Spaces Within-Spaces without: Creativity, Knowledge Transfer and the Transformation of Societies
Asunción López-Varela (Universidad Complutense Madrid) [BIO]
Richard Lehan (1998) has argued that transformations in the structure and function of cities influenced the form of the novel so that the various narrative methods and trends can be linked to historical stages of urbanization. He demonstrates how we can gain additional insights into the history of a city by examining the narrative methods of its chroniclers. "[A]s literature gave imaginative reality to the city, urban changes in turn helped transform the literary text." (p. xv). "Comic and romantic realism give us insights into the commercial city; naturalism and modernism into the industrial city; and postmodernism into the postindustrial city. The city and the literary text have had inseparable histories" (p. 289).
This research paper will contribute to expand Lehan’s focus and add to his argument of the influence of urban spaces in shaping literary form. However, we shall concentrate on the study of what we could term a “transculturation” of our spatial models, where all different spaces of representation, whether scientific or humanistic, have shown important shifts towards semiotic approaches which are both complex and dynamic. This is shown in the development of scientific theories during the 20th-century, but also in areas as different as philosophy or critical theory.
We shall argue that this transversal persistence is due to a crucial difference which has arisen in the last century and affects our traditional ways of transmission and manipulation of information, that is, our textual-mental representations and, therefore, the way we think about the world. This difference has to do with the development of the so-called new technologies of information and communication, which have meant not only a new industrial revolution, still under way, but also an epistemological revolution which is producing new cultural forms of thought and has a direct impact on our ideological and political conceptions and on their transmission, that is on our reading-writing and learning processes.
The most radical difference is the effect of new communication media on our most basic capacity: our instrumental ability, which impacts directly on our perception and cognition. The very basis of our cognitive development, manipulation, which is linked to the building of memory patterns and learning (Bouissac 1998) is much restricted and hardly necessary while different forms of knowledge begin to rely more and more on language and language-based technologies.
Furthermore, this technological shift is also affecting our spaces of representation and, thus, creating new forms of spatial organization. The new open transcultural and transnational approaches pay attention to the exchanges taking place within and without the different interrelated systems, to the spaces in-between, the breaking borders and to hybrid forms.
Despite the extensive chronological and geographic scope of Lehan's impressive undertaking, some perspectives have been lost that offer alternative conceptions of the commercial, industrial, and postindustrial city that would shed light onto not only prevalent literary trends and narrative methods. The shift from mimesis to diégesis which took place in the artistic avant-gardes during the first half of the 20th-century, was itself a symptom of radical cognitive transformations mediated by technological changes. A similar fragmentation of experience occurred in the scientific realm, which became incapable of arriving at universal representations. The “death of the author” and the crisis of the subject, together with the incapacity to fix textual origins in poststructural criticism, leading to the contemplation of the text as an arbitrary construction dependent on the reader’s response, paralleled the increasing interactivity of the observer in scientific experiments, and in communication mediated by new technologies. Even more important has been a crisis in the conception of representation as identical to the empirical concept of “object”, whose existence and identity was based on the perception of its spatial limits, fundamentally mediated through vision. This empirical and phenomenological conception, based on the image as presence, has been contested not only by poststructuralist and deconstructive criticism, particularly the work of Jacques Derrida, but also by recent scientific theories which reject formalist essentialism and defend dynamic processes in the construction of the ontology of the object. It seems that a lack of trust in our physical sensorial apparatus as a means for perceiving the object has triggered semiotic approaches even in the most traditionally scientific disciplines.
Traditionally, these transformations were explained in ideological and cultural terms, ignoring the fact that the very materiality of the forms of representation and conveying information -that is, the changes from papyrus to manuscript, book-form and, finally, cables and a screen- has also had an enormous impact.
Thus, the relationship between these changes and their connection to urban environments needs to be further explored. Our paper hopes to open up new lines of research by questioning the role of specific forms of urbanity in a globalized world and link the study of literature in particular to the wider subject matter of KCTS, that is, creativity, the nature of knowledge, its representation and transfer, and the transformation of societies.