Space -time and the city: Glasgow and the literature of the urban peripheries

Lorraina Barr Pinnell, University of Rhode Island


Space, as a dimension through which we experience and understand existential being, has traditionally been subsumed to time. Time, with its inextricable links to history, is seen as the privileged signifier in most social and literary critiques, while space is viewed as the deprivileged signifier. Consequently, time is associated with movement, action, and politics, while space is considered static, limited, and apolitical. To deprivilege space, however, is to fail to recognize its political potential, especially when we are within a particularly spatialized, if not global, epoch.^ The administrative centre of this spatialized moment is the city. It is similarly at the forefront of the Scottish literary imagination with its emphasis on that quintessentially spatial phenomenon, the "urban". However, Scottish, and particularly Glasgow, urban writers have concentrated on yet another aspect of the urban phenomenon; that is, those peripheralized spaces of the sometimes notorious Glasgow housing-schemes. Not only do these writers address the actual spaces of the periphery, but they simultaneously explore the 'peripheralized subject' and how this subject experiences time and space. Consequently, these literary explorations function to re-assert the active, sometimes volatile, significance of the periphery, and to resuscitate it from a certain type of historical attitude which is ultimately deterministic. In other words, the periphery and its subjects is much more than the outcome of history. To ameliorate a purely historical approach with its peculiarly Scottish impulse towards nostalgia and memory, space as a vital, living component of existential being must be considered. Whereas we make our own history although not always as we please, so too do we make our own geography.^ Likewise the city of Glasgow itself. As its traditional appellation as industrial, militant, proletarian begins to shift, rupture, and decline, as a new mode(s) of production (as yet not fully defined) insinuates itself, this uneasy transition necessarily has both a spatial and a historical effect. Historically, 'traditional' Glasgow is experienced as lost, or retrospectively apprehended as What Once Was. Spatially, it is experienced as displacement and atomization, if not abandonment, while the impulse towards postmodern classicism in the neo city-centre is a further testimony to that sense of uncertainty.^ Ultimately, rather than seeing the city and its peripheries through a purely historico-temporal prism, if the discourse is enlarged to incorporate the spatial dynamic, this may consequently lead to a recognition of the political potential invested in space and the agency subjects have within the spatial problematic. ^

Subject Area

Literature, English

Recommended Citation

Lorraina Barr Pinnell, "Space -time and the city: Glasgow and the literature of the urban peripheries" (1996). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI9723569.