9.18.2011

The Right Place

I walked into a party last night where, tangentially, I knew only one person.  It was one of these new lofts in San Francisco — modern and cool, it seems, but like an LA hotel that's trying too hard.

Just walking down the block to the front door of the complex threw me off — these too tall buildings forging a claustrophobic tunnel nestled next to the freeway.  I immediately felt uncomfortable. The architects and planners had done a poor job; they had only focused on building their lofts, stuffing them with people, and skipping out. It seemed quite obvious that no one considered the space.

As I walked into the loft, the party, I found that people were huddled at the pass into the space. Which I found incredibly disconcerting — the space above (it's a loft after all) encroached while the far wall of the living space seemed oddly close.  The flow was stilted, awkward, uncomfortable. 

I am used to San Francisco living spaces, the way flats and apartments distribute space. So when I walk in a new place, even though I can't see the whole space, I can imagine it. But walking in this new loft, I had no idea how the space worked: the off-screen loomed heavy on me. It was like being in a Lynch film, that disconcerting feeling of not knowing how things connect, how space connects. Think about that for a moment: being inside, in a living space, and not knowing how the space connects with itself, where it goes, how it goes. It's creepy.

I excused myself from the entree greetings and sought a better place to be, a space that felt welcoming, open, ripe with opportunity but still a local home of a sort.  In a relative sense, I sought what Carlos Castaneda calls a site of power.

When Don Juan walks Carlos into the chaparral and stops to talk, he asks Carlos to pick the right spot to sit. You can't sit anywhere. Different sites are, well, different. And hence have difference affects, different effects, are different nodes within the flow. A site can be an eddy, and abyss, an embrace, a conduit, a trap. 

We all know this to some degree.  We like certain seats in a movie theater; we return to the same seats in a classroom or train; we arrange our living spaces just so.  What is that determines our choices? And what happens when we pay attention to such things at every moment?

I believe there is an assumption that place doesn't matter — not really.  After all, we are people! We are sovereign over space! It's absurd to think that space dictates my mood! I dictate my mood!

But it turns out we are part of world. We go with the world. And space is such a fundamental component of that.  Whether it's walking down the street, sitting on a couch, in a restaurant, in a park, it matters where we are.  If you sit somewhere and it feels bad, move for fuck's sake.

The world is an ever fluctuating flow of affects and energies, pollens and powers. Just think how much shit flows through this world and has flowed for thousands of millennia, how much ill feeling, disease of every sort, ugly, menacing forces. You don't want to get caught in an ill constituted trajectory.

So next time you're at a party and things don't feel right, move. 

4 comments:

Douglas Lain said...

This essay is definitely onto something. What's missing from it, or where it might go next maybe, is the fact that space is social. That is, the space our lives gets fit into is not geometric, not primarily, but human. For example, in that party the space you found yourself drawn to was probably the space that fit with both your own social aspirations and the role that the other participants in the space imposed upon you.
Have you ever been at a party where you couldn't find a good space, a place to stand or sit, until you'd been relegated to the kitchen or hall? I recall many publishing parties in hotel rooms where I, still unpublished, ended up by the back wall or out on the balcony with the spouses, and nobody consciously put me there. Space is social, it's political, and the politics of the present group is just one component of how the ideology of a space works or materializes. Architecture, city planning, roads, all of these are filters that keep some out of and push others in to certain spaces. As you point out, where you are and who you are can not be separated.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Excellent point. The architecture of space, the architecture of the social, the architecture of affect, and the architecture of the self forge the experience of being in the world.

Architecture, of course, is always ideological. Foucault does a great job of showing this.

But within space, as you point out, there is always already a social stratification or, better, a distribution based on a own set of flows, of economies. To me, the most blatant or conspicuous one at a party is the sexual economy. In any given space, but more so at a party, there is an endless exchange of glances, desires, possibilities, a circulation of sexual energies. Houellebecq often writes about the devastating effects of the sexual hierarchy -- those who get laid vs those who don't. It's a palpable way of thinking about the haves and have nots.

Douglas Lain said...

I wonder if the flow creates the space or vice versa.

Daniel Coffeen said...

I feel like I always have the same answer, which worries me. But I don't think one comes first. And yet nor are they born together.

Space no doubt is built it control, hedge, direct forces (funnel the darker forces, the dirty masses, into contained areas, etc).

But force, as is its nature, will out. The flows wind over and through; they use space despite ideology's best intentions.

One of my favorite examples is the way skateboarders make use, appropriate, civic space.