One of the relevances of psychoanalysis as a discourse for architecture, is that it addresses collective, associative life, through the concept of the Other, without relying on fictitious unities like the people, the body politic, etc. The Other is the field of social codes – language, the law, the customary practices of daily life, white dresses at weddings, fork on the left, and the like – that we abide by and by which we communicate. Psychoanalysis has the capacity to deal with the group, without losing sight of the fact that it is constituted of individuals. It is not possible to have a discourse about the environment, built and unbuilt, or a discourse about cities and landform, and its inhabitants, without recourse to the social group. Lets wager: if we could articulate our social codes, and in particular our architectural codes, in ways that are at least momentarily evident to us (we imagine the first utterances of Vitruvius’ primitives had this freshness), we could do two things:
1. position ourselves within this symbolic field, in more than imaginary ways, and
2. understand our relation to our habitat in ways that may lead us out of an environmental catastrophe.
Big Other (Lacan, Autre, Freud das Andere) + little other (Lacan, autre or objet petit a). In Lacan’s notation, A & a. Imagine, like Rossi, that architecture is constituted as a body of architectural signs; imagine that it formed an architectural language within which particular architectural acts happen, called buildings, and which makes them possible, rather than simply the material fact of buildings. It’s like when Eisenman distinguishes Architecture from architecture.
Freud refers to der Andere (an other person) and to das Andere (Otherness or Alterity). In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud borrows the term, eine anderer Schauplatz or eine andere lokalität (the other scene) from G T Fechner, to refer to the scene of dreams as other than the scene of ideational life. He stresses that it is not a physical or anatomical place. Lacan describes the scene of the dream as being ‘between perception and consciousness’ [Four Concept… p56], partaking of neither.
Lacan maintains Freud’s distinction between big or upper case Other (the unconscious) and little or lower case other (other person, other object, significant other). He refers to the Other as a field, the field of the Other. In architectural terms, it is a limitless field of operation rather than a spatial figure bounded by walls or other notation for edges.
‘[T]he Other must first of all be considered a locus, the locus in which speech is constituted.’ [S3 p274] The Other is the locus of language, the law, and other social codes, what in Lacan’s text is known as the symbolic order generally. Speech does not originate in the ego but in the Other. Speech is constituted outside the subject and conforms to its own language rules to which the subject must submit if it wants to speak. This is no less true of the architect who wants to practice than it is of the orator who wants to speak. The field of the Other is constituted of all the codes that bind a group. It is limitless or always incomplete, something is always absent or lacking, preventing its totalisation or formation as a whole body, in the sense that it is never possible to enumerate all the signifiers in a signifying chain, which leads Lacan to signify the Other with a slashed A. The slash of the cut, wound, disfiguration, or castration.
‘This schema [Lacan’s Schema L diagram] signifies that the condition of the subject, S, (neurosis or psychosis), depends on what unfolds in the Other, A. What unfolds there is articulated like a discourse (the unconscious is the Other’s discourse [the discourse of the Other]), whose syntax Freud first sought to define for those fragments of it that reach us in certain privileged moments, such as dreams, slips, and witticisms.
‘Why would the subject be interested in this discourse if he were not a party to it? He is, indeed, insofar as he is drawn to the four corners of the schema: namely, S, his ineffable and stupid existence; a, his objects; a’, his ego, that is, his form as reflected in his objects; and A, the locus from which the question of his existence may arise for him.’ [‘On a question prior…’ in Ecrits pp458-9]’
The little other is a reflection of our ego. It is different from me, hence it is other, but it is what I identify with. It has the illusory completeness of objects, which makes it both the object of jealousy and identification. Elsewhere Lacan links aggression and identification [think of that movie Single White Female, in which becoming like you, is a way of replacing you in your own flat and in your love life]. If the little other is always outside us, hence ultimately alienating, the spatiality of the Other is deliciously ambiguous. It is outside us and inside us at the same time. Language always comes from outside us, we are born into it, it comes from our parents, it begins for the infant when the mother punctuates it’s cries, although we internalise it in order to speak.
If we are attentive to the social and other codes that bind us as individuals, rather than to the objects to which we collectively identify (nation states, particular places or buildings), we will be able to address the collective as a multitude of individuals, rather than the collective as an illusory unity. Arguably, this was Aldo Rossi’s project in Architecture of the City. In order to build his theory of types, Rossi was attentive to the anonymous buildings that constitute the city, to an exploration of their clear, formal, serial, historically situated, language. He never articulates buildings and places, but only a language of buildings and places. Another example is Serlio’s definition of the three modes of discourse – the tragic, comedic, and idyllic – as a function of the language of expression of objects rather than the objects themselves or their localities. Another example would be Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, a kind of ethnography of the language of city life.
Big Other and little other or social codes and social objects
Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (New York: Norton Press, 1981).
Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book III: The Psychoses 1955-1956 (NYC: Norton, 1993). Jacques Lacan, ‘On a Question Prior to any Possible Treatment of Psychosis (1958)’ in Ecrits: the first complete edition in English (New York: W W Norton, 2006) pp. 445-88.