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A Brown Bag Talk with Prof. Ian MacDonald
‘Hidden Cities’: Urban Fantasies and Fantastic Urbanity in Casely Hayford’s Ethiopia Unbound and Pauline Hopkins’s Of One Blood
Monday, October 30th | 10:00am | AH 104 & Zoom
 

Please join us for the next of our English Department faculty brown bag talks on Monday, October 30th at 10am. While the talk will be offered remotely, we encourage in person attendance in AH 104.

 


A Brown Bag Talk with Prof. Ian MacDonald
‘Hidden Cities’: Urban Fantasies and Fantastic Urbanity in Casely Hayford’s Ethiopia Unbound and Pauline Hopkins’s Of One Blood
Monday, October 30th | 10:00am | AH 104 & Zoom
 

Please join us for the next of our English Department faculty brown bag talks on Monday, October 30th at 10am. While the talk will be offered remotely, we encourage in person attendance in AH 104.

 

In the fourth chapter of Ghanaian author Casely Hayford’s Ethiopia Unbound (1911)—widely referred to as the first “African novel”—the central character, Kwamankra, receives a vision during an illness in which he discovers the holy city of Nanamu. Seeing first the “walls the city…surrounded by a great lake whose water was as clear as crystal” Kwamankra eventually procures access to the city center, where, reunited with his daughter—who, along with her mother, had died in childbirth—he sees a “simple, yet majestic, ethereal yet earthly” scene, as if “from some forgotten age.” Among “busy, noisy thoroughfare[s]” he observes “a multitude of men hurrying hither and thither,” through “green” “peaceful” avenues “edged with luxuriant shrubs and plants whose leaves showed the most delicate tints of the rainbow in beautiful blend”: a “teeming [multitude] represent[ing] every kindred, race, people, and nation under the sun.” Having been given his tour, Kwamankra is returned to his body with the imprecation to “go to the city beautiful, the mother of the world.” In a caustically ironic gesture, the following chapter juxtaposes this “city of immortals” with the so-called “Metropolis of the Gold Coast,” Sekondi, which is marked by colonial infrastructure which literally leaves the inhabitants dying of thirst.

 

In a similar gesture, the protagonist of Hopkins’s Of One Blood (1902), Reuel Briggs, experiences a sequence of hauntings, being approached (through the auspices of astral projection linked with mesmerism) by his future wife, Dianthe Lusk, which he takes as evidence of his belief that “if we could but strengthen our mental sight, we could discover the broad highway between this and the other world on which both good and evil travel to earth.” Joining an “expedition…starting from England for Africa,” Briggs seeks to discover lost riches to fund his new family, but discovers instead the “hidden city Telassar,” a Wakanda-esque megapolis in which a priestly caste has passed down the “dazzl[ing]” “glory” of a “once magnificent race” over nearly eight millennia.

 

In both these texts, the colonial structures endemic to the “metropole-periphery” conceit are challenged by Africa’s recentralization as the source of civilization. This chapter will address the use of urban fantasy—in its auspices of an “initiation to urban life in which the protagonists stand on the threshold of the city” (Den Tandt 1998)—as a critical challenge to nineteenth-century urban transitions in Africa aimed at undercutting the epistemologies of progressive historicity which fueled Empire up to, and in the wake of, the Berlin Conference. Both Hasley and Hopkins rethink the potential of the city beyond its colonial outlines by casting back into “some forgotten age” or “early days, now lost in obscurity” and, using fantastic premises, resituate those histories as speculative alternatives to their own respective colonial presents.

 

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