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Spaces of imagination and representation

May 10, 2011

“Cities are not simply material or lived spaces, they are also spaces of the imagination and spaces of representation.” (p350 Bridge and Watson)  

There is a whole field of studies that consider the role of Place/Space/the City in social/urban/political/economic ‘development.’ I am interested in how such studies shape stories written ‘for’ adolescents.

I am thinking right now of Margaret Mahy’s novels, which always, always seem to grow out of their settings;

eg.1 The Catalogue of the Universe and the “snaky road” that links Dido and Angela “to the rest of the world” (p20), but also somehow separates these women from everything that happens and is possible there.   The city Angela looks out on from her hilltop home (the city where Angela’s father exists in separation from his daughter) is where one set of experiences happen for Angela; her mother’s house, so distant from the city (and, in some ways, from reality), is where these experiences are re-interpreted…. Her identity in the two places does not quite seem to be the same…

eg.2 The Changeover and the Gardendale subdivision which is so ugly to some and so lovely to the novel’s protagonist, Laura.  Gardendale is described in magical or mythical terms (as her family drives through this urban development, for example, Kate must drive “around a fairy ring of oildrums standing in the middle of the road” (p11) and Laura observes that “road repairers were already struggling with something subterranean, and  [her family] progressed crookedly, driving between giant pre-historic monsters, earth-moving machines making an island of Silurian time in the twentieth-century streets” (p10)).

From early in the novel, furthermore, Gardendale is connected in a magical/witchy way to the Carlisle family; Sorry Carlisle’s mother “had lived there since she was a little girl.  She had a place in local history; had belonged there before the name Gardendale had appeared in the city maps, before the city had stretched and flowed between the spurs thrust out from the main range of hills to form this sudden suburb, an instant village within the city’s wider boundaries.” (p9)  It is as if Miryam exists in a more original, natural expression of this place – one that is both outside of time and detached from modern ‘development’.  

BUT… these are just some random, of the cuff examples – there are other novels! Dystopian texts, for example, or Maurice Gee’s Salt series (with that abandoned, negative space of a city it has as a setting – a city set in deliberate contrast with the forests and village life outside it…)… or his O series (in fact, both these series seem to include cities as deathscapes, but I’d need to take a closer look)…

In fact, pretty much any text that creates a city for the purposes of the story it tells might respond to some of this theory…


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