The Second International Conference of the Helsinki Literature and the City Network (HLCN)
Literary Second Cities
Åbo Akademi University, 20-21 August 2015
The official website of the conference, with full updates, can be found here.
The second international conference of the HLCN (currently the Association for Literary Urban Studies) will be devoted to the topic of literary ‘Second Cities’ – the literature of cities that come second (or third, or fourth) to the ‘first cities’ within their national or supra-regional context, and that have remained largely understudied in literary urban studies. What, for example, can literary experiences of Chicago or Boston tell us about urban developments in American fiction, and how do literary Marseille or Lyon provide new perspectives on the role of Paris in fiction? And how do questions of urban scale reverberate in the literature of cities that are not undisputed centres? The search for answers to these questions contains the potential to revise a whole literary-historical tradition.
Work on the literary city continues to be disproportionately focused on the biggest and most glamorous of (Western) world cities: the likes of London, Paris and New York. The bonds between these cities and the literary canon have proved durable, and in a long-standing tradition of urban literary studies, modernity and literature are perceived as coming truly together in a few global metropolises. There are reasons to challenge such a selective focus in the twenty-first century. Paris may have been ‘the capital of the nineteenth century’, as Walter Benjamin famously stated, but today’s globalized late modernity is much less comfortable with such ideas of single, representative, ostensibly self-sufficient cities.
But a typology of literary second cities could be begun – cities with literary and cultural traditions that, if studied more rigorously, might radically revise our understanding of the urban condition. Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux to Paris; Manchester and Birmingham to London; Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and New Orleans to New York; Turku and Tampere to Helsinki; Tartu to Tallinn. And this is only to mention a tiny handful of examples from northern Europe and North America. Many of these cities have developed a literature in counter-distinction to the local metropolis. Writers and artists in other fields including cinema have developed associations with particular ‘second cities’: in Britain Elizabeth Gaskell in Manchester; in France there is the Rouen of Flaubert, or, as Perry Anderson has pointed out, Marseille in the movies of Robert Guédiguian; in Germany there is Heinrich Böll in Cologne and Thomas Mann in Lübeck and Munich. Again, this is merely to scratch the surface.
The specific urban condition and experience of second cities is not only related to the functions of the city, but to degrees of scale. Accordingly, the conference invites contributions on how questions of scale find their way in the literary representations of cities. Notions of scale invite the assembly of connections between cities of different sizes and levels of local, regional and global magnitude, rather than of dichotomies, and warn against the tendency to concentrate on supposedly major or great cities and the expense of others.The conference ‘Literary Second Cities’ invites papers on subjects including, but not limited to, the following themes:
– the industrial city, or the working city as opposed to the cosmopolitan capital driven by finance and consumption;
– scaling the city, including comparisons between cities of different magnitudes;
– the provincial capital;
– lesser-known shadow partners of major cities (Brooklyn, South London, Salford, Leith, Oakland, to think of the Anglophone world);
– former capitals and declined or marginalized cities;
– mobilities and secondary cities.
Sessions on Nordic second cities, modernism and literary second cities, and urban scale in literary studies of space have been proposed, and further sessions will be organized on the basis of the final applications.
Suggestions for others, for example with particular historical, national or regional limits, are welcome. The language of the conference will be English, but papers focusing on literature in any language in any part of the world are welcome. In addition to literary scholars, it is very much hoped that cultural and historical geographers, urban historians and planners, workers in visual studies, cultural studies and art and architecture studies will be interested in taking part.
The first HLCN conference, ‘City Peripheries / Peripheral Cities’, has resulted in a collection of essays (forthcoming from Palgrave, 2015) covering cities from Latin America to South Africa and the Nordic and Baltic region: ranging far beyond the traditional Anglophone foci of western Europe and North America. It is the objective of ‘Second Cities’ to continue this tradition and to develop literary urban studies in a way that crosses borders and challenges traditional divisions within the academy.
For further information, contact the organisers:
 Anderson, Perry (2014), ‘Diary’. London Review of Books 36.2 (23 January 2014), pp 38-39. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n02/perry-anderson/diary