Monday, June 22, 2009

Inside or outside?

I tend to think of places in terms of landscapes, as visual pictures. The prototypical place is a scene, a view, a snapshot, such as a house on a street with trees standing beside it. But place is also something one moves through, goes to, and leaves. It is a location where one performs certain tasks, alone or with others, and that awakens memories, feelings, thoughts, and understandings that occurred there.

In so far as place constitutes a link between a location and knowledge, feelings, and dispositions about it, place can be said to organize thoughts and behaviors. One has merely to see a place - indeed, to remember a place - and a whole constellation of memories, thoughts, and feelings comes to mind.

This dynamic sense of place - that place is not only a location but also a set of memories - reminds me of Susan Oyama’s discussion, in the Ontogeny of Information , of the relation between genes and environments. Oyama points out that genes and environments provide information to an organism, that both "sides," inside and outside, are necessary. Similarly, regarding place, it is not simply a matter of the material arrangement of things at a location, nor the memories of them in one’s head, but the engagement of both these fields, mental and material, that constitute a place.

In terms of our experience of them, places are always remembered, they have to be recognized as such (and I suppose it is reasonable to say that we can recognize a particular location as a place to others, even if we do not remember or recognize the place ourselves).

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