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.”

 

 

 

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.”

 

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

Narratives and Planning – University of Agder, Norway

I recently (23 September 2020) gave a guest lecture on Narratives and Planning to planning students at the University of Agder, Norway.

The situation being what it is, the guest lecture took place online (hope to visit the place in actuality some day!), but that didn’t keep the students from lively discussing and commenting the themes of the lecture.

The one key thing I would like the students to remember: narratives in planning are NOT about communication. Instead, narratives in planning is about ways of structuring knowledge, describing problems, envisioning solutions

… using particular, cultural-specific narrative structures and tropes.

Thanks to Paulina Nordström for inviting me to give a talk and for this opportunity to connect across Northern Europe, and to the students for their active engagement.

More of my recent work on narratives in the context of planning can be found in my forthcoming book The Narrative Turn in Urban Planning (November 2020, Routledge).

The argument as it developed was partly based on my article “The ‘valley of ashes’ and the ‘fresh green breast’: metaphors from The Great Gatsby in planning New York” in Planning Perspectives.

Image source: uia.no

Back at Tampere!

From 1 August I’m back at Tampere as a university lecturer in comparative literature,  after three years on research leave.

(source: tampere.fi)

Much has changed at Tampere: new university, new faculty, new study information systems… The main task remains much the same: to teach, to do research, to provide guidance to students, to collaborate with colleagues and to do all of that in ways that interact with broader society.

Very much looking forward to continue collaboration with old colleagues and to get to know new ones.

After years focusing on research, I’m particularly looking forward also to teach and to reconnect with our students. Unfortunately, teaching will be online for the rest of the year 2020 – hopefully we can get back to normal contact teaching as soon as possible in 2021.

In terms of research, I will continue finalizing my project on the futures of coastal cities across genres (more here), with a number of articles coming up and hopeful a monograph taking shape in the year to come.

Other things I hope to work on include explorations of utopia and hope in literature; questions of agency in terms of networked urbanities; the genre of the city novel; the development of methods and approaches in literary urban studies.

I would like to end this blog post by thanking the University of Turku and the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies for their support these past three years. TIAS was the perfect place to focus on research over a longer period of time. Among many other things, the support of TIAS enabled me to go on extensive research trips, to spend half a year as visiting professor at the KU Leuven, Belgium, to organize various events, to invite colleagues, and to connect with a wide range of fascinating researchers working on the most diverse topics. More than anything else, TIAS allowed me to focus for a long and uninterrupted time and without too many distractions on one particular research project, and to think through the implications of that project.

(Un)Fair Cities, Limerick 12-13 December 2019

The next few days will be quite hectic, with my first-ever visit to Ireland. Tomorrow I’ll be in Limerick for a meeting with people from the European COST Action “Writing Urban Places“, with work on the interstices of literary studies, architecture, and planning. Thursday and Friday 12-13 December I’ll participate in the conference “(Un)Fair Cities: Equity, Ideology and Utopia in Urban Texts”. The conference is the second ALUS conference (the fourth, if we include the previous HLCN conferences), and the first international conference of the Association for Literary Urban Studies. The conference is organized in collaboration with the Ralahine Centre for Utopian Studies.

Very much looking forward to the wide range of topics at the conference, which promises to be an intense but also cozy and reasonably small-scale gathering of literary urban studies and utopia scholars. Looking forward, in particular, to the keynote by Caroline Edwards, “The other city, the city of dreams: Literary Utopias and Literary Utopianism”

I’ll present a paper on “Peopling the Future Fair City: Affordances of Literary Fiction, Planning and Policy”, part of my research project at TIAS.

Paper abstract:

“Narrated future visions of (un)fair cities are about putting in place meaningful storyworlds (or cityworlds), with distinct spatial, temporal, moral, social, linguistic, and metaphoric dimensions and guided by their own modalities. But as important is the way in which these storyworlds are peopled in a way that gives readers of such future visions access to the qualia – the ’how it feels like’ – and to situated agency.

This paper draws on Adam and Groves’ Future Matters (2007), in which the authors warn against an “emptying of the future” (ibid., 2), in a bid to consider how different textual genres envision and people the future fair city. It aims to examine the affordances of literary fiction, urban planning, and policy, for imagining fair future cities, and the possibilities to act towards fair futures. Drawing on recent examples from New York City’s planning and literary fiction, I will argue that literary fiction is geared more toward embedding and embodying moral dilemmas, while planning and policy texts tend to focus on embedding decisions. However, the increasing use of non-fictional elements (reportage, lists, scientific detail) in future fiction, and the increasing use of fictional elements (fictional characters, personal experiences) blurs such clear-cut distinctions.”

Thanks for everyone at the Ralahine Centre, in particular Michael G. Kelly and Mariano Paz for the inspiring collaboration and for all the good work on the practical issues.

More on the conference:

(Un)Fair Cities. Equity, Ideology and Utopia in Urban Texts seeks to explore relations between the urban and the utopian, as manifested and explored in literary and cultural practice understood broadly,along another strand of the utopian problematic: that of the complex relations of the utopian and the ideological. These can be understood as antagonistic, with utopian departures challenging and undermining dominant ideological structures, of which the city is both producer and product. But they may also be analysed as dialectically conjoined, whereby utopian projections or disruptions form the basis upon which ideological reformulations are subsequently imagined and put in place.

(Un)Fair Cities. Equity, Ideology and Utopia in Urban Textsis the second international conference of the Association for Literary Urban Studiesand is organizedin association with the Ralahine Centre for Utopian Studies at the University of Limerick. Conference Organizers: Lieven Ameel (ALUS), Michael G. Kelly and Mariano Paz (Ralahine). Confirmed keynote speakers: Prof Antonis Balasopoulos (Associate Professor in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies,University of Cyprus);Dr Caroline Edwards (Senior Lecturer in Modern & Contemporary Literature, Birkbeck, University of London).

More on ALUS:

Association for Literary Urban Studies

The Association for Literary Urban Studies (ALUS, formerly Helsinki Literature and the City Network) provides an international and interdisciplinary platform for scholars studying the city in literature. Membership is free, and all scholars working within literary urban studies are warmly invited to join the association. It welcomes approaches that examine city narratives in a broad understanding, including approaches that combine urban studies, cultural geography, urban planning, future studies, and other relevant fields with the examination of narratives of cities. It aims to foster interdisciplinary research on city literature, including literature written in all languages and encompassing all historical periods. The Association for Literary Urban Studies organizes meetings twice a year in Finland for members residing in Finland or passing through, and one international conference every two years. It aims to cooperate with other international organizations to organize international seminars, conferences and events.

Scholars interested in the city and literature from all fields of study are most welcome to join ALUS. For further information on joining the network, contact ALUS secretary Anni Lappela at anni.lappela[at]helsinki.fi or ALUS president Jason Finch at jfinch[at]abo.fi


Image source: Shutterstock, Will Rodrigues

 

“The Future of Cities – Perspectives from Literature”

Today I’ll give a talk at the Turku City Library on ”The Future of Cities – Perspectives from Literature”. Welcome!

Turku Main Library – source: turku.fi

I’ll give a general overview of some of the findings from my current research project on imagining cities at the water across genres, with a particular focus on what literature can tell us about the future of cities. I’ll discuss a.o. Nathaniel Rich and New York; Antti Tuomainen; Anders Vacklin and Aki Parhamaa on Helsinki; Guido van Driel on Amsterdam.

The talk is part of the TIAS public lecture series.
More details below (in Finnish)

Puhun tänään Turun kaupungin pääkirjastossa kaupunkien tulevaisuudesta. Tervetuloa!

Luentoni on osa Turun yliopiston Ihmistieteiden tutkijakollegiumin yleisöluentosarjassa.

Kaupunkien tulevaisuus tässä ja nyt – näkökulmia kirjallisuudesta

http://www.turku.fi/tapahtuma/ma-11252019-1800-kaupunkien-tulevaisuus-tassa-ja-nyt-nakokulmia-kirjallisuudesta

Rannikoilla sijaitsevat kaupungit ovat epävarmojen aikojen edessä: nouseva merenpinta, ilmastonmuutos, muuttuvat työ- ja asumisolot luovat uhkaavia tulevaisuuskuvia. Radikaaleihin muutoksiin valmistaudutaan erilaisilla tulevaisuusvisioilla, joita tuottavat niin kaupunkisuunnittelijat, ajatushautomot, virkamiehet kuin taiteilijat ja kirjailijat. Tulevaisuusvisiot suuntaavat ymmärrystämme tulevaisuuden mahdollisuuksista sekä siitä, millaisina hahmottuvat kaupunkiemme tulevaisuuksien rajat. Tämä luento esittelee kaunokirjallisuuden mahdollisuuksia ja rajoja mahdollisten tulevaisuuksien luojana.

• ma 25.11. FT Lieven Ameel: Kaupunkien tulevaisuus tässä ja nyt – näkökulmia kirjallisuudesta
TIAS-luentosarja Studiossa maanantaisin klo 18-19.30
Tapahtuman osoite:
Linnankatu 2, Turku
Studio (pääkirjaston uudisosa, 1. krs)

Ontological Instability in Rimminen’s Early Prose at Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland

I’ll present a paper today on spatiality and ontological instability in Mikko Rimminen’s early prose today at the Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, as part of the book launch of Contemporary Nordic Literature and Spatiality.

The paper will present the key arguments of my article “A Geo-ontological thump…” The full article is available in open access here.

Congratulations and thanks for excellent work on the book, Kristina Malmio and Kaisa Kurikka!

Programme of today’s seminar

(1 November 2019)

14:15 Kristina Malmio (University of Helsinki) & Kaisa Kurikka (University of Turku): Spatial Stories of the Nordic Countries

14:45 Lieven Ameel (University of Turku): “To the the end of the world” – Urban Apocalypse in Mikko Rimminen’s Early Prose

15:15 Short break

15:30 Elisabeth Friis (Lund University): On the Commons: a Geocritical Reading of Amager Fælled

16:00 Ralf Andtbacka (poet): Potsdamer Platz as Historical and Imaginative Space

16:30 Reception

 

 

Imre Szeman research visit to TIAS

Over the next few weeks, professor Imre Szeman from the University of Waterloo, Canada, will be visiting TIAS. Really looking forward to connect with his work with the environmental humanities and energy humanities.

We’ll have several research workshops, meetings with other scholars, and also two guest lectures – the lectures are open to the public, but please register if you plan to attend the Turku event:

Quitting (the) Habit: Fossil Fuels, Governmentality and the Politics of Energy Dependency

Guest lecture by Prof. Imre Szeman and Round Table

31 October 2019, Time: 14h-16h Place: Porthan Hall, Maaherran makasiini, University of Turku (Henrikinkatu 10, Turku)

Round Table with Imre Szeman, Pia Ahlback, Heikki Sirviö, Tere Vaden & Lieven Ameel

More information here

Energy (and) Humanities Seminar
hosted by UH Environmental Humanities Hub and HELSUS, University of Helsinki
Time: November 5th, 2019, at 2 pm – 6 pm,
Venue: Porthania, room 224, HELSUS Hub Lounge

Imre Szeman: “Eight Principles for a Critical Theory of Energy”

16.00-17.15: Prof. Imre Szeman (the University of Waterloo, Canada)
Imre Szeman conducts research on and teaches in the areas of energy humanities, environmental studies, critical and cultural theory, social and political philosophy, and Canadian studies. His most recent work has focused on energy humanities and petrocultures. http://imreszeman.ca/
17.15-18.00 – panel discussion “Energy Humanities’ Agenda”

More information here