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Meeting Place

Meeting Place: The Human Encounter and the Challenge of Coexistence

Paul Carter
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Meeting Place
    Book Description:

    In this remarkable and often dazzling book, Paul Carter explores the conditions for sociability in a globalized future. He argues that we make many assumptions about communication but overlook barriers to understanding between strangers as well as the importance of improvisation in overcoming these obstacles to meeting. While disciplines such as sociology, legal studies, psychology, political theory, and even urban planning treat meeting as a good in its own right, they fail to provide a model of what makes meeting possible and worth pursuing: a yearning for encounter.

    The volume's central narrative-between Northern cultural philosophers and Australian societies-traverses the troubled history of misinterpretation that is characteristic of colonial cross-cultural encounter. As he brings the literature of Indigenous and non-Indigenous anthropological research into dialogue with Western approaches of conceptualizing sociability, Carter makes a startling discovery: that meeting may not be desirable and, if it is, its primary objective may be to negotiate a future of non-meeting.

    To explain the phenomenon of encounter, Carter performs it in differing scales, spaces, languages, tropes, and forms of knowledge, staging in the very language of the book what he calls "passages." In widely varying contexts, these passages posit the disjunction of Greco-Roman and Indigenous languages, codes, theatrics of power, social systems, and visions of community. In an era of new forms of technosocialization, Carter offers novel ways of presenting the philosophical dimensions of waiting, meeting, and non-meeting.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4017-5
    Subjects: Philosophy, Anthropology, Population Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Response
    (pp. 1-5)

    Meeting Placestages an encounter between northern and southern understandings of meeting. In the northern tradition, which I broadly identify with the European and Anglo-American heritage of writing about society and its political organization, meeting is held to be an unqualified good. Freud talks about the goal of the human race in terms of an approach to unity, and a broad spectrum of writers have drawn on the evolution of Greek democracy around decision making in the agora to make a direct connection between the provision of public spaces where people can meet and the democratic enfranchisement of the public....

  4. Borderline
    (pp. 6-11)

    To stage a dialogue between northern and southern experiences of meeting is to assume a productively dialectical relationship. It is already to move beyond the nostalgia inherent in most anthropological descriptions and the urgent functionalism of sociological ideas of the crowd. It relocates both in a time and space that is not reducible to the idealized level playing field of contemporary, scientific modernity (where place-based, situational knowledge is always at a loss). It retains instead a topography of hills and vales, of crisscrossing tracks, and within the network of traces of passage lozenges of ground as yet unvisited. It is...

  5. Aside
    (pp. 12-18)

    It only remains in these opening remarks to say something about the structure ofMeeting Placeand the style. To call this an essay is not to be coy; all meetings proceed by way of trial and error, and if we could circumscribe and regulate them, they would hold little attraction. The short sections into which the arguments are organized are imagined like the rapid succession of graffitied walls, suburban streets in perspectives, sudden outfannings of rivers, and the loftier parallax of high-rise offices as one finalizes the journey. They conjoin different topics, perspectives, and speeds of approach. This can...

  6. Rendezvous
    (pp. 19-22)

    Waiting for you, I flick through the poems of Nazim Hikmet—it’s the kind of casual literary encounter railway station bookshops specialize in—and come across the lines “statues of whoever invented airplanes / should grace the hotel rooms of all returns.”¹ Possibly it’s because the marble-floored lobbies behind me and the miscellaneous jigsaw of flatnesses in front of me could be the ruin of runways (if you extracted the street furniture and the horizon-hugging office blocks), but his strange thought captures my situation. A hotel room is booked for your return, the place of rencontre beyond the customs hall...

  7. Hollowed Out
    (pp. 23-27)

    “Half past twelve: how the time has gone by.”¹ You are obviously not coming; or you are here cocooned from sight in another dimension, where time and space retain their qualitative aspects of east and west, before and after. Either way, as with the recently departed, the time is approaching when it is ceasing to make sense to speak in the second person, as if you are in earshot. After writing about love in the third person, Jean-Luc Nancy added a postlude, wondering whether love could only ever be talked about between two people, in a letter. Shouldn’t a discourse...

  8. Cladding
    (pp. 28-32)

    To enter this world is to navigate it. To discern the dynamics of the zone of encounter folded into the fissure between meeting and nonmeeting, a different approach is needed—methodologically as well as environmentally. In the human sciences it has been customary to call efforts to provide an enriched account of human experience interdisciplinary. Psychologists studying human behavior in public places rarely refer to the design of those places, while urban designers hardly ever consult choreographers. Human geographers study the features of the physical environment that promote the coming together of people into villages and town, while sociologists, assuming...

  9. Catching Up
    (pp. 33-39)

    I want to give two examples of practices that illustrate the poetic disposition needed to begin to discern the distinctive character of the meeting place. One is taken from psychiatry, the other from the human sciences of the central Australian Arrernte people. They would not normally be construed as related. Gaëtan Gatian de Clérambault, theseul maitre en psychiatrieacknowledged by Jacques Lacan, was head of l’Infirmerie Spéciale des Aliénés de la Préfecture de Police de Paris between 1920 and his death in 1934. His fascination with drapery is well known but tends to be pathologized. The reciprocal obligations that...

  10. Echolocation
    (pp. 40-44)

    Another way to think about the meeting place is acoustically. In the classical model of the meeting place, the agora, forum, or square is a place for public talking. They are designed so that some members of the community at least can make themselves heard. To win the attention of neighbors, speeches were rhetorically amplified and distinctive kinds of storytelling developed. Something corresponding to Habermas’s communicative reason was being cultivated, and the conventions of public debate established in these classical settings continue in the structuration of modern parliamentary democracy. At the same time, the harmonization of voices, opinion, and architectural...

  11. Scales
    (pp. 45-50)

    Killing time after you did not arrive, I found myself in the art gallery. Looking at a work calledCity Square, where a group of figures are arranged as if about to meet, I could not help but notice their inclination. They seemed to be attentively listening, as if they located themselves in a sea of echoes. For all their collective loneliness, they were immersed in a tumultuous medium whose message they strained to make out. The music of the tumult would not possess a clear key structure or its elements be reducible to tone and scales. It would be...

  12. Over and Above
    (pp. 51-56)

    Can we go back to the distinction made earlier between aesthetics and history? The Giacometti commission staged an encounter between two different understandings of the way the meeting place is designed. An urban design predicated on the erasure of gesture came up against a sculptural practice that brought to the representation of the human body an antithetical stance. Giacometti reduces the human figure to essential gestures that “communicate directly.” His is a very different aesthetic from the Art Nouveau appreciation of flowing robes and windswept ribbons found in de Clérambault; however, a comparable perception of public space exists. In a...

  13. Thirdings
    (pp. 57-61)

    Suggesting a space of translation occupied by hybrid forms of communication, the improvised meeting place outlined here naturally suggests kinship with the well-known and roughly contemporary concepts of third space (Homi Bhabha) and ThirdSpace (Edward Soja); in fact, cultural studies texts and theses regularly bracket these ideas together. This is flattering, and in seeking to differentiate the dynamics of the meeting place from their larger theorizations of a politically emancipatory intercultural domain, the object is not to prove either priority or superiority. Quite the reverse, the description of colonial encounter that discloses a postcolonial potential is probably the concrete everyday...

  14. All Change
    (pp. 62-66)

    So much for ground rules, but the question is: who are the players, the determinedly indeterminate multitude of singularities that peoples this newly animated environment? To answer this it is necessary to insist on the difference of the meeting place investigated as a concrete situation and the general discourse on improved sociability associated with postcolonial discussions of intercultural or transcultural reconciliation. The meeting place is in the west presided over by Eros in the guise of the Public Worker or Demiurge, a name that suggests turbulent energy. Eros in this incarnation is the protean principle of change but also the...

  15. Liaisons
    (pp. 67-71)

    It is remarkable how centripetal northern thinking is. No matter where new cultural materials are drawn from, they accelerate toward the center of Euro-American intellectual renewal. As they do this, they may throw up a dialectical mirror to the orthodoxies that have dogged philosophical enlightenment, but they also lose their independence. We (and I fully acknowledge succumbing to the temptation) can start with an observation in Vanuatu, but it concludes in a reaffirmation of the spirit of thepolis. How, if at all, is the debt repaid in the other direction? In particular, how might the poetics of place making...

  16. Singing Through
    (pp. 72-78)

    In mediating between the game and the place where the game is played, it is necessary to acknowledge the foundational role mimicry plays in instituting social relations. Take, for example, the encounter between sailors from the survey shipCumberlandand a group of Aboriginal men on the Werribee plains southwest of present-day Melbourne on February 18, 1803, where, as one of the sailors later recorded, “I gave one of them a biscuit; he looked at it; I took it again, eat [ate] of it, when he did the same; whatever we said they said it after us.”¹ Or consider another,...

  17. X Marks the Spot
    (pp. 79-85)

    There has been an uninvited guest at these discussions. It is the migrant. Of course, the migrant is an abstraction and stereotype, like the European philosopher or the Aboriginal elder. However, he and she represent a genuine historical vector in the afterlife of colonized countries; and it is a moot point where colonization ends and migration begins, or whether the latter is simply the aestheticization of history. Certainly migrants are notorious for thinking history begins (or, if escaping from the trauma zones of the Balkans, Afghanistan, Vietnam, or the Sudan, ends) with their arrival in the new country. However, reflective...

  18. G/hosts
    (pp. 86-95)

    The records of First Fleet officers involved in establishing the British settlement at Sydney Cove (1788) contain remarkably intimate records of encounter with the local people. They belie the current orthodoxy that Governor Phillip and his men regarded Australia as aterra nulliusor its people as lacking land rights. The first eighteen months saw a period of fleeting encounters where Aboriginal leaders jockeyed for positions of influence and some of the king’s men at least enjoyed the company of their new neighbors. The attention paid to language and customs also extended to art. Thus First Fleet officer Watkin Tench...

  19. Enigma Variations
    (pp. 96-102)

    The enigma of meeting exists not only for social theory, interpersonal psychology, public space design, and the choreographic notation of movement. It also embodies defining questions in the history of western metaphysics. InThe Sophist, Plato “explained that the divine community [is] alternately divided and joined by a dialectical ‘movement’ [kinesis], which brings out their ‘sameness’ and ‘otherness’ through a series of changing configurations.”¹ The movement described here, like that achieved in Jonson’s masque, represents a choreographic resolution of the problem that dogs metaphysics from the pre-Socratics downward, that of the relationship between the One and the Many. The solutions...

  20. In Passing
    (pp. 103-107)

    Obviously, not everyone meets in the meeting place. Most people pass through remaining strangers to one another. The meeting place legitimates the social value of not meeting. It creates scope for solitude: not everyone is lonely in the crowd. Even in the meeting place meeting is exceptional. In fact, in a way, the intention of the informal choreographies that characterize the collective movement form of the public is to avoid a face-to-face encounter. If you watch the sea of heads bobbing up and down as people stalk into the distance, it resembles nothing so much as an undulating sheet of...

  21. Pigeonholes
    (pp. 108-114)

    Here I want to stage a meeting between two terms. One of them,hedra, is a Greek word that survives in our word polyhedron. The other is an Arrernte word,utyerre, whose connotations are explained in a recent book by Margaret Kemarre Turner. These are words about pigeonholes, the natural locations for things, but they are also terms that are pigeonholed, like their cultures, thought to be of merely local or anthropological interest. A discussion of them illuminates what might be meant by characterizing the meeting place as “a more convenient place.” At the same time, it also illuminates another...

  22. Erotic Zones
    (pp. 115-120)

    Let’s try to enter the meeting place by another route. The meeting place is neither people nor place; it is some kind of algorithm of sociability, which from a material thinking point of view must be manifest in some palpable expression, whether fleeting glance, parallax of legs, or other unforeseen juxtaposition of formerly strange things. The meeting place is a matrix for the production of metaphors, figures of transport joining unlike things. When it incubates encounter, it not only facilitates and multiplies opportunities of exchange but also sets the exchange rates. Both stable and unstable, it can be characterized as...

  23. First Impressions
    (pp. 121-126)

    Circling round the erotope brings us to another topic: the writing of public space. Up until now the phenomenon of meeting has been imagined as emerging out of a primary pantomimicry, as an evolution of gestures informing a performance whose communication is increasingly verbal. The worddiscoursemeans literally a running hither and thither, and this sense of meeting as a choreography of encounter has enabled us to define the meeting place in terms of the dynamics of meeting itself, as an event whose meaning is inscribed in the continuous present of the action. A tradition of such actions depends...

  24. Within a Cooee
    (pp. 127-133)

    Various ways in which an enriched poetics of meeting might inform public space design have been discussed. Whether the restoration of the performative or choreographic dimension is considered from a northern or southern point of view, it entails asserting that the “aesthetic means” used (to repeat Stanner’s phrase) have binding social consequences. In some way, the “autonomy” of the “program” replicates itself, seeding eventually a network of such sociable sites—the network of creative communities invoked in the opening section ofMeeting Place—that possess the political skills of self-organization needed to manage the erotic potential of amalgamation so that...

  25. Dangerous
    (pp. 134-140)

    The problem with Brownian motion, at least as a model of human sociability, is that it does not lead anywhere. The incessant agitation of the particles succeeds in keeping them out of one another’s path. There is much ado, but it is much ado about nothing. Although such physical energy may be cognate with the dynamical nature of, say, a colloid suspension, it proves limited in the human situation. After a while a certain fatigue sets in if the meandering leads to no change of state. I suppose this is why in sports they introduce goals, touchdowns, and points; these...

  26. I Read Marx (I Don’t)
    (pp. 141-147)

    Another way to approach the enigma of the meeting place is historically. Perhaps the reason why it is so difficult to reconcile its desirable properties with anything remotely suggested by contemporary urban space is that love of any kind is irreconcilable with enclosure. The meeting place inhabited by de Tocqueville’s contradictory crowd, at once hypersociable and neurotically individualistic, produces these dysfunctional social forms because it intensifies the oscillation between Lack and Plenty (which, in the Platonic myth, are the parents of Eros)—but what if Eros has different parents, or like the “bastard reasoning” associated with Pothos is ignorant of...

  27. Terminal
    (pp. 148-154)

    Perhaps I am tilting at windmills. Perhaps the campaign to rehabilitate encounter is out of date. In the age of the digital media the meeting place may be losing its pivotal role in social life, but this doesn’t mean that opportunities for encounter are also declining. On the contrary, they are hugely expanded. You may notmeetpeople on the Web, but the chances of encountering strangers are almost unlimited. Of course, the second culture of the social media overlaps with the first culture of physical bodies and places as the success of online dating services illustrates. However, in the...

  28. Middle Ground
    (pp. 155-162)

    Perhaps the question of the meeting place has been wrongly framed. Instead of bringing things together, perhaps it is an art of arrangement or redistribution. Take Leibniz’s thought experiment, according to which the order of events is as follows: a random distribution of points exists, and an equation is found, an algorithm, that joins them into a single line. This two-step process implies a third: the elimination of the need for points. In the future, the instantaneously produced, self-consistent line neutralizes time and space. Leibniz’s calculus seems to make it possible to draw together the most unlike positions: it resolves...

  29. Blind Spot
    (pp. 163-170)

    Orgasm is a blind spot; “you can fire a pistol in the room without disturbing lovers at the point.”¹ But so is the vanishing point in Paolo Uccello’sThe Hunt. The recovery of the middle ground may signify the emancipation of women from political servitude, but how does it address the question of desire? Apollo may be a hunter, but so is Diana, the deity presiding overLa Caccia. The little death of orgasm is twinned with the larger conclusion of life. The vanishing point of the painting may coincide with the death of the stag, but the menace of...

  30. Save the Wall
    (pp. 171-176)

    When I began this, I imagined that the erotic zone was a meeting place. I thought the divagations through the forest of other people’s ideas would eventually bring me to a place where these different testimonies met. The mythological stories would at last yield a common pattern or motivation. Writing the book would be an act of seducing the readers, but I would remain in control: the shape of the outcome would be veiled—the labyrinth we have had to pass through, the burden of being heir to millennia of interpretation, was a kind of initiation, a Dantean reminder that...

  31. All Ears
    (pp. 177-184)

    In this scenario the wall intercedes on behalf of the experience of encounter. Materializing the place of meeting/not-meeting, it capitalizes on an originary sociality and gives it the face of sociability. The face is not a fascinating, phallocentric positivity. It is an imaginary one, in the sense that Arjun Appadurai lends that term when he writes, “The image, the imagined, the imaginary—these are all terms which direct us to something critical and new in global cultural processes: the imagination as social work. Imagination is no longer fantasy, pastime or contemplation (with their implication of withdrawal from social and political...

  32. I Have Wonderedbeyond Absolutes
    (pp. 185-189)

    I can imagine that the defense of walls offered in the last section will be offensive to some. They will think of the wall Israel uses to confine the Palestinians or of any administrative border that punishes difference. However, the object was not to defend their instrumentalization, their colonization in the interests of power. It was to tackle the problem of containment in relation to conceptualizing the meeting place. How can the meeting place be both a situation in the here and now and a potential encounter anywhere? How can it combine the attributes of crossroads, vanishing point, and elevation?...

  33. Accompaniment
    (pp. 190-195)

    Despite the stress on the strangeness at the heart of encounter, there is an expectation that it will lead to familiarity. If strangers meet in Jean Genet’s sense of recognizing each other’s “solitude of being,” they form a bond of sorts. Even if a face-to-face meeting—with its rhetoric of negotiation and its expectation of breakthrough—is not the goal, a sense of accompaniment is enjoyed. Such an accompaniment is not necessarily musical. “Music,” the distinguished English poet Jeremy Prynne remarks, “is truly the / sound of our time, since it is how we most / deeply recognise the home...

  34. Proxy
    (pp. 196-206)

    When I beganMeeting PlaceI thought it would end in a meeting. The failed rencontre with which it opened would be redeemed. The exacting work of understanding the environment of meeting would map all the possible paths of propinquity, in the process making the labyrinth of the passages transparent. The passages are all the possible approaches to meetings that surround a life like the skein of the spider’s web; when the walls containing them were no longer solid, I would see your fleeing figure, involved in its own blind destiny. From there it would be a simple matter of...

  35. Notes
    (pp. 207-230)
  36. Index
    (pp. 231-236)
  37. Back Matter
    (pp. 237-237)