FROM IRISH LAND TO IRISH SOIL:
MATERIALITY AND METAPHORS
Much has been written on the Irish landscape seen from various vantage points whether it be that of nationalist ideology and identity construction or that of territory and conflicted terrains. But what about the materiality of the land, the soil, the various strata that make up the land?
The notions of land, landscape, territory that are ubiquitous in Irish culture, history and politics have often obliterated the more concrete notion of land and the primary presence of earth and soil. This SOFEIR conference intends to ponder over the materiality and organicity of the Irish soil without pitting it against ideas or metaphors. Starting from the land as an organic reality to be observed or experienced and then as a source of inspiration, many politicians, writers, poets and visual artists have indeed grounded their imagined Irelands in perceptions of specific geological landscapes and delineated the contours of some Irish geopoetics. The core premise of this conference is that landscapes, mindscapes, wordscapes all intersect with the experience of the land as material reality. The geopoetics that this conference purports to explore in turn shapes land practices and attitudes to the land. We invite contributors to excavate the geological, physical, material metaphors that lie beneath discourses, practices (seen from a sociological, economic or anthropological standpoint) and artefacts. Such a form of critical archaeology aims to probe the very essence of metaphorical processes.
Analysing how the natural environment is named, appropriated through language, how semantic categories shape our knowledge of the Irish land and lead to various types of representations (from descriptive enumerations or recordings to poetic imagination) would be stimulating. One could consider how the description of the land fosters a sense of belonging (to a local community, a region or a nation). Is the variety of the land subsumed under national ideals or is there room for regional identities?
Contributors may also wish to adopt diachronic perspectives on the land–as a settled and occupied environment, as a repository of traditions and a ground for identity-construction, as a territory to be defended and protected, as a battlefield, as both material resource and idealized milieu. One could explore the scars that history has left on the land from the Bronze Age to present times. The bog is the epitome of a material as well as a metaphorical geological stratum. During the Troubles bodies were anonymously buried in the soil so that some places are still oozing with violence. The notions of burying or digging (a physical act and a metaphor) are, in that respect, particularly complex in Ireland. Brexit has recently rekindled debates over the land as a territory.
From a different perspective, the practice and concept of field-work could fruitfully be explored in various domains. Traveling around and walking in or through the landscape have been the starting point of many political changes but also creation processes. Surveying, mapping, hiking, collecting material, going on a pilgrimage, representing, managing the land: all entail long walks which may be analysed as processes. How do these topographic experiences, which imply bodily contacts with the soil, shape discourse and works on Ireland? The Ordnance Survey for instance imposed a different, colonial relation to the land. We welcome papers that shed light on such field-based practices including in the field of visual arts (installations and performance, sculpture, painting, photography, the cinema). Psychogeography, for instance, has recently re-asserted man’s interconnectedness with the land.
Papers could purport to study man’s “commerce” with the land. Agriculture, the tilling and farming of the land, the fertility, infertility or barrenness of the soil are paramount in Irish culture, history, economy and politics. The way the soil and land have been transformed into landscapes or environments, or the way some landscapes have been relegated to the state of wastelands may hinge on ideas and ideals that have evolved through time: urbanness and wilderness are culturally constructed; the exoticism of Ireland –exploited by the tourism industry—has also shaped land perception, management and utilization. Urbanization and suburbanization have led to shifts in perceptions of the natural environment. The natural soil may be turned into a cultural, marketable, sellable object. The tourism industry has tapped into the notions of sublimity, picturesqueness, rurality or authenticity to market an Ireland whose natural features have increasingly been transformed into heritage.
One may consider political ecology and its impact on cultural outputs (one may think of environmental art and ecological art, or ecopoetry).
Confronting Irish experiences / representations of the land with foreign perceptions and analysing the way these two interact would undoubtedly be stimulating. Issues connected to the construction of the gaze, perspectives, viewpoints and biases should therefore be explored. Alternatively, papers may rely upon gendered approaches. While the territory is often associated with manhood, the earth and the soil are generally construed as feminine. A gendered perspective on the soil could be coupled with colonial and postcolonial approaches.
Finally, land occupation could be fruitfully investigated in its various forms: creative, constructive or subversive.
Please send a 300-word abstract (in French or in English) and a short biographical note (100 words) before 1st December 2017 to the following addresses concomitantly: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
Notification: 22nd December 2017
The programme will be finalised in late January 2018.
Convenors: Valérie Morisson, Christelle Serée-Chaussinand