Skip to navigation – Site map

Writing Johannesburg: Between the Labyrinth and the Map

Richard Samin
p. 97-107


L’imaginaire littéraire généré par Johannesbourg est paradoxal, jouant à la fois de l’attrait et du rejet. Cette ambiguïté fondamentale structure le discours fictif où se combinent et s’opposent la proximité et la distance, le désir de s’intégrer, de faire partie de la vie intense de la cité, ou au contraire la tentation de s’en éloigner, de s’isoler, de voir la ville depuis un point de vue extérieur afin d’essayer de la saisir dans sa globalité et d’en cerner le sens possible. Selon les époques et les circonstances historiques, les âges et les milieux culturels, la fiction sur Johannesbourg offre une large panoplie de styles allant du réalisme à la fantaisie et au réalisme magique. De par ses contradictions, l’imaginaire de Johannesbourg est celui d’un espace en tension dont les transformations se déploient entre ces deux figures emblématiques que sont la carte et le labyrinthe, partant de l’idée que la carte n’est qu’un labyrinthe vu du dessus. C’est dans le cadre de cette configuration que sont abordées, à travers plusieurs auteurs et ouvrages, les modalités des rencontres, des vies banales, des aventures, des dangers et des émerveillements que recèle cette ville mue par une extraordinaire énergie.

Top of page

Full text


1Johannesburg is a non-descript city, a pioneer town, "a frontier city" (Vladislavic 185), a vast urban sprawl on the South African veld both forbidding and fascinating. Writers and journalists have always been at pains to find appropriate words to encapsulate its intrinsic properties whether economic, social or architectural: Johannesburg has been dubbed the "City of Gold", or Egoli, as Africans used to call it, or "South Africa’s Manhattan", or the "capital of the Big Deal and the Fast Buck" (Drury 181), not to mention the more recent "grime and crime" of one of its most notorious neigbourhoods, Hillbrow (Tolsi 3). Observers, commentators and writers all agree on the idea that Johannesburg, or Jo’burg as Johannesburgers call it, is a town of contrasts powered by an extraordinary energy, "big, vigorous, crude and brawling, filled with the insistent pulse of life" as one of them puts it (Drury 181). Literary representations of Johannesburg depict the place as an arena of contending forces, marred by long years of economic greed, racial segregation and political conflicts. Confronted with this complex and elusive city, people and writers feel an urge to come to terms with it and find their way in it. It is as though the vision and perception of the place immediately elicited a discursive response, as though it was in the nature of the city to express itself as story or myth. This is precisely where the poetics of Johannesburg is played out: in the interchange that naturally binds the writer and the city, the subject and the object, the world and the word. What is at stake in this interrelationship is a question of knowledge and appropriation. What can we know or what does one want to know about a city like Johannesburg? As a vibrant locus of contrasts and contradictions, Johannesburg remains opaque and incomprehensible unless one can impose some ordering on it, using different devices to work out and formulate a meaningful statement about it. What I want to show in this article is that, in order to account for the complexity of the city, writers often resort to the narrative device which consists in combining two correlated points of view, one affording a vision at street-level and the other a vision pegged at a higher level (whether actual or virtual), the former allowing only a limited and sequential knowledge of the city, like someone finding his way in a labyrinth, and the latter a synoptic and immediate vision of it like someone looking at a map. After briefly evoking the main characteristics of South African cities I will analyze, through a rapid survey of a few South African novels and essays—written before and after the end of apartheid—how this dual configuration has contributed to the poetics of Johannesburg, how it has evolved with the political changes and shaped its imaginary.

Characteristics of the South African city

2As any modern city, Johannesburg is "a world of physical force, operating within terms of physical limits" (Lehan 63), but this general configuration was compounded by the imposition of racial segregation and apartheid, a system which generated further internal divisions and made a mockery of rational urban planning. When in his book, L’Afrique du Sud et les états voisins (1997), Philippe Gervais Lambony, a cultural geographer, remarks that "the urban landscapes of South African cities are significantly 'readable'" (Gervais Lambony 77-78; my translation), he means that their structure reflects the segregationist policies which have shaped them. In other words urban planning in South Africa with all its boundaries and segregated residential areas boils down to a topographical projection of a social hierarchy based on racial differences and inequalities.

3The spate of apartheid law which aimed to move Black people away from the centre of Johannesburg to a periphery of sprawling townships made life extremely difficult for them and created a surrounding margin of entropy generating disorder and a waste of energy.

Two separate points of view

4Black and white writers alike became acutely aware of the dangers inherent in this division of space and of the social tensions they would inevitably entail. The city in black literature is represented as an ambivalent place, both pleasant and unpleasant, where black people managed to shape a culture of their own and to enforce different forms of social solidarity but laboured under a sense of precariousness. In white literature, on the other hand, there lingered the constant fear of being overwhelmed by the black majority and the sense of always being on the defensive, withdrawing within a "laager" mentality, characterized by fear and rejection of the Other sometimes verging on sheer paranoia.

5In order to make sense of the complexity of Johannesburg writers have resorted to different narrative models and various linguistic, rhetorical and narrative patterns so as to insert a controlling centre of consciousness in their narratives through which the swirl of impressions generated by city life would be filtered and reordered. The narrative strategy which generally underpins South African fiction about Johannesburg usually conveys the idea of confusion, fragmentation and uncertainty, while at the same time suggesting ways of coming to terms with them. Thus, the realistic representations of Johannesburg should not be understood solely in terms of mimesis but of literary conventions changing with historically determined conceptions (Pike 28).

6Black and white writers borrowed modes of narration from the novelistic conventions of 19th-century European and American fiction to account for the baffling reality of a city in the making and render the unfamiliar familiar. During several decades the aesthetics of the novel was predicated upon a binary opposition between a rational external observer and the city posited as an object whose knowledge depended on its being reduced to "collections of discrete and detailed objects" (Pike 28).

7The first novel published in English, An African Tragedy (1931), by Ralph Dhlomo, was inspired by Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy (1925) and also by the Christian allegory of the Fall. The omniscient narrator carefully portrays the moral degeneration of his hero, a promising young teacher Robert Zulu, who, in order to pay for his future wife’s dowry, had to look for a more lucrative job in Johannesburg. He gradually succumbs to the temptations of the city and becomes a dissolute wreck. He finally returns to his village to die full of guilt and remorse. Dhlomo, as a Christian writer, chooses a paradoxical narrative mode which, while condemning the city as a place of perdition, provides a fairly accurate description of it. It is as though it was not deemed sufficiently fit as a place to bring the story to a close simply because it was excluded from the narrator’s system of values. Dhlomo uses the city as a mere allegorical backdrop and overlooks the socio-historical causes which have shaped it. Dhlomo’s novel resorts to a form of story-telling which combines two interconnected levels of perception in a bid to frame the moral meaning of urban space. On ground level, the reader follows the inexorable decline of the hero while the narrative stance chosen by the omniscient narrator allows him to look down upon Robert Zulu so as to serve his readers with a moral lesson and a warning, just like a parson delivering a sermon: the last words of the novel are "God moves in mysterious ways" (Dhlomo 40).

8The interconnectedness of upper and lower points of view constitutes a seminal combination to convey the paradoxes and tensions of city life. If at street level the city looks like a maze or a labyrinth, when seen from an elevated vantage point it looks like a map. The former is associated with the immanence of chance encounters and fragmented experiences whereas the latter offers a more gratifying sense of power and understanding.

Changing patterns: from revolt to disenchantment

9With the arrival of an ever-increasing number of black workers in the gold mines this narrative configuration undergoes several modifications. For instance Peter Abrahams’s perception of Johannesburg in his novel Mine Boy (1946) is expressed in terms of a Bildungsroman. The main protagonist, Xuma, who comes to the city to work as a miner, eventually manages to adapt to city life. He is the prototype of the Jim-comes-to-Joburg type: the country bumpkin who goes to the city to earn a living and after undergoing several ordeals finally gets wise to city ways.

10In the middle of the novel he is seen climbing a hill, one night, from the top of which he can enjoy the vast panorama of Johannesburg lying at his feet. The vision fills him with astonishment and a sense of power: "[h]e gasped for below him lay the city.... And it was strange to see it like that, as though he were above it, bigger than it" (Abrahams 148). In Abrahams’s novel the hero assesses his achievement as a new town dweller as he remembers his first day in the city when he felt at a loss, and compares it with the situation he finds himself in several months later. Whereas he had then felt submerged by the immensity of the town as he picked his way in a maze of streets, now, contemplating the city lying at his feet, he realizes that "it is so small. Just like a big farm" (Abrahams 148). From his vantage point, the city looks less formidable, even comparable to a farm, which is the nearest analogue he can find to suggest how familiar the city has become to him. Xuma’s panoramic vision has become a recurrent trope to illustrate how the city can be appropriated.

11During the most repressive years of apartheid this approach to the city, predicated on the tacit understanding that a rational subject can always find modes of explanation to account for a complex and apparently incomprehensible city, was deemed irrelevant. In the face of violence and atrocities, as Rosemary Jane Jolly contends, critical realism introduces a sense of closure which is "irredeemably specious and inadequate" (Jolly 12). The absurd, the grotesque and the tragic seemed to have taken sway of life in the townships, and this situation encouraged writers to transgress the conventions of realistic fiction. Hence a growing tendency to resort to fantasy and magic realism.

12In Achmat Dangor’s novel The Ζ Town Trilogy (1990), in which the letter Ζ stands for zombie, we find tropes which had already been used in the past but in this novel they are used literally. As Lakoff and Johnson point out "metaphors naturally come into being because they bring into relief something which narrowly corresponds to a collective experience" (Lakoff and Johnson 77). For instance, ghosts and spirits who come back to haunt the world of the living are recurrent tropes in black South African fiction simply because the world of black townships and locations is perceived as the underworld of the white world: while the former is cowed in darkness, the latter thrives in broad daylight. The former is thus a world of fugitive forms, shades, confusion, where one can easily lose oneself, a veritable underground labyrinth.

13Alex La Guma often resorts to such metaphors: "the men took on the vague forms of wraiths in the morning mist", "bits of paper were grey ghosts in the yellow electric light", "[i]n some of the doorways people sat or stood, murmuring idly in the fast-fading light like wasted ghosts in a plague-ridden city" (La Guma 20-21). Can Themba, a short story writer and essayist, strikingly encapsulates this collective experience in a formula: "[i]t is a crepuscular shadow-life in which we wander as specters seeking meaning for ourselves" (Themba 8).

14Dangor’s novel deliberately transgresses the code of verisimilitude by introducing genuine metamorphoses, transforming one of his characters into a bird:

In the darkness behind her eyes which she kept tightly shut, Jane saw a flutter of tiny wings, she felt a lightness in her body, as exquisite as death, or flight. When she opened her eyes she found herself high above the city, away from Hillbrow. (Dangor 86)

15His novel further gives a grotesque and satirical twist to the privileged vantage position which Jane’s flight affords: as she flies over policemen she releases some of the waste from her body "which struck the curious policeman in the face", satisfied, as she puts it, "to have struck a small but satisfying blow for freedom" (Dangor 87).

16The use of a narrative vantage point is an important structural component in Phaswane Mpe’s novel. Welcome to our Hillbrow (2000), which sustains the ironic and satirical thrust at the period which followed the end of apartheid. In this novel the author uses a prosopopoeia to articulate the two narrative points of view within the story. It is a long monologue in which the narrator addresses a friend of his, Refentse, who had killed himself the year before. He recalls the circumstances which led to his fateful decision and imagines what might have happened had he remained alive. The diegetic space of the novel is thus caught in tension between reality and unreality, past and present, earth and heaven. The novel explores the gap created by this improbable dialogue in which the narrator speaks from below but also adopts the vantage point of Refentse and formulates what he might have said if he had been able to speak, looking down with an ironic and jaded glance at what was happening in Hillbrow under the new political dispensation: stories of betrayal, lies, racial discrimination against foreigners, superstition, the Aids pandemic. This dual narrative configuration is correlated with a topographical representation of Hillbrow hinging around the two implicit figures of the labyrinth and the map as intimated by the title of the first chapter: "The Map". The labyrinth is used as a metonymy for the state of mental confusion which Refentse probably experienced when he first arrived in Johannesburg, picking his way in the maze of Hillbrow streets, whereas the map is the precise topological lay out of the district which he can now contemplate from his elevated position in Heaven. The reality of the character’s linear progress through the streets of Hillbrow implies the existence of a virtual city map as intimated by the meticulous itinerary presented at the beginning of the novel:

If you are coming from the city centre, the best way to get to Cousin’s place is by driving or walking through Twist Street that takes you to the north of the city. You cross Wolmarans and three rather obscure streets, Kapteijn, Ocherse and Pieterse, before you drive or walk past Esselen, Kotze and Pretoria streets. You will then cross Van der Merwe and Goldreich streets. (Mpe 6)

17Hillbrow—or Johannesburg for that matter—is thus caught in a dual vision which conveys the idea that the perception of this urban space cannot be reduced to a mere factual and topographical description but can only be encompassed as a mental and discursive space whose meaning varies with the protagonists’ experiences and memories, confirming Burton Pike’s idea that, in literature, "the city [is] represented as an unstable refraction of an individual consciousness rather than as an object fixed in space" (Pike 71).

18Mpe’s novel marks an important stage in the representation of urban space: it shows it as a place rife with ambiguities where negative and positive aspects coexist and whose social fabric is an entangled web of interwoven life stories. All together they map out Hillbrow as a ductile and unstable mental territory whose nature and configuration depend on each inhabitant’s state of mind as the narrator puts it:

Heaven is the world of our continuing existence located in the memory and consciousness of those who live with us and after us. It is the archive that those we left behind keep visiting and revisiting; digging this out, suppressing or burying that. Continually reconfiguring the stories of our lives, as if they alone hold the real and true version.... Heaven can also be Hell depending on the nature of our continuing existence in the memories and consciousness of the living. (Mpe 124)

Johannesburg: an elusive city

19Memory and consciousness are precisely the key structural components of Ivan Vladislavic’s latest book, Portrait With Keys. Jo’burg and What-What (2006). An epigraph by Lionel Abrahams sets the tone: "[m]emory takes root only half in the folds of the brain: half’s in the concrete streets we have lived along" (Vladislavic 6).

20Portrait with Keys is the book of a genuine Johannesburger, a man who enjoys roaming the streets of the city with an eye for the odd detail, character or situation. It has no story line and unfolds a kaleidoscopic vision refracted by the author’s personal reminiscences and impressions as he shifts back and forth between the past and the present. They are arranged in 138 juxtaposed, fragmented and generally short sections, divided into two parts which provide a broad chronological framework. Most of the sections are taken from already published cycles and are reset in a linear order. However, a non-linear way of reading the book is suggested by the list of thematic "itineraries" inserted at the end. One can read it as the narrator roams the streets of Johannesburg by following specific landmarks. The thematic unity of each original cycle is unlikely to be perceived by the reader of Portrait With Keys, but the frequent recurrences of similar themes, places and topics throughout the book intimate a network of invisible underground connections and operate as the lingering memory of the text.

21Johannesburg is represented as a web of streets whose names are meticulously given so that it would easy with the help of a city map to trace with precision all the itineraries followed by the narrator as he walks or drives along the streets of central Johannesburg. The word "map" often crops up in the text: "[t]his map of the city of the dead.... Why not a map of the living?... Why not a map showing every room, in every house, in every street of this bursting city, where a life began?" (Vladislavic 45) With what sounds like an allusion to the myth of Asmodeus, the impish spirit who peered into houses after lifting their roofs, Vladislavic inscribes in his narrative discourse a virtual vantage point, a kind of "privileged strategic position" to use Philippe Hamon’s phrase (Hamon 158), like a window, a door or any elevated position, which overhangs the entire text.

22This virtual vantage point is an effect of the narrator’s fascination for Johannesburg which began when, as a high school student from Pretoria he worked during his holidays as a salesman for a telephone company in Johannesburg. From his office in the Carlton Center tower he could look down at the city:

I could stand before the window and look down at the immensity of the city, assured that even a hawker of telephone dixies could occupy the centre of it all. It was in those reflective moments that my sense of the unnatural beauty of Johannesburg was born and that I resolved to seek my fortune in these streets. (Vladislavic 28)

A vantage point which announces another as the narrator looks down from the air as he flics out of his country for Europe a few years later:

The plane takes off: I am looking forward to seeing Joburg from the air. It is always surprising to discover how huge and scintillating the city is, that it is one place, beaded together with lights. As the aircraft lifts you out of it, above it, it becomes for a moment, comfortingly explicable.... But there is another, more intimate comfort in the vastness: it assures you that someone, inevitably is looking back. (Vladislavic 108)

A new paradigm: a view from the margin

23In his book, Vladislavic explores the theme of the walker, the flâneur, who stands outside the crowd but is also part of it. In his gaze the city looks fragmented, mysterious and unstable, an anomalous place where people are obsessed with their security, carrying with them, like the narrator, heavy bunches of keys, hence the title of the book. The narrator has a keen eye for the ridiculous, the odd scene, object or character which allows him to cast the light of anomy on the city. Anomy should be understood as a source of creativity contesting norm and habits, defined by Gilles Deleuze as "creativity on the boundary" (Sauvagnargues 153). This is precisely where the originality of Vladislavic’s novel lies: even if the dual scheme of upper and lower levels of vision still features prominently in his book, he manages to collapse them into an intermediary standpoint which is that of the margin, as he incidentally remarks: "I am happy enough on the edge of the city" (Vladislavic 46).

24This shift of perspective entails a new mapping out of Johannesburg but the resulting configuration produces a map which is closer to the meaning which Gilles Deleuze gives to the term: it is an active and pragmatic appropriation not a fixed or framed representation. It is what he calls a rhizome that is a linear, shifty, decentred and heterogeneous mode of becoming; it is a geographical dispersion, a "nomadic" model with multiple connections (Deleuze 32).

25From this intermediary vantage point the narrator casts an oblique glance at Johannesburg and in his gaze the past and invisible things materialize, conjured up from the visible signs of the present. There first come the times of the original inhabitants of the land, the San, hunter-gatherers, followed by the gold-mining era:

Commissioner Street, the backbone of Johannesburg, follows the old wagon track between two of the first mining camps... So the city’s spine was fused to the gold-bearing reef that called it into life... Here and there chunks of tar have broken loose and rusted steel glimmers in the road bed. The tramlines, tarred over in the early sixties, coming back to the surface. (Vladislavic 60)

26Onto this vertical dimension of history, a horizontal one is grafted; the inscription of today’s African townships on the surface of central Johannesburg: "[t]he township is written in longhand across the printed page of the white, in felt tip, in chalk, in gaudy heeltaps of enamels" (Vladislavic 66).

27Likewise, the narrator notes that the language writers use to describe the city leaves traces for others (readers, walkers) to see and enjoy: "these marks, the places where our thoughts and feelings have brushed against the world, are not just for ourselves. We are like tramps, leaving secret signs for those who come after us" (Vladislavic 188). Johannesburg thus becomes the arena where the writer comes to grip with language in relation with the real; it is a baffling challenge whereby the writer feels he needs to seize language as it emerges, or as another South African novelist and poet, Antjie Krog, puts it: "to seize the surge of language by its soft, bare skull" (Krog 27).

28The elusive nature of Johannesburg blurs the distinction between reality and fiction: "I live in a city that resists imagination. Or have I misunderstood? Is the problem that I live in a fiction that unravels even as I grasp it?" (Vladislavic 54) This perception runs through the entire book: "'We are stories'. It’s a notion so simple even a child could understand it. Would that I ended here. But we arc stories within stories" (Vladislavic 108). This is why the conventional code of representation is undermined by the recurrent use of metamorphoses. As Jean-Jacques Lecercle notes, "with metamorphoses words and things are on the same ontological level: a direct word-object short cuts the sign process" (Lecercle 58). For instance, the narrator sees digits on a sign "jostle together in an impatient queue" (Vladislavic 65), or the narrator feels changed into a fish when he discovers that a young girl with a snorkel and a mask looks at him through his car window: "I am a fish, a creature covered in spines, training poisonous filaments, jagged with exotic colours" (Vladislavic 95), or again, looking at the rafters of his roof under repair, he notes: "the echoing A’s of the rafters were a reading lesson" (Vladislavic 119).

29Moving along the streets of Johannesburg, the narrator also discovers objects which have become detached from their original purpose (Vladislavic 175). He calls them "tomason", a word coined by a Japanese artist. This object is perceived as a sign which has lost its referential anchoring, a signifier without a signified, and becomes a source of puzzlement as it alters and perturbs his perception of the city: "[t]he world at large is lost to me" (Vladislavic 176). At the same time this maverick sign becomes the fulcrum with which he lifts the weight of the present to peer into the past and summon the invisible: "[a]s my eye becomes attuned to everything that is extraneous, inconspicuous and minor, that is abandoned or derelict, the obvious, useful facts of the city recede and a hidden history of obsolescence comes to the surface" (Vladislavic 176). And the inevitable trope of the city as an underworld peopled with ghosts crops up: "[t]he ghosts come and go" (Vladislavic 185).

30The entire book is pervaded by a keen awareness of the limit that separates the real from fiction and the underlying idea that real things can all too readily be translated into words, that it is in their nature to release the language they envelop. However there is also an ultimate limit beyond which there lies a domain which remains impervious to language or thought:

[t]he weather’s dumb thumb crushes stone to gravel and rubs wood down to the grain. What comes to the surface is stubborn. Our meanings are tender sheath, but the heart of things is fibre and flint, and will not yield to the hand or the eye. (Vladislavic 189)

31Thus Johannesburg becomes an unstable terrain where the past ghosts through, depositing layer upon layer of signs transforming it into a historical palimpsest.

32Even though Johannesburg keeps a part of its mystery, it is the place where the narrator feels he belongs, where time and writing an identity finally merge in a moment of revelation as he seems to intuit in the following passage situated at the end of the book, during a walk he takes in the veld on the outskirts of Johannesburg:

  • 1 The punctuation is that of Vladislavic’s text.

Crystal of black ash and charred stalks as brittle as the wing bones of birds shatter under your soles. Already assegais of new grass are thrusting through the scorched earth, pricking your eyes with their pointed green. The black crust crackles underfoot like remembered flames... What are you looking for?—a greasy bottle with a Smirnoff label, half a brick with a scab of cement and an iron rod twisting out of it. a flattened tin... a burnt-out bulb, a signature, pencil stubs.1
Are you still with me? In this dog-eared field, collapsing from one attitude to another, dragging your ghosts through the dirty air, your train of cast-off selves, constantly discovering yourself at the centre, in the present. (Vladislavic 182)

33As we follow the narrator walking through the field, minutely recording the details of its surface strewn with heterogeneous debris intimating the encroachment of the city upon nature, we are carried along from the field to the page, the writing-table, the writer at work, while the words of the text converge to an acute awareness of the present, as though the images of his ancient self always returned to haunt his present self.

34Through this intense perception of the self as the centre of an ever-recurring present, the narrator intuits the meaning of duration defined by Bergson as the source of "the true internal movement of things, of their internal evolution, of their change" (Montebello 18). Different layers of time resurface in this passage. Some of the images used evoke the African past and colonial wars with the word "assegai"—an African spear. The phrase "burnt grass" possibly alludes to a traditional farming practice but also recalls the "scorched earth policy" which the British army under General Kitchener carried out during the Anglo-Boer War. The poetry of the city thus lies in this moment of epiphany, in this time-bound urge which impels the writer’s nomadic moves across the surface of Johannesburg, never allowing him a definite anchoring in and a firm grasp on its reality, condemning him to a partial or fragmented vision of the city but always with the satisfaction of being part of it.


35The literary perception of Johannesburg, like that of any other city, is a mental construct, an urban mindscape, "a substitute of space" (Hart 48). Writing Johannesburg is an act of imaginary appropriation and celebration. The city provides a particularly intense experience of life, a place where people are constantly on the move, trying to define or redefine projects, to find a way of life or simply to survive. On account of its complexity, Johannesburg is always a challenge, a formidable labyrinth where one may lose or find oneself. But the paradox is that although people are confronted with the nitty-gritty of life, the reality of the city remains elusive and ambivalent. Whatever the viewpoint one adopts, a thorough apprehension of Johannesburg seems to be beyond the reach of empirical experience: it belongs to a level of perception where the memories of the past and imagination merge and resolve themselves into language and images. The poetics of Johannesburg lies in the narrative paradigms and the literary discourse writers which elaborate to explore the city and appropriate it. It gives the measure of the manner they and their readers relate to both the real and the imaginary, of how their imagination structures the real. As one South African cultural geographer Gordon H. Pirie puts it, the validity of literary representations of Johannesburg lies in the fact that "they organize perceptions into memorable and reproducible patterns... They function as signs of a specific mode of living" (Pirie 71).

Top of page


Abrahams, Peter, Mine Boy, London: Heinemann, "African Writers Series", 1963 (1946).

Dangor, Achmat, The Ζ Town Trilogy, Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1990.

Dhlomo, Ralph, An African Tragedy, Alice: Lovedale Institution Press, 1931.

Deleuze, Gilles, Félix Guattari, Mille Plateaux, Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1980.

Drury, Alan, "A Very Strange Society", Reef of Time. Johannesburg in Writing, Ricci, Digby comp. and ed., Johannesburg: Ad Donker, 1988.

Gervais-Lambony, Philippe, L’Afrique du Sud et les états voisins, Paris: Armand Colin, 1997.

Hamon, Philippe, "Un discours contraint", Barthes, R., L. Bersani, Ph. Hamon, M. Riffaterre, I. Watt, Littérature et réalité, Paris: Seuil, "Points", 1982, 119-181.

Hart, Deborah, "South African Literature and Johannesburg’s Black Townships", dissertation submitted for the degree of Master of Arts, Johannesburg: University of the Witwatersrand, 1984.

Jolly, Rosemary Jane, Colonization, Violence and Narration in White South African Writing: André Brink Breyten Breytenbach, and J.M. Coetzee, Athens: Ohio University Press, 1996.

Krog, Antjie, Country of My Skull, London: Jonathan Cape, 1998.

La Guma, Alex, A Walk in the Night and Other Stories, London: Heinemann, "African Writers Series", 1967 (1962).

Lakoff, George, Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1980.

Lecercle, Jean-Jacques, Deleuze and Language, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

Lehan, Richard, The City in Literature. An Intellectual and Cultural History, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Montebello, Pierre, Deleuze, philosophie et cinéma, Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 2008.

Mpe, Phaswane, Welcome to Our Hillbrow, Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 2001.

Pike, Burton, The Image of the City in Modern Literature, Princeton: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Pirie, G.H., "Mostly 'Jubek': Urbanism in some South African Literature", South African Geographical Journal, 64, 1982, 63-71.

Sauvagnargues, Anne, "Deleuze. De l’animal à l’art", Zourabichvili, F., Α. Sauvagnargues, P. Marrati, La Philosophie de Deleuze, Paris: Quadrige/Presses Universitaires de France, 2004, 117-227.

Themba, Can, The Will to Die, London: Heinemann, "African Writers Series", 1972.

Tolsi, Nire, "Inner City on the Screen", Mail and Guardian, Friday Section, 3, 18-24 July 2008.

Vladislavic, Ivan, Portrait With Keys. Jo’burg and What-What, Houghton: Umuzi, 2006.

Top of page


1 The punctuation is that of Vladislavic’s text.

Top of page


Bibliographical reference

Richard Samin, « Writing Johannesburg: Between the Labyrinth and the Map », Caliban, 25 | 2009, 97-107.

Electronic reference

Richard Samin, « Writing Johannesburg: Between the Labyrinth and the Map », Caliban [Online], 25 | 2009, Online since 13 December 2016, connection on 12 July 2020. URL : ; DOI :

Top of page

About the author

Richard Samin

Université Nancy 2

Top of page


Licence Creative Commons
Caliban – French Journal of English Studies est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Top of page
  • Logo Presses universitaires du Midi
  • Logo DOAJ - Directory of Open Access Journals
  • OpenEdition Journals