By Collier Nogues, 3rd year PhD candidate
CN: Welcome to HKU’s School of English! In the talk you gave as part of our seminar series last year, I remember that you discussed the 150th anniversary map of Hong Kong that HSBC just installed in the floor of its atrium in Central, and the politics of that map as public space. The talk was fascinating! Can you say a little about that project, and how you came to be interested in it?
EH: My work on neo-Victorianism had been about time: how we return to the nineteenth-century British past in contemporary cultural texts in order to work through the multiple temporalities and anachronisms that define the postcolonial condition. But as the project developed, I realized that neo-Victorianism is also about space. Not only do geographical locations have different ‘structures of relation’ to the nineteenth-century past – so, Australia, for example, has a different relationship to the memory of the Victorian than Hong Kong -
but different spaces also accrete and secrete neo-Victorian memories differently. Colonial cities like Hong Kong and, let’s say, Toronto, will also manage their colonial history differently via official public spaces and heritage projects. While I didn’t focus on public neo-Victorian spaces in my monograph, I did recently publish an article on Heritage: 1881 in Tsim Sha Tsui. In that essay, I traced tensions between how ‘official’ and sanctioned memories of British imperialism and militarism are adapted for reuse as commercial property and how the public’s use of the space, primarily for wedding and tourist photos, creates new intimacies in an affective relationship with the nineteenth century past thereby creating a more healthy, or at least useful, version of postcolonial space.
It was probably the Umbrella Movement sites that made my current project on maps in contemporary fiction ‘click’ into place. I was struck by the number of maps that appeared at the protest sites, so many of them part of the large repertoire of protest art that was created during that time. The coincidence, if you will, between those ad hoc, participatory maps and the map of 19th century Central that is installed in the plaza of HSBC, was too hard to ignore – I was instantly drawn to these maps and once I started looking, Hong Kong seemed filled with maps and mapping practices being used to make arguments about the contemporary moment. My current GRF project, “Map-able: The Turn to the Map in Contemporary Fiction and Culture”, is my first attempt at putting some of these maps into perspective. Aside from maps in Hong Kong, I’m also working on maps that appear in novels speculating on European space and the shared language and visual tropes between maps and comics.
CN: At your former position at Lingnan University, you taught a course on the graphic novel. How do you see that genre/form as fitting into the study of English literature? Is it particularly suited to the study of literature in Hong Kong?
EH: I see graphic novels and comics as an important component of contemporary literature; their unique combination of text and image in the construction of narrative adds richness to our arts of the present. I find that students in Hong Kong, like students anywhere, respond really well to reading graphic novels. They are particularly attuned to interpreting visual elements and have had much practice reading HK comics and manga. Teaching graphic novels has opened up discussions about issues like adaptation; the limits of language in the face of historical and personal trauma; the visual representation of gender dynamics and power relations; race and diversity; etc. Many of these arguments rely on visual as well as textual elements and graphic novels help us ‘see’ these better. I hope to offer a course, “Comics, Graphic Novels and Theory”, in the near future.
CN: Are there Hong Kong resources and/or events in the field of graphic novels and comix—and further, about cultural and literary mapping—our readers may not know about, but should?
EH: Comix Homebase in Wan Chai has a remarkable archive of Hong Kong comics and visual studies texts. Their library is an excellent resource for anyone interested in a basic introduction to visual literature but also a history of Hong Kong comics. In addition, Comix Homebase is an excellent example of adaptive reuse/heritage development done right in Hong Kong. They lead wonderful tours for students and their knowledgeable docents can run lectures in English and Chinese on HK comics and other topics.
My ENGL 1014 class, “Imaginary Geographies: The Art of Writing Place”, just took a ‘haunted tour’ of Wan Chai, part of St James Settlement’s ‘Hong Kong House of Stories’ program. We were taken on a tour of some of the spooky areas of Wan Chai and learned a lot about the myths and legends of the area. The tour was a really nice way of learning more about home, in the sense that we sometimes need to un-learn the familiar in order to gain new appreciation about how we experience space and make place. Also, it’s nice to know that Hong Kong has a rich and diverse “psychogeography”, if we know where to look!
CN: Can you point our readers to some of your favorite examples of graphic novels and literary cartography if they’d like to explore further?
EH: Some of my favorite graphic novels about maps and mapping include Dylan Horrocks’s Hicksville, a wonderful story of comics from the margins of New Zealand, and Alan Moore’s From Hell, a psychogeographic tour de force of the Whitechapel murders of 1888. For contemporary fiction, I highly recommend China Mieville’s The City & The City and also Colson Whitehead’s Zone One; both novels encourage us to think about urban spatiality in radically different ways (plus, Zone One has zombies). For a more theoretical way to think about literary cartography, I would start with Franco Moretti’s Atlas of the European Novel 1800-1900 – you’ll never think about the setting of Jane Austen novels in the same way after reading it!
CN: Finally, do you have any advice for our Research Postgraduates?
EH: Love your project: that love and passion will carry you through many a dark hour in the dissertation process. Try to write every day: there are many resources available on the internet about writing groups, accountability groups and other kinds of activities. Even better, start your own writing group! Be flexible about the kind of writing you produce: it’s all useful. Be organized: never throw any document away and know where to find it later! Ask for and get support – whether it’s academic or emotional – when you need it. Be kind to yourself: exercise, eat, sleep.