The Landing Dock

We are a group of literary scholars researching the role of the beach in the literature of the long 20th century. The beach has many meanings: it is a vacation site, a contact zone, a site of capitalist production and, in recent years, an arrival zone for refugees. Despite its literary, cultural and ecological importance, the beach has played a relatively minor role in scholarship until fairly recently. This four-year project aims to fill this gap, and will approach the beach from the perspectives of postcolonial studies, ecocriticism and new materialism. One of the aims of this project is to produce an interactive online literary atlas of beach narratives, making our research accessible to a wider public.

In narrative, the beach functions as a site of heightened intensity and crisis. In many Anglophone novels and stories from c. 1890 onward, it is the setting of the turning point and climax, notably creative acts, scenes of self-discovery and rebirth, erotic encounters and scenes of death. These literary representations reflect the importance of the beach in everyday culture, as a vacation site, a contact zone, a site of capitalist production and, in recent years, an arrival zone for refugees and a scene of terrorist attacks. With the irrefutability of global warming, the littoral ecotone has also emerged as a site where its effects have become most dramatically visible. Despite its literary, cultural and ecological importance, however, the beach has played a relatively minor role in scholarship until fairly recently. This project seeks to redress this neglect, reclaiming the beach as a central space of modernity and postmodernity. We will approach the beach from the perspectives of postcolonial studies, ecocriticism and new materialism. One of the aims of this project is to produce an interactive online literary atlas of beach narratives, making our research accessible to a wider public.

(1) What are the topographical and geographical properties of the beach (northern/southern, European/‘exotic’, isolated/populated) in the selected narratives?

(2) What is the material quality of the beach (sand, shingle, mud, rock; clean/polluted, stable/endangered) and how does this constitute littoral agency?

(3) What is the structural function of the beach within a given text? Which events happen, and how do they generate narrativity?

(4) What actions are performed on the beach? What are different characters’ aims and trajectories, and how do these connect and clash? Are the various littoral agentic assemblages characterised by harmony or dissonance?

(5) Who are the human and nonhuman actors converging on a beach, and what kind of encounters take place? How do natural constituents (ground, tides, weather) interact with each other and with the humans, animals, plants and objects on the beach?

(6) What are the economics of the beach regarding the display of class differences, distribution of labour, treatment of resources and outgoings (sand, water, waste) as well as economic gains and losses? How do these change in the historical period surveyed?

(7) What is the colour of the beach, not only in a material sense (the colour of sand, for example) but regarding social structure? In other words, do texts define valuable beaches by compulsory whiteness (white sand, white visitors) or, conversely, by polychromatism, diversity and intermingling (of genders, ethnicities and species)?

(8) What functions does the beach have regarding gender, sexuality and the human body? Is the beach a privileged site for the display of human animality, erotic desire and mortality?