Narratives of Body and Mind – Young Researchers Conference April 2021, Aachen

I’m presenting a keynote lecture at Aachen, Germany, at the “Narratives of Body and Mind” conference, a Young Researchers Conference, April 8-9, 2021.

The title of my talk is “Knocking on the Door: Presence in Literature”.

image source:


“How is a sense of presence created in literature? And how are presence and embodied memory tied to a reading-for-meaning in the interaction between reader and literary text? I will address these questions by examining instances of fateful knocking on doors, from Plato’s Symposium to Shakespeare’s Macbeth and more recent historical young adult fiction. In my readings, I will draw on enactivist approaches to literary studies, as well as on the work of Thomas De Quincey, James Wood, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, and Agneta Kuzmicova.”

Conference abstract:

“Since the cognitive turn in narrative theory opened up a new research field for literary
studies, new and innovative approaches have been developed in various research areas,
including the study of narrative. Starting from computational models that gave rise to
situational or mental models, to the recent move towards embodied approaches in
cognitive literary studies and empirical research with actual readers, cognitive literary
studies turned into a broad field that lends itself to complex combinations of different
research areas. In this interdisciplinary conference, we examine the various research areas in which narrative theory meets narratives of the body, narratives of the mind or the common ground between them.”

It would’ve been great to come in person to Aachen, hopefully another time!

Many thanks to Kai Tan and her colleagues at Aachen University for the kind invitation.

La Puissance Projective

For more than two decades, I’ve been working on and off together with scholars of the Ghent Urban Studies Team, and in particular with Bart Keunen, on questions of city literature, narrative urban planning, and the urban humanities. As part of that collaboration, I’ve been involved in collaborating on the volume La Puissance Projective – Intrigue narrative et projet urbain, which has just (5 March 21) been published with the Geneva publisher MétisPresses.

The book examines the narrative properties of urban planning, drawing on a wide range of examples, from post-I-World War Ypres to Disneyland Paris. As can be expected from a book published with an architectural press, the book is beautifully illustrated. Throughout, it connects well-established narrative theories of plot structure and narrative rhetorics with in-depth analysis of particular planning cases. The book brings together, in particular, long-standing work of Pieter Uyttenhove in the field of architecture and planning (architecture, Ghent University), the extensive work of Bart Keunen in the field of chronotopes and urban planning (comparative literature, Ghent University) with some of my more recent thinking on narrative and planning (see, in particular my recent book The Narrative Turn in Urban Planning).

With the collaboration of Johanna Godefroid, Noemi Loeman, Hendrik Sturm, Sofie Verraest & Tom Ysewijn.


“L’imagination narrative, telle qu’envisagée en littérature, joue un rôle tout aussi important dans la conception urbaine et paysagère. Concevoir l’environnement urbain, n’est-ce pas aussi raconter et imaginer un réseau qui réunira en une trame consistante des personnes, des espaces, des objets, des activités, des images éparses?

Depuis les années 1990, le «tournant narratif» nous aide à mieux comprendre les processus créatifs qui accompagnent la conception de projets urbains et de paysage. Par le récit, urbanistes et paysagistes anticipent des situations futures, les organisent en des ensembles cohérents composés d’une multiplicité d’images et de leurs interactions — comme le ferait un écrivain.

Le présent ouvrage, faisant référence à des figures mythologiques comme à des penseurs modernes, jongle entre textes, projets et images, analyses et analogies et approfondit par là ce parallèle littéraire. Différentes disciplines sont conviées: l’anthropologie, la chronophotographie, l’art de la promenade, la philosophie, la sémiologie, la mythologie et l’histoire de l’art. Des ruines du Saillant d’Ypres à Disneyland Paris, de la périphérie romaine à la Défense, cet ouvrage développe des études de cas variées et crée ainsi un terrain fertile pour repenser l’urbanisme et ses enjeux.”

More information here.

Out now: “The Destruction of Amsterdam: Flood Allegories in Contemporary Dutch Literature”

The final days 2020 saw the publication of my latest article, “The Destruction of Amsterdam: Flood Allegories in Contemporary Dutch Literature” in Tijdschrift voor Nederlandse Taal- en Letterkunde / Journal of Dutch Linguistics and Literature 136/4.

The article examines representations of urban destruction and of rising waters in Pieter Boskma’s poetry collection Tsunami in de Amstel (2016) and in Guido van Driel’s graphic novel De ondergang van Amsterdam (2007).

source: van Driel: De Ondergang van Amsterdam

The article is the second part of a triptych of articles I wrote on Low Countries urban flood narratives, with the other articles:

Ameel, Lieven & Stef Craps 2020: “Flooded Cities in Low Countries Fiction: Referentiality and Indeterminate Allegory in Renate Dorrestein’s Weerwater and Roderik Six’s Vloed”, published in Green Letters 24 (1): 36-50.

Ameel, Lieven 2021: “‘A Stream of Words’ – The Antwerp Quay Poem as Interrogation of Urban Open Form, Polyphony, and Radical Dialogue”, an article forthcoming in Textual Practice 2021, which examines Holvoet-Hanssen’s Antwerp Quay Poem, a public poem painted on the Antwerp flood walls in the early 2010s.

The articles are part of my research project on future visions of cities at the water in planning and fiction.

From the introduction of “The Destruction of Amsterdam”:

“The last years have seen a marked interest in representations of destructive climate change and flooding in literature (see e.g. Dobraszczyk 2017, Bracke & Ritson 2020), with a strong tendency in ecocritical approaches to read such representations in terms of their implications for understanding radical climatological and environmental change. In the context of Dutch literature, critics have foregrounded a perceived lack of such representations (Bracke 2016; see also Anker 2018; Craps & Mertens 2019; Rouckhout 2019). Pieter Boskma’s Tsunami in de Amstel (Tsunami in the Amstel) and Guido van Driel’s De ondergang van Amsterdam (The Destruction of Amsterdam), two contemporary texts that imagine a flooded Amsterdam, would seem to respond to this perceived lack of engagement with flooding on the part of Dutch literature. In Pieter Boskma’s poetry collection Tsunami in de Amstel (2016), rising waters, evoked in lofty iambic heptameters, flood Amsterdam until only a few iconic towers – the Westertoren; then the Rembrandttoren – are left standing. Similarly, in the elegantly painted panels of Guido van Driel’s graphic novel De ondergang van Amsterdam (2007), water is shown rising up from the earth to overwhelm the Netherlands’ first city, causing chaos and devastation. While Van Driel and Boskma draw in these works on contemporary tropes of radical climate change, the tropes of the flood and of urban destruction in both books are not easily recoverable for ecocritical readings. In a way that is closely bound up with the formal features of both works, something more complex than the vocalizing of climate concerns is at stake here, with Boskma and van Driel utilizing the trope of the flood to evoke a range of possible meanings, from personal reckoning with past poetics, reflections on loneliness and homelessness in the contemporary city, to metapoetical considerations about art’s ability to convey catastrophe.

This article examines representations of urban destruction and of rising waters in Boskma’s Tsunami in de Amstel and in van Driel’s De ondergang van Amsterdam, suggesting an allegorical reading of these tropes. I foreground the ways in which these texts reflect productively on visualisations and narrative frames of catastrophe, and how they propose alternative temporalities (in the case of Boskma) and alternative visual perspectives (in van Driel) for imagining possible urban end-times. The focus on allegorical readings is concomitant with an interest in the specific media utilized by Boskma and van Driel, with the ritualistic mode of the lyrical poem (cf. Culler 2017) and the subjectifying focalizations of the graphic novel (cf. Mikkonen 2017) arguably geared toward complex allegorical associations, rather than toward mimetic strategies. I will set out by a brief contextualization of flood representations in the Dutch context, and by outlining the groundwork for an allegorical reading of the trope of the flood.”

From the conclusion:

“In Boskma’s text, the potential presence of the reader is linked with the possibility to participate in the ritualistic properties (as outlined by Culler) of lyrical poetry, and in how they can participate in producing lyrical enunciations in a way that is coeval with the lyric I, or to identify with the addressee. In Boskma’s poetics, that enunciative function has demiurgic, world-creative properties, the power to awaken a world into being by the act of naming, as in the poem ‘Zonder Titel’ (p. 25). For all its metric prowess, the final, epic part, by contrast, evacuates such immediacy of presence. ‘Tsunami in de Amstel’, if anything, sketches the limits of the epic, narrative poem in contemporary treatment.

In van Driel’s De Ondergang van Amsterdam, the possibility of presence is one of aligning different perspectives and competing visualizations, and announced in the intricate mise-en-abyme in the opening panels: the protagonist looks at a painting to make sense of possible future destruction, while we as readers look at him, invited to consider both the possibility of destruction and the extent to which visual or narrative interpretations can give us access to possible future destruction. In the form of his graphic novel, then, van Driel has provided a tentative answer to the question Titus starts out from, in front of Rembrandt’s painting of the destruction of Jeruzalem: ‘kan ik mij daar iets bij voorstellen?’ (p. 6) – ‘is this something I can imagine?’”

source: van Driel: De Ondergang van Amsterdam

I’d be happy to share a pdf of the article to anyone interested in my work – just contact me at lieven.ameel [a]

MLA 2021

Taking part in the first conference this year – MLA 2021, and the first time I participate in the MLA. The conference is obviously an online conference. It is most likely that I would not have been able to participate, for a variety of reasons, in the conference otherwise, so this is a good opportunity to listen in to talks by colleagues from my home sofa. But I obviously miss all the informal discussions that take place in the fringes of conferences, the inspiring encounters, surprising comments, reunions with old acquaintances… and the way a conference thrives also on the material embeddedness within a city or campus.

One session that stood out for me yesterday was the session on “Rural Modernity, Metropolitan Modernism, Global Circulations.”

Very much looking forward to today’s session “Literary Urban Studies now”, presided by Liam Lanigan of Governors State U, and with several colleagues presenting. Abstract below:

“Literary urban studies connects historical, interdisciplinary, critical, and narrative-led approaches to the city and literature. Following an urban renaissance in Western countries and a huge expansion of Global South cities, the city’s future as a physical entity is deeply uncertain. Participants give five-minute talks on changing conceptions of the city in the twenty-first century, followed by discussion welcoming audience participation.”
Some of the (many) other sessions I’m interested in:
167 – The Abstract and the Particular343 Form and Space in Latin American Literature

405 – City Myths

Hope to start seeing more colleagues in real time later this year!


Approaches to “Solid Objects”

For this autumn’s course in methods in literary theory, I decided on Virginia Woolf’s short story “Solid Objects” (1920). Over the course of six sessions, we applied a range of methods and approaches to the text. Each week, I gained new insights about the text and about literary studies’ ability to draw out meaning. Delving into the text like John with his fingers into the sand, only to come up with something that is strangely nondescript and still full of power and meaning. Not surprising to see that materialist approaches to the text have been particularly foregrounded in the past few decades. Thanks especially to all the students who actively participated despite the difficult circumstances.

The approaches and methods we applied:

Close reading

Theory of mind



Writing as method


Any approaches or methods that should definitely be included if I teach the same class again next year? Contact me with ideas at lieven.ameel [a]

Course: KIRA2 – menetelmät ja sovellukset / “methods and applications”



“Future Days” session on narratives of the city – 2 Dec 2020

It was a virtual conference rather than a physical meeting in Paris for this year’s “Future Days” (1-3 Dec 2020), where I had the honor to chair a workshop on storytelling and the city (“Mettre en récit la ville”) together with Anne Jarrigeon of Université Gustave Eiffel. Fascinating papers on silence and disputed memories in cities, climate fiction and urban futures, a case study from Thailand, and an intervention from the president of Timescope, a company involved in urban storytelling through virtual reality and augmented reality.

How to negotiate absences and silences in urban history? How to map, study, and develop stories in an urban context? This hour-and-a-half session was far too short to do more than scratch the surface and I would have loved to have heard more from all of the participants.

Much of what was discussed connected with earlier work I have been involved in, e.g. in the co-edited book The Materiality of Literary Narratives in Urban History (2019), with  for example the article by Huday Tayob on “The Unconfessed Architecture of Cape Town”, which examines how literature can help complement archival silences and absences. Several of the approaches in my recent book The Narrative Turn in Urban Planning (2020) examine the complexities at work in examining and developing urban narratives in a historical and planning context.

Great to see colleagues at least virtually, hopefully next time in Paris we’ll meet in person!


Out now: “The Narrative Turn in Urban Planning”

Published this week: my book The Narrative Turn in Urban Planning: Plotting the Helsinki Waterfront (Routledge).

What constitutes a story in the context of urban planning, and what doesn’t? What Helsinki waterfront area was briefly conceptualized as “woman city”? Did a prominent developer really claim that “segregation is good”? Why is the sledge hill in Jätkäsaari not a sledge hill? This and much more in The Narrative Turn in Urban Planning.

Please order it to your libraries, review it for your journals, read it – engage with what works, and critique what doesn’t.

From the generous preface by James A. Throgmorton:

“… I enthusiastically welcome the publication of Lieven Ameel’s new book. … his project takes past work on stories and storytelling a big step forward. Claiming “there is no comprehensive study of how narrative – and concepts from narrative and literary theory more broadly – can enrich planning and policy,” he has crafted his book to serve as the first go-to text for students and researchers who engage with urban planning in terms of narratives. He asks: (1) What is meant, exactly, when we speak of narratives in urban planning? (2) What kind of typologies can we begin to draw up? And (3) how does a narrative analysis unpack different, always politicized, visions of a better future city? With this focus and set of questions in mind, he draws upon methods and concepts from literary studies, narratology, and rhetoric. He defines key concepts, offers a functional typology of different types of planning narratives, and applies those concepts and theories to two case studies from contemporary planning for Helsinki’s waterfront.”

From the conclusion:

“Cities are always, in the words of Doreen Massey, “the intersections of multiple narratives” (1999, 165). It is a concept of the city that resembles Robert Park’s famous notion of the city as a “mosaic of little worlds that touch but do not interpenetrate” (1915, 608). The statements by Park and Massey, respectively, reflect two different visions of how the city’s narrative complexity functions: as diverse city worlds that closely interact (in Massey’s view) or that, in Park’s view, are merely casually touching upon each other. The challenge of planners is to be aware of the narrative complexity within which they operate; to be able to survey, to incorporate, and to foster the city’s repository of multiple narratives.

Planning, as this book has argued throughout, is fundamentally concerned with narrative. Planning processes and planning documents reveal, shape or contest existing narratives, and in planning, power relations and language are firmly entwined. Planners are involved in a form of “persuasive storytelling” (Throgmorton 1996) that looks backwards, by defending particular choices, as well as forwards, in the way they project visions of the future. They act within a broad ecology of narratives, including media narratives, everyday citizen narratives, and cultural representations of space. In dialogue with such various modes of storytelling, planning draws on existing narrative frames and rhetorical elements to select, choose and formalize particular stories of an area, city, or city-region, which are consequently materialized into the built environment as construction gets underway.

This book has set out a range of perspectives and methods for approaching the narrative complexity of a planning area, for developing planning with narrative, and for analysing narratives in the context of planning. The framework for such an analysis is provided by the threefold typology that distinguishes between narratives for, in and of planning. Narratives for planning consist of the existing narratives of a location, prior to planning: everyday stories, cultural representations, historical documents. Narratives in planning include the narrative texts and practices produced by planners or from actors within planning and policy (other agencies within the city, regional government, private actors operating in cooperation with planners). Narratives of planning are the stories of a development area told parallel or posterior to the planning proper, for example in branding or place-making strategies, but also in the way local stories react to and communicate with planning and development of an area. This threefold taxonomy of narratives in the context of planning provides a hermeneutic tool for scholars, planners and the general public to talk in more precise terms about authorship, context and objectives of planning narratives.

In the context of the increasing “storyfication” of planning and policy, and of the “narrative turn” in planning theory, it has been particularly important to set out by clearly defining the key concepts for a narrative analysis of non-fictional modes of storytelling, starting out with definitions of narrative, story, and narrativity. Narrative denotes what happens when someone tells someone else something, on a particular occasion and for a particular reason. What is told is the story. In this definition, maps, pictures, and elements in the built environment are not narratives, but they can contain narrativity – the potential to evoke a particular story.

All planning begins with some kind of survey of the area. A narrative mapping, which aims to chart an area in terms of the stories it has generated, will put a particular focus on metaphor, plot, and the relationships between the location and personal or communal development. The examination of a century of writing about the Helsinki waterfront, in Chapter Three, shows a rich and sometimes contradictory set of cultural meanings associated with the area. The Helsinki shoreline appears in this mapping as a liminal space of possibility for individuals as well for the transformative powers of society, enabling romantic encounters across social boundaries, but also individual moments of contemplation and rebirth. It functions as an environment in which the (social, gendered, ideological) fault lines of the city become apparent. Most of all, this is an area that gains its transformative powers from its peripheral location outside of the regular urban fabric, its closeness to the sea and its connection with other shores.

A narrative approach can be applied to all the phases of planning, from survey to participation, from the planning text to the interaction between the eventual built environment and new narratives of place. With the help of narrative mapping, local experiential knowledge can be foregrounded and used to challenge and supplement more quantitative place-based information. For researchers interested in how narratives in planning are rhetorically structured, a narrative approach can provide crucial insights, by drawing on questions such as: To what extent do plans draw on archetypal modes of emplotment or on particular textual genres? Who are the leading characters and actors within the planning storylines – planners, citizens, tourists, developers? What metaphors are used, and how are rhetorical tropes used to provide implied causality to particular decisions? Are there contradictions within the narratives in planning? Finally, narrative approaches can be instrumental in providing insights for developing future planning with narrative. They can identify a lack of cohesion or degree of contradiction within proposed planning storylines, or help identify blind spots in terms of forgotten actors or voices. In its most radical form, planning with narrative can result in planning that allows for greater polyphony, including contradictory voices or multiple storylines, and for planning without closure.

From a narrative perspective, some recommendations suggest themselves in terms of how planning with narrative could be further developed. Attending to the role of protagonists is one element that deserves closer attention: planning documents have come some way from the distanced and passive voice still prevalent in the final decades of last century, but more could be done to ensure that the set of actors and voices in planning narratives displays a genuine diversity, and that citizens, too, are visible as actors, in addition to planners and institutional forces. Enabling citizens to speak in their own voice within planning texts, even when their perspectives run counter to planning narratives, is an important element in moving towards a degree of polyphony in planning.

Finally, a greater attentiveness to the fundamental narrative characteristics of planning can result in planning narratives that are more coherent and more convincing, but also in narratives that are grounded in local layers of meaning and flexible in the face of future change. Similar to literary novels, plans tend to have clearly delineated endings. Cities, by contrast, continue their relentless cycles of change and transformation, regardless of the completion of city plans. To develop planning with narrative, including the possibility of planning without closure or with multiple and even contradictory storylines, is one way to prepare for inevitable change and for future uncertainty.”

Full acknowledgements can be found, of course, in the opening pages of the book – let it suffice to say here that I would not have been able to write this book without the support, help, and feedback of numerous students, colleagues, and my family. THANKS!



Literary Approaches to Possible Futures – KULTVA seminar on future cities

Today I went back (at least virtually) to the University of Turku, where I presented a paper on “Literary Approaches to Possible Futures” (“Mahdolliset tulevaisuudet – näkökulmia kirjallisuudesta”).

On the programme also Kimi Kärki (speaking of Blade Runner) and author Hanna-Riikka Kuisma, who discussed her recent novel Kerrostalo (“High-Rise”).

We had a good audience and an animated discussion, and thoroughly ran out of time to talk of all the questions that came up.

Thanks to all participants and the KULTVA Cultural Interaction Researcher Network who organized the seminar.

The themes of the seminar resonated also with the course I taught earlier this year on hope for the future, a course which developed in a short article (co-authored with the students) which will be published in the next Avain journal (2020/3)



Narratives and Planning – University of Agder, Norway

I recently (23 September 2020) gave a guest lecture on Narratives and Planning to planning students at the University of Agder, Norway.

The situation being what it is, the guest lecture took place online (hope to visit the place in actuality some day!), but that didn’t keep the students from lively discussing and commenting the themes of the lecture.

The one key thing I would like the students to remember: narratives in planning are NOT about communication. Instead, narratives in planning is about ways of structuring knowledge, describing problems, envisioning solutions

… using particular, cultural-specific narrative structures and tropes.

Thanks to Paulina Nordström for inviting me to give a talk and for this opportunity to connect across Northern Europe, and to the students for their active engagement.

More of my recent work on narratives in the context of planning can be found in my forthcoming book The Narrative Turn in Urban Planning (November 2020, Routledge).

The argument as it developed was partly based on my article “The ‘valley of ashes’ and the ‘fresh green breast’: metaphors from The Great Gatsby in planning New York” in Planning Perspectives.

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Back at Tampere!

From 1 August I’m back at Tampere as a university lecturer in comparative literature,  after three years on research leave.


Much has changed at Tampere: new university, new faculty, new study information systems… The main task remains much the same: to teach, to do research, to provide guidance to students, to collaborate with colleagues and to do all of that in ways that interact with broader society.

Very much looking forward to continue collaboration with old colleagues and to get to know new ones.

After years focusing on research, I’m particularly looking forward also to teach and to reconnect with our students. Unfortunately, teaching will be online for the rest of the year 2020 – hopefully we can get back to normal contact teaching as soon as possible in 2021.

In terms of research, I will continue finalizing my project on the futures of coastal cities across genres (more here), with a number of articles coming up and hopeful a monograph taking shape in the year to come.

Other things I hope to work on include explorations of utopia and hope in literature; questions of agency in terms of networked urbanities; the genre of the city novel; the development of methods and approaches in literary urban studies.

I would like to end this blog post by thanking the University of Turku and the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies for their support these past three years. TIAS was the perfect place to focus on research over a longer period of time. Among many other things, the support of TIAS enabled me to go on extensive research trips, to spend half a year as visiting professor at the KU Leuven, Belgium, to organize various events, to invite colleagues, and to connect with a wide range of fascinating researchers working on the most diverse topics. More than anything else, TIAS allowed me to focus for a long and uninterrupted time and without too many distractions on one particular research project, and to think through the implications of that project.