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White Noise: Essay on Joanna Newsom

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Essay on Joanna Newsom

This weekend I thought I'd bring something different to the table. Although White Noise is an electronic music site, my one true musical love would have to be the singer Joanna Newsom. As a result, I chose to write my university dissertation on her lyrics. I know this won't interest the majority of WN readers, but if there are any secret Newsom fans hiding in the woodworks, you might find this of interest. If not, don't panic, normal service will resume with the next review on Monday.


Explore the relationship between crisis of self and crisis of space in the lyrics of Joanna Newsom.

The poetic lyrics of American singer / songwriter Joanna Newsom have received great critical acclaim since the release of her second album, ‘Ys’, in 2006. Keenly observant of literary tradition and poetic rhetorical devices, many critics attest that her lyrics stand alone and can be read as pure poetry. However an analysis of her sophisticated lyricism has not yet formally been attempted. Throughout her work, a complex relationship is created between the narrators of her songs and the land they inhabit. This essay will explore how Newsom creates a nuanced and entrenched link between self and space in her lyrics. The personae that populate these songs are engaged in a continuous battle to assert their identities by geographically and emotionally locating themselves. Time and again, however, this process has a dislocating effect, frequently fragmenting their senses of self along geographical divides. Moreover the process is reciprocal; when the sense of space is damaged, so too is the self.

The focus will be on four key songs that concentrate on the relationship between self and space; Autumn, In California, Does Not Suffice and Emily. These lyrics are all written in the first person. Whether they are personal narratives or imagined personae, since this distinction is not the focus of this essay, the two will not be differentiated. In three of these songs Newsom, like many poets before her, conveys inner conflict by portraying the persona at the mercy of a threatening landscape which is crucially active, seeking to dislocate and unhinge her static, passive self. Ultimately in Does Not Suffice (the final song on her most recent album), she acts to sever her affective ties with the space around her, choosing to leave a harmful space. Although this act leads to an uncertain future, it is critically an exercise of her will, and, while it may not lead to happiness, it can only be seen as a triumph of self over an imposing space. This essay will chart this narrative, from crisis of self in space to triumph of self over space, exploring the relationship between sense of belonging and sense of selfhood. It will do this through examining the linguistic patterns, techniques and themes which Newsom uses to make her journey so intimately human.

Two key theories will be used in the analysis of these lyrics: Yi-Fu Tuan’s Topophilia and Gaston Bachelard’s Felicitous Space. Rather than interrogating the theories themselves, this essay will use them as a framework to gain a deeper understanding of the particular conflict Newsom creates. Tuan defines Topophilia as “all of the human being’s affective ties with the material environment” (93), an idea that sums up the complex network of emotional bonds that people have to the space around them, grounded in, for example, personal memory and cultural history. Although Tuan intends the concept to explain the powerful positive links between humans and their environments, Newsom’s lyrics notably portray a negative inversion of the idea. Affective attachment to the land confounds and untethers her sense of selfhood. Metaphor is frequently used to show the land doing her physical harm. It is because she experiences Topophilia for her environment that she can be hurt by it; and because she wants to belong to her land she experiences a collapse of identity when environment and self are not unified.

Tuan acknowledges that when it comes to the space called ‘home’, a distinct set of affective rules apply: because it is “more permanent,” we find it “less easy to express…feelings towards.” (93) Despite the strengths of Tuan’s argument, it generalises human ties to space as a collective experience, and so is somewhat limiting when applied to Newsom’s personal experience of her environment. Crucially, her narratives are complicated by idealised and remembered concepts of these spaces. Bachelard’s Felicitous Space is helpful here: it includes not only the experience of space in the present but also the poetic idea of “eulogized space”, a space remembered for its importance in the past. “Attached to its protective value,” Bachelard says, “which can be a positive one, are also imagined values, which soon become dominant.” (xxxv) This idea comes close to the core of Newsom’s crisis of space. As she moves in her narratives between spaces for which she has topophilic attachments, her real conceptions of these spaces conflate with imagined versions and emotional attachments that belong in the past. On returning to these home spaces she expects the affective ties she felt in the past to return, and when they do not, either because she or the space has changed, she becomes mired in a panicked stasis. Her sense of selfhood, being so reliant on the ability to locate herself in a specific home with a particular set of affective attachments, begins to fragment. Newsom cannot come to terms with her surroundings because she is unable to reconcile these ‘imagined’ (Felicitous) spaces with their corresponding realities, resulting in an identity crisis. It is only in the final song, Does Not Suffice, where she forcibly severs her Topophilia to these compromised spaces, that she begins to move forward and creates the possibility of affective links with her environment grounded in her present reality.

            Bachelard is interested in how we paint the objective world around us in the colours of memory and emotional attachments. “We cover the universe with drawings we have lived,” he says, “these drawings need not be exact. They need only to be tonalized on the mode of our inner space.” (12) Although we may see and hear our environments in the same way as anyone else, we each experience them uniquely because of the affective associations tied to the spaces we inhabit. In Newsom’s lyrics, these subtle differences in subjective experience of space are brought to the fore, as her emotional crises are exposed with the use of negative natural imagery.


In Emily, Newsom addresses her sister who has left home, trying to explain her fear and confusion as the easy constructs of their childhood begin to dissolve. This dissolution leaves only a fragmented family unit and a young girl terrified of the threatening breadth of possibilities that face her as she looks out towards the future. Over the course of the song, Newsom’s understanding of her natural environment shifts to reflect her mounting inner turmoil:

“There is a rusty light on the pines tonight
Sun pouring wine, lord, or marrow
Down into the bones of the birches
And the spires of the churches
Jutting out from the shadows…
We’ve seen those mountains kneeling, felten and grey
We thought our very hearts would up and melt away”

For Newsom, this natural beauty is a shared experience between herself and her sister, evident in the emphasis on ‘we’. There is a softness to the mountains, a honeyed light which suggests the childlike happiness of a beauty harmoniously shared by siblings. Here, a delicacy and a warmth representing the sisters’ carefree contentment is the first example of subjective experience painting external space with the colours of internal feelings. Conversely, external landscape is used as a symbol for internal experience. Familial bonds are related in natural imagery. Later, Newsom sings “the ties that bind, they are barbed and spined, and hold us close forever”. Here a regular iambic lull resonates through the long vowels, but sharp dentals punctuate the rhythm to establish a painful piercing: the comfort of this bond is inextricably linked to the pain of imminent separation.

 The climax of the piece is Newsom’s call to her sister to come home as Emily moves further away. At this point, a dissonance emerges in the landscape. This is the “song I woke with on my lips as you sailed your great ship towards the morning”:

“Come on home, the poppies are all grown knee-deep by now
Blossom all has fallen, and the pollen ruins the plough
Peonies nod in the breeze and while they wetly bow, with
Hydrocephalitic listlessness ants mop up-a their brow

And everything with wings is restless, aimless, drunk and dour
Butterflies and birds collide at hot, ungodly hours
And my clay-coloured motherlessness rangily reclines
- come on home, now! All my bones are dolorous with vines”

With her sister gone and the simple childhood structures diminishing, the landscape once shared by Joanna and Emily takes on an oppressive aspect as natural imagery shifts towards excess. A lullaby-esque call for return to a bucolic homeland is replaced by a Keatsian overripeness. There is a sickly excess of blossom, pollen, and the flowers are poppies, associated with death and opium, and peonies, a heavy bloom that buckles in the humidity. In the final line the wetness of this world is palpable, even inside the ants whose ‘hydrocephalitic’ heads almost burst with water. Without Emily, the mental unbordering of the narrator is transposed to the natural world. The Felicitous Space sours; a manageable landscape transforms into an imposing wilderness. The insidious mounting humidity threatens her sense of selfhood by dissolving the borders of her familiar childhood constructs.

            The second verse’s imagery and language is more extreme. The sibilance in the first line and the internal rhyme of ‘ies’ in the second, along with repetitive long ‘o’ sounds and harsh dentals (“butterflies and birds collide at hot, ungodly hours”) show the excess has even seeped into the sounds, threatening her ability to communicate. The natural world, turned close and oppressive, is expressed in a suffocating array of imagery as the overflow of nature is transposed to an overflow of language. Images knitted together through sound and internal rhyme imprison the narrator within her once-familiar homeland, her language and crucially, within herself. The final monosyllabic line is unbalanced by ‘dolorous’, a concentrated syllabic excess destroying any metrical equilibrium. But again there is conflict, this unbalanced line unified by the repeated long ‘o’ vowel; the narrator is simultaneously unified with the land and imprisoned in a state of mental disunity. Just as in the imagery the vines claimed the narrator’s body, so the encroaching natural excess now unbalances metre and sound, until the writer’s only true tool – her language – is also subsumed. With this final lyric cry, the self is utterly lost within the landscape it once loved. Her inability to adjust is portrayed as the landscape imprisoning her, deferring the agency of the crisis from narrator to space. These verses show how Newsom uses imagery of nature to chart her inner topography, and how close the reciprocal relationship is between damage to self and damage to space.

In California

            By the time the album reaches In California, a splitting of topophilic experience between two spaces results in a more severe fragmentation of the self. The song portrays the narrator leaving the love of her family at home to travel. In her new location she falls in love, and when she has to return, her home feels alien; she is now torn between these two spaces, neither of which has everything that she wants. Here Newsom again uses negative natural imagery to show not a landscape which claims her, but one which is defamiliarised, an ‘unheimlich’ homeland which was once intimately known.

Once-familiar figures of her natural homeland are re-appropriated as aggressive symbols which reveal a dissonance in her relationship with the home space, a jarring caused by the gap between expectations and reality. Her heart “is yellow as an ear of corn”, while the deer are, “tallow-coloured, walleyed” as they move across her land, “brandishing themselves like a burning branch”. This technique infiltrates her language; the deer move “quiet as gondoliers”, an incongruous image suggesting a struggle to create suitable imagery. This is the first example of her quest to recover the Felicitous Space by returning to a space that has been her home in the past. However she is unable to cope when her imagined and real experiences of that revisited space are not aligned. Furthermore by experiencing Topophilia for two places (each linked with a love), she has split her very self between them. She is now uprooted not only from both spaces that ever felt like a home, but also from her sense of selfhood.

For Newsom here, a division of space causes a division of self. “If you come and see me,” she declares to her far-off lover, “in California / you cross the border of my heart.” By finding a love elsewhere and creating a second Felicitous Space, she has drawn a border within herself which is physicalized in this key lyric. She is now left to stagnate on the threshold between two spaces and two created selves, stricken immobile with indecision, with no place to which she feels she belongs.

Towards the close of the song we are told:

“Some nights
I just never go to sleep at all,
And I stand,
Shaking in my doorway like a sentinel,
All alone,
Bracing like the bow upon a ship,
And fully abandoning
Any thought of anywhere
But home,
My home.”

            These lines are steeped in conflict. This climactic emotional response to her crisis in space shows her unmoored from a secure identity. She is symbolically stationed in a doorway, a sentinel, in a liminal space between two worlds: between her past and her present, between two loves, and geographically between her home-space and her new, adult space. What began as a spatial split has been transposed to a splitting of the self. A doorway is an exit, and a ship is built to move, but she is physically confined by her fragmented selfhood. Newsom uses symbols of movement and transition to create a tension which highlights her situation; she is physically able to move but is held in place by a crisis of identity. There is in these inverted symbols an idea of a mind taunting itself with images of freedom and movement while it is paralysed. Even though she feels alone in this defamiliarised space, it is her doorway, her land, and her home, she clings on to any fragments of her identity. The possessive ‘my’ recurs in this way throughout the song, a scattering of the self throughout the home-scape.

However, at the song’s close there is an epiphanic moment where Newsom recognises her stasis is due just as much to her own indecision as to the split experience of Topophilia which caused it:

“It has half-ruined me to be hanging around,
Here among the daphne blooming out of the big brown.
I am native to it, but I’m overgrown.
I have choked my roots
On the earth, as rich as roe.”

In one of the rare assertive lines of the song, she affirms that though she once belonged to this land, it is now time to move on from her childhood home. In her choice of metaphor, which ignores natural law – roots live off the earth and cannot be ‘choked’ by them – she turns away from the home space by rejecting its prevailing natural rules. By rejecting the homeland she is denying it the opportunity to be a Felicitous Space. She refuses to be subject any longer to the unrealistic expectations of belonging that it creates. This marks a first step towards the resolution of the crisis of self in space.


If the home in Emily was the narrator herself, asking her sister to return, and the home in In California was the restraining presence of the past, in Autumn the home is a cruel space which resists the narrator’s attempts to belong. The narrative follows a woman who, having uncharacteristically left home with a lover years ago, now returns following the breakup of the relationship. This is not the beloved childhood home portrayed in previous songs. Here a space is presented for which the narrator tries to force experience of Topophilia in order to re-affirm her sense of self, but this attempt to forge an artificial connection denies her the chance of achieving a unity of self in space. This older narrator is jaded; set starkly apart from her once familiar home and devoid of hope and positivity. She scrabbles to re-assert her selfhood through identification with the home-space, but her loss of autonomy means that no affective connections can be forged.

In keeping with the grief-worn persona, the song begins with a death. “Driven through by her own sword, / summer died last night, alone.” The autumnal imagery throughout suggests a period of mourning; for the love she has left behind, for her youth, for the home she once knew. All of these summers are behind her now. She betrays no affective ties to this land but it is still a ‘eulogized space’ in Bachelard’s terms: here “friendly voices” are “dead and gone”, while the only other inhabitants are ghosts, and even they are “huddled up for warmth”. Newsom refuses to give this town any aspect of humanity or warmth, conveying her emotional emptiness and muted inner conflict. Although this song shares the concerns of dislocation and an inability to adapt to change, there is a key reversal at play. The break-up has caused her to return in a broken emotional state, and therefore she cannot feel at home in this space. Here changes to the inner self deny the possibility of a topophilic connection with the outer space.

Negative natural imagery and themes of immobility return. Nothing in this town seems to move. Even her neighbours are depersonalised to “gossiping lawns”. Newsom makes no human connections and feels judged by nature itself. She is simultaneously rejected by and sublimated into this unforgiving home, a tension which works to efface her sense of selfhood. Cut off from both the person and the place that had made her feel as if she belonged, the narrator describes herself in unforgiving terms; it becomes clear that her key problem is a lack of autonomy and agency. She is “riven like a wishbone”; torn in two by loss, the bone here suggesting the death of the part of her which could feel and desire. On her return, “I lay low…and I move / like a gurney / whose wheels are squeaking”. This image, like the earlier gondoliers, is deliberately incongruous. She is mechanical, an inappropriate presence in the natural landscape that is her ‘home’. The image connotes illness and powerlessness, as well as a critical lack of agency (one is pushed on a gurney); she has lost the will to keep moving.  She freely admits to a lack of self-knowledge – “I may have changed. It’s hard to gauge”, and “I have got no control / over my heart, over my mind” – phrases which depict her fragmented sense of self. This security in the self, severed by a loss of affective ties with both a person and a place, is what she attempts to rebuild by re-establishing an experience of Topophilia with her hometown. However it becomes clear that a feeling of belonging is unavailable to someone who seems to indulge in the turmoil of the emotional void rather than taking action to alter her situation.

This impotence perhaps arises from the fact that for the first time a foreign entity, the lover, invades her inner space, changing the way she relates to the space around her. The lover made her move uncharacteristically away from home, severing her understanding of her genealogical location. “You’d hardly guess,” she sings, “I was my own mother’s daughter; / I ain’t naturally given to roam.” He even continues to affect her after she has left and she bitterly regrets believing his reasons for leaving in the first place; “would I could tie your lying tongue, / who says that leaving keeps you young.” This phrase implies another instance of the lover re-arranging the topography of her inner space, here influencing her association between movement and aging.

The paralysis that affects Newsom here is born not of the panic of In California, but of weary hopelessness. “Wherever I go,” she sings, “I am snowbound / by thoughts of him whom I would shun”. Her affective ties are to her former lover, not to her land, and this severance has had the same dislocating effect as the loss of Topophilia described in other songs. She tries to force a topophilic connection with her hometown, but finds herself emotionally frozen, ‘snowbound’, and thus unwilling to move. Perhaps the reason that Newsom’s attempts to forge topophilic connections fails is because of a mis-perception of the location of memory. Newsom believes, like Tuan, that “land is a repository of memory” (93), and so seeks to recapture her Topophilia by returning to the locus of these memories. However, as we have seen in Autumn and In California, she cannot establish these ties by moving back. Newsom’s belief that memory persists in the land rather than the mind means she attempts to return home in order to recapture this sense of belonging. Affective ties and memories may become triggered by interaction with landscape, but it is not their base location. Our memories remain lodged in the psyche.

In Autumn, without any hope or warmth to give her a reason to keep going, the narrator takes to dividing up the landscape in an attempt to exert some control over the unwelcoming space around her:

“Among the tall pines,
Along the lay-lines.
Here, where the loon keens.
There, where the moon leans.
Where I know my violent love lays down,
In a row of silent, dove-grey days.
Here, in a row of silent, dove-grey days.”

The conflict between both wanting to be with and wanting to be apart from her love is palpable in these lines, and reflects how Newsom relates to the landscape. Although in different physical places, she imagines that she and the lover are bonded by a shared emotional space, evident in the repetition of the final line. The bonds that tie them together are evident in the words themselves; the near-anagrammatic “violent love” creates an echo that binds two words which express opposition. Here one can see the narrator draws borders across her land to distance herself from her lover. This is clear in the liberal use of space deixis (‘here, there’) and the words which are used to express a familiarity with the land (‘among, along’). These lines do create a distance, but they also show the narrator attempting to forge a topophilic link with her environment by imposing her terms upon it.

The final decision that she makes renders these attempts futile. “When the final count is done,” she concludes, “I will be in my hometown. / I will be in my hometown.” After the deliberate distinctions created within the landscape, this final repetition is unconvincing, as if the narrator is trying to falteringly persuade herself that what she is doing is right. She cannot reconcile her desire to belong with her native space, because in her current emotional state she can not belong anywhere. A Felicitous Space cannot be artificially created. Insight into the situation can be gained by examining the words used to describe her hometown. “Alone, here in my home” is the only use of the word ‘home’; the internal rhyme emphasises that it is not a place of comfort. All the other references are to her ‘hometown’, a word that compounds a space and an affective tie into a single term. This word choice blurs the agent into an easy connection with the land that we cannot believe given the way she describes this space. This effacement of agency echoes the gurney and earlier self-questioning. In Autumn there is no home. The narrator’s loss of hope means that she cannot belong; moreover she lacks the motivation to carve out a new home for herself. This is a total loss of both intimate space and self in an unforgiving landscape. It appears that the place to which she returns is called a home only because, internally and externally, she has nowhere else left to go.

We have seen how in Autumn Newsom draws up artificial borders across her land to try and lay claim to it and create a sense of belonging. The creation of distinctions in landscape echoes the crises of Emily and In California, in which the dissolution of existing borders and constructs induces panic in the narrator. This focus on borders and liminality in Newsom’s lyrics leads to a plausible solution to her crisis of space, potentially offering a space where she might belong. The poet has through history been described as a liminal space: between the world and the word, between stimulus and art, between being and representation. The same could be said for songwriters, who use music to express the ineffable. Bachelard states that, “the poet speaks on the threshold of being” (xvi): the poet is a conduit for creation, and therefore he must exist in a liminal space. To find an example closer to Newsom’s personal concerns, Jonathan Bate’s description of Rilke’s concept of ‘the open’ is highly illuminating. Rilke pursued a state “where there is no division between nature and consciousness”, Bate writes, stating that Rilke felt that he had “become nature itself, to share his being with tree and singing bird as inner and outer were gathered together into a single ‘uninterrupted space.’” (263) If Rilke’s role as the transparent threshold between nature and mind existed in order to portray a unity of the two, Newsom represents disunity by acting as a barrier. In her world, once-clear harmonies between her self and her land have dissolved and leave her fractured and lost. In roaming back to past homes she tries to find her self but finds it an impossible task. She stands on the threshold of self and space, amidst the dissolution of both, her own lack of a will to change her situation preventing her from finding a resolution. Yet without this conflict, there would have been no song. She locates herself through expression of inner conflict. Bate writes of the alienation of poet Paul Celan, “The only place from which he was not estranged was the place of poiesis… his identity is asserted through an acting of writing.” (271) Newsom’s text and songs act as alternate liminal space which she is able to transgress through artistic expression. She is torn between homes and lovers, but Newsom can always find a home in her language. This is a solution to her crisis on a metaphysical level, but the narrator still has to live out her daily life and find a sense of belonging. For a physical solution to the crisis of self and space, one can look to the final song on this album, Does Not Suffice.

Does Not Suffice

Newsom never seeks to give an easy answer to the complicated question of belonging. Still, common causes can be found in these songs for the fragmentation of self that occurs when our affective ties to the land are severed. Significantly Newsom cannot belong because she remains passive in relation to the space around her. Realisation of her damaging or absent Topophilia causes her to panic and lose hope, rather than actively try and change the situation for the better. In Autumn she abandons herself to not belonging, while Emily and In California end with acknowledgements that she must move on and adapt, without any indication that she actually does. If affective ties to the land are causing the self to fragment, then the only clear solution is to break down those ties and rebuild. With the final song Does Not Suffice, this is exactly what Newsom does.

This song, a simple ballad, details the narrator packing up her clothes and leaving the room she shared with a lover. The room is a metaphor for the inner space shared by two people in a relationship, and by packing up her things she is removing aspects of her self from the shared space, so that it is no longer within the lover’s power to affect her. Compared to the wild landscapes previously depicted, this simple domestic space is a striking change, showing the narrator in an environment which is under her control. The space is not idealized, compared, for example, with the utopic childhood landscape of Emily; here there are no unrealistic expectations caused by attachment to the memory of a Felicitous Space. Newsom’s control extends to a secure knowledge of what she expects from a relationship, a sharp contrast to the panicked indecision of In California. The song’s very title indicates an exercise of will and self-value, furthered in the line “It does not suffice, / to merely lie beside each other, / as those who love each other do.” Here for the first time Newsom makes a distinction between physical and emotional space which she has previously found difficult to draw, indicating that she is now aware that the emotional space of a relationship must be shared as well as the physical, and that one must seek an emotional unity with one’s environment as much as a physical one. Her ideal relationship is a fusion of the internal spaces of two people, and by remaining emotionally distant her lover has unbalanced their shared space.

The song begins with a list of the clothes that she packs up as she gets ready to leave. Tuan describes clothes as “the most personal of one’s belongings.” They are “an extension of [one’s] personality” (99), and the lengthy list of the clothes she packs is an itemising of the ritual of departure. It is one of the first positive links between self and space that Newsom supplies, a physical representation of her reclaiming the parts of her self that have been compromised by this relationship. The clothes are symbols; she is finally able to retrieve the fragmented parts of her self that have been lost, paralysed and given away in the past in order to move on. This is a true exercise of autonomy and self-control derived from the departure from a compromised space. Once she has left the space, a different form of imagined space to the typical Felicitous memory can be seen. Here Newsom’s imagined space is a metaphor for the emotions that follow the end of the relationship. She pictures her lover waking up, “stretching out on your boundless bed, / beating a clear path to the shower, / scouring yourself red.” All that remains is an image of him, left to a freedom that is linked to emptiness in the ‘boundless bed’. The image of washing connotes a violent purification, a masochism in the act of an everyday activity that suggests the narrator imagines that her lover feels regret for his actions. The image also echoes the purification of space Newsom undertakes in order to create the possibility of an uncompromised topophilic connection, and by extension a secure selfhood. At the same time, the repeated long ‘o’ sounds and lulling ‘b’ sounds provide a softness, an indication that her decision to leave is calm and considered, not fraught with the panic seen in earlier songs.

The final verse shows the clearest example of Newsom’s solution to the problem of how to retain a secure selfhood in a compromised or changing space: the answer is to leave it.

“The tap of hangers,
swaying in the closet—
unburdened hooks
and empty drawers—
and everywhere I tried to love you
is yours again,
and only yours.”

This space is charged with her absence, as Newsom extends the spatial metaphor to examine the lovers’ feelings after the breakup.  The ‘empty drawers’ are the palpable void left by her physical and emotional removal from their shared space. But there is a duality at play, the ‘unburdened’ hooks show an alternate experience of the situation that indicates a new freedom for both of them as individuals. The choice of final line, emphasising a departure from the space of the relationship rather than the relationship itself underlines the importance of space and belonging to her sense of wellbeing and selfhood. Simultaneously, the word ‘again’ intimates that the space was always under the lover’s control and never belonged to her, implying that the final departure was inevitable, and, in a paradoxical fashion, it can be considered a return.

Jonathan Bate in discussion of Heidegger lights upon the idea of a clearing as “an opening to the nature of being”. Newsom creates an open space where she can exercise her autonomy, allowing her room to be and belong. The destruction of previous affective ties is necessary, as confirmed by Bate, who states “a clearing can only be achieved through a dividing and a destroying.” (280) Through dividing the space Newsom moves towards an uncertain future but it can be seen as the first step to a resolution of this crisis of space. By destroying her compromised topophilic connections she can begin anew and forge her own affective ties on her own terms.

Through these songs there is a pattern of reciprocal damage wrought between self and space. Critically for Newsom as a songwriter, her selfhood is damaged by the changing spaces and relationships around her. We have come to see how she can often remaining cripplingly passive in a world that seems out to hurt her. She attempts to re-forge past connections by bonding with the Felicitous Space but this ultimately proves an impossible task. The Felicitous Space is irreclaimable, fixed firmly in the past. These songs undertake a careful examination of the subjective experience of space and the importance of home. There is a tradition of exploration of belonging in poetry, with poets often focusing on a particular region. But Newsom’s concentration on the relationship between the self and space in the abstract reflects a particularly modern crisis. Though Newsom probes sophisticated problems to which there is no simple solution, this essay has shown that the first step of a resolution can be found. The only chance Newsom’s narrators have to rebuild their fractured selves is to redefine themselves by creating a new, uncompromised space.

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