Performance and recursivity: the desire line

December 12, 2007


We need to shift from formal accounts of the built environment to look at the question of how it is experienced. Hence subjectivity…

Lacan’s diagram of the drives traces what we might call a desire line. It alludes to the essential spatiality of desire. It might as well describe our affective relations to the city. Imagine tracing a line across your lover’s breast, and then repeating that on the city. Desire leaps the gap between the subjective world and objects. Our objects are not simply given to us, they are shaped by our signifiers, they are always symbolic objects. Look at the landscape of the body, how we differentiate it into objects. So too the city. [Otherwise a breast is a breast is a breast, a butcher’s cartography, no more no less.]

The drive is always a return journey, so says Lacan. The line circumvents the object (the ‘a’) and returns to the circle (the rim). My signifiers always circumvent what I desire, I am never in possession of it. [The lesson of Midas is that we never get what we desire or else we die; we go on desiring until we die.]

The rim is a place. It represents the site for my desire, even though my desire is always elsewhere. We make places by returning to them. I foray into the abyss in pursuit of my objects, and return safely to a place. Architecture is always involved in this dialogue between the foray out (abyss, danger), the return (safety, place). Spaces become places when we return to them. Hence the essentially recursive nature of place. It is a mistake to think that you might return without a ticket. Return engages all the mechanisms of remembering and reflecting and representing. Déjà vu (a new place that seems as if we have visited it before) and its twin sister derealisation (a place we visited before that seems as if it were new) are simply disruptions in the formation of place.

For Lacan’s diagram, cf. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis; for déjà vu cf. Freud, ‘The uncanny’; for derealisation cf. Freud, ‘A disturbance of memory on the Acropolis’.


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