10th Ralahine Utopian Studies Workshop: Cognitive Mapping in Contemporary European Literature

University of Limerick
Closing date for submissions: 
8 March, 2013
Event dates: 
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10th Ralahine Utopian Studies Workshop


University of Limerick (Ireland)

Thursday 13 June 2013


Cognitive Mapping in Contemporary European Literature


Cognitive mapping, in the version outlined two decades ago by Fredric Jameson in the first chapter of Postmodernism or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991), denotes a critical practice with utopian potential, one generated through an incomplete and exploratory relation of the subject to the real conditions of the here and now. Moving beyond its suggestive origins in a problematics of goal-oriented spatial representation (Tolman, 1948), cognitive mapping understood thus possesses clear social and political dimensions, implying the question not only of how society (inseparably local and global) does but also how it could actually function. What Jameson refers to as “an aesthetic of cognitive mapping”, which he defines somewhat programmatically as “a pedagogical political culture which seeks to endow the individual subject with some new heightened sense of its place in the global system” (p. 54), engages both the constructions of self inhabited individually and collectively, and the creative effort to envision and negotiate given geometries of identity, coexistence, obligation, oppression, opposition, and transformation, in broadly spatial terms.


Though Jameson’s discussion was not in the first instance a literary one, the utopian (that is, at once critical and creative) potential of cognitive mapping as a cultural practice is arguably of profound interest to the interpretation of literary work from the subsequent time. To raise the question of cognitive mapping in literary work is to interrogate the many ways in which writing subjects spatially inscribe present conditions from the perspective of a situated subject (whether authorial, textual, or both), and to focus on the insights and implications of such inscriptions for the societies in which they occur.


How might this potential be relevant to the ambient sense of the contemporary European space as one in crisis, in which ‘Europe’ functions as the name of an intractable set of shifting parameters and conflicting perspectives, caught somewhere between the local and the global? Can literary instances of cognitive mapping provide fresh ways of understanding or modelling the processes shaping lived realities within the European space (in all its variable geometry) in the contemporary period? Is there a ‘European’ dimension observable to such instances? How (where this is the case) is this articulated in relation to the rest? How (where not) does the lived world in ‘Europe’ articulate and understand itself in other terms and through other relations, and what are its horizons?


Moving between linguistic and literary traditions, this workshop seeks equally to move across generic, medial and other established practice boundaries: while retaining the literary as the focus of its concern, it has a particular interest in how contemporary literary practice is engaged to a significant extent in remapping itself even as it attempts to envision the world of its emergence. Consideration of work done outside the ‘major’ European languages is, similarly, welcome – as are comparative, postcolonial, diasporic and other heterogeneous perspectives on the question.


Proposals (300 words) are thus invited for papers (in English) on instances of cognitive mapping observable in contemporary European literature(s), and should be sent (as an e-mail attachment) to Dr Michael G Kelly (michael.g.kelly@ul.ie) by Friday 8th March 2013.

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