CFP: [Film] "Imagining Amsterdam: Visions and Revisions"

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Marco de Waard
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Amsterdam has always been a locus of powerful imagining, and for
centuries the city has been the subject of representation in literature,
music, and the visual arts. Yet while artists and writers have long
emphasised the city’s reputation for permissiveness and tolerance, in
recent years the international image of Amsterdam as the paradigm of
an “open society” has been charged with new significance and urgency.
Against the backdrop of the war on terror, an increasingly polarised
debate has taken place about multiculturalism and about new, global
challenges to our Western models of capitalist democracy. In this context
Amsterdam has emerged as a privileged site of representation which
registers changes, instabilities, and contradictions in the contemporary
self-image of the West. On the one hand, the city’s small scale and
friendly face continue to secure a special — though often caricatured —
place for it in the iconography of liberal democracy, and images of
Amsterdam as open and tolerant have been reinflected and reassessed. On
the other hand, international media coverage of the murder of Theo van
Gogh and other recent events has located Amsterdam at the forefront of
transformations that are felt to be underway or imminent in European
society at large, turning the city into the site of various imaginings of
the future. In a variety of ways, the image of Amsterdam stimulates
utopian, heterotopian, as well as dystopian scenarios and speculations.
Writers, artists, and film makers use the image of Amsterdam as a vehicle
for reflection on much wider social, political, and cultural concerns,
and their literary, filmic, and artistic renderings allow us to explore
contemporary ideas about global and international developments.

This conference aims to examine the popular, literary, cinematic, and
artistic image of Amsterdam in the age of globalisation. From
internationally acclaimed novels by John Irving, Arnon Grunberg, and Ian
McEwan to blockbusters like Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Twelve; from historical
fictions by Deborah Moggach and David Liss to sociological journalism
like Ian Buruma’s Murder in Amsterdam; and from Albert Camus’s classic
novel La Chute to art films like Peter Greenaway’s Nightwatching, the
storehouse of international representations of Amsterdam is vast and
diverse. But whether these representations focus on the city as the
setting of experimental and alternative lifestyles, on its history as a
cradle of early-modern and modern capitalism, or on the inter-cultural
tensions (including a religiously motivated killing) which it has seen in
recent years, Amsterdam has always triggered an intense and multifaceted
response in the eyes of its international and Anglophone beholders. The
conference welcomes papers that explore these issues from various
theoretical, critical, analytical, and cultural perspectives.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:
1. Representations of Amsterdam as a transcultural meeting place: How do
imaginings of Amsterdam situate the Netherlands in the world? By which
strategies is the city constructed and marketed as a “brand”? In what
sort of cultural practices and representations do the notions of
tolerance, liberty and freedom commonly associated with Amsterdam find
2. Representations of Amsterdam as an historical centre of capitalism,
commerce, and colonial trade: What are the politics and aesthetics of
these imaginings in the face of a changing economic world order? How does
Amsterdam function as a lieu de mémoire of the financial and economic
world? Which scenarios for the future does the image of Amsterdam invite?
3. Representations of “libertarian” Amsterdam: In imagining Amsterdam as
a sanctuary for legalised prostitution and euthanasia, do artists and
film makers respond to a reality which they see as being unique to Dutch
society? Or, do they displace foreign or international concerns,
problems, and issues onto the Dutch city? What sort of authority —
historical or artistic, fact-based or fictional — do these
representations claim? And how can we historicise these, often
stereotypical representations?
4. Representations of Amsterdam as the paradigm of an “open society”
whose tolerance and long-standing multiculturalist ideals are currently
under question: How has the image of the city changed since 9/11 and
the “clash of civilisations” debate? How do literature, cinema, and the
arts respond to the global coverage of recent Dutch news events? What
sort of cultural transfers are facilitated by these responses?

Further suggestions for panels or individual papers:
• Novels, comic books, and graphic novels set in Amsterdam.
• Heritage films set in Amsterdam.
• Amsterdam as the setting for life-changing experiences.
• Lifestyles and Amsterdam.
• Constructions of otherness in and through constructions of Amsterdam.
• Popular music (“Dans le port d’Amsterdam”) about Amsterdam.
• Adaptations of classic Dutch novels.
• The international reception of Netherlandic literature and film art.
• Rembrandt in cultural memory.
• Amsterdam as a centre of trade in the 17th century.
• Imaginings of Dutch-American cultural transfers.
• Amsterdam architecture and city spaces.
• Cinematic transfers in mainstream film (e.g. Paul Verhoeven, Dick Maas)
and art house cinema (e.g. Theo van Gogh, Peter Greenaway).

Proposals for individual papers of no more than 300 words should be sent
to both Dr. Joyce Goggin ( and Dr. Marco de Waard
( by February 14, 2009. We also welcome proposals
for panels of three speakers (summarising the rationale of the panel and
providing abstracts of each paper). The conference will be held in
Amsterdam, November 19-21, 2009, and will be jointly hosted by the
Department of English and the Institute of Culture and History (ICH),
University of Amsterdam and Amsterdam University College.

For registration details and regular updates about the programme and the
plenary speakers, see our website:

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Received on Sun Nov 09 2008 - 14:00:35 EST

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