16 May 2006

Meredith Quartermain on Geography

A fragment of a Meredith Quartermain interview with rob mclennan:

MQ: Further thoughts on place: Is Canada a place? or a word? The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben argues that the Spectacle is language itself, that the very communicability which humans have can operate as an alienating totalitarianism. Human cultures live in words; words are the quintessential places. Agamben also argues that for the first time humans may now experience themselves as linguistic beings; they may stop looking through language at mirages of things beyond and instead recognize the way language empowers some and disempowers others — the way language controls masses of people without their consciousness.

rm: How does one define geography in those terms? Considering how much you write about geography, do you think it become a self-definition?

MQ: Geography means writing the earth, or you might say writing the world. It seems to me that the act of writing the world is the act of creating it. As such I would hope that this writing keeps rewriting itself, or that writers, as geographers keep rewriting the world-space, and keep approaching it as an act which must unfold in the presence of a plurality of such actors (geographers), so that there is no definitive world or definitive geography, but rather an ongoing discussion or network of stories. I am at the moment deeply engrossed in Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition, which sets out the ancient Greek notion of a public realm where such a discussion could take place, free of the preoccupations of the marketplace, and free of the necessity of subsistence. She argues that this public realm is now completely filled up with the society of jobholders, leaving no room for world-writing in the way I imagine might be possible as a political discussion. Currently our whole lives are taken up with the two aspects of subsistence and necessity: labour, and consumption, which really are entirely private matters. This is not so because it has to be, but rather because of the forces that have come to dominate our culture. I am indebted to Robin Blaser for leading me to Arendt’s work. Much of what has preoccupied Robin Blaser has been the recovery of such a public world, and of course Hannah Arendt’s work is seminal to his investigations.

As to whether geography can amount to self-definition, I think it’s completely impossible to define oneself in the kind of world-writing in the public realm I’ve described. The whole point of a public interaction between world-writer geographers is a story that must be told by someone else. Who the geographer is unfolds in the interaction. However, that said, I am constantly aware of the geography of language, the contours, rifts, subductions, tectonic plates of the medium in which we exist. A sculpturing of our land-base has already occurred over the millennia of linguistic evolution and we too can erode it, or upheave it, and we can also map it.

You can find the rest of the interview here.

1 Comments:

At 8:40 PM, Blogger Jill said...

"I am constantly aware of the geography of language, the contours, rifts, subductions, tectonic plates of the medium in which we exist. A sculpturing of our land-base has already occurred over the millennia of linguistic evolution and we too can erode it, or upheave it, and we can also map it."

That is stunning! Thanks for that, Rob. I really enjoy discussing this. Can you think of anyone else who engages the physical landscape through the landscape of language? (I love that idea). I can think of a couple of novellists, but...

 

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