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Invisibility Studies

Surveillance, Transparency and the Hidden in Contemporary Culture


Edited By Henriette Steiner and Kristin Veel

Invisibility Studies explores current changes in the relationship between what we consider visible and what invisible in different areas of contemporary culture. Contributions trace how these changes make their marks on various cultural fields and investigate the cultural significance of these developments, such as transparency and privacy in urban architecture and the silent invasion of surveillance technologies into everyday life. The book contends that when it comes to the changing relationship of the visible and the invisible, the connection between seeing and not being seen is an exchange conditioned by physical and social settings that create certain possibilities for visibility and visuality, yet exclude others. The richness and complexity of this cultural framework means that no single discipline or interdisciplinary approach could capture it single-handedly. Invisibility Studies begins this conversation by bringing together scholars across the fields of architectural history and theory, art, film and literature, philosophy, cultural theory and contemporary anthropology as well as featuring work by a collective of artists.
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3 ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’: Transparency, Voyeurism and Glass Architecture


What is there of glass in your work? […] How does one talk about it? In optical terms or in tactile terms? Regarding tactility, it would be good if […] you would speak to our friends of the erotic tricks, of the calls to desire, do I dare say, of the sex appeal of the architectural forms of which you think, with which you work, for which you give yourself up.

—JACQUES DERRIDA, letter to Peter Eisenman, 19901

Around the time Derrida wrote his open letter to Eisenman, the glass surface typical of modernist architecture, with its claims to visibility and clarity, was once again under scrutiny. At the turn of the 1990s, glass was critically discussed as offering a game of confusing semi-transparencies, suggesting exclusion, control, framing and uncanny night visions, rather than light, clarity and democratic models of transparency – whether in work or in private life.

Theorists such as Anthony Vidler, José Quetglas, Rosemarie Haag Bletter, Joan Ockman and Stanislaus von Moos (building on doubts first expressed by Colin Rowe) based their reconsideration of the nature of glass as directly transparent, and thus as moral metaphor, on its reflective effect, its ambiguity in blending reflection, and on the opportunity for looking through the glass as a physical substance. In other words, they interpreted physical effects psychologically, and, finally, politically. In this discourse, it ← 43 | 44 → seems that glass is almost intrinsically liable to disappoint as a metaphor: for it is a substance...

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