Published In

Studies in the Novel

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2019


Nigerians -- New York (State) -- New York -- Fiction, Identity (Psychology) -- Fiction, Race -- Fiction


This essay addresses Teju Cole’s Open City (2011), a deconstructed bildungsroman preoccupied with Gustav Mahler’s late compositions. Building on Theodor Adorno’s account of Mahler, the essay argues that Cole positions Julius’s violent subjectivity in dialectical tension with the patterns of consumption that inform both his and Mahler’s intellectual landscapes. Previous scholarship, though attentive to Cole’s cosmopolitanism, has ignored the novel’s fixation on Mahler: a Jewish Bohemian-Austrian composer whose cosmopolitan sensibilities led him to appropriate a range of literary and musical sources, Western and Eastern. These sources, Adorno argued, are mediated in Mahler’s music as “pseudomorphs” that unravel their own pretenses to authenticity. Through the formal cul-de-sacs of Julius’s narrative, Cole amplifies Mahler’s material contradictions, complicating the notion that an aesthetic cosmopolitanism can make a subject whole. Instead, Open City manifests an elliptical cosmopolitanism in which aesthetic consumption both constructs and corrodes Julius’s novelistic perspective as he confronts his own alterity.


Copyright © 2019 by the University of North Texas. Published by Johns Hopkins University Press.


This article first appeared in Studies in the Novel, Volume 51, Issue 3, fall 2019, pages 412-32. Used by permission.

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