Placing, Spacing, Displacing

Aaron Aquilina's picture
Call for Papers
March 3, 2017
Subject Fields: 
Cultural History / Studies, Graduate Studies, Humanities, Literature, Philosophy

Placing, Spacing, Displacing: A Postgraduate Symposium
Department of English, University of Malta

‛[T]he work is a work only when it becomes the intimacy shared by someone who writes it and someone who reads it, a space violently opened up by the contest between the power to speak and the power to hear’ – Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature

‛Just as none of us is beyond geography, none of us is completely free from the struggle over geography’ – Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism

‛[W]hatever your interests may be, they can be significantly advanced by adopting a critical spatial perspective’ – Edward W. Soja, Seeking Spatial Justice

It was always, of course, an ironic inevitability that the spatial turn in the humanities would develop its own histories. An historicising move was in fact already there at the beginning, with Foucault declaring that whereas ‛the great obsession of the nineteenth century was history … [t]he present age may be the age of space instead’. But while the epigraph taken from Soja is surely right – ‛whatever your interests may be, they can be significantly advanced by adopting a critical spatial perspective’ – what this has translated to in academia in practice is, typically, narrow specialisation.

Taking literary studies as an example, the spatial turn has spawned traditions of geocriticism, geopoetics, literary cartography, literary geographies, topographical poetry, and so on, each now with their own histories and research cultures. Sitting alongside them are enduring associations between literature and questions of space that pre-date the spatial turn, and perhaps the most notable intervention here is Blanchot’s Space of Literature, from which another of our epigraphs is drawn.

While the insights and energies afforded by these, and other, various spatially-focused explorations of the humanities have been of tremendous collective importance, we should at the same time be wary of the institutional rigor mortis that tends to set in when too much is considered settled in a discipline. What risks being occluded are some of the perennially urgent, trans-disciplinary questions associated with space and place, and in particular the tensions between placing and spacing that always threaten to tip over into displacement in one way or another.

It is this fluidity of placing and spacing that this symposium seeks to draw attention (back) to. The verbal nouns ‛placing, spacing, displacing’ have been chosen to emphasise the fact that questions of spatiality are rarely if ever fixed and settled, that there is always something dynamic at work threatening (or promising – for perspective is also a matter of placing and spacing) to disrupt and displace. As Jacques Derrida comments, ‛spacing is a concept which … carries the meaning of a productive, positive, generative force. Like dissemination, like différence, it carries along with it a genetic motif: it is not only the interval, the space constituted between two things (which is the usual sense of spacing), but also spacing, the operation, or in any event, the movement of setting aside’.

The grouping of ‛placing, spacing, displacing’, then, is not arbitrary. Indeed, the connection between them is perhaps far more causal than casual. This seems to be the logic underlying the observation by the seventeenth-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal that the declaration ‛“that is my place in the sun” ... is the beginning and the image of the usurpation of all the earth’. In the twentieth century Emmanuel Levinas chooses this line as an epigraph to Otherwise than Being: Or Beyond Essence, using it as a springboard to explore our complex ethical responsibility to and for the other, whose own place in the sun we risk threatening simply by occupying a space ourselves.

Today, at a time when geopolitical forces seem to be focused with increased stress and urgency on questions of borders and territories and the disputes they occasion, looking again at how literature, language and culture respond to and mediate these concerns is particularly pressing. Not, of course, that this is something that the arts haven’t been responding to since time immemorial. Explorations of space and place and the tensions therein have always been a concern of literature and literary cultures, whether it be the tensions of town and country, tales of usurpation and exile, or explorations of more intimate spaces and their fragility. This has never simply been a matter of representation – language has the capacity to open up new spaces and reconstitute existing ones, animating, directing and exploring the possibilities of spacing, placing, and displacing. Drawing on literature, literary theory, cultural and media studies, and linguistics, this symposium will seek to do likewise.

Abstracts of around 250 words, for 20-minute papers, should be emailed along with a short bio-note to by 3rd March 2017. The organisers are planning to publish selected Symposium papers in the postgraduate journal Antae (

Student registration for this symposium is fully covered through bursaries. Kindly contact us for more information.

This symposium is organised with the support of the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union

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'antae' is a postgraduate journal, dedicated to the interspaes of English studies, which aims to publish selected papers from the 'Placing, Spacing, Displacing' conference hosted by the University of Malta, in Malta, on the 7th and 8th of April. 

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