Space in Literature

Method, Genre, Topos

by Urszula Terentowicz-Fotyga (Volume editor)
©2018 Edited Collection 286 Pages
Series: Mediated Fictions, Volume 15


This study focuses on the problem of spatiality in literature. Evoking a wide range of theoretical and methodological perspectives, the book demonstrates that the analysis of the spatial aspect of the literary text encompasses a variety of textual elements and structures. Organized around three defining problems - spatial topoi, genres and methods - the study gives the reader a good insight into contemporary research on the intersection of space and literature. The topics covered in this book range from the symbolism of different topoi, spatial modelling in literary genres to the spatial form of textual materiality. The individual chapters address the problem of literary space in poetry, drama and fiction.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Literary Spatialities: Method, Genre, Topos
  • Works cited
  • Part 1
  • On Literary Space: Some Preliminaries
  • Works cited
  • Spaces of Metatheoretical Interpretation: A Rapprochement between Linguistic and Literary Approaches in Text Studies?
  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 The SMI defined
  • 3 What cognitivism is not
  • 4 Record of convergence
  • 5 Conclusion
  • Works cited
  • Narrative Spaces in Charles Williams’s The Greater Trumps
  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Theoretical overview
  • 3 Reading
  • 4 Conclusion
  • Works cited
  • The World Diagrammatised: Multimodal Narration in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon and The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen
  • Works cited
  • Intertextual Reorganisation of Space in Zadie Smith’s On Beauty
  • Works cited
  • Speculative Cartographies and Contemporary Poetry
  • 1 Introduction: Delirium
  • 2 The cartographer and the rastaman
  • 3 OOO: Ontography and onto-cartography
  • 4 Cognitive mappings
  • 5 Maps of the body and maps of subjectivity
  • 6 Conclusion: Post-representational literary cartographies
  • Works cited
  • The Irish Stage: Space and Communication in Printed Drama
  • Works cited
  • Ontological Rupture in Caryl Churchill’s Traps
  • 1 An impossible object
  • 2 Discontinuity
  • 3 Self-referentiality
  • 4 Conclusion
  • Works cited
  • Part 2
  • A Plunge into Space: Spatial Variations in 19th-Century British Utopias
  • Works cited
  • Spaces of History in the Dystopian Worlds of Walter Besant’s The Revolt of Man and The Inner House
  • Works cited
  • Principles of Space Organisation in Agatha Christie’s Sleeping Murder
  • 1 Temporal layering of space
  • 2 Spatial multiplication and adjacency modification
  • 3 Spatio-temporal subterfuge
  • Works cited
  • Mimetic Place and Metamorphic Space: The Conventions of Romance in Lawrence Norfolk’s Lemprière’s Dictionary
  • 1 Place, space, and the historical romance
  • 2 Mimesis with a thesis
  • 3 Symbolic spaces
  • 4 Metamorphoses
  • 5 Beyond mimesis
  • Works cited
  • Part 3
  • Weaving the House of Fiction: Spatial Poetics in Shirley Jackson’s The Lovely House
  • Works cited
  • The Space of Death in Selected Short Stories by Marek S. Huberath
  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 An overview of the stories
  • 3 Death as a journey away from home and from open to enclosed space
  • 4 A bleak view of death
  • 5 The up/down and openness/confinement oppositions: continuing the journey beyond the grave
  • 6 “The Causeway” and “Balm”: paths to heaven and hell
  • 7 Conclusion
  • Works cited
  • The Swimming Pool as a Modern Embodiment of the Ancient Topos of Water
  • Works cited
  • What Lies Behind? The Topos of the Underground in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, Jeanne DuPrau’s The City of Ember and Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033
  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Construction of the underground
  • 3 The underground: place or non-place?
  • 4 Subterranean heterotopias
  • 5 Realms beneath as fictional alternatives to the postmodern city
  • 6 Conclusion
  • Works cited
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Mediated Fictions

←6 | 7→

Urszula Terentowicz-Fotyga

Literary Spatialities: Method, Genre, Topos

Recent decades have witnessed a growing interest in the spatial aspect of literary studies. While the claim about the epochal shift in paradigm from time to space, usually buoyed by Michel Foucault’s essay “Of Other Spaces,” might be said to overstate the breakthrough character of the recent spatialisation of the humanities, particularly if one goes beyond the Western-centric perspective, the increasing number of space-oriented publications clearly testifies to a greater interest in and appreciation of spatially oriented studies.

Space is one of the principal categories of human experience and cognition and as such offers a particularly suitable paradigm to analyse literary texts as world-building narratives. As Marie-Laure Ryan argues, “all narratives imply a world with spatial extension, even when spatial information is withheld” (2009: 420) and the analysis of space may function as a path towards analysing other, non-spatial categories of the text. For Yuri Lotman, the language of spatial relations, one of the fundamental means for interpreting reality, is crucial in analysing the representations of reality modelled by individual texts and since literature functions as a principal area of culture’s self-expression and interpretation, analysing literary spatialities may help define the world view of a particular culture.

Even within the confines of literary studies, the spatial perspective may subsume very different approaches. As Robert Tally explains in the Introduction to The Routledge Handbook of Literature and Space, “what is broadly referred to as spatial literary studies […] would cover multiform critical practices that would include almost any approach to the text that focuses attention on space, place, or mapping” (2017: 3). Such a broad definition allows one to include both the traditional analyses of the setting and the more innovative explorations into the spatial materiality of the literary text or the multimodal spaces of digital narratives.

The present volume reflects a variety of critical and theoretical approaches that inform spatial literary studies and testifies to the flexibility of methods used in the analysis of the spatial aspects of literary texts. One ←7 | 8→of the interventions that this collection aims to make consists in redressing the balance between the Western-centric narrative of the spatial turn and research arising from Eastern European contributions to spatial studies. Particularly salient in the Western theorisation of the spatial turn is the absence of Yuri Lotman’s spatial semiotics, especially of his later, post-structural writing, such as Universe of the Mind and Culture and Explosion. Hence, among the different theories and methodologies invoked in the volume, a prominent place is given to Lotman’s theory of the semiosphere next to Mikhail Bakhtin’s more widely known concept of the chronotope.

The volume is divided into three parts. The first one, entitled “Spatial Concepts and Methods,” explores the methodological and conceptual application of space in literary studies, the second, entitled “Space and Genre,” focuses on the spatial characteristics of individual literary genres and on the ways different literary forms generate different spatialities, while the third is entitled “Spatial Topoi” and, as the title suggests, focuses on cultural and literary functions of individual topoi.

In the introductory chapter of the book, Andrzej Zgorzelski attempts to define the concept of literary space, which he understands as “a set of objects in the fictional reality (people, natural phenomena, products of civilisation, etc.) organised by a number of various relations, particularly by those of distance and direction.” As this definition evidences, in literary texts, as world-building narratives, the concept of space is closely related to the more general concept of the world. The former can be distinguished by, among other things, the type of relations between sets of objects, defined mostly by distance and direction. Zgorzelski points out the fundamentally metaphorical character of the notion of space, not only in literary studies but also in everyday life and argues that in literary analysis the consideration of literal and metaphoric uses of spatial concepts needs to be accounted for. Spatial relations, Zgorzelski emphasises after Yuri Lotman, are essentially semiotic and can be seen to signal other relations in the text. In effect, space cannot be analysed in isolation from other textual elements. At the same time, however, space must not be mistaken with its functions; as he explicates, “there is no ‘moral space’ in a novel, for instance, but space organisation may have a function in signalling the moral theme.”

The question of method is also at the centre of the second chapter, entitled “Spaces of Metatheoretical Interpretation: A Rapprochement between ←8 | 9→Linguistic and Literary Approaches in Text Studies?” Based on Andrzej Zgorzelski’s recommendations for future literary research, Anna Kędra-Kardela and Henryk Kardela call for the establishment of a “platform for mutual understanding” between literary and linguistic studies, broad enough to safeguard the autonomy of the two approaches to text analysis. Such a general theoretical framework, the authors argue, can be construed in terms of Yuri Lotman’s aspects of the semiosphere, especially the semiosphere’s secondary modelling system, or in terms of Ernst Cassirer’s theory of symbolic forms, held by Cassirer to be the prime mover behind the development of science (as well as myth, religion, language and art). The framework proposed in the chapter, called a Space of Metatheoretical Interpretation (SMI), is based on the general principles of triangulation that entails looking for points of contact between linguistic and literary analysis of texts.

In Chapter 3, Andrzej Kowalczyk draws on the theory of mental spaces formulated by Gilles Fauconnier and Marc Turner and its application to the analysis of narratives proposed by Barbara Dancygier to propose a cognitive poetic reading of The Greater Trumps, a “supernatural thriller” by Charles Williams. By analysing the blending of different narrative spaces, the chapter expounds the reader’s active participation in the meaning-construction processes associated with literary reading. Cognitive poetics, argues Kowalczyk, by focusing on the ways mental spaces are activated in the process of reading offers not only different interpretations of the novel but also, and more importantly, makes it possible to understand how these interpretations are created.

Grzegorz Maziarczyk’s chapter, entitled “The World Diagrammatised: Multimodal Narration in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon and The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen,” addresses the spatiality of literature understood in a non-metaphoric sense. Maziarczyk approaches the literary text as a spatial form in the physical sense by analysing the co-deployment of verbal and visual semiotic resources within paginal space in two contemporary novels. Maziarczyk argues that in contrast to the 19th-century illustrations, which are beyond the narrator’s control, the images occurring in these two novels form an integral part of homodiegetic narration and contribute to what might be called material/visual mimetism: the reader is provided with direct access to the graphic elements produced and/or incorporated by the narrating ←9 | 10→agent. This multimodal, verbo-visual, narration is employed by Haddon and Larsen to reflect the precocious adolescent narrator’s desire to impose order on reality by subjecting it to schematic visual representation. By combining words and images, both authors, on the one hand, seek to do justice to the complexities of mental processes and on the other probe the limits of verbal and visual modes of spatial representation.

The next chapter considers the question of literary space in the context of intertextuality. Recognising intertextuality, argues Podgajna, entails recognising an ontological transgression between fictional worlds; such a transgression results in constructing a dialogical space of texts that clearly breaks the boundaries of space defined by textual mimesis. The thesis is illustrated with the example of the intertextual space in E.M. Forster’s Howards End and Zadie Smith’s On Beauty. By applying Gérard Genette’s concept of hypertextuality and Boris Uspensky’s notion of point of view on different narrative planes, Podgajna demonstrates how intertextual decodings of the hypotext – Forster’s Howards End – affect the construction of space and trigger thematic recontextualisations in Smith’s hypertext. The chapter examines how the constant shifts in point of view on the spatio-temporal plane in Forster’s novel serve not only to expose the process of architectural disruption but also to foreground social and ideological transformations at the dawn of modernity. Contrastingly, the examination of the spatio-temporal framework in Smith’s On Beauty indicates that the dichotomous spatial arrangement in the hypertext serves to problematise the constitutive role of space in shaping one’s cultural identity.

In “Speculative Cartographies and Contemporary Poetry,” Grzegorz Czemiel approaches the spatial method in literature from a perspective that combines the findings of speculative realism with those of post-representational cartographical theory developed in human geography. The chapter introduces and elaborates on the idea of speculative cartography as a theoretical concept explaining how literature can engage with the world through “speculative” map-making that opposes “representational” cartography. Whereas the latter attempts to grasp reality in purely anthropocentric terms, the former employs metaphorical thinking in order to signal the existence of a “Great Outdoors” (Quentin Meillassoux’s term) and sketch its relationship with humanity not only in terms of mastery but also in sustainable co-existence. As a result, it is argued, literature ←10 | 11→produces “weird” maps that are metaphorical and non-representational in character, facilitating the production of a less anthropocentric account of reality, one that would acknowledge multiple non-human components, thus enabling more ethical and ecological modes of living.

While Czemiel illustrates his argument with reference to contemporary poetry, the following chapter, “The Irish Stage: Space and Communication in Printed Drama” by Tomasz Wiśniewski, focuses on the specificity of spatial arrangement in printed drama. As Wiśniewski argues, the communicative specificity of printed drama is rooted in the eccentric semiotic potential of its spatial arrangement; space in printed drama establishes dualistic relations: on the one hand, a play is bound to construct a fictional/presented reality and on the other it makes use of theatre conventions. The argument is illustrated by examples taken from Irish poetic drama at the beginning of the 20th century, in which, as Wiśniewski demonstrates, one of the central topoi thrives on the equivalence between the stage and Ireland on the one hand, and the off-stage and the sea on the other.

Another way of employing the spatial method in drama is discussed by Anna Suwalska-Kołecka in “Ontological Rupture in Caryl Churchill’s Traps.” The author argues that the distinct and diverse spatio-temporal constructs of Churchill’s plays dramatise the opposition intrinsic to any theatrical act (fiction/reality) and by the meta-theatricality explore the issues of performance, representation, and subjectivity. The chapter focuses on the strategies Churchill employs in her play Traps to endow the time and space continuum with ontological rupture, resulting in a sense of ontological plurality and instability. In the course of the play, the characters entertain various possibilities of change and the setting proves insecure. The play’s spatio-temporal construction draws the attention of recipients to its strangeness, artificiality, illusoriness and arbitrariness, and as such the play exhibits its own rules of creation.

The second part of the book focuses on the different spatialities characteristic of individual fictional genres. In Chapter 9, entitled “A Plunge into Space: Spatial Variations in 19th-century British Utopias,” Marta Komsta proposes a preliminary typology of setting in the 19th-century utopian fictions. Focusing on spatial relations and their overall function, the chapter discusses the ways the particular spatial models determine the semiotic configuration of the presented worlds as symbolic spaces in Lotman’s ←11 | 12→understanding of the term. Originating from the horizontal pattern of geographical distance between two contemporaneous realities, the spatial models of the 19th-century British utopias, Komsta argues, are extensions of the established “near-far” configuration, such as the up/down and inside/outside binaries, with various types of boundaries (physical, moral, ontological, etc.) separating the insular utopian realm from the external reality.

In a parallel chapter, entitled “Spaces of History in the Dystopian Worlds of Walter Besant’s The Revolt of Man and The Inner House,” Justyna Galant discusses the spatiality of 19th-century dystopias using Walter Besant’s novels as examples. Applying Lotman’s concept of the semiosphere, Galant analyses the novels’ spaces as predecessors of loci familiar from the 20th-century classics of the genre, Zamyatin’s We, Huxley’s Brave New World, and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. The chapter demonstrates the ways dystopian spatiality contrasts the unofficial places of deviant people with the a-semiotic and a-temporal official places of forbidding order, characterised by lack of polyglotism, heterogeneity, asymmetry and dialogism. Galant argues that while Besant’s novels explore the critical moments of the re-introduction of the past into the present, a simulacrum of history comes to function as a dominant semiosphere, which, while overthrowing the oppressive present, promises a cultural order where the production of meaning will still be compromised.

The next chapter, entitled “Principles of Space Organisation in Agatha Christie’s Sleeping Murder,” by Jadwiga Węgrodzka, discusses the spatiality of crime fiction. Based on the systematisation of textual spatialities introduced by Marie-Laure Ryan, the chapter analyses the fictional space of Agatha Christie’s Sleeping Murder as potentially representative of other texts of the genre. Węgrodzka examines four techniques of space organisation in the novel: time layering of space, spatio-temporal subterfuge, spatial multiplication and spatial adjacency manipulation. Some of these techniques are closely involved with the generic characteristics of crime fiction, while others are used in the context of the novel of manners. The chapter also discusses the ways the spatial organisation of the fictional world is relevant to the thematic concerns and semantic suggestions deployed in Christie’s novel.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (December)
literary space chronotope spatial typology spatial turn mapping semiosphere
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 283 pp., 2 fig. b/w

Biographical notes

Urszula Terentowicz-Fotyga (Volume editor)

Urszula Terentowicz-Fotyga is Associate Professor of English Literature and Culture at Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin. Her main research interests are semiotics of space, urban theory and representation, postmodern and contemporary literature and theory. She has published on cultural semiotics, modernist and postmodern novel, literary and film dystopia.


Title: Space in Literature
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287 pages