Subjective Ramblings and Peripheral Thoughts from the Edges of a Comics Studies Project
Frederik Byrn Køhlert, The Chicago Literary Experience: Writing the City, 1893-1953 (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2011).
Frederik Byrn Køhlert is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of English at the University of Montreal, where he is working on a tentatively titled “Drawing in the Margins: Identity and Subjectivity in Contemporary Autobiographical Comics,” which focuses on how autobiographical comics use the comics form to challenge and destabilize dominant notions of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and the body. The Chicago Literary experience is a revised version of his Master’s thesis.
Køhlert’s book is a slim volume that treats what the author calls a literary “Chicago tradition.” After a brief introduction, the little more than a century’s worth of time covered is divided into three periods, followed by a discussion about Chicago-centric writing after 1953. Touched upon, sometimes at breakneck pace, is a history of Chicago literature exemplified by short summaries of major writers like Sherwood Anderson, Theodor Dreiser, and Upton Sinclair, as well as several lesser-known scribes.
The book’s aim is formulated thusly:
With attention to how the individual writer has described and evaluated the Chicago experience–creating a city of feeling from the city of fact–this book is an exploration of various literary attempts to understand what can perhaps be called the meaning of Chicago–and of how the city appears as a definable and undeniably unique presence in the diverse literature produced about it in the period from 1893 to 1953.
The book, which is written in a clear and concise style, is largely descriptive. It is balanced more toward synthesis than analysis and only rarely does it stop to engage its material in depth. However, while it perhaps falls a little short of its self-defined finish line, The Chicago Literary Experience is well worth the read for anyone who is interested in urban representation and who seeks to understand how one specific place can take many shapes and still be recognizable.