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The Eroticism of Placelessness

On the way loneliness, freedom, and romance are intertwined.

For the past few weeks, I’ve woken up unsure exactly where I am. My bed, a modest full size, looks out onto a cobblestone courtyard framed by green linden trees and an intricately decorated castle. I’m in a pocket-sized one-bedroom apartment and although it is behind the Place des Vosges in Paris, by the looks of it I could be in Normandy or Toulouse, even Vermont. For that matter, there is no real way for me to know the year is 2014: save for the circle-pronged electrical outlet tucked behind my dresser, I could be waking up in the eighteenth century. In the haze of the early morning, these things tend to meld together.

The feeling of placelessness is a bit like a dream: the heightened romance, the intense brooding, the inherently transitory nature of the whole affair. Placelessness happens when we find ourselves inhabiting “in-between” spaces like hotels or apartments in far-away places that we don’t know well and where we won’t stay long. It is in these places that we are visitors without hosts, short-term dwellers without homes, but we are also suspended in time and without the usual responsibilities of our age: the placeless 60-year-old is not thinking of his marriage and readying himself for retirement; the placeless 20-year-old is not pondering his career and studying away.

In fact, the placeless person does not have to think about doing anything or being anyone. He is so thoroughly disconnected from the reality beyond his window that he is cut off from its social norms: there is a feeling of freedom, of not having to play by the rules, of not having to put down roots or be responsible or moral in the usual ways. But with freedom of course comes loneliness. In a placeless place, as Gertrude Stein wrote in her autobiography, “There is no there there.”

I have traveled a good deal recently and not once have I wanted to go home in the sense of returning to a physical place. Although it remains dear to me, I do not miss my childhood bed or the birds that would rest on my windowsill in the morning, peering in to see the mess of Cheez-It boxes and my laptop and books scattered on the floor. What is missed, however, is the sense of belonging. When we sever ourselves from “home” — that nebulous concept that tends to refer more often to people and memories than to brick and mortar — we find ourselves placeless and free, but also deeply lonely. It is a trade-off that some of us are forced to make; others choose to make it.

Courtesy Claudie Ossard Productions

“Amélie.” Courtesy Claudie Ossard Productions

Loneliness and placelessness are endemic: 43 percent of Americans over the age of 60 report being lonely, 20 percent of British people say they feel unloved, and 10 percent say they don’t have a single friend. Those who claim to prefer solitude or placelessness are usually the greatest romantics of all. They have too often been disappointed by humanity and have chosen to retreat into themselves like a butterfly in retrograde, shedding its wings and descending into its cocoon once more.

There have been attempts to economically exploit this dreamy, irresponsible feeling of placelessness like the new “love” hotels that offer hourly rates for napping, cleaning up, or “anything else” — the lattermost possibility seeming to come with a hearty wink.

Isolation and desire is a romanticized combination in media as well. In Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, a recent college graduate ruminates in her room at the Park Hyatt Tokyo before meeting a similarly lonely, aging actor at the bar on the 52nd floor. In D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love, Gudrun Brangwen, an artist, is left alone in a hotel by her sister, whereupon Lawrence writes:

“She went and crouched alone in her bedroom, looking out of the window at the big, flashing stars… She felt strange and inevitable, as if she were centered upon the pivot of all existence, there was no further reality.”

These characters have been displaced, the wire connecting them to reality has either been intentionally cut or it has simply snapped, and they are left to contemplate existence. But in their existential reflections, they all end up reaching out to someone else with a similar plight (for it is only the lonely who can truly understand the lonely).

"Sans toit ni loi." Courtesy Ciné Tamaris.

“Sans toit ni loi.” Courtesy Ciné Tamaris.

Eroticism is merely the entryway into relationships, the jumping-off point of desire. Hotel rooms and distant places are safe havens for the lonely because their disassociation from reality means they cannot presage long-lasting relationships; they can only lead to sex. We mustn’t forget either that although placelessness and the sense of not belonging tend to be most acutely felt in places far away from where we have grown up, they can be felt anywhere: hotels and faraway places are merely the physical manifestations of apartness and exclusion — feelings that are blind to geography.

Eroticism and self-inflicted placelessness are also mechanisms against emotional pain. If you do not inhabit reality then you are not bound by its laws.

Of course many lonely, placeless people would like to have it otherwise, but I, for one (and I’m sure there are many others), quite like the feeling. The placeless person gets to live life in quotation marks: everything is provisional, everything changing from day to day.

Yet self-inflicted placelessness and solitude takes its toll. Even if you hold fast to your independence, to your placelessness, to your Peter-Pan-distaste of responsibility, every morning the sun will come up, and every morning the linden trees with be sprinkled with light. Those who choose to remain placeless find that next to us lays either an empty pillow or a body that we feel little affection for, merely a vessel for countenancing this intentional loneliness. Eroticism is not an antidote; it is a Band-Aid.

Because for the placeless person, reality is forever covered in a haze, and so long as freedom trumps loneliness and eroticism one-ups emotion then we can never entirely be sure quite where we are. Even when it hardly matters at all.

Cover photo: “Lost in Translation.” Courtesy of Focus Features.

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121 Comments

  1. beautiful description of placelessness and solitude. ‘Only lonely person can understand lonely person’ I bet you have that mindset as well

  2. Pingback: The Eroticism of Placelessness – pursuitofmytruth.org

  3. Beautiful writing, I really identified with this piece. I haven’t been able to explain or define where I am currently “positioned” in life and you have given me the term, and a beautiful one at that; “placelessness”, I am lost in translation; no address, no 9-5, at the end of a relationship, heartbroken, living in Italy for a year. Mine was a self inflicted placelessness.
    Reblogged on pursuitofmytruth.org
    Thank you for your inspiring and introspective words, looking forward to reading more of your work.

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  8. johnberk says

    When I feel truly lonely, I delve into antique stores. They help me immense myself with people and their lives without having to chat or meet someone. Their stories are written in furniture, or in old decorations.
    I think about their owners, about their goals, decisions, and lives. They are long dead now, but pieces of their souls are still with us, written in wood and sitting calmly there. It is the perfect loneliness of the material that helps me overcome my deep loneliness.

  9. Reblogged this on littleplum01 and commented:
    I am one of the placeless. I am merely an occupier of space in a world too big for me. Is that romantic? Or desperately hopeless? I can’t decide.

  10. Reblogged this on raisingtsi and commented:
    For more than half my life, I’ve wanted to flee. Flee from these cumbersome rules I’m supposed to follow, flee from unfair responsibilities, flee from people most of all. I’ve always found the idea of placelessness so romantic; lovely in its simplistic displacement. And if I had the courage, I would choose to be placeless; not halfway like I am now, but completely!

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  14. Sometimes I feel the same about my home of 25 years. First, my husband left. Then my older daughter. And now my youngest. The place will be very clean. The food will be healthier, sparser; I’ll go out to eat a lot. I wonder at the stages of life this house has seen – birth, death, marriage, divorce, comings & goings. And yet I stay, for now. Until I, too, take my leave and another circle of life begins inside these walls. For now, it seems too quiet, too precise. If I didn’t know the address, I could be anywhere. It does not feel like home. Now. Alone. Here.

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  21. Reblogged this on Irenadawn and commented:
    WHEN I DREAM , I VISIT MANY PLACES. SLEEP IS A DELIRIOUS SYMPHONY… ESSENTIAL WIND ROBS VOID MOON MUSIC DIAMOND MIST DELICATELY WHITE SWEET ETERNITY SINGING SUMMER AWAY ….
    FALL UNDER BEAUTY STARE ACHE A MOMENT DROOLING HONEY & LICKING CHOCOLATE LUSCIOUS WEAK COOL LUST RECALLING VISIONS OF WHISPERED LANGUAGES WHILE I SWEAT BITTER RED BLOOD CRUSHING MADLY SCREAMING THROUGH MY EYES ….. LANGUID ABOVE LIFE ….. DREAMY, LONELY, EROTIC , PLACELESSNESS …. COMMON TO MANY NOW ???? ~

  22. Reblogged this on popcornonmydesktop and commented:
    Reblog! ❤ this!relate much!
    " Those who claim to prefer solitude or placelessness are usually the greatest romantics of all. They have too often been disappointed by humanity and have chosen to retreat into themselves like a butterfly in retrograde, shedding its wings and descending into its cocoon once more."

  23. Perhaps we are all born melancholics, and only a few lucky ones got away with it. But for the most part, I guess sadness, loneliness and aloneness are not something we can run away from, because it’s inherently in us to indulge in some kind of self-pity, self-wallowing just to make us feel better, as if we could breathe again.
    I just want to share this quote by Erica Jong, “Born alone, we die alone, and whatever companionship and love we get between those two events is pure luck, but not necessarily our birthright. Aloneness is our only birthright. With any determination we can turn aloneness into independence – but nobody guaranteed us love.” This quote makes my eyes swell up with tears all the time.

    And lovely post you got there. 🙂

  24. samikshachandak74 says

    reposted this on samikshachandak74 and commented : experiences…beautiful outlook

  25. Pingback: Great article on placelessness, loneliness, and solitude. | AYESHA HAMID

  26. Loved reading this piece – Well thought out, and extremely creatively written. I appreciate it from a writer’s standpoint.

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  28. roblowephoto says

    What an utterly incredible piece of writing. “They have too often been disappointed by humanity and have chosen to retreat into themselves like a butterfly in retrograde, shedding its wings and descending into its cocoon once more.” Completely, in far better words than I could have produced, I agree. One of the truest, reflective articles I have read in a very long while. Now – I feel a lot more ‘normal’. R.

  29. Beautiful and evocative piece of writing which put into words much of what I’ve felt since my marriage fell apart and I was set to wandering, lost and not finding a place of belonging.

  30. Reblogged this on InkBlots and IceBergs and commented:
    “…[T]he placeless person does not have to think about doing anything or being anyone. He is so thoroughly disconnected from the reality beyond his window that he is cut off from its social norms: there is a feeling of freedom, of not having to play by the rules, of not having to put down roots or be responsible or moral in the usual ways.” ~ Cody C. Delistraty

  31. Reblogged this on Hopelessly Random, Impossibly Weird and commented:
    Wendy run away with me
    I know I sound crazy
    Don’t you see what you do to me?
    I wanna be your lost boy
    Your last chance, a better reality

    Wendy we can get away
    I promise if you’re with me, say the word and we’ll find a way
    I can be your lost boy, your last chance
    Your “everything better” plan
    Oh, somewhere in Neverland

  32. An amazing reflection. There is soemthing seductive in hotel rokms, not found anywhere else, the imperative to make hem perfectly clean and impersonal. This uniformity and lack of personal touch makes it rather difficult to even ponder how more often than not, real life dramas take place in hotel rooms: people fall in love there, people break up there, people hide there, mourn there chop off pieces of life hidden… That might be where the real freedom is held, in total impersonality. Guess that is why it goes with loneliness.
    Thank you for this great post!

  33. Thanks of this reflections. As i read it I thought of indigenous people, and the role of the walk-about, or vision quest, and wondered it there is any point of connection with this modern experience of being place-less. i suppose we moderns are never really without place, but perhaps more dis-placed. This comes with a kind of liminality that may well be akin to those who choose to quest.

  34. Every once and awhile “placelessness” is necessary to reacquaint yourself with your real shelf. It makes coming back to a nest more pleasurable and present! Happy placelessness or nesting wherever you maybe!

  35. A honest bit of writing on the isolation of modern life. Conquering loneliness is freedoms greatest challenge. It true lonely, placeless people are the great romantics. Don’t laugh appreciate the comedy.

  36. Zula Julia says

    This is so good and has really moved me. I like to ponder stuff in general, but I’ve not thought about “placelessness” before and I can very much relate to what you are saying. I am 38 and I have moved “home” so many times, I do not feel like a have a real home yet, it turns out I am “placeless”. A wonderful text, plenty of food for self-analysis there 🙂

  37. Very insightful, wise and inspiring to introspection. I’ve been, done it, most of my life. However, through the last 10 years I found new boundaries of displacement resulted from leaving my dark closet to face life and the world as I truly was born. 60 some years ago, the nurse expressed “He’s a boy!” but just a few years later I attempted to rectify this “fact” based on the physical aspects of myself. Unsuccesfuly I retreated to a long, dark and somber closet. I lived in there for about 50 years. Today (10 years later) i experience the eroticism of being, more over of displacement. Not based on geo position, passed experiences, etc, but based on the displacement experienced from so many from life and humanity itself. Endurance from almost an entire life taught me to find the right place where can only be found: In within. At times a lonely place, often a solitary one because only me habits there. No chats, no play but a real place that fully opens to all feelings. Good or bad, wrong or right, that is the only place that belongs to msyelf and it goes with me everywhere I go. As well, a place that brings me the opportunity to extend my arm, reach out to those who desire and can handle real. Clearly a place you’ve visited and experienced in full.
    You and I are not a movie, nor live in one. Yet, we can become one by choice and determination. We have endeavor the tough choice, whether lonely and disconnected or not. But we can freely say, we are, fully as we were truly created and we will carry this message until it is time to depart, be grateful and allow ourselves what possibly can be, the last extention of freedom and life trascending into whatever it is, but does not end right there. A place where there are no requisites to be or not, simply meld where the spirits meet.
    Thank you for your enlightening writing.

  38. Reblogged this on blahpolar diaries and commented:
    “Those who claim to prefer solitude or placelessness are usually the greatest romantics of all. They have too often been disappointed by humanity and have chosen to retreat into themselves like a butterfly in retrograde, shedding its wings and descending into its cocoon once more.”

  39. mira65 says

    This feeling is palpable! Placelessness is a beautiful term. I think it is a must for everyone to feel this once a while. I went on a vacation recently and found that timelessness ness and placelessness a must to actually know the value of place and time. Please do visit my blog:
    toweararainbow.wordpress.com

  40. Enjoyed this read. It’s one of those pieces that you want to read again, more slowly. Especially related to the idea of loneliness being the “price”, in a way, of freedom. Great post.

  41. This is very interesting. I’m just about to begin a long-term journey which will inevitably lead to this placelessness you speak of, and the feelings which come with it. To be completely honest, up until now I only thought about the good aspects; the freedom, the independence, the meeting of new people, and unknowing. Of course I was expecting loneliness, and occasional tragedy, but this article has sparked the reality of it for me. I am still excited, but I guess there is a more somber aspect to it now. At the same time, this article makes me look forward to the placelessness.

    Anyway, wonderful writing. Definitely valuable and relevant to me. Thank you Cody.

  42. Reblogged this on Silk Road Life and commented:
    As the travel date to my life in China approaches, I’ve been contemplating this feeling of “Placelessness” which occupies my mind when travelling alone. It’s like a romantic loneliness as you seemingly float slightly apart from the world around you. Everything is familiar, but different, captivating but apart, accentuated with a super-sharp focus with every detail magnified, endowed with a special glow of whimsical difference. Feelings of loneliness and freedom vie as you strive to make connections while enjoying the anonymity of a place, a life, you are not yet part of.
    This post from Cody C. Delistraty captures it all in her insightful, beautifully written post shared here.

  43. This is a wonderful, concise read about that familiar unsettling, but intriguing, feeling I’ve also called “dissociation” when travelling alone.

  44. I feel you have summed ” ME” up in one delightful reading ! I do not travel much except in my dreams recently… A true Southern Dreamer amongst the humid hot stifling displacement in all of the Southern United States of America , Mississippi . We writers state our own problems and answer with our own solutions . Then after the writing is done and emotions are stirred with everyone, we go back to our post to find another topic to allow us once again to feel less empty and more valuable for the experiences we share.
    But, what a joy !!! Thank you …

  45. I loved this. I work on cell towers and we travel 4 weeks on with 1 week off. I go from placelessness to homelessness because I see no point in paying rent on a property that I’ll only use 6 days out of every 38.

  46. Engineer's Digest says

    In 2014, we tend to sit with friends in a restaurant, while texting or communicating on social media with “friends” we are unlikely to ever meet.
    It’s a pity to be lonely in a crowd.

  47. Reblogged this on transmissioninterrupted and commented:
    The psychological and emotional aspects of a person being stuck in an “inbetween” space implies that a wall as a membrane is an essential third element next to opacity and transparency in space.

  48. Placelessness can happen right at home or in your car, when you suddenly realize you are in transition to an unknown place, when so many resources and identities you had in the past are cut off to you, and so you feel that your new place is yet to be defined, a becoming.

  49. itsjessyoga says

    I read this as I sit stealing wifi and electricity from a coffee shop in Denver. I feel so many conflicted emotions with this; all of them are deep. I love my placeless-ness. But yes, that empty pillow (or lack there of) is sometimes unfulfilling. Either way, this was lovely.

  50. Nice piece! I like this new word “placelessness”. You put in clear, simple terms what i would convey in a poem or think about when listening to some songs.

  51. Wow, a very wise and beautiful post! Those statistics you quote are quite an eye opening, and there’s something about your summing up – ‘that the sun will still rise and the light on the linden trees etc’ – that really moves me. I enjoy the freedom of placelessness but yes, it comes at a price, and not just for me personally. You’ve given me food for thought – thank you:-) H xxx

  52. Very inspiring post. I have lived in Paris for more than ten years, a very romantic erotic place by itself. In its grey buildings and skies, the wet pavements there is for sure a feeling of not belonging. The flirt with the sense of freedom and the pangs of being disconnected , like a random electron, are part of that symphony of joy, loss, beauty that makes life there. A lot of material for reflection.
    Thanks

  53. Reblogged this on Coffee and Musings and commented:
    I woke up to a lot of pain this morning, both physically and emotionally. On a day like this when nothing seems to make any sense whatsoever, I stumbled upon this post in my wordpress reader and enjoyed reading it. Some of the most beautiful words strung together to express a lot. Give it a read a thou shall not be disappointed.

  54. Beautifully put Cody. I have been having thoughts of a similar order but could never find words as meaningful to express it. I am going to have to read more and more of your blog.

  55. My first reading of you Cody. Your contemplative and introspective style is beautifully articulated. It is always a pleasure to read someone who generously bares his soul in such a simultaneously subjective and insightful manner. As far as related works… Lana del Rey’s poetic interlude for “Ride” in the music video seems difficult to overlook. And of course one of the finalists from the Valtari mystery video compilation starting Dakota Fanning’s little sister.

  56. Reblogged this on Blissurosity and commented:
    Love this concept of “Placelessness”. The word itself feels romantic, whimsical, sad, and almost tangible… just like this post. Good read.

  57. Reblogged this on A Momma's View and commented:
    On a road trip today so initially thought I will not be able to do anything blog related.

    But just stumbled across this post and wanted to share it with you. I love how she describes the haze. And I agree that it feels like you are in a haze as long as you don’t belong. I used to feel that way too.

    I feel I don’t belong to a place although I love where we are. But I definitely belong to my husband, to my family. And my haze has lifted the moment I met my partner. And until this day it never came back 🙂

  58. Loved reading this! Very interesting. Reality being covered in a haze is so appropriate. And what a great feeling when the haze finally lifts 🙂

  59. Good read. In order to take-one self to the next level, sometimes a simple re-birth by going back to where it all started makes the path even more clear

  60. Good writing, its nice to read something and come out in the end feeling like you know the author. That is my band aid for you, you are known.l & sex is not the only symptom suppresser.

  61. Oh I have felt these things in foreign hotels and especially on long plane flights through the night. Excellent piece.

  62. What a nice post. I think all of us have been lonely at least a few times in our lives. We can cope and adjust though. I think it gets easier as you get older and that may explain by almost half of people over 60 report being lonely. Eroticism is a lonely man’s game. Sometimes, it’s really great to be alone and away from all the distractions of the World. You could also say that best antidote for loneliness, thought, is to not be alone. However, I’ve seen many lonesome souls even in a group of lively people.

  63. ilookuptoGOD says

    hhh I wrote my first comment because I saw the picture of Amelie & got excited before actually reading this post. I love your post and it was almost therapeutic for me as I always feel lonely, but I like being alone. Thought it was only me, but happy to know I am not the only one! Thank you for this post this made my afternoon amazing… you are amazing, please keep writing.

  64. Fascinating insights into contemporary society and its unease. I, too, have awakened many times just wondering where in the world I was.
    Much of my own poetry and fiction has come at the issues you raise from the other end of the spectrum, one that stresses the importance of place itself in one’s life and committed relationships. For me, a particular place can become a character all its own.
    In another dimension, we can also ask about the ways the rootlessness you describe plays into the environmental crisis facing us.

  65. Found your post through Cheri Lucas Rowland’s list of recommended reading material and I’m very glad for the opportunity to read this particuliar post of yours.
    Since I am from France and spent many, many years in Paris, of course your writing evocates lots of familiar places that I hold close to my heart and memories. Since I have left my home country for the USA and have moved a lot since then, I also relate very much to the feelings you are beautifully describing. Yes, there is freedom with exile. Yes, there is also solitude.
    When I go back to France pangs of envy hit me when I see how seamlessly my sister and relatives blend in. Yet after a few weeks I cannot breathe and cannot wait to retreat to my familiar sense of displacement. After more than twenty years abroad and many travel trips in between, I know that I won’t ever ‘fit’ in the traditional sense, that ‘belonging to a community’ won’t happen to me. Yet in many ways I feel closer to most human beings than anyone who has been staying at the same place forever looks like. In fact, when we move a lot, the sense of place fades to give more room to the people. And aren’t the people who make the place?
    This is a piece of writing that echoes many of my thoughts and I thank you for making me less lonely this morning.

    • Cody says

      Thanks so much for such a thoughtful comment. It always means a lot to know that my writing resonates with others. (P.S. You should move back to France!)

      • Trop tard pour rentrer! Je suis devenue trop américaine pour mes anciens compatriotes. Mais la France reste mon enfance et ma jeunesse et mon affection pour ma terre natale ne changera pas. J’aime vraiment votre blog et j’espère vous lire prochainement.

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  68. For someone that has lived abroad and has come home to find that I feel more displaced then ever, I appreciate your perspective of placelessness.

  69. As a traveler, overseas-liver and person that can often become disillusioned by expected social norms, these piece resonates strongly. Thank you 🙂

  70. This is such a beautiful meditation. I’d like to add placelessness also comes when we find our self transported to another place by virtue of a thought so radically different from who we are usually, that for the time we ride that thought at least, we are in more ways than one far away from all things familiar and hence placeless. Brilliant read.

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