RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2014

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261 Narrating Ruin, Ruining Narrative: Co-producing sites, materials and stories (2)
Affiliation Historical Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Caitlin DeSilvey (University of Exeter, UK)
Hayden Lorimer (University of Edinburgh, UK)
Michael Gallagher (University of Glasgow, UK)
Chair(s) Michael Gallagher (University of Glasgow, UK)
Timetable Thursday 28 August 2014, Session 4 (16:50 - 18:30)
Room RGS-IBG Lowther Room
Session abstract The term ‘ruin’, understood in its broadest sense, refers to the physical destruction or disintegration of something, or the state of disintegrating or being destroyed. In this session we invite papers that grapple with how ruins, and processes of ruination, are brought into circuits of geographical knowledge through narrative practices. In their engagement with ruins geographers often aspire to co-production, attempting to share narrative authority with other voices, actants and forms of life. Experiments with sound, story and image have drawn out the potential for co-production, but exposed a paradox at the heart of this kind of work. What attracts us to ruins is often their radical indifference and their apparent autonomy; but any attempt to ‘story’ the ruin involves acts of selection, editing and framing that impose an order on disorder, and threaten to domesticate destruction. To narrate these places requires a willingness to allow for the disintegration of conventional narrative forms, and an openness to other ways of presencing animals and plants, weather and water, absent people and other beings. The session includes a concluding interactive roundtable activity.
Linked Sessions Narrating Ruin, Ruining Narrative: Co-producing sites, materials and stories (1)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2014@rgs.org
Traversing the fantasies of urban destruction: ruin gazing in Varosha
Paul Dobraszczyk (The University of Manchester, UK)
This paper will explore the relationship between the imagination of urban destruction and a personal experience of a particular urban ruin: the former resort town of Varosha in Cyprus, abandoned since 1974. I will draw out the connections between my experience of Varosha’s ruined spaces and three imaginative tropes that emerged out of and influenced that experience: first, the fantasy of urban annihilation (or urbicide), an enduring trope of apocalyptic cinema and actualized in modern aerial warfare; second, the fantasy of being the first/last witness in a post-apocalyptic ruined world; and, third, the fantasy of disanthropy, or the imagination of the world as post-human. In situating my experience of Varosha within broader cultural fantasies of urban ruin, I want to bring out affinities between the two in order to create an emancipatory space that critically negotiates these fantasies. The result will be to open up dialogues between the experience of being in urban ruins, the contested narratives/histories of those ruins and the imagination of urban destruction in order to address the wider questions of how large-scale ruins might be remembered and reconstituted in ways that promote inclusivity, hold together contradictions and maintain the hope of healing.
Unsettling space and time: writing ruin at Purton Ships’ Graveyard
Lisa Hill (University of Bristol, UK)
Carrying goods, fuel and labour between the Severn Estuary and the city of Gloucester, the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal was designed as a broad port-serving ship canal, opened in 1827. Although at 16 miles long the canal was relatively short, it was vital for the safe movement of shipping, avoiding the most dangerous sandbanks and tidal effects of the River Severn. One facet of this historic landscape that captures the contemporary imagination is the Purton Ships’ Graveyard. Lying on the east bank of the River Severn, over 80 obsolete commercial vessels were beached here between 1909 and 1965 in an attempt to protect the canal from bank erosion by the adjacent River Severn. The ghostly remains of schooners, Severn trows, lighters, wooden, concrete and steel barges lie still, semi-submerged beneath the sediments they aim to trap. In varying stages of ruination, they have been subject to strong tidal currents and the ravages of the elements since they were deliberately run aground at high tide. Many have also fallen victim to vandalism and arson, greatly accelerating their decay. Focusing on the haunting landscape of the Purton foreshore, this paper experiments with forms of narrative that unsettle space and time. In doing so, it points to the need to disrupt conventional understandings of past and present, absence and presence when writing about ruins and processes of ruination.
All ruins are narratives. All narratives are ruins. All narratives are co-produced.
Daniel Keech (University of Gloucestershire, UK)
Owain Jones (Bath Spa University, UK)
Ruins are, quite clearly, narratives. They are the ‘bones’ left once the soft tissue of some earlier everyday (materialised) life (mundane or momentous) has past. They speak narratives of such pasts, even if the speech is sometimes faint, distorted, fragmented, in some lost tongue. To see the ruins of Tintern Abbey (made famous by Worsdworth) is to stand at the threshold of a (part ruined) labyrinth of narratives – “If the majestic prospect of a ruined 12th-century church [ ] triggers the meditation, the landscape's fourth dimension—time as an almost palpable presence—dominates it”. Of course bodies such as the National Trust seek to lead us over that threshold. Despite our claim that all narratives are ruins, be they fictional or otherwise (a doubtful distinction), narratives cannot ever fully recreate the lived lives they recount. They are fleeting, partial, spasmodic glimpses of such, stitched artfully together in some narrative regime or other. Partial also in that they always preclude – but allude to (deliberately or otherwise) what was always before and what is always to come. In Wordworth’s contemplation of Tintern Abbey, the notions of ruin as narrative and narrative as ruin intertwine as he ponders his past – his narrative as present in the ruins that are memory. Further, narratives are inevitably co-produced in complex ways, first by the agencies of others, things and places that worm into the narrative though the host creator, and secondly in their consumption: a story must be heard in order to live. Ruins – architectural and natural – are the contemporary settings for stories of lived temporal isolation, as shown by the artist Stephen Turner. We are taken with Serres’s notion of narratives which sees them as portals into labyrinthine lived time, in which one can move forward, back, graft, bifurcate in rhizomatic fashion. We will illustrate the general direction of thinking here with references to authors and film makers who have constructed narrative with(in) ruins – of one type or another- Sebald, Peake, Lynch.
Roundtable: Reclaiming Ruins and Narrative
Roundtable: Reclaiming Ruins and Narrative