Notes on Sexuality & Space

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Notes on Sexuality & Space

by Samuel Ray Jacobson

Dead Letter Office (for BABEL Working Group)

FORTHCOMING: Winter 2014

Sexuality & Space (Princeton Architectural Press, 1992) contains the proceedings of an eponymous 1990 conference at Princeton University, and was both the first and last book-length publication dedicated to a comprehensive discourse on sexual identity, as addressed from within the discipline of architecture. In this book I argue that, to the extent that feminist theorists conspicuously ignored in architectural discourse and practice are addressed by Sexuality & Space, its interdisciplinary exchange, in which theories of sexuality are reread in architectural terms, and architecture is reread in sexual terms, has the effect of asserting the very silence that its inquiry ostensibly alleviated. This is a result of the volume’s particular and strategic historicization of its cultural condition. By carefully examining the constative impact of literary style within Sexuality & Space—that is, by looking at how the use of language, therein, impacts that document’s inscription of its historical context—I have come to a better understanding of how that publication was both the beginning and end of the conversation it sought to inaugurate.

Notes on Sexuality & Space analyzes three related essays from that publication: Laura Mulvey’s “Pandora: Topographies of the Mask and Curiosity,” Beatriz Colomina’s “The Split Wall: Domestic Voyeurism,” and Mark Wigley’s “Untitled: The Housing of Gender.” Paying close attention to word choice, syntax, and the order in which ideas unfold as they are read, I develop a comprehensive narrative of how these three essays together paradoxically instantiate and negate a shared discourse. Each essay has been given a corresponding chapter; the method, generally speaking, has been close reading.

In the broadest possible terms, it is the intention of the book to come to an understanding of how text happens in the context of architectural discourse. In the discipline of architecture the written word is often viewed with suspicion; for people who create spaces it is difficult to trust what cannot be touched. For the first time, I try to understand how architecture’s theoretical spaces are constituted by its authors, and to interrogate the materiality of language therein: to understand how our texts configure their successors, to interrogate the particular cordoning off of disruptive intimacies within our field and to deconstruct their effects through taxonomy, and, most importantly, to assert the embodied agency that inevitably underlies the ontology of the author as an architect of text. Sexuality & Space has been the site of my investigation; it could have occurred elsewhere.

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