Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Catching Glimpses of One's Self in the Chamber

Exposure is at the heart of one of the most prevalent myths or nightmares of the corridor, that involving the hotel guest who ventures out of his or her room wearing risible or negligible nightwear, only to have the door slam behind them, leaving them marooned in shame and terror. Jean-Paul Sartre makes the corridor central to his allegory of the operations of human power and shame in one of the most memorable passages from his Being and Nothingness (1943). Imagine, he says, somebody on their knees, peeping through a keyhole, into a hotel bedroom. The voyeur has all the privileges of invisibility. Because their whole being is absorbed in the act of looking, and because they seem to be utterly quarantined from the visual scene on which they are so intent, they are pure subjects, who seem to have absolute dominion of the world. All of a sudden the voyeur hears a footstep in the corridor. Instantly, and without even having to raise his eyes, the voyeur sees himself as a voyeur, an object in somebody else’s field of vision. For Sartre, the hotel corridor is a radically and dangerously reversible space.

Perhaps the point is that corridors are not really places, at all. They are vectors, hesitations, zones of passage, architectural prepositions.

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