chapter  21
The City Novel
Measuring referential, spatial, linguistic, and temporal distances
ByLieven Ameel
Pages 9

This chapter argues that the city novel is characterized by a measuring of distances: distances in space, but also distances between literary and actual locations; distances protagonists or communities cover, and distances felt by the protagonist(s) when confronted by the depth of personal memories and shared histories. Several scholars have developed useful two-, three- or fourfold taxonomies with which to examine different kinds of city novels. Changes in the onomastic landscape are some of the cruder, but very effective ways in which referential distancing is achieved. Franco Moretti has pointed out that the spatial structure of the city in literature "is functional to the intensification of mobility: spatial mobility, naturally enough, but mainly social mobility". Plot, character, and language in their turn reveal and fulfill the potential of the city. These reciprocal relationships between city and plot, city and character development, city and language, city and temporal depth can be approached in terms of distances: referential, spatial, linguistic and temporal.