Where Stress Takes Place

In Place, Stress in literature by Camilla

When I first started this research, I was convinced I would find interesting results if I analyzed the stress in literature similar to any other emotion expressed in words – even though, stress, strictly speaking, is not an emotion but a physical state. However, it seemed to me that the special stressed expression in literature was something to be felt, and therefore comparable to emotions. I wanted to grasp the phenomena with the help of affect theory.

I followed this idea for a while, until realizing for the second, third and fourth time that stress really is not an emotion. It rather expresses itself as a box you enter – or what is more likely: Can’t seem to get out of.

In other words: I’ve changed direction. I’m no longer as much interested in how stress expresses itself in modern Danish literature. I want to know where. My hypothesis has not changed since the beginning. What matters is still to show that (or if) stress as a symptom of structural problems appears as a thematic anchor as well as a formal, stylistic feature in selected publications.

Through this place-oriented approach to the works of fiction, I want to show exactly where stress takes places. A where that focuses on society and systems as specific places in the world. To exist is namely always to be a being-in-the-world, and this relationship is my new main focus.

These interesting stress places in literature have different features that can be divided into two main categories: places and non-places. The latter being of particular interest as non-places are also called places of modernity by the anthropologist Marc Augé. Non-places are places of movement: Highways, ferry crossings, trains etc. They are places where we are meant to stay temporarily, passing through. These non-places become extremely interesting when observing how stressed subjects in literature try to escape the societies or systems causing the stress, as these non-places represent a possible way out.

Generally, what I have found so far is that there seems to be a movement away from society and into the wild, where structures are fewer or looser. Where it is possible to uphold a romantic, symbiotic relationship to nature where one lives according to the rules of wild nature (the wild? Nature mentioned twice in that sentence). A place where money has little value and where there’s a possibility to build something new and different – an opposing system to what is found in modern society.


One stress factor in our modern society is due to simultaneity; the fact that we are now capable of being in more than one place at once made possible by modern means of communication. This also means that time and space are more intertwined than ever before.

“Simultaneities intervene, extending our point of view outward in an infinite number of lines connecting the subject to a whole world of comparable instances, complicating the temporal flow of meaning, short-circuiting the fabulous stringing-out of ‘one damn thing after another’”

So writes Edward W. Soja, author of Postmodern Geographics – The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory. And this is exactly the point: Simultaneities intervene, demanding our attention at more than one point at a time, making it more likely that the subject will lose the larger picture or the (in)famous overview of the situation. This simultaneity also has to do with what I talked about in the last post on sleepwalking in modern society. What is characteristic of these places where stress takes place, when does it take place and not least: Is escape possible?