A New Poetics of Space: Literary Walks in times of Pandemics and Climate Change

Online conference: 7 December 2020, Mid Sweden University, Sundsvall, Sweden

Klimathot, oväder, glesbygd

Keynote Speakers: Professor Anne D. Wallace (University of North Carolina at Greensboro) and Professor Jon Hegglund (Washington State University)

Organisers: Dr Lucy Jeffery & Professor Vicky Angelaki

Call for papers

As we have become more mindful of our day-to-day comings and goings, our engagement with literature that either extolls the virtues of walking or warns against the perils of the journey has both heightened and changed. Furthermore, as our experience of confinement and self-isolation has reshaped our everyday lives, we may recontextualise our examination of literature in relation to a politics of space and place. This online conference will explore what the act of walking stands for and what it signifies today in various textual forms. The one-day event aims to reflect the various ways in which walking, in its manifold possibilities and contexts, informs our understanding of the ways in which our experience of confinement has impacted our understanding of society and reading of literature.

With this in mind, we would like to take stock of the scholarship concerning walking and interrogate how our new politicised landscape is reshaping our understanding of literary landscapes across a range of genres and periods. We aim to explore: what narratives of walking reveal about our understanding of the politics of space, health, and the environment (both urban and rural); and, more broadly, how people are responding creatively to the question of space and confinement today. The event seeks to re-evaluate how we respond to and understand the tradition of the literary walk in light of the twenty-first century’s technological developments, societal shifts, environmental challenges, and political situation.

We are keen to investigate the concept of walking in fictive and non-fictive texts and accounts. Any chosen critical, theoretical, methodological, or disciplinary perspective is therefore welcome. We hope that this conference will provide researchers interested in interdisciplinary (especially environment, health, politics) approaches to literature with rigorous and engaging discussions concerning creative and/or theoretical approaches to the theme of walking. 

We warmly welcome postgraduates, ECRs, and senior academics interested in how the global climate and epidemiological challenges we currently face inform our understanding of literature that engages with ecocritical issues and notions of confinement. Please send abstracts (200-250 words), including a title and short bio (100 words) to lucy.jeffery@miun.se by 1 October 2020. Papers must be between 15 – 20 minutes in length. We aim to respond to all applicants with a decision on their submission by 9 October 2020. Please note that as this conference will take place online, there is no conference fee. 

If you are interested in attending this online event, but do not wish to present a paper, please contact us directly via email. The conference programme will be posted here in due course. Please address any questions you may have to lucy.jeffery@miun.se 

We look forward to hearing from you,
Dr Lucy Jeffery and Professor Vicky Angelaki.


Conference Programme

Conference Review

The conference hosts would like to thank all participants for making this conference such an inspiring and thought-provoking event. Additional thanks go to Anna Seidel for writing the conference review. We hope to see you all again soon!


Our Keynotes 


Professor Anne D. Wallace  
Anne D. Wallace is Professor of English at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, where she served as Head of the English Department (2005-14) and Chair of the Faculty Senate (2015-17). She is author of Walking, Literature, and English Culture (Oxford 1993), and co-editor of The Walker’s Literary Companion and The Quotable Walker (Breakaway 2000). Wallace’s recent book Sisters and the English Household: Domesticity and Women’s Autonomy in Nineteenth-Century English Literature (Anthem 2018) represents a detour, though not a departure, from her ongoing work at the literary intersections of mobility, aesthetics, labor, and domesticity. Her articles on John Clare, Charlotte Smith, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Dorothy and William Wordsworth include the lead article in the 50th Anniversary issue of The Wordsworth Circle (Winter 2019), “Interfusing Living and Nonliving in Charlotte Smith’s ‘Beachy Head.’” Born in the U.S. state of Kansas, and educated in public schools and universities in Kansas and Texas, Wallace taught for a year at Washburn University before joining the English Department at the University of Southern Mississippi in 1990. During her 15 years at USM, Wallace was awarded a 1998 Humanities Teacher Award from the Mississippi Humanities Council and a 2003 University Excellence in Teaching Award. 

“Paths to freedom and to childhood dear”: Walking and Identity in a Time of “Stopt” Paths 

In late 18th and early 19th-century England and Europe, a then-new poetics of space expanded the primary cultural meanings of walking from destination-bound “travail” compelled by material or spiritual necessity into theoretically unbounded, deliberately chosen travel producing pleasure and artistic opportunity. The key textual move in this expansion was to rhetorically link the material limitations of walking—its groundedness, its commonness, its slowness, its constraint to the local limits of “a day’s walk”—to some transcendence of those material limitations, something that read as “freedom”—the acquisition of learning or cultivation of understanding, the gathering of beauties and the production of art, the securing of common lands and sustenance, the enactment of class or individual autonomy. As this partial list of freedoms suggests, this new literary walking could generate and maintain an identity shaped by the walker’s freely chosen circulation through a specifically placed locality.                   

The 19th-century English poet John Clare, one of the principal architects of the new walking, staged his walker’s circulating identity as daily sojourns through the landscape of his “childhood dear,” now overlaid with the experiences of young manhood, and a simultaneous “freedom,” enacted by leisured walking, from the constraints of labor, poverty, and dependence into which he had been born. But Clare’s walker also finds his movement toward resistant transcendence blocked: as Clare’s “The Mores” vividly articulates, he walks in a time of “stopt” paths, when wide-spread privatizing enclosures of common lands cut off the walker from his memories and reinforced the boundaries of class and economic power. Now, in this time of pandemic, we once again find our paths stopt, our physical mobility often limited to not even “a day’s walk,” and once again observe the boundaries of class and economic power forcefully reasserted by this constraint. In this presentation I look through the lens of Clare’s poetry into another time of stopt paths, New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Exploring the subtly constrained shapes of a local walking path before the storm, and recalling the forcible constraint of dispossessed walkers seeking a way out of the inundated city, I ask whether, as we contemplate a “new poetics of space,” we can or should still anchor identity in specific material locality traversed by the free walker. Does the walker’s placed identity empower personal transcendence and resistant action, or does the materiality of the local inevitably constrain the freedoms the walker seeks?  

Associate Professor Jon Hegglund 
Jon Hegglund is Associate Professor of English at Washington State University, where he teaches courses in modernism, ecocriticism and environmental writing, and narrative theory. He has published on geography, spatiality, ecocriticism, and narrative in a number of places, including ISLE, Twentieth-Century Literature and the recent edited collection, Environment and Narrative. His book, World Views: Metageographies of Modernist Fiction (Oxford UP, 2012) was nominated for an MLA First Book Prize, and he is the co-editor (with John McIntyre) of Modernism and the Anthropocene (Lexington Press, forthcoming). Currently, he is completing a book on anthropomorphism as an embodied mode of narrative cognition and serving as a faculty mentor for the City Scripts project, an interdisciplinary graduate research group based at Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany. 

The Ends of the World: Pandemic Confinement and the Limits of Narrative Space 

How has the past year’s collective experience of physical confinement and spatial restriction changed the way we think about narrative space? How has the capacity for understanding selfhood and community through narrative possibility been permanently altered through the lived realities of COVID-19? This talk frames this question through the lens of narrative theory, highlighting a misalignment between the default openness and potentiality of narrative space and the increasing boundaries within which many of us are living during the COVID-19 pandemic. Drawing on examples across an American cultural matrix-the aesthetics of Zoom, the remote recording of popular music, the policing tactics of protests and marches--the talk argues that narrative possibilities of space have been bounded by imaginative limits alongside the material restrictions on movement and embodied spatial practice. 

Rather than see the heightened consciousness of bounded space through the lens of loss, melancholy, or nostalgia, I suggest that a generalized condition of confinement for liberal subjects can lead to insights about existing spatial inequalities that are often obscured through more abstract narrative models. I read the 2019 Brazilian film Bacurau in this context: even as it predates the pandemic, the film highlights the violent possibilities, as well as the political opportunities, of being cut off from a smooth, dematerialized, neoliberal space of technology, communication, and capital. Bacurau illustrates that confinement can, in some circumstances, be reimagined through the lens of collective memory and spontaneous political action. For all of its hard lessons and dire consequences, one of the more enduring legacies of the pandemic may be the opportunity to politicize narrative space and address its limits and boundaries as a constitutive condition of every story within contemporary neoliberal capitalism.


Recent Updates 

To listen to Dr Lucy Jeffery discuss the upcoming conference, follow the link to the 'Walk Listen Create' website: The spaces between the words - Practices of locative literature.  

Part of the International Analogio Festival (which takes place on 25 September), 'The spaces between words' seeks to explore issues surrounding the environment, technology, and mobility. Dr Lucy Jeffery will join Stefaan van Viesen, Elspeth (Billie) Penfold, Andrew Stuck, Baback Fakhamzadeh, Sissy Papathanassiou, and Geert Vermeire for an online panel. 

Dr Lucy Jeffery talks about the aims of the conference: 

Lucy Jeffery talks about A New Poetics of Space.m4a


Vicky Angelaki