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Introduction Geographical Encounters, Modernist Geopoetics Stephen Dedalus Class of Elements Clongowes Wood College Sallins County Kildare Ireland Europe The World The Universe (Joyce 12) Featured in the early pages of James Joyce’s modernist novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, this is a list that Stephen Dedalus has composed on the flyleaf of the geography textbook he uses for his “Elements” class at Clongowes school. Stephen’s relationship to this geography textbook becomes an occasion for him to work through recurring questions of Irish identity and belonging that are spurred by his family’s debates about Irish national politics, British colonialism, and the place of Irish Catholicism in Ireland’s political life as well as by his alienating experiences at his Jesuit 2 | TheGeopoeticsofModernism boarding school. He uses it, significantly, to generate ever-widening concentric circles of belonging that serve to define and stabilize his identity in the face of instability. Joyce’s novel explicitly evokes the disciplinary practices of academic geography, going so far as to typographically inset this passage apart from the rest of the narrative, in the form that a geography exercise would conventionally take. When read in the context of the dominant strains of academic discourse prevalent during Joyce’s time of writing, Stephen’s list takes on the performative aspect of environmental determinism at work. After he writes out the various spatial contexts in which he can locate himself, he does a curious thing in rereading the list backwards, so that environment precedes identity: “Then he read the flyleaf from the bottom to the top till he came to his own name. That was he” (13). In this moment, the universe, the world, Europe, Ireland, County Kildare, Sallins, his school—all of them external, environmental coordinates—conspire to produce Stephen Dedalus as a subject. The next to last item in his reverse reading is his “elements” class, suggesting that his academic classroom, and the geographical epistemology it teaches, most immediately and intimately produce his identity. Although Joyce’s considerations of geography have been discussed by scholars, this passage’s relationship to environmental determinism has not.1 And yet this idea that environment operates as a controlling feature of human society was, according to many historical geographers, the core idea in academic geography during this era, as the discourse of environmental determinism had taken hold as a widespread touchstone in academic geography in much of Western Europe and the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In this particular brand of geographic epistemology , environmental factors ranging from topography to climate were thought to play a major role in influencing the organization and structure of human societies, a sort of environmental molding that left little room for human agency to determine social organization and values. These details of Joyce’s novel signal the not always easily noticed but nevertheless robust connections between literary modernism and historical forms of geographical thinking that The Geopoetics of Modernism takes as its central focus. As I will discuss shortly, they also subtly point to the role that poetry can play within this matrix. Despite the disconnect we might assume between literary avant-garde modernist practices and the ostensibly “dry” or seemingly remote work of academic geographers, the connections between these areas of cultural production were more commonplace, more varied, Introduction: Geographical Encounters, Modernist Geopoetics | 3 and more transnational than we might typically assume. My aim in this book is to reconstruct the conditions of reading, influence, and intervention in which literary modernism and geographical knowledge co-evolved, which can help us to see connections between a range of American modernist poets and the work of well-known American academic geographers such as Ellsworth Huntington and Ellen Churchill Semple as well as the popular “middlebrow ” geographical periodical, the National Geographic Magazine.2 This book traces these connections, reading the experimental poetic modernism of Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, Gertrude Stein, and H.D. in relation to both academic and popular forms of geographical production. Focusing attention on poetry in particular provides a powerful case study that attests to the breadth of cultural materials that participated in broader negotiations during the modernist period about the nature of the relationship between the physical environment and the human. The contours of particularly American poetic encounters with geographical epistemologies are deep and wide. They take their origin in Walt Whitman ’s engagements with the European geography of Alexander von Humboldt and Mary Somerville, and they reflect in the modernist period the...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813055145
Related ISBN
9780813060514
MARC Record
OCLC
900158401
Pages
208
Launched on MUSE
2015-02-13
Language
English
Open Access
No
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