Reading for session on Passing, 18th September

  • Primary text: Nella Larsen, Passing
  • Secondary (critical) text: Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination

Both are fairly short!


Pas perdus


We read a marvelous little piece on psychogeography by Guy Debord, psychogeography’s paterfamilias, alongside Nolan’s short story. This was an ironic choice really because the space in ‘Memento Mori’ is internal, and psychogeography is overwhelmingly about the outdoor space of cities. In a way Paris is the home of psychogeography, which is why one of us recommended Eric Hazan’s incredibly detailed and resolutely left-leaning history of Paris. Hazan’s book is histor(y)iography laced with psychogeographic tropes.

Peter Pan time


Jonathan Nolan’s ‘Memento Mori’ made us talk about time. Given that the main character is condemned to ten minute cycles of memory, this is hardly surprising. The human equivalent of a goldfish? This image from Disney’s Peter Pan is another visual reference that cropped up during the last session.

Further Reading: Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space

Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space (1958) uses topo(place)-analysis to explore how architectural space, especially of the home (e.g. attic, cellar) brings out and mirrors our deepest (subconscious) dreams/desires. I think this links to Cole, as well as to the architecture and psychology of place and space, e.g. his hallucination when he sees the New York subway station reduced to toy-town size, and therefore what it says about Julius’ psychological and geographical displacement and depersonalization. Julius has no (one) home. The ‘poetics’ aspect is interesting too; hitherto, necessarily, we have concentrated on the political aspects of space and safe(r) space or on the irreconcilabilities between two or more space positionalities; but, in whatever wide or narrow sense we use in reference to ‘poetics’, I think it is good to look at the role of the imagination and literary devices and styles (loosely ‘poetics’), especially as the Cole book seems to deliberately pay hommage to (some might say plagiarize!) a later author, Sebald, especially in relationship to a similar use of imagery and meta-discourses. A brief, occasionally strangely worded, account of Bachelard’s work is here.


Teju Cole’s Open City: Selected Readings

We decided that it was impossible for everyone to read Cole’s novel in its entirety, however much we may have wanted to, and so Steve has ploughed on and highlighted the following passages for us to read for our session:

  • pp. 4-5 re: radio announcers
  • page 7 from “at first” to “sleep arrive”
  • pp. 46/7 two consecutive paragraphs from top of page 46

Page numbers refer to the Faber paperback edition. More to follow…

Remember too that we’re reading Taiye Selassi’s very short piece, ‘What is an Afropolitan?’, alongside Cole’s novel.