Our lives, and the landscapes in which we live in, are storied in nature. These stories come in many different forms: from policy materials, census data, media reports, official documents and scholarly insight, to authorial fantasy. According to Piatti and Hurni (2011: 218), these stories form a ‘rich geographical layer’ that ‘hovers… above the physically comprehensible world’; and, like early maritime seafarers, we ‘navigate by [these] stories’ (Solnit, 2006:181). Stories therefore function as a form of mapping, they not only offer us ‘thin’, functional descriptions of the location of key landmarks, but also ‘deeper’ points of reference by which we can orient ourselves and understand the world in which we live (see Tally, 2013). Due to their relative importance, stories permeate into our geographical reality, in Deleuze and Guattari’s phrase, stories gradually, but inevitably, ‘displace… from text to territory’ (1994).
The WISERD funded book ‘Page and Place: Ongoing Compositions of Plot’ (published by Rodopi) explores this process. It focuses explicitly on fictional stories – novels written in English but based in Welsh locations – in order to critically examine the ways in which stories can tell us something about our spatial and social identity. Drawing on twelve authors, including Iain Sinclair, Gillian Clarke, Niall Griffiths, Owen Sheers, and Peter Finch, it argues that stories – in whatever form – can entangle with ‘reality’ to form our comprehensible world, and help us navigate our lives. More specifically, it explores how these novels cartographically chart a sense of local place, and how these maps outline a new sense of national identity for devolved Wales in the twenty-first century.
Below is an extract from the first chapter:
“Literature, with its integrated triad of person, [narrative] and place, is an essential field for geography no less than for any other discipline attempting an explication of the human condition.” (Pocock, 1988:87)
The fields of literature and geography have many elements in common. As Pocock tells us, both disciplines are connected by the ‘integrated triad’ of person, narrative and place, whilst both also seek to use these constitutive relations to offer new insights into the human condition. This book develops these premises through exploring how the imaginary worlds of stories intersect, conflict, and supplement geographical ideas to further our understanding of the people and places around us. It explores how books reshape our perception of the world and how geographical theories proffer new insights into fictional literature. In line with Pocock, the book argues that through examining the complex connections between the geography of places and the geography of pages we can gain new understandings of the human condition.
This book explores the relations between humans, stories, and places through questioning the traditional assumption of literary geography, namely, that there is a clear distinction between ‘real’ geographies on one hand, and ‘imagined’ fiction on the other. It argues that fictions are not inevitably detached and apart from real life, rather fiction becomes insinuated into the material locations of the everyday. The ‘real’ and the ‘imagined’, or ‘place’ and ‘page’, are therefore not discrete and oppositional in their relations, but rather they are thoroughly entangled. This insight is important as human beings live our lives in places. In other words, we are spatial beings. Geographical locations come to define our identity and our culture and, in turn, our lives and actions influence the meanings and significance of these key geographical sites. It is in these reciprocal relations between people and place that literature plays a key role. It is possible for literature to mediate and illuminate human life. Not only do the relations between people and place form the basis for fictional narratives, stories themselves can hold up a mirror to the real world and draw our attention to issues, problems, and ideas that escape our attention. In these ways, fiction pervades and penetrates our lives.
A talk related to this book is being held in the School of Planning and Geography, Cardiff University on Tuesday April 21. More information on the book itself can be found on two related websites. The first introduces the project in general, whilst the second is an initial attempt to map the plotlines of four Cardiff authors used in the book. These works currently combine for an AHRC application to create a Digital Literary Atlas for Wales.
About the Author: Dr Jon Anderson is a Reader in Human Geography at the School of Planning and Geography, Cardiff University. His academic interests are oriented around the ‘extraordinary sets of relations between people and places’ (Holloway & Hubbard, 2000:6). These ‘extraordinary relations’ circulate around a number of spaces of interest (Environmental Action and Identity; Geography, Place & Culture; Rural Political Action; Water Worlds and Surfing Places; Emerging Ontologies; Literary Geographies; Innovative methodologies and communication) and have led to a range of international quality research publications and funding projects.