Incongruent experiences : literary representations of post-Apartheid Johannesburg in Ivan Vladislavić’s Portrait with keys




Gulesserian, Lisa Ann

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South Africa has not yet become a nation united in its diversity despite the claim made otherwise in the South African constitution. To grapple with the constitution’s unfulfilled promises, many writers and artists from the country have taken up the incongruity between lived experience and nationalist rhetoric in their works. As part of that efforts by artists and writers in South Africa, Ivan Vladislavić’s 2006 book Portrait with Keys: The City of Johannesburg Unlocked describes the difficulties of living in a country that does not perfectly match the rhetoric of a nation “united in [its] diversity.” In order to expand on the theme in Portrait with Keys of incongruity between lived life and the national discourse, as well as between lived life and literary representations, it is imperative to identify the discourse surrounding the current situation in South Africa. In this analysis of Vladislavić’s book, the author will describe and decipher moments where the lived experience of residents in Johannesburg belies the inclusionary discourse of South Africa and the literary representation of other cities. After describing moments that highlight the lack of correspondence between life and word, the author will analyze the various strategies for coping with the incongruity in the book. By taking this route of analysis, the author intends to illuminate the South African phenomenon of incongruent experience (in which lived life, discourse, and representation do not correspond) and arrive at a reading of the incongruity in Vladislavić’s book that leaves room for hope.




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