Ever since I came across Foucault’s notion over fifteen years’ ago, I have been struck by various spaces that seem to share some extraordinary features and yet in many ways reflect what might be called ‘ordinary’ or everyday spaces – a difficult distinction explored in some of the essays on this website. The idea prompted me to reflect on places that I had experienced and also made me alert to the potential heterotopian aspects within social and cultural spaces that I came across on my travels. Of the many examples I could recall, I think especially of the small, compact Cimetière Marin on the promontory of Bonifacio at the southern tip of Corsica.
Perched on the cliff’s edge, the cemetery appears like a small town, containing immaculate family mausoleums, like small houses or villas, with doors leading onto narrow enclosed streets. The following YouTube clip gives a glimpse (ignore last few seconds of clip!)
The similarities between a city and the grand cemeteries of Paris, such as Père Lachaise, have often been reflected upon, but here the similarities and differences were more intense, exacerbated by the cemetery’s positioning on the edge of an island and its miniature scale. I once caught a family having a picnic just outside the main gate, a temporary emplacement, outside the permanent monuments to the dead.
The mirroring of death and life seemed to encapsulate an aspect of what Foucault calls ‘heterochronia’, emphasising both the accretion and precariousness of time. I felt that heterotopia might be as much to do with time as space.
22 May 2012