Windows (In Memory of Walter Benjamin)
What do we see reflected in the windows of buildings? Ourselves only.
Or better, our reflection - in which we believe. Which we believe to be ourselves. What is it we see, then, in the windows of buildings? Not the interior of the building. Nor our interior. A reflection. Of ourselves and other buildings. Beneath its surface patina, its iridescent coating, the sheen of oil on water, the thing remains somehow beyond reach. The thing-in-itself of the building, as of ourselves, remains invisible, occluded from vision - veiled in light. Remaining present yet unperceived behind a wall of reflected light. By this route neither object nor perceiving subject offer further information about themselves. Only by considering the fact of reflection itself (and so reflecting on the limits of reflection) can we learn of the interiors of things and so of the interiors of ourselves.
(Ourselves only.) But not only ourselves. That which we ourselves have made. Reflected in that which (we ourselves...). Both architecture and the concepts we use to comprehend it are susceptible to the paradoxes of infinite regress. Both are made by ourselves (ourselves only). Caught in these force-fields of reflection the problem is rather: how is it that we can avoid recognising only ourselves?
Visions on the surface (where all is surface, where the stream of images passes, obedient to the laws of a mobile geometry).
Visions from the surface (the tattooed skin of reflection, cinema of passing truth...).
...the passing of the sky, the passing of clouds; alternating streaks of blue and white, travelling up a building like the foam of waves and the blue of the sea as the tide washes over - or just a sheet of swirling grey cloud coating the surface of the building like the sea in a storm...
Grey skies: aluminium sea.
Blue skies: the lap of waves lilting on a lapis lazuli sea. Urban dream. Blaze of gold as the sun hits the glassy surface of the sea.
By night: black sea, silver sea. Then -clad only in an aura of pale phosphorescence - the gorse glow of the ghost city rising up from beneath the waves.
sea of windows.
Alchemy of girders and glass. The
secret of the philosopher's stone as applied to architecture; turning base
metal into gold. The minted gold of the symbol; the
gold of wealth burnishing the sacred. Glass as the
catalyst in the creation of the
Double vision (degrees of reflection and the co-existence of images).
On the surface - the silver print of the gelatine-coated image. Beneath - the bronze blur of the daguerreotype. Layers of photomontage accrete in the theatre of the urban eye. The fleeting forms of the foreground glide quickly over the slow ghosts of the back-lit interior.
Pure vision into interiors. The voyeurism of the beguiled eye. The path lead by curiosity. And at the opposite pole, the impure vision of superimposed images. Of the two it is the latter that incites more curiosity as to content, narrative and meaning (or is it the single image with its ease of temporal extrapolation that more quickly holds the attention of the passer-by - a differentiation of the image or of types of viewer)? If the simple framed image is univocal in meaning, then it is the composite image, the result of superimposition, a sharing of space and screen, that offers equalisation or ambiguity (as to priority) and is thus the richer, offering all the potentials of the double image. The very undecidability of ground becomes the ground of the ethics and politics of the image. The undecidability as to semantic or symbolic priority (closure) is therefore more important even than the contest of contents. The passion of the double image; perhaps an unravelling visual rhetoric - the image and its figure combined (but which is which)? The sign has become symbol, with second meaning shown; together becoming symbol again. Or as unlike combined with unlike (the very allegory of allegory). Either way there is a demand for yet another link in the chain of second meaning. The double image: a world revealed beneath a world, appearing as fish in an aquarium, a vision in the sky, or the projection of an image onto the urban landscape (the appearance of a face, a reflection in a window). Result: in the realm of motivation, an unholy alliance is forged between the desire within and the actions (supposed) within the semi-occluded, semi-revealed interior of the building. Alternance of surface and depth. Alternance of mirror and soul, of veil and sanctuary, of screen and ritual altar. The revelation of things set aside (their ritual appearance). Alternance itself as ritual. The periodicity of ritual compressed. The ritual of alternance. Simultaneous presentation as intensified reframing; double coding in a single space; a single space set aside for special meaning; the reformulating of vision - like art. (Exactly like art.)
As the surface of the sea stills... sudden vision from beneath the waves.
White sky; white sea.
Snow on frozen crests, dark shapes move beneath the ice that covers the ocean.
Vision through the veil. Tales born of translucence. Smoke eddies in the diviner's glass. Windows in time. Ghosts move in strange orbits, occupy unlikely landscapes. Interior and exterior planes are combined. There is a confusion of past, present and future. The passage of time, the passage of shadows; there is life beneath the surface, but its nature is unclear. The gift of vision, like the words of the sibyl, are enigmatic, closed to certitude, open to guess-work, to the desire for novelty, to the will to know - to the will to invent. The image seeks the warm wrap of process as we succumb to the need to narrate, to recall, to foresee. Echoes of a past yet to be invented, of a future present. A glimpse of predestination, or has the work of mourning already begun? The spirits of time may be conjured forth from any glass. Windows in time.
Like a reflection in rippled waters, the image made pale by apparent distance may denote not only a physical change of ground, but also connote a temporal change of ground from present to past or to future. The other possible sense suggests an infinite multiplication of distance, a qualitative shift in time, placing the ghostly figure, like the watery reflection of the furtherest uplands, as somewhere out there, beyond the pale.
Walls of jet and polished ebony.
Starless night on the sea...
Vision denied. An absence of interior coincides with an absence of reflection. (Reflection as a means to iconoclastic impassivity).
Black; absent colour of the total absorption of light. The swallowing of light as a reflective medium. A darkness beyond suggestion (true darkness is soft).
Black glass-clad buildings. Architecture with attitude. Hard, shiny, reflective darkness -darkness that denies the images it should reflect- has the (figurative) effect of placing dark glasses upon a building. The blind effect of a closed interior; intention concealed. The paths of vision are held in secret; the eyes to the soul of a building are covered (access to identity is denied; or open only to a certain kind of suggestion). A building blinded in appearance; yet the blinding is ours... Reflection becomes a barrier to reflection; a screen for reflection. Denial and provocation in one. Denial of vision as the provocation of the image. Sight too abhors a vacuum.
Shadow moving behind shadow; shadows within shadows. Shadows.
Gilded vision. Golden windows. Combining the solidity of the Universal Exchange Equivalent (as was) with the mystic lustre of a captured sun. Gold marks out the total building, a means of isolating a building from its context, of making it stand alone - like some Western brand-name hotels in the countries of the East. Warsawa's twin towers; architecture as ideological residue; from the Stalinist wedding cake (ex-Palace of Culture) to the gold cigar case of a Western hotel. A phallic contest (Freud's cigar was never just a cigar). Symptom, sign and performance of the imported financial domination of the East - plainly, a show off. Gilt-edged. Gold tooth among so many (unpolished) ivories. The gold in windows. The gilt in windows.
The blinding surface of the sea, as the sun shatters on the waves masking all activity beneath in a shower of light.
Disguise; vision deferred. A return to the dominance of the surface. Disavowal; the building made semi-absent (made semi-present). The building vanishes. Becomes another. Becomes all but itself. Takes on the features of everything around it. Perfect concealment; pure invisibility. Showing nothing of itself. Pure surface, the concealment of skin; figure for the concealment of an interior (or the concealment of its function). What is there to hide? A secret? Or should we read hiding as showing (off). The display of architecture, telling more than what it is, collecting space, making space (with suggestion as the only means to augment lack... making time).
The vision in its frame. The figure and its ground become an image in context (the context framing the figure/ground relation found in the double image - a third element is added to the semantic cauldron). The combination of the reflected image in windows (of the sky above, the parallel opposite building, the reflection of the street, depending upon our point of view and the optical laws of reflection) with the surface of the building only further encourages the ambiguity as to time which has been the temporal aspect of the framing and embedding of the image since the dawn of art (and before, in the interpretation of natural framings). So always an aspect - even if half-forgotten - of our immediate environment and our consumption of images. Whether made by nature or the culture of human intervention, the visual field is, in this way, made up of a combination of textures, planes, screens and citations (even if monotheism occasionally dreams of the mono-logic image of absence provided by iconoclasticism or refined by Abstract Expressionism). The effect is often one of plurivocity, perhaps at times the display of such - even of the control of such for political effect. The re-framing of the reflected image in the context of the sky, may appear to place it firmly in the context of a host building standing alone; more usually, however, the actual context will be that of a sequence of buildings, of a street or a particular view. Except when the significant context has not been in some way mediated by levels of the built environment felt to be the basic units of significance of the visual field, as incarnated in the urban experience, in the experience of architecture.
The space above the waters. (Air, one must not forget, is the only true element of space, offering an invisible content as the complement of an equally invisible abstraction. It is the element we breathe as well as the element in which we picture pure extension. Air is the default and ever-faithful filler of 'space' - just as it fills our lungs. Space exists as potential, to be filled or framed - just like the lung awaiting the gasp of air that fuels all action, fulfilling potential. If space is the region of the unfulfilled, then architecture is the fulfilment of space - the human presence in the absence of pure extension. Intercession between earth and sky. Cradle of the waters of reflection).
Remember the sea itself reflects the sky. Just like a sheet of glass, an expanse of window. Reflection. As above so below. In this way all that which lies above also has depth (depth is space with ourselves poised at the edge of its limit). Height then measures the distance above us, in its reversibility and its inversion, and in its comprehended incomprehension - the distance from ourselves, the distance to ourselves. The measure is what returns us to ourselves. A measure without quantity. This economy of metaphor (an economy of identity) is also the economy of human inspiration, the source of our love for flight; the pinioning of the eagle's wing into the line of a building; the foam of the wave reaching for the heavens.
Water as the element of reflection; the sea as an ocean of consciousness reflected.
Remember the sea...
...the sea itself reflects the sky... air, the invisible element... with its motions and violence... is reflected in the sea. Invisible to all, it finds the likeness of its visage only in the sea...
Consciousness, reflected in a sea of windows.
Remember the sea...
...reflects the sky. The sea, itself, awaiting, malleable, is, if only on the surface, affected by the invisible giant that floats above it. The weight of air pressing upon it, keeping it flat. The capricious god that marks and wipes its surface like a palimpsest. A surface no sooner scarred then cured, now distorted like a face in pain, now stilled to the smoothness of a mirror. Showing the face of its maker. An imprint found only in the sea.
Relief, the semblance of the deity in the shape of the waters.
Writing, signs inscribed upon the body of the waters by the scribe of the mind.
Waves, confessions of the air.
In the Book of Genesis, creation parts the waters leaving the firmament floating between two seas, the sea above and the sea below... creation's reflection caught above and below... with its reflections in turn reflected... above and below... from above and from beneath...
And the sea from beneath.
Like a lotus flower or water lily seen from below... tangled in the dangling roots we look up to the light filtering down from above.
From beneath, the surface of buildings is not a reflection (or would we, if we were there, think that it was?) rather a glow from the other side. Architecture as the glow from beyond - last streak of the setting sun of the eternal in the collective, in the mass labour of humanity, in its products, us out there, in transcendent mode. Not the false light of illusion; but a positive light on our world, requiring only a better luminosity, a more thorough-going phosphorescence, to be worthy of the worship we wish to offer it.
From beneath the surface of buildings...
What is the glow that greets us emanating from the surface. Is it a product of reflection or refraction? Does it reach us by means of the mirror or by means of the prism?
Reflection (descending from above the sea to illuminate the entire surface of the ocean, transforming it into a glittering golden mass). A reflective surface which offers us ourselves through our valued signs; light reflected, our hope of it, our symbolic investment in its powers - one aspect of ourselves (our positive reflection on ourselves). The other aspect is offered back to us as our own reflection; ourselves as faces. The face of the multitude in the mirror of the sea.
Refraction. A membrane filtering through the light from above (from beneath the sea, looking up to the glittering surface, reversed, like living at the back of a mirror, seeing the reverse of the silver and the strange light it lets through) the light left over after reflection. After symbolic and actual reflection. The absorption of these by our need to swim in a sea of recognition, water ceding place to a fixity denied by fashion. What kind of light is it that remains? This half light that filters down, weak, enigmatic, the remainder of reflection; reminder of a residue beyond sign and self; a chimera that eludes meaning; but remains nevertheless (the reflection of the remainder, changing as quickly as it appears, like light dancing on the underside of water)...
Or, if we are below (or were below and are above... or anyway, have become conscious of an advent, which takes on the form of an inversion) then reflection is refraction, and refraction, reflection. Our reflection was but a seepage, filtered through - given faces by our fertile imagination (a colossal prosopopoeia, a personification from which to front the desperate appropriation of ideals borrowed from a place other than our own) or else the faces of others... Refraction it was that offered us back our true image (light dancing on the underside of water).
Archaeology of levels on the horizontal plane. A ninety degree tilt of the vertical compass from its fidelity to the North. Despite the mutually reinforcing force fields of gravity and the fall of light (and the human response they call forth, eye-raising) it is the horizon that wins as the model for discreteness in architecture. It is as if gravity and the pressure of light, the weight of light, had compressed all architectural endeavour into layers of strata shot through with ever-finer lines of compacted differentiation. What would a decompressed architecture look like: the pure lift of spires is our only clue. The rest is the accretion of stone, experience, memory; three sedimented layers, themselves sedimented into three. A visual continuity perpetually refreshed at every turn of the architectural clock and at the turn of every city corner.
The phenomenology of the built environment is a geology. Three levels present themselves for excavation; gifts to our perception, expectation of the architecture around us, breath of urban visual life, water in which we swim.
Divided, not as one had been lead to expect, by the segmentation of the vertical, with its basic unit, the individual building and its vertical orientation (only really ever true if it has the luxury of standing alone - and even then it is read or perceived according to its context); but by the natural division of our experience into discrete and sedimented layers. The several horizons of architectural perception, the three levels of city life, the parallel zones of urban experience; a phenomenological zoning. (Each zone, each part, with its own symbolic language, its own temporal affiliations, its own network of temporal-semantic valencies). Even two-storey suburbia is not immune to these levels - and ceremonial buildings seem at times positively to define their parts against the simple three part form - giving the free-standing two-part building (symbolic function above entry function) of sacred or state purpose (contrasted against the three-part high-rise canyon of the modern city street, itself evolved through the classical and the medieval). But even here they reassert themselves. The three parts.
Each with its own angle of reflection on eternity (each with its own angel refracting eternity). Each with its cementing role to play in the social flux, its justification of 'our way', its window on the world we inhabit. The one we make, the one we participate in. And the one we don't - the hard edge of the reality principle.
The three-tiers of the urban. Three parts to experience.
With a window for each of the three parts... each with its own sail to catch the wind of temporality, each with its own angle on time. Each with its own angel of time.
Solar. A give-away glint of light from the unreachable high above. A message from the heavens, like the ray of the Annunciation slanting down (from left to right) from the painting's top right to the place of us mortals below (down to the picture's bottom left, place of Hell in religious iconography - but see also the history of photography). It is the glint of solar windows, hinting at an interior which looks out over the city, a dwelling on the skyline, the possibility, perhaps, of the presence of a penthouse - most mythical of urban sites. If relatively unobtrusive, an elite place - rather than a palace. If blazoning its presence, a palace on stilts; luminous, a discernible entity floating on the surface of the submerged city, an ocean filled with tree-trunks leading up to the sun-blest zones above. Shafts of light pierce through (from left to right; the right of the Other, or objective point of view) reminding us of the darkness in which we live, yet providing an aim, an aspiration, an ideal. If the penthouse carries a suggestion of more intimate fantasies, then this aspect is anyway attenuated or sacralised (as taboo, transgression, or transgressive privilege) due to its embedding within solar features. A dream palace, site of power, the sight of power - to be consumed, flaunted. The city's expensive haircut. Conspicuous consumption.
The window on the solar; pointer and place; place and palace (ersatz heaven, place of the gods, palaces of the gods). Deixis thereof... reflecting, refracting from the house of the blest; the angle of refraction an infinite line, free of gravity. Communicating by metonymy (by touch, of course) its otherworldly luminosity to the aspiring earthbound, those who have climbed to the top of the ant-hill - and would have us mistake them for the tall shadowless immortals, whom in a kinder light we prefer to call angels. They live there and we wish to join them. But the eye moves on. Rising from the glass pane, prism of rays refracted, conduit of light, embedded, like a diamond in a backlit silhouette, in a structure itself soaring, a vital geometry which reflects the sky, pointing up to its source and centre, the great orb of the sun, which itself turns into a gesture upwards and beyond, to the stars and yet further out, to that utmost limit of our reason, to the metaset of our beliefs - returned to us from beyond the stars. Horizon of thought: horizon of the solar. Meeting place of architecture and the infinite. Resting place for the feet of angels.
Facade. Often equally unreachable -if less distant in social and symbolic terms- there are the windows of the facade. Yet in any high-rise street they are still far above us and it is this distance that spurs on the imagination. These windows may be differentiated by their surface area and relative discreteness: they range from the all-encompassing through the segregated to the variegated. From the glass totality of the curtain-wall (reflecting sky, other facades and skylines) to, at the opposite pole, small(er) discrete units or openings - with or without the frame of an (often historicist) lintel or casting. This latter type (the discrete window) leads to the small room fantasies like those depicted in Edward Hopper's paintings; a voyeurism of the imagined image. The sheer sides of the curtain wall reflect back the ocean. (A wall of glass stands at the rim of the ocean).
The window on the 'facade' is often found to be a window onto our more venal dreams. Our utopias of the flesh. What bodies might lie behind such windows and what might they do? Denial of vision; the ambiguities of angle, half-seen, half-imagined; the light slanting-off to reflect and conceal; all limits feed suggestion. Impassibility breeds desire. Absence titillates the stray everyday strands of passion; filaments of electricity, frayed by the working day, blindly seek their respite in an earth made of glass. Windows: glass magnets attracting the incidental powder of desire. Released by the friction of urban passage; remainder of everyday sensuousity (feeding the sensuousity of the everyday); the remains of passion, background noise of desire. Now aimless - now oscillating around a pole of attraction. Released at the lightest touch; light enough not to disturb our everyday trajectories: just distracting enough to gild the latter with a patina of sensuality; gathering its sheen from its (vain) belief in being somehow illicit. This blind semi-conscious swooning, luke-warm delirium of the unseen and the unseeing, is what is provoked by the wall of windows; as much by the canyons of glass of the urban scene as the all-to predictable glow of the upstairs light in the curtained bedroom. The infinite tendency of desire is linked to our unseeing knowledge of the presence of others, in confined spaces, be it work or repose. Play is our imagination's response; sexual play, the natural course of the imagination (the labour in place behind the office facade, becomes the place of sexual labour). 'Going up-stairs'. Waiting (in whatever shape or form, race, sex, or habit). The ecstasy of the saint without religion (sex is the religion). The angel in the bedroom.
Entry-fronting. Unwinding luminous strip of urban passage. Itself punctuated by openings; entrances, exits, caverns of illuminated treasures. Inescapable generality of the strip of being manifested on the horizontal level, near infinite continuity of function and of human scale, a band of existence lining every thoroughfare, generated by the proximity and ubiquity of human use and passage, a passage slowed by the temptations framed and illuminated one after another, bright cube by bright cube, tableau by frozen tableau, a sequence of framed film stills, snippets of narrative the story of which has been lost, or must be constructed, or just a set of family photographs, replete with posture and mis-en-scene, all facing front, posed before the camera, posed for the eye of the beholder, beheld behind glass. Most dramatic are those vast encompassing screens, walls of plate glass, windows onto other worlds, that are the shop windows of store fronts; and the effect is similar, from the tableaux theatre of the windows of major department stores to the intimate displays of corner shops. (As with the transparency of offices, so we find, in the see-through interiors of coffee shops, the option on people-shopping, as if - over and above the visual consumption of the physical - commodities could look back, as if one could buy recognition).
In the window of the entry-fronting. The proximity of the object. Desire at its most intimate. Subject/object together in a force-field of glass. The very seed-bed of our wanting, hot-housed; under glass. As we stare we enter a closed-circuit of identifications, where reflection of self and appearance of object are brought together in the window. The feedback loop of the self. The ghost of the self, gift of optics, now transported into the realm of objects. Visualised together with its objects of desire. A heaven of possessions. A heavenly possession. Repeated in show after show, in window after shop-window, in so many displays, tableau mort, waxwork cabaret, frozen theatre, mis-en-scene of the inner life, strip cartoon of the soul, a succession of freeze-frames, an endless parade in an endless gallery of phantasmagoria. A museum of present life. In the objects it offers, a present to life of its future. Life as it will be lived in a week's, a month's, a year's time. A life story as foretold in the pictures of the art gallery whose relation to its waiting audience is that of the future to the present, of divination rather than record, of prophecy rather than preservation. The future on display. Available (at a price) but also by the mere fact of its presence as vision. A present of vision. Future deportment revealed in a sequence of shrines; the secret of our tomorrows fearlessly told. Small wonder so much is invested in such displays - they feed our own tenaciously-held tendency to display (identity, gender, class, generation, hierarchical niche; target of niche marketing). Our investment in ourselves. The forgotten variable in the algebra of exchange theory. Desire of the self, desire as recognition (with its detour of desire for others), commodification and the desire for objects, recognition and the desire for others, identity exchange at its most everyday. The perpetual degree zero of rituality. What kind of process is it that we have become involved in: has ritual in fact become ensnared in the irresistible rise of the commodity? Or has commodity exchange itself become utilised by the ever-present, ever-coiling tendrils of our identity rituals? (And who can tell?) The angel in the mirror.
Ritual finds its freedom in the expanses eroded by the corrosive tides of capital.
The sea of commodities requires new rituals as its compass.
Gift/Commodity/Market. The arrival of the market, the mass, (post)modern, 'open' society, spells, not the end of the gift relation and its roots in human identity, but its continuity on a new bed of human exchange relations. New opportunities continually emerge. Commodification spreads ever-wider afield, penetrating our inner-selves now as much as new markets overseas (through services and technology). Forming ourselves even; even as it is forming alliances with its oldest enemies, with reason (which would once have supplanted the sea it swims in, the market) and with the gift (sacrificial, unequal exchange) relation in its intimate affinity with our identity. An identity once believed to be commodification's supposed antithesis and cure, or held to be its out-dated precursor - each wing of the binary supports a different metaphysics. This process, traceable back to all prior civilisations, further back if exchange itself is at issue, further back still if the gift is the nexus of exchange, this process, rather than supplanting so-called primitive behaviour, appears, on the contrary, to act as a new arena, a fresh field of operations for ritual forms of behaviour. If anything the ubiquity of the market offers to the gift a field of immanence, a free space, an ocean of potential movement, freeing it from closed cycles of paranoid cohesion, giving it reign over fresh rituals of identification (in exchange, to be sure, for the creation of new pastures for its multiplication, new plugs of the commodity into the self). The gift plays traitor to the community it creates, the social body it unites, through the body itself, betrayed by the mind, caught on the hook of recognition; the commodity extends the rule of its precursor, pretending its own priority and independence. And so the preponderance of the gift relation is maintained, not least in those processes employed in secreting identification, in manufacturing sacrificial forms (as once the approach of the festival saw an explosion of goods for destruction, display and barter). Looking different (today) to be sure (but not as much or as often as might have been thought) compared to their older manifestations. Thus a genie is released, rather than suppressed, by modernity and its endless work of uncoupling, fraying, unthreading of tradition (making free that which it would have lead us away from, releasing that which it would have bound, perpetuating that which it wished hounded to extinction). Now free to appear in many forms according to the necessities driving them, dictates of desire and identity, possession and recognition. Using the plasticity of modern social relations and the exchanges through which they make themselves manifest, to take form, to run free. Free from the total organisation of previous systems of socialisation, no longer tied into calendar-specific ritual forms, nor those designed to appease contingent, diagnosis and cure (yet in all 'secular' advanced capitalist societies, religious festivals become commodity festivals, the continuity of their identity function being maintained as the gift fulfils its essential function, shedding inherited incidentals). A process reconfigured in the rarefied reflection of society, a reflection to be found everywhere around us in the ubiquity of windows.
The temporality of desire (I). A promise ever-present (in the present) in the side-ways glance and ever-distracting feature is confused with the future promise as the forward march in time. A confusion of desire and time. Yet we walk on (until the next distraction). Out of this confusion of present and future, desire posits its own eternity; a double centred, double orbit, made up of the force field of present desire, inconceivable in its end, and its correlate, bait and end, the sexual object (the obscure object of desire). Obscure indeed, existing only in the belief that 'it is always already happening there' (somewhere) always all around, the suburb of sensual invocation, the city as sexual circuit; the community as the community of the caress, the human family as a continual round of incest.
(The phenomenology of openings also applies to windows).
The temporality of desire (II). Windows, traps for light, traps for the soul; bait for our waiting curiosity, our will-bending desire. Window walls, a permanent texture of desire-inciting surfaces; the populace, so many slow walkers lured into fantasies - like sleepwalkers lured by a dream. What lies beyond (like a sleep walker awakening into another world)? What happens, has happened; will or could happen... in windows. Frames for fantasy; frames for future events desired. Placed behind windows as the structure bestowing permission. Impossible to access; therefore allowing all (in windows everything is permitted, as with the image, as with the sign). Removal, distance, deferral; all give permission to that which we would not really want, at home, in the present... (not at home, not in the present). Certainly not. Not here, not now. Utopia, on such a reading, would be an unwanted guest, a fantasy to be perpetually held at arm's length, like images on a screen. Only taken literally by those who confuse 'now' with the eternal 'then', temporality with eternity. The founding of hell on earth is due to a category error - more precisely, a temporal category error. (A leap, which no doubt originates in the priority of the subjunctive mood, best described with reference to a rhetorical figure: metalepsis, the conflating of distant cause for a present effect, or, more generally, of the sewing of one time into the place of another, a leap displacing temporalities and bridging the gulf of eternity).
Or. Utopia. Already realised in our architecture, in the dreams of windows. The future perfect is to be found reflected there, where the rhythms of rooftops and spires glow golden in the sun, run silver in the rain. The reflection of the ideal, already realised, in windows. The golden cities of the future are already here. It is only the comportment of the human element that does not measure up to the ideal. An ideal that they have set and we have built.
The imagination allowed full reign, allowed a short taste of what it believes and feels it must and should have, this is what we see in windows. In short, windows are kind of symbolic summary of the fantasy element in all our lives, past lack and present desire projected into the future. The hunger of loss whetted by the vision of satisfaction. Desire (the ever present pull, the tug of the everyday, our social desire, the omnipresent map we carry, alone and together, formed by others, but never precisely shared by others - like translation, before that other translation; the reduction to childhood and the unconscious). Our desire of self and our desire of others, of our desire for others, and our desire of others; a cipher which when interrogated will spell out all the bases of our desire, all our lack, and so all our bondage, that which holds us in, holds us back, forms us; all that which makes us sane. And this reflection is to be found in all other sites of the image, framed images, a reflection tuned by a virtuoso in the realm of television and the big screen, in the little screen of our computers, in the pictorial arts - perhaps in the image as such and even in representation in general. The 'non-real element' (of the thing represented, not the sign or image) permits the creativity which is turned as much on ourselves as on the objects around us.
Yet windows do more than reflect back and exacerbate our tendency to fantasy. Windows are always more than just mirrors, not least when this is the only facet to which they permit us access. In their nature as simultaneous ground and figure, as surface and reflection, as the co-existence of real and illusionistic interiors, they represent the otherwise invisible glue of the social, the general effects of our own particular position in the skein of exchanges and knots that make up the self and its communities of identification, representation prompting a reflection on recognition. Windows and the architecture in which they are set, an architecture of which they sometimes make up the visible entirety; working as gigantic mirrors, colossal lenses, giving us back ourselves (more or less, always more, always less). At once the attachment to a familiar landscape, the disruption of change, the lack of place in an unfamiliar culture. As in 'culture shock' - the recurring thrill of the modern, the permanent revolution of capitalist change, enjoyed by the young - rendering a once familiar environment uncanny for the old.
We underestimate the role of generational difference as the governing unit of collective time, marking-off the minutes on the clock of innovation, periods in the music of fashion, register of change, consciousness of the passing of cultural time, horizon of experience (the justification of a generation: the generation of justification). An experience exemplified in the gift of Modernism to Modernity. In epoch, period and style coeval with the history of windows. Reflecting the times in a re-enactment of the genealogy of temporality.
Genealogy. The birth of time as the time in which we exist, the experience of human temporality, is the birth of the past and future from out of the closed womb of the present (an event breaching the walls of the present, announcing the death of the eternal present). Emerging from out of the residue of an event that constitutes memory (if good) a residue constituting the nascence of desire, the desire for return (if bad, the birth of terror, the anticipation of the return of pain). It is in the persistence of a sensation, insisting as sign, empty mark in the flesh, after the demise of the physiology, the sense inputs that supported it, that provoked it, have gone, that we find the birth of memory and birth of desire (or its opposite, fear) for the remembered state. The status quo ante is the past (the past in the present) our modality on this event colours our desire for the return of the event or its continued absence, its place in our future (the future in the present). Time is born with the outside, the other, and the terrifying self-knowledge of dependency (debt), the fear of offence, and so the origin of self-mortification, of religion (of debt in general, of the religious impulse as self-abnegation), a relation born of power, of our position on a gradient of power (our helpless inability, the limitless ability of the Other).
Eschatology. It is the proximity of the future to the outside of time that explains the secret of the ubiquitous success that belongs to the rhetoric of eternity (the past too shares in this secret, its furthermost limit notoriously blurs into the time before time; mythic time). Yet it is humans that make time inhuman. The forward horizon of the future with its permanent sense of semi-presence is transformed utterly in the course of its translation into the radically absent outside of time. As the degrees of presence tick away only nothing remains. A nothing which will be made to hold everything. Although prior, the future (together with its mirror opposite, the past) is accorded less profundity in the world of metaphysics than the figure that is derived from it (a figure which has becomes the indispensable support for all metaphysical construction). In this way, in the world of the image, as in the world or experience, any approaching presentation, any present absence (be it a horizon, a limit approached or surpassed, or even the merest suggestion of another time) can be transformed with little effort from the intimation of a future event yet unexperienced (replete with dread or anticipation) into the absent certitude of first and last things. If the event or feature in question is interpreted as already having happened, as constituting the past, subject of fond or restless memory, then it may just a easily be made to work as an image of the elsewhere, as the past slides into eternity in the work of mourning. From past and future, then, eternity is rhetorically derivable: but its most insistent home is closer still to the everyday currency of our temporal being. It is our sense of the present which is itself its own worst enemy, a traitor to its own, source of its negation and subservience to the beyond. Indeed the fuller, the more intense, the more insistent, the sense of presence; the more its opposite is vaunted, until the present itself is deemed but a shadow of the illuminated form beyond. Plato seized the trope from religion; henceforth it will animate ideology and reason. From the eternal 'now' to the eternal only the simplest of elisions is required; an omission that counts for everything; we generalise, forgetting our contingency like children, to conjure up something beyond time itself. Eternity. Deriving its rationale and power from its specific coding in any (and every) sublunary system of belief, a contingency that gives the lie to its claims of universal priority.
Eternity. The figure behind reflection. Once the gap between image and thing is admitted. Regress to eternity. In every examination of reflection by reflection. Regress to eternity. Whence the force of the image (the iconoclasts were right). Break all mirrors before the true depth of the sea that urges human claims to transcendence is revealed. Break all mirrors before the true shallowness of the waters that nurture the flower of human ambition is exposed. For the narcissism that feeds the eternal flame springs from a circularity that, like a braid tied tightly back, scrolls back round, and - like a snail's shell coiling down through ever smaller turns - winds down to nothing. Opening up to a void beyond reason. The shortest loop imaginable; the greatest span: now and forever. Not the now in forever, but the forever in now. The ambiguity behind every image. (Image of our image-making). All images reveal the immortal in man. All images lie.
The image burns in the shadow of its other, now lost to time (just as the sign resounds with the borrowed voices of language and the echo-chamber of the universal). The eternal-in-waiting is the magnet that subtly re-routs the paths of meaning in the image (as infinite deferral re-routs those of the word). Gravity bends the light of meaning. The sun burns at the centre of the solar system. (Image and word, wave and particle, inhabit the divided vision of the quantum world, we live in both, both universes undecidable.)
Magnesium is the lead in the window of the image: hope of landfall ignites the flare.
Copyright 2003 Peter Nesteruk