Estragon: We came here yesterday.
Vladmir: Ah no, there you’re mistaken.
Estragon: What did we do yesterday?
Vladmir: What did we do yesterday?
— Waiting For Godot
Last week I was living with a few different books. I was rereading Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett and The Stranger by Albert Camus, two books that have affected me profoundly. I mean, let me just say, if you haven’t read these two books, they’re absolutely necessary. Simultaneously I was dipping in and out of Architectural Body by Madeline Gins and Arakawa in preparation for this reading last Saturday.
I was thinking about how to reconfigure and recast the way we exist in relation to space, the ways in which we see ourselves in these spaces recasted, the ways in which we are reconfigure ourselves, the ways we try to understand this reconfiguring. This is perhaps a matter of consciousness or perception or architecture. But also emotion and empathy.
I hear the line: All air is dense.
I think the words in these books aren’t felt the same way heat is.
Lately, it is true that the air has been dense, the embarrassed sun creating a strange sort of distance between bodies, mirages, and a magnetic reduction of space.
I can’t deny the distance between us.
Everything is mediated by words.
How anonymous is the distance that is texture.
In Los Angeles last week, it was devastatingly hot. Devastating is an overstatement, an exaggeration, if describing just the temperature outside. But it is not an overstatement if describing the feelings of a single body in a single week, a week that began with Mother’s Day, an increasingly heavy, distant, and enclosed contingency. On this day, driving with a friend, we see a reservoir covered in thousands of eerie, black, plastic balls. On another day, I watch Godzilla, empathize with a monster who is a participant in the demolition of entire cities. I watch Volcano, because I feel nostalgic, watch the destruction of an imaginary Los Angeles, watch a volcano emerge out of the La Brea tar bits, located right next door to LACMA where I read Saturday.
From Architectural Body:
4. Architectural Surround
Let our species cease being stunned into silence and passivity, into defeatism, by a formal architecture that seems so accomplished but that leads nowhere. Members of our species have been stunned into passivity by what should be their greatest ally. To counter the deer-in-the-headlights effect, we have turned from speaking of architecture, vast architecture, to speaking of what of vast architecture a person can encompass in any given moment, naming this the architectural surround. This is architecture at the ready, at everyone’s disposal. It is not monumentality but an approachable workaday architecture our species is in need of.
An architectural surround’s features: its boundaries and all objects and persons within it. Each circumjacency has a characteristic set of features. Here are some architectural surrounds and their characteristic sets of features. In the case of an architectural surround that is nothing more than a small enclosure in a wheat field formed by many stalks having been trampled upon, the set includes a floor of trampled-upon wheat stalks, walls consisting of wheat stalks, bent stragglers mixed in with intact ones, and sky for a ceiling. The set of features for a kitchen will be all that makes it a kitchen, including the woman putting a roast in the oven. The set of characteristic features for an immensely large architectural surround such as a city will be everything that makes it a city, including all those bustling or ambling through it.
Similarly to how she flexes her muscles, a person flexes her surroundings—both are with her and of her always. Landing-site dispersal and a flexing of the circumambient determine and describe the world that lies within one’s ambit of the moment. A person who is noting what is around her is dispersing landing sites; as body-wide landing-site dispersal registers the body’s immersion within a volume held in place by certain demarcations, recording particulars about boundaries, a person will feel herself surrounded first according to one description of the world, then another. Moving within an architectural surround, a person fashions an evolving matrix, an architectural surround not entirely of her own making. Repeatedly, incessantly, a person surrounds herself by conforming in a particular set of ways to what surrounds her. Constrained by her environment, she proceeds to piece together an architectural surround that maps onto the one within which she ¤nds herself. In a glance, she takes in a tree, a lake, or a wall. Glancing in that direction again, but this time having lifted, for example, her right leg to start walking toward X, she . . .
Questions that query the degree to which persons are surroundings-bound need to be posed by actually erecting measuring frames around them. If persons can never be extricated from surroundings, then what must be looked at is the extent to which they are bound to and influenced by them. In what respects and how variegatedly do physical surroundings invite bodily action? How far out into the environment does an organism that persons extend? To what extent do surroundings influence thoughts and actions?
Preexisting those who enter them, architectural surrounds stand as elaborately structured pretexts for action. Ready and waiting to be entered, even when in disarray, they are always encountered and often-noticed but little-understood atmospheric conditioners. Someone might make a convincing case for doubting that she exists or that isolated objects do, but it would be preposterous for her to try to use doubt to wipe away features and elements of an entire architectural surround. It would be unusual and unlikely for someone holding a glass beneath an open faucet and filling it with water to doubt the existence of either any part of this situation or of the situation as a whole. The question “Is this real or an illusion?” would seem not to be an option at such a moment. This whole situation— the sink, faucet, running stream of water, glass, hand, kitchen floor, wall-tiles, and windows, for a start—is of her sensorium within which she pours all liquids and drinks them up, but it is also constructed in place and is as such a place she can enter and with which she can link up in all manner of ways. All organisms-persons work hard, but none could work that hard, that is, no one could pull off the creation of an entire kitchen with water-producing faucet without prods, prompts, and props—that is, without the help of that set of features characteristic of this appliance-filled architectural surround. It would also be ridiculous for someone using a flashlight to find the path out of a labyrinthine cave and bumping up against uneven walls and low overhangs or tripping upon rocks and stalagmites and then sliding into and splashing through shallow puddles to wonder if indeed this might be a hollowed-out figment of her imagination.
One’s living room is and isn’t one’s own sensorium. All that is tentative is in the realm of sensoria; all that appears to be definite has been physically constructed.
Last week, too, I followed the moon, the stars. Each night a different moon, each night a different sky, a different place, a different angle, a different space, a different —
The heat. The dusty sky. The fires. The heat. The color. Driving in the heat. The moon. Between the trees. Walking along a bridge where past suicides make it hard to breathe. Breathe.
Living with a book that completely describes the architecture of a week, and then again, not at all.
Living with so many feelings, charting the sky and attempting to understand what the sky looks like on different days, the sky as a consequence of a certain view of the sky as a consequence to a certain relationship with architecture. My body aches from last night when I stood for moments with my head thrown back, attempting to glimpse the sky more fully, more bodily. How far am I right now from the center of the earth?
Today, the density of bodies. Again, the density of air. In the heat, it is hard to breathe, hard to think clearly, hard to articulate thoughts. In the heat, my relationship with language changes. The words melt like Dali’s clocks, I intend, try to remember intention, and instead feel a heavy feeling in my chest. The heaviness replaces the words and my mind goes blank, my mind only filled with hot gas, my heart: heavy, and I think: I want there to be more space around things, and I think: No, I want there to be no more space between things. Bodies: touching.
We talk about his aversion to talking about feelings. It makes me weird, he says. I think about my desire for words and language and words and language about feelings. What about gestures and actions? he says. I can’t think of a good response. Indeed, what about them?
There is a persistence to feeling. Persistence of feeling as time as weight as sunlight as heat as the fires that burn and change the color of the sky. Imagine that. To light a match and to change the color of the entire sky.
In this instance, I feel like I am unable to be honest. I want to desire something and to be able to take it, to not care about anything but my own happiness. What makes me happy? Sometimes the answer is easy. Sometimes it is intermittent, hidden, rare, like the rain, or the communiques from a person that only knows now how to write words. Meaningless words. Words are so meaningless, aren’t they?