My academic journey started in Germany, where I received B.A. and M.A. degrees in Anglophone studies, French literature, and media studies, before starting my doctoral research on translocal city novels at the University of Duisburg-Essen. This literary urban research then took me to the University of Namibia, where I briefly taught and conducted research, and sparked my enduring interest in maps and alternative mappings. After completing my PhD in 2019, I started several research projects in queer studies, among them a research and teaching podcast called Queer Lit. I am very pleased to now be a lecturer at the University of Surrey.
Areas of specialism
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.
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.
Mattheis, Lena. Translocality in Contemporary City Novels. Palgrave Macmillan, 2021.
Mattheis, Lena, and Lioba Schreyer, eds. Voices from the Margins: Societal Change and the Environment in Poetry. Special Feature in Transnational Literature 10.2 (2018). Available OA.
Mattheis, Lena, and Jens Martin Gurr. “Superpositions: A Typology of Spatiotemporal Layerings in Buried Cities.” Buried Cities. Special Feature of Literary Geographies. 7.1 (2021). 5-22. Available OA.
Mattheis, Lena. “Possibilities of Translocal Mapping in Tendai Huchu’s The Maestro, the Magistrate & the Mathematician.” Literatures of Urban Possibility. Eds. Lieven Ameel, Markku Salmela. Palgrave Macmillan, 2021. 137-163.
Mattheis, Lena. “Time in the Translocal City.” Time, the City, and the Literary Imagination. Eds. Anne-Marie Evans and Kaley Kramer. Palgrave Macmillan, 2021. 121-134.
Mattheis, Lena. “A Brief Inventory of Translocal Narratability: Palimpsestuous Street Art in Chris Abani’s The Virgin of Flames.” Narrative 26.3 (2018). 302-319.
Mattheis, Lena, and Lioba Schreyer. “Listening to the Margins: An Introduction.” Voices from the Margins: Societal Change and the Environment in Poetry. Special Feature in Transnational Literature 10.2 (2018). Available OA.
Mattheis, Lena. “Tendai Huchu.” The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 13 September 2016 [http://www.litencyc.com/php/speople.php?rec=true&UID=13763, accessed 14 September 2016.]
Accepted for publication
Mattheis, Lena. “Translocality in City Literature.” Companion of Literary Urban Studies. Ed. Lieven Ameel. Routledge. Forthcoming.
Mattheis, Lena and Jens Gurr. “Routine vs Event: Media, Memory and the City in B.S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates.” Media, Memory and the City. Special issue of andererseits: Transatlantic Yearbook of German Studies. 2021.
Mattheis, Lena. “Poetic Space: Mapping Out How Poetry Takes Place.” Mapping Space; Mapping Time; Mapping Texts. Eds. Sally Bushell and Rebecca Hutcheon. Special Issue in Literary Geographies. Forthcoming.
Mattheis, Lena. “'What if this time we were the ones that didn’t get it?' Poems about COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS" Journal of Medical Humanities. Submitted.