Unreal Nature

January 26, 2011

To Tell

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:57 am

… People in Marion County, which borders on Chase County, claim to be able to tell at a glance whether a stranger is from Chase or not.

This is from probably my last post (he has a big fat Epilogue that I think I’ll skip) from Getting Back into Place, Second Edition by Edward S. Casey (2009: first edition 1993):

… Where you have been, including where you have traveled, has a great deal to do with who and what you are, although the determination is by no means simple. Just as we have had to reject models of simple location — models based on the primacy of point and position — so we must also eschew any model of simple causation of character and temperament by implacement. Nevertheless, as D.H. Lawrence and Lawrence Durrell both insisted, there is such a thing as “spirit of place.” Many centuries ago, Servius wrote, “Nullus enim locus sine genio est” (for no place is without its genius). But the genius, i.e., the unique Gestalt of traits that make a place this place, is not simple in itself; nor is its working ever simple. William Least Heat-Moon devotes over six hundred pages in his PrairyErth to the thick description of Chase County, Kansas, while admitting that he has not fathomed the place. The usual parameters fail to fit. Yet everyone knows what it is like to live in a place and to be from a place: little ambiguity there. The complexity arises when we ask ourselves just what kind of personal or collective character emerges from a place, what sort of “who” reflects it, and how the reflection is accomplished. People in Marion County, which borders on Chase County, claim to be able to tell at a glance whether a stranger is from Chase or not. But they are hard-pressed to say in what the Chase-character consists, often falling back on particular episodes or incidents in the history of their neighbors.

[ … ]

… What matters on a journey is not movement as such but the form of motion. At the limit, one can travel without moving. Toynbee says of the desert nomads that, strictly speaking, “they do not move.” Or rather, they move in place, that is, in a seasonally determined cycle of places within the region they inhabit on the edge of the desert. Nor does one need the desert to be nomadic in this manner, for there are urban nomads, nomads of the sea, nomads of the mind. One can even be altogether “stuck in place,” as are the main characters of Beckett’s “Happy Days,” and still experience a vivid sense of journeying in that place. Distinguishing between a “tree travel” exemplified by Goethe’s Italienreise and a “rhizome travel” illustrated by Kleist’s Marionettentheater, Deleuze and Guattari remark that “what distinguishes the two kinds of voyages is neither a measurable quantity of movement, nor something that would be only in the mind, but the mode of spatialization, the manner of being in space, of being for space.” But when we de-literalize movement by focusing on the form or mode of motion, we are no longer restricted to two kinds of voyages: not only arborescent trips of tourism (Goethe or Ruskin or Edith Wharton, all in Italy) or rhizomatic underground voyages (Odysseus in the underworld; Dante in Hell; Kafka’s K beneath the hotel, in The Castle) but also voyages of exploration (e.g., Sir Walter Raleigh on the Orinoco) and of scientific discovery (Darwin in the Galápagos), not to mention pilgrimages, which fall into a complex fascicle of different types and subtypes that range from religious to secular and from having fixed routes (e.g. to the shrine at Santiago de Compostela) to possessing varying approaches (e.g., to Banares, City of Lights). In each instance, close inspection would reveal its own “mode of spatialization,” or rather, its own kind of placialization, its own way of getting back into place.

… On my interpretation — as ancient as the Pythagoreans and as contemporary as postmodernism — the priority belongs to Place, not to Mind. Place comes first: before Space and Time (those fellow travelers of Mind) and before Mind and Body (the other regnant modern pair). Yet the priority of place is neither logical nor metaphysical. It is descriptive and phenomenological. It is felt: felt bodily first of all. For we feel the presence of places by and in our bodies even more than we see or think or recollect them. Places are not so much the direct objects of sight or thought or recollection as what we feel with and around, under and above, before and behind our lived bodies. They are the ad-verbial and pre-positional contents of our usually tacit corporeal awareness, at work as the pre-positions of our bodily lives, underlying every determinate bodily action or position, every static posture of our corpus, every coagulation of living experience in thought or word, sensation or memory, image or gesture.

Not to complain, but when he includes “nomads of the mind” in his description of place he’s casting an awfully wide net.

-Julie

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