key terms

looking for a more general lexicon? consult A—F, G—N, O—Z.

BOUNDARY LANGUAGE. A notation system developed through support of the Vernon Shogren Foundation, Raleigh, NC, to explore graphic means of combining key terms and ideas from philosophy, psychology, architecture, art, and landscape in a 'topology' of boundary behavior. Initially drawn from George Spencer Brown's Laws of Form, boundary language has used commentaries from Louis Kauffman, Francisco Varela, Slavoj Zizek, and others to refine a "Möbius-band" style of parsing narrative, spatial, and artistic settings into their imaginary and realistic components. Colleagues are invited to contribute 'bolagrams' to the growing catalog of weird topics turned topsy-turvy through topological comparisons.

TOPOLOGY. In contrast to 'projective' ways of representing and knowing, topology is a 'method of touch' or, to use the literary term, 'metonymy.' Topology is capable of describing the contingent circumstances of experience and often contrasts with our imagined pictures of experience, which use framing and thematization to leave out key details. Topology stands for many things: a means of 'journaling' experience, a means of accounting for self-reference and recursion, and the calculus of George Spencer Brown, a one-symbol logic that improves on Boolean logic's either-or mandate.

SUTURE. This term has a long and famous history in film criticism, where it has come to stand for a wide range of phenomena. Returning to the original meaning involves the notion of 'hegemony' - the practice of expressing relationships with exterior conditions through internal distinctions (Leclau). The connection between inside and outside, violating rules of boundaries and transitive space, is the most important for architecture and the arts because of the 'inside-out' effect. Self-reference, as in the Cretan paradox ("All Cretans are liars," says the Cretan) shows how a logically unresolvable situation engages an appeal to the 'rhetorical condition' of the statement. 'Inside frame' is the consequence of the act of suturing.

PHI PHENOMENON. At the turn of the century, Henri Bergson revised the concept of time through the notion of durée, duration. Drawing from the model of cinema, Bergson first constructed a static notion of the 'time section' similar to Zeno's. The problem, as Gilles Deleuze summarized it, was that an divisible commodity (space) was used to gauge an indivisible commodity (motion). Bergson himself devised two other notions of duration involving dynamic time sections. This discussion bears on the subjects of ectoplasm, space, time, and the oscillating anamorphic condition that is the center of the boundary language diagram. The Ø phenomenon, really the 'beta' phenomenon, helps explore the close relationships between space and time in acts of reception.

GAZE, THE. Different from the look, glance, or view, the gaze has dominated cultural criticism for over twenty years, supported by the work of Derrida and Deleuze, among others. The isolation of this phenomenon gained prestige with Michel Foucault's famous reworking of 'panopticism' as the motivating force behind all Western visuality. By annealing vision to power, philosophy and cultural criticism began an intensive campaign against the eye, summarized and balanced by only a few (Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes, 1993). What has been generally overlooked in architecture criticism has been the significance of Lacan's insistence of the bipolarity of the gaze - the gaze of the human subject is returned, countered, and often overwhelmed by the unlocatable gaze of the Other, which can be actualized by surveillance cameras, empty houses, or eyeless skulls. Slavoj Zizek has elaborated the importance of this gaze and shown how 'getting the direction wrong' has disadvantaged Derrida. One key mistake made if one assumes the gaze to travel only from subject to object is that the role of jouissance (pleasure-pain) cannot be located, nor can its role be detailed. See THE RETURN OF THE REPRESSED (below).

INSIDE FRAME. The phenomenon of 'suture' has to do with the surprising appearance of some external element at the innermost point of a bounded space. When this occurs, the suture point works as an 'inside frame,' reinterpreting space and time from within. Examples abound in architecture: the courtyard of the 'Tempietto,' the Campodoglio, and any small space or point that uses the logic of synecdoche to create concentric radiating zones. In a closed, curved universe, every point satisfies the Medieval definition of God: a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere.

SLIDING SIGNIFIERS. Because each sign has a (metaphoric) signified/representation and other, independent material and semiotic qualities, it is capable of becoming detached from its conventional signified and contributing to a new constellation of meanings. This, in effect, is how new meaning ('hapax') is born - through a 'reverse logic' where some metonymical aspect becomes the basis for an 'empty center of meaning' that Lacan identifies with the 'sinthom'.

SINTHOM. 'Sinthom' is Lacan's neologism for a 'constellation' of signifiers that circulate around an empty center. There is no 'objective' basis for meaning in the case of a sinthom, but, like the psychological 'symptom' of the individual, the sinthom supports a structural relationship among subjects, and between subjects and the object world they support through belief, action, and knowledge.

THE RETURN OF THE REPRESSED. This is main feature of Lacan's theory of desire. The Other is characterized by a lack/surplus element associated with jouissance (pleasure-pain). This element cannot be symbolized. From the viewpoint of the network of symbolic relationships that sustain and define societies and cultures, the element is 'repressed'. Through a 'devious' path involving the projection of fictional subjects and objects as well as the perception of concealed patterns 'anamoprhically' contained within appearances, the repressed surplus element 'returns' to the precise center of the Other, framing it from the inside. The resulting 'synecdochal' structure (concentric, focal, revisionary) is extremely important to architecture, since it results in the entire generic phenomenon of 'festal architecture' formally expressed or culturally integrated through such tropes as aposiopesis and anacoluthon. See also suture, and 'the trick of the return of the impossible/real.'

ANAMORPHOSIS. In a limited sense, anamorphic images are those that conceal, within a 'normal view,' a stain or blur that, when viewed from the proper angle, are corrected by perspective to reveal their identifiable shape. The most commonly cited example is Holbein's portrait, 'The Ambassadors.' Anamorphosis has, however, a much broader existence, and can even appear in other media, such as sound ('acousmatics'). Any appearance that can be radically re-interpreted with a shift in the point of view has such anamorphic potential.

ICONICITY. Art and even architecture refers to itself frequently, by incorporating themes of looking, framing, and mirroring inside the work through such devices as the story-in-the-story (painting-in-the-painting, etc.), symmetry, chiasmus, travel through time, the double, or contamination themes. These Borgesian tricks bring art to its essence: a consideration of the 'miracle' of autonomous systems that 'come from nowhere' (hapax phenomenon) and, though seemingly surplus to the set of social and environmental demands, make art 'essential' to our political, ethical, psychological and philosophical ('spiritual' in the largest sense) being.

IDIOTIC SYMMETRY. The majority of stable relationships in the human world are established through an 'idiotic symmetry.' The master-servant relationship is a key example. The king is king because his subjects regard him as king. Once that regard is damaged, the king's power is undermined. The ancient practice of silent trade required each trading party to imagine that the other was a 'god' (Hermes) who replaced goods left at a crossroads. As long as the beliefs were symmetrical, the practice endured. Idiotic symmetry also involves the ability of humans to use truths as lies. Hence, the famous Groucho Marx line: 'Your Honor, my client looks like an idiot and talks like an idiot, but you should not be deceived. - He IS an idiot!'

HOPSCOTCH. This is a study method that incorporates chance in the context of structure and strict methodology. The ancient game of hopscotch, and the Julio Cortazar novel by the same name, are key to understanding how juxtaposition can produce new 'sites' of discovery.

FICTIM DESIGN. This is a method for controlling the effect of the point of view in architecture. The designer develops a project through one or more invented characters whose 'story' includes documents, encounters, failures, and experiences at various levels, including dreams.

SCREEN THEORY is a diagrammatic and topological approach to issues of perception, reception, the origins of thought, and the production of works of art. The screen serves as a central analogy for the 'Möbius-band style' relationships that enable the mapping of perception and thought as a self-reflective, recursive, and self-constituting (autonomous). The terminology is generally Lacanian, but with emphasis on topological relationships that can be concretely compared to materiality and reception issues in art, architecture, film, literature, and the study of place.

BOLAGRAM. A diagram of topological relationships generated by the process of distinction, beginning with perception and including acts of artistic 'reception.' Modeled after the Möbius strip, the bolagram (BOundary LAnguage diaGRAM) can appear to be a combination of a 'main line' representing the 'network of symbolic relations' that structure cultural and consciously describable life and a skewed line involving a shift in the point-of-view to allow for 'anamorphic' structures/situations arising in experience. These anamorphic elements are related to the paradoxical schism between demand and desire, and give access to the surplus/lack pleasurable/Real 'inside frame' of authenticity.

BOLAMAP. When elements of the bolagram (see below) are studied as a distribution across a (Cartesian) surface, the result is a 'map' that identifies elements out of place within the projective representation but key to the 'topological' relationships that coexist. Bolamapping is a strategy of design that isolates specialized elements that consistently serve as a part of the topological nexus of demand/desire.

METAPHOR / METONYM. The codification of neurological data from the early 1900s led to an understanding of the fundamental linguistic functions of metaphor and metonymy as the basis for semblance and contiguity abilities. The relation is not categorical. Rather, the two constitute a 'hinge' relationship that is present in all experience of signification and recognition.

SIGN / SIGNIFIED. Saussure's famous distinction draws on the metaphor/metonym 'hinge', but the important feature of signifiers is that they 'slide past' one another by virtue of unintended relationships and material qualities (Lacan). The goal of culture is to stabilize such sliding with signifiers that 'quilt' together layers of signification in such a way that new meanings are created around empty centers. 'Coke' and 'The Marlboro Man' are good examples of things created out of nothing that have nothing as their basis. Quilting and the structure of surplus meaning are studied under the idea of the 'screen' - a surface of perception and representation that structure the dimensionality of experience.

CYCLICITY. Cyclicity is both the connected Möbius-band logic of the bolagram and the series of 'thematic' strategies that dominate successive parts of the cycle. These are particularly evident in architecture, but they are also prominent in literature, film, and the visual arts. The themese/strategies are typically found in a 'dysfunctional' form - something breaks down, is inappropriate or violates a rule. These dysfunctions have three fundamental forms or 'vocabularies': Motility (movement, travel, stange landscapes, etc.), scale (too large, too small, 'impossible' or wrong topological relationships), and semblance (disguise, the wrong person, doubles, unknown identities).

Motility Dysfunction. This involves a breakdown in an otherwise 'perfunctory' errand or trip - stasis instead of movement, being lost, travelling under duress. Defective travel can involve any danger associated with a strange place, or a characteristically defective motion (limping, chosing the wrong path, etc.).

Scale Dysfunction. The 'image within the image' of anamorphosis counts as this, as well as the containment of reality by the dream or story, which should be 'contained' by reality. In architecture, scale dysfunction can be topological or more 'literally' a scale issue of size.

Semblance Dysfunction. The murder mystery begins and ends with a semblance issue: Whodunit? The conclusion is the successful identification of this unknown, which has cast a shadow on the previous action. Apart from the identity of human characters, semblance can be a matter of reproducing a motif or design from the past - the practice of 'referencing.' But, semblance usually addresses the more serious issues of identity: what, who, where, and why.

STUDY OF MONSTERS (TERATOLOGY). Marco Frascari has made famous this 15c. theme of composition (Monsters of Architecture, 1991), which uses juxtaposition (parataxis) rather than subordination (hypotaxis) to create ambiguous (polysemic) conditions of meaning. Monstrosity has to do both with form that is 'unmediated' by a sense of constraining contextual order and with a semiotic condition that reveals secrets seen to come from outside the normative system of symbolic relations. Roman augurs used an elaborate typology of monsters: portentum, omen, ostentum, prodigium, etc. Monstrosity was closely related to physical abnormalities uncovered by accident (the appearance of a two-headed calf) or ritual (an inexplicable pattern on the liver of a sacrificial victim). The modern sense combines the same senses of semiotic violation and physical abnormality in a way that makes 'monstrum' a valuable topos for architecture.

COSMOGRAMS. From Jessica L. Neuwirth and Matthew D. Cochran, "Archaeology in the east wing of the Brice House, Annapolis, Maryland":

A series of creolized beliefs emerged throughout the African diaspora, as Africans of different ethnic backgrounds negotiated a new African American identity out of common circumstance, and were forcibly molded into a new racial identity by the circumstances of slavery. For example, Sterling Stuckey has suggested that the Christian ring shout was probably based on the BaKongo practice of tracing a cosmogram on the ground, and dancing over the figure in a circular pattern to invoke the spirits. Stuckey argues that this practice was used by Africans of different cultural backgrounds to solidify a new African American belief system. The ring shout spread across North America through Evangelical Christianity, and through the movement of slaves by sale and forced immigration.

Cosmograms use architecture in a way prefigured by the bolagram's assertion of an 'anamorphic' schema interlaced into the normative patterns of building and living. The Bryce House excavation reveals that African house slaves created magic patterns inside the houses of their white masters by planting sacred objects into the hearth, beneath floor-boards, and inside panelling that would effect a dynamic force-field enhancing the effectiveness and precision of spells.

POLYTHETICS. A 'polythetic' method is one that allows missing data and incomplete sequencing of comparisons. This is used frequently in archaeology (where the term was developed) and is comparable to gene-sequencing. Polythetics is the technical name for the 'hopscotch' technique. The term is virtually unknown to modern academics who prefer to apply Cartesian reductionisms to works that argue for the impossibility of doing that. An archaeologist, David L. Clarke (Analitical Archaeology, London: Methuen & Co., 1968) emphasized the importance of polythetics as a means of overcoming the incompleteness of historical/archaeological data.

BOUNDARY LANGUAGE SPECIAL TERMS. The 'bolagram' (boundary language diagram) abbreviates key relationships to correspond, wherever possible, to Lacanian terms, but the main point is to provide a bridge between descriptive (ideographic) and proscriptive (nomothetic) notation. In the first case, the point is to describe sites and conditions in architecture, art, and landscape where the point of view must be included as a variable. In the second case, the idea is to be able to use 'maps' of the key terms to specify material designs.

— delta, the connection between the Lacanian 'objet petit-a' (the little other), the surplus of the Big Other (structure of authority), and the structure of the Big Other itself. This can be misleadingly interpreted as 'desire,' which requires the subject's invention of a stand-in counterpart (a fictim — f see below) and a skewed/anamorphic perception (- also see below). The delta line is the path taken by the 'return of the repressed' as it replaces the missing center of the Other, framing it from the inside. Such paths can be seen literally embodied in architecture, typically as monumental staircases (cf. the Campodoglio).

— phi, the relationship between the barred subject ($) and the hypothetical other subject, a stand-in or assistant, the 'subject supposed to know.' This can also stand for any fantasy projection of the other subject, a subject with access to pleasure () and in a position to anamorphically re-interpret the scene common to both.

— omega, the anamorphic screen of appearance, where the antithesis between (metonymic) materiality and (metaphoric) transparency establishes a basis for the hinge-like relationships between chance and necessity, law and order, motive and opportunity (to name a few). Anamorphosis is abundant in art, particularly in cases where art uses self-reference ironically to establish levels of meaning within the work of art and iconistic references to the process of art production or interpretation.

f - the 'fictim' or stand-in subject, the subject 'supposed to know' who occupies a privileged position with respect to the anamorphic potential of appearances. A popular example of the fictim is the detective in a crime novel - in particular the model of the 'cool' or detached detective (Poirot, Holmes) who is socially marginal, emotionally reserved, and intellectually distant.

BOUNDARY LANGUAGE TERMS 'IN ACTION'. It would not be exaggerating to say that the bolagram describes an 'orbit of desire.' In Freudean terms, it's the self as organism coming to terms with the self as culture through the invention of fantasies, some personal, others collective. The Möbius band captures the weird twist idea - that contradiction is in the nature of being human. It's possible, therefore, to suggest that any special term is really a reflection of the others, or the 'animation' of one aspect or turn of the whole. This animation has been prepared to remind students of boundary language that plus ça change . . .

Vico and others might suggest that this orbit goes on at all scales: individual, group, culture, nation, ethnic group, and even 'the world.' Look for it at a theater near you!

  © 2012, Donald Kunze, all rights reserved