Geocritical Explorations inside the Text

#mla15 #s344 (a special session)

On behalf of the presenters and respondent, I would like to welcome you to session 344 of the 130th Annual Convention of the Modern Language Association, a special session entitled “Geocritical Explorations inside the Text.” Briefly, this special session will return the focus of (sometimes digital) geospatial criticism back to the spaces produced inside the text. Of critical importance for us is considering how the spaces inside the text resonate with their analogous spaces outside the text.

Below you should find more than enough information about this panel, but if you would like to know more, please contact Moacir, the presider.

  • When: Friday, 9 January 2015, 3:30 – 4:45 p.m. (gcal event)
  • Where: East 2, Vancouver Convention Centre East (Canada Place), (map)

Presiding: Moacir P. de Sá Pereira, Vilnius Gediminas Tech. Univ.

  1. “‘Could Be’: Langston Hughes as Situationist Cartographer,” Alba Newmann Holmes, Willamette Univ.
  2. Paterson and Paterson: The Literary Cartography of City and Text as Revealed through GIS (Geographical Information System),” Michael A. Smith, Duquesne Univ.
  3. “Expatriate Hunger: GIS-Generated Literary Analysis of Food, Drink, and Sex ‘inside’ Expatriate Literature,” Amy D. Wells, Université de Caen Basse-Normandie Site Cherbourg

Respondent: Robert T. Tally Jr., Texas State Univ.

Keywords: geocriticism, spatiality, digital humanities, mapping, GIS

Bios →

Moacir P. de Sá Pereira (presider) (@muziejus) earned a PhD from the University of Chicago in July 2014. Long interested in the ways in which GIS technologies and human geography can enhance literary criticism, de Sá Pereira has been invited to two NEH-funded events on geospatial literary scholarship: at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Enabling Geospatial Scholarship in 2010 and at Redlands University’s workshop “Visualizing Flow and Movement in the Humanities” in 2012. Similarly, de Sá Pereira has often presented on the geospatial aspects of “The Site of the Novel.” Most recently, “Robert Jordan’s Nearest Neighbor: A For Whom the Bell Tolls GIS” was presented at the “Telling Stories with Maps” workshop at the Digital Humanities Hub at the University of Birmingham in April 2014. Currently, de Sá Pereira is working on a book on the challenges of using GIS on literary texts as well as on an online atlas—featuring an application programming interface—of John Dos Passos’s U.S.A.

Alba Newmann Holmes received her PhD in English from the University of Texas at Austin in 2006. Her dissertation “‘Language is not a vague province’: Mapping and Twentieth-Century American Poetry” examined the ways in which poetic structures, like cartographic structures, organize knowledge—how they can claim territory or order experience, while leaving necessary openings for uncertainty, interpretation, and discovery. A chapter from her dissertation was published in the William Carlos Williams Review as “Paterson: Poem as Rhizome.” This piece attends to the similarities between Williams’s long poem and mapping as conceived of by theorists Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. In 2010, Newmann Holmes participated in the NEH Summer Institute “Mapping and Art in the Americas,” hosted by the Newberry Library. She returned to the Newberry Library’s Hermon Dunlap Smith Center for the History of Cartography in 2011, on a short-term research grant. In 2013, as a member of Willamette University’s Liberal Arts Research Collaborative program, she received a Mellon Foundation-funded summer research grant for “The Situation in Harlem: Langston Hughes’ Poetry as Psychogeographic Map.” She is a Visiting Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Writing Center at Willamette University.

Michael A. Smith (@Mike_WordSmith) is a Ph.D. student in English at Duquesne University and earned a Master of Arts in English at Boston College beforehand. He is planning a dissertation focused on literary cartographies of the urban American cityscape at the turn of the 20th century. Smith’s interest in geocritical explorations began with the anthropological pilgrimage research of Victor and Edith Turner on liminoid phenomena throughout El Camino de Santiago. His scholarship includes recently presented research on the textual production of Walt Whitman’s, Henry David Thoreau’s, and Edgar Allan Poe’s literary gravesites for the American Literature Association, contemporary pilgrimage narratives from Seamus Heaney and Cormac McCarthy for the Conference on Christianity and Literature, and the Pittsburgh literary cartography of Willa Cather, presented for the Modernist Studies Association.

Amy D. Wells (@amywells06) is an associate professor of English in the Applied Foreign Languages Department at the Université de Caen Basse-Normandie in France. Since her PhD thesis, “Gender and Geography: A Geocritical Approach to Left Bank Women's Writing” (2008), she has been pursuing geocritical projects, crossing questions of gender with expatriate literature and literary cartography. In 2013, her translation of Bertrand Westphal’s The Plausible World: A Geocritical Approach to Space, Place, and Maps was published by Palgrave Macmillan in the Geocriticism and Spatial Literary Studies series. This year, a collection of essays she co-edited, Traces, empreintes, monuments: quels lieux pour quelles mémoires? de 1989 à nos jours, was published by the Presses Universitaires de Limoges (PULIM). Her contribution to this collection, “Laisser une trace: les écrits des femmes soldats américaines en Irak comme lieu de mémoire,” examines the use of literature as a site of memory. Other published works on geocriticism include “The Intertextual, Sexually-Coded Rue Jacob: A Geocritical Approach to Djuna Barnes, Natalie Barney, and Radclyffe Hall” in the South Central Review (Fall 2005) and “Des cartes métaphoriques aux cartes SIG : la cartographie comme outil d’analyse littéraire” in La “cartographie” en littérature et sciences humaines (PULIM 2013).

Robert T. Tally Jr. (@RobertTally) (respondent) is an associate professor of English at Texas State University, where he teaches American and world literature. He is the author of Poe and the Subversion of American Literature: Satire, Fantasy, Critique; Spatiality (The New Critical Idiom); Utopia in the Age of Globalization: Space, Representation, and the World System; Kurt Vonnegut and the American Novel: A Postmodern Iconography; Melville, Mapping and Globalization: Literary Cartography in the American Baroque Writer; and Fredric Jameson: The Project of Dialectical Criticism. The translator of Bertrand Westphal’s Geocriticism: Real and Fictional Spaces, Tally edited Geocritical Explorations: Space, Place, and Mapping in Literary and Cultural Studies, Kurt Vonnegut: Critical Insights, and Literary Cartographies: Spatiality, Representation, and Narrative (forthcoming). Tally also serves as the general editor of the Palgrave Macmillan book series Geocriticism and Spatial Literary Studies.

Abstracts →

“‘Could Be’: Langston Hughes as Situationist Cartographer”

In Langston Hughes’s poem “Could Be,” Hughes maps the epicenters of early-twentieth-century African-American culture onto one another: “Could Be Hastings Street, / Or Lenox Avenue, / Could be 18th & Vine / And still be true. . . .” In doing so, he collapses the physical distances between Detroit, New York, Kansas City, Dayton, and New Orleans. The result, I argue, is a map akin to those produced by Guy Debord and his fellow Situationsits: built out of fragments of traditional cartographic practice—dissected conventional city maps reassembled as collage—such maps convey “an experience of space that [is] terrestrial, fragmented, subjective, temporal and cultural.” (Simon Sadler, The Situationist City). The concise form of the poem lends itself particularly well to embodying such spatial juxtapositions—layering and correlating sites that remain discrete in the world outside the text. However, the effects in Hughes’ poems are quite different from his Situationist counterparts. Their maps have been critiqued, as expressions of bourgeois nostalgia. In contrast, Hughes’s fragmented and reassembled maps ultimately undermine the very iconography of place that his poetry has been credited with creating.

Paterson and Paterson: The Literary Cartography of City and Text as Revealed through GIS (Geographical Information System)”

This paper follows the arguments of George Zabriskie, William Klink, and Robert Smithson in their attempts to reconcile William Carlos Williams’s Paterson with the Passaic River and Paterson, New Jersey. Each text articulates its own unified relationship between poem, city, and river, yet also contributes to a fractured, problematic discourse about Passaic county. We can trace the winding niceties of this discourse along the river through examinations of particular intersections (both geographic and literary) of the Passaic and the aforementioned ancillary texts.

This interconnected narrative of river, city, and text anticipates the arguments of T. Hugh Crawford and Alba Newmann, which view Paterson as a proto­hypertext and a Deleuzian rhizome, respectively. She proposes in her article, “Poem as Rhizome” that Paterson, like the neighboring Passaic, “is an enactment; it is a text that shifts, flows, and falls, that breaks off and starts again, that ‘somersaults’ and escapes,” after asserting, “in disruption and disorientation there is the potential for discovery” (54). By employing Franco Moretti’s tool of “distant reading” to Paterson and the Passaic, I posit that the decentralized authority that defines the rhizome leads to an open space of exploration, which begs for mapping. The map complements the poem­as­rhizome model Newmann puts forth, and I will show how Geographic Information Systems (GIS) inform these existing texts about the river (starting with Paterson and continuing through the others listed above) and create a text that charts data on soil, historic landmarks, and sites of pollution. In doing so, the map argues for its own inclusion into the oeuvre of the river, for in its display of such conflicts and crises, it reveals its own as well.

“Expatriate Hunger: GIS-Generated Literary Analysis of Food, Drink, and Sex ‘inside’ Expatriate Literature”

One theme common to the characters of interwar expatriate literature is that they are often physically, artistically, and sexually hungry. Their hunger is represented as the result of and the reason for their expatriation: the characters may not have enough to eat because they are living abroad, yet they have gone abroad to fulfill artistic and sexual appetites. Furthermore, their appetite for food or other soul-filling substances may be the motive behind a character’s flânerie across the city space.

Employing the methodology of socio-literary geomatics, I have created a database entitled Géographie Littéraire Anglophone de Paris 1903-1941. My previous work has focused on identifying geographic zones of Paris used by writers based on their gender or nationality. However, this analytical tool is not just limited to physical representations of places through cartography. Having also digitized the literary experiences of place, the data can be exploited to establish a taxonomy of expatriate places cited and visited inside the text, which in turn, can lead to identifying geographical and social trends within the literary corpus. To understand the geocoding of these sites of consumption within the literary geography of Anglophone expatriates, we will briefly consider hunger as a narrative structure, the taxonomy of sites of consumption as generated by the database, and finally, a cartography of expatriate hunger.

Proposal →

This proposal was sketched out initially in a call for papers described in detail on the blog Donkey Hottie. Below is the proposal as submitted to the MLA.

This panel aims to provide a reenergized voice to literary scholarship that considers the geographical space produced inside a literary object by treating it as part of the space produced outside of the object. Franco Moretti argues in Atlas of the European Novel (1997/1998) that there is an essential difference that separates a “fictional” space within a literary object from the “real” space containing the literary object. We consider that dichotomy an unproductive one and posit, instead, a geocritical approach to literary criticism that treats both spaces as produced, and hence, as ontologically similar.

Much contemporary geospatial scholarship leaves behind the spaces produced inside the object in favor of working strictly with the model of an already mapped geographical world. Part of this is perhaps the result of readily accessible mapping technologies as well as an increased interest in the humanities in geographical information systems/science (GIS). Using these technologies, scholars often trace either books or authors as they move through the world, building and reinforcing various networks. At last year’s convention, for example, the “Geospatial Literary Studies” special session (#782) treated us to an investigation of the geographical distribution of bookstores in 19th century New York City and how news spread in the 18th century inside the United Kingdom through the correspondence network of the state’s diplomats distributed through Europe. Even David Cooper and Ian N. Gregory’s specifically literary GIS, “Mapping the English Lake District,” tracks the movements of Thomas Gray and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, looking to the content of the diaries only to try to draw a correlation between their feelings and where they were at the time. Though this scholarship is fascinating and inspiring, it reinforces the dichotomy Moretti describes. The fictional world can be mapped, and Moretti has done so as well, but under the rules of the dichotomy, that world will always be a subservient “version” of the more important “real” world.

This panel approaches the question, instead, from a geocritical perspective. As described by Bertrand Westphal in Geocriticism (2007/2011) and amplified (as well as amended) both in the collection Geocritical Explorations (2011), edited by Robert T. Tally Jr., and in Tally’s own Spatiality (2013), geocriticism rejects the dichotomy suggested by Moretti, arguing instead that as space is produced both within the literary object and without, it follows that spaces oscillate between the two realms. Drawing on a tradition at least as old as Mikhail Bakhtin’s “chronotope,” which insists on the unbreakable relationship between spacetime within the novel and without, geocriticism also depends on the theoretical tradition more commonly associated with the spatial turn in the humanities, such as Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space (1974/1991). Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus (1980/1987) and Edward Soja’s Thirdspace (1996). But where this panel diverges from the general geocritical tradition is with its focus, specifically, on the cartography of literary objects and on the analysis that becomes possible once we abandon a real/fictional world dichotomy and start mapping aesthetic worlds using tools typically reserved for the real world.

After a short introduction by presider Moacir P. de Sá Pereira reminding the panelists they each have only fifteen minutes, Alba Newmann Holmes begins the discussion by considering Langston Hughes as a situationist cartographer. Hughes’s collapsing of physical distances between American cities creates a “situationist” map akin to those produced by Guy Debord. Fragmenting and rebuilding maps as a collage leads the reader of the map or poem to apprehend, suddenly, unrecognized relationships at work in the terrain. Newmann Holmes contends that the poetic form lends itself especially well to embodying these spatial juxtapositions by layering and correlating sites in ways that startle the reader. The result is that Hughes’s poem-as-map demonstrates the irrelevance of the site outside the map in comparison to the personal loss mapped within the aesthetic object.

Michael A. Smith follows by taking advantage of GIS technology to map William Carlos Williams’s Paterson (1963) and its textual descendants onto the Passaic River and Paterson, New Jersey. Smith argues that each text articulates its own unified relationship between poem, city, and river, while also contributing to a fractured and problematic discourse about Passaic County. The decentralized authority of Paterson provides an opportunity for exploring both Williams’s New Jersey and the New Jersey available to a GIS, especially in provoking questions that appear when comparing Paterson to data on historic landmarks, soil, and sound pollution. The nuances of Paterson, Smith concludes, especially in comparison to the texts it influenced, remain obscured until they are mapped with data outside of Paterson’s tradition of reception.

Amy D. Wells closes with a presentation on how the various forms of hunger (physical, artistic, and sexual) shown in expatriate literature account for the flânerie demonstrated by characters in literary objects as they move across the city space. To help map this flânerie, Wells built the Géographie Littéraire Anglophone de Paris 1903–1941 database. The database can be exploited to establish a taxonomy of expatriate places cited and visited inside the text, which can subsequently lead to identifying geographical and social trends within the expatriate literary corpus. Wells then uses the database to map the way in which hunger serves as both a narrative structure and a taxonomy of consumption.

All three geocritical presentations move past the field as described by Westphal. To help tie together the panel’s advances, shown by active mapping, situationist or digital, Robert T. Tally Jr. will respond to the three panelists. Our hope is that Tally’s response, as well as the discussion with the audience, will stimulate everyone present into contributing to the maturation of geocriticism. In fusing both theoretical and digital traditions of cartography while maintaining the tight relationship between produced space inside the text and outside, we feel that we can build a mode of literary inquiry that maintains a relationship to both the aesthetic and real.