Central and East European
Society for Phenomenology

Conference | Paper

Space, Place, and Uncanniness. Notes on Spatial Experience during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Paolo Furia

Thursday 2 December 2021

09:40 - 10:20

Zoom 1-2

My paper deals with three major characteristics of our experience of space and places during the COVID-19 pandemic from a phenomenological point of view.

First: the contrast between the unprecedented availability and diffusion of digital representations of elsewhere at the global level and the lockdown, connected with social distancing and confinement. Digital technologies plunge the subjects into multiple visual worlds that cannot be reached. While in ordinary situations digital representations anticipate and predetermine bodily experience of places, also producing some degree of standardization of the travelers’ gazes and expectations, confinement generates a hiatus between the imaginary and reality. I argue that the condition of confinement fosters what Mumford called “utopias of escape,” strengthened by technologically enhanced imaginaries of places.

Second: the unique correspondence between the subjective impossibility to visit places and the objective unavailability of places to be visited. Confinement usually depends on private conditions, such as being ill or prisoner. With globalization, people got used to consider almost every place in the world to be accessible in principle. On condition of universal accessibility, the subject virtually widens its spatial experiences to the entire globe and, in turn, a huge number of places are materially set up to receive larger amounts of visitors of all sorts (tourists, workers, migrants, refugees). The interruption of the universal accessibility of places challenges our usual understandings of mobility and connections.

Third: the restriction of the “homeworld” correspondingly widens the “alienworld” (Waldenfels) and subverts usual perceptions of both. Phenomenology has often considered home to be the first dimension of our being-in-the-world. This claim is based on a positive experience of home that is far from being universal. The estranging character of home is revealed in isolation, confinement, or constraints, which, albeit perfectly normal in ordinary spatial practices and usually depending on the socio-economic conditions of people, have been generalized during the pandemic.

In the conclusion, I argue that “uncanniness” (the existential mode of not-being-at-home, discussed by Heidegger in the 40th paragraph of Being and Time) represents the fil rouge of the three presented characteristics. After COVID-19, our familiar world cannot be taken for granted anymore. “Uncanniness” shows the true nature of the world itself, inherently exposed to crisis and open to change. Therefore, it represents an opportunity to rise criticism towards some taken-for-granted spatial features of the lifeworld, such as: wild urbanization and overbuilding, high population density, irrational land use, lack in food safety standards at the global level, and territorial inequalities.