Robert T Tally Jr (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Literature and Space (Abingdon: Routledge 2017) 375pp. £175 Hb. ISBN: 978-1-138-81635-0
The Routledge Handbook of Literature and Space is a collection of thirty-two essays through which editor Robert T Tally Jr. showcases a variety of approaches to questions of space and place in literature. The Handbook reinforces the burgeoning interest in the ‘spatial turn,’ a period that shifts the focus of the critical gaze from time and temporality to considerations of space as an essential attribute of, rather than a mere backdrop to, literature. Often regarded as stemming from the ideas of Henri Lefebvre and influenced by Foucault, this literary spatial turn is now able to take advantage of a wide range of interdisciplinary research encompassing fields such as geography, cultural studies, politics, modern languages and film studies as well as philosophy and literature.
In his essay ‘Critical Literary Geography,’ (28) included in Part One of this collection, Andrew Thacker dates the arrival of spatiality as an item on the critical literary agenda to the publication of The Condition of Postmodernity by David Harvey in 1989. Thacker goes on to distil elements addressed previously in his Moving through Modernity: Space and Geography in Modernism (2003), and revisits some of the ideas from Geographies of Modernism: Literature, Cultures and Spaces (eds Peter Brooker and Andrew Thacker 2005), to illustrate approaches to literary geographies, through engagement with social space or alternatively, though studies associated with the spaces of transnational movement of literature. This chapter is representative of the current advanced level of maturity in the study of literature and space presented in much of the Handbook, as well as its positioning as a springboard for ideas for further studies.
In an attempt to categorise the diverse range of research Tally Jr has grouped the Handbook into five parts, divisions which he suggests, may be ‘disposed of’ if they are found to be unhelpful. As the boundaries between the five sections (comprising: ‘Spatial theory and practice,’ ‘Critical methodologies,’ ‘Work sites,’ Cities and the geography of urban experience’ and ‘Maps, territories, readings’) prove to be highly porous, it is however, perhaps more beneficial to cut across these superimposed divisions and explore differences and commonalities in the treatment of major concepts or themes instead.
For example, the theme of memory occurs in three chapters spread across Parts Three, Four and Five of the Handbook. In Part Three, Barbara Piatti explores ‘Dreams, Memories, Longings: the Dimension of Projected Places in Fiction’ (179). Here, while proposing the need for a theory of projected spaces, Piatti provides examples of the projected places that occur in the imagination or memory of fictitious characters. The fact that these projected places are interwoven with real or fixed locations, such as identifiable cities, creates a sense of layering or depth in the work described. In Part Four, Elayne Tobin observes the paucity of physical signs to act as landmarks of the memory of the different ‘waves’ of population in ‘On this Spot: Materialism, Memory, and the Politics of Absence in Greenwich Village’ (273). This lack of landmarks causes memory links to be severed between the layers of past and present and, by negation, effectively signposts the erosion of community building. The third treatment of the theme of memory appears in Part Five, with Ricardo Padrón’s ‘Mapping without Maps: Memory and Cartography in Las Casas’s Very Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies’ (314). This examination of the use of verbal descriptions of territories in place of cartographic images details the use of ‘memory theatres’ to aid rhetoric. By combining this technique with ‘emotional tagging,’ a listening audience could be more easily persuaded of tales of fear and cruelty in the regions described by a speaker. This serves to underline a tenet of this Handbook which is that maps do not require graphic representation but may be realised solely in the mind of the reader.
A further fundamental thematic arc in the Handbook may be followed by contrasting treatments of ‘place’ and ways of experiencing them, from Neal Alexander’s ‘Sense of Place’ through to Siobhan Carroll’s ‘Atopia / Non-Place’ via the ‘Phenomenology, Place and the Spatial Turn’ of Eric Prieto and the more narrowly focused ‘Sound and Rhythm in Literary Space-Time’ by Sheila Hones. Alexander’s (39), citing of Barry Lopez and the work of Michel Serres considers the use of all five senses in our designation of place. Following Prieto’s (60), examination of different approaches to literary spatiality, Hones echoes Padrón by focusing on the contrast between emphasis and silence created by literary maps, and goes on to give examples of the way in which space is represented by the distance or intimacy of a character to sounds within the ‘fictional world’ (106). This difference of perspective is then reflected in Part Four of the Handbook where Jean-François Duclos comments on the power of distance and gaze to transform the narrative space between the follower and the followed in his compelling ‘The Following is an Account of What Happened: Plot, Space, and the Art of Shadowing’ (280). This chapter, along with the contribution by Sheila Hones, are perhaps the most accessible for anyone coming to a consideration of literature and space for the first time.
Carroll outlines the different effects of natural and manmade atopias or ‘non-places’ and suggests that the politics of manmade atopias are worth further consideration. In addition to this, she regards ‘cyberspace’ as a ‘positive atopia,’ commenting that it 'performs for many of us the kind of community-connecting activities associated with place' (159).
Aside from a minor complaint that the space allocated to cyberspace felt abridged, the range and detail of the essays is exactly as one would hope for in a handbook of this nature. Extensive notes and bibliographies follow each of the chapters, so although the five-part division may prove frustrating at times, it remains easy for the reader to navigate through the content in an order that may be more helpful for encouraging further research on specific topics.
Natalie Seaton-Lucas, University of Bristol