Where am I?

I don’t know why I thought I would feel any different on the aeroplane as opposed to anywhere else, except in so far as I’m travelling First Class for the first time! So I’ve been lying here, trying to sleep on my fully-reclinig seat, examining my thoughts and feelings and failing either to sleep or to discover anything very deep going on…

The only slightly odd thing relates to Marc Auge’s theories about place/non-place – something I’ll have to read up about. I started reading one of his texts, as recommended by Iain, but got sidetracked by a necessary investigation of the meaning of the word chthonic on page 2, which made me realise that a primary problem for me in starting this PhD is that I don’t ‘speak the language of scholars’ on the subject, and that I have a pressing need for a dictionary section in this website (see the right hand side bar!). I also have to overcome a certain amount of prejudice in that we (Michael and I!) commonly refer to the more scholarly/circular/incomprehensible pieces of text that we find as art bollocks – an entertaining phrase that I may have to ditch in favour of achieving something closer to an open mind…

Anyway, back to the subject: where am I? There are all sorts of answers: I am in the forward section of an Airbus 340 (I think), in seat 2A – or 3A, depending on Ella’s caprice. I’m one of a group of over two hundred people elevated 33,000 feet in the air in a moving vehicle which happens to have wings. I’m approximately above the surface of the Indian Ocean to the north-west of Australia’s Northern Territories. And there are doubtless plenty of other ways in which I could describe where I am.

There are also a few practical problems with these statements. For a start, I’m moving so I’m nowhere specific for more than a nano-second. So you can’t pinpoint my position on a map now, you can only say with a reasonable degree of accuracy (I assume that we are being tracked by radar and/or satellite) where I have been. You can’t map me, you can only plot my trajectory.

Also, in this placeless place, I am not anywhere. I am flying through international and national air spaces, but I wonder under what jurisdictions the space within this aircraft comes? Are we subject to the rules of the United Arab Emirates whence we departed; the Civil Aviation Authority; or perhaps Australia, where we’re headed? Or are we bound – as our luggage compensation claims are – by some convention, such as the Hague, Warsaw or Geneva?

Or does it really matter? At the moment we’re a disparate group, with certain familial or friendship ties, but with most in common through the shared experience of being moved through space on the same vehicle. Perhaps the issues of place only really come into play when something happens: an accident or a catastrophe, when core human characteristics such as selfishness or a desire to help come to the fore. Perhaps one of the defining characteristics of this placeless place is that it is also somewhere (nowhere?) where nothing happens – as soon as something does happen, such as an air crash, then the incident also marks out a place: the aircraft came down in the Siberian tundra, close to…

There is another interesting facet of this flying experience, and that is the process by which we make our immediate surroundings ‘home’. I am very far from home and few of my things are here, but I have undertaken actions of familiarisation that are themselves so familiar as to have become invisible rituals. I have read information cards, looked in drawers and cubby holes, tried out all the buttons to do with moving parts of my chair and the TV. I have raised and lowered the window blinds, adjusted the lights and make myself comfortable both by familiarising myself with the unfamiliar and by personalising it, if only in the sense of disposing a limited number of possessions on surfaces.

I often don’t notice myself doing it, and yet it’s obviously important and I am aware that I also feel the need to do it for Ella. I pre-emptively packed things in our hand luggage that would make her feel ‘at home’, such as cuddly toys and activities. A clear part of the rationale for doing so is to remove fear: what I want to avoid, both for her and for me, is the experience of her fearing the space she is in for such a long time because she doesn’t like it or want to be in it. And let’s face it, she doesn’t have much choice about coming along with me for the ride!

I have very ill-informed notions about what our so-called primitive ancestors did in their caves, but I imagine that what I have done in my First Class cabin is not much different to what I would have done thousands of years ago in my cave: arranging dry bedding and furs, cooking utensils or tools, or perhaps painting something on a cave wall.

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