Talking to Myself about the Poetics of Space

Peter Sloterdijk

Peter Sloterdijk

Mr. Sloterdijk, as part of your trilogy on spheres,1 you set out to create a theory that construes space as a key anthropological category. Why this emphasis?

Peter Sloterdijk

We have to speak of space because humans are themselves an effect of the space they create. Human evolution can only be understood if we also bear in mind the mystery of insulation/island-making [Insulierungsgeheimsis] that so defines the emergence of humans: Humans are pets that have domesticated themselves in the incubators of early cultures. All the generations before us were aware that you never camp outside in nature. The camps of man’s ancestors, dating back over a million years, already indicated that they were distancing themselves from their surroundings.

PS

In the third volume of your trilogy there is an extensive chapter on architecture, “Indoors: Architectures of Foam.” Why did you choose such a provocative metaphor?

PS

First of all for a philosophical reason: We are simply not capable of continuing the old cosmology of ancient Europe that rested on equating the house and home with the world. Classical metaphysics is a phantasm on an implicit motif that was highlighted in only a few places—by Hegel and Heidegger for example—namely that the world must itself be construed as having the character of a house and that people in Western culture should be grasped not only as mortals but also as house residents. Their relation to the world as a whole is that of inhabit-ants in a crowded building called cosmos. So the questions are: Why should modern thought bid goodbye to this equation of world and house? Why do we need a new image in order to designate how modern man lives in social and architectural containers? Why do I propose the concept of foams? 

The simple answer is: because since the Enlightenment we have no longer needed a universal house in order to find the world a place worthy of inhabiting. What suffices is a unité d’habitation, a stackable number of inhabitable cells. Through the motif of the inhabited cell I can uphold the spherical imperative that applies to all forms of human life but does not presuppose cosmic totalization. The stacking of cells in an apartment block, for instance, no longer generates the classical world/house entity but an architectural foam, a multi-chambered system made up of relatively stabilized personal worlds.

Bruno Latour, Peter Sloterdijk and Mohsen Mostafavi, GSD lecture, "Networks and Spheres," February 17, 2009. Photo: Justin Knight

Bruno Latour, Peter Sloterdijk and Mohsen Mostafavi, GSD lecture, “Networks and Spheres,” February 17, 2009. Photo: Justin Knight

PS

First of all for a philosophical reason: We are simply not capable of continuing the old cosmology of ancient Europe that rested on equating the house and home with the world. Classical metaphysics is a phantasm on an implicit motif that was highlighted in only a few places—by Hegel and Heidegger for example—namely that the world must itself be construed as having the character of a house and that people in Western culture should be grasped not only as mortals but also as house residents. Their relation to the world as a whole is that of inhabit-ants in a crowded building called cosmos. So the questions are: Why should modern thought bid goodbye to this equation of world and house? Why do we need a new image in order to designate how modern man lives in social and architectural containers? Why do I propose the concept of foams? 

The simple answer is: because since the Enlightenment we have no longer needed a universal house in order to find the world a place worthy of inhabiting. What suffices is a unité d’habitation, a stackable number of inhabitable cells. Through the motif of the inhabited cell I can uphold the spherical imperative that applies to all forms of human life but does not presuppose cosmic totalization. The stacking of cells in an apartment block, for instance, no longer generates the classical world/house entity but an architectural foam, a multi-chambered system made up of relatively stabilized personal worlds.

PS

Is this deterioration of the world-house or the all-embracing sphere into foam bubbles an image of entropy? 

PS

On the contrary, in modernity far more complexity is established than was possible under the classical notion of unity. We must not forget that metaphysics is the realm of strong simplifications, and thus has a consolatory effect. The structure of foam is incompatible with a monospherical mindset; the whole can no longer be portrayed as a large, round whole. Let me use an anecdote to indicate the immense change: In his memoirs, Albert Speer recollects that the designs for the giganto-manic new Reich Chancellery in Berlin originally envisaged a swastika crowning the dome, which was to be over 290 meters high. One summer’s day in 1939 Hitler then said: “The crown of the largest building in the world must be the eagle on the globe.” This remark should be taken as attesting to the brutalist restoration of imperial monocentric thinking—as if Hitler had for a moment intervened in the agony of classical metaphysics. By contrast, around 1920, in his reflections on the fundamentals of theoretical biology [Theoretische Biologie], Jakob von Uexküll had already affirmed: “It was an error to believe that the human world consti-tuted a shared stage for all living creatures. Each living creature has its own special stage that is just as real as the special stage the humans have…. This insight offers us a completely new view of the universe as something that does not consist of a single soap bubble which we have blown up so large as to go well beyond our horizons and assume infinite proportions, and is instead made up of millions of closely demarcated soap bubbles that overlap and intersect everywhere.” Le Corbusier himself used the image of the soap bubble in order to explain the essence of a good building: “The soap bubble is completely harmonious, if the breath in it is spread equally, and well regulated on the inside. The outside is the product of an inside.”2 This statement could be taken as the axiom of spherology: Vital space can only be explained in terms of the priority of the inside.

PS

In your exploration of the “architectures of foam,” you write that modernity renders the issue of residence explicit. What do you mean by that?

PS

Here I am developing an idea that Walter Benjamin addressed in his Arcades Project. He starts from the anthropological assumption that people in all epochs dedicate themselves to creating interiors, and at the same time he seeks to emancipate this motif from its apparent timelessness. He therefore asks the question: How does capitalist man in the 19th century express his need for an interior? The answer is: He uses the most cutting-edge technology in order to orchestrate the most archaic of all needs, the need to immunize exist-ence by constructing protective islands. In the case of the arcade, modern man opts for glass, wrought iron, and assembly of prefabricated parts in order to build the largest possible interior. For this reason, Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace, erected in London in 1851, is the paradigmatic building. It forms the first hyper-interior that offers a perfect expression of the spatial idea of psychedelic capitalism. It is the prototype of all later theme-park interiors and event architectures. The arcade heralds the abolition of the outside world. It abolishes outdoor markets and brings them indoors, into a closed sphere. The antagonistic spatial types of salon and market meld here to form a hybrid. This is what Benjamin found so theoretically exciting: The 19th-century citizen seeks to expand his living room into a cosmos and at the same time to impress the dogmatic form of a room on the universe. This sparks a trend that is perfected in 20th-century apartment design as well as in shopping-mall and sports-stadium design—these are the three paradigms of modern construction, that is, the construction of micro-interiors and macro-interiors.

PS

Le Corbusier once said that we had to choose between revolution and architecture. He decided in favor of architecture. In your interpretation does that mean that he voted for the explication of residential conditions?

PS

Revolution is simply the wrong word chosen to describe explication. An engineer always opts for the better technology. Everything successful is operational, while revolutionary phases achieve nothing as long as they do not contain real potential abilities. Which is why no one today asks what programs are being announced but rather what programs are being written. Writing is an archetype of ability: The invention of script marks the beginning of the operational subversion of the world as it exists. Only that is effective which popularizes getting a new handle on things. Incidentally, modern apart-ments are full of technical appliances that explicate life in the household. Current tools no longer have handles, because handles belong to an outdated stage, having given way to devises with buttons: We have arrived in the world of fingertip operations.

PS

To return to Benjamin: To what extent should we read his reference to the major interiors as an explication of capitalism?

PS

Just as Freud tried to make dreams explicit, Benjamin proposed a kind of dream interpretation of capitalism. My explicative work refers to the spatial dynamism of our being-in-the-world. I want to show how every shape of created space entails a problem of projection. Humans are animals who like to move, who change rooms, space, indeed even the element in which they live. They always live while on the “move from A to B and back again,” to quote Andy Warhol, and they are the way they are because they always take with them into each new space the memory of a different space they previously were in. In other words, you cannot create an absolutely neutral space, and you cannot invent a completely new space; you always generate differential spaces that are out-fitted in distinction from a different, former space. Homo sapiens possesses a projective dynamism that stems from the fact that our species is equipped with memories of prenatal situations. 

PS

I am right in thinking this prenatalism is the leitmotif in the first section of your Spheres project, which you have titled “Bubbles”? 

Bombardoni, Illustration of a "new compass for sensitive noises," From P. Sloterdijk, Spharen

Bombardoni, Illustration of a “new compass for sensitive noises,” From P. Sloterdijk, Spharen

PS

Spheres I is essentially dedicated to elaborating a strong concept of intimacy. To this end I develop an explicitly regressive movement in order to approach the topic of being-in, in reverse gear (as it were). I first address the phenomenon of inter-faciality. Let me explain: If people look at each other, a nontrivial space arises that cannot be construed as physical or geometric—inter-facial space. Here it does not help if I take a tape measure to determine the distance between the tip of my nose and your nose. The inter-facial relationship creates a quite unique spatial relationship. I describe the latter in terms of mother/child inter-faciality, something we can study in the animal kingdom, too. In my next step I try to inter-pret the images of the inter-cordial relationships that arise when people are attuned to each other affectively so that two hearts form a resonant space together—here, the metaphorical factor increases. And then I tiptoe up to the most intimate of relationships, that between a mother and a child: In the process, I explicate how women are architectural units—at least if seen from the perspective of the nascent life. 

Women’s bodies are apartments! Now behind this rather shocking thesis we find a fairly dramatic perspective on natural history. Among insects, reptiles, fish, and birds—that is, among the vast majority of species—the fertilized egg, the carrier of genetic infor-mation, gets laid in an outside setting that must vaguely possess the properties of an external uterus or nest. Now something quite incredible happens in the evolutionary line that leads to mammals: The body of the female members of the species is defined as an ecological niche for her progeny. This leads to a dramatic turn inwards in evolution. What we see is a dual use of the female members of a species, as it were: Henceforth they are no longer only egg-laying systems (in a metabiological sense, femininity means the successful phase of an ovulation system), but they lay the eggs within themselves and make their own body available as an ecological niche for their progeny. In this way, they become integrated mother animals. The result is a type of event that had not existed in the world before: birth. It is the proto-drama that shapes the departure from the primary total setting to arrival as an individual. Thus, birth is a biologically late type of event and has ontological consequences. The expression “to be born” emphasizes the animal side; the expression “to see the light of day” stresses the existential difference. A very explicit logic is required to explain this.

PS

Are you saying that the projection of this primary basic experience is operative in all later architectural activities?

PS

Exactly. Here the creative side to projection emerges. Projection evidently does not refer, as in psychoanalysis, just to feelings (that is, confused affects) but to the process of spatial creation per se. If we thus ask: What interiors will living beings wish to have if they bear within them the marks of being born? Then the answer must be: They will no doubt opt for interiors that enable them to project a trace of that archaic state of protection onto their later shell constructions. The construction of shells for life creates a series of uterus repetitions in outdoor milieus. Architects must understand that they stand in the middle between biology and philosophy. Biology deals with the environment, philosophy with the world.

PS

But that does not explain the great diversity of human spatial needs. Not all individuals pass on the wish for an “archaic state of protection” in this shape. When in small spaces, many people feel locked in and develop claustrophobic responses. We could divide people into the cave dwellers and the tree dwellers—for the one, it is the love of the shell that counts; for the other, the love of spaciousness. 

PS

I couldn’t have put it better myself. The spheres theory does not seek to explain everything. It is not a universal theory but an explicit form of spatial interpretation. Incidentally, you can account for all manner of different types of space from the vantage point of prenatality—wide oceanic spaces on the one side and hellishly confined spaces on the other. Spheres I addresses micro-spherological phenomena in general. I understand microspherology as the general theory of the interior. These phenomena are always interpersonal in structure, and the dyadic relationship offers me the paradigm here. I show how we should construe the human dyad and follow it back as far as prenatal proto-intersubjectivity. The discovery here is that initially it is not so much a mother/child but a child/placenta relationship. The original doubling takes place at a prepersonal level by the bond formed by the so-called psycho-acoustic umbilical cord. Here, I draw on the thought of Alfred Tomatis and other authors who have plowed this tricky field.3 They regard the fetal ear as the organ of primary bonding. That is quite irritatingly exciting for those who accept the postulates and nonsense for those who do not believe there is an issue here.

PS

What role does the act of explication play here?

PS

Explication is a matter not just of the conceptual instruments that we deploy to illuminate the phenomena of life—such as dwelling, working, and loving—it is not just a cognitive process. Rather, it has to do with real elaboration. That can only be achieved using an expressive logic or a logic of production. Needless to say, here I’m following in the tradition of Marxist and/or pragmatist anthropology. If it is true that all of natural history is necessary in order to explain the formation of the human hand (or rather the difference between a paw and a hand), then it is likewise true that we need all of cultural history to explain the difference between noises and languages. 

Not everything that implicitly exists needs to be rendered explicit. An explication covers only those parts of the context of life that can be technically reconstructed. The assumption underlying my undertaking is a metabiological proposition: What we call technology rests on the attempt to replace implicit biological and social immune systems with explicit social immune systems. You need to understand what you want to replace better than a mere user understands it. If you wish to build a prosthetic, you have to be able to define the function of the organ to be replaced more precisely than if you use the original. Here, you move from the actual functional statement to the level of the general and then back to the possible functional equivalent. And you can recognize functionalists by the fact they always ask two questions: at first, What does the system achieve in its current form? and at the end, What could be done instead?

PS

Architects are pretty good at this. When they build a private residence they ask: What features should this intimate space have? What should it be able to do? It is above all a protective space, one that provides relief. How can we represent it with technical means? Architects would probably think, “We need to build cuddly spots!”

PS

And that would probably not be far off the mark. If you ask what a cuddly spot represents, then in terms of functional analysis you arrive at the concept of the “primacy of the secluding atmosphere.” And if you have recog-nized the primacy of such a secluding atmosphere, indeed the primacy of the atmospheric per se, then archi-tects can definitely infer from this that they cannot take geometric ideologies as their starting point. Instead, they need to think in terms of the atmospheric effect of space.

PS

That calls for a strong act of translation. Intimacy is an intersubjective category that can be expressed spatially in many different ways.

PS

As I said, I construe intersubjectivity as a nonphysical spatial relationship. Creatures of the human type can, through being together, generate the effect of reciprocal accommodation. As the example of a pair of lovers clearly shows, lovers are in one or another way already together; they are, when they are together, to a certain extent in each other. Meaning that the classic question “My place or yours?” is actually superfluous. Moreover, it offers a nice example of explication: This going-some-where-together-as-already-being-together is the kinetic explication of what the being-together of lovers implies. Because the two are implicitly already together, they have a list of options of explicit localizations.

PS

Are you saying that the projection of this primary basic experience is operative in all later architectural activities?

PS

Exactly. Here the creative side to projection emerges. Projection evidently does not refer, as in psychoanalysis, just to feelings (that is, confused affects) but to the process of spatial creation per se. If we thus ask: What interiors will living beings wish to have if they bear within them the marks of being born? Then the answer must be: They will no doubt opt for interiors that enable them to project a trace of that archaic state of protection onto their later shell constructions. The construction of shells for life creates a series of uterus repetitions in outdoor milieus. Architects must understand that they stand in the middle between biology and philosophy. Biology deals with the environment, philosophy with the world.

PS

But that does not explain the great diversity of human spatial needs. Not all individuals pass on the wish for an “archaic state of protection” in this shape. When in small spaces, many people feel locked in and develop claustrophobic responses. We could divide people into the cave dwellers and the tree dwellers—for the one, it is the love of the shell that counts; for the other, the love of spaciousness. 

PS

I couldn’t have put it better myself. The spheres theory does not seek to explain everything. It is not a universal theory but an explicit form of spatial interpretation. Incidentally, you can account for all manner of different types of space from the vantage point of prenatality—wide oceanic spaces on the one side and hellishly confined spaces on the other. Spheres I addresses micro-spherological phenomena in general. I understand microspherology as the general theory of the interior. These phenomena are always interpersonal in structure, and the dyadic relationship offers me the paradigm here. I show how we should construe the human dyad and follow it back as far as prenatal proto-intersubjectivity. The discovery here is that initially it is not so much a mother/child but a child/placenta relationship. The original doubling takes place at a prepersonal level by the bond formed by the so-called psycho-acoustic umbilical cord. Here, I draw on the thought of Alfred Tomatis and other authors who have plowed this tricky field.3 They regard the fetal ear as the organ of primary bonding. That is quite irritatingly exciting for those who accept the postulates and nonsense for those who do not believe there is an issue here.

PS

What role does the act of explication play here?

PS

Explication is a matter not just of the conceptual instru-ments that we deploy to illuminate the phenomena of life—such as dwelling, working, and loving—it is not just a cognitive process. Rather, it has to do with real elaboration. That can only be achieved using an expressive logic or a logic of production. Needless to say, here I’m following in the tradition of Marxist and/or pragmatist anthropology. If it is true that all of natural history is necessary in order to explain the formation of the human hand (or rather the difference between a paw and a hand), then it is likewise true that we need all of cultural history to explain the difference between noises and languages. 

Not everything that implicitly exists needs to be rendered explicit. An explication covers only those parts of the context of life that can be technically reconstructed. The assumption underlying my undertaking is a metabiological proposition: What we call technology rests on the attempt to replace implicit biological and social immune systems with explicit social immune systems. You need to understand what you want to replace better than a mere user understands it. If you wish to build a prosthetic, you have to be able to define the function of the organ to be replaced more precisely than if you use the original. Here, you move from the actual functional statement to the level of the general and then back to the possible functional equivalent. And you can recognize functionalists by the fact they always ask two questions: at first, What does the system achieve in its current form? and at the end, What could be done instead?

PS

Architects are pretty good at this. When they build a private residence they ask: What features should this intimate space have? What should it be able to do? It is above all a protective space, one that provides relief. How can we represent it with technical means? Architects would probably think, “We need to build cuddly spots!”

PS

And that would probably not be far off the mark. If you ask what a cuddly spot represents, then in terms of functional analysis you arrive at the concept of the “primacy of the secluding atmosphere.” And if you have recog-nized the primacy of such a secluding atmosphere, indeed the primacy of the atmospheric per se, then archi-tects can definitely infer from this that they cannot take geometric ideologies as their starting point. Instead, they need to think in terms of the atmospheric effect of space.

PS

That calls for a strong act of translation. Intimacy is an intersubjective category that can be expressed spatially in many different ways.

PS

As I said, I construe intersubjectivity as a nonphysical spatial relationship. Creatures of the human type can, through being together, generate the effect of reciprocal accommodation. As the example of a pair of lovers clearly shows, lovers are in one or another way already together; they are, when they are together, to a certain extent in each other. Meaning that the classic question “My place or yours?” is actually superfluous. Moreover, it offers a nice example of explication: This going-some-where-together-as-already-being-together is the kinetic explication of what the being-together of lovers implies. Because the two are implicitly already together, they have a list of options of explicit localizations.

PS

You take the architectural example of the apartment to show what the process of explication can achieve as regards modern residential living.

PS

I interpret apartment construction as the creation of a world-island for a single person. To understand this, you need to concede that the word world not only means the big whole that God and other jovial observers have before them. From the outset, worlds take the stage in the plural and have an insular structure. Islands are miniatures of worlds that can be inhabited as world models. For this reason, one must know what consti-tutes a minimally complete island, one capable of being a world. In my study on “insulations” [Insulierungen] I distinguish between three different types of islands: the absolute island, such as a space station, which is placed as a completely implanted lifeworld into a milieu inimical to life; then there are the relative islands like greenhouses for plants (one need think only of the well-known experiment Biosphere II); and finally the anthro-pogenic islands, spaces built in such a way that humans can emerge. They form a self-insulating, dynamic system reminiscent of a human incubator. You insert apes and out come humans. And how is that possible? How can, to argue in a Darwinian and philosophical vein, apes enter into conditions of selfness [Selbstverhällnisse]? How did the anthropogenic engine get kick-started? 

I describe the human-generating island as a nine-dimensional space in which each of the dimensions must exist for the human-generating effect to be trigg-ered. If only one dimension is absent, you do not get a complete human. It all starts with the chirotope, the place of the hand. And what does the hand have to do with the genesis of the human? The answer to this question provides a first version of a theory of action, an elementary pragmatics. I then tackle the phonotope, the space of sound in which groups that hear themselves tarry. This is then followed by the uterotope, the space occupied by deeper-seated memberships of shared caves; the thermotope, the sphere of warmth or the space where you get spoiled; and the erototope, the place of jealousy and the field of desire. (I would like to note that the emergence of species-specific jealousy was extremely important for the genesis of human beings, for humans are mimetic animals that have always watched what other humans do attentively and jealously, in fact, even aping those who successfully behave as if they were not watching what the others were doing). The next dimensions are the ergotope, the field of war and effort; the thanatotope, the space of coexistence with the dead in which religious symbols prevail; and finally the nomotope, the space of the legal tensions that provide a group with a normative backbone. Buckminster Fuller’s theorem of tensegrities gives an important role to this. 

From this general theory of islands we can derive modern apartment culture, for an apartment will only function if it is convincing as a minimally complete world-island for an individual.

PS

It does not seem that, so far, this description contains the definition of residence, of the human being as a residential being.

PS

You must understand that houses are initially machines to kill time. In fact, in a primitive farmhouse people wait for a silent event out in the fields, one they cannot influ-ence but which, thank God, happens regularly—namely the moment when the planted seeds bear fruit. In other words, people initially only live in a house because they confess to the conviction that it is rewarding to await an event outside the house. In the agrarian world, the temporal structure of residing in houses must be understood in terms of the compulsion to wait. This kind of being-in-the-house was first challenged in the course of the Middle Ages, when in northwest Europe a wider-ranging urban culture had arisen again. Since then, a growing proportion of European populations have been seized by a culture of impatience or not-being-able-to-wait. During Goethe’s day, in Germany only 20% of the population was urbanized; 80% still lived under the old agrarian conditions. Heidegger, whom I would like, in this context, to regard as the last thinker of rural life, continues to construe existential time as waiting time and thus also as boredom. The event that this waiting leads to is of course something abysmally simple, namely the fact that things on the tilled field become mature. The philosopher equates this tilled field with world history without bearing in mind that the worlds of the cities can no longer assume the form of tilled fields. In the city, things do not mature, they are produced. 

I move on from this definition of residential living as being-in-the-world put on hold and of the house as a place of waiting to the house as a place of reception, the location where the important wheat gets sorted from the unimportant chaff. The original house is a habitation plant. By spending much time there you unconsciously become a habitual unit with your surroundings; you in-habit by habit. Once that has been achieved, the back-ground has been created against which the unusual can first stand out. Residential living is in this regard a dialectical practice—it makes itself useful for its opposite. 

In a third step, I develop the theory of embedding or immersion. Here the philosophical theory of being-in, as originated by Heidegger, is moved forward. I answer the question of what it means to be in something. How does that happen? I illustrate these questions by relying on statements by Paul Valéry, who interpreted the being-in in terms of the paradigm of architecture: For him, architecture means that men lock men into man-made works. Here we touch on the totalitarian side of the art of building. 

Finally, as the fourth stage of explication, I expose the essential nerve center of the phenomenon of residence, namely the house’s destiny as a spatialized immune system. Here, I focus specifically on the dimen-sion of designed atmosphere, the air we breathe in a building. Part of the adventure of Modern architecture is that it has also rendered the apparently immaterial sides of being—namely human residence in an atmospheric setting—explicit in technical and aesthetic terms. The modern art of dwelling will not be able to get back to an earlier level of designing human containers. 

Once I have taken these steps, it becomes clear that what I mean when I claim that the apartment (along with the sports stadium) is the primary architectural icon of the 20th century. A monadology is needed to think the interior today. One man—one apartment. One monad—one world cell….

PS

… and at the beginning of architectural Modernism the adage was: one unmarried person—one apartment.

PS

Right. Modern apartment construction rests on a celibate-based ontology. Just as modern biology defines life as the successful phase of an immune system, so we could, in architectural theory, define existence as the successful phase of the one-person household. Everything is drawn into the inner sphere of the apartment. World and household blend. If a one-person existence can succeed at all, it is only because there is archi-tectural support that turns the apartment itself into an entire world prosthetic. Early Modern architects were thus right to see themselves as molders of humanity. If one ignores the shot of megalomania, what remains is the fact that the architects of the one-person apartments have enabled the mass version of a historically singular type of human being—at best it was otherwise pre-figured by the Christian hermit monks.

PS

You describe the apartment as a studio of self-relationships. If we bear in mind that the history of humanity started when hordes formed, with a rudimentary division of labor in hunting and in raising children, then the emergence of this singular reproducing type of human, who can live almost autonomously, is slightly worrying. I have two questions here: You just described intimacy, dyadic intimacy, as something that constitutes space. What of that survives in the apartment culture? And are there no forms of coexistence that impact on space between the extreme poles of single and mass, the solitary and the assembly? 

PS

The first question is easier to answer: The apartment individualists have discovered a process enabling them to form pairs with themselves—incidentally, Andy Warhol, who, I have already mentioned, was one of the first to explicitly show this by claiming that he married his tape recorder. Modern autogamy involves choosing a stance of “experiencing” one’s own life, viewing it judgmentally from the outside. Individuals in the age of a culture of experience constantly seek difference from themselves. They can choose as their partner none other than themselves as the inner Other. Strong indivi-dualism always presumes that you draw inwards the second pole and the other poles that are part of a comp-lete personality structure. The basis for this psycho-structural move has long since been given in European culture, and elements of it can be traced back to classical antiquity. The archetypal example is the hermit monks who moved to the Theban desert, a few days’ journey south of Alexandria, in order to pray. As far as we know, they led inner lives that featured many relationships; the most famous among them was St. Anthony, who was visited by tormenting spirits so often that there can be no talk of him having lived alone. To put it in modern words, he shared a pad with his hallucinations.

PS

Today, he would probably reside in a psychiatric ward, dosed to the gills with tranquilizers. How does this extreme form of individuation differ from autism?

PS

The autistic person does not possess the inner spacious-ness that would enable him to be his own company. The individual’s self-supplementation structure has deep media-anthropological roots and can only be explained in terms of media history. The minimal formal condition of self-supplementation consists of the fact that a so-called individual is integrated into a dyad—with a real or imaginary Other. The question of social life of the isolated individual is harder: What happens to the small-group animal Homo sapiens if he sits in pure individualist form as the solitary inhabitant of his world apartment? Two possible answers would seem obvious: One is that the individual on his own plays at being the entire horde. This implies the task of representing twelve or twenty people within his inner world, members of at least three generations. Thus, in the absence of real Others, a complete social structure has to be simulated.

PS

Psychology regards the formation of a multiple personality as a symptom of illness, a serious disturbance in personality development.

PS

From my point of view, the multiple personality is nothing other than the individual’s answer to the disappearance of his real social surroundings, and is thus a plausible response to the chronic lack of social stimulation. The second possibility relates to the modern practice of networking. The horde returns in the guise of an iPhone address book. Close physical togetherness is no longer a necessary condition of sociality. The future belongs to tele-socialism. The past returns as tele-horde life. 

PS

You use the heading “Dialectic of Modernization” to describe how society’s empty center is filled with illusionary images of a center.

PS

In Spheres III, I attempt to explain why we should not only purge the two portentous words revolution and mass from our vocabulary, but also the concept of “society,” which suggests a coherence that could only be achieved by violent-asserting conformism. The conglomerate of humans that has, since the 18th century, called itself “society” is precisely not based on the atomic dots that we tend to call individuals. Instead, it is a patchwork of milieus that are structured as subcultures. Just think of the world of horse lovers—a huge subculture in which you could lose yourself for the duration of your life but which is as good as invisible if you are not a member of it. There are hundreds if not thousands of milieus in the current social terrain that all have the tendency from their own viewpoint to form the center of the world and yet are as good as nonexistent for the others. I term them “inter-ignorant systems.” And, among other things, they exist by virtue of a blindness rule. They may not know of one another, since otherwise their members would be robbed of the enjoyment of being specialized members of a select few. In terms of their profession, there are only two or three types of humans who can afford polyvalence in dealing with milieus. The first are the architects, who (at least virtually) build containers for all; the second are the novelists, who insert persons from all walks of life into their novels; finally come the priests, who speak at the burials of all possible classes of the dead. But that is probably the entire list. Oops, I forgot the new sociologists à la Latour. 

In other words, the multiple personality on the one hand and the single networker on the other—those are the two options I see open to individualized populations. The way Homo sapiens is influenced by the dowry from the days of hoarding is no doubt insurmountable, but because the explication of that old heritage continues simultaneously in various directions, the proto-social elements of the life of Homo sapiens can be reworked. They lead to an electronic tribalism. In the dyadic motifs, by contrast, the intimate relationships are explicated to such a degree that intimacy can quite literally be played through with the technical media of self-supplementation. In the long run, human types arise that are fairly unlike what we have known to date.

PS

The heyday of the models you describe for the apartment, from early Modernism through to Kisho Kurokawa and for urbanism through to Constant, was in the 1960s. Then architecture changed direct-ion, with the city back in focus—namely, the city as something intangible, indefinable, irreducible. The concept of the capsule disappears; the city is then construed as fabric. The concept of the net marks the start of the onward march of postmodernism, which leaves the utopian individualism of the 1960s on the sidelines.

PS

You’re right to the extent that the critique of capsule architecture means a critique of urban autism. But let me point to a complementary risk. All the talk of nets and fabrics tends to neutralize existential space, and I think that is as dangerous as capsule individualism. Net thinking includes only dots and interfaces that underlie the notion of two or more intersecting lines or curves, giving you a worldview whose constitutive element is the dot. The net theorists think in radically nonspatial terms, that is, in two dimensions; they use the concept of anorexia to interpret their relationship to their environment. Their graphics reveal that the individual world agency is seen as an intersection between lines lacking volume. I, by contrast, go for the concept of the foam bubble or the world cell in order to show that even the individual element already contains intrinsic expansion. We should not revert to an ontology of the dot, but take as the minimum variable in our thinking the cell that is capable of constituting a world. A little more monadology cannot harm us: The monad is not a dot bereft of extension; it has the character of a microworld. “Cell” expresses the fact that the individual place has the shape of a world. The metaphor of the fabric or net at best gives you minute knots, but you can’t inhabit a node. By contrast, the foam metaphor emphasizes the microcosmic, intrinsic spatiality of each individual cell. 

PS

However, the metaphor implies a question: Where does it lead to if asked in the context of architecture? Architects tend to take images literally.

PS

That happened ages ago. Frei Otto is one of the Modern architects who tried to derive nature-like or organo-morphic spatial structures from soap bubbles. The foam metaphor supports an intellectual virtue: It prevents us from reverting to the oversimplifying Platonic geo-metries that were transported by the traditional history of architecture. There are no rectangular shapes in foam, and that is interesting news. And there are no longer any primitive spherical structures, at least if foams pass beyond their wet or autistic stage. Within them, recip-rocal forces of deformation are always at work that ensure that we get structures that are not smooth and in which more complex geometric rules prevail.

PS

What do you have against right angles?

PS

The idea underlying this theory of diverse spaces can only be grasped if we also consider the reflection on alternative load-bearing structures underpinning the spherology. We live in an age in which classical load-bearing structures based on pressure give way to structures based on tensile forces, that is, integral units of tension. I am of course thinking primarily of Fuller’s well-known tensegrities and of pneumatic edifices and 20th-century air structures. The new logic of structures functions throughout beyond all walls and pillars. Tensegrities form the technical transition from the metaphor of foam to modern buildings. Foam is a kind of natural tensegrity, especially when it ceases to take the form of “individualistic” foam, in which, in a liquid solution, individual bubbles float pass each other hardly touching. If a foam grows old and dry, a complex internal architecture arises. Many bubbles burst; the residual air from the burst bubble then enters the adjacent bubbles, and the foam dries up from within. Beautiful, morpho-logically discerning structures arise, polyhedron foams. They are completely defined by the motif of co-isolation, which is to say the foam cell shares with its neighbor the fact that it is separate from it–my walls are your walls. What joins us is that we have turned our backs on each other. The concept of co-isolation is fundamental for the universe of foamy shapes. The adjacency of world projects or living spaces within a co-isolated structure has a quality different from the vicinity of spaces within traditional segmented cultures. There, everything social is partialized—the world is a conglomerate of deserted yards. The image of the sack of potatoes that Marx uses in his 18th Brumaire to describe the situation of the allotment farmers in France is a prime description of the state of wet foam. Each cell floats past the other cells, blind to its shared environment, not touching, for all their similarity. 

PS

How much of the psychosocial constitution of space remains in the metaphor of foam, and what remains of the constructivist side to constituting space?

PS

Foam, in my opinion, is a very useful expression for what architects call density—itself a negentropic factor. Density can be expressed in psychosocial terms by a coefficient of mutual irritation. People generate atmo-sphere by mutually exerting pressure on one another, crowding one another. We must never forget that what we term “society” implies the phenomenon of un-welcome neighbors. Thus, density is also an expression for our excessively communicative state, and incidentally, the dominant ideology of communication is repeatedly prompting us to expand it further. Anyone taking density seriously will, by contrast, end up praising walls. This remark is no longer compatible with classic Modernism, which established the ideal of the trans-parent dwelling, the ideal that inside relationships should be reflected on the outside and vice versa. Today, we are again foregrounding the way a building can isolate, although this should not be confused with its massiveness. Seen as an independent phenomenon, isolation is one form of explication of the conditions of living with neighbors. Someone should write a book in praise of isolation, describing a dimension of human coexistence that recognizes that people also have an infinite need for noncommunication. Modernity’s dictatorial traits all stem from an excessively communicative anthropology: For all too long, the dogmatic notion of an excessively communicative image of man was naively adopted. By means of the image of foam you can show that the small forms protect us against fusion with the mass and the corresponding hypersociologies. In this sense, foam theory is a polycosmology.

PS

So each soap bubble is a cosmos unto itself?

PS

No, that would again be an overly autistic construction. In truth, we have to do here with a discrete theory of coexistence. All being-in-the-world possesses the traits of coexistence. The question of being so hotly debated by philosophers can be asked here in terms of the coexistence of people and things in connective spaces. That implies a quadruple relationship: Being means someone (1) being together with someone else (2) and with something else (3) in something (4). This formula describes the minimum complexity you need to construct in order to arrive at an appropriate concept of world. Architects are involved in this consideration, since for them being-in-the-world means dwelling in a building. A house is a three-dimensional answer to the question of how someone can be together with someone and something in something. In their own way, architects interpret this most enigmatic of all spatial pre-positions, namely the “in.”

PS

Why do you think the preposition “in” is enigmatic?

PS

Because it highlights both being-contained-in and being-outside. People are ecstatic beings. They are, to use Heidegger’s terms, forever held outside in the open; they can never definitely be included in some container—other than graves, that is. In the ontological sense, they are “outside” in the world, but they can only be outside to the degree that they are stabilized from within from something that gives them firm support. This aspect needs to be emphasized today in contrast to the current romanticism of openness. It is spatial immune systems that enable us to give being-outside a tolerable form. Buildings are thus systems to compensate for ecstasy. Here, the architect should be located, typologically speaking, in the same ranks as the priest and the therapist—as an accomplice in repelling intolerable ecstasy. Incidentally, in this context Heidegger focuses less on architecture and more on language, and it is indeed language in its habitual form that is a perfect agenda to compensate for an undesired ecstasy. Since most people always say the same things all their lives—and their language games are, as a rule, completely repetitive—we live in a world of symbolic redundancy that functions just as well as a house with very thick walls. “Language is the house of being,” postulated Heidegger, and we are gradually under-standing what he meant when he came up with the phrase. Language is a staunch fortress in which we can ward off the open. Nonetheless, we occasionally let visitors in. In human relationships, speaking and building usually create sufficient security that you can now and then permit ecstasy. For this reason, from my viewpoint the architect is someone who philosophizes in and through material. Someone who builds a dwelling or erects a building for an institution makes a statement on the relationship between the ecstatic and the enstatic, or, if you will, between the world as apart-ment and the world as agora.

Harvard Design Magazine Issue No. 1
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Issue No. 1