Exercise 1 Exploring ‘place’


I read the text twice and I am now reading it for the third time.

The first time I skimmed through the text trying to understand where it was going, where its ‘place’ was, and to get a general feeling of its language. I found that this introductory chapter is very dense and touches upon many themes, all of them related and each of them redirecting in turn towards new directions.

In my second reading I aimed to extract from it the parts and concepts that most interest me for the time being and that I feel I might want to explore in more depth in the near future.

During my third close reading that I shall commence now I will jot down my temporary notes and understandings as I go again through the text.  I underline that it’s still a temporary reading because the themes are so rich and complex that I may well reconsider them in different ways in some time.


Main questions raised

What is place in relation to space, what’s the meaning of other related words like site, location, territory, land, dwelling, home etc and in which connection they stay to place.

How did the concept of place historically and philosophically evolve.

How place is related to humans and their experiences.

Is there a relationship between place and time and how it is shown.

In which ways artists make use of place in their works and what are their attitudes towards it.

Connections between place and identity.


Notes on reading

First of all I see that the Introduction in this book is called very appropriately entrance: as we read we are entering a place, getting past a threshold. I also see that the chapters are interestingly called rooms, like the rooms of a house that as readers we are going to explore.

So the first pages are my entrance into this book. In what follows, quotations from the text are in italics.

Page 11:  ‘Place can be difficult to locate. One might think that one can spot it somewhere … and yet as one approaches it seems to disappear’

—-> ironically place cannot be placed, what at a first look denotes something physical, place, is difficult to grasp and is ever changing, never set. It keeps shifting, I see a place where others do not see it. What was once an emotional place is no more and is now empty, waiting for new meanings.

Page 12: ‘One might say that ‘place’ is to landscape as ‘identity’ is to portraiture … It is certainly a word that is used to describe our relationship to the world around us’

—-> Very interesting suggestion I think: place has to do with personal identity, landscape has more to do with ways of representing what we see.

Page 13: ‘A landscape is the land transformed, whether through the physical act of inhabitation or enclosure, clearance or cultivation, or through human perception’

—-> landscape depends on man for its existence, it does not exist if is not looked upon or considered by man, as against nature which can be thought as existing in the absence of man.

Page 14: ‘When space feels thoroughly familiar to us, it has become place’ (remark by geographer Yi-Fu Tuan in 1976)

—-> It takes time before a space becomes a place, so time and place are related, within a place there is time, and this connects the exploration of place to that of time. And in place the quality of time is human, charged with memories and emotions, it’s a time felt, not necessarily lived (Henri Bergson’s notion of time, not Einstein’s)

Page 14-15: it is considered how the contemporary meaning of place was born and how it has changed from the past. For Aristotle place was necessary because all that exists and happens does so in a place (there is nothing outside of place). So place had for him part of the meanings of what we now understand by ‘space’. Being place ‘all that there is’, later thinkers identified place with God, and as a matter of fact the Hebrew name for God, Makon, means place. Philo of Alexandria wrote: ‘God Himself is called place, for He encompasses all things, but is not encompassed by anything.’  By the XV century the word space had gradually replaced place whenever it was meant as a limitless extension, and ‘not only was space seen as the more useful concept with which to explore the infinite, but the very things to which place seemed best suited – a sense of belonging, for example – were now considered intellectually irrelevant. The particular had been eclipsed by the universal; space had triumphed over place.’

—-> obviously space was a more useful concept in mathematics and for the development of modern physics, but if it is true that place was in a certain sense demoted to a lower rank and came to identify something hard to pin down and for ever shifting it also meant that place took on new, richer undertones and could now be used by artists as a tool to explore intimate areas of human experience that have much to do with individual identity.

Page 15: ‘There are many places within place, many regions, each with their own identities, dialects and dialectics’

—-> being difficult to circumscribe and denote, the word place has become very vast and can embed and accommodate an infinite variety of human situations: they all can find their ‘place’in it.

Page 16-17: ‘We retain a strong sense of place, even if we find it hard to define with any satisfaction’ 

‘nature is a dull affair , soundless, scentless, colourless; merely the hurrying of material, endlessly, meaninglessy’  according to the words of XIX century philosopher of science Whitehead.

—-> it seems to me that here, again, as in the debate of Einstein and Bergson in 1922 on the nature of time, we see at work two visions of things that cannot be reconciled but that can coexist without no harm and that are both useful in their own right to investigate different areas of experience. Even if they are antagonistic in many respects, they can offer interesting intellectual food for thought to one another.


Philosophers, writers and thinkers mentioned in the text

In the first part of this text many thinkers are mentioned in connection with place and space. I make a list here as a reminder for my own use:

Saint Augustine (Christian theologian and philosopher, 354 – 430 AD)

Samuel Smiles (English social reformer, 1815 – 1904)

Yi-Fu Tuan (Chinese geographer, 1930)

Henri Bergson (French philosopher, 1859 – 1941)

Thomas Hardy (British writer, 1840 – 1928)

James Joyce (Irish writer, 1882 – 1941)

Archytas of Tarentum (Greek philosopher,  428 – 347 BC)

Aristotle (Greek philosopher,  384 – 322 BC)

Philo of Alexandria (Hellenistic philosopher, 25 BC – 50 AD)

Johannes Philoponus (Christian philosopher, 490 – 570)

Thomas Aquinas (Italian philosopher and theologian, 1225-1274)

Blaise Pascal (French philosopher, 1623 – 1662)

John Locke (English philosopher and physician,  1632 – 1704)

Isaac Newton (English physicist and mathematician, 1642 – 1726/7)

René Descartes (French philosopher,  1596 – 1650)

Gottfried Leibniz (German mathematician and philosopher, 1646 – 1716)

A.N. Whitehead (English mathematician and philosopher, 1861 – 1947)


From page 17 onward the authors start to examine works by artists who express these concepts in different ways, and I am going to concentrate on them in my next post.




https://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/key-resources/res-files/ca4cat_place_the_first_of_all_things.pdf – Extract from Dean, T., and Millar, J. (2005) Place. London: Thames and Hudson


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