Tom Sykes recently spoke at the Urban Weird 2018 Conference, organised by the Open Graves, Open Minds Project, in collaboration with Supernatural Cities, on 6th and 7th April, at the University of Hertfordshire.
The Open Graves, Open Mind Project unearth depictions of the vampire, and the undead in literature, art, and other media, before embracing shapeshifting creatures and other supernatural beings.
The project opens up questions concerning genre, gender, hybridity, cultural change, and other realms.
The conference involved an SMPA PhD student Amanda Garrie, and included a keynote speech from the University of Portsmouth’s Dr Karl Bell, who presented a paper entitled, ‘Dark City, Daemonic Architectures: Towards a Cartography of the Urban Weird’.
Tom Sykes, who recently passed his PhD at Goldsmiths University, presented a paper entitled ‘The City-as-Hell: Horror, Dystopia and Orientalism in Anglo-American Literary Constructions of Urban Manila 1852 – 2011’, an abstract of which can be found below.
“This paper traces the development of what I term ‘the city-as-hell’, a representational trope in British and American fiction and narrative nonfiction set in Manila, the Philippines.
For Nicholas Loney and other Victorian memoirists, Manila is an impenetrably mystical space dominated by the medieval superstitions of the Roman Catholic Church; it is both scandalous and forbiddingly alien to the rational Protestant mind.
Writing after the Americans annexed the Philippines from Spain in 1898 and had established a new colonial state, later Manilaists such as the Americans Walter Robb and George A. Miller mobilise city-as-hell in order to demonstrate how far Manila has progressed from a backward, Hispanic-Catholic outpost to a modern, Protestant-American metropolis.
Following the devastation of Manila in World War II, the American Christian authors John Bechtel and DeLouis Stevenson limn the city using apocalyptic images and similes; the blame for this catastrophic state of affairs, they suggest, lies with the ‘heathen’ Japanese, who have desecrated churches and other holy sites.
By the 1980s and 1990s, in novels by Timothy Mo and Alex Garland, and in travelogues by James Fenton, James Hamilton-Paterson and P.J. O’Rourke, the city-as-hell has become infused with what Mary Louise Pratt calls ‘third world blues’, a signifying practice in Western travel writing that depicts non-Western ‘cityscapes’ as ‘grotesque’ and ‘joyless’ urban dystopias because they symbolise the social and political failures of societies that have freed themselves from European colonial oppression, if not from indirect influence from the American-led West.”