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In the suspended moment of the leap

Linda Marie Walker

Linda Marie Walker is a writer/artist teaching in the School of Architecture and Design, University of SA.

Paul Carter, Repressed Spaces, The Poetics of Agoraphobia Paul Carter, Repressed Spaces, The Poetics of Agoraphobia
Paul Carter
Repressed Spaces, The Poetics of Agoraphobia
Reaktion Books, London, 2002
ISBN: 1861891288

It is impossible to tell of all the issues (about living and making the world) that Paul Carter’s book Repressed Spaces, The Poetics of Agoraphobia approaches, but what he makes clear, in a twisting, turning, rising, falling way, through subtle attention, is that our thinking toward and building of public spaces is crucial to people’s sense of themselves and others in the world—their relationships with the outside of their lives, in terms of structures and subjects; the potential for meetings and unforeseen arrangements or groupings is endlessly effected by the concept of ‘the approach’ itself, or as Carter writes, “...the spatialisation of approaches.”

Carter seems to work/write ‘in the gap between 2 strides’, or in the suspended moment of the leap—a leap ashore, as in Maupassant’s La Mouche that brings about her miscarriage, or the jangled leaps, skips and jumps of Rilke’s man in The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge trying to do the simple thing of walking on the city street, but with a worn will that can no longer keep agoraphobia at bay.

It could be that each of us is an agoraphobe, if not chronically, then from time to time, momentarily. Faced with the spaces made in our name (the public) we are paralysed by them, or convulsed, confused, repelled, afraid, and not by their chaos or undulations, but by their smooth geometries made for always moving ‘traffic.’ As street-walkers we twitch, inwardly, we stutter and stammer—we act as solitary singular crowds, as if dreaming of ‘the festival’, or ‘the march’—of the fact that urban spaces are where ‘people take to the streets’, and are places for encounter—where people show-off, walk, run, pause, act-up, etc.

Carter’s writing is like watching flashes of light, like driving in a car on a bright day through an avenue of trees; he moves like the agoraphobic, with a trembling, hovering gait, touching the surfaces of others’ writings about the agoraphobe like an impressionistic painter wanting to show the strange beauty and instability of the street, its abstract and infinite appearance—whether recognised or not. This making of the work comes about slowly, within the speedy mood, and is of a complex texture (psychoanalytic, philosophic, literary, cinematic, cultural, architectural) that slips between and across shades and tones of ‘agora’ (assembly and place of assembly); glances and glimmers accumulate, dissipate, and return like hauntings to ‘impress’ themselves a little sharper on the reader.

The agoraphobe, as she/he attempts to negotiate the built environment, makes the horror or danger (or even the painful pleasure) of ‘the street’ show itself (come alive)—whether as a real body moving in space, or as a photograph, painting, print, cartoon, or as writing (Rilke’s man on the street), or as architecture (“...the ‘blindingly intense light’ of the first void in the Berlin Jewish Museum was [says Daniel Libeskind, its architect] ‘inspired by the tale of a woman. Confined in a railway wagon, on her way to Auschwitz, she saw a light through the grating. That was all she could see. Maybe it was no more than lamps in a tunnel, but she believed it to be clouds, stars, sunshine’.”)

The agoraphobe’s (suffering) role in society is rich and crucial; essential, in a sense, to the shape of how things are, in their fleetingness, or in their persistence, like Freud’s (repressed) agoraphobia (not only a space, but a whole world; millions of words about why we are what we are). This gives Carter reason to revisit the Oedipus complex; Oedipus becomes the limping agoraphobe feeling his way in the dark, Hermes at his side; and Freud takes the whole journey to the end of the book, strolling and striding and making-up stories, sort of banging his stick on the ground so to speak.

What Carter does, as he ducks and weaves and plunges like so many of his agoraphobic examples, is draw you toward the amazing myriad possibilities of the surfaces of the street as witnessed by the agoraphobe, and as potentially there for the agoraphobe in us, if we follow-the-lead. Carter writes:

He shows the follower timely openings unnoticed before. The man in the street, relieved of the phantasmagoria of shop windows and the cinema of passing vehicles, attends to surfaces, textures, slopes and their coefficients of friction. ...If the one following feels that he is moving as if in a trance or that he is blindfolded, it is all the better. In the blinding, as he becomes in touch with his surrounding, he measures space differently.

The straight geometries block our dreaming rather than opening out our need to dream—they regulate by the razed laws of our repressed convolutions, which restrict our possibilities to be otherwise, to be multiple and porous.

The idea that one is continually on the edge of falling, of being off-balance, of losing one’s footing out there on the street, the fact that it takes a great energy to be upright, to keep walking, to keep oneself out of the cracks and crevasses, away from the beautiful smashed windows and rusting grates, is unnerving. Carter cites Le Corbusier: “ risks one’s life at every step. If you happened to slip, if sudden giddiness made you fall...” And yet it is the ragged edges of cracks and holes, their very details, that evoke the associations and threads (where time appears) that make urban spaces other than they seem; it’s these which can stop one’s headlong rush, and like Freud’s long winding night walks, thought might move, however slightly, toward “Benjamin’s ‘art of straying’.”

It’s hard to hold this book together; it’s a book which speaks an ‘agora’ condition, it is an assembly, it produces a dazzling, difficult space where one can trip into the gutter, or spend untimely time with a blue arrow on a footpath; it honours the suffering of the agoraphobe, the disorientation; the agora condition though opens up onto another orientation, another way to be with the world:

Agoraphobia, it seems, can be a characteristic of speaking and writing. Smoothing over discontinuities implies a dread of gaps opening up in the chain of logic, a fear perhaps of thinking and acting freely. This dread arises because those gaps are imagined as abysses or voids. But they are not: they are simply where the ground is rough, over-tracked, ambiguously delineated, humid or mist-streaked. It is a mistake to step over them without taking notice of what is there.

Paul Carter is Professorial Research Fellow at The Australian Centre, University of Melbourne and author of The Road to Botany Bay and The Lie of the Land.

Linda Marie Walker is a writer/artist teaching in the School of Architecture and Design, University of SA.

RealTime issue #54 April-May 2003 pg. 6

© Linda Marie Walker; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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