Greetings from the KU Leuven!

Greetings from Leuven! From the beginning of 2019, I’m working at the KU Leuven, Belgium, for a six-month stay as Visiting Professor at the Department of Literature. The extended research stay is made possible by TIAS and the generous hospitality of the KU Leuven, who also assisted in providing housing. Thanks, in particular, to Pieter Vermeulen from English Literature.

(The beautiful Groot Begijnhof, where we’re staying; founded in the 13th c, most buildings from the 17th c)

I’m excited to learn more about the work being done at the Department of Literature – and beyond. At the KUL, Pieter Vermeulen’s work on contemporary American literature aligns well with many of my own research interests (ao. his work on Teju Cole and within the environmental humanities); Bart Vervaeck’s books on journey’s to the netherworld (Literaire Hellevaarten) and Handbook of Narrative Analysis (with L. Herman) have been an inspiration; and there’s plenty of new research I’ll be getting acquainted with. Very much looking forward to be able to present my current research about narrating futures of cities at the water and to focus on my research project during this time. And really excited, also, about the course I’ll teach starting from February – “Topics in Post-45 American Literature“, with a specific focus on “Futures of New York City in Contemporary American Literature”. An opportunity to test and discuss some of my ongoing research, in particular dealing with novels such as Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140, Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City, Teju Cole’s Open City,Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow, and Ben Lerner’s 10:04.

A return to Belgium after 20 years in Finland also provides the possibility to reconnect with friends, family, old colleagues; as well as with my mother-tongue and with literature and research written in Dutch. I hope to make the best of good train connections to also meet up with colleagues in the Netherlands, Germany, the UK, with a first planned visit to the University of Duisburg-Essen in February.


Tuomainen’s “The Healer” in the new Reader in Climate Fiction

The last few days of 2018 saw the appearance of a timely Cli-Fi – A Reader, edited by Adeline Johns-Putra and Axel Goodbody, and including my introductory article on Antti Tuomainen’s The Healer (Parantaja). Contributors to the Reader were encouraged to include reflections on how the novels in question can be used in teaching; the past few years I have taught several courses that included The Healer and from my experiences, this is a novel that opens up a range of perspectives for teaching climate fiction, but also beyond, and including questions in literary urban studies (how is the future city linked to Helsinki’s urban planning visions?) and literary genre studies (is the novel cli-fi, Scandinavian noir, a crime novel?). The Healer is widely translated; hopefully this article will be beneficial also for classrooms and researchers outside of Northern Europe in examining contemporary climate fiction outside of the narrow current Anglo-Saxon canon.

From the article:


“Antti Tuomainen’s Parantaja [The Healer], published in 2010, is set in a near-future Helsinki where climate change is wreaking havoc both in the Finnish capital and abroad. Incessant rains and floods are the most visible climate change-related curses in Tuomainen’s Helsinki, but there is also news of global pandemics, destructive forest fires and water wars. Society is breaking down, and amidst the radical upheaval, a serial killer, the eponymous ‘Healer’ – the ‘healer for a sick planet’  – is murdering people he holds responsible for accelerating climate change. The plot revolves around the endeavours of the protagonist, the Finnish poet Tapani Lehtinen, to find his lost wife Johanna, who is a journalist investigating the murders. As Tapani learns more about the mysterious Healer, he also discovers about the past of his wife, who turns out to have known the Healer intimately. In his journey through flooded Helsinki, Tapani guides the reader on a tour of how different areas in the city, as well as different affected citizens, are coping with the dramatic changes.”

perspectives for teaching:

“One possibility would be to approach the novel in terms of its reception and genre, with a specific focus on how the novel’s implications for climate change depend on the generic prism with which it is approached – Nordic noir or crime fiction; dystopia or climate fiction? A discussion of The Healer in tandem with other Finnish dystopian novels, or as a part of a selection of Nordic speculative fiction, would attune students also to the importance of the cultural and historical specificity of literary responses to climate change outside of the English-speaking world. As a novel set in a recognizable real-world setting, the novel could also be integrated in courses that examine the interaction between fictional texts and urban planning narratives. A last approach would be to examine the novel as part of a course on representations of agency and responsibility in climate fiction. Who is held responsible in this novel for catastrophic climate change, and what room is there for mitigating strategies? Given the role played by climate terrorism in the novel, The Healer could also provide insights in changing (and often genre- and culture-specific) depictions of ecological terrorists.”

From the conclusion:

“The Healer plays on the fear of the future in dystopian and apocalyptic scenarios. Rather than offering concrete insights into the dynamics and the possible effects of climate change, it presents a chilling rendering of what it feels like to live in a society disrupted by radical climate change. The presence of recognizable and everyday environments being turned into war zones, such as the iconic Stockmann department store in central Helsinki during Christmas shopping period, is particularly gripping.”


“Antti Tuomainen: The Healer.” In Johns-Putra, Adeline & Goodbody, Axel (eds.): Reader in Climate Fiction. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2018, 165-170.

The Sixth Borough – Metaphorizations of the Water

Excited to see the appearance of the first article of the New York City part of my research project on future narratives of cities at the water. This new article, published with Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, examines Foer’s story of the Sixth Borough in view of other metaphors of the New York waterfront, and with reference to the comprehensive waterfront plan Vision 2020, in particular.

In my research more broadly, I examine metaphorizations and future narratives of the urban waterfront across disciplines, with cross-readings of planning, policy, and literary texts.  A number of articles on the Helsinki waterfront in literature have also been published so far, with a few forthcoming. One study I also look particularly forward to seeing published soon is an article forthcoming with Textual Practice in which I look at Vision 2020 in connection with Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140, and drawing on Carl Schmitt’s concept of nomos and Deleuze & Guattari’s smooth and striated space.

The Sixth Borough: Metaphorizations of the Water in New York City’s Comprehensive Waterfront Plan Vision 2020 and Foer’s “The Sixth Borough”


In visions of future New York City, the waterfront appears as a highly symbolic space, a site of possibility and transformation, imbued with complex cultural meanings. Crucial for the understanding of the urban waterfront and its development are the metaphors used to describe changing relationships to it, across genres. This article focuses on one specific metaphorization of the watery edge of New York City, that of the “Sixth Borough.” It examines the 2011 New York comprehensive waterfront plan Vision 2020 and Jonathan Safran Foer’s short story “The Sixth Borough,” part of the novel Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, but published as a separate short story in the New York Times (2004, 2005). Read side by side, these texts offer a compelling—if contradictory—view of how the words to describe the city engage with eruptions in the material world.

Free access to the first 50 readers here:

Picture Source: New York City, Vision 2020.

Balloon explorers, the panorama, and the making of an Arctic nomos

Thanks to everyone at last week’s “Water, Animals, and Arctic Climate Change” conference in Joensuu, 12-13 December 2018 (pdf programme here). Special thanks to Markku Lehtimäki and Arja Rosenholm of the Changing Environment of the North project, all the organizers at Joensuu, and Scott Slovic for an inspiring keynote and feedback on the presentations.

I presented a paper on “Balloon explorers, the panorama, and the making of an Arctic nomos in Robinson’s New York 2140, part of my larger research project on future narratives of cities at the water.
Abstract below:
Balloon explorers, the panorama, and the making of an Arctic nomos in Robinson’s New York 2140

In this presentation, I will explore the trope of the balloon explorer in Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 (2017), with a specific reference to Carl Schmitt’s idea of nomos (as proposed in The Nomos of the Earth (1950/2003), and drawing on the idea of visual agency. How does the balloon paronama, and the panoramic visual agency over the Arctic expanse tie in with the process of appropriation, distribution, and production involved in the construction of a nomos of the arctic? What kinds of mastery, and epistemological order, does the balloon panorama attempt? I will focus on Robinson’s futuristic novel, but will also draw on Philip Pullmans’s His Dark Materials, and Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day, literary texts that utilize complex strategies of imaginative worldmaking that involve arctic balloon exploration as a way of assessing new kinds of knowledge of humans’ relationships to their environment, but also as means of territorial and epistemological control.

picture source:


Reading Vis second- and third-hand

The Croatian island of Vis, and the fishers’ village of Komiza, are a thoroughly inspiring setting for a conference on wavescapes in literature and culture. As always, experiences of space are in part already mediated by contact with earlier stories – so a few (admittedly random, and entirely personal) thoughts on my earlier, non-bodily encounters with Vis:

I was introduced to the island of Vis as a child overhearing talk of my grandmother’s brother’s exploits during the Second World War. The family had escaped Ostend to England at the beginning of the war and my great-uncle Pierre Beauprez had enlisted in the British army, in what would become the legendary no. 10 inter-allied commando of the SAS forces, consisting of soldiers that had fled occupied Europe. 3rd troop of 10 i-a commando would form the loose inspiration for Tarantino’s movie Inglorious Bastards. 4th troop was the Belgian troop, and saw Pierre Beauprez in action in ao. Italy, Walcheren, and Vis. He would survive the war, later enlist in the Korean war, where he died in action in 1951.

Pierre Beauprez


And it was again the events of war that brought me in contact with Vis later – this time the 1930 and 1940s memoirs of Fitzroy Maclean Eastern Approaches. Maclean, who acted at one point as British liaison officer with Tito’s partisans, describes the idyllic environments of the island being leveled by the Allied forces to make way for air bases to support the partisans. In fact I always found the most gripping parts of Maclean’s book the chapters that deal with his time in Russia, in particular his first-hand witnessing of Stalin’s purges and his explorations of Central Asia, which conveyed an urgent desire to “take the golden road to Samarkand” (to quote Mika Waltari, Hagar Olsson, James Elroy Flecker, and Maclean’s A person from England all in one).

The most impressive, and most recent, exposure to Vis, and to Komiza, came by way of Olga Tokarczuk‘s book Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft, which recently won the Man Booker International. It’s one of the most memorable books I read recently (although unfortunately I’m not able to read it in its original Polish). I found the scenes set on Vis and Komiza – a fuga-like, ever-returning bead of stories telling of small-scale marital tragedy – particularly haunting.

Narrative Responses to rising waters – presentation at Wavescapes conference in Split/Vis, Croatia

Presenting my research at the Wavescapes conference in Split and Komiža (island of Vis), Croatia.

I changed around the topic of my talk a bit, and eventually examined fictional responses to rising waters in Let me be frank with you, Odds against tomorrow, and New York 2140. More on that research here.

Fascinating range of perspectives, including presentations on art practice, conservation, ecological thinking, waterscapes in particular national cultures as well as across national borders.

One session that resonated particularly well with some of my own research interests was a panel that featured Christina Heflin, who spoke of “Surrealism, Marine Life and Non-Ocular Modes of Sensing” in interbellum French surrealist underwater movies;  Srećko Jurišić, who presented on  “Amphibian Humanoids of the Mediterranean” in movie; and Eni Buljubašić on “The Adriatic monk seal in Croatian Narratives”.

Other fascinating talks including a presentation on a walk along “the zero meter altitude line into the hypothetical new coast line of the Netherlands”, a project by Maud Canisius; Killian Quigley’s presentation on the “Seascape and the Future of Land: Aesthetics, Ethics, and the Anthropocene”; and the keynotes, ranging from Adeline Johns Putra’s on “The shapes of water in climate fiction” to Rebecca Giggs’s on narrative non-fiction of the whale, and Joško Božanić’s considerations of practices and words in the eastern Adriatic archipelago.


Association for Literary Urban Studies general meeting and mini-symposium

On my way to the Tampere University of Technology for this year’s ALUS general meeting and mini-symposium. Looking forward to meet up with colleagues from Åbo Akademi, University of Tampere, University of Helsinki, University of Nottingham, University of London, among others.

On the agenda: overview of the latest activities of ALUS; with ao. our recent symposium in Stockholm; upcoming activities, with symposium next February at the University of Essen-Duisburg, and plans for a conference in Ireland later next year. And an overview of our recent publishing activities that have come out of ALUS events, including our latest book Literary Second Cities (Palgrave) and the forthcoming Materiality of Literary Narratives in Urban History (Routledge). We’ll also talk about the new Palgrave series in Literary Urban Studies, which has published its first two volumes. Exciting times for the Associaton for Literary Urban Studies.

Program of the mini-symposium:

14.00-16.00: mini-symposium

‘Urban and rural spaces in the post-Second World War literature of the U.S. South’

Salla Toivola, Comparative Literature, University of Turku

‘The European City and Fantastic Literature during Modernity (19th century narratives)’ Patricia Garcia, Helsinki Collegium, University of Helsinki

‘Maria Edgeworth’s Ormond (1817) from island to country house to commercial metropolis: impressions of worldliness in fictions of development’ Aino Haataja, Åbo Akademi University

‘Heterodox City: Railway Arch Theology in the work of Maurice Davies and Moncure D. Conway’ Peter Jones, Institute of Historical Research, University of London

Out now! “Toponyms as Prompts for Presencing Place” – Scandinavian Studies 90:2

Quite excited to see this article appearing:

Toponyms as Prompts for Presencing Place—Making Oneself at Home in Kjell Westö’s Helsinki. Lieven Ameel and Terhi Ainiala.Scandinavian Studies. Vol. 90, No. 2 (Summer 2018), pp. 195-210.

Based on a close analysis of the use of place names in Westö’s Lang, and on empirical data gathered with two groups of students at the University of Helsinki, this article brings new perspectives on how readers make sense of literary storyworlds with the help of toponyms, including new insights on how toponyms are drawn upon when reading in translation, when unacquainted with the places in question, or when the author uses both invented and actual, referential place names.

Thanks to my co-author Terhi Ainiala, to all students who participated, to everyone who commented in various stages, and to Scandinavian Studies for publishing this!

Opening page:

“Literary Toponyms: Setting in Place a Storyworld

Amongst spatial delineators involved in literary worldmaking, place names take on important, though often undervalued, meaning. How do literary place names evoke the “feel” of a literary place, and by doing so, co-operate in constructing the narrative world? How do they guide the reader in coming to terms with the storyworld? And what are the consequences of these processes when readers are distanced from place-names, either because they live in another time and place than the original intended audience, or because they are separated from the storyworld by differences in language and culture? These questions will be framed here within the context of a bilingual Northern European city rendered in literature, and with specific reference to how foreign readers make sense of literary place names when reading a text in translation.

This article examines the functioning of toponyms as prompts for presencing place in Finnish literature set in the Finnish capital Helsinki/Helsingfors. Our analysis will focus on Lang (2002), written in Swedish by the Finland-Swedish author Kjell Westö, a novel that will be discussed in its wider context of Helsinki literature, including other work by Westö. A novella in Finnish by Juhani Aho from the turn of the twentieth century will be used as an introductory text. In terms of underlying theoretical apparatus, our study draws on recent advances in the study of toponyms, and specifically in the functional-semantic and sociolinguistic view on proper names (see e.g. Ainiala, Saarelma, and Sjöblom 2012). It also draws on new directions in literary spatial studies, geocriticism (Westphal 2007), and literary urban studies (see e.g. Ameel, Finch, and Salmela 2015). In literary research published in the long wake of the spatial turn, space is no longer primarily considered as a question of description. Attention is given, rather, to the close interconnection between literary space and the dynamics of plot and character development (cf. Ameel 2014; Ette 2005; Moretti 2005; Pultz-Moslund 2011). Spatial environments are the prerequisites for a story to unfold, and instrumental in moving the plot forwards (Moretti 1998, 3ff.).

We will juxtapose a literary analysis of the selected texts with the findings from a survey of Finnish and non-Finnish readers’ associations of place-names in the Helsinki texts. The survey was carried out in the spring of 2015 at the University of Helsinki. Two groups of readers, 10–15 each, participating in separate literary courses, were asked to fill in questionnaires that contained multiple-choice and open-ended questions about the associations and the functions of toponyms in the novels read during the respective courses. A total of twelve novels and novellas were read by each group. One course was given in Finnish, aimed at Finnish students, while the other course was conducted in English and aimed at exchange students who read the novels in translation. The distinction between the groups was not clear-cut: in the “Finnish” group, there were several students with Finnish language proficiency who did not have either Finnish or Swedish as their mother tongue, while the “foreign” group included some students with a notional knowledge of Finnish. In the case of literary texts by Finland-Swedish authors that were discussed during the course, most students in the “Finnish” group read these in translation, too, preferring to use the translation rather than the Swedish original. The surveys enable us to examine questions regarding the use of toponyms in literary fiction—questions that have, in the existing research literature, remained largely unanswered—with unique empirical data.

Our prior hypotheses revolved around the assumption that a lack of knowledge of a toponym’s connotations could impair the abilities of the reader to identify character dynamics and plot evolutions based, for example, on a character’s socio-economic backgrounds, or the moral make-up of particular locations. As we will argue in the analysis, other meaning-making elements, too, appeared from the responses to the questionnaires: these include the semantic meaning of toponyms, as well as the extent to which the dynamics in the literary text itself attribute meaning to locations and to the toponyms that refer to them, independent from the reader’s prior knowledge of the actual locations referred to.”




Turku Institute for Advanced Studies. Co-organized with SELMA, in cooperation with the Association for Literary Urban Studies.

Agora lecture hall XXII, University of Turku, 19 November 2018, 9:00h-17:30

This one-day symposium brings together researchers of future narratives from across disciplines. Its focus is on representations of city futures across a range of genres, from literary fiction to futures scenarios, policy, and urban planning. It aims to examine the language, narrative frames, and metaphors with which future cities are told, and the implications of such discursive strategies.

Please register by 12.11. via this link:


09.00-09.10 Welcome & introduction, Lieven Ameel, collegium researcher, TIAS

09.10-10.10 KEYNOTE ADDRESS: Paul Dobraszczyk

Paul Dobraszczyk is a teaching fellow at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London. His most recent book project is Future Cities, Architecture and the Imagination (Reaktion, 2019). He has published widely on visual culture and the built environment, with recent books including The Dead City: Urban Ruins and the Spectacle of Decay (IB Tauris, 2017); London’s Sewers (Shire, 2014); and Function & Fantasy: Iron Architecture in Long Nineteenth Century (Routledge, 2016). He is also a visual artist and photographer.


Forecasting to ensure the safety of society, Vesa Valtonen, Secretary General, Security Committee, Ministry of Defense   

Ecological city visions and their impact on the development of Chinese cities, Outi Luova, East Asian Studies, University of Turku

Zoning Versus Private Action: Planning Texts and Urban Futures in St Louis and Houston, 1910–1960, Jason Finch, English literature, Åbo Akademi University

Future visions of the region Kotka-Hamina, created during the planning of the master plan, Kaisa Granqvist, Urban Planning, Aalto University

11.45-13.00 LUNCH


Thirty Years of Imaginary Los Angeles. Climate Change and the Retrofitted Megalopolis in Blade Runner (1982) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017), Kimi Kärki, Cultural History, University of Turku

Reading for Ruins: On the Post-Apocalyptic Tense and Context, Jouni Teittinen, Comparative Literature, University of Turku

The flood of 1862 in Viennese humorous magazines: Jokes and cartoons about natural catastrophe as means of urban improvement, Heidi Hakkarainen, Cultural History, University of Turku              

Participatory design fiction and future cities, Johanna Ylipulli, cultural anthropology, Helsinki Institute of Urban and Regional Studies

14:30-15:00 COFFEE BREAK


Agency in Urbanizing Finland, Hanna Heino, Geography, University of Turku  

From co-creation to agency in urban futures, Kaisa Schmidt-Thomé, Demos Helsinki

Agency, Voices and Visions for Preferable Futures: Ethnographic research on the World Heritage Site Suomenlinna, Pauliina Latvala-Harvilahti, The Finnish Literature Society Research Deparment

‘Small Island States and their Little Capitals: Lessons for Climate Resilience?’, Milla Vaha, International Relations/Political Philosophy, University of Turku

16.30-17.00 ROUNDTABLE

Methods, approaches and things ahead in Imagining City Futures across Disciplines



Organizer: Lieven Ameel / /

Travel and space – utopia as satirical travel narrative

Speaking today at the Travel and Space Seminar at the University of Helsinki, a seminar focusing on travel writing as non-fictional literary genre. Perspectives from linguistics, non-fiction writing, and literary studies.

I’ll be presenting a tentative talk on utopia as travel writing – and travel writing as utopia, with reference, in particular to E.E. Hale’s Sybaris (1869), a little-known utopian text that I looked at in some extent in my article ”Cities Utopian, Dystopic and Apocalyptic.”

The title of today’s talk is “Travel literature ad socio-critical satire: Everett Hale’s utopia Sybaris and other homes (1869)”.

The program of the seminar can be found here.


  • Ameel 2016: “Cities Utopian, Dystopic and Apocalyptic.” In Tambling, Jeremy: The Palgrave Handbook to Literature and the City.