Thinking about Place

  • Landscape & Memory
    • Myths
    • History
  • Forgotten Places
    • Abandoned Places
    • Sick Places
    • Ruins
    • Flooded—TVA (Tellico, Tims Ford)
    • Archaelogy
    • Liminal places
  • Private Property
    • Real Estate
    • “Value”
    • Domain
    • Leasehold
    • Lease Committee
  • Built Environment
    • Architecture
    • Sports areas
    • Parks
    • Memorials
    • Memorial benches
  • Geography
    • Abstraction
    • Mapping
    • Surveying
    • GPS
  • Environment
    • Geology
    • Trees
    • Patterns of Migration
  • Sacred Spaces
    • Church
    • Labyrinth
    • Cave
    • Grove
    • Springs
    • Genius loci
    • American Gods
  • Secret Places
    • Romantic spots
    • Hideaway
  • Displacement
    • Trail of Tear
    • Leaving Home
    • Alienation
    • Entfremdungsgefühl
    • Resident alien
    • Passing through
    • Highway Exits
    • Ungrounded
    • Loneliness
    • Strangers
  • Home
    • Prodigal Son
    • Nostalgia
    • Odysseus
    • Grounded
    • Childhood
    • Community
  • Authenticity
    • Ersatz
    • Levitton
    • Ticky-tacky
    • Development
    • Suburbs
    • Gas consumption
  • Foreign Place
    • Travel
    • Wanderlust
    • Exile
    • Pilgrimage
    • Migration
  • Lines of Communication
    • Phone Lines
    • Roads
    • Railroad
  • Beyond Seeing
    • Local music
    • Sounds of a place
    • Birdsong
    • Smells
    • Flowers
    • Country air
    • Sewanee fog
    • Local food
    • Sea air
    • Crash of waves
    • Sound of insects, esp. at night (thrumming)
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RIP Stanley Crouch

Stanley Crouch came to speak at Sewanee in the mid-2000s as part of the “How Then Shall We Live?” series. Below is the author picture he sent. When I picked him up at the Nashville airport, he emerged from the terminal with his suitcase– we shook hands and he told me, in that unique gravelly voice of his, “You should know that I have a profound antipathy for everything having to do with the Confederacy.” Okay, I thought, this ought to be an interesting visit.

On the drive to Sewanee, we got into a long and lively discussion about Dante, but at one point I noticed he was squirming in his seat. “I think I’ll pull over at the next rest area,” I said, to which he replied, “NOW.” Pull over, uh, right here? “HERE.” He hopped out the car by the side of the highway and relieved himself. “Sorry about that.” Then it was back to Dante.

I dropped him off at Rebel’s Rest, the university guest house. “Rebel’s Rest. Huh.” Over the next 24 hours I spent a lot of time with Stanley. We met for coffee on the porch of Rebel’s Rest the next morning– the wisteria was in full bloom still. “I don’t want to like this place,” he said, meaning Rebel’s Rest. “I do like this porch, though.” Many in Sewanee remember him opening his talk with a reference to it. “The more rebels resting, the better.” It brought the house down. He started off reading from a chapter about Davy Crockett and then– I’ve never seen a speaker do this before–stopped. “This isn’t any good. Hey, let’s take questions.” People loved it, as he opined freely and fearlessly about anything and everything.

Before he left, Stanley autographed a book for me with a very kind inscription, ending with his characteristic VIA. “Victory is Assured.”

Posted in Books, Cemeteries & Funerals, Education, Italy, Poetry, Race, Sewanee, Tennessee, The South | Leave a comment

Intergenerational Trauma bibliography

One of the things we study at Riggs is the intergenerational transmission of trauma and the weight of history in producing various symptoms.  Of course, as psychoanalysts we traffic in attempting to study the unconscious, so much of what is transmitted between generations does not necessarily happen in language but in signs that emerge in the silences.  These signs are registered by some unconsciously or incoherently and may lead the recipient on an errand to retrieve the lost history in order to restore the “social link” to the history of a place, person, family member, national story has been lost.  My colleague Francoise Davoine, PhD, a psychoanalyst in Paris refers to this as “the cut-out history” which often follows some sort of social catastrophe.

Mine 21 is a great example of this.  Kelsey doesn’t know the story until she becomes a young adult, yet the story has been in the home, her caregivers, and the atmosphere of the community her entire life.  The best people in psychoanalytic thinking about these phenomena are:

1. Francoise Davoine and Jean Max Gaudellier.  Their book “History Beyond Trauma” is a Lacanian (thus difficult to read) text about trauma and the unconscious.  The subtitle of the book includes a quote from Wittgenstein’s closing words of the Tractatus:  “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one cannot stay silent.”  This quote suggests that what is unspeakable comes out in various symptoms—usually somatic.  This was also the basis of Freud’s 1895 version of hysteria—the repressed may also be the unspeakable, and the result is a symptom in the body expressed as a conversion disorder (limb paralysis, hysterical blindness, or other less dramatic symptoms).

2.  Vamik Volkan writes a lot about traumatized communities and societies.  Almost everytime he has a thought he seems to write a book!  I recommend his 1981 book Linking Objects and Linking Phenomena.

3.  I also recommend a paper by Maurice Apprey (a Dean of Students at UVa and a psychoanalyst).  This article is rather difficult but has some gems of thinking in it.  It was in Free Associations in 2014 and is titled ” A Pluperfect Errand.”

I hope these resources provide some avenue for exploration.  

Letter from Jane Tillman to me, January 27, 2020

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Song to the Seals

Every so often you come across a charming thing quite unintentionally on the internet, and this morning’s entry for me is the great Irish tenor John McCormack singing “Song to the Seals” from 1935.



A sea maid sings on yonder reef
The spell bound seals draw near
A lilt that lures beyond belief
Mortals enchanted hear

Coir an oir an oir an oir o
Coir an oir an oir an eer o
Coir an oir an oir an ee lalyuran
Coir an oir an oir an eer o

The wandering ploughman halts his plough
The maid her milking stays
And sheep on hillside, bird on bough
Pause and listen in amaze

Was it a dream? Were all asleep?
Or did she cease her lay?
For the seals with a splash dive into the deep
And the world goes on again
Yet lingers the refrain



Posted in Animals, Ireland, Music, Nautical | Leave a comment

Who’s ready for another marginal mystery?

OK, so my posts–here, here, and here–about the mysterious notations on the flyleaf of an 18th century edition of Cicero’s works have led to discussions with various and sundry folks that have been a great deal of fun.

So, here’s another! Here is the title page of another book in my possession, an edition of Tacitus’s Works, published in Trajecti Batavorum (= Utrecht, the Netherlands) by Jacob Poolsom and Johannes Visch. You can see the date is given as C I Ↄ   I Ↄ  C C  X X I = MDCCXXI = 1721.


What’s interesting is the name of the owner, written on either side of TOMUS SECUNDUS, etc., which appears to be “Lloyd Dulany.”


So, who is “Lloyd Dulany”? You know me, friends– I just had to know.

Turns out that, if we were living in London or Baltimore in the year of Our Lord Seventeen Hundred and Eight Two, we would be intimately familiar with the name of Lloyd Dulany.

A member of a prominent Loyalist family, Dulany was killed in a duel in London by a certain Bennet Allen, an 18th century Anglican cleric of unsavory reputation (the guy wrote a poem called “Modern Chastity; or the Agreeable Rape” and a pamphlet called “A Modest Apology for Adultery”). The subsequent trial was evidently quite the sensation.

According to the Wikipedia article about Allen, here’s what happened:

In subsequent years Allen contributed largely to the ‘Morning Post’ In an anonymous article, called ‘Characters of Principal Men of the [American] Rebellion,’ which appeared there on 29 June 1779, he vehemently attacked the character of (American rebel) Daniel Dulany, formerly secretary of Maryland and a parishioner at St. Anne’s who had publicly chastised Allen in the street and a series of articles in the ‘Maryland Gazette’ (to which Allen had disingenuously replied as “Bystander”).[4] On 1 July the ‘Morning Post’ withdrew the charges against Dulany, but Lloyd Dulany, a brother of the subject of the alleged libel, publicly challenged its anonymous author in the newspaper. Allen did not appear declare himself the article’s writer immediately, but after a long interval a duel was arranged. On 18 June 1782, Dulany was killed in the duel. Allen and his second, Robert Morris, surrendered themselves on 5 July of the same year, to answer a charge of murder at the Old Bailey sessions. After a trial, which attracted general public attention, Allen, in spite of his plea for benefit of clergy and the evidence as to his character adduced by Lords Bateman, Mountnorris, and many fashionable ladies, was convicted of manslaughter (but Morris acquitted), and sentenced to a fine of one shilling and six months’ imprisonment.[5]

(I don’t think Wikipedia is correct in calling Daniel Dulany a rebel, BTW)

I don’t know how to feel about this. Allen seems like a jerk, so I guess I’m on Dulany’s side? But that’s only because, by some weird twist of fate, I happen to own his copy of Tacitus.

I note that it’s got a bookplate in the front from the Library of the Protestant Episcopal Divinity School in Philadelphia, so it’s from some church connection that it must have come to me. Anyway, that divinity school merged with another in 1974 and is gone now.

Habent sua fata libelli, indeed.

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Quake and Quarantine

So, last night, in the midst of the COVID-19 quarantine, we had an earthquake.

At 3:33 AM.

And, get this, it was 3.3 on the Richter Scale.

It was only a few miles from our house, down in Lost Cove at 35.141°N  85.892°W.

I myself slept through it, but my wife and son felt it. “I thought it was a jet breaking the sound barrier,” she said. “I thought it was a tornado hitting the house,” he said.

Alright, 2020. We’ve hunkered down for hurricanes, and sheltered in place to flatten the curve, and I guess now we need a little earth rattling to go with it?

Getting a little tired of all this Old Testament living.


Posted in Bible, Sewanee, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Notes on the Oedipus Project


During this bizarre time of quarantine, Theater of War Productions presented on Thursday, May 7th, an entirely online version of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, with some well-known actors Zooming in from their home laptops while 6K viewers Zoomed in on laptops of their own to watch.  I was part of that online audience. Above you see a photo of Oedipus on my computer, and to the left, a facemask I was wearing earlier in the day.

If you had told me a few months ago about this, I imagine my first question would have been, What is Zoom? But the times have pushed us into circumstances, and the ramifications of them, while all very strange, are not all terrible. It was a very compelling performance, and many points of contact with our current situation were notable: the plague, of course, with its widespread death and misery, the arrogance of the leader, the willingness of those around him to spin false narratives, and the sense of spiraling horror.

Oscar Isaac’s Oedipus is intense, by turns quick to anger, threatening, and petulant, but he is also– and here we sense a disconnect with the present– committed to finding the truth and taking responsibility for it.

From Theater of War’s description page:

The Oedipus Project is an innovative new digital initiative by Theater of War Productions that will present acclaimed actors performing scenes from Sophocles’ Oedipus the King as a catalyst for powerful, healing online conversations about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic upon diverse communities throughout the United States. Sophocles’ ancient play, written and performed in 429 BC during the time of a plague that killed one-third of the Athenian population, is a timeless story of arrogant leadership, ignored prophecy, and a pestilence that ravages the city of Thebes. At the time the play was first performed, the audience would have been reeling in the wake of a pestilence and its economic, political, and social aftermath. Seen through this lens Oedipus the King appears to have been a powerful public health tool for helping Athenians communalize the trauma of the plague, through a story that is as relevant now as it was in its own time.

Featuring performances by Frances McDormand, Oscar Isaac, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Frankie Faison, David Strathairn, and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.


Presented by Theater of War Productions, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, and Brooklyn Public Library.

Registered audience members will receive a Zoom link prior to the event. This is a premiere zoom event for Theater of War Productions. We are convening our events online and our format remains as close to our live events as possible:

  • The actors will read the play.
  • Four community panelists will kick off the discussion with their gut responses to what resonated with them across time
  • We will open the discussion to the audience, facilitated by Bryan Doerries. During the discussion, please raise your hand using the button at the bottom center of the screen. If called upon, you will be promoted to speak and you will be visible and heard by the entire audience for the duration of your comments. If you would prefer not to be seen, please disable your video when entering the event.

Below are some screen shots I took during the broadcast:

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Posted in Classics, Drama, Film, Mythology, Time | Leave a comment

Get you a man who looks at you the way young Charlie looks at the Portland Vase

From Make Me An Offer (1954), Peter Finch’s first film in which he plays Charlie, an antiques dealer specializing in Wedgewood. Not a well-known movie, but it’s on Youtube, at least for now. Here is the young Charlie (Richard O’Sullivan) in the British Museum, having his first glance at the love of his life, the Portland Vase.

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Posted in Classics, England, Film, Italy | Leave a comment

“Asynchronous in Sewanee”

A piece I wrote for Sewanee Features called “Asynchronous in Sewanee” just came out.

Posted in Dogs, Education, Family, Mythology, Sewanee, Time, Trees & Flowers | Leave a comment

Rainy evening reflections

It’s raining in Sewanee, and will be for the next few days, they say. Springtime has always been the season of showers around here, of course, a small price to pay for the green of the trees and grass. It’s no fun to get wet walking the dogs in, but at night, the sound of rain is a pleasant thing to fall asleep to.

Recently I watched Peter Middleton and James Spinney’s brilliant short documentary from 2014, “Notes on Blindness,” on the New York Times Op-Doc site. The film dramatizes a number of remarks made on audiotapes from the early 1980s by James Hull, a British writer and theologian, about his gradual loss of sight. This is a quiet and powerful film, and as Hull works out his grief and anger, we are drawn in by his deeply poetic observations. At the end, a re-enactor peers out from his house into a spring shower as we listen to Hull’s thoughts. “Rain brings out the contours of what’s around you,” he says, “in that it introduces a continuous blanket of differentiated but specialized sound, uninterrupted, which fills the whole of the audible environment.” We see the rain falling on a small yard and then, in a moment of subtle magic realism, in the kitchen and the table at which the actor sits. But more importantly, we hear it, perhaps listening for the first time as a blind person might.

Hull’s insights are so humane and meaningful, and  this little film captures them so beautifully. It is an inspiration, frankly. As it stands, I am wondering about making another documentary, perhaps about Francis Joseph Campbell, “the Blind Knight,” about whom I’ve written before on this blog. A question I have asked myself is whether a film is the best way to tell his story? Would a podcast be a wiser way to proceed? It would certainly be cheaper. And having had to convert all my classes to an online format because of the coronavirus quarantine, I have been thinking a lot about podcasting as a way of telling some local stories.

On this rainy evening, I have been thinking about another storm from long ago. We recently comped a student who had taken Archaeology a few years ago, so I felt compelled to let him write an essay on the topic. Pick any monument, I told him, and so he wrote on the Marcus Aurelius column in the Piazza Colonna. It has been many years since I thought about this monument, but it was a pleasure to read again about Marcus and his battle against the Marcomanni. An incident I had forgotten was the miraculous burst of rain that occurred during a stand-off with the Quadi. Surrounded by their far vaster army, the Romans are in a bad situation due to the blistering hot weather. The Quadi feel it will only be a matter of time before their thirst forces a surrender on the Romans and decide to wait it out. The Byzantine historian Xiphilinus writes that Marcus approaches some of his Christian soldiers and asks them to pray to their god, who obliges the emperor and his troops with a welcome rain.

When the skies opened, he writes, “at first all turned their faces upwards and received the water in their mouths; then some held out their shields and some their helmets to catch it, and they not only took deep draughts themselves but also gave their horses to drink. And when the barbarians now charged upon them, they drank and fought at the same time; and some, becoming wounded, actually gulped down the blood that flowed into their helmets, along with the water.”

The scene is depicted rather charmingly on the column, and though most Romans preferred to attribute the miracle to Jupiter or Mercury, perhaps we can also see the “Father which is in heaven,” who as Mark says (5:45), “sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust,” Roman and Quadi alike. We can see it here, and feel it in the vivid passage of Xiphilinus above. And now I am wondering, along with John Hull, what that “continuous blanket of differentiated but specialized sound” must have sounded like that unlikely hot winter day in the hinterlands beyond the Danube.

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Posted in Bible, Classics, Film, Military, Rivers, Rome, Sewanee, Uncategorized | Leave a comment