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).
“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.”