The city . . .  does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in
the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps . . . 
every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls. Cities are in-
visible stories and stories are invisible cities.
—Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
If Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities evokes a cartography of desires, hopes, and
vague ideas, it is because it couples a strong sense of place with that of
ephemeralness. Each city Marco Polo arrives at is both scrupulously material
and yet peculiarly evanescent. Read in a certain light, Invisible Cities becomes
a way of reading all cities we come to, for who would deny that a city is as a
much a place of emotional investments as it is the domain of brute geogra-
phies? And so, we fi nd, it is for the urban critic.
In Theory from the South the Comaroff s put forward a defi nition of Afromo-
dernity that is pertinent to what we might extrapolate from Oxford Street for
application elsewhere. As they note, Afromodernity demands to be seen
not as a derivate copy or counterfeit of the “real thing” of Euromodernity,
but in its own right as “a hydra- headed, polymorphous, mutating ensemble
of signs and practices in terms of which people across the continent have
made their lives” (2010, 7). Afromodernity “is a vernacular— just as Euro-
modernity is a vernacular— wrought in an ongoing, geopo liti cally situated
engagement with the unfolding history of the present” (9).1 They suggest
then that the global South, and Africa within it, aff ords privileged insights
into the workings of the world at large. The Comaroff s provide a number
of examples to illustrate this proposition, including Brazil’s seizing of the
initiative in the innovation of the biofuel economy, the extension of India’s
auto industry into Britain, and the impact of the Hong Kong banking sector
On Urban Free Time: Vladimir, Estragon,
and Rem Koolhaas
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