The castle down the street (personal update)

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It’s been about five months since the last entry. There are a few reasons for this, first and foremost being that we have recently relocated to Örebro, Sweden, where I’ve taken up a post as Senior Lecturer in Rhetoric (Örebro Universitet). That meant working through a heavy spring semester at Lourdes, making all of the arrangements for an overseas move, and learning Swedish as quickly as I possibly could (still a work in progress). The wheels left the ground three days after final grades were due.

I’m super stoked about being here; however, I started work pretty much as soon as we arrived a few weeks ago, so I am looking forward to being able to catch my breath. Despite the intensity of the past couple of months, the move does mean (fingers crossed) that I’ll get a bit more time and resources for research in the coming months and years. Also, Sweden.

I’d be impressed if any non-Swedes reading this have ever heard of Örebro before. It’s fairly small (yet at ~150k, it’s Sweden’s sixth largest (so Sweden’s Phoenix AZ?)), and it’s about as far away from a seacoast as one can get within Sweden. But it’s a gem nevertheless. Tracts of beautiful forest begin precisely where the city ends. Its marked lack of sprawl is a constant source of awe to my American eyes. And the city center comes complete with a thirteenth century-turned-baroque castle wherein the founder of the current royal dynasty was crowned.

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I’ve moved around for much of my life, and I think I’ve gotten pretty good at understanding why one falls in love with a place. Public and commercial amenities are of course important, as are architecture, natural beauty, and all the rest of it. But finding things to do and see tend to be relative to one’s economic situation, age, friends, and family status. And even those fortunate enough to live well in an exciting place tend to confine themselves to their own little corner of it eventually.

I submit that the reason to fall in love with a place is not its nightlife but its ghosts. The dominant trope in ghost fiction has an individual stumbling across an unfamiliar place or a family moving to a new home, and the protagonist(s) begin experiencing supernatural stuff almost immediately. It’s of course all tied up in the fear of the other, the sudden emptiness of suburban domesticity, etc. The common thread is that ghosts are out there, and that when you go out there, you might suddenly find them in here with you. That’s all well and good for fiction and campfire tales. But leaving the fun of supernatural entities behind for a moment, the real ghostly feeling worth looking for–the kind of feeling that John Berger describes as an affirmation of our “ontological right,” an understanding that we are “deeply inserted into existence”–comes not from the Boo! behind you but from the soft echo in front of you as you pass by a scene you’ve barely noticed has changed in the thousand times you’ve come upon it. The feeling turns out to be a realization that you are the ghost in this story, overlapping yourself time and time again, bumping unknowingly into other specters that have come before you. It’s about being able to have a past in a place which is more than the sum of events you are capable of remembering in that place. This can happen after a decade of living in the place or in just a few months, but it won’t happen immediately. The familiar and the surprising must have time to move into one another. Sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. Sometimes, for whatever reason, the time you spend in a place is just a series of events that happen to coincide with you getting older.

I’m not sure which kind of place this is yet. But I can tell it has potential.

 

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