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CILM - City and (In)security in Literature and the Media


This project examines how anxieties about security have shaped current literary representations of the city both in Europe and in the US in the last two decades. Since the “war on terror” was announced, a growing number of novelists has focused their work on urban settings, conveying generalised hesitations towards security: while, on the one hand, many of these novels depict a growing malaise regarding social and private insecurity, on the other hand, they also disclose an increasing awareness about the social and political construction of security discourses and practices.

The terrorist attacks of New York and Washington DC in 2001, the attacks in Madrid in 2004 and the London bombings in 2005 have exacerbated fears and fantasies of disaster which in the popular imagination have always been associated with the urban space (Žižek2002). 9/11 fiction in the US, 11M novels in Spain and 7/7 narratives in the UK are now seen as part of a growing literary genre, through which writers from different countries have attempted to memorialise, reconstruct or, indeed, ―secure‖ their cities. Although much critical attention has been given to the representation of the city in literature and in film, no systematic work has yet been devoted to the examination of how recent (in)securities are represented in urban fiction produced in both sides of the Atlantic. There are, however, two books on 9/11 literature currently published (Kensington2008; Versluys2009); several articles highlight the importance of a transatlantic perspective (Araújo2007; Araújo2009b; Varvogli2007).

Debates about security received an increasing amount of attention not only in the social sciences but also in philosophy from intellectuals such as Derrida and Habermas (Borradori, 2003). Yet so far they have not been properly examined through a systematic literary perspective. Even though key concepts used by the social sciences in the study of urban security and surveillance such as the ―panopticism‖ (Foucault, 1975), ―societies of control,‖ (Deleuze, 1992) ―state of exception‖ (Agamben, 2005) and ―vision machine‖ (Virilio, 1994) derived, to a great extent, from the fictional works of authors such as Kafka, Orwell, Bradbury and Burroughs, literary studies have been disengaged from the debates on the repercussions of security in contemporary society. By examining and systematizing much of what has been produced in literature in the last two decades, we expect literary and cultural studies will re-assert their contribution to the current debates on security.

CILM analyzes the growing number of city novels mentioned above, not in isolation, but as part of a larger ―corpus‖ of urban narratives produced in both sides of the Atlantic since the early nineties. With the end of the Cold War and the emergence of highly mediatised international conflicts such as the Gulf War in 1991, writers grew particularly aware of the power of the image in the representation and construction of new geopolitical formations. From 1990 to 2010 we, thus, find a ―corpus‖ of city novels which is increasingly conscious of the politicisation of the image as well as of the intricate relation between fiction and (in)security. Our analysis carefully examines the impact of the media in literary production. We depict how images, messages and metaphors circulate between media (particularly visual media) and are reworked by contemporary writers in both sides of the Atlantic. The project draws on the research produced by Principal Investigator in the last five years, including international collaborations and work produced with other members of the team. Departing from the data gathered and results accomplished during that first stage of research, the current research team is able to expand significantly the literary corpus examined and to widen out the scope of the transatlantic analyses. The aim is to achieve a comparative study of the way (in)securities shape our representation of the city in both sides of the Atlantic.

Although we continue to examine US novels and to compare these to their European counterparts (work produced since 2006), the research team is now be able to widen out the focus given to the European context. In the three years devoted to this project we examine selected city novels from three different countries: Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom. After this we plan to expand the number of European countries considered in the context of an European application. Such transatlantic approach will enable us to examine issues of (in)security beyond national borders and to understand if European novelists are recycling US images, if they are creating specific portraits of (in)securities drawing from their national realities or if their work, in any way, reflects Europe's geopolitical context.

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