Cities are composed of contradictions: playgrounds for the rich and sites of concentrated poverty, highly organised and totally chaotic, an endless party and the loneliest places on earth. How do we write about them? In this course, we will examine how a range of writers represent city life in four major metropolises: London, Bombay, New York, and Tokyo. We will focus primarily on one book set in each of these cities—Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City, Teju Cole’s Open City, and Yu Miri’s Tokyo Ueno Station—and supplement our reading with short stories, journalism, sociology, and movies by writers including: Zadie Smith, Edith Wharton, James Baldwin, Katherine Boo, Spike Lee, and more.
What techniques do fiction writers, journalists, and filmmakers use to capture the constituent features of life in urban environments? How do these narratives represent social interactions? How do they depict interiority and consciousness? What kinds of characters are included in the field of vision? What kind of labour, if any, is represented? How, if at all, does the identity of the writer shape the stories they are telling? Other topics under consideration: class, race, gender, industrialisation, finance, greed, alienation, strangers, estrangement, economic inequality, cosmopolitanism, crime, immigration.