Psychosis or the ineffable space of modernism

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    The aim of this psychoanalytic reflection on architecture is to disengage the spatial image from space, and thereby to reclaim for space its symbolic and contingent status. It returns to Le Corbusier's concept of ineffable space, a radiant space of pure energy, in order to link it to the psychoanalytic concept of psychosis. In psychosis, the subject’s conceptual or symbolic framework – what Lacan calls the master signifier – is foreclosed to the subject. The subject is decoupled from its reality. It is not repressed and hence unconscious, it simply does not exist for the subject. This paper elaborates the theory of psychosis in psychoanalysis and argues that perspective constitutes such a master framework. It argues that the perspective frame, in which space is always already organised for the viewer, is foreclosed to Le Corbusier and in its absence he is left with a dynamic fluidity that elides the familiar spatial territories of inside/outside, near/far, ….

    Ineffable space is not simply an other space type, but a break with the spatial discourse of architecture and the anticipated space of modernism. We usually regard space as a given (by definition we are in it), but the experience of Le Corbusier raises the spectre that our relation to space is contingent and symbolic. It could have been otherwise. The purpose of this paper is not to describe ineffable space (any description would be a falsification), but to trace the consequences for architecture and subjectivity of this contingency.

    The psychotic is able to make great leaps precisely because s/he is unable to use the conceptual frameworks that bind most of us to our desire. In its stead, desire is concretised. Psychosis has the potential to become a critical strategy for negotiating landscape-like mega-machine projects which threaten the agency of their inhabitants.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)402-424
    Number of pages23
    JournalJournal of Architecture
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2013
    EventFLOW 2 - Melbourne, Australia
    Duration: 8 Feb 201210 Feb 2012


    • subjectivity
    • space
    • psychoanalysis
    • modernism
    • architecture
    • Le Corbusier


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