‘(Counter)topographical’ Reflections with Grief

by CIW

Life is populated by landscapes including those of fear (Tuan, 1980), loss (Hockey et. al., 2001), and mourning. As of the 9th January 2021, 1,906,606 people have died from COVID-19 worldwide (WHO, 2021). These deaths intensify the mark of a dark smudged thumbprint violently pressed against our foreheads1. This is the reality to which we must admit defeat and continue to live. This is what mourning is, “admitting defeat” (Flynn, 2007: 111) by Death. The story of my topography is a reflection on the oceanscape of grief and the landscape of mourning. The methods I used to investigate these topographies were film, photography, and participatory interactions with non-human actors (trees). In the film, I particularly used the absence of sound (silence) to communicate, alongside imagery, the significance of Death and death I was reflecting on during the November lockdown. The countertopography of lockdown is one of crisis, both global and personal, political and existential. Countertopographies that illuminate the restrictive impacts of lockdowns on mourning practices have been effective in driving demand for increased bereavement support, while creative pursuits, like film, have widened and digitised mourning’s dimensions. Mourning is a landscape that colours the background of the contemporary world in a more palpable way because of the acute prevalence of Death and death at this time. This piece is dedicated to the ‘work of mourning’ – trauerarbeit (Freud in Min, 2002: 245) – and argues that it is an essential process to experience, in combination with an evisceration of SARS-CoV-2 cases and increase in vaccination capacities, for the pandemic to be resolved. Without trauerarbeit, in person or through digital methods, we will be ‘Generation Lost’, a spectra of peoples who continue to fear the great closure of life.

Figure 1.2

Topographies of grief and mourning

“Grief is the sequence of affective, cognitive, and physiological states that follows directly after an irretrievable loss; mourning, on the other hand, is a complex and lengthy process that begins with denial of the loss and, in its optimum course, proceeds toward the acceptance of both the external loss and the integration of multiple intrapsychic shifts” (Graves, 1975 in Graves, 1978: 875).

Grief is an ocean, vast but deeply personal. It “comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate daily life” (Didion, 2005/2006: 27 in Cornell, 2014: 302). Sometimes that watery grief spills out from your eyes. Other times it stays inside you, filling your lungs and eradicating your ability to vocalise. There is no one way to feel grief, but it is a feeling known and dreaded by all.

Mourning is a landscape whose shores we ebb closer to as the process of letting go, remembrance, acceptance, and surrender begins. We stumble across mourning until we reach new horizons for life’s encounters or new oceans for relapses into grief or new grief. And on the cycles goes ad infinitum. Mourning is work, active, kinetic. Grief can be perceived to be stasis, necessary to prepare for trauerarbeit. The journey is a cyclical movement of stasis and kinesis, which colour our map and shape our perceptions of the world.

The method of filmmaking as processual mourning

What is it one mourns? Death with a capital ‘D’ is the loss of physical life (Flynn, 2007: 108). Whereas deaths – lowercase – are the “many radical changes over which the individual” has no control (Flynn, 2007: 108). They “precede the Death that ends our becoming” (Flynn, 2007: 108). These can be things such as puberty, pregnancy, pandemics, or intellectual development. The small death is, therefore, transformation. These transformations occur whether the individual wants them to or not.

There is no one way to mourn, but the goal of ‘acceptance’ is commonly considered the conclusion of mourning. For Flynn, “it is possible to admit defeat [to the inevitability of Death] without accepting it or feeling peaceful about it” (Flynn, 2007: 111). Being able to remember deceased loved ones through images, memorials, and story sharing “signals the relocation of the knowledge about a person from present-tense to past-tense” (Flynn, 2007: 112). However, this is something prevented by the pandemic, when families cannot memorialise their loved ones. The mind, may, in these cases become stuck in grief, unable to move around towards mourning. Processes such as creation and co-creation of audio-visual pieces can be a step towards trauerarbeit. They allow a documentation of feeling, a sharing of images, something to mark and memorialise the dead.

I did not realise I was using film as a mechanism through which to mourn until I revisited my creation. Film worked well to etch the contours of grief and mourning because “mourning is a creative force” (Carel, 2007: 85). The particular techniques of my film that this analysis focuses on are silence, the lack of diegetic and non-diegetic sounds, its interplay with darkness, the role of the more-than-human in facilitating the mourning process. My film is a particular kind of “thick description” (Geertz, 1973). Topographies “are simultaneously the detailed description of a particular landscape and the landscape itself” (Katz, 2004: xiii). As a research methodology, topography produces “‘thick descriptions’ of social relations, material social practices, and the construction of meaning…” (Katz, 2004: xiii). In my case, the topography is the description of the interactive oceanscape and landscape of grief and mourning, respectively through film. It is a singular experience within a countertopographical experiential web. With that in mind, let us walk into the silence and darkness together.

Silence, darkness, and the more-than-human

During editing, I found disturbance in the film’s original audio. I removed all audio with the intention of adding in a score alongside narration, but when it came time to edit in non-diegetic sounds I reconsidered. I wanted the viewer to feel as though they were not hearing me tell them about my thoughts, but as they read the subtitles in their inner voice, the thoughts were simultaneously inside them and me. These thoughts, shared across time and space, contained infinitely differential meanings depending whose ‘mind’ is turning them over. Thus, the lack of audio is not inherently analogous to silence.

“A genuine emptiness, a pure silence, are not feasible — either conceptually or in fact…the art-work exists in a world furnished with many other things, the artist who creates silence or emptiness must produce something dialectical: a full void, an enriching emptiness, a resonating or eloquent silence. Silence remains, inescapably, a form of speech…and an element in a dialogue.” (Sontag, 1966; 2009: 11).

Though my voice is absent, I can still be heard. Images move us which we feel at the corporeal level. When images inspire emotions, affects, and thoughts we must continue “to the end of each emotion or thought. And after the end, what supervenes…is silence” (Sontag, 1996; 2009: 23). Through this immersion, watcher and creator die (transform) alongside each other. The synthetic removal of diegetic sound, creates acoustic space for thought-words, not spoken ones. Together, viewer, creator, deceased ancestor, and all the little deaths float together on silent waves, with only our thoughts to accompany us. We transform. Cultivating silence, stillness, is itself a task and, like mourning, is work.

The reason for addressing the auditory dimension first in this piece is that there exists an ocularcentrism in Western European life (Jay, 1993) which privileges the visual as “the noblest of the senses” (Jay, 1993: 31). Modern knowledges in Western culture “depend on a scopic regime that equates seeing with knowledge” (Rose, 2001: 7). To create images without using pictures to represent personal Deaths I encountered in 2020, I used a black screen with the word “(Good?)bye” (figure 2) which explores the interplay of darkness and silence.

Figure 2

The darkness of November yields the unknown but makes it simultaneously intimate, enveloping the body. Even though light can symbolise hope, it can also be exposing. When we feel grief, it feels as though the world darkens, the pandemic may be considered a ‘dark time’, but in Crawford’s (2020) Fear of a dark lockdown, darkness is inverted. Her topography notes how darkness can instead incite rest, creativity, and transformation. Darkness, therefore, is an opportunity for restoration and creation. Themes that colour the backdrop of this frame.

This frame plays smoothly when viewing, but in editing was spliced into four to represent the four familial (extended and immediate) Deaths that occurred during 2020 for me. The reason no distinction was made between the four is because memories blur into one as Death has permeated every moment of the cycles of lockdown. This intra-cyclical shot compresses the Deaths and their temporalities into visual and orthographic representation to mirror that there were no spoken goodbyes.

[…]

Perhaps, there is no need for speaking. Western cultures suffer from the social compulsion to speak for the sake of speaking (Connerton, 2011). Indeed I question (“?”) the adjective “good” in goodbye – the main word we are supposed to say – because bidding adieu to loved ones never feels good. And yet, the Death of another family member resurrected a stream of connection with my cousin that had broken down a decade ago. Even in the elimination of the earthly body, an individual may die twice. Once, with their Death and again, with the Death producing a death (transformation), bringing people together again. There is no ‘bad’ or ‘good’ to the ‘bye’ – just an intimacy that touches us in different ways.

The most intimate Death, my grandmother’s, happened in May. However, upon the Death of my grandmother, I had not died (transformed) though a mark in time – a distinction between life with and without her physical presence – had been made. My death came a year earlier, when I returned home early from my travels to care for my grandparents. I became ‘woman’ through this role reversal of care-receiver (child) to care-giver (adult). This was in amongst and upon the background score of the pandemic. It throbs, the new soundtrack to these years of life, with grief and mourning providing healthy and painful melodies.

Indeed, when looking across to other topographies in the countertopography of lockdown, deaths are represented almost entirely with sound, through voice and melody. Inglis’ (2020) piece focuses on duality of walls and screens as incarceration and shield (figure 3). It greatly juxtaposes my own topography, with words articulated through song. His melancholic expression of the small deaths (the transformation of walls and screens) is achieved through the melodies and French, Spanish, and Basque vocals which provide him with escape, his own lamentation of the death of freedom.

Figure 3. Inglis (2020). The duality of transformation (death).

Upon rewatching and re-exploring my own topography, I realised how I embraced letting go through non-verbal conversations with the more-than-human. I was experiencing a trans-species mourning. In a small grove a tree leaned over, split open all the way from base to crown (figure 4). The empirical landscape has its own audio-visual markers of Death and decay.

Figure 4.

I sat listening to its creaks and groans as it told me its story without words. A cracked body, invaded by a fungal pathogen, soon to return to humus. This type of injury is grave for a tree. Though it may appear alive for many more decades, it is dying.

I remember wanting to restore its health, but the damage is so severe. I had to accept that it would die, but visual methods have allowed me to immortalise this tree in pixels. The shared experience of Death across species boundaries brought acceptance and a sense of surrender to the inevitable. We sat silently talking for a long time.

This trans-species interaction features in other topographies. Thomas’ (2020) audio work describes listening to a fig tree as he tracks its journey into being: “climbing up the wall from past to future” (2:09). These ancient guides teach us what it is to be and to die. This realisation was ‘magical’ (Millner, 2013) to me in that “‘magic’ is what happens when we allow the more-than-human world to invite us into participation on its own terms” (Millner, 2013: 39). I noticed the tree because the tree noticed me.

Interacting with the more-than-human has brought me to the realisation that there is no forward. Only around and across the oceanscape of grief and the landscape of mourning, while this journey edges us closer to some semblance of acceptance or surrender.

Limitations of topographies and countertopographies

Topographies have a situated nature which, like situated knowledge, “assumes knowledge at a single point, the knowing subject, and the particularity of that subject’s vision is both its strength and its downfall” (Katz, 2001: 1230). My rendering of grief and mourning is a particular experience, but it is limited if unconnected with another topography. Connection is also essential in mourning; it is made easier by the “understanding and accompaniment of another” (Cornell, 2014: 308) and so other topographies that represent the different deaths and Deaths encountered during the COVID-19 November lockdown depict – in audio or visual senses – the commonality of acute D/death. Countertopographies that dialectically speak to one another can be healing for creators in addition to the catharsis individual topographies may provide.

What unites the topographies of the November lockdown is that they all – through their varying techniques – showcase an element of the countertopography of crisis. However, perhaps a strong limitation of countertopography is that one may identify a common experience in different localities that manifests differently, but in the matter of a pandemic (as unique as it is) these topographies are just as isolated as their creators. The pieces do not intimately interact in and of themselves with another creative piece. Had, however, they had exposure to one another and then revised versions were produced to generate comparative countertopographies, the project could incorporate the uniqueness of an individual’s qualitative lockdown experience and the solidarity individuals find in sharing a commonality with one another. This is not the same as retroactively finding links between topographies.

Without the communication between topographies, there is a significant risk that the knowledge of the countertopography’s existence is only known by the researcher. The countertopographical method would only therefore be meaningful to someone who presupposes there is a countertopogaphy to analyse, which may score deeper the divisive lines between researcher and researched.

Political value of co-created countertopographies

Countertopography was invented to be subversive and the political aim of countertopography is to “link different places analytically and thereby enhance struggles in the name of common interests” (Katz, 2001: 1230). Countertopographies are meant to counter something, which, here, would be the November lockdown. So, if the countertopography is that of the lockdown one needs to ask what exactly about the lockdown is it countering? The lockdown rules? The homogenisation of the experiential dimension of lockdown? It is not clear and so the political value remains elusive. However, when topographies are located in a theme – such as grief and mourning – it becomes clear where a political value can be found.

In their paper, Aguiar et al., (2020) documented that family members could not visit other terminally ill family, corpses were not able to be dressed for burial but were kept, naked, in waterproof bags (Aguiar et al., 2020). Family members who could attend funerals could not demonstrate physical affection to their family who were in distress (Aguiar et al., 2020). Indeed, standing beside my aunt and sister at my grandmother’s funeral and not being able to hug them as they cried felt like a cruelty. We all stood in our grief, only able to hold ourselves. A result of this separation is that it is “more difficult for the bereaved to grasp the reality of the loss” and, because of this, “grief reactions may intensify” and adjustment to this new reality is more difficult (Aguiar et al., 2020: 543-544). Due to this though, new ways to grieve and mourn may be found (digitising mourning for instance). In healthcare, Aguiar et al., (2020) recommend that “written material for follow-up contacts, the availability of hospital and/or community-based grief support systems, mental health services as well as spiritual and religious care should be considered” (544). These novel supports are being created and demanded in response to the conditions under which people were having to mourn in the beginning of the pandemic. The countertopography of grief and mourning pushes for institutional change.

Commonly “the process of mourning is so often forestalled, medicated, or pathologized. It so often seems easier to hope for a quick recovery, to look away and avoid the anguish” (Cornell, 2014: 309). Being able to be beside the Dead compresses grief in reassuring and uncomfortable ways. It allows us to say goodbye and reminds us of our own eventuality. Being silent slows time (Sontag, 1966; 2009: 17); it “is a practice of emptying, of letting go…hollowing ourselves out so we can open to what is emerging” (Weller, 2015: 96).

Mourning ‘around-ward’

There is no end to this reflection. It is a phase in my trauerarbeit. What has arisen out of the exercise is a realisation that those pains of grief punctuate the experience of life. Pain shows us how people touch us, how they move us, how, despite all our best efforts to convince ourselves of our independence, we need people and we need nature too. The pain of grief is a temporal, affective marker that reminds us of the alive-ness, value, and contribution to the earthly life of those Dead creatures and people. It reminds our bodies, by being something we feel, to appreciate that pain as much as the joy. It is what it is to be alive. To laugh, to cry, to hurt, to feel.

Until we meet again, in the next life and as the dust of the Earth…

This creative process and visual methodology has allowed me to start to say

Goodbye

Goodbye

Goodbye

Goodbye

[…]

Notes

1The cycles of birth, death, and rebirth are recognised in many cultures and religions. This particular imagery refers here to the dictum: “…for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:9).

2 Figures which are shots from my topography are deliberately untitled. The reader is invited to read it in relation to their own affective response.

References

Aguiar, A., Pinto, M. & Duarte, R., 2020. Grief and mourning during the COVID-19 pandemic in Portugal. Acta Médica Portuguesa, 33(9), pp. 543-545.

Carel, H., 2007. Death and the Other: the ambivalence of mourning. In: A. Kasher, ed. Dying and death: interdisciplinary perspectives. Amsterdam: Brill, pp. 81-91.

Connerton, P., 2011. The spirit of mourning: history, memory and the body. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cornell, W. F., 2014. Grief, mourning, and meaning: in a personal voice. Transactional Analysis Journal, 44(4), pp. 302-310. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0362153714559921.

Crawford, C., 2020. Video: Fear of a dark lockdown, University of Bristol, School of geographical Sciences, unpublished video, Bristol.

Flynn, M. P., 2007. Death and mourning: logistics and mystery. In: A. Kasher, ed. Dying and death: interdisciplinary perspectives. Amsterdam: Brill, pp. 107-118.

Geertz, C., 1973. The interpretation of cultures: selected essays. New York: Basic Books. Genesis 3:9, Holy Bible: King James Version.

Graves, J. S., 1978. Differentiating grief, mourning, and bereavement. American Journal of

Psychiatry, 135(7), pp. 874-875.

Hockey, J., Penhale, B. & Sibley, D., 2001. Landscapes of loss: spaces of memory, times of bereavement. Ageing and Society, 21(6), pp. 739-757.

Inglis, D., 2020. Dylan Inglis video project, University of Bristol, School of geographical Sciences, unpublished video, Bristol.

Jay, M., 1993. Downcast eyes: the denigration of vision in twentieth-century French thought.

Berkeley: University of California Press.

Katz, C., 2001. On the grounds of globalization: a topography for feminist political engagement. Signs, 26(4), pp. 1213-1234.

Katz, C., 2004. Growing up global: economic restructuring and children’s everyday lives.

Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Min, S., 2002. Remains to be seen: reading the works of Dean Sameshima and Khanh Vo. In:

D. L. Eng & D. Kazanjian, eds. Loss: the politics of mourning. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 229-250.

Rose, G., 2001. Visual methodologies: an introduction to the interpretation of visual materials. London: SAGE Publications.

Sontag, S., 1966; 2009. Styles of radical will. London: Penguin Books.

Millner, N., 2013. Incantations. In: J. Brigstocke & T. Noorani, eds. Listening with non-human others. Lewes: ARN Press, pp. 37-44.

Thomas, B. G. J., 2020. Ben GJ Thomas_Qual assignment 2, University of Bristol, School of geographical Sciences, unpublished audio work, Bristol.

Tuan, Y.-f., 1980. Landscapes of fear. Oxford: Blackwell.

Webster, C. I., 2020. , University of Bristol, School of geographical Sciences, unpublished video, Bristol.

Weller, F., 2015. The wild edge of sorrow: rituals of renewal and the sacred work of grief.

Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.

WHO, 2021. WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard. [Online]
Available at: https://covid19.who.int/ [Accessed 9 January 2021].

Audio-visual Countertopograpies of ‘Another’ Lockdown – A Collaborative Assessment

by Emilia Hermelin

Introduction: A Change in Rhythm  

“[Foss] Well, the lockdown was absolutely transformative. It was as though time itself…stood still. Life suddenly suspended in amber. Birds frozen in place in midair. 

The planet quite literally stopped revolving. 

[Nerrick] It was so quiet. You could actually hear yourself thinking…”

            (Death to 2020, 2020, 00:21:04)

On the 31st of October 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a second national lockdown for England, forcing ‘non-essential’ businesses to close for one month commencing Thursday 5th November. This meant that the hotel where I worked as a receptionist would have to close. Up until this point the hotel and restaurant had been busy with guests enjoying the last bit of warmer weather before the winter really set in. We were fully booked every day, the phone lines were constantly busy, and the office was filled with the sounds of ringing phones, tapping keyboards, and slamming doors. But in the last hour leading up to the much-anticipated announcement of a second lockdown the office went quiet. No one was booking in; no more email enquiries and the phones stopped ringing. It was as if everything had been placed on hold again. There was a break in the tapestry, a new landscape began to emerge. 

When we were asked to create an audio-visual topography of our experiences of lockdown, it was the contrast of going from spending my days in a busy office environment to staying at home with my own quiet that stood out for me. I wanted to communicate a change of pace and the sense of stillness that I had felt during lockdown. In my audio topography I have reflected on sounds and rhythms of capitalist landscapes. I have suggested that these landscapes are produced through a continuous ‘going-on’, of us partaking in repetitions of disciplined rhythms of everyday life – waking up, taking the bus to work, shopping, going to the gym, and so on. I suggest that during lockdown a lot of these rhythms were interrupted. I no longer had to be anywhere; I did not have to do anything in particular. This felt like a welcome break to me and I found myself breathing in the stillness that began so set in. 

It has been suggested that within neoliberal capitalist societies, stillness is often thought of as “a problem to be dealt with. A moment of emptiness or missed productivity” (Bissell & Fuller, 2011, p.3). Many of us feel lazy or guilty when we are not doing anything. Doing, producing, performing have become integral to our everyday lives and sustains systems of power that above all else relies on productivity and accumulation. Continued and uninterrupted productivity may therefore not always be effective ways to resist capitalist structures. Instead, it has been suggested that resistance can be found in the refusal to operate within the pre-orchestrated flows and rhythms of capitalist productivity (Cocker, 2009). Stillness within this framework becomes the opposite of passivity, and rather creates potential for change, a friction, something uncomfortable and new takes place – both in the sense that it is occurring not as a lack of an event but as an event in and of itself, and also in the sense that it takes up space and creates a new place within a hegemonic structure. 

            In the rest of this blogpost, I will reflect on the process of creating audio-visual topographies of lockdown and I will use Cindi Katz’s (2001) concept of countertopography to trace capitalism’s disciplining of time across multiple experiences and reflections on idleness during lockdown. I will begin by introducing the method of countertopography and explore its potential uses for a feminist critique. I will then move on to discuss my choice of using audio to create my topography, following the call of Smith (1997) who has urged geographers to move beyond the visual and pay more attention to how spaces are created through and by sounds. I will then explore how my audio-topography can be seen to connect and relate to Ceara and Adam’s topographies. This will lead into a discussion of the political value of telling collective stories as a way to build alliances.

Topographies and Countertopographies

In her article On the Grounds of Globalization…, Cindi Katz (2001a, p. 1214) asks; “What is a topography?” She begins to explore an answer by quoting the Oxford English Dictionary which defines a topography as “the accurate and detailed delineation and description of any locality” and “the features of a region or locality collective” (OED cited in Katz, 2001a, p.1214). A topography is therefore both the description and definition of particular places and the place, with all its features and particularities, itself. Importantly for Katz (2001a), “both are produced” (ibid., p.1215) through disciplining modes of power. Topography creates places by ‘mincing’ and ‘shredding’ the world into definable locations with a particular set of borders. It aims to uncover and map ‘truths’ about the world, often with the purpose of gaining control over localities for economic, military or political purposes. 

            Katz (2001a, p.1215) argues that if “topographical knowledge is so integrally important to capitalists and other agents of domination […] its appropriation should be important to countering them”. In her project of creating countertopographies, Katz (2001b) switches the geographical definition of topography to one that attempts to “[develop] a translocal politics opposed to globalized capitalism and other forms of oppression” (ibid., p.710). A critical topography is one that aims to produce ‘thick descriptions’ (Geertz, 1973) of how particular processes, for example that of capitalism’s disciplining of time, materializes in particular locations and further asks the question of how such processes can be seen to affect other locations.

Katz refers to these processes as contour lines and it is our “analytical task to trace these lines across places to show how places are connected by the same processes even as they are always situated within the specifics of their fully three-dimensinal space” (Pratt, 2004, p.162). However, this does not mean to say that the method of creating counter- topographies implies an attempt to homogenise the affects of specific processes. Rather, it is attuned to the partial and particular and recognises how issues and concerns that arise “can vary and play out differently depending upon the constellation of social relations encountered in various locations” (Katz, 2001b, p.722).

 Is has been argued that the method may therefore be a valuable tool for feminism as it has the potential to reinvigorate the material and geographical in feminist theory and critique. Katz has argued that although feminism recognises how knowledge is always situated (Haraway, 1988) and socially located, location is all too often conceptualised “as a subject position” (Pratt, 2004, p. 163), a space “from which materiality is largely evacuated” (Katz cited in Pratt, 2004, p.163). Countertopographies are both abstract and “thoroughly material” (Katz, 2001b, p.720) which allows them to “provide literal and figurative grounds for developing a critique of the social and political- economic relations sedimented into space” (ibid., p.721). The method takes a radical standpoint against the workings of power and offers a possibility to map alliances between otherwise separated localities and actors (Pratt, 2004).  

Creating an Audio-Topography

Katz (2001a) has highlighted how topographical data is commonly used in mapping and suggests that “[p]eople in power seem to have gone map-crazy” (ibid., p.1215). Mapping for Katz is not an innocent process that simply records ‘what is there’ but is a form of power which assumes that the world can be known through acts of looking and measuring (Dodge et al., 2009). A map offers a view of the world from above. Rose (2008, p.172) writes that the visual should therefore be recognised as often being “central to claims to geographical knowledge […]. Seeing and knowing are often conflated”. But even so, Smith (1997) argues that this does not necessarily mean that we have fully understood what it means to ‘see’ and “the power of the gaze” (ibid., p.503). Smith further argues that due to sight and the visual being given priority within geography, other senses are often not valued in the same way. Nevertheless, other senses equally contribute to our sense of space as our worlds are made up by so much more than what can be visually captured.

              Smith (1997) argues in particular for the value of sound because of how it can “evoke a sense of space and of society that differs from, and is complementary to, that

evoked by sight” (ibid, p.524). As I approached the task of creating a topography using audio-visual methods, I decided to explore the potential of audio separate from the visual. The topography that I have created builds on reflections on ‘spaces of sounds’ and I was particularly interested in capturing the rhythms of capitalist soundscapes. I wanted to explore how audio may be used as a method to bring into awareness the sounds that are taken for granted and often fade into the background of everyday life. Gallagher & Prior (2014) have argued that audio has the capacity to magnify that which is “hidden, fleeting, beyond or at the periphery of everyday awareness” (ibid., p. 271). This magnifying quality of sound also exists in the sense that it can bring us closer to environments or an event. Audio is said to have an affective quality that gives rise to emotions, associations (Gallagher, 2015) and memories (Butler, 2007). 

            The topography that I have created layers a vocalised narrative with sounds of everyday activities. I wanted to take the listener on a journey through the business of a capitalist soundscape with the sounds of car engines, supermarket checkouts, restaurant ambience and so on. I suggest that these sounds are created through repetetive processes that can be linked to neoliberal capitalism and my aim was to capture the continual overlapping of sounds that create flows of production and movement. These sounds are then contrasted with the stillness of lockdown which I suggest can be seen as a pause that created frictions and a break within these flows. At this point in the recording, I begin to reflect on other sounds; of sounds of silence, breath, shoes on the ground during a walk in the park, the making of a cup of tea and so on. The listener is invited into the new soundscape that I found myself in during lockdown, and although the sounds are personal and intimate, they are also relatable and recognisable. 

Countertopograpies of Another Lockdown: Stillness in Capitalist Time

As discussed above, countertopography creates the potential to connect and relate disparate experiences and locations by tracing contour lines of particular processes. The remaining part of this text will therefore engage in a discussion of how my audio topography may be seen to relate to the topographies that Adam and Ceara have created, and later I shall discuss the political value of telling our stories collectively. The contour lines that I trace in mine, Adam and Ceara’s topographies, are inspired by an essay by Katz (2011) in which she considers how neoliberal capitalism plays out in the lives of children. Here Katz considers capitalism’s obsession with creating value and its desire to hide and contain ‘waste’. Considering what capitalism defines as ‘waste’ she discusses children’s play as something that “some consider a ‘waste of time’” (ibid., p. 55), suggesting that time should not be wasted. In my recording, I reflect on lockdown as a break that has provided me with time to ‘not do anything at all’. This is something that usually brings on a feeling of guilt for not being productive, but instead I allow myself to just sit with the stillness. Reflections on time and stillness also exist within Adam (Smith, 2020) and Ceara’s (Webster, 2020) topographies.

Adam uses video and audio to reflect on creativity during lockdown. At one point the video comes to an end and we are left with the audio recording of a conversation during which it is discussed how difficult some people have found it to be alone during this time. This statement is followed by someone arguing that this might at times encourage a person to be creative, suggesting that moments of ‘emptiness’ or of boredom may allow us the space to ‘play’ and for creativity to grow (Biondo, 2019). The conversation suggests that we have an uneasy relationship with stillness. Although we might at time find it useful, it still feels troubling, lonely and boring, and these are all the things capitalism tells us not to be (Peeren, 2019). By “economic necessity” capitalism engages us in “repetitive, routinised labour (ibid., p.102), and if we are not active, we are told we are lazy. There is a “disciplining associated with capitalist production” which focuses on “channelling […] time and how it is ‘spent’ by whom, so that idleness is reserved for some and punished in others” (Katz, 2011, p.57).

But for some of us stillness broke into lockdown. Ceara’s video topography lacks sound completely, this gives the video a sense of being ‘at a loss for words’ or of numbness. Her use of visuals invites us to journey with her through an experience of loss and we sit with her in still (but not inactive) contemplation. Towards the second half of the video a text appears on the screen that says; “And it became apparent that we all need to find breathing spaces” (Webster, 2020, 00:02:55). All three topographies seem to speak to the importance of having time to oneself and they reveal a potential in idleness. Stillness is not just immobility, laziness, or a “gesture of refusal” (Bissell & Fuller, 2011, p.3) to be active. Rather, “stillness has a capacity to do things” (ibid., p.5) and creates frictions against the regulated flows that are produced by neoliberal capitalism (Cocker, 2009). It is a breathing space, a space for creativity and contemplation – a waste of capital’s time.

Telling Collective Stories

Feminists have for a long time argued that the ‘personal is political’ (Hanisch, 1969) and that there therefore is political value in personal stories. Countertopographical methods show how rich and detailed narratives of individual experiences and a focus on the local and particular have the potential to tell us something about “broader social and political context, and their telling can move, affect, and produce collectivities” (Cameron, 2012, p.574). Lorimer (2003) therefore suggest that geographers should acknowledge the value of the knowledge that is produced by its ‘grass-root’ practitioners, or ‘minor figures’. Small stories, as he calls them, can offer a new perspective and “encourages repeated shifts between different scales of enquiry” such as between “the institutional and the intimate” (ibid., p.200). Small stories break into and challenge major narratives and academic authority. In their telling, they reveal complexities and differences that often get lost in grand narratives.

            Although it has been suggested that stories may at times fail to resist dominant worldviews since they are always “constituted through ideological lenses” (Stone-Mediatore, 2003, p.1) which shape personal experiences, I believe that it is precisely the analytical capacity of countertopography that can enable us to trace contour lines of ideology and dominant processes across both what is being explicitly told within stories and also in what is left out. Paying attention to how narratives are constructed, what we can and cannot say, whose voices are heard and how they are represented are all important in knowledge making. Stories emerge through particular processes and their collective telling trace common histories and build alliances by ‘unhiding’ the effects of oppressive powers (Katz, 2001a).

 I would like to argue that the audio-visual methods used to create our topographies of lockdown have enabled us to create stories of intimate experiences in a way that is self-representative (Gislason et al., 2018). These counter-narratives speak with and to one another from multiple locations to subvert “the persistent hierarchy of knowledge producers and knowledges” (Nagar, 2013, p.3). Far from seeking one overarching ‘truth’ or master narrative, they allow for a “polyvocal framework attuned to a complex politics of difference” (Connolly-Shaffer, 2012, p.171) which may allow authors to “scrutinize their multiple – sometimes conflicting – experiences and truths” (Nagar, 2013, p.4). In this way, collective storytelling enables a self-reflexivity that can trace “epistemic shifts on personal and intimate terms” (Lorimer, 2003, p.214). 

Conclusion

In this text, I have wanted to reflect on the process of collaboratively creating an audio-visual countertopography of a second lockdown. I have wanted to explore how countertopography can be used to trace political processes across multiple stories, locations and experiences. This, I have suggested, allows a mapping of “continuities and discontinuities” and “involves a partial folding of one geography onto another” (Pratt, 2004, p. 163) without reducing one experience to the other. Rather, it seeks to counter the way in which conventional topographies come to ‘know’ the world through processes of ‘shredding’ and ‘mincing’ (Katz, 2001a), creating a world of borders, where one location needs to be made distinctly separated from another. By telling collective stories using the method of countertopography we engage in work that seek connections across these borders and draw attention to how seemingly disparate locations and experiences overlap and are affected by globalizing processes, such as capitalism.

I have attempted to trace contour lines of how capitalism manages and disciplines time, and I have suggested that our topographies can be seen to contain narratives and reflections about lockdown as a space that produced frictions in the way capitalism otherwise manages and channels time for the benefit of economic profit. Each topography is attentive to our unease with being ‘inactive’, but they all also seemingly find value in idleness. By producing ‘thick descriptions’ (Geertz, 1973) and detailed accounts of ‘minor figure’ experiences (Lorimer, 2003) our collective stories therefore give us an insight into how our everyday lives are all seemingly affected by these processes and discourses, although they are affected in different ways. Storytelling, with its attention to the everyday, the minor, and the particular, give us new perspectives of how capitalist processes and discourses play out on different grounds and at different scales.

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