Transcending Space: Architectural Places in Works by Henry David Thoreau, E.E. Cummings, and John Barth

Transcending Space: Architectural Places in Works by Henry David Thoreau, E.E. Cummings, and John Barth

Transcending Space: Architectural Places in Works by Henry David Thoreau, E.E. Cummings, and John Barth

Transcending Space: Architectural Places in Works by Henry David Thoreau, E.E. Cummings, and John Barth

Synopsis

"This book gathers theoretical propositions about space into a conception of dynamic space - space that is complex, interrelated, transcendent, and multi-centered. The polyvalent quality of space that we desire is anticipated and envisioned by American writers, writing out of a pervasive, transcendentalist mode. Works by three authors - Henry David Theoreau, E. E. Cummings, and John Barth - serve as case studies for the consideration of the influence and adaptation of a dynamic strain of transcendentalism in American literature. The envisioning of space as dynamic, as changeable, as mobile, challenges common conceptions of built space as static." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

If we take place in the narrow sense of a physical envelope for
the self, and consider the books which try to provide as literal
a shelter as possible, we trace the specially spatial imagination
expressing itself in words as it does in buildings

—Robert Harbison, Eccentric Spaces

THIS STUDY CONCERNS THE FUSION OF TRANSCENDENT IDEAS OF SPATIality onto one of the most rigid demarcations of normal space—the room. The dynamic transformation of static, solid structures, made up of flat planes, straight lines, and right angles into transcendent space which allows for expansive perception and self-perception tests the limits of the American spatial imagination. Three central works, Walden, The Enormous Room, and Lost in the Funhouse, serve as case studies of the metonymie use of architectural structures in literature and demonstrate the symbiotic connection between literary space and physical, or “real,” space.

Examples of the fascination with architecture in American literature come to mind in the works such of nineteenth-century authors as Henry James, Edith Wharton, and Edgar Allan Poe; these texts often entail a confrontation with Poe-esque confinement to a house, as in James’s The Turn of the Screw. In this study I explore a divergent trend in which authors examine their structural surroundings and transform these containers, search for gaps, breadth, and openness as they begin to define physical and spiritual freedom. By challenging preconceptions of structures as solid and permanent, Thoreau, Cummings, and Barth find a sense of the infinite in unlikely places, enlarging our understanding of the physical and cultural function of space. In 1947 Charles Olson declared “I take SPACE to be the central fact to man born in America,” and the particular spatial imagination of Americans influences how we might construct our external and internal environment.

“Space still tends to be treated as fixed, dead, undialectical; time . . .

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