Upon my first reading, I took the words quite literally with only a superficial knowledge of who wrote them and when, and felt (as I’m sure many before me have) like there was room for me to build my own meaning between the words, especially because the title was clearly and accurately describing my most recent endeavor in an embodied art practice.
Perhaps the most deeply grounding part is the making of. From designing the house, imagining my interaction with the space, leaving room to change my mind, to welding the frame together and tightening the bolts on the axles. The walls go up, windows are fit where holes used to gape, then suddenly it becomes an inside space, coherently different from outside.
The building phase never really stops, but morphs from creating an object to changing its function according to my acknowledged need. It is precisely here where the three (building, dwelling, and thinking) merge and become an embodied experience. This is where the essay makes sense.
There are complicated ways in which Heidegger’s essay “Building dwelling thinking” can be, and has been interpreted, meanings gleaned, metaphors built and used to justify a plethora of arguments. It is fairly vague in its definitions, doubtlessly meant to be read in the context of Heidegger’s other work, but to me it rings familiar perhaps because I don’t have that particular context, as if the absence of context is what, indeed, made room for my own experience to feel valid and worthwhile.
I can’t say it surprised me to notice that I was not the only one concerned with issues of space, safety, and belonging at the intersection of body and place. While I was looking for validation in decidedly dusty texts, artists whose work is currently emerging on the horizon of collective awareness (aka social media) are clearly questioning similar issues. So if different voices, coming from different perspectives (and generations), are asking the same questions, there must be some underlying cause that’s spurring this reaction.
Which brings us back to context.
Both in its presence and its absence, context is an essential vector for experience. It shapes the very nature of experience in a way that resists the tug of reason. It contaminates experience by linking it with previously acquired knowledge and emotional responses, and is in fact inescapable.
Whatever the role and meaning of the Aesthetic Experience, art is always a reflection of its social and political context, which in turn shapes its form and function. And while the human/temporal context isn’t replicable, some main social concerns can and do crop up again and again, as history repeats itself. I took as closer look at what was going on in Heidegger’s time.
Now as then, western society is experiencing a powerful wave of aggression towards the Other (the foreign citizen, the illegal immigrant, the different, the numerous, the incoming). Tribal loyalty is enhanced creating a highly divisive social dynamic. It makes sense that concern about space, belonging and safety is bleeding into the vocabulary of contemporary art.
Regardless of the context that gave birth to this short essay, I say there is still a reading left that can benefit my generation.
“Space is in essence that for which room has been made, that which is let into its bounds. That for which room is made is always granted and hence is joined, that is, gathered, by virtue of a locale, that is, by such a thing as the bridge.”
The English translation almost sounds like a visit to the palm-reader. It takes some head tilting to make the words land in the order that makes the most sense. To me, it reads like a recipe: the bridge is one of the most commonly recognized metaphors for connection and dialogue; “the bounds” are understood as boundaries, but not as limitations, so I interpret them as guidelines; and space is not limited if room is made.