Travelling through Guidebooks: Reading and Remembering Imagined Topographies of Nicosia
This article presents a journey through the divided city of Nicosia on the island of Cyprus by confronting its dominant representations in guidebooks dating back to 1960s with my personal urban experience in the northern part of the city, and placing these readings in the context of the delicate political history of the city. This approach provides an account of the extant, the constructed as well as the subjectively remembered and imagined spaces of the city. The act of reading books includes spatial and temporal activities: following the lines, stopping at certain words, jumping through paragraphs, searching for certain images and turning the pages back and forth. These activities, in the case of guidebooks, may evoke spatial memories of textures, lights, sounds, streets, buildings and people. Travelling through the different representations of sites in the guidebooks, and mapping this activity of reading, enabled me to lay out the ways in which traditional guidebooks cause a kind of topographical amnesia by privileging dominant knowledge in relation to places and decontextualizing other knowledges.
I have used this multiple reading as a critical topographical practice that can question and dismantle the fixed representations in the guidebooks. Such a critical topographical practice is indeed a practice of writing place, referring to the word’s etymological meanings: toposfor ‘place’ and graphe for ‘which writes’ or ‘is written’. This topographical practice critically and subjectively relates knowledge to place and time. It offers the possibility for me – as a traveller and researcher – to temporarily appropriate real spaces and sustain other future spatial possibilities. With the following pieces of writing about sites in Nicosia, I propose possible but partial narratives of places, which are alternative to the officially acclaimed interpretations present in the guidebooks. My alternative narratives of places offer imagining the ground of the controlled buffer zone as unfixable, dead ends as spaces resisting dichotomies of centre-margin, public-private, and local-occupier, and envisioning the horizon as a continuous extension of boundaries.
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