Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Home and Place

If place is thought of in terms of memory and experience, home is generally the first place we begin to orient our lives within. Home is the norm for place by exhibiting our rootedness and attachments. Home is the domain of our cultures private life. Depending upon who speaks of it “home” contains different connotations. For some home represents nurture and care. For others it is a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the world. For still others, particularly feminists, home is a place of oppression, abuse, or drudgery.[1]

One main source that most who speak about place turn to is the French philosopher, Gaston Bachelard’s and his well-known work, The Poetics of Space.[2] Bachelard is concerned with the psychological aspects of place by doing “topoananlysis:” exploration of self through places.[3] Using the home as the primal space of our first memories, Bachelard suggest that this understanding then frames our interactions in all spaces outside the home. Each room or place in the home is constituted by different memories and images. The soul becomes the place where memories live and bloom recreating that place within the soul where we then live. It is the internal house of memories, which may or may not relate to any existing external place yet equally as real, that guides our external interactions in the world.

Closely related is Heideggar’s conception of dasein. Rather than just “being,” it is a “being there” signifying a placedness or dwelling as the essence of being.[4] Existence means being implaced. Places are not things we stumble upon, rather because of our embodied being in the world, places arise as a result.[5] “Space is not projected by Dasein, nor is Dasein simply located in space.”[6] Instead it takes space within and creates something new: room and leeway. The creation of place is an intimate endeavor for Heideggar.

Heideggar is said to be reacting against modernity’s tendency to abuse things as pure scientific objects. Humanity is not a subject apart from the world, but is by its very nature an integral and immersed member.[7] Things, including humans, cannot be abstracted clearly from their environment or dwelling. Heideggar retraces bauen, an Old English and High German word for building or dwelling. But this meaning has been lost.

“He goes on to point out that a covert trace of it has been retained in the word ‘neighbour’ which implies to cherish, and protect, to preserve and care for, and suggests that a proper understanding of building would relate to its sense of continuity, community and of being ‘at home.’”[8]

Heideggar is helpful to see how intimate places really are to our human nature. Bachelard, Heidegger, and Edward Casey have all argued for the precedence of place prior to space suggesting that we know first in particular places before we know space as a whole or in abstract.[9] In the case of Bachelard, we come to know rooms, before we know the home; and the home before the outside world. This phenomenological approach acknowledges to be human is to be embodied in place, and that place is primary because of the “experiential fact of our existence.”[10] Rather than looking for empirical information on what a place is like, they ask “what makes a place a place?”[11]

[1] Cresswell, 25.
[2] Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958).
[3] Bachelard, 8. Inge, 17.
[4] Inge, 18-19; Cresswell, 21-22, Casey, 245-273.
[5] Casey, 250.
[6] Ibid., 257.
[7] Inge, 18.
[8] Inge, 19.
[9] Sheldrake, 7.
[10] Cresswell, 32.
[11] Ibid., 23.