Thursday, December 8, 2011


I had high expectations of Repressed Spaces - The poetics of agoraphobia by Paul Carter. I imagined  expeditions through Gothic cities filled with frightening objects and Chirico spaces charged with threatening atmospheres.

The book is interesting but it does other things than I was looking for. It explores modern literature and psychology and circles agoraphobia but never takes the plunge. Still it has many interesting observations. For example I had never thought about this difference between real life and novels. The quote reminds me of the elaborate space and time rituals of spycraft:
In novels, it is always disappointing to find how easily characters meet. They seem to have no difficulty in finding each other. Within a page or two, on the slightest pretext, they are in conversation (or bed) together, plotting their fictional future, and the former history of possible meetings is wiped out.
I would like to read a novel about the prehistory of such novels, in which the question of meeting is posed. It would see through the illusion of being life-sized to each other. It would give the distance between people a name. Such a book would document the duration of such intervals. Its characters would live at different scales, depending on their nearness to the emotional epicenter. Perhaps the enterprise is unnecessary: city squares produce these effects spontaneously.
Agoraphobia inducing spaces in the Rotterdam concert hall. 
And below is a very interesting observation about the (un-) written rules of urban life. This one reminds me of the anonymous "dotmaker" who put his color coded dots on many Rotterdam traffic lights. And of the anonymous artist who wrote the word "hypnosis" on the WAIT-signs of Rotterdam traffic lights:
I must be six or seven years old. I am standing with my mother on a busy pavement edge. Next to me is a signpost: proud of my new skill in reading, I look up at it. I spell out: NO WAITING. How can I doubt that the words are addressed to me? Their accusation is plain: standing there, I am breaking the law. Ever obedient, I step off the kerb and, slipping from my mother's grip, run without hesitation towards my self-sacrifice in the path of the oncoming traffic ...
Rotterdam dotmaker graffiti - 2008
But the most interesting quotes were picked up by other reviewers. This one is really fascinating and this is exactly the kind of insight that I had hoped for:
In general, in both the cities and the countryside of the Austro-Hungarian empire at the end of the nineteenth century, anti-Semitic sentiment was hidden. The Jew who took care to avoid stirring it up could almost persuade himself that it didn’t exist, and that any anxiety he felt was groundless. In other words, the agoraphobia Freud felt arose not from the presence of a hostile force, but from its apparent absence. It was the menace of the emptiness that kept him in a constantly repressed state of anxiety.
Entrance to Jewish cemetery in Gorinchem.
And this one I´m going to do more with in a future blog post. This one reminds me of the classic Entrances To Hell website. That website changed my view of reality forever:
On this reading, agoraphobia stems from the prospect of places being opened up that are not places. The crisis occurs as a confrontation with make-believe spaces. The opening they promise is infinitely estranging. The enlarged access they offer produces a concomitant anomie. A sense of vertigo is accompanied by a fear of asphyxiation: maximum mobility accompanied by maximum petrification -- agora-claustro-phobia. The double-bind sensation arises from a sudden awareness of a lost relation. Characteristics of sociable space that had been taken for granted become conspicuous by their absence. Qualities of orientation, proximity and grouping, and their behavioural counterparts, gathering, lingering and the general gymnastic of a rhetorically conducted social existence, are missing.
Entrance to hell - places being opened that are not places.
  • Repressed Spaces: The Poetics of Agoraphobia by Paul Carter, Reaktion, 2002
  • Comforting Lot's wife: A review of Paul Carter's Repressed Spaces: The Poetics of Agoraphobia by Angela Rockel
  • Repressed Spaces - Review by Gerard O'Sullivan - Metapsychology 2003

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the review. I am always interested in learning more about agoraphobia through new books and websites but I think I will pass on this one. Anyway, I wanted to say that I really enjoy your blog. I wanted to share a website I came across,, which offers a lot of great information about agoraphobia. Keep up the great blog!