Sunday, 2 September 2012

Space/Place, Culture and Time (Part 2): Sigmund Freud

In part 1 of the blog I discussed Michel De Certeau's definition of the terms 'space' and 'place' from The Practice of Everyday Life, one of the main differences between the two being that place prohibits the superimposition of particular phenomenon, while space is able to cope with the contradictions of multiple and differing actors/actions, systems, agendas, etc.

Here I shall be providing an interesting spatial reference by Freud from Civilization and its Discontents which is offered as a kind of thought experiment for his readers in order to help explain how the ego operates on a developing sense of self in the individual. Freud explains that our initial sense of self - as a baby - is of an oceanic nature. It is connected to the vastness of the world, with no clearly defined subject/object boundaries. As we develop, the ego separates off from the outside world and becomes removed from this 'oneness'. However, Freud says, there is still a trace of this oceanic moment in our memory, as with those subsequent developmental phases that we seem to also forget on a conscious level (e.g. the Oedipal stages). This eloquent analogy by Freud, below, demonstrates that nothing is ever totally lost in internal space - the mind. But from the perspective of place and space, as it is for De Certeau, it offers up an example of external space, replete with its ambiguities, oppositions and negations - and how that space might be, if it weren't for place:

"Now let us make the fantastic assumption that Rome in not a place where people live, but a psychical entity with a similarly long, rich past, in which nothing that ever took shape has passed away, and in which all previous phases of development exist beside the most recent. For Rome this would mean that on the Palatine hill the imperial palaces and the Septizonium of Septimus Severus still rose to their original height, that the castle of San Angelo still bore on its battlements the fine statues that adorned it until the Gothic siege. Moreover, the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus wuld once more stand on the site of the Palazzo Caffarelli, withought there being any need to dismantle the latter structure, and indeed the temple would be seen not only in its later form, which is assumed during the imperial age, but also in its earliest, when it still had Etruscan elements and was decorated with terracotta antefixes. And where the Coliseo now stands we could admire the vanished Domus Aurea of Nero; on the Piazza of the Pantheon we should find not only the present Pantheon, bequeathed by Hadrian, but the original structure of M. Agrippa; indeed, occupying the same ground would be the church of Maria sopra Minerva and the ancient temple over which it is built. And the observer would perhaps need only to shift his gaze or his position in order to see the one or the other.

It is clearly pointless to spin out this fantasy any further: the result would be unimaginable, indeed absurd. If we wish to represent a historical sequence in spatial terms, we can do so only by juxtaposition in space, for the same space cannot accommodate two different things. Our attempt to do otherwise seems like an idle game; its sole justification is to show how far we are from being able to illustrate the peculiarities of mental life by visual means."

Space/Place, Culture and Time (Part 1): Michel De Certeau

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