the discovery of infinite space (heterotopia 1)

Heterotopias are kinds of places described by Michel Foucault in his essay Of Other Spaces in 1967.  They approximate, or maybe more accurately reflect, utopias; approximate because heterotopias exist and utopias can’t, by definition.  They are ‘outsider’ spaces, meaning they exist outside of the influence of dominant cultures or hegemonies; and the people and events in them are involved in undesirable, outsider missions.  They are places that are real and unreal at once, complex and contradictory.  For Foucault, heterotopias are places that allow escape from places that are authoritarian and repressive.

This is the first of four posts on heterotopias and based on the essay Of Other Spaces.

Galileo’s rediscovery, that the earth rotates around the sun, upended the Medieval us.   It began the inexorable smashing of orthodoxies and institutions that led to the Enlightenment and modernism.  It accomplished this because it fundamentally challenged our way of thinking about how the world works and is ordered.

Medieval space was hierarchical – celestial, supercelestial, terrestrial, sacred and profane – and oppositional and stable – urban and rural.  But Galileo’s discoveries made us believe that space is open, dissolved, infinite, and that our normal perception of place is an illusion, a shapshot in time of something that is actually – maybe slowly, but irrevocably – moving and dissolving and changing.  Nothing is fixed, there is no still reference point, the center can no longer hold, said Galilleo.

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there’s an ant on your southeast leg
June 29, 2009, 11:21 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

From the article by sociologist Lera Boroditsky on the relationship between language, our bodies, and the space around us.  The past isn’t necessarily behind us, things aren’t always properly ordered left to right and, don’t look now but there’s a bug on your southwest leg.

Follow me to Pormpuraaw, a small Aboriginal community on the western edge of Cape York, in northern Australia. I came here because of the way the locals, the Kuuk Thaayorre, talk about space. Instead of words like “right,” “left,” “forward,” and “back,” which, as commonly used in English, define space relative to an observer, the Kuuk Thaayorre, like many other Aboriginal groups, use cardinal-direction terms — north, south, east, and west — to define space. This is done at all scales, which means you have to say things like “There’s an ant on your southeast leg” or “Move the cup to the north northwest a little bit.” One obvious consequence of speaking such a language is that you have to stay oriented at all times, or else you cannot speak properly. The normal greeting in Kuuk Thaayorre is “Where are you going?” and the answer should be something like ” Southsoutheast, in the middle distance.” If you don’t know which way you’re facing, you can’t even get past “Hello.”


April 19, 2008, 9:04 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , , ,

This is about a fearful place.  Fear makes us protect ourselves, aggress, fight.  It ultimately drives from each other.  In truly fearful places, there is no real intimacy except in the bedroom.

Intimacy is fearless – not timid.  True intimacy is living fearlessly in a fearless place.

Intimacy in principle means not to be timid or “timide”(in French).  But of course In is non. Inconscience, Incontinent. So the meaning of in is non. So its non-timide. And that’s what is intimate. The interesting thing is that we change intimacy to a very small space, a very safe space where you can be intimate, we think. But what we mean with intimate is not “timide”, is open to everything, is borderless, is every protection away, in principle. And it’s not just a small space where you can….

And then of course in history it’s got a very sexual connotation. For me ideal for society would be if we did not use the word intimacy. A society that is not timid. Timid is not a quality. When someone says someone is shy “Oh he or she is so shy”- you have fear, that’s why you are shy. Intimacy is not a quality. Intimacy is a quality but it shouldn’t be called intimacy. It’s just that you are open. In this fearful society where everyone is putting daggers in each others’ back, usurping each other – the neo-capitalist society is like this – in this society intimacy is reduced to the bed, or to the most private space where you dare to be without protection.

So intimacy is the space where you are without the fear that forces you to protect yourself.

-Jan Ritsema, from Sleeping Beauty’s blog, searching for intimacy

simultaneously and substantially dual


This is from an article by Arjun Appadurai.  In it, he describes how the world we accept as empirical, the spaces we see and touch and know can only be properly negotiated when we add in an intangible dimension, what we remember and imagine from other places – ones we’ve inhabited, dreamed about, seen at the movies.  By adding the new dimension, which by the way is very real, we see that we live in a much different place than commonly described.

“Because of the degree of media penetration and saturation – which frequently also means media of many kinds and media from many places, particularly television, where it’s available – people live, as it were, in layered places, which in themselves have a variety of levels of attachment, engagement and, if you like, reality … In a world of migration and mass mediation, everybody is living in a world of image flows, such that it’s not simply and straightforwardly possible to separate their everyday life from this other set of spaces that they engage with through the media, either as receivers, or as workers in call centers, or on interactive websites.  The work of the imagination allows people to inhabit either multiple localities or a kind of single and complex sense of locality, in which many different empirical spaces coexist.  So one of these call center people is simultaneously living a little bit in the United States and also living substantially in Bombay.  But Bombay itself, because of films and so on, is not merely empirical Bombay.

In this sense you have a kind of creative, spatial form which isn’t reducible to its empirical facts.  Now those empirical facts – for example, that the trains in Bombay are incredibly crowded  – must be faced at the end of the day.  Even if you’re inhabiting many localities, this one will always be present to you.  But because I do believe in the work of the imagination, I believe your engagement with this empirical world can be somewhat different depending on what translocalities you inhabit mentally, in and through the imagination.  So the train isn’t the same for everyone, not only because there’s a better part and a less good part of the train, but simply because the train is only one element of people’s localized existence.  Again I would say, remembering the urban poor, that the relationship of their experienced spaces to their imagined spaces is always at a disadvantage.  And this must be changed.  But the poor, too, negotiate a relationship between experienced spaces and imagined spaces.  They’re not only living in sheer experience while the rest of us live in the imagination.  That’s my sense of the political economy of these spaces.”

~Arjun Appadurai, The Right to Participate in the Work of the Imagination, Trans Urbanism, V2_Publishing/NAi Publishers

curiously reversed
March 17, 2008, 4:42 am
Filed under: chronotopes | Tags: , , , ,

(Cemetery, Enric Miralles)

Here is a description, by Juhani Pallasmaa, of how one thing, in this case a building, has to do two things at the same time if it is going to be good.  Architecture, he says, needs to relate us to space and time.  Space makes sense, but we, at least most of us, rarely think that a building or place relates us to time as well.

Contemporary architectural settings are usually experienced as having their origin in singular moments of time. They evoke an experience of flattened or rejected temporality. Yet, the existential task of architecture is to relate us to time as much as to space… The mental roles of these two fundamental existential dimensions are curiously reversed. In terms of space, we yearn for specificity, whereas in our temporal experience we desire a sense of continuity. Consequently, architecture has to create a specificity of space and place, and at the same time, evoke the experience of temporal continuum.

~Pallasmaa, Juhani. The Space of Time. Oz. v.20 1998, pp54-57