- Geocriticism and the “Reinstating” of Literature
Robert T. Tally, Jr., ed.
231 Pages; Print, $32.00
Robert T. Tally, Jr.
236 Pages; Print, $95.00
“At the very start of the new millennium,” writes Bertrand Westphal in his “Foreword” to Robert T. Tally Jr.’s edited collection of essays Geocritical Explorations, “there is no doubt that literature has to be reinstated within a discourse on the world.” Thus, “what we call ‘world literature,’” geocriticism’s founder goes on to specify, “should imply a double openness on literary productions: first, that they be regarded as wholly universal and freed from any discrimination between supposed centers (they always have been plural) and peripheries, and second, that they be linked to real-life referents, a coupling that allows them to hold their own position in the global discourse about modern societies.” Among the most significant developments within literary studies in the wake of the late 1980s-mid-1990s “spatial turn,” Westphal’s géocritique and the North American geocriticism associated with it also participate, as one can see, in the global-studies-era, spectacular comeback of “world literature.” This was as evident in the field’s grounding text, Westphal’s 2007 La Géocritique: Réel, fiction, espace (translated into English by Tally in 2011 as Geocriticism: Real and Fictional Spaces), as it is in La Cage des méridiens: La littérature et l’art contemporain face à la globalisation, the book Westphal published a few months ago. Together with Le Monde plausible: Espace, lieu, carte, which was brought out by the same Parisian press, Minuit, in 2011 and was translated into English by Amy D. Wells (an active and talented geocritic herself) under the title The Plausible World: A Geocritical Approach to Space, Place, and Maps in 2013, the two volumes make for the core of a theoretical and analytic corpus that has shaped an entire, fast-expanding and quickly diversifying field.
Both tendencies are obvious in Tally’s work, including the collections of essays he has put together in the by now well-established “Geocriticism and Spatial Literary Studies” series he runs for Palgrave Macmillan. Geocritical Explorations had come out before the series was set up but was reissued in paperback in 2014, which has increased the dissemination of a sheaf of well-written, well-argued, and effectively theorized geocritical interventions by Westphal, Tally, Eric Prieto, Sten Pultz Moslund, Peta Mitchell, Jane Stadler, Maria Mercedes Ortiz Rodriguez, Michael K. Walonen, Antoine Eche, Christine M. Battista, Rebecca Weaver-Hightower, Rachel Collins, Joanna Johnson, Maria C. Ramos, Brigitte Le Juez, and Heather Yeung. Also in 2014, and this time around as part of the abovementioned series, Palgrave Macmillan released Tally’s Literary Cartographies collection. As the editor explains, the book “supplements and expands the sort of work presented in the previous collection” by bringing together thirteen, somewhat younger geocritics: Robert Allen Rouse, Jeanette E. Goddard, Alice Tsay, Susan E. Cook, Heather McNaugher, John G. Peters, Shawna Ross, Jenny Pyke, Myles Chilton, Barbara E. Thornbury, Anne B. Wallen, Rhona Trauvitch, and Derek Schilling.
The difference between the two “companion volumes” is also clearly laid out by Tally in his “Introduction: Mapping Narratives.” “Whereas [Geocritical Explorations] was,” Tally notes, “mainly conceived in terms of an approach to reading works of literature, using geocriticism as an interpretive and analytic method that focused attention on the spatial significance of the texts under consideration, the contributors to Literary Cartographies emphasize the degree to which the writing of literary texts is itself a cartographic endeavor.” Otherwise, both books take to “spatiality and world literature” an approach that, notably enough, is concomitantly interdisciplinary and comparative and that, more broadly, can be said to affiliate geocriticism to “New Comparative Studies” and germane disciplinary domains, inquiries, and concerns such as late global-era, planetary, or mondialisation studies. Across the contributions, geocriticism characteristically pivots, as Westphal and other critics point out repeatedly (and necessarily...