Texas State Faces: Robert Tally

Professor pioneers geocritical approach for studying literature

By Billi London-Gray

Dr. Robert Tally, a professor of English at Texas State University-San Marcos, likes to map novels, figuratively speaking. The Dean’s Award-winning scholar is charting new territory in the field of literary study known as geocriticism.

“Geocriticism, understood broadly, offers an approach to reading literary texts that emphasizes their engagement in a spatial or geographical milieu,” Tally says. “This in turn may enable novel ways of studying literature and culture.”

The geocritical approach focuses on the role of space and place in literature, both as the influences upon a writer, as crucial elements in a story and as a way of looking at the world. The French scholar Bertrand Westphal, with whom Tally collaborates, introduced geocriticism in his 2007 work, La Géocritique: Réel, fiction, espace.

In his review of Westphal’s book, Tally says, “In a sense, all writing partakes in a form of cartography, since even the most realistic map does not truly depict the space, but, like literature, figures it forth in a complex skein of imaginary relations.”

Tally thinks geocriticism, as an emergent discipline, will bring fresh ideas to the world of literary studies and encourage interdisciplinary dialogue. The approach explores “how all ways of dealing with the world are somewhat literary” and establishes “fruitful connections to other areas of cultural and social theory.”

In his paper Geocriticism and Classic American Literature, Tally writes, “Space has had a timely reemergence in literary and cultural studies in recent years. The discourse of postmodernism has especially emphasized the importance of space, geography and cartography, as the hyper-hurly-burly experience of the postmodern condition calls for the orienting and reorienting efforts of mapmaking.”

Tally is working hard to promote geocriticism among literary scholars and students. He organized a panel on geocriticism for the 2009 MLA convention and featured the approach prominently in his book, Melville, Mapping and Globalization: Literary Cartography in the American Baroque Writer. His current projects include editing a collection of essays on geocriticism and writing a book on the subject.

Tally’s English translation of La Géocritique: Réel, fiction, espace will be published as Geocriticism: Real and Fictional Spaces in 2011 by Palgrave Macmillan. Tally also is a founding member of the Kurt Vonnegut Society. For more information about Tally’s work on geocriticism, check out his website, Facebook group, Wikipedia article and blog, or download his critical essays from eCommons.

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