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Nowhere places and the poetics of landscape : temporality, literary atmosphere, and the ethical arena in colonial modernity. Deggan, Mark


This study introduces a multi-disciplinary ecocritical approach to fictional evocations of place in colonial modernity between 1890 and 1940. Drawing together both modernist and contemporary theories of cognition, spatio-temporality, cinema, and the literary and human geographical assimilation of unfamiliar places, it analyzes the literary and visual poetics by which modernist depictions of landscape produce analogues for the crisis of the individual in the face of the other. Quarrelling with the sometimes recursive formulations of the spatial turn in culture studies, it reconceives the spatio-temporal arena through which literary representations of consciousness are staged through setting depictions. In order to track the dislocating of the subject in “exotic” environments an analytic frame is introduced, aesthetic duration, describing the narrative poetics by which epiphanic human experiences come to be mounted through tropes of aporia or ‘blockage’ – the temporal process by which the ambient aspects of concrete topographies are transformed into ideational or affective atmospheres. While the initial chapters introduce a model of theatricalized temporal ambience in fiction through Joseph Conrad’s An Outcast of the Islands, the study goes on to include close readings of Conrad’s Lord Jim as well as exoticist works by the problematic ‘modernists’, Lawrence, Forster, and Woolf. More fully, the scenographic dynamics of topographical depiction in these fictions of the imperial periphery are used to reveal how texts utilize durational forms and their primary vehicle, atmospheric appearing, in order to evoke interiority. Additionally, the present-time experience of cognitive crisis, where grounded in representations of landscape, is shown to constitute a performative forum for consciousness and narration. To this end the spatio-temporal frames of William James, Henri Bergson and Walter Benjamin are explored for their insights into the dynamics whereby the moment of signification is held open in order to enable thematic, affective, and cognitive transfers. The study thus begins by theorizing the ecologically nuanced strategies by which colonial places offer themselves as stand-ins for the decentred subjects of European modernism, and concludes by establishing a theatricalized model for the synaesthetic processes by which the places in colonial modernist fiction communicate significance via their performative poetics.

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