J.E. Malpas and the influence of place

Malpas fluently articulated of land around us as a “reflection” of not just our practical and technological capacities, but also of our very own human needs, dreams, preoccupations, aspirations and hopes. He talked about how humans relate to land in the economic and suitability sense, (e.g. building a bridge over a river or planting apples rather than mangoes because of a colder climate) but also the more pervasive: “our relation to landscape and environment is indeed one of our own affectivity as much as of our ability to effect.

He talks about the the ties between human identity and location as something not limited to romantic nature poetry, but as an idea that has an ancestral history. I recently found out that Aboriginal people, after marking a land as their own, would never leave the place as they have claimed it as their own. In Wordsworth’s words, the land becomes their “living Being, even more Than [their] own Blood.” And I find that extremely fascinating as an immigrant of this great country.

I wasn’t born in Australia and for almost half my life, I had lived in a place that I had called home. And though it seems like a very long time from now, a part of me still lives in that place. My place of birth. And it is called “place of birth” simply because that certain space was given meaning by our welcoming into the world. Malpas credits Gaston Bachelard, writer of The Poetics of Space wherein he claims that the “life of the mind is given form in the places and spaces in which human beings dwell” and that in those spaces themselves, our human memories, feelings and thoughts are shaped.

This topophiliac claim validates the notion of “cultural differences.” I was inherently shaped and moulded by the place of which I was born into, the social, economic, cultural way of thinking and acting. The stuff of our “inner” lives is thus found in the “exterior spaces or places in which we dwell.” And I find that fascinating as now, having lived in two countries for ten years each, I have a part of me in each country that shapes the way I think and behave in terms of places and dwellings.

Definitely something to further explore and ponder.