Although Brussels does not figure as prominently in literature in English as do the more iconic cosmopolitan cities of London and New York, when the flâneur-narrator of Open City (2011) keeps up his ambulatory habits in the Belgian capital during a brief holiday from his psychiatry residency at a Manhattan hospital, Teju Cole joins a long line of authors from across the world who have drawn inspiration from Brussels (Acke and Bekers, eds., Brussel schrijven/ Écrire Bruxelles). With his “hetero-images” (Leerssen, “Imagology”), the Nigerian American writer follows the example of other Anglophone authors, including William Makepeace Thackeray, Charlotte Brontë, and Joseph Conrad, who have captured Brussels from the perspective of the “Other.” Comparing Cole's Open City with Conrad's much older discussion of the impact of Europe's cross-Atlantic imperialism in Heart of Darkness (1899/1902), this article argues that the fictionalizations of Brussels in both texts serve the authors’ self-reflective socio-criticism, whether it is a modernist critique on colonization or a postmodernist and postcolonial reading of the present-day multicultural world, rather than contribute to the proliferation of any transcendent myth concerning Brussels.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)351-367
Number of pages17
JournalAtlantic Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 11 Mar 2021


  • Brussels
  • imagology
  • postcolonialism
  • Modernism
  • Postmodernism
  • Teju Cole
  • Open City
  • Heart of Darkness
  • Joseph Conrad
  • African diaspora literature


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