full name / name of organization:
Karolina Katsika - CRIT Université de Franche-Comté
CRIT [Center for Interdisciplinary and Transcultural Studies] (EA [Research Team] 3224)
UFR SLHS [School of Linguistics, Humanities and Social Sciences]
University of Franche-Comté
The Window: Openings and Perspectives
23-24 January 2015
Windows have been dressed with many symbolic representations, the most common of which is an openness to the world, and through this, to the diversity of knowledge. They provide a means to gain access to the unknown, and even to new forms of knowledge. They also play an important role for science, such as in architecture with the development of bay windows, or in economics, where windows are used to describe the importing and exporting of goods and, today, in the notion of a display window. They have served as a central motif in art history by playing a crucial role in the emergence of perspective, as well as in the theater, where they often serve as an interface between inside and outside, and private and public lives. This conference on the theme of the window is proposed as part of the “Transfers of Knowledge” research axis of CRIT (Centre d’Études Interdisciplinaires et Transculturelles [Center for Interdisciplinary and Transcultural Studies] - EA [Équipe d’accueil, Research Team] 3224); the window and literature are both considered to be modes of openness to the world. As an opening, the window both takes part in and constitutes a means of access to the imagination. It provides contact with the world outside and also allows that world to enter into the interior, into its domestic intimacy.
Windows are a quintessential figure of the dialectic between inside and outside. For this reason, they often appear as a barrier, a border, a place of fracture between the familiar and the foreign; they belong to the public and private spheres simultaneously. In The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard describes the window as a border-line surface between the here and the beyond. By means of a dialectic between openness and closure, it is a protection against “exterior dizziness.”1 For Bachelard, the window is “the surface that separates the region of the same from the region of the other.”2 The window thus becomes a “transitional object” in relation to the insideoutside, a place of communication with the exterior. In terms of architecture, the window is a bay “fitted with closed glass panes which brings daylight into the interior of a building” (Perouse de Montclos 78).3 It allows light, air and sound — even information — to pass through from the outside. However, Jean Starobinski, in a discussion of the way in which Kafka plays with windows in his work, notes that they are “passageways (...) which, because of this purpose, show how impossible it is to get out, and this in turn highlights the dangerous privilege of crossing borders.”4
An object with a dual function, the window provides a means of access to the external world and simultaneously keeps that world at a distance. The world outside appears like a painting or within a frame in a way that is evocative of Magritte’s work, where the window is both opening and frame. Such framing played a decisive role in the invention of the landscape, as Anne Cauquelin has shown.5 Yet the framing of space only gives access to a fragment of the external world and, as a result, to a limited perception composed of bits and pieces. The frame, this miniature of a world, nevertheless allows the real to be organized, and it is precisely this that turns the world into something that can be perceived. According to Starobinski, the window as means of entry into an image is “a place where images can appear,”6 and therefore is sometimes a source of anxiety, which has a powerful influence on the individual. The image in the window can likewise create a sort of recursive mise en abyme of the character or situation it describes.
The narrative role and the function of the window are not, however, only that sort of recursive image. In some contexts, such as in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, windows, doors and corridors play a crucial role in the plot and take on the symbolism of a space of breaking and entering and of violence. If windows do not always play such a decisive part, when they do appear they often have multiple functions, as Philippe Hamon highlights in his pivotal work, Du descriptif.7 Hamon shows that when a character is placed before a window, this often leads to a description. This may involve the view seen through the window, or, by way of resonance, the character’s reflections about him- or herself — a self-portrait — or about others, in the form of the portrait of another character. To this, we can add that the description generated when a character pauses in front of a window also marks a slowing down, a stopping point in the plot and an expansion of fictional time. According to Hamon, contemplation before a window is a kind of spectacle and often brings in other motifs such as light and the gaze…. Hamon also draws out the metaphorical relation between the window and the textual page. Similarly, in his Studien zur Phänomenologie: 1930- 1939, Eugen Fink describes how “[a] work can be at one and the same time closed upon itself with respect to its structure and open onto a world, like a ‘window’….”8 This is the same sort of binary organization of world and text that Barthes explores in his theory of textuality in S/Z. Barthes sees the figure of the narrator standing before a window frame — half in, half out — as constituting an antithesis that functions as an opposition. The antitheses of a work thus refer to semantic transgressions and oppositions. As Barthes demonstrates, the character standing at the window is afigure of antithesis, contrast and one that launches narrative.
The window is also involved in the dialectic between the visible and the invisible: it is a source of visibility and yet only allows the world to be viewed from afar. The world cannot be seen in its totality. For Starobinski, windows are also “impassable obstacles”9 which obstruct the view and doom individuals to the solitude of the house. Then again, as Marie-Laure Noëlle notes, in some stories the house itself takes on an anthropomorphic character in which the windows are the eyes.10
This conference will explore the many functions of the window in writing and in the imagination, with the aim of analyzing these figures and their dialectical relations in literature, the arts (painting, theater, cinema, architecture...) as well as in different kinds of discourse. Submissions from art historians, architects, semioticians and philosophers are also welcome. Please send paper proposals, accompanied by brief author biographies, to email@example.com. Deadline: May 30, 2014.
1 Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994), 221.
2 Ibid., 222.
3 Jean-Marie Pérouse de Montclos, Architecture: méthode et vocabulaire (Paris: Imprimerie nationale: Éditions du
patrimoine, 2000), 78.
4 Jean Starobinski, “Regards sur le texte de Kafka,” in the catalogue of the exhibition Le siècle de Kafka (Centre
Pompidou, 1984), http://www.larevuedesressources.org/jean-starobinski-regards-sur-le-text....
5 Anne Cauquelin, L’invention du paysage (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 2013).
6 Starobinski, “Regards sur le texte de Kafka.”
7 Philippe Hamon, Du descriptif (Paris, France: Hachette supérieur, 1994).
8 Cited in Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, trans. Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pellauer (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1984), 100.
9 Jean Starobinski, “Windows: From Rousseau to Baudelaire,” trans. Richard Pevear, The Hudson Review 40.4(Winter 1988): 551–60.
10 Marie-Laure Noëlle, “La fenêtre : quelques angles d’approche,” Site of the Académie of Versailles, La Page des Lettres, December 5, 2007, http://www.lettres.ac-versailles.fr/spip.php?article831.