The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History

The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History

by Edward Casey

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The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History by Edward Casey

In this imaginative and comprehensive study, Edward Casey, one of the most incisive interpreters of the Continental philosophical tradition, offers a philosophical history of the evolving conceptualizations of place and space in Western thought. Not merely a presentation of the ideas of other philosophers, The Fate of Place is acutely sensitive to silences, absences, and missed opportunities in the complex history of philosophical approaches to space and place. A central theme is the increasing neglect of place in favor of space from the seventh century A.D. onward, amounting to the virtual exclusion of place by the end of the eighteenth century.

Casey begins with mythological and religious creation stories and the theories of Plato and Aristotle and then explores the heritage of Neoplatonic, medieval, and Renaissance speculations about space. He presents an impressive history of the birth of modern spatial conceptions in the writings of Newton, Descartes, Leibniz, and Kant and delineates the evolution of twentieth-century phenomenological approaches in the work of Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Bachelard, and Heidegger. In the book's final section, Casey explores the postmodern theories of Foucault, Derrida, Tschumi, Deleuze and Guattari, and Irigaray.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520954564
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 05/13/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 512
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Edward Casey is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and the author of many books, including Getting Back into Place (2nd Ed., 2009).

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The Fate of Place

By Edward S. Casey

University of California Press

Copyright © 1998 Edward S. Casey
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780520216495

Avoiding the Void: Primeval Patterns

But, first, they say, there was only the Creator, Taiowa. All else was endless space, Tokpela. There was no beginning and end, time, shape, and life in the mind of Taiowa the Creator.
—Hopi creation myth

At first there was neither Earth nor Sky. Shuzanghu and his wife Zumiang-Nui lived above. One day Shuzanghu said to his wife, "How long must we live without a place to rest our feet?"
—Dhammai legend


Following Nietzsche's admonition, in The Genealogy of Morals, that "man would sooner have the void for his purpose than be void of purpose,"1 there is an area of human experience in which, indeed, the void plays a constitutive and recognized role. This occurs in theories of creation that concern themselves with how things came into being in the first place. "In the first place": a quite problematic posit. For if there is a cosmic moment in which no things yet exist, it would seem that places could not exist at that "time" either. Although places are not things in any usual (e.g., material) sense, they are some kind of entity or occasion: they are not nothing. If, at this primeval moment (which might last an eternity), absolutely nothing exists, how could anything likea place exist, even if that place were merely to situate a thing? Such a situation is not only one of non place but of no-place-at-all: utter void.2

It is by dint of this distinctive "cosmologic" that the notion of no-placebecomes something with which any thoughtful account of creation has to contend. Despite its status as an apparently ineluctable inference from cosmological reasoning, the notion of sheer void is akin to the empty place that gives rise to so much existential angst among human beings. It has even been proposed that the Judeo-Christian creator God may have experienced an analogue of this anxiety: a divine separation that is just as intolerable as the predicament of a person separated from secure place. If so, the creator might well have been as desperate to populate the cosmic void with plenary presences as mortals are to fill in their own much more finite voids. Indeed, He or She might well have been willing to engage in an act of self-emptying in order to generate contents available nowhere else. In this paradoxical action of kenosis (from kenon, "void"), the creator would have created a void within as a first step toward filling the void without.

Place is especially problematic from a cosmological perspective if the world or universe is held to be something created to begin with. On doctrines of noncreation that affirm the permanent presence of things, place—along with everything else—will have been in existence forever. "Know that the world is uncreated" runs a passage from the Jain Mahapurana .3 Despite its espousal of eternal plenitude, such a claim characteristically adverts to the notion of varying manifestations of a single uncreated universe, thereby allowing for change and development. For instance, in Hindu cosmogony we find that "no original creation of the universe can be imagined; but there are alternations, partial and complete, of manifestation and withdrawal."4

Far from offering an exception to the pervasiveness of place, doctrines of noncreation only reinforce place's necessity. For if neither creation nor a creator is responsible for the way things are, then the existence, concatenation, and fate of things will owe much to place. Archytas of Tarentum maintained that to be (at all) is to be in (some) place .5 Modifying this Archytian axiom only slightly, we may say that if the things of the world are already in existence, they must also already possess places. The world is, minimally and forever, a place-world. Indeed, insofar as being or existence is not bestowed by creation or creator, place can be said to take over roles otherwise attributed to a creator-god or to the act of creation: roles of preserving and sustaining things in existence. For if things were both uncreated and unplaced, they could not be said to be in any significant sense. Given a primal implacement—a genuine "first place"—that is independent of creation or creator, things would fulfill at least one strict requirement for existing. If separation is a condition for creation, implacement is a sine qua non for things to be—even if they have never been created.

But let us focus on the cosmogonic circumstance in which the universe considered as a topocosm is held to come forth from an act of creation. I borrow the word "topocosm" from ethnologists, who use it to designate the comparatively stable world system, the cosmology, of traditional societies.

The word fortuitously brings together "place" and "cosmos," thereby suggesting that in the complete constitution of a cosmos, that is, a well-ordered world, place has a prominent role to play. In fact, as we have just witnessed, place figures centrally even in scenarios of noncreation; and (as we shall soon see) it is indissociable from the notion of utter void. In all of these instances, place presents itself not just as a particular dramatis persona, an actor in the cosmic theater, but as the very scene of cosmogenesis, the material or spiritual6 medium of the eternal or evolving topocosm. Cosmogenesis is topogenesis—throughout and at every step.7

"Cosmogony" names this double genesis. It means an account of how the created universe came to be. "Genesis" (a word that lies buried in "cosmogony " itself) implies becoming in the most capacious sense, and is not to be reduced to temporal development alone. This is why cosmogonic myths and tales are rarely consecutive in any consistent, much less chronometric, manner. The narration they proffer is not chronological; their logic is a cosmologic, not a chronologic. Cosmologic deals with the elemental interpenetration of simultaneously present entities rather than with their successive evolution from one stage to another. For this reason, the transition from cosmogony to cosmology—a transition I shall trace out in the next chapter—is somewhat less abrupt than certain historians of ideas have suggested. For the genesis of the cosmos already contains highly configured and densely conjunctive elements that at least portend logos, or rational structure. Place is basic to such protostructuring, since it is place that introduces spatial order into the world—or, rather, shows that in its formative phases the world is already on the way to order. In this way place provides the primary bridge in the movement from cosmogony to cosmology.

Nor is this merely a matter of speculation—of theogony or theology. Concrete rituals of implacement often serve to reaffirm and reinstate the cosmogonic accounts. Upon moving into a new place, as Mircea Eliade recounts, many native peoples perform ceremonies that amount to a reenactment of a cosmogony. For example, the nomadic Australians of the Achilpa tribe carry with them a kauwa-auwa, a sacred pole that they implant in each new campsite. By this act, they at once consecrate the site and connect—by means of a situated axis mundi —with the cosmic force of their mythic ancestor Numbakula, who first fashioned a kauwa-auwa from the trunk of a gum tree. As a result, "the world of the Achilpa really becomes their world only in proportion as it reproduces the cosmos organized and sanctified by Numbakula."8 Such a ritual bears on a particular place not in its idiosyncrasy or newness but in its capacity to stand in for a preexisting cosmogonic Place. If it is true that "settling in a territory is equivalent to founding a world,"9 the settling is a settling of place in terms of place . It is a modeling and sanctifying of this place in view of, and as a repetition of, that place—that primordial Place of creation (and not just the primordial Time of creation: in illo tempore ).

Such concrete actions of primal place-instauration stand midway between the abstractions of cosmogonies/cosmologies and the existential predicament of place-bereft individuals. That predicament is one of place-panic: depression or terror even at the idea, and still more in the experience, of an empty place. As some people find the prospect of an unknown place—even a temporary stopping place on an ordinary journey—quite unsettling, many others experience a wholly unfamiliar place to be desolate or uncanny. In both cases, the prospect of a strict void, of an utter no-place, is felt to be intolerable. So intolerable, so undermining of personal or collective identity is this prospect, that practices of place-fixing and place-filling are set in motion right away. In the one case, these practices amount to public rituals reenacting cosmogenesis; in the other, they occur as private rituals of an obsessive cast—efforts to paper over the abyss by any means available. The aim, however, is much the same in both cases: it is to achieve the assurance offered by plenitude of place. The void of no-place is avoided at almost any cost.

It is evident that in any thorough cosmogony the issue of place, and in particular, of no-place, will arise. For one of the most fundamental cosmogonic questions is, where did things begin to be? The response "nowhere" is tempting, especially if the cosmogony is conceived as a strict ex nihilo theory of creation. If the nihil is to be in full force—if there is to be an entirely clean slate before the moment of creation—there can be no whereabouts to begin with: nowhere, nusquam, for to-be-created things to be located. Rather than being a merely nugatory notion, the void here plays the positive (and quite economical) role of satisfying a demand of ex nihilo theorizing.

Such theorizing has two operative premises. First, the universe of things is not permanent or eternal; there was a time when the things we know did not exist. As a consequence, a separate creative force had to bring things into existence: ex nihilo nihil fit .10 Second, there was a corresponding state of being so strictly void of anything at all that it can be described only as a condition of no-place. To progress from this initial state of no-thing-cum-no-place to the state of created existence—to ens creatum —calls not only for cosmically creative acts but also for a sequential temporality within which the transition from void to plenum can occur. The story of that transition is the narrative of cosmic creation, of cosmogony, itself. Not only does this narrative supervene upon, and express in words, the movement from placelessness to a place-filled existence; it is itself part of the cosmically creative process and inseparable from it: "In the beginning was the Word." This claim is by no means limited to the Old Testament. The Dogon of Mali also attribute cosmogonic powers to the Word. They conceive of creation as a process of word weaving:

The Word is in the sound of the block and the shuttle. The name of the block means "creaking of the word." Everybody understands what is meant by "the word" in that connection. It is interwoven with threads: it fills the interstices inthe fabric. It belongs to the eight ancestors; the first seven possess it: the seventh is the master of it; it is itself the eighth.11

Wherever cosmogenesis is taken seriously—that is, wherever it is not presumed that things simply are as they always were—we are likely to find a narrative of creation.

A cosmogonic narrative is not only a recounting of events in time. Of course, it does relate the act or acts of creation and thus presupposes a cosmic temporality whose minimal structure is that of Before/After: prior to creation/ posterior to creation. But such a narrative also tells of things in place, how things occupy or come to acquire places. It tells, too, of events in place. Events, those prototypical temporal occurrents, call for cosmic implacement: no event can happen unplaced, suspended in a placeless aither *

. This includes the event of creation itself. It, too, must have its place. Integral to cosmic creation is the creation not just of places for created things as such but of a place for creation (and thus for the creator). Inseparable from topogenesis is cosmogenesis itself.

To create "in the first place" is to create a first place . Perhaps it is true that in the beginning was the Word. But is it not equally likely that in the beginning was a Place—the place of creation itself? Should we assume that the Word precedes Place and brings it into being? Or does not the Word itself presuppose Place? Whichever direction we may prefer to take, it is evident that narrative accounts of creation must bear on place even as they rely on time and language. It behooves us to consider these accounts with an eye to place— and to no-place, that from which places themselves, along with all other things, are so often thought to arise. But how then does the placelessness of nonbeing give way to the placedness of beings? How do these beings gain their existence as well as their place from a primal act of creation that is itself self-placing in character?


So things evolved, and out of blind confusion each found its place, bound in eternal order.
—Ovid, Metamorphoses

Might everything have come from chaos? This idea has perennial appeal. Contemporary "chaos theorists" carry on a chain of speculation that stretches backward to some of the earliest extant accounts of creation. The Pelasgian narrative of creation, dating from at least 3500 B.C ., runs like this:

In the beginning, Eurynome, the Goddess of All Things, rose naked from Chaos, but found nothing substantial for her feet to rest upon, and therefore divided the sea from the sky, dancing lonely upon its waves.12 The insubstantiality of Chaos, its elemental confusion and gaping character,13 is what gives rise to the terror with which it is characteristically experienced— a terror closely affiliated with the place-panic occasioned by no-place. But is the "nothing substantial" of Pelasgian Chaos the same thing as nothing whatsoever? Is it equivalent to the sheer void? The proper name "Eurynome," the creator Goddess of All Things, hints that we must answer both questions in the negative. For Eurynome, taken literally, means "the wide wandering." A wanderer, even a cosmogonic primal wanderer, cannot wander amid nothing: to wander is to roam between places of some kind. Indeed, that Eurynome "rose naked from Chaos" indicates that Chaos has at least enough substantiality to be something from which to arise in the first place. If this substantiality is not sufficient for surefootedness, it can be made more determinate—as Eurynome proceeds to do when she "therefore divided the sea from the sky," so as to dance "lonely upon its waves." The "therefore" is revealing; it possesses the special cosmogonic force of something having to be the case if other things are to obtain.

Suddenly we recall that in I Genesis the separation of the heavens from the earth—and all that ensues from this separation—requires the primordial scission of "the waters from the waters," that is, the creation of the firmament in an otherwise undifferentiated Deep. We shall return to Genesis presently, but for now let us only note that in the Old Testament and the Pelasgian account alike for creation to proceed differentiation must occur . Moreover, this differentiation is of one place from another . Could "chaos" be another name for this obligatory action of primeval differentiation of places? The opening lines of Hesiod's Theogony, a text whose composition occurred between the Pelasgian narrative and the writing of Genesis, intimate that this is indeed so:

Verily first of all did Chaos come into being, and then broad-bosomed Gaia [earth], a firm seat of all things for ever, and misty Tartaros in a recess of broadwayed earth, and Eros, who is fairest among immortal gods, looser of limbs, and subdues in their breasts the mind and thoughtful counsel of all gods and all men. Out of Chaos, Erebos and black Night came into being; and from Night, again, came Aither and Day, whom she conceived and bore after mingling in love with Erebos. And Earth first of all brought forth starry Ouranos [sky], equal to herself, to cover her completely round about, to be a firm seat for the blessed gods for ever. Then she brought forth tall Mountains, lovely haunts of the divine Nymphs who dwell in the woody mountains. She also gave birth to the unharvested sea, seething with its swell, Pontos, without delightful love; and then having lain with Ouranos she bore deep-eddying Okeanos.14

The surprising affinity between this text of the seventh century B.C . and Genesis, in regard to the deferred separation of earth from sky, has been remarked on by several commentators.15 Most striking, however, is the suggestion inHesiod's account that Chaos came into being first —not as a settled state, that is, as something that (as one interpreter puts it) "coexisted with the undifferentiated state of the universe from eternity,"16 but as itself both differentiated and differentiating .

The ancient notion of chaos as a primal abyss or gap points in this same direction: a gap is both an opening between two already existing things (e.g., earth and sky) and an opening between them (i.e., that which brings about the differentiation of these two things in the first place). A gap has boundaries and thus a form, however primitive; it is not an indefinite, much less an empty and endless, space. As John Burnet remarks, Chaos for Hesiod "is not a formless mixture, but rather, as its etymology indicates, the yawning gulf or gap where nothing is as yet."17 Nothing may yet be in Chaos, but Chaos itself is not nothing. As a gap, Chaos is a primordial place within which things can happen. Aristotle, who cites the first several lines of the Theogony with approval, comments that "things need to have space first, because [Hesiod] thought, with most people, that everything is somewhere and in place ."18

Chaos, then, is not a scene of disorder of what moderns shortsightedly call "the chaotic."19 It is a scene of emerging order. Such a scene cannot be an utter void, a merely vacant space. It is a scene of spacing, not just gaping but "gapping" in a cosmogonically active sense. To be chaotic in this sense is not to destroy order but to create it. Indeed, on the Hesiodic account Chaos is the very first stage of creating; it is what makes the rest of created order possible in the first place. Indeed, it is the first place of creation. As G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven, and M. Schofield put it, Chaos is "not the eternal precondition of a differentiated world, but a modification of that precondition."20 As an action and not a permanent state, Chaos is not eternal. It occurs. But it occurs as a place—a place for things to be.

What kind of a place is this? As the Pelasgian cosmogony, Genesis, and the Theogony all insist, it is a place of separation . Occurring not as an empty place but as a scene of separation, it acts to distinguish—and first of all to distinguish earth from sky (or, alternately, sea from sky). Thus to say chaos genet (in transliterated Greek) is to "imply that the gap between earth and sky came into being; that is, that the first stage of cosmogony was the separation of earth and sky."21 After this inaugural separation has taken place, other more delimited separations—"local differentiations"22 —can occur: Night from Day, Mountains from Earth, Sea from Ocean. A sequence of increasingly specific differences arises from the primordial Difference, that is to say, from what Aristophanes (in a playful parody of Hesiod) calls the "first gap":

first Gap Night deep Dark abyss Tartaros
                              no air earth or sky
then in deep Dark's bottomless wombs
Night on black wings laid the wind egg.23 Even though Chaos qua Gap is neither disorder nor void (some early Greeks held that the primal gap contained air), as cosmic separation it remained threatening enough to call for filling. Aristophanes thus deposits a primordial wind-borne egg in it. Hesiod himself tries to fill the gap first whth Eros—who acts to reunite earth and sky, his dissociated parents—and then with Kronos and Zeus, to whose glorification the Theogony is devoted.24 In these various ingenious moves to plug up the Gap, we already witness the phenomenon of horror vacui, that is, the intolerability of no-place-at-all.

That the cosmogonic Gap is most often conceived as the gulf between heaven and earth is not accidental. We may speculate that the separation between these latter regions is the first separation for a quite concrete phenomenological reason. If you look around in almost any outdoor situation, you discover the stark difference between land and sky (or at sea, between water and sky). These are the separate protoregions of ordinary perception; they divide up the perceptual landscape from the beginning . This beginning confirms the cosmogonic beginning—and may well provide the model for the latter, especially if we include the fact that dawn, the allegorical origin for many creation stories, arises literally in the opening between earth and sky. If our ordinary perceptual lives are as "gapped" as they are because they are filled with "obtrusions" (In Husserl's word for objects as they are given at the primary level of perception),25 can it be surprising that ancient cosmogonies single out the very gap that is the most obtrusive of all?

Such singling out is not limited to early Mediterranean cosmogonies. A southern Chinese creation myth has it that the creator god P'an Ku "went to work at once, mightily, to put the world in order. He chiseled the land and sky apart."26 P'an Ku himself was born from a cosmic egg that contained Chaos— as if to show that Chaos is not boundless.27 Quite different traditions place the scission between Heaven and Earth at the beginning of things. These traditions include those of the Celts, the ancient Japanese, and the contemporary Navajo.

The Navajo world or universe consists of a shallow, flat disk in the form of a dish, topped by a similar form which covers it like a lid. The lower part is the Earth, while the upper part (the lid, so to speak) is the sky. . . . [B]oth are represented as human or anthropomorphic forms, lying down in an arching stretched manner, one on top of the other. . . . The things were placed on the Earth and in the Sky in the Holy Way.28

For the Navajo, Earth and Sky are the two great regions in which any particular thing must be "placed" if it is to become created. As in ancient Mediterranean and Far Eastern accounts, an initial period of Chaos, imagined by the Navajo as a time of primal mists, gives way to (or, more radically, occurs as) the primeval separation of Earth from Heaven.29 As if to underline the importance of this separation, the Navajo believe that around the edges of thedouble-dished structure of Earth and Sky is an opening: "The Sky does not really touch the Earth at any place, not even at the horizon."30 If Sky and Earth were ever to touch, it would mean the destruction of the world—as if to say that the original act of separation must be continued as horizon if the created world is to retain its identity as a coherent cosmos.

What is the horizon but that factor in everyday perception that embodies the cosmogonic separation of Earth from Sky? The strange power of the horizon to distinguish these two regions from each other in the course of daily existence—a power to which we rarely attend as such is the dynamic basis of the gap between Heaven and Earth. As painters know, it is anything but a mere "horizon line," the spatial equivalent of the time line; the experienced horizon is a central creative force in the field of visual perception, especially when beheld at the beginning or the ending of the day.31 Without its differentiating action—which the Navajo symbolize by variegated coloration—we would be lost indeed in a primal mist of indifferentiation, a perceptual morass, a "slush" of indetermination such as the Ainu people of Japan posit as the first state of things: "In the beginning the world was slush, for the waters and the mud were all stirred in together. All was silence; there was no sound. It was cold. There were no birds in the air. There was no living thing."32 A world without a horizon would be a most inhospitable environment—if it could still be considered environing . It would be a world without a distinction between Heaven and Earth, and thus no world, no "cosmos," at all. No wonder a creator must be invoked to bring such slush, such chaos, into the minimal order that being a world (and being-in-the-world) requires. On the way from Chaos to Cosmos the horizonal differentiation between Earth and Sky is of crucial importance.

We need not live in the American Southwest (or any other particular place) to grasp the world-creating character of the horizon, its unique capacity to bring earth and sky into active contiguity with one another while respecting their differences as distinct cosmic regions. Just by looking at photographs of the earth taken from the moon, we see the globe of the earth horizoned against an all-encompassing sky. In these remarkable images—at once disturbing and inspiring—we observe the earth itself as a place of places, as a "basis body" for more particular bodies.33 In fact, we observe the primal separation of Earth from Heaven, the differentiation of an ordered Cosmos out of Chaos. Before our eyes is something like an icon of Creation.


The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place which thou didst appoint for them. Thou didst set a bound which they should not pass.
—Psalm 104Contrary to popular belief, I Genesis, the first Book of Moses, does not tell a story of creation ex nihilo. That it is believed to be such a story is a tribute not so much to misinterpretation as to the power of a certain cosmologic, which dictates that nothing should or must precede the act of creation. But the celebrated opening lines of Genesis suggest otherwise:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.34

Not only does "the deep"—tehom, a term to which we shall have occasion to return—preexist creation, but it already has a "face." The face itself is not superficial: it is the face "of the waters," that is, of something quite elemental, and it is determinate enough to be moved over . In the beginning, then, was an elemental mass having sufficient density and shape to be counterposed to the movement of the spirit (or, alternately, the "wind") of God. If the Deep is nothing, it is, like Chaos, the "nothing substantial," a strangely substantial nothing!

It is true that the earth is said to be "without form and void." Is this a reference to the absolute void that cosmological reasoning relentlessly posits? I think not. The void at stake here is the relative void of shapelessness of something devoid of form. This becomes evident when the text adds, several lines later,

And God said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear." And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. (Gen. 1:9–10)

This passage makes it clear that the first allusion to "earth" is to an indeterminate entity that gains its full identity only when it has become separated from the oceans and other waters. When it has become "dry land," it deserves the designation "Earth." From a preformative state, it has come into its own; and at just this moment, God celebrates the fact of its formation as something determinate: He "saw that it was good." It is notable that the latter claus is used for the first time at just this point in the text, that is to say, when the primordial act of distinguishing land from sea has occurred.

By this act, two places have been created, thereby illustrating a basic principle of cosmo-topo-logy: there is never merely one place anywhere, not even in the process of creation. It is as if cosmogony respected the general rule enunciated by Aristotle in another connection: "the minimum number, strictly speaking, is two."35 To create in the first place is eo ipso to create two places. This principle is at work in the very first sentence of I Genesis ("God created the heavens and the earth"), and it recurs twice again even before the description of the separation of sea and land. First, God "separated the light from the darkness" (1:4), thereby creating two great domains that are not only temporal but spatial in character. Second, the creation of the "firmament," that is, the vault of the sky, or Heaven, calls for separating "the waters from the waters" (1:6), those of the sea from those of the sky. Two aqueous realms signify two distinct places for water to be.

In the space of a few lines and following the bivalent logic of placecreation, then, we witness a surprisingly complicated beginning of the known world. In effect, Genesis maintains that a twice redoubled doubling of place occurs in the course of creation. For Heaven to become separate from the Earth, the creation of the firmament requires the prior dissociation of two regions of water; and the earth, to be truly Earth, in turn requires a distinction of land from sea. No simple matter this! In particular: no lack of place to begin with!

Thus there is no creation from a void or creation as a void. God is not creating from a preexisting abyss of nothingness. Things are already around when He begins to create—things in the guise of elemental masses, the watery Deep, darkness upon the face of that Deep, the predeterminate earth. Nor does God empty Himself in a kenotic move to constitute a void within His own being. In the germinal account of Genesis there is neither void without nor void within.

In place of the void are places, and all the more so if regions count as places, as surely they must. Already extant are domains of deepness and darkness. Indeed, at play here is the Spirit of God, which in "moving over the face of the waters" must ineluctably be moving among places. For there is no movement without place. As Aristotle says, "There cannot be change without place,"36 and movement is certainly a kind of change. God, in moving over the dark Deep, is already moving over a place as well as between places. He is moving, for example, between the beginning-place and the end-place of his own cosmogonic journey. These ur-places, though unnamed in the text, preexist the more particular places that are named.

In fact, we may distinguish three levels of place within the first chapter of Genesis: (I) the ur-places presupposed by the very activity of God Himself, as sources of His movements; (2) the elemental regions of darkness, the Deep, and the unformed Earth; and (3) the formed regions of Earth as dry land, the Seas as the waters that have been "gathered together into one place," and the regimes of Day and Night. It is clear that the Old Testament account gives us a picture of creation as arising in an already given plenitude of places; and it describes as well a certain cosmic progression from one place to another—or, more exactly, from one kind of place to another. Creation, in short, is not only of place (and of things stationed in places) but cannot occur without place, including its own place-of-creation. The act of creating takes place in place.

This is not, of course, the whole story. As creation continues, yet othersorts of places emerge. These subsequent or consequent places are progressively more definite in character. They include the places of the sun and the moon, "the two great lights" that "rule over the day and over the night and separate . . . the light from the darkness" (I:14–18); of the birds that "fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens" (1:20); of sea monsters "with which the waters swarm" (1:21); of the "beasts of the earth" (1:25); of "every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth" (1:29); and of the human beings who are given dominion over all of these creatures and things" (1:26–28). When it is added in the second Book of Genesis that "a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground" (2:6) and that "God planted a garden in Eden, in the east" (2:8), we attain a still more definite degree of place-determination, one that now includes quite particular places (i.e., patches of ground) that have proper names and even cardinal directions.

In the progression just sketched, a pattern of cosmogenesis emerges which is common to many theories of creation: rather than from no-place to place simpliciter, the movement is from less determinate to more determinate places. It is only a step farther to call for measurable place as well—as happens, for example, in Job.

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
      Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
      Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
      or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together,
      And all the sons of God shouted for joy?37

The origin of "geometry"—literally, earth-measurement (geo-metria *

)—lies in place: above all, in its ever more precise delimitation as natural boundaries give way to the imposed and regular configurations, the "limit-shapes," of the builder and the surveyor.38 This is not to say that on this paradigm measuring is merely posterior to creation: it is itself an act of creation. To measure is to create . This bold equation will be repeated in other texts concerning creation, as we shall observe in one particular case in the next chapter.

For the moment, I want only to draw attention to the fact that in the inaugural creation text of the Judeo-Christian tradition, place is both ubiquitous and multifarious—and that its unfolding is even presented in a quasi-progressive (but not simply successive) manner. The void is evaded, and in its stead we find a proliferation of cosmogonically significant places, each of which is essential to the progress of the narrative of creation. Does this narrativized proliferation of places betray an effort to paper over the abyss of the void? Ifit does, it only repeats a gesture found elsewhere beginning with the way we handle our own place-panic. For who can face the void? An absolute void cannot be faced (in either sense of this term). God Himself, as Genesis avers, can move only over a Deep that already possesses a face. He faces the Deep only insofar as its own face is already traced out upon its dark surface.


It gives as great a shock to the mind to think of pure nothing in any one place, as it does to think of it in all; and it is self-evident that there can be nothing in one place as well as in another, and so if there can be in one, there can be in all.
—Jonathan Edwards, "Of Being"

Is this to say that cosmogonic accounts never begin expressly with a void? The citation from a Hopi creation myth that stands as an epigraph to this chapter shows that such a beginning indeed can be made. For the Hopi, "the first world," that is, the first state of the world, is precisely that of Tokpela, "endless space." Tokpela is conceived as an "immeasurable void" that has no beginning or end; no time, shape, or life. Once given the prospect of endless space, however, no time is wasted in the attempt to change that space into something less appallingly empty. The awesome void is just what creation must transmute—which is precisely what Taiowa, the Hopi creator-god, proceeds to do.

Then he, the infinite, conceived the finite. First he created Sotuknang to make it manifest, saying to him, "I have created you, the first power and instrument as a person, to carry out my plan for life in endless space. I am your Uncle. You are my Nephew. Go now and lay out these universes in proper order so they may work harmoniously with one another according to my plan."

Sotuknang did as he was commanded. From endless space he gathered that which was to be manifest as solid substance, molded it into forms.39

The task is so immense that Taiowa creates a younger and stronger person to undertake it: his nephew Sotuknang. To "lay out these universes in proper order" Sotuknang engages in an action of gathering . Just as in Genesis the waters are "gathered together in one place" (Gen. 1:9), so in the Hopi creation story solid substances or parts of the earth are gathered together and given form. In both cases, the giving of form entails the bestowal of place: where else are formed things to be? The cosmogonic gathering is in effect a formation of place. Thus, even if the beginning is characterized as a situation of noplace, the ineluctable nisus is toward place—and toward an ever-increasingspecificity of place, its laying out in the right (and ultimately a measurable) order. If the void is not itself a place, it must become one.

Despite their considerable diversity, all the accounts of creation examined so far agree on one basic cosmo-axiom: only from place can created things come. The known universe, albeit originating in a void, evolved from place to place. It follows that creation is a process of progressive implacement.


We have observed, then, a set of quite diverse cosmogonic models. Place figures in each of these, though with important nuances of difference. Genesis begins from a diffusely regionalized place made ever more determinate by the several stages of creation. In the chaos model of Hesiod's Theogony, no preexisting regions are presumed—only the cosmomonstrosity of a primal Gap, whose action of scission brings about places of many sorts. Whereas scission in Genesis is subsequent to the initial state of things—acting to divide what is already there—separation itself is the first state in Hesiod's story: or, more exactly, the first state proves to be no state at all but an action of dissociation that is place-creative by its very nature. Much the same is true of the Navajo creation myth, which imputes to the fateful horizon between the disks of Sky and Earth a special cosmogonic significance. In the case of the Hopi legend, creation opens with a situation of endless space in which neither regions nor actions are possible. (Elsewhere, cosmic emptiness is recognized as a second state of the universe situated between the first beginning and the plenitude of creation proper.)40 But the radical no-place of this inaugural moment in the Hopi myth is immediately succeeded by an act of deputized filling, a filling that recalls the gap-plugging presence of Eros, Kronos, and Zeus in the Theogony . Even apart from this remedial action, the cosmogonic void is not wholly devoid of place-properties in its aboriginal state. However empty it may be, it is still a place of, and for, creation. In it, from out of it, creation occurs—and first of all, in most cases, the creation of heaven (or sky) as a domain distinct from earth or sea.

There is no creation without place . This is so whether place is considered to preexist (as does the dark Deep in Genesis or the underworlds from which the primal mists arise in Navajo belief);41 or is brought forth out of Chaos as one of "ten thousand creations" (as the Taoists would put it); or is an emptiness that, precisely as emptiness, is necessary to world-creation (as we see dramatically enacted in kenotic models of the self-emptying of a creator god); or is the very place of creation and, more particularly, of the creator (as in the case of the ancient Babylonian account).42 Whether it is presumed or produced, given as simultaneous with creation or subsequent to it, place figures throughout. It is the continuing subtext of narratives of creation, the figured bass of their commingled melody.


In being said—or not said—the void is voided.
—Edmond Jabhs, The Book of Resemblances

But the void, the strict void, does not vanish easily, not even under the most unrelenting efforts to eliminate it. It keeps returning, in creation myths as in personal life. The Maori people speak of "the limitless space-filling void,"43 while the Zuqi point to "void desolation everywhere"44 as the original state of things. Anaximander's notion of to apeiron, "the Boundless," is tantamount to "the Placeless"—given that places, even cosmically vast places, require boundaries of some sort. The notion of the Boundless anticipates modern ideas of infinite space that expressly exclude places from their ambit (or if including them, then only as indifferent areas). From the perspective of place, to be without bounds of any kind, to be limitlessly empty, is to enter into dire straits indeed: "straits" despite the fact that there are no effective enclosures in these troubling unlimited waters.45 In cosmogonies that posit the utter void, water itself may not yet exist—not even in the form of the Deep, primal mists, or the "chaos-fluid" posited in the Egyptian Book of the Dead:

I am (bowl lord all fluid owl) ATUM  completing-rising
                                          of all
the only one
in Nun/chaos-fluid/46

Without an aqueous life-inducing element, and especially without its separation from earth or from sky, we reach that extremity of emptiness that seems to be sine qua non for those aporetic cosmogonies in which creation must come "from nothing." About this extremity, this zero point, we must ask, do we here finally encounter a void so radical that it cannot offer place in any sense whatsoever?

In this aporia—this literal im-passe—Aristotle makes a most puzzling claim: "The theory that the void exists involves the existence of place; one could [even] define void as place bereft of body."47 If Aristotle is right, the void itself is not without place, and may be itself a kind of place. Difficult as it may be to conceive, anxiety provoking as it certainly is to experience, even the strictest void is not unrelated to place. At the very least, the void may possess certain residual place-properties: for example, "bereft of body." To be devoid of body is nevertheless to be capable of containing a body —even if the body in question does not yet exist, or no longer exists. Aristotle here qualifies Archytas: to be (a body) is to be in place, but there can also be a (void) place without (any) body. Although void and place usually are construed as antonymic, they may not be antinomic: they may share in some common nomos , or law, some shared structure.

What void and place share is the common property of being the the arena for the appearance of bodies (and thus for the events of which bodies form part). But while a place is the immediate arena for such appearance—a body appears precisely in a particular place —the void is the scene for this kind of place. As a precreationist entity, the void is empty of place primarily and of bodies secondarily. It is empty of the place that is empty of bodies. Thus we need to emend Aristotle's dictum: not merely is void "place bereft of body" but "void is bereft of place that is bereft of body." The void is doubly bereft. As a scene, it is an empty stage that is not yet specified as to places or bodies. ("Scene" in its origins meant an empty tent or booth before it came to signify a theatrical stage.)

Regarded as a scene of places and things to come, the void may thus play a positive and not a merely nugatory role in cosmogony. It figures precisely as the scene named "Tokpela" (endless space) by the Hopi, or as "Taaora," literally "immensity" or "void," by the ancient inhabitants of Hawaii, the Tuamotuans.48 Neither of these void-scenes is an inert pregiven entity. According to Hopi tradition, Taiowa the Creator immediately occupies Tokpela; indeed, far from inertly preexisting, the endless immensity of Tokpela is said to exist already in Taiowa's mind and thus to be part of an active agency from the start. Tokpela is "an immeasurable void that had its beginning and end, time, shape, and life in the mind of Taiowa the Creator."49 Conversely, for the Tuamotuan people the creator-god exists in the void, thereby assuring its dynamism from within: "It is said that Kiho dwelt in the Void. It [is] said that Kiho dwelt beneath the foundations of Havaiki [i.e., in a particular place] which was called the Black-gleamless-realm-of-Havaiki."50 To dwell in the void in this immanent manner is to dwell in the active scene of creation, the scene of what-is-to-come. It is to dwell in the void as place-giving; to be placed in the void. The lines that follow in the Tuamotuan epic spell out this curious topology.

That place wherein Kiho dwelt was said to be the Non-existence-of-the-land; the
name of that place was the Black-gleamless-realm-of-Havaiki.
It was there that Kiho dwelt; indeed, in that place he created all things whatsoever.
Hereafter [I give] the names of his dwelling places.

Kiho dwelt in his heaven at the nadir of the Night-realm.
Kiho dwelt in his heaven in the Black-gleamless-realm.
Kiho dwelt in his heaven in the Many-proportioned-realm-of-night.

These places were situated within the Night-sphere.51

This night-sphere of creation is a scene of becoming-place; it is a "many-proportioned" arena of possible places-to-come. The cosmogonic void, far from being place-indifferent or simply place-bereft, proves to be place-productive, proliferating into place after place.

The Tuamotuan text illustrates a principle that can be designated "toporeversal." Void is posited as no-place, only to be succeeded by the immediate positing of place. Or more exactly: no-place is succeeded by something that, precisely as something, brings places with it. Nowhere is this reversal so dramatically evident as in a Jicarilla Apache creation tale.

In the beginning nothing was here where the world now stands; there was no ground, no earth—nothing but Darkness, Water, and Cyclone. There were no people living. Only the Hactcin [personifications of the powers of objects and natural forces] existed. It was a lonely place.52

Here the reversal is marked by the sudden transition from "nothing" to "nothing but." While the first stage represents a radically empty state, the second populates it with at least three natural things and several personified forces. The volte-face occurs even within one and the same sentence, and is expanded in subsequent sentences. Saturation is by no means reached—the place in question is still quite "lonely"—but the changeover from nothing at all to just barely something is cosmogonically progressive. Nonplacement gives way to implacement: cyclones, darkness, and water come clinging to their cosmic locations.

The topo-reversal can move in the opposite direction as well: from something to nothing. In the Han dynasty text Huai-nan Tzu, the Great Beginning gives way to emptiness. Or else something and nothing may be considered as coexisting. Thus Chuang Tzu writes, "There is being. There is nonbeing."53 An ancient Mayan text proclaims that in the beginning "there was nothing standing; only the calm water, the placid sea, alone and tranquil. Nothing existed."54 Nothing stands—and yet water and sea are already standing there. The chiasmatic turn whereby even a minimal nothing-but or an "only" (i.e., a bare something) is denied existence, yet is nevertheless given existence, also receives expression in one of the Upanishads: "In the beginning this world was merely non-being. It was existent."55 To exist as non being: a self-complicating assertion of convoluted cosmologic.

Despite such reversals and twists, indeed through them, we witness the persistence of place in the face of the nothing—a nothing that one might have assumed to be the very death of place. Whether as the sheer something of a "Black-gleamless-realm" or as the still sheerer nonbeing that nevertheless exists (and thus literally "stands-out"), place abides. In the context of cosmogony—that is to say, in an account of the becoming of the world—there is no place for no-place . Dearth of place, even literal nonplace, we may acknowledge: such is the "lonely place" of the Apache creation myth. But this is not tantamount to the death of place, no-place-at-all: rather than dealing with its demise, cosmogony has to do with the birth of place itself.

Even the utter void, then, retains the dynamic property of being a scene ofemergence, a proscenium on which things can arise as taking place and as having their own place. Much as we have found that chaos is not entirely empty of form, so we now discover the empty no-place of the void to have more shape and force than we might have imagined. Indeed, if chaos can be regarded as predeterminate place, the void is best construed as the scene of emergent place. Cosmogonically considered, the void is on its way to becoming ever more place-definite. It is the scene of world-creation and thus the basis of an increasingly coherent and densely textured place-world.


The foregoing construal of the void does not retrieve it for place. Indeed, it deprives void of place—particular place—and place of void. But it makes room for the possibility of place in the void by maintaining that the void may itself become devoid of its own initially unimplaced and unimplacing character. By speaking of "possibility" and of "become," I am keeping the void within a cosmogonic context. It is important to retain this context in the face of the temptation to offer a transcendental deduction of place as that which has to be presupposed if experience or knowledge of certain kinds is to be possible. This temptation must be resisted. The only thing that can be deduced from a transcendental argument—of a Kantian sort—is the presupposition of empty space . Such space, especially when located in (or, more exactly, as ) a form of intuition, is not only mental in status; more seriously still, it is a merely objective posit, a present-at-hand entity. As such—as categorial, or vorhanden in Heidegger's nomenclature—it fails to capture what is specific to place, namely, the capacity to hold and situate things, to give them a local habitation. Such holding action proffers something ready-to-hand (zuhanden ), something concretely palpable, to which attachment can be made. This palpability belongs properly to place and not to space.56

A deductive, relentless cosmologic is driven to presuppose an empty and boundless no-place—not yet named "space" in many mythic accounts—that is as abstract and barren of holding-locating properties as is space on the modern conception. To parry this cosmologism (whereby an entity is posited as cosmically necessary yet is unable to play any constructive role), the void is quickly filled with various places. Navajo cosmogony lays down places of emergence, "underworlds" that are both located (under the visible upperworld) and locating (of all that is on and in the upperworld). These subworlds are concrete holding environments that do what the void, taken by itself alone, cannot do: they offer palpable implacement to things. The advantage in this literally topocosmic move is that the role of place is made central and explicit from the beginning. It need not be inferred as something surreptitiously supposed. The transcendental deduction of space stands instructed by a cosmogonic espousal of place.

By interpreting the void as a scene of emergent implacement, we pursue a middle path, one that is neither covertly transcendental nor expressly mythical. This middle way regards the void as the scene of the becoming of place. To take up this view is neither to transform the strict void into infinite isotropic space nor to populate it in advance with determinate mythical places. Neither the indeterminate nor the determinate but the predeterminate is what is cosmogonically formative. The strict void is avoided by recognizing the void as already on the way to place . Such a void is not presupposed, much less deduced as cosmologically or epistemologically necessary. It is posited in the first place—not as the first place but as the first becoming of place itself . Just as the space posited in a transcendental deduction shows itself capable of providing particular places, the void of cosmogonic accounts is on its way to the determination of particular places. The void makes provision for places. It is place in its provisionality.

In pursuing this last line of thought, am I not papering over the abyss of the cosmogonic void by my own discursive considerations? If so, I shall not have been the first philosopher to have averted place-panic by proposing the massive preplacement of the world-in-the-making. In the next chapter, we shall witness Plato doing something similar. In the face of the void, and in the absence of the deducibility of space, recourse to place becomes tempting indeed.

Yet, even apart from concerted (and quite possibly defensive) steps to assure the abiding prepresence of place, in the end we may take a certain comfort in the very void itself. We have seen that even in the face of the utter void, of no-thingness itself, place is already prefigured. Place configures and situates the face of the dark Deep. Even a cosmogonically rigorous account that sets down no-place as a necessary beginning point—or one that discovers chaos at the origin—is never without the resources of place. At no place is such an account altogether destitute of these resources. Even the void yields place: if it is now bereft of body and place (i.e., is no-place for no-body), it promises to give way to both body and place then, after the work of creation has been done.

In fact, as we reflect on all the cosmogenetic moments in which place is of import (moments, however, not arranged in any strict chronological sequence), we begin to savor a different prospect. This is a prospect of an aboriginal preplacement, and an ongoing implacement, of the created world. Whether as nonbeing that exists, or as chaos on the way to cosmos, or as an orderly progression of stages of creation, cosmogenesis creates (or discovers) place at the origin, thereby becoming topogenesis. Cosmos and topos conjoin in the becoming of the topocosm.

Shuzanghu's question to his wife, "How long must we live without a place to rest our feet?" was posed when "at first there was neither Earth nor Sky." Butonce Earth and Sky have separated from each other—once creation has begun, as it always already has—the answer to Shuzanghu's question is evident: there will be somewhere to rest your feet if only you will look in the right place—in the first place. As Aristotle assures us that "time will not fail,"57 so Shuzanghu can be certain that place will not lack.


Excerpted from The Fate of Place by Edward S. Casey Copyright © 1998 by Edward S. Casey. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Preface: Disappearing Places, ix,
Acknowledgments, xvii,
Part One From Void to Vessel,
1 Avoiding the Void: Primeval Patterns, 3,
2 Mastering the Matrix: The Enuma Elish and Plato's Timaeus, 23,
3 Place as Container: Aristotle's Physics, 50,
Part Two From Place to Space,
Interlude, 75,
4 The Emergence of Space in Hellenistic and Neoplatonic Thought, 79,
5 The Ascent of Infinite Space: Medieval and Renaissance Speculations, 103,
Part Three The Supremacy of Space,
Interim, 133,
6 Modern Space as Absolute: Gassendi and Newton, 137,
7 Modern Space as Extensive: Descartes, 151,
8 Modern Space as Relative: Locke and Leibniz, 162,
9 Modern Space as Site and Point: Position, Panopticon, and Pure Form, 180,
Part Four The Reappearance of Place,
Transition, 197,
10 By Way of Body: Kant, Whitehead, Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, 202,
11 Proceeding to Place by Indirection: Heidegger, 243,
12 Giving a Face to Place in the Present: Bachelard, Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, Derrida, Irigaray, 285,
Postface: Places Rediscovered, 331,
Notes, 343,
Index, 479,

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