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The Urban Chronotope in Peter Ackroyd’s Fiction


Marta Komsta

The book discusses the evolution of the urban chronotope in the selected novels by Peter Ackroyd, an acclaimed British author. The examined narratives illustrate the transformation from the postmodern tenets of historiographic metafiction into a unique urban mythopoetics by means of a semiotic analysis.
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For Peter Ackroyd, the only way of retaining memory, be it intimate or national, is by re-reading the urbanscape. In Present Pasts. Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory, Andreas Huyssen puts forward a compelling question regarding the means of preserving memory in the contemporary society: “How should […] local, regional, or national memories be secured, structured, and represented?” (26). It seems that Ackroyd has answered the question with the topos of the city that testifies to a greater unity of meaning rather than a postmodernist ambivalence. Despite Ackroyd’s growing refusal to subject his writing to postmodernist influences, the question whether he might be classified as a postmodernist or a postmodern modernist is a recurring one amongst the scholars. Yet, considering the consistency with which Ackroyd develops certain thematic strands in his texts, it seems valid to suggest that the playful use of pastiche and parody is a reflection of the writer’s “English sensibility,” not a sheer postmodernist gimmick (Ackroyd, “Englishness” 340). As Lewis aptly comments, “some writers are born postmodernist; some aspire to be; and others, like Ackroyd, have postmodernism thrust upon them” (181).

It is therefore the city that may be considered the nucleus of Ackroyd’s career as a man of letters. In accordance with the writer’s insistence on “the perpetual present of the past” in his novels, the polis is a palimpsestic reservoir of cultural memory open to those who are willing to become its part (qtd. in Schütze 176). Richard Todd contends...

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