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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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4 Transparency: Effable and Ineffable


Then a boundless depth opens up, effaces the walls, drives away contingent presences, accomplishes the miracle of ineffable space.

—LE CORBUSIER, introduction to New World of Space (1948)

Where would I go, if I could go, who would I be, if I could be, what would I say, if I had a voice, who says this, saying it’s me?

—SAMUEL BECKETT, Texts for Nothing IV (1951/1966), opening lines

Space is not a bad starting point for a discussion of what is visible and invisible in contemporary culture, because like our subjectivity, which we bring to every encounter – even to encounters with our self (I am thinking here of Beckett) – it is everywhere and nowhere all around us. Like our subjectivity, we see through space to reach things, and if it were not for its seeming invisibility, intangibility and nothingness, nothing would have an appearance. If space or subjectivity were to thicken, become material, or be mistaken for material, nothing would have an appearance. We do not image it,1 and yet it seems to be the precondition for imaging everything else. The rationality and materiality of architecture (probably its two bugbears) make the elusive status of space and its spurious logic all the more problematic. ← 61 | 62 → And let us be clear: by ‘space’, we do not mean space metaphorically speaking, or ‘personal space’, which isn’t space at all, but body heat. We mean space literally, the space that architecture...

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