Name Places, The Name

January 18, 2010

Place name is a noun not much in fashion in our moment. There was a time, however (mid-late 19th century), when it was common parlance for distinguishing those particular proper nouns designating location. That we no longer relate to the significance of place names, to the extent that the word has faded from contemporary usage, is a fascinating topic unto itself. I first encountered the term Place Name and its weight of associations, reading Proust for whom the totality of lived experience can be located in these nouns. It’s resurfaced in my thinking lately as I’ve been reading about the short-lived socio-medical phenomenon of fugue in fin-du-siecle Europe. Overhearing mention of a random place name was sometimes enough to trigger an auto-ambulatory flight or fugue in young working class men, somnambulistic trips from which they would only awaken weeks or months later, in strange places, with little or no memory of their voyages.

Planning my contribution to the next Speakeasy reading series event, The Many Chambered Heart, I am compelled to revisit and reverse some of my early experimentation with Places and Names. When I was 22 and living in Brooklyn, I wrote a suite of small books about my dating experiences in the then relatively fresh and uncharted territory of social networking and online dating. New York Boyfriend was a pastiche of remembrances and correspondences. What I perhaps did not fully recognize at the time, but have come to appreciate in later years, is the extent to which this project explored boundaries of privacy and disclosure. Whether out of politeness or ethical imperative, the only way it seemed acceptable to share this information so frankly, was to omit the names of specific people and places. What I created then, was space devoid of names.

As the wisdom of years replaces the fire of my youth I realize that not only are places names embodied, but names themselves are places. Reversing the tactic employed in NYBF might be like arriving at a site through a different door; another entrance yielding a new orientation to that space. In this equation, the name, rather than elided scenery of the place, itself constitutes the space. The name, of a loved one, becomes a many chambered interior, a clearing in a woods on which to build a cairn, or any other conceivable environment to be inhabited. Loving is, in some essence, an act of taking up residence.

To that end, I will be debuting excerpts from this new project, Name Places, The Name, at the next Speakeasy reading on Friday, Feb. 19th here in Pilsen. More information about the event forthcoming.

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