Thursday, 31 March 2005

Panic Room

Generally we prefer the inside to the outside. Unframed by walls and drapes, outside space is endless, and being endless invokes the despair of the void. In in-cludes, out ex-cludes, in en-frames, out ex-poses, in renders space finite, out leaves space infinite. Is this what Pascal feared – “the eternal silence of these infinite spaces”? There is a panic centred on the lack of centre. In housing ourselves this panic is domesticated. Strange then, to encounter an empty house, in which the infinite is brought into the enclosure of the finite. This is a paradox that resists analysis. Has the house been cultivated by the outside or has outside been delimited by the inside? 

Against this possible collapse, there is a tendency to think of a shelter inside of a shelter. Most of our doors are double locked, as though to emphasize the contingent nature of dwelling. Failing that, inside the house there is always at least one space we turn to by way of retreat. Often, however, it is not enough. Things slither inwards. An element of secrecy would be involved in order to vouchsafe the implicit security (if not paranoia) of the double retreat. Housed up, blocked out – the world disbanded as a sheathed environment takes precedence.

Panic rooms: a history of such a space would prove that it is more than a fear of domestic invasion that is at stake. Rather, architecture must necessarily be hidden if it is to preserve its identity and so not be undermined by the outside. At the same time, every hidden retreat relies upon knowledge of what exists outside of the space in order for the sense of centeredness to transpire. Panic Room (the film) affirms this dynamic. Recall the passage from Bachelard in which he talks about the house in winter, peering behind the curtains at the snow, securing intimacy through establishing a distance between inside and outside. It is a dangerous warmth, precarious in its foundation, vulnerable in what it reveals.

In Panic Room there is an analogous warmth; only where there exist drapes to peer into the nothingness from the wooden house, in the panic room there are a dozen surveillance cameras monitoring a house invasion take place. The disjunction of the observable intrusion vis-à-vis the enclosure of the panic room heightens the inner claustrophobia of the shell in such a way that its fullness is recognized. Violence itself becomes a means of reassurance, a fortuitous opportunity through which the strength of re-enforced steel is tested.

At the same time, when a centre is displaced before transported elsewhere then we have a tendency to take with us images of the old centre even though the new centre is incapable of accommodating these images. Thus, a panic room is imbued with the normative shelter from where it now hides. In the film, there is a sense of aggressive pleasure depicted by Jodie Foster as she stands before the monitors exhibiting the violation of her house. Pleasure, intrusion and the fact of being hidden hence form an intimate trinity where each aspect relies upon the other for their collected identities.

But in the panic there is more to the outside than its lack of definition. Isn’t this what Dickens’s Miss Havisham conceals herself from: a past which will disprove her present? This is the age of trembling under drapes, of no longer trusting in window frames, door knobs, and steel locks. Often the inside can become a way of preserving what was lost on the outside by simultaneously inverting the secluded aspect of the interior. Thus, black curtains pertain to an event that has now vanished, and in turn a home can be constructed in the negative image of what originally defined it.

Monday, 7 March 2005

The Dead Zone

In the action of returning a death occurs. There is a passing in the years that enforces a mythological character on things. We tend to think of this myth in terms of qualities enduring despite there being a gaze to absorb the erosion. We are comfortable to leave things standing. Adhering to an implicit faith which ascribes substance to materiality, the spirit of things grows undiminished. It’s too soon to say what exists in lieu of this spirit other than an absolute annihilation of essence.

The city has died. It has fallen beneath itself and is now reduced to a half-life. The return to mythological space confirms the brevity in which that myth exists. Yet, if the idea of the myth is short-lived, and if its foundation is illusory, then its extinction lingers for centuries afterwards. In the decline of space and time, there arises a morbid craving which will – and it is always does – manifest itself in two ways.

Adherence to origins entails a proximity to entrances. In that way the essence – the sign of things to come – affirms the quality of that thing. At the gateway of spatial memory we are not lost. Instead, we embark on a waiting that speaks of a future that has not yet begun. With this a projection of sound, cast from memory, is able to substitute for what in turn has curdled. Cities are labyrinths in terms of their alcoves. Images can be displaced, sounds disrupted. In time we lose our grip on what was once central and so revert to the entrance so that we are assured of at least something of an original essence. For the adherer of things, it is preferable to grasp something that is minimal in its spatial occupancy (but actual) rather than hold out into the nothingness which endangers that origin to absolute collapse despite being vast in its scale.

For the adherer, there is a lack of purpose to their disintegration other than brute determinism. Logic precedes context. Demythologized space finds its myth in its beginning. Until the time that dissolution encroaches upon that entrance, then this logic is a consistent one. At the point of imminent absence, however, the centre dissipates and with it so to does the adherer. Realizing that things are in the process of liquidation, dispersion beckons.

Space and time have fallen from grace. There is a return which has marked the absolute absence of spirit. The imbued becoming-towards a distant future has been subjugated by a stark facticity which speaks from the shallow depths of presence. Here: in what is meant by this term? I am standing inside of the zone which no longer corresponds and there is no other way to unearth its entrance but through a process of brutal mirroring. Hallways and aisles which continue to breathe through the scorn of time. We forget this formula: – things live. So, in lieu of the entrance there emerges a suffocation framed by origins that are now adrift. Nightmares consist in the impasse that no longer bears witness. Not attached to the folklore of architectural testimony, we die in the hours which have ceased to cultivate being.

This is the fall which invokes death. Who lives in this elsewhere? Later I will recount how I attempted to ensnare this temporal dislocation by way of an empirical pathology. For now it is enough to experience the fall in terms of an inertia that can only be understood when encountering a radical disjunction between the living and the dead. We come to know our memories when they no longer align with their spatial origin. In that peculiar and obsessive revision, which is always urged by some subterranean resistance to the morbid – I will not cease to navigate this relation – there smoulders a truth dislodged from its habitual context and instead re-phrased in a situation estranged, and thereafter wedged in the pockets of enclosed contemplation.

Wednesday, 2 March 2005


Strange, the view from here. Things have a way of seeping through the clouds. Hours that existed on earth the night before; their re-emergence manifests itself in the hangover which lingers despite a vast spatial divorce between the space in which that hangover was born and the air in which it now travels. The hangover is in the cabin, it testifies to an event that has now passed. It encroaches on my diet-coke and peanuts, disuniting lost moments in mid-air.

35,000 feet above the sea: we take things with us. Space itself cannot disprove our past experiences. There is no alcove deep enough or a cabin high enough to exile experience from its origin. Eventually it conspires to catch up. The side effects of memories, the disrupted transmission of events: I am grateful for sick-bags. Vertigo is the least of my worries. Invariably the body becomes a kind of architectural cell in the same way that a monument points to something that no longer exists. At least with the monument, aesthetic appreciation justifies a lack of content. The body, in its lived experience, becomes imbued with the visitation of a strange presence. It is exposed to this passing by just as the shape of space is kneaded and so crafted according to how idly or actively we use it.

True: the hangover passes and so leaves an empty space where the solidity of the night before also grows diminished. Melancholy, encumbering and awkward, grows in those days where the hangover finally recedes. It is, of course, no exaggeration to speak of a nostalgia for the hangover. It attaches us to events in a way that is binding through physical discomfort. For me, this diminishing centre won’t transpire. I am flying against time, into the past. A lapsed night born into a zone devoid of temporal definition. This night has been protracted and the hangover will dissolve so gradually that its absence will in turn go unnoticed.