Afternoon Dust

Reading Notes: Edward S. Casey, "The Fate of Place"

I’ve just finished reading Edward S. Casey’s The Fate of Place (1997), a fascinating history of the idea of place in Western philosophy from early creation myth to Derrida and Irigary. Although a lot of the concepts discussed seemed to me to be frighteningly complex, each one was made easier to grasp through comparison with the others, and while Casey never shies from using appropriately technical terms when necessary, I found his writing style to be very clear and straightforward.

The book’s historical narrative is framed as a battle for conceptual supremacy between place and space, the former specific and richly meaningful, the latter abstract and purely quantitative. Casey clearly values place over space, and though the reasons for this are not really spelled out in any detail, it’s possible to read between the lines and detect an implied ethics or politics of place as particular, localising, and above all inhabitable (and inhabiting). Perhaps the book would have been stronger if this had been articulated more directly; on the other hand, the restriction of the book to a series of detailed descriptions of particular philosophers’ approaches to place and/or space makes it a really useful resource for anyone interested in these concepts to simply dip into as needed. For artists and cultural theorists working with notions of site, public and private space, locality, or related buzzwords, this is definitely a book to get your hands on — though after reading it you may prefer ‘place’ to any of those terms.

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