THE SYMBOLIC THRESHOLD
"Thus the history of perspective may be understood with equal justice as a triumph of the distancing and objectifying sense of the real, and as a triumph of the distance-denying human struggle for control; it is as much a consolidation and systematisation of the external world as an extension of the domain of the self".7
This chapter investigates the threshold with chair as the basis for an examination of the disparate relationships held within this space. On the one hand the threshold displays a contextual relationship that the occupants have with their space. On the other hand the external seer is given the chance to explore the threshold with their gaze.
The thresholds' spatiality, from the home to the street will initially be explored. This will be achieved by examining the relationship between Lefebvre's fetishised abstract space and Bachelard's felicitous space.
The chair as a significant symbol will also be explored, to explain its power as a signifier in the threshold space. Examining this most theatrical space, with the chair as a contextualising symbol will allow the chair to be seen not only as a sign but to conceive of the threshold space as a signifier.
FETISHISED AND FELICITOUS SPACE
The threshold is positioned where the domestic character of the inside of the home is confronted by the social. The space of the threshold being visible to the public loses a sense of security for the occupant and is transformed into a kind of 'absolute'. The occupants in face of this absolute turn themselves and their lived experience into abstractions within it.
Lefebvre states 'Fetishised abstract space thus gives rise to two practical abstractions: users who cannot recognise themselves within it and a thought which cannot conceive of adopting a critical stance towards it'.8 The space of the threshold might be seen in relation to the passage of Lefebvre's where the chair exists as an unrecognisable allegory and as a reflection of the uncritical human mind. When the chair is placed in the threshold space it no longer acts just as a chair but more as a significant symbol for recognition. It becomes an icon of an ongoing conscious and unconscious need for the human to define his or her individual space. The fetishised chair with its signifying potential needs to be conceived of in its own spatial existence as well as in the abstract fetishised space of the threshold.
In the ongoing Lefebvreian theoretical interrogation of the context of abstract fetishised space, the chair as a signifier continually acts out the role of the seer and the seen as one entity. The chair's role is made more apparent when the threshold is missing the chair. The empty space floats like a void in a no-mans land, creating an area of psychological fears to be avoided. The abstract fetishised space is thrown into the dichotomy between the unrecognisable and an inability to conceive the recognisable. The chair supports the abstract fetishisation of space by reinforcing the space as being identifiable. This recognition denies the occupant the ability to conceive of the threshold's own spatiality. A Lefebvreian threshold space would be one which was not defined by social morphology or a lived experience. The threshold would be viewed as part of a larger set of interconnected social spaces; i.e. the social space of the street, the suburb, the city. The complexity of this concept is what leads to a fetishised abstraction of space and therefore the threshold space.
Lefebvre defines what he sees as the theoretical error in dealing with the perception of space which engages the seer's role simply as a mediatory process.
"The theoretical error is to be content to see a space without conceiving of it, without concentrating discrete perceptions by means of a mental act, without assembling details into a whole 'reality', without apprehending contents in terms of their interrelationships with the containing forms. The rectification of this error would very likely lead to the dissolution of not a few major ideological illusions. This has been the thrust of the preceding remarks , in which I have sought to show that a space that is apparently 'neutral', 'objective' fixed, transparent innocent or indifferent implies more than the convenient establishment of an inoperative system of knowledge, more than an error that can be avoided by evoking the 'environment', ecology, nature and anti-nature, culture, and so forth. Rather it is a whole set of errors, a complex of illusions, which can even cause us to forget completely that there is a total subject which acts continually to maintain and reproduce its own conditions of existence, namely the state (along with its foundation in specific social classes and fractions of classes). We also forget that there is a total object, namely absolute political space - that strategic space which seeks to impose itself as reality despite the fact that it is an abstraction, albeit one endowed with enormous powers because it is the locus and medium of Power".9
This passage defines Lefebvre's position in conceiving of space as a state which reproduces its own conditions. This position contrasts with Bachelard whom Lefebvre saw as linking representational spaces that were already contained and defined, suggesting that the spaces he travelled through were like dreams. These dreams which could not be represented by a scientific understanding of space defined more an intimate and absolute space.
Gaston Bachelard describes dream-like space so:
"They seek to determine the human value of the sorts of space that may be grasped, that may be defended against adverse forces, the space we love. For diverse reasons, and with the differences entailed by poetic shadings, this is eulogised space. Attached to its protective value, which can be a positive one, are also imagined values, which soon become dominant. Space that has been seized upon by the imagination cannot remain indifferent space subject to the measures and estimates of the surveyor. It has been lived in, not in its positivity, but with all the partiality of the imagination. Particularly, it nearly always exercises an attraction. For it concentrates being within the limits that protect".10
For Bachelard the power of the space was when the space was an imaginary one which puts the emphasis directly on its interpreters. Bachelard, unable to act on the scientific prudence of examining space, sought a phenomenological understanding by utilising subjective interpretation. The felicitous space of Bachelard and the fetishised abstract space of Lefebvre are in part one and the same. Each construct needs to exist in their own states for some ongoing dialectic to take place. These spaces are not to be defined by the lived experience but by living. The lived experience is one that is recorded and then the experience is built on. This being opposed to living which is the awareness of the present.
Lefebvre's and Bachelard's discursive positions can be explored by looking at the threshold space through its relationship to perspective.
Victor Burgin states:
"Some two thousand years after Euclid, Brunelleschi conceives of this same cone (cone of vision) as intersected by a plane surface the picture plane. By means of this model, something of the pre-modern world view passes into the Copernican universe a universe which is no longer geocentric, but which is nevertheless homocentric and egocentric. A basic principle of Euclidean geometry is that space extends infinitely in three dimensions. The effect of monocular perspective, however, is to maintain the idea that this space does nevertheless have a centre - the observer. By degrees the sovereign gaze is transferred from god to Man".11
Burgin's view shows how the gaze was transferred from God to man. This position is given to the seer in their relation to the one point perspectival view of the threshold from the street. Hubert Damisch writing on the origins of perspective quotes Lukács as stating that 'Time sheds its qualitative, variable, flowing nature. It freezes into an exactly delineated, quantifiable continuum filled with quantifiable things . . . in short it becomes space'.12 This concept of time-space fits well into the space of the threshold as an analogy for a stage which appears to be a frozen space, between the temporal based home and street. The relationship between the objects in this Euclidean threshold space are of a quantifiable continuum with the chair as a quantifiable thing.
Space became quantifiable during the pre-Renaissance and Renaissance period by the development of perspective. As Erwin Panofsky points out when dealing with the effects of perspective:
"In a sense, perspective transforms psychophysiological space into mathematical space. It negates the differences between front and back, between right and left, between bodies and intervening space ('empty' space), so that the sum of all the parts of space and all its contents are absorbed into a single 'quantum continuum'".13
Perspective distances the viewer, by placing the viewer as an anonymous centre of importance, owning what he sees in a bourgeois sense.14 The process of viewing the threshold space in perspective is often restricted by allowing the viewer to only partially see the scene, creating a difficulty for the conception of the whole space. The position of the God-like seer is then denied a total picture of the threshold only to be given a single point of view. This single point of view of the threshold space compares with an empty stage. The emptiness of the threshold space without the chair is one that conjures up feelings of sadness, fear, barrenness, isolation; an inhospitable space where no one can cross without some form of trepidation. What the chair brings to the threshold stage is a humanity that is needed in contemporary society, where so much of our daily lives are mechanised and compartmentalised.
THRESHOLD AND CHAIR
The chair in the threshold is similar to coming across footprints in the desert with the recognition that you are not alone. Threshold blandness seems to be confronted by the continual vigilance of the chair and its reaffirmation of a human presence.
The materiality of the chair, its substance, its conception, is placed as a material object visible in the threshold space. The 'woodness', 'metalness', 'plasticness' and 'fibreglassness' of the chair defines human control over the raw materials of the earth. The chair reflects the human ability to take the use value of nature and process it into an object with exchange value. The chair's development extends when the material chair is empowered with meanings which then become social and political. The political concerns are suggested not only give the chair power but also the surrounding space, creating an intriguing potentiality of ideas, far more wonderful than the chairs ever were. Once this potentiality is conceived then it shows the ability to define a theoretical context for the spatiality of the chair in a threshold. Seeing the threshold as an abstract fetishised space reflects its significance as a space, which needs to be decoded. Lefebvre states that it is possible, and indeed normal, to decipher or decode spaces, 'Beginning with space-as-matter, paradigmatic contrasts proliferated: abundance versus barrenness, congeniality versus hostility and so on'.16 The barren threshold space is still space and although it is neither an object, or a subject it is still matter and as Lefebvre has suggested, space as matter, can be investigated. For Lefebvre the absence of investigation can be linked to the possible lack of a critical language, which in itself constitutes enough reason to question: Why the lack of understanding of space? And therefore the lack of understanding of the threshold space.
The significance of Lefebvre and Bachelard in the context of this paper is in the concept of the fetish. This term was first muted in Lefebvre's abstract fetishised space. Tracy Brown states on fetish, 'Freudian fetish then can be imagined as consisting of three parts: the subject whose gaze is redirected, the screen-memory or fetish object, and, importantly, what is behind the screen-memory: the origins of the entire fetishisation project'.17 Through Brown's use of the fetish, Lefebrve and Bachelard can be seen in an interesting context. With Lefebvre we see that when space becomes unrecognisable we fetishise it. To understand the space we must interrogate the fetishisation of it. With Bachelard we find space defined through the imagination. These two disparate concepts can be united, by initially using Bachelard's form of imagining of space to become a basis from which Lefebvre's interrogation can be conceived. Abstract fetishised space is one which, without Bachelard's imagination, becomes too intimidating to confront. Having confronted the space in Bachelard's context we can then interrogate its theoretical errors. The relationship between Lefebvre and Bachelard is then shown to be further developed by the concept of 'screen-memory' which allows the critical interrogation to happen from behind a perspectival view point of the threshold space. Once we have established through Bachelard a screen-memory what is seen can then be investigated.
The threshold space with chair is an area that encapsulates both Lefebvre's and Bachelard's concepts of space. The perspectival view gives the seer the position of perceiving the threshold as though a theatrical stage or the illusion of a movie screen. Examining the stage from the stalls allows the seer to engage in a God-like form of perception, making critical judgements of the content and concepts presented.