Art and Visual Culture in Ivan Vladislavic's 'Portrait with Keys'
Journal of Commonwealth Literature
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This article argues that South African author Ivan Vladislavić’s fictionalized memoir, Portrait with Keys: The City of Johannesburg Unlocked (2006), through its portrayal of visual culture and an enabling process of what the narrator, Vlad, calls “seeing and then seeing again” (2006: 88), “rehabilitates” (Coombes, 2003: 23) Johannesburg’s potentially alienating post-apartheid urban environment depicted in Portrait as having been indelibly inscribed by the apartheid state. Through the idea of “seeing and then seeing again”, I argue, the author stages an act of cultural rehabilitation, one that constitutes both artistic and ideological revision. Extending Walter Benjamin’s notion that the photographic image uniquely constellates the past and the present — of which “seeing and then seeing again” is therefore a form — I show that through his depiction of visual culture, Vladislavić engages critically with South African history in the present, and, consequently, his own historical position as white and thus always already a beneficiary of the apartheid regime. From this, I go on to argue that the method of “seeing and then seeing again” inverts the genre of Euroimperial travel writing theorized by Mary Louise Pratt in Imperial Eyes to lay bare questions of scopic power, including Vlad’s own.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from SAGE Publications via the DOI in this record
Vol. 55 (1), pp. 42-55