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Practical matters How to find us V. (Vera) Alexander, Dr

V. (Vera) Alexander, Dr

Assistant Professor (UD1)/Senior Lecturer
V. (Vera) Alexander, Dr
Telephone:
E-mail:
v.alexander rug.nl

Recent:

Click here to watch my 2020 video lecture titled "Back to the Roots: Corona and the Crisis of Connection". For more info see https://www.rug.nl/research/research-let/onderzoek-per-vakgebied/europese-talen-en-culturen/live-lectures-cultures-of-the-crisis-corona-and-beyond.


https://www.linkedin.com/in/vaunltd/


Garden Writings: Relations, Growth and Development

Monograph in process

Gardens are of significance to many people and the subject of a rich and varied body of writings ranging from practical 'how-to' books to philosophical treatises, poetry, 'green' memoirs and ecocritical manifestos. 

Many garden writings enliven botanical information with personal anecdotes, often in response to changes in the writers’ natural and social environments or to unexpected trials and discoveries: gardeners find that the living spaces they are trying to transform change them in return. These glimpses into the writers’ lives add up to autoethnographies that reveal patterns of how working with gardens can influence an individual’s worldview. Michael Pollan has drawn attention to such interlinear life stories by referring to gardening writings as ‘autobiographies written in green’ (Pollan, Michael. "Gardening." The New York Times Book Review. December 8 (1996). 

Life writing has become a thriving multidisciplinary workshop that explores human development, personal growth and the role of the imagination and narrative in understanding experience sof ongoing transformation. From analysing the confection of a unified Selfhood, life writing criticism has developed into a field that researches identity as a multitude of relational registers that are constantly reconfiguring themselves in response to and in dialogue with significant others. Recently, these relational influences have been acknowledged to go beyond the human sphere, opening the conversation to non-human others.

In this study I contend that these non-human others include the living space of the garden and the non-human lifeworlds it opens access to.

The ‘green ink’ in which garden narratives are composed refers to a specific attention to growth and an experience of connectivity with the non-human world. Garden writers of all ages report that gardening involves them in a learning process that they experience as empowering. Though involving work and effort and processes of coming to terms with a considerable gap between expectation and results, gardening helps individuals come to terms with and even embrace change and transformation.

Present-day crises of sustainability depend on a radical rethinking of how human beings relate to the non-human environment, and one of the most prominent challenges lies in how to effectively communicate ecological interdependencies. They depend on learning to embrace change and transformation.

This interdisciplinary study combines life writing criticism with approaches to personal development, adult learning (Kegan 1982) and leadership theory (Scharmer 2016) to show how garden writings can help bridge the gap between individual life worlds and larger systems, contributing to a reframing which renders environmental relationality tangible and even enjoyable.


Figures of Mobility: Representations of the Visitor in Anglophone Writings

Summary

Located at the intersection between different writings of mobility, this project formulates a new approach to literary representations of place and identity by analysing the figure of the visitor in contemporary Anglophone writings. The project argues that focus on visitors and acts of visiting complements present theories of mobility, place and identity. The visitor enables a specific perspective on place as a contracted site of destination and focuses attention on specific transformative moments of encounter and their consequences for travellers, migrants and residents and their perception of place.

Reading the visitor as a figure that unsettles routine perceptions of place, identity and residence, I will examine the dynamics created by visitors in a corpus of postcolonial writings (fiction and life writing) produced by contemporary authors that bridge regions and countries such as the Indian subcontinent, the Caribbean, Africa, Canada, Europe, Britain, the Pacific and Australia. Connecting the global scope of travel with local identity and specificity, this project will theorise how visitor figures affect our evolving sense of place as examined in postcolonial writings of mobility.

Visitor discourse is at home in tourism/hospitality studies. In transferring this figure into the realm of literary criticism this project seeks to fill a gap in how the contact zone between migrant and travel writing is theorised. The project will identify the effects of the visitor's gaze on representations of place, history and the self-image of residents, examining the tensions created by privilege, otherness and relationality. Building on ongoing investigations of migration discourse at local and international level, I will establish a discourse of mobility that clarifies the parameters of how perceptions of what is familiar and what is strange or 'other' are shifting. I aim to contribute to a more nuanced exploration of how the factors of time and duration affect conceptualisations of mobility and the idea(l)s of place, home and belonging which they revolve around.

Purpose and relevance

Mobility, place and identity are key concerns in present day society (Appadurai; Cohen; Croucher). Mass migration, tourism and a general acceleration in transportation, communication and interconnectivity have led to a globalized modernity where place itself seems to have become mobile (Casey; Foucault; Heise, Miller). National and other boundaries are giving way to a transnational, border-erasing world map with fluctuating contours. The category of place is increasingly perceived as uncertain (Massey; Morton). Its capacity to provide stability for human identity is in doubt. While global connectedness opens up many practical, economic, transcultural and political opportunities, its consequences for human beings include a sense of crisis about place and belonging. Remote places represented by iconic images in the media may seem more familiar to people than locations within their physical proximity (Low and Lawrence-Zuniga). There may even be confusion about whether a place is actual, or a product of virtual reality. Places and societies are changing rapidly or threaten to disappear. Prompts to go see the Great Barrier Reef, the Amazon rain forest, Aztec temples and other sites/sights eroded by humanity "before it is too late" are motivated by a contradictory sense of nostalgia and apocalyptic sensationalism. Globalization discourse with its focus on commerce and commodification fails to respond to a widespread longing for locatedness and a sense of connection as well as fears about time, age and impermanence.

Many contemporary writers, especially those with migrant backgrounds, address these issues of mobility, place, and identity and offer innovative models of how to come to terms with the fluidity of place and identity. Migrant narratives and travel writings construct a discursive field in which national, ethnic, linguistic, and cultural boundaries and affiliations are constantly being questioned, reconsidered, renegotiated. In analysing the role of visitors as represented in contemporary Anglophone literatures, this project contextualises these narratives and foregrounds their vital insights for some of the pressing concerns of global society.

Methodology

Using a methodology that combines literary studies, postcolonial theory, and cultural studies, the project will compare representations of mobility in Anglophone writings from Europe, the Caribbean, Canada and the Indian subcontinent. The project takes its departure in a relational approach to narratives of mobility and space adapted from sociology (Gergen; Donati) and life writing criticism (Eakin, Stanford Friedman; Couser) as well as Glissant, and developed in my monograph on garden writings. This relational form of enquiry focuses on the interplay of material, emotional and metaphoric aspects of how place affects human identity formation. Rather than speak of mere connections or dependencies, this approach accounts for the ambivalent power of affective identifications with place by focusing on sites and moments of mutual transformation. I will take this approach to a new level by comparing the interactions between both visitors and residents and place, developing visitor studies into an emerging transcultural field in global literature.

Last modified:25 June 2022 10.32 a.m.