UDE ALUS Symposium 2019 Abstracts

Chris Katzenberg (RUB) “More Cameras in the City than Birds in the Sky:” Narrativizing Urban Complexity through Mediated Visual Simultaneity in Colum McCann’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking” (2015)

The novella “Thirteen Ways of Looking” (2015) by the Irish-American writer Colum McCann is set in contemporary New York City's Upper East Side on a snowy January day. The text repeatedly narrates the last hours of its protagonist, the retired judge Peter ”Quinn” Mendelssohn, before his violent death from changing perspectives. Countless surveillance cameras in New York's urban space have recorded extensive video footage of his final movements and actions. McCann stages how police detectives watch back and filmically manipulate the cameras' many different perspectives on the events in their search for the protagonist's elusive assailant.

            I will analyze the novella's representation of urban mediation in the form of omnipresent video surveillance as one way to construct urban simultaneity and complexity in literature. The text shows a single sequence of events to entail a dizzying multiplicity of coexisting viewpoints. In staging this complexity, it renders precarious and suspect the generic quest of the novella's detectives for a decisive clue that will indisputably identify the murderer. McCann constructs further layers of urban complexity through the heavy use of intertextual references to modernist and postmodernist literature as well as various other forms of self-conscious repetition.


Cardin, Bertrand. Books Talk to One Another: Colum McCann's Intertexts. Cork: Cork U P, 2016. Gurr, Jens Martin. “The Literary Representation of Urban Complexity and the Problem of Simultaneity: A Sketchy Inventory of Strategies.” Cityscapes in the Americas and Beyond: Representations of Urban Complexity in Literature and Film. Eds. Jens Martin Gurr and Wilfried Raussert. Trier: WVT, 2011. 11-36.

McCann, Colum. "Thirteen Ways of Looking." Thirteen Ways of Looking. London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. 1-143.


Chris Katzenberg holds a B.A. and M.A. in English / American Studies and History from the Ruhr-University Bochum. Since September 2018, he has been pursuing his PhD project “Social Change for Engaging Cities – Translating Urban 'Collective Impact' Initiatives between the Rust Belt and the Ruhr” as a research assistant in the graduate research group “Scripts for Postindustrial Urban Futures: American Models, Transatlantic Interventions.” This project at the RuhrCenter of American Studies is funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. His research interests include American cities, contemporary American literature and culture, literary and cultural theory, migrant literature, and critical race studies.