Monday, March 04, 2024

Open and Closed


Among the chief ornaments of the romance of philosophy is the high place accorded to the open, or to openness. Open the understanding or the mind or the eye, openness as a state of being – these are all on the plus side of the ledger. Heidegger, of course, is the great poet of openness in this tradition, charging openness with a numinous relationship to being that you can take or leave – but he is only building on a vast previous structure.

Closing, perhaps as a consequence, is never given high marks by philosophers. Closing one’s eyes or one’s understanding is, automatically, a bad thing. Even in building an argument, to come to a conclusion – a close – is often transformed, in the text, into opening up. After the Absolute spirit has tied itself in knots and done more tricks than Houdini, he at last is in a good place at the end of the Phenomenology of Spirit. You would think that the absolute spirit would be able to close up shop and go fishing. But no! He has to open up once again and go, in recollection, though the whole muddle again. No closing for it!

The open is, of course, closely aligned with liberty – in the philosophical sense. As for the philosophical sense of the closed – well, this is often associated with liberty’s end. Philosopher’s have spent surprisingly little time sussing out all the meanings of the closed. There are no doors in Plato’s Dialogues, and though, of course, the Greeks masked, there is no praise of hide and seek. The closed, at best, is an occasion for the open.

The only philosopher of note that has meditated on the closed is, I think, Bachelard. In Poetics of Space, he presents a strong sense of the house as an enclosure against the outside – and in particular against the oldest of seasons, winter. In winter, the open becomes hostile, the enclosed comfortable – in fact, the image of comfort. It is a comfort that belongs to the long lost age of huts and forests filled with snow and wolves. If the open is always a Greek summer, the closed is always a German winter.


This rap on the open and the closed lacks, for some reason, any reference to good old Georg Simmel (good old was his official title I believe), who wrote an essay pre-dating Bachelard's great series of phenomenologies and psychoanalyses: Bridge and Door.

Simmel also generated the prototypical Weimar style - before Weimar existed - and impressed it upon the generation of Benjamin and Kracauer. It begins with simplicities, and soon develops into an intricate world of references and echoes that shadow every paragraph. It is a style of knowingness that borders mysticism.

Anyway, the Bridge and Door essay, published as a feuilleton in a newspaper, proposes a way of looking at the outside as a unity of both connections and divisions. Everything is separate, and everything functions within a system. A bridge, for Simmel, is first an imaginative act, a way of seeing a river not as one thing, but as a thing that divides one bank from another. A primal image of division.

The connection that a bridge affords is contrasted with the closure that a door affords.

.... The door decisively represents that way dividing and bind are only two sides of the same act.

The person who first constructed a hut reveals, just as the first trailmaker, the specific human potential against nature, in as much as this person, out of the continuity and endlessness of space cuts out a parcel and shapes this into a particular unity in accordance with some meaning.


That the door is equally a functional link between the space of the human and everything that is outside of this sets up the division between the inner and the outer.

Exactly because it can also be opened, its closing gives the feeling of a stronger exclusion against all the beyond of this space more than a simply indivisible wall.

The latter is dumb, but the door speaks."

The door speaks. This mix of the philosophical and the lyrical is unbearable to a certain kind of common sense mind - a strong tradition in England. But it is music to another kind of mind, who enjoys leaps as well as the dull utilitarian tread of the deductive-hypothetical method.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

the door speaks. or squeaks. what can it say, open or closed, when the house, the enclosure is blown away.

- Sophie

Lawrence's Etruscans

  I re-read Women in Love a couple of years ago and thought, I’m out of patience with Lawrence. Then… Then, visiting my in-law in Montpellie...