Olivier Moreillon: Cities in Flux - Capetonian and Durbanite Literary Topographies

South African Anglophone literature beyond 2000 is characterized by both a quantitative and qualitative shift from the literature of the country’s transitional period of the 1990s. There has been an explosion in publications of fiction since 2000, which makes it almost impossible to follow the contemporary South African literary scene. At the same time, this development has been marked by the emergence of numerous new authors on the literary landscape who have crucially broadened the understanding of ‘South Africanness’ by addressing formerly tabooed topics such as intercultural and same-sex relationships or the marginalization of women. Furthermore, South Africa’s post-transitional literature has reflected the countries increasing social and political complexities from a multitude of topical perspectives, also across country boarders. The city as a place of complexity, confusion and continuous change is thereby at centre stage in numerous literary works.

The present doctoral thesis takes these developments as a starting point and analyses the representation of Capetonian and Durbanite city spaces in South Africa’s Anglophone Literature since 2000. The following literary texts will be analysed: (a) Cape Town-based: K. Sello Duiker’s 13 Cents (2002), Rozena Maart’s Rosa’s District 6 (2004), Lauren Beukes’ Moxyland (2008), and Imraan Coovadia’s The Institute for Taxy Poetry (2012); (b) set in Durban: Johan van Wyk’s Man Bitch (2001, 2006), Mariam Akabor’s Flat 9 (2006), Bridget McNulty’s Strange Nervous Laughter (2007), and Sifiso Mzobe’s Young Blood (2010).

The project intends to contribute to a differentiated understanding of urban space in post-apartheid literature since 2000. At the same time, it seeks to enhance the awareness-raising in the South African context in order to see past a country’s problems of which it is well aware and to focus on its (literary) potential. The project thereby not only grants access to new narrative interests and perspectives, but also gives insight into new understandings of South African history, urban geography as well as cultural topographies. Literary (re)presentations of urban space thus become an archive of cultural processes of change, a gateway to the developments and changes of both real as well as imaginary urban spaces.

Olivier Moreillon studied History as well as English Literature and Linguistics at the University of Zurich and graduated in 2009. Already while studying, he taught at the Vocational School for Qualified Retail Assistants in Zurich before taking up a teaching position at the High School in Baden in 2012. In autumn of the same year, he was admitted into the Doctoral Programme of Literary Studies at the University of Basel and was awarded a one-year start-up funding grant. Since 2014 he has been holding a Doc.CH scholarship endowed by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNFS). His fieldwork in South Africa, is funded both by the “City in Flux”-Programme of the Swiss South African Joint Research Programme (SSAJRP) as well as the SNFS.