Where to start? Maybe “where” is a good place to start. Because one always has to start somewhere. However, neither the “one” nor the “somewhere” are simply given. In order for there to be a “somewhere” a process of “mapping” will have to occur. Space (as opposed to place) needs to be mapped or structured, invested with meaning, before one can “locate” oneself in it. And in order to locate oneself – or should that rather be one’s self? – one has to have a “sense of self”, IN THE FIRST PLACE. But what is “the first place”? We are certainly born into space, in a specific place, which is at once a geographic location (a home, a hospital, the backseat of a car or an airplane) and a social “space” (a family, a nation, a city). That space usually has already been expecting “us”, has made a place for “us” even before birth. We just need to succeed in “inhabiting” it. But that’s not as simple as it sounds. As one gets to know one’s place (in society, the world) one is in fact always already expected to somehow know who one must become in order to fulfill all the expectations that have been placed on us from the start. Become who you are! says Nietzsche, but how exactly is that supposed to work?
So nothing is less certain than the whereabouts of the where, and nothing is less certain than the “me” who is supposed to locate “itself” in it. What seems safe to assume is that there always is a “where” that precedes a “me”, even if that “where” is not given or self-evident to me. Nothing will have taken place but (the) place, says Mallarme. Rien n’aura eu lieu que le lieu. Note the curious tense – future perfect, will have been, which introduces the complication of time into this scenario of identification. It will have been me who was born. I, like an event, will have “taken place”, the place allocated to me, but by whom? This places the me in a situation of responsibility – responsibility both in the sense of “having to respond” (or to justify myself) and “taking up my responsibility” (which is, of course the beginning of ethics – what am I supposed to do? What is the “right” answer?). So, I’m always late, even for my own birth. The world or space, and the others have always already arrived there before any “me”. Of course I have to assume that the others are (like) me(s) as well, but I don’t “know” that yet. That is another complication, what does it mean to “know”? And when does knowledge arrive, how does it occur, where does it come from, and is it really “mine”?
But first things first. Firstness – what a mystery! In order for something to be “first” – in the beginning was the word, says the Bible – one has to have a perspective that allows a judgment that says something like this. I know you were the first to arrive, because I was already there, which makes you… second. Or, I saw you arriving first, for example, at the finish line, which means I position myself outside or “above” the race myself. In which case the firstness is only relative to the race I have referred to from a “transcendent” position, namely as an onlooker who can see the whole scene of the race apparently from “outside”, which allows the “objective” judgment: you came first. The same could be said for being last – that is the problem of the apocalypse, or death. Heidegger says, what distinguishes us as humans is a knowledge of our own deaths. Our awareness and knowledge of “being” (or our “ontology”) includes and is determined by our knowledge that we are mortals. In fact, we can live consciously only, because we know there is something other than life, namely death, understand as not or no longer being. In fact, this “special knowledge” is called finitude – for us, time is not infinite, but determined. Time starts (for us) and ends (for every single one of us at “our” specific time). Which does a few weird things to time. First it gives time a direction, like an arrow. We are “thrown” (this is called “teleology”). The other thing it does is that it makes time, strictly speaking, “irreversible”. Many things can be reversed but the time on your individual biological clock cannot. However, something else happens to time, as a result of all we have said so far about locatedness and thrownness of a “me”. Time is, in fact, split into “my” time that is given to me, and “my time” as I live and experience it: subjective time (which for example allows for remembering and therefore in sense reliving time, so to overcome the irreversibility of time, at least “temporarily”) and “objective” time, clock time, or better, the time of the universe and its “matter”.
In order to make sense of time, and place, humans (and probably some animals, too) have invented the process called “representation”. Literally speaking, representation has of course something to do with “making present (again)”. But it also has the basic function of “stand-in”. This is how language – in the widest sense of the term, namely, anything that can be used to communicate, to “share meaning” – works. Language is a fantastic invention, for sure, but it also has some funny particularities which have to do with its representational function. It’s not language’s “fault” so to speak if it doesn’t always work in the way we intend or expect it to do. It lies in the way it’s supposed to work. If you want, language is a perfectly imperfect “tool”. Except that it is of course not just a tool! It is a lot more…