Where are you from?
What is the landscape of your childhood imagination, the place where you learned placeness, the paths and houses and landscapes that taught you the lines and limits of being somewhere and going somewhere? When you imagined other places, what is the mental modelling clay you used? What are your archetopes?
Now that you have grown, you have seen much more of the world, many places that are many different ways, but as you travelled, each new-to-you place had things about it that surprised you in how they differed from what you were used to. Piccadilly Circus was smaller than you expected, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was bigger, Manhattan was more homey, Tel Aviv was more modern, Quebec was older, San Francisco seemed so closed in, Mexico City seemed so vast, Ireland had endless stone walls, Boston had brick sidewalks, New Zealand had one-lane bridges; lanes didn’t go the way you thought they would, and buildings were used differently, and hills had odd shapes, and roads took odd routes up them, and houses welcomed you different ways and smelled different from the houses you knew when you were small. And these are all wonderful discoveries, and as you live you build your knowledge of somewhereness in the world – of ubiety – as surely as you build your understanding of people and things. Every mental ramification is exciting. But all those new branches are grown on the same roots, of where you learned what it was to be somewhere, to have a world around you with places to go and to be. They are all built on and with your archetopes.
I live in Toronto; I have lived here for nearly a quarter of a century now. I am at home, I know the geography, the shape of the city, the wheres and whats of it, and have seen more of it than many people who have lived nowhere else. But it’s not where I’m from. It’s not where I learned how places are connected, or what going away and coming home feels like. It’s not where I mapped my desires and hopes over hills and valleys, where I draped my dreams on peaks and plains. It’s not steeped in the mythos of my childhood.
If I go with my wife through the east side of Toronto, past certain intersections and into certain parks, we pass the places where her childhood and youth happened: this is where her track team ran, that is where she broke her arm, here is the arena she learned to skate in, there is the McDonald’s she worked in. For her it is blood, running in her veins; for me it is water, like a stream I am stepping into and can step out of. If we go to Alberta, to Calgary and Banff and the Bow Valley in between, it is the converse: though my family lived in many different houses, everything I see is where I imagined a million things, where I extrapolated the lands of books and movies and televisions shows from, where I ran and sat and read and sang and made things and broke things and imagined what I would be in fifty years. And for my wife it is scenery and a place to visit.
These are our archetopes, our original places. You know archetype, I’m sure; it is from Greek ἀρχή arkhé ‘beginning, origin’ and τῠ́πος tupos ‘type, sort, impression’. Archetope has the same arche, but in place of type is tope, as in biotope and chronotope: ‘place’, from Greek τόπος topos.
There is an important distinction to be made: whereas archetypes are, per Jung, stored deep in our collective unconscious – the operating-system software we are born with – and they shape stories and understandings in generally the same ways wherever there are humans, archetopes have a more individual quality. Certainly we may be born with ideas of shapes of places, and narratives of going through places, but each of us learns geography in a way that anchors certain places deep in our imaginations and helps shape even the world of our dreams. We develop our archetopes also by travelling as children, and if we live in many places in our early years we build our archetopes from all of them. But each of us has navigated the places of the world differently, has learned differently what to feel about certain houses and roads, has come to different encounters with the wild parts.
Have you seen or heard this word archetope before? Perhaps not. You may have if you’ve read the revisionist physics of one James Carter, but he uses it differently, to name an atom’s most “archetypal isotope.” But his models of physics are, shall we say, not widely adopted; I don’t mind ignoring him. This word is much more needed for a facet of lived being that I have always felt existed but never had a word for. And now I do, and so do you. Yes, it’s a new old word, but everything is new at some time or another.