Notes: Marc Agué, “From Places to Non-Places” in Non-Places: An Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity

Agué, Marc. “From Places to Non-Places” in Non-Places: An Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. London: Verso, 1995: 75-115.

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Summary:

Agué poses non-places as the spaces of supermodernity, a shift from anthropological place.

Keywords: Anthropology, Non-Places, Space, Place

Quotations:

“[T]he expression Starobinski employs to evoke ancient places and rhy thms is significant: modernity does not obliterate them but pushes them into the background” (76).

“Place is completed through the word, through the allusive exchange of a few passwords between speakers who are conniving in private complicity” (76).

“The hypothesis advanced here is that supermodernity produces non-places, meaning spaces which are not themselves anthropological places and which. unlike Baudelairean modernity, do not integrate the earlier places: instead these are listed, classified, promoted to the status of ‘places of memory’, and assigned to a circumscribed and specific position” (78).

“[A] world thus surrendered to solitary individuality, to the fleeting, the temporary and ephemeral, offers the anthropologist (and others) a new object, whose unprecedented dimensions might usefully be measured before we start wondering to what sort of gaze it may be amenable” (78).

“Place and non-place are rather like opposed polarities: the first is never completely erased, the second never totally completed; they are like palimpsests on which the scrambled game of identity and relations is ceaselessly rewritten. But non-places are the real measure of our time; one that could be quantified – with the aid of a few conversions between area, volume and distance” (79).

“The distinction between places and non-place derives from the opposition between place and space. I An essential preliminary here is the analysis of the notions of place and space suggested by Michel de Certeau . He himself does not oppose ‘place’ and ‘space’ in the way that ‘place’ is opposed to ‘nonplace ‘. Space, for him, is a ‘frequented place’, ‘an intersection of moving bodies'” (79).

“[P]lurality of places, the demands it makes on the powers of observation and description (the impossibility of seeing everything or saying everything), and the resulting feeling of ‘disorientation’ (but only a temporary one: ‘This is me in front of the Parthenon,’ you will say later, forgetting that when the photo was taken you were wondering what on earth you were doing there), causes a break or discontinuity between the spectator-traveller and the space of the landscape he is contemplating or rushing through. This prevents him from perceiving it as a place” (84).

“[S]paces in which solitude is experienced as an overburdening or emptying of individuality, in which only the movement of the fleeting images enables the observer to hypothesize the existence of a past and glimpse the possibility of a future” (87).

“[T]his emptying of the consciousness, can be caused – this time in systematic, generalized and prosaic fashion – by the characteristic features of what I have proposed to call ‘supermodernity’. These subject the individual consciousness to entirely new experiences and ordeals of solitude, directly linked with the appearance and proliferation of non-places” (93).

“But the real non-places of supermodernity – the ones we inhabit when we are driving down the motorway, wandering through the supermarket or sitting in an airport lounge waiting for the next flight to London or Marseille – have the peculiarity that they are defined partly by the words and texts they offer us: their ‘instructions for use’, which may be prescriptive (‘Take right-hand lane’), prohibitive (‘No smoking’) or informative” (96).

“This establishes the traffic conditions of spaces in which individuals are supposed to interact only with texts, whose proponents are not individuals but ‘moral entities’ or institution” (96).

“Anthropological place’ is formed by individual identities, through complicities of language, local references, the unformulated rules of living know-how; non-place creates the shared identity of passengers, customers or Sunday drive” (101).

“The space of non-place creates neither singular identity nor relations; only solitude and similitude” (103).

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