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Time, the City, and the Literary Imagination explores the relationship between the constructions and representations of the relationship between time and the city in literature published between the late eighteenth century and the present. This collection offers a new way of reading the literary city by tracing the ways in which the relationship between time and urban space can shape literary narratives and forms. The essays consider the representation of a range of literary cities from across the world and consider how an understanding of time, and time passing, can impact on our understanding of the primary texts. Literature necessarily deals with time, both as a function of storytelling and as an experience of reading. In this volume, the contributions demonstrate how literature about cities brings to the forefront the relationship between individual and communal experience and time.



Chapter 1. Time, the City, and the Literary Imagination

In 2018, 55% of the global population lived in cities; by 2050, this figure is predicted to rise to 68% (UNESCO 2018, https://​www.​un.​org/​development/​desa/​publications/​2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.​html). This increase might suggest that urban experience is a contemporary concern; a history of literature, however, suggests that, at least imaginatively, narratives have focused on cities for centuries. This collection seeks to develop and build on existing scholarship, exploring how literature structures and is structured by temporal experiences of urban spaces. Focusing on memory, motion, melancholy, and the material conditions of the city, this introduction sets out key critical figures and debates on the representation of the urban in literature.
Anne-Marie Evans, Kaley Kramer

Time and Memory


Chapter 2. The ‘Crazy Clock’ of York: Collapsing Time and Unstable Reality in James Montgomery’s Urban Topographic Poetry

This chapter offers an account of James Montgomery’s poetic descriptions of York, written from his cell beneath York Castle in 1795 where he had been sentenced for treason and sedition. Montgomery vividly imagines walking the streets of York, strategically replicating and subverting the stock characteristics of earlier examples of topographical poetry, penned by London-based poets such as Jonathan Swift and John Gay, as he relays his purely conceptual tour. Montgomery finds in York a city which refuses to be understood as temporarily present, always instead read as the city it once was. Montgomery’s poetry needles at the complex negotiations of fact and fiction bound up in the city’s performance of its own history, revealing that this is a performance that York has sustained since at least the eighteenth century. The idea of York, like the idea of the city, Montgomery concludes, is miasmic, obscuring the truth that the freedom of all citizens is fragile and under perpetual assault.
Adam James Smith

Chapter 3. Marshall Berman and D.J. Waldie: Memory and Grief in Urban and Suburban Spaces

Levick unpacks Marshall Berman’s All That Is Solid Melts into Air (1982), an autobiographical tale of modernity and the mid-twentieth-century Bronx, and D.J. Waldie’s, Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir (1996), a recording of his post-war memories of Lakewood, California. She explores their articulation of a localised, geographical sense memory and the ways in which this is connected to a deep sense of grief. The sites of these memories, in their systems of intersecting grids and right angles, bridges and highways, are symptomatic of the urban spatial arrangements of the twentieth-century city and, by extension, which remnants of the past are, and which are not, made visible in it.
Alice Levick

Chapter 4. No Safe Sanctuary: Race, Space, and Time in Colson Whitehead’s Speculative Cities

This chapter explores representations of the city in three of Colson Whitehead’s novels—The Intuitionist (1999), Zone One (2011), and The Underground Railroad (2016)—and considers how Whitehead uses the construction of a speculative city space as a way of engaging with history and social activism. In each text, American cities are re-imagined as ‘new’ versions of the original, allowing Whitehead to rebuild and repurpose each urban literary space. The city is an uncanny and often unknowable space, from the imagined historical sites of The Underground Railroad, to the Gotham-like spaces of The Intuitionist, and the post-apocalyptic space of Manhattan in Zone One. Each of these spaces is fluid, flowing, and occasionally unnavigable. Whitehead positions these speculative urban sites as both in and outside time; they function as catalysts for his political polemic and are crucial components in Whitehead’s scathing social critique of contemporary American race relations.
Anne-Marie Evans

Time and Motion


Chapter 5. ‘The Sensation of a Moment’: Speed, Stillness, and Victorian London in Wilkie Collins’s Basil

Wilkie Collins’s 1852 novel, Basil, perpetuates, for sensational purposes, notions of the city as a place where individuals may experience chance encounters, but fail to make positive connections. Collins’s characters manipulate time in order to impart meaning to otherwise ephemeral moments. The result is a portrayal of opportunities that are not missed, but perhaps should have been, and this contributes to a cynical depiction of class types and cross-class relations. By depicting instances of pause and stillness, particularly within the fast-moving environment of the omnibus and the rapidly growing environment of the suburbs, and by using them to create and reveal false and empty relationships, Collins questions the possibility of ever making a meaningful connection, particularly outside of one’s own class, in the Victorian city.
Helena Ifill

Chapter 6. ‘This Is London, This Is Life’: ‘Migrant Time’ in Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners

Sam Selvon’s classic novel of West Indian migration to Britain, The Lonely Londoners (1956), is exemplary in showing how a literary text can reveal the layered or hidden ‘time’ of an urban space. The migrant characters’ very newness in the cityscape and their irregular or anti-social hours of work mean that they experience the city very differently to the majority of the ‘host’ population. This experience of time might be termed ‘migrant time’: not in the sense that it is unique to migrants or that all migrants necessarily experience time in this way, but in so far as Selvon’s novel shows us another temporal dimension to life in the city through the prism of migrancy. As the novel’s title suggests, London is also viewed through the affective lens of the migrants’ feelings of loneliness and alienation in the city and their intense longing for connection, dwelling and ‘at-homeness’, itself a major trope in West Indian literature. With a focus on time, space and place in a relational context, this chapter argues that the novel’s distinctive use of intertextual ‘layering’ and of characteristically West Indian speech acts ‘speak’ a new city into being and make fictional use of ‘space as a dynamic force in the contemporary struggle for meaning, belonging and power’ (Berland, Place. In New Keywords: A Revised Vocabulary of Culture and Society, eds. Tony Bennett, Lawrence Grossberg and Meaghan Morris, 256–257. London and New York: Blackwell Publishing, 2005, 334).
Sarah Lawson Welsh

Chapter 7. Time and the City in Ulysses: ‘Like Holding Water in Your Hand’

As a city represented with the utmost care, Joyce’s Dublin has been a preoccupation of critics of all persuasions: geographical-cartographical, psychoanalytic, post-structural, and post-colonial. This essay addresses that neglect of the underlying cityscape and proposes a reading of Dublin in ‘Wandering Rocks’, in which the simultaneity of events spreads out spatially in the city. It proposes that Ulysses challenges the wholeness of time and place as conventionally constructed concepts, and Dublin is presented not as a community but rather as a collection of people and places on Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) monitors.
Quyen Nguyen

Chapter 8. Time in the Translocal City

Translocal novels—novels that are set in two or more distant places, which are layered or blended—are more often than not urban texts, since the city is, by nature, a site where a multitude of chronotopes interact. This article therefore examines structural analogies between translocal time(s) and urban spaces, and explores how the versatile nature of the city allows writers to project a variety of other spacetimes onto its surface. Both the spatialisation of time and the temporalisation of space in translocal narratives will be of interest. While a number of texts will be taken into account, Xiaolu Guo’s I Am China and Tendai Huchu’s The Maestro, the Magistrate & the Mathematician will serve as main examples for the narration of translocal urban time.
Lena Mattheis

Time and Material Space


Chapter 9. ‘Skyscraper Primitives’: Futurity and Primordial Time in New York City, 1904–1932

Nardi’s chapter applies the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas’s concept of an ‘architectural Big Bang’ to frame the emergence of the skyscraper as a central trope for time and space in the literary manifestos of the 1910s and 1920s. Koolhaas argues that the new architectural technologies emerging at the turn of the century in New York revolutionized concepts of space and time; Nardi traces similar ideas among avant-garde in New York, where writers such as Amy Lowell, Waldo Frank, and Gorham Munson, explored the technological space of the immense architectural interior as a force that contained all of time and could undo time as well as mark the progress and development of urban ambitions.
Steven Nardi

Chapter 10. Temporal and Physical Liminalities of Trauma in Murakami’s After the Quake and DeLillo’s Point Omega

Murakami’s (2002) short story collection after the quake and DeLillo’s (2011) novel Point Omega examine the aftermath of horrific events as lived by characters who do not experience them firsthand. Using the lack of a definitive post-trauma moment to destabilize and expand traditional trauma narratives, both narratives begin to lay the foundation for twenty-first-century loss and recovery narratives. Murakami and DeLillo illustrate that twenty-first-century trauma narratives cannot effectively rely on previous cultural conventions of grief and trauma, which require a defined moment so they can readily employ definitive resolutions. The lack of closure discussed in this chapter is not, then, an expression of a postmodern aesthetic, but of an effort to faithfully represent life in a historical moment in which existence is post-traumatic.
Megan E. Cannella

Chapter 11. ‘Totaled City’: The Postdigital Poetics of Ben Lerner’s 10:04

The chapter argues that Ben Lerner’s 10:04 is a response to the new ontological condition of metamodernism. Not only is 10:04 deliberately playful in its mash-up of fiction and autobiography; it also encapsulates extreme levels of anxiety concerning the way twenty-first-century cityspace and technology are now indelibly intertwined. The chapter argues that 10:04 is a kind of metamodernist thought-experiment, an attempt to formulate new ways by which prose writing can address the contemporary need for meaningful connection and affect. In 10:04, Lerner argues for new forms of creative hybridity, new assemblages of digital and non-digital entanglement, what I term postdigitality, as a means by which human dignity in a post-crash, post-covid city can be reclaimed.
Spencer Jordan

Time and Melancholy


Chapter 12. Los Angeles as a No Man’s Land: First World War Trauma in Raymond Chandler’s Detective Fiction

In the work of American hard-boiled crime writer Raymond Chandler the city of Los Angeles is portrayed as a corrupt and decaying environment that consistently thwarts the protagonist’s efforts to find justice and closure. As a veteran of the First World War, Chandler imbues his detective protagonist Philip Marlowe with a profound level of disillusionment in the face of an apparently meaningless and combative post-war world. Drawing upon Chandler’s veteran status, this essay argues that Marlowe’s disillusionment towards society, and the city specifically, is suggestive of the author’s vision of Los Angeles as a hostile post-war No Man’s Land; a physical and psychological battleground relocated from the trenches of Europe to urban California. It is a location where human existence, time, space, and emotion have been eroded beyond the detective’s comprehension, and the only escape is to retreat to the pastoral areas outside of the corrosive urban environment.
Sarah Trott

Chapter 13. Spatio-Temporal Reterritorializing of Queer Urban Spaces and Bodies in Bai Xianyong’s Taipei Novel Nei Zi 孽子 (Crystal Boys, 1983)

In 1983, when Bai Xianyong 白先勇, a Modernist Chinese American writer from Taiwan, published Nei Zi 孽子 (Crystal Boys), it was the first modern Taiwanese novel centered on male, same sex desire. It focuses on a community of hustlers in Taipei in 1970, as told by a homeless teenager during an extended period of strict martial law. Bai’s novel demonstrates how, from within a seemingly monolithic superstructure of the city, the characters’ ongoing creation of hybrid queer public and private spaces produces temporary cracks in the hegemonic patriarchal structure. I focus on how Nie Zi, reveals its urban landscape as a multiplicity of contrasting temporalities, identities, and trajectories where bodies, histories, stories, and places are always in flux.
Jean Amato

Chapter 14. No Center Other Than Ourselves: Istanbul, Hüzün, and the Heterotopic Portal Between Civilizations and Time in the Works of Orhan Pamuk

As an East-West city, Istanbul functions as a heterotopia in design, culture, and ideology, which has been marked with ‘hüzün,’ a deep and collective spiritual anguish denizens of Istanbul experience from living in a post-imperial location. This chapter explores how Orhan Pamuk’s novels My Name Is Red (2001), A Strangeness in My Mind (2015), and memoir Istanbul: Memories and the City (2004) chart how varied spatio-temporal constructions reveal the city’s ability to reassemble the disparate ideologies and practices of the East and West into its own timeless, heterotopic marketplace of culture, memory, and identity. As a heterotopia, the city operates as a site of exigency or crisis, one that collapses conventional perceptions of time and space, while splintering its features into new epistemological and ontological layers with which to generate emerging identities.
Michael P. Moreno

Chapter 15. ‘Our Native Reminiscence’: Clinging to ‘Lost Time’ in Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane

Bohane is a dystopian city of the future populated by residents who want to ‘reach again for the whimsical days of their youth and for the city as it was back then’ (Barry City of Bohane, 2012, 178) before the ‘lost time’. This chapter will discuss how the past haunts the Bohane urban space, shaping its present and determining its future. Reminiscent of the Celtic Tiger and subsequent economic collapse, Bohane moves easily between dystopia and utopia for the traumatised residents. Never mentioning the trauma of the ‘lost time’ the residents in Bohane have created a new space for memory and nostalgia, their gothic and postmodern present.
Deirdre Flynn


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