UDE ALUS Symposium 2019 Abstracts

Kai Tan (RWTH Aachen) Unearthing Simultaneity in Urban Narratives: Iain Sinclair’s Dining on Stones or, the Middle Ground (2004) and China Miéville’s The City & The City (2009)

This paper contends that figurative archaeology in Sinclair’s complex novel Dining on Stones and Miéville’s fantasy work The City & The City unearths temporal and spatial simultaneity in urban space. Figurative archaeology or unearthing is illustrated through psychogeographical literary moments (Löffler 2017) that alter movements and rhythms to defamiliarize the urban experience. By means of dowsing, Sinclair’s walker unveils the manifold layers of history to reveal the co-existence of different worlds, including the real world. Such relative space (Harvey 1985) is detected when the walker ascends “obscene” Beckton Alp (Martin 2015) and encounters repeated crime sites in “Netherworld”. I propose that the walker-dowser’s vertical traverses interrupt expected linear movements, thereby uncovering uncodifiable moments that undermine fixed urban mythification (Lefebvre 1991). Similarly, in Miéville’s The City, the downward archaeological pursuit renders simultaneous spatial access to the parallel cities. I argue that the characters’ concurrent liminal embodiment of the two spaces overturn notions of self/Other in mythified social spaces. In doing so, I assert that figurative unearthing interrogates the hegemonic conception of absolute urban spaces, rhythms, and identities by disclosing the underlying potential for urban otherness.

Kai Tan is a teaching/research assistant at the RWTH Aachen University. She completed her B.A. at the National University of Singapore (Philosophy and English Literature) and received her M.A. at the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg (Literary Theory and English Literatures). Her PhD dissertation on psychogeographical literary moments in urban spaces incorporates second-generation cognitive approaches, Literary and Cultural Studies, empirical research, and urban planning to examine textual cues as triggers of recipient enactment and emotion. Focussing on contemporary British writings, Kai aims to increase the dialogue between Narrative and Urban Studies through their shared interest in the effects of cues including metaphors on recipients of both virtual and actual spaces. Her project contends that the study of readers’ responses to fictional space can positively influence the conceptualization of future actual space.