CFP: [General] Imagining Amsterdam: Visions and Revisions

full name / name of organization: 
Marco de Waard
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Conference "Imagining Amsterdam: Visions and Revisions"

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 Steven 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:

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 embodiment?
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?
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?
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.

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Received on Fri Oct 31 2008 - 09:14:19 EST