Last month I was invited to give a talk as part of a special HARC-sponsored seminar called 'Texts in Place/Place in Texts', co-organised by Geography and English at Royal Holloway, University of London. The seminar brought together postgraduate literary scholars and geographers to discuss the significance of "place".
My contribution, '"An embodied act and process”: place, text, and the body in geographical writing', examined the role of writing in geographical scholarship about place. I focused particularly on the potential to use “creative-critical” forms of writing to explore relationships between body and place through engagement with both the physicality of the act of writing as well as the spatiality of the text. This kind of writing was loosely defined as being characterised by personal modes of authority, a playfulness with language, and/or an experimentation with form and structure; I then framed my argument through reference to my own research on swimming bodies and the pool, suggesting that while there may be an especially noticeable tradition of using writing as a tool to explore the active male body in place, thinking of the body as a “recording machine” in the field (Dewsbury 2010: 327), or “something through which research is […] done” (Crang 2005: 232) allows us to consider the potential of writing to engage with as many kinds of bodies as there are scholars and writers, performing various duties and activities in various places.
This is of particular interest given my research, because the place that I’m concerned with – the swimming pool – is most obviously experienced through the body: through submersion, breath, movement; through the mingling and merging of sweat and chlorine, the body’s response to water and the water’s response to body, the exposure of skin and limbs, the accidental brushing of arms, a particular kind of bodily intimacy. So as part of my research you could say I’m in search of a form of writing the geography of this which not only takes this bodily experience of place into account but which actually uses it or echoes it somehow, is of it.
By looking at a certain kind of geographical writing, one which is perhaps a bit more fluid and free-form than traditional scholarly writing but which nevertheless has some underlying geographical agenda, I therefore attempted to conceptualise 'texts' as:
• Records of bodily engagements with place
• Bodily engagements with place themselves
• Sites for further engagement with place (and its layers) via the space opened up between reader and author
A full write-up of the event can be found here.
Crang, M. (2005) ‘Qualitative methods: there is nothing outside the text?’, Progress in Human Geography, 29(2), pp. 225–233.
Dewsbury, J. D. (2010) ‘Performative, non-representational, and affect-based research: seven injunctions’, in DeLyser, D., Herbert, S., Aitken, S., Crang, M. and McDowell, L. (eds) The SAGE handbook of qualitative geography. London: SAGE, pp. 321–334.