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  • A Geocritical Approach to Geocriticism
  • Bertrand Westphal (bio)

For a growing number of researchers working in the fields of literature, cinema, the visual arts, design, architecture, and even cultural geography, geocriticism is a theoretical approach worthy of interest. We’ve come a long way since 1999, when the method was first presented in Limoges, France, at a conference entitled La géocritique mode d’emploi, a title that paraphrases Georges Perec’s novel La vie mode d’emploi, a text which it is still pertinent to read and reread. Since this time, geocriticism has spun off in several directions. In a way, it has even been deterritorialized. In 2007, La Géocritique: Fiction, réel, espace was published by Minuit. Several doctoral theses were defended; the pioneers included Pierre Gomez, who, in 2005, applied a geocritical approach to Gambian literature before expanding his work to include other African literatures, Amy Wells, who spoke of American writers of the Left Bank, crossing geocriticism with geomatics and a gender perspective (2008), and Clement Levy, who extended the analysis of the links between geocriticism and postmodernity in the discipline of comparative literature (2008). These three researchers have continued to publish numerous works in the meantime. There is also the considerable work of Robert Tally, who translated La Géocritique for Palgrave Macmillan, before going on to apply geocriticism, elaborating further precepts, especially within the domain of Melville studies and in his work on Kurt Vonnegut, “the [great] man without a country,” or yet still in Utopian Studies in the global age. The list could go on and on—as there are many other geocritics out there. The approaches have become multiple over time and with the coincidence of places, even if these coincidences are nothing other than the meeting of a causal series, as logicians would say. This constant evolution, which has enabled geocriticism to be formalized while at the same time being renewed and applied in theoretically unprecedented domains, continues. In this way, Hunan University Press will be bringing out La Géocritique in simplified Chinese in 2017; Qiao Xi is organizing a first geocritical conference in China at the Xi’an Jiatong University in 2018. The conference theme is geocriticism crossed with the philosophy of space.

This diffusion is not without effects on the manner in which the approach defines itself, but all gravitate around a series of invariables that define the core of the method. There is the fact that space should be seen in its temporal dimension, and the inverse. There is also the fact that any definition relating to the relationship between place and space is inscribed in the transgressiveness that is the guarantor of a fluid and non-permanent vision of territories (when will we see a geocritical essay inspired by Taoism?). And there is also the fact that fiction and its referent, which is imprinted somewhere in the real, are not inexorably separated: fiction is in the real; it contributes to fleshing out the real, which contributes to anchoring the esthetic of representation in the ensemble of perceived contemporary society—a society that wants to be pragmatic, without really being bothered, due to a lack of critical distance compared to itself, to identify the nature of its praxis, during these times of economic and ontological crises. To further reduce this synthesis, we could say that geocriticism’s first objective is to address the issues associated with the aesthetic representations of space and places that are invested in the threshold that spreads out between the real and the fictional.

But now a rather impertinent, yet pertinent question presents itself: is geocriticism susceptible to analysis from a geocritical angle? All things considered, is geocriticism mature enough to make a (geo)criticism of itself, between the real and the fictional, certainly, but especially between criticism and self-criticism? For example, what is going on with the space-time relationship within geocriticism? Geocriticism was developed within what is commonly acknowledged as a Western environment, more precisely, that of Europe. The first subject of geocritical study was the Mediterranean Basin and a series of places that follow its coastline—see my Le Rivage des mythes, une géocritique méditerranéenne...


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