Place and Space: A Philosophical History

Edward S. Casey, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History

I consider Edward S. Casey’s book The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History my raison d’être in the critical debate on the meaning of the concepts of place and space. With this article I want to pay a tribute to this fundamental work, which was, for me, complementary to a couple of other texts more focused on the scientific perspective concerning the concepts of place and/or of space: I’m speaking of Max Jammer’s acclaimed and well-known essay ‘Concepts of Space’, and Julian Barbour’s text ‘The Discovery of Dynamics’, both of which are the subject of the next articles.[1] In this way, by the comparison of two different perspectives regarding the history of the concepts of place and space – the historico-philosophical perspective examined by Edward Casey and the historico-scientific perspective examined by Jammer and Barbour – we will have some fundamental material to ruminate on and a better position to start our analyses on the meaning of place and space. As I have said in the Preliminary Notes, if we want to have a perspective on the concepts of place and space as wide as possible, I believe it is essential to consider the many different histories and the different positions taken by various thinkers on the two concepts: at this regard, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History is a major text, a fundamental text, an excellent place to start with the critical recognition of the concepts of place and space.

Before introducing the work of Edward S. Casey, I would like to point out the reason why I’ve just said that The Fate of Place represented my raison d’être in the critical debate on space and place: it was only after reading that book that I began to realize that concepts of space and place have a range of meanings and implications in understanding the world around us that surpasses by far the common, undisputed traditional understanding that we have of those terms. In the end, I understood that when we speak or read about (the concepts of) space and place, independently of the context, they are utilized in the guise of unclarified notions:[2] they are considered as ‘given data’ (something that we have learnt through the common use), without almost no interest in elucidating or inquiring into the origins of those data. The shared understanding of space as a generic extent – a wider extent with respect to place – and their common use to define the general (space) or the specific (place) located character of objects and bodies are too vague notions that miss the core meaning of those fascinating and complex concepts; moreover, now, they can be considered as scientifically out-dated concepts. Only after I became interested in the history of place and space so beautifully narrated by Casey, I began to acquire an overall vision on the meaning of place and space that surpassed by far the ‘more technical’ understanding of those terms that I had acquired as an architect, as well as the traditional sense of those terms intended by the man in the street. In the end, such ‘new understanding’ allowed me to consider under a new light all of the traditional knowledge on space and place that I had accumulated with different readings during nearly two decades of apprenticeship as a student of architecture and as an architect after graduation. And most of all, it was because of the comparison between Casey’s text and my previous reading of Jammer’s Concepts of Space that I also begun to realize the reasons why there is so much confusion, or so little concordance, around the concepts of space and place, independently of the fact that the same terms may be used by an architect, a cognitive or social scientist, a historian, a philosopher or a physicist. As an example of the variability of interpretations, I take the missed correspondence between the interpretations of Jammer and Casey with respect to Aristotle’s fundamental theory of ‘topos’: if the physicist labels that fundamental theory for the history of Western Thought as a theory of space, and the philosopher labels the same theory as a theory of place, how can the philosopher, the physicist, and everybody after them, understand each other? Unless we believe that space and place are almost synonymous and can be used interchangeably differing only by a factor of scale or by an abstract and loosely defined generic-versus-specific principle – which is a hypothesis that I frequently came across, but which I reject resolutely since there are ontological and epistemological differences that clearly distinguish the two terms – only misunderstandings can be generated. And given the obvious influence that philosophy and physics have on other disciplines with respect to the way we interpret those concepts, only a vicious circle of misunderstandings can be generated. Are we – philosophers, historians, physicists, mathematicians, architects, psychologists, ecologists, social scientists, politicians, or the men on the street as well – speaking about the same entity when we speak about space and place? Or, are there subtle but important differences that need to be uncovered and which, if left unsaid, may cause big misunderstandings? Thanks to Casey, and the confrontation with Jammer’s book, I also intuited the danger of possible anachronistic attributions of meanings to the concepts of space and place, or, to put it bluntly, I understood that, for instance, we cannot say our current concepts of space and place unequivocally correspond to Vitruvius’s or to Lucretius’s spatium or locus, and much less to Plato’s chōra, or Aristotle’s topos – the Latin and Greek terms that we usually translate for space and place.

As I’ve already said elsewhere, the redefinition of the concepts of space and place is a basic question of knowledge and understanding, which is a relentless historically-based process; phases of redefinition (of knowledge) alternate with phases of systematization so that the consolidation of what we have learned in the past, as well as the extension of knowledge into an unknown future, can always occur. In this respect, the periodical rise and fall of placial and spatial notions, which keeps on alternating over the centuries, and through which we try to understand the fundamentals of reality  (I’m thinking of concepts like apeiron, apeiron pneuma kosmoi, kenon, ether, chōra, topos, spatium, locus, absolute and relative space or place, the field concept, spacetime, relative ether, etc.) is nothing other than the sign of the alternation between periods of redefinition and systematization of knowledge, driven by scientific and philosophical interests, to begin with. Concerning the concepts of place and space I believe we are now living an epoch of redefinition of meanings – that’s why the name of this website ‘rethinking space and place’ -, or a third ‘peripeteia’, as Casey calls the turn from space to place we are currently assisting.[3] It is the explicit merit of Casey’s book if I’ve started to take into consideration the concepts of space and place within a historical perspective, that is, as a long continuous thread – a fil rouge, properly – that regards our knowledge of reality and the basic notions with which we have tried to come to terms with the fundamental placial and/or spatial characters of reality.

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Image 1: The History of Place and Space is a long continuous and convoluted thread, regarding the placial and/or spatial modes of understanding the fundamental structure of reality; many notions (locality, dimensionality, extensivity, finiteness, infinity, materiality, etc.) and the terms behind those notions (apeiron, kenon, chōra, topos, etc.) concurred to the elaboration and refinement of our current understanding of the concepts of place and space.

The Fate of Place not only did open my eyes on the origins of those concepts but it also drew my attention on the almost inextricable relation that exists between the two concepts. I believe the alternate historical fate of place and space narrated by Casey (in the end, the fate of the concept which Casey puts his focus on – place – resulted to be bound to the fate of the other concept – space – as in a system of communicating vessels) can be read as the sign of the differences and the reciprocity of meanings that I believe are intrinsic to those concepts with respect to their capacity of conveying the vision of an epoch (Weltanschauung); as a matter of fact, each term was able to convey a different cosmological vision, one almost opposite to the other (on the one side, Aristotelian cosmology – pivoting around the concept of place, and describing a finite and relational cosmos; on the other side, Newtonian cosmology, built on the concept of space to describe the universe as an infinite and absolute continuum, where bodies are located and through which they move). I believe the differences and the reciprocity between the two concepts should be ascertained at ontological and epistemological levels before we can assign them other specific meanings, that is, before physical, mathematical, geographical, social, political, architectural, or before other symbolic meanings can be attributed. This is a critical passage: if we underestimate the real nature of the relation between space and place, and the modalities through which that relation can be elucidated, I believe we will never find a way out of the maze of interpretations of the placial and spatial concepts that accumulated over the past couple of millennia. Reading Casey’s The Fate of Place is a necessary step for all those who deal with concepts of space and space critically, and want to find a possible way out of the riddle of interpretations. I’m not saying that you will finish the book with the awareness of a solution to the question of place and space: I’m saying that after finishing the book you understand better what is the real problem concerning the nature of that question. If we know what the real nature of a question is, I believe we have more chances to find a proper solution to a question (a proper solution, not the only solution). There is a lot at stake behind questions of place and space: that’s what I ultimately understood by reading this book.

As regards the author, Edward S. Casey is an American philosopher active in the field of continental philosophy; he is especially influenced by phenomenological thinking. As regards his production, I consider The Fate of Place the culmination in a series of books, in which the author has dealt with the bond between place, experience and existence (or experience as a primary mode of existence). The first three books were concerned with the analysis of everyday phenomena: the first was dedicated to imaginationImagining: A Phenomenological Study, 1976; the second to memoryRemembering: A Phenomenological Study, 1987; the third to placeGetting Back into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World, 1993. The fourth – The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History, 1997 -, which is the one I will introduce in the present article, transcends the concrete intimate bond between place and experience, and it focuses on the nature of the concept of place – the philosophical idea of place, its universal character – as delineated through the history and development of Western Thought. As the author says, ‘this is an essay in intellectual history and, more specifically, in the history of philosophical thinking about place.’[4] This book is focused on place – the title is focused on place – for the obvious reason that also characterizes the fundamental blueprint of the author in the other three books: to remove the veil from the concept of place so that we can recognize, once again as it was in the past, not just the power of place as central focus of experience, but also the power of the very notion of place – the power of the philosophical idea of place.

 ‘How could we fail to recognize this primal fact?’ is the author’s introducing question. How could we fail to recognize that ‘to be at all – to exist in any way – is to be somewhere, and to be somewhere is to be in some kind of place?’[5] However, the title of the book does not have to deceive the reader: the concept of space always lurks in the background, or we find it in the foreground when the concept of place seems to ‘sink’ after certain intellectual vicissitudes; so that, the success of the one concept – space – has determined the (transitory) failure, or the reduction of the other (in the case of place, a true physical downsizing, not just ideological). For me, the use of term ‘fate’ in the title suggests a view into a better future for the concept of place, a sort of redemption for the concept of place after centuries of neglect: a future which is not totally written yet, but whose direction has already been suggested by great thinkers like Kant, Whitehead, Husserl, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, among others. I side with Casey in reading this history, and, most of all, I side with him in the common desire to write a different future for the concept of place.

1. The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History. Summary

In a few words, I can say that I’ve read Casey’s The Fate of Place as the intersecting histories of two concepts: the focus is on the concept of place, on the history of its alternate fortune; however, we frequently come across the concept of space – the idea that, over the centuries, contributed to demise or reduce the power of the concept of place. Using a sort of biological allegory, this history is like that of a parasite (space) that emerges from a body (place), dwells in it, and grows to the point of reducing the guest organism to a subsidiary function, keeping it alive for mere opportunity (space -‘the triumphant beast’, Casey says at a certain point in the text).[6] Despite that, the guest organism – place – has within itself the vital resources to resurge – to return properly – and fight for its own survival defying ‘the beast’ or, better, readdressing its functional role within a more proficient symbiotic relation. Even if the latter remark – the one regarding the ‘proficient symbiotic relation’ between concepts of place and space – is more a personal opinion rather than an explicit indication that I have taken from the book, this is, in broad outlines, the fascinating philosophical history concerning the fate of the concept of place – and together with it, of space – delineated by to the author.

The book opens with a thesis: the primacy of place stated through the validity of the Archytian axiom, a recurrent axiom through the pages of the book: to be is to be in place.[7] After an historico-philosophical journey of more than two millennia of placial/spatial debate, the author returns to where he started: to be is (still, or once again), to be in place – Casey says in the Postface;[8] yet a different kind of place, richer and more variegated than it was thought of in the beginnings: if the primacy of place in the ancient world was asserted on the base of physical, metaphysical and cosmological argumentations, ‘the new bases (…) are themselves multiple: bodily certainly, but also psychical, nomadological, architectural, institutional and sexual…’. [9]

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Image 2: The Primacy of Place is the point of departure and arrival of Casey’s historico-philosophical journey over more than two millennia of placial/spatial debate.

NOTE: all of the images that I have used and that I’m going to use in the present article are not included in Casey’s book.

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Image 3: Casey, Edward S. The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

1.1. Part One: From Void to Vessel

In the history narrated by Casey, there are mythical and religious beginnings in which place represents the material matrix, or medium, necessary for creation.[10] In these beginnings, place has to be regarded as a concrete primordial entity opposite to the unbearable idea of the void. ‘To create “in the first place” is to create a first place’,[11] Casey says, so that ‘cosmogenesis’ – the creation of the cosmos -, can often be read as ‘topogenesis’, the creation of place, or places. Here, Casey presents some mythical and religious accounts of creation – from Genesis to the Babylonian Enuma Elish, and other narratives of creation: there are references to Pelasgian, Navajo’s and Hopi’s narratives, to Hesiod’s Theogony, and some brief references to Chinese and Japanese creation myths. As far as accounts of creation may rely on time or language (‘In the beginning was the Word’, the Old Testament says, and an analogous cosmological power to the Word is also attributed by the Dogon of Mali), ‘it is evident that narrative accounts of creation must bear on place’, Casey says. [12]

There is the first systematization of knowledge – the intellectual and symbolical phase at the origin of Western Thought which enshrines the passage from mythos to logos – in which the ‘placial’ sense of those mythical beginnings was written into stone, or, more likely, on papyri, of which, sometimes, only fragments remain: Archytas (ca. 428-ca. 360 B.C.),  and, most of all, Aristotle (ca. 384-ca. 322 B.C.) are the champions of this historical phase, according to which place (the Greek topos) ‘takes precedence of all other things.’[13] It is the bounded character of place – an immobile bounding container, according to the definition of place given by Aristotle -[14] that offers things the possibility to exist: ‘without place, things would not only fail to be located; they would not even be things: they would have no place to be the things they are. The loss would be ontological…’ [15]

Casey includes such mythical and religious beginnings and the subsequent phase of intellectual systematization of knowledge in ‘Part I – From Void to Vessel’. In this first part, functioning as the missing link between the aforementioned mythical and religious narratives of creation and Aristotle’s detailed treatment of place (in the book Physics), we find Plato’s (ca. 428-ca. 348 B.C.)  ‘quasi-mythical’ cosmology (in the Timaeus), in which we encounter the important notion of ‘chōra’, a complex and ambiguous notion, yet an essential notion to understand the reciprocity between placial and spatial aspects of reality. Plato is the first thinker in the Western world to propose a spatial/placial model – chōra – based on the notion of room (through which he ponders the basic structure of the cosmos) as mediatory entity – a Receptacle properly – resulting from the encounter between the realm of sensible phenomena and the corresponding domain of ideal forms.

1.2. Part Two: From Place to Space

Then, there is the very long historical phase consisting of more than two millennia – broadly speaking a period that began soon after Aristotle and extended throughout the preparatory period that preceded Newton’s ground-breaking theory – in which the power of the concept of place was questioned: at first, as Casey suggests, ‘deepened and broadened’ – in the Hellenistic and Neoplatonic periods; then, in medieval and early modern times, ‘curtailed and limited’ so that the concept of space finally emerged as the winning concept out of a background of three basic spatial and/or placial notions – topos, chōra, and to kenon – through which the ancient thinkers tried to inquire into the principles of reality; such ‘emergence’ of space as a fully-fledged notion finally happened in the form of the Latin term spatium and, later, in the form of its Medieval variation spacium.[16] In such a long period of transition, the concept of space eventually triumphed over the concept of place not without the interference of religious thinking, because of which the infinite power and ubiquitous presence of the Christian God could be transposed into the idea of an infinite extent or space. [17]

In the book, Casey divides such a long period into two sections. In the first section (i) – The Emergence of Space – Casey presents the alternative models and the different modes of spatial and/or placial thinking developed in the Hellenistic period, which presents alternative views, with respect to Aristotle’s theory of place, necessary for the emergence of the concept of space: not so much the apeiron of Anaximander (ca. 610-ca. 546 B.C.), but, rather, the void – to kenon – of the Atomists Leucippus (active in the 5th century B.C.) and his disciple Democritus (ca. 460-ca. 370 B.C.), and, most of all, the void identified as extent or room where bodies roam – the Greek chōra – by the latter-day Atomist Epicurus (341-270 B.C.), who was probably ‘the first ancient thinker to isolate space in the broadest sense.’[18] Contemporary to Epicurus, Strato of Lampsacus (who died ca. 269 B.C) by understanding place (topos) as extension (diastema) that might, or might not, contain bodies, proposed that place ‘is a matter of sheer volume, presaging the idea of an “absolute space” that is still alive in Newton and even (with important modifications) in Einstein.’[19] Epicurus’s idea of space, coexistent with place (topos) and the void (to kenon), and Strato’s idea of extension either occupied or not by physical bodies, was further developed by the Stoic Chrysippus (280-206 B.C.) for whom ‘room is not just space for roaming – as it was for Epicurus – but extension allowing for possible occupation.’[20] This conceptual step forward extended the horizon of space toward the infinite with two foreseeable consequences: the increasingly frequent use of the concept of space instead of the void, and consequently, the inclusion of place within space. In this part of the book, the intersecting histories of the two concepts are analysed through the visions of the Stoics, the Neo-Platonists, and other contributors. And while the Stoics prepared the ground to extend the horizons of the concept of space (they believed the Cosmos as finite place set within the infinity of the extra-cosmic realm),[21]  the Neo-Platonists extended the horizons of the concept of place with a double strategy: on the one hand by extending the power of place beyond the Aristotelian characters of delimitation and location, to include distinctive qualities: in fact, with the Neoplatonist Iamblichus (A.D. ca. 250-ca. 325) place ‘can preserve and order, support and sustain, raise up and gather’;[22] this model of sustaining, which was later supported by Simplicius (active in the sixth century A.D.), ‘engrafts the dynamism of implacement onto what exists in place’ to the point that – as Iamblichus expressly says – ‘place is naturally united with things in place.’[23] This place had an ‘intrinsic causal power… a power that acts.’ [24]

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Image 4:Place is naturally united with things in place’, Iamblichus said. This Neoplatonic conceptualization is very close to the way I understand place: see my previous articles Places Everywhere, and The Τόπος of a Thing  (background photograph: McKay Savage).
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Image 5: Sunset on Krishna’s Butterball, a characteristic gigantic granite boulder in Mahabalipuram, India (photograph: Manojz Kumar).

Despite that, other Neoplatonic thinkers sketched the broad outlines of what we could understand as a protomodern concept of space which overlaps with (and will overshadow) the concept of place: place (topos) is ‘a certain extension in three-dimensions, different from the bodies that come to be in it, bodiless in its own definition – dimensions alone, empty of body’, Philoponus (A.D. 490-570) said. [29]

Moreover, two questions that will occupy discussions on the nature of place and/or space for the coming centuries are also set out by the Neoplatonists:[30] the question concerning their absolute or relative nature (a question which was present in the mind of Philoponus given his concern for the arrangement of things in place or space – a question which was also intrinsic in Aristotle and quite explicit in Theophrastus, ‘the first theorist of the essential relativity of place’ Casey says), [31] and the relation between the finite nature of place and the infinite, that is, a question which is the result of speculations over the place of the cosmos:[32] ‘Is there a place of this world? Is there an infinite space beyond the cosmos? – Casey asks concerning the questions left open by the Stoics and the Neoplatonists. At the end of this very long period – from Theophrastus to Philoponus (the Hellenistic period in Greek philosophy) already a first millennium – ‘to be is still to be in place but a place that is part of an unending space.’ [33]

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Image 6: Archythas’s vexing question about the nature of the cosmos as a finite place: ‘If I came to be at the edge, for example, at the heaven of the fixed stars, could I stretch my hand or my stick outside, or not?’ (elaboration based on a wood engraving by an unknown artist, first documented in Camille Flammarion’s book, L’atmosphere: météorologie populaire, 1888).

The second section – of ‘Part II – From Place to Space’ – is dedicated to (ii) The Ascent of Infinite Space; here, speculations held in the Medieval and the Renaissance periods are taken into consideration. This is a critical moment in the debate between space and place since it prepared the way to the full ascendancy and supremacy of space. Two issues characterize these two periods: the importance of religious thinking, and the ascent of a purely modern scientific mode of thinking about the cosmos. Where is the cosmos? Is it in place or is it in space? Is it stationary, or does it move? With these questions, Casey introduces a new chapter in his philosophical history. The fundamental problem of motion (I will devote the next article to this argument) is inextricably connected to the development of the concept of space itself and to its ascent as a term apt to represent a new cosmological vision that could finally surpass the closed world of antiquity embodied in the cosmological vision of Aristotle and Ptolemaic astronomy.

Those questions and the modes of thinking about them – religious and scientific modes – were interconnected: suffice to say the role that the Condemnations – proclaimed in the year 1277 against the doctrines that denied or limited the power of God – had in the affirmation of infinite space, as well as in the affirmation of modern science.[34] These condemnations by explicitly allowing ‘the freedom to project purely possible cosmological scenarios’ informed on God’s power, ‘certainly prepared the way for a science significantly committed to the actual infinity of physical space.’[35] As a matter of fact, according to Casey, such explorations, ‘directly or indirectly inspired the bold thought experiments of thinkers in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, engendering the conceptual ventures that laid down the foundations of modern physics, above all its commitment to the infinity of the physical universe.’[36] I completely agree with Casey’s point.

In the Middle Ages, in addition to ‘the distinctive spatial infinities already posited’ by certain theories, or lines of thought within philosophical currents (Atomism, Epicureanism, Stoicism, and Neo-Platonism), other intellectual speculations in two concomitant directions contributed to invert the balance of power between place and space: on the one hand the appeal to infinite space as ‘imaginal-hypothetico-speculative’ concept with the recurrent use of mental experiments (Gedankenexperimente), as well as its appeal as divine attribute;[37] on the other hand the effort to overcome the confinement of the Aristotelian concept of place (topos as immobile container, an idea still influential at that time) that resulted in a new interpretation of the very concept of place (now locus) according to three prevailing senses: place as ‘in’ (place in the cosmos), place as ‘of’ (place of the cosmos) and place as ‘between’ (place between worlds).[38] While the first sense was still Aristotelian in its fundamental locatory power, the other two senses had within themselves a certain proclivity to be considered as space, that is a proclivity for ‘place to becoming space’.[39] This is possible ‘if place has three dimensions’ and if ‘it can be emptied of bodies in principle (only space is capable of this)’;[40] this latter question also set up discussions, continued for the coming centuries, over the nature of the substance – ether or light – that might fill infinite space or place.

The English scholastic philosopher and theologian Thomas Bradwardine (ca. 1290-1349), and the great Jewish thinker Crescas (1340-1410) are two among the thinkers that contributed more than others to the development of the concept of space as sheerly infinite, in the Late Middle Ages.

Thus, we’re up to the Renaissance period, a term – Renaissance – which means ‘renewed, new again’ properly, Casey notes. What is ‘renewed’, that is, what is taken from the past and made ‘new again’ concerning our placial and spatial considerations? ‘A primary case point is the very idea of spatial infinity’,[41] Casey says, a notion that had its precedent in the ideas of the Atomists, Epicurus and other thinkers among the Stoics and the Neoplatonists, an idea that was also revived in the medieval period after the Condemnations of  1277, as we have just seen.

Within this context, the positions of thinkers like Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464), Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), Francesco Patrizi (1529-1597) and Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639) are especially taken into consideration. What is remarkable with this and other thinkers of the same period is that they managed ‘to combine recognition of the importance of place with an equal acknowledgement of the value of infinite space.’[42] Yet, with the growing interest in the actual (not just imaginary) infinity of space, indeterminacy is still what characterizes the relation between concepts of space and place in the speculations of those thinkers until the end of the sixteenth century. After them, space and place were left unclarified notions: a literal confusion (‘place is space…’ or even ‘space is place…’) results from the analysis of their positions.[43] This ‘muddle’ – as Casey calls it -[44] is the historical prelude to the clear-cut clarification of the terms in the coming century: any ambiguity of roles between space and place could be dispelled and the transition from one concept – place – to the other – space – completed within what I like to call, metaphorically, the second grand systematization of knowledge (the second watershed after Aristotle, which culminates in the work of Newton).[45] This is the subject of Part III – The Supremacy of Space.

1.3. Part Three: The Supremacy of Space

Descending from its position as a supreme term within Aristotle’s protophenomenological physics, place barely survived discussion by the end of the seventeenth century. By the end of the eighteenth century, it vanished altogether from serious theoretical discourse in physics and philosophy.’[46] That’s Casey’s telling incipit for this new short but very intense phase in the philosophical history of the concept of place. Now, the ancient power of place is just a faint memory if the English philosopher and physicists William Gilbert can say: ‘place is nothing, does not exist, has no strength.’ [47] There are four related issues that will mark the fate of place and space, and will steer the discussions about those concepts for the coming centuries: (i) the understanding of space as absolute and infinite; (ii) the understanding of space as extensive, that is, the quantification of space (and consequently of place) through the geometrical notion of extension; (iii) the possibility to understand space as a relative and abstract entity; (iiii) the abstraction of space and place as site and point. Casey dedicates a chapter to each issue.

The supremacy of the idea of (i) Modern Space as Absolute and infinite is narrated through the analysis of three major thinkers: Gassendi, More and, above all, Newton. The work of Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655) is propaedeutic to that of Newton: for instance, ‘he was the first to proclaim that a moving body will continue in a rectilinear direction indefinitely, and he explicitly rejected the ancient model of the impetus as the cause of motion.’[48] Gassendi made the decisive step toward the final emancipation of space from place, and from matter as well, by distinguishing between spatial and corporeal extension and by asserting the dimensionality of space itself, that is, the possibility to measure it. Such possibility entails the notion of pure space (isometric and isotropic, uniform in just one word); space is a real entity – ‘a real thing’ -[49] on par with corporeal substance, according to Gassendi. Moreover, by positing the co-extensiveness of the universe and space, Gassendi also attributed space the character of infinity. As for place, its nominal function is maintained, in the sense that place is still a useful term to denote the movement of body from a place to another place, but this old notion is deprived of any power: just like space it can be quantified, and, most of all, quantified as a portion of space itself, with no relation – no causal effect – with the intrinsic dynamism of the bodies in space.

This ultimate reduction of place and its subsumption under space was formalized (literally put into law – the laws of motion) by Isaac Newton (1643-1727) in his epoch-making work of 1687 – Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Matematica: not only was place assimilated into space, but, the almost impalpable and intangible idea of space was definitely reified – turned into substance – so that the more concrete place could be subsumed under space for all intents and purposes, physically reduced or downsized, as Gassendi anticipated. ‘Place is a part of space which a body takes up’ – will be the sentence given by Newton, in the famous Scholium.[50] What is truly remarkable with Newton’s work of systematization is that he set up the basis for the absolute-relative debate over the nature of space and place for the coming centuries. And even if place is still a concept widely used by Newton for his theoretical scopes (so we have ‘movable place’ as well as ‘immovable place’, ‘relative place’ as well as ‘absolute place’), in the end, place is merely a subdivision of space; not just inferior to space but also inferior to material bodies. Subsumed under space and collapsed into body: this is the fate of place under Newton’s guidance.

An important aspect that Casey also mentions with respect to Newton’s speculations is the role that theological thinking played in the interpretations of space and place, and, consequently, his relation with the thinking of Henry More (1614-1687): not only is the infinity of God at stake with the infinity of space, but also God’s spiritual or corporeal nature is at stake. And while Newton will retreat from the temptation of equating the corporeal essence of space with the essence of God – whose being, for Newton, remains spiritual -, More will ‘take a bold step beyond fourteenth-century theology: not only space is divinized but God is spatialized… God Himself is “an extended thing”, thus present in the physical world.’[51] As also Casey points out, More had an enormous influence on Isaac Newton since ‘the latter’s idea of “absolute space” is, arguably, a tidied-up version of More’s “Infinite movable Extended”’ through which More considers space and God as ‘alike extended beings.’ [52]

An entire chapter is dedicated to the philosophically and scientifically critical idea of (ii) Modern Space as Extensive: it was the merit of René Descartes (1596-1650) to having systematized within the rigid and precise language of mathematics (of geometry, properly) such fundamental issue coming from a distant past (and it is, first and foremost, the joint merit of Descartes and Newton if common sense intends the idea of space as external, three-dimensional, neutral, and invisible steel framework – a continuum – that contains our lives and any happenings). As a matter of fact, geometrical space is an invention of Descartes. [53] Since his early works, ‘extension (extensio) is the core concept in Descartes’s view of space’, Casey says;[54] however, much of his mature philosophical argumentation concerning the concepts of space, place and matter are dealt with in his Principles of Philosophy (1644). Contrarily to the Neo-Platonist Philoponus, Descartes does not pose a distinction between corporeal and spatial extension, for, as Casey says, ‘we are unable to imagine any body that is not extended or any extension that is not bodily’ so that ‘extension and extended things are inseparable’. So, we arrive at Descartes’s ‘purely conceptual distinction between matter and space’ or, put it the other way, we arrive at ‘the equation of matter and space’ from which – Casey continues – the following crucial corollaries follow: the indefinite extension of the world; the impossible existence of the void; the subordinate character of place (to matter and space).[55] As for place, by introducing the ambiguous distinction between internal place and external place, Descartes says that ‘space or internal place and the corporeal substance which is contained in it, are not different’  (Principle X), and that ‘the names “place” or “space” do not signify a thing different from the body which is said to be in the place; but only designate its size, shape and situation among bodies’ (Principle IV);[56] then, place (or space) merely appears to be a body-predicate. In the end, in the philosophy of Descartes, ‘the fate of place, merging with the vicissitude of space (and of matter – brackets are mine) is left dangling. Its final status… is literally ambi-guous… Place is a hybrid entity: as volumetric, it is like a thing; as situational, it is unthinglike and purely relational.’ [57]

Another chapter is dedicated to the interpretation of (iii) Modern Space as Relative entity. At this regard, Locke and Leibniz are the two thinkers that more than others addressed argumentations in the opposite direction with respect to Newton’s concept of absolute space. If Descartes, tried to tackle the absolute-relative debate by way of his two-sided notion of place, which is, in turn, based on the equation of corporeal and spatial extension – ‘Descartes clings both to absolutism in his notion of space as internal place and to relativism in his description of external place’, Casey says -,[58] John Locke (1632 –1704) in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) clings to the notion of distance to prove the nature of, and the difference between  place and space. Contrarily to Descartes, he dismisses the equation between space, (internal) place and matter: ‘Space is not body because it includes no Solidity, nor resistance to the motion of Body’, Locke underlines;[59] and, by means of the notion of distance, he proves the nature of space and place as well: while space is barely characterised by being a dimensional notion, a mono-dimensional factor of length – that’s why he speaks of ‘simple Space’ (‘in simple Space we consider the relation of distance between any two bodies or Points’) -,[60] place is characterized by ‘relations of distance or, more exactly, of double distance’.[61] With Locke place clearly assumes a relational role (‘our Idea of Place is nothing else but such a relative Position of any thing’);[62] and by stressing on the fact that place is entirely a matter of convention, that is a figment of imagination ‘made by Men, for their common use, that by it they might be able to design the particular Position of Things’, we contemporarily assist to another decisive step (after ‘the phoronomic Physics of Galileo and the analytical geometry of Descartes’) toward the reduction of place to site, as Casey points out.[63] If the separation that Locke draws between space and place allows him to distance himself from Newton with respect to the relative character of place, that separation is not enough for him to distance from the spatial absolutism of Newton: in fact, as Casey underlines, in Locke’s case ‘place-relativism comes paired with space-absolutism.’ [64]

The first consistent criticism concerning the Newtonian idea of absolute space is due to Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646-1716). If Descartes and Locke stressed on the notions of extension and distance, respectively, to set up the theoretical foundations of their discourses on place and space, Leibniz focuses his attention on the notion of situation, which is determinative of space and place:  it is from the situatedness of things that space as an ideal system of relation may be imagined as it is clearly expressed by Leibniz in his fifth letter to Clarke. And if space is an ‘order of coexistence’, as Casey observes, ‘this means that space is not only relative, but also ideal in status’; so, Casey continues, ‘what is at stake in space is an ideal nexus of entities, not the entities themselves.’[65] Leaving the conclusion to Leibniz’s own words, space ‘can only be an ideal thing, containing a certain order, wherein the mind conceives the application of relations.’[66] With Leibniz the concreteness of place, displaced within a sea of relations, is at risk: even if, as Casey points out, he has the chance to avoid place from vanishing into relational space (in a fragment of the work ‘On the principles of Indiscernibles’, by subsuming position and quantity under quality Leibniz seems to embrace the idea that the quality of the things in place is determinant for space; moreover by claiming that ‘in actuality that which has a place must express place itself’ he seems to believe that no extension can exist without place and no place can exist without a body, thereby opening the way for place to recover part of its ancient concrete power),[67] ‘in the end Leibniz (…) succumbs to the view of place as parallel to position and even, finally, subordinate to it (…); place is dissolved, if not diffused, in the abstractness of the spatial system.’ [68]

After Leibniz – Casey summarizes -, place is three-time lost in space: lost in the space of quantitative abstractness; lost in the infinity of space under the influence of God’s immensity, which is necessary to comprehend an infinite number of monads; lost in the relativity of space, that is, lost in a set of relations. Place literally vanishes into space in the form of location or site. Taking Descartes’s discourse of external place to the limits, with Leibniz ‘place has become so external and so relative that it is utterly indifferent to what occupies it; all that matters is (…) the simple location that place furnishes to whatever takes up position in it – while it, place as reduced to position, falls free of any influence from this occupant, much less of any influence on this occupant in turn’;[69] and place as simple location has only one way of representation: a point. If with Descartes we have witnessed the geometrization of space, with Leibniz we witness the geometrization of place: ‘analysis situ’ – analysis of site – is the name of the geometric discipline invented by Leibniz, regarding the description of place understood as position and point.

Casey’s conclusion of this chapter on space (and place) as relative is illuminating: ‘even if salutary for space, Leibniz’s achievement proved to be disastrous for place-disastrous for its survival as a viable concept in its own right.’ [70]

The final chapter of Part Three is dedicated to the supremacy of space – (iiii) Modern Space as Site and Point – and it hinges around the question: how did the confinement of place – the absorption of place into position – and its dissolution, as well as the dissolution of space in the positional relativity of sites, occur? The metaphorical j’accuse is directed to ‘the resolutely relationalist’ thinking of Locke and Leibniz, who were responsible, for having laid the groundwork for that fatal outcome. However, this mode of understanding space and place, that is, ‘the clearing away of place to make room for position as the very basis for the supremacy of space in its relative nature’ was a trend that continued throughout the eighteenth-century and manifested in different forms of life and culture: ‘perhaps most revealingly,’ – Casey says -‘in architecture a whole manner of building flourished around what I shall call site. By this term I here mean the levelled down, emptied-out planiform residuum of place and space eviscerated of their actual and virtual powers and forced to fit the requirements of institutions that demand certain very particular forms of building.’[71] Through the work of the French philosopher Michel Foucault, Casey analyses that eighteenth-century trend: the triumph of the conceptualization of place and space as ‘site’ through architectural examples of ‘disciplinary and institutional space.’ [72]

Given that this is my direct field of competence I make a short digression by saying that, unlike Casey’s cautious position underlined by the introductory adverb of probability in the proposition ‘perhaps most revealingly, in architecture…’, for me there is no surprise if new forms of architecture correspond to new modes of understanding space and place (see Image 7, below): architecture is one of the most immediate and evident media through which society reifies the core concepts around which it shapes its values and beliefs; it happened in the past, it is happening in the present epoch and it will happen in future. This is another reason for which architects cannot miss Casey’s book: the very essence of architecture is to embody the way society understands the fundamentals of reality, that is ‘the where’ of entities and their relations.

Image 7: The Panopticon: how to reduce place to site in architecture (Presidio Modelo, in Cuba; photograph: Friman).

To conclude this important historical phase, Casey introduces the work of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), who is, at the same time, the point of arrival – or culmination – for The Supremacy of Space, as well as the point of departure for the final argumentation on The Reappearance of Place, to which the fourth and final part of the book is dedicated. As regards the concepts of space and place, in his first writings Kant agrees with Leibniz on the relative nature of space: as an order of position, space is relative. However, he soon took a crucial step in the direction of absolute space when he understood that relative regions of space formed by the system of relations between positions have to be considered with respect to ‘the absolute space of the universe’ and not with respect to the regions as such; in other terms, what counts for Kant is not the relation between positions as such (relative space is the direct consequence of this reasoning) ‘but the situation of being encompassed in universal space as unity.’[73] Here we are in the middle ground relativism and absolutism; yet, this is an ideal rather than an actual form of absolutism, since, in the transcendental view of Kant, which he presented as a fully-fledged system of knowledge in the Critique of Pure Reason (1781), space is an abstract entity that only exists ‘in the mind of the epistemic subject’ to quote Casey. And what about place? ‘Place is outright reduced to point by Kant’ as it appears evident in his Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (1786) where ‘both absolute and relative models of space are embraced’ – Casey says – and where, as Kant explicitly announces, ‘the place of everybody is a point.’[74] With Descartes, Locke and Leibniz, we have witnessed the reduction of place to position; after Leibniz and Kant, the final reduction of place from position to point is completed. Just like in Newton, the status of place is the status of an epiphenomenon: merely a part of one universal space, which, differently from Newton, is provided as a pure form of intuition, according to Kant.

At the end of this important historical period, place has vanished into points, dispersed or submerged in space, either it is considered as a real or ideal entity. As points or parts of space (singular), places (plural) are irretrievably lost: ‘lost in space’, Casey concludes. What a distance from Aristotle – for whom sensible things were located in place – to Kant – for whom places were located in the mind of the subject as parts, or, even worst, as points of an abstract space! [75]

1.4. Part Four: The Reappearance of Place

Given the hegemony of space ‘how (…) can we rediscover the special non-metric properties and unsited virtues of place?’ Casey asks. This is the opening question to which the fourth and final part of the book answers. And the answer is quite direct: first and foremost, we can rediscover place (i) By Way of Body – this is the title of the first section of Part Four – where the thoughts of authors like Kant and Whitehead, Husserl and Merleau-Ponty are under investigation.

With respect to Kant’s argumentation on the possibility for place to regain philosophical consideration, Casey especially considers two writings: the dissertation of 1770 – ‘On the Form and Principles of Sensible and Intelligible World’ – and a brief essay of 1768 – ‘On the Ultimate Ground of the Differentiation of Regions in Space’. In the dissertation, by insisting on the fact that sensible things must occupy particular places contrarily to those entities (such as angels or God) that are exempted from a genuine local presence, Kant invokes the ancient Archytian axiom: ‘Whatever is, is somewhere and somewhen’;[76] in this way, as Casey explicitly says, ‘Kant in effect adds a crucial rider to Archytas’s axiom: namely, to be – to be sensible – is to be in place.’[77] In the other essay, Kant discovered the fundamental role of the human body – which is intrinsically asymmetric – to provide things with a directionality that, otherwise, would not be possible apart from the ordering directionality of the body: as a matter of fact, Casey explicitly says, ‘the dimensionality of space follows from the directionality of the body’, that is, it follows from the fact that the body presents the inherent directionality of right-left, up-down, and front-back.[78] Much more than with respect to absolute space, it is from the body as the absolute source of directionality that orientation of entities within space is possible; without the body, Casey says, ‘space would be merely a neutral, absolute block… of pure relations built up from pure positions’ within which no orientation would be possible. ‘But as we in fact experience the spatial world – Casey continues – this world is composed of oriented places nested in diversely oriented regions. For this – Casey concludes – we have the body to thank. And for bringing all this to our attention, we have Kant himself to thank.’[79]

Regarding the argumentation on the reappearance of place, the first post-Kantian philosopher Casey takes into consideration, is Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947), an author who – in the book Science and the Modern World  (1925) – criticized the XVII century views of space and the fundamental assumption of ‘simple location, the view that whatever is in space is simpliciter in some definite portion of space’;[80]  actually, Whitehead says, ‘among the primary elements of nature as apprehended in our immediate experience, there is no element whatever which possesses this character of simple location’;[81] and, of course, ‘among these elements is place,  which is never simply located’, Casey comments.[82] Analogously to what we have seen with Kant, but from a very different perspective, if place regains recognition with Whitehead, it is by way of the human body, which is a determinant factor for our immediate experience; in fact, Whitehead says, ‘we have to admit that the body is the organism whose states regulate our cognisance of the world. The unity of the perceptual field therefore must be a unity of bodily experience.’[83] ‘The perceiver’s body – Casey points out with respect to Whitehead’s argumentation – is an active participant in the scene of perception’ and the body-as-implaced entity assumes within itself aspects of the universe at large, so that the notion of simple location understood as ‘the primary way in which things are involved in space-time’ should be abandoned; ‘in a certain sense – Whitehead continues – everything is everywhere at all times. For every location involves an aspect of itself in any other location.’[84] Whitehead introduces the notion of ‘modal location’ to describe the modality through which the there of an object ingresses (through perception) the here of the perceiving body-as-subject, thereby explaining the reason why any location ‘there’, is contemporary ‘here’ with the body: in this way place becomes the common milieu in which objects and body, there and here, are all situated in what Whitehead calls ‘the obvious solidarity of the world’. Therefore, it is such togetherness or ‘withness’ (a concept that Whitehead developed in his magnum opusProcess and Reality’, in 1929) between the body and the environing world, that inexorably cause the abandonment of the possibility of the simply-located character of things and with it the rejection of the very notion place as simple location, whence the reduction of place to site or even to point derived in the manner envisioned by previous thinkers like Newton, Gassendi, Descartes, Locke and Leibniz. [85]

The next thinker that Casey takes into consideration for this retrieval of the crucial role of place is Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), the founding father of modern phenomenology, which is a philosophical attitude that puts focus on the concrete experience in ‘the surrounding world of life’, or ‘life-world’ (Lebenswelt) as Husserl calls it. It is properly through the agency of the body – intended as a ‘lived body’ (Leib) and not as a physical thing (Korper) – that experience, as well as the inroad to place and space, is possible. The logical nexus between place and body is found by Husserl in the ‘kinesthesia, that is, the inner experience of the moving or resting body as it feels itself moving or pausing at a given moment.’[86] The way we feel our body deeply influences the way we experience place to the point that the body itself, through perception in general and through the perception of inner and outer motions in particular, can be thought of as constitutive of place itself: ‘the place is realized through kinesthesia’, Husserl says.[87] Of course, this place has nothing to do with the concept of place reduced to site, point or confined region within space, by previous thinkers: this place has a qualitative value. It is a ‘lived place’, a ‘field of localization’[88] that Husserl identifies, to begin with, with the concept of ‘near-sphere’ (Nah-sphäre) the place of my body with all of the immediate places within the direct reach of my body, the ‘nearby areas in/to which I can move’ and which differs from ‘my far-sphere [that] contains places to which I do not have immediate access’ Casey says.[89] From here – Casey continues – ‘spatiality is constituted as objective insofar as its composition results from the concatenation of places available to me (…). What we call space is not the correlate of my kinesthetically felt near sphere but its very expansion’, or, to use Husserl’s own words, ‘the apperceptive expansion (Erweiterung) of the near-sphere is realized in a homogeneous infinite open world of space.’[90] With Husserl it is from the concatenation of lived places that are available to my kinesthesis and movements (at first, in my near-sphere, and, then, in the far-sphere) that the constitution of an absolute space may be realized (at this regards, walking is the supreme act that accords place an implicit dynamism – that’s why it is a lived place, in the end – and through which it is possible the coherent unification of the concatenation of near and far places).[91] As Casey points out, ‘what was posited by Newton as itself bodiless cannot be constituted, much less apprehended, except by a body’. [92]

RSAP_007_08_Husserl Model of Spatialization_96dpi
Image 8: The constitution of place and space according to Husserl’s model of spatialization.

The concluding paragraph of this first section on The Reappearance of Place by way of the body is about the work of the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961) with particular reference to his ‘Phenomenology of Perception’ (1945); as Casey says, ‘Merleau-Ponty culminates a late modern effort to reclaim the particularity of place from the universality of space by recourse to bodily empowerment.’[93] In Merleau-Ponty’s argumentation for the determination of the origins of space and place, the central role is attributed to ‘the lived body’. He takes up and extends Husserl’s central idea of kinesthesia as a condition for being in place and for the generation of space; in fact – as Casey’s expressly says with respect to Merleau-Ponty – ‘the origin [of space] is found straightforwardly in the body of the individual subject. Or, more exactly, it is found in the movement of that body; for space to arise, our body (…) must be in motion.’[94] Hence, space is ‘neither a collection of points nor a conglomeration of sheer relations [but] becomes an expressive space…’[95] since, from the very beginning, it is oriented by and subjected to the lived body, which is the very source of space. ‘One immediate implication – Casey says – is that place cannot be reduced to sheer position in objective space (…). It also ensues that we cannot reduce place to its ideational representation’[96] like previous thinkers tried to do. Casey continues: ‘A place I inhabit by my body is not merely some spot of space (…) but an ambiguous scene of things-to-be-done rather than of items-already-established’; it is a place of open possibilities for my body (either virtual or actual possibilities, this means that with Merleau-Ponty ‘place has a virtual dimension overlooked in previous accounts’ – Casey notes) or ‘a place defined by its task and situation’ in Merleau-Ponty’s own words.[97] The co-existence between place and body is so tight (‘it is clear that there is a knowledge of place which is reducible to a sort of co-existence with that place’, Merleau-Ponty says) that a sort of unbreakable circularity/continuity between place and body encourages us to consider the body itself a place: not only ‘the body provides a privileged point of access to place, [but] the places we inhabit are known by the bodies we live. Moreover, we cannot be implaced without being embodied. Conversely, to be embodied is to be capable of implacement.’ At this regards, Casey explicitly says that ‘Merleau-Ponty teaches us not just that the human body is never without a place or that place is never without body; he also shows us that the lived body is itself a place. Its very movement, instead of effecting a mere change of position, constitutes place, brings it into being.’[98] The phenomenal experience of the flesh of the body precedes any abstract possibility of space, which comes to us already forged by the asymmetries of our body. With Merleau-Ponty the body besides being place-productive is space-productive. This being the case, how far we have come from some previous ideas on the isotropy and homogeneity of space!

By regarding the body as the crucial clue, they [Kant and Whitehead, Husserl and Merleau-Ponty] have begun to retrieve the importance of place for Western thought’ – this is Casey’s conclusive remark of the first section of Part Four.

Apart from the body, there are ‘other means of access to place as subject of renewed philosophical importance’, Casey says in the introductive part of the following section – (ii) Proceeding to Place by Indirection: this is the case of Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), who rarely addressed the very concept of place as a direct topic of his philosophical discourse (temporality was his primary concern), but he does it by means of recurrent concepts that have a more or less explicit spatial/placial value or meaning – nearness, gathering, region, the Open, clearing, Dasein, Ereignis, etc. Casey considers the evolution of Heidegger’s thinking on spatiality through the analysis of different works following the chronological progression of Heidegger’s texts. The starting point is Heidegger’s most acclaimed work – ‘Being and Time’ (1927) – which presents the structure of being in the form of ‘Dasein’, literally being-there, the form of being-in-the-world that is peculiar to the human being. Even if Heidegger explicitly attributes to temporality the basic structure of Dasein, as Casey acutely observes, the character of being-in intrinsically bears on place: the ‘in’ of being-in is not the description of a positional quality, it does not indicate a situation of sheer confinement, but is an indication of ‘Dasein’s proclivity for inhabiting and dwelling’, two terms that inevitably refer to place. For Dasein’s dwelling, residing or being alongside the world to be realized, a ‘distracted involvement in the affairs of the everyday world’ is necessary: such is the involvement of the Dasein with ‘ready-to-hand’ entities.[99] It is properly our closeness to and concern with the immediate environs of the ready-to-hand entities that directionality arises and with it a sense of basic orientation out of which place results, in the end: ‘place is not something we come across as something we are simply in; it is what we precipitate by the conjoint action of directing and desevering [the action of bringing close] – thus something to which our direct intervention gives rise.’[100] This place is pragmatic: it is the where of Dasein’s involvement with the ready-to-hand entities. In turn, Casey says, this place is unthinkable apart from regions: a region does not merely provide an increased room with respect to place but ‘it is the very condition of possibility for the implacement of the ready-to-hand.’ While place is the product of Dasein’s individual constitutive activity, a region is too massively public in his gathering power of the ready-to-hand entities to be the product of any individual Dasein – Casey notes. Therefore, Casey continues, a region ‘is something that Dasein is already alongside and that provides for ready-to-hand things a matrix of spatial involvement.’[101] ‘What, then, about space?’ Casey asks. ‘Space is the belated and dilated legacy of region: it is what region becomes in the realm of the present-at-hand.’[102] A key notion which is necessary for space to arise and which mediates between place, Dasein, ready-to-hand entities, region and space is the notion of ‘room’ and especially of ‘making room’: ‘space emerges from spatiality for which room has been made for a totality of involvement… There can be no such homogeneous medium as space unless room has been made (and thus spatiality opened up) within a given region of the ready-to-hand.’[103] Three conclusions can be drawn from the spatial model presented in Being and Time: 1) space is not mental, as Kant believed, since the subject is not mental but spatial, located in-the-world. 2) an entire genealogy of space become possible which is related to the concrete activity of the subject (hence, for instance, from surveying may derive mapping spaces, from building architectural spaces, from thinking a theoretical spaces such as the space of analysis situ can be, or other typologies of abstract spaces, etc. etc.). 3) homogeneity of three-dimensional space arises from the present-at-hand neutralization of spatiality of the ready-to-hand entities.

So much for the model of spatiality articulated in Being and Time, which, in the intentions of Heidegger, is a model subjected to the primacy of temporality, rather than of space or place. Nonetheless, in the subsequent pages of The Fate of Place, Casey, by analysing the different works that Heidegger produced in the following years, argued for a turning of Heidegger’s focus of interest from temporality to spatiality, henceforth a turn to place and associated notions. So, for instance, in ‘The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic’ (1928), when Heidegger considers thrownnessa primordial feature of Dasein’, Casey points out that ‘to be thrown into the world is to be placed there in a body and by a body’, whose involvement with the multiplicity of ‘ready-to-hand’ entities promotes the dissemination of Dasein itself in a multiplicity of modes of being-in-the-world. Then – Casey asks – ‘how can such a multiplicity exist but in spatial terms?’ [104]

The intrinsic closeness between Dasein, body and spatiality is even more explicit in a subsequent text – ‘An Introduction to Metaphysics’ (1935) – with respect to which Casey openly says that ‘Heidegger – belatedly – underlines the placial significance of Dasein’. In fact, as Heidegger himself says, ‘Dasein should be understood, within the question of Being, as the place (Stätte) which Being requires in order to disclose itself.’ [105]

Other instances of spatiality, place, and related concepts – i.e. boundary, gathering, the Open, nearness, etc. – are analysed in ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’ (1935), ‘Conversation on a Country Path’ (1944/45, published in 1959) and ‘The Thing’ (1950), but it is in the well-known essay (at least, well-known for architects) ‘Building Dwelling Thinking’ (1951) that a new vision of place appears in all its plenitude and distinctive character. Again ‘residing in the nearness of things’, that is dwelling or inhabiting, is the topic of that essay; by taking as an example the case of a built thing – the bridge – Casey, through Heidegger, shows that place is not a pre-existing instance of spatiality but ‘arises with the bridge regarded as a thing.’[106] Then, Casey is explicitly saying that ‘things are themselves places and do not just belong to a place, much less merely occupy positions in an empty homogeneous space’[107], which is one fundamental thesis I argue for 

Things are themselves places and do not just belong to a place, much less merely occupy positions in an empty homogeneous space

When the bridge/place does arise it arises in virtue of its being ontologically locatory for the thing itself (the bridge as physical and functional object) and for the fourfold:[108] ‘only something that is itself a location can make space for a seat’ (the seat of the fourfold and of the thing itself) – Heidegger says.[109] This model ‘permits both space and locality to be spun off from place as its eschata, its extremities’, Casey notes. ‘Space, as Heidegger adds, is in essence that for which room has been made, by being (…) gathered, by the thing as location… Spaces receive their being from locations and not from space’; and again, ‘if there is a ground – Casey says – it lies in place and not in space.’[110] How far we are from Newton’s assertive Scholium! With the mature argumentation of Heidegger, we have discovered that space is a part of place (an epiphenomenon) and not the other way around.

Heidegger’s late turning to place and spatiality is perhaps no more evident than in the essay ‘Time and Being’ (1962), in which we assist, as participant spectators in the recovery of the concept of place, to the ‘implacement of time’. ‘Where is time? – Heidegger asks – Is time at all and does it have a place?’[111] Indeed, Casey says: ‘the three temporal modalities [past, present, and future] come close to each other only by respecting their remoteness from one another in one and the same place.’[112] In the wake of the Einsteinian ‘space-time’, the spatial/placial character of time that is present to human beings is rendered by the Heideggerian term ‘time-space’. It is but a short step from the implacement of time to its assimilation to Being: the complex pattern that links spatiality to time and Being is found in the quite complicate Heideggerian concept of Ereignis, which ‘as event [this is a possible translation of that technical term] is ineluctably spatiotemporal: to be an event is to exist in space and time alike. Or more exactly: it is to exist in place’, Casey says.[113] Ultimately, ‘… we have gained insight into the origin of space in the properties peculiar to place’ Heidegger notes. And Casey, concluding the analysis of this essay, remarks: ‘the generation of space (…) is possible only from within (…) the spatiotemporal Appropriation of place.’ [114]

To conclude this section, Casey takes into consideration Heidegger’s last major text – ‘Art and Space’ (1969) – in which, finally, Heidegger asks the fatal question: ‘Still, what is place?’ drawing these crucial conclusions: ‘Place opens a region by every time gathering things into their belonging together… Place is not found in pre-given space construed as physical-technological space. Space unfolds only from the free reign (Walten) enjoyed by the places of a region.’[115] In turn, Casey, drawing on this line of reasoning, makes this illuminating remark for the benefit of artists and architects: ‘Even the empty spaces in a building or piece of sculpture count as places, and, more generally, the plastic arts represent the embodiment of places.’[116] What a neglected and unheard truth is this, I would say. As a personal experience to support that thesis, I can say that I felt to be an architect as soon as I metabolized space as a plenum (a place), and not when I got my degree.

Even the empty spaces in a building or piece of sculpture count as places

After a very long, convoluted, yet engaging narration regarding the alternate historico-philosophical vicissitudes of the concept of place we have finally come to the present days: (iii) Giving a Face to Place in the Present is the final section of the book – this section is almost a chronicle rather than a history, given the actuality of some works and authors considered. In this final section the range of the discussion is vast and variegated since new ways of considering place (and space) may span from history to ecology, from politics to religion, from architecture to sociology, from human geography to gender discussion on place and space, from the philosophical to the poetic; therefore, as Casey himself points out, this last chapter contains ‘mere sketches of several promising and evocative contemporary directions… signposts for future explorations’ with no claim to be exhaustive with respect to the whole present picture. [117]

Then, in a brief excursus through different authors and disciplines, we discover many different possibilities to understand place (and space). With Gaston Bachelard and his argumentation on the development of the poetic image, we discover the placial character of the psychical realm: ‘to be psychical is to be in place’.[118] In the realm of the poetic and the imaginary – that is in the realm of the psyche, which is, to a certain extent, the realm of the symbolic as well (this is how I call the later stage/state of place in the operational definition that I give to place, see Paragraph 2 in the Article: What is Place? What is Space?) – we discover that the difference between place and space is suspended: ‘they coalesce in a common intensity.’ [119]

With another French thinker, Michel Foucault, we explicitly discover that ‘ideas of place and space vary widely from era to era and from society to society’ or, to put it another way ‘space and place are historical entities subject to the vagaries of time’ and power: this is Foucault’s ‘genealogical thesis’ (actually, this discovery – the historical value of concepts – is an implicit fact that goes along with the entire structure of Casey’s book). And given that we are living in an ‘epoch of space’, Foucault says, to sustain his genealogical thesis, he presents a true genealogy of modern spaces emplaced in different forms of real places – or ‘heterotopias’ – such as schools, hospitals, prisons, cemeteries, or even theatres, cinemas, museums and libraries  etc. One of the problems with Foucault’s inquiry into space and place – Casey notes – is that no critic connection or distinction is made between space and place or even between other spatial/placial concepts (i.e. location and site) so that his promising heterotopoanalysis remains flawed, in the end (again, I completely agree with Casey).

The co-presence of place and space in the mundane world, is also a characteristic trait in the work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari; such co-presence occurs under the form of the famous dyadic relation between smooth and striated space; one – smooth space – more bodily in character, and offering a different perspective with respect the more static form of placial dwelling indicated by Heidegger: this is a form of nomadic space, or place, where dwelling is accomplished in the form of walking or travelling from place to place instead of as residing (a settled form of dwelling in place). The other – striated space – more abstract, almost geometrical in its character, more linked to logos, to recover a differentiation between the spatial/placial character of reality that goes far back in time to Plato, as Casey suggests at the end of his analysis.

With still another French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, we discover the possibility to understand place as the scene of writing or the scene in which a text takes its form: a previously unseen form of implacement![120] And since when an architect makes a project he is just performing a peculiar form of writing – architecture is ‘a writing of space, a mode of spacing which makes a place for the event’ Derrida says – we can understand why Derrida decided to collaborate with architects like Bernard Tschumi and Peter Eisenman to see how the act of spacing is related to real places. Again, as in the previous example of smooth and striated spaces, through the premises of deconstruction in architecture, we discover a different sense of place, specifically, a different sense of inhabiting a place with respect to the Heideggerian modes of dwelling, building (and thinking): in the end, we assist to the effort to escape the confinement and containment implicit in the traditional model/concept of place.

To rethink space as place – and not the reverse as in the early modern era – is the urgent task…

To rethink space as place – and not the reverse as in the early modern era – is the urgent task of everyone under consideration in this final chapter’ -[121] Casey says; and when Derrida exhorts contemporary architects ‘to construct a new space and a new form, to shape a new way of building in which those [traditional] motifs or values [e.g. of habitation] are re-inscribed’ Casey remarks that ‘given the problematic status of space in Western thought, it would be better to say that it is a matter of construction a new place with a new form – a new way of building not just at or on a place but building place itself, building it anew and otherwise’.[122] I take Casey’s appropriate remark as symptomatic fact concerning the ambiguity that still exists between the concepts of place and space at the present time, as if more than two thousand years of placial and spatial discussions were not enough to have a clear grasp and a shared understanding of the connections and the differences that exist between space and place.

Casey’s final considerations regard the question of place and gender, a question which has no precedent record in the history of western thinking. A question which was at first tackled by the Belgian philosopher Luce Irigaray, for whom not only are places sexually differentiated: bodies – and especially the mother’s body – are places themselves. This nurturing model of place surpasses the strict model of containment offered by Aristotle’s place (contrary to Aristotle’s enveloping model of place, a feminine body-as-place is at the same time enveloping and enveloped, that is it has a dual envelope and dual extension: extended within – genitalia womb – and extended without – the skin as envelope of the flesh of the body) and also surpass Plato’s nurturing envelope (yet single envelope, differently from Irigaray’s more spacious model): the receptacle-as-chōra. But what is also hopeful concerning Irigaray’s notion of sexually-differentiated place-as-body is that implacement, in consequence of its being inherently sexual, may also have political and religious significance – Casey observes.

In the end, I believe we should read this final chapter as Casey’s indication of the many different possibilities opened up after to the rediscovery of place made by past thinkers like Kant, Whitehead, Husserl, Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger, rather than an exhaustive critic of the current trends on questions of place and space. We – architects, geographers, philosophers, physicists, politicians, ecologists, sociologists, scientists… – are all writing the history of place (and/or of space) every single day, and if we can write it with a far greater understanding with respect to the past, we also have to thank the pioneering contribute of Edward Casey’s The Fate of Place.

I close this article with a final remark regarding my present work as an architect interested in the theoretical and practical analysis of the concepts of place and space. Like others who preceded me, I’m just trying ‘to give a face to place in the present’, to use an expression from Casey’s text. Then, ‘rethinking space and place’ – the fil rouge of my current work – has a legacy of two millennia of debates about those concepts and it fits into the contemporary line of research that is trying to revalorize place and, to a certain extent, ‘to rethink space as place’ as Casey said. Specifically, I want to show that it is possible to keep both place and space as working concepts to explain current complex phenomena of reality, within a framework that illustrates their difference as well as their complementarity, in a historical period in which the constant appeal to hybrid domains (i.e. digital and/or virtual domains) demands for a clarification, or reformulation, of the traditional meaning of spatial and placial concepts. But most of all – and I appeal to Casey’s final argumentation in the Postface of his book – through my definition of place as complex system emerging from processes ranging from actual to ideal, and through its complementarity with the concept of space understood as a pure abstract entity (see my previous article What is Place? What is Space?), my intent is to keep together, under the same encompassing embrace, the ancient understanding of place oriented to the physical, the metaphysical and the cosmological (respectively Aristotle for the first two aspects, Plato and the Neoplatonists for the latter), as well as  the modern and the contemporary understanding of place as multifaceted phenomenon (phenomenological, psychical, poetic, institutional, architectural, literary, religious, political, ecological, etc.); and I also want to show that place is inclusive of the extensive and dimensional characters that are traditionally associated with space and time as autonomous concepts with respect to place, which is contrary to my (and to Casey’s) fundamental hypothesis concerning the primacy of place.


[1] If Max Jammer’s Concepts of Space was one of the first text to have extendedly and specifically dealt with the concepts of space from an historico-scientific perspective, by analogy we can consider Edward Casey’s The Fate of Place the first text to have dealt with the history of the concept of place with the same rigorous intent from a more philosophical perspective. Then, historically, we have to give Casey the appropriate credit for having uncovered the hidden history of place, since, as Casey himself said in the preface of his book, ‘the history of this continuing concern with place is virtually unknown’.  Casey’s book filled an existing historico-philological and philosophical gap with far-reaching consequences for the future of the concept of place (and space). As to Julian Barbour’s text – which is the topic of a forthcoming article -, it is less known outside of scientific circles, yet it deserves to be considered a modern reference on questions of space and place (on a par with Casey’s book) even if, unlike Casey and Jammer,  Barbour deals with questions of space and place in a seemingly indirect manner: he analysed the historico-scientific  paths that took to ‘The Discovery of Dynamics’; veiled under Barbour’s concern for the topic of motion there is the long-standing absolute/relative debate which also permeates a great part of Casey’s book (after all, where does motion takes place? How can we discern motion?). The indirect comparison between space and place analysed from different perspectives – one more philosophical, the other more scientific, and both of them seen through historical lenses – surely helps our comprehension of those concepts.

[2] I have taken the expression ‘unclarified notions’ from Edward Casey, who used it with specific reference to the concept of place, for which, in the present historical moment – Casey says -, there is a ‘burgeoning interest’ within different contexts – especially in architecture, anthropology and ecology – but such interest ‘leaves place itself an unclarified notion’. I believe the same can be said of space (at least within my direct field of competence – architecture), that’s why I’ve used the plural form ‘unclarified notions’. Edward S. Casey,  The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), p. xii.

[3] Ibid., 340.

[4] Ibid., xi.

[5] Ibid., ix.

[6] Ibid., 118; this is the quotation in full: ‘the finally triumphant beast of Renaissance cosmology and theology is, indisputably, infinite space’.

[7] Ibid., ix, 4, 17, 32, 35, 58, 71, 90, 102, 204 (‘to be – to be sensible – is to be in place’), 248, 289 (‘to be psychical is to be in place’), 336 (‘to be is -still, or once again – to in place’), 340 (‘to be is to be in place – bodily’).

[8] Ibid., 336.

[9] Ibid., 337.

[10] ‘In all of these instances, place presents itself… as… the material or spiritual medium of the eternal or evolving topocosm’, Ibid., 5. By the term ‘topocosm’ is intended the prominent role that place has in the generation of a well-ordered and concrete world, while Casey’s reference to place as ‘spiritual medium’ for creation is exclusively referred to a specific gnostic doctrine (see note 6 page 344); indeed, in many narratives of creation the idea of concreteness associated to place prevails: at this regards, the intimate kinship between ‘solid body’ and place is a central and explicit theme in the Babylonian narrative of creation, the Enuma Elish, where places – to begin with: the earth and the sky – are created from the killed body of Tiamat.

[11] Ibid., 7.

[12] Ibid., 7.

[13] Ibid., 51. The phrase is taken from Aristotle (Physics, 208b35).

[14] Ibid., 55: ‘That is what place is: the first unchangeable limit (peras) of that which surrounds’ (Physics, 212a20-12).

[15] Ibid., 71.

[16] The question concerning the massive translation of texts from Greek into Latin in the medieval period (hence the question of the proper translation/interpretation of placial and spatial Greek terms like kenon, chōra, and topos into Latin) is briefly mentioned at page 107.

[17] It seems to me it is not a coincidence that with modes of thinking that become increasingly abstract we pass from mythical and religious narratives of creation, focused on the more concrete idea of place, to a monotheism that identifies God himself with the whole universe understood as absolute and infinite, yet intangible, space.

[18] Ibid., 83. See also note 16.

[19] Ibid., 84-85, 333.

[20] Ibid., 87.

[21] Ibid., 333.

[22] Ibid., 90.

[23] Ibid., 90.

[24] Ibid., 90.

[25] Ibid., 93.

[26] Ibid., 89.

[27] ‘The two thinkers who pursued this particular theme furthest were Damascius and Proclus’ Casey affirms (p. 91). However, as also Casey points out, with respect to Proclus ‘the matter is more complicated’ since, according to Casey, for Proclus place is both material and immaterial.

[28] Ibid., 90.

[29] Ibid., 94.

[30] I have used the double conjunction – ‘and/or’ – since there is a fundamental ambiguity in the choice of the appropriate term to translate the use of the original Greek terms topos and chōra made by some Neoplatonic authors. With respect to Philoponus, Casey says: ‘he proposes a theory of place or space – the ambiguity is inescapable…’ (p. 94); with respect to Simplicius, and regarding the relative-absolute issue, Casey says that ‘Simplicius’s response is that place/space is both absolute and relative’ (p.100). With respect to a celebrated statement by Theophrastus – who was not strictly part of the group of the Neoplatonic thinkers even if he was close to positions held, after him, by the Neoplatonist Philophonus – the translation of the term chōra made by Casey is different from the one made by Sambursky in the book The Concept of Place in Late Neoplatonism: Casey translates Theophrastus’s chōra as space, Sambursky as place. I read this fundamental ambiguity in the interpretation of space and place as another sign of the intrinsic kinship between spatial and placial notions or concepts: here,  topos and chōra – the original Greek terms used by ancient authors – can invariantly be translated as place and/or space, that is: they are subjected to interpretations that may vary according to the context – of course -, but also according to the sensibility and the philological sensitivity and knowledge of the authors/commentators.

[31] Ibid., 96.

[32] The question regarding the absolute or relative nature of place and/or space was taken into consideration by Proclus – ‘the supracelestial sphere “forms a kind of absolute place against which the cosmos can rotate and other things move”’ (p. 92) – by Theophrastus – he was the first to have theorized the essential relativity of place:  ‘Perhaps place is not a substance in itself, but is predicated in relation to the order and position of bodies’ (p. 96), see note above -, by Philoponus – ‘it is not through desire for a surface that things move each to its proper place, but through the desire for that station in the order which they have been given by the Creator’ (p. 96) -, by Damascius – ‘the order and position of…parts is relative to the whole being’ or ‘even among incorporeal things there will be position according to their order’ (p. 97) – and by Simplicius as well- ‘place is a certain arrangement and measure of demarcation of position’ (p. 98). Conversely, the question related to the place of the cosmos and the consequent inquiry into the relation between the finite nature of place and the infinite, was especially pursued by Simplicius.

[33] Ibid., 102.

[34] According to Pierre Duhem, the series of 219 condemnations proclaimed by the Bishop of Paris in the year 1277 against the doctrines that denied or limited the power of God marked ‘the birthdate of modern science’. According to Casey himself, ‘one of the most fateful things condemned by the Condemnations was the primacy of place, thereby making room for the apotheosis of space that occurred in the seventeenth century’. Ibid., p. 107; see also note 12, page 382.

[35] Ibid., 111.

[36] Ibid., 107.

[37] These two tendencies result in what Casey calls ‘a divinized-imaginified space’. Ibid., 111.

[38] Ibid., 114.

[39] Ibid., 115.

[40] Ibid., 127.

[41] Ibid., 116

[42] Ibid., 117.

[43] Casey speaks literally of ‘the indeterminacy of space and place’ by taking as reference some statements of authors looking for a compromise between space and place (Pico Della Mirandola: ‘place is space vacant assuredly of any body…’; Tommaso Campanella: ‘space is the place of all things…’). ‘Compromise is a close cousin of confusion’, Casey explicitly says. Ibid., pp. 127-128. However, later in the book, Casey reads such confusion ‘positively’,  as ‘the persistence of the high regard for place surviving through millennia’ (Ibid., page 135).

[44] Ibid., 127.

[45] As I briefly outlined in the Preliminary Notes, I believe we are currently living a historical phase of a redefinition of knowledge which will end up in a third grand systematization as soon as our current scientific and philosophical theories will converge into a unified vision of reality. As it happened in the past with Galileo, Descartes and Newton, I believe the role of science – with specific reference to the on-going search for the unification of the laws that explain the physical aspects of the universe – can be the catalyst of a global process of systematization of knowledge. The interpretation of the concepts of space and place will change accordingly, and with them, it will also change – or will be refined – the interpretation we give to the multifarious phenomena of reality, not just physical phenomena, but also biological, sociolcultural and symbolic phenomena. Casey, in the final pages of his historico-philosophical journey, specifically talked about a ‘third peripeteia’ with respect to the concepts of place and space: in a certain sense, I consider the observation that Casey made with respect to place and space as the specific outcome of a more global trend that regards our progressively changing modes of knowing the different aspects of reality in which we live – among them, reality as physical realm is certainly one of the primary concerns since man started philosophizing. How the physical realm is correlated to the mental realm to define a unique system (chōra-l system), or reality, described by coherent systemic laws, and how concepts of place and space can express such correlation, is the major theme of the on-going systematization of knowledge and concepts.

[46] Ibid., 133.

[47] William Gilbert in the book ‘De Mundo Nostro Sublunari Philosophia Nova’, which came out posthumously in 1655. Ibid., 135.

[48] Ibid., 139.

[49] Ibid., 141.

[50] Ibid., 144.

[51] Ibid., 150.

[52] Ibid., 150.

[53] At this regard, see Einstein’s article ‘The Problem of Space, Ether, and the Field in Physics’ where he said: ‘space as a continuum does not figure in the conceptual system (of Greek geometry – brackets are mine). This concept was first introduced by Descartes when he described the point-in-space by its coordinates. Here, for the first, time geometrical figures appear, in a way, as parts of infinite space, which is conceived as a three-dimensional continuum’. In Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc, 1954), p. 279.

[54] Edward Casey, The Fate of Place, 153.

[55] Ibid., 154-155.

[56] Ibid., 160.

[57] My judgement of Descartes treatment of place, space and matter, is less negative with respect to Casey: I read Descartes’s ambiguous philosophy – on this issue – as a possibility left open for the redemption of the concept of place with respect to concepts of space and, to a lesser extent, with respect to matter.

[58] Ibid., 163.

[59] Ibid., 163.

[60] Ibid., 163.

[61] Ibid., 163-164.

[62] Ibid., 165.

[63] Ibid., 165.

[64] Ibid., 165.

[65] Ibid., 168.

[66] Ibid., 168.

[67] Ibid., 172, 173. In the same direction – the rehabilitation of the concept of place far beyond its non-exhaustive power of location or position  – goes the possibility to interpret the Leibnizian monadology as a point of view (the point of view of the monad) in relation to the entire universe; ‘this view-point, belonging properly to the body, is indeed concretely placed’: Ibid., 179.

[68] Ibid., 173-174.

[69] Ibid., 178.

[70] Ibid., 179.

[71] Ibid., 183.

[72] Ibid., 183.

[73] Ibid., 189.

[74] Ibid., 191.

[75] I like to think that there is a long continuous thread from Aristotle to Newton, Kant and later thinkers, concerning the way we understand the basic placial/spatial structure of reality; after all, I believe the placial model of Aristotle – a container/containing model -, even if it had the (ontological) power to locate things, it also had within itself the (epistemological) limits that took Newton, and many others with him and after him, to make con-fusion between space and place and, finally, took Kant to identify space as an a-priori ideal structure. The redefinition of the concepts of space and place that I speak of in this web site has begun soon after Newton, and passed through Kant as well as through many other later thinkers – most of all philosophers and physicists -, but it hasn’t been formalized yet. This is no surprise: in fact, more than two millennia passed from Aristotle to Newton and Kant, while only a few centuries separate the two latter thinkers from us. The way we have understood the basic structure of reality and the way we keep on understanding it by means of the concepts of space and space is a convoluted philosophical and scientific journey – allegorically, this is the ‘long continuous thread’ I’ve mentioned above; this journey regards the knowledge of reality, which relentlessly perpetrates over the centuries through epochs of systematization and epochs of redefinition of the meanings of those concepts (space and place are among the most fundamental concepts together with matter and time): such systematization occurred at first with Aristotle, who formalized a long period of pre-scientific and pre-philosophical thought, and then with Newton, who formalized what was put into discussion after the previous systematization. The long ‘gestation period’ that took to Aristotle, the interval between Aristotle and Newton, and, finally, the epoch that started immediately after Newton and passes through Leibniz, Kant, Whitehead, Einstein and the discoveries of Quantum Mechanics – just to name few critical moments -, and still continues, are epochs of redefinition of knowledge that obviously regards placial and spatial concepts and meanings. In the current epoch, we are waiting for the third systematization of knowledge (I believe such systematization will be completed after the unification of general relativity and quantum mechanics): if Aristotle’s systematization hinged around the concept of place (topos) and Newton’s systematization regarded absolute space, though very I tentatively, I would say that the next systematization will regard the mutuality between the two concepts, or, better, it will regard the mutuality between concrete and abstract placial/spatial aspects of reality (I think that what I often refer to as the ‘third systematization’ of knowledge, which is related to the way we interpret concepts of place and space, has a certain correspondence with what Casey calls ‘third peripeteia’ with respect to the alternate fate of those concepts projected into a future that we are still writing – ibid., p. 340). From the perspective of the physicist, the field concept seems to be the notion that will substitute the traditional concepts of place and space. Yet, I believe the field concept, may still be understood as a place – I use to say that fields are nothing other than physical states of place – provided that place is not understood according to the tradition, or, to put it another way, provided it is not merely understood  as simple location for entities, position, site or point.

[76] Ibid., 204.

[77] Ibid., 204.

[78] Ibid., 205.

[79] Ibid., 210.

[80] Ibid., 211.

[81] Ibid., 212.

[82] Ibid., 212.

[83] Ibid., 213.

[84] Ibid., 213.

[85] Casey deals with the Whiteheadian notion of ‘withness’ at pages 214, 215: ‘Just as we are always with a body, so, being bodily, we are always within a place as well. Thanks to our body, we are in that place and part of it’ Casey explains.

[86] Ibid., 219.

[87] Ibid., 219.

[88] The very notions of body and place converge in the expression ‘field of localization’ : Husserl, in his ‘Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy’  explicitly speaks of the ‘the distinctive feature of the Body as a field of localization’ and of the subject as ‘an Ego to which a body belongs as field of localization of its sensation’. Casey too points out the intimate alliance between body and place with respect to Husserl’s argumentation (p. 227). Then, my body is nothing other than the field of localization – that is, a real place as I use to say – where my sensations and kinesthesis occur and where my movements and actions in relation to other bodies/places/fields of localization occur.

[89] Ibid., 219.

[90] Ibid., 219-220.

[91] Ibid., 224.

[92] Ibid., 220.

[93] Ibid., 238.

[94] Ibid., 229.

[95] Ibid., 230.

[96] Ibid., 231.

[97] Ibid., 232.

[98] Ibid., 235.

[99] Entities ‘ready-to-hand’ are objects of everyday life experience considered in their immediate functional relation with Dasein – e.g. a hammer that is at disposal to beat a nail, or the fork we need when we eat spaghetti, etc. They are the counterpart of entities ‘present-at-hand’ for which there is not a direct or immediate involvement – see note 97.

[100] Ibid., 250.

[101] Ibid., 250.

[102] Ibid., 251. Entities ‘present-at-hand’ are those entities that fall in the realm of perception but which have no direct engagement/involvement with Dasein concerning  their immediate functionality and use (contrary to the entities ‘ready-to-hand’).

[103] Ibid., 252.

[104] Ibid., 260.

[105] Ibid., 261.

[106] Ibid., 274.

[107] Ibid., 283.

[108] By the term ‘fourfold’ Heidegger means ‘Earth and Sky, Mortals and Divinities’. With respect to the act of construction, I understand the fourfold as the necessary component of a sincere way of building. In this context ‘sincere’ regards the traditional way of building, a timeless way of building, which is, first and foremost, a historic, almost mythic modality of construction, where the immediate concern for functionality (at this regards, Heidegger’s choice of the bridge is self-explaining) joins spirituality. Then, the Earth and the Sky are at the same time a reference for the functionality and the spirituality that the tradition usually accords to the act of building. On the one hand, we have a call for sensitivity in regard to the immediate environment, to the type of ground, to the materials offered by Nature, to the exposure towards the sun and winds, or to weather conditions, etc., which are all conditions intrinsic to the functional role of a building; on the other hand, we have the tributes that were offered to the Gods before building in ancient times, the choice of particular places of spiritual value, the search for good omens before building, etc. In the very term ‘tradition’ the presence of those who are not here anymore, and who taught us how to build is actualized in any present act of building: this is what ‘mortals’ mean with respect to the term tradition, ultimately. Moreover, since tradition goes far back to a distant past in which man honoured divinities before building a city or a temple, in the tradition the relationship between Mortals and Gods is always renovated in the present. The Earth is the place of the Mortals, while the Sky is the place of the Gods. This is the sense of a building that gathers the fourfold: the building – built according to the tradition – becomes the place where Mortals and Gods, Earth and Sky reside. A building is (becomes) a place whenever these conditions are verified.

Analogously, concerning my model of place, I say that architecture fulfils its function as object/place whenever it explicitly – and not incidentally! – deals with (or ‘gathers’, to use a Heideggerian terminology) physicochemical, biological, sociocultural and symbolic processes. I have substituted the Heideggerian fourfold with a seemingly more pragmatic fourfold; actually, the historical character of place that is intrinsic to my definition of place and the inclusion of symbolic processes as a constitutive moment of place (see the article What Is Place? What Is Space?), render the character of architecture-as-place I speak of no less functional and no less spiritual then Heidegger’s bridge. In fact, concerning the relation between architecture (building) and place, I believe my concept of place includes Heidegger’s treatment of the same argument even if the results – in terms of built architecture – may be very different.

[109] Ibid., 274.

[110] Ibid., 275.

[111] Ibid., 277.

[112] Ibid., 278.

[113] Ibid., p. 278. As far as I understand the notion of Ereignis, I see similarities between the working structure behind that notion and my model of place, which has the fundamental character of an event that derives from the constitutive processuality in which and out of which the where, the when and the what of reality become actualized in place-as-things (processuality regards the how and the why behind the actualization of things-as-place).

[114] Ibid., 279.

[115] Ibid., 283.

[116] Ibid., 283.

[117] Ibid., 286.

[118] Ibid., 289.

[119] Ibid., 295.

[120] This is what I call a symbolic form of place, or, to adhere to my definition of place (see the articles What Is Place? What Is Space? and The Τόπος of a Thing) a text – or any form of writing – is a place emerging from symbolic – or intellectual –  processes. Then, I cannot help but subscribing every single word when Casey says that ‘all writing, prosaic or poetic, is seen to be subtended by place as a precondition’; ibid., 311.

[121] Ibid., 309.

[122] Ibid., 320.

Works Cited

Barbour, Julian B. The Discovery of Dynamics. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2001.

Casey, Edward S. Getting Back into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.

—. Imagining; A Phenomenological Study. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976.

—. Remembering: A Phenomenological Study. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

—. The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Einstein, Albert. Ideas and Opinions. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc, 1954.

Jammer, Max. Concepts of Space – The History of Theories of Space in Physics. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1993.