I am happy to make available Kevin Knight’s PhD thesis Real Places and Impossible Spaces: Foucault’s Heterotopia in the Fiction of James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, and W.G. Sebald (2014) KnightKTPhD
Kevin’s study is particularly pertinent as it integrates Foucault’s often ignored radio broadcast on heterotopia that came before his better known lecture.
This thesis looks to restore Michel Foucault’s concept of the heterotopia to its literary origins, and to examine its changing status as a literary motif through the course of twentieth-century fiction. Initially described as an impossible space, representable only in language, the term has found a wider audience in its definition as a kind of real place that exists outside of all other space. Examples of these semi-mythical sites include the prison, the theatre, the garden, the library, the museum, the brothel, the ship, and the mirror. Here, however, I argue that the heterotopia was never intended as a tool for the study of real urban places, but rather pertains to fictional representations of these sites, which allow authors to open up unthinkable configurations of space.
Specifically, I focus on three writers whose work contains numerous examples of these places, and who shared the circumstance of spending the majority of their lives in exile: James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, and W.G. Sebald. In each case, I argue that these sites figure the experience of exteriority constituted by exile, providing these authors with an alternative perspective from which to perform a particular kind of contestation. In Ulysses, I argue, they allow Joyce to interrogate the notion of a unified Irish identity by bringing into question the space that constitutes the common locus upon which the nation is founded. In Nabokov’s Ada, they help the author to create a world that transcends the discontinuities of his transnational biography, but also serve to contest this unreal world. In Sebald’s fiction, finally, we find a critique of Foucault’s concept. In relation to the Holocaust, he questions the validity of the heterotopia by bringing into doubt the equation of space and thought upon which it is established.
Knight, K. (2014) ‘Real Places and Impossible Spaces: Foucault’s Heterotopia in the Fiction of James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, and W.G. Sebald’, PhD thesis: University of East Anglia.
Foucault, M. (2009) Le Corps Utopique – Les Hétérotopies. Clamecy: Éditions Lignes.
Two Radio Talks from 1966
16 November 2015