«The paper discusses the impact of the spatial turn (topographical turn, topological turn) in the field of (German) literary studies, indicated by ...»
meta – carto – semiotics (Vol. 5; 2012)
Journal for Theoretical Cartography ISSN 1868-1387
On the Concept of Space in Cultural Geography and Literary Theory
Ernest W. B. Hess-Lüttich (Bern, Switzerland)
The paper discusses the impact of the spatial turn (topographical turn, topological turn) in the field of (German) literary studies, indicated by such terms as 'literary cartography', 'mapping', 'literary topography', 'heterotopes of literature' etc. These terms have been adopted from other disciplines in which they operate in quite different terminological networks. The paper, therefore, follows the development of this approach back to its roots in earth sciences (especially geo-spheres) and summarises the changes of the notion of space from traditional geography to current socio-cultural anthropology. This includes looking at its metaphorical application to other spheres of knowledge. Space as a literary concept is confronted with the use of the term in its original context and the consequences of the 'spatial turn' in the current debate in literary theory in the German speaking countries. But instead of outlining the tradition of such approaches since the 18 th century in Germany, the paper draws the attention to the approach of Jurij M. Lotman, who understands text as a culture-specific code for space, and symbolic space in literature as a result of culturally specific uses of signs. The comparison between the notions of space in cultural geography and literary theory also allows for a critical comment on some approaches which may be useful for 'literatourism' but do not suffice for the semiotic integration of topological relations into Lotman's concept of text, which allows literary texts to be read as media of cultural self-interpretation and symbolic models of spatial perception.
Keywords: concepts of space, spatial turn in cultural geography, literary theory and textual analysis, J. Lotman´s approach
1. Introduction and overview The popularly used metaphor of “text as space” raises questions in relation to narratology and scientific approaches to textual analysis. So it was that numerous linguistic turns, iconic turns, cultural turns, etc., were followed by a spatial turn – a term the impact of which can also be seen in the field of literature based on the increasing popularity of such vogue terms as 'literary cartography', 'mapping', 'literary topography', 'heterotopes of literature' etc. In literary theory the discussion about terminology so far appears still more attractive than the actual application of textual analysis of given literary texts. While representative concepts from other disciplines, which occur in completely different terminological frameworks, are being heedlessly adopted into literary theory, all kinds of eddies and undercurrents are already emerging. For instance, those terms which especially address the technical and cultural representation schemes of spatiality (e.g. topographical turn), and which are not to be confused with efforts that concentrate on describing literary spaces and spatial structures in aesthetic products (e.g. topological turn).
As is not surprising for our profession, such attempts naturally make for many forerunners in the field (running from Lessing through Karlfried v. Dürckheim and Ernst Cassirer to Otto Friedrich Bollnow, to name but a few). Contrary to such subject-centred, primarily
phenomenological approaches, Jurij M. Lotman regards the symbolic space of literature as a result of a culturally specific usage of signs. Lotman perceives an analogous relationship between the narrative text as an
model of reality and the respective “world view” of a given culture. He then carries over his semantic model of space into a pragmatic, i.e. cultural and historical context.
My contribution follows this discussion, pursuing it, however, beyond the disciplinary borders as far as its origins within the space-oriented earth sciences. It summarily recaps changes of the notion of space from traditional geography up to the contemporary cultural geography. Spatialisation of social circumstances (and their visualisation) and the (often metaphorical) transmission of this approach to other areas of knowledge (cf. Bourdieu's des effets de lieu as an example for a 'space trap') also appertain. Furthermore, the occupation of literary sciences with space is confronted with space concepts from earth sciences. Its 18th century roots, as well as the continuance in first phenomenological, and later semiotic approaches right up to the consequences of the so-called spatial turn in today’s debate of literary theory shall be revealed.
In the attempt of creating a synthesis, possible points of contact between literary (respectively literary and textual theoretical) and culture geographical space concepts shall be probed. Additionally (in recourse to Foucault's “histoire d'espace”), the premises for a contemporary understanding of 'space' under the sign of a balance of tension of globalisation and regionalisation, of non-located medial networks and local assertion of identity shall be profiled in order to finally expose literary texts as media of cultural-specific codes and symbolisations of 'space'.
The resumptive comparison of culture geographical and literary theoretical conceptualisations of spatial relations also ensures the base for a critical reflection of numerous contemporary efforts, which occasionally may be suitable for “literatouristical illustration”, but do not always fulfil the theoretical demands, which they formulate themselves. In contrast, the recognitional potential of a cooperation between culture geographical and literary topographies seems hitherto to have been exhausted just as little as that of a semiotic integration of topological relations in (literary) texts as model shaping systems (in the sense of Jurij Lotman), which reference the world view of a respective culture as abstract (aesthetic) models of reality. Insofar as literary texts can be read as media of culture specific selfinterpretation and as testimonies of altered (and changeable) perceptions of space, the interest in literary spaces also gains in relevance for a topical conceptualisation, for instance, of intercultural German studies.1 For her help in acquiring materials in the framework of her project I would like to thank lic. phil. Anna
2. Origins of the spatial turn While on the hunt for the origins of the term spatial turn, I came across a book by Edward W. Soja with the title Postmodern Geographies, published in 1989 by Verso, in which the American geographer and social critic attempts to replace the paradigm of time with one of space. He argues that our current environment is not just a “Produkt von Geschichte, sondern vor allem auch der Konstruktion menschlicher Geographien, einer sozialen Konstruktion von Raum und der stetigen Umformung geographischer Landschaften [product of history, but rather – before all else – also a construction of human geography; a social construction of space and the continuous reshaping of geographic landscapes]” (Assmann, 2009, p. 14). Shortly thereafter, literary critic Fredric Jameson picks up the thread of these thoughts in a book called Postmodernism (Jameson 1991). He defines the “spatialization of the temporal” as a hallmark of the new paradigm: “A certain spatial turn has often seemed to offer one or more productive ways of distinguishing postmodernism from modernism proper” (Jameson, 1991, p. 154).
However, other scholars suspect that the actual origin of the concept goes to a lecture held by Michel Foucault in 1967 on “Des espaces autres.” Describing paradigm shift, Foucault takes the Copernican Revolution - from geocentric to heliocentric worldview – and Galilei's discovery of the infinity of the Universe as his example. He traces the history of the relationship between conceptions of space and the history of science. Even though today's accompanying changes in perceptions of space – for instance with catchwords like hyperspace (Jameson, 1986, p. 89) – are somewhat carelessly linked to the technologically networked world (cf. Döring & Thielmann, 2008, p. 30), the “Entstehung transnationaler Communities durch die neuen Kommunikationstechnologien [und] die Bedeutung des ubiquitären Internets für das Raumbewußtsein seiner User [emergence of transnational communities through new communication technologies and the meaning of the ubiquitous internet for the internet user's awareness of space]” (Böhme, 2009, p. 192) can barely be ignored.
Thus, some traditional questions of the aesthetic and fictional constructions of space are again brought to the attention of literary theory, though the focus has shifted (Döring, 2008, p. 596). The interest is now directed towards space as a 'cultural construct' and 'social product', which bridge this approach to a new perspective and purpose of cultural geography.
Though the “ausdrücklich disziplinübergreifende Verwendung der Raumperspektive [expressive, area-specific, and comprehensive application of spatial perspective]” is readily emphasised (Bachmann-Medick, 2007, p. 291), the common theoretical background for a system of space-related terminology (in disciplines that only refer to each other ostensibly) has so far failed to materialise. That is why these cross-references often merely remain metaphors, misunderstandings, and unrecognised claims. This will continue to be the case as long as the development of single-minded, scientific concepts of space is not seriously affiliated and the long tradition of the spatial concept within the earth sciences is plainly ignored by literary theory (Genske, Hess-Lüttich, & Huch eds., 2007; Hess-Lüttich, Müller, & van Zoest eds., 1998).
Congruently ambiguous is the talk of 'space': a concept that has been defined through mathematics, geometry, phenomenology, sociology, cognitive science, psychology, perception theory, and cultural, literary and communication studies but nevertheless presents the
spatial turn as a justification for the continued loose reference between these discourses:
“'Space' is one of the most obvious of things which is mobilised as a term in a thousand different contexts, but whose potential meanings are all too rarely explicated or addressed” (Massey, 1999, p. 27).
3. The spatial turn in (Cultural) Geography With the scope of physical geography broadened to include new tasks within social, cultural and anthropological geography as of the middle of the twentieth century, the willingness to complement scientific questions, i.e. 'scientific' according to measurable factors of the geo-sphere, with the interpretation of such factors, i.e. according to social groups and their valuations, has been gradually growing – along with the added readiness to locate the subject itself in both realms of academic endeavour: namely, the natural sciences and the humanities (cf. Bobek & Schmithüsen, 1949, p. 113).2 With this step, human action springs into view: “Subjektive und sozial-kulturelle Bedeutungen werden materiellen Dingen auferlegt, ohne dass sie zu Bestandteilen der Materie werden. Räumliche Gegebenheiten können folglich lediglich als Medien der Orientierung alltäglichen Handelns verstanden werden [subjective and socio-cultural meanings impose upon material things, without becoming part of the material's content. Spatial conditions can thus be simply understood as media for navigating quotidian action]” (Werlen, 2004, p. 310). Against the background of such an approach of social geography, based on a theory of action, as it is being presented here, problems of space appear as problems of actions of social subjects. These actions – according to Anthony Gidden's (1986) book The Constitution of Society – can be analytically dismantled into categories of rationale, motive, and intention, without the subjects necessarily constituting these actions themselves.
According to the meaning of physical and material constraints, the meaning of space is implied as a medium of social orientation and differentiation.