A non-place is opposed to place, insofar as it is not relational, not historical and not concerned with identity (1). For example, the airport terminal could be considered a non-place, in its attempts to neutralize its appearance, support a fundamental relationship with mobility, its ability to transport, its multiplicity of functions and anonymity. Similarly, the freeway, the big-box department store, and the elevator could be considered a non-place, as they mediate a large variety of relationships.
However, in opposing the two concepts of place and non-place, the agency of the individual is obfuscated and diminished - especially when viewing their relationship with time. Why can’t a distinct space be non-place for one while simultaneously existing as place for another?
Similarly, could a non-place - against all odds - eventually acquire the designation of place given time and ample opportunity? Spaces that shirk the human so readily - the trainyard, the highway, the airport - can gain a new sense of importance and emotional connection when situations unfold in ways that inspire collectivity or even rupture sense certainty. What of the raucous thunder’s “sharp scrap making a fourth lap” (2) around Russell Atkins in Trainyard by Night? The ostensible ahistoric of rail is transformed by the potent specifics of his moment - the non-place is made relational with overarching weather which shatters banality. We see this capacity for place-making again in Sonnet XXXVI when a scatterbrained Ted Berrigan mentions frequent trips across the Williamsburg Bridge to see lawyers during his divorce, forever tied to this painful moment (3). Here the connective tissue becomes muscular itself. Are we to deny the human capacity to change scales and develop expressive car culture, an excellent demonstration of place-based identity so indelibly linked to Los Angeles as a city built around its expansive freeway system?(4)
So too in Lisa Robertson’s affinity with drab any-place-wherever hotels frequented in The Baudelaire Fractal (5). Not only does she celebrate the reflection of vibrant, situationally responsive interior life in the quiet mode of the prefab emptiness of the hotel, she chooses rooms specifically based off of their proximity to train stations for quick escapes when the time feels right. But this potential mobility is not only positive. The supposed neutral transparency of airports can be leveraged to violent ends as well. To be mobile one must be transparent, which occurs through forensic enframing wherein subjects relinquish data (6). Mobility is celebrated by having ‘nothing to hide’ and because of this, the mobility fundamental to the airport is tied directly to privilege.
1 Augé, Marc. Non-places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. London: Verso, 2008. Print.
2 Atkins, Russell. Object 2. Cleveland, Ohio: Renegade Press, 1963.
3. Berrigan, Ted. The Sonnets
4 Soja, Edward W. Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places. Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell, 1996. Print
6 Robertson, Lisa. The Baudelaire Fractal. Toronto: Coach House Books, 2020
7 Hall, Rachel, The Art of Performing Consumer and Suspect: Transparency Chic as a Model of Privileged, Securitized Mobility. The Transparent Traveler: The Performance and Culture of Airport Security. Duke University Press, 2015. Pp 25-56.