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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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9 Surface Encounters: On Being Centred, Decentred and Recentred by the Works of Do-Ho Suh



If criticism can be defined as providing a commentary (for some a judgement, for others a discriminating point of view, for others yet, a response or perhaps even a point of departure) on a cultural work – art, literature, film and architecture – then criticism always has ‘an other’ in mind. The key task of criticism might be considered then as providing an answer to the question: how does one make a relationship with another? In thinking about the position of the other in criticism and psychoanalysis, the work of psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche is illuminating.

For Laplanche, the message imparted to the subject by the other (for Laplanche the ‘mother’ or ‘concrete other’) is an enigma both to the receiver but also to the sender of the message: he says these ‘messages are enigmatic because […] [they] are strange to themselves.’2 This first inscription, according to Laplanche, does not require a translation ‘it is a pure and simple ← 185 | 186 → implantation’.3 These enigmatic messages are elements of perception, they do ‘make a sign’, but a sign whose signifier does not need to be transcribed, since it is already a ‘signifier to’, in other words this is a signifier to someone rather than a signifier of something.4

In Laplanche’s view, some aspects of the adult’s enigmatic message to the child are translated, while others are excluded and repressed, becoming unconscious.5 In his account, repression – the negative side of the translation of the enigmatic message – produces dislocation:6...

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