From early colonial encounters to the ecological disasters of the twenty-first century, the performativity of contact has been a crucial element in the political significance of the beach. Conceptualising the beach as a creative trope and as a socio-cultural site, as well as an aesthetically productive topography, this collection examines its multiplicity of meanings and functions as a natural environment engendering both desire and fear in the human imagination from the Victorian period to the present. The contributors examine literature, film, and art, in addition to moments of encounter and environmental crisis, to highlight the beach as a social space inspiring particular codes of behaviour and specific discourses, as a geographical frontier between land and water, as an historical site of contact and conflict, and as a vacationscape promising regeneration and withdrawal from everyday life. The diversity of the beach is reflected in the geographical range, with essays on locales and texts from Britain, Ireland, the Caribbean, South Africa, the United States, Polynesia, and New Zealand. Focusing on the changed function of the beach as a result of processes of industrialisation and the rise of a modern leisure and health culture, this interdisciplinary volume theorises the beach as a demarcater of the precarious boundary between land and the sea, as well as between nature and culture.
Table of Contents
'Twixt land and sea: approaches to littoral studies'. Visions of the beach in Victorian Britain. Dover beach and the politics and poetics of perspective. 'Gripping to a wet rock': coastal erosion and the land-sea divide as existentialist/ecocritical tropes in contemporary British and Irish fiction. Shorelines: littoral landscapes in the poetry of Michael Longley and Robert Minhinnick. John Burnside's seascapes. Caribbean beachcombers. Literary inscriptions on the South African beach: ambiguous settings, ambivalent textualities. Food for sharks: abjection on the beach. 'Where things meet in the world between sea and land': human-whale encounters in littoral space. Slow violence on the beach: documenting disappearance in There Once Was an Island.
Ursula Kluwick is Lecturer in English Literature and Virginia Richter is Professor of English Literature at the University of Berne, Switzerland.