MyHelsinki and Helsinki’s shoreline

Some of my work on the cultural and literary meanings of the Helsinki shoreline have  made it to the MyHelsinki website, the city marketing site of my home city. Featuring a great picture of a researcher in action on the Helsinki shores.

(Photo Jirina Alanko)

The photo is shot on the southern shore of the Helsinki island where I live. Hard not to like Helsinki for promoting its shores with this realistic picture of conditions in Helsinki in the month of May (it was raining relentlessly).

https://www.myhelsinki.fi/en/see-and-do-neighbourhoods/seaside-helsinki/helsinki%E2%80%99s-shoreline-creates-space-for-new-ideas-and-peace

I’ve personally always liked the way in which MyHelsinki presents the city through insiders’ stories, and I’ve also used their website for discovering new places, so glad to have been involved.

Myhelsinki text below:

“The seashore is a place of change”

For literary scholar Lieven Ameel, Lammassaari Island is one of Helsinki’s finest locations.

“Helsinki’s maritime environment is a place for metamorphosis and new opportunities in literature. Fictional characters visit the sea to imagine what their future lives might look like. Many social changes have also begun by the sea.

For instance, it is by the sea that the protagonists in Arvid Järnefelt’s Veneh’ojalaiset (1909) receive a vision about a better future. In Anja Kauranen’s Pelon maantiede, the headquarters of a feminist guerrilla fraction is located on Lammassaari Island.

We residents of Helsinki’s Lauttasaari district have traditionally had a close-knit connection to our home island. I, however, find that the finest maritime environment is to be found on Lammassaari.

The experience begins from the moment of departure toward the island, as the view from the duckboards opens out over a layered vista of the city looming in the horizon. The city of Helsinki was founded in the Vanhankaupunginlahti bay area. The rapids area at the mouth of the Vantaanjoki river also offers a vignette of 19th century industry.

Those who walk along the same duckboards can also cast their gaze over urban visions of the 1990s in the Arabianranta district, as well as toward something completely new in the Kalasatama district.”

Literatures of Urban Possibility

Out with Palgrave: our latest volume Literatures of Urban Possibility (eds. Salmela, Ameel & Finch). The book is the third volume in a trilogy of literary urban studies books that developed around the Association of Literary Urban Studies (previously Helsinki Literature and the City Network) and the international conferences we organized every other year. Earlier books were Literature and the Peripheral City (2015) and Literary Second Cities (2017).

Thanks to Markku and Jason, to all contributors and the participants in the conference (Im)Possible Cities in Tampere, to Palgrave and all encouraging members of ALUS in supporting work within literary urban studies!

Some of my personal favorites among the articles are “From Utopia to Retrotopia: The Cosmopolitan City in the Aftermath of Modernity” by Chen Bar-Itzhak, “Possibilities of Translocal Mapping in Tendai Huchu’s The Maestro, the Magistrate & the Mathematician” by Lena Mattheis (who recently published this brilliant monograph in our Literary Urban Studies series), and Anni Lappela’s “‘Cartographic Ecstasy’: Mapping, Provinciality and Possible Spaces in Dmitrii Danilov’s City Prose”.

Literatures of Urban Possibility also includes my latest article “Rising Towers, Rising Tides: Competing Visions of the Helsinki Waterfront in Planning and Fiction”. Abstract:

“This chapter examines the Helsinki waterfront as a site of the possible, a space onto which possible futures of the city are projected and where competing visions of future urban possibility interact. The first part examines Niniven lapset (‘Children of Nineveh’, 1915) and its connection to the cultural narratives of the waterfront in twentieth-century Helsinki, as well as its relation to more recent developments, such as the plans for a Helsinki Guggenheim. The second part examines near-future novels such as Beta: Sensored Reality (2018), De hemlösas stad (‘City of the Homeless’, 2011), Totuuskuutio (‘Truth Square’, 2015) and Parantaja (The Healer, 2010), and focuses on the interaction between the pessimistic vision of a possible future Helsinki in fictional texts, and the optimistic visions as presented by the Helsinki City Planning Department.”

 

 

 

Future cities in literature: perspectives on climate change

Speaking today (2 June 2021) at the Climate Conference of Finnish Communes on perspectives from literature on future cities and climate change.

A few takeaways from my talk:

  • Literary perspectives are not (primarily) about communicating climate change or climate action. Rather, literature and other cultural representations provide important insights into the frames and language availabe to envision our complex relationship to the environment, about our agency towards the future – frames and language that guide how we can work towards solutions
  • Future literary cities provide important information on the “what” and “how” of future urban infrastructure, but also about the qualia or “what it feels like”, including contextualized perspectives on possible turning points along pathways to the future
  • Quotations from literary texts always need to be embedded in the broader framework of a particular literary work, genre, and period if we want to understand their functions and meanings.
  • Future-oriented literature tells the reader first and foremost about the present moment (of publication), about the frames of knowledge at our disposal today, about what may be lost, and about our current possibilities of agency.

More on the subject in my recent article:

  • “Rising Towers, Rising Tides: Competing Visions of the Helsinki Waterfront in Planning and Fiction.” In Markku Salmela, Lieven Ameel & Jason Finch (eds.): Literatures of Urban Possibility. London: Palgrave, 2021, 45-64.

Interview on the subject (in Finnish) here.

La Ville dans les Fiction Climatiques – 5-6.5.2021

Participating today in a “mosaique” session as part of the colloquium “La Ville dans les Fiction Climatiques”, organized by the PARVIS project at University Gustave Eiffel, Paris. My own brief intervention will examine cities in climate fiction on the basis of my research project on cities at the water in planning in fiction, with a focus on New York, Helsinki, and cities at the water in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Kuva

Full programme here.

Programme of the “mosaique”:

Série de d’interventions brèves, live ou vidéo, où chaque membre du comité scientifique dira ce de quoi la cli-fi est le nom. / Series of short interventions, live or video, where each member of the scientific committee will say what the cli-fi is about.

14h : Introduction

Intervenant.e.s/speakers :

14h05: Andrew Milner : Qu’est-ce que la cli-fi? / What is cli-fi?

14h13:  Carl Abbott :  La fiction climatique américaine : de l’élégie à l’urgence / American Climate Fiction from Elegy to emergency

14h21:  Lieven Ameel : Les formes futures de la ville contemporaine dans une perspective comparative / Future Forms of the Contemporary City in Comparative Perspective

14h29:  Pierre Schoentjes : Eviter le désastre : la cli-fi… sauvée par l’ironie?/ Avoiding disaster: cli-fi… saved by irony?

14h37: Simon Bréan : Cli-fi francophone : le cas J-M Ligny / French cli-fi : the J-M Ligny case

14h45:  Sébastien Févry : La cli-fi, un grand dérangement narratif ?/ Cli-fi, a great narrative derangement?

14h53 : Irène Langlet : Les kaléidoscopes formels d’une folksonomie / The formal kaleidoscopes of a folksonomy


Many thanks to Irene Langlet, Nadege Perelle, and Sami Cheikh Moussa for putting together the programme!

The Antwerp Quay Poem as interrogation of urban open form, polyphony and radical dialogue

Out now: “‘A stream of words’ the Antwerp Quay Poem as interrogation of urban open form, polyphony and radical dialogue”, in Textual Practice. The article is published open access here.

The article looks at questions of open and closed urban form by examining Peter Holvoet-Hanssen’s Quay Poem, an in-situ poem painted in 2011 on the floodwalls of the Antwerp quays.

The article is the final 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 2020: “The Destruction of Amsterdam: Flood Allegories in Contemporary Dutch Literature.” Tijdschrift voor Nederlandse Taal- en Letterkunde / Journal of Dutch Linguistics and Literature 136 (4): 224-243.

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

Abstract:

“This article examines polyphony and open form as key concepts connecting literary theory and urban planning. It focuses on Peter Holvoet-Hanssen’s Quay Poem, an in-situ poem painted in 2011 on the floodwalls of the Antwerp quays during Holvoet-Hanssen’s tenure as city poet. The long poem in public space provides important insights into how literary city texts and the discourses of urban development draw ultimately on similar narrative structures, in close dialogue with past layers of urban meaning and in the shadow of future material transformations. The poem gestures also to insights planning can gain from literary forms of storytelling, in particular in the way Holvoet-Hanssen’s poem produces a remarkable openness of form; in the way it articulates a radical variety of different voices; and in the way it continues to speak after the text itself has disappeared from the public built environment.”

Conclusion:

“The Quay Poem was originally commissioned as an act of communication by the planning department of Antwerpen, with the intention that it would be a temporary poem in public space to communicate the redevelopment of the waterfront. But when the destruction of the quay walls on which it was written began, in 2018, the sudden and violent disappearance of parts of the poem took many by surprise. Members of the public had become attached to the poem; Holvoet-Hanssen was dismayed by the fact the demolition began without prior warning or announcement, and lamented the fact that no efforts had been made to preserve some parts of the poem. But the Quay Poem was never merely a one-directional act of communication. In its formal openness, its polyphony, and in how it enacts a radical dialogue with the city’s material environment and its immaterial layers of meaning, it constitutes a powerful and tangible intervention that produces new perspectives on the city, its past, and its future development. It foregrounds formal questions of open and closed form in ways that go at the heart of contemporary discussions about city form and about social and political forms of entrenchment. In its remarkable polyphony and in how it includes unfiltered and contradictory voices of the city, it provides a blueprint for possible polyphony in planning and policy. It enacts a compelling dialogue with other structures in the built environment, with previous experiences of the waterfront, ‘carried on the winds’, and with the palimpsestic remnants of past moments of political contestation. When visited on the ground along the river, it proposes a profound material and physical positioning within urban space, inviting the reader to scale walls, to take new perspectives, even to breach the concrete on which the text is written. Finally, in its ecocritical gestures towards the powerful agency of the river, it questions not only the rationale of floodwalls, old and new, but cuts away at the roots of its own literary materiality.”

 

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.

https://www.accels.rwth-aachen.de/cms/ACCELS/Veranstaltungen/~fwbew/Young-Researchers-Conference-Narratives/lidx/1/

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

image source: aachen.de

Abstract:

“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.

Abstract:

“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] tuni.fi

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

Context

Space

Writing as method

Materiality

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] tuni.fi

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