GEOPOLITICAL EVERYDAY

A shared archive hosted by Rastko Novakovic, which will be mobilised in a series of short movies. You are invited to explore and contribute.

‘Space and Place’ 2

excerpts from ‘Space Place’: The Perspective of Experience’ by Yi-Fu Tuan, University of Minnesota Press, 2002 (1977)

FRONT AND BACK: BODY, ROOM, CITY

In addition to the vertical-horizontal and the high-low polarities, the shape and posture of the human body define its ambient space as front-back and right-left. Frontal space is primarily visual. It is vivid and much larger than the rear space that we can experience only through non-visual cues. Frontal space is “illuminated” because it can be seen; back space is “dark,” even when the sun shines, simply because it cannot be seen. The belief that eyes project light rays goes back at least to Plato (Timaeus) and persists to the Middle Ages and beyond. Another common feeling is that one’s shadow falls behind the body even though in actual fact it often stretches to the front. On a temporal plane, frontal space is perceived as future, rear space as past. The front signifies dignity. The human face commands respect, even awe. Lesser beings approach the great with their eyes lowered, avoiding the awesome visage. The rear is profane. Lesser being hover behind (and in the shadow of their superiors). In traditional China the ruler stands facing south and receives the full rays of the noon sun; he thus assimilates the male and luminous principle of yang. It follows from this that the front of the body is also yang. Inversely, the back of the ruler and the area behind him are yin, feminine, dark and profane.

Every person is at the center of his world, and circumambient space is differentiated in accordance with the schema of his body. As he moves and turns, so do the regions front-back and right-left around him. But objective space also takes on these somatic values. Rooms at one end of the scale and cities at the other often show front and back sides. In large and stratified societies spatial hierarchies can by vividly articulated by architectural means such as plan, design and type of decoration.

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