Gothic urbanism in contemporary African fiction

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This project surveys representations of the African city in contemporary Nigerian and South African narratives by focusing on how they employ Gothic techniques as a means of drawing the African urban landscape into being. The texts that comprise my objects of study are South African author Henrietta Rose-Innes's Nineveh (2011), which takes as its setting contemporary Cape Town; Lagoon (2014) by American-Nigerian author Nnedi Okorafor, who sets her tale in present-day Lagos; and Zoo City (2010) by Lauren Beukes, another South African author who locates her narrative in a near-future version of Johannesburg. I find that these fictions are bound by a shared investment in mobilising the apparatus of the Gothic genre to provide readers with a unique imagining of contemporary African urbanity. I argue that the Gothic urbanism which these texts unfold enables the ascendance of generative, anti-dualist modes of reading the contemporary African city that are simultaneously real and imagined, old and new, global and local, dark and light - modes that perform as much a discourse of the past as a dialogue on the future. The study concludes by making some reflections on the future-visions that these Gothic urban-texts elicit, imaginings that I argue engender useful reflection on the relationship between culture and environment, and thus prompt the contemporary reader to consider the global future - and, as such, situate Africa at the forefront of planetary discourse. I suggest that Nineveh, Lagoon and Zoo City produce not simply a Gothic envisioning of Africa's metropolitan centres, but also a budding Gothic aesthetic of the African Anthropocene. In contrast to the 1980's tradition of Gothic writing in Africa, these novels are opening up into the twenty-first century to reflect on the future of the African city - but also on the futures that lie beyond the urban, beyond culture, beyond the human.