Je ne suis pas rentré,
An essay on the boundaries of domestic space.
written by Jonas Vansteenkiste
One of My First drawings that I can remember is one of a white house, a free standing house in a green meadow. The house was rather symmetrical with two windows and a door in the middle, smoke coming out of the chimney.
I can't remember if there was a tree next to it or if the sky was blue or if I drew a sun in one of the corners.
The strangest thing about it, was that we didn't live in a free standing white house, nor was it symmetrical. Somehow this archetypical house form found his way in to my head. But where did it come from? And how did it infiltrate my head?
I think this is one of the basic dualities in my work. The tension between the real and the ideal image of the house.
In my project “ A house is not a home , (housetraps)” this tension is clearly present. The work tempts us with the ideal of a perfect home and it plays with the attraction to and longing for household bliss.
In the work I’m showing the basic duality between desire and reality.
The idyllic image of the “perfect home” is the carefully selected bait to set the trap that threatens to lock us up, to trap us in our own desire.
But is this our desire? Or is this a construction as well.
In television series “The Perfect Home” Alain de Botton explored the importance of architecture for homes. He offered criticism on house development. He showed us that a lot of houses today are built in an idealized fake heritage style, which he referred to as pastiche. This so called pastiche is a common denominator of a house which property developers introduce us as an ideal way of living.
They manufacture " the model home”, a perfect image of living standards today, and copy paste it, but they miss their goal if we want to approach the essential objective of a home. Sure, these houses give us shelter against nature and provide us with privacy, but are these houses built to be our homes? Is a home not more than four walls and a roof?
The house as a second skin.
The idea of second skin is not so farfetched. We are always looking for a place or space as a "buffer zone", a cocoon, a place that offers us protection.
When we are born we have the idea that we are one with everything around us. This means that "babies" cannot distinguish between themselves and the world around. The child is extremely sensitive to external stimuli and influences that have a direct effect on his development. Some of these stimuli are internalized and form the basis of the personality. Often the individual realizes his consciousness in what Lacan calls the mirror stage. This realization is accompanied by an oversupply of external stimuli as the child loses the feeling of oneness with the mother. Until now the child thought that the mother and the child were one (symbiosis ).
The individual responds to this "mental divorce" by shielding themselves from external stimuli and influences to continue searching aforementioned buffer zones. These buffer zones filter the excess stimuli and may take the form of objects or space.
At that early stage of life, it is important that the baby feels boundaries. These limits should be taught: the embrace of the mother and child hugging, or being wrapped in a blankets in order to have a contour experience. In this way the baby feels his own skin and he experiences his own limits. Limitation is crucial in the development of an individual.
Boundaries are required to create their own interiority and from there go to the exteriority (reality). In this way, the individual can place themselves outside of reality itself and also position in this exteriority. The child is thus self-conscious and distinguishes himself from things around him.
Even if we look at the etymology of the dutch word for house, "huis", we can trace it back to the old German word "hutte", which relates to an old living form between a wooden construction and a tent. The walls were made of animal skins and the name "hutte" means skin as well.
Even if the meaning of the house as a second skin has changed from a shelter form to a more psychological meaning, the basic idea of protection still lingers. The treatment seems to have changed. The physical protection has traded place for a more mental protection and becomes more and more a personal heterotpic place in society, shielding us from reality.
That reality treatens the dreams we have.
Gaston Bachelard thinks of the house as a shelter of day-dreaming,, the function of this house is the protection of the dreamer.
These images of a house of a perfect shelter, where we can live in peace in our own bubble would be a flat and wrong presumption. I think that the house and his owners are in a permanent state of crisis. You have to see this crisis as a state of being, and not see it as a problem.
An intresting theory(and example of a crisis) is the suggestion of Slavoj Zizek that mother’s house in the Alfred Hitchcock movie"psycho" would be a blueprint of the human psyche, that all levels of the house can be related to a part of the human mind.
The ground floor would be contextualized to the "ego" (where his childhood bedroom is), the first floor would be the place of the "superego"( where mother’s room is), and the basement would be the place where "ID"(es) dwells( where the corpse of mother is hidden). In the theories of Sigmund Freudoperates the uber-ich, also called the superego, as a censoring force in relation to the Es. It arises through the identification process with the sanctioning (punishing and rewarding) parents.
Zizek also nicely shows the bond between the id and the ego and the super ego and points to carrying away the mother from the 1st floor to the basement. This action displays to him the connection between the three parts of the consciousness.
If we continue to follow Zizek's argument, we note that in the "Psycho" motel that Norman Bates operates is at the same level of the basement floor of the Victorian house. This is true because it is a place where mother and son are clearly split. The motel is also the only place in the story that belongs to him.
If we look at his own bedroom in his parents' house, we see that since childhood it has not changed. It can therefore be argued that a subservient Norman individual is in this house. Everything here refers to the mother, even if it is physically deceased, her presence dominates the house. One way or another, the symbiosis remains between the child and the mother even after the death of Norman's mother's continued existence. The fact is that for Norman a "mom personality" has developed after the death of his mother. The house, in turn, plays the role of the physical reference in the maintenance of the mother figure, indicating the identification of the mother with the Victorian house.
We also see a clear separation of his persona at the basement level. On this floor two people can never be seen together, we see the mother only appearing to murder and as a voice from the house on the slope.
The setting of the story is - much like the character of Norman Bates - a clear split. One location, two buildings, two distinctly different building types from different time periods. In a healthy relationship the figurative umbilical cord must be cut with the mother, but in the figure of Norman Bates this cord has not disappeared, creating a split personality identification resulting in the child/mother.
If identification is not strong enough it can result in an uncanny feeling: you're a stranger in your own house.
When the writer Georges Perec stood before the house where he’d once lived as a child, he responded with one sentence: "je ne suis pas rentré", literally: “I did not go inside." These five simple words condense into a tragic weight in meaning: 'I have not come home’.
Perhaps the ideal image of a home sets the boundary of the domestic space. But didn't we need boundaries to explore the world and to become ourselves? In that way the house has evolved from a practical space to a mental space where we share personal but also universal experiences.
And maybe we are doomed to dwell between the desire to come home and the ideal we can never come home to.
"A House Is Not a Home" is a 1964 song recorded by American singer Dionne Warwick, and written by the team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
Alain de Botton, ( born 20 December 1969) is a Swiss-born, British-based philosopher, writer. His books and television programmes discuss various contemporary subjects and themes, emphasizing philosophy's relevance to everyday life.
Jacques Marie Émile Lacan (13 April 1901 – 9 September 1981), known simply as Jacques Lacan, was a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who has been called "the most controversial" psycho-analyst since Freud.
"house, garden and kitchen, living in words through the centuries"
Foucault uses the term heterotopia to describe spaces that have more layers of meaning or relationships to other places than immediately meet the eye. In general, a heterotopia is a physical representation or approximation of a utopia, or a parallel space (such as a prison) that contains undesirable bodies to make a real utopian space possible.
Gaston Bachelard (27 June 1884 – 16 October 1962) was a French philosopher. He made contributions in the fields of poetics and the philosophy of science.
Slavoj Žižek (born 21 March 1949) is a Slovenian philosopher, cultural critic, and Marxist intellectual. His work is located at the intersection of a range of disciplines, including continental philosophy, political theory, cultural studies, psychoanalysis, film criticism, and theology.
Sigmund Freud (6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939) was an Austrian neurologist, now known as the father of psychoanalysis.
Georges Perec (March 7, 1936 in Paris - March 3, 1982 in Ivry-sur-Seine) was a French novelist, filmmaker, documentarian and essayist. He was a member of the Oulipo group. His father died as a soldier early in the Second World War and his mother was killed in the Holocaust, and many of his works deal with absence, loss, and identity, often through word play.