Narrative Knowledge of Urban Space

Postcard Le Château des ducs de Bretagne

This paper investigates potential new practices in place-making through narrative. It treats life stories and published autobiography as a possible resource for place-making. It attempts to situate travel writing from place-making in a professional context, aligned with the intellectual concerns of tourism studies and the creation of tourism knowledge.  In a commercial environment, place-making may be used to increase competitive edge for the city tourist office but for the individual visitor, at least through critical theory, it is linked to emancipation, freeing them to a fuller, more accomplished life.

Exploring the Existing Travel Literature & Place Writing on Nantes

Rather than undertake literary criticism on the works that present Nantes in biography and travel literature, a process of seeking out the potential catalysts for toureme moments (Mansfield 2015) offers the researcher a more economical and focussed approach to finding locations that have narrative value for the writer, and may thus create value for the visitor to a new urban space.  In addition, the more literary urban travel stories are examined for their allegories, conceits and sub-texts, that is, the mystery set up by the author to be solved by the readers as part of the pleasure of the text.  In a place-writing workshop day in Torquay, for example, a play on the words ‘quay’ and key’ was introduced along with a more mysterious allegory that the resort contained a hidden treasure if readers could only pick up the clues, like keys to a lock; this was then added to the travel piece as an underlying theme (Mansfield 2014).  Patrick Modiano’s city stories, for example, build up to a mystery, often focussed on one character that the narrator-hero feels compelled to solve, taking the readers along on an exploration of urban space. Providing an underlying theme for readers of the travel piece to discover, acts like plot and rewards continued reading.  The pleasure comes from the revealed knowledge as the theme is understood, perhaps later as the reader reflects on the piece when they are on their visit or after. One such theme might be that although the French town is designed today for the motor car, beneath the surface an earlier, horse-drawn world exists.  The theme could also be a new idea, a new way of thinking about space, society or nature and the reading slowly builds up to reveal that new way of thinking.

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