The Sound of Silent Memories: Negotiating Cultural Memory through Urban Noise in Teju Cole’s Open City

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Often emphasis is made on the things we see each time memory is discussed. This study, however, Investigates the extent to which memories are associated with urban noise, and how an individual can negotiate or address memory—so-recalled—through embodying the figure of a flâneur navigating an urban space. By drawing our attention to—not merely the noises but—sounds he hears or misses, Julius, as a flâneur in Teju Cole's masterpiece, Open Cry, is seen negotiating memory in the novel through writing and walking. Each step invites him to pay attention to the inviolability in memorial silence that often competes amid the resounding noise of the metropolitan hassles of the New York urban atmosphere. New York is represented as a city open to the propagation of Jullus's collective memories, and thus becomes tangible and palpable through Julius's walks. As an Afropolitan flâneur, Julius is not just a detached urban spectator or passive walker: he is actively engaged with the city lifestyle but experiences the city through the memory of immigration. With the fundamental framewark of the flâneur that is traditionally hinged on Charles Baudelaire’s idea of it and Walter Benjamin’s historical interpretation of same, tweaked by Achille Mbembe's critical take on Afropolitanism, this chapter is based on the interference theory of human memory, a theory credited to John A. Bergström, a German psychologist. Interference theory refers to the idea that the learning of something new causes forgetting of older material on the basis of competition between the two. The interfering items are said to originate from an over-stimulating environment. In this chapter, we find how Julius embodies the immigrant when the silent (suppressed) memories in his life are evoked by the chaotic sound of city life as he traverses the nooks and crannies of New York with its urban noise.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationVernon Press
EditorsOliver Bock, Isabel Vila-Cabanes
PublisherVernon Press
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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