What does it mean to “dwell” the world? Philosophers have wondered about the act and symbolic of “dwelling” for a very long time. Indeed, “dwelling” is not just “being there” and surviving like our prehistoric ancestors. Across the human evolution, “dwelling” got new meanings that no other living species developed before: going beyond the simple land possession (the biological “territoriality”), human beings attached meanings, stories, memories and names to places around them, making those places parts of themselves.
As a result, ”Earth” is not an even and neutral surface, nor a mathematical space we could draw by making one square and placing dots to represent ourselves in it. It is a deeply symbolic, uneven, messy space, a battlefield over identity and meanings that leads to ideological, but also armed wars.
What is the oldest and most symbolic place on earth? Most likely, Jerusalem. That is also the place where the main beliefs of human kind have fought over the possession of this symbolic land for ages, to claim their authenticity over the others. Why do people fight for in wars? Nations, ideologies, values. All attached to a land, a place, a territory. Wars leave scars over which nations, families and people keep memories and rancor. It is like those places can’t ever be looked with fresh eyes again… and so it goes to either reinforce or reverse the meaning-making process over space, and times.
As a more recent example, for people of my generation (in their early 30′s), Gulf countries have almost always been involved in war. The only impression we get from Afghanistan, Iran and Irak in the media is burning cars, injured people, terrorist attacks and bombings. Looking only at mainstream media, we also think Africa is one huge messy country, the poorest in the world, where nothing else happen but civil wars and genocides. On the other hand, as a european, I am certainly not the only one who has been cradled with ideals of the american dream. The United States have always been an Eldorado in my mind, no matter what reality was behind the myth.
As “rational” as we pretend to become when we grow up, those conceptions and cultural perceptions keep playing a great role in our life choices, priorities and expectations. Those convictions and impressions about places are not rational. They are a complex mix of cultural legacy, collective and personal history, life experiences, of people we met and discourses we heard which contributed to shape our very unique vision of the world.
We can look at those different meanings associated with places as layers or stratum. Each civilization, each family, each person who has ever lived on earth has associated symbols, memories and meanings to places, even places they have not visited in their lives. Any of those visions, collected both individually and collectively, has built an inner map – or layer of meanings – putting their own borders, their own limits, blanks and “points of interest” on it. Sometimes that map does not extend beyond one block, or even one house, sometimes it covers the world, depending on life experiences, knowledge and perception.
Those layers of meaning, those “inner maps”, are not just virtual. They are deeply embedded in the “physical” world. We pass those inner maps on to the next generations, embedding a bit deeper each time in places the meanings they have for us. From the family history to nations one, each map aggregate to others to shape collective memories and territory.
Still today, in a world we call “rational” and “data driven”, inherited meanings attached to borders, regions, rivers, cities, landscapes, neighborhoods or entire countries play a significant role in the way we behave and dwell the world.
The Dwelling Project will start online and end up eventually as a book. The general goal is to investigate how our feelings, emotions and life experiences relate to place, and how places shape our identities and world perception in return. Based on the general reflexion started above, the Dwelling Project is meant to be a guide for every “dweller”, giving keys to think about our own geography and make sense of our life experiences dwelling the world.
Stay tuned for the first chapter soon on geo-pickmeup.com and geopickmeup.jux.com