Through the Vanishing Point: A reverie on breaking free of language
in the space and place of radical loss


Inga Frick, Master of Arts, 1998

Thesis directed by:

Professor Kathy O'Dell
Assistant Professor of Art History and Theory
Visual Arts Department


My thesis explores a hypothetical space outside of the bounds of language by following a personal and subjective trail of longing for place and space. I particularize the terms "place" and "space" to reference, respectively, the order and security of the known in opposition to the freedom and threat of the unknown. I associate both language and the subject as constituted by language, with place. I hypothesize a radicalized space which, in its opposition to place, exceeds the bounds of language. In pursuit of such a space, I consider personal, archetypical and historical experiences of space and place as well as the position of these concepts in contemporary linguistic theory. I focus my search for space beyond language in the space before birth and in the space of death. I ultimately narrow my search to "unclosable gap(s) in thought,"* which language cannot hope to close. By referencing Lacanian theory I associate these "gaps" with an emptiness underneath the illusion of cohesive identity, potentially accessible through relationship with an "other" (in particular a relationship encompassing loss). I propose these "gaps" as sites of high potential in the pursuit of wordless space. My collaborative thesis project has been a process of mirroring "each other" in pursuit of "silent" desire.

*Ragland. Ellie. Essays on the Pleasures of Death. New York: Routledge, 1995.



Dedicated to Kathy O'Dell, Marjetica Potrc and Clara Else, three singularly marvelous women whom I adore, more and more.

And to Gillian (Jill) Brown -- who suffered being joined at the head with me for the sake of a raw and exhilarating adventure.



My time at UMBC has been a tribulation with a flood of blessings. The blessings have been the people. The faculty at UMBC is of extraordinary calibre and I consider it an amazing privilege to have been able to work in such a stimulating intellectual environment. The mentorship of my Thesis Committee Chair, Kathy O'Dell, has been the highpoint of this experience. In my opinion, she is the jewel of the department. Colin Ives has been a steadfast friend and I have the greatest respect for his irreverent intelligence and insight. Tim Nohe is a new mentor and friend and I feel lucky to have happened upon such a savvy supporter. Marjetica Potrc is an artist with both a great heart and mind and I have been influenced by her ideas and honored by her support. Clara Else is the meanest and best editor I can imagine. She is wickedly logical and has helped straighten me (and my thesis) out in the most fundamental ways. Craig Neal, my first and number one husband, has contributed many hours of labor and endless caring support. My friend Jim Jenkins has also been there in the clinch. His wisdom and kindness have helped turn my life around. I am grateful to my husband, Mark Kreitman, for providing the opportunity of the psychic journey, which is at the heart of my thesis, in all its rich and painful beauty, and for returning home with me. My fellow graduate students have contributed much generous help. I am especially indebted to Kathy Marmor, who has been a true buddy in thick and thin. Thanks also to Phyllis Robinson, a supporter of artists from the Biology Department who is great to have around. Above all, thanks to Jill Brown, who has been there for me, further down in the trenches than anyone else, and whose friendship I treasure immeasurably.






Table of Contents

I. Order, Chaos and Longing

II I am here!

III. Place and Space - The Rhythm of Desire

IV. Motion and Pause

V. Home

VI. The World and Eye(I) - History's Desire

VII. Dusting off Phenomenology

VIII. The House Of Language

IX. Cabin Fever

X. Birth - Creation

XI. Syncope - The Little Death

XII. Cracks in the Firmament - Unclosable Gaps in Thought

XIII. The Hole in the Middle of the Decentered Self


Selected Bibliography

Appendix -- Description of Thesis Project and Delineation of Influences


However, there must be some singing
I can't be only a scream
This violent thing in me
Seeks a lack, a crack there
Where mutiny can pass.1





I experienced the collapse of my marriage as a radical loss of home, an implosion of the structures of identity that keep stark terror at bay. For awhile I lost all sense of who I was and how to operate the mechanisms of being. This experience has reminded me that places of disintegration can become sites of extraordinary potential. The flow of my argument is pulled by strong and contradictory currents of longing generated in the wake of this experience, in confluence with many other tidal rhythms of desire.


A "world view" is a "sheltering structure," protecting against the threat of chaos and mental breakdown. It is also a cage, a confinement from which we yearn to escape. The longing for home and the hunger for freedom can be traced through the lived experience of "place" and "space." Place is space that has been charted and named, and has thereby been encompassed by language. We constitute our "selves" in the process of transmuting space into place, which is to say, in the process of acquiring language. The longing to get away from a particular "place" can be interpreted as a longing to escape one's "self." This would seem to be an unsatisfiable urge. For in the very instant of inhabitation, space becomes place. "We bring our lares with us," as an old adage goes.2 Nonetheless, this yearning, for me at least, is both cyclical and ceaseless. The longing for home and the urge to flee each contains the seed of the other and each is characterized by its own form of hopelessness.

The insatiable longing I am interested in here would seem to be of a particularly fruitless kind -- a longing for escape from the most inexorable conditions of being. I want to consider a hypothetical freedom from language itself and from "subjectivity" as it is constituted by language. The extensive theorization (in contemporary critical discourse) of the constitution of the subject through language makes it an intellectually risky arena of exploration. I excuse the audacity of my enterprise by proposing it as a padideia, an eccentric tracing of possibility3, or just as a "flight of fancy." In making my apologies, I would also be amiss not to acknowledge an obvious irony: This fantasization of wordlessness has been experienced through an immensely pleasurable immersion in the sensuality of language, the result of which you are reading.

I move often and when I can't move I rearrange the furniture. Between times I do a lot of cleaning.

I begin my pursuit of wordlessness by positing wordlessness as a radical form of space. Such a space might be thought of as the vanishing point of a flight from the known, the culmination point of lines of movement toward unmediated experience. I follow its trail along a meandering course of desire for the known and the unknown -- for place and space. Along this route I probe for promising extremities and gaps. By working collaboratively, I am predicating the conditions of this (re)search on the presence and participation of an "other."4 Ultimately, I have come to feel that it is this presence that may be most critical to imagining such a radical adventure.


Swimming ~~~ The first time we collaborated it felt like being the wrong end of a vaudevillian cloth donkey. Now, occasionally, we move toward each other and at the point of intersection "eachness" disappears. Then work seems an unpredictable artefact of this annihilation.





Self and space are inextricably bound within language. "I am here" is the most fundamental of tautologies. As humanist geographer Y-Fu Tuan has pointed out, "In many languages, spatial demonstratives and personal pronouns are {etymologically} so closely related that it is difficult to say which class of words is earlier or later, which original or derivative.... I am always here, .... In contrast with the here where I am, you are there and he is yonder."5 You are "other" than me, most essentially, because you don't occupy the same space that I do.






I grew up restlessly, dreaming of houses. My ancestors were among the first settlers of the Oregon Territories. They were the fanatic elite of a small subset, who chose to leave all that was comfortable to come to a 'New World.' This was a group that could not stop pursuing frontier. Ultimately stymied by the Pacific Ocean, I imagine a smoldering, mad-making frustration. I imagine this easily, as it rests in my bones.

He lay down behind the blade of grass
To enlarge the sky.6

Place and space are psychologically laden polarities in everyday life. The dominant psychological meaning of open space is freedom, but it can also represent vulnerability. Enclosed space is primarily consoling, but it can also be suffocating. Space and place give each other meaning. Space is frontier, terror and adventure; an emptiness, without trodden paths or signposts. Once colonized, space becomes place; a known and named settlement of established values. Lost, I long for the familiar. Overwhelmed, I utilize cramped metaphors. I curl into the fetal position or I want to "crawl into a hole and die." As confidence grows or as comfort implodes into claustrophobia, the locus of desire moves again outward. In running away, the child engages in a primordial dance of conflicting desires. Child psychologist John Holt has observed:

The courage of little children (and not them alone) rises and falls, like the tide -- only the cycles are in minutes, or even seconds. We can see this vividly when we watch infants of two or so, walking with their mothers, or playing in a playground or park. Not long ago I saw this scene in the Public Garden in Boston. The mothers were chatting on a bench while the children roamed around. For a while they would explore boldly and freely, ignoring their mothers. Then, after a while, they would use up their store of courage and confidence, and run back to their mothers' sides, and cling there for a while, as if to recharge their batteries. After a moment or two of this they were ready for more exploring, and so they went out, then came back, and then ventured out again.7

The engine of this perpetual motion is fuelled by contrasts. The house is never cozier than when enveloped in the vast whiteness of snow. We never know the motion and depth of water so well as on the still, hot surface of sand. A deep-sea diver and explorer of deserts, Philippe Diole poetically melds images of water and sand:

I realized that, as I walked along, my mind filled the desert landscape with water! In my imagination I flooded the space around me while walking through it. I lived in a sort of invented immersion in which I moved about in the heart of a fluid, luminous, beneficent, dense matter, which was sea water, or rather the memory of sea water. This artifice sufficed to humanize for me a world that was dishearteningly dry, reconciling me with its rock, its silence, its solitude, its sheet of sun gold hanging from the sky. Even my weariness was lessened by it. I dreamed that my bodily weight reposed on this imaginary water.8



The quintessential place, of course, is home. Home is the place where language is acquired and subjectivity is forged. Built in our image, it is also the location in which image is built. With its windows as eyes and door as mouth, the house is our most primordial 'arche'-type. "House images move in both directions: they are in us as much as we are in them."14 This is where the cellars and attics of the psyche -- the unconscious and conscious minds -- are formed. It is in the process of growing up that home is "scaled down" to a suffocating provocateur of flight and motion.

As the realm of the psyche, home is above all a relationship. In a play by Tennessee Williams, the character Hanna Jelkes speaks these lines:

We make a home for each other, my grandfather and I. Do you know what I mean by a home? I don't mean a regular home. I mean I don't mean what other people mean when they speak of a home, because I don't regard a home as a... well, as a place, a building....a house...of wood, bricks, stone. I think of home as being a thing that two people have between them in which each can... well, nest -- rest -- live in, emotionally speaking.15

The aphorism "you can't go home again" points to the difficulty of gratifying the psyche's longing for home -- the place that perfectly expresses and cares for the spirit, the place that returns all that has been hopelessly lost. My focus here is on the radical extremes of a space that would seem to sit in contraposition to the place of home. But the longing for the cohesion of home contains its own radical extremes. In the convolution of paradox these sites may not be so far apart.


Of necessity, my mother and I lived in my grandmother's house. Francis McCaslin was the toughest, most brilliant and nearly the craziest of six sisters. Their grandmother had come across the plains in a covered wagon as one of the earliest settlers of the Oregon Territories. These six women married a succession of exceptionally compliant men, to form an insular and highly matriarchal society. Clever and immensely capable, but self-educated, they maintained a distance from the "outside" world (I was the first of the family to finish college). A sizable contingent of the family (including my mother) became Jehovah's Witnesses. Is it only an irony that this group is obsessed with the coming of a paradise on earth, which they call the "New World"? In a sound bite that stuck, my first husband has accused me of "chronic dissatisfaction," a restless, unsatisfiable longing....






The fluctuation between expansiveness and caution is echoed in the broad cycles of cultural history. We might call this history, then, a "history of spatial interpretation," a history that can reveal a great deal about cultural identity.

The contraction of the Middle Ages was accompanied by a repression of sensual physicality and a flattening of the picture plane. Medieval space wrapped around the subject like a blanket. The center of the universe and the center of the subject were coincident. The world circumscribed the viewer in a field of relatively shallow depth. There was no way out and relatively little room to move.

By contrast, Renaissance space could be greeted with outstretched arms. Its pictorial space was deep and expansive. Importantly, however, this space was separated from the subject by the interval of reflection, by a distance sufficient to make it encompassable, rather than encompassing. The Renaissance "self" was mirrored in the world and it was encouraged by what it saw. Orderly lines of perspective culminated in a vanishing point. This cone of contemplation pleasingly mirrored the funnel of light absorbed in the eye(I) of the viewer, thus facilitating a rational, centered sense of self -- I(eye) -- in symmetry with a comprehensible, focused world. This centered sense of the individual (undivided) self was further advanced in the Enlightenment. Not only light, but "will, thought, and perception could be depicted as rays issuing outward from the solitary mind to play over the surface"16 of the world. This confident relation of self to world found its paradigmatic expression in

Descartes's famous dictum, "I think, therefore I am." This empowered relationship to space gradually gained momentum, drawing strength from the successes of mechanistic and rational world views that issued from the Industrial Revolution. It culminated in an explosion of nineteenth and twentieth-century triumphs over the physical world. Space had seemingly been conquered in a flourish of patriarchal mastery. But in the process, space has become codified, systematized and rigidified. What began as a gesture of freedom, an expansive flight from oppression, became a movement of control and domination. Space was rapidly and relentlessly subsumed by place. Charted, named and conquered, space became increasingly encrypted into the systems of language.

Cartesian space has become synonymous with colonialization and oppression; and the centered Cartesian "man" is viewed as an oppressor. Postmodern space reflects a distrust in the conquering and controlling practices associated with this long-reigning paradigm. Its legacy can be traced in the degradation of the natural environment and in the abuse of human rights. The cohesiveness of the individual(undivided) self has come to seem both delusional and dysfunctional. Perhaps the most disturbing and radical exemplar of Cartesian space can be located in Theresienstadt17, a Nazi propaganda film for Hitler's ideal city for the Jews. This could be said to be the ultimate expression of the Enlightenment's dark side, of the insane extremity of rationalism. This nightmarish vision of ordnung and control prompts our appreciation of the beauty of uselessness and unmanageability. In her Thesis in Favor of a Vacant House, artist Marjetica Potrc says that "cities need empty buildings (places of rest) like a man needs a place to sleep."18 For Potrc the empty and uncontrolled spaces of vacant and abandoned houses are not threatening, but rather are openings for daydream and regeneration.

In art, reactions to Renaissance space can be seen in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century flattening of perspectival space and the growing emphasis on conceptual space. These tendencies can be traced from Impressionism through Fauvism, Cubism, German Expressionism, Futurism, Abstract Expressionism and beyond. Starting with the Cubists' emphasis on conceptualized space and continuing through Duchamp's rejection of "retinal" art in favor of a more intellectual reckoning with experience, the space of art has become ever more fully equated with the space of language. The enormous influence of French linguistic theory on contemporary art practice has been only a part of a longer trend -- the articulation of a cultural wave.

In the late twentieth century we seem to have settled into the house of language. The earth has been settled and resettled in repeated waves of colonialization and codification. We now move, not in the lightness of airy possibility, but in the watery and complex currents and undercurrents of language. We are seemingly done with conquering the earth. Our frontiers have been relocated to the phantasmagoric realms of "outer," "cyber" and "virtual" space.



Swimming ~~~ The swimmer is constrained, constrained by the relentless surges of water, constrained by her destined rendezvous....





The intestinal tract in its convoluted looping is a rudimentary brain; having all of the essential features of that more elaborately embroidered organ.19


So how could one speak of wordlessness? What a problem! In painting, I lived my own frustration with this dilemma.

In my first bout with graduate school, I took a graduate seminar with art historian Leo Steinberg, in which I argued (unsuccessfully) that Braque was the lead architect of Cubism. I tried to show that while Picasso was interested in objects (really, people) Braque was interested in the space between things. Picasso's objects basked in the sun of his "will, thought and perception," while Braque investigated a more diffuse territory of in-betweeness. This was the beginning of my own investigation of space, an investigation that led to my first "cohesive" body of paintings. In retrospect, I realize that my approach was phenomenological. By this I mean that I then believed in the possibility of pre-linguistic experience, of living "a solution to problems that reflection cannot hope to solve."20 I thought that with determined focus I could transcend the preconceived and become aware of my own experience and how my brain was organizing it. My goal was to create a record of that process. I was interested in space for its character as perceptual phenomenon, as well as in its nature as uncharted territory. I longed for a transcendent flight above the constraints of enculturation. Then, as now, I longed to transcend myself.

My experiments, seemingly, failed. As if exemplifying the limits of the phenomenological method, I came to believe that I wasn't discovering anything new, but only regurgitating received wisdom. There was no unmediated experience. I was stuck in the vanishing point. Now, in my second MFA thesis project, I find myself once again obsessed with space, but this time I am seeking it by trailing desire and probing for holes in the tissue of language. (See Appendix for description of this project.)





Swimming ~~~ The swimmers move in a deep and voluptuous space. The fluid they traverse could as well be oil as water.


As a painter and sensualist (a group I've heard referred to as "rebels without a clue"), my overdue awakening to Postmodernism and attendant exposure to linguistic theory have been disturbing. I have had to move, in a hurry, from thinking of myself as a "centered," cohesive, moderately "whole" kind of personage that uses language, to a socially constructed, diffuse "subject" that is constituted by language. This re-location has been accompanied by a shaking of my confidence in the possibility of the "authentic" experience I considered painting to be. The idea of a direct, pre- or at least proto-linguistic communion with the world, a concept that I had been extremely attached to, has come to seem very "problematic" (a word that has invaded my vocabulary like Kudzu). I admit that my fantasizing of spatial extremity is undoubtedly tied up with defensiveness and sundry other sullied motivations. In another irony, I find I am seeking "shelter" in a concept of "shelterlessness."

Two theorists who have fascinated and disquieted me are Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault. The constitution of identity through Jacques Lacan's mirror stage, and what he calls the "law of the father," seems to me to be emblematic of a progression from space to place. It is a progression from the illusion of self-identity in the space of the mirror (and the gaze of the mother) to initiation of the subject into the "law of the father" in the form of language. Once initiated into language, there is apparently no return to innocence. In this process, the unconscious itself becomes "structured like language,"21 and all experience is henceforth mediated by this structure. Similarly, Foucault's socially constructed subject is "a product of language and discourse rather than an essential psychological-spiritual center that uses language for its own transcendental purposes."22 In acquiring language, the subject becomes "placed" within its complex structure -- trapped, it would seem, in a web of verbiage.

Yet, ironically, the contemporary theorization of language is rife with spatial metaphor. Invisible, in its ubiquity, space permeates these theorizations. Derrida's deconstruction and archi-ecriture, Frederic Jameson's mapping, Foucault's lexicon of space all make evident language's dependence on a physical world. Everything we know seems to rely on a space that we doubt our ability (or worthiness) to touch. One begins to feel that tangible space has become the suppressed "other" to language in contemporary critical discourse.






Swimming ~~~ There aren't that many alternatives. It's either sink or swim.


Cabin fever is escalating in the house of language. While sensitized to the difficulty of speaking of what lies outside of language, there are an increasing number of people expressing, in various ways, a sense of longing for wordless sensuality -- albeit a sensuality which we may never actually have had and in which we can certainly no longer sustain uncontaminated faith. Cultural theorist Silvio Gaggi has observed that "in the poststructuralist world the larger force to which one is subject is not an individual or human agency, but language itself, which contains all of us in its prisonhouse, makes subjects of us all."23 Foucault's socially constructed subjects seem to call into question the possibility of free agency. Once under the thumb of a mechanistic universe, we now seem oppressed by a linguistic one. Gaggi speaks of a "sense of crisis in the theorizing of the subject and the relationship of that project to wider social, economic, and political realities."24 He references a letter sent to renowned contemporary critical theorists invited to participate in the 1992 inaugural session of the Oxford Amnesty Lectures that read, in part:

Our lecturers are being asked to consider the consequences of the deconstruction of the self for the liberal tradition. Does the self as construed by the liberal tradition still exist? If not, whose human rights are we defending?25

Gaggi suggests that "the Amnesty lectures make explicit the fact that the present seems to be a critical juncture in the relationship between those committed to poststructural critical theory and those committed to ethical political action. The relationship may not be one of irreconcilable difference, but the space available for negotiating difference is clearly rather small."26 It would seem that it is not only in a personal but in a political sense, then, that there is a feeling of entrapment. This is not only a psychic, but a political, economic, social and ethical issue. As such, the stakes are incredibly high.

"The subject who sees his life foreclosed of any possible novelty... is quite simply in jail. That is the definition of jail, isn't it, when there is nothing new possible?"27 This melancholy reflection was made by one of the patriarchs of modern semiology, Roland Barthes, in a lecture in the autumn of 1978. Marshall Blonsky, in his introduction to (the anthology) On Signs, claims that Barthes' sentiment foreshadowed a fading momentum in modern semiotics "because of failure of theory, because of abstracting, ahistorical discourse, because of a language with little responsibility towards the real."28


Swimming ~~~ In moving from one to two, the creative process becomes terrifically more cumbersome. We've unconsciously developed a system for checking and cross-referencing our psychic currents. Work proceeds at a snail's pace but we've gradually acquired confidence in an eventual gestalt, a sort of magic whereby we occasionally exceed ourselves.





We are only... peripheral trappings... on the outside of the mystery. We are songbirds.29


A discussion of ultimate vastness cannot avoid the infinite space and final stoppage of death and its counterpart in the equally imponderable space before birth. In the birth of the universe, as recounted by Plato's Timaeus, space was a necessary evil. Space, spatium, can be traced to Khora, the feminine principle, the receptacle in which the Demiurge transmutes his pure being into the relatively sordid becoming of the world. Khora is held accountable for the lapses in logic necessary to create something from nothing, as well as the precipitous decline in quality between the father's perfect being and the world's unruly becoming. In retelling this story in Archeticture: Space, Time and the Human Body, David Krell submits that "someone [had to] be held responsible for the slippage that [made] becoming less than pure being,... for the gaping wound[s and] fissure[s] in being." In the extremis of creation, he continues, Khora was "hysterical.... she [made] all the stories falter, and cause[d] the story tellers to begin all over again, and each time they [began it was] one more ... botched -- or bitched -- beginning.... From the outset, wherever [Khora] is concerned, the Demiurge is in deep waters."30 Krell goes on to suggest that it is perhaps time to get used to "life lived out on a limb, ... life lived in the limbo of desire, ... life lived in ... very deep water."31 Krell proposes "an ecstatic spatiality."32

This embrace of chaos is characteristically postmodern. It can be situated within this century's revolt against the rationalism that Descartes is most often credited with fathering. But in a phenomenal passage, the progenitor of the theories of the "centered self" and of the "mind/body" split relied, himself, on a metaphor of the unmoored body in watery space to express his uncertainty over his own theorizations:

The meditation of yesterday has filled my mind with so many doubts, that it is no longer in my power to forget them .... [J]ust as if I had fallen all of a sudden into very deep water, I am so greatly disconcerted as to be made unable either to plant my feet firmly on the bottom or sustain myself by swimming on the surface. 33


Swimming ~~~ I've taken risks that make Jill uncomfortable. I think she experiences this behavior as a kind of inconsideration.




"The queen of rhythm, syncope is also the mother of dissonance."34


Catherine Clement also locates an "ecstatic spatiality" in the practice of Syncope in her book of that title. Syncope is most commonly known as the root word of syncopation, a term that signifies a hesitation in the momentum of musical rhythm. But the word syncope has been borrowed from that source to refer to sneezing, laughing, and asthmatic and epileptic seizures. Most poignantly, and most germane to a pursuit of extra-linguistic space, it designates a serious fainting spell, a "cerebral eclipse" so similar to death that it is also called "apparent death."35 Clement writes about the Indian renoncant, who leaves the village (place) to go to the forest (space), and whose physical and spiritual self-deprivation during this journey induces syncope. The dance of the whirling dervishes is another rhythmic ritual of syncope. The dancers' self-induced, dizzying relinquishment of space is accompanied by a simultaneous "letting go" of language. Slowly turning, they chant a "farewell to inhibiting reason."36 In the ritual of their dance, they seek release from self in a dual abandonment of space and language. To underscore their intent, their jackets are black to symbolize death; their skirts are white, the color of shrouds and tombs. Death represents perhaps the ultimate archetypal void, an utterly empty vastness.

In awakening from coma, one struggles to speak. The first utterance is always "where am I?" Never "who?" or "what?" or "when?" but always "where?"


Swimming ~~~ In a stroke, the swimmer reclaims both space and language.




Bubble theory: Consciousness starts out like a new soap bubble, smooth and resilient. Gradually the surface becomes more porous, until there is only a network of strands holding the sphere in place. This is why time keeps going faster. The missing bits get bigger and bigger.


Swimming ~~~ A vast ocean, waves within waves, reinforcing and negating each other in an endless interaction of repulsing and attracting forces, unceasing creation, ever the same.

... I've a new material for walls.
After it snows, go out
into their shadow: you can wade in the sky.37

In the time that I have come to see myself as constituted by and through language, I have also increasingly come to understand language as fundamentally unstable. While post-structuralist theory has located the subject within the structure of language, it has also undermined confidence in the solidity of that structure. Meaning is never still, but slips and slides along an endless chain of signifiers, which is nowhere solidly moored. Moreover, as philosopher Ellie Ragland has argued, "any systematized use of language is itself symptomatic of a desire to use language to close up an unclosable gap in thought."38 I find this an intriguing concept. Perhaps the space beyond the thrall of language may be sought somewhere other than in those hard-to-get-at realms before birth and after death. There may be hope here for the quick as well as the dead. Maybe it is around "thought's unclosable gaps" that I should eagerly probe... and follow Alice, down the hole and through the looking glass.





My best friend and I got drunk. We were seventeen and the world was exploding with import. We looked up into the night sky and saw a hole in the clouds -- and we both thought it was the most profound thing we had ever seen.

In order to advance, I walk the treadmill of myself
Cyclone inhabited by immobility.39


If language has holes in it, then presumably, so does the unconscious (remember Lacan's famous dictum, "the unconscious is structured like a language"40). These "holes" in the "soul" are worrisome. My faith in a transcendent spirit, which might have been relied on to plug these gaps, has, meanwhile, eroded alarmingly. In the absence of some ghostly ectoplasm, I have to fear that these little places have just nothing in them. For Lacan, it is precisely this emptiness that we are constantly working to conceal. His message is that we live atop a chasm. We construct our identities in order to keep from falling in. Perhaps my search for wild, open spaces could, most productively, be focused here then, in the chasm. Perhaps I should be embracing the "death" I am inclined to avoid, the potential of which is so poignantly proffered -- with the loss of love and home.

Thus, I end with more productive unease than satisfying closure. According to Lacan, it is only through the medium of the "other" that we are offered a glimpse of this terrifying and tantalizing emptiness, a space so absolute, perhaps, as to exceed the barriers of language. Lacan implies that it is inherently impossible to visit this place alone. If pressed, I would say that Jill and I have "unconsciously" oriented ourselves toward this arena of potential in our work together. We have willfully exchanged "gazes" in an unusual and arduous working process. Our watery alter egos swim toward each other and are swallowed in a mysterious void. By a patient labor of mutualized argument/agreement we have chosen a configuration of images that we barely understand, but that we each feel reflects our "silent" desire.


My parents were travelling around the country in a trailer when I was born. The marriage didn't last and my mother returned with me to Oregon, to live in my grandmother's household. A powerful, fascinating and utterly unique woman, to whom I owe many debts, my grandmother was hell to live with. She dominated her household in a way that left none of its inhabitants with any territory of their own. It was her grandmother who had crossed the plains in a covered wagon. Francis McCaslin had inherited determination to burn. Her domination of my mother was so complete that my mother never really left home. Two marriages, that might have been "outs," were successfully sabotaged. My mother was not of the McCaslin ilk. A subordinate alter-ego for her high-profile mother, she never fully developed a separate identity. Her modest, and vague ambition to be "mistress of her own house," wasn't realized until very recently, after the death of my grandmother, and perhaps too late to assemble those structures of identity that form the real framework of a home. "Over-bonded" with this "under-formed" persona, I have shared my mother's impotent fantasies of freedom and completion. We dreamed houses and escape; trailers, log cabins and highways curving in pursuit of sweet elusive beauty.







1. Mme. Perier as quoted in Catherine Clement, Syncope: The Philosophy of Rapture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994), 9.

2. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), 5.

3. Marshall Blonsky, ed., On Signs (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), viii.

4. My thesis project, entitled Each/Other, is a collaborative video installation created with Gillian (Jill) Brown. Jill and I have a ten year history of inter-artistic influence. We collaborated for the first time in the fall of 1997, creating a video installation entitled You/Me. That work shares many common themes with our thesis collaboration. For a more complete discussion of the thesis project and its antecedents, see Appendix.

5. Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place (St. Paul: University of Minnesota Press, 1977), 47.

6. Petit Poucet as quoted in Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), 169.

7. John Holt as quoted in Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977), 210.

8. Philippe Diole as quoted in Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), 207.

9. R.M. Rilke as quoted in Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), 183.

10. Eric Nesterinko as quoted in Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977), 52.

11. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), 184.

12. Pierre Seghers as quoted in Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), 60.

13. Rene Cazelles as quoted in Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), 51.

14. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), xxxiii.

15. Tennessee Williams as quoted in Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977), 139.

16. This reference is from one of the books listed in the biography. I am not yet able to locate it.

17. The remaining remnants of this film were reassembled in 1991 by the National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis University, into a film entitled The Fuhrer Gives a City to the Jews. The introduction to the film reads: "During the summer of 1944, the Nazis produced a film about Terezin, a "model" ghetto established in 1941. The film was created to deceive the world about the true plight of the Jews in Nazi occupied lands. A few fragments of this film survive, reconstructed here to provide an historical document. The film purports to depict daily life in the camps. Eye witnesses attest to the fact that many scenes are staged and others grossly distort the reality - the misery, hunger, overcrowding and death. 140,000 Jew were brought to Terezin, 33,430 died in Terezin."

18. Marjetica Potrc, "Thesis in Favor of a Vacant House," in Sculpture. Projects in Muenster 1997 , ed. by Kasper Koenig and Florian Matzner Klaus Bussmann (Stuttgart: Wesfaelisches Landesmuseum), 324 - 330.

19. "Complex and Hidden Brain in the Gut," New York Times, January 23,1996, B5. This is what I imagine "could" have been a quote from this New York Times article which I read at the time of its publication, over two years ago.

20. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), xxiv.

21. Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1981), 20.

22. Silvio Gaggi, From Text to Hypertext (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997), xi.

23. IBID. xii.

24 . IBID.

25. Johnson as quoted in Silvio Gaggi, From Text to Hypertext (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997), xii.

26. Silvio Gaggi, From Text to Hypertext (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997), xiii.

27. Roland Barthes as quoted in Marshall Blonsky, On Signs (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), xiv.

28. Marshall Blonsky, ed. On Signs (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), xv.

29. Rick Bass, The Sky The Stars The Wilderness (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997), 124.

30. David Krell, Archeticture: Ecstasies of Space, Time and the Human Body (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), 28-30. David Krell intentionally misspells architecture to reference its etymological heritage in the Greek root word "tic-, suggesting lovemaking and engendering" (Krell, Archeticture, 6).

31. IBID. 35.

32. IBID. 37.

33. Descartes, "Second Meditation," in The Rationalists, ed. by John Veitch (Garden City: Anchor Books, Doubleday & Company, Inc.), 118.

34. Catherine Clement, Syncope: The Philosophy of Rapture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994), 5.

35. IBID. 1.

36. IBID. 3.

37. Jonathan Holden, Design for a House (Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1972), 11.

38. Ellie Ragland, Essays on the Pleasures of Death (New York: Routledge, 1995), 6.

39. Jean Tardieu as quoted in Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (Place: Beacon Press, 1964), 36.

40. Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1981), 20.





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A collaborative video installation by Inga Frick and Gillian Brown.
Accompanying text from The Visible and the Invisible by Maurice Merleau-Ponty.


The viewer enters through a dark corridor into an entirely black space of about 15 square feet, dimly lit by the light of a projection. Although not immediately obvious, the space is not square, but rhomboid. The corner opposite the corner of entry is obtuse. On entering, the viewer is oriented toward this wide corner, both walls of which are covered in plexiglass, creating a darkly reflective surface. To the right and ahead of the viewer is a black box approximately 2'X3' by 5' high which contains a projector. The wooden outline of a house extends upward from the top of this box. Two black chairs are situated about 4 or 5 feet in from the entry, facing toward the widened corner. From the point of entry, or from either of the chairs. the viewer sees what appears to be a trefoil of vertical planes splayed outward from a common central spine (the corner.) One plane extends to the right. It diminishes in size with increased distance from the corner. One plane spreads to the left. It increases in size with increased distance from the corner. The third plane appears to recede into deep space, directly ahead of the viewer and slightly to the left of the corner. The viewer may enter at any point within a four minute video loop, in which a swimmer appears on the rightmost edge of the right plane as an identical swimmer appears at the deepest edge of the receding plane. After about a minute, a third swimmer begins to appear on the outer edge of the left plane, in a flourish of plot development. This wall is initially enigmatic because it is greatly stretched out and extends onto the floor. The appearance of the third swimmer is delayed because she doesn't become visible until she progresses from the floor to the wall1. It is only at this point that the image on the left wall can be recognized as the third member of a trio. The swimming triplets "crawl" with excruciating slowness toward each other and toward the shared edge of their planes, accompanied by a spoken text from The Visible and The Invisible2 by Maurice Merleau-Ponty and a low droning soundtrack beneath the text.

The text is nearly unintelligible. As one of my advisors has pointed out, the exceeding obtuseness of this text may have been amplified (or created) through flawed translation from the original French into English. Even under the best of circumstances translation can make more transparent the slippage of meaning that is always at work within language.3 But, whether by accident or design, this obscure text relays its intentions in an exceptionally slippery way. It operates as a sort of metaphysical poetry, a tumble of subliminal suggestions that can be picked up on at any point, without significant loss of continuity... a sea of floating meaning. The ungraspability of the text echoes the unavailability of "solid ground" to the swimmers in their shorelessness or to the viewers disoriented by their own plunge into darkness. Enigmatic movements within the text meld with the motions of swimming and sea to produce crosscurrents and undertows within the medium of comprehension. Within this murkiness there are moments of seeming clarity and synchronization.

The swimmers finally reach the inner edge and they converge in a theatrical way. As they vanish, the remnants of their annihilation form an evolving trefoil Rorschach blot to create a climax to this minimalist drama. As this graphic display diminishes and disappears, the darkening motion of the water is accompanied by a low droning soundtrack for a period of about a minute and a half, until the cycle begins again.



It has been pointed out that there is an irony in having made text central to an installation that ostensibly deals with space beyond words. In reply: Even if the installation was meant to induce a condition of wordlessness, I don't believe that excluding text or even emphasizing "purely" sensual experience could effect this miracle. If anything, such devices would only tend to perpetuate the illusion that such gratification is readily available, instead of pointing toward its poignant difficulty. If these (hyper-sensual) conditions were sufficient to escape language then I would not have dead-ended, as I did, in the sensuality of painting. "We carry our lares with us." We are drenched in language and haul this baggage along every inch of the way. I would rather aspire to trace a trail of desire that points toward the beauty and pain of insatiable yearning. The radical losses which I suggest might be openings toward a loosened bondage within language are not experiences that it would be either conscionable or possible to induce in a viewer in a gallery setting.



There have been three artists who have been major influences for me: Paul Cezanne, Sigmar Polke and Gary Hill. In the translation whereby I interpret their respective enterprises, I think of Gary Hill and Cezanne as being very similarly impelled. I feel that both Cezanne and Hill attempt(ed) to get down into the nitty gritty of experience and root out its fundamental nature. Believing in the possibility of such an enterprise would situate them, in my understanding, as phenomenologists -- oriented, in their research, toward a raw level of experience. Whereas Cezanne's enterprise was perceptual (how are all of those little sensations organized?), Hill, in the fashion of the times, has concerned himself with language... but with language that might be penetrated to some Ursprache, some primordial goo of communication. Gary Hill is also interested in getting beyond language, or at least in moving toward its fringes. Sigmar Polke broadened my thinking about the language of painting. I have come to think of language as a way of structuring many different informational vocabularies, including that of painting. Polke made that dynamic apparent to me in a visceral way.


Appendix Endnotes

1 The left plane and the receding plane are refracted and reflected images, respectively, of the projected image on the right wall. The left image becomes wider because it is an extension of the cone of light from the projector. The light hitting the first wall bounces outward toward the left wall (the angle of incidence equals the angle of refraction.) On the other hand, the perspectival diminishment of the receding image is exaggerated because it is a reflection of, not a refraction from, the projected image. The receding image inverts the rhomboid shape formed by the cone of light, as it is intersected by the first(right) wall.

2 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Le visible et l'invisible (Paris: Gallimard, 1964)172-204, as quoted in David Krell, Archeticture: Ecstasies of Space, Time and the Human Body (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), 144. Although the endnote for this quotation cites the French publication, David Krell notes in his first reference to this work that it has been translated by Alphonso Lingis as The Visible and the Invisible (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1968). I presume, from the endnote however, that this translation was made by David Krell himself:

As soon as we see other seers, we no longer have before us only the look without a pupil, the plate glass without tain that gives us the things with that feeble reflection, that phantom of ourselves they evoke by designating a place among themselves whence we see them: henceforth, through other eyes, we are for ourselves fully visible; that lacuna where our eyes and our back lie is filled, filled still by the visible, but a visible of which we are not the titulars ... But what is proper to the visible is, we said, to be the surface of an inexhaustible depth: this is what makes it able to be open to visions other than our own. In being realized, they therefore bring out the limits of our factual vision, they betray the solipsist illusion that consists in thinking that every going-beyond is a surpassing accomplished by oneself. For the first time, the seeing that I am is really visible for me; for the first time I appear to myself completely turned inside out under my own eyes. For the first time also, my movements no longer proceed unto the things to be seen to be touched, or unto my own body occupied in seeing and touching them, but they address themselves to the body in general and for itself (whether it be my own or that of another), because for the first time, through the other body, I see that, in its coupling with the flesh of the world, the body contributes more than it receives, adding to the world that I see the treasure necessary for what the other body sees. For the first time, the body no longer couples itself up with the world, it clasps another body, applying itself to it carefully with its whole extension, forming tirelessly with its hands the strange statue which in its turn gives everything it receives; the body is lost outside of the world and its goals, fascinated by the unique occupation of floating in Being with another life, of making itself the outside of its inside and the inside of its outside. And henceforth movement, touch, vision, applying themselves to the other and to themselves, return toward their source and, in the patient and silent labor of desire, begin the paradox of expression.


3 See endnote #38 from the body of the text.

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