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May 31, 2008, 2:30 PM

Psychogeography: The Landscapes of Memory

Participants: André Aciman, Vito Acconci, Russell Epstein, Matthew von Unwerth (moderator)

Act as though, for instance, you were a traveler sitting next to the window of a railway carriage and describing to someone outside the carriage the changing views which you see outside.
-Freud describing free association, SE 12, p.135

Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey," Elizabeth Bishop's "Brazil," Beethoven's "Pastorale," and Berlioz's "Night on Bald Mountain"—landscape and the sense of place are instrumental in both aesthetic and imaginative experience, and to every person's sense of self. This discussion will explore some of the ways that human memory and meaning are influenced by the features of the world that surround us, and how they offer the imagination streams of metaphor as well as sources of awe and inspiration, a mirror for the strangeness of existence, and a measure of the scales of being, both infinite (the grandeur of mountains) and infinitesimal (the ecosystem of an anthill). Psychogeography—the impact of landscape on the senses and on memory—will be considered from literary, child developmental, and neurological perspectives. The discussion will make specific reference to the changes of scene brought on by immigration and urbanization, in addition to addressing nostalgia for simpler modes of existence.

Vito Acconci is a designer and architect who comes from a background in writing and art. His performances in the 70s helped shift art from object to interactions between artist and viewer; his installations treated visitors to the gallery/museum not as viewers but as inhabitants of and participants in a public space. By the late 80s his work had crossed over, and he formed Acconci Studio, whose operations come from computer-thinking, as well as mathematical and biological models, treating architecture as an occasion for activity, making spaces fluid, changeable, portable. The studio recently completed a human-made twisting island in Graz and a clothing store as soft as skin in Tokyo, and is now working on a bulging restaurant in Milan and housing folded within a terraced mountain in the south of France. Acconci has always been writing procedural scripts—first in poetry and narrative, then in performance and installations, and now (through the Studio) in algorithmic design.

André Aciman is the author of the novel Call Me by Your Name, Out of Egypt: A Memoir, and False Papers: Essays on Exile and Memory. He has also co-authored and edited The Proust Project and Letters of Transit. He has taught at Princeton University and Bard College and is currently Chair of the CUNY Graduate Center's Doctoral Program in Comparative Literature and the Director of The Writers' Institute at The Graduate Center. He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a fellowship from The New York Public Library's Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New Republic, The Paris Review, as well as in several volumes of The Best American Essays.

Russell Epstein is Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. He studies the neural systems involved in place recognition and spatial memory in the human brain. In addition, he has a longstanding interest in the neural-cognitive basis of aesthetic experience.

Matthew von Unwerth is the author of Freud's Requiem: Memory, Mourning and the Invisible History of a Summer Walk. He is Director of the A.A. Brill Library of The New York Psychoanalytic Institute and Coordinator of the Film Program at the Philoctetes Center. He is a candidate in psychoanalytic training in New York.


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