Keynote speaker: Prof. John Wylie

Title: The Distant

Abstract:  There is an established narrative in which the world shrinks, distances are overcome and rendered insignificant, and the near and the far lose their salience as means of orientation and understanding. Yet, within this narrative, new distances are equally felt and observed to have opened up. New distances between and amongst us, multiplying distances of indifference, incomprehension and antagonism. And felt distances also between ourselves and ‘land’ and ‘nature’ – a sense of separation, alienation and loss which it then becomes imperative, ethically and environmentally, to overcome.

In this general context, this paper asks:  is it possible to sense distance more positively? Given the scope of the topic, the paper aims primarily to offer key frameworks and avenues for rethinking distance. In two initial sections I consider distance in terms of ethics and spatialities respectively. Then, in a lengthier third and final discussion, I turn to landscape specifically as a venue for thinking distance anew. Notions of apartness and alienation are, it can be argued, historically stitched into Western visual art traditions of landscape. In Robin Kelsey’s terms, landscape names a ‘fantasy of not belonging to the totality of life of a terrestrial expanse’. But, drawing in particular upon Jean-Luc Nancy’s account of landscape as uncanny and estranged spatiality, I will argue that the distances of not-belonging are actually the signature elements of landscape’s distinction as a mode of experience, imagination and presentation.


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