Ivan Vladislavic's aesthetics of detritus in “Autopsy” and “Propaganda by Monuments”

20 Jul 2018

In this article, I examine detritus as a central trope for post-transitional South African society, an idea that, I argue, has particular relevance for Ivan Vladislavić’s second short story collection, Propaganda by Monuments. As a point of departure, I use Leon de Kock’s idea of the “democratic moment” – the moment of radical globalization coinciding with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the crumbling of apartheid bureaucracy. In this new “democratic” age, cultural detritus – remnants, fragments and addenda – begins to circulate and litter transnational contexts, finding its way into the unlikeliest of spaces, producing cultural resonances, echoes and cross-talk. In Propaganda by Monuments, detritus carries exotic charges of meaning, and allows for alternative ways of seeing the urban landscape in the new democratic era, in which the nation state has begun its process of dissipation. As such, Propaganda by Monuments can perhaps be read as a prelude to Vladislavić’s third collection of stories, 101 Detectives, in which the detritus has been swept away, and polished surfaces are angled towards the protagonists, and the reader, narrowing their margins for subjectivity and self-styling.