“The hardest thing of all is to find a black cat in a dark room, especially if there is no cat.”
Sometimes in small moments we realize the most, as if a particular item, event or person – their presence or absence – provided the key to understanding something bigger. I have a ritual of smoking in the evening, normally after I have done the work of the day: errands, listening to lectures, reading various newspapers, cooking vegetable stew, etc.; after this cycle is complete I collect the detritus of the day, physically in a plastic bag, mentally, and if I can manage it, spiritually. Stepping out into the inner hallway, I lock my door, then I step out into the outer hallway and close the communal door that leads to the three studio flats (each color-coded, mine is red, one is blue, another is yellow), and enter the elevator. Down I go to the courtyard, where, at an odd angle sit two benches alongside a path, which runs diagonally through the partial grass, partial concrete enclosure. Sitting on the bench, after drying it with several paper towels if necessary, I place a warm thermos of green tea on the bench next to me, then I pull out a cigarette and light it.
This evening was no different. Of course we cannot repeat what we did the day before exactly, yet the rhythm remained. Pulling out bits of paper from my coat pocket, noticing a missing mobile phone, I thought: what will I do? I literally could not think of a reason to be out there without this device. Yet I go outside to go outside, not to be on my mobile phone. However, screening through various ‘feeds’ from the news to Facebook provides me with a chain of meaning, what I would call a ‘signifying chain.’ Like many weaved threads delicately holding our lives together these signifying chains take many shapes, and they are related to routines, rituals, being at particular places and spaces at particular times. Additionally, drenched in language, an always-already social interaction, words provide the nourishment we need. Or do they? I am not talking about the content of these words, for many times I have gone outside and flipped through my Facebook feed only to be frustrated and disappointed by the lack of thought. The content is not the architecture; are we addicted to the edifice, but neglecting the inhabitants?
Words inhabit our world without our consent; language is non-consensual. We learn a language (if we are lucky two or three) as children. We submit to this language, we learn it whether we want to or not. Through the enabling constraint of language we can then express what it is we think we want, yet the matter gets tricky we when realize we don’t know what we want. What we want is what we lack, for you cannot want something you already have. A gap opens up, a space between ‘me’ and ‘X’ – and its absence or presence is paramount. My relations with it are dependent on its properties: does it speak too? Does it have the capacity to want me? Is it living or is it inert? What is the difference? Metaphysical questions arise out of want. And so when my phone wasn’t there, I felt as though I was missing a part of myself. A sort uncomfortable pain went through me. I relaxed into it. Importantly, I recalled times when I didn’t have a mobile phone, and even in these prehistoric times thoughtful cogitations did pass through me, all without the mediation of cyberspace. The absence of the phone made the phone ontologically present. I became aware of the phone as a thing-in-itself. A thing that I would normally take for granted, I actually meditated upon. I turned my attention to the sky, to the trees, to two children playing with a dog, to the wet ground, to myself; asking: do I really need a mobile phone to be mobile? Threading through the world, or the main ‘object domains’ (Markus Gabriel) that constitute our daily lives, we are both the thread and threaded. Searching for signifying chains, meaningfulness, in and as the architecture of lives, we are constantly grappling with absences, lack and plenitude (which can create an absence of thinking, as when we “take something for granted” and then “don’t know what [we’ve] got till it’s gone”).
Spaces, places and things define and contour my broad definition of ‘architecture’ – from your bedroom to your office, from your mobile phone to your coffee mug. Then through cycle processes, aleatory or exigent events, contents flow into these contexts. Text, words, ideas and grammar intersect with us, submitting us daily to a language we didn’t choose to learn, speaking and thinking in re-iterations of times past; however, it is through these processes of subjection that we can learn to transcend the absence of total freedom. A partial freedom emerges when we think otherwise, or simply when we think, which is a negation or putting away of the ‘10,000 things’ (to take from Chinese philosophy, meaning almost everything) to focus on a particular. A particular moment can focus the mind through the aperture of perception into infinity. Squinting we see emptiness, and this emptiness gives us meaning.
I am glad I left my phone inside.
. . .