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The Alchemical Landscape

I’m very happy to say that my paper has been accepted for The Alchemical Landscape symposium at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, on the 28th of March 2015. Convened by James Riley and Yvonne Salmon, it’s going to be a great day on a really interesting theme. I will update the blog with more details closer to the time (hopefully with a full program) and I am planning–time permitting–to live blog/live tweet the talks throughout the day. I’ve included the abstract for my provisionally titled paper Places to flourish?: Edge spaces and the formative process’ in which I’ll be examining the creative potential of edge spaces.


Places to flourish?: Edge spaces and the formative process

‘Edge spaces’ abound in literature of the postmodern and contemporary period. From J. G. Ballard’s Shepperton in The Unlimited Dream Company—urban suburb-cum-rural/tropical wilderness—to Gary Spencer Millidge’s illustrated village of Strangehaven, by way of the blogs The Haunted Shoreline and On Vanishing Space, edge spaces are, to paraphrase Professor Edward Casey, ‘areas of creative potential’. Examining a number of edge spaces, including those mentioned above, this paper will examine the act of creation in these edge spaces, ultimately suggesting that the traditionally stagnant view attached to them—things ‘washing up’ on beaches, existing ‘quietly’ on the outskirts, spaces ‘sub’rural and ‘sub’urban—is misplaced when one considers the alchemical transformations that take place within them.

Indeed, the stagnation attached to edge spaces is an idea that needs discussion and deconstruction. The inclusion of The Unlimited Dream Company in a collection titled ‘The Terminal Collection’ suggests, among other things, that the act of being in an edge space is to be at the end of the line, devoid of possibility or further transport. The works above all present rural spaces (or spaces ruralised) in an enchanted manner, from which new creative possibilities can be synthesised and edge spaces (re)endowed with their own alchemical qualities. In doing so, these texts suggest that edge spaces are potent sites from which new creations can be drawn. Adopting alchemical ideas of the transmutation of base metals into precious metal, these texts mimic this act. I will argue that the reframing of these popularly considered waste spaces not only recognises them as sites of potential, but that in the act of writing, a new value is given to them, potentially (and problematically) turning edge space into consumable landscape: the base turned precious.


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