Flânerie in Valerie Tagwira’s The Uncertainty of Hope
Keywords:Zimbabwean literature, Valerie Tagwira, mobility, flânerie, urban walking, modernity, gender
Valerie Tagwira’s debut novel The Uncertainty of Hope, set in Harare in 2005, depicts the city on the brink of collapse, characterized by the effects of economic crisis and political violence against the urban poor. Political marginalization of the working classes and gender-based violence intersect and diminish the prospects for the social and spatial mobility of the urban poor. In this article I apply the lens of flânerie to the pedestrian movements of Tagwira’s protagonist Onai Moyo, an impoverished woman who makes a living by selling vegetables on Harare’s streets. In order to make a case for Onai’s ‘flânerie against all odds’, I revisit Walter Benjamin’s theorization as well as recent scholarly engagements with flânerie in non-European settings. By giving her protagonist a gaze traditionally associated with a European middle-class urbanity of the 19th century, Tagwira expands a tradition of city writing/walking and, like other contemporary engagements with flânerie, also breathes new life into a concept often pronounced inappropriate or unproductive for readings of non-European literature.
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