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Body, Personal Relations, and Spatial Values

Posted in Uncategorized by jgarcia1390 on the February 15, 2011

When situated anywhere in this world it is common to take in one’s surroundings. In Yi-Fu Tuan’s chapter of “Body, Personal Relations, and Spatial Values,” he writes how one looks at and interprets the space he or she is in. How we interpret the space around us vary widely in that people may come from different cultures and different eras. This leads people to ranked things based on a hierarchy according to where they are placed or what worth they attach to them. However, when interpreting the space around them, one may better understand them by looking at them through someone else’s eyes.
When looking at the space around us we often take into account other people who inhabit the space as well. However, others are not looked as people but bodies, bodies that the human mind classifies as objects. According to Tuan, one is more likely to think that the body is an “it.” Therefore the body is not an animated object but one that just simply an object takes up space in another space. (34) This is seen in John Updike’s “A&P,” where he writes of a cash clerk named Sammy and his escapades with three very distinct customers.
At the beginning of the story we see, through Sammy’s eyes, three girls walk in, all wearing bathing suits who give off a vibe that Sammy seems interested in. Sammy then goes on to explain how each one of them looks in their bathing suit while observing them; his explanations range from chubby, tall, and lastly the girl he can only come up with the word “Queenie” as an explanation. The way he objectifies these three girls only further proves Tuan’s idea of the body not being an animate object but an “it.”
Most of how Sammy tells his story revolves around the girl he calls Queenie. He constantly elaborates on the expression on her face, how she looks in her pink bathing suit and the tan lines that it has made on her body, to the effortless way she wears her hair. (Updike, 17) However, the most important details of his explanations are probably the explanations that are of most minute detail when one at another within a space.
One’s body position is often overlooked when being observed but has a big impact on how one interprets another body. Queenie’s body position obviously makes a big impact on how he perceives her is seen when he comments on how she walks with the emphasis on her heels. (Updike, 17) However, when Sammy elaborates on how she holds her neck extremely high is where we see Tuan’s idea of body position proven. According to Tuan, holding one’s body upright gives off the feeling that one is ready to act. (35) The way Queenie seems to be elongating her body also proves that elevation is synonymous with superiority. ( Tuan 37)
Not only is one’s body position important but where it is situated also contributes to how others look at the person it belongs to. Front and back seem to be the ways in which people look at things around them. However, the ideas of front and back have become a lot less formal over the years. According to Tuan, in traditional China the distinction between front and back were so important that they were marked but in today’s economic society we only carry the notion of front back and often overlook it. (41)
Updike’s story of Sammy and the three girls he encounters both proves and contradicts Tuan’s point of view. While reading Sammy’s explanations it is obvious that Queenie is associated with the front not only by her leading the two other girls through the store but by her appearance. She is depicted as the most striking and therefore “marked” as the front. However, to anyone else, it is also easy to look at them and see Queenie in her position and clearly dismiss the fact that she may have superiority over the two.
The human mind works in way that is forever complex. It is easy to take in our surroundings but to truly understand them is something of a whole other level. Ironically, a better way of trying to understand our surroundings is to look at everything else as an object and dissect what we see into categories that seem mundane and insignificant.

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