Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Wayne Koestenbaum

Committee Members

Ashley Dawson

Peter Hitchcock

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature | Film and Media Studies | Geography | Urban Studies and Planning


Urban, Cities, Film, Literature, Post-1945


This dissertation is an examination of literary and filmic representations of the post-1945 city, organized in three thematic sections—“Alienation”; “Disappearance”; and “The Random Encounter and Possibility of Community”—each of which is composed of a diptych of two “plateaus.” “Alienation” investigates Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners (1956) and Mathieu Kassovitz’ La Haine (1995), two works that feature groups of men living in former colonial European capitals—London and France—who, though they possess full legal status, are racialized and othered by the general white population and hostile architecture that surround them. “Disappearance” seeks to explain the mysterious disappearances of Lila in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels (2011-2014) and Hae-mi in Lee Chang-dong’s Burning (2018). In the protagonists’ meta-literary reconstruction of events—tinged with the tropes of magic realism—their friends’ disappearances become metaphors for their respective cities: Lila as the unassailable porous spirit of a violent male- and mafia-dominated Naples, and Hae-mi as the signifier of Seoul’s rapid urbanization tied to the destruction of the natural environment. The final section considers potentially liberating representations of the city in Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives (1998) and John Wilson’s How to With John Wilson (2020-2023). These latter works reimagine everyday life in 1970s Mexico City and contemporary New York City through the implementation of surrealist-adjacent artistic techniques from prior eras: Guy Debord’s Situationist practices, and Viktor Shklovsky’s ostranenie, or defamiliarization. The dissertation’s ultimate aim is to both contribute to the field of knowledge on the city—real and imagined—as well as to serve a disalienating function for the reader.

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