city as palimpsest, redux

“Richard Lehan* has pointed out the impact of urban archaeology’s ‘discovery of layered cities’ – notably Heinrich Schliemann’s discoveries in Troy (1871) and Arthur Evans’ in Crete (Knossos, 1876) – upon modernist urban literature. Urban fantasy has been particularly influenced by this archaeological find, often adopting the palimpsestic model of the city as a paradigm for its fictional cityscapes. The genre frequently creates a fantastic metropolis whose history is inscribed in successive layers beneath the present-day veneer of routine city life. In these narratives, the fantastic city’s subterranean history poses a constant danger to the integrity of the present, as its underground layers harbour supernatural forces threatening to erupt onto the surface. The protagonists of these works accordingly take on the symbolic role of archaeologists, descending into the urban underworld to recover the city’s hidden past and contend with its forgotten monsters.” [examples: Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (1996) and Tim Lebbon’s Echo City (2010)]

Elber-Aviram, H. (2013). “The Past Is Below Us”: Urban Fantasy, Urban Archaeology, and the Recovery of Suppressed History. Papers from the Institute of Archaeology, 23(1): 7, 1-10, doi: 10.5334/pia.426

*in The City in Literature; An Intellectual and Cultural History, 1998

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