Ontological Instability in Rimminen’s Early Prose at Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland

I’ll present a paper today on spatiality and ontological instability in Mikko Rimminen’s early prose today at the Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, as part of the book launch of Contemporary Nordic Literature and Spatiality.

The paper will present the key arguments of my article “A Geo-ontological thump…” The full article is available in open access here.

Congratulations and thanks for excellent work on the book, Kristina Malmio and Kaisa Kurikka!

Programme of today’s seminar

(1 November 2019)

14:15 Kristina Malmio (University of Helsinki) & Kaisa Kurikka (University of Turku): Spatial Stories of the Nordic Countries

14:45 Lieven Ameel (University of Turku): “To the the end of the world” – Urban Apocalypse in Mikko Rimminen’s Early Prose

15:15 Short break

15:30 Elisabeth Friis (Lund University): On the Commons: a Geocritical Reading of Amager Fælled

16:00 Ralf Andtbacka (poet): Potsdamer Platz as Historical and Imaginative Space

16:30 Reception



Imre Szeman research visit to TIAS

Over the next few weeks, professor Imre Szeman from the University of Waterloo, Canada, will be visiting TIAS. Really looking forward to connect with his work with the environmental humanities and energy humanities.

We’ll have several research workshops, meetings with other scholars, and also two guest lectures – the lectures are open to the public, but please register if you plan to attend the Turku event:

Quitting (the) Habit: Fossil Fuels, Governmentality and the Politics of Energy Dependency

Guest lecture by Prof. Imre Szeman and Round Table

31 October 2019, Time: 14h-16h Place: Porthan Hall, Maaherran makasiini, University of Turku (Henrikinkatu 10, Turku)

Round Table with Imre Szeman, Pia Ahlback, Heikki Sirviö, Tere Vaden & Lieven Ameel

More information here

Energy (and) Humanities Seminar
hosted by UH Environmental Humanities Hub and HELSUS, University of Helsinki
Time: November 5th, 2019, at 2 pm – 6 pm,
Venue: Porthania, room 224, HELSUS Hub Lounge

Imre Szeman: “Eight Principles for a Critical Theory of Energy”

16.00-17.15: Prof. Imre Szeman (the University of Waterloo, Canada)
Imre Szeman conducts research on and teaches in the areas of energy humanities, environmental studies, critical and cultural theory, social and political philosophy, and Canadian studies. His most recent work has focused on energy humanities and petrocultures. http://imreszeman.ca/
17.15-18.00 – panel discussion “Energy Humanities’ Agenda”

More information here

Research Trip to New York – October 2019

I’m off to New York City for a research trip of a bit more than a week. I’ll be visiting a range of waterfront sites I’m examining in my research project “Imagining City Futures“. A.o. Hudson Yards, Riverside Park, Battery Park in Manhattan; Greenpoint, Red Hook, Rockaways and Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn. I’ll meet up with several people at City University of New York, and will talk about my work at the Department of City Planning.

(source: wikicommons)

Any thoughts on what lesser-known sites to absolutely see at the NY waterfront? Or people to meet who are working on planning narratives/waterfront futures/literary New York? Let me know! lieven.ameel [a] utu.fi

More on my New York waterfront research so far:

“The ‘Valley of Ashes’ and the ‘Fresh Green Breast’: Metaphors from The Great Gatsby in planning New York.” Planning Perspectives 2019, 34:5, 903-910. link

“Agency at / in the waterfront in New York City: Vision 2020 and New York 2140.” Textual Practice 2019. link

“Metaphorizations of the waterfront in New York City’s comprehensive waterfront plan Vision 2020 and Foer’s ‘The Sixth Borough.’” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 2018. link



The Materiality of Literary Narratives in Urban History

Out now: The Materiality of Literary Narratives in Urban History (Routledge), edited together with Jason Finch, Silja Laine and Richard Dennis.


The publication is connected to my earlier work and work within the Association for Literary Urban Studies to examine the complex role of literary sources in urban history.

The introduction, “Urban History and the Materialities of/in Literature” gives an in-depth exploration of literature and materiality in the context of historical research of the (literary) city.

With contributions by Bo Pettersson, Markku Salmela, Aleksejs Taube, Silja Laine, Jason Finch, Lucie Glasheen, Flore Janssen, Richard Dennis, Julie Gimbal, Huda Tayob, Elke Rogersdotter, and Anubhav Pradhan.

Several chapters draw on forms of literary and material evidence that are still often missing in examinations of the historical materialities of literary cities. Lucie Glasheen, in her chapter ”The Casey Court House Builders’: 1930s Children’s Comics and the Material Transformation of East London”, for example, examines comic reels in a popular children’s magazine to explore attitudes toward urban transformation in the inter-war period; Huda Tayob, in “The Unconfessed Architectures of Cape Town”, draws on archival material, architectural research, and photographs to question the role that literary texts can play in responding to the archival silences of subaltern architectural and urban histories.

Thanks to all the contributors and to co-editors Jason Finch, Silja Laine and Richard Dennis for work on this exciting volume!

Summary of the book:

“The Materiality of Literary Narratives in Urban History explores a variety of geographical and cultural contexts to examine what literary texts, grasped as material objects and reflections on urban materialities, have to offer for urban history. The contributing writers’ approach to literary narratives and materialities in urban history is summarised within the conceptualisation ‘materiality in/of literature’: the way in which literary narratives at once refer to the material world and actively partake in the material construction of the world. This book takes a geographically multipolar and multidisciplinary approach to discuss cities in the UK, the US, India, South Africa, Finland, and France whilst examining a wide range of textual genres from the novel to cartoons, advertising copy, architecture and urban planning, and archaeological writing. In the process, attention is drawn to narrative complexities embedded within literary fiction and to the dialogue between narratives and historical change.

The Materiality of Literary Narratives in Urban History has three areas of focus: literary fiction as form of urban materiality, literary narratives as social investigations of the material city, and the narrating of silenced material lives as witnessed in various narrative sources.”

From the Preface:

“This collection of essays has its origins in a long-term interest the editors have in city literature and its meanings for our understanding of the urban experience. It is based on a session held at the European Association for Urban History (EAUH) conference in Helsinki in 2016. The session,

‘Urban History and the Materiality of Literary Narratives in Urban History’, proved to be remarkably successful – we had planned for one session with four papers but received thirty proposals, from which we were able to choose twelve that formed a coherent whole. These complemented each other and were sophisticated in their approach to literary texts while remaining analytical in questions regarding materiality and history. The response to the call for papers, as well as the lively discussions during and after the EAUH conference, highlighted an ongoing need to improve understanding of how fictional and literary sources can be used and interpreted in the field of urban history. The present book was planned around a core group of the papers read at EAUH 2016, complemented with chapters by invited authors, among them three of the editors.

The ideas, concepts, and methodological approaches presented in this volume were further developed in seminars organised by the Association for Literary Urban Studies (ALUS); at a particularly stimulating one-day symposium, ‘The City: Myth and Materiality’, at the Institute of Historical Research (IHR), University of London; and in cooperation with the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies and ALUS. The starting point of the symposium was similar to that in this book: to explore how cities have always been driven by the dynamic interaction of myths and materialities, and to examine such oscillations between fictional representations and the material conditions of city sites. The keynote talk presented by Richard Dennis provided the basis for his chapter in this volume.”

Table of Contents

1. Urban History and the Materialities of/in Literature

Lieven Ameel, Jason Finch, Silja Laine and Richard Dennis

Part I: Literary Fiction as Urban Materiality

2. Between the Street and the Drawing Room: Slumming in Eliot’s Early Poetry

Bo Pettersson

3. Recycling Fictions in the City: Don DeLillo and the Materiality of Waste

Markku Salmela

4. Embodied Experience of London’s Material Structures in Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor

Aleksejs Taube

5. Sensory Environments of Poverty Seen Through the Writings of Runar Schildt, Toivo Tarvas, and Elvi Sinervo

Silja Laine

6. “Quite an Aristocratic Place, Although in Whitechapel”: Hospital Topographies and Margaret Harkness’s Writing of London

Jason Finch

Part II: Literary Narratives as Social Investigations of the Material City

7. “The Casey Court House Builders”: 1930s Children’s Comics and the Material Transformation of East London

Lucie Glasheen

8. “On the Square”: Constructing the Dangers of Depression-Era London in Ada Chesterton’s Social Investigations

Flore Janssen

9. “Would You Adam-and-Eve-It?”: Geography, Materiality and Authenticity in Novels of Victorian and Edwardian London

Richard Dennis

10. The Literary Adventure of the Skyscraper in France (1893–1930): Literary Narratives and Urban Architecture Between Fiction and Reality

Julie Gimbal

Part III: Narrating Silenced Material Lives

11. The Unconfessed Architecture of Cape Town

Huda Tayob

12. Contestant City Tales: Searching for a “Literary City” Through Archaeology

Elke Rogersdotter

13. Memorialising Materiality: Narrative as Archive in Neo-Liberal Delhi

Anubhav Pradhan

Syncopated City: Mobilizing and Immobilizing Dynamics in Twentieth-Century Literature of New York – Padua, 27 September

In Padua for ”Mobilities of/in the book” (27th September 2019), a mobility and the humanities seminar series, DiSSGeA, Centre for Advanced Studies in Mobility and the Humanities, University of Padova.


I will be speaking on the subject of ”Syncopated City: Mobilizing and Immobilizing Dynamics in Twentieth-Century Literature of New York”, with a specific interest in how particular urban spaces and modes of transportation appear as mobilizing and/or immobilizing protagonists and plot dynamics in twentieth century literature of New York. How do particular forms of mobility, and of transport infrastructure, structure urban experiences in literary fiction? And what happens to such experiences when transport network breaks down, as happens in strikes or in the case of natural disaster? I will look at a range of novels, including Wharton’s House of Mirth; Howells’s A Hazard of new fortunes; Dreiser’s Sister Carrie; Plath’s The Bell Jar; Robinson’s new York 2140; Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow; Lethem’s Chronic City; Lerner’s 10:04.

Many thanks to Tania Rossetto and her colleagues at the University of Padua for organizing the seminar and for inviting me to Padua!

This afternoon, we will also have the Association for Literary Urban Studies symposium Mobilities of/in Urban Narratives. Thanks to Giada Peterle for organizing the symposium. It’s the first ALUS symposium in Italy, and a great opportunity to take forward existing collaboration in the field of literary urban studies with scholars from Italy and beyond.

“A Geo-Ontological Thump” – Ontological Instability and the Folding city in Mikko Rimminen’s Early Prose

Really happy to see the appearance of this article, in an exciting collection on contemporary spatiality in Nordic literature:

““A Geo-Ontological Thump” – Ontological Instability and the Folding city in Mikko Rimminen’s Early Prose.” In Malmio, Kristina & Kurikka, Kaisa (eds.): Contemporary Nordic Literature and Spatiality. London: Palgrave, 2019.

The collection should be available open-acess soon.


I’ve always had an interest in how the work of Mikko Rimminen approaches, evokes, and distorts the spatial coordinates of Helsinki. Pussikaljaromaani (“The six-pack novel”) has a particular place for me, also because it was the first longer prose text I ever translated (published as Drinkebroersroman with Arbeiderspers in 2007), and several of the strange sayings and events of the book has stuck with me ever since. Work on this article provided a great opportunity to return to this Helsinki classic, and to two other works by Rimminen – and also a way to revisit Deleuze’s reading of the fold.

Thanks to Kristina Malmio and Kaisa Kurikka for the excellent work on this collection.

Key takeaways from my article: 1. Mikko Rimminen’s early prose texts can be read in terms of escalating ontological instability, moving toward, and beyond, urban apocalypse; 2. the instability between competing worlds can most productively be described by way of Deleuze’s concept of the fold, which posits a continuing plane of meaning between storyworlds, rather than by drawing on binary oppositions.

From the introduction to : “A Geo-Ontological Thump”:

“In the Finnish author Mikko Rimminen’s novel Pölkky (2007; “Woodblock”), set in present-day Helsinki, one of the most disturbing occurrences is the appearance of a gradually widening hole in the skating rink in Kaisaniemi Park. The skating rink is under the supervision of the protagonist of the novel, and the threat posed by the hole is not only directed at the skaters, or at the hypothetical sense of achievement of the protagonist. As is suggested throughout the novel, the expanding hole and the steam rising from it are potentially of much more far-reaching consequences, intimating the possibility that not only the skating rink, but perhaps fictional Helsinki itself is being subjected to a slow but world-threatening upheaval. This event which threatens the storyworld’s spatial environment in Rimminen’s second novel echoes similar events in a range of postmodern literary texts. One parallel is the giant tiger roaming New York’s underground in Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City (2009), which causes the sudden appearance of gaping holes in the city—a reference which is of particular interest for its disturbance in the referential relationship with an identifiable urban environment. Like the hole in Pölkky, it presents an unreal and ultimately inexplicable occurrence that contrasts the narrated space and the referential world, but that also threatens the stability of the storyworld itself. Such disturbing events in late modern literature will be examined in this chapter as instances of ontological instability, and approached in terms of folds in narrated space. I will focus on Mikko Rimminen’s early prose texts. One of the aims of this chapter is to propose a new reading of his early prose from the perspective of the texts’ apocalyptic undercurrents, which have remained largely unappreciated, and to take into account a little-studied extract from an unfinished novel by Rimminen.

The focus in this chapter is on how the relationship between the fictional city and its referential counterpart is both foregrounded and undermined in a way that destabilizes the ontological status of the storyworlds in question. The texts under discussion here display intimations of apocalypse, inviting the reader to consider whether the ontological instability is located in the perception of the focalizer or narrator, in literary space, or both. The key concepts that will be explored in the analysis of the literary space and storyworld are Brian McHale’s flickering effect (1987) and Bertrand Westphal’s heterotopic interference (Westphal 2011, 101). Gilles Deleuze’s fold (1993) will be proposed here as a heuristic concept to describe how ontological instability in postmodern storyworlds is shaped. I argue that one of the advantages of this concept is the way it defies binary opposites, moving instead toward an understanding of spatial environments in postmodern storyworlds as acting on a holistic, if often paradoxical, continuous plane of meaning.”

From the conclusion:

“In a conversation with the author (27.1.2017), Rimminen agreed that there is some basis for interpreting his first three prose texts as an apocalyptic trilogy (or trilogy moving toward the apocalypse), centered on Helsinki: “If I had published a novel written on the basis of that PROSAK extract, there would have been this structure, in which in Pussikaljaromaani there are hints; in Pölkky, it is already feared, and in the next novel, it would have already happened.” This narrative structure also sheds some light on the thematic understanding of these prose texts. Rimminen pointed out that in the three prose texts there is an important social context: Pussikaljaromaani posits the importance of a community, while Pölkky deals in part with human loneliness; in the last (unfinished) novel, with only one man left, it would not even have been possible to be lonely in company. The development in Rimminen’s early prose texts can be seen from the perspective of the author’s interest in the precariousness of community in late capitalist society, or in terms of his preoccupation with labor in its many forms (see Mäkelä 2015; Ojajärvi 2013). What I have tried to suggest here is that the development in Rimminen’s first three prose texts can also be read in terms of gradually escalating ontological tensions, which are also integral to the author’s experiments with language and the role of the narrator. The spatial environments, although upon first encounter firmly referential to actual Helsinki, are presented as subject to incomprehensible forces that are hinted at, first, as a possibility in the linguistic realmby taking metaphor literallybut that gradually appear as actual interferences in the ontological storyworld. In the course of the three texts, the spatial environment and its referential mode move, in the terms proposed by Westphal, from homotopic consensus—a close relationship to actual Helsinki—to a threatening sense of heterotopic interference, in the form of the hole in the ice rink, and eventually, in the “Extract,” to a full-blown utopian excursus: a world in which the threatening intimations from the two novels seem to have become realized in a process of gradual unfolding.”

“The treatment of the urban spatial environment in Mikko Rimminen’s early prose texts raises a number of issues that are of relevance for our understanding of space in postmodern literature in more general terms. An examination of Rimminen’s prose texts confirms the notion, proposed by Brian McHale, that postmodern literature displays a conspicuous ontological instability: what at first appears to be a recognizable storyworld in the texts, with a firm referential relationship to actual Helsinki, turns out to be increasingly undermined by intimations of ontological disturbances. The distinction made by Bertrand Westphal between three types of “coupling”—“homotopic consensus,” “heterotopic interference,” and “utopian excursus”—is a helpful typology with which to examine the various kinds of referential relationships displayed by these texts. These relationships defy an understanding as being either true or not true—both in the internal coherence of the storyworld and in their relationship to the actual world—but can be approached more productively through the concept of the fold, as proposed by Deleuze: a concept that challenges binary oppositions, and that emphasizes the simultaneous presence of possibly contradictory worlds evolving on the same plane of meaning. Crucially, such an understanding of literary space and its referential relationship to the actual world that refuses to make a dramatic distinction between actualized (or the real) and potential (or the imaginary) also draws attention to how the ontological instability of postmodern literature may in turn feed into readers’ perspectives of their actual world, and may urge us to consider it in questions of real and unreal, possible and actual.”

Translating Anneke Brassinga – Poetry Moon 2019

Saturday 24 August saw the crowning event of Poetry Moon / Runokuu 2019 in Helsinki: the poetry mixtape event at Suvilahti, with a brilliant lineup of Finnish performers, as well as international guests, including Renee Gladman (US) and Anneke Brassinga from the Netherlands.

Anneke Brassinga

Together with Finnish poet Maria Matinmikko, I translated a selection from Brassinga’s latest poetry collection from Dutch into Finnish. Cosmic word power from one of the most distinguished contemporary voices writing in Dutch.

Some of the translations have been published by Nuori Voima online, and a selection will be published later this year in the paper version of Nuori Voima.


It had been quite a long time since last I translated anything – thanks to everyone at Runokuu / Nuoren Voiman Liitto to make it happen, and thanks to Maria Matinmikko for excellent and inspiring collaboration!

For more on Brassinga – an excellent article (by Piet Gerbrandy) on her poetry can be found here: https://www.dbnl.org/tekst/_low001201001_01/_low001201001_01_0028.php




“Translocal Narratability” – Disputation of Lena Mattheis

In Germany today for the disputation of Lena Mattheis’ dissertation “Translocal Narratability in Contemporary Anglophone Fiction”, at the University of Duisburg-Essen. It’s an honor to have been the examiner of this fascinating dissertation.

In her dissertation, Lena Mattheis starts out from the observation that “contemporary Anglophone novels are increasingly characterised by a global, transcultural and complex quality that becomes particularly tangible in their spatial settings and narrative voices.” She sets out to examine the communalities of such translocal texts, focusing on the narrative strategies involved in bringing out what she calls “translocal narratability”. This key concept is examined in an impressive corpus of 32 novels, and from six distinct perspectives: simultaneity, palimpsest, mapping, scaling, nonplace/silence/absence, and haunting.

Mattheis makes a compelling case not only for the central importance of the translocal in contemporary Anglophone literature, but also for the importance of a new toolbox and new conceptualizations to address translocal novels. With this dissertation, Mattheis provides readers with a set of original methodological approaches, and with a helpful and clearly articulated toolbox that promises to generate exciting further research.

For readers who want to know more, one starting point is Lena Mattheis’s recent article in Narrative: “A Brief Inventory of Translocal Narratability: Pamlipsestuous Street Art in Chris Abani’s The Virgin of Flames” (Narrative vol 26, 3, 2019, pp. 302-319).


article abstract:

“This essay aims to fill a gap in the current research on translocal narratives by providing a concept that structures and defines the typical strategies found in contemporary global writing: translocal narratability. Translocal novels narrate side by side two or more different places, such as Lagos and Princeton in Adichie’s Americanah, and thereby show how places and cities can permeate each other as well as the world of the reader. Since contemporary Anglophone novels are increasingly characterized by a global, transcultural, and complex quality that becomes particularly tangible in their spatial settings and narrative voices, translocality has become an important field in literary research, but often responds to questions of ‘what’ rather than of ‘how.’ This essay will therefore illustrate how novels such as Chris Abani’s The Virgin of Flames, or Dionne Brand’s What We All Long For use specific sets of narrative techniques in order to layer urban spaces from diverse parts of the globe to create trans-local stories and to make them accessible and relatable for a wide readership. After briefly explaining which narrative strategies typically produce translocal narratability and which three areas of research inform the concept—translocality, narratology and urban studies—this essay provides an in-depth analysis of how Chris Abani, in his East LA novel The Virgin of Flames, employs the palimpsest as one of the most central tools of global urban narratives. This close reading aims to illustrate some of the techniques that are typical for translocal writing and further expand on the concept of translocal narratability.”







London 4 June 2019 – Infrastructural reading workshop

Just arrived in London for the ”Infrastructural Reading. Fragments, Flows, Forms” workshop at the University of London – a workshop that ”sets out to explore how literary, visual and other narrative forms mediate and intervene into current debates on cities, urban spaces and sustainable infrastructure developments”.

Sounds like exactly the kind of thing I have wanted to participate in all these years!

The workshops includes participation and keynotes of a.o. Dom Davies, Matthew Gandy, Keller Easterling, Caroline Levine.

Really excited to have the opportunity to present my work to this interdisciplinary audience and to learn more from all the other attendants and from the artist’s and intervention speakers’ talks.

I’ll give a talk on ”Formal Adaptation and Retreat in Contemporary Fiction of New York and New Jersey” and on how in selected literary fiction, the engagement ”with climate change [and] … with disruptive practices in the twenty-first city, takes shape in literary form itself: in the adaptation of particular tropes and in the retreat of literary language through a deliberately sparser vocabulary, gaps at sentence level, or lacunae in the narration. Looking at such instances of retreat and adaptation on a formal plane may also reflect on non-fictional narrative models for living in a coastal city under threat, including those found in urban planning, policy, and future scenarios.” (Ameel 2019)
The talk is part of my broader project on future narratives of cities at the water in planning and fiction – more here.

A big thank you to the powers that be for freedom of movement and excellent train connections in Europe, which has given me the possibility to travel to Germany and now to London for work, and to France and Italy on holiday the past six months, all smoothly via rail.

Pamplona, Narrative2019 and ”Fraught Fictionality” in non-literary future narratives

Thanks to everyone at Narrative2019 – inspiring three days in Pamplona! Wide array of narrative research from different parts of the globe, lots of interesting talks, good discussions over coffee. I presented on what I call ”fraught fictionality” – the use of fictional elements in non-literary future narratives. Part of my broader project on future narratives of cities at the water in planning and fiction – more here. Hope to be able to make it to Narrative2020 in New Orleans next year!