It is 2 games into a 3 game home match run for Swansea City, and I have been motivated by the performances to write about the Liberty Stadium and how I see it as a place. Some of my thoughts on the matter are in the book Swansea ’til I Die, the anthology of Swansea fans’ comments for the centenary season of the club. I’m going to expand on that here, with some thoughts on what makes a stadium a place in reference to how the stadium “things”; stick with me, its into the Heidegger looking-glass again…
A welcoming sight on a Saturday afternoon
The Vetch Field was a ramshackle, possibly hazardous place to spend a great deal of time as a young man… but what a place it was. Emblazoned into my memory are the smells (both pleasant from the week-old burgers that mopped up excess beer, to the frankly cholera-inducing toilets), the sounds, the look of the pitch under blazing floodlights (and occasionally non-operational floodlights) and the viewpoint that I had perched in the back of the old North Bank parallel with the away fans. The place could never be called salubrious, but it had an atmosphere and soul that cannot be replicated. The Liberty Stadium does not replicate it; it offers something very different. Nevertheless, it is something very special now, and the word now has a significance in this piece that will become apparent.
A pertinent question, rarely asked, is where did that unique atmosphere come from? Part bear-pit, part theatre, part dream factory, it was pretty unique. Firstly, the architecture must be acknowledged. There was no more idiosyncratic ground than the Vetch Field: the bizarre roof on the away end, a lingering memorial to the old double-decker at the Mumbles end; the semi-complete East Stand, anticipating the never-to-be partner that would have replaced the decrepit and ancient Centre Stand; and then the North Bank, the terrace where I and many others carved out their own niche and stood to cheer, abuse and generally breathe in the Swans. A picture of an empty North Bank does no justice to the red-hot atmosphere that the place could generate, especially on a Tuesday night where under floodlights the whole place seemed to take on a new, more magical appearance and feel. Nobody will ever strip me of the memories of being packed into the Bank to see the Swans beat Hull 4-2 on May 3rd 2003 to stay in the Football League; watching Gilligan slide in front on his knees as we beat Cardiff 2-1 in 1991; seeing someone throw tea at the Soccer Sunday commentary team in the mid-90’s; taking up smoking to beat off crippling cold during a 0-0 draw with Hull in front of barely 2,000 in 1996; and many more great memories that came from standing in the great place. The terrace oriented me and others to the action. Obviously, it focusses attention towards the pitch; it would have been pretty useless otherwise. In doing this though, the terrace allowed for movement, away from the action if necessary, towards others for discussion and chat, to move with the motion of the game and to go absolutely mental if necessary when the Swans scored or if the Referee made a shocking decision (Carlisle in 2003 – I ran from the back to the front in about 2 seconds hurling abuse after a shocking penalty decision against Lee Jenkins). The architecture allowed this kind of movement while being oriented to the match, focussing attention and allowing for attention to be focussed on the others in attendance too. This can be seen in the singing in the ground; the terrace allowed for movement, for space for expression in a way all seaters don’t, and its no surprise that singing seems less loud, less inspiring and IS less frequent now.
The architecture of the stadium is important, but design the greatest stadium in the world and it’s still an empty husk without fans. The stadium in an obvious sense is a focal gathering place for fans: people with the roughly the same desires and aims (to see the Swans win), with their thoughts focussed on a temporal event that will last roughly 105 minutes and will deliver a result. This projection forward to the match and the result gives the fans themselves focus and a towards-which (here comes the philosophy…) to the result of the game. What I mean by this is that the event itself, by being temporally defined as 90 minutes (plus half-time) focusses attention and projections towards that end point, creating a forward projection in the fans; the fans are “pulled forward” to that event. Both the presence of the fans themselves and the possibilities that are offered by the game itself are important. The fans bring practices and habits to the game that creates a sense of place in the ground: that patch of terrace where I lit up on 20 minutes regular as clockwork was my patch dammit, and hell rained down on anyone that dared stand there in my place, but I could still run like a crazy person as Steve Torpey rose like a slightly drugged salmon to head home a cross. All these things made the Vetch the place.
So what of the Liberty? I’d argue its become a place, over the last 7 seasons. At first it was strange and weird as the habits, orientations and people of the Vetch (I know they were still at the Liberty, but they were in different, wrong places if you get what I mean) were swept aside in the new stadium. I admit at first I disliked it intensely, as I got used to new people, no smoking, less tasty (no doubt due to less alcohol) burgers and a new orientation to the action. That the Swans have been uniformly brilliant and got better throughout our time there has helped, but the first impressions were not good. The Liberty has become a place though, it has a gathering of those elements that the Vetch did and because of that I love it now. It does not do the job the same as the Vetch did; that was unique, just as the Liberty is unique, and so by its nature it will be different. Unlike other new stadiums (see legoland) the Liberty does gather and “thing”. It’s about time I explained what the hell “thing” means.
To do this, I’m thinking of Heidegger’s analysis of the temple in The Origin of the Work of Art (2008), which can be read as a way of understanding the role of a thing (the Temple) in creating a place. Heidegger (2008: 168-179) describes the Greek temple as a thing that takes what is initially inchoate and is withdrawn i.e. in the background of the world, and gathers it into a world-defining thing (Guignon 2004: 404). It is the temple that, when built, lets the valley and the surrounding environment take a determinate form that stands in relation to the temple and has meaning in reference to the temple as a thing (Guignon 2004: 401). It is the temple-work that first fits together and at the same time gathers around itself the unity of those paths and relations in which birth and death, disaster and blessing, victory and disgrace, endurance and decline acquire the shape (Gestalt) of destiny (Geschick) for human being. (Heidegger 1971: 42)
The temple is a thing that performs work in the world (just as a Stadium does), and the nature of that work is both to provide meaning (or shape) to human experience and from that, to guide experience after the work-event – a work of art. The nature of this work is a revealing: the temple allows the environment to be revealed as a letting-come-forth in that it does not bring-forth intentionally, but allows for the environment to become meaningful and part of the circumspection of human being through its work in the world. The Stadium does work in letting the experience of being a fan come forth. Heidegger’s understanding of the temple is as a thing that lets things come forth by gathering them within a referential totality, and therefore spatiality must be understood as how things stand in relation to one another and how this standing in relation to one another allows being to become intelligible to Dasein. The referential totality of the football fan is in the stadium (take note plastics that think being a fan is subscribing to Sky) and the work of the stadium both gives this totality and from that gives the meaning of what it is to be a football fan, in the practices and orientations that a football fan has and exhibits in accordance with the affordances of the place.
When a thing “things”, it draws together elements in the world in a manner Heidegger called the fourfold (Heidegger 2008: 243). The idea of the fourfold – earth, sky, mortals, divinities – is a simple oneness (Wrathall 2006: 112), which is how entities in the world exist if that entity has the presence in the world as a thing rather than an object. Young (2002) and Wrathall (2006) instead consider the fourfold as the pivotal aspect of Heidegger’s concept of dwelling. I argue that dwelling is the attunement to the world that allows for a an authentic mode of being-there, and that this attunement is one in which Dasein (Heidegger’s term for being, literally “being-there”) understands place as meaningful but which is dependent upon both the orientation of things in that place, Dasein’s towards-which in that place (the underlying motivation or desire of the user to find out about the place) and the practices of being a fan in attuning to the local world that comes from gathering work that the stadium does. The bringing of all this together is the event, or Ereignis, where thinking and being is allowed to take place as the rest of the world is cleared away – a place where one can be a football fan in an authentic sense.
The fourfold refers directly to the thinghood of things (Harman 2007: 129). Each thing in the world “things”; it performs a function of “thinging” appropriate to what that thing is and its position in the world. This “thinging” is a part of an event in the world, and its “thinging” is a gathering of the elements of earth, sky, mortals and divinities known as das Geivert or the fourfold (Harman 2007: 131). For Harman (2007), the thing (when “thinging”) produces a nearness to that thing. This nearness is when the thing produces a specific locale for being based around how that thing operates in the world, that is what its function is, how it gathers the elements and how this is given back to being as a revealing of the thing and its region, therefore providing an explanation of the (local) world. Malpas (2000: 218) argues that distance is the factor by which objects in a region are near or far (dis-stance). It is this dis-stance, the nearness or farness of an object, which decides whether an entity is a thing firstly, and secondly whether that thing can perform its “thinging”, with a thing being existentially near in the region or locale. So, a thing is the critical aspect of the region itself in that without a thing, there is no region or locale (and hence the homelessness of man in the technological age).
We dwell by attuning ourselves to the local world, and this attunement must be an attuning to things in that locale. When becoming a fan, we attune to the stadium, and the period of adjustment to the new ground is difficult because our previous attunements need to be swept away and re-attuned to the new place.
Dreyfus and Spinoza (1997) argue that when things “thing”, the thing is bringing together these four elements. A local world occurs when an everyday thing “things” and temporarily brings things and people into their own appropriation. The taken-for-granted practices that ground situations and give them significance, as situations are earth. Buying a burger, the pre-match route to the ground, buying a programme, calling your mate a tool, abusing the pathetic excuse for a sentient human being they have appointed as a referee, all these practices operate to make the gathering significant in that for a family such a dining practice is not an option to indulge in or not, but the basis upon which other options appear (Dreyfus and Spinoza 1997). Heidegger regards this grounding of practices as withdrawn and hidden, whereas sky is the revealed or manifest possibilities that arise from the focal situations (attending the match) and therefore is explicitly revealed. These are the possibilities for action that are appropriate for that focal gathering or locale in the case of the football match; discussion of the game and predictions would be appropriate (Dreyfus and Spinoza 1997), while discussion of flower pressing and Cardiff City would not be appropriate. The possibilities of action are dictated by the situation which itself is disclosed by the fourfold.
By divinities, Heidegger refers to the attunement of being in the situation to an extent that one feels in tune with what is happening and events unfold of their own accord without the need to push this unfolding through action. When a thing “things” this sense of divinity must be present, although this too will be withdrawn (Harman 2007: 132) such as the attunement of dwelling, which should not be thought of as explicit but as the mood in which Dasein is in at that time pre-reflectively. Mortals refer to how the thing “thinging” includes humans but in a specific sense. Obviously, the mortals will be revealed, but also act as disclosers of the thing “thinging” – and therefore the fourfold – itself, as without humans there would be no meaning to the gathering of the elements. By mortals, Heidegger means an attribute of the way human practices work that causes mortals to understand they have no fixed identity, and that being a fan is an identity appropriate to the place, possibilities and projections at that time. This understanding is necessary if one is to attune to the locale and nature of practices demanded by the thing “thinging” and the possibilities that are appropriate for that locale (Dreyfus and Spinoza 1997).
The fourfold is the event of the thing “thinging”; it gathers the four elements and in doing so, it reveals a local world of meaning that is dependent upon the thing. Wrathall (2006: 113) summaries Heidegger: in that we dwell in the fourfold by “saving the earth, in receiving the sky, in awaiting the divinities and in accompanying the mortals.” In doing this, our being-in-the-world is a dwelling rather than a “homeless” or lost state. Being at home at the match is not a lost state, unlike the rough first season at the Liberty; to be in the place is to be at home, to be used to the place, comfortable and in a clearing that allows for the mode of existence that is being a Swans fan. As Heidegger writes:
The thing things. Thinging gathers. Appropriating the fourfold, it gathers the fourfold’s stay, its while, into something that stays for a while: into this thing, that thing. (Heidegger 1971: 174)
When one is in the ground a feeling of oneness (the dwelling) comes that is unique, and the Liberty has this oneness after the practices, the memories, the habits and the feelings have been established. It is now a place in the sense I use the word here. Plastic feeling less bowls like Cardiff City’s awful stadium don’t have this, especially after their embarrassing rebrand. Is a colour important? Yes, especially when considering the importance of habit, history and memory in the foundation of dwelling. Other soulless concrete bowls could take note, but Swansea does not have this problem – the Liberty allows Swans fans to dwell as authentic football fans, gathered by the Liberty in a very different, but not different-bad, way as the Vetch gathered for so many years.
Dreyfus, H. and Spinoza, C. (1997). Highway Bridges and Feasts: Heidegger and Borgmann on How to Affirm Technology. http://www.focusing.org/apm_papers/dreyfus.html. Retrieved 03/05/2006.
Guignon, C. (2004). The History of Being, in A Companion to Heidegger (ed. Hubert L. Dreyfus and Mark A. Wrathall). New York: Blackwell, pp. 392-406.
Harman, G. (2007). Heidegger Explained: From Phenomenon to Thing (Ideas Explained). London: Open Court.
Heidegger, M. (1971). Poetry, Language, Thought (trans. A. Hoffstadter). New York: Harper and Row.
Heidegger, M. (2008). Basic writings: from Being and time (1927) to The task of thinking (1964) (Rev. and expanded ed.). London: Routledge.
Malpas, J. E. (2000). Uncovering the Space of Disclosedness: Heidegger, Technology and the Problem of Spatiality in Being and Time. In Dreyfus, H. L., Wrathall, M. A., & Malpas, J. E. (2000). Heidegger, authenticity, and modernity: essays in honor of Hubert L. Dreyfus. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, pp. 205-227.
Wrathall, M. (2006). How to Read Heidegger (How to Read). New York: W. W. Norton.
Young, J. (2000). What is Dwelling? The Homelessness of Modernity and the Worlding of the World. In Dreyfus, H. L., Wrathall, M. A., & Malpas, J. E. (2000). Heidegger, authenticity, and modernity: essays in honor of Hubert L. Dreyfus. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, pp. 187-204.
Young, J. (2006) The Fourfold, in Guignon, C. B. (ed.) (2006) The Cambridge companion to Heidegger (2nd Edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.