What is this place called place
Some places are more places than others. But sometimes more is less. Places have tons of determinations. Global coordinate systems, positions assumed in our networks of associations and perceptions, its social productivity, biological productivity, monetary productivity; what it is used for, has been shaped by being used for, what it could posssibly be used for if we want; what situated it in relation to surrounding topography, what created its soil layer, what plants and fungi colonised it when, what animals use it when and how, what are the optical and metereological conditions, who died there and who wrote a poem there and who tried to seduce whom there, and so on. This and other aspects difficultly measured will give them particular presences or absences, particular suggestivenesses and expectancies. I am not using the terms atmosphere or ambiance here, just because I sometimes suspect them to be just euphemisms for soul, which I might have said too, but which will often stand in the way of a real investigation of the factors actually involved.
Many intellectuals of conservative leanings tend to mythologise place hierarchically, primarily in terms of patria. Others, more liberal, tend to oligolectically associate places with more or less exotic anecdotes to fit a cosmopolitan image, involving either a globalisation nivellation, or good old tourist exotism, or both intermixed. But, it cannot be empasised enough, the biographical self is just one epistemological organ among others. An important one, providing much of the emotional reverbations, a good deal of the stories, a good deal of all the irrational associations and psychological overdeterminations. But real mythology, which might be described as acknowledging the ghosts we have intercourse with, presupposes availability more than anything, just like poetry, and thus all the biographical material is just a wagonload of suggestions, which might selectively be grabbed and put to use by the meaning in formation, or not. The notion of a patria is a strictly regressive one on the mythological and psychological levels, and of course one usually associated with reactionary political purposes. To see place as a setting for anecdotes is a slightly more dynamic position, but exotism and lack of exotism are equally powerful in potentially hiding specificity and particular possibilities from view. The more interesting a place is, the more it has qualities of terra incognita, something we may have rumors, dreams and prejudices about, but which primarily in itself encourages us to an active investigation of its possibilities. Consider the place a playground, yourself having gotten the task of inventing the game appropriate to it.
In the mid-90s the surrealist group in Stockholm focused much of its geographical investigations in the concept of worthless places (or atoposes), all the corners and borderzones falling between chairs, falling out of use, getting invaded by unintended usages. It could be emphasised that the criterion is largely an economic one and the setting more or less necessarily urban: only in cities is the population dense enough and the land prices high enough for any disused space to be so strongly singled out, to acquire the quality of a focus of resistance and dreaming. Other environments are organised in other ways.
Some other groups picked up the concept, particularly the Leeds group which had already from its beginnings a geographical focus parallelling ours (and preferring the probably more grammatically correct plural form atopoi). In later investigations other aspects have taken the lead, particularly in Madrid, developing concepts largely opaque to us (such as?), or in Eric Bragg's inexhaustible documentation of abandoned environments in northern California, or in Bruno Jacobs' concept of "poetic places", or in SLAG's "urban rockpooling" etc. The interface visavis popular "urban exploring" more or less based in live role playing games and situationist theory, is not yet specified. The many scattered surrealist experiments in natural, rural or suburban environments have been fruitful but perhaps not offered similar methodological conclusions.
In Stockholm we have also focused particularly on dream geography (recently at Kormorantrådet), both the question of how space is constructed in the dream and how dreams affect our geographical orientation in general.
Together with a sense of nature geography which is perhaps more of my own personal interest, this was investigated in my novel Dreamgeography naturegeography . This sense of nature geography is about how our observations of animals, plants, stones, landforms and weathers are crucial in establishing our sense of space, our psychogeography. In this sense, it is obviously depending on the degree of selective attention and of background knowledge. But there is of course also a sense in twhich these aspects give places their position objectively.
Psychogeography was a slightly different concept when the lettrists developed it and later used it as situationists, focusing particularly on the ideological and counterideological manipulation of mental structures through city planning and experimental urban drifting, and we have, in parallel with an academic discipline which we don't know if it exists or not, deliberately generalised it into a phenomenology of space and strategies of orientation in general.
Birds, which like humans are obsessed with large-scale spatial orientation, rely mostly on visual gestalt but also seem to have a keen sense of magnetism facilitating navigation. The gestalt sense of humans is one the other hand exceedingly complex, usually resulting in quite conflicting signals which are finally resolved in a rational analysis. Here we are. We have no memory of how we might have ended up in this place where we feel we might be. Spatial recognition, if not a pastime among others, will start approaching that beautiful and profane description of mystical knowledge as the instantaneous recollection of the sum of associations to an object (where was it? Joseph Jablonski, "Surrealist implications of chance" 1976, I think). A good guess as to where one is includes all the motionless summer evenings there, all the puns and etymological speculations around its name, the taste of the soil, the ambiguous hopes of dawn, the noise of birds, the land use history, the public transport system leading there, the dream syntheses it will become part of. The notion of home does not make sense. The only adequate identification with place is an experimental and playful one, regardless of whether it lasts for just the duration of an instantaneous practical-joke-type kiss or a moment which lasts for centuries, turning us to stone, and whether we are ultimately capable of distinguishing between the two.