Questions and expressions of belonging and worlding
David Crouch, Professor of Cultural Geography, University of Derby
Keywords; Worlding, space, flirting with space, expressing belonging.
Crouch: Walk II (2011)
Crouch: 11.slope (2012)
I am a Professor of Cultural Geography (University of Derby, Associate, University of Nottingham), researcher, writer, broadcaster and exhibiting artist. My being a Quaker seems to influence my thinking. My writing is published in academic and popular journals, my most recent book, Flirting with Space: journeys and creativity, was published by Ashgate 2010. Most important, I am a husband and father.
This article considers some of the complexities through which our feeling of belonging occurs. These are intimate moments in the swirl of living and living with what occurs around us. Things affect us, and in turn we affect them and what they mean for us in our belonging and homing – and of disorientation. There are inflections and influences that are cultural too, and our feelings about our worlds are social, relating with each other and our shared human values. The discussion corners upon the ways in which we make the feelings of our surroundings; spaces of our belonging. Memory, comparison with other spaces and friendships work in this small but significant process of worlding; our contribution in making our own worlds. Autobiographical inflections are included.
Where and when is the world, ‘our’ world? How and why do we, perhaps, and may we want to, belong in A world? In some ways it seems facetious to avoid the humanitarian and environmental imperative of concern for our whole, if much fragmented, world of shared existence and resources. Yet in other ways of world, there are numerous worlds that we inhabit from day to day, putting together our own intimate world and its frayed wider reaches. So what of ‘homes’, do they ‘occur’, fade, become remade, shift? What is the feel of our involvement in all of this, our shifting memory unsettling? How do we ‘relate’ to the idea or feeling of home, in being and becoming?
In this piece I sketch something of ‘making our world’ particularly through the ways in which we encounter what is around us; in touch, feeling, and the other senses, flickers of memory and more widely originating influences. Somehow we manage, from time to time, to gather a feeling of close relation with the things and events around us, influencing them and partly making them our own. Somewhat selectively we relate to them, and can find and feel a belonging. That belonging may last, may be recalled another time, may recall another time, or be lost or become disoriented. We may struggle or cope with the enormous crevasses that may be felt to separate our respective worlds and a ‘wider world’.
The main ideas pursued concern the processes through which we each may come to ‘feel’ belonging, through our iterations both bodily and mentally, and maybe otherwise engagement in/with the world; our related and shared humanity and also with those other than human. The discussion comments on the world’s materiality and growing, nurturing its spaces that we encounter in living. Matters of belonging-disorientation are reworked. Narrations of individuals doing things, noticing things, feeling things and the potential of belonging or being at home in the world are included. Amongst these are expressions that artists can try to make through the vehicles of exploring. Feelings are considered ‘in motion’, ‘in process’ along with the affects of things in our worlds, and our affect on how those things feel with us, in a process of ‘worlding’ in the ‘atmospheres’ surrounding our living (Stewart 2008, 2010); in the surroundings- or environment-experience that goes beyond the idea of our world as only pre-scripted by a wider culture and is instead open and contingent. These ideas can relate to the very ordinary felt creative.
In this discussion my focus is upon the more intimate world and worlds of our own lives and moments of those lives. I consider the ways in which the writers have expressed feeling of belonging and also upon my own painting practice, in passing briefly aware of three artists: Peter Lanyon, Roger Hilton and John Newling. This includes some personal narrative of my feeling of belonging and home, of my worlding, through the making of my paintings, and what that entails.
Katherine Stewart’s notion of worlding seeks to draw in the multitude of affects upon us in making or world as it feels along with our actions; and how our acts and feelings, actions, movements and senses affect those outward affects themselves; a complex and often nuanced assemblage of energies. She draws the multiple relations that settle, unsettle, may settle, and so on. Implicitly I deploy something of Stewart’s notion, with particular attention to the fleshiness of our relationship with our surroundings, human, material, other-than human.
Thinking of ‘home’ becomes considerably complex and nuanced, to a degree fluid. The emergence of feeling of or feelings about ‘home’ come and go, in different rhythms and intensities; its arrival can occur in a feeling of becoming, of new intensities and awareness. There is a contingency of being and becoming in living and in the practical and lived ‘meaning’ of home. That character (of home) includes belonging, memory, different space-times across our lives; coloured by individuals’ own creativity and habituality in their life journeys, interacting with other individuals and living things, and the wider material world. Our feeling of ‘home’ relates diversely across multiple trajectories, intimate and far away, and works metaphorically and materially. We can assert our energies in seeking to hold on to belonging and what that is, or feels to us; trying to force-fit. We can let go and be open to what may happen. Life is usually a complexity, a mixture of these pulses and our emergence.
In the subsequent sections I consider ways towards that becoming of home and belonging in relation to the impulses or affects felt in our relations with our surroundings past and present. The more explorative, uncertain and tentative ways in which our being part of a world of things, movements, materials and life; part openings mixed with part closures. To be engaged in living includes our resonance with or surroundings and things, living and not, often very intimately close-up. This multiplicity and sometime hesitance and uncertainty, the careful negotiation suggests a character of flirting; spaces of possibility; possible homes and belonging in our relations with things.
A kind of flirting
Feeling that we belong can emerge through a habitual doing and physical location or site of our living. Belonging can be exemplified otherwise in the way in which we can come across very familiar sites – once homes, once absences, finding new juxtapositions of things and feelings. The unexpected opens out: ordinary, repetitive, extraordinary, we find that we can feel the world anew; a new, sometimes only momentary worlding occurs, but can carry longer feeling of belonging in the world. We find we belong to something afresh, or something of which we were previously unaware, at least of its depth of importance to us. To me this suggests a character of flirting that I have called flirting with space in an effort to suggest or to utter something of the fluidity and complexity; the uncertainty (author 2010). Space is the complexity, perhaps discovered as a deep simplicity, of things around us. To talk of ‘place’ can tend to over-essentialise or to ‘fix’ what that feeling of its components means or makes significant.
Our emotions become alive in the tactility of our thought; we discover our life and its spaces anew. Our familiar world of spaces and feelings can be jolted. We encounter the world and may engage the physical, audible, the tactile and otherwise. Feelings are much in and through our body; embodied, familiarly produced in relations between and amongst people. Our journey across space-times, different spaces and times of our life intertwined, through acts of worlding can affect change. Our feeling here, now, may be affected in resonance of somewhere else, a different time. Milan Kundera wondered what flirting was. He characterised his feelings: “One might say that it is behaviour leading to another to believe that sexual intimacy is possible, while preventing that possibility becoming a certainty. In other words, flirting is a promise of sexual intercourse without a guarantee”. (Kundera The Unbearable Lightness of Being 1984:174)
The writer W.G.Sebald`s reflections in his book Austerlitz engages some of the complexities of space-time; the emotional character of our flirting with space; its relationality in journeys, time and the adumbration of memories. He expresses the ways in which such journeys or particular moments can disrupt our feeling of space-time and work relationally in interflows of disorientation and provoke an awareness of holding on, after all, to our belonging. The journey, metaphorical or material, can be hoaxed:
… It was only by following the course time prescribed that we could hasten through the gigantic spaces separating us from each other. … there was something illusionistic and illusory about the relationship of time and space as we experience in travelling, which is why whenever we come home from elsewhere we never feel quite sure if we have been abroad. (Sebald. Austerlitz, 2001:14 my italics)
Sebald loosely offers rather than constructs a somewhat chaotic patina of fragments of feeling and memory, cuttings from newspapers, rail tickets and family photographs. He likens experience and feeling to the notion of the traveller, someone living in different places and times whose wider life journey is felt to be one of fragments, ill sorted in space-times, and in relation to his life. Frequently the fragments give a sense of bewilderment: they do not easily compose. Yet nonetheless these fragments are reflected upon in ways that curiously articulate and merge with different feelings of living, in an effort to assemble something of belonging and identity. These moments of reassembly have a potential to affirm, stir, revisit and unsettle identity. Identity is in feeling ‘home’ and the feeling of belonging.
Disorientation can also hold a translocatedness, echoes of somewhere else. Disoriented, we can feel dislocated from the world. Yet that feeling can be repositioned in belonging. We can revert back into how things felt, or engage the fresh. Flirting with space, or spacetimes, that physical, material, emotional and metaphorical assemblage in our surroundings and our relations with it, across different sites can correlate, however awkwardly. These memories are felt rather than ordered neatly. They can emerge unselected, flowing as if around or in us. The contemporary site-specific sculptor John Newling considers his arrival at a new site of sculpting: ‘when I cross the threshold of a space that might house a project, I am aware of a transition of thinking. The relationship between the threshold and what the space could hold is undermined, open and ambiguous’ (Newling 2005:38). Unexpected and un-routed juxtapositions of unsettling and recovery of self and belonging appear in unbidden manipulations and mixings of spaces, multiple memories and presents.
Belonging is often conceptualised in the nostalgic characterisation of the past. In contrast Ann Game expresses her belonging experienced in her everyday living yet not divorced from memory and which emerges out of feeling like a child:
“Moments when we feel wide-eyed, wide open, in love with the world. Running into the waves, the salt-smell spray in my face, or feeling the sand between my toes… these are moments of feeling ‘this is right’, ‘now I have found what I have always been looking for, what I have always known’. I get that ‘coming home’ feeling… that might best be described as a sense of belonging”. (Game 2001: 227)
Belonging emerges through the duration of life and across its journeys, both momentary and over a long trajectory. They can produce flows of time that can be detonated into significance. Journeys in life happen in durations, across time and times. Belonging in disorientation can be worked out.
Tensions occur in the complexities of belonging. We visit people across town, across country and across continents; across the road, next door, downstairs, into the park. Pearce’s story emerges during a journey from Lancaster to visit her parents at the other end of the England. She participates in flows of living, time to reflect. Lynne Pearce captured her own complexity of feelings:
“… travelling ‘back home’ is always, of necessity, a journey through home as well as space. Things are changing- in the house, in the surrounding villages … my parents are ageing. My returns blind me to a good deal of this. My apprehension of this home, indeed, has all the qualities of a dream where past and present mix and coalesce … my parents are seen and remembered as they were; sometimes as they are now … My own ghost, meanwhile, flits around the place in a state of intermittent erasure.” (Pearce 2000:163)
Tugs of emotion can mix multiple belongings; their tensions experienced in a wide variety of cultural character in, for example, being with friends and relatives across the city or across the world. Across these stories belonging and home-feelings combine with a feeling of generosity and care.
Norwegian geographer Inger Birkeland narrates an unfamiliar wonder of being that transforms her from feelings of detachment from the familiar and entwines her in something much more significant, a seemingly ‘remote’ sense of belonging, visiting the Arctic Circle at midsummer in Scandinavia:
“In the evening I was waiting for the deep red midnight sun. I was alone but didn`t feel lonely. We were many who shared the act of waiting for the midnight sun. … Even if we were strangers to each other, there was a mutual feeling of waiting for the midnight sun. .. as more and more visitors arrived at the cliffs, I felt like I was walking in a multicultural, multicoloured city. … The words uttered were the uncomplicated, the kind of words that sound trivial outside the there and then. But they were not trivial, rather they represented another way of creating meaning out of the meaningless, Order out of Chaos, light out of darkness.” (Birkeland 1999: 17).
Possibilities of artwork to express the diversity of belonging.
The artist Peter Lanyon, a key member of the International Modern Movement in the middle decades of the last century, frequently worked with responses to his surroundings in western Cornwall. He became explicitly embodied in feelings of materiality in his surroundings, along with their often metaphorical and historical power, rather as Sebald felt. Whilst also painting distant from home he habitually ‘returned’ to the earthiness and fleshiness of where he felt more deeply (author and Toogood 1999, author 2010). In contrast Roger Hilton, another prominent Modern Movement player, sought instead to hold an insistent refusal of the felt realities if his surroundings; emotional, physical and ‘real’ (Lewis 2003). His attitude was affected by his deep experience of a Polish prisoner of war camp during the second world war. Instead of Lanyon’s abstracted swirls and loose arcs of paint/space, curved lines of gesture of his own movement in relation with things around him, turning though his intimate, edgy world especially at the edge of seacliffs, Hilton’s studied detachment worked another way. His marks defied, or sought to defy ‘the real’, any identification with things that affected him or that he may have any feeling for. Lines thrust and stab, often disappearing as if from and to nowhere; blocks of colour hang and droop. He intended no identity with the outer world in his works, for several years during the nineteen-fifties. An inner world of no worlding or expression of belonging.
For me it is important to use paint and to draw in expressive gesture of the feeling of relations between me and intimate worlds I inhabit here and there, now and then. They combine, somehow, in giving me who I am; the materiality and life of my surrounding space and the process of taking small 2-3 minute sketches in the moment(s) of encounter, of flirting, to work with another time. Many artists have traditionally and habitually worked from their immediate surroundings of where they have lived for many years, Ivon Hitchens and Stanley Spencer being exemplary.
Frequently my awareness is heightened, deepened, when I am ‘somewhere else’, away from where I live. There feels to be a spark in the unfamiliar. Yet in the depth of the encounter, connection or occurrence of emotion, I can feel a depth of engagement, participation, of being and becoming in occurrence usually wholly unexpected. I want to hold onto that feeling; I want to carry it with me. The apparent first scribbles or marks of colour on a small square of paper are literally carried with me back to where we live. Soon or after several months or years I return to them, with curiosity, searching or enjoyment. These graphic notes become bigger, transformed with new feeling; they ‘become’.
The process of depth across this space-time or space-in-time act of painting practice allows a deepening, a re-emergence of this perhaps curious feeling of home – that may be sparked by walking in Donegal, lying on the beach or swimming to the water edge below a cliff of olive trees in Greece, sketching up the road from where I live, or in the garden.
My practice had been one of making my own quick notes ‘in passing’ of moving past a site ‘in the moment’; in moments reactivated in the studio from brief glances at my sketches, putting them away and taking something to the canvas, or with whatever medium I am using. For me, these are moments that I feel seem to be potentiality emergent in my own ordinary, everyday worlding that ‘lift’ me somewhere else, to a different register. Perhaps curiously this ‘lifting’ can happen at my material home, as surrounded by things and feelings from everyday doing. Things happen in mixture. Sometimes, it would seem, moments of the original sketches recur in the feeling, preparing for and acts of painting. Many of the works can be semi-detached, others more explicitly close yet presenting, not re-presenting, a depth of feeling, a recover a moment of belonging, of feeling in and part of the world that can relate [with] where and how I am ‘now’. I feel that my paintings have for some time worked at the tensions, the edges, of moment and moment; worlding and worlding; the sketch, to painting; the marks, flirtive feeling of holding on to moment of worlding impulses, impulses in worlding; the desire to let go in the action of holding on. Like flirting; a kind of outside-inside-outside, but deep. I ‘come home’ here and there, again and perhaps again. I feel I belong in these paintings too, and their worlding with me in my feeling. These paintings are in my belonging. I stay ‘in the images’ as artworks, letting any particularity of site or space, or feeling, wander from its original moment, perhaps to assist my effort sometimes to open, not to fill.
Images of three of my paintings accompany this article. The painting Walk was made after a four day walk in the Lake District, UK (author 2006). It does not ‘match’ the few marks and smudges of pastel sketch made in the walking. It works again in my taking it further into the paint; feeling remembered, a kind of deep belonging, feeling the ground and the air. Yet all of this happens with a different, additional feeling of expression that emerges through thinking and getting back, in a way, to that original moment. None of his intends a re-presentation however. What occurs is an abstraction, into the feeling of somehow belonging, of feeling I related in the rhythm of being and becoming, where I was, at that moment – yet this time it happens anew.
Walk II (author 2011) happened several years later, the kernel of the memory of feeling remains, survives reworked and abstracted further in a new atmosphere of painting practice.
Slope (author) is a newer painting, very directly expressing feeling of belonging. The cleft down to he brook exists below the last house my parents live in. it reminds of walking with them and our family, sketching, being called in to dinner. Their grave rests a little further along the same valley.
Perhaps with a feeling of being alive, possibly of searching for – or a coming-across a belonging: a feeling of relationship with. Such can be a very bodily engagement, with snatches of memory of feeling somewhere else, the feeling of the moment of painting and back, and so on, a process that is non-linear and complex. In abstracting there can be a part-certainty and part-opening. For me, they have a ‘feel’ of the character of space and of spacing: tensions, mergings and comminglings; they contain forms of varied power, influence, vibrations in marks and their hesitant encounters; colour and its relationships; tenderness, anxiety and curiosity; absences, losses and presents and inter-subjectivity amongst things, amongst people and other life. There can be a feeling of something having just passed by or been passed by, partly held onto; of collision and distortions of materiality; of apprehension and fear, reassurance and ecstasy. In belonging, comfort seems to be needed.
Rather, what comes through in some way ‘abstracted’ is how I find that things feel. Not deeply fixed in relation with the particularity of what we tend to call ‘landscape’, features, details in mutual assemblage and disposition, but something more loose, thick in texture, unfinished. The point about landscape is that it is what emerges in our interaction, our relationship, our flirting amongst and in our surroundings, human and all the rest; not that gives us the backdrop of action and feeling. The same, I feel, with belonging: process and feeling, not fixity and pre-given.
Home is not trivial, but can be deep or variable: held closely in our personal and shared identity. As Nancy considers, we can perhaps only feel our selves in relation with others, fiends or otherwise (Nancy 2006). Shared with others, human and other-than-human. Home is an idea that can hold hope, but also disappointment, loss and absence. Home can surprise, unsettle, reward. Home is an assemblage of affective components, of atmospheres across different spacetimes of our worlding.
Author Flirting with Space; journeys and creativity, Ashgate 2010
Author and M. Toogood Everyday abstraction and the art of Peter Lanyon, Ecumene (now Cultural Geographies) 1999
Author, Walk I. 2006. painting: oil on canvas 1m sq.
Author, Walk II. 2011. painting: oil on canvas 1m sq.
Author, Slope. 2012. painting: oil on canvas 1m sq.
Inger Birkeland 1999. The mytho-poetic in northern travel. in Author, ed.,
Leisure/tourism geographies. London: Routledge :17–33.
Anne Game 2001. Belonging: experience in sacred time and space, in J. May and N.
Thrift eds. Timespace: geographies of temporality London Routledge: 226-239.
Adrian Lewis 2003 Roger Hilton Ashgate
John Newling 2005. An Essential Disorientation. Poland: SIRP.
Jean-Luc Nancy 2006 On Being singular-plural.
Linda Pearce 2000. Driving North/Driving South: Reflections upon the
Spatial/Temporal Co-ordinates of ‘Home’, in L. Pearce (ed.) Devolving Identities:
Feminist Readings in Home and Belonging. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Katherine Stewart 2010 Atmospheric attunements Environment and Planning D, Society and Space
I am grateful to a host of colleagues and friends for their generous discussion for my thinking over some time. Most recently, the Home and the World event at Dartington 2012 provoked further ways of thinking, as well as Environmental Utterances at Falmouth, also 2012. Painting helps too.