Common Places

Building on our previous work on space, this interdisciplinary axis focuses on common places, both in the literal sense of shared territories and the metaphorical sense of clichés and platitudes. 
In their geographic, symbolic or imaginary senses, common places are terrains or territories that are inhabited or not by human beings and appropriated in different ways, violent or respectful. They are constituted by socio-cultural bonds that work through memory, language, or the virtual. 
Moreover, common places can be ordinary spaces, revived by art and literature. Inscribed simultaneously in a historical context and submitted to incessant mutations, they inspire a paradoxical reinvention of memories and myths, as well as quotidian sayings and rituals. Far from grasping meaning in stereotypes, they create an extraordinary poetic impulse at the heart of the prosaic. 


Common Places

Following on from previous conferences devoted to urban space (The Art of the City, Take to the Streets, Walking in the City), the research carried out by Poethics is now oriented toward the edges of the city: small towns, suburbs, and their means of access (streets, roads, stations, ports …). We are particularly interested in the ways of defining a social, religious, political, or cultural community through its association with place (the street, the crowd, the neighborhood, the house …). We are trying to map new modes of urban expression through art and literature: languages, accents, bodily manners or lifestyles. The city could be envisioned as a space of contagion (we are thinking of the spread not only of disease, but also of rumor and fashion). The city could also be studied as an archive or a site of recovery, the ghost town. Or again, we can consider the ways of representing invisible places, like underground networks, or peri-urban places, like motels, highways, hospitals, or cemeteries.  

Another of Poethics’ research orientations is the notion of home and the parameters that define it. Also under consideration are the roles of memory and forgetfulness, as well as bodies and things, in the creation of a common place, even an uninhabitable one. In particular we will investigate war narratives, where the manner in which soldiers view foreign cities that have become combat zones profoundly alters their vision and memory of home, once they return to their countries.
Finally we envisage the notion of commonplace as a space between city and countryside. We are especially interested in the way nature appears within the city. Wild openings at the heart of inhabitations and habits, tenacious gashes in palimpsests and patrimonies, or again artificial recreations of authenticity or anteriority, these natural resurgences evince not so much the vengeful or controlled return of wilderness at the heart of a closed and constructed world as places’ resistance to the banality of being called environments. Although standing at the border, these places are paradoxically common only in the case of contradiction.
  • Let’s see

We envisage first of all the common places that inspired artists—those places of common inspiration that are at the same time indications of shared quests but also sites of dissidence and divergence. 
The question of the cliché, particularly in photography, but not exclusively, is one of our interests, because this “common place” is also a place of the encounter and convergence of systems of representation and pictorial conventions, in keeping with specific social, scientific or religious contexts. Thus, for the 60th anniversary of Lolita’s publication, we have begun exploring how the image of the famous nymphet very soon became a commonplace in women’s magazines, and how her image has since spread across texts and images and into various cultures in a mirror image of the way Nabokov interiorized the commonplaces of America (its sites, its advertising language, its cheap images) in the original text.
It is also opportune to study in artworks the devices that interiorize and project what is “in the air” both in the content (in the choice of themes) and the form (formal choices). On the same order of ideas, we are interested in the genre painting fashionable in eighteenth century France and England, so as to further the knowledge of the pictorial ecosystems that developed in Anglophone cultures in the early modern era.
We will also investigate those things that are difficult to grasp, whatever requires an effort in order to get a notion of the impalpable (let’s see …), because, for ephemeral artworks such as dance, performance art, land art, and light or sound installations, or for digital works, the representational and perceptual challenges open complex and often hybrid semiotic spaces. As far as the reception of artworks is concerned, the question of common places (performance venues, museums, urban spaces, domestic spaces, or the internet) stimulate a reflection upon the status of works belonging both to past performances and to present survival in cyberspace.
  • Places of transit /Places of debate

Following on the idea that literature and the arts cannot be out of place, we will study literary and artistic geographies in order to examine the specific modalities and stakes of the discourse on commonplaces considered as both individual and collective mobile and polyphonic expression.  We will specifically examine the notion of cosmopolitanism. Since the eighteenth century writers and artists have tried to identify and cultivate a communality of spirit, values, practices, and discourses, unfettered by national borders or patriotic commitments. Cosmopolitanism can be seen as an opening onto the world, to space and to the other, which leads us to envisage the “kósmos” as a common place, the space of a transnational community in which geopoetics and geopolitics merge. This artistic cosmopolitanism often leads to various forms of nomadism, wandering, or uprooting (voluntary or imposed exile) that lead in turn to aesthetic hybridity and to various forms of metissage (heteroglossia, polyphony, intermediality). We will study the evolutions, modalities and stakes of this artistic and literary cosmopolitanism. While keeping it distinct from what is conventionally called globalization, we study its role in poetic or artistic revolutions, its modes of diffusion and reception in the domains of election where it figures (journals, workshops, salons, expatriate artists’ colonies) as well as the poethic connections that it creates.
One of our main places of concern is the Mediterranean basin, a preeminently cosmopolitan place and a research subject that can federate Anglophone scholars as well as scholars coming from various university disciplines, as well as other political and artistic off-campus or non-university institutions. We wish to reconsider much-studied spaces by shifting our focus not to the places but to the routes that lead to them and contribute to their construction. No longer starting from mare nostrum, but from the fuzzy edges that characterize the Mediterranean countries without confining them. We will study the Mediterranean area as a place whose different networks of roads and canals encourage wandering and exploration of the unknown. Investigating the political and poetic relations between the Mediterranean area and its back country will lead to the study of a number of objects that can be associated with that place, such as texts and maps, ethnological, historical and literary writings, artistic and scientific perspectives, poems and fiction, letters and travel diaries, photographic and literary clichés.
Finally we will pay attention to what is stated and re-stated in discourse, and in particular to the voice as a site of conviviality and epistemological porosity between the arts, history and the sciences. Voice travels across the spaces of exchange (not only real spaces like museums or theatrical stages, but also literature and painting) according to different modalities and stakes. Voice is distinctive of our humanity and of its limits as well; it gestures toward absence and disappears if not relayed by writing or transcription. Voice makes us unique and different and binds us together as well; it can be heard through forms as varied as art and politics. Considering the modalities of the voice also entails considering the voice as a symptom and object of scientific studies (speech therapy and the talking cure).
  • Land(s) and Freedom(s)

The relation between the land (whether planet, territory, or soil) and the theme of freedom or freedoms predicates the relation of peoples to their homelands as expressed in terms of possession and dispossession, rooting and uprooting, enslavement and liberation, reconstruction and preservation. This involves not only the history of indigenous peoples but also the reconstruction of territories and the recovery of freedom through literature, the arts or the defense of native languages. The animal and plant worlds, nature as a whole, play an important part in the relation between land and freedom seen in terms of the preservation of the dialogue between humans and non-humans.  
This common place between nature and peoples’ lives reminds us that the earth is a common space to be shared in order to safeguard the freedom of its inhabitants as well as maintaining the wealth of its biodiversity. The environmental dimension of this relation is fundamental. The role and place of first peoples remind us that this common place that is earth is first and foremost a space that has been conserved by peoples that colonization has tried to homogenize or destroy by dividing their living spaces. Writing and all forms of representation play a vital role in the protection of men and nature. The study of the connection between writing and ecology leads us to envisage the political role of art and literature, particularly when it comes to protecting freedom and preserving the integrity of peoples and the land. Not only all the geographical areas of dispersion of the English language (the United Kingdom and Ireland, the United States, Canada, Africa, Australia, the West Indies, India ….) but also the Anglophone world in dialogue with other zones like the Mediterranean Basin expose the relations between North and South, as well as the ways in which the intellect and the imagination can transform a currently divided world into a real and authentic common place.  
The study of the relationship between peoples and their land leads to the study of agriculture, the memory of the land and the collective memory, of myths but also of the planet earth and hence the political relations between states and communities as well as the migrations, the fluctuating borders, and the places of settlement or of displacement (slave or creole societies). The study of common places reveals the double sense of the term culture: the literal sense of “working the ground” or the metaphorical sense involving the culture of letters, sciences and the fine arts. Literature remains a major preoccupation when considered as a site of struggle and as a weapon of reconstruction to defend the planet earth, the stolen territories, the wounded land and its peoples. 
The land as landscape is also a place of writing, poetry or painting, or a place of song and speech. Orality and the literature of the first nations and of indigenous peoples can be seen as the expression of a free identity that is founded upon listening to the earth. We can also inquire whether such a thing as a discourse of the earth exists. Can we speak of a non-human oral language of the world? Everything concerning the animal world, animal language, animal writing (tracks and constructions) can shed light upon the relationship between humans and non-humans. Can there be such a thing as a non-human freedom of the earth when men are involved and impose their language upon it? This is a fundamental question associated with the theme of Land(s) and Freedom(s).