Beyond Maps. Imaginary of Open Spaces in Contemporary Culture
If it form the one landscape that we, the inconstant ones,
Are consistently homesick for, this is chiefly
Because it dissolves in water. Mark these rounded slopes...
W.H. Auden, “In Praise of Limestone”
Space, spatial configurations and practices in contemporary film and literature around landscapes as dissimilar as an island, a plain, a desert; the narration of physical or mental itineraries, the drawing of a map of an unknown territory, they all bespeak an impulse in contemporary cinema and literature to focus the gaze in concrete materialities, and remind us of the extent to which space is, by definition, an inexhaustible source of political renegotiation and of the production of cultural difference. The “production of space” (to take Lefebvre's term) is a key instrument to consider how societies change, to reconstruct historical processes of memorialisation, and to unknot the complex relationships of locales and regions with respect to the “national”.
The reading of the geographic space has had a privileged relationship with processes of territorial identification throughout history. In Latin America, for instance, since the 19th century, representations of landscapes and frontiers in literature and painting served to think about the intersections between spatial forms and aesthetic and political practices. In the 20th century, non-urban spaces and images of nature were crucial in the construction of the idea of a nation through film. Nowadays, new mobile geographies have an impact on art and culture throughout the planet. In Europe, recent migratory movements have diversified the conception of and the way to inhabit space, enriching culture, politics, and linguistics with new forms to conceive identity, recent history, and memory. In countries like Spain, where recent migrations, adding to the internal migrations of the 1960s, have modified the configuration of its human geography, several displacements have affected the ways to conceive memory and identity in their connection to places, regions, and the nation.
The articles gathered in this dossier present different readings of the geographical imaginary of open spaces in literature and film with the aim to rethink and redefine notions such as “territory”, “landscape”, “cartography”, “region” and “itinerary”, and the ways in which these notions bring together human geography, history, and aesthetics. As a result, it is possible to read productively some issues affecting our world, connected to, and yet subverting and exceeding inherited ideas about the nation.
In the Argentinian cultural field, the pampa is probably the open space par excellence. In the 19th century, national cultural values and modernizing ideologies were already inscribed in the horizon of this particular geography. Discriminating between place and space, and perceived, conceived and lived spaces, in “Los espacios abiertos de la pampa argentina” Aníbal A. Biglieri analyses multiple representations of the desert in 19th to 21st century literature. Beyond a metaphorical impulse, the author privileges a humanised perspective on the territory. Biglieri considers how the “desert” becomes a place when “centres” or “points of convergence” are created, and when the “production of space” adopts temporary or permanent forms, such as rodeos, wagon convoys, bonfires, traces of paths and roads.
The following two articles, which also focus on the pampa, explore the fact that, at the end of the 20th century, the pampa marks the unspeakable, that which is between or outside the relationships between people and their surroundings, rather than national identity. In “Señales de vida: ficciones y territorios en crisis”, Fermín Rodríguez highlights that the territorial border, in Argentinian literature, signaled an inside and an outside of bodies and meanings, depending on the state order, , becomes in the contemporary world, a “line of life that crosses the biopolitical body of the population”. Ruinous landscapes and denaturalised fields in novels like Sergio Chejfec's El aire or Matilde Sánchez's El desperdicio, reveal the importance of biological, somatic, and sensory-motor elements, emphasising a biopolitical reality of the body as the object of the new regime of meaning brought about by the changes produced by capitalism on the landscape of the pampa.
Along similar lines, and starting from the category of “agrotoxic”, Lucía De Leone problematises a return to a rural setting that departs from romanticism and approaches the notion of illness. In “Campos que matan. Espacios, tiempos y narración en Distancia de rescate de Samanta Schweblin”, De Leone examines representations of present day soy fields in contemporary narrative, focusing on how spatial relationships and temporalities are treated in the novel Distancia de rescate by Samanta Schweblin (2014). In a “pampa landscape where the laws and biodiversity of nature are threatened and destroyed, even to the point that its creations are replaced”, the article highlights the function of narratives to salvage life and the possibility to narrate new rural tales, a capacity that inhabits the interstices of a previous “codified landscape archive” with which they dialogue and struggle. New interpersonal and affective relationships and practices of mobility in relation to space are also evident in other areas of the recent Argentinian literary output. In the article “La casa en la playa: la costa como frontera”, Mercedes Alonso proposes an interesting approach to the space of the beach and its relationship with the notion of “frontier”. Starting from three novels from the Rio de la Plata region (Puras mentiras by Juan Forn, Diario de la arena, by Hugo Burel and La costa ciega, by Carlos María Domínguez), Alonso studies beach houses as spaces that are useful to become isolated from the world, beyond their touristic appeal. Thus, the beach becomes the frontier territory that hosts subjects looking for the edges — of space, of life — in order to produce a transformation.
Another set of articles explores the aesthetic consequences of joining filmic and cartographic forms. As a particularly spatial art, film uses a series of cartographic forms, even cartographic methodologies, as models for staging. In “Una perspectiva cartográfica a la obra de Abbas Kiarostami a través del análisis del paisaje en Y la vida continúa (1991)”, Alan Salvadó and Manel Jiménez consider the evolution of découpage and movement-image as visual forms of maps that define filmic landscapes and cartographic thinking as a mechanism of creation and (re)invention of filmic forms. In their analysis, découpage and movement-image (in the context of traveling and itinerary) go beyond visual forms of cartography and a recovery of a geographic pulse of early cinema, and allow the humanisation of space, as maps in Kiarostami's films become “an ethical form to contemplate catastrophic landscapes, perhaps to understand them and provide interpretative keys to turn them close, familiar, integrated”. For her part, Valeria de los Ríos in “Mapas y prácticas cartográficas en el cine de Ignacio Agüero” examines cartography and displacements in works by documentarian Ignacio Agüero. Beyond Agüero's constant concern for space and cartographic practices, the article by de los Ríos focuses on the materiality of maps as images and objects in the documentaries No olvidar (1982), Sueños de hielo (1993) and El otro día (2012), and in the ways in which these films reveal different practices.
Reformulations of travel narratives in recent Spanish literature and film rewrite personal, familiar and collective memory in relation to migrations. In “Viaje a los lugares de memoria interior”, Maribel Rams approaches the video-essay La memoria interior (2002) by María Ruido to account in the visual text for issues of memory and identity along three lines of work: the criticism and theory of the road movie in dialogue with the experience of diasporic cinema and, in this case, relating to Galician migrants during Spain's developmentalist period in the 1960s; the reading of space as the locus of memory, noting its relationship with monumentality and anonymity; and lastly, an interesting reading of Ruido's video-essay in which the author notes the relationships between image, the construction of space, and subjectivity.
The search and research for an identity determined by traveling, and the questioning of the mechanisms of memory are present in “Todos los viajes el viaje: teoría y práctica de la literatura en movimiento de Jorge Carrión”, in which Sheila Pastor establishes Carrión's poetics of traveling as a double commitment: literary and artistic. Travel and writing are not only the means to arrange and understand vital chronologies, but also to examine the connections between traveling, writing, and life in a poetics of movement that combines fiction, essay, theory and traveling. In this context, Pastor analyses how in Carrión's displacements the debate on memory is often mediated by digital media and an intertextual impulse as “all his reading about the destination converge in Carrión's tales; thus, along with his concern with identity, each travel also hides a literary justification”.
The miscellaneous section includes two articles that approach distinct authors and movements, yet establish a common ground. In “Brais Pinto: A Short History of the Galician “Beat” Generation”, Christopher Herman George analyses a group of poets who are key for the modernisation of Galician literature, and qualifies the connection with the group the Beat Generation, not so much for their thematic and formal concerns, but in their almost-mythical status. For her part, Natalia Izquierdo López (“La filosofía mesiánica de la historia de Walter Benjamin y Varujan Vosganian”), examines analogies between the philosophy of history of Walter Benjamin and Varujan Vosganian. From different historical periods, Izquierdo shows how the two authors share a similar romantic and anti-capitalist sensitivity. By joining theology and politics, both thinkers “posited a profound criticism of the ideology of progress and an alternative consisting in a heterodox emancipatory narrative, the foundation of which lay in its rejection of positivist historiography, the fusion of profane struggles and messianic aspirations, and the bringing together of a promised future with the memory of the victims”.
Irene Depetris Chauvin (CONICET / Universidad de Buenos Aires)
Macarena Urzúa Opazo (CIDOC / Universidad Finis Terrae)
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