Roundtable Description

This roundtable responds to Dr. Ekotto’s invitation to reflect, as a community, how spaces form, encourage, hinder, and open up to celebration. It will add to vibrant current scholarship on spatiality, including the growing list of texts in the “Geocriticism and Spatial Literary Studies” series from Palgrave Macmillan. Beyond the academy, spatial studies are taking on increased presence in the public sphere, with increased creative placemaking efforts in cities and towns worldwide (cf. the Project for Public Spaces, Placemakingx, and the grantmaking efforts in placemaking from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Mellon Foundation). These efforts are entwined with literary study: if we hold true Bertrand Westphal’s assertion that “fiction does not reproduce the real, but actualizes new virtualities that had remained unformulated, and that then go on to interact with the real,” then the literature and other cultural discourse around a place are constitutive components of the location.

This roundtable brings geocritics, literary cartographers, and like minded scholars within the Spatial Turn to reflect on and build upon each other’s work. Sometimes this scholarship takes the form of mapping literary places in particular novels (Unni discussing A Tale of Hansuli Turn by Tarashankar Bandopadhyay and Aaranyak by Bibuthibhusan Bandhopadhyay; Tally’s work on Melville, Poe, and Tolkien, among many others), other times it will manifest as a study of the discursive construction of particular spaces (Hsu investigating the polysensorial Chinese laundromat; Weaver-Hightower exploring the 19th century gold mine), and still others take shape as arguments for the figurative dilation of space to include marginalized groups and activists (Wells and the spatiality of craftivism and Fourth-Wave Feminism).

In preparation for the Convention, the presider has created a Humanities Commons page where discussion questions and some brief introductory materials will be posed to the participants and prospective audience members. Questions and topics include the following:

  • How does “real and imagined” space—what Edward Soja calls “thirdspace,” where people experience the built environment, the real world through its discursive constructions—encourage or complicate celebration?
  • What is missing from established spatial theories (e.g., Westphal’s geocriticism, Tuan’s topophilia, Bakhtin’s chronotope)? How do the spaces and places discussed here highlight these gaps?
  • How is space remade? Can a place truly be reclaimed, re-territorialized?
  • How do joy and sorrow generate (or develop from) communal celebratory space?
  • What/where remains uncharted?

Keeping with the geocritical tenet of multifocalism, which holds that many viewpoints are needed to round out a space, this roundtable will include a presider (Michael A. Smith) and six participants, which we understand is close to the maximum number for such a format. Rather than presenting pre-written papers, the majority of time will be spent exploring the intersections, overlap, and gaps of the work of the panelists, as well as a robust discussion with the audience concerning other celebratory spaces. Intentionally, the panelists are varied in experience, background, geography, and scholarship, as explained through the biographies of each participant. With such a wide-range of ideas and scholarship, tied together less by a methodology but rather a shared framework of spatiality, the intended audience for this roundtable is similarly diverse in geographic and topical interest.