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RIP José Saramago

18 Jun

Here the sea ends and the earth begins. It is raining over the colorless city. The waters of the river are polluted with mud, the riverbanks flooded. A dark vessel, the Highland Brigade, ascends the somber river and is about to anchor at the quay of Alcântara. The steamer is English and belongs to the Royal Mail Line. She crosses the Atlantic between London and Buenos Aires like a weaving shuttle on the highways of the sea, backward and forward, always calling at the same ports, La Plata, Montevideo, Santos, Rio de Janeiro, Pernambuco, Las Palmas, in this order or vice versa, and unless she is shipwrecked, the steamer will also call at Vigo and Boulogne-sur-Mer before finally entering the Thames just as she is now entering the Tagus, and one does not ask which is the greater river, which the greater town.

(José Saramago, The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, tr. Giovanni Pontiero (London: Harvill, 1992 [1984]), p. 1.)

So begins The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, the classic novel by José Saramago, the Portuguese writer who died today at the age of 87. The combination of the potentially fantastic and the banal, the metaphoric and the everyday, is typical of Saramago. There is always a sense in his prose that, whatever the story he might be telling us, there are a multitude of stories framing it, running alongside it or visible just beyond its borders. Saramago wants us to know that those stories, which are sometimes really observations (as all stories are observations, ways of seeing the world) and sometimes fantastical retellings of official history, need to be included in the story he is telling us, such that we imagine, or he lets us believe we imagine, that what is unfolding in the labyrinth of his text is one, unending metastory. Frequently, in his wandering, loosely punctuated prose–sometimes described as magical realism, sometimes as stream-of-consciousness, but perhaps just as easily though of as the flow of history running all around us and threatening to drown us in the present–he will take us sidestepping through the fragile walls that separate these universes, giving us a glimpse of the bigger picture before shuttling us back to the scene in which this particular story is taking place.

One does not ask which is the greater river, which the greater town. In The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, we know which town we have settled in. The novel tells the story of the dead writer Fernando Pessoa returning to visit one of his surviving heteronyms, the classically minded poet Ricardo Reis. In fact Pessoa is not quite dead, but rather existing in the exile of limbo while he awaits a more permanent death. Reis, too, is an exile, returning to Lisbon in the opening scene of the book after a period in Brazil. Over the course of the book, Reis  is constantly witnessed wandering the streets of Lisbon in a recurrent pattern that, spelled out on the sidewalks and in Saramago’s wandering prose, symbolizes his brief presence in the city as a kind of psychogeographer. Like  Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy, Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life and Iain Sinclair’s Lights Out For The Territory, the citizen as walker is both reader and writer, at once subject to the pre-existing paths laid out in the city text and yet able to assert an agency via the sheer act of activity. But Ricardo Reis is not long for this world–he can not be seen, in however magical a reality, to exist beyond the fading memory of his recently deceased creator, Pessoa–and he always seems to be at the mercy of what Italo Calvino calls the ‘intuition of the city as language, as ideology, as the conditioning factor of every thought and word and gesture … as monstrous as a giant crustacean, whose inhabitants are no more than motor articulations’.

Here is Saramago’s description of one of Ricardo Reis’s strolls:

Ricardo Reis walks up the Rua do Alecrim, and no sooner has he left the hotel than he is stopped in his tracks by a relic of another age, perhaps a Corinthian capital, a votive altar, or funereal headstone, what an idea. Such things, if they still exist in Lisbon, are hidden under the soil that was moved when the ground was leveled, or by other natural causes. This is only a rectangular slab of stone embedded in a low wall facing the Rua Nova do Carvalho and bearing the following inscription in ornamental lettering, Eye Clinic and Surgery, and somwhat more austerely, Founded by A. Mascaró in 1870. Stones have a long life. We do not witness their birth, nor will we see their death. So many years have passed over this stone, so many more have yet to pass, Mascaró died and his clinic was closed down, perhaps descendants of the founder can still be traced, they pursuing other professions, ignoring or unaware that their family emblem is on display in this public place. If only families were not so fickle, then this one would gather here to honor the memory of their ancestor, the healer of eyes and other disorders. Truly it is not enough to engrave a name on a stone. The stone remains, gentlemen, safe and sound, but the name, unless people come to read it every day, fades, is forgotten, ceases to exist. These contradictions walk through the mind of Ricardo Reis as he walks up the Rua do Alecrim…

(pp. 46-7)

Poetry, fantasy, the monumental and the everyday, the eternal and the transient, memory, loss, pathos, and the humour of pessimism: all this exists in Saramago’s late voice. He will be missed.

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Recording (i)

7 May

When Badiou speaks of the theatre-idea as a possibility that only emerges from the theatrical event, he puts in mind the absolute precedence of this event. If anything can come after it to recall it and keep it within knowledge, it can only be a transcription. As Certeau and Lefebvre point out, this scriptural process can only be a reduction of lived experience. And yet we cannot deny the desirability of such transcriptions, a desirability born from a need to revisit these evental sites. We need, therefore, to distinguish between the event and the knowledge of the event which can only come after. This realm of knowledge is where recording resides, a thing we can go back to, a sonic space we can tame and revisit and a fantasy we can enter.

Recording may reduce the complexity of the sonic space just as knowledge is always a reduction of what just is. The danger for Lefebvre is that this knowledge can become the basis for a dominant ideology. The solution is not to get rid of the representation of space (Lefebvre knows this is not possible) but to recognize how it works in conjunction with spatial practice and spaces of representation. As Victor Burgin suggests, ‘The city in our actual experience is at the same time an actually existing physical environment, and a city in a novel, a film, a photograph, a city seen on television, a city in a comic strip, a city in a pie chart, and so on.’ (Victor Burgin, In/Different Spaces: Place and Memory in Visual Culture (Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1996), p. 28). This ‘and so on’ must include music, for the city is also a city in a song. Our knowledge is gained both from lived experience and from the representations of our and others’ experience. Sylviane Agacinski recognizes this in her account of Walter Benjamin, the archetypal flâneur, pointing out that he is never innocent of the city through which he strolls:

What Francis Bacon called ‘lettered experience’ (experience transmitted through books) interferes here with a reading of the city that comes about through walking. Thus the walker’s lived experience is traversed by a ‘second existence,’ the result of books, in such a way that the different types of experience merge and fade into one another.

(Sylviane Agacinski, Time Passing: Modernity and Nostalgia, tr. Jody Gladding (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003 [2000]), p. 56.)

Music has an important role to play in these processes, as George Lipsitz notes:

Through music we learn about place and about displacement. Laments for lost places and narratives of exile and return often inform, inspire, and incite the production of popular music. Songs build engagement among audiences at least in part through references that tap memories and hopes about particular places. Intentionally and unintentionally, musicians use lyrics, musical forms, and specific styles of performance that evoke attachment to or alienation from particular places.

(George Lipsitz, Dangerous Crossroads: Popular Music, Postmodernism and the Poetics of Place (London and New York: Verso, 1994), p. 4.)

Memory is both the unexpected and the desired revisiting of the past. It is both voluntary and involuntary: we can choose to (re)visit places via deliberate musical choices, or we can be taken unaware by musical madeleines.

The Taming of Space

7 May

In ‘The Right to the City’, Lefebvre provides us with an excellent way to move from Certeau’s ‘written’ city to a sonic one when he observes that ‘The city is heard as much as music as it is read as a discursive writing.’ For Ángel Crespo, too, it is necessary to encounter the city via its flavours, smells and music. And while it is not at all surprising to us to think of the city as a site of noise, we need to consider the differences between seeing from a distance and hearing from a distance. Sonic knowledge can only be a local knowledge in that, moving away from the site of the sound we lose earshot. We cannot have the extensive zooming-out of the visual realm, though on the other hand we can hear around corners and through walls. We can also distinguish between background noise and differentiated noise, and it is possible to imagine a sound that would zoom in and out between the dull roar, the resonance and the zoned, and we can still think of music as organizing the chaotic space of sound. As Diane Ackerman writes in A Natural History of the Senses: ‘Sounds have to be located in space, identified by type, intensity, and other features. There is a geographical quality to listening.’ This is true for both our perception of the world ‘outside’ and for the more intimate place of private listening where music can act as a taming of space.

Festas

7 May

It is well worth paying attention to the role of music and festivals in the city as forms of both divergence from and reassertion of social norms. In Lisbon, this is particularly notable during the period known as the Festas de Lisboa, a series of festivals held in celebration of the ‘popular saints’ and in which there is an interesting mixture of official and semi-official events. The former comprise concerts, marches, exhibitions, screenings and so on. The semi-official include the taking over of public spaces by stalls serving drinks and stages where music is played. The fact that the predominant music at this point is pimba and that the food served is grilled sardines reflects the sense of tradition and of the country in the city (pimba is generally more associated with the countryside). Pimba is explicitly rude, does not attempt any of the erudite airs and graces of fado (although there is a rude undercurrent to fado too), and, as a music that cannot be cleaned up or made cool, lurks as the obscene underbelly of popular culture in Portugal.

Such events allow power to continue, as Slavoj Žižek explores in much of his work. Using the example of the mutiny against Captain Bligh on The Bounty, Žižek focuses on the uses of unofficial power and the relationship between power and enjoyment. The enjoyment, or jouissance, associated with unofficial power – the power that operates ‘below decks’ – must be recognized and allowed to operate by the forces of official power ‘above’. Should the official power attempt to curtail the unofficial, the latter will most likely rise up against the former: ‘The mutiny – violence – broke out when Bligh interfered with this murky world of obscene rituals that served as the phantasmatic background of power.’ (  Slavoj Žižek, ‘“I Hear You With My Eyes”; or, The Invisible Master’, in Renata Salecl & Slavoj Žižek (eds.), Gaze and Voice as Love Objects (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1996), p. 100.)

The connection between official and underground power tends to be more prevalent in the case of authoritarian regimes. It is interesting to note the use of music and festivities in films from the era of the Estado Novo to see how this connection is played out. In Canção de Lisboa (1933), there are various moments when impromptu moments of transgression break out, such as an improvised fado in the street and a drunken rant by the main protagonist against fado and fadistas, during which he proposes an ‘anti-fado’ week to cure the nation’s social ills. As commentators on the film have noted, however, these are moments of mild transgression which allow for the presence on screen of police officers or other patriarchal figures associated with the state to reassert the law. In this film, as in others such as O Costa do Castelo (1943), Fado, História D’uma Cantadeira (1948) and O Grande Elias (1950), fado is cast as both hero and villain. A common theme is commitment to the social group, often epitomized by the family, with a typical plot involving deception or abandonment of certain family members, resolved by a conversion in which the transgressor sees the error of their ways. In Fado, História D’uma Cantadeira, the fado singer (played by Amália Rodrigues) abandons her family to become a famous performer. She transgresses to such an extent that she even abandons fado. At the point where she enacts the ultimate betrayal – not reading a note that has been sent to her regarding a family illness – she is seen singing flamenco.

This dialectic between transgression and the law is visible also in the mass fencing-off that is the result of what Lefebvre calls ‘vacationland festival’, those areas marked off for rest and relaxation that promise utopia but rely on careful staging and investment by capitalists.  It is visible too in the spaces allotted to fado, from the taberna to the large scale shows put on for the Festas. In these events, fado fills the streets and lays claim to the city, to the people and to an escape from its boundaries. What we can determine from the festival and other negotiations of power in the social space is a reliance on a script which may be exceeded but cannot be done away with.

A Man in the City (i)

7 May

In 1976 Carlos do Carmo represented Portugal in the Eurovision song contest and recorded what would become one of his signature tunes, ‘Lisboa, Menina e Moça’, a popular song which feminizes the city as a ‘young girl’. It was his 1977 album Um Homem na Cidade [A Man in the City], however, which really showcased what Carmo meant for the future direction of fado. Described by Rui Vieira Nery as ‘one of the most significant albums in the whole fado discography’, it consisted of a series of specially written poems about Lisbon by José Carlos Ary dos Santos and set to music by a variety of composers from the worlds of Portuguese pop, jazz and fado. It was a concept album and one which clearly was aimed at the post-revolutionary metropolis, showcasing new possibilities of being in the city alongside recognition of longstanding customs that predated (and could therefore escape the taint of cooptation by) the recently overthrown dictatorship. The album came with liner notes by Carmo, Ary dos Santos and two of the composers, António Vitorino D’Almeida and Martinho D’Assunção, all of which stated a commitment to creativity, modernity, Lisbon and the people. ‘With love we leave you this disc’, wrote Carmo at the end of his note. The ‘man in the city’ is also to be found in the dedication at the beginning of Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life and it is interesting to consider these two works alongside each other:

To the ordinary man.

To a common hero, an ubiquitous character, walking in countless thousands on the streets. In invoking here at the outset of my narratives the absent figure who provides both their beginning and their necessity, I inquire into the desire whose impossible object he represents. What are we asking this oracle whose voice is almost indistinguishable from the rumble of history to license us, to authorize us to say, when we dedicate to him the writing that one formerly offered in praise of the gods or the inspiring muses?

(Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, p. v)

Certeau’s words bear an echo of the commitment shown by Henri Lefebvre to the lived experience of those connected to representational spaces. It bears a challenge to authority and the ‘view from above’, while also acknowledging the modest endeavour of a description of the everyday. So, too, with Carmo’s album, which mixes quotidian description with an imagination that recognizes the potential for transformation. Almost all of the tracks included in the album make reference to the city of Lisbon. In addition to regular references to the city as a whole, other features of Lisbon are hymned. The title track records the Tejo and the Rossio area, ‘Fado do Campo Grande’ refers to the area of the same name, and ‘O Homem das Castanhas’ uses Praça da Figueira and the Jardim da Estrela as backdrops to the chestnut vendor’s song. Two songs celebrate the public transport systems that connect Lisbon’s neighbourhoods to each other and to the world beyond. ‘O Cacilheiro’ describes the ferries that criss-cross the Tejo, connecting the quays of Cacilhas, Seixal, Montijo and Barreiro and carrying ‘lovers, sailors, soldiers and workers’ to their destinations, while the tram system is the subject of ‘O Amarelo da Carris’ (Carris is the company that operates the buses and trams in Lisbon, easily recognized by their distinctive yellow colour).

‘O Amarelo da Carris’ provides a good example in its lyrics of wider theories regarding agency, passivity, consciousness and the unconscious in the city. The first verse describes the tram which runs from runs from Alfama to Mouraria, from Baixa to Bairro Alto and ‘climbs shuddering to Graça / without knowing geography’. On one hand, the tram serves a purpose similar to the train in many popular song texts, providing a potent metaphor for the workings of fate as it faithfully follows its pre-designed course. Its passengers are passive citizens unable to alter the text of the city, etched as it is in the steel rails. Like the tram itself, which does not require knowledge of geography, the passengers can put their trust in the hands of the network and its operatives (which include, of course, the tram driver). On the other hand, they have chosen to be carried thus and are actively using the tram for their own purposes. They have a starting point and an ultimate destination; the tram and its driver are merely the means to achieve this destiny.

Similarly, the lovers described in ‘Namorados da Cidade’ are like Certeau’s ‘lovers in each other’s arms’, blind to anything beyond themselves while simultaneously creating that ‘beyond’ by going about their business. The protagonist of the title track, the man in the city, is the equivalent of the walkers found in Certeau, Aragon and Sinclair, going through the street under a ‘moon / that brings my Tejo into season / I walk through Lisbon, naked tide / that flows into Rossio’. Another song, ‘Rosa da Noite’, also hymns the incorporation of the city into the body and vice versa, claiming that ‘each street is an intense vein / where the song flows / from my huge voice’. The city is both body (a theme employed by other fados such as David Mourão-Ferreira’s ‘Maria Lisboa’) and a channel through which other bodies (human, non-human, mechanical) flow. Um Homem na Cidade celebrates all these corporeal manifestations. It is, importantly, an album, and therefore, like a photograph album, something to be taken as a whole; its songs are snapshots of the city and its citizens, a collective creating a collection, a thing. This sense of the album as a thing-in-itself was highlighted by the release, in 2004, of an album entitled Novo Homem na Cidade which recreated the original album with versions of its songs, in the same running order, recorded by twelve different artists, a number of them associated with the novo fado of the early 2000s. In addition to showcasing these younger performers, the album serves two other purposes, commemorating Carlos do Carmo’s original album as a thing-in-itself (without which the new album would not exist) and highlighting the continued relevance of the city of Lisbon as a thing-in-itself to be celebrated (without which neither album would exist).

Fado texts provide a tour of the city of Lisbon by incorporating various names associated with the city and, in Certeau’s terms, ‘liberating’ them into a new poetic and metaphoric language. Yet, given that we are dealing with a musical form, it is also necessary to remember the role played by sound in this process. If fado texts take us on a tour of the city, part of that tour involves the hearing of fado music itself. The sound of fado, its instruments and cries, are both representations of space and representational spaces, products of and responses to space itself. In Um Homem na Cidade, there are additional sounds of the city referenced, such as the sound of the tram bell emulated by the guitarra in ‘O Amarelo da Carris’ or the use of the chestnut vendor’s cry in the refrain of ‘O Homem das Castanhas’. This practice develops in sonic form a process earlier undertaken by numerous European and American modernist writers and artists to provide a representation of the noise of the city, albeit witnessed in silence (in the space of writing). For example, we find the following in Fernando Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet:

Future married couples pass by, chatting seamstresses pass by, young men in a hurry for pleasure pass by, those who have retired from everything smoke on their habitual stroll, and at one or another doorway a shopkeeper stands like an idle vagabond, hardly noticing a thing. Army recruits … slowly drift along in noisy and worse-than-noisy clusters. Occasionally someone quite ordinary goes by. Cars at that time of the day are rare, and their noise is musical. In my heart there’s a peaceful anguish, and my calm is made of resignation.

All of this passes, and none of it means anything to me. It’s all foreign to my fate, and even to fate as a whole. It’s just unconsciousness, curses of protest when chance hurls stones, echoes of unknown voices – a collective mishmash of life.

(Fernando Pessoa, Book of Disquiet, p. 14.)

This ‘collective mishmash of life’ is wonderfully transformed in ‘Fado Varina’, from Um Homem na Cidade, into a noisy and salty metaphor suggested by the cries of a woman selling fish in the market: ‘Os teus pregões / são iguais à claridade / caldeirada de canções / que se entorna na cidade’ [Your cries / are like brightness / a fish stew of songs / spilling over the city].

The Imagined City (i)

7 May

Another way of dealing with the relationship between citizen and city can be found in Kevin Lynch’s book The Image of the City (1960). Although dated in many ways, the book describes a way of thinking about this relationship which is still of interest. Lynch and his fellow researchers were interested in the ‘cognitive maps’ which people carry of the cities in which they live. Wanting to find out what the relationship was between these cognitive maps and official maps of the city, they asked people to draw their own maps of the city and of particular routes through it, supplementing this information with questions regarding how their respondents dealt with particular negotiations when using the city, what they thought of different neighbourhoods and features, and so on. The results of this research showed that there were quite different imaginations of the city and that these, perhaps not surprisingly, were dependent on particular subject positions. While this data, as Edward Soja suggests, ultimately had the effect of reproducing certain dominant discourses of the city and of social relationships, it nevertheless provided a valuable ‘tilting’ of the normally-designated representation of space from an ‘official’ to an ‘unofficial’, or at least ‘semi-official’ discourse.

Lynch identified five main elements of the city from his respondents’ representations:

  • Paths – ‘channels along which the observer customarily, occasionally, or potentially moves … streets, walkways, transit lines, canals, railroads’. Lynch found that these were the predominant way of imagining the city.
  • Edges – ‘linear elements not used or considered as paths’, such as ‘shores, railroad cuts, edges of developments, walls’. These features help people organize and make sense of space.
  • Districts – ‘medium-to-large sections of the city’ which can be mentally entered and have some distinguishing feature.
  • Nodes – ‘strategic points in a city into which an observer can enter’, such as junctions, crossings, squares or other concentrations or condensations of space.
  • Landmarks – external point references whose ‘use involves the singling out of one element from a host of possibilities’.

(Lynch, Kevin, The Image of the City (Cambridge, MA, and London: The MIT Press, 1996 [1960]), pp. 47-8.) 

To take some examples from the city of Lisbon, we might consider the following:

Rua Augusta, Avenida da Liberdade, the Avenida 24 de Julho, or the tram and Metro lines, paths along which one might customarily move;

River Tejo at Belemthe Tejo, Monsanto park, or the train lines at Alcântara, edges which help to organize space;

AlfamaAlfama, Bica, or Chiado, districts with distinguishing features;

RossioRossio, Praça da Figueira or Martim Moniz, nodes which act as points of concentration;

Ponte 25 de Abrilthe Castelo de São Jorge, the Ponte 25 Abril or the Elevador da Santa Justa, landmarks that can be singled out.

Fado hymns such elements while also overlaying them with a wealth of less obvious cognitive mappings such as alleyways, windows and rooftops.

Alfama Rooftops

Flows (i)

7 May

Mark C. Taylor describes flows in terms of the changes wrought upon the metropolis:

In the city, place is transformed into the space of anonymous flows. As technologies change first from steam and electricity and then to information, currents shift, but patterns tend to remain the same. Mobility, fluidity and speed intersect to effect repeated displacements in which everything becomes ephemeral, and nothing remains solid or stable.

(Mark C. Taylor & Dietrich Christian Lammerts, Grave Matters (London: Reaktion Books, 2002), p. 19.)

 Charles Baudelaire’s work holds a central place here, with its emphasis on the ephemeral and the permanent. Taylor notes how this fluidity in modernity is associated with the emphasis in philosophy on becoming over being:

The infatuation with becoming issues in the cult of the new, which defines both modernity and modernism. The cultivation of the new simultaneously reflects and reinforces the economic imperative of planned obsolescence. In the modern world, what is not of the moment, up to date, au courant is as useless as yesterday’s newspaper.

(Taylor & Lammerts, p. 19)

The price of this, for Edward Casey, is ‘the loss of places that can serve as lasting scenes of experience and reflection and memory’. This in turn has led to the search for theories of belonging, dwelling and being-in-place, as can be found in the rather different projects of Martin Heidegger, Gaston Bachelard and Yi-Fu Tuan.

Place in contemporary thinking occupies many ‘sites’ that are the consequences of the rush to modernity, among them the postindustrial wasteland, the high-rises and ‘concrete islands’ described in the fictions of J.G. Ballard, the abandoned high street, the migratory routes of tourists and vagabonds, and the ‘non-places’ analysed by Marc Augé. These non-places are echoed in Beatriz Sarlo’s discussion of the ‘decentered city, in which she posits the out-of-town shopping mall as the quintessential example of a site for the contemporary consumer-subject to get lost. As Sarlo points out, displacement is happening here on more than just the physical level: ‘the mall is part and parcel of an evacuation of urban memory.’ Zygmunt Bauman, meanwhile, points to the slipperiness of any sense of space within ‘liquid modernity’. In another kind of evacuation, we are also asked to consider the escape from ‘real’ place into the hyperreal space of simulation and the ‘placeless places’ of cyberculture described by Taylor:

The placeless place and timeless time of cyberculture form the shifty margin of neither/nor […] In this ‘netherzone’, ‘reality’ is neither living nor dead, material nor immaterial, here nor there, present nor absent, but somewhere in between. Understood in this way, cyberspace is undeniably spectral. The virtual realities with which we increasingly deal are ghostly shades that double but do not repeat the selves we are becoming.

(Taylor & Lammerts, p. 20. The notion of the ‘netherzone’ comes from the artist Eve André Laramée.)

Before we lose sight of the actual citizen, however, we should think of how one responds to such developments in everyday life. Common to a number of the arguments presented above is an assumption that the city operates as an ideological pressure upon the subjected citizen, who is born into a time and place and must adapt to their situation. This immediately raises questions of negotiation between citizen and city, between dweller and dwelling place.

The geographer Yi-Fu Tuan begins his exploration of space and place with the body, describing a world which is made sense of spatially as a user moves through it. Tuan also presents space as a dialectic of freedom and constraint, shelter and venture, attachment and freedom. Place, meanwhile, is distinguished as ‘enclosed and humanized space’.

Tuan makes the point that space can be both desirable in offering freedom and frightening in threatening loneliness. He is talking here about open space (against which the city might be built and defined) but the point also holds for certain city spaces. The inhabitation of space that produces place relies on a certain amount of imaginary relationships with objects. There is a temporal as well as a spatial dimension to this process. Place is not just the taming of space but a pause in time. Objects, as well as familiarizing us with space, ‘anchor time’ and provide a relationship between person, space and time that is intimate:

To strengthen our sense of self the past needs to be rescued and made accessible. Various devices exist to shore up the crumbling landscapes of the past. For example, we can visit the tavern: it provides an opportunity to talk and turn our small adventures into epics, and in some such fashion ordinary lives achieve recognition and even brief glory in the credulous minds of fellow inebriates. Friends depart, but their letters are tangible evidence of their continuing esteem. Relatives die and yet remain present and smiling in the family album. Our own past, then, consists of bits and pieces. It finds a home in the high school diploma, the wedding picture, and the stamped visas of a dogeared passport; in the stringless tennis racket and the much-traveled trunk; in the personal library and the old family home.

(Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2008 [1977]), p. 54.)

There is an obvious correlation here with the process of remembering pioneered by Joe Brainard and discussed in a previous post. Tuan also reiterates a point made by Georges Perec about the memorian’s project, that it is meaningful even when (perhaps especially when) others do not share the specifics of the intimate moment; there is something about the process that is recognizable beyond the personal. It is worth positing, then, that what Brainard attempts for time, Tuan does for space. This relationship is even more notable in Bachelard’s ‘poetics of space’, where the intimacy of the poetic line finds its mirror in the intimacy of the domestic sphere, itself a microcosm of the broader relationship between body and world.

Nostalgia, for Tuan, is not simply a passive process to be opposed to agency; rather, the question of whether one feels nostalgic is intimately related to questions of power and control over one’s destiny:

In general, we may say that whenever a person (young or old) feels that the world is changing too rapidly, his characteristic response is to evoke an idealized and stable past. On the other hand, when a person feels that he himself is directing the change and in control of affairs of importance to him, then nostalgia has no place in his life: action rather than mementos of the past will support his sense of identity.

(Tuan, p. 187.)

Mindful of theories of nostalgia and how they reflect or are challenged by supposedly nostalgic practices, I am not sure whether we can import this suggestion of Tuan’s wholesale into an analysis of cultural practices (such as fado) that, having taken nostalgia as their bedrock, have developed more nuanced and even agency-oriented versions of longing. In Fado and the Place of Longing, I offer a discussion of the work of Carlos do Carmo that suggests it is possible to imagine a progressive, agency-oriented programme that deliberately and explicitly uses nostalgia as its base.