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Questions for discussion on “Placing the Past”

November 2, 2009 Leave a comment

To David and Pete: nice posts! I’m still thinking through these questions so my post is a sort of list-argument:

1. What is at stake with editing time out of the picture of History? How can there be a story with out the dimension of time? How might this line of argument stand up to the physics notion that time is the 4th dimension? How and when does Ethington use the word “dynamic,” and is this suggestive of underlying figurative language concerning movement that his discussion of “emplacement” can’t avoid?

2. “Simmel’s signal achievement is the fusion of metaphoric and geometric spatiality in a single conceptual framework, one that successfully resists hypostatizaing or abstracting ‘space’ in the ways Lefebvre complains of.” (480) What is lost or gained in the conflation of the literal and the metaphoric in Ethington’s piece?

3. How might Heraclitus’ famous quote “you can’t step into the same river twice” help situate Ethington’s discussion of space and time?

4. How might we analyze Ethington’s own literal metaphor of “the spatial map” for its strengths and weaknesses–how would would it be effective or restrictive as a tool to think with? In other words, what registers of experience cannot be captured on a map (either static or dyanamic)?

5. As a follow up, IS the “abstract grid of ‘space’ ultimately a neutral frame, mere instrumental rationality, not to be confused with the value rationality of a particular instance of deploying it” (481) as Ethington claims? In other words, are maps/grids ever un-political, or is there something political (or at least, not “neutral”) about the act of creating cultural maps (of history, for example)? What about Ethington’s claim, “Anything that cannot be mapped is beyond the event horizon of consciousness”? (It seems curious that he metaphorically casts consciousness as some kind of black hole that has an event horizon, sucking all surrounding material into its gravitational depths…)

6. “However daunting may seem the prospect of ‘mapping’ such intangible topoi as love, greed, faith, ambition, racism, justice (and all the various forms of cultural cognition that historians must address), the task is unavoidable given that all human actions inscribe topoi, and every topos is simultaneously locatable and meaningful” (487). This seems rather controversial, begging further discussion at least about the way he makes the statement.

–> Here those familiar with Brian Massumi’s Parables of the Virtual might be helpful; I’ve only read the Intro and first chapter for Tim Lenoir’s class tomorrow, but it’s intriguingly critical of mapping practices and calls for “adding movement back into the picture,” for if a body becomes mapped (let’s say historically?), then “how does a body perform its way out of a definitional framework that is not only responsible for its very ‘construction,’ but seems to prescript every possible signifying and counter signifying move as a selection from a repertoire of possible permutations on a limted set of predetermined terms? How can the grid itself change?” (3 Massumi). For Massumi, “positionality is an emergent quality of movement” and spatial/temporal modes of reality “pass into each other” or fold into each other. For me this seems to be a more productive way of thinking about the relation between the literal and metaphoric as well.

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