The Non-Place

To drive along any interstate in the United States is to become familiar with the limited palette of budget hotel logos: the Comfort Inn and its tri-colored circle with wavy lines; Motel 6 and its blurry, red six; and the generic white text on blue background of the Rodeway Inns and Travelodges. The corporate logos of today are a far cry from the eclectic and original motel signs of previous decades, which lured in travelers with neon cowboys and teepees.

However they might try to brand themselves, roadside lodging falls into the category of what French anthropologist Marc Augé calls “non-place,” or in other words, a place of transit or a temporary abode which “cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity.” Fast cars, trains, and planes have ushered us into an era where our expanding mobility allows us to physically pop in or out of non-places, such as hotels or airports, which do not always leave meaningful impressions.

A scene from Jim Jarmusch’s 1989 film Mystery Train comes to mind. Two Japanese tourists travel to Memphis and after checking into a shabby hotel, the male tourist begins taking photos of the room.

Girl: Why do you only take pictures of the rooms we stay in and never what we see outside while we travel?

Guy: These other things are in my memory. The hotel rooms and the airports are the things I’ll forget.

Thus Augé: “The traveler’s space may thus be the archetype of non-place.”