Tuan utilizes the Eskimo and the New Yorker to exemplify how people perceive “crowdedness” differently. While these two examples view crowdedness on two very different plateaus as “a sense of crowding can appear under highly varied conditions and at different scales”(Tuan 60), everyone will be faced with working or living closely with others during their lifetime. Tuan describes the relationship between the Eskimo and the New Yorker: “Eskimos hunt in small groups over the broad open spaces of the Arctic coast. Urban crowding and stress, as in the crush of humanity during rush hours, are wholly alien to Eskimo experience, yet Eskimos are no strangers to crowding and stress. They experience crowding at the tragic level of starvation in times of scarcity”(Tuan 66). Crowdedness is a universal experience relatable to all.
I can relate to the different perceptions of crowdedness as mine have changed since moving to New York. While living in a suburb of Washington DC, I associated “crowds” with the Beltway during rush-hour or the local mall on a Saturday afternoon; always negative a negative connotation involving an over abundance of people getting in my way from making it from point A to point B. Now living in New York City, my feeling of crowdedness has changed. While many people would say Times Square and crowdedness would be synonyms, I would not. Yes there are throngs of people milling about the area, but they did not effect my commute to the office building I work at on Times Square. Because I learned how to avoid and overlook these crowds of people, they did not personally change my sense of place. The only times I feel “crowded” now is when I feel my personal space is violated (on a packed subway train or elevator). I cant avoid these situations thus feeling crowded. Because I am constantly hurled into experiences with my personal space violated, I have noticed a desire to be alone, even scheduling time out of my busy day to fulfill this need. Tuan declares, “privacy and solitude are necessary for sustained reflection and a hard look at self”(Tuan 65); a notion to remember and seek out to deal especially with the crowds of New York City.
The closest I’ve ever gotten to being lost forever was on a backpacking trip my family and I took to the Grand Canyon a few years ago. My parents were trailing behind my sister and me, and our guide was already down at the base setting up camp. The sun was setting and we hadn’t seen our parents in a good hour and a half. So we started looking for them. We had to veer off the trail to save time. I put up dead cacti to mark our path because we couldn’t even see the trail anymore. Looking back, it could have been pretty bad. But I wasn’t freaking out - as maybe I should have been. Instead, I soaked in the adventure. I remember this one moment when I sat down and gazed into the red-orange expanse. It was only then that I derived a real sense of intimacy with the landscape around me - the desert that I was lost in. Being lost changed the desert from a space to a place for me.
Tuan meditates on the meaning of getting lost in chapter four. He offers the image of straying from a path in a forest. Disorientated, the person spots a light in the distance and suddenly has a fixed point of reference - a goal. Tuan writes, “as I move toward that goal, front and back, right and left, have resumed their meaning: I stride forward, am glad to have left dark space behind...” (36) I think Tuan suggests in this passage that being lost can manifest itself both physically and psychologically. I was physically lost in the Grand Canyon because I could not find my way. And I am psychologically lost when I do not have a goal. I often feel this latter type of lost when I find myself doing nothing - usually during the summer or on vacation. I have few goals during these times, and after a while, it starts to get to me. Not having a goal is the worst type lost. It’s a more helpless feeling because it is harder to find a meaningful aspiration than it is to find the right path or exit. And yet, maybe not having a goal all of the time is healthy. Vacation from obligation eases the mind. It is also a time when you can think about things other than school - things that you might not ordinarily have the time to pursue. Lost in the months of summer vacation is some of the best time to find yourself because you can make up new goals that stem from profound interest rather than required study.
I came to a realization the other day at my part time job regarding the nature of infants and babies that can be seen as somewhat obvious to others, but did not have the full magnitude of meaning in the past to me. Children are just small, underdeveloped people, at a different experiential moment in their lives. All the experiences that they go through are essentially seen through this lens of a novice, and a better understanding of how they think and operate can influence the development of the small individual perceptually, intellectually, physically, and emotionally just as adults do when they learn new things. And it makes a great deal of sense in the way that a child perceives and explores new space, and indeed how they establish a sense of place.
For this reason I enjoy children’s theaters and history museums in that the sense of place is tailored towards these little people. The goal is exploration, spatial organization, and reversing the sense that they are “small people in a world of giants and gigantic things not made to their scale” (27). The world then becomes thiers, and for a moment the child then feels at home in a sense of place designed specifically for them.
Coming from this design perspective, therefore, (my major being one focused on architecture and design) it sparks an interesting question of how does one, therefore, design for those who in their developmental stage are mentally 3 years old, but are physically adult size? I am speaking here of developmental disability, down syndrome, and other mental illness? Is there then a way to distil the sense of place from studying the reactions and processes of younger children and extrapolate it into a larger sense to these disabled beings? And could this effectually help to a degree foster growth in these individuals so they become more a part of society?
It is from this perspective where I wonder if the world of medicine would be better influenced by understanding the body and the individual as a person with various facets instead of an automotive needing new parts and repairs. Essentially, as a hunk of meat, and nothing more. In psychological perspectives therefore, I believe this idea of scale and designing to a humanist standard and point of view allows one to understand individual experiences of how they feel in a space and apply it to the various ways of healing. I firmly believe understanding the mental state of the patient, be it size and scale one of a 5 year old or one of 90 years old, sense of scale and place have an effect on the health and care of the individual.
This line of thinking is very similar to that taken by Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities. At the time, the doctrine of most urban planners generally stated that any population density above a certain number, by necessity, was overcrowded at best, and a slum at worst. Yet many of the neighborhoods Jacobs was studying, neighborhoods she cherished, were derided under this criterion even though they excelled in many of the other health and well being criteria the same planners had been using. The example she used was Boston's North End, which though primarily working- and lower middle class, a neighborhood of mainly flats rather than individual home ownership, was succeeding in almost every objective and subjective measure she could apply. She brings up the North End with a Boston planner who quickly derides it; claiming it will have to be torn down and rebuilt much like Boston's West End had been. She famously responded that he should wish all Boston neighborhoods should come across so well.
Her point, one she defends valiantly, is that overcrowding and density are not one in the same thing. Many people can live in a relatively small area without that area being overcrowded or unhealthy. Planners, not only from a cultural drive towards suburban ideals but from a desire to be scientific, had attempted to quantify overcrowding in terms of persons per acre not accounting for, for example, the number of people per room, the square feet per person, or (perhaps most importantly) the desires of the individuals concerned. Jacobs frames her argument in the terms that not only can density be a good thing, but he very idea of persons per acre is misguided; instead she prefers the terms of persons per room or individual dwelling.
Tuan goes even farther, claiming that perceptions of what is acceptable are highly culturally and individually determined. He uses people like the Bushmen to indicate a group that lives in very small spaces by choice. Tuan also uses the example of many working and lower class American (or immigrant) families who enjoy living in close proximity.
The arguments neatly come together: traditional planners, indebted as they were to suburban ideals, could only see density as overcrowding. Jacobs, a lover of city living, points out that not only is that not true, it is objectively false, as most neighborhoods not in abject poverty had a certain amount of square feet per person. Tuan demonstrates (if his anthropological references are correct) that even moreso than Jacobs, the question of what is enough space varies dramatically from culture to culture, individual to individual. In this conception, no number can be assigned to what is too dense, or what is too empty.
This does bring up a difficult. Without suggesting a specific number of persons per foot, persons per room, or persons per dwelling, Jacobs does suggest that there is a limit below which an area can be considered overcrowded. She does not desire to recreate the famous slums (of course, a very loaded term) of East coast, American cities. And this is understandable, seeing as how Jacobs was writing for a primarily American, and to a lesser extant Western European, audience, from an American cultural viewpoint. However, even for the Bushmen of Tuan, I am sympathetic to the idea that there is a minimum space per person that can be considered healthy or well, even if that number is difficult to quantify. For example, the Bushmen, though they live in close quarters, do generally have a large degree of open space accessible to each of them. The minimum space argument, however, may arise out of cultural imperialism as well, a concern which must be handled with due care.
This passage called to mind an experience I recently had while flying back to New York from Berlin at the end of the fall semester. Flying somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, 30,000 feet about the water and moving at a speed just as preposterous– I became suddenly struck by the feeling of occupying no place at all. My “organic powers” of perception, which Tuan lays out as the primary element of experience in the second chapter of his book (8), stripped away from me, I could only understand my experience objectively. While I could easily tell myself where I was, how fast I was moving and where I was headed towards – I somehow could not believe it. I felt lost, like my ability to be a real present human being had (I hoped temporarily) left me.
While on this flight, a monologue form Sarah Ruhl’s play Dead Man’s Cell Phone came to mind. At the very start of the second act, the titular character says, speaking directly to the audience: “I get onto the subway. A tomb for people’s eyes. I believe that when people are in transit their souls are not in their bodies. It takes a couple minutes to catch up. Walking – horseback – that is the speed at which the soul can stay in the body during travel. So airports and subways are very similar to hell” (58).
Though Ruhl’s choice of words are extreme and she chooses to have them spoken through the mouth of a man pondering the nature of his own death (which occurs at the start of the play), those words have stuck with me ever since I saw the play performed at the end of my freshman year. Walking and, to some extent, driving have always provided me the ability to experience the spaces and places I move through. When I can, I have found that I prefer driving long distances rather than flying. Though still sometimes dauntingly fast, driving has never left me with that strange disembodied feeling.
[photo taken by me, summer 2010]
As Tuan states in his introduction he is very concerned with experience of space and place and this obviously requires there to be human element. While the book is not an endless account of different cultural views of the notions of both space and place he does take a few key examples and stick with them throughout the chapters. The two that seem to continuously catch his interest are the eskimos and pacific islanders.
Largely due to the fact that Tuan uses these two examples another author came to my mind. Loren Eiseley in his book The Star Thrower uses these very same cultures as examples. At first for no other reason than that I began thinking of Eiseley's stories, however I remembered Eiseley emphasizing the current anthropocentric worldview. Tuan says, “Spatial prepositions are necessarily anthropocentric” (45). He goes on to use an example of an object “on” a table, however the object is only on the table because the viewer has in some way used themselves as a point of reference. Although this is an open way of conceptualizing spacial relations and a very anthropocentric worldview I don't entirely agree. The object is on the table relative to the earth. It is governed by earth laws like gravity.
The pacific islanders seem to have less of an anthropocentric world view although they have highly developed spacial skills. Instead they are centered on places like their island homes. Tuan argues their spacial skills “counterbalance the image of primitive peoples as being bound to place” (80).
In a subchapter of Eiseley's book called Easter Island he talks about the inhabitants of the remote pacific isle off the coast of Chile. I remember him saying that the natives of the island thought that their small bit of land was all the land that reached above the surface of the sea in the water world. But a question this brings up is: Does this isolation feel spacious or claustrophobic. Tuan says, “Whether forested mountains or grassy plains serve as an image of spaciousness depend, at least in part, on the nature of a people's historical experience” (56). Tuan then goes on to talk about the immensity a horizon can hold. He attributes the perceived vastness to the fact that we think of the ocean as a whole (16). One can only imagine the feeling of eternity that the Easter island natives had when looking out across the ocean that they perceived to go on forever.
Image Me...Na Pali Coast, Kauai
In the second chapter, Tuan stresses the emotional connection to scents. He claims, “Odors lend character to objects and places, making them distinctive, easier to identify and remember. Odors are important to human beings” (11). Smells tend to bring back specific memories, each one extremely individualized to the person.
My personal experience proves Tuan’s ideas to be true. Whenever I smell that boyish, drugstore bought cologne I am immediately transported to the locker area of my middle school, and the smell of eucalyptus reminds me of hiking through Will Rogers Memorial Park in Los Angeles. The smells of Axe and eucalyptus are linked to my memories more so than anything else. If I were to see a can of Axe in a store I would not be reminded of my eighth grade crush, and if I were to see a eucalyptus tree, I would not reminisce about the Indian Princesses field trips with my dad.
Why is scent the strongest connection to a memory we have? Why doesn’t hearing a song, tasting a familiar food, or seeing a favorite image bring us back to an exact moment in time?
Tuan also argues “Dogs and young children do not appreciate flower fragrances in the way human adults do” (10). Can Tuan prove this though? At what age can we begin to register smells? The strong presence of eucalyptus triggers a memory from when I was about five years old. I consider this age to be young; I obviously registered the smell at that age and stored it in a place where I was able to retrieve it and pinpoint it later on in life.
Overall, Tuan’s evaluation of smell is truthful but I feel that he does not give enough credit where credit is due. I think humans are more capable than Tuan thinks to be able to credit and appreciate various scents.
A theme that I felt that I struck me in Space and Place was the idea that there is no place in the world of the infant. Tuan is particularly interesting in exploring the biological experience of place in children. As a student of sociology and a flotsam mix of other social sciences and arts, I have never really explored–or even particularly thought about–the biology of experience. Traditionally a product of the nuture side of that debate, I take comfort in and form most of my opinions around the idea that a person’s concept of self is grounded in their social experience. Society and culture, while not completely shaping a person's ideas and actions, certainly do so in a way and to a degree that we take for granted.
The way that Tuan tackles the nature side of experience and place fascinated and confused the shit out of me. This idea of biological development was difficult for me to follow because it was not what I was expecting from what I thought humanistic geography was. I was frustrated with the realm of abstract that Tuan seemed to be speaking in, if’s and what’s. I’ve always been frustrated with what is more abstract. The idea of place and its relationship to biological development hit it home when Tuan discusses the emotional and intellectual maturity of a child growing as his sense of place grows, as scientific as a schematic. “Things are not quite real until their acquire names and can be classified in some way.”
At the end of Chapter 3, I felt my feet touch the ground again. I read the last few pages, and remembered the time way back in my past when I wholeheartedly believed that the backyard garden was MY place. My place. My place to do whatever I wanted, be it hunt for dinosaur eggs in the grass (read: rocks. any particularly smooth or round rock was ), dig for treasure between the tall green tomato plants, or decide that I was going to dig a 3-foot-deep hole in the dirt and take a mud bath with the earthworms and leopard slugs (I love squishy bugs). Either way, it was my place.
Those mud baths definitely led to a few pretty wicked cases of ringworm, but I was blissfully unaware of any dangers that my special place in the garden could give me. As Tuan says on page 32, "feeling for place is influenced by knowledge." With the germophobia and love of hand sanitizer that comes with being 19, I sometimes feel too heavily educated to enjoy places like a 3x5 patch of soil and crushed rocks.
What I’ve noticed about it though is that I’ve only formed this sort of emotional attachment to the backyard garden in retrospect, upon a thorough examination of the places I used to frequent. It wasn’t as though I would spend the summers of my 6th and 7th and 8th birthdays looking out nostalgically at the garden covered in snow and ice and wish that I could dig a hole and make mud pies. I was a kid, always moving, always curious, too busy “looking forward at the present and future” to be concerned with nostalgia. I was busy wondering if I’d find a woolly mammoth buried somewhere beneath the blanket of white.
I don't believe it is possible to create a scientific study to determine whether or not dogs can appreciate flowers as much as humans do. For all we know, dogs appreciate flowers on a scale that humans cannot even perceive. Not to mention that "appreciation" is a human term, so it seems unreasonable to try and apply our terminology to other creatures, and then call them less complex. That would be like calling a Pulitzer Prize winning author unintelligent just because he or she is surrounded by noble -prize winning scientists. The writer might be different from the scientists, but one could not claim he or she is less appreciative. Likewise, one cannot make the claim that clams have a restricted "emotional repertoire". Just because we don't see clams laughing, crying, or drinking cocktails at around 4pm on Saturdays, it certainly doesn’t mean that we can claim that they are restricted in anyway. And lastly, when Tuan calls the human schematic world "richly populated with particular and enduring things," he fails to take in account that things such as a Wedgwood tea set or a Chippendale chair are not innately particular or enduring. They are only important to the human animal that creates them. Its possible that a clam might find a stone at the bottom of a lake just as appealing as Tuan finds his precious Wedgwood tea-set.
The above paragraph might be a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I believe when looking at space and place (and everything else for that matter), it is important to realize that we are looking at these elements solely from a limited human perspective. To pretend that we can see the world from any other perspective other than our own seems restricting to our development as a human race. If we constantly pretend that we can get into the mind of animals and see how they live (and absolute impossibility- we may be able to run "scientific" tests on them but we will never be able to look at their lives from their perspectives) then it limits the way that we can experience space and place. By assuming th attitude that we are the "best" creatures around, we look at space and place from an ethos of dominance and control. I find it interesting to contemplate what space and place would be like not relative to human experience. If there was no human around to view space, would it exist? What about if there were no living creatures?
I found fascinating when Tuan said that, "The infant has no world. He cannot distinguish between self and an external environment. He feels, but his sensations are not localized in space... for a brief time as infants, human beings have known how to live in a non-dualistic world (page 20)". I believe that living in a non-dualistic world would mean that you cannot separate yourself from your environment; that it is one in the same. Would Tuan say that animals live in a non-dualistic world? Is living in a non-dualistic world the same as acting by instinct?
Finally, Tuan says that poets “recall for us a lost innocence and a lost dread, an immediacy of experience that had not yet suffered (or benefited) from the distance-ing of reflective thought”. If I understand correctly, the distancing of reflective thought is what Tuan might say separates humans from other animals. But here he puts the word, benefits, in quotation marks: implying that reflective thought is causing more suffering than benefit in humans. I believe that this is a widely held belief amongst humans: that we are “better” then other animals because of our ability to reflect. Yet it seems that our ability for reflection is the source of much of our unhappiness. Therefore I think it would be much more “reflective” of the human race to think of themselves with the grace and humility of not being better than other animals, but just different.
It is not surprising that Tuan’s description of how we experience space is primarily sensory, but the details he gives about how these sensory experiences change with age are not only quite fascinating, but, I would argue, give us a glimpse of what it means to be human—one of the outlined goals of Tuan’s book.
When Tuan writes in Chapter 3 that “highly charged moments of the past are sometimes captured by poets” I began to think of the Romantic manifesto of Wordsworth who claimed that poetry was “a spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion recollected in tranquility.” The Romantic poets fit well into the individualistic, and, as some might say, egocentric perspective that Tuan describes when he talks about perspective: “We more readily assume a God-like position, looking at the earth from above, than from the perspective of another mortal living on the same level as ourselves” (28). In this way, sense of place, I would argue, is highly individual.
It is interesting to me that a particular nostalgia is attached to sensory memories for adults in a way that children lack. Memory of experience is crucial to the adult understanding of place. When Blake wrote “Songs of Innocence and Experience” he seemed to be capturing Tuan’s concept twofold. For one, his theme is quite obviously connected to the idea that children and adults experience the world in very different ways because of the lack of knowledge or experience on part of the child. At the same time, the likeness to childhood nursery songs of his opening poem to the collection make it more poignant as it is filled with nostalgia and sadness for an adult while the child takes the song at face value. (Here’s a link to the poem)
Finally, as a sort of side note, I find it incredibly interesting that Tuan notes that “[t]hings are not quite real until they acquire names and can be classified in some way” (29). Therefore, our sense of place is reliant on our ability to articulate a description of it, much like we were asked to do in our first assignment.
What I find rather interesting is that this practice has followed me here to the city. I almost never actually think about where I am headed, I simply start walking and soon, I end up where I need to be. One time, though, this did not work out in my favor. A few semesters ago, I had an early class in the Puck building followed immediately by a class at 1 Washington Place. Making this trek twice a week, I would routinely “zone out” or listen to music to fill time. Apparently, my daily routine had become very ingrained in my brain. After the semester ended this past December, I had to meet with one of my professors at her office in Puck at the end of the day. It was cold, dark, and raining. After the meeting, I left the building and headed home. I was freezing and wanted nothing more than to get out of the rain. As I walked, I had my head down and the majority of my view was blocked by my umbrella. The next thing I knew, I was pulling open the door at 1 WP. I actually stopped midway and said very loudly, “What the shit?” The security guard gave me this puzzled look, and I responded with, “Uhhhhh” before I shut the door and walked back to my apartment. Luckily, I was already headed in the right direction. Sort of.
On page 16, Tuan writes, “The organization of human space is uniquely dependent on sight. Other senses expand and enrich visual space.” Working with sound and music I often struggle with the abstractness of music as an art form. If we look comparatively at the other arts–dance, theater, literature and visual art–we find that music is an anomaly in that there is no visual component. Yes, there is a score that the composer creates and that musicians follow, and of course you can watch musicians play, but neither of these visual components are an innate characteristic of the music itself. Nevertheless, we accept music as a viable and distinguished art form despite its lack of visuality. Why then, do we rarely consider and fail to popularize the other three senses–taste, smell and touch–as mediums for the fine arts? Why is that which excites our taste buds: well-prepared food; that which excites our fingers: expensive fabric; and that which excites our nose: a candle or perfume; not tasted, felt, or smelled as a work of art but as a commodity, while that which excites our ears: organized sound, is heard almost exclusively as art?
In the Introduction, Tuan delves briefly into question of how individuals experience space and place and writes, “If an experience resists ready communication...a common response among activists is to deem it private...” (6). On the following page he suggests that it is the artist who is partly responsible for “articulating subtle human experiences.” In the first chapter, Experiential Perspective, he asserts that, “Odors lend character to objects and places ... our nose, no less than our eyes, seeks to enlarge and comprehend the word,” and that, “Touch articulates another kind of complex world” (11). Clearly, all of our senses have unique qualities, each of them allowing us to experience a space or place in complex and exciting ways. However, Tuan later goes on to say that, “The various sensory spaces bear little likeness to each other” (15), and, although they have defined differences, I cannot help but largely disagree. It seems fair to contend that, of the five senses, sight rains supreme. Tuan writes, “The organization of human space is uniquely dependent on sight. Other senses expand and enrich visual space” (16). This statement follows the previous excerpt by only a page, but nevertheless seems to combat it greatly. It is the duty of the other four senses, the “expanding and enriching of visual space,” that unites them. Sight and language translate directly to what we consider to be literal. All that we see, we assign to a word. In the second chapter, which investigates how children come to experience space, Tuan describes the child identifying an object based on where it is located, and the progression to a point at which the child recognizes the object as the same no matter its location (22). Even in this case, something is recognized and given a word, even if that object and word change when seen from a different perspective. We communicate through the combination of language and visuals, and therefore, if something has a word linked to it, it is easily understood as the same thing by many people. It seems that everything we see can be understood as a noun: a definitive thing. When I look outside I see that it is bright (adjective), but I realize that this is because of the sun (noun). In the case of taste, touch, smell, and hearing, we translate what we sense mostly with adjectives. There is no entirely objective way of understanding anything that these senses recognize, as it is different for each person. Perhaps a more concrete way of explaining my thoughts would be to say that with a narrative film, any person could make a similar conclusion regarding its plot due to the components of language and sight. A protagonist can easily be identified as such. Antagonists can be recognized in how they speak to or look at the protagonist, and how they contribute to the protagonist’s problem. However, by eating a dish at a restaurant, feeling a friend’s sweater, smelling a woman’s perfume, hearing a sound, or experiencing any sequence of each of these things, no definitive conclusion can be determined. So, in this way, aren’t the four senses apart from sight indeed quite similar? If so, now returning back to my original question, why don’t we experience more scent operas, taste installations, or exclusively felt sculptures?
Moving into my new house was a huge adjustment; it’s significantly larger than my old house and located in a smaller development with a lot more distance and trees between houses. Instead of bagel shops or supermarkets, acres of farms and several older houses lie a couple of miles down the road. My town and my house are definitely not lacking in space.
In Chapter 5, “Spaciousness and Crowding,” Tuan complicates the meanings of these words, spending time to consider them in different contexts. Reading through the many angles at which he approaches these words to try and describe them made me realize how connected and complex these words are and how applicable their many meanings are in everyday life, including mine.
His discussion of “space” and “spaciousness” casts the terms and their corresponding ideas in a mostly positive light. When discussing spaciousness, he explains that it is “closely associated with the sense of being free” (52), and, later, that space is “worldwide a symbol of prestige” (58).
Coincidentally, it is largely for these reasons that my parents decided to move in the first place. Purchasing a more spacious house was a reflection of the success they had earned after emigrating from the Philippines and making their own lives here. Leaving behind our crowded suburban town for a peaceful rural one was especially important for my dad; the calm atmosphere reminded him of a specific place, his hometown in the Philippines.
Unfortunately, my siblings and I were not as excited as our parents to be moving out of the house in which we grew up. For us, there was too much space, especially between our house and places like the mall, the movies, or the houses of our friends. Personally, I missed the crowded, comfortable feeling of our hometown and especially that specific sense of place of our old home.
Perhaps that is part of the reason why I ended up in New York, back in the hustle and bustle of a much larger place surrounded by many more people; however, I still have the space I need for the freedom and opportunity I could not have found back at home, just as Tuan asserted (60). In this way, New York has become another special place for me, almost like another home.
But I will always return to my real home, to be surrounded by a different crowd. It's as Tuan described, “People crowd us but they can also enlarge our world. Heart and mind expand in the presence of those we admire and love” (64). And with a family like mine, where they are will always be my home.
Said writes that the Orient was almost entirely a European invention. It was a place of “romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences” ( Said 1). This way of thinking embedded itself in the Western cultural consciousness and inspired political action, artistic/literary output, and was instrumental in self-making and constructing a national identity. What grew out of the British and French colonial enterprise molded entire nations’ conceptions and imaginations about faraway places—India, China, Mesopotamia, etc.
Orientalising functioned as “a way of coming to terms with the Orient based on the Orient’s special place in European western experience” (Said 1). Space and place were tremendously important in informing Western ideas about these far-off lands. The East was slowly revealed to Westerners through accounts from traders and paintings by travelers. Spices and luxury goods helped to construct a sensual picture of the Oriental space. It’s remarkable that an entire people could be so informed (mis?-informed) about a place in spite of never actually setting foot there.
I believe that Orientalism works on both mythical levels offered by Tuan. It both “frames a pragmatic space by creating a fuzzy area of defective knowledge” and is the “spatial component of a world view” and “a conception of localized values (Tuan 86). As Tuan suggested, the mythical space “attempts to answer the question of man’s place in nature” which is exactly what Orientalising affords those who subscribed to and promulgated those ideas (Tuan 88). Orientalising explained the location, values, lives, activities, and realities of a world across a continent, out of reach for most. And it also was a reflection of the imaginers’ values and attitudes. It’s incredible that people unknowingly transformed a physical place into an idea, and in-turn, allowed that idea to redefine that physical space into a magical and romantic place.
*Quotes taken from both the Tuan assigned reading and Edward Said’s Orientalism.
As both Yi-Fu Taun and Freud emphasize, erroneous knowledge and opinions can arise from the inaccurate rules and laws by which we first attempt to understand the world. In Taun’s novel, Space and Place he addresses elements of concepts related spatial ability, knowledge and place. Tuan begins chapter six by making a distinction between spatial skills and spatial knowledge, each of which are not dependent on each other. One can perform an act spatially with no mental awareness of how they actually performed the act. Taun references an example of a professional typist who produces finger movement with such dexterity and words with such accuracy that one assumes the typist knows exactly where the letters on the keyboard are located. Taun dissolves, “but he [does not]; [the typist] had difficulty recalling the positions of the letters that his fingers know so well” (68).
While Taun acknowledges that complex acts are often performed without much mental planning or consideration (68), he does not fully explore the idea of how and why we often function with our minds on autopilot. I will apply Psychologist Dr. Ellen Langer’s theory of ‘Mindlessness’ to behaviors that are learned due to mental capacity and carried out in the physical spaces by which we are surrounded. Langer asserts that when we repeat a task over and over again, our skills for the task improve and individual aspects of the task leave our consciousness. Eventually, we “assume that we can do the task although we no longer know how we do it” (Langer 20). In reference to the typist example, Langer suggests that the professional is a ‘mindless expert.’ In her experiments with a speedy typist, she found that when she asked him to teach her to do what he did, his finger speed slowed, as did his knowledge retention for what he was typing. Langer concluded, “becoming conscious or mindful incapacitated him” (20). To complicate matters further, if someone’s competence is tested for a moderately known but not over-learned task, the steps for the task can typically be easily explained. Ironically, this type of mindlessness often leads the expert to doubt their confidence in their skill.
The depths and capacities of the human mind are vast. Taun and Langer's observations regarding human behavior raise questions about how space and places can result in figurative ‘blindness.’ Aspects of mindlessness can be defined in terms of the loss of senses such as sight and touch, which are, according to Taun, vital to our understanding of the world’s “spatial and geometric character” (Taun 12). How can the spaces in our minds be touched, or activated, in a way that ensures that we are operating mindfully within our general lives?
Langer, Ellen. Mindfulness. Cambridge MA: De Capo Press, 1989. 19-22. Print.