Contemporary American Urban Fiction Dr. Yael Maurer
Cities are at the heart of the texts we’ll explore this semester. In the fictional works we’ll read, the city becomes a catalyst for the exploration of binary relationships such as real/virtual, past/future and Self/Other and plays a central role in the construction of the fictional world.
When discussing the city in these contexts, the cultural figure of the flâneur is a useful rethinking urbanity as an imagined construct. The flâneur is primarily defined by his compulsion to explore the city, both as part of its tapestry and as an outsider; this dual perspective enables a simultaneous process of superimposing a mental projection on the “real” while strolling through the streets.
Michel de Certeau’s “Walking in the City” further elaborates upon the connection between cityscapes and fictionality, comparing the city itself to a story which “escapes” its planned spatial character (as mapped out by architects and politicians), and thus acquires additional dimensions. The act of walking through a city inscribes a “text” upon the topology of a given place; de Certeau describes this as a mental process resulting in the construction of an “anthropological, poetic and mythic experience of space” Readers of fictional texts undergo a similar process in which the imagined city is constantly shifting, and by “traversing” it the depicted space is reinvented, its stories retold.
In this course, we’ll examine at length three American novels which position the city at the center as a means of exploring the human condition. Our first novel, Kurt Vonnegut’s classic Slaughterhouse-Five returns to traumatic historical memories of a city’s destruction during WWII to explore the meaning of human survival during wartime and its aftermath. Our second novel, Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep invents a futuristic cityscape as it engages with the meaning of the human and its possible futures, and our final novel, Don DeLilo’s Cosmopolis is set in the modern day cosmopolitan city of New York and imagines the past and future of the cityscape as it documents one man’s troubled journey in the city.
Slaughterhouse- Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo
Attendance and participation 10%