Politics of Place

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Politics of Place Issue 01: Maps and Margins Editors Rory Hill Steven Maiden Simon May Editorial Board Prof Rod Edmond (University of Kent) Prof Nick Groom (University of Exeter) Dr Paul Harrison (Durham University) Prof John McLeod (University of Leeds) Prof Fiona Stafford (University of Oxford)

Contributors Dominic Davies (University of Oxford) Chris Ewers (Kings College London) Katrin M. Fennesz (University of Vienna) Mary Kennan Herbert (Long Island University) Elaine Kiely (Mary Immaculate College, Limerick) Jos Smith (University of Exeter) Ben Styles (University of Leeds) Andrea Vesentini (Birkbeck, University of London)

Enquiries Steven Maiden - politicsofplace@exeter.ac.uk Copyright Copyright in editorial matter and this collection as a whole: Politics of Place © 2013 Copyright in individual articles: pp.2-11 © Jos Smith 2013 pp.12-25 © Chris Ewers 2013 pp.26-39 © Dominic Davies 2013 p.41 © Elaine Kiely 2013 pp.42-55 © Katrin M. Fennesz 2013 pp.56-68 © Ben Styles 2013 p.71 © Mary Kennan Herbert 2013 pp.72-91 © Andrea Vesentini 2013 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be issued to the public or circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published. ISSN 2052-4501 (Print) ISSN 2052-4498 (Online)

Design and Art Direction Liz Mosley (www.lizmosley.net) Photography iStockphoto (Frontcover) Dreamstime.com (pp.2-3, pp.12-13, pp.26-27 ) SXC (p.40, pp.42-43, pp.56-57, p.70) All of the images on pages 72-87 have been kindly used due to the relevant permissions given to Andrea Vesentini. (See Captions) If you require more information please contact politicsofplace@ exeter.ac.uk


EDITORS’ INTRODUCTION Politics of Place is founded on the belief that current postgraduate research can make significant contributions to contemporary academic and political debates concerning the relationship between people and place. It has also been conceived as an intellectual space open to innovative, creative, and experimental forms of writing. This inaugural issue thus presents a diverse body of work that explores, in various ways, the complex interactions between physical environments and human activity.

the globe engaging with a wide range of debates across the humanities and social sciences. Editors were impressed with the extremely high quality of work submitted for the issue, and it is with great regret that many of these innovative and exciting ideas could not be included in this issue. Nevertheless, as it is our aim to offer a space for postgraduates to develop conversations across disciplinary, theoretical, and institutional boundaries, we hope that readers might be tempted to submit their own work for consideration in future issues, so that the adventure of this new publication will continue to be spirited by the ideas and insights of its contributors.

As well as publishing five research essays—on topics that range from the eighteenth- and nighteenthcentury English novel to the grammar of the tube map, and from the experience of colonial South Africa to the transatlantic life of the Canadian courier—we include in this issue two examples of modern poetry and an interview with the writer and cartographer Tim Robinson. What unites these original efforts, and their diverse subject matter, is a concern with expressing, interpreting, performing, and troubling the relations between people and places. In this themed issue, we have found that such relations are the domain of cartography and geography just as they are the realm of literature and cultural studies. Such relations can be subjective, subversive, persuasive, authoritative, and emotive. They speak to the relationship between core and periphery, and between place and identity; the experience of place through mapping; the role of the map as an expression of political and cultural power; and the attempt to recover, or champion, that which is in-between or marginal. We feel, therefore, that such relations are apposite media through which to begin an interrogation of the poetics and the politics of place.

In closing, we would like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to those who have made this project possible. Firstly, we would like to thank the contributors to the journal who have provided accessible and thought-provoking essays. Secondly, we would like to thank the numerous peer-reviewers who have provided us with invaluable guidance and feedback on the submissions and have greatly assisted in helping us reach the highest academic standards. Thirdly, we would like to thank the Editorial Board for their support and guidance throughout the process of founding the journal and in producing this issue. Finally, we would like to thank the University of Exeter and, in particular, the Exeter Centre for Literatures of Identity, Place and Sustainability (ECLIPSE) for their support of this project and for the logistical, academic, and technical assistance that they have generously provided. It goes without saying that without the hard work, patience, and generosity of all involved, the journal could never have been produced and for that we, as founders and editors, are enormously grateful.

Reflecting the broad appeal of the journal’s core themes, this inaugural issue, ‘Maps and Margins’, welcomed submissions from across academic disciplines. The response to our call for papers was diverse and exciting, with submissions from around

Rory Hill, Steven Maiden, Simon May July 2013



A Step Towards the Earth: Interview with Tim Robinson

by Jos Smith


ginning of that as well in the 60s. Richard Long was one of the leading lights at the time and a number of artists were leaving the cities and doing things out in the natural world, making little changes on it and so on. I think that meant the beginning of more of an artistic consciousness of the natural world and its fragility, and the necessity to protect it. So maybe there was a slow change going on in the connotations of the word at that time, and I’m sure all that had some influence on our decision to leave London in 1972 and go off to the Aran Islands. I had an idea that all the rich and heady stuff brewed up in cities could flow out into the countryside and revivify it.

The following is an interview with artist, cartographer and author Tim Robinson. In 1972 Tim left a life as a visual artist working in London and moved with his wife to the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland in Galway Bay. After the post-mistress on the island suggested he make a map for the tourists he began to compile an index of the placenames and the history and lore associated with them. There soon came to be far more information than he could represent on the map, and so he began work on his two-volume study of the islands, Stones of Aran, the first volume of which was to be published in 1986. Today Tim lives on the mainland with his wife Máiréad in the headquarters of their small publishing company Folding Landscapes in Roundstone, where 25 years on he has just finished the final book in his Connemara trilogy. In this interview Tim reflects on his early practice as an artist and how this might have affected his choice to move to Aran before discussing his method both as a maker of maps and as an author. Touching also on such subjects as science and its relationship to art, religion and the environment, he shows the depth of thought and the extraordinary commitment to his practice that we have come to expect from perhaps the greatest living literary and documentary author of place.

I was wondering if there was tension between the schools of art going on in London at that time. On the one hand there was work quite influenced by American modernism, with visits by Clement Greenberg, and on the other there was an art emerging that was more socially engaged and politically active. Was this a tension that you felt? At first, in London, I was doing big abstract paintings of the sort that Greenberg would have appreciated. In fact Greenberg was one of the judges in that John Moores Biennial competition I had a painting accepted for, which was then noticed by the art critic Guy Brett and Signals, the avant-garde gallery of that time. But at the same time there were other movements coming up which didn’t appeal to me. The Pop movement never meant anything to me whatsoever and hardly means much to this day. And then later on, my environmental works of 1969 might have had something to do with the nascent environmental movement, but it is rather peculiar that my contribution to those environmental exhibitions was very geometrical, very mathematical. They were made up of numerous pieces that could be put together in a geometrically coordinated fashion but also leant themselves to being laid out as if com-

As a visual artist in London in the late 1960s and early 70s you were involved with a movement called ‘environmental art’. This seems to be slightly different from what we would call environmental art today. Could you say a little about this movement and about its relationship to the art world at that time? Yes, I think what we meant by ‘environmental art’ was installations of artwork that surrounded you, spaces that you could walk into, and I don’t think it had that connotation of concern for the environment that the word has taken on since then. But there was the be-


posing a natural landscape. One work, ‘Moonfield’, was a series of curved shapes cut out of hardboard and painted black on one side and white on the other and displayed on a black floor in a blacked out gallery. At first they were black side up and you couldn’t see them at all. People shuffled around and found them with their feet and turned them over so they became palely visible, and either made them into beautiful patterns or heaped them up at random against a wall in a fashion I hadn’t thought of, which was fascinating to watch. So in a way they were subverting what I was doing. Or exposing a contradiction in what I was doing.

people and their strange ways very much; but when I wanted to quit teaching maths and start painting seriously it was clear that Istanbul was not the place to pursue a career in the arts. So we moved to Vienna, which we thought of as the nearest purely European outpost to Istanbul. I had my first exhibitions there. But, again, Vienna was dominated by a small, belated surrealist group and the avant-garde stuff, the more exciting stuff, was happening in London at that stage. So we moved back to London. Then I had that bit of luck, that breakthrough with the John Moores Biennial and the Signals gallery and then the Lisson gallery. The Lisson has gone on to great things since then, but it was so new at that stage that when we were helping to paint it for the first exhibition we almost persuaded ourselves it was some kind of artists’ co-operative.

Before you moved to the Aran Islands, you lived in a number of cities across Europe. What was it that drew you out of England? Sheer romanticism I think. I had visited Malaya before going to university, and during my time in Cambridge studying mathematics I’d been to Turkey with some friends. And I just found the East so romantic and exciting. There’s a wonderful phrase in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s description of Istanbul: ‘haggish but indestructible beauty.’ And that’s it, wrecked but still wonderful. The great mosques, Hagia Sophia, and the strange graveyards that surround the city like a carapace. And the ruined Venetian caravanserai where the caravans coming in from the far east would have docked and unloaded their goods and so on. The people we knew in Istanbul were mainly French-influenced painters who made a bit of a living by translating French novels and art books into Turkish. They were a rogueish, bohemian lot. I remember Yüksel Aslan. He lived at the foot of one of these great slopes covered with graves. And when it rained the bones would be washed out of the hillside and roll down to his place and he would collect them and grind them up and mix them with honey and use them with pigments to make his strange, surrealist paintings. We enjoyed those

After all that moving around what do you think it was about Árainn that made you settle? Well I had started to write, and the thing about writing is that it sucks in material copiously, and in the Aran Islands I found a world that was rich in so many dimensions. I soon found I was spending all my time writing it up in diaries, of which I have stacks – I’ve been living on them ever since in a way. So it was the plenitude of material. The islands are quite exceptional from the point of view of geology, and flora, and the cliff-bird fauna, and the folklore and placenames. The Irish language is alive and well there and the folkways were still legible. Little had been written about it, and I just found it a wonderful field for exploration and discovery. It was also a very quiet place. We were the only non-Aran people there during the winter Aran re-awakened a love of the countryside and an interest in natural history that I had had as a kid but had lost through many years of living in cities. The


wild flowers enraptured me. I’d never really particularly concentrated on wild flowers - I’d been much more interested in caterpillars and butterflies when I was a kid. When we first settled on the island it was November and everything was very stark and bare until fairly early in January, when the whitlow grass appeared, tiny white spots of blossom about an 8th of an inch across. And all that Spring as each plant appeared - almost day by day a different plant would come into blossom - I looked them up and learned their names and their relationships. So it was as if this was unfolding beneath my eyes. It became quite intoxicating. I couldn’t bear to be in the house; as soon as I came in from a walk I’d dash out again to see what had changed.

based on English was totally ludicrous. It produced a great coarsening of the sounds of the names. A most obvious and simple one like baile, which just means settlement or village, comes out in English as ‘bally’, which sounds slightly ridiculous. So they lost their musicality and they lost their meaning. A very striking case was a placename that was recorded down at the south-eastern corner of the big island. It was something like ‘Illaunanaur’. The surveyors had obviously thought that the first part of it was ‘oileán’, island, when in fact it should have been the Irish ‘gleann’, glen. But apart from making it an island when it was a glen, the rest of the name ‘-anaur’ meant absolutely nothing in English phonetics. But in the Irish the name means ‘the glen of tears’ – it’s exactly the biblical phrase ‘this vale of tears’, ‘Gleann na nDeor’. And the story I heard from the local people, was that, in the days leading up to the famine when there was a lot of emigration from the islands, those emigrating would get a fishing boat to take them over to Connemara and they’d walk 30 miles along the Connemara coast into Galway, where they’d wait for one of the famine ships heading for America. These ships used to sail out past the Aran Islands and very frequently had to wait in the shelter of the islands while a gale blew itself out. So they would be stationary just a few hundred yards off shore from this place, Gleann na nDeor, and people would come down to that little glen where they could wave to their loved ones but not talk to them. So the name had immense resonances and told you an immense amount about the personal griefs behind the statistics of the famine. That was very typical of what was lost in the project of anglicization.

Regarding your first forays into mapmaking, you mention that you saw it for a while as a ‘making amends’. Could you elaborate on that? Yes, that really revolved around the cultural side of map-making, the placenames in particular. In many places they have been very carelessly recorded by the Ordnance Survey. (The first survey of the islands was made in 1839, and another one in 1889; they were at 6 inches to the mile and covered the island chain with about six big sheets.) I remember that in Inis Oírr I was very puzzled trying to match the local people’s account of the names of places along the south coast with what was on the map, until I realized what had happened. There was a whole sequence of bays along the south coast of the island that had got moved over one bay. So they were all wrong. They were in the right order, but in the wrong places. So there was that sort of carelessness. But then much more importantly there was the fact that they’d all been anglicized, and it was already clear to me, a mere beginner in the language, that the project of trying to imitate Irish word sounds in a phonetic system

There seems to be a certain pleasure taken in the subjectivity of your mapmaking. Where do you feel it sits between an art and a science?


I was approaching it from the point of view of an art form. I wasn’t interested in the sort of maps that had little drawings on them, pseudo-artistic styles or anything like that, but I wanted to use the maps as an expressive medium. I wanted them to engage you with the surface of the ground somehow, and to involve and delay you like thickets that you got into and that held you there. Most maps seem designed to help you get out of a place as fast as possible; I wanted these maps to draw you in and keep you there as long as possible.

apparently ‘departed grievously from the international norms of representing limestone’, which was a kind of brick pattern I wouldn’t have dead on my coffin. Could you describe your thinking behind the move from cartography to literary essays? I think I was really writing about Ireland from the very day we arrived there. It became a habit to write quite a lot in my diary. But I’d always done some writing. I’d written but not published a novel before then and some short stories and so on, and I tended, in my earlier days, to write very elaborate letters home. But for some reason I never quite focused on the fact that I really was a writer rather than anything else, until making a belated start at about 36 or so.

A lot of this depended on the style of drawing. There are all sorts of quick ways of putting a mechanical tint on an area in cartography or in diagram drawing. You can buy sheets of Letraset with patterns of dots and squiggles and so on, and stick them on. I wasn’t interested in doing that. These commercial products were all too mechanical and regular. So instead I was doing it all with a pen, all these minute dots to represent beaches and so on. And I enjoyed doing that. It was very laborious, it took days sometimes to just cover a corner, but I could do something that expressed my feeling about a certain beautiful shelving beach, say, like one I can remember that is shaped like an oval seashell and has a pearly sheen on it when the tide is out and leaves a huge expanse of sand to splodge over, with sand dunes round it. By dotting away very carefully I could get a delicate gradation of tint. On the map it was tiny, but if you look at it carefully under a lens, it’s beautiful. And then endless little jagged bits of line for the rugged shores; I wasn’t representing any particular rock formations but just giving the general idea of what a craggy shore this was to walk along. Or a mix of dots of two sizes to express what a sucky and muddy shore it was. I was able to invent symbols of my own for such qualities of the ground; I wanted to express what it was like to be there. The only academic criticism of the maps I ever heard was that I

Although the maps could do all sorts of things that maps don’t usually aim to do, they weren’t able to encompass the richness of what I was discovering in those places. One aspect that always interested me and always had done, I think, even in my earliest painting days, was the fact that the natural world is made up of countless tiny details, and yet there are these huge overarching forms that bring it all together. I was fascinated by the textures and the details and the names and so on, but also in the big things as well, the place’s relationship to the sun and moon and the cosmos behind that. Lots of the paintings I had done had fallen down on the attempt to try and convey these things together. On the maps I could do the detail, certain sorts of detail anyway, but couldn’t say much about these global forms, and I found I could do that in writing, because you can produce a book that has a very clear overall structure. The two volumes on Aran have that clear north/south, east/ west structure with excursions in either book between the two halves, and a preface to the first volume and a postscript to the second. So Stones of Aran had a balance of structure that held innumerable details in


place and left me plenty of room to move, quite suddenly, from the minutiae to some observation about the whole place’s relationship to space and time on a grander scale. It also had a sense of progression from east to west, a direction that is very important in Irish culture. I found much more scope for doing that in my writing, and by degrees writing took over from the maps. I’ve done these three maps, of the Aran Islands, the Burren and Connemara, and I wouldn’t be interested in doing another map unless I had some radically new ideas about mapping.

metaphorically, you can’t go on listing species and describing the way they jump and fly. So I just have a little passage in which each one of them is crying out to be noticed before I finish the book – “what about this? I am the unspotted form of the six-spotted burnet moth, this is how I fly, this is how I hop, this is how I jump.” So, yes, there’s this constant movement in the book between purely literary passages like that and factual writing. And I did try quite consciously to evolve a style flexible enough to move seamlessly from one to the other.

There is a preoccupation in the Stones of Aran books with the inconceivability of the job at hand, the failure of the book to adequately capture the islands. What prompted this?

Coastlines, margins, boundaries, borders, edges are a recurrent fascination for you, both materially in the landscape and more abstractly. Why do you think this is?

I think if the gambit is used very carefully and sparingly, to say that something is inexpressible can be very expressive about it. But the ground has to be prepared so that the reader is conned into seeing what is being expressed even through the claim that it is inexpressible. One aspect of the natural world that is strictly inexpressible is the totality and the richness of life forms. The density of perceptual experience in walking a landscape like that of Aran, poking into the bushes, looking down the crevices and looking over the cliffs – sometimes I’d feel in trying to write the book, or experience the place, that it is too much.

I used to think I always lived on the fold in the map, and I think that’s one of the reasons why our publishing firm became ‘Folding Landscapes’. A long time before I thought of doing anything with maps I’d been interested in some ideas about them – I haven’t ever been interested in the history of mapmaking or mapmaking techniques or anything like that – but the idea that we might use a map, marking out the itineraries you take, all starting from where you live, until that part of the map is worn out, that’s the bit of the world that you can’t see, that always gets lost and obliterated. I seem to have felt this as a feature of my mental life.

In one of the chapters towards the end of Labyrinth I write about the last time in the book when I go up to Na Craga, the craggy plateau along the spine of the big island, on a roasting hot day. It’s bursting with life; there are many butterflies, and caterpillars about to pupate and having tantrums in their too-tight skins. You could see it all happening, you could see the burnet moths hatching out and big golden chafers zooming to and fro – a very rich, an almost frighteningly weighty experience. Ultimately you can only represent that

Why did you never come to write books on the Burren? In a way I would like to write a book about the Burren, it would round off the project nicely. But if I did – and it remains a possibility – I think it would be very short and more literary than factual. I have the usual great stack of stuff concerning the placenames of the Burren and could very easily spend a year gathering more. I’d have to re-explore the archaeology, there’s


been quite a lot of discoveries made there since I last updated the map. But I couldn’t really undertake to go round the Burren again like I did when I was making the map all those years ago. I think it would kill me. And anyway if I did write about all that I would be repeating material from the other books. Anything like a complete account without obvious gaps in it would necessitate repeating a lot of what I’ve said about the Aran geology and the Aran flora, which might be a bit tedious. So I’ll only write about the Burren if I can come up with another mode of writing or of shaping a book.

I’d described a megalithic tomb on a hill near where we live and I very soon got a letter saying: ‘There’s something like that on my land, come and have a look at it.’ And, yes, it was another megalithic structure of some sort. All that was very exciting.

A lot of the research you were doing for the Connemara map you published in the Connacht Tribune before you put it in a book. Could you say a little about the thinking behind this decision and about the kind of response you got?

That does mean a lot to me and often enough it seems to be a correspondence between the mythological and geological aspects. Somewhere I use the phrase ‘we search for rhymes, between words in literature and between things in science.’ And science is like finding how things rhyme; Newton shows how sentences about apples falling relate or rhyme with sentences about the Moon going around the Earth or the Earth going around the Sun. He’s exploring a real physical correspondence, or discovering one. I like to find imaginary or literary correspondences I can use as a metaphor for the interconnection of all things, the concatenation of cause and effect through the cosmos down to tiny details of micro-geography and micro-history. Sometimes I do this quite fancifully, like in that passage about Wittgenstein who spent some time in Connemara and lived in a place where there’s a legend about the local saint’s struggle with the devil. The chain that the saint was being pulled away to Hell on produced this gash through the mountains. But on the other hand one can look at that same gash and say this is a fault, a fault-weakened zone that’s been excavated by a glacier, giving a geological explanation. And then you can go on to remember Wittgenstein’s mental struggles over his philosophical ideas, and imagine that, in some future or mythological recasting of the history of Connemara, people might get it all

Looking for correspondences and resonances between the materials that you write about has become something of a hallmark of your poetics, particularly in the Connemara books. What inspires this?

I’ve always had this pedagogical urge. As soon as I learn something I want to tell people about it. And it sometimes shows itself prematurely, before I’ve really absorbed and understood whatever I’m dealing with. But that habit did turn out to be a wonderful research tool because, as I moved around Connemara, I’d write up a little account of each townland, partly from library researches and partly from my own explorations of it and what I heard locally. I started publishing these in the local newspaper, the Connacht Tribune, and I was amazed by its penetration. I had no idea quite how much attention was being paid to the articles until, quite well into the process, I found that everyone was waiting for me to turn up, even in the most remote farmhouse up the valley. They were quite indignant that I hadn’t already called on them, and they’d have all their information on the tip of their tongue ready for me. I’d say in a sort of diffident way: ‘O I’m the man from Roundstone who’s making the map,’ and they’d immediately start: ‘Himself has a stone he wants to show you; and the name of that hill is such and such.’


muddled up and think it was Wittgenstein’s struggle with the devil of inaccurate speech-forms that caused this disruption of the landscape. But then I’m really just using that as a sort of hidden metaphor for the way that all sorts of different ways of looking at the ground are necessary, and they all necessarily rhyme because they’re all directed at the same thing in the end. There’s a sort of rationality about existence – what E.O. Wilson calls consilience – that forces correspondences between them.

What happened was an artist and curator called Simon Cutts – who used to run a little gallery shop down in the east end of London called ‘Workfortheeyetodo’ , but then moved to Ireland – was organizing an exhibition of works on vinyl, in Cork when it was European City of Culture. Apparently artists have used vinyl in all sorts of ways. And he suggested that I take the Aran map and blow it up and get it printed on a big sheet of vinyl and that we’d put it on the wall in this exhibition. I thought that this was a pretty boring idea actually, just a big map of the islands. But if we put it on the ground and let people walk on it, something interesting might happen. So that’s what we did, printed it on the sheet about 22ft long and about 15ft across. And it was big enough for you to walk along and see the house that you lived in or the road that you took and you could look over the cliff and read all the placenames and so on. It came up very clearly on that scale. So we invited people to walk on it, to write on it, to dance on it, to treat it as they saw fit. And so they did, kids skateboarded on it and some people wrote rather nice little reminiscences of their time on the island. Later on it acquired notes like ‘Here I wished I was kissing Jenny. Here I kissed Jenny for the first time’ and rather charming things like that. By the time it came back to us it was crumpled and dirty, but untorn. We decided to call it ‘A Distressed Map of the Aran Islands’.

Your atheism, or what you call your ‘passionate unbelief’, has been an issue of difficulty for some. How do you feel it has developed living in a landscape permeated by such a variety of faiths? Well in a way it hasn’t, because I think I’m a naive realist so far as theological questions go. For me there are certain entities that do exist and certain entities, including God, that don’t exist, for better or worse; that’s not up to us, that’s just part of the facts of the case as I see them, and I could be wrong. But it also seems to me that we’re missing something about the natural world and our natural relation to it by expending our religious emotions on non-existent entities. I think that religious emotion is extremely important, perhaps the most important aspect of human life, and most of it is misdirected, wasted in a way. So it seems to me anyway. So if there could be some sort of secular language, secular vision, secular ritual perhaps, directing that source of power in the human spirit towards the Earth and our relationship to it, and not just the Earth but the whole cosmos that contains it, that could perhaps be very much more enriching than the standard religious approach, which always tends to prise things apart into two layers, the physical and the spiritual.

But then, just last year, this extraordinary curator, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, phoned up out of the blue from the Serpentine Gallery in London and said that he was putting together a “map marathon”, which was to be a series of interviews with people who as artists or thinkers had worked with maps of some sort; would I take part, and so on. So we sent the Distressed Map across. By that time the exhibition had become too big to go into the Serpentine so it was moved to the Royal Geographic Society, one of these grand old Kensington buildings with portraits of Speed and

I read somewhere that your Aran map was used in something called the Vinyl Project. 10

Livingstone and all these heroes. It looks like an old fashioned gentleman’s club and it has a lovely map room, and the map of Aran fitted nicely into this room, between four pillars. Again we invited people to walk on it and dance on it. I remember one elderly gentleman dancing on it with a little girl while Hans-Ulrich was interviewing all the people who had taken part, including very interesting people such as Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist who produced that astounding work of 80 million porcelain sunflower seeds in the Tate Modern. So the Distressed Map of Aran came back with another layer of damage on it and a few interesting bits of graffiti, and we’ll continue exhibiting it now until it wears out. There’s a bit of magical thinking going on here: that maybe if it happens to the map it won’t happen to the islands. It certainly makes you think about what’s happening to the islands with 300,000 people visiting it a year. Finally, I have to ask, what do you think it is that drives the enormous scope of your interest, from the minutiae of Planck’s constant up to the scale of deep geological time and the cosmos? It seems very significant that we’re middle-sized entities between those two vast extremes. And if you abandon the transcendental aspect of things, if you abandon that relationship to theological transcendence, then you’re left clinging onto a place on a globe that’s tumbling through space and time. I’ve always had that sensation of the precariousness of all things. I can’t pin it down more exactly. Art can at least play at permanence. I like to think that sometimes I can write a sentence that stays written – but I know I delude myself.



“Home-grown Iliads”: Hermsprong and the Regional Novel

by Chris Ewers


1. The Regional Novel

effect of the “canon”. Sir Walter Scott thought it the best of Bage’s novels, but when he made his selections for his Ballantyne’s Novelist’s Library, a series which went a long way to cementing the tradition of the British novel, he included three lesser works, balking at including Hermsprong because he was alarmed by the writer’s politics and his treatment of gender matters (Scott xxix-xxxiii).

In June 1797 William Godwin, fresh from the success of Caleb Williams, made a detour in a summer holiday in order to meet Robert Bage. It may seem strange that Godwin, described two-and-a-half years earlier by a young Robert Southey as among “the three first men in England, perhaps the world” (qtd. in Graham 3) should feel the need to pay his respects to Bage, a Derbyshire paper-maker who wrote for William Lane’s downmarket Minerva Press, and whose reputation declined so quickly that by 1918 he was described as a “Forgotten Novelist” (Grabo). However, Godwin would have had a very different view of Bage; a writer who was a pioneer of the political novel, a radical who introduced a new seriousness into the form when it was suffering one of its lowest points in the 1780s, and whose work paved the way for the Jacobin writers of the 1790s such as Thomas Holcroft and Godwin himself. J.M.S. Tompkins argues that what Bage “brought to the novel was a great increase of intellectual content” (194) and a “refreshing solidity and inventiveness” (115), while Marilyn Butler notes the connection between the two men, stating that “probably only William Godwin and Robert Bage succeed in writing a Jacobin novel which quite deserves the name” (56). Bage had also just published a well-received work, Hermsprong; or, Man As He Is Not (1796).1

This has been a sad omission because Hermsprong has a claim to being the originator of a new subgenre, the regional novel, published four years before Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent (1800), which is usually regarded as the originator of the form. Ian Duncan states that “the regional novel is effectively invented by Maria Edgeworth in Castle Rackrent” (326), a view shared by Elizabeth Bohls (110) and Liz Bellamy (54), while K.D.M. Snell’s collection of essays on the regional novel pointedly starts in 1800. Maria Edgeworth also knew of Hermsprong; her father Richard Lovell Edgeworth read it in 1797 and praised it to his daughter in a letter (Butler, 76n), and it is Bage’s novel that first introduces the “special concentration on locale” that Christoph Bode and Jacqueline Labbe argue was a feature of the Romantic period and became the great achievement of the nineteenth-century novel (1). However, I am less interested in claiming a literary “first” for Bage than to argue that Hermsprong is significant because of what it suggests about the origins of the regional novel and the historical moment when the conditions for a new form came into being. Just as Godwin has to get out of his chaise and delay his journey in order to become acquainted with Bage, so too the regional novel is tied into a modified sense of mobility. In this case, it is a contrast between pedestrianism and coach travel, where walking is valorized as a way of connecting with a locale, rather than merely traversing it. Regions are places where speed of movement is usually treated

Godwin was much taken with Bage, spending “a most delightful day in his company” at Elford, a village in Staffordshire, and the meeting delayed his journey back (qtd. in Wardle 101). Mary Wollstonecraft, though not amused by her husband’s late return, said: “I did not wonder, but approved of your visit to Mr. Bage” (LMW 398), which is hardly surprising as she wrote one of the favourable reviews to Hermsprong (AR 6089). Sadly, posterity has been less kind in seeking out Bage, with Hermsprong an early victim of the limiting 14

“coming home” novel. While the eighteenth-century novel tends to celebrate an era of new transport links, dubbed an “age of peregrination” by the Critical Review in 1797 (qtd. in Bohls 97), by continually changing locations to move narrative forward, in Hermsprong there is a sense of contraction, a concentration on the politics of one village. There is in Hermsprong a new focus on what is British, just as James Lamounde grows tired of travelling in Europe in Bage’s fourth novel, James Wallace (1788), and says: “I am determined to begin to be wise, and the first steps to it are to return to England” (II, 47).

with suspicion (one thinks of the railway in George Eliot’s Middlemarch), partly because this tends to allow an incursion into the region from outside, and an acceleration of cultural change (making the region more like everywhere else). Areas that have functioned as regions in fiction—Cornwall, the Highlands, the Yorkshire moors—are often thought of as remote and “cut off”, but this casts as a lack what in Hermsprong is seen as a positive; regions and locales involve a radical reworking of mobility and the relations between the core and the “periphery”. It is ironic that Hermsprong should be consigned to the edges of literary studies, because it is a novel that celebrates the importance of the margins, reversing the usual pull exerted by London in the eighteenth century. While the main characters of Tom Jones (1749), Clarissa (1748) and Evelina (1778), for all their orbiting around the fringes, cannot avoid the city, the two main male protagonists in Hermsprong—the narrator Gregory Glen and the eponymous hero—choose to seek a life away from the hub of the country and fix on the fictional village of Grondale in Cornwall. The novel starts with Gregory Glen giving up on a life in London, and after that the city merits barely a backward glance.

It should be added that there are differences in quality and approach between Hermsprong and Castle Rackrent, and much depends on how one defines the regional novel.2 Edgeworth deals with the history of a landed Irish family in terminal decline, and much of the interest is in the vernacular language of the narrator and the revelation of a different order of living beyond the usual “mainland” norm. Hermsprong does not deal in “non-standard English” or evince much interest in local custom, and even the attempts at a particular locale are not completely convincing. Little is known about Bage, and whether he had any first-hand knowledge of the south-west is unclear. He told Godwin that he had rarely been in London for more than a week at a time, and very seldom traveled “more than fifty miles from his home” (qtd. in Wardle 102), and to depict a village called Grondale overlooked by a rock formation called Lippen Crag smacks more of his native Derbyshire. Any Cornish topography is also missing; the region’s separatist history, language issues and Celtic links are not touched on. However, as Bellamy admits, while the “regionalism” of Edgeworth and Sir Walter Scott is also tied in with ideas of nationalism and the issue of internal colonialism, Bage focuses purely on a region within a nation, and it is the politics of this connection

This movement towards the so-called periphery is all the more effective because it mirrors a shift in Bage’s own fiction. One of the most popular and highly rated novelists of the 1780s and 1790s, his previous five novels cover a wide geographical range, with The Fair Syrian (1787) involving events moving from America, France, Ireland, England and Turkey, while Man As He Is (1792) is based on the Grand Tour, with Tompkins noting that he liked “to trail his story through many lands” (204). In contrast, just as the hero swaps a wandering life around the Americas and Europe to settle in his father’s village, Hermsprong is Bage’s


he foregrounds, rather than “othering” Cornwall for a London audience.

and one of the attractions of Hermsprong is that almost every event, from models of courtship to antiquarian investigations, are viewed in political terms.

The real question, of course, is why the novel starts to focus on the regional at this moment. The staple sub-genres of the novel in this period; domestic fiction, gothic tales, city intrigues or journey texts such as Tom Jones, show little interest in describing a local community or placing their texts in a circumscribed locale. Yet this is exactly what Hermsprong does, and this is partly due to the way Britain starts to be mapped by the late eighteenth century, and partly because of the politics of the “regional” and the “provincial”. Geographers—and literary critics—have debated this relationship, questioning whether the regional implies a rejection of the core, or an escapist space of romance or nostalgia, or a backward place to be given a subaltern status. For Bage, the region has a positive political role as an alternative that is still connected to the centre and has the power to reconfigure the larger system.

The antagonism between Hermsprong and Lord Grondale is an obvious political contest, with the hero’s radical sympathies contrasted to the aristocrat’s insistence on absolute rule, but these politics saturate almost every part of the novel, with the battle also played out in geographic terms over how the village of Grondale is viewed in relation to other places. This is foregrounded early on in a dispute between Lord Grondale’s chief supporter, Dr. Blick, and Hermsprong, when the cleric sees the stranger ruminating over the remains of a “remarkable place which had much the appearance of an encampment” (22). This is only the second time Hermsprong appears in the novel, and must rank as one of the most unusual ways to start introducing a hero. Dr. Blick, who sees himself as a “profound antiquarian”, tells Hermsprong, “I presume you know this was once a Roman camp”, and shows off his knowledge by stating: “I can tell you exactly where were the stations of the volites, the hastati, the triarii, their centurions and tribunes”. Hermsprong replies: “I see, indeed, ground on which these things might have been, – nothing to indicate with certainty that they were,” and adds “I have seen many places of encampment like this; some where the Romans never were. But they shall all be Roman, to oblige you” (22).

2. An Alternative Landscape Bage’s Grondale is a specific community, with an aristocratic estate, a village, a public house and its environs all overseen by the despotic rule of Lord Grondale and his chief henchman, Reverend Dr. Blick. The schema of the novel is overtly political. Bage, writing in the revolutionary (and reactionary) atmosphere of the 1790s, contrasts the enlightened characters such as Hermsprong and Gregory Glen with the conservative figures such as Lord Grondale, Dr Blick and Sir Philip Chestrum. Hermsprong, a mysterious stranger with radical views, sets himself up in opposition to Lord Grondale and engages in a contest for the leadership, and the territory, of the village, as well as the mind and heart of the Lord’s daughter, Caroline Campinet. Gary Kelly has argued in The English Jacobin Novel that domestic fiction is politicized by the Jacobin novelists,

Hermspong’s questioning of the provenance of the earthworks would have surprised most of Dr. Blick’s fellow “experts”, with Stuart Piggott stating: “in the climate of antiquarian thought in the late eighteenth (and indeed the early nineteenth) century the ascription of the earthworks and encampments to a prehistoric rather than to a Roman past is sufficiently unusual to call for comment” (Piggott 25). Whether Hermsprong is thinking of an early encampment of Ancient Britons,


comparison, for Hermsprong, Grondale is a region, a self-defined area with it own boundaries which evokes a type of space where, as Annemarie Mol and John Law note, “objects are clustered together and boundaries are drawn around each cluster” (643). Rather than existing only in a relational frame of reference, a region has its own distinct character, and is according to the OED “the sphere or realm of something”.

or a post-Roman settlement, perhaps Anglo-Saxon, is impossible to tell. Hermsprong is certainly connected to the latter. Bage’s choice of name for his hero is something of a puzzle, but the reason may be that Hermsprong is meant to be the true inheritor of the landscape, an Anglo-Saxon with prior rights to the Norman invaders. The name, which is adopted by his father after he is exiled from Europe, is described as “monstrous Germanish” (28), and it is no accident that Hermsprong arrives in the country having travelled “from Saxony to England” (53). Anahid J. Nersessian suggests it “evokes the German word ursprung, meaning ‘origin’ or ‘birth’” (648). Certainly, for Hermsprong, the settlement has the sense of being a regional space, founded by a more or less indigenous and “original” people, rather than a conquering army.

Whether a space is a region or a province depends partly on its links to the rest of the country. Phyllis Bentley, one of the first critics to examine the regional novel, starts her discussion by insisting on the overriding importance of transport history. In England, where for millennia cities such as London and York have “had a basic human communication time of four or five days”, Bentley claimed regionalisms are likely because, “people living four days apart can grow very different in two thousand years” (8-9). Bage’s novel is set when the turnpike revolution was reaching its zenith. Delariviere Manley’s fatiguing Stagecoach Journey to Exeter (1726) took four to five days in 1694 (depending on Sunday travel), but by the 1790s the Mercury light-coach made the same journey in 32 hours, leaving Exeter at 4am and arriving in London by noon the following day. The regional novel starts at the exact historical moment when the gap in “human communication time” was being eradicated. The turnpike roads cut journey times by at least a half during the century and these improved links also help to produce a regional view: they make it easier to contrast outlying districts with the “centre”. John Barrell argues that it is only when localism is subjected to an exterior view that it can be defined; and at the moment of revelation, a pure “local” frame of reference becomes impossible (101).

The radical tendency to valorize a lost world of Ancient Britons with rights before they were subsumed by the Romans, or of Saxon liberties before the Norman yoke, is well documented (Schama, 16). Instead of Edmund Burke’s “old settled maxim, never entirely nor at once to depart from antiquity” (198), Hermsprong is rather aligned to the camp of John Thelwall, who believed “the understandings of mankind have so long been bound by the erroneous maxims of a too much reverenced antiquity” (qtd. in Claes 314). Radicals might praise the Roman Republic, but not the Roman Empire. As Hermsprong jokes after saving Caroline Campinet’s life: “I find myself higher than the Caesars, and the other slaughterers” (72). The debate about the encampment is, in a very real sense, a debate over the landscape of the past. In Dr. Blick’s eyes, the camp is an outpost of Empire, linked to the glory of Rome, where the village of Grondale has always been a province, a conquered territory (“province” is itself a Roman word describing any area outside of Italy under the city’s dominion). In

Modes of transport, like almost everything in Hermsprong, also have a political significance; the “good” and progressive characters such as Hermsprong


and Caroline Campinet prefer to walk, while the reactionary and morally inferior figures such as Lord Grondale, Dr. Blick and Sir Philip Chestrum travel everywhere by chaise or on horseback. At one point Hermsprong is walking with Caroline Campinet along the side of a road when his rival, Sir Philip, draws up in a carriage, tries to order Hermsprong to stop seeing Miss Campinet, and an altercation ensues. Sir Philip, separated from his coach by “a sawed and painted railing, which divided the carriage from the foot-road”, calls for assistance from his servants but before his footman can reach him, Hermsprong “lifted him gently over the rails” (153). The demarcation lines in the novel, between pedestrian and coach user, could not be clearer. Hermsprong is one the most extraordinary pedestrians in the history of literature. While Lord Grondale, who suffers from gout, is described as “hobbling along the terrace, aided by his two sticks” (74) and Dr Blick is seen “waddling two or three steps” (78), Hermsprong is able to stride “out of sight in an instant” (74). His conversation with his friend Gregory Glen over a projected longdistance trip is instructive:

deterministic, seeing the change as being dated quite specifically in the 1810s and 1820s when the new road surfaces of Thomas Telford and John Loudon McAdam helped create a national road network where travel was easy, fast and inexpensive, and destination was everything. In her view, walking became a popular option because it restored the sense of process that had been lost in a new, railway-like efficiency. Jarvis suggests the 1790s as the period when pedestrianism took hold, with radical pedestrians confronting what he describes as “the still dominant social assumptions about walking” (19). Hermsprong is thus very much in the vanguard of the new fashion for pedestrianism, choosing to walk at a time when, according to Jarvis, there was “a strong peer and class pressure to declare one’s status and income in the manner of one’s travelling” (28). The German clergyman Charles Philipp Moritz made a walking tour of England in 1782 and was surprised by his reception, stating: “A pedestrian seems in this country to be a sort of beast of passage – stared at, pitied, suspected and shunned by everybody who meets him” (109). That Hermsprong has travelled much, but on foot, is seen by Lord Grondale as “a very convincing proof […] of the strength of his purse” (75). Similarly, Dr. Blick is shocked at the idea that a man of good appearance had “trod much ground”:

‘Surely, Mr. Hermsprong, you cannot think of walking?’ ‘Oh, man of prejudice, why? In what other way can I travel with equal pleasure?’ […] ‘Your walks we perform in chaises.’ ‘I pity you for it.’ (93)

‘Trod, sir! – is that term proper? I presume you did not travel on foot?’ ‘Chiefly so, sir!’ ‘On foot, sir?’ ‘On foot.’ This was a circumstance that could not fail, in a mind like Dr. Blick’s, to abate something of the respect which the gentleman’s dress and manner might have produced. (22-3)

There has been a great deal of interest in pedestrianism in recent years, chiefly focusing on its effect on Romantic literature. This championing of a different kind of mobility has been analysed by Anne Wallace, Robin Jarvis and Rebecca Solnit. All three document and theorize this change, but arrive at different conclusions. For Solnit, it is an ideological shift. She states that the history of walking as a conscious cultural act starts with Rousseau in the 1770s and 1780s. Wallace is more


Events show that Hermsprong’s purse is, in fact, pretty deep. By choosing to walk, he is occluding his social status. Jarvis notes that, “there was an element of deliberate social nonconformism, of oppositionality, in the self-levelling expeditions of most early pedestrians” (27).

at that very moment. Godwin intercepted Bage, “got out of the chaise” and joined him on foot, finding “this six or seven miles was very fortunate, & contributed greatly to our acquaintance” (qtd. in Wardle 100). By contrast, when Hermsprong manages to discountenance Lord Grondale at church, his lordship’s reaction is exactly the opposite as he hurries from his pew, “not staying, as usual, to receive the bows of his humble tenants; and was in the coach some minutes before the ladies, who had some courtesies to perform” (93). The inside space of a stage-coach was described by Thomas De Quincey as a type of incarceration, a “coal-cellar in disguise” (5), and private coaches with their curtains and box-like interiors acted as a barrier to social mixing. Hermsprong first meets Caroline Campinet when he stops an out-of-control chaise from careering over a crag. Having saved her from the death of the “coachand-six” world, he then engineers a series of walks where their discourse brings them together.

Pedestrianism is also linked to radical thinking because it involves a degree of self-determination, rather than being forced to use the coaching network of main routes and set stops at inns. When the Monthly Magazine in 1798 championed walking as the “most independent and advantageous mode of travelling”, it added that, “it grieves one to see a man of taste at the mercy of a postilion’ (qtd. in Jarvis 12). A “mind like Dr. Blick’s” may be static, unable to be open to new ideas, but not Hermsprong’s, whose approach is closer to Jeffrey C. Robinson’s acute observation that “walking signifies the restlessness, negatively the uprootedness and political drivenness, more positively the mobility of the radical mind” (52).

3. The High Road and Actual Terrain

For the Jacobin writers of the 1790s, walking helped engender radical sympathies, setting travellers in a different relation to the world around them. In Gilbert Imlay’s The Emigrants the heroine chooses to follow on foot behind the wagons as her family journeys from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh because “here is a continual feast for the mind – every rock, every tree, every moss, from their novelty afford subject for contemplation and amusement” (25). In Bage’s first novel, Mount Henneth, Mr. Foston has to undergo an enforced fiveweek barefoot march to Calcutta in order to escape from a mutiny. It turns out to be his road to Damascus as he learns to see “a thousand wants” and sympathises with the people around him, rather than to rush by and “cast a transient glance at misery” (I, 220-1).

Pedestrianism also involves a different way of mapping the locale. To travel by coach in the eighteenth century meant to be hemmed in by the gates and fences of the turnpike roads. These toll-roads served main routes, and were designed for important links between towns, with Paul Hindle estimating: “At their zenith, turnpikes accounted for almost one-fifth of the total length of public highways, principally the major, heavily-used routes” (100). The turnpike network altered topographies, bypassing towns and villages that were not on the new road map. Sir John Hawkins remarked in 1763 that, “very little of the Concern which has of late been shewn about the Roads in general, has been directed to those which lead from Parish to Parish […] The Invention of Turnpikes is manifestly calculated for great Roads” (2). William Marshall, writing a survey of the West Country in

When Godwin sought out Bage in 1797 at his paper mill, he was told the novelist walked there three times a week from his home in Tamworth, and would be on his way


the same year Hermsprong was published, illustrates this emphasis on roads between towns and the move away from the “open”, “rough” and “dangerous” way of travelling before the turnpikes:

stop on the moors 12 miles from Bodmin on the road to Launceston, is a classic example, sited at “a wild and lonely spot” (8). The turnpikes create a “high” road that can be removed from its locale. In Cornwall this was often a physical fact, with roads routed along upper ground to reduce the problem of muddy surfaces and unsafe terrain. Robert Fraser, making a general trip around Cornwall in 1794, found he was restricted to a removed, bird’seye view of the landscape because of the geography of the roads:

The roads are of stone, and in some parts extremely well kept […] Toll Roads are now formed between most or all of the market towns. The Roads of Cornwall were, formerly, very rough and dangerous; especially across the open heaths, among the Mines. (II, 25)

The higher grounds exhibit, in many parts, the appearance of a dreary waste. The roads of communication with the neighbouring country pass chiefly through these higher grounds, or large and extensive commons, and exhibit to the traveller a rude prospect which impresses him with a more unfavourable opinion of this country than it in general deserves. For although the higher lands have little to please the eye, the number and variety of beautiful and well wooded vallies, left me only to regret that the season in which I visited them did not allow me to enjoy their beauty in full perfection. (13)

Turnpikes made it possible to travel in the country through a type of enclosed corridor, without having to engage with the landscape. The routes of turnpikes accentuated this sense of isolation; those built on Roman roads and new routes that were not overlaid on pre-existing roads would pass through otherwise “empty” landscape. W. G. Hoskins states that on routes that followed the great Roman roads, inns were crucial because there were often no signs of habitation for miles on end, the Anglo-Saxons quite sensibly founding their villages out of sight of the roads as a safety measure (239). Hoskins adds that the turnpikes had a similar effect: These new roads may often be recognised by the fact that they run for miles without passing through a village, or indeed much habitation at all apart from their own tollhouses […] and an inn or two attracted to the roadside by the prospect of traffic. (244)

Lord Grondale also fails to connect with the valley of the Gron because he travels along “the high road” (116). At the time of the novel he is marooned by gout, but before that we are told he joined the regular aristocratic shuttling to London for a life dedicated to amours and politics, as well as the usual forays to Newmarket and the other racetracks. It is a limited itinerary, and allies him to the modern young aristocratic “buck”, satirized by Caroline Campinet’s friend Miss Fluart as “an animal which bounds over all fences; breakfasts in London; dines at Newmarket” (87). Hermsprong, by

This can sometimes be seen in isolated stretches of modern roads, where a grand pub appears to be sited with no other settlement nearby, except perhaps the old outbuildings of a stables or a smithy. The Jamaica Inn made famous by Daphne Du Maurier, providing a


associated with the edicts of the French kings, and absolutist rule, suggests in a post-1789 society that Grondale was already a man of the past (258).

contrast, is a traveller who has ranged across America and the Continent and is now settling on one village, on a home, rather than racing from place to place. His pedestrianism creates a new type of connection with this locale. When rioting miners threaten to march on Lord Grondale’s house (he is, of course, an exploitative mine owner), he prepares to flee for London by coach. Hermsprong travels in the opposite direction, deeper into Cornwall on foot, to meet the miners (219).

4. The Provenance of the Regional Novel The turnpikes, with their grid of main routes, functioned as grooves of power, delivering information and reducing differences within the nation. Joseph Baretti, travelling by stage-coach through the West Country in the late 1760s, was surprised by how the turnpikes had driven out local dialect:

The division between Lord Grondale and Hermsprong is reminiscent of Pierre Bourdieu’s contrast between the abstract mapping of “geometrical space” and the experience of individuals, which tends to be at ground level. The rationalisations of a map are imposed from above—just as Lord Grondale tries to impose his will— unlike “the network of beaten tracks, of paths made ever more practicable by constant use”, a type of space that is “more like actual terrain” and neatly defines Hermsprong’s mobility in the novel (Bourdieu 37-8). Compared to Hermsprong, whose name in the village and beyond becomes a byword for humanity as a result of his meetings with people on foot, Lord Grondale uses a telescope to survey the landscape (20), and employs spies and intermediaries to tell him what is happening. To view the world in this way is associated with absolute rule, and with a lack of connection with actual terrain:

I expected to be much puzzled in many parts by variation of speech. But I have found that the same language is very nearly spoken all along the road. The very speech of Falmouth is so like that of London, as not to give me the least trouble. (31) It should be noted that this flattening out of differences is centred on the turnpike corridor, that dialect disappears “all along the road”. Henri Lefebvre argues capitalism enshrines “the economic wish to impose the traits and criteria of interchangeability upon places. The result is that places are deprived of their specificity – or even abolished” (343). These lines of power become “modern”, allied to the hegemonic national culture, while anything off the grid is backward, a place living in the past. However, this also has the effect of enabling a different type of space to be described, and a new subject for the novel, that of the region, comes into view. In Hermsprong, this emergent geography is couched in political, oppositional terms, with Walter Allen claiming that it is “with Bage the class-war enters fiction” (97). When it is revealed Hermsprong is in fact the rightful owner of Lord Grondale’s land, being the son of his unjustly dispossessed elder brother, the

As Lord Grondale travelled generally, like most great men, upon the high road of je le veux – Tel est mon plaisir, – it was expedient for him to know if there were people about him who durst assist his daughter in disobeying the orders he had honoured her with. (116) Lord Grondale’s way is a road that rides roughshod over anyone else’s: “I wish it – such is my pleasure”. That the phrase “je le veux – Tel est mon plaisir” was


last line makes clear that he takes over not as a type of fortune-hunter after marrying Caroline Campinet, but thanks to a “remitter”. The “remitter” is a legal term signifying that his ownership is based on a more valid earlier claim, just as Hermsprong’s “saxon” name suggests he is the rightful heir of the land, and that the Norman aristocracy are the usurpers (248).

the nation, as a landscape based on old freedoms, not usurping empires or rotten boroughs. George Saintsbury, though no fan of Hermspong, felt that Bage “has never quite had his due” (164), and it is a novel that, since Godwin’s time, has yet to find its place on the literary map. Bage certainly hoped that the novel could alter the cultural landscape of the nation. Lippen Crag, we are told, is not “classic yet”, but may become so if it is made the subject of “a home-grown Iliad” (99). That Hermsprong should predict the home-grown epics that were to come, from Waverley (1814) to Wuthering Heights (1847), is just another reason that Bage, as Godwin well knew, was of central importance and, just like the regional novel he invented, intimately connected to the core of the nation, despite inhabiting an out-of-the-way place.

And this is, right from the outset, the true inheritance of the regional novel; an oppositionality that aims to redefine the province and the networks insisted on by core/periphery and the power of London for much of the eighteenth century. It is not so much a view from below, but a view from a ground level compared to the bird’s-eye view and abstract mapping of an imperial, metropolitan or colonial mindset. David James has argued the regional novel has at times been in danger of becoming “an inherently conservative genre: at best, relevant to indigenous issues and local upheavals alone, at worst, tacitly reviving a host of purely recessive demands” (426). Bage’s Cornwall, by contrast, suggests an inherently radical element to the regional, which by its very difference envisages a modification or transformation of the centre, rather than a subjection to it.


The village of Grondale, described early on as “not known to the universe” (1), also expands its territorial importance. Hermsprong is spied on (219), forced to endure a show-trial (220) and accused of sedition at a time when the trial of Thelwall and members of the Corresponding Society in 1794 was still a point of controversy. Stuart Tave suggests Bage set the novel in Cornwall because it “was the most notoriously overrepresented county in the unreformed Parliament and its saleable boroughs a centre of corruption and of Crown influence” (3). This “peripheral” place has implications for the country as a whole, arguing a different provenance for the village, the region and



y doctoral supervisor at King’s College London, Clare Brant, M encouraged and helped to guide this approach to Hermsprong, while my MA tutor Joanna Gondris gave support and advice on studying pedestrianism in the novel. To both I owe a debt of thanks.


For a discussion on definitions of the regional novel and for the problems of theorizing regional writing, see Ralph Pite, Hardy’s Geography, 60.


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Olive Schreiner’s Spatial Narratives: Resisting Patriarchy and Empire From the Margins

by Dominic Davies


This article’s aim is to emphasize the importance of Olive Schreiner’s only completed novel, The Story of an African Farm (1883), as a textual intervention that disrupts and resists the prescribed totality of a eurocentric literary and colonial historiography. The novel’s engagement with a plethora of highly contested cultural and political issues has led some critics to classify it as “a kind of Southern exotic or literary platypus whose ungainly combination of parts and functions seems to flummox both classification and periodization” (Esty 407). However, the novel’s contestation of the dominant metropolitan discourses of the period—from religious and evolutionary debates to issues of race, gender, and imperialism—lends it a political charge that transforms Schreiner’s text into a poignant critique of what Jean-François Lyotard would call the “grand narratives” of a progressive western historiography (Lyotard xxiii). The metanarratives of which The Story of an African Farm is constructed—the title itself draws attention to the novel’s fictionality—introduce spaces of discursive unraveling that complicate and question the ideological confidence of the issues that it tackles. These spaces are embedded for Schreiner, I shall argue, within the physical and conceptual space of the Southern African landscape. Schreiner’s preoccupation with the marginal space of the African ‘veld’ enables a critique of patriarchal and imperialist discourses, paving the way for later literary texts that, where Schreiner’s novel had to acknowledge the limitations of its metropolitan readership’s ideological biases, would be taken up by other writers in a range of directly resistant ways in the fraught political zone of twentieth-century South Africa.

have—but from its systematic assimilation of an uneven and markedly colonial temporality into its plot structure, characterization, and figurative language”. He builds on this assertion to argue that it is the novel’s “awkward temporal scheme” that “challenges the formal dictates of the Goethean bildungsroman (with that genre’s conventional sense of teleological and masculinist destiny)” (408). I want to extend Esty’s assertion that African Farm invokes, complicates, then subverts the bildungsroman—a genre driven by a linear progression that fueled a distinctly patriarchal imperialist discourse—to argue that Schreiner selfconsciously engages with and dislodges a broader Western literary tradition, embodied for her within the narrative conventions of the nineteenth-century realist novel and signified metonymically in the figure of Shakespeare. Furthermore, where Esty dismisses the “political” to avoid tackling Schreiner’s “hopelessly mixed” ideological agendas, by drawing on Fredric Jameson’s theory of the “political unconscious”, I argue that the “rifts and discontinuities” of African Farm’s narrative embody anxieties that reflect the “shift” in the “socio-economic realities” of Southern Africa during this period of high imperialism (Jameson 5, 41; Roberts 81). Understanding the novel’s inconsistent ideological engagement in this way enables a re-interpretation of the text as intensely political: its textual silences, the “gaps and absences” that emerge from within the Southern African landscape of its geographical setting, are made explicit by its meta-narratological construction and operate as narrative spaces in which, to draw on another Marxist critic, Pierre Macherey, “the presence of ideology can be most positively felt” (Macherey 84; Eagleton 32).

In his discussion of African Farm, Jed Esty brackets “the question of political intention”, arguing that the novel’s “remarkable force stems [...] not from Schreiner’s avowed views—hopelessly mixed and impossible to correlate definitively to the book we

Grounding Meta-narrative: Landscape and Silence J.M. Coetzee has drawn attention to the “silences” that are scattered throughout the twentieth-century “South


African farm novel”, arguing that the genre’s “truth lies in what it dare not say for the sake of its own safety, or in what it does not know about itself: in its silences” (81). It is significant, then, that as the founding novel of this genre, Schreiner’s African Farm employs a series of meta-narratological techniques to draw her reader’s attention to these silences, transforming the implicit into the explicit. This is intensified when we consider that the novel writes the apparently ‘silent’ or ‘empty’ cultural and geographic colonial space into the buzzing intellectual heart of the British Empire. Though writing the main body of her novel as a governess in South Africa in the late 1870s, Schreiner moved to London in 1881 where she remained for several years, and where African Farm was first published in 1883. This “spatial disjunction”, to use Jameson’s term, between metropole and periphery enables the novel to produce a sustained critical reflection upon the various discourses that it engages with, dislodging and deconstructing Victorian grand narratives of patriarchy and empire (Eagleton, Jameson, Said 51). It is for this reason that I combine my reading of Schreiner’s meta-narratives with a discussion of the landscape she represents: the self-conscious aspects of her narrative style highlight its own fragility and unsuitability, the landscape remaining “alien, impenetrable”, without a “language [...] in which to win it, speak it [or] represent it” (Coetzee 7).

undertones of Coetzee’s terminology—the terrain. This stylistic shift exposes the inadequacy of eurocentric narrative conventions to render the landscape both knowable and penetrable, a subversion that is itself possible because of the discursive space that the landscape generates. Indeed, ‘Times and Seasons’ begins with Schreiner’s male protagonist, Waldo— who is, as Carolyn Burdett has noted, “frequently represented as lying or squatting close to the ground” (41)—lying “on his stomach on the sand”, before the linear narrative is broken down as it becomes split into short, chronologically numbered segments. Many of these segments begin with statements such as “And then a new time rises”, “Then a new time comes”, “Then a new time”, “Then at last a new time” (139, 140, 145, 148). This constant ‘starting again’ disrupts the novel’s teleological development, with all that has gone before erased with the arrival of each new segment. This chapter ends with the following sentence: And so, it comes to pass at last, that whereas the sky was at first a small blue rag stretched out over us, and so low that our hands might touch it, pressing down on us, it raises itself into an immeasurable blue arch over our heads, and we begin to live again. (154) The narrative draws attention to its own ability to convey, through the spatial disjunction of its form, a more accurate depiction of the expanse of the South African landscape. Schreiner explicitly ties this shift in narrative style to a feeling of subversive liberation. The imperial connotations of the eurocentric narrative tradition—“pressing down on us”—are evoked and resisted. After the disruption of this teleological progression, the landscape is now “immeasurable”, beyond the regulatory narrative structures of the eurocentric tradition. The text produces a discursive space that is embedded within the colonial landscape and from which, as this article will demonstrate,

The novel’s two central chapters, ‘Times and Seasons’ and ‘Waldo’s Stranger’, exhibit a shift away from the teleological development of the plot in a spatial rupture that alters the generic framework of the narrative (13770). These chapters’ exploration of alternative narrative techniques evoke an attempt to portray the South African landscape within the ‘grand narrative’ tradition of eurocentric realism. However, the allegorical mode that is adopted exhibits a willed failure to fully capture—‘to win’, to draw on the imperialist


resistance to metropolitan discourses of patriarchy and empire can emerge.

and meta-narrative begins in the novel’s opening paragraph: “The full African moon poured down its light from the blue sky into the wide, lonely plain” (47). Our eyes are immediately drawn by the light of the moon to the broad landscape: the “solemn monotony of the plain”, flat and two dimensional, is “broken” by the three dimensional “stunted ‘karoo’ bushes, the low hills [...] the milk-bushes [and] the small solitary ‘kopje’”. The moonlight, like the narrative, reveals the scene to us, framing these objects in an “oppressive beauty”: even at this early stage in the text, the narrative explicitly draws attention to the oppressive nature of its own attempt to constrain the geographical expanse into the linearity of a eurocentric realist narrative. Just a few pages later, Lyndall, the novel’s heroine, sits “on the floor threading beads”: when asked by her cousin, Em, why her beads never fall off her needle, she replies, “I try [...] That is why” (50). Located, like Waldo, close to the ground, Schreiner’s female protagonist enacts a metaphor that alludes to the “thread” of the novel’s narrative which, if an eye is not kept on its “sequential ordering”, can be lost. As the narratologist Mieke Bal explains, the very effort to “thread” a narrative’s sequences together “forces one to reflect [...] on other elements and aspects”; it is “literary narrative’s way of achieving a density that is akin to the simultaneity often claimed for visual images as distinct from literature” (82). The narrative’s attempt to register the expansive space of the ‘veld’ once again results in the production of a text that gestures towards discursive sites lying beyond the oppressive linear form of European realism. By selfconsciously drawing attention to the process of its own construction, African Farm exposes what Macherey would describe as the “imagined” or “fictive” nature of the “order” that it attempts to produce (155). This fictitious “order” is bound up with the patriarchal and imperialist ideological structures that, as we shall now see, Schreiner’s novel goes on to resist.

This evocation of and resistance to eurocentric narrative modes finds articulation in the broader motions of the plot. African Farm is split into two parts: the first is largely realist in its narrative form as it charts the early life of its child protagonists. In this first section, the farm that is the setting of almost the entire novel is allegorically invaded by a comic villain called Bonaparte Blenkins, whose name references a broader imperial and historical context: the eurocentricity of Lyndall’s hyperbolic discussion of Napoleon Bonaparte—“all the people in the world feared him”—draws these imperial undertones to the fore (Schreiner 58). In the second part, as we have started to explore, the conventional narrative style breaks down and fragments. After the two intensely allegorical chapters that centre around the landscape, the novel returns to a plot that nevertheless becomes disjointed and anti-chronological. In this latter half, Schreiner takes up the rich symbolic currency that pervades the first in a move that creates a selfreferential textual, and spatial, web that denies the reader a sense of finality or conclusion. After invoking the tradition of the realist novel’s narrative style—a tradition founded on its confidence in the ability of literature to represent a totalized and complete vision of “the world as it is” (Morris 9)—Schreiner dismembers this ideological illusion through allusion to the violence of a profit-driven colonialism and the oppression and dispossession of the native Africans. This allusion is made through the text’s formal deconstruction of the then dominant and distinctly eurocentric literary genre, as it self-consciously acknowledges its own inability to convey a complete depiction of the colonial landscape and its peoples. Despite the evocations of a European realist tradition in Part I, Schreiner’s engagement with landscape 30

Deconstructing Imperialism: The Silence of the Colonized

Though silent, the discursive impact of this moment is acutely political in its invocation of the socioeconomic realities and colonial violence to which it alludes. Bart Moore-Gilbert has gone so far as to liken this moment in which Waldo ‘reads’ the physical landscape to the work of the Subaltern Studies Group, as he searches for “signs of the increasingly occluded ‘Bushman’ histories” inscribed within its contours. The political impact of this moment is foregrounded when we further consider Moore-Gilbert’s point that Schreiner’s novel appeared at a time when Southern Africa “was being rapidly transformed by new forms of colonial exploitation” (96).

For the colonizer, narrative becomes a way of “mastering, looking from above, dividing up and controlling” geographical space, a process that “ignores [...] the density of its lived-in quality”; in this case, the native Africans that “lived in” the land prior to colonial occupation (Bal 147). As Bal argues, it is by “providing a landscape with a history” that memory is spatialized, a process that “undoes the killing of space as lived” (147-8). Schreiner gives the landscape this history fewer than ten pages into the novel, when she describes “some Bushmen-paintings” whose “red and black pigments” have “been preserved through long years” (55). Deborah Shapple has pointed out that these paintings allude to “a suppressed precolonial history” whilst simultaneously denying “their creators or ancestral interpreters [...] access to the present narrative moment” (113). However, though the native Bushmen are reduced to what Macherey would describe as an “eloquent silence”, the text simultaneously “reveals” this “absence” by drawing attention to the ideological limitations of a narrative tradition complicit in a project of colonization (79).

African Farm is set somewhere between 1858 and 1868, a period that “teeters on the edge of South Africa’s political and industrial transformation” and the “commercial development” that was triggered by the discovery of the diamond mines in Kimberley in 1869 (Monsman 48-9). As Burdett has shown, “Lyndall’s dream of wearing diamonds in her hair alerts us to Schreiner’s own historical advantage” in her knowledge that, by the 1870s, much of the Southern African landscape will have been transformed by the invasion of venture capitalists seeking profitable resource extraction (42). This transformation was compounded by the discovery of gold in the Transvaal in 1882, and becomes a central preoccupation of Schreiner’s later political and literary writings. The pseudonym under which Schreiner first published the novel, Ralph Iron, itself alludes to this process of resource extraction and also reinforces the centrality of the African landscape. Ralph, when combined with the names of Schreiner’s characters, Waldo and Em, references the American landscape philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose influence on Schreiner pervades African Farm’s allegorical and philosophical tangents. But as Gerald Monsman argues, within the context of South African gold and diamonds,

This is made clear when Waldo, just a few pages later, gives voice to this silence in a speech-act that interrupts Lyndall’s reflections on Napoleon Bonaparte’s imperial ambitions. Whereas for Lyndall, Napoleon, acting here as a metonym for imperial expansion, is “the greatest man who ever lived”, Waldo is more interested in the “Physical geography” of the kopje on which they sit, and interrupts her: “‘If they could talk, if they could tell us now!’” he says, as he moves his hand over the surrounding rocks (58, 60). Schreiner’s narrative allegorically dislodges Lyndall’s account of Napoleonic imperialism by introducing a segment of geographical space upon which the voiceless histories of the dispossessed are inscribed. 31

Schreiner’s pseudonym also references the iron that is embedded within the “ironstones of the kopjes”. This reference highlights Schreiner’s underlying “narration of the fall from pastoralism into the new mercantilism” and industrialism that fueled a transnational and profit-oriented imperialism (Monsman 79-81).

[...] ‘of encounters with ravening lions, and hairbreadth escapes’” (41). The most obvious contemporaneous example of the sort of narrative this critic demands would be the adventure fiction of H. Rider Haggard, whose novels chart the uninterrupted linear progression of male imperial figures into unknown colonial territories, and who often emerge from the alien environment having successfully stolen the treasures buried within it. But Schreiner rejects the criticism, claiming that “[s]uch works are best written in Piccadilly or in the Strand: there the gifts of the creative imagination, untrammelled by contact with any fact, may spread their wings”. Schreiner’s direct experience of the Southern African environment and the realities of a violent colonialism makes genres such as the imperial romance or the realist novel unsuitable narrative conventions in which to “paint the scenes”, she tells us, “in which” she “has grown” (42). She describes these traditional narrative patterns in her ‘Preface’ as “the stage method”:

However, despite this historical hindsight, Schreiner’s African Farm remains set in “a resolutely unmodern context” (Burdett 19), or what Esty calls an “underdeveloped zone”. He likens African Farm’s colonial environment to the settings of Conrad’s Lord Jim (1900), Woolf’s The Voyage Out (1915), and Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), all of which employ a similar “geographical frame” that complements their experimental narrative form as they work to resist “the ‘tyranny of the plot’” (411). But Schreiner’s meta-narratological construction runs against the grain of a realist narrative tradition nearly two decades before the first of these canonized modernist authors, thus complicating the linear chronology of a simple literary historiography. By embedding her experimental narrative form within the Southern African landscape, Schreiner exposes, as Esty has further argued, the “structuring contradiction between the progressive imperial ethos of worldwide modernization and the stubborn facts of uneven or under-development in the colonial periphery” (423). This argument can be taken further: the ”spatial disjunction” enabled by the novel’s, and Schreiner’s, colonial setting enables her to engage self-consciously with a number of metropolitan discourses whilst simultaneously subverting and deconstructing them, thus making space for an intensely political critique of the various ideologies that fueled imperialism.

each character is duly marshalled at first, and ticketed; we know with an immutable certainty that at the right crises each one will reappear and act his part, and, when the curtain falls, all will stand before it bowing. (41) Schreiner rejects this inherited, and distinctly European narrative model for “another method”, the method of life we all lead. Here nothing can be prophesied. There is a strange coming and going of feet. Men appear, act and re-act upon each other, and pass away. When the crisis comes the man who would fit it does not return. When the curtain falls no one is ready. (41)

In the ‘Preface to the Second Edition’ of her novel, Schreiner acknowledges “a kind critic” of African Farm, who says “that he would better have liked the little book if it had been a history of wild adventure;

In justifying her departure from a European literary tradition we find Schreiner re-writing Macbeth’s


famous words,

throughout the twentieth century in the work of many, now canonical, postcolonial authors, such as Chinua Achebe and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. But Schreiner remains on the periphery of even this accepted literary historiography. Her text, extraordinarily ahead of its time, refuses to be incorporated into these grand narrative traditions. However, rather than calling for the insertion of Schreiner’s novel into a postcolonial canon, this article argues that it is perhaps more appropriate to understand her text as what Barbara Harlow has called ‘Resistance Literature’. These texts offer, within their narratives, “a more developed historical analysis of the circumstances of economic, political, and cultural domination”, acting as “immediate interventions into the historical record, attempting to produce and impart new historical facts and analyses” (78, 116). The power of Schreiner’s novel is its repeated resistance to definition: that a genre is yet to emerge into which it can be comfortably slotted is a testament to her political radicalism and her ability to convey this within an experimental, and distinctly spatial, narrative style.

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. (5.5.24-6) Schreiner’s invocation of Shakespeare draws us forward to the novel’s climactic scene when Lyndall, on her deathbed, rejects a book with a linear narrative: ‘Will you open the window,’ she said, almost querulously, ‘and throw this book out? It is so utterly foolish. I thought it was a valuable book; but the words are merely strung together, they make no sense.’ [...] Then she turned to read, and leaned her little elbows resolutely on the great volume, and knit her brows. This was Shakespeare—it must mean something. (262) The words, “merely strung together”, suggest a linear and constrained narrowness that Lyndall, in a fictional enactment of Schreiner’s professed rejection, literally throws out of the window. In this moment, however, we are reminded of Lyndall’s first appearance when she sits “on the floor threading beads”: the self-referential web of Schreiner’s text throws the reader back and forth within its own narrative, rejecting any progressive or chronological development by moving spatially within itself, and beyond to a Western literary tradition that is here embodied for Schreiner within the work of Shakespeare. In 1850, Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose influence on African Farm has already been noted, observed that Shakespeare “wrote the text of modern life; [...] he drew the man of England and Europe”. We might consider Schreiner’s invocation of the great playwright as both a conscious acknowledgement and rejection of a broader, and as we shall see, distinctly male, European literary tradition. This invocation and subversion of Western narrative style reverberates

From Racism to Patriarchy: Critiquing Metropolitan Discourses Even Coetzee, who includes The Story of an African Farm within the category of “the South African farm novel”, portrays Schreiner as the “great antipastoral writer” (4). Nicole Devarenne has demonstrated how later farm novels “would develop, by the 1930s, into an ideologically important genre justifying colonial subjugation and white supremacist claims to Afrikaner ownership of the land” (627). But for Coetzee, Schreiner’s portrayal of the “idleness of life on her late nineteenth-century farm” actually “underscores the centrality of the question of labour in the South African pastoral” (4). Who does the manual labour on the farm? The native Africans, whose “chief labour” in


he gets home. He has a right to; he bought her for two oxen. (219)

the novel, as Anne McClintock has demonstrated, “is to perform boundary work. They stand at thresholds, windows and walls, opening and shutting doors” (268). In Chapter VIII, entitled ‘The Kopje’—a naming that reiterates the novel’s centralization of the veld’s topography—Lyndall draws attention to “a Kaffir”, “a splendid fellow—six feet high, with a magnificent pair of legs” (219). In this textual moment, Lyndall conflates a critique of patriarchal and racist ideologies to reject the “new man, Gregory Rose”, who is himself directly affiliated with, and symbolic of, the dominant metropolitan discourses Schreiner is concerned with: Gregory’s “one tiny room” is “profusely covered with prints cut from the Illustrated London News” (171) and, as Lyndall turns to converse with him in this scene, she closes “her book” and folds “her hands on it” (219). Here, Lyndall once again enacts Schreiner’s own engagement with metropolitan discourses and their grand narratives whilst, in the moment of her speech-act, explicitly rejecting them in anticipation of the climactic scene addressed above. By drawing Gregory’s attention to the Kaffir who is, she claims, “the most interesting and intelligent thing I can see just now”, she shows her own affinity with a subjected native African population in the face of a distinctly patriarchal and imperialist figure (219). However, Schreiner’s critique of imperialism is compromised by Lyndall’s inability to extricate herself entirely from racist discourses: Doss, Lyndall’s dog, is, she considers, more intelligent than both the Kaffir and Gregory, and though the native African is acknowledged, at no point throughout the novel are these figures given an explicit agency or voice. But these traces of racism are complicated by Lyndall’s anti-patriarchalism, as it is here bound up with a critique of the native African’s own male-dominated social structures:

Lyndall’s spatial movement between these grand narratives of imperialism—patriarchy and racism— complicates their unidimensional linearity, enabling interstices to emerge that the novel repeatedly grounds in the geographical arena of the Southern African landscape. Siding ultimately, then, with the female native African, Lyndall confounds her white male interlocutor who, “not quite sure how to take these remarks [...] half laughed and half not, to be on the safe side” (220). Gregory’s uncertainty in the face of these socioeconomic realities reveals the inadequacy of the grand narratives that legitimize his colonial presence. Lyndall subverts his ideological confidence, deconstructing his belief in the ability of the narratives written “in Piccadilly or in the Strand”—and that he has pasted all over the walls of his African home—to represent accurately the colonial situation. Lyndall functions, throughout African Farm, as both critic and victim of the patriarchalism emanating from the metropolitan centre. Her location on the geographic and discursive periphery of a eurocentric textual web enables her to exist beyond, and thus identify, the prescriptive determinism of patriarchal ideologies. This spatial disjunction is translated into her self-conscious reflections on her own identity formation, and can best be understood through an application of Jacques Lacan’s ‘mirror stage’. Lacan describes this stage as the point at which the self enters into the “symbolic order”, when “the ‘I’ who speaks” is separated from the “‘I’ who is represented in the utterance” (Belsey 78; Rivkin and Ryan 178-90). Lyndall develops an awareness of this split—configured within the spatial make-up of her character—that enables the production of a site of resistance to ideologies of male domination in a striking anticipation of future feminist discourses. The narrative critiques, to return to the terminology

he is going to fetch his rations, and I suppose to kick his wife with his beautiful legs when


of Schreiner’s preface, the “poor player” with which Lyndall has been “ticketed”. It does this through further intertextual assimilation, and spatial disruption, of Shakespearean discourse, both drawing on and distancing itself from a European literary tradition and the ideologies embedded within it.

the mechanics of their construction and their societal function. When Lyndall looks into a “glass”, again referencing the actions of Shakespeare’s Richard II, she directly addresses the woman she sees before her— the character, configured in terms of its externality, with which the novel’s European male figures have identified her. However, her ability to reflect selfconsciously upon this character demonstrates that there are aspects of her selfhood that exist beyond it, aspects that cannot be assimilated into the patriarchal prescriptions of eurocentric grand narratives:

Towards the end of the novel, Schreiner’s description of Lyndall’s “face” upon which “pain and time” have traced “deep lines” (230) recalls Shakespeare’s Richard II. The king laments, “Hath sorrow struck/So many blows upon this face of mine”, asking,

She sat down at the dressing-table to wait, and leaned her elbows on it, and buried her face in her hands. The glass reflected the little brown head with its even parting, and tiny hands on which it rested. [...] Presently she looked up. The large dark eyes from the glass looked back at her. She looked deep into them. ‘We are all alone, you and I,’ she whispered; ‘no one helps us, no one understands us; but we will help ourselves.’ The eyes looked back at her. There was a world of assurance in their still depths. So they had looked at her ever since she could remember, when it was but a small child’s face above a blue pinafore. ‘We shall never be quite alone, you and I,’ she said; ‘we shall always be together, as we were when we were little.’ (232-3)

Was this face the face That every day under his household roof Did keep ten thousand men? (4.1.281-3) Harold Bloom has described this moment as “Richard’s triple-variant upon [Marlowe’s] Faustus’s ecstatic recognition of Helen of Troy” (11). Like Faustus’s desires upon Helen, both Gregory and “Lyndall’s Stranger” pursue Lyndall for her external beauty rather than her internal intellectual capacity: as the latter admits, “I do not say that I should like you so well if you were ugly and deformed” (228). This intertextual connection between Lyndall, through an extended European literary tradition, to the silent but beautiful figure of Helen of Troy, exposes the historical roots of the patriarchal ideologies embedded within these grand narratives. This exposure is emphasized through the spatial dynamic of both the novel’s narrative structure and its female protagonist’s identity formation: Lyndall exhibits an awareness of a selfidentity that exists beyond the linear prescriptions of a eurocentric narrative, an agency located in what can retrospectively be identified as the ‘one’ in Simone de Beauvoir’s pioneering feminist re-writing of the Cartesian statement, “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” (295). Through this process, Lyndall de-naturalizes patriarchal ideologies by exposing both

Lyndall’s desire to be “as we were when we were little” can be understood as a longing to return to a pre-mirror stage existence, before the self had been forced to enter into the ‘symbolic order’ discursively produced by European grand narratives. To use Judith Butler’s terms in her discussion of de Beauvoir’s statement, Lyndall here develops an awareness of the “one” that was born, distinguishing it from the “one” that has been designated the label, “woman” (11). What is crucial here is that this disjunction of 35

Lyndall’s identity corresponds to the geography of her movements throughout the novel. When she was “little”, she had lived only on the colonial periphery, and had not been exposed to the patriarchal discourses that we can presume she encounters when she goes away to boarding school half way through the novel: prior to this, she was located geographically beyond the discursive reach of a eurocentric patriarchalism. In the chapter from which this narrative moment is taken, Lyndall is visited by a “stranger” from the outside world, presumably a male figure she met whilst at school. His geographical (and distinctly imperialist) invasion of her peripheral location sets in motion the development of the plot that will lead to her death: namely, her geographical movement from the periphery back towards the metropolitan centre. Schreiner’s novel embeds its critique of patriarchy firmly within the geographical space of the South African landscape: the spatial disjunction enabled by her marginal location is written into Lyndall’s self-construction, allowing her to produce a formulation of female identity that lies beyond the metropolitan discourses of patriarchy and empire. Though within this paradigm Lyndall’s death might be read as a symbolic acknowledgement of the hegemonic impact of patriarchal discourses in the 1880s, these textual spaces can retrospectively be understood as discursive sites that become foundational for subsequent feminist resistance.

Labour (1911)—both acknowledged these movements, and made one over-arching demand: In that clamour which has arisen in the modern world, where now this, and then that, is demanded for and by large bodies of modern women, he who listens carefully may detect as a keynote, beneath all the clamour, a demand which may be embodied in such a cry as this: Give us labour and the training which fits us for labour! We demand this, not for ourselves alone, but for the race. (33) Schreiner’s anti-imperial resistance also finds fuller voice in her later polemic work, in which “Schreiner was unsual in her anti-racism” and activism on behalf of the rights of native Africans (McClintock 268). In these works, Schreiner refuses to engage with issues of racial equality, rather justifying her arguments on the basis of the African population as a key economic force on which the colony relied; arguments that, as the quotation above suggests, clearly intersected with her campaigning for women’s rights. Her refusal to engage with ideologically fraught debates surrounding issues of race was, as Paula Krebs argues, a tactical decision designed to increase the effectiveness of her political arguments, and is one that can also be extended to an understanding of her gender politics: “if she is to make a strong case for economic and political rights, she cannot risk losing the argument by allowing her reader to think that she is arguing for immediate social equality as well” (436).

Conclusion: Founding Resistance Movements Schreiner’s interrogation of these astonishingly early feminist articulations had huge impact upon discourses of the ‘New Woman’ that were, in turn, formative in their contribution to the birth of the suffragette movement in Britain at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries (Ledger and Luckhurst 76). Her later polemic text that explicitly engaged gender issues—Woman and

Schreiner employed these tactics in order to justify the arguments and maximize the impact of her polemic writings. But it was in her literary narratives, and African Farm in particular, that Schreiner was, as Patricia Murphy argues, able to expand “the hermeneutic possibilities that the realist novel” sought to “foreclose” (82). Through her critiques of the grand 36

narratives of patriarchy and empire, Schreiner laid a crucial discursive and political groundwork that was taken up by many novelists throughout the twentieth century. For example, Solomon Plaatje’s novel, Mhudi (1930, though written in 1913, and the first novel to be written in English by a black South African), is dedicated to Plaatje’s daughter, who, not coincidentally, is named Olive. Plaatje’s numerous references to Shakespeare, his portrayal of the Southern African landscape and the fact that his titular protagonist is a woman, all indicate a close reading of Schreiner’s novel, as he draws on her textual techniques to produce a historical narrative of black Southern Africa during the nineteenth century. Schreiner’s implicit refusal to confront racial issues is taken up by William Plomer in his novel Turbott Wolfe (1925), which directly addresses issues of social equality by challenging racist ideologies rooted in fears of miscegenation, and Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing (1950) develops Schreiner’s exploration of the interrelationships between gender and race in the then enduring colonial environment of Southern Rhodesia. Schreiner’s self conscious meta-narratives indicate her acute awareness of the historiographical moment into which she writes. She subverts patriarchal and imperialist grand narratives by acknowledging the intellectual discourses to which she owes much of her thought, whilst also emphasizing both their, and her own, limitations. The spatial disjunction enabled by her geographical location gives rise to a conceptual gap within which she can unravel the professed totality of metropolitan discourses, and from which her “ungainly platypus” critiques the socioeconomic and political realities of a violent, male-dominated colonialism. The Story of an African Farm is a piece of ‘Resistance Literature’ astonishingly ahead of its time.


WORKS CITED Bal, Mieke. Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative. London: University of Toronto Press, 1997. Print.

Haggard, H. Rider. King Solomon’s Mines. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print. Harlow, Barbara. Resistance Literature. London: Methuen, 1987. Print.

Belsey, Catherine. Critical Practice. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2002. Print. Bloom, Harold. The Art of Reading Poetry. New York: Harper Perennial, 2004. Print.

Jameson, Fredric. The Political Unconscious, Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act. London: Routledge, 2002. Print.

Burdett, Carolyn. Olive Schreiner and the Progress of Feminism: Evolution, Gender, Empire. New York: Palgrave, 2001. Print.

Krebs, Paula M. “Olive Schreiner’s Racialization of South Africa.” Victorian Studies 40.3 (1997): 427-44. Print.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge Classics, 2006. Print.

Lacan, Jaques. “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Rev. ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004. Print.

Coetzee, J.M. White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in South Africa. London: York University Press, 1980. Print. de Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. Trans. H.M.Parshley. London: Vintage, 1997. Print.

Ledger, Sally and Roger Luckhurst, eds. The Fin de Siècle, A Readed in Cultural History, c.1880-1900. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Print.

Devarenne, Nicole. “Nationalism and the Farm Novel in South Africa, 1883-2004.” Journal of Southern African Studies 35.3 (2009): 627-42. Print.

Lessing, Doris. The Grass is Singing. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961. Print.

Eagleton, Terry. Marxism and Literary Criticism. London: Routledge, 2002. Print.

Lyotard, Jean-François. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994. Print.

Eagleton, Terry, Fredric Jameson and Edward W. Said. Nationalism, Colonialism and Literature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990. Print.

Macherey, Pierre. A Theory of Literary Production. Trans. Geoffrey Wall. London: Routledge, 1986. Print.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Representative Men. Web. 25 February 2013. <http://www.emersoncentral.com/ repmen.htm>.

McClintock, Anne. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. London: Routledge, 1995. Print.

Esty, Jed. “The Story of an African Farm and the Ghost of Goethe.” Victorian Studies 49.3 (2007): 407-30. Print.

Moore-Gilbert, Bart. “Olive Schreiner’s Story of an African Farm: Reconciling Feminism and Anti-


Imperialism?” Women: A Cultural Review 14:1 (2003): 85-103. Print. Monsman, Gerald. Olive Schreiner’s Fiction: Landscape and Power. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1991. Print. Morris, Pam. The New Critical Idiom: Realism. New York: Routledge, 2007. Print. Murphy, Patricia. “Timely interruptions: Unsettling gender through temporality in The Story of an African Farm.” Style 32.1 (DeKalb: 1998): 80-102. Print. Plaatje, Solomon. Mhudi. Oxford: Heineman Educational Publishers, 1930. Print. Plomer, William. Turbott Wolfe. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin & Co., 1965. Print. Roberts, Adam. Fredric Jameson. London: Routledge, 2000. Print. Schreiner, Olive. The South African Question. Chicago: Charles H. Sergel Company, 1899. Print. Schreiner, Olive, Woman and Labour. London: Virago, 1978. Print. Schreiner, Olive. The Story of an African Farm. Ed. Patricia O’Neill. Canada: Broadview Press, 2003. Print. Shakespeare, William. The Complete Works. Eds. Stanley Wells, John Jowett, William Montgomery and Gary Taylor. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print Shapple, Deborah L. “Artful Tales of Origination in Olive Schreiner’s The Story of an African Farm.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 59.1 (2004): 78-114. Print.



Gleann Bodhar Darkness climbs here Ascends from the seeping soil Sinuous spikes shoot tendrils up the trees Must be the vast shadow of some morphing entity Unfolding and becoming somewhere behind me. The tops shine silvery golden And still the shadow gropes – Somehow, somewhere the entity struggles to stand – Always behind me – Sky shines almost nothing-white – Blind tabula rasa soon to be blotted By the birthless rising of a beast and its First swallowing. Water gushes – volume blaring and dippingRushing to the deafening – Where the silence moves it follows. Here, in the deafening glen, I breathe in and out, fingering my dripping pen, Unable to hear, I listen – Tree tops and slice of sky continue to glisten As the water runs dark – A gunshot somewhere behind me – And the beast stands – And swallows. Gulps. I breathe out. I breathe in. Something wet rolls from somewhere On the back of me.

by Elaine Kiely 41


Rhizomatic Travels and Cartographic Connections

by Katrin M. Fennesz


To you, dear reader, frequenter of airport lounges— even a stand-by poem should tell you where you are. Robert Kroetsch, The Hornbooks of Rita K

world into disappearance. Thus, both characters make possible heretofore unimaginable spaces. In Restlessness the protagonist Dorcas, who is a courier, is tired of her life and decides to end it. After years of departures and journeys, she finally wants to arrive. In Calgary, her hometown, she meets her “chosen assassin” (R 9) in a hotel room. But before he does the job she has hired him to do, i.e. kill her, he suggests going out for a walk and having dinner because he wants to know more about Dorcas’s travel tales.

You travel to escape. You travel to the most unlikely places on the globe and “wait for a city to seduce” you (van Herk, Restlessness 10).1 But cities rarely succeed. You are always homesick and at the same time you have forgotten all about homesickness. You refuse to take photographs on your travels. You remember a place by how far you walked and how much your feet hurt. And the maps leave you frustrated. Yet, you continue travelling. But all you want is to go home. Restlessness.

In contrast to Dorcas, Rita, the protagonist in The Hornbooks of Rita K, prefers to stay home. Rita is a poet who has travelled outside of Canada only once, when she was invited to Trier, Germany to give a lecture. On her way back she stopped at the Museum of Modern Arts in Frankfurt. “She was not seen alive thereafter,” we read in The Hornbooks of Rita K (8). “But neither,” as Klay Dyer ominously adds in a review, “has she been seen dead” (105). Raymond, Rita’s friend, lover and self-proclaimed archivist attempts to reconstruct Rita’s life, her poetry, and her enigmatic disappearance. You see, Raymond does not believe that Rita has died but rather thinks that she has deliberately chosen this state of imperceptibility.

You hardly ever leave your home. You are a “recluse by nature” (Kroetsch, Hornbooks 8).2 You prefer to stay in, stay home, stay put. You watch the weather channel. You write poems. But then you decide to take a trip, you depart, you cross borders. And you disappear. You fall off the map. Still, you continue mapping. Imperceptible. Consider two rhizomatic travellers sans destination in the heart of the Western Canadian Prairies, inventing their own geographies, creating their own maps. One protagonist, Dorcas, a proclaimed picara, a rogue; the other, Rita, a self-styled recluse turned goner—both are on the run to some somewhere. Or nowhere.

Reading van Herk’s and Kroetsch’s works of fiction through the lens of experimental mapping strategies allows for an engagement with in-between spaces, a consideration of nomadic journeys onto elusive terrain, and even calls for a reflection upon spaces and maps as being performed, not merely represented. Thus, I argue, the authors do not only depict maps and spaces but add to the space by creating possibilities, by expanding connections. And this is why such a reading may be fruitful, as it illustrates a form of productive, rather than reproductive mapping, and it emphasizes that spaces are created rather than simply described.

The following paper offers an improvisational reading or mapping of two works of fiction— Aritha van Herk’s novel Restlessness and Robert Kroetsch’s prose poem The Hornbooks of Rita K. In both texts the protagonists are seduced by the promises of travelling and enticed by the map’s temptations. However, they do not follow preset paths or rely on enigmatic lines and borders on maps. Rather, their journeys are rhizomatic and, as such, do not lead from a beginning towards an end but instead take the protagonists to spaces off the mappable


Taking clues from a variety of theories, I will particularly draw from Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, focusing on performative aspects of mapping strategies and dynamic spaces. Navigating through these two works of fiction, I will propose a rhizomatic travelling and thus question the concept of borders as lines of demarcation. Against the grid of the map, the protagonists traverse various borders—of geography, art, and disappearance—and, thus, maps and its lines are exposed as arbitrary. At the same time, it is shown that spaces can be mapped by experiencing them from within, by narrating stories about them and connecting those diverse tales back to the spaces. In so doing, the landscapes and cityscapes are performed and rendered dynamic as both the stories and the relations are incessantly changing, like a rhizome.

borders and coloured nation-states. So, using space to represent space,3 mapping intends to produce an accurate image of reality. Yet, as Mark Monmonier puts it, to “portray meaningful relationships for a complex, three-dimensional world on a flat sheet of paper […], a map must distort reality” (1). And it does. It relies on scales, uses symbols; it is selective, partial, offers only an “incomplete view of reality” (Monmonier 1). As Denis Wood has it, “[t]he map is always a stretch. It is never ‘the real thing’ we walk on or smell or see with our eyes” (Power 12). And considering our multifaceted world, threedimensional, and always in transition, a good map has to generalize, omit, and select, as Monmonier argues: “[t]here’s no escape from the cartographic paradox: to present a useful and truthful picture, an accurate map must tell white lies” (1).

Kroetsch and van Herk create nomadic characters, hungry for movement, even if they often remain in the same place. The authors set out on a journey without a particular destination. They lead their characters through a peripatetic list of cities and stay in one place alone at the same time, creating their own rhizomatic maps by performing the landscape. In Restlessness, van Herk’s protagonist Dorcas tries to finally arrive, while Rita, in Kroetsch’s The Hornbooks of Rita K, breaks out of her idle life on the prairies. Yet, they both have something in common—the urge to map.

However, the question to begin with, is not whether maps can make scientific truth claims about the world. Rather, as J.B. Harley has argued since the 1990s, “we should begin to deconstruct the map by challenging its assumed autonomy as a mode of representation” (232). Employing deconstruction, Harley’s intention is “to subvert the apparent naturalness and innocence of the world shown in maps both past and present” and to “break the assumed link between reality and representation” (232). Even though maps use scientific tools and geometrical rules, they are, as Graham Huggan states, “the unstable products of social, historical and political circumstance” (4). That is to say, maps “are ineluctably a cultural system” (Harley 232).

Map’s Myths A map is not the territory, but a territory itself. Aritha van Herk, “Mapping as Metaphor” “Maps usually entice us by their oath of verisimilitude,” Ian S. MacLaren writes (2). Trained to believe in their language of grids and points, we read cities and landscapes as familiar, as predictable. Albeit static and flat, the map promises a known world including neat

Maps are not images of reality; they are embedded in culture, they have an author, they serve an interest, they often have an aim. So, “far from being pictures of the world maps are instruments for its creation; that is, they are not representations but systems of 45

propositions, arguments about what the world might be” (Wood, Rethinking 8). They are, as Denis Wood further implies, performative in J.L. Austin’s sense. Maps have power—they do things:

Thus being aware of their traps and “their makers’ imaginations” (MacLaren 1), maps need to be refigured as open, multi-layered, and modifiable—like stories. “Clearly mapping, like language, is creation more than representation,” van Herk writes (“Mapping” 58). Thinking of “fiction as cartography” is not far-fetched, the critic and author further suggests: “[t]he only way a country can be truly mapped is with its stories. This is when, as Foucault says, we begin to understand the possibilities of juxtaposition, the proximity of the fantastic to the real” (van Herk, “Mapping” 58).

As long as we conceive of maps as representations, our imagination will be fettered by the received picture of the world that it is claimed maps no more than mirror. Invariably this received picture is inadequate, inaccurate, often false; and always it is in thrall to dominant interests. Of course this is why it’s the received picture. All that making maps of this picture does is confirm its authority. (Wood, Rethinking 39)

This fusion of landscape and stories, geography and fiction is a strategy that van Herk coins geografictione: “fiction mapped on the lines of geography, geography following the course of fiction” (Ellesmere).4 Charting landscapes with stories and opening up new vistas and contours otherwise left unnoticed, both Aritha van Herk and Robert Kroetsch set out on their nomadic adventure to draw their own map. Yet they engage with unmappable terrain; they seek “to chart the unknown and the unknowable” (van Herk, “Temptation” 134).

To make maps entails making choices. There is no objective map and thus no mapping of the real world. Rather, as Wood writes, mapmakers are “extraordinarily selective creators of a world—not the world, but a world—whose features they bring into being with a map” (Rethinking 51). They create relationships, they “link the territory with what comes with it” (Wood, Power 10).

Aritha van Herk’s Dorcas travels the world, yet the maps leave her disoriented. Not until she arrives in Calgary does Dorcas find her way. Here, she does not rely on two-dimensional maps; instead, she maps a geography of longing—her home. Rita, Robert Kroetsch’s protagonist, leaves her well-mapped, fixed and enclosed home in order to imagine a map off the world—disappearance—and only then feels alive.

“A cornucopia of images, bewildering in their variety: this is the world of maps” (Wood, Rethinking 15). Robert Kroetsch and Aritha van Herk have made the map one of their topoi in their fiction. They are mapping southern Alberta, their home turf, with words. Yet they both know that “[m]aps and landscape do not actually resemble one another”; maps “are abstractions, surrogates of space” (van Herk, “Mapping” 58, 57). And they know that maps do not necessarily provide directions. “How to find yourself: see map. A majority of roads are named by number. Within the quadratic network 14th Ave. NW will run east-west in the northwest quadrant. Confusion” (van Herk, Ellesmere 71).

Both Dorcas and Rita make possible a mapping of an invisible geography. It allows an invention of new and unforeseen spaces. By going beyond limitations of time, borders, and geographical places, the maps are no longer tidily delineated nor are their straight lines neatly charted. The maps we are presented with are drawn and roughly drafted and simultaneously erased,


like the cities which are described and illustrated and yet remain adamantly mysterious. As Wood has it, the “map tells the story” (Rethinking 44).

(Casey 182). The idea is to go inside the landscape, through it, and map the space by “showing how it feels,” by “being part of it” (Casey xvi).

What is proposed here is not to dismiss the map as a metaphor or icon altogether, but to be cautious of its rigid borders, its unrelenting demarcations, its twodimensional colonial determinism. In The Hornbooks of Rita K, Robert Kroetsch points toward this fixed grid of a map that needs to be obliterated and its insistent straight lines twisted:

Roaming to lose oneself is not the same as not to find one’s way Monty Reid, Dog Sleeps Restlessness comes alive in its travels, its mapping, its cities. It is “not much of a story,” Alana Wilcox (45) writes in a review or, as Lorna Jackson more eloquently puts it, “[t]here is only the scent of plot in this novel” (36). The protagonist Dorcas, a courier, is tired of her restless life and having tried and failed to commit suicide she hires a professional killer. She meets her assassin, Derrick Atman, in a hotel room of the Palliser Hotel in Calgary. Although Dorcas “has entered this room with finality” (R 71), she agrees to go out for dinner with him and take a tour around Calgary. During their walk the reader not only gets to know the city but, through Dorcas’s tales, one also gets a close reading of other destinations, such as Las Vegas, Tofino, Jakarta, and Vienna.

We are fooled by the map. Because of the map we are tricked into setting out. Because of the map we pack extra socks and bandages into the extra shoes we will never wear. We are always setting out, as if to discover where the map ends will allow us to begin. (H 87) Dump the map as we know it, draw a new map: one that is open, ever-changing, detachable, reversible, connectable, erasable; one that can be modified, adjusted, torn apart, sketched and re-sketched; and one that has multiple layers. Or, as Deleuze and Guattari have it, make a rhizome-like map. A rhizome grows from the middle; it has neither a beginning nor an end and knows only multiplicities.5

And so Dorcas moves in and out of countries and languages, and while many people “would kill for it” (R 49), Dorcas literally tries to kill herself. Because she is a courier, Dorcas travels out of necessity. As she is not a conventional tourist, she refuses to travel with a camera, thus making possible the belief that she is traveling “erratically” (R 100):

What is proposed here is an experimental approach to maps and mapping strategies, as Edward Casey, for instance, offers. Borrowing from Deleuze and Guattari, Casey allows the map to be “productive,” instead of simply being “reproductive,” as he explains: “[a]ctive or productive mapping brings out what is not yet the case, thanks to its experimental and performative spirit”

The planned trip, metaphored by photographs, is a setup, a tawdry gamble. […] To lose expectation in both travel and its record is to live an unfinished cartography, following the street that never appears on


the map, the name that vanishes once it has been spoken, the country that has never been visited. (R 100-101, emphasis mine)

my entire life. Destined never to land. Confined to air. The prisoner of flight. (H 27) Travel’s passion gone awry, nomadic movements skewed. Is it the travellers, the passengers in transit, who are imprisoned in space, captured on twodimensional maps and confined to planned-ahead schedules? Who, then, is the true nomad? When Raymond is trying to remember Rita’s last words in Frankfurt, he says:

Yet Dorcas fails in living her unfinished cartography. Her trips are planned, structured. Even though she barely touches ground in the countries she has never wanted to see in the first place, she complies. She arrives and departs and continues to travel. “Restless everything. Restless restlessness” (R 77). In the end, all these travels, as Paul Virilio says, seem nothing more than an “empty voyage, a voyage without destination” (69). And it is speed that makes those travels possible. Speed is destroying space, as distance is often only measured by how fast you get from A to B. The path between is erased.6 Hence, as Virilio claims further, “People are no longer citizens, they’re passengers in transit” (67)—spending time in Marc Augé’s non-places.7

Perhaps she said to me, How can you do this, travel for a living, entering into languages of which you do not understand a word? But those were not her final words, she would not have let the matter rest there, be assured. We were having an early breakfast at an outdoor restaurant square, and at the time we were talking about architecture. You are the prisoner of space, not I, Raymond. And please, if nothing else, I beg you, drink your apple juice. I think she had something more to say. We marched off in silence together toward the renowned museum. (H 48)

While Dorcas is such a passenger in transit in van Herk’s Restlessness, Raymond would be her equal in Kroetsch’s The Hornbooks of Rita K. Like Dorcas, Raymond is a courier, living a footloose life, delivering “from place to place, from continent to continent” (H 25). Raymond’s friend Rita, however, hardly ever leaves her home. “Where would I go? she asked me, when I asked why she didn’t travel” (H 26), Raymond remembers. And so the reader discovers that the poet Rita hardly ever leaves her home, distrusting travel’s ambiguous promises:

Are Dorcas and Raymond not nomads after all, then? According to Deleuze and Guattari, it is the nomad who has a territory; “he occupies, inhabits, holds that space; that is his territorial principle” (Plateaus 381). Thus, they further argue, it is “false to define the nomad by movement”; “the nomad is on the contrary he who does not move” (Deleuze and Guattari, Plateaus 381).

Rita wrote a mere two lines [she left those lines— the patient prisoner the frittered sky —out of the published version] on the subject of air travel, and yet those same lines anticipate

So, Dorcas and Raymond, the alleged nomads who are constantly on the run, forever moving, only arriving at a city to leave again, turn out to be mere travellers with a schedule, couriers with a contract. While longing for nomadic movements, refusing touristic accessories, believing that they can “escape the scanty


destination of tourist and become someone different” (R 33), Raymond and Dorcas are reliant on points, timetables, conventional maps.

Back doors are the subject of Rita Kleinhart’s poetry. She is fascinated with back doors “of houses, of apartments, even of garages and barns and public buildings,” we read in The Hornbooks of Rita K (10):

Thus the endeavour to travel erratically and rhizomatically fails, because the map both Dorcas and Raymond use is one with a rigid grid insisting upon accurately representing the world and one which leaves the travellers in utter frustration. Dorcas muses about those maps she buys yet never looks at: “I buy them even if I will never open their corrugated flaps to try to orient myself within some enigmatic pattern of streets. […] They suggest that I will be able to find myself, to discover a destination. So far they have not helped at all” (R 187). Raymond, in the same way, contemplates our compliance when reading maps: “[f]lightless as snakes, we read flatly what cannot be flat. The open prairie conceals a chasm” (H 23).

Her brief but eloquent poems on the subject of the back door speak to and of the pathetic beauty that we create by way of rejection and something that one might call denial. Back doors are, she proposes in her notebooks, the escape from transcendence. (H 10) Back doors are out of sight; what would not be allowed at the front entrance, the back door bears. Back doors are often used to escape, to run away, to take flight, to disappear. “Disappearance,” as Aritha van Herk suggests elsewhere, “is the true borderless destination, one without identity or future, without a past and without a traceable genealogy” (“Invisible”).

Their map is one of the surface; it represents the territory with simulated points and dotted lines. It fixes space with its rigid borders and demarcations. However, we know that the story is not over yet, because there is always this back door….

Both Kroetsch’s Rita and van Herk’s Dorcas seem to long for such a destination—they want to disappear, to be invisible. Raymond recalls: “[i]nvisibility was what Rita wanted. I asked her one May afternoon what she would like for her birthday. An eraser, she said” (H 34). Dorcas, then, uses her travels “to erase everything else, to escape the unbearable, to believe [herself] invisible” (H 90). This “is every traveller’s desire,” Dorcas claims, “[t]o be present but invisible” (R 33); “[a] voiding recognition” (R 32); becoming imperceptible.

Back Doors Travel haunts Calgary writing. Robert Kroetsch, “Circle the Wagons, Girls, Here the Bastards Come”

Both Dorcas and Rita want to be indiscernible, unrecognized, be like everybody else. Their longing reminds of a becoming-imperceptible in Deleuze and Guattari’s sense.8 It means, as Ian Buchanan explains, “ceasing to stand out, ceasing to be perceived as different, looking like everybody else, merging with the landscape” (23, emphasis mine). This is by no means an easy undertaking, Deleuze and Guattari argue, as

Back doors. They have no curfew. They allow you to sneak in. On the sly, backdoor (the adjective). They invite friends. They don’t boast with great entrances. They allow you to leave your dirty shows. “Lawn furniture lifts its arm at the screen door’s bang, the progressive in and out of informal entrance, familial, familiar, urgent and unimpeded by a doorbell or knock” (van Herk “Invisible”). A threshold. Back doors.


it “requires much asceticism, much sobriety, much creative involution” (Plateaus 279).

poetry. Thus it is often difficult or near impossible for the reader to decipher whether the poems one reads are Rita’s or Raymond’s. On top of that, as reviewer Sue Sorensen points out, “Kroetsch does not hide the fact that both Rita’s and Raymond’s names point to his own” (84). Hence, Robert Kroetsch merges his poet Rita and Raymond and even himself in the character of the elusive Robert who appears only twice throughout the book. He thus keeps the reader guessing who the author of those poems really is—Rita, Raymond, or Robert himself?

While Dorcas in Restlessness has not found her path into disappearance yet, Kroetsch’s Rita in The Hornbooks of Rita K has already entered such a state of imperceptibility. She uses disappearance as a back door, a gentle and cautious entrance into a minor landscape, which is always in the process of being composed. Minoritarian, in Deleuze and Guattari’s conception, is not to be confused with a minority. While the former is “a becoming or process,” the latter is “an aggregate or a state” (Deleuze and Guattari, Plateaus 291). A minor landscape, therefore, is one which never is but always becomes. It is transformative.

What remains are fragments of words, “a sheaf of drafts” (H 9), different versions of sketches.10 With Rita’s disappearance, the poems can endlessly be rewritten. In and through her disappearance, the poet can escape the codes, as she argues: “I become one of the signs that I cannot read” (H 61). Disappearance is her back door. And back doors, we read in The Hornbooks of Rita K, “are also the escape from so-called good neighbours and possibly from language itself” (H 10).

After Rita’s disappearance, Raymond thinks he sees Rita everywhere, because she could be anywhere. He claims that he has seen her in Singapore and Kyoto and he insists that Rita sends postcards written after her “celebrated disappearance” (H 49). Raymond, hence, does not believe she is dead: “[h]er disappearance, rather, had everything to do with entrance into the world. Only by disappearing could she escape the bonded ghost she had become to her few readers” (H 27).9

“Now one is no more than an abstract line, like an arrow crossing the void. Absolute deterritorialization” (Deleuze and Guattari, Plateaus 199-200). There is no reterritorialization afterward, as Rita remains imperceptible, invisible. “One has painted the world on oneself, not oneself on the world” (Deleuze and Guattari, Plateaus 200).

Rita has entered a new space, a new geography, a moving landscape, a minor landscape; one that is deterritorialized in Deleuze and Guattari’s sense. It is a space that harbours untold stories and that has the capacity to remain fundamentally open to new interpretations. It is space that is improvisational, ambiguous, fragmented—like Rita Kleinhart‘s poems.

And thus it is Rita’s “aversion to intentional space” (H 36), her voyage in place, her “little need to travel in this ravaged world” (H 38), and her becoming imperceptible that makes her the true nomad, deterritorialized par excellence. As Rosi Braidotti paraphrases Deleuze and Guattari, “[n]ot all nomads are world travellers; some of the greatest trips can take place without physically moving from one’s habitat. It is the subversion of set conventions that defines the nomadic state, not

But Rita’s poems are not only fragmented, they remain “unfinished (or unfinishable?)” (H 8). But are these poems even Rita’s? As Raymond orders and selects and numbers the heaps of Rita’s papers, he also rewrites her


the literal act of travelling” (5). Therefore, nomadism does not immediately equal movement and does not necessarily imply a dislocation.11

This is experimentation, creation, in a territory beyond reach. As van Herk argues in an essay, “[t]he disappearing poet gifts her lines to freedom, the borderless state of reading and its ability to traverse all boundaries, even languages” (“Invisible”). It no longer matters who the poet is, or what her intention was. Rita (or Raymond, or Robert) “would, so to speak, deny her own signature” (H 30).

Disappearing Mavericks If you can’t find me you know where I am. Robert Kroetsch, The Hornbooks of Rita K

Van Herk’s restless Dorcas, then, still struggles to become imperceptible. She wants to get died, wants to disappear off the map, wants “to blend into the wallpaper as if […] [she was] the hidden wall underneath” (R 91). And while she fails to do so on all of her travels, as I have pointed out, she merges with the Calgarian cityscape once she actively produces her own map.

To be unknown at last, as are very few people, is to betray. It is very difficult not to be known at all. Claire Parnet and Gilles Deleuze, Dialogues II What happens after disappearance, after one has fallen off the map? Erasure, invisibility, obliteration? Not for Kroetsch’s Rita, nor for van Herk’s Dorcas— for them, it is the ultimate magic act. They are Albertan mavericks,12 seeking to evade plot, avoiding signification. As Raymond recalls: “[i]deas of development, Rita insisted, make for a false narrative of what it is to be a poet or person; as a result the house that survived her disappearance is a hodgepodge of so many midden heaps” (H 17). Disappeared and constantly endeavouring to keep moving, Dorcas and Rita continue mapping—imperceptibly.

When Dorcas returns to Calgary, the story begins. It is not a novel of migration, Kroetsch argues in an analysis of Restlessness: “[t]he novel of migration is about believing you know where you are going. The novel of restlessness is about what happens after arrival” (Kroetsch, “Circle” 69). And what happens is Dorcas’s Calgary being performed. Even though “[h]ome is never tourist site” (R 76), Dorcas explores the city’s secrets. From ghosts and horses in hotels, to high-risers appearing like tombstones and the chinook with its own mythology only southern Albertans can understand—Calgary absorbs Dorcas and Dorcas disappears in and with the city. Invisible at last. She is escaping the codes, defying signification and definition. “Restlessness,” as Kroetsch furthermore suggests, “becomes a flight from name, from home, from place. It becomes a flight from definition” (“Circle” 69). Finally, Dorcas is on a nomadic adventure where her map is being performed, not traced. She actively produces the map rather than merely reproducing it. It is in Calgary that Dorcas becomes the true nomad.

With Rita’s disappearance “into art” (H 40) and her entrance into boundless space, her poems, existent only in fragments and drafts, will remain open, as her mapping: By that act of disappearing—and I believe she willed it—she gave freedom to her poems. And further, she freed herself of any need to write more poems. Her existing poems could begin the process of rewriting themselves, as any poems must that are felt to be poems. (H 27)


As van Herk claims in her geografictione, “to live here you must move, although the stones command stillness, and the grass demands its own growing” (Ellesmere 69).

spaces. Further, this “productive” mapping strategy, as Edward Casey (182) purports, grants room to space and allows for a mapping of spaces yet to be. The map, therefore, can be seen as a tool to experiment with—and “experimentation”, as Deleuze and Guattari have it, “is always that which is in the process of coming about—the new, remarkable, and interesting” (Philosophy 111).

Both Dorcas and Rita/Raymond have entered this shifty terrain of deterritorialized space, where disappearance is not the end. Rather the rhizomatic movements of Dorcas’s walk through the city and Rita’s ephemeral poems rewritten by Raymond open up possibilities to “discover and potentially create alternative worlds” (Zamberlin 66).

Therefore, the authors of the works of fiction under consideration do not describe or re-present a particular space or a definite map. Instead, they tell stories, narrate tales, recount associations, relate those to landscapes and cityscapes and, thus, create spaces and maps that diverge from traditionally known ones. They make it possible to think hitherto unexpected terrains and invent spaces by establishing rhizomatic connections through nomadic travels. As I have indicated, those journeys do not necessarily have to be journeys across the globe but, quite the opposite, they can be journeys without physical movement. Like Gilles Deleuze insists: “nomads are motionless, and the nomadic adventure begins when they seek to stay in the same place by escaping the codes” (260).

Restlessness and The Hornbooks of Rita K are two works of fiction set in Alberta. The writers disappear, the protagonists disappear, and the stories and poems, in fact, have neither plot nor endings, as Robert Kroetsch concludes elsewhere: These Calgary narratives, by traditional standards, are plotless. Plot resists deviation and invites a deliberate movement towards a conclusion that comes as a surprise, but which on examination seems logical and inevitable. These Calgary stories resist their own ends. The restlessness allows for impulse; impulse refuses teleology. (“Circle” 68-69)

Both Aritha van Herk and Robert Kroetsch allow room for experimentation, room for invention. Hence, even though their protagonists disappear, even though they are imperceptible, we know that Dorcas and Rita/ Raymond have a lot of travelling and mapping yet to do. “Vanished without a trace, the poem begins” (H 70).

Therefore, a reading of these works will remain improvisational, as the texts open up room to figure space, place, and time in process. Moreover, both works of fiction are written in the present tense and thus it appears as if the reader is, while reading, in the midst of the process of narration, creation, and mapping. Such an active understanding of space calls for a performative map which does not give directions or provide orientation. Like the rhizome, this kind of map provides possibilities in order to reach unforeseen



ll further references will be indicated with R and the page number A in parenthesis. All further references will be indicated with H and the page number in parenthesis.


Cf. Andrews, “Map and Language: A Metaphor Extended,” 16: “space is used to represent space.”



uote on book jacket. For a thorough analysis of geografictione, see: Q Pianos, Geografiktionen in der anglo-kanadischen Literatur, 30-48.


Cf. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 12-25.


Cf. Gronemeyer, Das Leben als letzte Gelegenheit, 107-121.


Cf. Augé, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, 75-115.


“ A becoming,” according to Deleuze and Guattari, is “not a correspondence between relations. But neither is it a resemblance, an imitation, or, at the limit, an identification” (Plateaus 237). “The question ‘What are you becoming?’ is particularly stupid,” Deleuze and Parnet say elsewhere (2). In becoming there is neither a past nor a future. “Becomings belong to geography, they are orientations, directions, entries and exits” (Deleuze and Parnet 2) the philosophers explain further. “In becoming it is, rather, a matter of involuting; it’s neither regression nor progression” (Deleuze and Parnet 29). All becomings, then, Jerry Aline Flieger writes, aim “at a kind of erasure, tending towards ‘imperceptibility’” (39). And becomingimperceptible “means many things,” Deleuze and Guattari claim: “A first response would be: to be like everybody else” (279). As Flieger points out, they do not intend to construct a “singular identity”—on the contrary, “‘identity’ itself is a notion that Deleuze wants to undercut or complicate” (40). For a detailed discussion of the notion of becoming, see: Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 233-309; Deleuze and Parnet, Dialogues II, 2-3, 29-30; Flieger, “Becoming-Woman: Deleuze, Schreber and Molecular Identification.”


esides, the last but one hornbook bears the name “syllabus for a B return” (H 105), suggesting that Rita comes back.


In Hornbook [76]—“The river of no flows over us. / Nothing is new”—we get a glimpse of Rita’s various versions, as Raymond remarks: “[in one of the two versions the word surprise is written over the word no, but neither word is scratched out]” (H 14).


Cf. Kaplan, Questions of Travel, 85-91.


“ Maverick. Traditionally, a range calf without a brand and consequently without an owner. […] Also a term applicable to Albertans, especially appropriate for a collective resistance to being caught, owned, herded, taxed, or identified” (van Herk, Mavericks 394).


WORKS CITED Andrews, John H. “Map and Language: A Metaphor Extended.” Cartographica: The International Journal for Geographic Information and Geovisualization. 27.1 (1990): 1-19. Print.

Feminist Theory. Ed. Ian Buchanan and Claire Colebrook. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2000. 38-63. Print. Gronemeyer, Marianne. Das Leben als letzte Gelegenheit: Sicherheitsbedürfnisse und Zeitknappheit. Darmstadt: Primus, 1996. Print.

Augé, Marc. Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. Trans. John Howe. London: Verso, 1995. Print.

Huggan, Graham. Territorial Disputes: Maps and Mapping Strategies in Contemporary Canadian and Australian Fiction. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1994. Print.

Braidotti, Rosi. Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory. New York: Columbia UP, 1994. Print. Buchanan, Ian. “Space in the Age of Non-Place.” Deleuze and Space. Ed. Ian Buchanan and Gregg Lambert. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2005. 16-35. Print.

Harley, J. Brian. “Deconstructing the Map.” Writing Worlds: Discourse, Text and Metaphor in the Representation of Landscape. Ed. Trevor J. Barnes and James S. Duncan. London: Routledge, 1992. 231247. Print.

Casey, Edward S. Earth-Mapping: Artists Reshaping Landscape. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2005. Print.

Jackson, Lorna. “Like a Naughty Lover.” Review of Restlessness by Aritha van Herk. Quill and Quire (October 1998). 36. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles. Desert Islands and Other Texts: 19531974. Ed. David Lapoujade. Trans. Michael Taormina. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2004. Print.

Kaplan, Caren. Questions of Travel: Postmodern Discourses of Displacement. Durham: Duke UP, 1998. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Claire Parnet, Dialogues II. Rev. ed. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. New York: Columbia UP, 2007. Print.

Kroetsch, Robert. Alberta. Edmonton: NeWest Press, 1993. Print. Kroetsch, Robert. “Circle the Wagons, Girls, Here the Bastards Come.” Aritha van Herk: Essays on Her Works. Ed. Christl Verduyn Toronto: Guernica, 2001. 60-72. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. What is Philosophy? Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell. New York: Columbia UP, 1994. Print. Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1987. Print.

Kroetsch, Robert. The Hornbooks of Rita K. Edmonton: U of Alberta P, 2001. Print. MacLaren, Ian S. “A Charting of the van Herk Papers.” 1987. 1-28. Web. 07 March 2008. <http://www.ucalgary. ca/lib-old/SpecColl/vanherkbioc.htm>.

Flieger, Jerry Aline. “Becoming-Woman: Deleuze, Schreber and Molecular Identification.” Deleuze and


Monmonier, Mark. How to Lie With Maps. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1991. Print.

Virilio, Paul. Pure War. Rev. ed. Trans. Mark Polizzotti. New York: Semiotext(e), 1997. Print

Pianos, Tamara. Geografiktionen in der anglokanadischen Literatur: Perzeptionen und Kreationen nördlicher Landschaften. Würzburg: Königshausen und Neumann, 2000. Print.

Wilcox, Alana. “Brief Reviews.” Review of Restlessness by Aritha van Herk. Books in Canada 27.8 (1998): 45. Print. Wood, Denis. The Power of Maps. London: Routledge, 1993. Print.

Reid, Monty. Dog Sleeps: Irritated Texts. Edmonton: NeWest P, 1993. Print.

Wood, Denis. Rethinking the Power of Maps. New York: Guilford P, 2010. Print.

Sorensen, Sue. Review of The Hornbooks of Rita K by Robert Kroetsch. Prairie Fire 23.2 (2002): 84-85. Print van Herk, Aritha. “The Invisible Borders of Disappearance.” Variant Title “Beyond Borders: Invisible Geographies and Their Invented Space”. Typescript (computer printout) abstract of paper presented to the Association for Canadian Studies in the United States, San Antonio, Texas, 17 November 2001. Special Collections: University of Calgary, ACC 827/07.17b. Box 5.17. van Herk, Aritha. “The Map’s Temptation or The Search for a Secret Book.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature 31.1 (1996): 128-36. Print. van Herk, Aritha. “Mapping as Metaphor: The Cartographer’s Revision.” A Frozen Tongue. Sydney: Dangaroo, 1992. 54-68. Print. van Herk, Aritha. Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta. Toronto: Penguin, 2001. Print. van Herk, Aritha. Places Far From Ellesmere: A Geograficitone: Explorations on Site. Red Deer: Red Deer College P, 1990. Print. van Herk, Aritha. Restlessness. Red Deer: Red Deer College P, 1998. Print.



Domestic Abjection in The Secret Agent

by Ben Styles


Conrad criticism has been plagued by a continuing debate concerning its own quality. Nina Straus, in her famous essay on Heart of Darkness, denounced critics “whose own autobiographical resonances are hidden within supposedly objective commentary” (124). Susan Jones reiterates this concern, centring the debate squarely on the question of gender: “We hear far more, from both male and female critics, of what they felt about women than of how Conrad actually presented them” (18). Even Andrew Michael Roberts, a prolific Conrad critic, doubts his own abilities where gender is concerned: “as a male critic writing an introduction to a collection of essays on Conrad and gender, I shall not attempt to offer an ‘objective’ overview” (“Introduction” v). It is clear that a repeated and well documented failure to explore Conrad’s approach to writing about gender with sufficient depth and critical distance, has limited the scope of Conrad criticism— to the detriment not only of our understanding of Conrad, but also of the richness of our discussion and its critical progression.

that have both questioned and propagated conventional roles for women. (220) If Conrad’s attitude to gender can be re-read in this way, it is clear that much is left to consider; feminist criticism in general has delved much deeper than the question of “conventional roles for women” and there is space within Conrad criticism for his fiction to be considered in the light of these more profound gender issues. One in particular is not only markedly pertinent to Conrad’s fictional creations, but has great significance for the way we interpret, through his work, the society Conrad inhabited and about which he wrote. It is best summarized by Nancy Duncan: Feminists are presently exploring the far-reaching implications of a new epistemological viewpoint based on the idea of knowledge as embodied, engendered and embedded in the material context of place and space. (“Introduction” 1) Some recent Conrad criticism has turned towards this ‘geographic’ approach, exploring the demarcation of material and cultural space in his fiction—as Con Coroneos commented in 2002, “We have discovered that [space] has a history, that it is culturally produced, that it is an agent of knowledge” (3). However, rarely has gender formed a part of this new discourse of space in Conrad criticism, as it has in gender studies more generally. I bring together the two threads in the exploration of gendered space, in Conrad’s The Secret Agent (1907).

In response to this deficit, recent Conrad criticism has worked hard to dispel some of the myths that have traditionally surrounded his fiction, challenging the reputation that he had acquired of being “an author of exotic adventure told from within a predominantly male discourse” (Jones 5), and attempting a reevaluation of the strengths and commitments of his prose. While no one has suggested that Conrad was a feminist (and it would certainly be incorrect to do so), some critics, such as Jones, have argued that Conrad was more attentive to the position of women in the empire than previously thought:

However, an exploration of the gendering of space has limited value if it is not part of a wider discussion of the power structures that shape society. Such a discussion can lead to new appraisals concerning Conrad’s cultural value, and can be fruitfully attempted, in the case of Conrad’s fiction, through the introduction

right up to the end of his career Conrad was, contrary to our traditional assumptions, exploring the representation of female identity and responding to the popular genres


essential. As McClintock has argued, the concept of “domesticity” inflected all gender relations within the imperial nation, and was “an indispensable element both of the industrial market and the imperial enterprise” (McClintock 5). Nancy Duncan suggests that the concept of domestic, gendered space, “encoded” as natural, is founded upon a “binary distinction between private and public spaces” (“Renegotiating Gender” 127) and derives from a (false) belief in the possibility of a universal, transcendental worldview:

of what Julia Kristeva termed the “abject”. McClintock has summarized Kristeva’s theory succinctly: “Kristeva argues that a social being is constituted through the force of expulsion” (71). This “expulsion”, or “abjection” (Kristeva 1), I will argue, is the founding method whereby, in Conrad’s novels, not only the “social being” is constituted, but the whole structure of society—and it functions in a peculiarly spatial manner. This essay explores the way in which, “[u]nder imperialism [...] certain groups are expelled and obliged to inhabit the impossible edges of modernity” (McClintock 72), so that traditional patriarchal hierarchies may remain stable. I argue that in revealing abjection as the basis of such hierarchies, Conrad cannot help but challenge their patriarchal structures of knowledge that posit a universal, disembodied truth, implying instead that knowledge and power are always spatially situated and always gendered.

While the public sphere has been seen as the sphere of universal reason and transcendence of the disembodied, disinterested Cartesian observer, in fact this model observer can be shown to be (implicitly) a white, bourgeois able-bodied male. (Duncan, “Introduction” 2) This dominant, supposedly “universal” observer relies for stability upon the concordance of power hierarchies in both the public and the private spheres—in both the (international) masculine political space and the feminine domestic space.

My intention is twofold: firstly, to encourage a reading of Conrad that focuses less on his weaknesses as a privileged male writing from an imperial viewpoint, and more on his attempts to test the boundaries of that viewpoint and challenge its assumptions from the inside. Secondly, I hope, in encouraging this re-reading, to illuminate a small but culturally important example of a writer whose work reveals the late-Victorian construction of social hierarchies as fundamentally dependent on, and threatened by the contradictions and fragility of, the process of abjection and the gendering of space. We have only recently begun to explore these processes thoroughly and it is only by continuing to challenge them that we can understand their power and their limitations.

Conrad’s authorial position in regard to this question of the universal (or otherwise) observer must first be addressed. His experience of hegemonies situated very clearly in demarcated spaces—be they international, national, or of the home—could not fail to inflect his particular perspective. Significantly, he experienced hegemony from many angles—as a Polish national, as an agent of imperial capitalism in the merchant navy, and in the dominant position of husband and father. While all these positions were experienced from the privileged standpoint of the white male, this does not preclude Conrad’s ability to empathize with those at other points on the power spectrum. Such a preclusion assumes, as David Harvey has explained, that “none of us can throw off even some of the shackles of personal

Geography of the Domestic In an exploration of the power structures of Western society, a particular focus on the domestic space is


history or internalize what the condition of being the ‘other’ is all about and leads to an exclusionary politics” (57). It also relies on the false assumption that individuals situated at any place along the hierarchy of power maintain a “separate and unrelated difference” to all other individuals situated at other levels of power—whereas, in fact, such individuals form part of a “dialectical power relation between the oppressed and the oppressor”—a relation that can be explored by any of its participants (Harvey 58).

its dominative, panoptical strategies” (39-40, my emphasis). Conrad, while his personal situation may have allowed him to stand above such difference as a universal observer, instead places his text and thus his reader deep within the spaces, the geography, of difference. Ultimately, the level of textual engagement with the question of situated knowledge and power will determine the text’s potential to challenge hegemonies. Bev Soane confirms that Conrad makes a clear effort to engage with such “power relation[s]” in The Secret Agent (TSA), and to focus specifically on gender: “The Secret Agent is essentially about who owns and controls power and territory and who does not. It emerges that ‘power’ and ‘territory’ are gendered constructs” (46). The reader’s introduction to “Winnie’s domestic space”—and to the novel itself—immediately sets out the gendered hierarchies that permeate it. The husband begins the novel leaving the private, domestic space in order to enter the public space and take on the political agency which it will confer upon him. Winnie is left behind, but, crucially, she is not immediately given jurisdiction: “Mr Verloc, going out in the morning, left his shop nominally in charge of his brother-in-law” (TSA 13). The reader is later told, “moreover, his wife was in charge of his brother-inlaw” (13)—the irony here challenging the tradition of the male head of the household. It does, however, also uphold that tradition in that Mr Verloc is named but the other members of the household are only referred to by their relation to him—“brother-in-law” or “wife”. Whether this is interpreted as further irony will depend on the reader.

The question that remains is whether Conrad’s text purports to occupy the position of Duncan’s “universal” observer, or whether it and its characters admit to being “‘situated’ in a heterogeneous world of difference” (Harvey 57). In other words, is The Secret Agent explicit about its author’s own position within the “dialectical power relation”, and empathetic towards those in other positions? Scott McCracken implies the affirmative: Conrad’s novels constantly stress the nature of the identity of the speaking subject, contrasting a subject position privileged by ‘race’, gender or class against other, often marginalized subject positions. (18) In this deliberate juxtaposition, Conrad is constructing relationships and interactions which are dialectical, situating each party in relation to one another. He repeatedly situates both his characters and his readers in ways that invite the latter to take notice of difference—specifically, in this novel, gender difference. It is my intention to argue for a (re)reading of Conrad’s fiction as attempting to elucidate the “dialectical power relation[s]” that govern all gendered interactions within the “imperial enterprise”; such an attempt would inevitably fail from the start if it were intended to stand above such relations. Hence, Rebecca Stott sees in The Secret Agent “a sustained internal interrogation of imperialism and

Winnie’s introduction demands further attention: Winnie Verloc was a young woman with a full bust, in a tight bodice, and with broad hips. Her hair was very tidy. Steady-eyed like her husband, she preserved an air of 60

unfathomable indifference behind the rampart of the counter. (14)

in the parlour with his usual air of a large animal in a cage. (TSA 193)

It seems that the feminine body is a space over which the “dialectical power relation” holds sway. The only parts of her body referred to are those that most obviously denote her femininity—bust, hips, and hair—and they are each rigidly contained, either “in a tight bodice”, or made to be “very tidy”.

The boundary of Winnie’s silence gains physical force, and Verloc’s distress is revealed in overtly spatial terms. The limiting nature of the boundaries that have been set up within and around their “domestic life” is revealed—and Verloc suffers not only from Winnie’s silence but also from the physical boundary of the walls that hem in the domestic space like a “cage”.

Furthermore, Winnie is spatially contained, “behind the rampart of the counter”. The counter acts as a boundary between Winnie, in the private space of the home, and the male customers, coming from the public space of the outside world and in the public space of the shop. However, Soane argues that throughout the novel it is Winnie’s “unfathomable indifference” that acts as her “rampart”, much more than the physical “counter”: “Her avoidance of language attempts to escape negotiating with a reality that she declines to examine [...]. Her choice to speak or not is the area of the marriage she controls” (52). Winnie’s self-protecting silence is not only verbal but also, the reader is told, psychological: “that distant and uninquiring acceptance of facts which was her force and safeguard in life” (TSA 128); “[s]he felt profoundly that things do not stand much looking into” (147). This encompassing silence has a more subtle and profound function alongside the avoidance of painful self-consciousness: “Silence becomes the border between her space and [Verloc’s]” (Soane 52). This border becomes very apparent when Winnie learns of her brother’s death and Verloc attempts to explain his essentially political actions:

It becomes clear during the course of the novel that boundaries constitute the aspect of situated power that is most essential to the creation of hierarchies. Soane gives the following as one of the main reasons that domestic space relates to much larger power structures: “Its borders demarcate power that is served and powerlessness that serves” (46). Indeed, Tom Rice suggests that “Conrad condomizes his text, imposing prophylactic barriers to complete intercourse both within The Secret Agent and between this novel and its readership” (132). While Rice’s assertion that “Conrad, in fact, presents Verloc as a kind of human condom” (132) is tenuous, Verloc certainly deals constantly with the imposition of boundaries, as is suggested in the following sentence introducing him: The door of the shop was the only means of entrance to the house in which Mr Verloc carried on his business of a seller of shady wares, exercised his vocation of a protector of society, and cultivated his domestic virtues. (TSA 15) If we agree with Rice’s justifiable inference that Verloc is in fact a “dealer of condoms” (132),1 as well as of “photographs of more or less undressed dancing girls” (TSA 13), then the concatenation of Verloc’s three vocations in the above quotation suggests a connection between the sale of sexual prophylaxis, the exercising

Mrs Verloc’s philosophical, almost disdainful incuriosity, the foundation of their accord in domestic life, made it extremely difficult to get into contact with her, now this tragic necessity had arisen. Mr Verloc felt this difficulty acutely. He turned around the table 61

of social prophylaxis—“thwart[ing] the contagion of the pestilential anarchists” (Rice, 132)—and the social issues or “virtues” present in the domestic space. Indeed, when Winnie finally hears of Stevie’s death, and domestic “virtue” seems (and is) on the verge of breaking down, Verloc’s first response is to seal the boundary around the domestic space by shutting the street door, usually left “suspiciously ajar” (TSA 160):

that engrosses the deject, [...] is never one, nor homogeneous, nor totalizable, but essentially divisible, foldable, and catastrophic. A deviser of territories, languages, works, the deject never stops demarcating his universe whose fluid confines—for they are constituted of a non-object, the abject—constantly question his solidity and impel him to start afresh. (Kristeva 8)

First of all, it was clear to him that this evening was no time for business. He got up to close the street door and put the gas out in the shop [...] [he] thus assured a solitude around his hearth-stone. (192)

What is most important in this complex quotation is the idea that a “deviser of territories” who attempts to fabricate order by imposing boundaries, “demarcating his universe”, will, necessarily, ultimately fail in his attempt and thus bring into question his own “solidity”. In this light, Verloc’s shutting the street door in the face of his wife’s imminent breakdown has all the air of a man trying to contain the uncontainable—its futility confirmed catastrophically when Winnie stabs her husband and leaves the home forever.

It becomes clear that Verloc’s spaces are constructed upon their boundaries, and depend for their stability upon the process of exclusion facilitated by those boundaries. Abjection and Fragility The fact that such impositions of boundaries—by Winnie through silence, by Verloc sexually, socially and domestically, and by Conrad upon all the characters and relationships within his novel—are so critical, invites reference to Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Kristeva introduces into the discussion of cultural boundaries the concept of “the abject”, defining it as “what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite” (4). “Abjection” is the attempt to create order and set up boundaries through the classification and subsequent rejection of what is “abject”; it is also inevitably the fear that the boundaries can break, the realization that order is fabricated, that chaos and ambiguity reign:

My argument for a reading of Conrad’s novel within the discourse of abjection shares with Carey Mickalites’s exploration of The Secret Agent the premise that Stevie, as “the novel’s figure for perverse desire against which the Victorian phallic order constitutes itself” (Mickalites 513), fully embodies the abject.2 The first manifestation of Stevie’s abjectness, overlooked by critics, comes while the anarchists discuss politics in Verloc’s parlour—a discussion that begins with Michaelis’s declaration that “All idealization makes life poorer. To beautify it is to take away its character of complexity—it is to destroy it” (TSA 42), explicitly exposing Conrad’s reader to questions of purification and abjection. Some way into this discussion, Verloc breaks the perimeter boundary of the room and, in doing so, allows Stevie’s presence to enter:

The one by whom the abject exists is thus a deject who places (himself), separates (himself), situates (himself) [...]. For the space

Verloc, getting off the sofa with ponderous reluctance, opened the door leading into the kitchen to get more air, and thus disclosed 62

the innocent Stevie, seated very good and quiet at a deal table, drawing circles, circles; innumerable circles, concentric, eccentric; a coruscating whirl of circles that by their tangled multitude of repeated curves, uniformity of form, and confusion of intersecting lines suggested a rendering of cosmic chaos. (45-6)

criminal? Do they? And what about the law that marks him still better? (TSA 47) Lombroso’s phrenological classification of criminality is itself a reaction to a social abject: crime exposes the fragility of the law’s structure of exclusion and is thus abject (Kristeva 4). Ossipon’s application of that classification to Stevie is an equivalent reaction. While I am not suggesting that Conrad is necessarily speaking through Yundt here, the fact that Ossipon, supposedly an anarchist, contradicts his own ideology by relying on determinism in the face of the abject, reveals an attempt by Conrad to address the contradictions inherent in the process by which society is structured through exclusion.

The repetition of “circles”, the alliteration and the overwhelming sibilance of this passage suggest a flood of chaotic, ambiguous textual sounds and meaning flooding into the parlour as Verloc opens the door. Stevie introduces an abject chaos of (non-)meaning into the domestic sanctum. The anarchists’ reaction to this event can be predicted almost exactly by Kristeva’s text: “An unshakable adherence to Prohibition and Law is necessary if that perverse interspace of abjection is to be hemmed in and thrust aside” (Kristeva 16). Ossipon, calling Stevie a degenerate, continues:

For much of the novel, however, Stevie and his abjectness are successfully contained, by his sister Winnie and their mother: “The endeavour to keep him from making himself objectionable in any way to the master of the house put no inconsiderable anxiety into these two women’s lives” (41). The boundaries they have put around Stevie, both psychological and physical, are in place for the sake of “the master of the house”—in some way, they are complicit in the abjection of Stevie by their patriarchal society. It is not until the bombing in Greenwich Park, and Stevie’s literal explosion, that his abjectness finally bursts through the boundaries put around him. To Winnie, it constitutes “a shock of which, in the physical order, the most violent earthquake of history could only be a faint and languid rendering” (207). The fragmentation of Stevie’s body, “[t]he shattering violence of destruction which had made of that body a heap of nameless fragments” (78), represents the ultimate abjection:

That’s what he may be called scientifically. Very good type, too, altogether, of that sort of degenerate. It’s good enough to glance at the lobes of his ears. If you read Lombroso. (TSA 46) Ossipon has “hemmed in and thrust aside” the abject represented by Stevie’s circles by adhering to the scientific ‘Law’ of Cesare Lombroso’s positivist criminology based on biological determinism.3 Karl Yundt reveals the limits of this reaction: For [Lombroso] the criminal is the prisoner. Simple is it not? What about those who shut him up there—forced him in there? [...] And what is crime? Does he know that, this imbecile [...]? Teeth and ears mark the

the corpse, the most sickening of wastes, is a border that has encroached upon everything. [...] in that thing that no longer matches and therefore no longer signifies anything, I 63

behold the breaking down of a world that has erased its borders. (Kristeva 3-4)

the Verlocs’ domestic space have been sundered by the bursting forth of abject-Stevie through his violent death—the external, national system of borders and prohibitions is left intact. Winnie, having found freedom and agency at home, has neither outside. In fact, Stevie’s death has only led to a reinforcement of national boundaries. The Assistant Commissioner remarks:

Not only has Stevie died—he has also been transformed into an undifferentiated mass, exposing the permeable nature of the boundaries of the body and therefore utterly abject. His demise serves to “redefine the abject margins of knowledge, dramatizing the way the symbolic order is constituted in the necessary, yet impossible, expelling of any corporeal threat” (Mickalites 519, my emphasis).

it makes such an excellent starting-point for a piece of work which I’ve felt must be taken in hand—that is, the clearing out of this country of all the foreign political spies, police, and that sort of—of—dogs. In my opinion they are a ghastly nuisance; also an element of danger. (184-5)

The consequences for the gender relations of the Verloc household are profound: [Winnie] began to perceive certain consequences which would have surprised Mr Verloc. There was no need for her now to stay there, in that kitchen, in that house, with that man—since the boy was gone for ever. (TSA 203-4)

Such “foreign political spies” are “an element of danger” because they reveal the permeable nature of national boundaries. For Winnie, those boundaries are as impermeable as they have always been for her as a woman: “She was alone in London: and the whole town [...] was sunk in a hopeless night, rested at the bottom of a black abyss from which no unaided woman could hope to scramble out” (218). Although she attempts to leave the country, she commits suicide “from a cross-Channel Boat” (246), because she has no place outside the borders that surround her—she abjects herself. It is the ultimate internalization of imperial, patriarchal order:

Albeit violent and undesired, the freeing of Stevie from systematic containment reveals to Winnie—and to the reader—the fragility of the order that has also contained her. That order, with its cage-like domestic space, becomes suddenly oppressive, whereas before it may have seemed protective, a “rampart”: Now [Verloc] had murdered Stevie he would never let her go. He would want to keep her for nothing. [...] She could slip by him, open the door, run out. But he would dash out after her, seize her round the body, drag her back into the shop. (207)

The abjection of self would be the culminating form of that experience of the subject to which it is revealed that all its objects are based merely on the inaugural loss that laid the foundations of its own being. (Kristeva 5)

Winnie, in avenging Stevie and killing her husband (by stabbing through his corporeal boundary), is freed from domestic containment. However, this freedom is highly problematic, because—while the boundaries that support a patriarchal structure within and around

Winnie has discovered that her own being is itself constructed upon the inaugural loss that constitutes abjection—and now she is a part of that loss. She



understands, as I suggested earlier, that the public sphere belongs to the “white, bourgeois able-bodied male” and not to a “free woman” (204)—a phrase which would have carried more negative connotations than positive—and she internalizes the rejection that this implies.


See Rice 134 for an illumination of Conrad’s manuscript amendments which persuasively support such an inference. This argument is also presented in Roberts 82.


See Gould 152-162 for a detailed account of the contradictions inherent in Lombroso’s ‘criminal anthropology’.


Conclusion Duncan has argued that “[i]t is clear that the publicprivate distinction is gendered”, and that it “is frequently employed to construct, control, discipline, confine, exclude and suppress gender and sexual difference preserving traditional patriarchal and heterosexist power structures” (“Renegotiating Gender” 128). In this light, The Secret Agent constitutes a major challenge to such structures. In revealing how this gendered dichotomy works to control, discipline and confine Winnie according to her gender, and exclude and suppress her in the masculine, public space, Conrad is putting up such “traditional patriarchal and heterosexist power structures” for examination. While, ultimately, Winnie’s escape from the patriarchal hegemony fails, and Stevie’s abject resurgence leads to the strengthening of national boundaries, the founding illusions of that hegemony have been challenged to such an extent that its fragility cannot be ignored.


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AUDUBON LOOKS UP Audubon looks up at a stormy sky, covers his sketch book with a canvas flap. Why? To protect the warbler penciled in, keep the water color dry from a sudden summer squall. Rain then pummels good intentions, his and mine. Water colors run, slide across the paper– I cannot halt this entropy! Nor his, as thunder, lightning, wind erases us, little birds, artists, poets again.

by Mary Kennan Herbert



Rewriting the City: Reading Harry Beck’s Tube Map as a Form of Writing

by Andrea Vesentini


‘Here I stand,’ said Jinny, ‘in the Tube station where everything that is desirable meets—Piccadilly South Side, Piccadilly North Side, Regent Street and the Haymarket. I stand for a moment under the pavement in the heart of London. Innumerable wheels rush and feet press just over my head. The great avenues of civilization meet here and strike this way and that. I am in the heart of life.’ (Woolf 109)

writing, drawing on Jacques Derrida’s conception of the word in his science of grammatology. The peculiar grammar of the tube map mirrored and sometimes foreshadowed the shifting approaches to the modern city that would take place throughout the twentieth century. Thanks to its flexible quality—its capacity to adapt to the evolution of the urban landscape—the map proved as popular among ordinary Underground users as among designers. For instance, at the time of its invention it simplified the geography of London through a use of discrete information that we would now call digital, well before the technology came into general use. The term digital was originally “used to refer to data in the form of discrete elements” (Gere 15), which is exactly how Beck’s creation transformed the representation of transport in London. Only later did the word acquire its broader meaning by means of association with modern technologies. As Gere argues, “to speak of the digital is to call up, metonymically, the whole panoply of virtual simulacra, instantaneous communication, ubiquitous media and global connectivity that constitutes much of our contemporary experience” (15). All of these elements were in some form present in the Underground and were translated by Beck’s map into a visual grammar that altered our understanding of urban space and provided a gateway into our era of worldwide interconnection.

In this passage from Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, Jinny sees in the tube a materialization of the countless possibilities that city life offers to its dwellers. The streets above ground are parallel to the lines intersecting underground, each leading to a different destination, new connections, new choices and eventualities. In 1931, when the first edition of The Waves was making its way to London bookshops, Harry C. Beck, a former Underground engineering draughtsman, designed a sketch for a new tube map. During the years when Frank Pick was revolutionizing the tube as a chief executive officer of the London Passenger Transport Board, Beck submitted the final draft to the Publicity Department of the London Underground and—after an initial rejection—the map was eventually accepted in 1932 and published one year later (Garland 15, 18). For his contribution, Beck was paid a meagre ten guineas but the London Underground hired him back and granted him a higher position (Smart 115). There is a fascinating correspondence between Woolf’s passage and Beck’s map (fig. 1)—an entrancing emphasis on possibilities, connections and intersections, as if the two cultural artifacts were linked by something more than their year of creation.

The tube, like every other rapid transport in a city, works as a hypertext in providing links between nodes, and Beck’s ingenuity lay in understanding that the best way to depict the network was through an emphasis on connections over topographical accuracy. Prior to Beck’s design, the Underground Railway maps relied on London geography in their visual depictions. Until 1921 the tube lines were superimposed on a street map of the city and their shape was a faithful reproduction of the actual paths followed by

An enduring symbol of London and a milestone of graphic design, the tube map cannot simply be called an emblem of the city, or even just a very useful source of information for tube travellers. This essay investigates how Beck’s map functions as a form of


the underground tracks (fig. 3). In 1920, a new map signed by MacDonald Gill (fig. 2) tried to abstract the tube lines from geography for the first time by removing streets and surface features and merely showing the colour-coded lines, whose shape still mirrored their meandering course underground. Only in 1931 did Beck realize that what really mattered was connections rather than geography, nodes and links rather than accurate geographical distances, actual locations and curvilinear lines. About the moment when he began working on his experimental new design, Beck recalled: “looking at the old map of the Underground railways, it occurred to me that it might be possible to tidy it up by straightening the lines, experimenting with diagonals and evening out the distance between stations” (qtd. in Garland 17). His design maintained the colour-coding in use since the early years of the century but revolutionized the idea of the map by disregarding topography and truthfulness in distances and ratio, enlarging the central area of London, shrinking the suburbs, and taking the imaginarily straightened Central Line as the basis for the whole system.1 As Ken Garland has suggested, Beck’s first and foremost preoccupation was with the idea that “if you were going underground, why did you need to bother about geography? It was not so important. Connections are the thing”.

MacEachren contends, “a semiotic approach to map representation provides a framework for exploring how maps structure knowledge” (213), which is in our case the episteme of the modern city. The first maps of the Underground Railway can be considered closer to icons, likenesses of the city in that they portrayed surface details and the actual course of the tracks. Gill’s erasure of any aboveground reference (including the Thames) was a shift toward a more indexical map, showing which direction to go rather than where a place actually stood. Starting from Gill’s design, stations were located using only other stations as a system of reference with no landmarks, though the Thames was re-introduced in 1932 as the sole surface feature (Garland 13). Beck’s map wiped out any iconic reference and possessed fewer indexical qualities. According to Peirce’s definition, indices “show something about things, on account of their physically being connected with them” (5); examples might include signposts or exclamations calling on someone’s attention by physical means rather than language. Beck’s map, on the other hand, does not share any substantial link to the actual railway system but provides a language which is universally understandable thanks to the simplicity of its grammar and its latent indexicality, a property common to most signs according to Peirce (MacEachren 223). Beck’s map grew out of a likeness to turn into a sign carrying its own meaning, a language that could be applied to any other city, as any other symbol can (Peirce 10). This explains why in Peirce’s interpretation of signs Beck’s map is to be considered a symbol, or even better a set of symbols merging into a new form of writing regulated by consistent rules that have little to do with traditional mapping.

The Semiotics of the Tube Map The evolution of the tube map from the early representations to Beck’s design, which is still in use today, seems to mark a progressive departure from an iconic mapping of the city. The term “iconic” is to be understood as in the definition given by American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce who differentiated between three kinds of signs: icons, indices and symbols (5). Starting from Peirce’s theory helps us to analyze Beck’s map on a semiotic level; as

As a matter of fact, Beck’s representation of the London tube can hardly be called a map in a strictly topographical sense: it is a diagram, with 75

1. Harry C. Beck. Map of London’s Underground Railways. 1933. © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection.

2. M acDonald Gill. Underground: Map of Electric Railways of London. 1920. © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection.


3. Unknown artist. Metropolitan Railway and Connections. 1924. Š TfL from the London Transport Museum collection.


very few references to the actual layout of the city aboveground. As a young engineering draughtsman, Beck certainly had electrical circuit diagrams in mind when he conceived his modern design. The spoof of his original map that he drew for the March 1933 issue of Train, Omnibus and Tram Staff Magazine, mockingly replacing station names with electrical jargon (fig. 4), seems to confirm such influence. Besides creating “a new design for an old map”, as the map cover announced when it was first published in 1933 (Garland 19), Beck created a new way of reading the city. Comments on the significance of the tube map usually go as far as acknowledging that the map “ironed out the physical complexities of the metropolis” (Welsh 214): that was indeed a great revolution for cartography and information design, but how did it influence Londoners’ perception of their city? And, as a consequence, did it affect our understanding of urban space in general, since the tube map was used as the prototype for many other maps of rapid transport systems?

(9). In Pick’s plans, the tube had to become “a model of aesthetic integration and communal service” whose aim was that of having a “unifying function for society” (Saler 27, 92), and Beck’s map was the perfect visual translation of Pick’s philosophy. Explaining what made Londoners so affectionate and protective of the tube map, Chris Beanland recently wrote in The Independent: Beck’s map is a sacred cow. It’s more than a map or a diagram, more than a way to find yourself or your friends or your colleagues or your lover, more than a way to understand London’s shape. In some ways it actually is London. In a city of such diversity and with so many incongruous forms and so many disparate neighbourhoods, Beck’s map is a picture of the single city. (10) The diagram works as a new grammar ordering the disjoined nature of London. It provided a grammar that could be adapted to any other city, thus offering a new way of understanding the city, rather than just a city. But in order to find an answer to the map’s success elsewhere in the world, one has to think of it in terms of text.2

Monmonier defines all transport maps whose design was inspired by Beck’s prototype as “linear cartograms” for which “function dictates forms”: “by sacrificing geometric accuracy, these schematic maps are particularly efficient in addressing the subway rider’s basic questions” (34-35). Beck’s cartogram presents London as a city with no physical geography, but plenty of connections and links: in a way, it brings the city together, London being one of the most geographically fragmented metropolises in Europe. In her anthropological study on how Londoners understand their city through the map, Vertesi notes that “unlike Paris or New York, London above-ground presents few organizing principles: there is no Rive Gauche or Central Park, no grid or arrondissement system that provides the critical landmarks for wayfinding and making sense of the urban geography”

The Digital Rewriting of the City as Hypertext Can one define the mapping of an underground railway network as writing? In advancing the new science of grammatology, Jacques Derrida classified as writing “all that gives rise to an inscription in general, whether it is literal or not and even if what it distributes in space is alien to the order of the voice” (9). Urbanism over wilderness is in itself a form of writing, and in the case of London the tube map contributed in making sense of a city that industrial and unplanned growth had turned into the wilds of modernity. Derrida


advances the relationship between the science of grammatology and mapping thus:

entails a certain degree of corruption, a distortion of reality which Derrida also finds in music and painting and is “linked to spacing, to the calculable and analogical regularity of intervals” (213). The spaces between two stations stand as everything the traveller does not see during the journey between stops, straightening out the physical uncertainties and bumps of the landscape in the shape of a line. This digitalization of London—if by that we mean only the original concept of discretized representation—is to be read as the consequence of a changed perception of time and space. Modern transport gave way to a new understanding of the two concepts as unrelated, since distances grew smaller thanks to the railway and cars: space ceased to equal travel time (Hadlaw 32-33; Schivelbusch 33-44). The distance between stations could therefore be signified by a simple straight line between ticks and dots disregarding anything that lay between the connections and whose length did not correspond to the actual distance. Considering that Beck’s model still functions as the blueprint for mapping a vast array of rapid transit systems all over the world, his solution proved to be the most efficient way to portray underground train travel—what Beanland calls “the frictionless slip through tunnels identical in darkness”, paralleling a “fantastically ignorant traverse of the city above”.

The silva is savage, the via rupta is written, discerned, and inscribed violently as difference, as form imposed on the hylè, in the forest, in wood as matter; it is difficult to imagine that access to the possibility of a road-map is not at the same time access to writing. (108) When we read Beck’s map as a text, it certainly speaks of unity and harmony, but it does so through a grammar of nodes and links, connections and junctions. It provides a new syntax to regulate the urban changes affecting London as well as other cities, thus promoting “the optimistic vision [...] of a city that was not chaotic, in spite of appearances to the contrary” (Garland 7). Because of such grammar, Beck’s map presents a high degree of hypertextuality: it is a form of proto-hypertext. It also reminds us of modern information technology because the map’s disregard of urban geography is in fact a digital rewriting of the city, simplifying it in a discrete series of lines, ticks and junctions. Although Beck himself could not be acquainted with either of these concepts, which were only introduced decades later, his design anticipated their representation of space and information by applying very similar visual strategies. Let us consider the two aspects one at a time.

On the other hand, hypertextuality is found once a decision has to be made in a junction, or when choosing a direction. Every line can be taken in two opposite directions, every station is a link to the geography aboveground, every interchange station offers the option of hopping on a different route. Long before the word came into existence,3 Beck wrote the city as a “hypertext”. The term, usually found in information technology, simply signifies a text that can be read discontinuously, skipping and travelling around it, thanks to the interconnectedness of its parts.

A mark of digital representation is the presence of space between the chunks of essential information. That is to say, the trip from station A to station B is represented as a mere line, leaving out all of the irrelevant information and focusing on the sequence of connected places. As Derrida notes, spacings in writing consist of “the unperceived, the nonpresent, and the nonconscious”—that is, the omitted topography between two stations. Any form of digital writing 79

4. Harry C. Beck. The Underground “Straight Eight” All-Electric Skit-Set Circuit Diagram. 1933. © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection.


Contrary to a novel written in a traditional form, for instance, a hypertext would let the reader decide which way to go, how to proceed, opening up the several possibilities of a story without imposing a one-way course on the narration. The internet is probably the largest existing hypertext: the links are nothing but possibilities enabling an erratic surfing through the text. In computer science, the pieces of information are called nodes (or chunks) and the connections between them are links (McKnight 2). Terms such as nodes and links may call to mind urban planning and transport, but let us for a moment stick to storytelling. Sliding Doors, a popular 1998 film, represents such hypertextuality: after a few minutes, the story splits into two different narrative lines, each determined by whether the main character does or does not manage to catch the tube at Embankment station. The structure of the film underlines some of the hypertextuality of the tube—how it is now perceived as a place of possibility, of potential encounters and different directions that can change the course of the storyline as well as our lives. Indeed, the passage from The Waves speaks the same language, the tube being the perfect counterpart of the streets aboveground departing from and yet coming together in Piccadilly Circus; these are the nodes and links of a city whose great transformations in the 1930s altered how it was perceived and, since the 1990s, has come to be understood as a hypertext.

just signifiers, signs of the nature of our modern life, but also signified, sources of new meaning. In short, the city that Beck had represented through the hypertext could also work as an originator of meaning in Debord’s eyes. The French writer theorized the practice of the dérive, an unplanned trip around a city in which the urban landscape drives the performer toward the final destination, rather than them being driven by a desire to arrive at a particular or predetermined place. In the dérive, the urban space actively participates in the traveller’s choices as a text in itself, which men and women read to extrapolate novel meanings. This notion of the city is another step in the evolution toward the hypertextual envisioning of the urban world—a process that began with the great changes of the 1930s, when Woolf wrote the lines quoted at the start of this essay and Beck drew his celebrated map.4 Yet, in spite of these commonalities, Situationism and Beck’s map arrived at two very different conclusions. Still referring to psychogeographic practices, Ivan Chtcheglov predicted that in the modern city “the main activity of the inhabitants will be CONTINUOUS DRIFTING” and that “the changing of landscapes from one hour to the next will result in total disorientation” (7). The situationist city is read as a text originating meaning through disorientation, whereas the understanding of the city in Beck’s writing stems from a highly hierarchical and defined sense of space.5 Nevertheless, despite the different nature of Beck’s experiment, the tube map is a good companion of a dérive since what guides the experience are the range of possibilities offered by the city, made visible and even more accessible by the map. The countless flânuers that populate London as tourists, newcomers or short-term visitors from out of town are encouraged to hop on and off the trains to discover the hidden gems of the metropolis. Could, then, the excitement that Jinny feels at Piccadilly Circus be something of a precursory Debordian thrill stemming from the

The Map Becomes the City As well as aiding navigation at its most basic level, the tube map’s groundbreaking language of novel signifiers was influential in forming the vision of the modern city as a crucible of new contents. In the 1950s, Guy Debord, the situationist and initiator of the discipline of psychogeography, described modern industrial cities as “rich centers of possibilities and meaning” (63)—not


little idea as to where Cockfosters or South Morden actually stand in their true geographical positions. They know London through the Underground map rather than anything else.

innumerable meanings that the city as text might engender through drifting? This dichotomy in the perception of modern urban space is also found in how the tube is perceived—as an image of postmodern life with its intersections, ever-changing relationships, and urban character but also as “a place where everything is fragmented, evanescent and contingent” (Welsh 268). Beck’s design clearly works against such fragmentation: his unifying grammar depicts the tube as the opposite of individual car transport and as an antagonist of the disintegrating power of suburbanization, both of which in Mumford’s view deny “the possibility of easy meetings and encounters by scattering the fragments of a city at random over a whole region” (507).6 Although the London Underground is indeed a product of suburbanization, Beck’s writing tries to turn the sprawling metropolis back into a city. His design blows up the area inside the Circle Line and identifies it as the heart of the city, creating the illusion that London grew out from a single centre rather than many—whereas, in fact, the two separate cores from which the capital evolved are actually Westminster and the City, both found on the right side of the map. All the lines tend toward this centre where most of the intersections occur, once again revealing the centripetal nature of the project. The retention of the Thames as the only surface detail also creates the illusion that what is, in fact, a diagram is a sort of map that mirrors topography, which is far from true. Such ambiguity led users to identify the aboveground layout with the location of the stations on the tube map, thus transfiguring the geography of the city. That is to say, returning to Beanland’s formulation quoted above, the map became London. As design historian Adrian Forty has pointed out,

Ken Garland points out that Beck’s map succeeded in providing “an orderly simulacrum for a disorderly, disjoined accumulation of urban villages” (7). In his interesting choice of words to describe Beck’s creation, Garland evokes the postmodern image as simulacrum, no longer a bridge between the real and the unreal but the source of a new hyperreality that alters our perception of the world. Beck’s map thus becomes the hyperreal London. Jean Baudrillard theorizes this emergence of the postmodern simulacra through the concept of mapping: The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory—precession of simulacra—that engenders the territory, and if one must return to the fable, today it is the territory whose shreds slowly rot across the extent of the map. (1) Beck’s writing of London transformed how we peceive the geography of the city. As Derrida might put it, it is a case of “writing before the letter” (1), of a form of writing that does not derive from experience (what is usually speech for language writing) but rather originates experience, shapes our way of seeing and relating to the world, a grammar helping us in the understanding of the modern city. One only has to look at the visual works inspired by Beck’s map to understand its grammatical qualities more completely. A poster released by London Transport in 1945 instructed neophytes in the linguistics of the map; “Be map conscious”, it advised after a brief overview of the major grammatical rules of Beck’s

people perceive London through the Underground map, and actually have 82

5. Jan Le Witt. Be Map Conscious. 1945. Š TfL from the London Transport Museum collection. 6. Anthony Froshaug. Cover for Design, May 1964. Courtesy of the Design Council / University of Brighton Design Archives. 7. Unknown artist. Otrivine advertisement. 2011. Courtesy of Novartis.


diagram, explaining, for instance, how intersections and different lines were marked (fig. 5).

countless cases in which the map has been used as a language in itself to convey messages that have very little to do with the Underground. Several artists have revisited it not only as a symbol for parody or reinterpretation but as a grammar of signs to be conjugated according to the message at stake. The most famous example is Simon Patterson’s The Great Bear, a large painting where station names are replaced by those of famous historical and artistic figures, associating each line with a specific category; for instance, the stops on the Jubilee Line are renamed after football players. Patterson’s rendition does not disrupt the grammar of Beck’s language but merely changes the content, as in the use of language where speakers continually change the message but communicate through a fixed set of grammatical rules.

But the birth of this new grammar was only the beginning of a whole new syntax to represent and interact with the modern city.7 As Peirce concludes in his theory of signs: Symbols grow. They come into being by development out of other signs, particularly from likenesses or from mixed signs partaking of the nature of likenesses and symbols. We think only in signs. [...] So it is only out of symbols that a new symbol can grow. Omne symbolum de symbolo. A symbol, once in being, spreads among the peoples. In use and in experience, its meaning grows. (10)

Similarly, on underground trains one can encounter many adverts that apply the language of the map to entirely different subjects. A recent advertisement marketed the Otrivine nasal spray with a map showing us the way out of a seasonal cold: from the stations “Blocked Nose” to “Breathe Freely”, a passenger can choose the non-stop pathway of the spray or the longer route, travelling through “Sniffingham” and “Royal Snoring” (fig. 7). The grammar of the tube map adapts very well to the purpose of advertising: it can easily convey starting points, individual or collective goals, ways to reach those goals, and obstacles one might find along the way. Through its hypertextuality, it perfectly signifies that there are possibilities and choices to be made in order to achieve an outcome, or reach a destination, as quickly as possible. Like other hypertexts, the map works as the perfect representation of how the modern man relates to the world, its grammar paralleling the preoccupation with connectivity that has become a distinctive mark of our time.

Thus, it is only natural that a set of new symbols developed out of the peculiar writing of the tube map, either strengthening or questioning its semiotics—a process that became visible once Beck’s model was taken up internationally. While teaching at the Ulm School of Design, English typographer Anthony Froshaug used it in 1958 for an exercise with his students, where the tube map grammar, adapted to the Paris Metro, was used in graphic information. Later, he paid tribute to the London tube map on the cover of the April 1964 issue of Design magazine, where he linked a Beck-like circuit diagram to the image of a city skyline (fig. 6). Once again, the diagram was seen as the best way to portray the modern city, even though in this case Beck’s creation was referenced more as a visual icon than as a form of writing. The Language of the Map in Arts and Advertising However, the grammaticality of Beck’s creation becomes clear when one takes into account the 84

8. Barbara Kruger. Untitled. (Tube Map). 2010. Commissioned by Art on the Underground. © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection. 9. David Shrigley. Untitled. (Tube Map). 2005. Commissioned by Art on the Underground. © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection. 10. Liam Gillick. The Day Before (You Know What They’ll Call It? They’ll Call it the Tube). 2007. Commissioned by Art on the Underground. © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection.


In 2010, Barbara Kruger used the same approach as Patterson’s in her contribution to the cover art series for the pocket tube map,8 naming the stations after emotions that she associates with each particular area of the city, and common feelings that everyone experiences in the modern, publicity-driven world (fig. 8). The syntax of connections and lines conveys a message in itself, suggesting that all of these conditions are temporary but necessary states that everyone has to go through. Some of them present possible disruptions (devotion, compassion, but also power and envy) whilst others might take one further than expected (“Pride” is linked to the National Rail).

some or all of the sets of symbols composing its language and subverting their visual layout without compromising the viewer’s acknowledgment that the signs still belong to Beck’s map. Among the several fonts presented in a recent book on art typography, there is one by Tim Fishlock that is moulded after the tube map (fig. 11). Fishlock has simply extrapolated unaltered sections of Beck’s map that look like letters of the Latin alphabet in order to create his original font. His work literally uses the map as a form of writing, bringing the process of its grammaticalization to completion. Beck’s map functioned as a way of writing the practice of urban living that was reaching maturity during the interwar years, and then provided a highly malleable syntax that rewrote such practices and meanings as they shifted through history. The global scale of the world wide web has now led to the understanding of the whole planet as a single city by means of its hypertextual nature. Katharine Harmon voices the widespread view of the internet as “a network of networks” that “connects us to a global village” and is “itself a vast cultural map” (15). We make sense of the modern world through the web in the same way Londoners made sense of their changing city through Beck’s design at the beginning of the 1930s to the extent that Londoners can now refer to it as yet another hypertext through which they can relate to the mediated city. As Baldwin explains, the tube map proved to be a very useful form of writing modernity because “in the absence of other proposals for unraveling the complexity of urban life, the abstracted representation of a transportation system has shaped the collective understanding of the city” (n. pag.).

Other works in the series push the notion of the tube map as writing even further. David Shrigley’s 2005 cover artwork shows a tangle of spaghetti-like lines (featuring the same colours as the tube lines) jammed together in a chaotic heap, ironically suggesting that Beck’s smooth grammar might not adapt so well to the social complexity of the modern city (fig. 9). In Liam Gillick’s The Day Before (You Know What They’ll Call It? They’ll Call it the Tube), the map is referenced only by the colours of the eleven lines of the system, which have fully become part of Beck’s grammar in spite of their earlier birth (fig. 10). The multi-coloured date constituting the whole of the artwork, “fridayjanuarythenintheighteensixtythree”, pays tribute to the last day prior to the commencement of service of the Underground Railway. Beck’s map is absent as was the tube itself on “the day before”, but its grammar is still evoked in the use of the line colours portending the upcoming revolution, as though the tube was already written in the fate of the city. Thanks to the chromatic reference, Beck’s grammar and written language merge into one: the tube map is to become the new language.

When in 1933 the brochure cover announced that travellers could finally make use of “a new design for the old map”, little did the readers know that what

These examples show that artworks about the tube make use of Beck’s map as a form of writing, taking 86


11. Tim Fishlock. A to Z. Š Tim Fishlock and Transport for London 2012. Courtesy of Tim Fishlock.

they were holding was much more than that. What lay in their hands was so powerful that it would change the geography of the city without the use of excavators, even more so than the bombs that were to fall on London within the next decade. Beck’s map offered a way of constantly rewriting the city according to the shifting understandings of the urban landscapes throughout several eras and movements. The grammar that grew out of the modernism of Beck’s times traversed profoundly different historical eras, but instead of forcing onto them a perception of the city produced in a specific historical period, it evolved and adapted effortlessly to the different and sometimes diverging conceptions of urban space, from Pick’s unifying policies to our contemporary hypertextual approach to city life, passing through the fragmenting phenomena of suburbanization, psychogeography, and postmodern re-readings in the arts and the digital age. The connecting power of its design allowed for such contrasting attitudes to merge almost naturally in the straightforward semiotics of lines, colours and dots that still accompany Londoners in their everyday travels across the vast metropolis, as well as urban dwellers who turn to similar cartograms all over the globe. One can only wonder how many more revolutions the language of the tube map will live through in the years to come, with no wrinkles or other signs of ageing to disrupt its crisp profile.



The tabula peutingeriana, the only surviving map of the complex road network built by the Roman Empire across the Mediterranean basin, provides one of the earliest examples of distorted topography to highlight the connections of the cursus publicus. The original copy is believed to date back to the fifth century and the only surviving replica of the lost original, drawn in the 13th century, is held at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna. Like Beck’s tube map, the tabula puts a greater emphasis on connections over accuracy, although it still retains physical surface features and deforms them to fit them into the rational image of the network. A thorough history and analysis of the map can be found in Richard J.A. Talbert, Rome’s World: The Peutinger Map Reconsidered.


I n his sharp analysis of Beck’s map, design historian Ian Baldwin also makes the mistake of looking at the map only as “a fascinating and beautiful graphic object”, viewing it as a static symbol rather than a set of symbols, a language that could be conjugated and adapted to all urban realms (n.pag.).


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded use of the term occurred in a conference paper given by Theodor Holm Nelson at Vassar College in 1965.


In her analysis of the map, Janine Hadlaw also highlights that Beck’s design and its success responded to a shared perception of urban life and space that made and still makes the map easily readable to its users (26).


Hadlaw defines every map as “a device by which particular meanings can be imposed on the world: it orders priorities and naturalizes hierarchies of place” (26). This is confirmed by Beck’s design.


In spite of the unifying force of Beck’s map, Mumford was very critical toward rail transport, which he also blamed for the centrifugal sprawl and fragmentation of the modern city. In Mumford’s analysis, the railroad tracks work as walls shattering the urban space into a discontinuous and chaotic ensemble (471). However, Mumford refers to overground transport rather than the underground railway, the former being the most common form of urban rapid transport in the United States still in 1961, the year when the book was published.


For how images organize meaning throgh grammar, see Gunther R. Kress, Theo Van Leeuwen, Reading Images: the Grammar of Visual Design (Abingdon, New York: Routledge, 2006).


Starting in 2004, Art on the Underground commissioned international artists to create the cover art for the pocket tube map, and since then the map has featured a new cover every six months. An overview of the cover art up to 2007 can be found in Coles (45-49).


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