Space and Culture Reading and Research Group, Univ. of Alberta

This last term we have been re-reading Lefebvre’s Production of Space in the English translation and my own 1986 English précis published as a University of Sussex Urban and Regional Studies Working Paper.   We have rehearsed the critiques summarised in Spatial Questions and noted geography’s preference for applying rather than critically responding to Lefebvre’s unedited text.  Some great questions have emerged from our discussions, thinking with and from Lefebvre’s text.  What is the theory of the body implicit within this work?  Last week discussions linked up with Janine Muster’s Intermedia Research Studio exhibition on Alleyways.

To clarify, we might add that usually a “theory of the body” defines what the material as opposed to the intangible aspects of a body or human are.  For Plato and others soul or emotions had to be located in a part of the body.  For 20th century phenomenologists, theory of the body defined the capacity of the senses to relate to external objects.  Senses or percepts were consciousness (to simplify).  For example, Merleau Ponty* gives the example of walking around a cube to gain a kinaesthetic, 3D understanding, perception, or consciousness of it.  This is dependent on a certain type of spatial sensorium.  In theories of spatialisation, such as with Lefebvre, we start from that walking around in a 3D space in which the cube and the observer are “cast” as having specific qualities (eg. dimensions) in a spatial relationship.  This “space” is the medium of the body’s senses.

In topological terms that include time as well, there is also an order of precedence in the sensory experience of this relationship which is temporal.  The subject consciousness is changed as the body moves and depending on the point of view it has.  The cube changes too, albeit perhaps infinitesimally slowly, but perhaps not.  And the whole relationship time-space shifts, just as an animated film scene might.

-Rob Shields, Univ. of Alberta

* Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. “The Theory of the Body is Already a Theory of Perception” in Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith 1962 [1945].