In an essay and book of the same title, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (1995), Marc Augé coined the phrase “non-place” to refer to places of transience that do not hold enough significance to be regarded as “places”. Examples of a non-place would be a motorway, a hotel room, an airport or a supermarket.
Supermarkets are the vacuous supporters of the space known as the heart of the community. It used to be churches, then became the village pub, now its the supermarket. But I think the notion of a ‘heart of the community’ has been diluted by our attempts to support it.
Slavoj Žižek makes the point that art used to be about beauty. then came modern art which kicked out beauty and in that space put a toilet. (literally). then as thing change and develop the thing inside the space has become less and less relevant as the fight is not to keep something of beauty within that space called art. anything in the space will do. What become of worth is putting anything in the space, in order to maintain the existence of the space.
Community and the idea of a communal space being the heart of the community has changed and developed as has our understanding/ideas of community. I think that nowadays the supermarkets with their community noticeboards, consistent back packing days and free glass hire for the local community, are perhaps the incarnation what happens after the toilet has been removed from the space.
I was in a supermarket last week, as I walked in and picked up a basket i saw an old man, probably late 80’s sitting in a fold up chair at the door. As I walked past I heard a snippit of conversation between him and a lady who worked there.
‘has your taxi still not come yet? that’s terrible.’
‘no can you check for me’
the lady put back a basket and walked back past him.
‘I’ll go and phone and check they’re on their way you just wait there.’
the man sat beside the door, facing in the shop out of the cold air.
I went and did my shop. On the way out I noticed the old man was still sitting at the door. I walked out the door and saw a taxi. I went and asked who he was due to meet. The taxi driver told me the name and I said I thought it was an older gentleman inside. ‘Wait for me, I will be back.’
I went in and asked if the old gentlemans’ name was… he said yes. I said time to get your taxi then.
He asked for a hand to stand. I offered him my arm.
He said no he would need more than that
I tried to lift him under one arm.
He didn’t move.
I put down my shopping next to his and tried to lift him under both arms.
He did move but I was doing all the work.
I got him nearly straight and attempted to let him go.
‘No I can’t stand yet.”
I continued until he was straight.
‘I can stand now.’
He joked I should have brought my wheel chair.
I offered to take his arm for the walk to the taxi. other shoppers paused to offer assistance, to move his shopping for us. I accepted the help.
The man tried to turn round, but having sat so long, his hip had frozen, moving his right leg would be tough.
He hobbled slowly towards the door, rejecting my help, and complaining about his lack of movement.
He kept moving slowly. the taxi driver came and took his bags to the car.
I noticed a member of staff following us. Slowly. Waiting for us to move.
As we passed by the shopping trolleys he took one and wandered off.
The driver returned and took over escorting the man to the car.
I got my shopping bag back and headed for my car.
Its left me wondering why that stayed with me.
Its left me wondering how we care in communal spaces.
Its left me wondering how we engage with each other when so much of what we call community hubs, are non-places.
I am not sure I have any answers.
but I have some questions, and for now, that is enough.