Implications philosophiques

perception, axiologie et rationalité dans la pensée contemporaine

Dossier 2009 - L'habitat, un monde à l'échelle humaine

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Notes et remarques

[1] Merleau-Ponty, Phénoménologie de la perception, Paris, Gallimard, 1945, p. 346.

[2] Ibid., p. 174.

[3] Ibid., p. 183.

[4] Ibid., p. 231.

[5] Merleau-Ponty, Le visible et l’invisible, Paris, Gallimard, 1964, p. 302.

[6] Anish Kapoor, Taratantara, Actar/Baltic, 2001.

[7] Merleau-Ponty, Phénoménologie de la perception, op. cit., p. 334.

[8] Peter Zelner, Hybrid space, London, Thames & Hudson, 1999, p.112.

[9] Ibid., p. 60.

     Eva Mahdalickova - Page 1

New Experiences Of The Body Through Space 

Eva Mahdalickova est doctorante en troisième année à l’Université Paris VII - Denis Diderot (École doctorale: Langue, littérature, image : civilisations et sciences humaines) sous la direction de Evelyne Grossman.

In search of new experiences of the body through space:

The new issues in the relationship between subject and space

1. Introduction

Experimenting space is one of the most essential and natural experiences of our existence. We tend to forget it because we consider it so obvious. However, the question of how we experiment space and how we express this experience is still of interest for researchers, mainly philosophers and architects. Merleau-Ponty wrote that space is existential and that the existence is spatial[1]. Human being is thus fundamentally related to space.

Following Merleau-Ponty’s thought, we would like to investigate the issues regarding the relationship between Being and space in the contemporary architecture. More precisely, this paper aims at exploring the new experiences of body that may emerge through space. Our research question is the following: what are the characteristics of contemporary architectural expression and what will be the experience of beings in such spaces?

2. How do we inhabit space?

Before introducing these new spaces, we need to explain the role of body, which is at the origin of the experience and the expression of space. How is the body intertwined with space?

According to Merleau-Ponty, the body inhabits space, it is not in space : "je ne suis pas dans l’espace et dans le temps, […] je suis à l’espace et au temps, mon corps s’applique à eux et les embrasse"[2]. We understand the world, things, others and oneself through our body. The body is at the origin of any signification. As Merleau-Ponty says, our body is the very origin of any expression as it provides a place for significations. "Notre corps n’est pas seulement un espace expressif parmi tous les autres. Il est à l’origine de tous les autres, le mouvement même d’expression, ce qui projette au-dehors les significations en leur donnant un lieu."[3] Therefore, by inhabiting space, we create a meaning of space, which is based on our capacity to perceive and on our body. The experience of body is a source of expression of space.

3. The notion of Flesh

The experience of the body reveals an ambiguous mode of existence. The body is a notion that holds a double meaning: it can be viewed and understood as an object (when we say “avoir le corps - to have a body”) and as a subject (when we say “être son corps vécu - to be a living body”). An experience of the body should give us both at once. However, the reflection of the body only gives us the thought of the body and not the experience of it. Therefore, the two perspectives on the body, the object and the subject, are separated when the individual only thinks of his body. This is why we have to put an emphasis on the experience. There is no other way to know the body than to live it in the whole, as a subject and object, as the one who is perceived and who perceives. " Je suis donc mon corps "[4], I am my body, says Merleau-Ponty and to live the body, it also is to live the space.

This perplexity of the object and the subject is what Merleau-Ponty calls the Flesh. The Flesh creates a common world on the basis of a fundamental exchange of the perceptible, between the world and the body. In other words, I draw my sense of the world, to which I give a sense by perceiving it. So the sensible is directly connected to intelligible. All ideas are given to us in the carnal experience. There is no idea without the body, without the sensitive. To perceive, it is exactly to make present something by means of the body.

The notion of flesh bursts the idea of subjectivity, because it brings to light the reciprocity and the interlacing of the body and the world. The Flesh indicates at first the relation between the subject and the world, the interiority expressing itself or the exteriority interiorizing. The flesh of the body participes on the flesh of the world : " mon corps est fait de la même chair que le monde (c’est un perçu), et que de plus cette chair de mon corps est participée par le monde, il la reflète, il empiète sur elle et elle empiète sur lui "[5].

To walk in the space, is also to walk at the same time within the self. The thought is as the walking which changes with the situation, but the situation changes with the walking. Such is also the nature of the relation between the space and the subject. Let us note that Bachelard described a human being as a spiral being.

4. Expressing space and architecture

Now, we look at this kind of relationship between the body and the space from the point of view of the architecture, which is a realization of the thought of the space. As explained previously, the body is intertwined with space. Therefore, the question is: what do we express exactly when creating architectures? What does architecture reflect exactly? Does it reflect the way we consider space or the way we consider ourselves?

Anish Kapoor wrote that architecture is a reflection or a substitution for the self, a surrogate body[6]. To express space thus becomes to express oneself, to realize the image of the self by the means of space. This image of self used to be recognizable, stable and fixed. So was space that reflected stability too. But the image of self has changed and become mostly fluctuating and instable. The self exceeds his limits and goes out of his barriers by opening himself to outside. Architecture and space have gone through the same evolution: towards more opening.

Architecture is increasingly used as a tool to help people experience space as an open and variable dimension. Architecture is no longer considered as an object, but as a cognitive field, as an extension of our capacity to perceive. Actually, there are no borders anymore between interior and exterior, there are no fixed partitions. Architecture opens to the outside.

The way we express space conditions the way we experience space. Does the new architecture reflect in a certain sense the thought of Merleau-Ponty, namely the embodiment of the Flesh, as it interlaces subjects and space? What happens with human being?

We let these questions in suspense for this moment as we would like to show how our experience of space has changed.

5. The acceleration of the world: the loss of space

The world, the body and the identity spread and fall to pieces. This hybridization of identity and the world creates a hybrid space. If we create new hybrid, changeable, floating forms, there must have something happened with body and with our perception. Let us remind the words of Merleau-Ponty who makes association between the dislocation of the world and space and the dislocation of the body : « Si le monde se pulvérise ou se disloque, c’est parce que le corps propre a cessé d’être corps connaissant, d’envelopper tous les objets dans une prise unique, et cette dégradation du corps en organisme doit être elle-même rapportée à l’affaissement du temps qui ne se lève plus vers un avenir et retombe sur lui-même »[7].

Such is a vision of the world of today. We live in a world where everything accelerates. Speed dominates since it has the absolute power. Speed also changes perception because it reduces the world as well as the body. The virtual world and the virtual body make the real world and the physical body disappears.

Everything is stream, in constant liquefaction. As written by architect Lars Spuybroek (NOX): “We are experiencing an extreme liquidizing of the world, of our language […]. We have entered a situation where everything becomes mediated, where all matter and space are fussed with their representations in media”[8]. Media are not perceived as a comfort creating service but as a force that accelerates and destabilizes reality. We loose the direct relationship between the world and our body; all ways pass through the representation. This experience turns the body into a body-machine or a body-prosthesis (corps-prothèse, as it says Paul Virilio).

6. The liquid architecture: the hybrid space

The dissolution of borders occurs at different levels in our societies. For instance, frontiers between body and machine, interior and exterior, virtual and real tend to diminish thanks to innovation and technological progress. Nowadays, we can live at the same time in both real and virtual space. Even the cities are organized according to both physical and virtual activities. Therefore, one can wonder how to join these two extremes? How to keep the identity of place and body in such a fluctuating world? How can beings keep their identity and, at the same time, be connected to the world, be everywhere? Stable identities as well as fixed space are no longer possible, because they do not correspond to the reality of today’s world. An interesting research issue is thus to find new ways to conceive oneself and space, without losing either of them. We should learn to think of both: local and global, the subject and the object, the identity with its virtual spectres. This introduces a transformation of the real and mental space. Such a conversion asks for the invention of the new words and the new spaces.

The architect Mark Goulthorpe (Decoi) speaks about smetic to designate this duality and ambiguity that exist in our world: “So the smetic, caught between the solid and fluid, between the visual and chemical logics seems a suitably ambiguous or fluctuating term to capture our present change of state as we pass from a scriptural to electronic paradigm. And our sense is that such a suspension will carry to the manner in which we think of practice, to all manner of creative process, to a reversal of the process of our thought and drift or relative fluidity of consciousness”[9].

The liquid architecture reflects the fluidity of the consciousness. It introduces the other modes of the cognitions, the new plastic and visceral environment which synthesizes the action, the perception and the vision. This floating environment serves as an interface between public and private. It is also a good illustration of the hybrid space which joins opposites, by leaning on both, physical body and virtuality. Hybrid space proposes an approach to architecture that creates new cultural codes and disruptions within the physical and electronic networks that connect our international and local cultures.

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