Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Letters from Malmo

Good news today! Mend has been invited to present a paper at the "Psychoanalysis and Politics Summer Symposium" in Malmo, Sweden. The Symposium will be looking at the theme of "Narratives and Collective Fantasies" and will look at the junction of politics and psychoanalysis with literature, rhetorics, film, linguistics, etc.

We are ridiculously excited and not just because we've been reliably informed that the venue is so close to the sea that we can take a swim during breaks - oh, go on then!

Our abstract was submitted earlier in December and outlined our "Psychotherapy for places" idea that we posted on here a few weeks ago. We now have an opportunity and incentive to explore and develop this idea in time for the symposium in August.

Our basic concept is that places have personalities that are as complex and multi-layered as people. The theme of narrative and collective fantasy hooks onto this idea: that a place or the city itself is a character that we develop in our cultural imagination. In literature the Victorians talked about the Pathetic Fallacy- where descriptions of the landscape and the weather are used as a metaphor for human emotions and relationships.

Film and graphic novels take it a step further. The setting of a film (and a novel) is picked specifically to evoke a particular feel, emotion and social context. Blade Runner was a key source in my Planning MPhil because of the way the city itself is brooding and in conflict just like the main character. A powerful illustration of the relationship between our environment and our behaviour - and not messing with Darryl Hannah! Interestingly the Architects Journal presented their Top Ten Comic Book Cities in 2009 as a selection of the greatest illustrated urban spaces - there are stunning ones in there such as Dean Motter's Radiant City and of course Gotham City.

The graphic novel genre is a unique in that the city becomes more than just a backdrop to the frame of each illustration - it is a character itself. The city is used to communicate and illustrate the story so in this way urban space is read as text - it carries symbols, signs and meanings that we interpret visually as comic book illustration. This act of reading space is itself evidence that space is capable of holding and attaching emotional and behavioural information that we can then read.

The panels can present a distorted and mutated city to make or it can be brutally accurate pointing out warts and all - or it can be softened and sanitised, heavily stylised to appear beautiful and other-wordly, or nostalgic presenting an idyllic view of life as golden. Whichever, the graphic novel helps illustrate perfectly how place can have a personality.

Graphic Novels and comics grew as urban life grew and their depiction and portrayal of city life - whether its futuristic sci-fi terms, or the undeterred city detective, or underworlds and sub-cultures - have single-handedly managed to convey the personality and contemporary visualisation of what cities look like for over 100 years. We have them to thank for thinking that cities all look like Gotham City! (See the excellent "Comics and The City" J. Ahrens eds. 2010)

So these are the sort of things we will draw upon when we explore our ideas. We will keep you posted....maybe via comic strip...

The symposium is being organised by the Norwegian Psychoanalytical Society/University of Oslo/University of Copenhagen

Photo Credits: Dean Motter and Marc Antoine Mathieu


  1. The symposium and your ideas for it sound really interesting!

    Have you thought about Inception as well in this framework? Seems to me the general concept of the film fits perfectly in this fantasy and comic book kind of construct.

    The realisation of the city in Inception is directly related to a characters mood and feelings literally wrapping itself around the characters.

    Someone doesnt agree though

  2. Hello Rakan, thanks so much for your comment and feedback. I agree Inception is a really relevant example and th way yuou have described its central concept of mood and architecture being inextricably linked is spot on! I was so excited by the trailers and seeing how the city was literally bent by the "dreamers" imagintaion. All possible worlds can exist in your imagination. I thin dreams are a perfect motif foe us to look at because the architecture of oir dreams are so symbolic and revealing. I will check your link with interest. Controversially I too found the choice of Paris as a city backdrop for the film a bit of a disappointment - Paris is so samey whereas there are plenty of european cities that have that eccentric mosaic overlapping of styles that could have been more interesting and rich. But I guess this perhaps would have diverted too much attention away from the action!

    What is your background Rakan? Are you an architect yourself?

    Best wishes and stay in touch!

    Liane & Kate

  3. Hi!

    I see what you mean but I guess the sameyness might have added, in my dreams at least its impossible to tell the difference between any sort of background environment, it all tends to blur into one and be very basic. Maybe this is what they were getting at? (Thats the optimist in me!)

    I studied anthropology and did a post grad at the Bartlett in something urbany. Your blog is great as I share a lot of similar topics of interest. This post I was drawn to as I wrote a thesis on how fiction uses real life locations. I try to keep my thoughts at