Ties that Bind: Variations

click on images for full-size:

A web page discussing the site of the temple in Jerusalem

The home page of the National Air and Space Museum

A web page listing special exhibitions of Monet's paintings across the world

We have many kinds of attachment to particular places: to their look and feel, to their particular history, to our own memories, to who we are when we are in them, and so on. But are these attachments always to their particular stones and trees, and to their abstractly described physical location? It depends on the case. There are different kinds of attachment:

Think of places where access is a problem. This might be because access is dangerous to the survival of the place itself (the fragile cave paintings at Lascaux), or because access is subject to conflicting claims (the temple mount in Jerusalem), or because access is difficult because of crowds (blockbuster Monet art shows, the Air and Space Museum).

Now imagine that as a way of solving the problems exact physical replicas of the places were constructed. This has already been done for the Lascaux caves. Build exact replicas of the holy places in Jerusalem, so different sects could each have their own whole mountain. Pilgrimages would be to the replicas. Set up duplicate Monet exhibitions, so no one would have to wait in line. Multiple museums, with replicas of the historic planes and space capsules. Would this succeed better in some cases and worse in others?

Perhaps the replicas would seem inadequate in contrast with the real places. So disassemble the real places and spread their parts around in the replicas. Incorporate the stones that used to comprise the original temple mount and its buildings into the new constructions. Spread the Monet paintings and the planes and space capsules around, mixed in with duplicates and unlabeled. The original materials would remain; their spatial coordinates would be changed. What about this plan?

Finally, imagine that the problematic places were duplicated in virtual space. The holy places would be declared so sacred no one could ever approach them, except perhaps once a century. Pilgrims would visit them through virtual reality experiences. The experience could be more complete, less hurried, less crowded, and could be more focused and reverential than a noisy, distracted actual visit could ever be. (Or, if you wanted crowds and tension and rivalry over the holy places, an optional version of the virtuality might be arranged to have a greater sense of tension and danger than the real locations.) The virtual Monet exhibit could be more complete, and seen in a private showing. The virtual Air and Space Museum would allow you to climb around and into the exhibits in ways the physical world would never allow. Would this do?

If these proposals sound crazy, in different ways depending on the place, why? Just what is it that we feel tied to, in our deep relations with particular places? When is it to the physicality of this particular location? It is never, perhaps, to an abstract grid location. But sometimes there is and sometimes there isn't a strong place equivalent of the "aura" Benjamin speaks about for original works of art. He thought the aura was connected with the cultic use of art, and that it was dying as cultic use changed into mass consumption, which he did not regard as necessarily bad. What kind of "cultic" use of places persists, and what is changing? Disneyland can be multiplied. The Vatican cannot. Is the nature of our ties changing? Do we need "the orignal" as much? Are multiple meanings and contestation becoming more normal now?