city field inscription – the tenuous spatial poetics of the subject in the city, whose image and position are always fading away. montage derived from reading Beckett and St. Louis, MO.
Following Lacan, I want to argue that we are fundamentally spatial beings. I want to argue that architecture is the practice that positions the subject in space because that subject is spatial. If the subject is a speaking being, then we need to ask how the subject is also a spatial one? This is not simply the default mode of having a body. One of the ways to approach this question would be to look at the degree to which architecture is a symbolic discourse that insists that the speaking subject of analysis and the spatial subject of architecture are aligned with each other in a relation that will always be problematic. This relation is a symbolic fact, not simply an anatomical one. There are consequences for the coincidence and/or non-coincidence of the speaking subject with the spatial subject. I would like to address space as concept, because it is critical to my interest in space and subjectivity, in how space and subjects are conceptually and experientially bound to each other. Let’s start with an example from modernism. In Space Time and Architecture, Giedion says that if you want to understand architecture, you have to understand space. He says space conception, not space. Space is something we conceive prior to experiencing it, space is a concept we experience. According to Giedion, there are three space conceptions in Western architecture. For Giedion, space as a symbolic construct that makes certain things accessible to thought and perception, and rules out others. Space for Giedion is not a default given, a simple fact of experience. We conceptualise space by making architecture, the way we think about it and instrumentalise it. Giedion’s taxonomy:
The Archaic or Greek space conception is about architectural objects in dynamic relations with each other. This exterior space corresponds to externalized subjects like Odysseus who regularly converses with Athena and with an architecture whose interiors are without significance and are uncelebrated, like the Parthenon. In the Classic space conception, architecture is hollowed out to make the interior space of Roman and the renaissance architecture. This conception was clarified by the invention of perspective. Finally there is the Modern space conception, a dynamic relation between inside and outside across the charged and tremulous threshold of modern architecture, which corresponds to the modern subject who imagines him/herself to have a psychoanalytic inside that shadows a real outside. Deleuze and Guattari propose to go beyond Giedion’s taxonomy with fold space, which is a continuous fluid space unencumbered by neurotic bourgeois constructions like thresholds and other modernist binaries. Their figure of the schizo as the action hero of 20th Century capitalism is a return to Odysseus.
The architectural discourse that emerges from phenomenology seems to regard space and its discourses as a reductive gesture that leads to a flattening of experience, or the flattening of ‘world.’ To the contrary, space is the protagonist that opens experience and representation up to an unfathomable richness. Le Corbusier called space indicibile. It is unsayable and ineffable. Space possesses a realness to which we are always drawn, but which will always escape the means and media by which we seek to capture it. We are drawn to space out of love the way we are drawn to wisdom, love of what is real, real love. My work is dedicated to deepening the mystery of space, which is the opposite of making it transparent to reason. Space is the surface out of which subjectivity emerges and to which it returns; in the way that non-sense is the surface from whence sense emerges and to which it returns. Modernism has left us with a rich heritage of space that has nothing to do with efficiency, function, or profitability. Joyce and Beckett, two of our richest modern authors, would be unintelligible without thinking space and subjectivity together. Mies and Miralles, two of our richest modern architects would be unintelligible without thinking space and subjectivity together. The project of psychoanalysis and philosophy, at least for architecture, is to continue to develop that richness by working through the consequences of the many threads that bind space and subjectivity to each other. I argue in Brunelleschi Lacan Le Corbusier, that Brunelleschi’s invention of perspective formalized the spatial template for the modern desiring subject; and Le Corbusier’s career, the template for the modern form of cyclical or loopy temporality. Both of which challenge what Eisenman refers to as genus loci and zeitgeist, presence of place and presence of time, the two metaphysical doctrines underlying most architectural thinking. To my mind, space is inseparable from subjectivity. This is difficult to say directly because space and subjectivity are experienced in a state of distraction (thanks Benjamin). It can only be alluded to, in moments of protest that interrupt the discourse of others.