New uses for old bunkers #8: Affective landscapes – Sebald, Orford Ness and the patriotism of pillboxes

I’m giving a paper at a conference on Affective Landscapes tomorrow and I’m also chairing a session on ‘traumascapes’. Below are my abstract and my set of slides. A full paper is in production:

“Where and in what time I truly was that day at Orford Ness I cannot say, even now as I write these words” – exploring bunkers, genre and ambivalence

In recent years it has become rather de rigueur for cultural theorists to quote this excerpt from W.G. Sebald’s haunted account of his visit to the ‘post-human’ ruins of the former Orford Ness military testing range in Suffolk, when theorising aesthetic engagement with military ruins. Recently, Beck (2011) has invoked Sebald in support of his argument that military bunkers “resist assimilation” into culture because they are a phenomenon riddled with ambiguity born of an unresolved interplay of fascination and repulsion. This paper will argue that whilst social theorists and artists may wrestle with this ambivalence, lay bunker-hunters do not suffer this crisis of signification. On the contrary, they readily find and sustain stable and rich representational codes by which the remains of abandoned military bunkers can come to be known and cherished. The presentation will look at the ways in which these genres (invoking that term in the broad manner developed by Frow, 2006) are evident, important but also adaptable, mutually reinforcing and often open to combination. I will argue (following Haakonsen, 2009) that bunker-hunters actively perform their practice, and use the available codes of representation as repertoires, key tools for that performance. I will show how some of the genres foreground affective response to bunkers, whilst others firmly do not. But in each case I will argue against the temptation to equate the affective with truly subjective and unstructured ways of being-in-the-world

Here are my slides:

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About lukebennett13
Reader & Course Leader, BSc Hons Real Estate, Sheffield Hallam University, UK. I TEACH: built environment law to construction, surveying, real estate and environmental management students. I RESEARCH: metal theft; urban exploration & recreational trespass; occupiers' perceptions of liability for their premises. I THINK: about the links between ideas, materialities and practices in the built environment. I WAS: an environmental lawyer working in commercial practice for 17 years before I joined academia in 2007. I EXPLAIN: the aims of my blogsite site here: LINKS: Twitter: @lukebennett13; Archive: EPITAPH: “He lived at a little distance from his body, regarding his own acts with doubtful side-glances.” James Joyce, Dubliners

5 Responses to New uses for old bunkers #8: Affective landscapes – Sebald, Orford Ness and the patriotism of pillboxes

  1. dianajhale says:

    Wish I could have gone to this conference.Thanks for posting this as a substitute! Loved visiting Orford Ness some years ago now.

  2. What a fascinating slide show. Wish I could have heard the lecture. Too much to take in on one reading. Will revisit! Thanks

  3. Thanks folks – I think I managed to avoid upsetting any of the Sebald scholars (phew). If you’d like a little more insight into the conference I’ve now written up some reflections on one set of presentations I attended, in my post on reading non-places:

  4. pkevans says:

    Hi Luke.
    I wondered if you might have come across this:
    Best wishes,

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