Concrete Island

‘The Rhythm of Non-places: Marooning the Embodied Self in Depthless Space’, in Les Roberts (ed.), Special Issue on ‘Deep Mapping’, Humanities, 4 (4): 569–599 (2015).

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Taking as its starting point the spatiotemporal rhythms of landscapes of hyper-mobility and transit, this paper explores how the process of “marooning” the self in a radically placeless (and depthless) space—in this instance a motorway traffic island on the M53 in the northwest of England—can inform critical understandings and practices of “deep mapping”. Conceived of as an autoethnographic experiment—a performative expression of “islandness” as an embodied spatial praxis—the research on which this paper draws revisits ideas set out in JG Ballard’s 1974 novel Concrete Island, although, unlike Ballard’s island Crusoe (and sans person Friday), the author’s residency was restricted to one day and night. The fieldwork, which combines methods of “digital capture” (audio soundscapes, video, stills photography, and GPS tracking), takes the form of a rhythmanalytical mapping of territory that can unequivocally be defined as “negative space”. Offering an oblique engagement with debates on “non-places” and spaces of mobility, the paper examines the capacity of non-places/negative spaces to play host to the conditions whereby affects of place and dwelling can be harnessed and performatively transacted. The embodied rhythmicity of non-places is thus interrogated from the vantage point of a constitutive negation of the negation of place. In this vein, the paper offers a reflexive examination of the spatial anthropology of negative space.