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.

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 Materiality of Literary Narratives in Urban History

Out now: The Materiality of Literary Narratives in Urban History (Routledge), edited together with Jason Finch, Silja Laine and Richard Dennis.

https://www.routledge.com/The-Materiality-of-Literary-Narratives-in-Urban-History/Ameel-Finch-Laine-Dennis/p/book/9780367343293

The publication is connected to my earlier work and work within the Association for Literary Urban Studies to examine the complex role of literary sources in urban history.

The introduction, “Urban History and the Materialities of/in Literature” gives an in-depth exploration of literature and materiality in the context of historical research of the (literary) city.

With contributions by Bo Pettersson, Markku Salmela, Aleksejs Taube, Silja Laine, Jason Finch, Lucie Glasheen, Flore Janssen, Richard Dennis, Julie Gimbal, Huda Tayob, Elke Rogersdotter, and Anubhav Pradhan.

Several chapters draw on forms of literary and material evidence that are still often missing in examinations of the historical materialities of literary cities. Lucie Glasheen, in her chapter ”The Casey Court House Builders’: 1930s Children’s Comics and the Material Transformation of East London”, for example, examines comic reels in a popular children’s magazine to explore attitudes toward urban transformation in the inter-war period; Huda Tayob, in “The Unconfessed Architectures of Cape Town”, draws on archival material, architectural research, and photographs to question the role that literary texts can play in responding to the archival silences of subaltern architectural and urban histories.

Thanks to all the contributors and to co-editors Jason Finch, Silja Laine and Richard Dennis for work on this exciting volume!

Summary of the book:

“The Materiality of Literary Narratives in Urban History explores a variety of geographical and cultural contexts to examine what literary texts, grasped as material objects and reflections on urban materialities, have to offer for urban history. The contributing writers’ approach to literary narratives and materialities in urban history is summarised within the conceptualisation ‘materiality in/of literature’: the way in which literary narratives at once refer to the material world and actively partake in the material construction of the world. This book takes a geographically multipolar and multidisciplinary approach to discuss cities in the UK, the US, India, South Africa, Finland, and France whilst examining a wide range of textual genres from the novel to cartoons, advertising copy, architecture and urban planning, and archaeological writing. In the process, attention is drawn to narrative complexities embedded within literary fiction and to the dialogue between narratives and historical change.

The Materiality of Literary Narratives in Urban History has three areas of focus: literary fiction as form of urban materiality, literary narratives as social investigations of the material city, and the narrating of silenced material lives as witnessed in various narrative sources.”

From the Preface:

“This collection of essays has its origins in a long-term interest the editors have in city literature and its meanings for our understanding of the urban experience. It is based on a session held at the European Association for Urban History (EAUH) conference in Helsinki in 2016. The session,

‘Urban History and the Materiality of Literary Narratives in Urban History’, proved to be remarkably successful – we had planned for one session with four papers but received thirty proposals, from which we were able to choose twelve that formed a coherent whole. These complemented each other and were sophisticated in their approach to literary texts while remaining analytical in questions regarding materiality and history. The response to the call for papers, as well as the lively discussions during and after the EAUH conference, highlighted an ongoing need to improve understanding of how fictional and literary sources can be used and interpreted in the field of urban history. The present book was planned around a core group of the papers read at EAUH 2016, complemented with chapters by invited authors, among them three of the editors.

The ideas, concepts, and methodological approaches presented in this volume were further developed in seminars organised by the Association for Literary Urban Studies (ALUS); at a particularly stimulating one-day symposium, ‘The City: Myth and Materiality’, at the Institute of Historical Research (IHR), University of London; and in cooperation with the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies and ALUS. The starting point of the symposium was similar to that in this book: to explore how cities have always been driven by the dynamic interaction of myths and materialities, and to examine such oscillations between fictional representations and the material conditions of city sites. The keynote talk presented by Richard Dennis provided the basis for his chapter in this volume.”

Table of Contents

1. Urban History and the Materialities of/in Literature

Lieven Ameel, Jason Finch, Silja Laine and Richard Dennis

Part I: Literary Fiction as Urban Materiality

2. Between the Street and the Drawing Room: Slumming in Eliot’s Early Poetry

Bo Pettersson

3. Recycling Fictions in the City: Don DeLillo and the Materiality of Waste

Markku Salmela

4. Embodied Experience of London’s Material Structures in Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor

Aleksejs Taube

5. Sensory Environments of Poverty Seen Through the Writings of Runar Schildt, Toivo Tarvas, and Elvi Sinervo

Silja Laine

6. “Quite an Aristocratic Place, Although in Whitechapel”: Hospital Topographies and Margaret Harkness’s Writing of London

Jason Finch

Part II: Literary Narratives as Social Investigations of the Material City

7. “The Casey Court House Builders”: 1930s Children’s Comics and the Material Transformation of East London

Lucie Glasheen

8. “On the Square”: Constructing the Dangers of Depression-Era London in Ada Chesterton’s Social Investigations

Flore Janssen

9. “Would You Adam-and-Eve-It?”: Geography, Materiality and Authenticity in Novels of Victorian and Edwardian London

Richard Dennis

10. The Literary Adventure of the Skyscraper in France (1893–1930): Literary Narratives and Urban Architecture Between Fiction and Reality

Julie Gimbal

Part III: Narrating Silenced Material Lives

11. The Unconfessed Architecture of Cape Town

Huda Tayob

12. Contestant City Tales: Searching for a “Literary City” Through Archaeology

Elke Rogersdotter

13. Memorialising Materiality: Narrative as Archive in Neo-Liberal Delhi

Anubhav Pradhan

Syncopated City: Mobilizing and Immobilizing Dynamics in Twentieth-Century Literature of New York – Padua, 27 September

In Padua for ”Mobilities of/in the book” (27th September 2019), a mobility and the humanities seminar series, DiSSGeA, Centre for Advanced Studies in Mobility and the Humanities, University of Padova.

https://www.dissgea.unipd.it/mobilities-ofin-book-antiquity-present-times

I will be speaking on the subject of ”Syncopated City: Mobilizing and Immobilizing Dynamics in Twentieth-Century Literature of New York”, with a specific interest in how particular urban spaces and modes of transportation appear as mobilizing and/or immobilizing protagonists and plot dynamics in twentieth century literature of New York. How do particular forms of mobility, and of transport infrastructure, structure urban experiences in literary fiction? And what happens to such experiences when transport network breaks down, as happens in strikes or in the case of natural disaster? I will look at a range of novels, including Wharton’s House of Mirth; Howells’s A Hazard of new fortunes; Dreiser’s Sister Carrie; Plath’s The Bell Jar; Robinson’s new York 2140; Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow; Lethem’s Chronic City; Lerner’s 10:04.

Many thanks to Tania Rossetto and her colleagues at the University of Padua for organizing the seminar and for inviting me to Padua!

This afternoon, we will also have the Association for Literary Urban Studies symposium Mobilities of/in Urban Narratives. Thanks to Giada Peterle for organizing the symposium. It’s the first ALUS symposium in Italy, and a great opportunity to take forward existing collaboration in the field of literary urban studies with scholars from Italy and beyond.

“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.”

The Sixth Borough – Metaphorizations of the Water

Excited to see the appearance of the first article of the New York City part of my research project on future narratives of cities at the water. This new article, published with Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, examines Foer’s story of the Sixth Borough in view of other metaphors of the New York waterfront, and with reference to the comprehensive waterfront plan Vision 2020, in particular.

In my research more broadly, I examine metaphorizations and future narratives of the urban waterfront across disciplines, with cross-readings of planning, policy, and literary texts.  A number of articles on the Helsinki waterfront in literature have also been published so far, with a few forthcoming. One study I also look particularly forward to seeing published soon is an article forthcoming with Textual Practice in which I look at Vision 2020 in connection with Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140, and drawing on Carl Schmitt’s concept of nomos and Deleuze & Guattari’s smooth and striated space.

The Sixth Borough: Metaphorizations of the Water in New York City’s Comprehensive Waterfront Plan Vision 2020 and Foer’s “The Sixth Borough”

lieven.ameel@utu.fi

Abstract:

In visions of future New York City, the waterfront appears as a highly symbolic space, a site of possibility and transformation, imbued with complex cultural meanings. Crucial for the understanding of the urban waterfront and its development are the metaphors used to describe changing relationships to it, across genres. This article focuses on one specific metaphorization of the watery edge of New York City, that of the “Sixth Borough.” It examines the 2011 New York comprehensive waterfront plan Vision 2020 and Jonathan Safran Foer’s short story “The Sixth Borough,” part of the novel Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, but published as a separate short story in the New York Times (2004, 2005). Read side by side, these texts offer a compelling—if contradictory—view of how the words to describe the city engage with eruptions in the material world.

Free access to the first 50 readers here:

https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/aqIrXgm8vNicA9PVQqFR/full

Picture Source: New York City, Vision 2020.

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.”

 

 

IMAGINING CITY FUTURES ACROSS DISCIPLINES

Turku Institute for Advanced Studies. Co-organized with SELMA, in cooperation with the Association for Literary Urban Studies.

Agora lecture hall XXII, University of Turku, 19 November 2018, 9:00h-17:30

This one-day symposium brings together researchers of future narratives from across disciplines. Its focus is on representations of city futures across a range of genres, from literary fiction to futures scenarios, policy, and urban planning. It aims to examine the language, narrative frames, and metaphors with which future cities are told, and the implications of such discursive strategies.

Please register by 12.11. via this link:

https://link.webropolsurveys.com/S/91D415EDDABB4E7A

PROGRAM

09.00-09.10 Welcome & introduction, Lieven Ameel, collegium researcher, TIAS

09.10-10.10 KEYNOTE ADDRESS: Paul Dobraszczyk

Paul Dobraszczyk is a teaching fellow at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London. His most recent book project is Future Cities, Architecture and the Imagination (Reaktion, 2019). He has published widely on visual culture and the built environment, with recent books including The Dead City: Urban Ruins and the Spectacle of Decay (IB Tauris, 2017); London’s Sewers (Shire, 2014); and Function & Fantasy: Iron Architecture in Long Nineteenth Century (Routledge, 2016). He is also a visual artist and photographer.

10.15-11.45 FORECASTING, FUTURE VISIONS, AND PLANNING

Forecasting to ensure the safety of society, Vesa Valtonen, Secretary General, Security Committee, Ministry of Defense   

Ecological city visions and their impact on the development of Chinese cities, Outi Luova, East Asian Studies, University of Turku

Zoning Versus Private Action: Planning Texts and Urban Futures in St Louis and Houston, 1910–1960, Jason Finch, English literature, Åbo Akademi University

Future visions of the region Kotka-Hamina, created during the planning of the master plan, Kaisa Granqvist, Urban Planning, Aalto University

11.45-13.00 LUNCH

13.00-14:30 CITY FUTURES ACROSS MEDIA

Thirty Years of Imaginary Los Angeles. Climate Change and the Retrofitted Megalopolis in Blade Runner (1982) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017), Kimi Kärki, Cultural History, University of Turku

Reading for Ruins: On the Post-Apocalyptic Tense and Context, Jouni Teittinen, Comparative Literature, University of Turku

The flood of 1862 in Viennese humorous magazines: Jokes and cartoons about natural catastrophe as means of urban improvement, Heidi Hakkarainen, Cultural History, University of Turku              

Participatory design fiction and future cities, Johanna Ylipulli, cultural anthropology, Helsinki Institute of Urban and Regional Studies

14:30-15:00 COFFEE BREAK

15:00-16:30 AGENCY & CITY FUTURES

Agency in Urbanizing Finland, Hanna Heino, Geography, University of Turku  

From co-creation to agency in urban futures, Kaisa Schmidt-Thomé, Demos Helsinki

Agency, Voices and Visions for Preferable Futures: Ethnographic research on the World Heritage Site Suomenlinna, Pauliina Latvala-Harvilahti, The Finnish Literature Society Research Deparment

‘Small Island States and their Little Capitals: Lessons for Climate Resilience?’, Milla Vaha, International Relations/Political Philosophy, University of Turku

16.30-17.00 ROUNDTABLE

Methods, approaches and things ahead in Imagining City Futures across Disciplines

17:00-17:30 CLOSING WORDS AND RECEPTION

 

Organizer: Lieven Ameel / lieven.ameel@utu.fi / blogs.helsinki.fi/urbannarratives