This article analyzes Open City by Teju Cole as an example of a Theory Generation novel, positing that neither a strictly surface reading nor symptomatic reading approach alone is adequate for this sort of text. Expanding and complicating the novel's aside on the biology of bedbugs, the article argues that Julius, the book's protagonist, can best be understood not as a flâneur, fugueur, or model cosmopolitan, but, instead, as a parasite. His narratorial perspective is more analogous to the claustrophobic touch-driven irritations of the bedbugs that infest his mentor's Manhattan apartment than to the detached scopic flights of the birds that fill his free-associative reveries (and decorate the book's cover). Drawing on the work of J. Hillis Miller and Michel Serres, I posit that Julius's parasitic mode of interaction, which relies on brief moments of contact with others who are quickly mined for their stories and discarded, is deeply tied to the novel's reliance on tangential narration. The article argues for the unsettling ethical and affective implications of the similarities between the mechanisms of mathematical and narrative tangent-making vis-à-vis Julius's treatment of other characters in the novel. It finally asserts that Julius's rape of Moji is central to understanding both the affective discomfort of the novel as a whole and the limitations of similar protagonists who parasitically plot their way through Theory Generation novels.


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pp. 181-200
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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