Open Spaces: Within and Without Civilization

As the sense of space reduces around us, we tend to feel increasingly insecure. What is solitude in an open space becomes loneliness in a busy, noisy surrounding. While in an open space one feels an extraordinary balance of sensory reception, the city streets tend to privilege the eye over the rest of senses. And the eye is aggressive, it is not content to sit passively and bear witness. It is socially trained to be ‘watchful’ for it is forever threatened, which is why the communication which has infinite possibilities in an open space is dominated helplessly by threat perception as one moves to spaces marked by high-rises and architectural monsters, machines running against time and men trying so hard to survive they don’t mind killing. Threat – that lies at the core of all that we perceive around us – is the magic wand that renders a labyrinthine quality to all matter; it turns each one of us into an abyss.

If there could be a definition of what an open space is, it must insist on complete absence of this labyrinthine attribute of matter that inhabits that space. Indeed, it should not be taken to mean that an open space has no character of its own. On the contrary, it derives its character from the elements it embraces at a certain point in time. It does not manipulate in a deterministic manner, the essence of what it includes. Perhaps we could say that an open space is like the language itself. It is a space full of possibilities. Like language, it is open to being rendered any meaning, open to ‘outside’ influences or encroachments, even transgressions. An open space is the most docile of all spaces, it does not know how to eject or reject. It accepts one and all, unconditionally. That, however, is both its merit and demerit, making and unmaking. Its definition and re-definition both emanate out of the above. Which goes on to show that an open space is never completely defined, never completely encroached upon, never entirely owned by any entity, living or dead. It is forever undefined, forever open to redefinition.

Defining, however, is also an act of organizing memory. And that fragile thing called memory through which we feel time, is forever busy struggling to survive, first against time itself, and then, more importantly, against forgetting. Yet, nothing but memory may arm us adequately against threat perception for memory alone may educate, condition or empathize the eye. Without the aid of memory, we are primitive, locked endlessly in the cloud of threat with nothing but survival at stake. Memory, hence, regulates our senses and contains our definitions, our familiarity with the world around. It is only when memory itself is destabilized that the very act of remembering is threatened. With that the threat penetrates our self-identification, our belief in self and all the rest.

The act of remembering, a merely utilitarian aspect of memory however, is the key to intelligibility, affect, even morality. All that we comprehend or communicate, with direct or indirect references, is based on remembering. All artistic pursuits are aimed primarily at nothing but remembering. All that is creative either reinforces or destabilizes the remembered. To the extent that the very idea of evolution is based on remembering across generations. Nothing of any worth can exist that does not depend on memory, individual or collective. It marks the most vital distance between madness and civilization. It goes without saying then, that memory is the cornerstone of the project of civilization.

As the idea of civilization, minus its spiritual ambitions, can be broadly divided into two broad spectrums – temporal and spatial – memory flags only the former. What then, holds the centre-stage within the spatial spectrum? The idea of ownership, I should think. Ownership is central to all that is spatial in the manner that memory is central to all that is temporal. We divide time through memory just as we may divide space through ownership. As time cannot be felt or marked without memory, space cannot be felt or depicted without markers of ownership. The project of civilization, although, does not lack in architectural unity. Both temporal and spatial spectrums, then, are tied on the other end. They are two ends of the same rope, if I may argue so. Which does not mean that one may be translated into another; yet, the possibility that one may compensate for another cannot be overlooked.

The above possibility cannot be overlooked for it is constantly worked over. When one end of the rope cannot be accessed, the other one is evidently pulled harder. What cannot be remembered can always be owned. What is lost from the memory can only be found through ownership. When memory fails to deliver, an obsession with ownership is bound to take root for no human project can be as ambitious as project civilization. What it cannot own physically or in its entirety can be owned as a copy, as a mere image. But own it must, for it can not remember! Having failed at defining the idea of open spaces repeatedly, perhaps we may define the project civilization in terms of its endless search for open spaces to take over for it has no memory – that marker between madness and civilization itself.

Having established earlier the character of open spaces, perhaps I may return to it armed with the idea of civilization which, by its very definition, can not affect the open spaces. Therefore, it may be argued that an open space is strictly beyond the scope of civilizational imagination and its temporal or spatial footprint. It is where the time can be felt without the aid of memory and space can be accessed without the intervention of ownership. Yet, it is what can neither be remembered nor owned. It is empty beyond description, so much so that it provides no handle to any kind of access, any attempt at comprehension. Yet, it accommodates all temporal or spatial lag that may be introduced into it. It is a space free of not only ideas and sentiments but also doubts. It is where absolutely no interaction is possible with anyone else, oneself or with divinity. It is where the essence of existence is indefinite and indeterminate, yet free of doubts. It is where nothing is certain, yet uncertainty can find no space. It is where all senses work to the best of their abilities without overstepping their limits or overshadowing the other senses.

As one can see clearly, an open space is the space of ultimate healing. That it cannot be defined in any other terms but spiritual is evident. However, it has to be a spirituality free of divinity as much as it should be free of religion or any other framework that makes a claim on elementary morality. An open space cannot suffocate itself with a strand of the same civilizational rope that it has decisively rejected. Who, then, is this space accessible to? Perhaps, the defiant seekers who wander without purpose, the artists who pursue an art that is perfectly useless and their like. An open space is what a seeker carries within himself, a chosen destination of voluntary exile as Camus called it. It is also not very different from the idea of home that we yearn for ceaselessly except that home is often understood in terms of memory and ownership, which is unfortunate. Perhaps, by reversing the above argument, we may say that if we did not connect to spaces through memory and ownership, all spaces would open up.


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