I’ve just started reading Doreen Massey’s book For Space and am already head-over-heels with it: not only is her writing style totally fantastic – dynamic and I think really accessible, but she is also exploring ideas of time and space which I find absolutely fascinating.
I have barely even licked the icing which is on what I can tell is going to be a pretty tasty cake, but so far she has outlined previous theorists’ ideas and conceptualisations of time and space. She is frustrated that previously these two concepts have been too readily seen as separate from one another, with time seen as animate and space as dead, where she wants to make the case that space is in fact highly enlivened process (rather than ‘thing’, deadened by being fixed to a thing rather than seen as a process).
Massey lays out the thoughts of a guy called Boundas who pulls together the ideas of two cats called Deleuze and Bergson, exploring these previous musings until she lands upon this idea of the continuation of time and movement, which is impossible to break up into separate, discreet instants. Beginning with the idea that movement is a continuum, Boundas says that
“it is… because the continuum cannot be reduced to an aggregate of points that movement cannot be reduced to what is static. Continua and movements imply one another.’ (Boundas, 1996 p.84)” (Massey 2005:22)
Basically what he is saying, although only really talking about time (part of Massey’s beef with previous thought is the frequent neglect of space in favour of time; thing over process, objectivity over subjectivity), is that time should not be thought of as something which can be broken up, but rather something which is part of one massive continued process.
This idea grabbed my by the brain and spun me around in several big circle before placing me back on my chair in the local library and saying “what do you make of that?”
Firstly, it really strongly reminded me of one of my favourite books of all time – Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, in which the main character (Billy Pilgrim), is abducted by aliens as he is fighting in World War II, and consequently comes unstuck in time and spends his life (and death) time travelling. (Stay with me…) While he is held captive in the alien zoo he is kept in for entertainment, observation and as a pet, the aliens (Tralfamadorians) tell Billy about their perception of time – in which everything which has ever happened goes on happening for ever, given that time, rather than seen as past, present and future, is in fact all happening at once – giving the example of how for them, when somebody dies, they are simply “having a bad day”, and are still, somewhere else and at a different time of their life, alive.
And secondly I thought – ‘this is pretty great.’ When I’m in the right mood, this kind of conceptual stuff really inspires me, and actually what it so brilliant about For Space is that I don’t think it’s as impenetrable as a lot of other stuff I’ve read, not just on this subject, but generally in academia. It’s pretty cool to think about how we relate to time and space in our day to day lives, whether that’s how events or experiences in the last week have affected the way we feel in certain spaces and about certain things, how we relate to the present by drawing on our past (thinking about heritage) or a more conceptual contemplation about how we engage with space and time through everyday practice and in constructing a sense of self and a sense of place.
Let me explain a little better how this might relate to my project…
So if we look at heritage as an example, and if we consider somewhere which has a very mixed population as a result of immigration, there exist in this place a vast number of different narratives, stories, and trajectories, right? Many people of many ages have ended up in the same place for many different reasons. And yet all of these people, in this same place, have to forge some kind of identity in this context, surrounded by other people trying to do the same thing. If we take the Tralfamadorian notion of time, and see it in the 4th Dimension so to speak, in which everything is happening simultaneously, then all those people are – in the process of becoming – at once embodying the memories of where they lived before, where they live now, and how they will live in the future (I guess this is most specifically relating to first generation migrants rather than their kids and grandkids who do not embody these memories, rather accessing them as told by their relatives).
I know this sounds a bit mad, but I think in relation to heritage, this actually makes quite a lot of sense. If we construct our identities based on lived experiences, memories, stories we were told as children, stories we tell as adults, the imagination which infuses our interaction with the past (for example imagining what it was like to work in the mills in the early 1900s in Victorian Bradford, my hometown, as you walk past the derelict or even converted mills which lie around the city), as well as all the other things which we use to construct ourselves as individuals within a community, then all these memories, daily experiences and future possibilities, impossibilities, act together in this process of becoming.
Doreen Massey says this beautifully when she suggests that “perhaps we could imagine space as a simultaneity of stories-so-far” (Massey 2005:9).
On the “impossibility of deriving history from a succession of slices through time” (Massey 2005:22) – If history is time, heritage is the use of this in space – in both we can see a continuation through time and space, and an interaction between memories, events and identity construction and place-making.
During my summer project for my Masters in Visual Anthropology (the film of which you can watch here) I was working alongside Claire Wellesley-Smith, an artist based in Bradford who, in a funded project called the Fabric of Bradford run from Hive, a community arts centre in Shipley, was using a localised approach to learning about heritage and craft-practice (using natural plant dyes grown in gardens planted for the project) as a tool to explore ideas of well-being and community. Although at the time I wasn’t explicitly employing theories of place-attachment, retrospectively it was infused with ideas of place-making in relation to heritage. There is one specific memory I have from my time with the groups which resonates profoundly with these ideas Massey is thinking about, when one of the participants, in talking about the importance of groups such as this in which they talk about local heritage, said
“If we don’t do things like this kids are just going to grow up thinking life started after from where they can remember from. There wouldn’t be no continuance. They have to know it don’t they.”
What I love about this, is that it totally emphasises the idea of heritage as a continuation through time of stories, narratives and trajectories, and that how we use these in our daily lives, thinking about place, place-attachment and identity is all part of this movement and continuity through time and space.
Let’s go for a cup of tea and a lie down.
Oh, and, I almost forgot – here’s another limerick for you
There once was a young man called Durkheim,
whose stance on the world was so certain:
“it simply makes sense,
one can’t sit on the fence”
but his armchair proved comfy for ‘thought time’.