Nostalgic Dystopia: Johannesburg as Landscape after White Writing

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Summary: In 1988 J.M. Coetzee published White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in South Africa, formulating landscape as inherently entangled with problematic notions of white identity and belonging. Coetzee posits that white descendants of the Dutch and English colonists failed to find an appropriate “language” to represent the country’s landscape because they failed to establish an African identity. This crisis seems topical again with debates around land expropriation in the media, as well as #FeesMustFall considering questions of race and belonging. How is this reflected in contemporary landscape representation? By investigating the depiction of Johannesburg in the film District 9 (Blomkamp 2009), I aim to consider how landscape is seen as a contradictory nostalgic dystopia, reflecting the complexity of whiteness in relation to place in South Africa. The land itself bears the dystopian scars of the colonial mining industry, the geographic segregation of the apartheid regime, and the decay following the aftermath of so-called “white flight” in the inner city. At the same time, it is nostalgically depicted as the urban landscape of the 1980s, which for white people offered an illusory utopian lifestyle. Johannesburg in District 9 is thus a projection of white anxiety around land, hearkening back to Coetzee’s notion of disconnection between white South Africans and the landscapes of the country, and which seems to inspire an ironic nostalgia for a fictional past.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-142
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Literary Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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