MICHEL FOUCAULT ‘OF OTHER SPACES’ 21082011

August 21, 2011

Foucault addresses space as the main concern of our time. He analyses the various types of space by placing them within categories. Space as he explains it through his text, is the environment of visible and invisible layers of relations. Therefore, it is equally tangible as intangible, there is an emotional space, an imaginary space, such as the space of our dreams. There is not such a thing as a void, an empty space. Every human being blends in within these existing spatial networks, which are characterized by their program, such as cafes and cinemas or a bedroom and a house. He states than in our time, contradictory spaces, such as working and leisure environments remain in their pure integral state maintaining a fine border amongst each other. Therefore, a practical desanctification of space is not yet possible, even though Galileo theoretically proved an infinitely open space.

An example is given about the space created through the mirror, analysing the concept of a utopian space, which basically is a perfect imaginary space or as he states ‘ a placeless place…I am over there, where I am not’ (Foucault, 1986: p. 24) but simultaneously explains it as a heterotopian space as the mirror itself has a physical presence. ‘Once absolutely real, connected with all the space that surrounds it, and absolutely unreal, since in order to be perceived it has to pass through this virtual point which is over there’. (Foucault, 1986: p. 24)

Cultural shifts occurring over time alter the meaning of a heterotopia, such as the tradition of cemeteries. A characteristic of heterotopic spaces is the fact that they suggest certain attitude and activity to the person who is willing to enter them, such as prisons and Moslem hammams. Foucault also characterizes carpets as reproductions of gardens ‘onto which the whole world comes to enact its symbolic perfection, and the rag is a short of garden that can move across space’(Foucault, 1986: p. 26). He further describes boats as the great reserve of the imagination for every civilization due to the fact that they are timeless and spaceless, floating independently in the endlessness of the sea constantly moving forward.

Within this set of ideas, my diagram captures the sense of the heterotopic space. The chessboard and its pieces are tangible objects but yet within a set of rules they create an intangible space. Therefore the space crafted by the chess pieces can be characterized as a heterotopia as on one hand it is intangible due to the invisible relationships between the pieces but yet tangible as the pieces themselves have a physical presence.

 

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Michel Foucault, ‘Of Other Spaces’ in Diacritics, vol. 16, no. 1, Spring, 1986, pp. 22-27

ANDREAS SIVITOS

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