Reading the Golden City: Spatial Representation and Urban Semiotics in the Work of Ivan Vladislavić
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With the fall of apartheid in 1994 came the erosion of previously demarcated social spaces throughout South Africa, a process which necessitated a drastic reimagining of South African national identity. Since this transition, South Africa has legislated the collapse of apartheid and the attendant reorganization of movements of people through urban landscapes while simultaneously negotiating its re-entry into international networks of commerce and cultural exchange. There are, however, numerous ways in which literary works have challenged the narrative of the “rainbow nation” by pointing to how South African urbanscapes physically manifest various anxieties of post-apartheid subjectivity. To illuminate this interaction, this thesis explores the interrelationship between formations of national identity and fictionalized representations of urban space in the works of Ivan Vladislavić. Vladislavić is an acclaimed yet surprisingly under theorized South African author whose work gestures to the conceptual challenge of rethinking the relationship between subjectivity and social space. Vladislavić's characters are frequently architects or city planners; his narratives focus on the symbology of the contemporary cityscape, enabling him to illustrate how, in the specific context of Johannesburg (the setting for each of his major works), imagining and representing space is foundational to understanding and influencing the material reality responsible for controlling human movement. The central contention of this thesis is that Vladislavić’s novels The Restless Supermarket, The Folly, and The Exploded View, provide a critique of urban development discourse by deconstructing discursive systems that produce static, closed, and diagrammatic spatial representations and in doing so reveal key ideological foundations of apartheid that both pre-existed and currently survive its formal regime. Additionally, his novels Double Negative and Portrait with Keys provide examples of alternative subjectivities whose spatial imaginations offer different vantage points for mapping the built environment that remain changeable and open to alterity and that therefore suggest a potential ethical response to existing inside/outside social demarcations that are currently spatially realized in South Africa.