Special Issue "Ghost-towns: Cityscapes, Memories and Critical Theory"
A special issue of Societies (ISSN 2075-4698).
Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (16 September 2013)
With the emergence in recent years of ‘memory studies’ as an interdisciplinary field within the humanities and social sciences, a number of intriguing questions have come to the fore concerning the character of individual and collective remembrance in relation to urban structures, spaces and experiences. How is the past etched into the very physical fabric of the modern cityscape? How are memories prompted, produced and reproduced in urban contexts and with what consequences? Whose past is celebrated, whose memories are preserved? Such questions have in turn led to critical consideration of the manifold roles played, for example, by monuments, counter-monuments, museums and other sites of (un)official commemoration (Pierre Nora’s lieux de memoire) and of how marginalised and excluded memories might be mobilised to challenge and critique hegemonic histories and narratives of the powerful. As processes of so-called urban renewal and regeneration in former industrial cities threaten to silence and erase ‘troublesome’ memories, it is timely to ask: are ruins sources of, or resources for, recollection? Are cities always and everywhere haunted by their pasts? And perhaps most importantly: how can critical thought and hope survive amid the selective, collective amnesia of 21st century global megacities?
Walter Benjamin once observed that the metropolitan crowd was so important for the poet Charles Baudelaire that, paradoxically, one rarely finds an explicit description of it. The same might well be said of the Critical Theorists of the ‘Frankfurt School’ and memory, for what always stands behind their pessimistic denunciation of modern capitalism is precisely the nightmarish prospect of a complacent conformist world shorn of critique, bereft of meaning, purged of memory. As Theodor Adorno once famously remarked, and it is a sentiment he shared with Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse and others: ‘all reification is a forgetting’. Notwithstanding this, there are two other writers, not members as such but more marginal figures of the Frankfurt Institut for Social Research, now recognised as the key exponents of Critical Theory in relation to memory and the city. As a consequence of their many and varied writings on Berlin, Paris and cities elsewhere (auto/biographical, journalistic, aphoristic, historiographic, always idiosyncratic) both Walter Benjamin and Siegfried Kracauer have become important and indeed inspirational figures for contemporary writers and artists of all kinds who share a fascination with urban experience and the possibilities and practices of remembrance. For example, the meanderings, musings and memories of the flaneur, as both an eccentric historical figure and as a contemporary perambulating pedestrian in the city, have stimulated novelists, essayists, poets, filmmakers, digital experimenters, architects and others to recognise and read the cityscape as a form of palimpsest.
Accordingly, this special issue invites essays and other contributions on the theme of the city and memory in relation to Critical Theory broadly conceived – that is to say, not just ‘Frankfurt School’ thinkers themselves but also all those others (Marxist writers, feminist thinkers and postcolonial theorists among them ) who have found their writings profoundly provocative in their own envisioning of the modern metropolis as a site not only of everyday alienation, exploitation and contestation but also of haunting, myth-making and mourning.
The editors invite contributions of circa 5000 words for publication in the December 2013 issue of the on-line journal Societies.
Dr. Graeme Gilloch
Prof. Dr. Changnam Lee
Manuscript Submission Information
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