Posted on 06/03/2014
Practice-based PhD Seminar
12 March 5.00pm-7.00pm at
The Centre for Creative Collaboration
16 Acton Street, London WC1X 9NG
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Words of the Train Journey
Dans l’air se mélangent trois conversations en deux langues que vous ne cherchez pas à démêler, au travers desquelles émerge l’inintelligible voix du haut-parleur qui annonce le prochain départ.
- Michel Butor, La Modification (1)
For his novel La Modification, Michel Butor chose the train journey between Paris and Roma to narrate, in the second person, the story of a man travelling from his wife to his mistress. If every novel is, in his own words, ‘un voyage’(2), La Modification epitomises his reading of a new type of space: a ‘traveled space’, which is made of moments, past, present and future, and ‘lived’ distances as well as measured ones. This may be seen as a shift in perception of space, where travel becomes the entry point, the filter through which every spatial experience is to be read, for every space is transitory, for you stay there for some time only. Here I want to argue that this shift is also taking place in the perception of language; that one actually travels through language.
Whilst Butor makes little case of the bilingual nature of the train journey experienced by the main character between Paris and Roma, his dynamic and oriented depiction of space will serve to interpret the piece of text I collected during another bilingual train journey between Paris and London. Random fragments of conversations, in French and English, words I could hear and recorded on paper, will become snippets of decontextualized language, which only the direction of the train and the space of the carriage will allow us to interpret. I will show that shifts, translations between frames of reference, or projections between ‘you’ and ‘me’ allow us to make sense of the journey.
(1) “Three conversations in two languages are intermingling in the air, which you do not attempt to untangle, and through which emerges the indecipherable voice of the loud speaker, announcing the next departure.” Quotation from Michel Butor, La Modification (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1957, p139) translated by Caroline Rabourdin.
(2) Michel Butor, L’Espace du Roman, in Repertoire II: Etudes et conférences 1959-1963, Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1964
Caroline Rabourdin is a French architect, writer and educator living in London. She graduated from the ENSAIS in Strasbourg, and holds a Master in Architectural Design with distinction from the Bartlett, UCL. Having practiced in various architectural offices in Paris and London, she is currently a Visiting Lecturer at Greenwich University, Department of Architecture, Design and Construction, and a PhD candidate at Chelsea College of Arts, UAL. Her practice-based and multidisciplinary research is concerned with the relationship between space and language, where language is considered as an embodied and spatial practice. The research borrows from art practices as well as architectural theory, linguistics, and also scientific disciplines such as geometry and neuroscience. In pulling together theories and practices about Space, Language and the Body, she is developing a notion of Embodied Bilingualism. Her PhD working title is ‘Spatial Translations between Paris and London: On Direction, Perception and Embodied Bilingualism’.
Infinity in a Cigar Box: Space and Worldbuilding in Science Fiction Theatre
Space is not natural, or abstract, or literally “there” but is relational, lived, and lively. Recent arguments in geography have rejected the idea that space is an inert backdrop or container for action, nothing more than the canvas onto which life is painted, or the stage on which it is acted out[...]we might now suggest that space and society produce each other, though there are of course many different ways of conceptualising society.(1)
I will consider the idea of relational space from the perspectives of anthropologists Tim Ingold, Mike Pearson and geographer Doreen Massey to explore how these concepts lend to performance theorist Richard Schecner’s concept of restored behaviour and theatre historian Julia Walker’s theory of the oscillating dynamic to calibrate our understandings between what we envisage on stage and our own understandings . I argue that all of these devices are important for generating this context for Science Fiction to be intelligibly staged to a theatre audience.
I believe that the action that takes place on the stage – the interactions between characters and the staged environment they inhabit – is representative of the imaged world as a whole. The characters and their interactions are our gateway into their environment and by extension, their universe. Space is actualised through this network of interactions rather than simply existing for its own sake, not simply what we see on the stage.We therefore do not need to see special effects to imagine a world, nor does theatre need to emulate Film or TV to create such abstract landscapes.
The staging example I will use from my praxis is Terra Firma – a full length apocalyptic SF play that had a staged reading at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden. How can we articulate behaviours, understandings and interactions in a world split between utopia and dystopia; from people who have changed from victors to victims in a world unlike our own? What do we need to present and what do we need to discard to create this environment?
James Kneale in “Space” The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction (Routledge, Oxon, 2009) pp423 – 432, p423
Susan Gray is a 2nd year PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London. She is an SF playwright, with her works Newshound, A Christmas Gift and an extract of her full length play Cuckoos and Chrysalides having been staged in various theatres in London. Her full length SF play Terra Firma had a staged reading at the Etcetera Theatre in London, Camden. She writes and performs SF monologues and has given talks on SF Theatre, Utopian Literature and the works of Adam Roberts.