History in Place: Territorialized Cosmopolitanism in Teju Coles Open City Academic Article uri icon


  • Teju Coles 2011 novel Open City has received a good deal of scholarly attention, the majority of which suggests that the novel depicts a failed cosmopolitanism: the narrators emphasis on literary and aesthetic forms of global connection is undercut by his repeated ethical failings. However, in this article, I argue that Open City instead demonstrates a form of territorialized cosmopolitanism that emphasizes the embodied negotiation between local places and global connections rather than the intangibly aesthetic. This is a model of cosmopolitanism that emphasizes the contingent and temporary instead of the universal. The cosmopolitanism present in Open City emerges in multiple ways: through the interaction with and interpretation of place, through embodied forms of sympathetic encounter, and through the transformation of rage at past trauma into a force for social justice and reparation. What unites these three cosmopolitan modalities is the novels rejection of a universalizing liberal cosmopolitanism, despite Juliuss erstwhile endorsement of such a view of global community. Open City, then, presents a model of cosmopolitan world fiction that offers glimpses of potential cosmopolitan futurities that do not seek either to elide messy historical or contemporary realities or to naturalize the language of class and cultural capital.

published proceedings

  • Diaspora A Journal of Transnational Studies

author list (cited authors)

  • Johansen, E.

citation count

  • 1

complete list of authors

  • Johansen, Emily

publication date

  • January 2018