University of Duisburg-Essen
Prof. Dr. Jens Gurr
(University of Duisburg-Essen)
Prof. Dr. Randi Gunzenhäuser
Utku studied English and German philology, sociology and history at the University of Cologne. He continued his studies of English literary and cultural studies, sociology and political sciences at the University of Duisburg-Essen, where he received his M.A. degree in 2009.
During his studies and after his graduation, he gained practical working experience in public relations and the art industry and worked as a freelance translator. In 2010, he joined the interdisciplinary doctoral program ARUS (Advanced Research in Urban Systems) at the University of Duisburg-Essen. Since 2012, he holds a scholarship in the research program “Spaces – Communities – Representations: Urban Transformations in the United States”.
The City and the Ruins of Modernity in Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day (working title)
In my thesis I develop a reading of Against the Day (2006) which treats the novel as a spatial history of modernity. Although Pynchon is frequently regarded as a (meta-) historical writer, only few critics have pointed out so far that his texts are equally traversed by an interest in geographical and spatial issues. Setting off with the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and roughly spanning the following three decades, Against the Day is undeniably concerned with history. More precisely, the novel seizes on a turbulent phase of modern history, which is marked by socio-economic, political and cultural upheavals on a global scale. These are, moreover, underpinned by technological transformations in mass communication, transportation, and production. But far from representing space as a mere backdrop of historical change, Against the Day pointedly highlights a range of socio-spatial phenomena (such as domestic and transnational migration, colonial expansion, packaged tourism, urbanization and urban renewal) and thus accentuates the spatiality of modernity, as I will argue.
Often depicted as the nucleus, focal point and epitome of modernity, the city plays a decisive role within this framework. In contradictory and ambivalent ways, the city in Against the Day figures as a junction of various mobilities and as a node for flows of capital and power; as a stage for the opaque spectacle of everyday life and as a transparent object of rational control; as a unique historical place and as a calculable commodity on display. Both the site and object of an encompassing social conflict between abstract and lived space, the city is rendered in the novel as a fiercely contested field, as an arena in which the struggle for visibility and recognition among urbanites is carried out. Thus, city-dwellers in Against the Day drowsily perambulate through narcotic urban worlds, but at times also succeed in developing spontaneous tactics of subversion and resistance (around class, gender and ethnic formations).
In spite of this focus on urban space, however, Against the Day circumnavigates the danger of fetishizing the city. Instead, the novel projects a complex narrative montage in which urban space is represented and acknowledged as an integral part of the capitalist production of space. This approach is, moreover, augmented by a mode of representation that heavily relies on genre-hybridization, semantic overdetermination and allegory. These narrative strategies then enable the text to trace in how far postmodern urban forms and phenomena have already been ensconced in the spatial code of the modern metropolis.
19th & 20th century American literature and culture, literary and cultural theory, film & media studies, semiotics, critical spatial theory, urban studies, visual culture
- "Cracks in the Urban Utopia: The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 in Thomas Pynchon’s Against The Day," Cityscapes in the Americas and Beyond: Representations of Urban Complexity in Literature and Film. Gurr, Jens Martin and Wilfried Raussert (eds.) Trier: WVT, 2011.
- January 2014: " '...This Clouded Realm of Pedestrian Mazes and Municipal Stillness': Venice in Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day" 2014 Ruhr PhD Forum in American Studies. Bochum/Dortmund, Germany.
- April 2013: "Looking for Clues in the Urban Unmappable", Urban Transformations Symposium, Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities (KWI), Essen, Germany.
- January 2013: "Putting the World on Display: Explorations and Mappings in Thomas Pynchon‘s Against the Day (2006)"
2013 Ruhr PhD Forum in American Studies. Bochum/Dortmund, Germany.
- Chair of the presentations “Thinking Race, Reading Architecture”, “... and this is only the beginning of what they will do ...” and “Reconceptualizing Blackness, Community and Urban Geographies in Paul Beatty’s The White Boy Shuffle", Urban Transformations Symposium, Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities (KWI), Essen, Germany, April 2013.