In her 2016 book length essay Calamities, the poet and novelist Renee Gladman describes the process of constructing a city out of language in the following terms: ‘It was amazing to see a line move from one mode of being to another mode… as when concrete becomes paper, as when something that is rigid, performing stability, collapses into a curving body at the floor of a page’. Largely understood as an accompaniment to her quartet of novels that focuses on the fictional city-state Ravicka, Gladman’s Calamities establishes a connection between linguistic and urban architecture that hinges on the invocation of shared materiality.
Though critics like Evie Shockley have established a direct link to the fictional construction of urban space, I read Gladman’s focus on materiality as an attempt at expanding the experiential capacities of language relating, in particular, to the sense of confusion, displacement, and isolation that comes with being a stranger. In Event Factory – the first of the Ravicka novels – Gladman’s protagonist experiences Ravicka as a visitor with limited language skills and only a rudimentary understanding of the city’s geography. Throughout, the protagonist’s marginalization manifests through her unsettling encounters with words that have taken on material form: she attempts to scoop up language like water, eats pages of written texts as part of a stew, and can only refer to the creeping, dangerous silence that engulfs the city as smoke. This paper therefore reads Event Factory – and Gladman’s body of work – as an exercise in exploring the material composition of linguistic isolation.
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