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Reading and Georeferencing Rhys

What underpins the data points in the z-axis maps?

Midway through reading Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight in Luxembourg Gardens I pause. I exhale. I look to the left to a bench where I sat with a friend the last time I was here. I envision the route we took winding out of the garden and onto the streets.

Midway through georeferencing Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight I pause. I stretch my arms and twist to the left and crack my back. I exhale. I open Google Maps in a new tab and search to verify the location of the street the protagonist and her stray companion drunkenly saunter down in need of a café.

While the finished product of the z-axis workflow reveals points on a map that speak to Rhys’ invention of Paris, the material beneath this polished parabola of work has its own story of labour and imagination.

To create these maps out of text, there is the initial reading, then a closer reading, and finally georeferencing to parse the toponymys out of the narrative—cobblestone streets, cafés, high-end boutiques, shabby hotels, chic neighbourhoods, monuments, and defunct metro stations. Paris is comprised of notable names we access psychically even without traveling there. Afterwards, I calculate the word count and determine a ratio to represent where the novel dwells and how often. The workflow is oddly embodied labour.

Upon first reading the novel, guts churn and flutter as I raptly traipse through Rhys’s fatal cynicism. Her abject depictions of Paris puncture the touristy hot-air balloon dream of the city. Rhys pulls you out of one imagined version of Paris and thrusts you into another.

Georeferencing the novel is rigourous and time-intensive. I consider, locate, and relocate each point of Sasha’s narrative. She is often impoverished, paranoid, manic and sad, unveiling despondent vaults of the city and interacting with other exiles of nations and society like herself. She approaches another café in the Quartier Latin as if a pernod will proffer salvation. As she meets another ruffian, I zoom in on Boulevard du Montparnasse to affirm where her journey takes her. Georeferencing is like close reading as I scrutinize every gesture, in this case physical movement instead of form. But maybe those movements are form? When Sasha recalls the past, however melancholy it was, she is often situated in more affluent neighbourhoods than her later-life hag skulking. This is just a hunch I have.

These seemingly finite hubs of activity, represented in 3D in the z-axis maps we’re building, precipitate from this process of reading and working through an entire novel to map out and weigh the spaces of a city it inhabits. The data comes from bodies reading, mapping, and relating over a lengthy period of time. At this point, part of my workflow has been to abide the novel implicating itself into my own lived yet imagined memories of the city.

This post originally appeared at http://maker.uvic.ca/rhys/. It was edited by Jentery Sayers, Karly Wilson, and the Maker Lab in the Humanities.

Adèle Barclay

Adèle Barclay is a doctoral candidate in English at UVic. She is a Graduate Research Assistant with the MVP and with INKE, and works out of The Maker Lab in the Humanities. For more of her work, visit maker.uvic.ca

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