Monday, November 1, 2010

Space et Place

Tuan’s writing spent a lot of time focusing on individuals and their minds as opposed to places, which is the crux of his paper: place is nothing without the person. If a physically restrictive place is immediately discredited as a space in our minds, this seems to be because the place itself has an active and direct effect on us – the walls of a closet, for example, as opposed to wind on a vast tundra, which is a mere element of a place, and not the place itself, which in its size has acquired too many elements to be described as just the grass on the ground, or the wind in the air. Just as we use a mix of metaphors to describe tastes and smells, we use metaphors – usually subconsciously – to describe places and spaces. This allows a place, one we may not have ever visited or heard about, to affect us in an emotional and rational way, through comparisons between it and other places, or its elements and other objects in our lives. Tuan touched on the idea of vastness and recurring patterns in various places. At this point, it is interesting to think of “space” itself – that is, outer space, or areas of space at exponential levels that we don’t or can’t interact with fully on a personal level. When we think of the country as a whole, we may think of ourselves as a state or region within it; when we think of the world, we see ourselves as a country; when we think of a solar system, we see ourselves as Earth. We can’t envision a place unless we envision its relation to our self, whether or not we are representing our self with a symbol. Imaginative force lets us envision places that are much smaller – a hole in a tree, for example – as inhabitable and explorable. It is this creative and symbolic aspect of our mentality that essentially makes it impossible for any “space” to be devoid of meaning, or to be lacking any element of “place”. If place itself is a fabrication, then we can always place ourselves in our surroundings.

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