Saturday, September 5, 2009

Displacement and memory

This morning I met up with a friend at a new shopping mall, one that I didn't know existed until today. In spending just a short time in this new space, it occurred to me that our a sense of identity is often connected to our sense of space. Our homes, schools and places of work – these become extensions of ourselves, or inputs into our sense of self.

But I've noticed something that may or may not be alarming, depending on how you look at it: we keep on moving to other spaces, or changing the spaces we inhabit. In ages gone by, a person would spend his or her whole life living in one space, with very little changing. These days, however, everything changes all the time, and I'm starting to wonder how this might affect our sense of identity. Does this constant reshaping of the landscape cause us to gain a deeper sense of the flux of life? Does it make our sense of self more fluid? 

I've also noticed that we're losing a sense not only of self, but also of time. The spaces we inhabit, after all, are ways for us to connect with history through material realities. A sense of the sameness of space – a sense that one gets easily in Europe – helps to evoke memories, both personal and collective. The unchanged throws a sharp light onto what has changed, thereby giving us a better sense of the passing of time. But if the spaces we inhabit shift and change all the time, what is there to remember? The changing of spaces obfuscates memory. 

To be honest, the concern that haunts me the most is far more practical and concrete than the above concerns. It is the concern that we have another mall in this city. Surely there are enough temples erected in the name of the gods of capitalism? Do we really need another one? But, I suppose, we'll never have enough until we've had too much. Such is the nature of the insane greed of our age. 

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