The issue of the gaze of architecture has been informed by Lacan's general schema that identifies the gaze with the desire of Other for the subject who is immobilized ("crossed,""divided") by that demand for something unknown to the subject itself. The schema matches up to the ancient practice of using Herms and other devices (ornaments) as "apotropaic devices" to warn off intruders, notify would-be trespassers,or seal off a space magically or legally.

The jewel-like quality of many ornaments ("synecdochic" organization) points to the role of metonymy as that which is "surplus" to the Other's mandate for order and the Other's dispersed regulative gaze. The Lacanian "return of the repressed" (the retroactive effect of a teleological force that "magically" brings together dispersed elements) is a geometric issue with ornament. It "returns to the center" of the Other, the blank gaze of architecture,and is thus a center that is an "eye" in two senses (a central opening and a visual point).


The role of ornament in Piranesi is over-determined, if one take into mind the focus on the "ruin of the Big Other,"namely the Roman Empire. This are the giant fragments of the paternal super-ego, as Lacan might put it. In this light, ornament is not only the discovered fragment of actual ornament but the "key piece" that, using the logic of the tessera, makes all other pieces fit. There is a central relationship between the Other and its lack (ornament) and the barred subject (abject heir to the wealth of Classical civilization) and its heroic/phallic activator.This might be written:

A:d:a = $/Ø/F

. . . where A is the big Other (Autre), d is real vector of demand, activated as desire, 'a', and $ is the barred subject, Ø is the fantasy invented to "compensate" for the lack in the big Other, and F is the fictim, or fictional subject activated to gain anamorphic access to the key or jewel (or ornament) of the big Other.

The relationship between A and $ is one of law, obligation, and debt. One "ought" to do something according to a network of symbolic relationships that establish the interests of culture and family, many of them voluntarily imagined by the self-barring subject. The defect of the Other, in terms of this relationship, is symbolized as a defective gift. This is a flawed reward that mirrors the incompleteness and irrationality of the law. In Nabokov's "Invitation to a Beheading," the prisoner is given many such defective gifts,including the privilege of escaping. This novel is a counterpart to Piranesi's Carceri fantasies. Synecdoche identifies the character of this flaw, and "corrects" it indirectly by finding in it a passageway or place of concealment and protection.

© 2012, Donald Kunze, all rights reserved