In Chemnitz, Germany, to deliver a keynote on “Cities beyond Redemption” at the Making the City conference (30.6.23). Many thanks to prof. Cecile Sandten and her colleagues at TU Chemnitz for the invitation and for putting together this brilliant conference!
Fascinating to be able to discuss literary approaches to (post)industrial cities with this interdisciplinary crowd, in this European cultural capital of 2025.
About the conference:
“The central idea of the conference on “Making the City” is to explore the cultural, economic and political factors of industrialisation from its start to its ‘finish’ from a diachronic perspective and also focus on an active engagement of citizens in urban transformation processes. The conference is intended to provide the theoretical foundation for the conceptualisation of the exhibition “European Manchester” (2025) in the Saxon Industrial Museum Chemnitz.”
Keynote abstract below:
Cities beyond Redemption? Literary Approaches to Urbanization from Romanticism to Contemporary Climate Fiction
In literature, there has always been an uneasiness about the urban environment, a guilty awareness of urbanity’s failures as well as an awareness of impending urban collapse. In the past two centuries of fossil-fueled modernity, the sense of the city as a profoundly fraught environment has taken on new meanings. In the nineteenth and twentieth century, the city has become the embodied form of modernization’s out-of-control juggernaut, and the symbolic site of humanity’s fall from grace and existential alienation. Recent discussions regarding a tentative “renaissance of the city” have done little to alleviate fears about the city’s problematic nature. If anything, working from home during the COVID19-epidemic has given a new impetus to critics of the city. And many of the most pressing challenges of the twenty-first century, from social inequity to the effects of catastrophic climate change are set to have their gravest impact in urban environments. And yet the city is also the location where decisive action – for example in climate change mitigation – is possible, and in literature it remains a chosen site for personal and communal restitution and reinvention. In my talk, I outline literary approaches to urbanization from romanticism to contemporary climate fiction, focusing on the continuous oscillation between guilt-ridden uneasiness about the city and a more optimistic view of the city as undiminished site of personal and communal redemption.