A Walk to Forget: The Postcolonial Flâneur’s Negating Journey in Teju Cole’s Open City


  • Sara Faradji The University of Maryland, College Park


flâneur, cosmopolitanism, psychological negation, contemporary African literature, postcolonial literature


From James Joyce’s Ulysses to Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, some of the most celebrated modernist novels feature a flâneur. As critics like Pieter Vermeulen and Alexander Hartwiger argue, the protagonist of Teju Cole’s 2011 novel, Open City, also engages in flânerie. Building upon these critiques and Walter Benjamin’s analyses of the flâneur, I argue that Cole revamps the flâneur for a contemporary global readership. His flâneur, Julius, does not simply speak urbanely about city life. He provides a politically engaged reading of society. Cole invites us to witness the dark, complex paths of a Nigerian immigrant whose walks function as therapy. Julius walks to forget his brutal past. Because of his trauma, existence as a Nigerian in white spaces, and commentary on peculiarities that a Benjaminian flâneur would not address, Julius cannot be as detached as the classic flâneur. In my analysis of Cole’s revision of the flâneur, I initiate a conversation on how the global reader must contend with the anticipated representations of trauma, violence, and exoticism in postcolonial fiction. I show that Cole’s novel suggests a need for a critical postcolonial cosmopolitanism, which recognizes the persistence of nationalism and brutality in even the worldliest figures.

Author Biography

Sara Faradji, The University of Maryland, College Park

Sara Faradji is a PhD candidate at the University of Maryland, where she studies the global resonance of Anglophone African literature. Her dissertation project, entitled, “Afropolitan Hackers: Redefining Anglophone African Literature," provides a methodology for theorizing the relationship between the production and reception of African novels. She argues that Africa-based and migrant Afropolitan writers revise, rebut, and reuse the genre of “writing back” by remaking central literary tropes—a process that she calls “hacking.” Sara continues to investigate how Afropolitan authors dynamically alter the structure and content of the literary canon by distinctively appealing to a global audience.