#Bookhour discussion on “Odds Against Tomorrow”

Participating August 30 in the US Studies Online twitter discussion  #Bookhour. The book this time at #Bookhour is Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich, and the chat session is organised by Christina Brennan. Odds Against Tomorrow is a book I’m examining in my current research on the narration of waterfronts in crisis in US and Nordic fiction.

From the #Bookhour site:

“Dr Arin Keeble, Dr Sebastian Groes and Dr Lieven Ameel will join #bookhour organiser Christina Brennan to discuss the title.

About the book 

New York City: The Near Future: Mitchell Zukor, a gifted young mathematician, is hired by a mysterious new financial consulting firm, FutureWorld. The business operates out of a cavernous office in the Empire State Building; Mitchell is employee number two. He is asked to calculate worst-case scenarios in the most intricate detail, and his schemes are sold to corporations to indemnify them against future disasters. This is the cutting edge of corporate irresponsibility, and business in booming.

As Mitchell immerses himself in the mathematics of catastrophe – ecological collapse, global war, natural disasters – he becomes obsessed by a culture’s fears.  Yet he also loses touch with his last connection to reality: Elsa Bruner, a friend with her own apocalyptic secret, who has started a commune in Maine. Then, just as Mitchell’s predictions reach a nightmarish crescendo, an actual worst-case scenario overtakes Manhattan. Mitchell realises he is uniquely prepared to profit. But at what cost?

Discussion Questions

1. Odds Against Tomorrow tells the story of an acute catastrophe. Can literature deal with the challenges of slow catastrophe, especially those related to ecological crisis?

2. What does the Psycho Canoe evoke or symbolise in Odds Against Tomorrow?

3. Which real world disasters does Hurricane Tammy in the novel most strongly evoke?

4. Why does Elsa end up as a New York lawyer?

5. How are agency and responsibility for the future framed in Odds Against Tomorrow, and what can it tell us about literature in times of crisis?”

Helsinki in Early Twentieth-Century Literature – now available as open access publication

Happy to announce that my book Helsinki in Early Twentieth-Century Literature (2014) is being re-published as a handsome open-access publication, available here.

It is still the only scholarly monograph that examines experiences of Helsinki in Finnish-written literature.

Ameel, Lieven 2014: Helsinki in Early Twentieth-Century Literature. Urban Experiences in Finnish Prose Fiction 1890-1940. Helsinki: SKS. 241 pages.



Reviews of Helsinki in Early Twentieth-Century Literature (2014):

“… it is a great merit of Ameel’s study that it shows how Finnish prose is a part of the modern Nordic and European literature of the metropolis, without omitting its characteristic traits. The reader gets a broad insight into a multi-layered and intriguing thematic. Ameel’s book will surely be a starting point for much new research.” (Judith Meurer-Bongardt in Finsk Tidskrift 2015/3-4)

“Ameel combines methods from different research traditions and builds a complex picture of Helsinki’s literature in the early 20th century. He draws, amongst others, on urban studies, urban literary studies and genre studies. This multidisciplinary approach could also be used to examine other literary cities, and Ameel’s work inspires to investigate how, for example, Tampere, Oulu and Kuopio are rendered in literature, or how descriptions of Helsinki in the late twentieth and twenty-first century differ from earlier ones. One of the merits of the study is its stylistic and linguistic clarity and subtlety, which is why this study will hopefully find readers also from outside literary research. (Hanna Samola in Avain 2015/2)

Urban History and the Materiality of Literary Narratives at the EAUH 2016 – Reinterpreting Cities

Today sees the start of the EAUH 2016 conference Reinterpreting Cities in Helsinki, Finland. A staggering range of keynotes, sessions and papers in the field of urban history. Very much looking forward to our own session on urban history and the materiality of literary narratives. Abstract below.

M26. Urban History and the Materiality of Literary Narratives

Literary and cultural representations of cities are much more than the secondary or tertiary responses they are sometimes made to be in urban historiography. Cities in literature (and other media) are not to be understood only in terms of traditions cut off from the actual sites and experiences they appear to describe – although questions of genre, period and literary ethos will always have to be acknowledged. This session wants to examine the materiality of literary representations of the city. To what extent do they reflect on, and (re-) produce the material, as well as the social realities in actual cities in a European and global context? Possible examples of case studies addressing these questions range from reappraisals of slum writing in nineteenth- and twentieth-century cities to the interaction between utopian city narratives in literature and urban planning, and the literary roots of current rhetoric of public housing, urban redevelopment, and place making.

In addition to the idea of city as performance, notions such as depth, individuality and materiality could be proposed as new ways of understanding the role of literary texts in the writing of urban histories. Within an environment characterized by mobility and ever-shifting, constructed and imagined class relations, literary texts while they have their own economic context and conditions of possibility based on the publishing industry, offer a specific sort of evidence about urban history that cannot be obtained elsewhere. In an important sense, everyone’s individual views are prejudiced and positioned and constructed within traditions. Literary texts are able, perhaps uniquely, to help us understand the lineaments of this reality. At the same time they reveal, in a way that resists reduction, the depth of individual encounters with urban sites as they exist in time.

This session aims at a re-examination of ‘cultural’ and ‘spatial’ turns in literary and social studies, and to explore how innovative sources and methods from literary studies may provide important new insights in urban history studies. Key questions addressed in this session are: How should urban historians evaluate written texts that are commonly labelled literary? How can such texts best be used and interpreted in their research? How do they interact (actively and retroactively) with urban materialities, and how do literary texts relate to other genres of urban writing?

Session organisers:
Lieven Ameel, University of Helsinki, Finland Richard Dennis, University College London, United Kingdom Jason Finch, Åbo Akademi University, Finland Silja Laine, University of Turku, Finland

New publication: DATUTOP 34 / Re-City. Future City – Combining disciplines

The new DATUTOP (issue 34) has been published under the title “Re-City. Future City – combining disciplines”. The Datutop series was founded in 1982 at the School of Architecture at Tampere University of Technology, Tampere, Finland. The central themes of the Datutop publications are architectural theory and urban planning theory. The latest volume is in part based on last year’s Re-City conference. The publication is open-access:


DATUTOP 34 also features my latest article “Emplotting urban regeneration: Narrative strategies in the case of Kalasatama, Helsinki”, part of my ongoing research of narratives in urban planning. Abstract below:

Ameel, Lieven 2016: “Emplotting urban regeneration: Narrative strategies in the case of Kalasatama, Helsinki.” DATUTOP 34. Re-City. Future City – combining disciplines. 222-240. 19 pages.


Recent decades have seen an increasing interest in the narrative and rhetorical structure of urban planning. Urban districts take shape based on words as much as on concrete. Narrative elements such as rhetorical figures, storylines and plot structures are relevant not only for the way in which a particular planned area is presented to the general public or framed within local policy discourse, but also for the way in which larger visions of an urban future translate into concrete developments within the built environment.

This paper examines the planning of Kalasatama (Helsinki), an ongoing case of urban regeneration, by applying methods and concepts from narrative and literary theory to the analysis of planning documents, marketing, and media narratives. A key concern is the manner in which planning documents “emplot” a new area, both literally singling out an area within a geographical setting, and framing the development within a “plot”, a story with a specific dynamics and morality. Character, plot and metaphor will constitute the key narrative concepts. This paper draws on the burgeoning field of narrative planning theory, with the specific aim to make concepts from narrative and literary theory more compatible with existing theoretical frameworks from planning theory.

Keywords: emplotmemt, Kalasatama, narrative, urban planning