SEGMENTED WORLDS AND SELF: A Study of Group Life and Individual Consciousness by Yi-Fu Tuan

SEGMENTED WORLDS AND SELF: A Study of Group Life and Individual Consciousness

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An elegant, absorbing essay by the astonishingly erudite U. of Minnesota geographer (Landscapes of Fear, 1980). Tuan seems to have at his fingertips all the social sciences--and a good deal of world literature--as he reflects on the classic dichotomy of individual freedom and development vs. holistic community life. It's an old and familiar theme (see Plato's Republic); Tuan's basic proposition is a sociological truism: every heightening of self-consciousness involves a weakening of group consciousness--and thus increases the likelihood of alienation and anxiety. But Tuan is a synthesizer, not an innovator, and his book is exceptional in its combination of brevity (275 pp.) and breadth. It studies, for example, the growth of the demand for privacy as reflected in architectural change (carving public space into separate rooms), the evolution of table manners (abandoning the communal trencher and bowl for personal utensils), and the shift from theater as cosmic spectacle (the medieval morality play) to modern drawing-room dramas on the picture-frame stage. Tuan's central frame of reference is, naturally enough, Western civilization; but he also measures the West against both primitive cultures and China (where, he slyly suggests, they order these matters better). Tuan ends on a relatively weak note: some 20th-century efforts, from the houses of Frank Lloyd Wright to ""environmental"" theater, at overcoming the split between self and society. He approves of all this, just as he seconds Jane Jacobs' attacks on urban renewal (while faulting her for impracticality); but his only conclusion is the inconclusive observation that ""self and world are inseparable,"" though utopian attempts to strengthen this bond are doomed. Even here, however, reading Tuan is a liberal education: he ranges easily across an impressive intellectual spectrum, as much at home with Archilochus or Abelard or Norbert Elias as with Li Po or Leonardo or Simone Well. A virtuouso performance.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Univ. of Minnesota Press