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Boundaries of political geography and world literature

Chapter in book
Authors Katarina Leppänen
Published in Cultural borders and European integartion
ISBN 978-91-89608-42-9
ISSN 1104-5507
Publisher Centrum för Europaforskning, Göteborgs universitet
Place of publication Göteborg
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Literature, History of Ideas, and Religion
Center for Public Sector Research (CEFOS)
Language en
Keywords Europe, ecocriticism, dystopia, Emmi Itäranta, Memory of Water
Subject categories History of Ideas


Somewhere in the far north there is a secret underground well of fresh, cool water. When young Noria attains the title of tea master she inherits the secret of water and the responsibility for an underground network of fresh water distribution in a dusty, parched, insect-ridden, peripheral place on earth. Memory of Water is set in the near-future world where the access to fresh water is controlled by the military, while seawater levels have risen and contaminated fresh-water reserves. In this essay, I will read Emmi Itäranta’s novel Memory of Water as a work of world literature that subtly drags one’s imagination into an eerie zone of the familiar-unfamiliar. Dystopian low sci-fi at its best. The existence of cultural, linguistic and territorial borders is the paradoxical prerequisite for our understanding of integration, whether it is a question of European integration or integration of migrants in a new cultural setting. What would the world look like if most borders were obliterated? In reading Memory of Water, I will pay special attention to its lack of borders and the challenge it poses for the reader to not think in terms of borders. I will also demonstrate how the lack of borders, that is, the lack of borders that create alternative comparable units (e.g. nations) passivates people because there are no alternatives to strive for. Literature can in this case work as a test-site for possible futures. I will approach the novel from three perspectives. One, eco-cosmopolitan theory will be tried as a way of rethinking possible futures. Two, the established border-zone of the familiar and unfamiliar through near-translatable concepts, phenomena and material objects, the evoking of the unheimlich, will be discussed. Three, Rob Nixon’s concept of “slow violence” is introduced in an attempt to understand the psychology of the novel’s human beings. Initially, however, a few words about the novel as world literature.

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