What Does It Mean To Know A Place?

Irit Rogoff


Knowledge of a place has probably less to do with the accumulation of information about it, with its historical designation or with determining its exact location; rather, with recognizing its potential as a site of contemporary knowledge production. This project, which unravels the complex geographies, geologies, locations, political designations, identities and spatialities of Jisr az-Zarka, does so by understanding them as multiple and overlapping strands; not of a named place but of the ongoing process of knowing it.


In Relli de Vries’s invocation of this site we find long drawn regional histories of people on the move, who defy national identity or designation. We find a cross-section of geological formations and layers that connect the region to other histories, ones that cannot be mobilized for the heroic narratives of modernity. We find volatile natural conditions which defy the rationalizing impetuses of the Zionist state and its compulsion to domesticate and subordinate every inch of the territory it inhabits. We find water that bubbles and swamps that stagnate and seas that are trapped beneath other seas and become apparitions in the form of fountainheads. We find a tale so complex that it becomes a reading strategy that puts into relief our ability to inhabit other spaces, seemingly rational, transparent and known ones.


Thus knowledge of a place is not the ability to make it familiar, but rather the ability to make it strange. The ability to allow it to produce knowledge in itself rather than foisting knowledge on it, burdening it with becoming the proof of whatever schema we might have about the world. This ‘place knowledge’ is the site of numerous battles with the logics and knowledge regimes which always work to locate and name and categorize, so that a place becomes mobilized in the name of a familiar narrative, perhaps just a context for that narrative. ‘Place Knowledge’ is also the site of political battles and an acknowledgement that no place is ever singly inhabited, that all places have the echoes and footprints and psychic struggles that are the remnants of previous and simultaneous inhabitations.


To know a place therefore, is to locate oneself in the present in relation to the affects that it produces and to understand that it is the active site of new and relational knowledge.