Saturday, June 23, 2012

J. Nicholas Entrikin - The Betweenness of Place

Basically, Entrikin is arguing that narrative representation in general and emplotment in particular is the trajectory that geography should take, because it mediates between pure objective representation of the material world and subjective experiential interpretation of that world.  Narrative creates relationships and a trajectory – in other words, it creates meaning out of otherwise disconnected parts.  Since narrative is tied to a narrator, there are many narratives that could be told about a place and all would have equal value, BUT: geographers are in the unique position to tell geographical narratives, because they are trained to be objective, but they also live in the world and thus are subjects – they can describe and explain simultaneously.  

As far as Modernism goes: modernity is a dialectic b/n the Enl binaries of obj and subj, and our goal is to mediate between the two and stop swinging back and forth between binaries.  Would it be fair to say that he’s one of those people that sees PoMo as part of the larger picture rather than its own thing? 

Andrew Merrifield apparently thinks that Entrikin is trying to reconcile humanism, Marxim, and spatial geography in a static way that doesn’t admit for dialectics… maybe I see dialectics in everything (because I think they’re neat) but I think he’s got some mutually constitutive elements in here – subjective  experience, objective world – and some narrators who look a lot like intellectuals or some other mediating specialist group.  Actually… his narrators create narratives, but while these narratives interpret place/ give it meaning by linking the social with the spatial, I don’t know that the social and the spatial ever interact, or that these mediating narratives have any political impact beyond creating broader, more nuanced understandings of the world.  Nothing moves – he’s just bringing together/ fusing the objective with the subjective, with no end in mind.  He’s still stuck in the Enlightenment.

I buy Merrifield’s argument, but I also find some elements of Entrikin’s book useful, particularly his conception of narrative and representation as critical to the creation of meaning – he’s down with the whole linguistic turn, he doesn’t believe in the constitutive outside, and he locates the agency to create meaning in the subject/ narrator, who is simultaneously an expert/ outside the world and a subject who experiences the world.  I imagine most PoMos (erm, de Certeau?) would say that such a position doesn’t exist, but that’s precisely why I like it – a (flawed) attempt to pull the best of both Mod and PoMo into a new conception of truth – multiple perspectives on the meaning of objective places.  The objective location exists outside discourse – subjective discourse of narrative gives it meaning and turns a location into a place.

Really, I think the blurb on the back of this slim volume covers its purpose nicely: “To geographers arguing the merits of hard, scientific data versus subjective experience, Entrikin offers a compromise.  ‘To understand place,’ he suggests, ‘requires that we have access to both an objective and a subjective reality.  From the decentered vantage point of the theoretical scientist, place becomes either location or a set of generic relations and loses much of its significance for human action.  From the centered viewpoint of the subjective self, place has meaning only in relation to one’s own goals and concerns.  Place is best viewed from points in-between.’”

Entrikin, J. Nicholas.  The Betweenness of Place: Toward a Geography of Modernity.  Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.

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