“The Ethics of Waste in Zoë Wicomb’s You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town.”

Zoë Wicomb’s You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town (1987) uses bodily and material waste to figure larger social processes of marginalization, dispossession, and racial abjection during the apartheid era. As the apartheid regime sought to devalue black and “coloured” lives, while simultaneously profiting from their land and labor, it pushed non-white South Africans into dangerous proximity to hazardous and unseemly waste. Waste, in You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town, becomes both metonymy and metaphor. Wicomb not only uses it to index the historical and material processes of abjection that obtained in twentieth-century South Africa; she also takes up garbage, feces, vomit, and other refuse as an ethical lens for the consideration of how individual and collective subjectivities are formed by what is thrown away. In its relationship to waste of all kinds, the individual body becomes a site in which social processes of acceptance and disavowal play out.

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