Dr Lena Mattheis (she/they)

Lecturer in Contemporary Literature
Mondays 14:30-15:30h and via Zoom


Areas of specialism

Queer Studies; Contemporary Literature; Space in Poetry; Literary Urban Studies


LENA MATTHEIS (2021)Translocality in Contemporary City Novels Springer International Publishing

Translocality in Contemporary City Novels responds to the fact that twenty-first-century Anglophone novels are increasingly characterised by translocality—the layering and blending of two or more distant settings. Considering translocal and transcultural writing as a global phenomenon, this book draws on multidisciplinary research, from globalisation theory to the study of narratives to urban studies, to explore a corpus of thirty-two novels—by authors such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dionne Brand, Kiran Desai, and Xiaolu Guo—set in a total of ninety-seven cities. Lena Mattheis examines six of the most common strategies used in contemporary urban fiction to make translocal experiences of the world narratable and turn them into relatable stories: simultaneity, palimpsests, mapping, scaling, non-places, and haunting. Combining and developing further theories, approaches and techniques from a variety of research fields—including narratology, human geography, transculturality, diaspora spaces, and postcolonial perspectives—Mattheis develops a set of cross-disciplinary techniques in literary urban studies.

LENA MATTHEIS (2018)A brief inventory of translocal narratability: palimpsestuous street art in Chris Abani's The Virgin of Flames, In: Narrative (Columbus, Ohio)26(3)pp. 302-319 The Ohio State University Press
LENA MATTHEIS, Jens Martin Gurr (2021)Superpositions: A Typology of Spatiotemporal Layerings in Buried Cities, In: Literary geographies7(1)pp. 5-22

The essay sketches a typology of layered representations of urban history based on the question of how texts activate different strata beneath the cityscape. In describing these layers, we are guided by Walter Benjamin's concept of superposition or 'Überdeckungstransparenz' (as formulated in the Arcades Project), a specific mode of perception which allows for the simultaneous awareness of different temporal layers. What is central to our endeavour is the structural analogy of 'city' and 'text' – both in the sense of reading 'the urban landscape as a form analogous to that of a literary composition' (Sharpe and Wallock 1987: 11) and, conversely, of studying 'how a text can function like the city in its layering of meanings' (Gurr 2015: 24). We further take our cue from Martindale's distinction between 'diachronic and historical' approaches, allowing for a clear distinction between 'past' and 'present' on the one hand, and 'archaeological and synchronic' approaches layering different periods of time so as to suggest a timeless, simultaneous 'presence of the past' (sensu Eliot) on the other hand (Martindale 1996). We propose a matrix, as it were, of temporal and spatial 'directions' of layering, distinguishing between retrospective, simultaneous and prospective temporal superpositions and 'co-spatial' (layerings of different temporal strata of the same city) as opposed to translocal (overlay of different cities and spaces) spatial superpositions of different cities. We thus seek to provide a more nuanced outline of the textual strategies used to access, make visible (or at times construct) buried layers of spatialised, palimpsestuous urban memory.

Additional publications