One of the irrefutable constants in my life has been an obsession with place, and obsession is the right word – it’s a persistent idea that dominates my thoughts. Perhaps it’s because I lived the first eighteen years of my life in the same Sydney suburb, spending summer weekends at the same strip of beach, and holidaying at the same Blue Mountains hamlet (the image to the right gives you some idea), not straying much further than any of this, so I had the opportunity to forge a close relationship with a very specific and contained part of the world.
Or perhaps it’s simply because I need places, the security, the comfort, and, yes it’s true, the intimacy. It’s in my DNA, like my sexuality, and my propensity for melancholic music, hell, melancholia in general.
If I didn’t know places, I wouldn’t know myself. That’s the fact of it.
Place: I love how my trusty Oxford dictionary defines it: (1) a particular part of space or of an area on a surface, (2) a particular town, district, building etc, (3) (in names) a short street; a square or the buildings around, (4) a passage or part in a book etc; the point one has reached in reading, (5) a proper space for a thing…
A stack of thinkers and artists have been similarly obsessed with place as me – in one way or another, what art isn’t connected with place? One of the best thinkers on the subject is Edward Relph, the American human geographer. (If I could have my time again I’d like to be that, a human geographer.) Back in the 1970s, Relph wrote what can easily be considered a classic on place, the deliciously titled Place and Placelessness. I wish I bought the book years ago because it’s out of print these days, and it commands ridiculously high prices on the internet. If you happen to see it in a second-hand bookstore, would you buy it for me and pop it in the mail?
Before we get to Relph, here are some of my favourite quotes about place:
‘A good place is accessible to all the senses, makes visible the currents of the air [how good is that!], engages the perceptions of its inhabitants. The direct enjoyment of vivid perceptions is further engaged because sensible, identifiable places are convenient pegs on which to hang personal memories and values. Place identity is closely linked to personal identity. ‘I am here’ supports ‘I am’.’ (Kevin Lynch, 1981)
‘Places and people are inseparable. Places exist only with reference to people, and meaning of place can be revealing only in terms of human responses to the particular environment used as a framework for daily living.’ (Francis Violich, 1985)
‘Whether in the country, the city, or the suburbs, [we] must be grounded in a place. We must come to know our dwelling place, to care for it, to tend it over the years in such ways that…it will cease to be an ‘it’ and become a ‘thou’, a living present with which we live in an intimate relationship.’ (Sam Keen, 1995)
I first discovered these quotes over twenty years ago and they still spin my nipples. Perhaps I should get out more.
Now, however, without any further ado, here are two of my all-time favourite quotes about place, and they’re both from the master, Mr Edward Relph, from his Place and Placelessness – yes, any excuse to say that title again.
‘A deep relationship with place is as necessary and perhaps as unavoidable as close relationships with people; without such relationships human existence, while possible, is bereft of much of its significance.’ (1976)
‘A deep human need exists for associations with significant places. If we choose to ignore that need, and to allow the forces of placelesssness to continue, then the future can only hold an environment in which places simply do not matter.’ (1976)
Do you have a place that you couldn’t live without?
If so, what is it?
And why is it so critical to your life?
Addendum: sometimes us bloggers find ourselves inavertedly repeating or rehashing older posts. Or perhaps it’s old age that does. Regardless, I should point anyone interested to an earlier discussion about place, which includes a longer list of quotes. Just shows that sometimes we really do like talking about the same stuff. Or we’ve become broken records. It’s all just life, I guess.