The idea for a course on cities in literature had been percolating in my brain for a few years. Miron Białoszewski’s A Memoir of the Warsaw Uprising first sparked my interest in literary urban space; the way he describes the city’s topography inexorably disappearing into smoke and flame layers the historical, personal, and cartographical aspects of urban space in unexpected ways. When I was asked to teach Slavic 225: Arts and Cultures of Central Europe, I realized it was my chance to develop a new course focused on the cities of Central and Eastern Europe.
Metrotextualities offers students an accessible overview of East/Central Europe’s history through an “urban lens”—we cover the topics of empire, revolution, war, Communism, and the economic and political transitions of the 1990s, examining how each of these phenomena affected the cultural fabric of a given city. Students are challenged to consider the city as more than a physical space: we discuss the city as a historical and cultural palimpsest, as a living social organism, and even as an ideological or physical weapon. The course aims to teach students to analyze urban text(ure)s, paying attention to the narrative, thematic, aesthetic, and/or ideological role cities play in films, short stories, novels, poems, and music videos. From Pushkin’s The Bronze Horseman to 21st-century rap videos, discussions of graffiti, and mapping the subterranean routes of Warsaw insurgents and refugees, Metrotextualities offers students a multidimensional exploration of East/Central European history and culture through its urban spaces.