Annual Symposium: Architectural Humanities Research Group

Architecture & Literature: Forms of Memory

A half-day symposium jointly organised by the School of English and the
Architectural Humanities Research Group in the Department of Architecture and Built Environment

Wednesday 16th October 2013

EEC Lecture Room/Crit Space, Dept of Architecture and Built Environment, University Park

This symposium sets out to explore the common ground between architecture and literature through a series of cross-disciplinary dialogues. The two disciplines often employ a shared conceptual vocabulary – structure, texture, narrative, image, style – and they have each played key roles in the cultural experience of modernity.

In his recent book, Architecture and Modern Literature (2012), David Spurr observes that: ‘Architecture, as the art of building, gives concrete form to the external world according to the structures of imagination; whereas literature, as the art of written language, gives symbolic form to that same world.’ Nonetheless, the precise character of the relationship between these concrete and symbolic forms, and their role in constructing modern spaces, deserves more detailed and nuanced investigation. One important point of intersection between modern architecture and modern literature concerns the ways in which memory is inscribed, enacted, and expressed, whether as a form of words in a written text or through the spatial forms of the built environment.

2.00 – Introduction: Jonathan Hale, Head of Architectural Humanities Research Group

2.10 – David Short (Teaching Fellow in Architecture):
Literature and Design – Stories and Journeys

2.40 – Richard Wrigley (Professor of Art History):
Flâneurs, Arcades, and the Politics of Space in Early 19th-century Paris

3.20 – tea/coffee

3.30 – Emma Zimmerman (PhD candidate, School of English):
The Uncanny Architecture of the Hotel in Jean Rhys’s “Good Morning, Midnight”

4.00 – Thomas Legendre (Lecturer in Creative Writing):
Narrative Architectures in the Prehistoric Present

4.40 – Roger Connah (Professor of Architecture, Carleton University, Canada):
Architecture & Literature

5.10 – Discussion

5.30 – Close

Attendance is free but places are limited. For more information please contact Dr Jonathan Hale in the Department of Architecture and Built Environment: jonathan.hale@nottingham.ac.uk

This event is supported by the Faculty of Engineering, University of Nottingham.


Thomas Legendre, Lecturer in Creative Writing, School of English, University of Nottingham
Narrative Architectures in the Prehistoric Present.

My work-in-progress is a novel concerning the archaeology of Kilmartin Glen on the west coast of Scotland and the interrelations of time and space implied by the restoration of a prehistoric monument within a larger complex of sites. In brief, it concerns an archaeologist returning to a site he excavated eighteen years earlier, where the architecture of a Neolithic cairn is linked with not only events that took place in his personal life at that time but also those unfolding in the present. Furthermore the site itself is a palimpsest, with layers of medieval, Neolithic, and Mesolithic material suggesting reuse over millennia, not unlike his home in Edinburgh retrofitted throughout centuries of continuous habitation. My approach is to read two short excerpts of fiction and discuss their hidden theoretical underpinnings — ‘hidden’ in the sense that fiction rarely cites its sources in the manner of critical work — along with some detailed attention to the structure of a cairn from a phenomenological perspective, as well as the implied cosmology of the prehistoric builders.

Richard Wrigley, Professor of Art History, University of Nottingham
Flâneurs, Arcades, and the politics of space in early 19th-century Paris.

My presentation reconsiders the association of the flaneur with the arcades. This has been an article of faith, indeed a cliche,  because of Benjamin’s work and his revered status. I argue that the flaneur emerges from the political culture of the Revolution, and embraces public space more generally, including the ‘passages’. I explore how walking in post-revolutionary Paris was associated with different kinds of looking, and different modes of being seen and being conscious of this pressure of surveillance, both in terms of shared public space, but also official scrutiny. This perspective provides an alternative to the gendered, alienated commodity-focused being who is Benjamin’s flaneur, as exemplified from the 1830s and after.

Emma Zimmerman, PhD Candidate, School of English, University of Nottingham
The Uncanny Architecture of the Hotel in Jean Rhys’s “Good Morning, Midnight”.

Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight (1939) is a novel that displays an obsessive return to the spatial and mental architecture of the hotel. Sasha Jansen, the novel’s narrating-protagonist, is a rootless, fragile woman who wants to forget the painful traumas of her past. She actively seeks the transience of the hotel and the anonymous identity that it supposedly offers. However, in this paper, I argue that the hotel functions in the novel as an uncanny space that prevents this process of forgetting. I begin with a brief interpretation of Freud’s famous essay, ‘The Uncanny’ (1919), in order to show how the concept is ideally suited to reading the hotel as a key space of modernity. Through a number of close readings, I then consider the ways in which this uncanniness manifests itself in the physical and psychological architecture of the hotel, arguing that it is symptomatic of the deracinated modern urban condition. Through this, I challenge the notion shared by contemporary spatial theorists that the transitory nature of the hotel makes it a key site for the eradication of history and memory. I argue that for displaced figures such as Sasha, the hotel becomes a palimpsest teeming with the repressed past which forever threatens to rupture within the uncanny moment. My close readings also pay attention to the striking formal properties of the text, in order to show how the uncanny nature of the hotel space comes to inflect the style and structure of the narrative architecture itself.


Read a review of the event by Kerry Fox, 2nd year architecture student at the University of Nottingham @:

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