Su, Susan Jung, National Taiwan Normal University, Taiwan
Exploring the Urban Letter: Some Reflections on the Possibilities of Genre
Janke Klok, University of Groningen, Netherlands
12.00-13.00 Lunch break
13.00–14.30 Session 9 (Aud XIII)
Moderator: Sofie Verraest
Security Zone as Dangerous Ground: Reading Ha Jin’s Nanjing Requiem
Joan Chiung-huei Chang,
National Taiwan Normal University, Taiwan
Streets of Horror, Streets of Hope: London’s De-Centred Cityscape during the Great Plague
Catharina Drott, University of Gießen, Germany
Her Breasts are Crumbling Brick: Three Images of a City in War
Susanna Suomela, University of Helsinki, Finland
Session 10 (Aud XI)
Moderator: Markku Salmela
La Ciudad Ausente (‘The Absent City’)
Nettah Yoeli-Rimmer, University of Ghent, Belgium
“It’s Six A.M., Do You Know Where You Are?”
Framing the Urban Experience in Literary Beginnings
Lieven Ameel, Helsinki University, Finland
Toivo Tarvas and the Margins in Literature
Silja Laine, Turku University, Finland
14.30–15.00 Coffee break
15.00–16.00 Plenary: Professor Jeremy Tambling: ‘The Periphery at the Centre: For the Use of Those Who Live in Cities’
’ (Auditorium XIII)
16.00-16.45 Closing words and panel discussion on Helsinki Literature and the City Network future projects.
Abstracts of keynote addresses
Hungry and Alone: Knut Hamsun’s Hunger (1890) and August Strindberg’s Alone (1903)
Two great topographical novelists, Knut Hamsun and August Strindberg, will be the topic of my paper. Or, to be more precise, the topic will be their topographical renderings of Kristiania and Stockholm in Hunger and Alone respectively. Both texts are novels where place rather than plot is the determinant of the narration; each is set in a Nordic capital with a male protagonist who is writing–or trying to write—with no name, no social life, and a complicated relation to his surroundings. In both texts there are interactions, or rather tensions, between centre and periphery, and between city and home. However, the differences between the two novels are possibly just as striking as the similarities.
Kristiania and Stockholm are both seen from the perspective of the outsider, but whereas city invades home in Hunger, to the extent that home is obliterated, the reverse is true for Alone. My hypothesis is that both novels blur the distinction between city and home, between inner and outer space, but in very different ways: in Hunger home as idea as well as dwelling is exteriorized; in Alone the city is interiorized. In my paper I will discuss the conception of place, and argue that for these two writers subjective projections of place have become inseparable from an actual place itself. Thus, Hamsun’s Kristiania and Strindberg’s Stockholm contribute to the history of the cities in question; their novels are paths to the remembrance of lost places. In both texts we meet with a subjective, personal, almost surreal urban world, closely linked to the inner mind of the writer-narrator, where a myriad of external and internal impressions contribute to the story. What governs the urban representations, and how the sociological and the phenomenological dimensions intersect, are among the questions to be discussed.
The Periphery at the Centre: For the Use of Those Who Live in Cities
There is no shortage of words for the peripheries of cities: suburbs, with a sub-class of urban behaviour suggested in ‘suburban’, faubourgs, liberties, banlieues, neighbourhoods, ex-urbia, slums; areas of cities historically beyond the walls, both supporting the centre and carrying the weight of it, in the old meaning of being ‘peripheral’, or in some way expressing it, or independent of it, and cities have required spaces which will serve them from outside, peripheral centres, mediating between areas of industrial production and capital cities, or first-world cities, cities whose rationale is to be only peripheral. Writers whose interest has been in the city which is not a capital, and whose relationship to capitalist modernity is peripheral, whether Rouen or Middlemarch, actual or fictional and generic, will be central to this paper, which will trace the way different senses of the peripheral have come together over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As it will examine the way that everyday life has rested for so much of its theorisation on peripheral city areas, so it will interweave reference to such texts as Dickens on Walworth, or Preston, Machado de Assis on Minas Gerais, the mining towns outside Rio de Janeiro; Zola’s Germinal; Dostoevsky’s fictional Skotoprigonyevsk; Berlin Alexanderplatz; the film La Haine (Kassovitz, 1995); Roberto Bolaño’s Mexican towns in 2666 and Rimbaud; Brecht and Borges on ‘mythologies of the slums and outskirts of the city’ (‘Borges and I’) to complicate the centre/periphery distinction, but also to use it also to see what can be said about the interrelationships of space, architecture, and urban existence.
Female Suburban Experience in Faïza Guène’s Kiffe kiffe demain
Mirka Ahonen, University of Turku, Finland
The purpose of this paper is to discuss how female characters and their urban experience are portrayed in Faïza Guène’s first novel Kiffe kiffe demain (2004). In this novel, daily life in a Parisian suburb is described from the point of view of a young woman with an immigrant background. My aim is to explore the way that the female suburban experience is constructed in the novel and to determine which elements characterise its spatial representation. This paper starts with the idea that suburban space is not only a background to the story: the relationship between the characters and space plays a significant role in the novel.
In contemporary French literature the suburbs (banlieues) of Paris are usually viewed negatively. They are often considered as non-places, sites which are, according to Marc Augé (1992), spaces of transit, impermanence and anonymity. They have lost their cultural and historical values and cannot be defined as relational or concerned with identity. However, in this paper, I propose a different approach to suburban space. I argue that instead of reproducing only negative stereotypes of the suburbs, Kiffe kiffe demain emphasizes a new kind of urban experience, in which suburban life is seen in a positive light. In the novel, suburban space is closely connected to the identity and history of the female characters. It is not a non-place without a history or meaning, but on the contrary, it is an interesting place, which has also positive values and meanings to the female characters.
“It’s Six A.M., Do You Know Where You Are?”
Framing the Urban Experience in Literary Beginnings
Lieven Ameel, University of Helsinki, Finland
In the opening scene of a novel, the world unfolds before the reader by way of consecutive hedges, markers that set out the frontiers within which the protagonist will act, and that simultaneously function as cues for the reader and catalysts for the imagination.
In city novels, the first boundary markers that have to be navigated by the reader, as he/she explores the new world together with the narrator and/or protagonist(s) tend to be constituted by social boundaries, both in the sense of boundaries between the socially defined territories in the city, and in the sense of particular codes of behaviour active in specific urban (sub)strata. In addition to establishing social hedges, spatial clues in opening scenes of city novels evoke a whole series of layers of meaning: inclusive and exclusive markers of race, gender and nationality; hints at a moral geography of the city, and in some cases meta-poetical references to how the literary text itself is going to be structured.
Taking my cue from the opening lines of Jay McInnerney’s New York novel Bright Lights, Big City, I will set out to explore the various forms of social, moral, gender- and race-related spatial hedging that is performed in the opening chapters of a selection of city novels.
Two Types of Local Identity and Controversy in Poetic Representation of Russian City Districts
Olga Belichenko, European University at Saint Petersburg, Russia
Despite the fact that particular Russian cities have become an extremely popular subject for poetry and lyrics (professional as well as amateur), city districts as separate entities rarely appear both as a subject and as a scene. At the moment there are only two genres of Russian texts in which different urban areas as settings are actually the subject material. The first is that of amateur poetry written mostly by schoolchildren or elderly people. These texts are usually composed on particular occasions, for example a competition celebrating an anniversary of the city district and launched by a local paper or library. The second genre of texts is rap lyrics, performed by amateur bands, whose medium is social network websites. Though both of these genres are not usually intended for a broad audience, numerous examples in each of them exist for many of Russian cities. The main difference between these categories is the mode in which the place is represented. The city district is conceptualized either as a home, in the case of poetry, or as an ‘urban jungle’ dangerous for outsiders, in case of rap lyrics. I will try to show that this disparity is caused by different types of local identity and corresponding variations in the image of place.
I will discuss these two genres and their pragmatic grounding using as a case study material from Petrozavodsk, but also drawing some examples from other cities in north-western Russia. My materials were gathered during individual fieldwork sessions and online research in 2010-2011.
Security Zone as Dangerous Ground: Reading Ha Jin’s Nanjing Requiem
Joan Chiung-huei Chang, National Taiwan Normal University, Taiwan
After the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937, Chinese residents in Nanjing fled their homes and stayed in the refugee camp inside the Security Zone, believing that there they would be protected from Japanese atrocities. However, the outcome was not as expected. The Japanese army could still enter the Zone, carry off hundreds of people, and rape and kill them at will. As a result, the Security Zone was as hellish as other areas in the city.
Ha Jin’s novel, Nanjing Requiem, makes an effort to probe the complexities of the Nanjing Massacre. It is a chronicle, a piece of reportage, a personal journal and an (auto)biography that salvages this event from historical amnesia and literary absence. By examining the nature of the Security Zone, Ha Jin’s text exposes radical changes in the sovereignty of and the right to the city. Initiated by westerners, this Security Zone actually functioned to transfer political sovereignty from the already fleeing Chinese government to the foreigners in Nanjing. Besides, this space was packed with multilingual, multiracial and multicultural populations: administered by a German businessmen, supervised by an American missionary, inhabited by Chinese refugees, and assaulted by Japanese soldiers. These groups reside, function and battle in different manners and for different purposes, stratifying the city and putting who is entitled to the right to the city into serious question. These reversals also lead Nanjing Requiem into several literal paradoxes, including the biographical authority of the text, the bestiality and divinity in humanity, and the sense of home in a foreign land. This paper will delve into the above issues and discuss how this novel, even though set in China, is actually a contemplation not of Chinese identity but of American.
The Postmodern City and the Search for Meaning
Antoine Dechêne, University of Liège/CIPA/Belspo, Belgium
Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy (1987) is one of the most striking examples of the ‘anti-detective’ or ‘metaphysical’ detective story. Its opening part, City of Glass, inaugurates ‘an inexhaustible space, a labyrinth of endless steps’ (NYT: 4) where the detective eventually loses himself, fails to solve the mystery and is ultimately confronted with the impossibility of reaching any absolute truth. Auster’s labyrinthine city is a liminal locus in which the disappearances of clues and the dissolution of identity urge us to reconsider the boundaries between the centre and the periphery.
The purpose of this paper is to examine Auster’s urban spaces in a way which exceeds accepted definitions of the postmodern, metafictional detective story. These largely depict a space where language no longer seems to point to a firm sense of the real. Instead, my theoretical approach will combine Patricia Merivale and Susan Elizabeth Sweeney’s recent perspectives on the ‘metaphysical’ detective novel (Detecting Texts: The Metaphysical Detective Story from Poe to Postmodernism, 1999), with theories of space such as Gaston Bachelard’s classical work The Poetics of Space (1958) and Petra Eckhard’s more recent Chronotopes of the Uncanny (2011). I would also like to give specific interest to the special motive of the labyrinth, which will be considered in the light of Ilana Shiloh’s The Double, the Labyrinth and the Locked Room: Metaphors of Paradox in Crime Fiction and Film (2010).
Lastly, my talk will not only focus on Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy but will also return to Edgar Allen Poe’s foundational short-story ‘The Man of the Crowd’, one of the first urban stories that pictures a modern monstrous city with its anonymous mass of dwellers swallowing the individual while destabilizing accepted notions of meaning, truth and identity.
Reading City-Individual Relationship in Novels from Designer’s Perspective: Two Novels: Istanbul, Cevdet Bey ve Oğulları and A City: Istanbul
Mehtap Doğanca, Kadir Has University, Istanbul, Turkey; H.Şebnem Uzunarslan, Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, Istanbul, Turkey
Research studies performed in various fields define city-society-individual relationship in various analytical planes. From the perspective of sociologists, psychologists, city planners, architects and designers, each city is distinguished by separate qualities; however, for residents, each city has meanings that depend on time and living conditions.
Reading cities from novels offers different viewpoints, depending on the personal experiences and perspective of a given novelist. The age of the novelist while writing the novel, the time-period when characters in the novel live in the city, the view of the city taken in the time when the novel was written, the lifestyles of characters in the novel and the city/locality relationship constitute readings and determinations of city and individual identity; additionally, the perspective of a particular person who reads the novel at a particular time yields specific results.
Today, it is more important than ever to approach the causes and effects of urban transformation from a social perspective and raise awareness. When it comes to the viewpoint of a designer, the results may turn into symbols of integration of a conceptual dimension and design.
In this respect, a workshop study was performed in two Istanbul universities with interior decoration design students in order to analyze Istanbul and interpret the social and individual meanings of the city. As part of the study, two novels that describe Istanbul and incidents and persons in different periods in Istanbul were selected. The students were asked to analyze city/locality and society/individual relationships through characters in the novels, and to create symbolic designs.
Istanbul: Hatıralar ve Sehir and Cevdet Bey ve Ogulları, two novels by the Istanbul novelist Orhan Pamuk, were selected for the experimental study, named “Satirarasi (Between the Lines)” and based on analyses of the city and richness of spatial and conceptual expression. It was significant for the diversity of designs that the novels handled city/resident, locality/resident, neighbourhood/street and space narrations in the context of modernization, socio-cultural transformation and renovations.
This paper discusses interpretations of the past/present of Istanbul through the literature-design relationship, analyzes city identity/individual identity comparatively according to social, architectural and environmental changes using results from the workshop, examines the transition from literary work to conceptual dimension and visual design and presents experimental and artistic aspects of the process.