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The road-trip novel at the digital age

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An attempt at exhausting the North-South Highway (Gaspé and Miami)

Project leaders:
Marcello Vitali-Rosati
Catherine Mavrikakis

Project coordinator: Enrico Agostini Marchese

Team: Jeanne Hourez, Léonore Brassard, Eugénie Matthey-Jonais, Alexandra Roy-Côté, Emma Lacroix, Cassandre Henry

Project founded by FRQSC

Project website: http://miamigaspe.ecrituresnumeriques.ca/index.php/Accueil

Project documentation

External ressources

Project description

This creative research project aims to study and to experiment with the changes in travel narratives in the digital age, so we may better understand the influence of new media on the concept of space. In particular, we focus on the case of the motorway axis connecting Gaspé (Québec) to Miami (Florida), whose mythology seems particularly rich in literary references, given the creative contributions of André Breton ( Arcane 17 , 1945) to Michel Vézina ( Asphalt and vodka , 2005) or Gabriel Anctil ( Sur la 132 , 2012), via Victor Lévy-Beaulieu ( Oh Miami Miami, Miami , 1973), Jaques Poulin ( Volkswagen blues , 1984) or even Emile Ollivier ( Mother-Solitude , 1996). More recently, travel stories directly published on the web, by Jean Désy or Laure Morali, for example, perpetuate this history of literary exploration of North American territory. This also represents an exploration of the potential of new digital tools and the reconfiguration of the space that they occupy.

If the imagination of travel has been thought through many disciplines - in arts, literature, humanities and social sciences - the new links that have developed over the last twenty years, between geographical space and digital space, is a field of knowledge yet to be deciphered. At the crossroads of thinking on literature and digital technology, our project intends to contribute to this decipherment, while also working on the renewal of studies on travel narrative. More precisely, we elaborate a new practical approach to thinking about space. To this end, the creative research approach is essential because it demonstrates how, through theory and practice, new thinking on space emerges: today, more than ever, it is indeed necessary to be an actor in the construction of space, even though digital mediation has gradually imposed its own parameters on both the physical and mental the cartography of the world.

As the geographer David Harvey affirms, “the geographical imagination is far too pervasive and important to intellectual life to be left alone to geographers”. Thus, from the 1960s, human and social sciences were marked by the emergence of a spatial paradigm that encouraged, from an interdisciplinary perspective, the exploitation of spatial concepts to think about the construction of knowledge. This turning point will have two major consequences: it will mark an epistemological renewal in many disciplines - sociology, history, literature - while encouraging a new understanding of space, henceforth freed from a purely geographical approach. For space, this “imaginary body”, as Paul Valéry called it, is indeed a complex construction whose origin is multiple, at once physical, symbolic, social and political, but also literary. In this respect, Valéry lends himself to reading and analyzing like a text, and even more so an intertext. Since Ulysses’s journeys told by Homer to The attempt of exhaustion of a Parisian place by Georges Perec, literature and in particular his travel stories have always proposed a mental map of the world to the sometimes poetic, romantic and intertextual. Our project aims to highlight this tension relating to the spatial imaginary and to participate in its reinvention, even though the concept of space seems to mutate and to (re)form as a result of the digital and of its institutional bodies (Google Map, Google Street view, etc.).

It is, indeed, a completely different mental cartography that digital technologies, and in particular the web, are drawing today. Their almost exhaustive grid of the world has upset the way we understand and inhabit space. Recently, the daily emergence of immersive cartographic tools, combined with photographic or satellite imagery, at least superficially ensures a mastery of the world, a phenomenon which seems more important than ever; the generalization of the geolocation process suggests that it has become impossible to get lost. In return, this process is accomapnied by drifts that the process entails, in terms of monitoring and control individuals. In this respect, the influence that digital tools have on both space and our way of living has become a major issue for thinking on the digital sphere. Do we still need to travel, now that everything seems accessible from our screen? There is indeed almost no space that is not already rendered accessible through the web. Google Maps even offers treks in the manner of a travel agency, combining themes with digitized landscapes; Churchill, Canada, is devoted to polar bears … As we can see, this “mapping” is far from neutral and conveys a series of myths associated with the places represented. In fact, as some point out, we all run the risk of suffering from the layout of the space offered by these new devices and the large multinationals of the web who have shaped them.

In these conditions, is it still possible to remain protagonists, producing the space in which we live? Can literature and its travel stories, themselves influenced by new media, still be a tool used to create the spatial imaginary, allowing us to reclaim places and territories that are apparently dispossessed of any literary value by the information giants? How to write the road trip today?

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