The Human Encounter and the Challenge of Coexistence
Publication Year: 2013
In this remarkable and often dazzling book, Paul Carter explores the conditions for sociability in a globalized future. He argues that we make many assumptions about communication but overlook barriers to understanding between strangers as well as the importance of improvisation in overcoming these obstacles to meeting. While disciplines such as sociology, legal studies, psychology, political theory, and even urban planning treat meeting as a good in its own right, they fail to provide a model of what makes meeting possible and worth pursuing: a yearning for encounter.
The volume’s central narrative—between Northern cultural philosophers and Australian societies—traverses the troubled history of misinterpretation that is characteristic of colonial cross-cultural encounter. As he brings the literature of Indigenous and non-Indigenous anthropological research into dialogue with Western approaches of conceptualizing sociability, Carter makes a startling discovery: that meeting may not be desirable and, if it is, its primary objective may be to negotiate a future of non-meeting.
To explain the phenomenon of encounter, Carter performs it in differing scales, spaces, languages, tropes, and forms of knowledge, staging in the very language of the book what he calls “passages.” In widely varying contexts, these passages posit the disjunction of Greco-Roman and Indigenous languages, codes, theatrics of power, social systems, and visions of community. In an era of new forms of technosocialization, Carter offers novel ways of presenting the philosophical dimensions of waiting, meeting, and non-meeting.
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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Meeting Place stages an encounter between northern and southern under-standings of meeting. In the northern tradition, which I broadly identifywith the European and Anglo-American heritage of writing about societyand its political organization, meeting is held to be an unqualified good.Freud talks about the goal of the human race in terms of an approach to...
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To stage a dialogue between northern and southern experiences of meet-ing is to assume a productively dialectical relationship. It is already to movebeyond the nostalgia inherent in most anthropological descriptions andthe urgent functionalism of sociological ideas of the crowd. It relocatesboth in a time and space that is not reducible to the idealized level play-...
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It only remains in these opening remarks to say something about the struc-ture of Meeting Place and the style. To call this an essay is not to be coy; allmeetings proceed by way of trial and error, and if we could circumscribeand regulate them, they would hold little attraction. The short sectionsinto which the arguments are organized are imagined like the rapid succes-...
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Waiting for you, I flick through the poems of Nazim Hikmet?it?s the kindof casual literary encounter railway station bookshops specialize in?andcome across the lines ?statues of whoever invented airplanes / should gracethe hotel rooms of all returns.?1 Possibly it?s because the marble-floored lob-bies behind me and the miscellaneous jigsaw of flatnesses in front of me...
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...?Half past twelve: how the time has gone by.?1 You are obviously not com-ing; or you are here cocooned from sight in another dimension, where timeand space retain their qualitative aspects of east and west, before and after.Either way, as with the recently departed, the time is approaching when itis ceasing to make sense to speak in the second person, as if you are in ear -...
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To enter this world is to navigate it. To discern the dynamics of the zoneof encounter folded into the fissure between meeting and nonmeeting, adifferent approach is needed?methodologically as well as environmen-tally. In the human sciences it has been customary to call efforts to providean enriched account of human experience interdisciplinary. Psychologists...
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I want to give two examples of practices that illustrate the poetic dispo-sition needed to begin to discern the distinctive character of the meetingplace. One is taken from psychiatry, the other from the human sciences ofthe central Australian Arrernte people. They would not normally be con-strued as related. Ga?tan Gatian de Cl?rambault, the seul maitre en psychi-...
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Another way to think about the meeting place is acoustically. In the classi-cal model of the meeting place, the agora, forum, or square is a place forpublic talking. They are designed so that some members of the commu-nity at least can make themselves heard. To win the attention of neighbors,speeches were rhetorically amplified and distinctive kinds of storytelling...
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Killing time after you did not arrive, I found myself in the art gallery. Look-ing at a work called City Square, where a group of figures are arranged as ifabout to meet, I could not help but notice their inclination. They seemed tobe attentively listening, as if they located themselves in a sea of echoes. Forall their collective loneliness, they were immersed in a tumultuous medium...
Over and Above
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Can we go back to the distinction made earlier between aesthetics and his-tory? The Giacometti commission staged an encounter between two dif-ferent understandings of the way the meeting place is designed. An urbandesign predicated on the erasure of gesture came up against a sculpturalpractice that brought to the representation of the human body an anti-...
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Suggesting a space of translation occupied by hybrid forms of commu-nication, the improvised meeting place outlined here naturally suggestskinship with the well-known and roughly contemporary concepts of thirdspace (Homi Bhabha) and ThirdSpace (Edward Soja); in fact, culturalstudies texts and theses regularly bracket these ideas together. This is flat-...
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So much for ground rules, but the question is: who are the players, the deter-minedly indeterminate multitude of singularities that peoples this newlyanimated environment? To answer this it is necessary to insist on the dif-ference of the meeting place investigated as a concrete situation and thegeneral discourse on improved sociability associated with postcolonial dis-...
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It is remarkable how centripetal northern thinking is. No matter wherenew cultural materials are drawn from, they accelerate toward the centerof Euro-American intellectual renewal. As they do this, they may throwup a dialectical mirror to the orthodoxies that have dogged philosophi-cal enlightenment, but they also lose their independence. We (and I fully...
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In mediating between the game and the place where the game is played, itis necessary to acknowledge the foundational role mimicry plays in insti-tuting social relations. Take, for example, the encounter between sailorsfrom the survey ship Cumberland and a group of Aboriginal men on theWerribee plains southwest of present-day Melbourne on February 18, 1803,...
X Marks the Spot
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There has been an uninvited guest at these discussions. It is the migrant.Of course, the migrant is an abstraction and stereotype, like the Europeanphilosopher or the Aboriginal elder. However, he and she represent a gen-uine historical vector in the afterlife of colonized countries; and it is a mootpoint where colonization ends and migration begins, or whether the latter...
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The records of First Fleet officers involved in establishing the British set-tlement at Sydney Cove (1788) contain remarkably intimate records ofencounter with the local people. They belie the current orthodoxy thatGovernor Phillip and his men regarded Australia as a terra nullius or itspeople as lacking land rights. The first eighteen months saw a period of fleet-...
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The enigma of meeting exists not only for social theory, interpersonalpsychology, public space design, and the choreographic notation of move-ment. It also embodies defining questions in the history of western meta-physics. In The Sophist, Plato ?explained that the divine community [is]alternately divided and joined by a dialectical ?movement? [kinesis], which...
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Obviously, not everyone meets in the meeting place. Most people passthrough remaining strangers to one another. The meeting place legitimatesthe social value of not meeting. It creates scope for solitude: not everyoneis lonely in the crowd. Even in the meeting place meeting is exceptional. Infact, in a way, the intention of the informal choreographies that character-...
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Here I want to stage a meeting between two terms. One of them, hedra, is aGreek word that survives in our word polyhedron. The other is an Arrernteword, utyerre, whose connotations are explained in a recent book by Mar-garet Kemarre Turner. These are words about pigeonholes, the naturallocations for things, but they are also terms that are pigeonholed, like their...
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Let?s try to enter the meeting place by another route. The meeting place isneither people nor place; it is some kind of algorithm of sociability, whichfrom a material thinking point of view must be manifest in some palpableexpression, whether fleeting glance, parallax of legs, or other unforeseen jux-taposition of formerly strange things. The meeting place is a matrix for the...
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Circling round the erotope brings us to another topic: the writing of pub-lic space. Up until now the phenomenon of meeting has been imagined asemerging out of a primary pantomimicry, as an evolution of gestures in -forming a performance whose communication is increasingly verbal. Theword discourse means literally a running hither and thither, and this sense...
Within a Cooee
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Various ways in which an enriched poetics of meeting might inform publicspace design have been discussed. Whether the restoration of the perfor-mative or choreographic dimension is considered from a northern or south-ern point of view, it entails asserting that the ?aesthetic means? used (torepeat Stanner?s phrase) have binding social consequences. In some way,...
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The problem with Brownian motion, at least as a model of human socia-bility, is that it does not lead anywhere. The incessant agitation of the par-ticles succeeds in keeping them out of one another?s path. There is muchado, but it is much ado about nothing. Although such physical energy maybe cognate with the dynamical nature of, say, a colloid suspension, it proves...
I Read Marx (I Don’t)
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Another way to approach the enigma of the meeting place is historically.Perhaps the reason why it is so difficult to reconcile its desirable propertieswith anything remotely suggested by contemporary urban space is that loveof any kind is irreconcilable with enclosure. The meeting place inhabitedby de Tocqueville?s contradictory crowd, at once hypersociable and neurot-...
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Perhaps I am tilting at windmills. Perhaps the campaign to rehabilitate en -counter is out of date. In the age of the digital media the meeting place maybe losing its pivotal role in social life, but this doesn?t mean that oppor-tunities for encounter are also declining. On the contrary, they are hugelyexpanded. You may not meet people on the Web, but the chances of encoun-...
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Perhaps the question of the meeting place has been wrongly framed. Insteadof bringing things together, perhaps it is an art of arrangement or redistri-bution. Take Leibniz?s thought experiment, according to which the orderof events is as follows: a random distribution of points exists, and an equa-tion is found, an algorithm, that joins them into a single line. This two-...
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Orgasm is a blind spot; ?you can fire a pistol in the room without disturb-ing lovers at the point.?1 But so is the vanishing point in Paolo Uccello?s TheHunt. The recovery of the middle ground may signify the emancipationof women from political servitude, but how does it address the question ofdesire? Apollo may be a hunter, but so is Diana, the deity presiding over La...
Save the Wall
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When I began this, I imagined that the erotic zone was a meeting place. Ithought the divagations through the forest of other people?s ideas wouldeventually bring me to a place where these different testimonies met. Themythological stories would at last yield a common pattern or motivation.Writing the book would be an act of seducing the readers, but I would...
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In this scenario the wall intercedes on behalf of the experience of encounter.Materializing the place of meeting/not-meeting, it capitalizes on an origi-nary sociality and gives it the face of sociability. The face is not a fascinat-ing, phallocentric positivity. It is an imaginary one, in the sense that ArjunAppadurai lends that term when he writes, ?The image, the imagined, the...
I Have Wondered beyond Absolutes
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I can imagine that the defense of walls offered in the last section will beoffensive to some. They will think of the wall Israel uses to confine thePalestinians or of any administrative border that punishes difference. How-ever, the object was not to defend their instrumentalization, their coloniza-tion in the interests of power. It was to tackle the problem of containment...
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Despite the stress on the strangeness at the heart of encounter, there is anexpectation that it will lead to familiarity. If strangers meet in Jean Genet?ssense of recognizing each other?s ?solitude of being,? they form a bond ofsorts. Even if a face-to-face meeting?with its rhetoric of negotiation and itsexpectation of breakthrough?is not the goal, a sense of accompaniment...
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When I began Meeting Place I thought it would end in a meeting. The failedrencontre with which it opened would be redeemed. The exacting workof understanding the environment of meeting would map all the possiblepaths of propinquity, in the process making the labyrinth of the passagestransparent. The passages are all the possible approaches to meetings that...
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About the Author
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Paul Carter is a historian, writer, philosopher, and artist based inAustralia, and professor of design (urbanism) at RMIT University, Mel-bourne. He is the author of The Road to Botany Bay (Minnesota, 2010),The Lie of the Land, Repressed Spaces, Material Thinking, and Dark Writ-ing. As a public artist and designer, he is best known for his Sydney 2000...
Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2013