Span: Journal of the South Pacific Assoc for Cwlth Lit and Language Studies
Number 33, 1992
Neocolonialism
Edited by Jenny de Reuck & Hugh Webb

Textual tourism: negotiating the spaces of reading

Phillip Roe

This paper seeks to address the notion of writing, and language, as 'spatialising' practices. To open up and exemplify this subject I will work several texts together, in particular, two Australian texts. One is a novel, and the other a counter-history. The introduction to the latter, Paul Carter's The Road to Botany Bay,1 details a certain spatial practice, a practice he names as 'spatial history'. Carter's project can be read as a methodological practice for critical analysis and intervention within historical texts. It deconstructs historically mapped space; releasing space from the bonds of colonial and historical discourses. It liberates these places by transforming them once again into space and making them available for (re)writing.

The novel is Marion Campbell's Not Being Miriam. This text is not an historical narrative with closed spaces. It constantly plays with the notion of space, (re)articulating it in a number of ways. It continually performs (as a work of the text) its own 'spatial histories'. This practice articulates a way of using space as an available category for writing. Space is used as a malleable and plastic category. This paper, in part, is an attempt to explore the possibilities and limits of spatial analysis by exploring the possibility of a different writing engagement with the text Not Being Miriam.

The Limits of 'Spatial History'

Paul Carter's project needs rethinking and extension in order to apply it to more complex texts than the 'historical narratives' he specifies for 'Spatial History'. The first problem is the restricted field of application which produces a fixity in the relations of the reader/analyst/spatial historian to the text.

The 'spatial history' project is articulated against a specific kind of text, one that is unselfconsciously constituted within the singularity of a specific linear and historical discourse. This kind of text always admits, in fact requires, an exteriority on the part of the reader. 'Spatial history' works, in the first instance, by excluding the reader from the seemingly impenetrable surface of the text/history and looks for the gaps/lacuna which may provide the means of (re)entry. 'Spatial history', essentially, has a single function: it creates a 'new' space, or rather it unveils or recovers a space from beneath the discursive grid of the colonial mapping process and de-scribes it. This new space of possibility (for re-scribing) disrupts the closed historical space, it has the form and function of an archaeology, it re-enters history and in so doing articulates the possibility of its rewriting.

In this writing I am primarily interested in the spatial practices of writing, language and narrative. I have two major concerns in this context, one relates to the ethics and methodology of re-articulating and re-writing a new space, or a space liberated from the bonds of other discourses. The other concerns the application of the notion of 'spatial history' to texts that cannot be conventionally constituted in terms of an historical text. Marion Campbell's Not Being Miriam is exemplary for these purposes. I would argue that this text, in its process and concerns, not only articulates its own spatial practices but does so selfconsciously.

Histories and Geographies

In the first instance, I would like to differentiate more explicitly between two spaces: the closed historical space that is the object of Carter's project and the new space of potential, what might be called a geographic space.

The difference between History and Geography ... is crucial: what Stein termed Geography is the way of seeing entailed by entity writing, while History is that produced by identity writing. In practice the latter is narrative, the former is dramatic.2

The immediate difficulties raised are the relations between the spatial practices of history and geography. Paul Carter is careful to specify that his notion of 'spatial history' is specifically to do with history and is expressly not to do with the concerns of geography. The distinction he makes, however, arises from his determination to specify a 'cultural space' rather than a physical one. 'Spatial history', he says, begins and ends in language. He is concerned with 'the spatial forms and fantasies through which a culture declares its presence'3. His refusal of geography is a provisional one based upon his felt need to make this distinction, to show that there is only language for the constitution of these disembodied historical texts. I would argue that to re-write the spaces his project liberates requires a geographic practice that implicates both cultural and physical space (although the perception of physical space is also an effect of a cultural imaginary and language). His spatial histories are analogous to unfinished maps and should be read accordingly as records of travelling. It is the space within this project that requires articulation, the dramatic space that forms the interstices and negotiates the tensions between the processes of mapping and travelling.

What I am working towards then is a dramatic space, a performance space, that might be termed geographic. This is a space quite distinct from the theatrical space that Carter identifies in 'historical texts'. The notion of theatre is an index of a place that is bounded and divided; and performance an index of an event, an event in space. The difference between this performance space and conventional theatre is that there is no disjunction between the time of the writing and the time in the writing. This distinction is marked clearly by the reading relation to the text. In the 'historical text', the reader is always excluded from the 'given reality' of the text. This distance is history, if we conflate the temporal and the spatial. The performance/dramatic space, on the other hand, is a continuous present, where the writing is currently taking place. In Carter's notion, it is the project of 'spatial history' that permits entry to what can then be re-constituted as a geographic or dramatic space, a new beginning.

Stein describes the continuous present as 'a beginning again and again and again and again'...4

This kind of space is already present in the text of Not Being Miriam. But the complexity of this text lies in the multiplicity of these spaces, its continual bringing to the surface of other histories where time collapses into multiple presents. The space of Not Being Miriam is one invested with the intersecting trajectories of its multiple stories which continually pass by and exceed each other. The articulation of this space, as polyphonic and polysemous, is one that may be traversed by the reader; where s/he might write his/her own stories through its currents. This text performs, and comments upon, its own spatial histories.

We've been depth travellers for too long. This is the beginning of a new kind of vagabondage. From now on we've got to make do with the provisional.5

You see, we've got to give up this addiction to the metaphysical quakes, learn to manage the surfaces as well, or we'll be left falling through potential while they slide along... You see, it's finally what's brought to the surface that counts in this world...6

Textual Geographies

In Paul Carter's schema the new space is unformulated but anarchically laced with 'history's' residues, the milling fragments of its exclusions. What is abundantly available to the reader and analyst in the project of spatial history is a critical distance from the surfaces/texts that it takes as its object, as they move before him/her in linear sequence.

But what happens when the surface of the text is a 'true' surface? A surface that is composed of multiple 'continuous presents', but which also, relative to each other, articulate temporal disjunctions. The disruption caused here is to the reader - text relation. No longer just the imagined space of the reader in the text, space solely as an effect of and in the text leaving the subject position of the reading as wholly unproblematic. The bringing to the surface of temporally disjunct continuous presents acts differently on the reader, troubles the 'neatspeak' of the History of the Reader. The reader-text space is continually compressed and extended, too close and then too far, pressure and relief. Not Being Miriam performs this with the reader, demanding the negotiation of their relationship, whilst intratextually it runs a debate around those very same problems of depths and surfaces, mapping and travelling. This will be further dealt with below.

To trace the notion of spatial history within Not Being Miriam is not a difficult task in schematic terms; the work of the text is in fact a performance of this process. To begin, we require only that there be an imperial and colonising discourse and a desire to intervene in the intentional world of the text and the lacuna of its discourse. Miriam is the representation of patriarchal discourse and the desire to intervene comes from the feminist project itself. But the text does not speak a unitary discourse of the space it appropriates; having assumed this space it also admits of the notion of the difference within, that it has no necessity to 'legitimate' this space with the rigidities of yet another singular discourse/narrative. Its task is to play these differences.

The Place of the Post

Another beginning. A further preface to this text. I would like to take issue with the situating of the text of Not Being Miriam within a postmodern framework. This categorisation is too limiting: despite its performance of certain postmodern features, or characteristics, Not Being Miriam is not only, or wholly, a postmodern text. It exceeds these surfaces. Postmodernism has been characterised as the death of history, the death of the subject, and the infinite play of surfaces, where there is no depth, no space. The surface of the postmodern scene is one of rupture, fragmentation and discontinuity, and where there is a marked absence of critical distance.

... distance in general (including 'critical distance' in particular) has very precisely been abolished in the new space of postmodernism.7

Not Being Miriam exceeds postmodernism, for it selfconsciously presents this postmodern surface and also plays with this distance, continually interrogating and disrupting the plays of presences and absences. What appears as fractured narratives would seem to have more to do with a disruption of the subject/object relation, with the collapse of the distance between them; and where the reading subject finds itself adrift amongst the polyphony and polysemy of partial objects constituting the new space of its universe.

Intratextually, Not Being Miriam articulates spaces around a surface. Its discontinuity, or rather, its continuities lie in the polyphonic trajectories and movements that intersect and interweave continually. The disruption of the conventional linear sequential narrative gives the appearance of discontinuity, but only within the context of conventional reading practices that privilege the linear and sequential.

While this text discards the linear sequential narrative, it is not reducible to a play of ahistorical surfaces. Rather, one of its plays is with the difference of 'history', an old surface played off against the 'new' spaces of possibility in the new play of women's stories and histories.

Against this apparent discontinuity, constituted in terms of its refusal to conform to the narrative norms of patriarchal authority, a coherence is developed in terms of process. The process of this text is the articulation of a play of difference, and what articulates this play of difference is the texts awareness of its own process and its ability to comment on this in meta-fictional terms. It has a political project in making explicit its symbolic order. It performs and comments on its own acts of spatial history:

To find a window out of Hamburg 1933, you need to read between the lines... Learning is for connecting with other selves, other worlds. Learning is for making windows intoother spaces, other times. Only then can we create... There is nothing Lydia cannot do by reading between the lines, telling stories from the gaps. She finds the magician in the scientist, the poetry in maths, she flies through windows, windows.8

Travel Stories

In modern Athens, the vehicles of mass transportation are called metaphorai. To go to work or come home, one takes a "metaphor" - a bus or a train. Stories could also take this noble name: every day, they traverse and organise places; they select and link them together; they make sentences and itineraries out of them. They are spatial trajectories.

In this respect narrative structures have the status of spatial syntaxes....to indicate with what subtle complexity stories, whether everyday or literary, serve as a means of mass trans-portation, as metaphorai.

Every story is a travel story - a spatial practice.9

Not Being Miriam is about telling stories; it explores, from a feminist perspective, the polyphony of women's stories that exceed, and are articulated around, the closed space of the discursively dead Miriam. It is perhaps the selfconsciousness of this process that marks this text; its self awareness, its ability to comment on its own process, its own stories. It acts often as a travel guide, sometimes explicitly:

There are other ways, Lotte said. Other ways of escaping this nightmare. You could simply travel.10

This is where the notion of a geography becomes productive as a means of theorising these spatial practices. The problematic for the critical and analytic project concerns the ways of speaking about the complexity and polyvalency of the spatial practices of such a text. What language can speak this terrain, to investigate and theorise the more subtle traces and trajectories that dance within this space? What kind of a space is necessary for a theoretical project which can work over this terrain?

The questions should perhaps become oriented towards interrogating the ways we have of speaking about this space from the inside: how does this interior speak of itself, and how do we trace its trajectories? Perhaps, even more importantly, what are we doing when we perform this cartography? What are the spatial practices of this reader, what desire articulates them, and what different sets of textual and reader - text relations does this propose? It may be helpful in the articulation of a geography to elaborate the opposition space/place. To this end I invoke de Certeau again:

The law of the 'proper' rules in the place: the elements taken into consideration are beside one another, each situated in its own 'proper' and distinct location, a location it defines. A place is thus an instantaneous configuration of positions. It implies an indication of stability.11

A space exists when one takes into consideration vectors of direction, velocities, and time variables. Thus space is composed of intersections of mobile elements. It is in a sense actuated by the ensemble of movements deployed within it. Space occurs as the effect produced by the operations that orient it, situate it, temporalize it, and make it function in a polyvalent unity of conflictual programs or contractual proximities...

In short, space is a practiced place.12

The articulation of the opposition between space and place in stories involves a movement, or a passage back and forth between them. This is a movement from the law of a 'place', that in which "objects are ultimately reducible to the being-there of something dead"13, and the operations that, when attributed to the objects, "specify 'spaces' by the actions of historical subjects (a movement always seems to condition the production of a space and to associate it with a history)."14

Stories constantly transform spaces into places and vice versa, as well as organise the play of changing relationships between them. It is in this context that the notion of the travel story is particularly useful; where the map articulates the place and the tour/voyage articulates the space.

The Textual Tourist

For the reader, stories take shape from their setting. 'Space occurs as the effect produced by the operations that orient it'15. Beginning again, finding the space of reading articulated along several dimensions. Reading as a tourist.

But where does this journey begin? The title implies an existential space that excludes and/or exceeds Miriam - a negatively articulated space, or a space that is articulated against the non-space of Miriam. It is precisely non-space because it is a place that the text refuses to practice. In the context of a feminist work Miriam is precisely a practice that is refused. The place of Miriam is untenable as a spatial practice. The texts own spatial history acts on the historical framing of women, a theatrical surface, against which it might then articulate a performance space.

For Miriam exists, can only exist, as the representative subject of an historical text, an archaic discourse. She's just a word on a page, an image on a poster framed by Roger's hanging trousers, the idealised image of masculine desire. She hangs in space, marked as that impossible object, a fantasy of the 'im-age. Miriam the Mir-age.16

In the atmospheric conditions of Roger's closet she's a kind of derivative formal motif of what cannot be - against which the polyphony of women are articulated and elaborated, against whom the polysemy of the text can articulate multiple others. Miriam is precisely the 'dead' object circumscribed within de Certeau's notion of 'place'.

Text As Metaphorai

These stories are no longer just movements across the surface of the text, for the speaking of the stories produces the textual spaces as an effect. Michel de Certeau draws an analogy between, on the one hand tours and maps, and on the other, the speech-act and writing. Description, he says, oscillates between the terms of an alternative: either seeing which is the knowledge of an order of places, or going which is in terms of spatialising actions. Either it presents a tableau, or it organises movements. The one influences the other.

The surface of the text, its writing, is a graphism: in de Certeau's terms, a tableau. It's reader has one form of movement across the plane surface of the text. The reader, as textual tourist, finds his/her journey explicated by the texts itinerary. Another form of movement might be that which is analogous to the speech act, the performance of a spatial practice which speaks the multiple but temporally disjunct 'continuous presents', weaving the reader through the curved surfaces of its textures. This is the text as vehicle, as metaphorai. In de Certeau's terms these are its 'delinquencies': "What the map cuts up, the story cuts across."17

Space is a practiced place for de Certeau, and "an act of reading is the space produced by the practice of a particular place: a written text (i.e. a place constituted by a system of signs)."18

In order to inhabit this work, the work of the text, the process of its reading and writing here has to engage with the codes/movements of the metaphorai, unravel its traffic rules, to speak a language with and of the text. The academic project is to take a point/s of view (a position), but in the travelling of travel writing the point of view is always mobile. Position is instantaneous, fleeting, there is no time to write from (a) position. Position, commentary from position, is always historical. It stands still, groping despairingly towards the blurred images flashing by, never knowing from where they come or how they travel. And grasping greedily the fleeting identities that it can capture, fix in its discourse, and against which it might prove its own existence.

Ariadne's Underground Cinema19

You've got to accept this, Bess, as a beginning... 20

Ariadne articulates her space, begins to write a nomadology that brings her to the surface, speaks into Bess's story:

We've been depth travellers for too long. This is the beginning of a new kind of vagabondage. From now on we've got to make do with the provisional.21

The provisional ['pro-visional']. This is what Michel thought he understood when he seized the notion of the 'tactic'.22 This is what Bess struggled to understand in her regression. But Ariadne knows about time, about place, about inscription. About marking place in time, silk lined coffins. She hurls the accusation to Bess, cuts across time.

Marking time...23

Levels conflate, split levels merge. A surface begins to emerge. Bess begins to occupy the chalked out shape on the kitchen floor, sees her History flashing on the cinematic surface. Ariadne knows that cinema is about the production of surfaces, knew there would be a cinema, even then. Finally, its the surfaces which articulate the order of vision. She saw it coming:

You see, it's finally what's brought to the surface that counts in this world...24

'From simile to simile'. The pebble skims the surface until... Then the effect of the metaphor collapses. Bess falls through potential, through the echoes of Cassandra's voice again:

YOU MURDERER MURDERER MURDERER, Cassandra yells.25

Ariadne is no longer subject to the terror of this collapse. She performs Bess, practices her surfaces, begins another frame for her.

But how did Bess and Ariadne meet, how is the differential space between their temporal surfaces mediated ? This is the spatial practice of the text, speaking the movements between - the text configuring its own 'spatial histories'. To think the movement in one direction is to make assumptions about the nature of texts - myths of texts - 'mythtaken' again.

It's a travel story, a metaphorai. It moves along curved surfaces, articulating its spaces. The text goes to Ariadne, disrupting the fixity of her historic constellation. It enters her, speaks her, perhaps for the first time since her abandonment.

Am Ariadne now...26

She is articulated in the new space of herstory. No longer spoken of/about, confined to a place without consciousness of her own. Text enters myth, aware of its place, its historic role, of other possibilities.

What poise I have on this lip of history.27

She mocks that place she has been given in the 'wings of their theatre'. What a career.28

Myth makes text, makes reader, and now text re-enters myth, appropriating Ariadne into a present, an immediate space-performance. Ariadne in the present tense, speaking.

And I hear an echo from the future in Ariadne's yarn, her speaking that refuses the dead space of Miriam, that begins ... begins the articulation of herstory, her space. This becomes an inverted 'spatial history', as Ariadne intervenes in the future of that 'historical text' of Bess's. Ariadne speaks from experience, she's known Miriam for centuries, wants to ask different questions. She inhabits the new space of this text, occupies the possibility of her own journey, her travelling writing her own story. And Ariadne, no longer abandoned to a dictionary, 'underpuns' great reputations. Miriam the image, Theseus the myth ... a common author/authority. Her writing of her space, her 'knowing lisping', troubles their 'neatspeak' History. Theseus shouts at her from the deck as he folds his map, as though hiding the plotted discourse of His Future History from her will impede her (re)writing. He is fearful that, in the liberation of her discursive hand, his image will be sketched as precisely that - his image.

But she knows: and perhaps she is not as obsessed with his image as he imagines. She precedes Michel's delinquencies: what His map (History) cuts up, her story incisively cuts across. She writes her own itinerary now:

...have you been in another story all along?29

She makes it up as she goes along. Things happen in the underground cinema. A beginning ... the threshold of a beginning. 'The woman of the future, catching up'.

Bess depth travels again, struggling, conflating different maps ... perhaps the same map. Theseus says, or is it Harry, about Her:

She's put herself in that position, he says. No one forces her to strip.30

The strip. To strip the body of its aging layers. Distorted surfaces run into each other. And Ariadne is gone, leaving the finger prints of the woman of the future on her empty wine glass. A map that may be read using the compass that she leaves beside it. Ariadne wanted Bess to see, to learn to manage the surfaces as well, or she'd be left falling continually through potential. Bess begins to see:

...sees that she must leave the trigonometer and the stripper to their different kinds of absence.31

Whose performance, and for whom? Bess sees that it is a matter of filling frames, plays of presence and absence. Whose frames, framed for whom? Miriam fills the need of Roger's frame, frames his need, for him. Ariadne is framed by, and frames Theseus' need. And Bess's:

...body has been dealt with in this frame, to fill the need of the chalked out shape on the kitchen floor...

Ariadne says: You want to make him Theseus, but there's no such luck. It's just, and always was, the man next door.32

And in the cinema, the frames rush by like a celluloid strip - from simile to simile.

Negotiating the Space of Reading

And finally, 'doors stop opening onto antichambers to this beginning'33. It is the beginning again ... but still provisional. My argument proposes the reader as textual tourist, acted on by the text and its itinerary, and his/her own itinerary acting on and in the text. This reader is not constructed in terms of an ambivalence, undecidably between the poles of alternative positions, but in terms of mobility, in movement.

In these beginnings, a 'tactics' of reading is proposed. The tactic of this mobile reader proposes a 'spatial' reading. The tactic of a 'spatial' reading permits the reader entry to, and movement within, the interiority of the text. "The place of a tactic belongs to the other.34" The spaces of the text are not appropriated and taken over, that is not the nature of the tactic, but they are engaged with and played with.

In the reader-text relation, this produces a mobile framing process that is always provisional. The interaction between the textual movements and the movements of the reader constitute the terms of negotiation of a mutual framing. Reader framing text, and text framing reader.

Notes

1 Paul Carter, The Road to Botany Bay (London: Faber & Faber,1987).

2 Anna Gibbs, "Gertrude Stein's Plays: The Geography of Narrative Relations" S. Gunew & I. Reid, Not the Whole Story (Local Consumption Publications, 1984) p.89. Gibbs notes that, for Stein, identity writing establishes identity by relying on memory and the linear sequencing of time, identity is a product of particular positions and relations. In entity writing memory is absent and time is a 'continuous present'.

3 Carter, p.xxii.

4 Gibbs, p.91.

5 Marion Campbell, Not Being Miriam (Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press,1988), p.140.

6 Campbell, (p. 141).

7 Frederic Jameson, "Postmodernism, or the Critical Logic of Late Capitalism" New Left Review,1984, p.86.

8 Campbell, p.111.

9 Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Californa: Californian Uni. Press,1984), p.115.

10 Campbell, p.56.

11 de Certeau, p.117.

12 de Certeau,.p. 117

13 de Certeau, p.118.

14 de Certeau, p.118.

15 de Certeau, p.117.

16 Concise Oxford English Dictionary: A 'mirage' is an optical illusion casued by atmospheric conditions, an illusory thing. 'Mir-' is from the French se mirrer, to be reflected: and from the Latin mirare, to look at. And '-iam' is possibly derived from the Greek iapto,to assail in words, from use by Greek satirists.

17 de Certeau, p.129.

18 de Certeau, p.117.

19 Campbell, p.140-146.

20 Campbell, p.140.

21 Campbell, p.140.

22 de Certeau, p.xix. Michel de Certeau makes a distinction between strategies and tactics to avoid the reduction of 'acts' to the tracing (transcription) of temporal series, trajectories, onto a graph. A strategy assumes a place as a 'proper' where a subject of will or power can generate relations with an exterior distinct from it (e.g. competitors, adversaries, 'objects' of research, etc.). It is a calculus of force-relationships. A tactic cannot count on a 'proper' (a spatial or institutional localisation), or on a borderline distinguishing the other as a visible totality. It insinuates itself into the other's place, fragmentarily, without ever taking it over in its entirety, without being able to keep it at a distance. While the 'proper' is a victory of space over time, a tactic depends on time. A tactic is always 'provisional'.

23 Campbell, p.141.

24 Campbell p.141.

25 Campbell,p.20.

26 Campbell, p.136.

27 Campbell, p.136.

28 Campbell, p. 136.

29 Campbell, p.138.

30 Campbell, p.142.

31 Campbell, p.143.

32 Campbell, p.146.

33 Campbell, p.141.

34 de Certeau, p.xix.


New: 18 April, 1996 | Now: 11 April, 2015