CESUN 2010
The city as historical, cultural, and social phenomenon
• The early cities provided a way of organizing a
community in relation to the land
• As the function of the city changed, so did the structure
• The most radical change began with the Enlightenment
(John Locke)
• The first urban historians considered the city as a subject
in and of itself
• They stressed three ways of conceptualizing the city: (1)
the origins of the modern city (Spengler, Mumford); (2)
the physical laws of the modern city (Park, Burgess); (3)
the effect of the city on its inhabitants (Weber,
Durkheim, Simmel
• New theories and practices of urbanism and city
planning have focused on space as a category of analysis
and criticism (Foucault, Lefebvre, Hayden, Soja, the
Chicago school of urban sociology, Jacobs, Garreau...)
The city as literary phenomenon
The development of the novel and subsequent narrative modes
- comic realism, magic realism, naturalism, modernism, and
postmodernism -- reflects the rise of the city
Literary cities are both imaginative constructions and
reflections of the material reality of their originals
Space is in fiction represented through and as temporality, as a
narrative event or events
Cities in literature also portray a network of relationships
unfolded (or not) over narrative time
A few examples: some images of the city were grounded on a
distinction between city and country, urbanism and antiurbanism; the naturalist city was a place of limits, a product of
material activity and mechanical forces; at the center of empire
the focus was on capital cities; the modern city was sometimes
seen as a city of the dead, or at least in decline
The postmodern city
• The postmodern city loses claim to being “real”
• What is brought to the city is what is got back: the
“echo” principle becomes the basis for reality
• Lacking transcendence, the postmodern city cannot go
beyond what it consumes
• The city becomes a state of mind: it thinks us and not the
other way around
The city in Central European Literature
The urban novel in Central European literature has the
following features:
1. the image of the city is created from the point of view of writer
or other people;
2. the city is represented as space determined by its inhabitants;
3. the city is described as symbolically different but at the same
time unchangeable space that is marked by particular wellknown places and monuments;
4. people who inhabit the city possess certain features that
correspond with the described place;
5. the city is seen as Bakhtinian open, socially and culturally
heterogeneous, polyphonic, multiple, and multi-perspective
6. the city is the image of world, time, society, national or multinational culture
The Other City (1993)
• Michal Ajvaz’s novel
The Other City draws on
the literary traditions of
Gnosticism and magical
• The present-day city and
its fantastic or legendary
alter-ego are as much the
main characters as the
somewhat puppetlike
human protagonists
The novel is set in St.
Nicholas’s church, Petřín Hill,
the Malá Strana Café, the
Slavia Café, Karlova Street,
Kaprova Street, Žatecka Street,
Železna Street, Pohorelec
Square, the large Clementinum
historical library etc.
On his walks, the narrator
begins to notice more and
more gaps in his familiar
surroundings, until a whole
“other city” gradually opens
up, overlapping the daylight
The figure of flâneur - “Prague
The City Builder (1977)
The City Builder is a first
person history of failed urban
planning and utopianism
recalling George Konrad’s
work at the Budapest
Institute of Urban Planning
The narrator is the city
planner in an unnamed
Eastern European city, who
has tried to preserve his
humanity as he climbed the
ranks of bureaucracy
The narrator is given
substance through his
memories and his
perspectives on the people
and the world around him
The City Builder can also
be seen as a series of
universal life situations and
archetypal confrontations;
the hero is, in a way,
The planner is both the
artist, the creator, the
preserver of civilization
and a ruthless and amoral
The true protagonist of the
novel is the city itself
where the narrator feels at
once comfortable and
Gebürtig (Native-Born) (1992)
Robert Schindel pointed
out that his novel is very
much a book about Vienna
The title of his novel,
Gebuertig refers to (1) the
children of victims and
perpetrators alike, who
seek to know their roots, to
confront their parents, and
to understand the extent to
which the burden of the
past shapes their present;
(2) one of the characters –
Hermann Gebirtig; (3)
Mordechai Gebirtig
Construction of the urban
space in the novel:
1. streets, squares, and parks as
public places;
2. pubs and coffee houses as
semi-public places;
3. means of public
4. city districts;
5. other Austrian topographies;
6. other urban spaces and their
relationship to the urban
space of Vienna
Works consulted
Ajvaz, Michal. The Other City. Champaign and London: Dalkey Archive Press, 2009.
Bolton, Jonathan. “Reading Michal Ajvaz.” Context 17.
=A1260DE2%2DB0D0%2DB086%2DB6C01D239DCE1501%2Ehtml. Accessed 8 June
Feinberg, Anat. “Abiding in a Haunted Land: The Issue of Heimat in Contemporary GermanJewish Writing.” New German Critique 70 (1997): 161-181.
Freeman, Thomas. “Jewish Identity and the Holocaust in Robert Schindel’s Gebuertig.”
Modern Austrian Literature (1997): 117-126.
Ganim, John M. “Cities of Words: Recent Studies on Urbanism and Literature.” Modern
Language Quarterly 63.3 (2002): 365-382.
Harwood, Christopher. “Writing in the Time Since Time Exploded: The Czech Novel, 19902002.” World Literature Today 77. 3/4 (2003): 64-68.
Interview by Erika Zlamalová, Prague Writers´ Festival, February 9th, 2010
Translation from the Czech by Meghan Forbes. Accessed 8 June 2010.
Janaszek-Ivaničkova, Halina. “Slavic Literatures in the Chaos of Postmodern Changes.”
Neohelicon 2 (2006): 9-35.
Johnson, Jeri. “Literary Geography: Joyce, Woolf, and the City.” City 4.2 (2000): 199-214.
Konrad, George. The City Builder. Champaign and London: Dalkey Archive Press, 2007.
Lehan, Richard. The City in Literature: An Intellectual and Cultural History. Berkley and Los
Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1998.
Marcus, David. “Memory as Homeland.” Dissent Winter (2008): 120-124.
Sanders, Ivan. “Freedom’s Captives: Notes on George Konrad’s Novels.” World Literature
Today 57.2 (1983): 210-214.
Schindel, Robert. Gebuertig. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag and Residenz Verlag,
Template Provided By
500,000 Downloadable PowerPoint Templates,
Animated Clip Art, Backgrounds and Videos