Waiting at the entrance. Not before (standing outside). But in the lobby, in the space of entry; the waiting room, the entry hall. Not quite, however, in-between (the false figure of equidistance is too abstract for the actual experience of social space). Inside then: but not yet enveloped, integrated - digested. Not yet fully equipped in regulation uniform and psychic mask, not yet appropriated by the institution we are about to enter, not yet a full part of the masquerade. Awaiting the mental props and accessories of being a part. Waiting. In transit. A part apart.
Apart from the exterior, which we have left behind, we see only the lobby around us. Apart from the glass screens of the windows that frame the street outside and may as well be visual displays depicting another form of life. Apart we find ourselves called upon to enter. We make our entrance.
What is it that we sign up to as we cross this threshold? (Ringing the bell. Knocking on the door.) Exactly what is an entrance?
Entrance: the site whereby we pass through the membrane that obtains between interior and exterior (a reversible process - usually - unlike the event itself, which can not now be undone; its memory trace stubbornly remaining behind with other, more substantial, evidence). In all directions, as one passes beneath the portal, on either side, above us and below, a barrier extends outwards, dividing, separating, defining. Entrances; a hole in the skin of social space. (Yet there exist entrances that are not even to be used for entrance...).
Entrances, like so many cultural artefacts, are to be classified according to the trope of quantity (meiosis, hyperbole); the quality follows on the variation of quantity.
Quantity & Quality.
Entrances; they come in three sizes; big, medium, small. Three differential qualities; the arch; the portal; the door (the latter is also the point of entry into the realm of the personal, the private, the domestic, mapping on to this tripartite division the general opposition of public and private). Furthermore each size shows two aspects: the symbolic and the functional; aspects which broadly interact in actuality, but may also be seen as separable ideal types. Types which are best found embodied in the opposition of arch (pure symbol) and door (pure function). Although, in reality, all doors may be symbolic, and all arches, even those blocked-off from entry, or indeed blocked-up, suggest passage. Even if only as the ominous symbolism of a passage denied. Finally all doors contain the symbol of threshold whilst the function of an arch is its symbol-bearing property.
Big (the arch).
The ceremonial entrance-way and memorial gate. The
Arch (it should always begin with a capital, certainly
the capital is where it is usually found). Site of the
historic pageant, home of the spectacle as sequence, portal of procession,
performance of the gateway as frame. Strange entry
from which are conjured forth: the masque of memorials; the solemn march of
two-legged beasts, so many flightless birds (inviting yet-further flights of
the imagination). The magic of the Arch in history: its manifestations
themselves a grand procession: from Triumphal Arches, Classical Roman to
Constantine and Christianity, to their Historicist rebirth, as (if we take
An entrance made of pure symbol; of near spectral specularity: the Arch. Like a bridge of pearls made immaterial in its lambent materiality. Pure entry. With no room to follow; access only to an imaginary place. Entry only to an ideal version of its current place (its inner glow returned to it as if returned to the point before the Fall). Its immediate context, or present, now existing in opposition to that other place, to that ideal; its light framed by the everyday forms that contain it.
Medium (the portal). Zone of shops and offices (and of multiple occupancy). Type best-suited to the institution and its entry; making dread and optimism vie equally in the beating heart of the supplicant. Reinforcing in the soul of the entering employee the constricting, yet comfortable, role of cog; a precisely positioned polyp in a vertical, hierarchical coral collective, one plug in a gigantic porous structure, a monstrous sponge made-up from a myriad slots, spaces to be filled by roles rather than people. Or the role may be that of the supplicant, the seeker of services. Or of their opposite number (in a dyad defining relations between bureaucracies and those that approach them) the role of the incumbent, provider of access to these same services (the lowest of which suddenly assumes the powers of the organisation that stand behind him or herself). These roles in turn may be replaced by the dyad shopper and server - in effect a swinging door as the positions of producer and consumer alternate (and here we must classify that all that is not consumption is -contributes to- production). Here, at the point of contact, the point of exchange, role inversion is the norm. Every day is replete with little revolutions in power relations; a master/slave swap - or spin if the roles change too rapidly (crystallised out, as in most human relations, by who it is that desires more than the other, who is found... wanting; whence the ideology of 'cool', offering a kind of Buddhism as a strategy for winning the war of personal interaction). The result is a 'carnival' in every high street. On the stage of which we all must make an entrance, wearing, to be sure, the apposite disguise. The bell rings. (Here we go...) Making an entrance. The magic of entrance transforms a wage slave into a valued customer; at a stroke the clerk, the waitress, the toilet-cleaner are liberated from the lowly status attached to their toil, and have become welcome consumers with (and only providing they have) money to spend. As empowered consumers all can make an entrance. And have the power, the right, the duty even, to make a complaint; bane and hazard of those employed in the service sector, victims of the nostrum, 'the customer is always right'. (But in this world of entrances, this world of permanent revolution, they too will get their turn).
Banks; strong yet inviting; secure on both counts. Once their entrances were made from heavy chunks of imported History, their security suggested by a solid arch of Romanesque stone, their guarantee stood by the timeless Classical portico. Now switch to everyday open-plan entrances... preview by the transparency of windows and the openness of interior space... inviting, friendly. Security? As required, behind the scenes. Or guarded by technology. Just as virtual systems replace transactions in gold. Spending cash becomes a leisure activity (the big money moves invisibly).
Bureaucracy; a virtuoso line in intimidating entrances. Entrances whose short history is inseparable from that of the renaissance palazzo through to historicist nineteenth and twentieth century state architecture and its apotheosis into the twentieth century modernist high-rise cube (all plain and prim in its properly functionalist garb of concrete and glass; yet still somehow still showing an irrational and archaic zoned differentiation that would be familiar to any citizen of the city states of Northern Italy at the time of the Renaissance). If the fortress - castellated and rusticated - entrance has given way to something rather more transparent, then this apparent transformation still is found running back to the same, the entrance still demands a level (or two) to itself, the lines, if not the substance, remain firmly in keeping with the history of the palazzo form (architectural modernism, in this as in many other aspects, shows itself to be fundamentally conservative in form). Not only is this the path of evolution at the heart of the genealogy of modern architectural form, it is also the history of our perception of it (a perception shared by architects regardless of their stylistic allegiances). That is: the history of its fragmentation into the three key parts or levels of the 'actually experienced' urban world. The entrance being one defining feature of the bottom-most segment.
Buildings for the public. Their accessibility, their function, the service they offer as part of their deal, their social contract, their ideal. Buildings for the public: the ideal of their public role to be shown in their architectural representation as in today's modern parliaments and other homes of democratic, representative, government. Again we see the transition from a secure landmark to a open landmark (this despite the perennial fears over terrorism). Strasburg's European parliament and the new Scottish parliament exemplify such structures and the adherence of their architectural rhetoric to such ideals. How is this ideal, this value, this ideology reflected in their entrances? Imposing but open; defensible but inviting. Is this the site of the ideal reflected or is its pursuance in stone just ideology, and how to tell these transparent twins apart? An ideology always holds out the hope radiating from an ideal; it is its crown and its glory - its lure. An ideal is a wish, a dream, a hope; and is not to be confused with reality (that is whatever ideology it is that you choose to define reality). Questions: are paranoia and fundamentalism the only path left to rigorous ideology? Are ideals just the skimpiest cover for a reality governed by lies, power, and economics? Do not the horrors of the twentieth century teach us moreover that the misuse of the ideal is always possible and that this fact does not end our embrocation by the life of ideals? The stones are silent; the glass reflects back ourselves.
Small (the door). This category ranges from the little office, or personal work space, to domestic thresholds and to ones own room ('a room of ones own' perhaps doubling, in actuality, as study, green house, garden shed or kitchen). The domestic or private entrance would be the final place, final stage, of the evaporation of the work-place role and its replacement by the family role (whether we work at home or take our work home is irrelevant, it is the institution that enforces the role). This is the sacred site of safety, place of release from public role-play and the agon of the public sphere. However it may also be a prison, both in terms of the enforced roles that must be played out there, and in physical terms, through an enforced solitude (and furthermore unsafe as regards vulnerability to physical and sexual abuse). The door of our home (our supposedly private space) is the point of entry to, and the symbolic suggestion of, a place which may be simultaneously base, bolt-hole and battleground.
Genealogies & Performatives.
Entrances. To cities, old cities, through city gates, through breached walls. Once the reality of the vision of a community enclosed, material expression of the invisible, the circular networks of exchange and communication that make up a community made visible (or a vision limited by its protecting matters, today however these are more likely to be the roads that encircle class-differentiated quarters, than the walls that these same roads will have been pushed through, or at whose exigency such walls will have been long demolished). Still a potent symbol: the Gateway. Mode of access to communities, to closed communities, to the 'closed' community of identity. To imagined identity. Finally to the imagined identity of the community of the Saved. The imagined identity of those who believe they posses the privileged link to Being. (The Holy Grail of Communion). Entrances to places are more than just entrances, more even than material supports for our imagined selves and their inseparable context, our imagined communities, our communities of recognition (always an uneven mix of the real and imaginary). They provide material support also for the impossible transcendence that underpins every profound sense of community. For every sense of community its ideal state. The City on the Hill, the City of Love; the profoundest feat of the human imagination. All entrances are but entrances to the imagination.
Making an entrance. Entering, a change of role, a change of self. Identity, no matter to what degree an imitation, the wearing of a mask, is always performative; we always become what we act (an ill-fitting role, like a bad actor, is always out of place).
If entry though a gateway is functional insofar as it permits physical entry into another, enclosed or otherwise segregated, space; then entry through a symbolic gateway is at the same time an entrance into the open arms of community. The act of entry is at once a symbolic communion, an entrance to identity. Entrance in this way confers membership, membership even of an elite, and so acts as an exclusive marker (or so the members of all such groups would have us believe - even those abjected by themselves and by others). Entry is first of all always the possibility of entrance, from its initial bald inference, to the full performance of the permission to enter. Entry now functions as recognition. This is torch-lit passage to the hall of ones peers, the relief conferred by having our existence recognised by others, a reminder of positive selfhood, a refreshed identity, a passage edged with the force of ritual.
Perception & Performatives.
Out/In. The outside: the entrance as viewed from the outside. As viewed by its perceivers; the perception, by others, of the object and its presence as event. Here the entrance and the act of entry is a sign to others, a message about the object, the place and the persons connected with it. Suddenly, almost without warning we find ourselves in quite another position. Quite another place. The inside: going inside. From the inside, the entrance is now viewed as by the participant, by the involvement in the process of entry (of 'making an entry'). Self-viewed now (that is imagined) self-regarded - if conscious of self at all - object of ones own self-regard. Not only self-imaged; but experienced as worthy of regard (unless unhappy by the conditions imposed by the act of entry). The potential accompaniment of the view-of-self-by-others is part of the transformation that is the act of entry; the seemingly subtle change of mood that signals the taking-on of a new role, persona or self associated with the building, or just the entrance, in question (often a message to oneself about oneself, the self-activated reminder of the role to be adopted). Remember when different entrances where for different kinds of people?
Out/In: the binary differentiation of the entrance according to which a choice of one of two fundamental positions must be made (a choice from two broad meaning options already pre-prepared). On the one hand the entrance as experience, as marker of role to be adopted; a role assumed on entry. The entry event as a conferer of ritual identity: identity ritual as part of the event of entry. This is the aspect of entrance as repetition, as performance (and so as ritual). As opposed to the experience of the entrance as outward sign, something perceived by others, outside. From the outside, witnessing the act of entry; an act of reading... not performing.
(In between. A two-faced duality of roles. An overlapping of selves, the miracle of consecutivity (of succession) experienced courtesy of memory, of the insistence of the past. The new role a function of the ritualised present, the insertion of the role to be used, to be become, for a chronologically definable period ahead, the future, our face to the future... With the ebbing of the previous role not however constituting a case of bad faith, nor invisibility, nor forgetting (although perhaps sometimes an 'active forgetting'). Rather a demotion in level of presence and intensity from the global frame of the present to the contained, semi-presence of a flickering image, that of a memory, now the past, become past, losing its charge, its all-enveloping seemingly eternal presence, now become a part of the store of memory (compressed, de-energised, switched of, on hold, faintly glowing, quietly awaiting its next decompression into full-presence). Whilst the future marches in, itself first faint, an image too (at times, at this time, confusable with the past); to be viewed like a coat, clothing viewed on the rack, glasses chosen from the array before one: now worn, tangible and all-encompassing, become the view-finder through which all is seen. All: including the self.)
Entrances, designed to entrance us.
Entranced, we enter.
The Ontological Performative.
Making an entrance. As we enter, we make the portal. An act simultaneous as perception. Partaking of the mutual re-confirmation of subject and object, of the double identity of consciousness and perceived thing; of a life in and through signs and of the thing designated by such - its life in signs, its meaning for us. Present only in and through our use. In our entry we make entrances.
Copyright 2004 Peter Nesteruk