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Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


ID City: The Modern City

ID City: The Modern City

Course Convenor: Prof Geoffrey Kantaris, Spanish and Portuguese ( and Prof Emma Widdis, Slavonic Studies Section (

This modern comparative module relates directly to the research interests of a number of colleagues in the faculty. Drawing primarily on material in French, Spanish, Italian, German, Russian and English, the module will explore changing representations and meanings of the city, usually from the late eighteenth through to the twenty-first century. Sessions are organized around the papers that will be solicited from students, supplemented by theoretical readings provided by the convenors. We will do our best to make available the materials that students wish to discuss (sometimes as extracts), and will provide PDFs of the appropriate theoretical texts that will provide the "glue" for each session. While the module explores questions of reading and interpreting the city in literary texts, photography, and painting, particular attention will be paid to the city as represented in film, a medium with which it shares a particularly close relationship. Through the background reading, and the focused reading for each session, the module aims to provide an introduction to key conceptualizations of the modern city by theorists such as Walter Benjamin, Michel de Certeau, Manuel Castells, David Harvey, Henri Lefebvre and others. It will be particularly concerned with the relationship between the modernist city and its postmodern counterpart, with attention to such questions as psycho-topographical explorations, technological mediations and informational networking. In the past, sessions have focused on a wide variety of specific cities, with such topics as: Berlin (walled city, open city); Rome (viewed through 'postcard films' such as La Dolce Vita); Madrid (city of desire, as mapped in the films of Almodóvar); and the 'haunted city' of Alain Resnais and Marguerite Duras. Sessions might equally well be devoted to other European or non-European cities (with cities such as Los Angeles and Mexico City central in current debates about urban cultures). There will be potential too for a variety of thematic aspects of the city (such as ruins, slums, suburbs, exile and invisibility) and of generic treatments (such as film noir or city symphonies). Because the material is selected in conjunction with the students taking the course each year, the content can vary widely, but is always stimulating. The module is comparative in spirit and in practice, and essays written for it will have to compare material either from different language cultures or different media.

The module convenors will write to all students towards the end of the Michaelmas Term to set up the sessions for Lent Term, and to suggest reading for the vacation.

Preliminary reading:

Cambridge Companion to the City in Literature, ed. Kevin McNamara (Cambridge: CUP, 2014); Andrew Webber and Emma Wilson (eds), 'Cities in Transition: The Moving Image and the Modern Metropolis' (London: Wallflower, 2008) 

A further reading list to select from will be provided.


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