Academic journal article Material Culture

The Memory of Place: A Phenomenology of the Uncanny

Academic journal article Material Culture

The Memory of Place: A Phenomenology of the Uncanny

Article excerpt

The Memory of Place: A Phenomenology of the Uncanny By Dylan Trigg Athens: Ohio University Press, 2012. xxxi + 347pp. Illustrations, bibliography, and index. $69.95 (hardcover), ISBN 978-0-8214-1975-5; $55.95 (electronic), ISBN 978-0-8214-4404-7.

In The Memory of Place: A Phenomenology of the Uncanny, Dylan Trigg focuses his attention on the strange and incongruous ways in which body and cognition respond to the environment to create and remember place, defined as "lived spatiality" and as an expression of "being-in-the-world" (p. 4). Trigg works with the question of the strangeness of place in varying types of memory (everyday, transitional, and traumatic) and at various scales (individual and group), ending with an analysis of traumatic identity and places, which do not conform to an easily rendered correlation of place, identity, memory, and time. As such, he divides into three two-chapter sections: 1) memory and imagination, 2) materiality and the flesh, and 3) trauma and spectrality.

In the Preface and Introduction, the author clearly lays out the book's organization, method, and arguments, as the memory of place is one way in which we define our personal identity. The use of phenomenology aids in the analysis of "placemaking," albeit on an intimate and singular scale, because of its ability to demonstrate that common places and experiences become strange to us again. As past and present experiences retranslate memory and place, they form a new and different experience of that place. The way that we experience place in the present is never the same experience as that had in the past, and they are always at odds. Trigg emphasizes the role that embodied experience plays in forming identity, place, and memory. The body's primal ability to interact with specific places at specific times makes it the origin and nexus of all orientation in which we engage to understand ourselves and make place, this not always being an easy process.

To make sense of the strangeness experienced by the body in its relationship to the memory of place, Trigg invokes the Freudian term "uncanny," or the "disturbing familiarity" experienced in certain places that lead to a disconnected experience between bodily and mental understanding (p. 25, 27). In the exploration of the uncanniness of place, the author engages with the texts of a number of important figures of phenomenology, including Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Gaston Bachelard, Edward Casey, and of course, Sigmund Freud, synthesizing their work and moving beyond them to understand embodied experience, personal identity, and traumatic experiences. Contextualizing his work is at times a tedious affair, especially in the Introduction, where the long passages quoted from Heidegger, Husserl, and Merleau-Ponty do not always illuminate Trigg's points as well as his own explanations. However, he does provide summations throughout the text at the ends of sections and chapters, making his argument easier to follow.

The book's strongest and most interesting section is the third, which considers the experiences of trauma and how traumatized individuals cannot create place from their sites of trauma, leading to a fragmented sense of self. In Chapter Five, Trigg focuses on the ways in which trauma fragments time and creates two opposing "embodied timescales" that shatter the unity of the self (p. 231). The self experiences the traumatized self as a foreign entity, with the body mediating this crisis. The author uses a Holocaust survivor's description of Auschwitz and the feeling that she left her body while in the camp, her body becoming foreign to itself in order to survive: "I have the feeling that the 'selF who was in the camp isn't me, isn't the person who is here . …

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