- Place, Space, and Michal Govrin's Snapshots
Place, space, chronotope have again become a focus of interest after having been relegated to the status of background or setting in the heyday of classical narratology1. In the framework of this resurgence, my paper is an attempt to draw attention to a configuration that, to the best of my knowledge, has not yet been discussed. Transposing the ambiguity, though not the literal meaning, of the title of Irigaray's pathbreaking feminist book (This Sex Which Is Not One), I call this configuration "a place which is not one."2 My concern is with a place that is both "not one," i.e. not unique but multiple, and "not one," i.e. not fully a place, in a sense that will emerge from the analysis. Place itself is provisional shorthand for an unorthodox combination of the three opening notions.
My hypothesis is that "a place which is not one" is a basic structure (dare I say "deep structure"?) that can have different manifestations in different periods/ genres/texts. I have been led to this hypothesis by my engagement with the recent novel Snapshots by Israeli author Michal Govrin (2002; English translation 2007), a narrative text that implicitly theorizes the relation between place and space. Snapshots both integrates and problematizes Jewish religious traditions, secular ideals of the early twentieth century settlers in Israel, present-day political views concerning issues of territory, and contemporary West European (mainly French) thinking about location.3 I shall first show how the work of Michel de Certeau sheds light on Govrin's conceptualizations of place. This will be followed by a close analysis of ways in which the novel goes beyond de Certeau and other theorists by its concrete representations of the dual meaning of "a place which is [End Page 220] not one." Finally, I shall explicitly bring time back into the discussion by foregrounding a relation between Govrin's novel and Bakhtin's concept of the chronotope.
Theorizing Place and Space: de Certeau and Govrin
A brief presentation of Snapshots is necessary before relating it to de Certeau's theory. The novel starts after the death of the protagonist, Ilana (Lana) Tsuriel, a leftwing Israeli architect living in Paris, in a car crash on the way to Munich where she is planning to deliver a lecture. Lana's estranged husband, Alain, gives a close ex-Israeli friend of hers notes and diary entries written in Hebrew, together with maps and photos he found in Lana's handbag. The book we read consists of these fragmentary notes, addressed to her dead father. Before her death, Lana was frantically planning an anti-monument to peace to be set up in the outskirts of Jerusalem, on a hill Lana re-names Mount Sabbatical. Suffice it to say at this point that in the Bible, a Sabbatical Year (shmita) is one in which all agricultural work ceases and financial debts are suspended, a year of temporarily letting go of property. Reinforcing these connotations is the architecture of the planned anti-monument: a settlement of huts (sukkot), similar to those in which religious Jews dwell during the Feast of Tabernacles. Central among the huts' many connotations, to be analyzed later, are transitoriness and non-ownership. To celebrate the inauguration of the anti-monument, Lana was working with a Palestinian troupe on a joint theatrical production, and at the same time having a love affair with its director, Sayyid.
Lana's project, as well as other aspects of Snapshots, maintains a striking affinity with de Certeau's ideas.4 In The Practice of Everyday Life, de Certeau proposes a distinction between place and space—one that has not been unanimously adopted, but is particularly illuminating in the present context. The distinction emerges not as a binary opposition but as a relationship of potentiality and realization, similar to that between de Saussure's langue or Chomsky's competence, and the former's parole or the latter's performance—concepts that are often evoked in de Certeau's book. While place is "objectively there," the constructed cultural given, space is what the subject makes of place in order to inhabit...