In my twenties, I wanted to be Lucy Lippard. She’s this feminist art historian who breaks all the rules in her books by creating a collage of text, photographs, art, and journal entries scrolling like a news ticker across the top of the page. In The Lure of the Local, Lippard writes about place so evocatively, I’ve thought about just her first sentence for over a decade:
Place for me is the locus of desire.
That line alone holds so much truth and mystery. Place. What place? For me, it’s the idea of “home” I’ve been chasing, researching, trying to interpret. Locus. It means location, but hints at a more internal quality, something imbued with meaning, than a spot on a map. Desire. Standing alone, it’s a sensual word, hinting at something nearly forbidden. And yet, we all have desires, things for which we long.
As a psychologist, I’m in the business of listening for longings. Though not taught in psychology school, places are as much a part of our psyches and relationships as people. Lippard continues:
Places have influenced my life as much, perhaps more than, people. I fall for (or into) places faster and less conditionally than I do for people (p.4).
Psychology describes the mother-infant duo as the first symbiotic place-relationship. The second is the family home, explored tentatively, at first, by a toddler, by crawling, touching, taste and smell. The child then moves outward into the world….
However out of fashion romanticism and nostalgia may be, I can’t write about places without occasionally sinking into their seductive embrace (p.5)
We learn to soothe our upsets and anxieties first in the embrace of a guardian. That is our first home. Later, the dwellings we call home can serve a similar function. Home gives us a place to belong.
Home is embedded in our personal and national psyches. “There’s no place like home.” “Home is where the heart is.” “Home sweet home.” If you listen, it’s found throughout pop songs and commercials. Advertisers use it to sell all the fixings and a plane ride to a perfect home for the holidays. Owning a home is central to the “American dream.”
Home is more than shelter. It is part of our identity and self-expression. Home reflects our cultural history, even if the original functions of its construct are forgotten.
Home is a bookend, the place from which we start and end our days. And all the homes we’ve ever had, particularly the childhood home, keep memories and dreams (good and bad) safe, in place.
As I follow the labyrinthine diversity of personal geography, lived experience grounded in nature, culture and history, forming landscape and place, I have to dream a little… (p.5).
This is the first post in a series about the psychological significance of home and place and the locus of desire that resides in everyone. What first inspired me about Lucy Lippard was her ability to blend things that seemingly don’t mix—place, art, politics, history, academics, personal reflection and dreams—into gorgeous, chaotic sense. Isn’t that, after all, the beauty of the human mind?
Dr. Amra Stafford
Psychologist – Phoenix AZ