One of the regularly cited problems with modern cities is the constant feeling of displacement that can occur in the repetitive landscape of supermarkets, airports or office blocks. A restoration for this is often found in cultural movements and architectural developments that adjust a population’s sense of place.
Maria Lewicka describes home as ‘a symbol of continuity and order, rootedness, self-identity, attachment, privacy, comfort, security and refuge’. This importance of the idea of home is continuously repeated in studies on the concept of place, and also in literature and art. But most profoundly, it finds its way into our daily lives. Order is the key point, but in consistently displaced circumstances people cannot find this sense of order.
In Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, the pathetically pitiable protagonist Quoyle meanders back from New Jersey to the home-land of his family, Newfoundland. Quoyle is a clod, unable to help himself or his family, and he seemingly does not fit into any public society. His work and life are in as much disarray as one another. But when he returns to his family’s home-place something happens that makes everything fit into place. There is not one event, just a coming together of place and person, and a type of normality is restored. The place does not create the identity, the journey does. But the home-place creates stability, order and sanctuary. Continue reading “Home is Where the Hearth is III – Return”
Displacement from home is an uncomfortable feeling. It breeds suspicion and a feeling of nervousness, and rightly so. If, as previously discussed, home is a refuge, then displacement from home must create an opposing effect.
During displacement there is a chaotic element. People find it hard to settle; rules can change regularly if moving from
You go to a place, you go to another place. You return home.
You don’t return for 5 minutes to the bank. So what is the difference between home and another place? Why do we separate these two entities, and how do we create this separation?
Home is safety and privacy. It is outside of public norms; we do not have to behave with the same social rigour at home that we do in public places. A home allows us to dance on the kitchen table wearing our favourite Speedos if we should so choose; it does not conform to public rules and order, but to our own system. Continue reading “Home is Where the Hearth is I – Departure”
In Ancient Greek literature sudden and vast travel occurred regularly. As the nomadic and expansive ideas of the writers of that era sought to understand their world through travel they often created mystical methods of transcontinental journeying. Great waves tore Odysseus and his crew from his homeland, and the wings that Daedalus built helped him soar to freedom from his island prison. Airplane travel in the 20th Century led to unprecedented opportunities for travel and communication that mimic the adventurous nature of these fictional tales. If travel should broaden the mind then broader travel may have stretched the mind even further. The concept of travel has been broached across the arts, culminating in works in the late 20th Century and early this century that create a reality from the myth.
“Sure, cried the tenant men, but it’s our land. We measured it and broke it up. We were born on it, and we killed on it, died on it…That’s what makes it ours – being born on it, working it, dying on it. That makes ownership, not a paper with numbers on it.” – from John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, 1939, p38
People move. In the 20th Century, with the invention of the aeroplane, people began to move faster and further than they ever could before. But moving place is something that people have always done. From nomadic cultures and tribes to those who have moved out of necessity (due to famine or crisis), people have always crossed borders and scrambled into unexplored areas in search of a place that they can be born in, work in, and eventually die in.
In the late 18th Century, Russian ruler Catherine the Great chose to visit the villages of her country to see how the peasants were living. Her first minister, Potemkin, arranged to have façades of fake villages filled with actors constructed along Catherine’s route that showed a scenic, peaceful and prosperous country. Actors played the parts of the peasants, and Catherine remained in the confines of her carriage as she travelled through. Potemkin feared that Catherine might react badly if she encountered the despair and poverty that was really being faced by the Russian serfs, and as a result of his actions Catherine saw a healthy, happy nation. The idea of a fake façade built to distort a view became known as a Potemkin Village.
Poster and billboard advertising is an acute way of judging the difference between two places. In the undecorated steel and glass of airports there can be few indicators to remind a traveller who has just arrived that they have even left their original location. One of the common and decisive indicators is a change in language or tone in the advertisements that are on display.
I remember landing in London for the first time and getting the tube into the city. At the first station three escalator journeys awaited, and on the tiled wall during the slow ascent there passed identical framed advertisements spaced a little apart from one another the whole way up. This deluge of small posters is not a rare sight in the London Underground, but it seemed unusual to me initially as it did not mirror any other metro or untergrundbahn that I had previously encountered. Continue reading “This Is Your God: Orienteering by advertisements”
At the end of last year I wrote a piece called Nostalgia for New York, which essentially looked at the idea of nostalgia that I was able to associate with a place that I had never been to. While writing that piece I was unaware that I would be in New York four months afterward, but circumstance and chance conspired and I found myself spending some time in the grand metropolis of the east coast of the USA recently, and this gave me the opportunity to rethink some of the topics I had originally looked at regarding New York.
It’s not that I had tried to write about New York specifically when writing the original piece – I was more tinkering with a popular culture model of the city; looking at how New York was portrayed and how this portrayal changed as I grew up. So one of the striking things I then found about actually hitting New York City was recognising all of these places that I had seen before in movies, TV shows or video games. Everything seemed bizarrely familiar – it wasn’t quite deja-vu, but more like borrowing another person’s memory to make sense of something that I was seeing Continue reading “Nostalgia for New York 2: Referencing reality”
I am currently attending a residency in Vermont Studio Center, Vermont USA. The residency invites up to 75 writers and artists to participate in their own studio practice for a predetermined amount of time in the company of other creative practitioners. During the first week, we, the aforementioned practitioners, have engaged in introductory conversations around the dinner tables etc, spouting the usual introductory dinner-table questions, e.g. “What’s your name?”, Where are you from?” etc. One recurring question has caused me an abundance of consternation time and again. That question is “What are you?” Continue reading “What Are You? – Society’s categories and labels”
Apologies to readers for the 2-week hiatus – I have been mid-adventure and things have been too hectic to write. This piece and the next few will follow up on this. Posts will be back to regularity from this week.
In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the protagonist Bernard Marx finds himself on a holiday visiting a rural reservation. The visit is an insightful event showing a strange community that live outside of the “social norm” of this urban-centred world. This journey marks a decisive moment in the novel, where Bernard’s story is turned on its head by the people that he encounters and the adventure that he has with the “savages” in the wilderness.
This separation of urban and rural in Brave New World was part of Huxley’s tongue-in-cheek mockery of the society that he believed he was watching develop. The greatest threat brandished to citizens in Huxley’s dystopia is being forced to move to Iceland – a desolate and unpopulated island. This relocation was the deepest fear for Bernard, who was pleasantly settled in the urban landscape of central London.