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Music and Latency in Teju Cole’s Open City: Presences of the Past

Birgit Neumann, Yvonne Kappel


This article sets out to explore configurations of literary musicality in Teju Cole’s novel Open City (2011), seeking to show how intermedial relations between literature and music are linked to the novel’s exploration of colonial and postcolonial histories of violence and suffering. Although Open City contains a large number of intermedial references, their role thus far has only been given little attention. We argue that a close examination of intermediality is crucial to understanding the specific ways in which the novel engages with transcultural histories, global memory politics and cosmopolitanism. Both supporting and extending but also displacing and contradicting the larger verbal context, intermedial references in Open City produce a surplus of meaning that resists congealing into narrative structure and that gestures towards something else, something latent. The intermedial references to music evoke the ghostly presences of the past, of transcultural histories of violence and suffering which remain largely unacknowledged in dominant discourses. As intermedial references to music persistently hint at the latencies, disjunctions and elisions within established orders of knowledge, they invite a “contrapuntal reading” (Said 32) of the western archive. To come to a fuller understanding of the novel’s intermedial poetics, our essay will firstly provide a brief definition of the concept of intermediality, showing how references to music in particular are connected to concepts of latency and atmosphere (Part 2). In Part 3 and Part 4 we will investigate configurations of literary musicality in Open City, focusing in particular on the novel’s structural imitation of the fugue and its contrapuntal organisation.


Teju Cole; Open City; Intermediality; Music, Latency; Memory

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The Johns Hopkins University Press

ISSN: 1920-1222

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