- Fenster – Korridor – Treppen. Architektonische Wahrnehmungsdispositive in der Literatur und in den Künsten ed. by Lena Abraham et al.
Fenster – Korridor – Treppen: Architektonische Wahrnehmungsdispositive in der Literatur und in den Künsten is a thought-provoking anthology of articles examining how architectural elements—and built landscape in general—create a way of seeing represented in literature and visual art. The everyday elements of the built world, such as windows, cracks, columns, balconies, and door frames forge visible networks manifesting as a unique environmental gestalt.
The built landscape is shaped by forces and constraints beyond the architect's blueprints; our physical surroundings are suffused with our tactile presence. As Benjamin reflected in his essay on the work of art, "Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit," buildings are experienced collectively within a state of distraction ["Rezeption in der Zerstreuung"]. Rather than a curated experience, we perceive structures through the prism of our habits ["Gewohnheit"].
Such a field of study has a rich background; German-language cultural studies have long been interested in the relationship between architecture, place, and imaginary space. This current collection brings together eleven essays based on the provocative thesis that windows, stairways, and corridors create the framework by which we experience the built landscape, acting as paradigms of aesthetic-artistic world experience ["Paradigmen ästhetisch-künstlerischer Welterfahrung," 7]. The visual and [End Page 150] psychological effects of windows are discussed by several contributors. Windows act as apertures to view the world as a lattice frame. Zimmermann reminds us that Alberti and Dürer both used the lattice window frame to devise the string grid that became essential for translating multi-dimensional forms into two-dimensional images, the foundation for pictorial representation in the West. As many contributors point out, windows are one of the paradigmatic sources of optical perspective. However, their meaning within literary narratives is always shifting. As several authors describe, windows are framing devices that isolate and accentuate certain visual qualities of the landscape. They organize the perception of our surroundings by emphasizing the tenuous relationship between the psychological world of interiors and the "natural world" outside, as Caio Yurgel discusses in his essay on Böll's wartime stories (170). Windows embody the varied tensions of his narrative and the hopeless frailty of the soldiers and civilians during wartime (171).
On the other hand, hallways are transitional zones, as Zimmermann describes, "in-between spaces" ["Nicht-Ort"/"ein Dazwischen," 12]. Long, sinewy hallways evoke anxiety, trepidation, or a sensation of stasis in motion. These passages evoke restless movement, the sensation of feeling lost exemplified by endless courthouse passageways entrapping Kafka's protagonist or hallways that become landscapes of mental aberrations in Kubrick's The Shining. Stairs imply ascent, transcendence, as discussed by Benedikt Tremp in his essay on Wolfgang Weyrauch's personal account of Berlin, Die Stufen der U-Bahn hinauf (1948). The Berlin subway's stairs are described as reminiscent of a Biblical ladder to a serene paradise.
The editors claim that architectural details in literature or visual art should not always be reduced to symbolic devices with a sign-like character ["Zeichenhaftigkeit," 8], to a single meaning concerning the human activity occurring in their shadows. We risk reducing the rubble and pockmarked landscapes in Böll's novels or the sleek glass windows adorning the vertiginous Chicago department stores in Nella Larsen's Passing to static stage settings, objects only reflecting a fixed message. The concrete nature of the built landscape grounds our faculties of perception and creates paradigms for literary and artistic expression. In Zimmermann's words, these architectural features contain "lebensweltliche Funktion," (8) a quotidian materiality influencing our habits and practices of everyday life. Architecture is something we constantly experience through our continual perception of structures, or in Zimmermann's words, a "paradigmatische[s] Dispositiv von Erfahrung oder eben Wahrnehmung" (9). However, these architectural paradigms are not to be confused with rhetorical tropes. Important elements of...