Transient Spaces

18 May 2010


The infrastructure of the industrialized world requires transient spaces — spaces that are intended for passing through but not for lingering, even less for residing, spaces of emptiness and absence. The waiting room ought rightly to be one of the symbols of our age and the world we have created. The increasing speed of life, together with the systematic regimentation of time has meant, because there is rarely a perfect coincidence between schedules, that people must wait for each other. Moreover, the institutions of mass society mean that most aspects of life are scheduled for the convenience of the masses, which ultimately means that the individual must wait for the masses.

We do our best under these conditions. Formerly we brought books and magazines with us. Now we bring computers and iPods so that our idle time spent waiting is not strictly idle, but can be put to use after a fashion. But it is a compromise, and we know that it is a compromise. The same social forces that regiment our lives send us the unmistakable message that time not spent focused on accomplishing particular ends is time that is lost. If one suffers the misfortune of becoming trapped in a transient space, one’s life is temporarily held in stasis. Travel is just such a sojourn in transient spaces, and if one’s travel plans go awry, the transient space of travel takes on a lifeless life of its own.

I think that most people — at least many people — despite the speed and pressures of life in industrialized society, and despite the structural distortions that would force a life into a mold made for the masses, are aware of the uncomfortable compromise that has been struck, and the way that our time has been taken from us by the hurried pace of life. This can take the form of sentimentalism and nostalgia, but there are also more profound recognitions of our compromised condition. I have in mind a song made famous by the Eagles, Seven Bridges Road, which includes this verse (and it is the last verse):

There are stars in the southern sky,
And if ever you decide you should go,
There is a taste of time sweet as honey,
Down the Seven Bridges Road.

What I find particularly captivating about this is the line, “time sweet as honey.” When I searched on the internet for transcriptions of the lyrics of the song I found a couple of different mistaken versions, “time sweetened honey” and “time sweet and honey,” neither of which make sense in context. I often have a difficult time making out the lyrics of songs, but sometimes I hear and understand immediately, and one of these instances was this line from Seven Bridges Road which others have apparently mistaken.

It would be easy to dismiss “time sweet as honey” as the kind of sentimentalism and nostalgia I mentioned above, especially when connected with a particular place, but in our moments of peace, when the world does not assault us with its relentless blandishments, we can know such time. Idleness, however, does not always give us peace. I don’t think that anyone would say that they experience “time sweet as honey” in a waiting room. But we know that it is possible. Most of us have experienced it at some point in our lives. We know it, and we know that we have, for the most part, lost it.

And this is as much to say that I find myself in a limbo of transient spaces. My flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to Santiago de Chile was canceled, and I was not offered any alternative route to get to Cordoba, though I all but pleaded with the airline staff. I told them that I did not need to go to Santiago and that I would accept any alternative route to Cordoba. However, many other were making themselves similarly flexible, and to no avail. So I find myself in the DFW Wyndam, losing a day of my vacation and experiencing something that I would not characterize as time sweet as honey.

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20 Responses to “Transient Spaces”

  1. No doubt all the people stranded by the recent volcanic ashcloud would wholeheartedly agree. Nice post.

    • geopolicraticus said

      Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times wrote a very amusing piece, Anger erupts for a volcanic exile, about his experience of inconvenience on account of the volcano… mention of which gives me an opportunity to note that today is the thirty year anniversary of the eruption of Mt. Saint Helens. I have an idea what the ash has been like in Europe as those of us who were in the Pacific Northwest when Mt. Saint Helens went off remember the thick coating of volcanic ash all over everything.

      Best wishes,


  2. Raul Alanis said

    Don’t worry…just passing through. I promise to not linger.

  3. thecodger said

    Your photos are beautiful. I’m impressed you could get a photo of an empty mall parking lot. The mall parking lot around here is always packed–Even when the mall is closed, there are still cars there. The orchid photo is also beautiful.

    The Codger

    • geopolicraticus said

      The orchids are right here in the lobby of the DFW Wyndam, though I honestly didn’t look closely enough to see if they were real. I’ll check that out in a few minutes. However, I was impatient and I should have waited for the one person visible behind the orchid to move out of the frame.

      Best wishes,


  4. as said

    Pokój mieszkańcom wszystkich światów!

    Zaproszono Ciebie grupy Twoja Korona
    współpracującej w celu:
    ochrony życia każdej osoby we Wszechświecie
    i zapewnienia jej wszelkich środków do szczęśliwego życia
    w Konstytucji Mieszkańców Planety Ziemia.


  5. Dear Mr. Nielsen,

    What remarkable perspective you have!

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here. Having never visited your “Grand Strategy” before, I’m enthusiastic to find it so thought-provoking and full of untrammeled reason, communicated through a distinct personal style that does not overpower the content of your prose. I’m going to enjoy your posts in the future, Sir, that much seems obvious.

    Now, about this transient space business: it’s fascinating to me, the relationship between so-called space and so-called time. You say that one enters a manner of stasis when confined to a transient space. This intrigues me because there’s a strange logic in the slowing down, the waiting, the arrested physical progress of our person during transit.

    In order to jet to a foreign country, one must remain paradoxically still in a static environment for a prolonged period of time. Would the reverse be true? The reverse says, in order to jet to a foreign time, one must travel through space at a ludicrous velocity, which is a rather animated suggestion to be sure.

    That’s just beer philosophy, but there’s something to it, somehow, and it’s fun to mull over. Don’t think I’ll get out the blackboard and chalk for it, though.

    Do you feel as though the many negative compromises we make in transient spaces could be allayed, somehow? Surely, iPods and laptops are only arguably as healthy as books are for us, but I wonder if there weren’t many things one could engage in whilst waiting for a destination, a taxi, or an elevator car.

    Hmm. Yes, well, that’s that, then. Pleased to make your acquaintance, Sir, and I’ll be reading you soon.


    Yours Truly,


    • geopolicraticus said

      Dear BothEyes,

      Thanks much for your thoughtful response. I’ve been thinking about a post dedicated to transient spaces for some time, and it just happened that it coincided with events in my life at present. I visited the idea earlier in Epistemic Space: Mapping Time, where I went into a little more detail as to how exactly I would characterize transient spaces. There I wrote:

      Not only has there been a spatialization of time, there has also been a temporalization of space. We see this in the contemporary world in the prevalence of what I call transient spaces: spaces designed to pass through but not spaces in which to abide. Airports, laundromats, bus stations, and sidewalks are all transient spaces. The social consequences of industrialization that have forced us to abide by the regime of the calendar and the time clock by the very fact of quantifying time into discrete regions and apportioning them according to a schedule also forces us to wait. The waiting room ought to be recognized as one of the central symbols of our age; the waiting room is par excellence the temporalization of space.

      Certainly there are ways — both subtle and radical — by which the compromises represented in transient spaces could be addressed. On the subtle end of the scale, there is a saintly calm that one might adopt that renders the taste of all times as sweet as honey. On the radical end of the scale, a root-and-branch transformation of the society that has emerged following the Industrial Revolution would do the trick. But there’s one (or at least one) catch: every utopian program to address industrialization and its discontents has issued in dystopian consequences, some of them so horrific we would not believe them had they not already happened.

      Best wishes,


      • Dear Mr. Nick,

        Ah! You’ve done it: “Not only has there been a spatialization of time, there has also been a temporalization of space.” That’s precisely what I had started thinking. Very nicely put, and a fascinating idea to have hit upon.

        The “saintly calm that one might adopt that renders the taste of all times as sweet as honey” is something I’ve experimented with in my studies of za-zen meditation, and I do engage in that on occasion. You’re right again; it does make the time pass well and pleasurably. In fact, I’d even say that the time I’ve spent in that ‘saintly calm’ of yours was — spacious.

        Your comments about addressing post-Industrialization on a social level suggest frightening possibilities. I suppose the alternative to finding that saintly calm would be a laissez faire attitude? Sit down, log in, take a number and hope for the best? Ha ha ha, ah well.

        Thanks for a gentlemanly and thought-provoking reply. Cheers, Sir.

        Yours Truly,


  6. Nice page here — what beautifully laid out pictures. From a cross country veteran, I’ll say your home is one uncommon and exciting place.

    Take care.

    Mark Vanderbloemen
    Hickory, NC

  7. pierce said

    good photos. interesting topic

  8. Transient space is needed for — what? — for a short span of time. How, I feel if I stay longer!

    • geopolicraticus said

      Yes, exactly. The need for transient spaces calls them into being, but once in existence we have no control over their exaptation.

      Best wishes,


  9. M_B said

    سلام …
    وبلاگت خیلی توپ ممنون از اینکه مطالب خوبی برامون می زاری …
    خوشحال می شم یه سری به ما بزنی خدا خیرت بده

  10. melissa said

    This blog is wonderful.
    I love love LOVE the press, and I love seeing what you’re experiencing!
    Great work.
    I will bookmark this page.
    Thanks for this.

  11. Songbird said

    What an interesting and original piece! I commute to work everyday on the tube (subway in London) and all those people… almost every single one of them reading, on their laptops, listening to their ipods… anything to distract from being in transit…

  12. xcalibur said

    This is a subtle concept, but it’s had an overarching influence on modern society. Schedules, lobbies, traffic, etc. Compared to agricultural village life, or the pastoral nomad life, or the ancient tribal hunter-gatherer life, it is profoundly different. Even urban centers of the past were not so filled with transient spaces. It makes me wonder what the long term psychological and cultural effects of this are.

    • geopolicraticus said

      I agree. The kind of spaces we have constructed for ourselves to be the stage upon which industrial-technological civilization plays itself out are profoundly different from the spaces of nomadism or the spaces of agriculturalism.

      On the other hand, one can see that our highly structured space and time has evolved over time, as the increasing complexity and sophistication of our lives has slowly and gradually emerged from the slow, gradual change in the pattern of our lives.

      Best wishes,


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