Seven Senses of the City

On Tuesday January 21st I defended my doctoral dissertation “Seven Senses of the City: Urban Spacetime and Sensory Memory in Contemporary Sinophone Fiction” at the Centre for Languages and Literature, Lund University, Sweden.

defenseIn Sweden, the defense is a public event, a critical dialogue between the doctoral candidate (me in this instance) and an external opponent (the wonderful prof. Jie Lu from University of the Pacific).

After a short apology that my work (despite ostensibly constituting a multisensory approach to the study of memory and literature) did not include any perfume sniff pads, CD soundtracks or an eatable book cover, prof. Lu graciously introduced the main arguments and contributions of my dissertation. This took care of the first half hour.

happy drProf. Lu then asked me several critical questions to do with possible incongruities or alternative paths my research might have taken, producing a very rich and fruitful discussion of another hour. Finally the three esteemed scholars of the examining committee, Prof. Lena Rydholm from Uppsala Uni, senior lecturer Martin Svensson Ekström and prof. Rikard Schönström, presented briefly their comments on the dissertation and we all went out to await their decision.

In short, they liked it a lot and awarded me my doctoral degree and we all had sparkly wine or sparkly apple cider (and I had a beer) and hooray what a day.

Below, you will find a painfully short abstract of what is really a 260 pages long analytical kaleidoscope that took me more than four years to complete:

20200128_104017[1]What happens when the city you live in changes over night? When the streets and neighborhoods that form the material counterpart to your mental soundtrack of memory suddenly cease to exist? The rapidly changing cityscapes of Taipei, Hong Kong and Shanghai form an environment of urban flux that causes such questions to surface in literary texts.

In this dissertation, I engage with themes of scented nostalgia, flavors in fiction, walking as method, literary cartography, the melody of language, gendered cityscapes, metafictional dreams and rhythmic senses of time to study how contemporary cities change the way we think about time, space and memory.

 

 

Saint-Exupéry: The wormhole of memory

I am currently working on a PhD-proposal about memory and place in Sinophone urban fiction from the last decades of the 21st century. Therefore I tend to focus on philosophical conceptualisations and poetical representations of remembering in my reading at the moment.

On a train through Northern Greece a few days ago, I was reading Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s brilliant and breathtaking flying lesson in life Terres des Hommes (Translated as Wind, Sand and Stars by William Rees, Penguin Classics: 2000). He writes of memories as friends, coming to him in his loneliest hour, lost as he is in the naked and inhospitable landscape of the desert:

“They came to me soundlessly like the waters of a spring, and at first I did not understand the gentle joy that was flowing into me. There was neither voice nor image, but the awareness of a presence, a friendship that was very close and already half known by intuition. Then I understood, closed my eyes, and surrendered myself to the enchantment of my memory.”

With death and the distant stars as his sole companions, the crashed pilot’s memories are his last link to life. His loved ones are separated from him by insurmountable distances in time and space, yet through the faculty of remembering they are with him in an instant. Memories are indeed the wormholes of human spacetime.