Marc Augé Interviewed: "Places and Non-places—a Conversation with Marc Augé"

Augé interviewed (cf. Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity [1992; Verso, 1995]):

[1.] For me, place has never been an empirical notion. Anything can become a place, every space can be one, if in one manner or another encounters take place there that create social ties. A space can be either a place or a non-place, or a place for some and not for others. One classic case is the airport, which is a very different case for someone who works there regularly, with colleagues and relationships, and someone who passes through once only, or by chance.

[2.] The second point is that in the sometime nostalgic visions that we have of the past, we tend to consider the new as something that twists the nature of what existed before [past + vs present -]. And so place is good because we meet people and we establish relationships there, while the non-place is bad because there everyone is a stranger to everyone else [i.e. these new non-places are socially estranging].

That was not and is not my intention [i.e. to append valuations to these different spaces—yet is not the positive valuation of space apparent in the extract from “Non-Spaces” below?]. It is necessary to attempt to characterize whatever is new in the contemporary world and, in my opinion, what is new is a change of setting, a shift in references, which implies that spaces are no longer perceived in the same way. Non-places could be seen, approaching them from another vantage point, as the heirs to everything that has created discomfort or annoyance in the history of human spaces [i.e. these non-places are estranging per se].

However, when reflecting upon the meaning of travel, we should consider that this negative definition of the non-place rules out the possibility of adventure. Encounters often take place in a space that is not yet symbolized, which cannot prescribe social relations; in a nonplace the notion of the unknown, the mysterious appears. Knights errant, the Knights of the Round Table, in the stories handed down to us from the Middle Ages, set off in search of adventure.

That is, once upon a time, non-place was positive/cataphatic (i.e. known thru affirmation): it represented adventure and mystery (now it is negative/apophatic [i.e. known thru denial]: it represents rootlessness and estrangement). Perhaps the non-places Augé discusses are positive too?

See Adam Greenfield, “On making non-place into place“:

You know where this definition begins to break down, though? When you spend way too much time in non-place. All of a sudden, in a process that somewhat resembles a figure/ground reversal, these putatively anonymous and interstitial zones take on texture and resolution of their own. . . . [Then, one] can no longer see non-places . . . as entirely flat and featureless: I’ve learned that everything has texture if you see it often enough.


This place/non-place stuff is old hat (viz. Heidegger [in Malpas] and Foucault), but has spawned a new kitsch industry of “aesthetic pandering” for non-places like airports and other transport terminals, supermarkets, multinational corporate retail outlets, etc., as Dylan Trigg suggests at Side Effects; this is not to say that we haven’t pandered for place thru the many avatars of Blut und Boden ideology (as Flusser suggests in his discussion of kitsch Heimat-worship): cf. the Heideggerian Edward Casey on place as “the bedrock of our being-in-the-world” (Getting Back Into Place [Indiana UP, 1993] xvi-xvii):

Place, at least in the view of the anthropologist, is a space long taken over by human beings and where something is said about relationships which human beings have with their own history, their natural environment and with one another.

Cf. Augé, “Non-Places,” Architecturally Speaking: Practices of Art, Architecture, and the Everyday, ed. Alan Read (Routledge, 2000) 7-12:

Just as imagination takes us forward into the realm of the purely possible—into what might be—so memory brings us back into the domain of the actual and the already elapsed: to what has been. Place ushers us into what already is: namely, the environing subsoil of our embodiment, the bedrock of our being-in-the-world. If imagination projects us out beyond ourselves while memory takes us back behind ourselves, place subtends and enfolds us, lying perpetually under and around us. In imagining and remembering, we go into the ethereal and the thick respectively. By being in place, we find ourselves in what is subsistent and enveloping.


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