Professor Margaret Topping, Queen’s University Belfast
‘A Sense of Place in Travel Narratives, or Travelling in 4D’

LJMU English Research Seminar

10 December 2013

Professor Margaret Topping presented an involving and thematically transitory lecture on travel writing and its place in an increasingly digitised society. Through outlining where Francophone travel writing has come from and where it stands, Topping then looked at how themes and sensitivity within travel writing as a text are explored through installation art – almost the flip side of the coin, where instead of people seeking out the text to explore other worlds, the other worlds are brought to them. Topping deftly brought wo supposedly polar art forms together in an encompassing and thoroughly convincing argument that considered the possibilities and plasticities of negotiating debates on intercultural mobility.

Looking at the written works of Flaubert, Maspero, Proust and Sebar, and the visual works of Kader Attia, Mounir Fatmi and Majida Khattari, Topping selected and entwined already moving and powerful works into something quite substantial. Cyberspace offers us a multisensoral, immersive platform, against which the text, in its variety of forms, is fetishised into having desirable ‘limitations’; but Topping does not despair for the text. Rather, she sees the text has being empowered in its new position, and her paper addressed how, within and against the emergent realm of cyberspace, it evokes a phenomenology of travel through a form of intermediality that combines the textual, visual, musical and haptic.

Having entered the room with no prior knowledge of French travel writing, I found myself suddenly and thoroughly drawn into the depth and wealth the writings had to offer, trapped in the journey of Topping’s musings and revelations as she crossed and artfully danced from text to hypertext, from the material to the immaterial. After the wonderfully rich and palpably well researched presentation, I left the room hungry for more. An excellent event.

Mike Morelli is a student on the Research Masters in Literature and Cultural History, working on the fiction of Iain M. Banks and posthumanism.

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