The Aesthetics of Space (draft)

We boast that we have conquered
matter, and forget that it is matter that has enslaved

Children are taught to
value specific approaches to sensory life that are highly
regimented by our cultural rules. Indeed, psychologists have
established that we have specific social norms and languages
related to our use of time, space, touch, gesture, postures, faces,
paralanguage and fashion (Nowicki and Duke, 1992)[i]. These norms are formulated in our
aesthetics, understood to be the sensory or sensori-emotional
values, sometimes called judgments of sentiment and taste 
(Zangwill, 2008)[ii]. If
the web of social conventions contained by the aesthetics of media
is easily acknowledged, it works synchronically with the narratives
that exist within other areas of representation (Deleuze,
1968)[iii]. The notion of
aesthetics refers to a broader set of values and believes of a
given group that propagates through multiple systems of
representation (Kelly, 1998)[iv].  One area of our culture we
often do not associate with sensory aesthetics is our use of space.
Space has had a special place in our societies.  Before
societies imposed order upon their environments, there was an
invisible order, “flow”. While it may appear chaotic, this “flow”
has its own order which can only be experiences, not seen. For
Deleuze and Guattari[xi],
the earth is a perfect example of this flow as it is always in
flux: the wind and rain, and other elements continuously affect it.
Space is essential to the senses as it can promote or decrease our
ability to sense “flow”. A natural space, even if invisible to
de-sensitized humans, is what they refer to as a smooth space:

“ [Smooth space] is explored without
calculation, without being quantified, it is constituted as a body
of “rhyzomatiques” which are explored in the moment of
travelling.  (…) Smooth space must be embarked upon a tactile
encounter with sound and color(…) The nomadism which belongs to a
traversal of smooth space amounts to an activity of following the
flow of matter, tracing and crossing smooth space. The space of
nomadism is tactile, haptic, sonorous
.” (West-pavlov,
2009, 182)[v]

This smooth
nomadic space is the medium of “difference”, which according to
Gilles Deleuze is core to our “being” (Deleuze, 1968, p. 39),
In Difference and Repetition[i], Gilles
Deleuze sets forth difference as being the multiplicities of
transformation that reside alongside the actual. These creative
differences are the change in all changes, the process that
continues across time, repeating itself differently through novel
transformations set out on alternative trajectories. Difference is
not about making a difference between two things, in opposition and
contradiction. Instead, Deleuze defines difference as a concept
that has freed itself from similarity and contrary, a concept of
difference that resides alongside the actual. Difference refers to
a real system of differential relations that creates actual spaces,
times, and sensations. It resides in multiple, alternative
realities that only exist in space and cannot be represented:

Representation fails to capture the
affirmed world of difference. Representation has only a single
center, a unique and receding perspective, and in the consequence a
false depth. It mediates everything, but mobilizes and moves
.” (Deleuze, 1968, p, 56)[vi].

Our body and
senses are the only conduit to  reading this “difference”
since it can only be experienced. But over time, the establishment
of representation, as the main form of perception, has made us give
priority to the senses that were central to its development. As R.
Acscott explains, while: “Aristotle identified just five
senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste. Neuroscience provides
a further six: pain, balance, proprioception, kinaesthesia, sense
of time, and sense of temperature
.”(Ascott, 2010)[xiv]
These additional senses are those essential to sense and process
inputs emanating from space and perceive the invisible flow of
“difference”. Philosophers are not the only ones to understand this
smooth space as a medium of communication. Slowly, science is not
only re-discovering a much broader array of senses, it is also
beginning to re-discover the fullness of space. Quantum
Space is richer than we think and quantum
physicists have now demonstrated that space is not empty. Dr.
Wilson and his team at the Chalmers University of Technology in
Gothenburg, Sweden, claimed to have conjured up light from nowhere
simply by squeezing down empty space (New Scientist, Nov 18, 2011,
p 18)[xv].
That would be the latest manifestation of a quantum quirk known as
the Casimir effect: the notion that a perfect vacuum, the very
definition of nothingness in the physical world, contains a latent
power that can be harnessed to move objects and make things.
Scientists know that each living being has energy fields, which
influence perception and its adaptation to the environment. 
Physicist Dr. Sean Carroll[xvi],
explains that the discovery of the Higgs boson particle takes us to
the edge of a new world because it confirms the principles of field
theory. Field theory is one of the dominant dialectics of our era.
According to Carroll, the Higgs boson is a vibration in a field.
All particles are vibrations within fields. The simplest forms are
the electric and magnetic fields. These fields extend through
space, they pull and send out vibrations through space that we
perceive as particles.  The Higgs boson particle is unique
because it is a vibration within a quantum field. The difference
between quantum states and classical states of matter is that
classically, materials exhibit different phases, which ultimately
depends on the change in temperature and/or density or some other
macroscopic property of the material, whereas quantum phases can
change in response to a change in a different type of order
parameter (such as magnetic
or pressure). When space is empty the Higgs boson
is still there. We are moving through Higgs fields that affect the
features of our particles. Since particles are vibrations then our
body exchanges vibrations with everything within the environment.
Physicists are hoping so: “ If our favorite models of dark
matter are correct, then the way that ordinary mater that makes up
you and me interacts with dark matter is by exchanging Higgs
”(Carroll, 2012)[xvii].
We can feel these energy flows as forms of communication, just like
sharks sense with electro-reception.
We, like all animals, also produce electrical and magnetic field
signatures. These sources of energy travel through the air. These
energy flux move away from the source (us), travel in space and
bounces off elements in space. It stands to reason that a human
standing in the energy wave’s path, is touched and affected by it,
just like candles are by electrical
or magnetic
energy. This field theory is echoed in psychological theory.
Scientists now understand that behavior is derived from a totality
of coexisting facts and patterns of interaction between the
individual and the total field, or environment. The concept,
developed by Kurt Lewin[vii], holds that these coexisting facts
make up a “dynamic field”, which means that the state of any part
of the field depends on every other part of it. Space is indeed
much richer than we think. Some of us are more physiologically
built to read these vibrations. Psychologists have demonstrated
that some people, highly sensitive people, sense more than others.
Recent research shows that this personality trait marks different
functionality of the lower part of the brain, the one responsible
for perceptions (UCSF, 2013). Heightened sensory processing is a
reflection of sensory giftenedness, the ability to sense the “flow”
and “difference” at the energetic level.  In other words, HSP
have the ability to sense subtle changes in space that most people
do not perceive (Aron, 2010). This puts them at a great
disadvantage in our visual culture, within which space has been
colonized and in the process emptied of its richness.
Colonization of space Space is discursive, akin
a media, it is a conduit for meta-narratives and part of
relationships of power. Architecture, like media, is constructed in
accordance to specific aesthetics that, via the forms of narratives
it implies, mirror the dominant societal imaginary of its time.
Within our modern world, space has been transformed into a system
of order that devalues heightened sensory skills, body gestures and
behaviors that are a response to free flow. Difference became
considered an aberration. This shift began with the colonization of
space and over time,  space became what Foucault calls a
system of discipline:

This enclosed,
segmented space, observed at every point, in which the individuals
are inserted in a fixed place, in which the slightest movements are
supervised, in which all events are recorded, in which an
uninterrupted work of writing links the centre to the periphery, in
which power is exercised without division, according to a
continuous hierarchical figure, in which each individual is
constantly located, examined and distributed amongst the living
beings, the sick and the dead – All this constitutes a compact
model of the disciplinary mechanism”
(Discipline and
punishment, 197, translated by West-Pavlov).

This apparatus of discipline allowed some ideas to come into views,
those of controlled representation and excluded others, those of
sensorial experiences. In the process of disciplining space, our
culture eliminated the nomadic exploration of space by transforming
it territories. As we began to create semi-formalized
domains out of space, and as we developed a system marked by
routes of roads, canals and fences, we eliminated the possibility
of the nomadic flow experience.
(West-pavlov, 2009,
This marked a deterritorialization
of the nomadic experience towards “state” approved. The state and
ruling class took control, took order away from the natural self
and earth, and replaced the many ancient cultures of natural
structures with its own beliefs and rituals.  Pluralism of
knowledge gave way to a controlled and ordered colonial and, often,
Christian hierarchies. Scholar Vandana Shiva writes:

under the colonial influence the
biological and intellectual heritage of non-western societies was
devalued. The priorities of scientific development transformed the
plurality of knowledge systems into a hierarchy of knowledge
systems. When knowledge plurality mutated into knowledge hierarchy,
the horizontal ordering of diverse but equally valid systems was
converted into vertical ordering of unequal systems, and the
epistemological foundations of western knowledge were imposed on
non-western knowledge systems with the result that the latter were
” (Shiva, 2000)[viii].

Such a
colonization and control was necessary to condition humans to
workplace discipline that depends, since the industrial revolution,
on the calculative division of “regulated time-space zones”
(Giddens, 1984)[ix]. The
sensory experience of space, which was essential to inform us about
ourselves and our environment, disappeared from our collective
consciousness. Interestingly, the definition of the word “disease”
makes this dissociation very appearant. It is defined as
a corporeal invasion of the self, a “thing” lying outside
the self that enters to corrupt it
” (Gilman, 1985,
p109)[x]. This “thing”
can be interpreted as the flow of difference. This idea that any
influence from the “outside” of us is a pathology has been very
detrimental to highly sensitive people, for whom identity is
defined through sensing this flow. As spatial perception,
quintessential to the natural self, became equivalent to an attack
on the disembodied self and eliminated from our aesthetics, their
way of being was invalidated. Key to this transformation has been
modern medicine.

Nowicki, S. & Duke, M. (1992). Helping the Child
Who Doesn’t Fit In
. Atlanta: Peachtree
Nathan, D. O.
(2008), Aesthetic Creation by
zangwill, nick. The Journal of
Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 66:
Deleuze, Gilles. (1968).
Différence et repetition. PUF:
AESTHETICS / Edited by Michael
Kelly.–New York, NY: Oxford University Press,
August 1998.–4 vol., 2208 p
West-Pavlov, Russell. (2009) Space
in Theory: Kristeva, Foucault, Deleuze
. Amsterdam, New
York: Rodopi.
Deleuze, Gilles (1994/1968).
Difference and Repetition.  Paul Patton, Trans. Columbia
University Press: Columbia.
[vii] Lewin
K. (19
Defining the “Field at a Given Time.” Psychological
50: 292-310. Republished in Resolving
Social Conflicts & Field Theory in Social
Washington, D.C.: American Psychological
Shiva, Dr.
Vadana. (2000) “Forward: Cultural Diversity and the Politics of
Knowledge.” In Indigenous Knowledges In Global Contexts. Edited
George J. Dei, Budd L. Hall, and
Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Giddens, Anthony (1984) The Constitution of Society.
Outline of the Theory of Structuration
. Cambridge:
Sander L. (1985) Difference and
Pathology: Stereotypes of Sexuality, Race, and
Madness. Cornell University Press.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s