Vision and the psychotic

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Let us speculate that the psychotic subject has a form of vision that we call parallel vision, and that this is a question of conception not fact (anatomic, optic, or otherwise). The psychotic subject is not without unity or coherence but it is not the unity imposed upon the subject by the linguistic environment in which most subjects dwell (what Lacan calls the symbolic order). Language binds the subject into a single point of perception and thought. The coherence of the psychotic subject is the coherence of parallel lines. S/he slides along the striations of a layered space. S/he sees one thing many times when the neurotic sees many things once. It is more objective, in the way that the elevation and the axonometric drawing are more objective than the perspective drawing. In the elevation and the axon, the lines of construction are parallel; the world appears from all or no points of view. There is no projection and no points of projection; the world is simply stamped onto the drawing paper the way a penny is pressed into clay. By contrast, in the perspective drawing, the world appears from a point of view. It is the model of a certain form of inter-subjectivity. It is inter-subjective because it is cross-checkable with other subjects, and so constitutes the space of the shared external world.

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The psychotic subject is typically regarded as disorganised and detached from the shared world of others. In Freudian and Lacanian analysis, this is regarded as a fundamental loss. In the paper ‘Neurosis and Psychosis’ (1923), Freud describes the psychotic subject’s delusion as a ‘patch’ placed over the ‘rent’ where the ego would have been attached to the external world. For Lacan, the external world is the inter-subjective world shared by many subjects, may subjectivities joined together by a shared linguistic or symbolic environment. Lacan describes the psychotic subject’s disengagement with the joined up world of others as a loss of symbolic authority: the name of the father, i.e., the symbolic father, authorises the symbolic world for the subject. In the case of the psychotic, it was never assimilated in the subject’s development. In Lacan’s paper ‘On a Question Prior to any Possible Treatment of Psychosis’ (1958), it is foreclosed to the subject (note the real estate terminology).

Perspective is a model for a certain form of organised vision, in which all angles within the cone of vision come to a single point. It enjoys the elevated status in western thought as the formula for reality, because it colludes so closely with the egos view of itself and its relation to the world. In philosophy, perspective is often associated with concepts of the self. The internal world of Descartes’ Cogito is pictured as a single point of self defining doubt vis-à-vis an extended triangulated external world. Because this cone of vision is an analogue of the way optics works, perspective is also regarded as reality. Moreover, the perspective model of eye (point of projection) – window (picture plane) – city (world) provides an easily understood geometric model for the relation between the interior of the subject’s psyche and exterior worlds of shared space.

Psychotics see perfectly well, although without the agency of the symbolic father; it is how they relate themselves to the shared world of others that is different; they are not attached to the world the way we are; nor do they join it up the way we do. We can reflect this in a diagram for vision in which the perspective cone of vision is foreclosed to the subject, leaving him/her in a parallel world.


architectural evidence that the spatial subject exists

Monument Paul Vaillant Couturier - Villlejuif, yellow

The relation of mouth and hand, speech and gesture (the poignancy of both), a concrete cantilever beam accusing a concrete plane surface to describe a triangular site (the poignancy of both), the people beneath, a scalar relation: the immediate and intuitive intelligibility of this project is additional evidence that the spatial subject exists.

Le Corbusier, project for a monument to Paul Vaillant-Couturier, Villlejuif, Paris (1937). Paul Vaillant-Couturier, Villlejuif was editor-in-chief of the Communist newspaper L’Humanite.

architectural evidence that the spatial subject exists

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We draw buildings,

build buildings,

use buildings, and

write about buildings.

No one has yet explored, or explored fully, the quadripartite structure of our engagement with architecture. And in particular, the relation between these terms – drawing, building, using, writing – which is sequential episodic and cyclical. One thing is clear however: this engagement with architecture is also an engagement with ourselves. We draw buildings, which puts them in relation to the symbolic world of desire and ideology (think of the ideological shift attending each new technique of representation). We build them, which extracts them from a representational context and puts them in an organised world of finance and production. We use buildings in symbolic and material ways, the latter primarily by inhabiting them. We write about them to reorient them within their symbolic and material contexts, and to plot the path of their efficacy, as part of a continual process that critically rearranges our thinking on architecture. This is not a process of correction; it is work, psychical and physical work.

In order to put buildings in relation to the human subject that inhabits them, we draw on philosophy and psychoanalysis because these are the two discourses that treat the human subject in its capacity as a thinking being and a speaking being. These capacities are so essentially human that research relevant to architecture always ignores them. One of the challenges of writing about architecture is how to bring the human subject as a thinking and speaking being in line with the human subject as a spatial being. This capacity to be spatial is not exhausted by the material fact that we have a body; nor indeed, is the capacity to inhabit architecture exhausted by the fact of the body. The relation between thinking, speaking, and spacing needs to be explored. How does architecture reflect the fact that the human subject who inhabits space, inhabits it as a speaking being and a thinking being? How does this fact change our thinking on the social political economic historical material aesthetic efficacy of architecture? The immediate and inherent intelligibility of a project for a palazzo that addresses the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine, witnessed by the Colosseum, is architectural evidence that the spatial subject exists.

If spatial subjects did not exist, this architectural project would not be intelligible as a project, or, if intelligible, not poignant.

Guiseppe Terragni, with A. Carminati, P. Lingeri, M. Nizzoli, E. Saliva, M. Sironi, & L. Vietti, Competition entry for Palazzo Littorio, Rome, project A, 1934. Littorio addresses Maxentius, witnessed by Il Colosseo, on a triangular site. Note also Il Duce’s podium and the curved facade decorated with stress fractures.

images of the multitude > distribution of goods

amazon 'fulfillment centre', england

Amazon and contemporary processes of marketing and distribution of commodities, in a social world where everyone is a consumer. The multitude takes a particular form of repetitive space.

‘An Amazon ‘fulfilment centre’ in England shows a vast supply of goods. On Tuesday, Amazon made more than a million new products available on its Canadian website as it moves even further away from its roots as an online bookseller.’ (Phil Noble/Reuters). Accessed 12:26pm, Saturday 11 October 2014 from

genus loci & zeitgeist

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The upshot of the argument in Brunelleschi Lacan Le Corbusier (2010), if not its conclusion, is that Brunelleschi and Le Corbusier are arch-types of the modern subject. Le Corbusier invented the temporal subject through his practice. And Brunelleschi, through his practice, invented the spatial one.

Eisenman’s project has been to expose the underlying metaphysics of presence that operates through architecture. He has used his practice to invent architectural strategies for deconstructing presence, showing it to be what it is, a metaphysics that has no more a place in a material practice such as architecture as it does in a material practice such as language. For Eisenman, the metaphysics of presence enters architectural discourse through the twin doctrines of zeitgeist or spirit of (the) time(s) and genus loci or spirit of place(s).

Following Eisenman then… Le Corbusier, the subject of zeitgeist; Brunelleschi, the subject of genus loci.

For Le Corbusier, inventor of the free plan that freed the plan of space,… a future anterior subject, or subject of time in the future anterior tense. I argue that he used his practice to articulate a kind of future anterior loop in which he will have always already seen himself looping the Parthenon. The story of Le Corbusier’s career: he stands before the Parthenon as a young man [1911], with the premonition that when he is on his deathbed, he will realise that he was always obsessed with the Parthenon and that all his work was dominated by it. He glimpses what he will only learn about himself in retrospect, that his future practice is now being formed by his encounter with the Parthenon. The lesson of this story about a reflective practice is that the zeitgeist thrusts forward, by looping back upon itself. Although it takes the form of forward thinking through technology, a present that is already flush with the future, it anticipates itself, it repeats.

Brunelleschi invented perspective [probably 1420s] and went on to invent the perspectival space of the nave [San Lorenzo and Santo Spirito, 1440s-60s], and by so doing, the modern punctual subject of space, whose model is visual space. I argue that perspective is a form of space bound to the vanishing point in the way that we are bound by our fathers. The spatial subject is always threatened with annihilation and always imagining its way back into the picture.

Close readings of the following texts will substantiate these arguments:

Le Corbusier, Journey to the East (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1987) + The Final Testament of Pere Corbu: a translation and interpretation of Mise au point (New Haven: Yale, 1997)

Antonio di Tuccio Manetti, The Life of Brunelleschi (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1970)