Proxemics and the novel : an ecological approach

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Assumption University Press
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Assumption University. Graduate School of English
Asian Journal of Literature, Culture and Society 3, 2 (October 2009), 120-149
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The term "proxemics" was coined by the anthropologist Edward T. Hall to describe the relationships between people in terms of the distances and spaces they set up in their societies which shape the ways they behave towards each other. For Hall, these spaces are the "hidden languages" of a culture which contribute to the meanings of other communication acts individuals in that culture perform. As Hall argues, each culture shapes and interprets these spaces in different ways. While Hall looks at the role of these spaces in art, he does not develop his ideas beyond a description of how certain artists such as Rembrandt and Kafka exploit social spaces in their work for artistic effects. The implication is that artists are sensitive to such spaces as they are skilled communicators whose role is to connect with their audience through the various linguistic and visual media. Artists embody their world through their perceptions and representations of what they see as the reality of their art. Inherent in all the forms of literary art (drama, poetry, novels, journals and films) there is a social fact that may well be true of all language but which is highlighted in the literary form: private life is looked at in a public way. Literary art seems to offer ways of exploiting or perceiving and representing this tension between inner and outer life which is at the heart of the matter being discussed here. With the explosion of English outside the inner circle countries subsequent to the publication of Hall's research, the issues raised by Hall need to be re-examined and expanded in terms of the opportunities and threats such changes create for an English teacher working in a classroom where the students lack any lived sense of the experience of these spaces in English, the language they are learning. As they learn the language, they are also learning to come to terms with the ways the English language has shaped space in terms of the L1 cultures and how the new societies learning to use English for communication are reshaping their own relationships in possibly new ways now. This paper considers the implications of these ideas for the novel in terms of how a proxemics framework may help us reconsider the ways we read and write about novels, expecially in the Asian context of teaching English as a foreign language in Thailand. How is social life embodied in Asian and Western novels through the ways sociocultural spaces dialectically shape and are shaped by the language of the novel? What does a proxemic approach to the novel contribute to our understanding of the ecology of language in Asian and Western novels, especially in terms of how these novels may be taught to and read by the growing large readership in Asia?
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In English ; only abstract in English.
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