Placeways is a philosophical and historical interpretation of the experience and meaning of place. Searching for a way of knowing and living in the world that does not fragment experience or exploit the environment, E. V. Walter explores the way people in other cultures and other times have experienced place. Placeways develops Walter's theory of topistics – a holistic way of grasping a place as the location of shapes, powers, feelings, and meanings. Exploring the common ground of such diverse fields as philosophy, history, urban planning, classics, cultural geography, architecture, sociology, and environmental psychology, Walter provides theoretical resources for readers who want to rescue the human environment from the loss of feeling and meaning.
Walter discusses a wide variety of places, from prehistoric caves, the Australian desert, and classical Greece to medieval towns, Renaissance cities, and modern slums. He examines the changing realities of expressive space and reveals the nonrational, symbolic, and intuitive features in our experience of places – elements taken for granted by archaic peoples but discounted by modern civilization.
The current crisis of environmental degredation, according to Walter, is also a crisis of places. For the first time in human history, people are systematically building meaningless places. If we are to comprehend and reverse the ruin and dislocation of our cities, we must develop another way of understanding the built environment and the natural landscape. True renewal, Walter says, will require a change in the way we structure experience and a return to an ancient paradigm for understanding both the natural land and the constructed world.
"Placeways is the intellectual autobiography of a man with a mission, couched in a series of 10 brilliant exploratory essays on subjects ranging from Victorian discussions of a medieval prayerbook, the way rats spread a plague in the sixth century, the meaning of labyrinths and Freud's passion for antiquities to Plato's belief that place is the wet nurse of all creation, rocking and crooning its shapeless contents into existence."
– New York Times Book Review
"Brilliant [...] carries a message worth pondering by those interested in the spiritual quality of our environments."
– Kirkus Reviews
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E. V. Walter is author of Terror and Resistance: A Study of Political Violence and coauthor of Power and Civilization: Political Thought in the Twentieth Century. He has taught at several universities including Boston University, the University of Minnesota, Brandeis University, Harvard University, and the New School for Social Research.