Door Studies
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Discourse lives, as it were, beyond itself, in a living impulse toward the object; if we detach ourselves completely from this impulse all we have left is the naked corpse of the word, from which we can learn nothing at all about the social situation or fate of a given word in life. To study the word as such, ignoring the impulse that reaches out beyond it, is just as senseless as to study psychological experience outside the context of that real life toward which it was directed and by which it is determined.

Mikhail Bakhtin Dialogical Imagination 1941, p. 292

Welcome. Please feel free to browse this page with an open mind. It is designed to demonstrate a particular teaching perspective which gathers a variety of disciplines around a common object.

Can you think of other objects suitable for this method?

`The Door' is designed to provide a concrete context for exploring the construction of the everyday world. It is intended to appeal to both established practitioners looking for a new angle, and emerging individuals seeking to stretch their wings.
  • What is a door?
  • What are its functions and messages?
  • What are doors needed for?
  • What kinds of conventions govern behaviour toward doors?
  • What are the implications of different locking devices used in the regulation of flow through doors?
  • How are doors used as metaphors in psychology, biology, mathematics, politics and philosophy?
  • What function do doors play in pictorial and literary space?
  • Have doors lost their significance in contemporary life?

The course is experimental. It takes as its subject an everyday object, rather than a professional practice. The object will be the starting point of inquiry from which practice will follow. The course entails a workshop component in which participants will develop new prototype doors, of material or symbolic nature, based on the knowledge of doors acquired inside and outside the course.

Sample from one of the door elements:


Introductory comments

I want to start these remarks by a general observation of method. You might have noticed, in yourself or others, a distinctive pattern of behaviour involved in looking at a painting. You might have noticed a kind of rhythm of looking, an oscillation between close scrutiny of individual detail and a stand-back broad perspective on the picture as a whole. The same kind of process of inspection might be found in other circumstances where our body can help in the act of looking -- just think of someone grooming a coat.

In a way, we do something similar in this course on the door. We stand back, looking over the broader metaphorical and connotative dimensions of doors, and then look closer at this or that actual wooden door or door feature before us. This kind of method has given us certain frames for looking at doors: a mediators of presence and non-presence, as dramatic scenes of individual actions, as membranes that link two spaces while keeping them separate, and so on. Tonight, we focus on the devices that limit the access to those doors: keys. At a simple level, therefore, we are dealing with the practical problem of incorporating a device in the door which requires a complementary device to operate, a complementary device which is able to be restricted to the individual unit, using the term that we are familiar with from ethnomethodology. The door might thus have a restricted number of individuals who are capable of operating it. In these terms, the key and lock represent a delegated function of the doorkeeper, using `delegated' in the sense provided for us by Bruno Latour.

There are a variety of life processes that similarly require means of limiting access, and these allow us to stand back from doors, doors, doors for a moment to take the wider frame. You might have read in newspapers and magazines recently the substantial amount of research being published in immunology. Immunology, as you know, is the study of how the body deals with foreign invaders. The most prevalent foreign invader into body cells is the virus. The virus has been described as a piece of bad news wrapped up in protein. This bad news is a string of dna that infiltrates the cells boundaries and highjacks the cells resources, using them to reproduce, to make more viruses which crash their way out of the cells in search of more cells to infect. Infected cells in the end simply leak to death after their boundaries have been broken by viruses. But this happens often enough for evolution to have established a means of anticipating these kinds of disasters. As you no doubt know, the body contains cells whose specialised function it is to recognise infected cells and, in most cases, destroy them, preventing them letting lose the viruses contained within. But this is a delicate process. The killer cells, B cells or T cells, have to be very discriminating in who they attack. The condition of multiple sclerosis is one of the many diseases which arises because the killer cells misrecognise healthy cells as infected cells. The body starts destroying itself. So how do T cells know the difference? Normally combat is guided by sight. A soldier looks to the colour of the uniform before deciding to kill another person. The insides of the body is a different matter. Here the basic process is concerned with the contact between cells, the moment of physical encounter. A B cell contains an outer layer of protein which is chemically sensitive to the presence of antigen, or foreign matter on the surface of an infected cell. T cells are more complicated. T cells actually require accessory cells which discover antigen inside the cell and present it for recognition (these are called APCs, antigen presenting cells). They are presented in such a way as to form a kind of cleft on the infected cell which the T cell locks into. The struggle between antibodies and foreign viruses in the body is thus a matter of lock and key.

How does this relate to our own concern with doors? Clearly, individuals do not circulate around doors with keys exposed waiting for a lock which fits. You do not wait until your key fits the lock before pursuing your business. Keys are a more taken for granted means for gaining privileged access. You select different keys for different doors. The biological picture of keys provided in immunology seems to have only a literal parallel with our use of keys. Seems to... But given the drift of this metaphor, I think it does pose the question of to what degree an individual might be viewed in terms of a particular key, which requires some kind of interlocking with certain situations or individuals before their potential capacity as an individual can be realised. The active/passive difference in these pictures of keys might be thus one of the dimensions in which we can begin to discuss the role of keys in everyday life.


 Last edited 27 Apr 2003