We are pleased to announce that Prof. Odile Heynders will deliver the keynote address at the Books and the City conference. Prof. Heynders is full professor of Comparative Literature at the School of Humanities at Tilburg University, Netherlands. Her current research focuses on European literature and politics. She recently published Writers as Public Intellectuals, Literature, Celebrity, Democracy at Palgrave Macmillan (2016). Her paper is titled ‘City spaces and inhabitants: super-diversity, scenario, imagination’.
City spaces and inhabitants: super-diversity, scenario, imagination
Super-diversity is a descriptive term, denoting new dimensions of social, cultural and linguistic diversity emerging out of post-Cold War migration and mobility patterns, and strengthened by digitalization. Super-diversity forces us to rethink notions such as ‘community’, ‘neighborhood’ and ‘belonging’. Relatively homogeneous places have transformed into highly layered and stratified neighborhoods, where ‘old’ locals share spaces with a variety of ‘new’ migrants coming from all parts of the world. Super-diversity is a frame to observe new social environments, constructed identities, and patterns of social and cultural behavior, communication and norms. People currently living in European cities have to negotiate meaning-making practices in order to ‘belong’ to a particular culture.
Super-diverse environments are depicted in literature, in particular in centrifugal novels conveying polyphony and intense forms of identification occurring in realist and imaginary cities. The claim in this paper is, that novels such as The Mark and the Void (2016) by Paul Murray, Das bessere Leben (2015) by Ulrich Peltzer, On the edge (2013) by Rafael Chirbes, N/W by Zadie Smith (2012), Jerusalem (2005) by Conçalo M. Tavares, and City Sister Silver (1994) by Jáchym Topol in different ways provide observations as well as in-depth analyses of super-diverse complexity in current communities in old city centers and planned new towns.
Literature as such delivers ‘social knowledge’ and helps to understand and critique circumstances of European identity making in chronotopically monological and dialogical spaces. The mixing and blurring of time and space is a particular literary (meta-fictional) strategy. Literature, as Jacques Rancière emphasized, is founded on a radical equivalence in which all things are possible expressions of the life of a people even when based on an anti-representative poetics. It will be argued that literature exactly because of its paradoxical epistemological status, helps to define the current conditions and gives a further frame to super-diversity.