Jean Baudrillard once said that: “…language never says (only) what it means.” Oscar Wilde added that: “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” They were both proponents of what Susan Andrade cites as “anti-mimeticism” and what Andrew Apter, citing Baudrillard, refers to as “mirage of the referent.” What both ideas are concerned with is how the signifier easily replaces the signified as the standard for reality. This resonates with Apter’s suggestion that the Nigerian state stemmed to a great extent from its representation – purely representational value superseding exchange value and resulting in “a social world of smoke and mirrors.” However, Andrade’s image of the funhouse mirror, while it seems to distort reality reflects it more perfectly. In essence, art can cast more light on the given situation than the angle of the camera .ie. the distortion is more truthful than the mere duplicate that the camera provides.
Chris Abani once offered that “the cause of all our trouble is the belief in an essential, pure identity.” This is complicated by the fact that identity is dependent on meaning through language which is constantly in flux — there can always be a gap between what a person is ascriptively and the identity they perform. In Graceland, Abani prompts us to be aware of the socio-historical construction of identity/race/nation and how a label works despite the absence of an essence.
By exploring Abani’s play with alternate reality and contradiction through his bilateral description of character and setting; his unorthodox structure; his use of dramatic irony and the deployment of ambivalence throughout the novel, I seek to prove that Graceland may act as the fun-house mirror – reminding us that the performance is so often what is authentic.