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Contemporary Writing and the Politics of Space

Borders, Networks, Escape Lines


Edited By David Walton and Juan Antonio Suárez

This collective volume explores questions of space in contemporary literary texts from a range of theoretical perspectives. In addition to mapping the «spatial turn» in literary and cultural studies, this volume also brings together studies that apply spatial theory to the analysis of literary texts. Contributors tackle a broad range of themes, including how prose fiction addresses spaces of intimacy, abjection, espionage, discipline, madness, post-human identities, post-communist cities, the architecture of dystopia, and coercive medical practices. In turn, these themes open up analysis to key areas within contemporary literary and cultural criticism, including the study of sexuality, politics, power, and identity; the configuration of urban, regional, and national spaces and borders; and the delineation of private and public domains. The contributors reflect on diverse authors from English-speaking cultures and focus on a variety of genres and periods while acknowledging recent research in space studies and offering original contributions to what has now become a thriving field.

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9 Charting the Liminal Geographies of Eastern Europe in Joyce Carol Oates’s Short Stories (Martyna Bryla)


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9    Charting the Liminal Geographies of Eastern Europe in Joyce Carol Oates’s Short Stories


Framed by imagology and geocriticism, this chapter analyses American imaginative geographies of the European East in Joyce Carol Oates’s short stories (1984).1 I argue that Berlin, Warsaw and Budapest turn into liminal sites of danger and possibility for Oates’s American characters, incarnating both the escapist quality of travel beyond the ordinary and the darker side which the removal from one’s ‘comfort zone’ may entail. Thus, the experience of crossing the Iron Curtain and getting to know the Eastern other triggers self-discovery, confirming imagology’s premise that the way we map alterity tends to tell us more about ourselves than about others. In addition to unveiling the complex dynamics between selfhood and otherness, these stories also attest to the position which Eastern Europe occupied in the American Cold-War imaginary. Simultaneously, despite being embedded in a specific socio-historical moment, Eastern Europe mapped by Oates functions as a symbol which goes beyond the Cold-War context.

In 1980, the American writer Joyce Carol Oates visited Eastern Europe as part of her official six-week tour of the old continent.2 Oates’s journey to Berlin, Warsaw and Budapest was sponsored by the United States Information Agency (USIA): the public diplomacy body aimed at promoting American interests and values abroad. Speaking about USIA’s strategic goals, the historian Richard H. Pells termed the organization’s role schizophrenic (1997: 84). On the...

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