Landscape / cityscape : Writing / Painting / Imagining Situational Identity in British Literature and Visual Arts (18th – 21st centuries)
SEAC / SAIT conference
London Senate House, 19th-20th October 2017
The very etymology of the word “landscape,” derived from the Dutch “skip”—view—from the start underlines the constructedness of our relation to space. The space we inhabit is a lived space inscribed with the cultural traces of a collective imaginary itself informed by the art of landscape painting and writing. This conference organized jointly by The Société d’Études Anglaises Contemporaines (SEAC) and the Société Angliciste – Arts, Images et Textes (SAIT) aims at exploring the complex relation of identity to site and the way this relation may have been transformed across the centuries.
Several studies have, since the late 70s, stressed the tight correlation between the fashioning of collective identity in Britain, the rise of a specific sensibility to landscape and the underlying political and economic agenda of nature engineering, from Raymond Williams’ famed The Country and the City (1973) to David Matless’ Landcape and Englishness (1998). In 2012, the British Library’s contribution to the Olympic’s festivities took the form of an exhibition focusing on Britain’s spatial imaginary: Writing Britain. Wastelands to Wonderlands (see Christina Hardyment, Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands, London: The British Library, 2012), although at the same time Iain Sinclair lamented the depletion of that same collective imaginary at the hands of urban speculators. More recently, such explorations have also turned to the weather imagination and the way it informs English literature and visual arts (see Alexandra Harris’ Weatherland: Writers & Artists Under English Skies (2015).
From Gainsborough’s early insights into the discursive potential of landscape painting to Turner’s modern take on landscape and seascape painting under the double injunction of myth and modernity (see The Fighting Temeraire, 1839) and L.S. Lowry’s industrial scapes, landscape painting has captured the mutations of English identity in its relation to space and vision. Similarly, from Romantic poetry to Thomas Hardy’s or D. H. Lawrence’s mytho-poetic landscape imaginary and Simon Armitage’s reappropriation of that tradition, English literature has invented itself in an organic embrace with landscape, i.e. nature always already culturally inscribed.
Although specific emphasis will be placed on the 20th and the 21st centuries, papers may address the longue durée of such imaginary and the specific intertextuality and inter-iconicity produced by the landscape and cityscape aesthetic tradition. One may choose to turn to turn-of-the-century morphing visions of landscape as it was harnessed to nascent metroland modernity, or to the lasting pastoral model as explored and deflated both by Virginia Woolf in Between the Acts (1941) and Evelyn Waugh in Brideshead Revisited (1945). Intermedial treatments of landscape and cityscape are also crucial to the understanding of the fashioning of indentity in relation to site-specificity. Ted Hughes’s Remains of Elmet (1979), as well as Hamish Fulton’s blend of poetry and site-specificity art are examples of the way writing, images, and site-specific works allow art to reinvent England’s relation to its own situational memory. Such intermediality has also been of key importance to the exploration of England’s conflicted urban imagination: from Dickens’s foundational definition of urban city-writing, to Zadie Smith’s new take on urban identity fashioning or Howard Jacobson’s recent dystopian vision of a world that may no longer be mapped in J (2014).
The conference will also be the occasion to explore the epistemological distinctions between landscape and nature-writing and between landscape and nature-studies or Green studies as defined by Jonathan Bate or Lawrence Buell. We thus welcome papers on a broad range of topics and issues. Proposals will be examined by a scientific committee.
Selected papers will eventually be submitted to two peer-reviewed academic journals (Etudes britanniques contemporaines and Polysèmes), both available on the revues.org platform (www.revues.org).
Abstracts (300 words + short bibliography and short biographical note) should be sent to Isabelle Gadoin (firstname.lastname@example.org), Catherine Lanone (email@example.com) and Catherine Bernard (firstname.lastname@example.org) by May 31st 2017.