Denis Wood and Shadowed Spaces

Denis Wood’s samizdat essay on “Shadowed Spaces, In Defense of Indefensible Space” has finally been made available in its original form. The essay, which constitutes a kind of defense of heterotopic spaces, has previously only been available in photocopy and a more formal published version.

Wood is a designer, psychogeographer, and author of many books on mapping and power (including The Power of Maps, and Making Maps co-authored with John Krygier).

I’ve read a lot of Denis’ work and had the pleasure of knowing him for over 15 years, but I had never before read this piece.

The website provides this background info:

At the same time [as architecture critic Michael Sorkin in the mid 1970s argued for a “design-out spaces in which furtive activities could be fostered; a kind of architecture of security”] and I suppose gloriously counter to this argument, Denis Wood (at the time a recently graduated geographer, or more particularly psychogeographer) wrote an impassioned essay, titled ‘Shadowed Spaces’. It was an ardent and poetic defense of our need to feel a sense of privacy in public, and the subsequent need for places where one might take refuge, or engage in transgressions which we may be unwilling to share with a wider public, but which are important to our lives and development, to our needs and desires.

The essay Shadowed Spaces has never been published, but exists in a sort of parallel way to the kinds of spaces it discusses, handed around and sought out by people who maybe need to find it. And it’s served as a loose inspiration to a clutch of artists and musicians who are also drawn to these kinds of spaces, and to a desire to perform there, in a kind of artistic parallel to that need for privacy in public: ‘cause isn’t a musical performance just that, a private thing done publicly?

And Wood’s essay begins:

What were the earliest shadowed spaces? That of the colored half-light underneath the blanket, or that beneath the bed? That of the stuffy darkness in the closet behind the clothes, or that behind the stairs on the way to the basement? What does it matter? All of them were shaded. Which came first? The mutual sharing of pubic anatomies with Carol Lewis in the blinkered light beneath the baldachino of the bushes; or the pants-down hanky-panky with Sonny Schwartz in the leaden demi-jour of the old gray Army blanket? With Denny Ring the making of plans and marshaling of stones to throw at Harry Puerto Rico in the shuttered murk below the porches; or the rending with my brother of all our books in the street-light shattered darkness of our bedroom after the light was out? Who cares about primacy? Each adds detail to a pattern of secret deeds committed in forgiving darkness, shaded from the eyes of parents, janitors, and other keepers of the norms …

They see so well, they of the normative eyes: where can we hide, we of the deviant behavior?i Where can any of us hide from all of our eyes? We can look back – way back – to the peccadilloes of childhood and have a laugh, say yeah that’s how it was, with the secret clubs and the mingling of blood and the fooling around and the learning and the feeling and the hidden smoking and drinking behind the garage, but … we can’t look much closer back and do anything but worry. Under strict interpretation of the laws in most of the fifty states a lot of adolescent – don’t even talk about adult – learning and growing and fooling around is also … felonious. It’s almost magical sometimes how you can be, what? not two months older than your lover, but you’re an adult and your lover’s a minor and somehow THAT is no longer fooling around but a felony rap and a different life – not that anyone’d ever bring charges, except sometimes they do, or their parents do who never liked you in the first place, or your parents do who never liked your lover, or others do who just happened to have their eyes glued to that great big telescope of norms. And it’s not just a question of the law, but of all the actions and attitudes and opinions of the others with whom our lives are mingled. My first arrest for drunken and disorderly behavior wasn’t a tenth as painful as coming home late, night after night, to fight with my father about where I’d been and what I’d been doing, giving battle in that ageless contest between his norms and my life, which it seemed at times I could only live … in the shadowed spaces.


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