Monday, February 25, 2008

Irigaray . . . Insomnia

I couldn't sleep again last night so i decided to read this super cool book I just bought called Irigaray for Architects by Peg Rawes. Its part of a larger series called "Thinkers for Architects", the other two they have right now are Heidegger and Deleuze & Guattari. Basically, they are taking philosophers and trying to apply their work to architecture. I was really surprised to see Irigaray [french, feminist, philosopher] as one of the top three - I've never been able to really understand too much of her work even though I used to try back when Holly was writing a lot about her - its a little . . . um, slow. Either way - this one was a quick read but it brought up a lot of really interesting ideas which I think relate closely to our current questions about how to design this garden.

I think fundamentally, Rawes' argument was that Irigaray's ideas of sexed subjectivity, multiplicity, fluidity and difference can and should inform both the design of architecture and the way we understand how architecture functions in society:

"Irigaray's theory of sexual difference and sexed subjects is inherently concerned with positive, multiple, experiences and space for living. . . Architecture that engages in these ideas is therefore understood as a discipline that builds living sexed cultures and supports the realities of all sexed subjects."

While her analysis of gendered (or, in her language, sexed) space is interesting, I think what was most interesting to me was her later work which seems much more positive and more relevant to the design process. Specifically her writings on the idea of touch and " . . . physical spatial relationships that do not depend upon total 'mastery' or desire of the other subject." She highlights the positive functioning of an architecture which is dynamic, which is concerned with the changing, multiple, fluid nature of subject-subject relationships. Rawes writes that:

"Intimate relations develop between subjects (ie. subject to subject relations) that resist the separation of discrete bodies into separate realms of closed and fixed ideas. Touching constructs the importance of relations between subjects, for example, in the activities of nurturing and loving intimate relations that occur between mothers and their children."

I think this is directly relevant to our gardens where we are trying to bring the residents into direct, physical contact with the vegetables and the materials - we have to be careful to avoid any strict separation which could objectify the garden and instead somehow bring the residents into an intimate relationship with the gardens. I think these ideas of multiplicity and dynamism can also be really helpful as we try and add more layers to our concept here. And especially given the nature of the residents that will be using the rooftop, an architecture that helps to feed a positive formation of identity is really important, and as Rawes writes: "

[Irigaray] suggests that the subject's understanding of intimacy and touch therefore underpin his or her ability to engage with the world, and enable his or her boundaries to be kept intact. Irigaray's theory of sexed dialogue therefore means that any encounter must always take into account the Other's power of expression that does not set out to consume of dominate another's subjectivity."

Anyway - I'm sure most of this post is gibberish - I haven't slept in days and so I'm sure I'm not making any sense at all. My favorite quote from the book was towards the end though and I think it is a really great way to think about constructing spaces and the relationships they form:

" . . . One of the most positive space-times that Irigaray constructs is in the gesture of the caress or touch between loving subjects. Here, intimate relations enable 'envelopments,' 'horizons' of the 'becoming' of the subject, in relation to the space that the other (subject) inhabits. The sexed subject is produced out of the specific qualities of respect and shared intimacy with the other, constituting a 'becoming in which the other gives of a space-time that is still free."

That would be nice architecture. OK - gotta go give a presentation in Photovoltaic class on the Leopold Center. An interesting project - more sustainability widgets than you can shake a stick at :)

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