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

 

 

“A Geo-Ontological Thump” – Ontological Instability and the Folding city in Mikko Rimminen’s Early Prose

Really happy to see the appearance of this article, in an exciting collection on contemporary spatiality in Nordic literature:

““A Geo-Ontological Thump” – Ontological Instability and the Folding city in Mikko Rimminen’s Early Prose.” In Malmio, Kristina & Kurikka, Kaisa (eds.): Contemporary Nordic Literature and Spatiality. London: Palgrave, 2019.

The collection should be available open-acess soon.

https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783030233525

I’ve always had an interest in how the work of Mikko Rimminen approaches, evokes, and distorts the spatial coordinates of Helsinki. Pussikaljaromaani (“The six-pack novel”) has a particular place for me, also because it was the first longer prose text I ever translated (published as Drinkebroersroman with Arbeiderspers in 2007), and several of the strange sayings and events of the book has stuck with me ever since. Work on this article provided a great opportunity to return to this Helsinki classic, and to two other works by Rimminen – and also a way to revisit Deleuze’s reading of the fold.

Thanks to Kristina Malmio and Kaisa Kurikka for the excellent work on this collection.

Key takeaways from my article: 1. Mikko Rimminen’s early prose texts can be read in terms of escalating ontological instability, moving toward, and beyond, urban apocalypse; 2. the instability between competing worlds can most productively be described by way of Deleuze’s concept of the fold, which posits a continuing plane of meaning between storyworlds, rather than by drawing on binary oppositions.

From the introduction to : “A Geo-Ontological Thump”:

“In the Finnish author Mikko Rimminen’s novel Pölkky (2007; “Woodblock”), set in present-day Helsinki, one of the most disturbing occurrences is the appearance of a gradually widening hole in the skating rink in Kaisaniemi Park. The skating rink is under the supervision of the protagonist of the novel, and the threat posed by the hole is not only directed at the skaters, or at the hypothetical sense of achievement of the protagonist. As is suggested throughout the novel, the expanding hole and the steam rising from it are potentially of much more far-reaching consequences, intimating the possibility that not only the skating rink, but perhaps fictional Helsinki itself is being subjected to a slow but world-threatening upheaval. This event which threatens the storyworld’s spatial environment in Rimminen’s second novel echoes similar events in a range of postmodern literary texts. One parallel is the giant tiger roaming New York’s underground in Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City (2009), which causes the sudden appearance of gaping holes in the city—a reference which is of particular interest for its disturbance in the referential relationship with an identifiable urban environment. Like the hole in Pölkky, it presents an unreal and ultimately inexplicable occurrence that contrasts the narrated space and the referential world, but that also threatens the stability of the storyworld itself. Such disturbing events in late modern literature will be examined in this chapter as instances of ontological instability, and approached in terms of folds in narrated space. I will focus on Mikko Rimminen’s early prose texts. One of the aims of this chapter is to propose a new reading of his early prose from the perspective of the texts’ apocalyptic undercurrents, which have remained largely unappreciated, and to take into account a little-studied extract from an unfinished novel by Rimminen.

The focus in this chapter is on how the relationship between the fictional city and its referential counterpart is both foregrounded and undermined in a way that destabilizes the ontological status of the storyworlds in question. The texts under discussion here display intimations of apocalypse, inviting the reader to consider whether the ontological instability is located in the perception of the focalizer or narrator, in literary space, or both. The key concepts that will be explored in the analysis of the literary space and storyworld are Brian McHale’s flickering effect (1987) and Bertrand Westphal’s heterotopic interference (Westphal 2011, 101). Gilles Deleuze’s fold (1993) will be proposed here as a heuristic concept to describe how ontological instability in postmodern storyworlds is shaped. I argue that one of the advantages of this concept is the way it defies binary opposites, moving instead toward an understanding of spatial environments in postmodern storyworlds as acting on a holistic, if often paradoxical, continuous plane of meaning.”

From the conclusion:

“In a conversation with the author (27.1.2017), Rimminen agreed that there is some basis for interpreting his first three prose texts as an apocalyptic trilogy (or trilogy moving toward the apocalypse), centered on Helsinki: “If I had published a novel written on the basis of that PROSAK extract, there would have been this structure, in which in Pussikaljaromaani there are hints; in Pölkky, it is already feared, and in the next novel, it would have already happened.” This narrative structure also sheds some light on the thematic understanding of these prose texts. Rimminen pointed out that in the three prose texts there is an important social context: Pussikaljaromaani posits the importance of a community, while Pölkky deals in part with human loneliness; in the last (unfinished) novel, with only one man left, it would not even have been possible to be lonely in company. The development in Rimminen’s early prose texts can be seen from the perspective of the author’s interest in the precariousness of community in late capitalist society, or in terms of his preoccupation with labor in its many forms (see Mäkelä 2015; Ojajärvi 2013). What I have tried to suggest here is that the development in Rimminen’s first three prose texts can also be read in terms of gradually escalating ontological tensions, which are also integral to the author’s experiments with language and the role of the narrator. The spatial environments, although upon first encounter firmly referential to actual Helsinki, are presented as subject to incomprehensible forces that are hinted at, first, as a possibility in the linguistic realmby taking metaphor literallybut that gradually appear as actual interferences in the ontological storyworld. In the course of the three texts, the spatial environment and its referential mode move, in the terms proposed by Westphal, from homotopic consensus—a close relationship to actual Helsinki—to a threatening sense of heterotopic interference, in the form of the hole in the ice rink, and eventually, in the “Extract,” to a full-blown utopian excursus: a world in which the threatening intimations from the two novels seem to have become realized in a process of gradual unfolding.”

“The treatment of the urban spatial environment in Mikko Rimminen’s early prose texts raises a number of issues that are of relevance for our understanding of space in postmodern literature in more general terms. An examination of Rimminen’s prose texts confirms the notion, proposed by Brian McHale, that postmodern literature displays a conspicuous ontological instability: what at first appears to be a recognizable storyworld in the texts, with a firm referential relationship to actual Helsinki, turns out to be increasingly undermined by intimations of ontological disturbances. The distinction made by Bertrand Westphal between three types of “coupling”—“homotopic consensus,” “heterotopic interference,” and “utopian excursus”—is a helpful typology with which to examine the various kinds of referential relationships displayed by these texts. These relationships defy an understanding as being either true or not true—both in the internal coherence of the storyworld and in their relationship to the actual world—but can be approached more productively through the concept of the fold, as proposed by Deleuze: a concept that challenges binary oppositions, and that emphasizes the simultaneous presence of possibly contradictory worlds evolving on the same plane of meaning. Crucially, such an understanding of literary space and its referential relationship to the actual world that refuses to make a dramatic distinction between actualized (or the real) and potential (or the imaginary) also draws attention to how the ontological instability of postmodern literature may in turn feed into readers’ perspectives of their actual world, and may urge us to consider it in questions of real and unreal, possible and actual.”

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.”

 

 

Keskustelu Helsingin keskustan tulevaisuudesta 10.10.

Osallistun tänään klo 17-18 Kampissa paneelikeskusteluun Helsingin keskustan tulevaisuudesta.

Mikä on Helsingin keskustan tarina? Mikä voisi olla Helsingin keskustan tulevaisuus? Omassa tutkimuksessani Helsingin keskusta näyttäytyy merellisenä, monisyisenä ja  avoimena kohtaamisten tilana, jossa elinvoimainen julkinen tila mahdollistaa ideoiden, vieraiden, tuttujen, yllätysten yhteentörmäyksen.
[kuvan lähde: hel.fi]

“Helsingin kaupunki haluaa rakentaa kaupunkilaisten kanssa yhteisen tahtotilan siitä, millaisen keskustan tarvitsemme tulevina vuosikymmeninä. Keskustan tulevaisuutta ideoidaan Narinkkatorilla ensi viikolla.

Helsingin keskusta kehittyy vauhdilla. Mitä tulevaisuuden keskustassa tehdään ja ketkä sitä käyttävät? Mistä syntyy kantakaupungin vetovoima vaikkapa nuorten, yritysten, asukkaiden tai turistien silmissä? Entä miten varaudumme ilmastonmuutokseen? Muun muassa näistä teemoista keskustellaan keskiviikosta perjantaihin 10.–12. lokakuuta Keskustaverstaassa Kampin Narinkkatorilla.”

Keskiviikko 10.10.2018: Ainutlaatuinen keskusta

17.00–18.00 Paneelikeskustelu: Identiteetti ja paikallisuus
Keskustelijat: tutkija Lieven Ameel, spoken word -artisti Ilja Lehtinen, kaupunkiaktivisti Saara Louhensalo, toiminnanjohtaja Rosa Salmivuori

https://www.hel.fi/uutiset/fi/kaupunkiymparisto/tule-ideoimaan-kantakaupungin-tulevaisuutta-keskustaverstaaseen-051018

Examining City Futures in Literary Urban Studies – London 2 August 2018

Presenting today at the “Big Data and Urban Governance on the Margins of the City” workshop at King’s College, London. The workshop is part of a two-day kick-off of smart city / urban futures research projects. My presentation, “Metaphor into Matter: Examining City Futures in Literary Urban Studies”, looks at the use of metaphor in urban planning and policy. The aim is to use metaphor analysis to unpack rhetorical strategies in planning, and to bring into focus competing planning visions. I also argue that metaphor analysis can be applied not only an instrument for critical analysis, but also as tool for planning. There is considerable potential for a more conscious inclusion of metaphorizations of personal and communal relations to urban environments in PPGIS. Metaphor, and more broadly concepts from literary and narrative studies, can play a role in moving from quantitative “smart” technologies to more qualitative approaches.

I will examine the development of the Kalasatama district in Helsinki, with specific reference to Kalasatama’s smart city aspirations.

Many thanks to Ayona Datta and everyone at the research project for inviting me to participate!

source: hel.fi

I’m drawing in part on some earlier published work:

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.

https://tutcris.tut.fi/portal/files/6896312/DATUTOP_34.pdf

 

Starting a new project at the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies!

Excited to embark on a new research project at the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies, with an affiliation at comparative literature, University of Turku. In this three- year project, I will examine narratives of urban futures, with a specific focus on how the (near) future of cities at the water is negotiated in different textual genres, including literary fiction, future scenarios, and urban planning and policy documents. One of the key issues is the hypothesis that different narrative genres have different abilities (and different limitations) in how they can posit personal and communal choice and agency. At the background of this project is the notion that the stories we tell of the future are in large part responsible for how we see our own possibilities of action towards a possible future.

In this research project, I will focus on Helsinki, New York City, and urban futures in the Low Countries, in the period 1990-2030.

More information here.

If you would like to collaborate or want to hear more, please contact me at lieven.ameel [a] utu.fi – I’m interested in hearing more from other people (academics, policy makers, media) working with similar issues!

Moving towards Possible Cities

Moving towards Possible Cities: Future Urban Waterfronts in Contemporary Fiction
Speaking at the Association for Literary Urban Studies conference (Im)Possible Cities about my current research: future urban waterfronts in contemporary fiction, and what literary texts of the waterfront can tell us about the future and about our possibilities to prepare for and act upon the future. From the abstract:
“In contemporary fictional texts describing the urban waterfront under threat, crossing urban borders is conditioned by competing pathways towards the future, which appears in early 21st century literature as a crucial conceptual and ontological border zone for understanding the present. Moving into this border zone thus also entails becoming aware of questions of agency and moral responsibility, as is exemplified by the trajectory of the protagonist in Odds Against Tomorrow, who moves from the question “What was possible? What should we be afraid of?” (Rich 2013: 7) to asking: what would be “the right thing to do” (Rich 2013: 161)?”

Toponyms in Helsinki novels

The most recent Norna-Rapporter features an article by Terhi Ainiala and me (in Swedish) that examines readerly experiences of place names in Helsinki novels. Thanks to Terhi for the inspiring cooperation and to my students at the University of Helsinki who answered our questionaires!

“Ortnamn kan spela en viktig roll i skapandet av den litterära världen i romaner,
men deras betydelse undervärderas ofta. Ortnamn kan ha t.ex. sociala,
moraliska, och estetiska betydelser utöver de enbart geografiska. På
vilka sätt skapar ortnamn i litteraturen den litterära världen och de litterära
platserna? På vilka sätt hjälper ortnamnen läsaren att lära känna den litterära
världen? Och vilka konsekvenser får det om läsaren inte känner till
de ortnamn som används? Läsaren lever kanske i en annan tid eller på en
annan plats än den avsedda läsaren (se t.ex. Iser 1978) eller är avskärmad
från den litterära världen på grund av språkliga och kulturella skillnader. I
denna artikel försöker vi svara på dessa frågor och undersöker ortnamnens
roll som indikatorer i vissa Helsingforsromaner.”

Ainiala, Terhi & Ameel, Lieven 2017: “Känslan av namn i stadslitteraturen: ortnamn som indikatorer i Helsingforsromaner.” Norna-Rapporter 94. Namn och identitet Handlingar från NORNAs 46:e symposium i Tammerfors den 21–23 oktober 2015, 133-146.

http://tampub.uta.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/101708/nam_och_identitet_2017.pdf?sequence=1

Helsinki’s Islands in Literature – urban archipelago as heterotopian space

Helsinki’s islands in literature are the subject today of a public lecture (in Finnish) in the studia generalia series on islands in Finnish literature at the University of Tampere.

I will present on the basis of a forthcoming article, written together with Sarianna Kankkunen, which examines Helsinki’s archipelago as a heterotopian space.

From the introduction:

“The islands of Helsinki appear in literature repeatedly as a space that questions the order of the capital – and of society at large -, and that present it with a reverse image. In literary depictions and the experiences of literary characters, the otherness of islands is emphasized, as is their transformative power. The urban islands are also the arenas for identity transformations – spaces, where characters undergo a spiritual or mental awakening. The dynamics between the city and the islands along its shores depict the fundamental tensions between community and individual, between the self and the world.” (Ameel & Kankkunen 2017; forthcoming)

(translated free from Finnish)

“Pääkaupungin saaristo on ollut esillä kirjallisuudessa 1800-luvun historiallisista romaaneista ja vaikkapa Zachris Topeliuksen pakinoista aina 2000-luvun romaanitaiteeseen. Helsingin saaret näyttäytyvät kirjallisuudessa toistuvasti tiloina, jotka kyseenalaistavat pääkaupungin – ja sitä kautta yhteiskunnan – järjestystä ja tarjoavat sille käänteisen kuvan. Kirjallisissa kuvauksissa ja romaanihenkilöiden kokemuksissa korostuu saarien toiseus ja niissä piilevä muutosvoima. Saaret ovat myös minuuden muodonmuutoksen näyttämöitä – tiloja, joissa henkilöt käyvät läpi henkisen herätyksen. Kaupungin ja sen edustalla sijaitsevan saaren välinen voimakenttä kuvastaa jännitettä yhteisön ja yksilön, minuuden ja muun maailman välillä.” (Ameel & Kankkunen 2017; tulossa)

Ameel, Lieven & Kankkunen, Sarianna 2017 (forthcoming): “Saaristo kaupungissa – Helsingin saaret kirjallisuudessa.” (“Archipelago in the city – Helsinki’s islands in literature”) In Lahtinen, Toni, Sagulin, Merja & Laakso, Maria (eds.): Suomalaisen kirjallisuuden saaret (“Islands in Finnish Literature”). Helsinki: SKS.

“This Must be the Place” Podcast

In the latest “This Must be the Place Podcast”; I’m interviewed by David Nichols from the University of Melbourne. I share David’s interest in urban spaces, the power of narrative, and the history of peripheral nation-states, and we had a hearty dicussion.

We talked mostly about Helsinki in Finnish literature, on the basis of my book “Helsinki in Early Twentieth-Century Literature”, still available as a freely downloadable e-book here. Thanks to David and the Podcast for having me!