The Novel, the Non-Place and the Airport

Bianca Leggett on airports as 'highly textualized spaces'

Bianca Leggett (Alluvium) (link via 3:AM Magazine):
The term airport novel is something of a misnomer: while the spy novel must by definition involve spying and the historical novel takes readers back into history, airport novels aspire to remove us from the world of the airport. Designed to distract the reader from the boredom and discomfort of the airport itself, they provide an escape hatch into inner-space through sensational stories which help to combat the nullity of the non-place in which they are read.

While traditionally the ‘airport novel’ is a place of refuge, the antithesis of the airport itself, Christopher Schaberg argues that airports are in fact highly textualized spaces. In his study The Textual Life of Airports he looks not only at the place of novels in the airport, but also at the presence of airports in the novel, as well as the profusion of directional text which attempt to shepherd passengers through the labyrinthine structure of the airport itself. Schaberg reminds us that though the airport is ‘designed to be passed through, and in rapid fashion’ airports are nonetheless ‘enmeshed with matters of place, region, and slow time’ (Schaberg 1). This duality is, according to Marc Augé’s definition, typical of the non-place: 'Place and non-place are rather like opposed polarities: the first is never completely erased, the second never totally completed; they are like palimpsests on which the scrambled game of identity and relations is ceaselessly rewritten' (Schaberg 79). This oscillating quality presents particular challenges to those whose job it is to brand the airport, a space which must have the universality and legibility of the non-space, but which must also function, as Pico Iyer argues, as ‘both a city’s business card and its handshake' (Iyer 46). [Read More]
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