Displacement and Nostalgia

Another tumblr-style post with excerpts from Casey’s Getting Back Into Place:

“… each of us is caught in the toils of displacement. As moderns and postmoderns in the Eurocentric West, we too are displaced persons … and inescapably so.”

The symptoms of this displacement, Casey claims, are “disruptive and destructive”:

“Among these symptoms, nostalgia is one of the most revealing. At the moment, our own culture suffers from acute nostalgia. Proust, living on the edge between the modern and the postmodern periods, described the drama of an entire life delivered over to nostalgia. But we do not need to turn to literature for evidence of the pervasive presence of nostalgia; we witness its cinematic expression in certain of Woody Allen’s films and its commercial exploitation in Disney World.”

This was, of course, before Midnight in Paris.

In Casey’s view, our displacement is in part a function of a faulty conceptualization. The triumph of abstraction over the particular:

“… the placeless is the thoughtless; and if we fail to honor and remember places, this is a direct reflection of our unthinking and increasingly ill condition. Another telling sign is the fact that ‘for the modern self, all places are essentially the same: in the uniform, homogeneous space of a Euclidean-Newtonian grid, all places are essentially interchangeable. Our places, even our places for homes, are defined by objective measures.’”

“The uniformity of space and the equability of time have replaced, or more exactly displaced, the priority of place. If nostalgia is a characteristically modern malaise, this may be due to its covert recognition that a time once existed when place was ‘the first of all things,’ when time and space in their modern (dis)guises were not yet fatally at work. For in the pathos of nostalgia, ‘space and time [are] not yet separable concepts, [they are] scarcely concepts at all.’ But in the modern era we have accepted and incorporated space and time in their objectivity and (in)difference … We calculate, and move at rapid speeds, in time and space. But we do not live in these abstract parameters; instead, we displaced in them and by them.”

For related musings see Fatal Nostalgia and Generalized Anxiety.

Encultured Place, Implaced Culture

Again, from Edward S. Casey’s Getting Back Into Place:

“Thus we are driven to acknowledge the truth of two related but distinct propositions: just as every place is encultured, so every culture is implaced.”

“Implacement is an ongoing cultural process with an experimental edge. It acculturates whatever ingredients it borrows from the natural world, whether these ingredients are bodies or landscapes or ordinary ‘things.’ Such acculturation is itself a social, even a communal, act. For the most part, we get into places together. We partake of places in common — and reshape them in common. The culture that characterizes and shapes a given place is a shared culture, not merely superimposed upon that place but part of its very facticity.”

“Place, already cultural as experienced, insinuates itself into a collectivity, altering as well as constituting that collectivity. Place becomes social because it is already cultural.”

“The cultural dimension of place — along with affiliated historical, social, and political aspects and avatars — adds something quite new to the earlier analysis … This dimension contributes to the felt density of a particular place, the sense that it has something lasting in it.”


Spatial Time

More from Edward S. Casey’s Getting Back Into Place:

“Following Bergson’s lead, we can note that many of the descriptive terms and phrases that we apply unthinkingly to time are spatial in character: a ‘stretch’ or ‘interval’ of time; indeed, a ‘space of time.’ Notice also that when we talk about being ‘before’ and ‘after’ in time, we are invoking a spatial distinction, as is evident when one object is said to be placed ‘before’ or ‘after’ another. Yet we can trace the distinction between before and after still further back — all the way back to place. ‘The before and after,’ avers Aristotle, are ‘in place (en topoi) primarily.’ The ultimate source of the distinction between before and after resides in the way that a given place disposes itself: as having both a ‘forward’ area that is accessible to and continuous with our own embodied stance and a ‘back’ region in which the same place eludes our grasp and view.”

And a little further on:

“Or take Saint Augustine’s offhand observation that ‘we speak of a ‘long time and a ‘short time,’ though only when we mean the past or the future.” But where do we first understand the sense of ‘long’ and ‘short’ themselves if not from our experiences of being in more or less accommodating or demanding, more or less extended or compressed, places?”

The Acoustics of Place

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

There is a nice piece in the NY Times Magazine by Kim Tingley entitled, “Is Silence Going Extinct?”. Tingley traveled to Denali National Park in Alaska to write about the work of Davyd Betchkal who has been documenting the natural soundscape of the region. The essay focuses on the intrusion of human-made noise even into the remoteness of the Alaskan wilderness:

“since 2006, when scientists at Denali began a decade-long effort to collect a month’s worth of acoustic data from more than 60 sites across the park — including a 14,000-foot-high spot on Mount McKinley — Betchkal and his colleagues have recorded only 36 complete days in which the sounds of an internal combustion engine of some sort were absent.”

What struck me, however, were a few observations that bore upon the relationship of sound to our experience of place. This is first signaled when Tingley cites Prof. Bryan Pijanowski: “An even more critical task, he thinks, is alerting people to the way ‘soundscapes provide us with a sense of place’ and an emotional bond with the natural world that is unraveling.”

The human experience of place, because it is a necessarily embodied experience, includes more than our visual or kinesthetic experience. It is also constituted by our acoustic experience.

The following meditation on sound and place by Betchkal was especially insightful:

“Quiet is related to openness in the sense that the quieter it gets — as your listening area increases — your ability to hear reflections from farther away increases. The implication of that is that you get an immense sense of openness, of the landscape reflecting back to you, right? You can go out there, and you stand on a mountaintop, and it’s so quiet that you get this sense of space that’s unbelievable. The reflections are coming to you from afar. All of a sudden your perception is being affected by a larger area. Which is different from when you’re in your car. Why, when you’re in your car, do you feel like you are your car? It’s ’cause the car envelops you, it wraps you up in that sound of itself. Sound has everything to do with place.”

Tingley contributes this observation about the acoustic dimensions of being a body:

“Hearing arguably fixes us in time, space and our own bodies more than the other senses do. Our vitals are audible: sighing lungs, a pounding pulse, a burbling gut.”

Near the end, Tingley adds,

“The landscape enveloped me, as Betchkal said it would, and I felt I was the landscape, where mountains and glaciers rose and shifted eons before the first heartbeats came to life.

‘Standing in that place right there,’ Betchkal told me later, ‘I had a complete sense that I was standing in that place right there and not drawn or distracted from it at all.’”

This latter observation recalled Edward Casey’s admonition that we learn to take account of place: “… it is to our own peril that we do not [notice our experience of place]. For we risk falling prey to time’s patho-logic, according to which gaining is tantamount to losing.”

When time dominates our thinking, it is all about gaining and losing, a gaining that is a losing. Place calls forth the notion of being. We speak of gaining or losing time, but of being in place.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Triumph of Time

From philosopher Edward S. Casey’s Getting Back Into Place:

“‘Time will tell’: so we say, and so we believe, in the modern era. This era, extending from Galileo and Descartes to Husserl and Heidegger, belongs to time, the time when Time came into its own. Finally. And yet, despite the fact that history, human and geological alike, occurs in time (and has been doing so for quite a while), time itself has not long been singled out for separate scrutiny …. By the middle of the eighteenth century, time had become prior to space in metaphysics as well as in physics. If, in Leibniz’s elegant formula, ‘space is the order of co-existing things,’ time proved to be more basic: as ‘the order of successive things,’ it alone encompasses the physical world order. By the moment when Kant could assert this, time had won primacy over space. We have been living off this legacy ever since, not in only philosophy and physics but in our daily lives as well.

These lives are grasped and ordered in terms of time. Scheduled and overscheduled, we look to the clock or the calendar for guidance and solace, even judgment! But such time-telling offers precious little guidance, no solace whatsoever, and a predominantly negative judgment (‘it’s too late now’) … We are lost because our conviction that time, not only the world’s time but our time, the only time we have, is always running down.”

Casey’s project may be described as a phenomenologically inflected recovery of place. But he begins by describing the triumph of time. Tell me whether this does not resonate deeply with your experience:

“The pandemic obsession with time from which so many moderns have suffered — and from which so many postmoderns still suffer — is exacerbated by the vertiginous sense that time and the world-order, together constituting the terra firma of modernist solidity, are subject to dissolution. Not surprisingly, we objectify time and pay handsome rewards … to those who can tie time down in improved chronometry. Although, the modern period has succeeded brilliantly in this very regard, it has also fallen into the schizoid state of having made objective, as clock-time and world-time, what is in fact most diaphanous and ephemeral, most ‘obscure’ in human experience. We end by obsessing about what is no object at all. We feel obligated to tell time in an objective manner; but in fact we have only obliged ourselves to do so by our own sub rosa subreptions, becoming thereby our own pawns in the losing game of time.”