|Title||Space, place and spatial loss in North African and Canadian writing in French|
Assumptions about space, argues the feminist geographer Doreen Massey, are such an integral part of intellectual and everyday discourse that we are often not conscious of their existence and significance, and yet, they have profound consequences for how society is organised. However, these assumptions are not inherent to our thinking; they are socially constructed, produced and inherited through a number of hegemonic and Eurocentric discourses on space, leading to what Edward Soja and Henri Lefebvre refer to as the “mystification” of space and spatiality. The main aim of this research is to investigate how the literary treatment of space and place shapes the representations of space, place and spatial loss in the writing of ten postcolonial Francophone authors from the Maghreb and Canada from a cross-cultural and cross-generational perspective. It asks whether these authors participate in the “demystification” (in the sense this concept is used by Edward Soja) or the unveiling of the hidden relationship between space and power contained in the Eurocentric discourse on space by creating counter-discourses and strategies that challenge dominant constructions about space, or whether they in fact reinforce this (these) discourse(s) on space despite their presumed postcoloniality. The research presented critically evaluates the concepts and theories of space and place in human geography and applies these to the study of space, place and spatial loss in the postcolonial Francophone texts selected from the viewpoint of three main literary themes (imagination, memory and the border) and the potential that these three themes offer for a “demystification of space”. It combines a range of theoretical perspectives and, simultaneously, tests a method of close reading (semiotic analysis) in the analysis of the texts selected and the literary spaces they are seen to belong to in a more systematic way than previously attempted. It sets out to examine how a semiotic reading of the (Western and non-Western) postcolonial Francophone text engages with Massey’s and Soja’s socio-political understandings and theories on space and spatiality, and what limitations and advantages can be observed through the use of these theories in combination.
The research concludes that the postcolonial discourse on space and place in the texts selected is expressed through the values and strategies of ambiguity and ambivalence, not subversion as has been previously suggested. It shows that the themes of imagination, memory and the border play a significant role for the ways in which space and place are conceptualised in those texts, with the theme of the border offering the highest potential for challenging hegemonic assumptions about space. It shows that semiotics can become an effective tool in the unveiling of the values and value systems embedded in the Eurocentric discourse on space, when used in combination with other theoretical approaches. By debating the issue of the “demystification of spatiality” in the literary context, it ultimately raises the larger question of the status and relationship of literariness (or poetics) and political engagement (or politics) of the texts produced within the postcolonial Francophone context.