The Idea of North.

Author:Debies-Carl, Jeffrey S.

The Idea of North. By Peter Davidson. Topographics. London: Reaktion, 2005. Pp. 271, introduction, notes, illustrations, image credits.

One can see and feel a place in a physical sense, but each place also carries an "overload of possible meanings" and presents an "assault on all ways of knowing" (Hayden, Dolores. 1995. The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 18). In The Idea of North, Peter Davidson provides just such a perspective on place, as both tangible and deeply meaningful. However, rather than focusing his analysis on any particular locale, this book examines the concept of north itself from a variety of perspectives. North is impossible to locate precisely, in part because its location and meaning vary by culture and by individual. Instead it is presented as "always a shifting idea, always relative, always going away from us" (8). To the painter Eric Ravilious, north was Iceland and the arctic regions of the world; to Ovid, north was Bulgaria; and to the contemporary poet, Simon Armitage? Why, north is right 'here,' in his home in West Yorkshire, England. North is seen as a direction, a feeling, a place that is usually other than "here," that is both real and imagined. For some, north may call to mind remoteness, loneliness, desolation, exile, and melancholy. Yet, just as readily, north may invoke adventure, savage and austere beauty, purity, freedom, and the possibility of the unknown, all expanding outward to the distant horizon. All of these ideas of north, and more, are culled from Davidson's intensive, cross-cultural survey of art, literature, film, myth, and personal experience. The end result is a fine work that communicates the depth and range of meanings that have come to be associated with this concept.

The main portion of the book is organized into three sections: Histories, Imaginations of the North, and Topographies. Each of these sections examines ideas of north as embodied in a particular set of media or forms (although these overlap somewhat from chapter to chapter) We are told that the materials selected for inclusion were considered to be "particularly indicative or representative" (19) of each category rather than comprehensive or randomly selected--an understandable method given the scope of the work. Despite this selectivity, the reader is indeed given a wide range of materials to consider. The first section of the book provides "a history of ideas of the north, from...

To continue reading