Spatial Criticism: Critical Geography, Space, Place and Textuality

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
As You Like It (II. vii. ll.139-43)

These celebrated lines from William Shakespeare‘s As You Like It powerfully illustrate some of the dominant assumptions about space and spatiality that come to prevail in the histories of western modernity: space is seen as an empty container, of very little interest in and of itself, within which unfolds the real drama, that of history and human passions. Michel Foucault similarly notes in an often cited 1976 interview the ‘devaluation of space’ that had prevailed for ‘generations of intellectuals’: `Space was treated as the dead, the fixed, the undialectical, the immobile. Time, on the contrary, was richness, fecundity, life, dialectic.’ Foucault goes on to argue:

For all those who confuse history with the old schemas of evolution, living continuity, organic development, the progress of consciousness or the project of existence, the use of spatial terms seems to have an air of an anti- history. If one started to talk in terms of space that meant one was hostile to time. (Foucault, 1980, 70)

The Australian historian Paul Carter, even more directly echoing Shakespeare’s lines, describes the dominant narrative mode of what he calls modernity’s ‘imperial history’ as one ‘which reduces space to a stage, that pays attention to events unfolding in time alone… Rather than focus on the intentional world of historical individuals, the world of active, spatial choices, empirical history of this kind has as its focus facts which, in a sense, come after the event’ (Carter, 1987, xvi).

This privileging of temporality and history over space has its literary analogue in a critical tradition that, especially beginning in the latter part of the nineteenth century with writers like Henry James, celebrates the portrayal of the complex psychology of characters as the highest achievement of narrative art. Characters are fundamentally temporal constructs that unfold in a space, or `setting’, which, once established, seems to remain constant. Space is thus once again treated as the ‘stage’ upon which the drama of character development unfolds, and setting in such a tradition is viewed as distinctly secondary in importance to character. Moreover, in the increasing interiorization that occurs in certain strands of modernist fiction – which, in turn, have a marked influence on how we read earlier literary works as well – any concern with setting or space outside that of the monadic consciousness seems to all but vanish. This occurs in a moment that, as the geographer Edward Soja points out in his ground-breaking study, Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory (1989), not coincidentally also saw the subordination of the spatial problematic in social theory (31-5).

It is precisely these presuppositions that have been increasingly called into question over the last twenty-five years by an emerging interdisciplinary formation centred on the problematics of ‘space’, ‘place’ and `cultural geography’. Contributors to this vast and multiform research project might be numbered to include, among others, social theorists and historians like Arjun Appadurai, Carter, Michel de Certeau, Mike Davis, Foucault, Anthony Giddens, Henri Lefebvre and Saskia Sassen; geographers Derek Gregory, David Harvey, Doreen Massey, Neil Smith, Edward Soja and Yi-Fu Tuan; architects Rem Koolhaas, Manfredo Tafuri and Bernard Tschumi; anthropologists James Clifford, Allen Feldman and Paul Rabinow; philosophers Edward S. Casey, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida and Elizabeth Grosz; art critics Victor Burgin and T. J. Clark; and literary and cultural critics, bell hooks, Fredric Jameson, Caren Kaplan, Louis Marin, Meaghan Morris, Kristin Ross, Edward Said and Raymond Williams. There has also been a return to work of earlier thinkers who each in their own way took up what were in their own time unfashionable spatial questions: this would include the discussions of embodiment, ‘world’, enframement, and dwelling in Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time and other later essays; the explorations of the relationships between northern and southern Italy in a moment of dramatic social and cultural modernization found in Antonio Gramsci‘s Prison Notebooks; the lyrical spatial phenomenology of Gaston Bachelard‘s The Poetics of Space; the detailed analysis of an array of the novelistic ‘chronotopes’, ‘the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature’, offered by Mikhail M. Bakhtin (1981, 84); and the stunning mappings of the spaces and cultural flows of nineteenth-century Paris found in Walter Benjamin’s fragmentary and incomplete Passagenwerk (Arcades Project).

What links the diverse projects of these various thinkers together is a common challenge to the Enlightenment and Cartesian notion of space as an objective homogeneous extension (res extensa), distinct from the subject (res cogitans), and the Kantian concept of space as an empty container in which human activities unfold. Against such presuppositions, the work of these diverse thinkers show in a stunning variety of ways how space itself is both a production, shaped through a diverse range of social processes and human interventions, and a force that, in turn, influences, directs and delimits possibilities of action and ways of human being in the world. Western modernity, as Soja emphasizes, is thus to be reconceived as both a historical and a geographical-spatial project, a continuous dissolution and reorganization of the environments, including our bodies, that we all inhabit.

This new attention to the productions of space has entered into literary studies from a number of different directions: from Marxism and critical theory, space being, as Soja and Harvey effectively demonstrate, already a central concern in much of Marx‘s own work; from colonial and postcolonial studies, which brought into focus the effects of European domination over space and the migrations and interactions of different cultures and populations; from feminism and gender studies, where the issues of the body, sexuality and the embodiment of the subject have long been of central importance; from popular culture and genre studies, where the specific practices of non-canonical cultural forms have been brought into sharper focus; and, as the list above suggests, from a rich and growing conversation with work being done in a broad range of other disciplines.

Two of the thinkers who have contributed the most to this revival of interest in the role of space in the projects of western modernity are the French social theorists, Henri Lefebvre and Michel Foucault. Lefebvre’s major work of spatial theorization, The Production of Space (1974) – first translated into English in 1991 – has had a dramatic impact on work being done in a wide range of disciplines, ranging from urbanism, architecture, and social theory to literary and cultural studies. In his rich and brilliant example of a spatial dialectical thinking, Lefebvre definitively rejects the older ‘representation’ of space as `a preexisting void, endowed with formal properties alone… a container waiting to be filled by a content – i.e. matter, or bodies’ (1991, 170). Instead, he shows in great detail how the emergence and development of capitalist modernity occurs through a particular ‘(social) production of (social) space’ – that is, a space that is fundamentally produced by and through human actions, and which is thus `constituted neither by a collection of things or an aggregate of (sensory) data, nor by a void packed like a parcel with various contents, and . . . it is irreducible to a “form” imposed upon phenomena, upon things, upon physical materiality’ (Lefebvre, 1991, 26-7). `(Social) space’, Lefebvre maintains, ‘is not a thing among other things, nor a product among other products: rather, it subsumes things produced, and encompasses their interrelationships in their coexistence and simultaneity – their (relative) order and/or (relative) disorder’ (1991, 73). For Lefebvre, such a space is a deeply historical one, its moments of apparent stability short-lived and contingent at best: indeed, Lefebvre suggests that one of the great temptations produced by the Enlightenment conceptualization of space as a static construct is that we think of it as a reified thing rather than as an open-ended, conflicted and contradictory process, a process in which we as agents continuously intervene.

Moreover, Lefebvre argues that such a space is itself never constituted as a singularity, as other traditions of spatial thought might suggest, such as those of structuralism and phenomenology with their respective focus on the subjective and objective dimensions of space. Instead, Lefebvre develops a ‘concrete abstract’ tripartite model of space that attempts at once to take account of and draw into a coherent ensemble these various other dimensions. Lefebvre argues that any socially produced historical space is constituted by a dialectically interwoven matrix of what he calls `spatial practices’, ‘representations of space’ and `spaces of representation’, each allied with a specific cognitive mode through which we `re-present’ it to ourselves: respectively, the domains of the ‘perceived’, the `conceived’ and the `lived’ (1991, 33-46). The first of his three ‘levels’ of space pertains to the most abstract processes of social production, reproduction, cohesion and structuration, and hence bears a striking resemblance to the concerns of the various structuralisms whose `perceptual’ apparatus takes on the abstract conceptual systematicity of a science. The third set of terms refers, on the other hand, to the space of the embodied individual’s cultural experience and the signs, images, forms and symbols that constitute it: it is this level of space that has been mapped so thoroughly by phenomenology, whose emphasis on the individual’s `lived’ existential experience of space resonates with that found in this dimension of Lefebvre’s work. The middle terms, those of the representations of space or the realm of the conceived, point towards what we more conventionally think as `space’ proper, mediating between and drawing all three of the levels together into a coherent ensemble. Of the social and cultural practices that constitute this middle dimension of space, Lefebvre writes, ‘conceptualized space, the space of scientists, planners, urbanists, technocratic subdividers and social engineers, as of a certain type of artist with a scientific bent – all of whom identify what is lived and what is perceived with what is conceived’ (1991, 38).

Thus, bringing together the very different projects of structural and phenomenological criticism, Lefebvre’s work also offers a powerful rejoinder to the tangential textualization of the world, or what he calls the `generalization of the concept of mental space’, at play in certain strands of structuralist, semiotic and post-structuralist theory (1991, 3). Lefebvre links these theorizations to a growing predominance in modern times of the `visual’, which, he argues, ‘has increasingly taken precedence over elements of thought and action deriving from other senses’ (1991, 139). This in turn is connected to the increasingly global trend in the history of capitalism towards what Lefebvre names `abstract space’ – a homogeneity on the level of spatial practices and fragmentation and isolation on the level of representations of space, or `lived’ experience (1991, 285-91). This latter formulation also has had a marked impact on the development in the last twenty-five years of the theorization of `postmodernism‘, especially in the work of thinkers such as Harvey and Fredric Jameson. And in another important recent refinement of Lefebvre’s project, Neil Smith eloquently argues for the necessity, when reading any particular cultural phenomenon, of taking into account its simultaneous embeddedness in a number of different `nested’ spatial contexts: body, home, community, city, region, nation and globe. Smith notes, `By setting boundaries, scale can be constructed as a means of constraint and exclusion, a means of imposing identity, but a politics of scale can also become a weapon of expansion and inclusion, a means of enlarging identity’ (1993, 114).

While Lefebvre’s work offers a powerful mechanism for thinking through the spatial dimensions of modern society and culture, Michel Foucault, especially in his central text of the mid-1970s, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975), presents a meticulous genealogical history of the spatial transformations that give rise to our modern world. Foucault‘s text is written very much in the spirit of earlier critical histories of modernity such as those offered by Max Weber and Theodor Adorno; however, Foucault‘s great achievement is to give this narrative a distinctively spatial turn. Foucault opens his examination by focusing a heightened attention upon the body, and in particular ‘the way in which the body itself is invested by power relations’ (1977, 24). Foucault announces that ‘Our society is one not of spectacle, but of surveillance’, and throughout his text he meticulously reconstructs the genealogy of such a modern form of power (1977, 217).

In the moment of the Absolutist monarch, Foucault argues, the individual body becomes the subject of a highly public `theatre’ of punishment that is located in a specific ritualized space, still distant from everyday life. However, precisely because this system is such a public and spectacular one, it is deeply unstable, open to a dramatic reversal at the hands of those who are its intended subjects. (A wonderful example of such an older system of power, as well as its potential for transgressive, carnivalesque inversion, is brilliantly portrayed in the opening chapters of Walter Scott’s The Heart of Midlothian.) Thus, in place of this older logic of power there gradually emerges a new system in which every body finds itself located in `a great enclosed, complex, and hierarchical structure’, and subject to a continuous regime of surveillance and manipulation (1977, 115). A whole series of operations, which Foucault names ‘discipline’ – ‘instruments, techniques, procedures, levels of application, targets’ (1977, 215) – arise with the aim of producing ‘normal’ subjects as well as marking out a whole finely graduated realm of deviancies: ‘Thus discipline produces subjected and practised bodies, “docile” bodies’ (1977, 138).

The model and most complete realization of this new kind of machinery of power are to be found in Jeremy Bentham’s ideal of prison architecture, the panopticon. Within this structure, the individual prisoner is placed in a state of permanent `visibility’, subject to the unseen gaze of authority. Never knowing when they are under observation, these subjects come to internalize the self- policing demanded of them. Crucially, Foucault maintains that

the Panopticon must not be understood as a dream building: it is the diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form; its functioning, abstracted from any obstacle, resistance or friction, must be represented as a pure architectural and optical system: it is in fact a figure of political technology that may and must be detached from any particular use. It is polyvalent in its applications; it serves to reform prisoners, but also to treat patients, to instruct schoolchildren, to confine the insane, to supervise workers, to put beggars and idlers to work. It is a type of location of bodies in space, of distribution of individuals in relation to one another, of hierarchical organization, of disposition of centres and channels of power, of definition of the instruments and modes of intervention of power, which can be implemented in hospitals, workshops, schools, prisons. (1977, 205)

‘Is it surprising’, Foucault later asks, `that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?’ (1977, 228) As such a technology gets generalized across the social space, it generates a veritable ‘carceral network’ which `in its compact or disseminated forms, with its systems of insertion, distribution, surveillance, observation, has been the greatest support, in modern society, of the normalizing power’ (1977, 304).

The influence of Foucault‘s work across a wide range of disciplines has been profound. In terms of literary scholarship, his influence has been especially evident in work in the so-called ‘New Historicism‘, Foucault‘s model of the panopticon being one of the inspirations, for example, of Stephen Greenblatt‘s brilliant re-reading of Thomas More‘s Utopia in his book Renaissance Self- Fashioning From More to Shakespeare (1980). Similarly, the questions concerning the production of the body and subjectivity raised by Foucault have been developed in fascinating and important new ways by recent feminist theorists. Elizabeth Grosz, to take only one example, argues that while it is important to think of questions of subjectivity in corporeal rather than disembodied conscious terms, the investigation needs to move even further: ‘It is not enough to reformulate the body in non-dualist and non-essentialist terms. It must also be reconceived in specifically sexed terms. Bodies are never simply human bodies or social bodies’ (1995, 84). Finally, one of the most interesting extensions of Foucault’s investigation of social space can be found in the US anthropologist Paul Rabinow’s French Modern: Norms and Forms of the Social Environment (1989). This rich and wide-ranging genealogical history focuses upon how a diverse group of nineteenth-century intellectuals, working in a number of distinct fields, all came to understand the ways in which ‘norms’ – proper behaviours in, inhabitations of and movements through the world – are shaped by various spatial `forms’ – architectural, urbanistic, national and so forth. Emphasizing the deeply spatial nature of the revolutions of modernity, Rabinow investigates transformations in nineteenth-century architectural and urban practices, among a diverse range of linked fields, in order to trace out a developing programme for using `the planned city as a regulator of modern society’ (1989, 12).

While Rabinow diverges from Foucault in his greater willingness to consider the progressive possibilities of certain productions of modern spatiality, both thinkers acknowledge that if social and cultural spaces, including the body, are indeed the product of human actions, then there is the possibility of our reconstituing human spaces, and hence human being-in-the-world as well. Space then is conceived not only as the site of politics, conflict and struggle, but also the very thing being fought over. This approach too suggests a link between contemporary critical examinations of space and spatiality and the great transformative architectural and urban planning programmes developed by Ebenezer Howard, Tony Garnier, the Bauhaus, Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright and others in the moment of cultural modernism – a moment that also saw in the realm of the visual arts the great widespread challenge of perspectivalism that had dominated both Western art and thought from the Italian Renaissance onwards. Not surprisingly, a good deal of the contemporary projects for reconstructing social space also arise from within the discourses of architecture and urbanism: these include, for example, Rem Koolhaas‘s ‘retroactive manifesto’ for the unfulfilled project he labels Manhattanism (1994, 9-10), and Jacques Derrida‘s provocative collaborations with architect Peter Eisenman on spaces to be produced for Bernard Tschumi‘s innovative Parc de la Villette in Paris. Derrida has described the latter project as involving a deconstruction of some of the fundamental assumptions that have underwritten western architectural discourse and practice: ‘for instance, the hegemony of the aesthetic, of beauty, the hegemony of usefulness, of functionality, of living, of dwelling’. However, this is only part of the project of a deconstructive architecture, and Derrida goes on to argue that, `then you have to reinscribe those motifs within the work. You can’t (or you shouldn’t) simply dismiss those values of dwelling, functionality, beauty and so on. You have to construct, so to speak, a new space and a new form, to shape a new way of building in which those motifs or values are reinscribed, having meanwhile lost their external hegemony’ (Papadakis et al., 1989, 73).

There also has been in recent years more and more attention given to the ways that diverse subaltern publics are able to `divert and reappropriate’ dominated spaces. Such lessons are to be found, for example, in Michel de Certeau‘s celebrated evocation of a transgressive ‘walking in the city’ effected by the very people who inhabit it (1984, 91-110); in Meaghan Morris‘s brilliant reading of  the innovative spatial project to be discovered in the Australian ‘documentary’ film, A Spire (1998, 123-57); in Judith Butler‘s examination of the new communal spaces figured in the film Paris is Burning (1993, 121-40); and in Allan Feldman‘s stunning analysis of the ‘radical deconstruction and reassemblage of the body’ that occurs in the IRA Hunger Strike of 1981 (1991, 204). These practices are of ‘great significance’, Lefebvre notes, `for they teach us much about the production of new spaces’ (1991, 167); however, as Lefebvre goes on to note, and indeed as Derrida and many of these other thinkers also point out, such moves must be considered only opening gestures, `which can call but a temporary halt to domination’ (1991, 168). The real aim always remains the `production’ of new kinds of spaces.

The conceptual reorientaions that Lefebvre, Foucault and these other thinkers offer also promise to transform literary and cultural analysis in a number of different ways. First, their work has helped to foster an increasing attention to the representation of space within literary and other cultural texts and to the ways that an attention to spatial questions transform how we think about literary history. Such a dual project is already evident in Raymond Williams‘s classic survey of modern British literature, The Country and the City (1973). Williams examines the changing ‘structures of feeling’ concerning the relationships between the ‘city’ and the ‘country’, as well as the transformations and expansions that occur in the very definition of each of these inseparable conceptual poles, as these are negotiated in the tradition of modern British literature, a tradition he traces from the country-house poems of the sixteenth century up through the global literatures of the present day. Williams argues for a special significance of the English experience in this narrative, `in that one of the decisive transformations, in the relations between country and city, occurred there very early and with a thoroughness which is still in some ways unapproached’ – he is referring here to the British industrial revolution (1973, 2). Williams is especially sensitive to the ways literary and cultural texts reflect changes in actual spatial practices, those initiated by these processes of modernization, and to these works’ sensitivity and capacity to register changing sensibilities before they enter fully into explicit public discourse.

A similar kind of investigation continues in such ground- breaking works as Kristin Ross‘s The Emergence of Social Space: Rimbaud and the Paris Commune (1988), a study drawing directly upon Lefebvre’s work and looking at the ways Arthur Rimbaud’s poetry, as well as a host of other cultural productions, respond to and draw upon both the expansion of French imperial power and the revolutionary urban spatial possibilities illuminated in the short-lived 1871 Paris Commune; Edward Said‘s magisterial Culture and Imperialism  (1993), a text that argues for the importance of a careful attention to the ‘geographical notation, the theoretical mapping and charting of territory that underlies Western fiction, historical writing, and philosophical discourse’ (1993, 58); and Franco Moretti‘s Atlas of the European Novel, 1800-1900 (1998), an examination of the productions of fictional space that occur within European novels of the nineteenth century, and of the circulation and distribution of various novelistic productions across the `real’ space of Europe and the globe.

At the same time, an attention to spatial concerns further calls into question the very constitution of the literary canon as it helps us to become more sensitive to the different kinds of work that are performed by various literary genres, modes and other forms of textuality. This kind of reorientation is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the wide-ranging intellectual project of the influential Marxist literary and cultural scholar Fredric Jameson. For example, in his landmark book, The Political Unconscious (1981), Jameson contrasts the different representational work performed by the modern novel and the older prose romance. The goal of the romance, Jameson shows us, is to spark in the reader a new awareness of what it means to be-in-the-world by highlighting the ‘worldness of world’, the specific constructedness of the geographies and environments such a reader always already inhabits (1981, 112). Thus, if the novel focuses on ‘character’, making us aware of and even contributing to the development of a modern centred subjectivity, the romance give expression to the `experience’ of settings, worlds or spaces. Character, Jameson maintains, thus functions in the romance in a very different way than in the novel: in this older form it serves as a formal ‘registering apparatus’ whose movements during the course of the narrative action produce a traveller’s itinerary of both the `local intensities’ and `horizons’ of the space that the narrative itself calls into being (1981, 112). Jameson uses this rethinking of the work of the romance as the basis for reading the particular narrative operations of texts ranging from the classical chivalric cycles to Stendhal‘s The Red and the Black and Emily Bronte‘s Wuthering Heights.

Jameson has explored similar spatial mapping operations in genres and works as diverse as the noir detective fiction of Raymond Chandler, More’s Utopia, James Joyce’s Ulysses, the ‘national allegory’ of Third World literature, the conspiracy film and the great modern form of the prose romance, what H. G. Wells first named ‘scientific romance’, and what we call today science fiction. In each case, Jameson maintains that we need to dispense with the grail of a singular universal set of criteria defining `great literature’, against which we can then evaluate all works, regardless of the time, place or situation of their production, and instead become more sensitive to the particular aims, practices and strategies of diverse works, genres and forms. Thus, for example, in his much discussed essay on Third World literature, Jameson argues that one of the most common contemporary critical errors is the reading of `non-canonical forms of literature’ in terms of the canon itself (by which he means here the forms and rhythms of a hegemonic European realism and modernism): not only is such an approach `peculiarly self-defeating because it borrows the weapons of the adversary’, it passes `over in silence the radical difference’ of these works (1986, 65). And in one of his numerous analyses of science fiction, Jameson suggests that works in this genre eschew the pleasures and demands of canonical  forms of literature – those of complex psychological portraits of `realistic’ characters and `well-formed plots’ – and thereby free themselves for an operation of spatial imagining: `the collective adventure accordingly becomes less that of a character (individual or collective) than that of a planet, a climate, a weather, and a system of landscapes – in short, a map. We thus need to explore the proposition that the distinctiveness of SF as a genre has less to do with time (history, past, future) than with space’ (Jameson, 1987, 58).

This attention to the way various cultural texts `map’ space has also contributed to one of Jameson‘s most influential formulations, that of the political aesthetic practice he names, drawing upon the work of architectural historian Kevin Lynch, `cognitive mapping’. Jameson first describes the practices of cognitive mapping in his widely influential essay on `postmodernism’, which he describes as `the cultural logic of late capitalism’. One of the most significant aspects of the new cultural situation of postmodernism is, according to Jameson, `the waning of our historicity, of our lived possibility of experiencing history in some active way’; conversely, our culture is one `increasingly dominated by space and spatial logic’ (1991, 21, 25). Indeed, while Jameson acknowledges, again following the lead of Lefebvre, that all social organizations are defined by distinctive productions of space, `ours has been spatialized in a unique sense, such that space is for us an existential and cultural dominant, a thematized and foregrounded feature or structural principle standing in striking contrast to its relatively subordinate and secondary (though no doubt no less symptomatic) role in earlier modes of production’ (1991, 365). Jameson’s periodizing description of postmodernism thus also enables us to account for the sudden renewal in the early 1970s of interest in questions of space and spatiality (it’s worth noting here that the texts of Williams, Lefebvre, Foucault and de Certeau discussed above all appear within a few years of one another): for this is the moment, Jameson argues, when postmodern emerges as a new `cultural dominant’ within the western industrial nations. These theorizations of space then themselves become both symptomatic of and important preliminary efforts to navigate the terrain of this new cultural situation.

However, mutations in space on all its levels have created difficulties for us as individual and collective subjects. `We do not yet possess the perceptual equipment’ to navigate and position ourselves within this increasingly urbanized and global social and cultural space, our cognitive `organs’ having been developed in an earlier historical situation (1991, 38). In order to help us overcome this lag, Jameson issues a call for a new kind of `cognitive and pedagogical’ cultural practice, one which `will necessarily have to raise spatial issues as its fundamental organizing concern’ (1991, 50-1). It is this aesthetic practice which Jameson names cognitive mapping: `a pedagogical political culture which seeks to endow the individual subject with some heightened sense of its place in the global system’ (1991, 54). Thus, occupying a place similar to Lefebvre’s `conceived’ space, the practice of cognitive mapping – which, it should be stressed, is never to be confused with some impossible total – provides a way of connecting our lived experiences of the present to the abstract systematic theorizations we have of this new global cultural and social network. On this basis, Jameson investigates the way an incredibly rich variety of cultural practices – ranging from the science fiction novels of Philip K. Dick, popular films such as Dog Day Afternoon, Something Wild and Blue Velvet, the installation art of Robert Gober and the architecture of Frank Gehry – engage in incomplete forms of or stand as allegories for cognitive mapping. For example, in his discussion of Gehry‘s much analysed home in southern California, Jameson argues that `the very concept of space here demonstrates its supremely mediatory function, in the way in which its aesthetic formulation begins at once to entail cognitive consequences on the one hand and sociopolitical consequences on the other . . . The problem, then, which the Gehry house tries to think is the relationship between that abstract knowledge and conviction or belief about the superstate and the existential daily life of people in their traditional rooms and tract houses’ (1991, 104, 128).

As the above descriptions suggest, Jameson‘s model of cognitive mapping represents an attempt to develop the tools required to `think’ a new kind of global cultural and social reality, as well as our place within it, a project he then makes explicit in his film study, The Geo-Political Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System (1992). In this book, Jameson notes that such an emerging global space

may henceforth be thought to be at least one of the fundamental allegorical referents or levels of all seemingly abstract philosophical thought: so that a fundamental hypothesis would pose the principle that all thinking today, is also, whatever else it is, an attempt to think the world system as such. All the more true will this be for narrative figurations, whose very structure encourages a soaking up of whatever ideas in the air are left and a fantasy-solution to all anxieties that rush to fill our current vacuum. (1992, 3-4)

In this way, the increased attention to questions of space and spatiality more generally converges with the burgeoning interest in the issue of `globalization’. David Harvey has recently suggested that while the attention now given to globalization does indeed put the issues of space and cultural geography on centre stage, we need to recognize that any concept like `globalization’ is always already a deeply ideological one, occluding the particular agency and interests involved in such a process of spatial `reterritorialization’ – to deploy the concept first developed in Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s great work of spatial thinking, Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1972 and 1987) – while also potentially performing the same pedagogical role as its temporal twin, the end of history’, teaching us to think of it as a baleful and inexorable, almost natural, process of evolution towards a world of universal commodification and cultural homogenization. Harvey thus proposes that we shift our language from `globalization’ to `uneven geographical development’ (2000, 68), thereby laying  emphasis on the fact that our present moment is witness to a rearticulation on a new spatial scale of the contradictory logics of capitalist modernization, the latest in what is in fact an unbroken historical series of ‘spatial fixes’ and reterritorializations.

An attention to the historical spatial dimensions of globalization will similarly transform how we think about literary history and contemporary cultural practices. In many ways, this has already long been the case in much of the work in postcolonial literary studies. In Culture and Imperialism, for example, Said critiques Williams‘s earlier The Country and the City for its narrowly national focus. In contrast, Said argues that there is no ‘British’ national culture that can be understood independent of the nation’s large far-flung imperial networks and spheres of influence and investment, and this is the case from a much earlier moment than Williams and others would grant. Thus, any discussion of modern national literature must be attentive to the ways the works composing it respond to and negotiate its global spatial context, a practice Said names `contrapunctual reading’: `In practical terms… it means reading a text with an understanding of what is involved when an author shows, for instance, that a colonial sugar plantation is seen as important to the process of maintaining a particular style of life in England . . . The point is that contrapunctual reading must take account of both processes, that of imperialism and that of resistance to it’ (1993, 66).

In terms of our own historical situation, Jameson points out that cultural forms such as the Hollywood film should be understood as `not merely a name for a business that makes money but also for a fundamental late-capitalist cultural revolution, in which old ways of life are broken up and new ones set in place’ (1998, 63). Meaghan Morris similarly notes that the emergence of `theory’ itself is linked to the current production of new kinds of global spaces: `what we call “theory” does the work of fabricating an address to the topics deemed inherently interesting in a given transnational space. Within such as pace, theory is the work of extracting a cosmopolitan point from the most parochially constructed or ephemeral “events” ‘ (1998, 6). And finally, Franco Moretti has issued a call for a new kind of `world literature’ studies, one that eschews the demands of the canonical close reading, and instead attempts to map the intersections and connections between the trends in a wide variety of national and cultural traditions. All of these theorizations emphasize the necessity for any mapping of the global space to move beyond the canonical opposition of high and low, or the spatial one of core and periphery, and instead produce a new multi-perspectival view of literature and cultural activities, exchanges and flows. Only in this way, they all suggest, can we gain a richer sense of the complexity and originality of the global spaces we inhabit today.

Source: Introducing Criticism at the 21st Century by Julian Wolfreys, Edinburgh University Press, 2002.


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  1. Good essay

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