory itineraries of the postcolonial African transnational figure. I argue that Yorùbá conceptual registers relating to visuality, especially the concept of Àwòrán and its insistence on intersubjective relations and the visual call of images, highlight a visual hermeneutics that inflect the construction of personhood in Open City. By tracing the centrality of Yorùbá optic codes to Cole’s project, the article concludes that the novel’s philosophically dense conversation with aspects of Yorùbá culture demonstrates how conceptual registers from African cultures might contour Afro-diasporic texts.
Book Forum: On Jeanne-Marie Jackson’s The African Novel of Ideas: Philosophy and Individualism in the age of Global Writing