UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Urban change and the literary imaginary in Vancouver Joseph, Maia


In this dissertation, I examine literary responses to socioeconomic and spatial change in Vancouver, Canada—a city that has undergone recurrent, rapid, and intensive restructuring over the course of its history. Vancouver has received a significant amount of attention from urban studies scholars, and is home to a well-respected local planning culture. A vibrant, diverse, and critically engaged literary community has also long thrived in the city, with many authors writing about major issues related to Vancouver’s transformation, including population displacement, socioeconomic polarization, the increasing commodification of urbanity, and the mediation of cultural trauma. Despite this engagement with key urban issues, literary texts are often ignored or given only cursory treatment in the broader scholarly and popular conversation about the city. Form, style, and epistemological difference all make literary texts difficult to integrate into this conversation. They are, however, carriers of a certain kind of knowledge—subjective, experiential, affective, interactive, often reflexive—that deserves more widespread attention because it expands and complicates our understanding of what the city is and might be. I propose and enact an approach to reading urban fiction and poetry that privileges the space of the literary while still also attending to the ways in which literary texts, and the authors who produce them, are wrapped up in processes of socioeconomic and spatial change. I focus especially on what literary texts themselves have to say about the contexts informing their production, foregrounding and investigating the heightened self-consciousness of particular pieces of Vancouver-based writing. I argue that these texts not only enrich and diversify the local urban imaginary, but also encourage a reconceptualization of the role of writers and other cultural workers in the city.

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