Cities are in constant flux as chaotic, amorphous spaces of hybridity and cultural contamination. According to Bill Ashcroft, they operate “in an interstitial space between the nation and the world”. As cultural nerve centres and hubs of trade and administration, they often represent a nation to the world and yet urban landscapes with their radical openness, creativity and dissent create their own spaces of contestation that can potentially unsettle any totalizing discourse of national identity. There is a quintessential strangeness or subversive residue in a city that remains unmappable within a single, homogeneous narrative of identity. Everyone who dwells in the city sees it differently, inhabiting different spaces and generally functioning within defined territories. Thus, the encounter with “strangeness” and strangers in our everyday may happen in random ways. Sometimes we simply stumble into other people’s maps and realities outside our comfort zone that bring us in contact with the “otherness” of city, lurking beyond the peripheries of the familiar. However, the protean and ever-changing face of the city shaped by incongruous and heterogeneous affects, ideas, sentiments and aspirations also induces a sense of crushing disconnectedness, a feeling that we live as strangers. To grapple with the myriad forms of alienation, cities have simultaneously built up strong cultures of commensality through different communal activities, sporting cultures, friendship and urban sociality in the public domain to create, however falteringly, a sense of being at home in the city.
A proverbial stranger in the crowd is embodied by the figure of the flâneur. In our times, the phenomenon of internal and global migration on an unprecedented scale has added new layers and complexities to the notion of strangers in the city. The ways in which communities and individuals grapple with different forms of strangeness, isolation and even discrimination in their everyday existence have fostered a robust body of literature, specifically focusing on ethnic minorities, refugees, and asylum seekers.
As fecund sites of imagination, yearning, desire and fantasy, the metropolis opens up spaces that are crucial in bringing about significant political and creative transformations. This symposium calls for the multifarious ways of representing the city space in literary and cultural narratives, particularly in the light of its contradictions, and overlaps between the familiar/familial and the manifold categorises of “strange”, “alien” and “unknown” that a city breeds and comprises in itself. It aims to look at the ways in which the city has engendered and dealt with the polarities of intimacy and aloofness or isolation in private and public spheres. This negotiation with difference/distance and connectedness extends to different realms, interfaces and contact zones of representation, be it in the diverse range of affective realities clamouring for coexistence in urban spaces, or in the subversive ideologies, art forms and literature that challenges the mainstream and the habitual.
In postcolonial urbanscapes, this confrontation with “strangeness” is also embedded in the traces of the colonial past which often pervades our consciousness, like spectral hauntings. The relation between the colonial uncanny and postcolonial trauma/nostalgia itself opens up a rich area of inquiry.
The dialectics between strangeness and familiarity may thus be traced in different ways of mapping and “unmapping” the urban landscape and its spatial practices; by locating the transformations of the same place into an “elsewhere” at different hours of the day— “nighttime city is another city” as Matthew Beaumont puts it—or by charting the makeover of a place brought about by a specific festival or celebration.
Not necessarily limiting cities to a descriptive category and studying the urban phenomenon as an analytical tool for social and political understanding of people and spaces in relation to our everyday encounter with the “strange(er)” that is either unfamiliar or simply different, an indicative list of potential topics includes:
- Strangers, Immigrants and Refugees in the City
- The Maps and the “Unmappables” in Urban cartography
- City and the Culture of Dissent
- City and Affects
- City in Subversive Arts
- Urban Utopia/Dystopia and “heterotopias”
- The Flâneur and the City
- City and Spectrality
- City and the “Uncanny”
- The “dead hour”: Nights in the City
- Urban Alienation and Sociality in Public Places
- “The Home and the World”: The Private and the Public in the City/ The Marketplace and Familial Domesticity in Urban Conurbations
- Cities of the Empire or Cities as Colonial/Postcolonial Spaces in Literature
- City in Travel Literature
- City as literary capital
- Littérisation of the city
- City and the Culture of the Streets
- City and Crime
- Smart Cities/ Cities of the new millennium in literature
- City and Technology
Contributors are welcome to consider the following topics without being limited to them. Interested participants are requested to submit an abstract of about 300 words to anucityconference2017 at gmail.com by the 7th of March, 2017. Selected presenters will be informed by the 25th of March, 2017.
The conference will be held at the Sir Roland Wilson Building, The Australian National University, 120 McCoy Circuit, Acton 2601, Canberra.