The “real” character of a place is always changing

“Part of our identity comes from a sense of place; the context that gives us status and a sense of belonging in the world. So if the “real” nature of a place is, or becomes, something different than the narrative we’ve used to build our identities, what does that mean? At the very least, it means we lose the power of insider knowledge and status. At worst, it means we run the risk of being exiled. A sudden outsider who no longer fits. Whose narrative no longer has a reference point in the real world. And that’s very scary. In a perfect world, there should be room for an ever-expanding definition of what the “real” character of a place is. And I suspect that kind of shift is easier for people whose narratives have always reflected a kind of semi-outsider status in a place. The musicians in New Orleans were never at the center of power or security, so they have less at risk in a shifting world. All they need to hold onto is a legitimate place, somewhere in the circle. But for people whose place was once in the center, accepting a narrative that places them somewhere else is a tough adjustment.”
–Lane Wallace, “What Makes a Place ‘Real’?The Atlantic Monthly, May 11 2010

Posted by | Comments (3)  | January 17, 2011
Category: Travel Quote of the Day

3 Responses to “The “real” character of a place is always changing”

  1. Gregory Hubbs Says:

    Not quite my experience having traveled and lived in the same places at all stages of my life. There is a very, very strong sense of the identity of a place when I return. Paris is always Paris no matter the technological changes, and the emotions and images which well up in me are the same – “real” or not as reality is defined by others. The emotions and images which recur are “real” to me. I think there is a fallacy in the post-modern hyper-intellectualized view (and I studied under Derrida and Foucault years ago when they were fashionable, as they played with language and ideas which existed for centuries as if they were their own) that you can never have a “sense of place.” Does it really matter if you are deluding yourself or not if that is your core sense? In the end, I trust my instincts and my imagination more than when I intellectualize them in accordance with linguistic theorists. And when one’s nature is always to see the world as a series of changing perspectives, as Nietzsche described an important element of Greek tragedy in the “Birth of Tragedy,” an absolutist view of a sense of place is really not the goal when traveling and living abroad, in my view. It suffices to be a living, sentient, empathetic, imaginative, human being.