Utopic horizons: cinematic geographies of travel and migration

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Roberts, Les

Theoretically grounded in debates surrounding the production of space and mobility in contemporary cultural discourse, this thesis examines the role of film in these deterritorialised landscapes of theory and practice, in particular the shift from place-based geographies of travel and film to those of 'utopic' displacement. Focussed primarily on examples from contemporary European film, the thesis also considers the broader geo- historical contexts underpinning travel and filmic practices: for example, cinema's nascent links with the democratisation of travel and the construction of a touristic 'mobile virtual gaze' . In so far as these and other examples of 'travel film' can be said to discursively centre the 'voyager-voyeur' in geographies of home and placement, they invoke an 'Ulyssean gaze' of mythic circularity against which the utopic deterritorialisations of migrancy and transnational space are counterposed. It is these utopic horizons of travel - cinematic mobilities that pose dialectical challenges to hegemonic cartographies of place and space which this thesis sets out to explore. Mapping the utopic gaze in early and 'classic' (e)migrant films, I examine the extent to which the frontiers and horizons of utopic travel, predicated in these examples of spatio-temporal distance, could be said to have collapsed in a spatial conflation of presence and absence. In this analysis ellipses in space and time have increasingly displaced the representational spaces of the journey. Looking at a range of examples from contemporary film, I examine the dialectic between a displaced imaginary of utopic hope and the material non-places of transit, refuge and waiting which dominate these cinematic geographies; dialectic which maps affective spaces of stasis and transition. In the deterritorialised landscapes of postmodernity I argue that it is the agential and embodied mobilities of movement-in-itself - psychogeographic, oblique confrontations with hegemonic space - that constitutes the fullest realisation of the utopic. Far from valorising undialectical tropes of the 'open road' or of the rhizomatic, homeless 'nomad', these peripatetic, embodied mobilities are the product of a dialectic of stasis and transition in which the conflict between abstract and lived spaces of mobility is brought to the fore.
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