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Monday, November 17, 2014

The Door Becomes the Image

"The formula according to which both [separating and connecting] come together in human undertakings ... is something which can guide all our activity. In the immediate as well as the symbolic sense, in the physical as well as the intellectual sense, we are at any moment those who separate the connected or connect the separate. / The people who first built a path between two places performed one of the greatest human achievements... The will to connection had become a shaping of things, a shaping that was available to the will at every repetition ... This achievement reaches its zenith in the construction of a bridge... The bridge gives to the eye the same support for connecting the sides of the landscape as it does to the body for practical reality. ... The bridge confers an ultimate meaning elevated above all sensuousness ... and brings it into a visible form in the same way as a work of art does... when it puts the spiritually gained unity of the merely natural into its island-like ideal enclosedness. / Whereas in the correlation of separateness and unity, the bridge always allows the accent to fall on the latter [unity], ... the door represents in a more decisive manner how separating and connecting are only two sides of precisely the same act. The human being who first erected a hut, like the first road builder, revealed the specifically human capacity over against nature, insofar as he or she cut a portion out of the continuity and infinity of space and arranged this into a particular unity in accordance with a single meaning. [The door] transcends the separation between the inner and the outer. Precisely because it can also be opened, its closure provides the feeling of a stronger isolation... than the mere unstructured wall. The latter is mute, but the door speaks. It is absolutely essential for humanity that it set itself a boundary, but with freedom, that is, in such a way that it can also remove this boundary again, that it can place itself outside it... Thus the door becomes the image of the boundary point at which human beings actually always stand or can stand. ... [I]n the unity [of an occupied threshold], the bounded and the boundaryless adjoint one another, not in the dead geometric form of a mere separating wall, but rather as the possibility of a permanent interchange... Whereas the bridge, as the [walkable] line stretched between two points, prescribes unconditional security and direction, life flows forth out of the door from the limitation of isolated separate existence into the limitlessness of all possible directions."

—Georg Simmel, "Bridge and Door" [1909], in Simmel on Culture, David Frisby & Mike Featherstone, eds. (London: Sage, 1997) p170-173.