Uncertain Ontologies in Twenty-First-Century Storyworlds – Style 55:3

Delighted to see the publication of this special issue of Style on uncertain ontologies in twenty-first-century storyworlds. This special issue identifies ontological uncertainty as a key concept for the study of contemporary fiction. I feel privileged I could co-edit this together with Marco Caracciolo, and for the inspiring group of scholars involved in putting together the special issue.

Editors Lieven Ameel & Marco Caracciolo, with articles by both editors and Merja Polvinen, Pieter Vermeulen, Alison Gibbons, Alice Bell, Brian McHale.

I’d be happy to send a pdf of the articles to anyone interested – just send me a mail at lieven.ameel [a] tuni.fi

From the introduction abstract:

“From climate change to the COVID-19 pandemic, the present moment is defined by the destabilizing effects of uncertain and urgently threatening futures. The articles collected in this special issue explore literary narratives that stage different aspects of this destabilization. We suggest that contemporary fiction’s emphasis on uncertainty differs from the ontological questions raised by postmodernist literature, because the “earnest ontologies” of twenty-first-century storyworlds do not primarily evoke detachment or self-referential playfulness; rather, they tend to take on direct real-world relevance.” 

Content:

Introduction: Uncertain Ontologies in Twenty-First-Century Storyworlds
Lieven Ameel and Marco Caracciolo 
Warped Writing: The Ontography of Contemporary Fiction  
Pieter Vermeulen  
Ontological Instability and Nonhuman Presence in Twenty-First-Century New York Fiction
Lieven Ameel  
Ontological Instability and the Place of the Subject in Contemporary Fiction  
Marco Caracciolo  
The Dark Inside the Prologue: Enactive Cognition and Eerie Ontology in Catherynne M. Valente’s Radiance 
Merja Polvinen  
Interpreting Fictionality and Ontological Blurrings in and between Lance Olsen’s Theories of Forgetting and there’s no place like time 
Alison Gibbons  
“It all feels too real”: Digital Storyworlds and “Ontological Resonance”  
Alice Bell  
Afterword: Earnest Ontology in the Year of the Flood  
Brian McHale

Thanks to everyone at Style and Penn State University to make this special issue happen!

Link: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/style.55.3.issue-3

Redemptive Scripts in Planning and Fiction of the New York Waterfront

I’m speaking today (23 Aug) at the closing symposium of The Changing Environment of the North research project. I’ll be a brief (15 min) presentation on the subject of redemptive scripts in the context of planning and fiction of the New York waterfront, building on my earlier work on metaphors and modes of emplotments with which to approach the waterfront. 

The closing symposium also serves as the inofficial launch of the recently published book coming out of the project: Visual Representations of the Arctic: Imagining Shimmering Worlds in Culture, Literature and Politics, edited by Markku Lehtimäki, Arja Rosenholm and Vlad Strukov (Routledge 2021). The book features a.o. my article on balloon perspectives on the Arctic: “Balloon Explorers, the Panorama, and the Making of an Arctic Nomos in Contemporary Fiction.”

Book abstract:

“Privileging the visual as the main method of communication and meaning-making, this book responds critically to the worldwide discussion about the Arctic and the North, addressing the interrelated issues of climate change, ethics and geopolitics. A multi-disciplinary, multi-modal exploration of the Arctic, it supplies an original conceptualization of the Arctic as a visual world encompassing an array of representations, imaginings, and constructions. By examining a broad range of visual forms, media and forms such as art, film, graphic novels, maps, media, and photography, the book advances current debates about visual culture. The book enriches contemporary theories of the visual taking the Arctic as a spatial entity and also as a mode of exploring contemporary and historical visual practices, including imaginary constructions of the North. Original contributions include case studies from all the countries along the Arctic shore, with Russian material occupying a large section due to the country’s impact on the region.”

 

Nonhuman Presence and Ontological Instability in Twenty-First-Century New York Fiction

Interested in the nonhuman, ontological instability, unseasonable weather, and/or New York fiction? My latest article, published open-access with Routledge, examines all of these – and more. The article, “Nonhuman Presence and Ontological Instability in Twenty-First Century New York Fiction” is part of an exciting set of texts that look at how nonhuman spaces are narrated, the edited volume Narrating Nonhuman Spaces: Form, Story, and Experience Beyond Anthropocentrism. Some of my personal highlights of the volume include Sarianna Kankkunen‘s work on monomaniacs of the Anthropocene, Brian J. McAllister’s article on space-time in poetry, and Laura Oulanne on Woolf and Mansfield. Thanks to Marco Caracciolo, Marlene Karlsson Marcussen and David Rodriguez for bringing this volume together.

open access download link here

Thanks to Marco and the NarMesh group for inviting me to the workshop on nonhuman space in Ghent, 1 Dec 2017, where early versions of the articles were presented and where we could get to know each other in person in a convivial and stimulating environment.

My article:

Ameel, Lieven. “Nonhuman Presence and Ontological Instability in Twenty-First Century New York Fiction.” In Marco Caracciolo, Marlene Karlsson Marcussen & David Rodriguez (eds.):  Narrating Nonhuman Spaces, Form, Story, and Experience beyond Anthropocentrism. London: Routledge, 71-88

Abstract:

This article explores ontological instability in three contemporary New York novels. Drawing on Brian McHale’s Postmodernist Fiction and on the concept of the fold as developed by Gilles Deleuze, it examines Teju Cole’s Open City (2011), Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City (2009), and Ben Lerner’s 10:04 (2014) and looks, in particular, at how occurrences of nonhuman presence and menacing weather conditions threaten the ontological stability of the narrated storyworld.

From the conclusion:

“Human consciousness, and its ability to connect with the world, is at once “blind” and, paradoxically, capable of visionary “insight,” as the protagonist of Open City, drawing on Paul de Man, infers. The visionary experiences of Ben, in 10:04, driven by something close to hallucination, and the insights provided by “blots on vision” and by looking out of the corner of one’s eye in Chronic City, point to a similar fawed yet insightful sensitivity, in a way that defes binary oppositions or causal hierarchies.
The real, the possible, and the imaginary are described as continuations of the same plane, coeval with human perception. In 10:04 and Chronic City, in particular, there are endeavors to extend that folding of inner and outerinto the world of the reader, such as the hiccups of Perkus in Chronic City, visualized on the page in blank spaces and the freworks above Brooklyn Bridge, in 10:04, which are imagined on the physical page in the hands of the reader, thus extending tangibly into the reader’s physical world.
Approaching ontological instability and the interaction between human perception and nonhuman environment through the concept of the fold helps home in on those elements that spill out from the fctional representation into the actual world. Such spill-over effects re-enact the Baroque breaking of spatial boundaries; Deleuze was intrigued, following Wölffin, in how Baroque form was “always put in motion” ending “in the manner of a horse’s mane or the foam of a wave,” and how “matter tends to spill over in space” (4). The endeavors to reach out into the reader’s referential world, evident especially in Chronic City and 10:04, are one particularly tangible example of such overspill. In language, a tentative overlap between the consciousness of reader and narrator is attempted, a moment of “coeval readership” (Lerner 93). Similar to Perkus’s view of New York City, which becomes for Chase an “ellipsistic” experience that starts to affect his own perception of the surrounding world, some of the
visionary experiences in these novels may color the reader’s view of the referential world, enabling a sense of interconnection with the nonhuman environment, in the way of a fold connecting inner and outer, actual and possible.”(p. 86)

Note:

A shorter and amended version of this article appears in Style 55 no. 3 under the
title “Ontological Instability and Nonhuman Presence in Twenty-First-Century
New York Fiction.”

MyHelsinki and Helsinki’s shoreline

Some of my work on the cultural and literary meanings of the Helsinki shoreline have  made it to the MyHelsinki website, the city marketing site of my home city. Featuring a great picture of a researcher in action on the Helsinki shores.

(Photo Jirina Alanko)

The photo is shot on the southern shore of the Helsinki island where I live. Hard not to like Helsinki for promoting its shores with this realistic picture of conditions in Helsinki in the month of May (it was raining relentlessly).

https://www.myhelsinki.fi/en/see-and-do-neighbourhoods/seaside-helsinki/helsinki%E2%80%99s-shoreline-creates-space-for-new-ideas-and-peace

I’ve personally always liked the way in which MyHelsinki presents the city through insiders’ stories, and I’ve also used their website for discovering new places, so glad to have been involved.

Myhelsinki text below:

“The seashore is a place of change”

For literary scholar Lieven Ameel, Lammassaari Island is one of Helsinki’s finest locations.

“Helsinki’s maritime environment is a place for metamorphosis and new opportunities in literature. Fictional characters visit the sea to imagine what their future lives might look like. Many social changes have also begun by the sea.

For instance, it is by the sea that the protagonists in Arvid Järnefelt’s Veneh’ojalaiset (1909) receive a vision about a better future. In Anja Kauranen’s Pelon maantiede, the headquarters of a feminist guerrilla fraction is located on Lammassaari Island.

We residents of Helsinki’s Lauttasaari district have traditionally had a close-knit connection to our home island. I, however, find that the finest maritime environment is to be found on Lammassaari.

The experience begins from the moment of departure toward the island, as the view from the duckboards opens out over a layered vista of the city looming in the horizon. The city of Helsinki was founded in the Vanhankaupunginlahti bay area. The rapids area at the mouth of the Vantaanjoki river also offers a vignette of 19th century industry.

Those who walk along the same duckboards can also cast their gaze over urban visions of the 1990s in the Arabianranta district, as well as toward something completely new in the Kalasatama district.”

Future cities in literature: perspectives on climate change

Speaking today (2 June 2021) at the Climate Conference of Finnish Communes on perspectives from literature on future cities and climate change.

A few takeaways from my talk:

  • Literary perspectives are not (primarily) about communicating climate change or climate action. Rather, literature and other cultural representations provide important insights into the frames and language availabe to envision our complex relationship to the environment, about our agency towards the future – frames and language that guide how we can work towards solutions
  • Future literary cities provide important information on the “what” and “how” of future urban infrastructure, but also about the qualia or “what it feels like”, including contextualized perspectives on possible turning points along pathways to the future
  • Quotations from literary texts always need to be embedded in the broader framework of a particular literary work, genre, and period if we want to understand their functions and meanings.
  • Future-oriented literature tells the reader first and foremost about the present moment (of publication), about the frames of knowledge at our disposal today, about what may be lost, and about our current possibilities of agency.

More on the subject in my recent article:

  • “Rising Towers, Rising Tides: Competing Visions of the Helsinki Waterfront in Planning and Fiction.” In Markku Salmela, Lieven Ameel & Jason Finch (eds.): Literatures of Urban Possibility. London: Palgrave, 2021, 45-64.

Interview on the subject (in Finnish) here.

La Ville dans les Fiction Climatiques – 5-6.5.2021

Participating today in a “mosaique” session as part of the colloquium “La Ville dans les Fiction Climatiques”, organized by the PARVIS project at University Gustave Eiffel, Paris. My own brief intervention will examine cities in climate fiction on the basis of my research project on cities at the water in planning in fiction, with a focus on New York, Helsinki, and cities at the water in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Kuva

Full programme here.

Programme of the “mosaique”:

Série de d’interventions brèves, live ou vidéo, où chaque membre du comité scientifique dira ce de quoi la cli-fi est le nom. / Series of short interventions, live or video, where each member of the scientific committee will say what the cli-fi is about.

14h : Introduction

Intervenant.e.s/speakers :

14h05: Andrew Milner : Qu’est-ce que la cli-fi? / What is cli-fi?

14h13:  Carl Abbott :  La fiction climatique américaine : de l’élégie à l’urgence / American Climate Fiction from Elegy to emergency

14h21:  Lieven Ameel : Les formes futures de la ville contemporaine dans une perspective comparative / Future Forms of the Contemporary City in Comparative Perspective

14h29:  Pierre Schoentjes : Eviter le désastre : la cli-fi… sauvée par l’ironie?/ Avoiding disaster: cli-fi… saved by irony?

14h37: Simon Bréan : Cli-fi francophone : le cas J-M Ligny / French cli-fi : the J-M Ligny case

14h45:  Sébastien Févry : La cli-fi, un grand dérangement narratif ?/ Cli-fi, a great narrative derangement?

14h53 : Irène Langlet : Les kaléidoscopes formels d’une folksonomie / The formal kaleidoscopes of a folksonomy


Many thanks to Irene Langlet, Nadege Perelle, and Sami Cheikh Moussa for putting together the programme!

Narratives of Body and Mind – Young Researchers Conference April 2021, Aachen

I’m presenting a keynote lecture at Aachen, Germany, at the “Narratives of Body and Mind” conference, a Young Researchers Conference, April 8-9, 2021.

https://www.accels.rwth-aachen.de/cms/ACCELS/Veranstaltungen/~fwbew/Young-Researchers-Conference-Narratives/lidx/1/

The title of my talk is “Knocking on the Door: Presence in Literature”.

image source: aachen.de

Abstract:

“How is a sense of presence created in literature? And how are presence and embodied memory tied to a reading-for-meaning in the interaction between reader and literary text? I will address these questions by examining instances of fateful knocking on doors, from Plato’s Symposium to Shakespeare’s Macbeth and more recent historical young adult fiction. In my readings, I will draw on enactivist approaches to literary studies, as well as on the work of Thomas De Quincey, James Wood, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, and Agneta Kuzmicova.”

Conference abstract:

“Since the cognitive turn in narrative theory opened up a new research field for literary
studies, new and innovative approaches have been developed in various research areas,
including the study of narrative. Starting from computational models that gave rise to
situational or mental models, to the recent move towards embodied approaches in
cognitive literary studies and empirical research with actual readers, cognitive literary
studies turned into a broad field that lends itself to complex combinations of different
research areas. In this interdisciplinary conference, we examine the various research areas in which narrative theory meets narratives of the body, narratives of the mind or the common ground between them.”

It would’ve been great to come in person to Aachen, hopefully another time!

Many thanks to Kai Tan and her colleagues at Aachen University for the kind invitation.

MLA 2021

Taking part in the first conference this year – MLA 2021, and the first time I participate in the MLA. The conference is obviously an online conference. It is most likely that I would not have been able to participate, for a variety of reasons, in the conference otherwise, so this is a good opportunity to listen in to talks by colleagues from my home sofa. But I obviously miss all the informal discussions that take place in the fringes of conferences, the inspiring encounters, surprising comments, reunions with old acquaintances… and the way a conference thrives also on the material embeddedness within a city or campus.

One session that stood out for me yesterday was the session on “Rural Modernity, Metropolitan Modernism, Global Circulations.”

Very much looking forward to today’s session “Literary Urban Studies now”, presided by Liam Lanigan of Governors State U, and with several colleagues presenting. Abstract below:

“Literary urban studies connects historical, interdisciplinary, critical, and narrative-led approaches to the city and literature. Following an urban renaissance in Western countries and a huge expansion of Global South cities, the city’s future as a physical entity is deeply uncertain. Participants give five-minute talks on changing conceptions of the city in the twenty-first century, followed by discussion welcoming audience participation.”
Some of the (many) other sessions I’m interested in:
167 – The Abstract and the Particular343 Form and Space in Latin American Literature

405 – City Myths

Hope to start seeing more colleagues in real time later this year!

 

Approaches to “Solid Objects”

For this autumn’s course in methods in literary theory, I decided on Virginia Woolf’s short story “Solid Objects” (1920). Over the course of six sessions, we applied a range of methods and approaches to the text. Each week, I gained new insights about the text and about literary studies’ ability to draw out meaning. Delving into the text like John with his fingers into the sand, only to come up with something that is strangely nondescript and still full of power and meaning. Not surprising to see that materialist approaches to the text have been particularly foregrounded in the past few decades. Thanks especially to all the students who actively participated despite the difficult circumstances.

The approaches and methods we applied:

Close reading

Theory of mind

Context

Space

Writing as method

Materiality

Any approaches or methods that should definitely be included if I teach the same class again next year? Contact me with ideas at lieven.ameel [a] tuni.fi

Course: KIRA2 – menetelmät ja sovellukset / “methods and applications”

 

 

“Future Days” session on narratives of the city – 2 Dec 2020

It was a virtual conference rather than a physical meeting in Paris for this year’s “Future Days” (1-3 Dec 2020), where I had the honor to chair a workshop on storytelling and the city (“Mettre en récit la ville”) together with Anne Jarrigeon of Université Gustave Eiffel. Fascinating papers on silence and disputed memories in cities, climate fiction and urban futures, a case study from Thailand, and an intervention from the president of Timescope, a company involved in urban storytelling through virtual reality and augmented reality.

How to negotiate absences and silences in urban history? How to map, study, and develop stories in an urban context? This hour-and-a-half session was far too short to do more than scratch the surface and I would have loved to have heard more from all of the participants.

Much of what was discussed connected with earlier work I have been involved in, e.g. in the co-edited book The Materiality of Literary Narratives in Urban History (2019), with  for example the article by Huday Tayob on “The Unconfessed Architecture of Cape Town”, which examines how literature can help complement archival silences and absences. Several of the approaches in my recent book The Narrative Turn in Urban Planning (2020) examine the complexities at work in examining and developing urban narratives in a historical and planning context.

Great to see colleagues at least virtually, hopefully next time in Paris we’ll meet in person!