Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Sacred Space as Public Place (Part 1)

May 24, 2018

by Augustin Ioan



Humans never interact with their environment without metaphysical consequence. That is, the world becomes, or is discovered to be, a repository of meaning. Sometimes the meaning points beyond what at first seems to be there, as when we encounter the sacred. What is the sacred, and how does the numinous dwell in the physical world? Moreover, how does man dwell with it?

These questions are perhaps best explored by asking to what extent the movement from Lichtung to Raum—key notions from Martin Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit—suggests a form of territory, neither locally fixed nor mobile, nor even evanescent, where the sacred can find shelter.

Both terms derive from man’s primeval encounter, real or imagined, with a forest. The word Raum as used by Heidegger is most neatly rendered in English as “cleared space.” Something has been done to it to make it what it is. The nature of Lichtung, on the other hand—a “clearing,” or a lucus a non lucendo (as Leonardo Amoroso translates the term into Latin1Heidegger’s Lichtung appears as such in Amoroso’s “La Lichtung di Heidegger come lucus a (non) lucendo,” in Vattimo and Rovatti (ed.), Il pensiero deboloe (1998), 123–48. The persistence of German terms in Romanian-language discussions of Heidegger’s philosophy of art has often been criticized along with Constantin Noica’s philosophy. But whereas Noica’s philosophy deliberately and explicitly chooses to cast light exactly on the potential of the Romanian language to put various philosophy-laden concepts in inspired formulas, with Heidegger the problem is to test to what extent his concepts can preserve their validity, derived as they are from etymologies and word families that belong to German (and indeed often ancient forms of German) but not to other languages. In this case at least, Amoroso manages to find an equivalent for the Latinate world.)—does not necessarily presuppose any prior arrangement, only the potential to host or shelter something.2“At the core of being as a whole there is an open space…Being as being can be only if it is equally situated within and without the enlightened space created by this open space.” Heidegger, Originea operei de artă (The Origin of the Work of Art), Humanitas Press (1997), 78. “Clearing” can thus be considered one of the two modes of sacred space, where territory proper is defined by its limits and within which there is no significant space structuring. A “clearing,” as potential Raum, is a wooded sacred space, a sacred grove (lucus), defined by a physical difference from what is around it, a difference limited in degree but not in kind. The lucus is a different kind of thing than the silva, or forest. That which is entirely Other (namely the sacred, as theorized by Rudolf Otto and Mircea Eliade) is thus suggested by the very difference between the space where it is to manifest itself (lucus) and its surroundings.

The entire discussion of public space as “clearing” in Sein und Zeit was in turn further developed in “Building, Dwelling, Thinking” and “The Origin of the Work of Art”.3In Heidegger (1995), 175–97, and 37–127 respectively. The place of human settlement—the territory of meetings which turn a given area into a public space—acquires with Heidegger a definition which also suggests origin. Settlements need a territory of location: Raum. The definition of the concept reveals two essential aspects of this type of place.4Heidegger (1995), 185.

First, Lichtung is a place with a certain potential within a space of indeterminacy, such as a “wilderness” or simply an uncultivated wood. By its very features the clearing gives itself up to be “arranged, ceded, freed”.5Ibid. The most important of these is its “brightness,” which makes the clearing visible and therefore eligible for use as such. It is an open space, brighter than the rest of the space (forest) and thus in itself more “visible”: both for the man who wants to set up camp there and for the god watching from above. In other words, the clearing makes its quality felt (as potential) as being different from the obscure woods from which it is cut out.

What is this clearing? Obviously, it (no longer) is the “silva diffusa et inculta” of Servius.6Servius, Commentary on Vergil, Aen., I, 310, quoted by Amoroso in Vattimo and Rovatti (1998), 127 Nor is it the “silva oscura” where Dante, in the Divine Comedy, found himself in the middle of his life. If the silva is “thick, tangled and wild” (Amoroso, 127), the clearing has entirely different qualities. In this case, it is a lucus, a sacred grove, probably the place of prior rituals, and thus by that very fact already consecrated as a public place. The lucus arises on a trajectory that will see it become a settlement and then undergo further topographic modulation.

Second, in terms of physical contours, the clearing is sparsely vegetated. There are a few saplings and reeds, which suggest the proximity of water – an essential condition for the success of a settlement. The sparse vegetation implies that, though sunlit, the clearing is also shaded. Probably Amoroso’s most interesting conclusion is that, in order to preserve the qualities of lucus, a clearing must not be cleared completely, not even when—as suggested by Heidegger—“it is freed”.7Heideger (1995), 185. The shade of the clearing is the motivation for its preservation as a lucus, vacillating between clarus and silva in a manner redolent of Plato’s pharmakon, which could mean either remedy or poison, and of the concept’s revivification by Derrida (and here in Romania by Andrei Pleșu in his Minima Moralia).


From smooth space to Raum

The ambiguity of the lucus to which Amoroso8“[…] the relationship between lucus and light and clarity is relative,” just as the “thickness of the lucus is not an absolute concept but a relation with the far more considerable thickness of silva; lucus thus proves to be defined by relative thickness (in relation with that of the silva, that is),” in Amoroso, 127. draws our attention is first suggested by Heidegger himself, albeit most likely unwittingly. For it is not only the lucus which is ambiguous. The stability of Heidegger’s Raum is itself from the outset undermined by two of Heidegger’s own observations.

First, Heidegger refers to the fact that having today “embarked upon our journey, we live now in one place, now in another.” This means that erecting a house on the spot we have chosen does not necessarily establish a final relationship with that place.9Heidegger (1995), 177.

Second, Heidegger defines Raum as a place prepared “for the settlement of a colony or a camp”.10Ibid., 185. Commentators on this definition—especially those from an architectural background—are often fascinated by the notion of settlement, but fail to ask who exactly is settling in a place, and for how long.

Given the very nature of migration, neither the colony nor the camp can evoke permanence. The colony presupposes a secondary settlement as related to a pre-existing “at home” left behind. Colonizing involves settling a potentially dangerous territory, one sparsely populated or else populated by Others (enemies and/or barbarians). The camp is temporary, born of the decision of a migrating group to settle for a while in a friendly space and to use for a time what the place offers, on the spot. Thus, to both the colonist and the migrant, Raum can suggest instability, uncertainty, a precarious existence that may result in either the dissipation or the magnification of the identity they bear to the place.

For the colonist, “home” is somewhere else, most likely far away. “Home” will remain forever the centre of his world, even if “home” is only a memory of a place left behind. The colonist’s new domicile is actually a dipole: the physical place of his present settlement and the patronizing memory and reality of the original, to which the colony remains tied. Indra Kagis McEwen writes that: “Between the metropolis or the mother-city and the [completion of the] new foundation, the city existed like a ship.”11Kagis McEwen, “Architecture: Early Greek Aesthetics,” in Michael Kelly (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, 4 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press), Vol. I, pp. 81–84, illus. The Greeks had been sailors before they built fortresses, and when they did set about building cities, their new settlements were likely conceived of in terms of this cultural itinerancy: as destinations for those arriving, starting points for those returning or faring onward, or waystations for those doing both.

The colonist baptizes claimed space as “home”. This is especially clear in the toponyms that turn the United States into a cartographic holograph of former homes whence colonists departed in search of the New World. Closer to home, toponyms in Dobruja reveal colonization by Transylvanian Romanians. Colonists often pit their lost “home” against their new hearth, and almost always find the latter lacking. The ordering, the arrangement of which Heidegger speaks, will therefore be a sort of “terraforming” of a foreign space—making it habitable—in the name of the old one. Within the new settlement, being “at home” (placement) and “alienation” (displacement) will be in perpetual tension, and even in outright conflict.

Raum and the birthplace—terms which Heidegger uses practically interchangeably—actually designate different realities for the colonist: they coexist in a tense relation which alienation and subsequent accommodation someplace else will engender. The “colonist” can be seen and treated as a foreigner by the “local” even when the “colonist” has been resident in country for hundreds of years.12Alina Mungiu Pippidi’s 1999 Humanitas essay reports that in the 1990 conflict of Targu Mures the ethnic Romanian women in a nearby village said they wished that the ethnic Hungarians would go back to Asia, although the two ethnic groups had lived together for hundreds of years.

In In contradistinction to the colonist, the migrant and his attitude towards his campsite seem better explained by Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of “smooth space”13The smooth space is precisely the space of the smallest deviation: consequently, it is not homogeneous, with the exception of that existing between infinitely close points, and the connection between proximities is achieved independently of any determined trajectory. It is a space of contacts, of small tactile and manual actions, rather than a visual space as strictly Euclidian space. The smooth space is a field without trajectories or parallel channels. A field, a heterogeneous smooth space pertains to a very special form of multiplicity: non-metrical multiplicities, centreless, rhizomatous, which take up space “not by numbers” and which can be “explored only on foot”. These do not fulfil the visual condition of being observable from a point in their external space; an example is the system of sounds or even of colours both being opposed to the Euclidian space. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, tr. of Mille plateaux (1980) by Brian Massumi, (1987), 371. than by that of Raum. Like a particle subject to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, according to which knowledge of a particle’s position and trajectory are mutually exclusive, the migrant exists as a field of probability in any given moment, rather than as a fixed address which can be located on a map. In a desert, the evening camp of a caravan is not so much a position as a relation to the route of the journey, which in turn gives an indication of “location on the move”. Routes, the open ends of these trajectories, the incapacity of fixing places as settlements marking a map, and the overture to a concept of uninhabited region: these and many other nuances separate the space of the migrant from that of the settler, Deleuze and Guattari’s “region” from Heidegger’s Raum.

The “clearing” appears as a potential Raum by virtue of attributes that essentially differentiate it from the rest of the wood and which render it at least potentially habitable. It is an area that can be cut out of the rest of the territory: an island. As an island, it is an isolated realm and not like the rest of the space from which we extract it in order to better it. The features we improve upon become landmarks. We find our bearings in space with the help of these landmarks (hill fortifications, mountain churches, belfries, and the like).

The space thus composed of islands of “clearings” and Räume—“clearings” improved and then inhabited—is one of local intensities and vectors of movement between these spaces. I leave landmark X and head to landmark Y. I move among the compulsory points along those alleys in the forest (which also preserve something of the orderly aspect of the Raum) and also along lines of force. I go farther, I draw near the fixed points which, in their essential stability, represent the grounds for my orientation and location in space.

Given such a vectoral geography of intensities inherent in our encounter with our environs, we should not be surprised by our fear of the edges of the (known) world, the historic tendency to make maps with the centre in the cartographer’s birthplace, or indeed any cultural, municipal, or even domestic habit of ‘centring’ around a symbolic ‘navel’ (as highlighted by Eliade in The Myth of the Eternal Return).

Phenomenological space is centered on the consciousness that experiences it. To an extent it fits Deleuze and Guattari’s description of streaked, sedentary space: “It is limited to its parts to which constant directions are attributed; they are oriented one towards the other, divisible by frontiers and they can be interconnected.” Such space is “streaked by walls, enclosures and roads between precincts.”14 Ibid., 381–2. The frontiers here are those of the state (a privileged example of streaked space) rather than the limits of organic, internal consistencies.


The smooth space of the nomad

In the interstices of the state, one can still identify escape routes for the migrant, the un-settled, the not-fixed-down. Even smooth space has no borders other than the ones imposed from outside by streaked space. Smooth space (the absolute local) is somehow to be found in the interstices of streaked space (the relative and global): “The streaked and the smooth are not opposed only as global and local. Because in one case the global is still relative, while in the other the local is already absolute.”15Translation of Milles Plateaux by Ioana Paul in Virtualia (http://virtualia.ong.ro/o2/ioanap_02_html). The desert, Deleuze’s favourite example of smooth space, is a space where visual orientation along trajectories of visual force seems impossible. The dynamics of the changed looks of these unformed territories, the moment-by-moment modification of the dunes, or of the surface of the ocean (another favourite metaphor for nomad space), or of the polar cap—in short, the absence of fixed landmarks—frustrates attempts at orientation. It seems only at the outer limits of the cosmos, among the distant stars and galaxies, that hapless, wayfaring man finally finds some clue as to his bearings in smooth, trackless space.

And yet, there is orientation in the smooth, fluent space of migrations. Edward S. Casey, following Deleuze and Guattari,16See Deleuze and Guattari, Milles Plateaux, op. cit. tells us “how direction is observed, and felt just as it is seen.”17Casey, The Fate of Place (1997), 304. Orientation by topographic landmarks (that is, by sight) is quite impossible in smooth space. The other senses, especially hearing and touch, somehow take over orientation against sight. Under these circumstances, orientation is achieved “on an extraordinarily fine topology relying not on points or objects but rather on haecceities, on sets of relationships (winds, snow or sand waves, the song of the sand or the squeak of the breaking ice, the tactile attributes of both).”18Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 382. Deleuze and Guattari’s smooth space is not a limited space, cut up and therefore isolated, but rather in continuous flux.

Another important difference between Heideggerian and Guattari-Deleuzian geospatiality is the accent on the way space is explored, on the role of the body talking, on the body undertaking the almost missionary crossing of this space. This is unlike Heidegger’s insistence upon place as a stop and topographic destination of gestures (rituals) of approach. Although Guattari and Deleuze19The smooth space is a matter that pertains to intense Spatium rather than to extensio (ibid., 479) where spatium seems associated with the archaic state, and extensio with the modern state with imperialistic and homogenizing tendencies (ibid., 388). as well as Heidegger20“But what is arranged by this diversity no longer is determined by distances, no longer is spatium but only extensio – a stretch (…) Yet the space thus conceived no longer contains spaces or areas (…) Spatium and extensio offer anytime the possibility of measuring and calculating the dimensions of things and the spaces arranged by them function of distances, segments, directions. But the measure-numbers and their dimensions by the mere fact they can be applied by and large to everything that stretches are in no way the foundation of the essence of spaces and places that can be measured with the help of mathematical paraphernalia.” Heidegger, (1995), 186–7. strongly object to seeing space as spatium (infinite, ubiquitous, and homogenous), for Guattari and Deleuze place and its connotations of stability are certainly not preconditioned for constructed dwelling.

Casey also perceives a conflict between these two manners of interpreting spatium.21See Casey (1997), 464, note 112. This conflict arises from the claimed stability and permanence of Heidegger’s Raum, which I have tried to destabilize here. Smooth space is a composite of regions and crossing trajectories. By contrast, in Heidegger’s “patched” space the various places (clearings) and localities (clearings already arranged with a view to dwelling) have different intensities of “habitability” and “placeability”. They are united by Holzwege (“wood-ways”), trajectories cut in the wild woods in a manner somewhat akin to the clearing.

In other words, smooth space is the space of nomads assuming and celebrating their instability and migratory condition, while Raum is the space of the tired migrant who would like to settle down at long last. Raum is the end of the road for the trajectories of smooth space, the final destination of a pilgrimage, the result of the decision to end a migration and live in one place. Nothing in the definition of Raum, except for Heidegger’s insistence on stability, persuades us that the campsite, despite a collective pledge to co-modify it, will not be abandoned sometime in the future.

And indeed, as we shall see, our very transience both calls into question the stability of a given place and feeds our hunger for it. Even when man settles into a place, his transience is not ended, but rather redirected. He builds, not onwards, but upwards, atop. And in all of this, he does not, cannot, forget the origins of his dwelling. In the second part of this essay, we shall look more closely at how sacred space is transformed by man, but also transforms him in turn.


Augustin Ioan is one of Romania’s leading architects and architectural theorists. A professor at the Ion Mincu Institute of Architecture in Bucharest, his work centers on the theory and history of modern and contemporary architecture, as well as the configuration of sacred space in traditional and post-Communist contexts. His architectural portfolio includes a number of churches, Romanian Orthodox and otherwise, that have been commissioned and built since 1989 as part of a wave of ecclesiastical construction projects on which he has also commented widely in national and international media. Architectural-autobiographical meditations on his Black Sea hometown can be found at “A Space of Forbearance: Ethnicity, Art and Architecture on the Danube River Delta”.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Heidegger’s Lichtung appears as such in Amoroso’s “La Lichtung di Heidegger come lucus a (non) lucendo,” in Vattimo and Rovatti (ed.), Il pensiero deboloe (1998), 123–48. The persistence of German terms in Romanian-language discussions of Heidegger’s philosophy of art has often been criticized along with Constantin Noica’s philosophy. But whereas Noica’s philosophy deliberately and explicitly chooses to cast light exactly on the potential of the Romanian language to put various philosophy-laden concepts in inspired formulas, with Heidegger the problem is to test to what extent his concepts can preserve their validity, derived as they are from etymologies and word families that belong to German (and indeed often ancient forms of German) but not to other languages. In this case at least, Amoroso manages to find an equivalent for the Latinate world.
2. “At the core of being as a whole there is an open space…Being as being can be only if it is equally situated within and without the enlightened space created by this open space.” Heidegger, Originea operei de artă (The Origin of the Work of Art), Humanitas Press (1997), 78.
3. In Heidegger (1995), 175–97, and 37–127 respectively.
4. Heidegger (1995), 185.
5. Ibid.
6. Servius, Commentary on Vergil, Aen., I, 310, quoted by Amoroso in Vattimo and Rovatti (1998), 127
7. Heideger (1995), 185.
8. “[…] the relationship between lucus and light and clarity is relative,” just as the “thickness of the lucus is not an absolute concept but a relation with the far more considerable thickness of silva; lucus thus proves to be defined by relative thickness (in relation with that of the silva, that is),” in Amoroso, 127.
9. Heidegger (1995), 177.
10. Ibid., 185.
11. Kagis McEwen, “Architecture: Early Greek Aesthetics,” in Michael Kelly (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, 4 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press), Vol. I, pp. 81–84, illus.
12. Alina Mungiu Pippidi’s 1999 Humanitas essay reports that in the 1990 conflict of Targu Mures the ethnic Romanian women in a nearby village said they wished that the ethnic Hungarians would go back to Asia, although the two ethnic groups had lived together for hundreds of years.
13. The smooth space is precisely the space of the smallest deviation: consequently, it is not homogeneous, with the exception of that existing between infinitely close points, and the connection between proximities is achieved independently of any determined trajectory. It is a space of contacts, of small tactile and manual actions, rather than a visual space as strictly Euclidian space. The smooth space is a field without trajectories or parallel channels. A field, a heterogeneous smooth space pertains to a very special form of multiplicity: non-metrical multiplicities, centreless, rhizomatous, which take up space “not by numbers” and which can be “explored only on foot”. These do not fulfil the visual condition of being observable from a point in their external space; an example is the system of sounds or even of colours both being opposed to the Euclidian space. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, tr. of Mille plateaux (1980) by Brian Massumi, (1987), 371.
14. Ibid., 381–2.
15. Translation of Milles Plateaux by Ioana Paul in Virtualia (http://virtualia.ong.ro/o2/ioanap_02_html).
16. See Deleuze and Guattari, Milles Plateaux, op. cit.
17. Casey, The Fate of Place (1997), 304.
18. Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 382.
19. The smooth space is a matter that pertains to intense Spatium rather than to extensio (ibid., 479) where spatium seems associated with the archaic state, and extensio with the modern state with imperialistic and homogenizing tendencies (ibid., 388).
20. “But what is arranged by this diversity no longer is determined by distances, no longer is spatium but only extensio – a stretch (…) Yet the space thus conceived no longer contains spaces or areas (…) Spatium and extensio offer anytime the possibility of measuring and calculating the dimensions of things and the spaces arranged by them function of distances, segments, directions. But the measure-numbers and their dimensions by the mere fact they can be applied by and large to everything that stretches are in no way the foundation of the essence of spaces and places that can be measured with the help of mathematical paraphernalia.” Heidegger, (1995), 186–7.
21. See Casey (1997), 464, note 112.

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