UN/TAMING: FEMININE WILDERNESS AND ITS (LACK) OF PLACE IN THE BUILT
Samantha Eunika Aleksandra Grabowska
B.A., University of Colorado at Boulder, 2004
B.F.A., University of Colorado at Boulder, 2004
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Humanities
This thesis for the Master of Humanities
Samantha Eunika Alesandra Grabowska
has been approved
Grabowska, Samantha E.A. (Master of Humanities)
Un/Taming: Feminine Wilderness and its (Lack) of Place in the Built Environment
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Margaret Woodhull
This thesis looks at the concept of feminine wilderness and its relationship to the
spaces females seek during three developmental stages: pre-adolescence, adolescence,
and early adulthood before family (i.e. before having a spouse and child). To do so I had to
first eek out the notion of feminine wilderness which came to be about being in the margin
as both the feminine and the wild are placed there. It is a two-fold reality rather than one
premised on binary logic. It is rooted in the visceral and sensual, and therefore first and
foremost in the corporeal world. Therefore a space for feminine wilderness must allow for
the forging of relationships between human and nature, human and object, and human and
human. This space may exist in a few marginal spaces in the built environment but
essentially cease to exist in the American landscape once a female reaches adulthood. In
pre-adolescence the wild is placed outside of the female and manifests itself as natural
wilderness as opposed to adolescence where the external wild becomes more about a
social and cultural margin that is synthetic as opposed to natural while corporeal
wilderness is internalized via the potential of reproduction. Finally during early adulthood a
female reclaims the domestic as an interior spatial place for wilderness since the public
realm fails to offer an appropriate space for feminine wilderness.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recor
I dedicate this thesis to first and foremost my committee members without whom my sanity
would have disintegrated into a small sad pile on the floor to my mother and father who
split me in two and two again and taught me how to fold and suture and think and feel to
my mothers partner who has overthrown the paradigm of struggle and frustration with
patience and kindness to my friends who are family and who have given me readings,
entrance into hidden places, delicious food, repose, and who have challenged me to
challenge myself while giving me the support to do so to my family who have told me
stories of times I could have never lived but have in my blood to the various authors,
activists, artists, and academics whose work has tapped into my underbelly to all the
strangers and street dwellers who have reversed the negative implications of the day with
one word or one gesture and lastly to all those whom I have not yet met and may never
meet who intervene in the environment and are willing to be vulnerable to make the
Unquantifiable gratitude to my advisor, mentor, professor, and friend Joseph Juhasz whose
guidance and wealth of knowledge has helped solidify my otherwise scattered interests.
Thank you also to Margaret Woodhull who has among other things, been a wonderful role
model and has patiently untangled my floods of thoughts so that I could digest them. And
many thanks to Joern Langhorst whose similar interests have supplied me with more
literature than I could imagine and opened the door for me to yet another fascinating
discipline. As an entire committee, thank you for coming together so flawlessly and
inspiring me so completely and utterly as to make this whole task more pleasure than
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. PREADOLESCENCE AND COMMUNICATING WITH THE
EXTERNAL NATURAL WILD............................................1
Wilderness and Gender.........................................2
Feminine Wilderness in Relationship to the Sacred..............4
Feminine Wilderness and the Sensory...........................7
Feminine Wilderness and Imagination/Dream Space vs. Myth Space.13
Feminine Wilderness and Language.............................15
Feminine Wilderness and Temporality..........................18
Feminine Wilderness and the Other............................20
2. ADOLESCENCE AND EXPLORING THE UNDERBELLY
Nature and Woman vs. Civilization and Man......................24
Further from the Domestic....................................26
Changing Costumes and Playing the Masculine Role.............30
The Social and Spatial Margin................................35
Mimicry and Mimesis..........................................37
3. EARLY ADULTHOOD AND RECLAIMING THE INTERIOR AS A SPACE
OF FEMININE WILDERNESS..........................................42
Places of Empathy and Places of Conflict.....................43
Places of Time, Spaces of Movement...........................45
The Magic of Home Space......................................46
Outside the Home, In the City............................49
Between Home and the City................................53
PREADOLESCENCE AND COMMUNICATING WITH
THE EXTERNAL NATURAL WILD
It was in the thicket of the hills, where I can mythologically trace the roots of my
first architectural and urban planning undertakings. We children of the neighborhood aging
around seven and eight all had found a margin in the city and voraciously inhabited it. In
the hill there was safety. We may have been simply clamoring for a return to the womb. Or
we were just trying to escape a sick civilization.
The spaces I sought in these early stages of development are not arbitrary they
provided me with something that other spaces (specifically those that civilization offered)
lacked. At a time when the binary divisions between male and female as well as nature and
culture were being etched out before my eyes, the spaces I found could be said to lie on
the margins both and neither simultaneously both male and female while neither
male nor female, and both civilized and wild while neither civilized nor wild. This is about
thresholds and the various psychological, cultural, and biological factors that influence the
relationships that humans have with space. Within this domain, this thesis aims to identify
the concept of feminine wilderness and its specific relationship (or lack thereof) to
marginal spaces in built environments. To do so it employs autobiographical narratives just
as Foucault employs an anthropological history as a method to get at culture, power
constructs, and meanings of space. The thesis also conjures Freud not only to add a
psychological and developmental dimension to the endeavor but also to examine the
relationship between the male and culture so as to try to get at the relationship between
female and culture through the back door. And lastly it briefly skirts the biological and
evolutionary make-up of humans to cover the territory left blank by culture.
All this will, at the end, wrap around a gendered and ecological reading of
architectural and planning theory and practice within the context of marginal space in the
My thesis is that there are stages within a females life that correlate with spaces of
wilderness that she seeks. In the female consciousness the wild is initially placed outside
the self during preadolescence. During this stage the wild is a literal term. There are
spaces that are overgrown with weeds and inhabited by undomesticated creatures. The
internal psychology of the pre-adolescent female connects with the external wild and builds
a relationship with nature through imagination, dreams, rituals, and an exploration of the
margins (the space between wild and civilized).
In adolescence the wild is placed inside the self as the ability to reproduce, and
outside the self in the form of social connections that exist outside the home and the
neighborhood. This social wild is no longer about the external natural realm but rather
about those marginal populations who inhabit marginal spaces between the civilized and
the uncivilized (the insane, sex workers, the homeless, addicts, and runaways). To explore
these margins a masculine guise must be appropriated. Male clothing allows for
exploration into post-industrial decay and general masculine posturing deflects the gaze of
other males, thereby granting the female access to some degree of power. She is
perceived as neither fully female (as she does not exaggerate her sexual availability) nor
fully male (as she is still female-sexed). She can thus inhabit an ambiguous space that
escapes the stereotype of woman as domestic and as sex object while remaining
unthreatening to the construct of masculinity.
Finally, during early adulthood, the public realm fails to provide a home place so
the interior domestic space is accepted as a place for the wild. For the adult female who is
without child or spouse, a kind of purgatory is occupied a no place like home. Therefore
this space has something to do with the nomadic and the magical. The home becomes a
space for magic (the ability to imbue objects with life). This space is multi-sensory, a place
of empathy, and a place for healing. It is also something that is constantly moving and
changing: being transported by a tornado from Kansas into new worlds that unfold before
you, for example.
Gender, and more specifically the feminine, is extremely difficult to concretely
define. The feminine has frequently been viewed as the opposition to the masculine, and
for Freud, defined by a biological lack that translates into the psychological construction of
gender (Butler, 42). In terms of sex, the feminine is about the biological make-up of a
woman: among others having an X and a Y chromosome, the ability to bear and feed
children (i.e. having milk-giving breasts, womb, and vagina), and producing far more
estrogen (and other hormones found in higher concentrations in females) than testosterone
(and other hormones dominant in males). In terms of gender, the feminine is the
performance of those biological traits while also becoming a normative quality for defining
a woman and her role in society.
This thesis, in its use of the term feminine, recognizes the entanglement of the
biological and the cultural and does not attempt to solve any raging debates, past or
present, about the definition and the very nature of what is feminine. Nonetheless it defines
the feminine not in terms of the masculine but as subject (instead of the male as subject,
woman as object). It also recognizes the importance of gender in a females relationship to
space, herself, and others. Although men can have feminine qualities or be female-
gendered, this writing focuses on the feminine when it is housed within a female-sexed
body. Some characteristics of the feminine will be unveiled during the various chapters that
will circumscribe the nature of the feminine, both in terms of biology and culture.
Wilderness and Gender
Inside the house I was home and not home. I was here and I was there. I was first
generation Americanthus more uprooted and rootless than most of my neighbors. My
immigrant parents were a Jill-of-all-trades mother and a theoretical physicist father. I lived
in a suburban house with its building-code-guts ripped out by my mothers design and
sterilized by my fathers disdain for the material world. Although my mother did not bake
me cookies or connect to me as if I were still made from her own flesh (i.e. a corporeal
extension) by holding me or petting my head, she did imbue me with the desire to reform
my surroundings with my hands, my body, my mouth, and my eyes via sewing, dancing,
singing, and straining to see the first star in a light blue dusk sky. My father hated the dirt
on my face and hands, but in my recollection he held me more than my mother while
voicing questions about the environment, (Why is the sky blue? What are stars?) which in
turn fueled my growing curiosity and distrust of the visible and its ability to trick the eye and
mind. My parents, in other words, were consciously aware of the gender constructs in both
their country of origin, Poland, as well as those in the United States and often took steps to
challenge them. While mothers are assumed to be more nurturing through touch and
embrace while being concerned with cleanliness, it was my father who gave me more
physical attention and disliked the fact that was I was outdoors getting debris in my hair
and dirt on my hands. While fathers often are thought of as instructing offspring how to
make things with their hands, my mother was the one who taught me about tools and
Although, on average, young boys tend to be more aggressive and perhaps in this
sense more wild than young girls, all children, regardless of gender, are considered
closer to nature, more animalistic, and less cultured. In fact nearly all cultures have
initiations that move the child ritually from a less-than-fully-human state into full-fledged
society and culture (Ortner, 17). As a child I was perceived and conceived as wild. School,
organized religion, family, and other institutions begin to tear children from nature, and to
more fully define their gender, or at least to begin to impose cognitive divisions and
Before puberty, the binary bifurcations of the world are not fully formed around the
preadolescent, and yet are very much in the process of congealing. The line between
genders, for example, is loose female and male do not yet fully separate into oppositional
forces until the body is fully capable of sexuality and procreation. Certain behaviors and
physiological differences already exist, however. For example, on average adolescent
females fixate on faces and work to develop social connections while adolescent males
disregard authority figures and assert their power (Brizendine, 18). Freud writes: A
considerable amount of aggressiveness must be developed in the child against the
authority which prevents him from having his first satisfaction, whatever the kind of
instinctual deprivation that is demanded of him may be... (Freud, 91). What Freud means
by this is that the child has wants and desires as part of his instinct. Something resides
within him that is wild and pre-exists civilization. Civilization, then, works to repress this
wildness. Boys, according to Freud, form their independence by retaliating against a figure
of authority (oftentimes the father) and fighting for their right to achieve their primal desire.
This aggression and climb to power forms masculine development.
And what of the female child? Forty-some years after Freuds writing, Brizendine
attempts to answer this question: To forge connection, to create community, and to
organize and orchestrate a girls world so that shes at the center of it. This is where the
female brains aggression plays out it protects whats important to it, which is always,
inevitably, relationship (Brizendine, 29). The feminine aggressive instinct is geared toward
the social, not the individual.
This interrelatedness, the concentration on relationships, very much defines
feminine wilderness. Feminine wilderness may have overlaps with the civilized or may
incorporate relics of civilization. But it is closer to the biological, emotional, and instinctual
than the cultural roles and most performative acts associated with the feminine. Feminine
wilderness is the place for the feminine wild the space in itself is also often considered to
be wild. In its occupation of the margin, feminine wilderness is not only used because it is
the last resort for females but also because the space exhibits similar characteristic as the
female herself. To a large extent, defining the feminine wild also defines feminine
wilderness and vice versa.
Feminine Wilderness in Relationship to the Sacred
So it was around the age of eight when I used to hike back into the hills of my
home sometimes in a group, sometimes alone. I escaped from a domestic space that
was falling apart on the inside and hiked into a physical domestic space that was in ruin.
There at the top of the hill I would reach the ruins: homes with only chimneys remaining
and a loose boundary of the buildings footprint. Inside the boundary I devised small rituals
with remnants of animal and human inhabitation -- skulls, bones, keys, abandoned houses,
burnt trees as physical proof of lightning, antiqued medicinal bottles, dried-out bee hives,
feathers, and photographs. I would dance and sing, push wild flowers to my nose, and rub
dirt onto my hands.
I sought out a space that was sacred, as an opposition to or an escape from the
profane -1 found an otherworldly space that removed me from the chaos of the civilized
world. In this sense a fold occurs where the sacred almost becomes more real than the
real world, more organized and controlled than the hegemonic city: The sacred reveals
absolute reality and at the same time makes orientation possible; hence it founds the world
in the sense that it fixes the limits and establishes the order of the world (Eliade, 21). It is
in the sacred space that the body, the natural world, and the intangible deities can
communicate instead of being things in and of themselves. Eliade explicates:"... man
desires to dwell at the center, where there is the possibility of communicating with the
gods. His dwelling is a microcosm; and so too his body. The homology house-body-
cosmos presents itself very early (Eliade, 172). In fact, within many religions, the sacred
lies in the midst of the profane (spatially and socially at the margins). Jesus, after all,
walked among the sex workers and the lepers. So then the margin is about the body and
the surroundings, and the sacred and the profane, becoming interrelated.
Feminine Wilderness and The Sensory
When I returned home I perched at the outskirts of our yard and waited to ease
myself across the boundary of civilization. There for the first time I would feel the scratches
on my arms and legs begin to sting. The burrs that had clung onto my socks and hair
would suddenly feel like pestilent intrusions and I would rip them off one by one to avoid
scolding once back inside the home. The wholeness that I felt, the complete emersion of
the body in its environment, would already start to wither and surrender to the standards of
civilization: order and habit.
This stage in a childs life is replete with learning about the differences between
male and female and nature and culture. At the same time, it is the last stage in life where,
the feeling of happiness derived from the satisfaction of a wild instinctual impulse untamed
by the ego is incomparably more intense than that derived from sating an instinct that has
been tamed (Freud, 29). Already at a young age Western children are taught that there
are five senses: sight, touch, taste, hearing, and smell. Perception and experience are
compartmentalized not only does the sensorial input become fragmented but also the
body and the object that the subject perceives are severed from one another. Freud, in his
postulation of human evolution and development, writes that at the time that man began to
walk erect, he began to privilege visual stimuli. He had to repress the instinctual, the wild,
and therefore repressed the olfactory (Freud, 54). The power of the eye is fascinating
because it is one of the only senses imbued with this kind of power.
The way in which humans perceive the world is surprisingly gendered. Although all
humans are predominantly visual and secondarily tactile, women and men place different
values on their senses. For Freud, smelling, hearing, or tasting are more-or-less passive
and therefore feminine modes of perception. You cannot command another human by
smelling them or listening to them. But you can exercise power through touch: your hands
can physically hold objects or people, move them, and exert force onto them. The visual
also lends itself to asserting power: the eyes are such a powerful appropriation of the world
that any eye contact or reading of visual information is more a taking than a receiving. It is
the most precise long-range mode of perception humans have and seeing gives us the
ability to apprehend and track location, trajectory, and speed of any object in space. When
we hunt we project ourselves through weaponry or tools these objects become a literal
and figurative extension of our body.1 Being a predator is largely a visual act as well as one
premised on an abstraction and extension of the body a move away from the corporeal -
therefore, for humans, predation could be said to be a masculine act.
Nowadays though very few humans in the Western world hunt for survival,
technology serves as both a literal and figurative method of projection of self in space and
time. It is again an act of using tools as an extension of, and abstraction from, the body.
Media such as film, the internet, and music push the multi-sensory, the instinctual, and the
wild to the margins by putting vision in the forefront. Though film and other media
incorporate sound, it is often the case that an entire film can be watched and understood
without hearing a single word or ambient sound. Most often the value and pleasure derived
from a film is not from experiencing another world that we inhabit. Rather we view a world
that we cannot inhabit but can possess with our eyes. We abstract our selves and our
bodies into projections to serve a single purpose (whether to kill our prey or, for example,
to become or consume sex symbols). We run away from the corporeal because, the
boundaries of a living body are open and indeterminate; more like membranes than
barriers, defining a surface of metamorphosis and exchange (Abram, 46). This
indeterminate and unpredictable character is the wild within us that becomes suppressed
by technology. The wild becomes a reflection of those parts of human culture that we
repress and seek to eliminate (Schneekloth, 261).
This reliance on and use of the visual is predominantly a masculine trait, one that
is not only predatory but also an act of possession. Studies have shown, for example, that
men respond sexually to visual stimulus, such as pornography, while women respond more
to text, scent, and other traits (Ellis and Symons, 552). Laura Mulvey exposes the
1 Thank you, Joern Langhorst, for this insight of weaponry-as-projection.
oppressive and objectifying nature of the phallocentric camera lens and its gaze (Mulvey,
17). In film, a camera usually frames female characters by looking down on them, making
them diminutive in size. Scenes of heterosexual intimate encounters frequently feature
close-ups of fragmented, eroticized female body parts (the legs, the breasts, etc.). The
relationship between the parts is severed by the cameras frame and the body cannot be
viewed as a whole. The body, the fully corporeal, is once again placed at the margins. In
extreme cases, rape scenes often eroticize the victim while the camera becomes the first-
person male attacker with whom the viewer is to identify through the cameras gaze and
thus derive pleasure from exerting power.2 Here, the physical act of possession and
dominance is aligned with the visual act. Foucault assumes that the gaze carries power,
particularly of the disciplinary brand, and on that premises his writing about Benthams
Panopticon. Foucault concludes that as long as someone feels as though she is being
watched, no one actually has to be watching. There is an illusion of constant presence, a
kind of infinite permanence: ...power should be visible and unverifiable (Foucault 1999,
65). In other words, there is no relationship between the seer and the seen. There is a
one-directional flow of power. While the feminine aims to cultivate relationships, the
masculine severs relationships and is premised on the individual as the single source of
Neil Leach also notes the nature of architecture and urbanism under the influence
of privileged visual information he calls the modern city a seduction, an over-stimulation
of the senses, a place where visual information is constantly changing and rapidly firing
into our eyes (Leach, 33). Not only are the other senses suppressed but one is also prone
2 One can turn to classic horror films like Night of the Living Dead to experience this
to becoming blase, disinterested with and desensitized to the surrounding environment
(less from boredom than from sheer exhaustion).
In the hills of my childhood I escaped from the onslaught of the gaze and engaged
intuitively with my unmediated environment. Phenomenology, in particular that of Merleau-
Ponty, suggests that, In the act of perception... I enter into a sympathetic relation with the
perceived, possible only because neither my body nor the sensible exists outside the flux
of time, and so each has its own dynamism (Abram, 54). Perception becomes less a
cause-and-effect, partitioning of the senses, less a claiming with a name (kingdom,
phylum, class, order, family, genus, species), but more a reciprocal dance or act of
communication which is embedded in space and in time.3
Recognizing the natural world requires acknowledging the body and its various
senses. It follows that one must seek a relationship with the wild rather than assuming a
stance of power. Civilization places the human outside of the natural as an objective and
omniscient bystander. The rest of the world is rendered inanimate and subservient: We do
not believe trees have anything to say to us (nor even that they can speak at all), nor stars,
nor coyotes, nor even our dreams. We have been convinced and this is the primary
difference between western and indigenous philosophies that the world is silent save
civilized humans (Jensen, 169). The invisible, what the eye cannot perceive, that which
can only be perceived by other senses, becomes the marginal. It escapes the gaze of
centralized power or in some cases, it is a byproduct of that gaze. People that no longer
want to be detected must go into hiding. Since power operates largely through the gaze,
some people, spaces, and things survive only because they are invisible. To find and
3 As an example of how my senses would often overwhelm the intended civilized use of
space and objects, I used to lick bars of Irish Spring soap because they smelled so good.
The olfactory and the gustatory won out over the fact that I knew the soap was not
supposed to be eaten.
communicate with the marginal, then, one must go beyond the visual and into the multi-
sensory and experiential.
Spaces of ruin, like the ones I explored, especially engage the senses by
presenting the body with unfamiliar territory and objects walls in partial decay force the
eyes to fill in the gap of a delineated border; broken glass forces the explorer to take
careful steps; mold and insects repulse and entice the nose. It is thus that: In the sensual
interaction with unfamiliar affordances of ruined space, the body is coerced and stimulated
to perform in unfamiliar ways (Edensor, 242). The body becomes conscious of the
environment rather than gliding on tile floors and passing pure white walls. In these
environments the forces, factors, and influences of change are much more apparent.
Feminine wilderness is just as much about giving as it is about a taking. It is a space of an
exchange of senses rather than a place of visual colonization. For example, literally I emit
a scent in the natural world for other animals to detect as much as I inhale and take the
scent of the life around me. Another example: I recognize that my body is vulnerable and
can be devoured as much as I realize my power in consuming and tasting plants and
animals as food. Feminine wilderness equally calls for vulnerability and allows for power. It
is a space where the body deterritorializes, that is to say, makes the boundary between
itself and the environment more of a diffuse threshold than a hard boundary. This is in
large part reliant on the multi-sensory. There is also the notion of blurring the boundary
between the real and unreal, and in that sense it is also a psychological space, imagined
and dreamed, as much as it is a sensual space where it is corporeally perceived.
Feminine Wilderness and Imagination/Dream Space vs. Myth Space
The house we inhabited when I was eight years old was built from a template (from
which, as Ive already stated, my mother deviated) and we made frequent visits to the site.
I saw the land cleared and the dirt dug up and expunged. I saw the skeleton go up and
climbed on the structures while inhaling the sweet smell of machined-down trees. The
framed house was sealed up, given windows, floors, and doors and we moved in. The first
week I had night terrors. I was four years old. I dreamt of losing my white teddy bear in a
dryer of a Laundromat and being followed from there by a man. He would chase me into
the hills and we would interminably run and run and run...
The imagination, that is, leaving the mind open for acts of magic, seems only
possible when there is a lack of stultifying control, or in other words, when the wild is let in.
Imagination is, after all, something beyond the physical, even beyond the sensuous. It has
much to do with role-taking, an act of becoming the Other as opposed to acting like the
Other (Juhasz 1972, 594). It is intangible: The region from which these illusions arise is
the life of the imagination at the time when the development of the sense of reality took
place [adolescence], this region was expressly exempted from the demands of reality-
testing... this procedure already clearly shows an intention of making oneself independent
of the external world by seeking satisfaction in internal, psychical processes... (Freud, 31).
The wild spaces I inhabited during my preadolescence did in fact house no less than one
imaginary human and no less than one deity-like figure. The imaginary bled into the sacred
which bled into the wild and all three systems were utterly interpolated. It was an
unconscious exploration of space similar to dreaming: For the dream gives expression to
the other side, the one opposite to the conscious attitude. Unswayable by our
consciousness, or at least relatively less subject to its critical and orderly influence, it is a
pure manifestation of the unconscious of that uninfluenced primal nature... (Jacobi, 55).
If dreams are considered natural and wild, then myth can be said to be the
masculine and cultural mode of dreaming. Myth is many things and serves many purposes:
it is empty and full, it naturalizes history and culture, it goes beyond the literal, it is a value
with intent, it empties reality, and is reductive in that it denies human life its complexity. It
becomes second nature (Barthes, 58). It is, it seems, the very root of our cultural
organization: it simplifies, it does away with conflicting histories and gives us one unifying
meaning, and transforms our civilization into something natural, something that just is
and something that is true. At the same time myth is the very creation of conflict: the
mythology of binaries, oppositions where there are none (Deleuze, 374). Although many
examples of myth have been given in terms of say, media or advertisement, myth is
prevalent in architecture and planning as well. The house, for example, is one of the most
compelling. If you ask children to draw a house or their home, they will more or less draw
the same thing: a square with some windows, a door, a chimney, and their family. It is
about the exterior, not the interior. More often than not there is a sun (sometimes smiling)
and a tree. The house has become the myth for the home. Its rooms dictate relationships:
the parents sleep together and the children share rooms according to age and gender.
American homes have gigantic rooms and as many bathrooms as possible enforcing the
idea that more space is good space. The yard is carefully kept, the lawn as a symbol for
social status and domain over the land. The house becomes a myth that encapsulates the
family unit: the idea of happiness, of stability, of a mother, father, two and a half children,
and a pet. The American dream. The single-family home. The organization of the house is
not questioned it is something that is automatic and is proselytized as being natural. Myth
is not to be confused with the imaginary. The house is not to be confused with the home
(this will come later).
While Barthes claims myth to be culturally constructed, its abstract and arbitrary
coding reinforcing itself through social uses, the imagination is intensely personal and
could be said to emerge predominantly from the individual, not the social creature.
Frequently children have imaginary friends who serve almost as a split personality, a
doppelganger, or as a projection of their ideal selves.4 These friends never last through
puberty. Imagination thus has two stages and functions during those developmental
stages. The first stage, before puberty, is one where the unreal and the imaginary are
nearly indistinguishable from the real. After puberty, the real and the unreal are consciously
differentiated and any adult imagination is simply a regression to an infantile state.
If imagination has something to do with encountering and becoming the Other,
then it is a far more empathetic act than say, myth-making, which is a making or taking of
the Other at best a sympathetic act. Spaces that allow room for imagination and dreams
therefore are more feminine in Freudian terms. They are about connecting with or being
the Other as opposed to owning the Other. To allow feminine wilderness to thrive freely,
the spaces and the inhabitants of that space are nameless, since names and language
work to appropriate the world around us just as much as myth and vision do.
Feminine Wilderness and Language
When I was eleven years old the house was already split in two. Half my time was
spent with my mother in a new house. Beyond the backyard there was a space that
4 View Drop Dead Fred for a humorous and telling film about a young girl and her
relationship to her role as a female and her mother.
belonged to me, though not written in my name. Inside the corner of two fences there was
an ever-present scent of rain; the combined aromas of decay and nascence, of wind and
stasis, and of recurring dreams. Above this, my collection of rotting wood married the tops
of the fence and served as a roof. Beneath it all, there was barely enough room to stand.
When it rained, the roof became heavy and damp. When it snowed, icicles formed after an
ephemeral thaw. When I was inside I was invisible. Inaccessible. Ultimately, I was
guaranteed solitude, accompanied only by my own voices and drifting sound waves of
young boys playing with toy guns in the streets.
My space, unlike the streets, was nameless there was no place marker, it was
not officially on a map, nor did I ever refer to it as a place by any name. Because of this, it
remained largely another kind of invisible a name, and language in general, works to
appropriate the world around us, making it into something outside of us, freezing it into
either one word or making it something onto which we reflect ourselves.5 Without that
name, it was a no place. Through our very mode of perception we Otherize nature, other
humans, and our surroundings by taking other images as our own without that we live in
a dream state that is always changing, like my little hideaway. For Foucault, the power of
the name (authorship) is created by an institution. The author function delimits a reading of
5 Flegel and Marx both write of the necessity of objectifying the world around us,
appropriating everything foreign into our schemata so that we can incorporate it into our
world. Certain of the nothingness of this other, [the I] explicitly affirms that this nothingness
is for it the truth of the other; it destroys the independent object and thereby gives itself the
certainty of itself as a true certainty... in an objective manner1' (Flegel, 109). The practical
creation of an objective world, the working-over of inorganic nature, is the confirmation of
man as a conscious species-being (Marx, 90). Therefore culture depends on this
appropriation and reforming of nature. Nietzsche speaks much of the ineptitude of
language, the word stripping life bare of complexity and leaving us with one single, yet
desperately on-the-surface reading of something (39-41). For Freud perception develops in
conjunction with the psychological development the closer one gets to adulthood (a
balance of the moral and the pleasure-seeking, the father judge and the mother nurturer),
the closer one sees the world as it is as opposed to how you want to see it.
a text since the name exerts control and order (Foucault 1979, 147). Names affect places.
Naming and uttering destroys the power of The Secret. Being unable to utter the name of
god, for example, is a way in which the ineffable surfaces in religion. For cultural identity,
the hidden half of the doppelganger is the most sacred and powerful: The secret of identity
is the secret: when they know your secret they own youyou no longer have an identity,
you only have a role. Keep your secrets and you will keep your land. Lose your secrets,
tell, and you lose your roots" (Juhasz, 15). A space without nomenclature is unpredictable,
uncontrolled, and sacred.
The division between nature and culture is nascent for preadolescents perhaps
partially because language is still being learned. Children often play in derelict places or
where there is local flora and fauna uncontrolled space a marginal space where the
natural and built environments overlap. Curricula for public elementary schools also
overlay the wild and the civilized. Children are introduced to insects, creatures, clouds, and
leaves through various craft projects or field trips, yet the natural world is framed within the
scientific and objective method. The magic of a tadpole turning into a frog is described in
terms of food chains, life cycles, and species.6
This kind of experience begins to instill children with the ability to categorize
nature, naming it as something apart from culture via the notion of objectivity (humans are
of course not included in the food chain and a human life cycle is introduced later through,
say, sex-education courses or anatomy). Most prepubescent contact with nature is thus
equally experiential during play and imagining and analytic since they are being socialized
within the school system. When they play, children already inhabit a built environment that
6 It is interesting to note that most Catholic schools have no such introduction to the natural
world although still in studying the Garden of Eden students will be asked to imagine the
types of trees or the animals that would be inside a purely mythological appropriation and
treatment of nature a point to which this paper will return.
is premised on the division between nature and culture and other binaries. After all, both
architecture and planning programs stress guiding design principles such as inside-
outside, dark-light, tension-release, and other oppositions that are then manifested in
professional practice. At home, in the neighborhood, and at school these rules build the
walls around the children. But when they play, children often seek out spaces where those
binaries start to loosen and implode (Moore, 626). In the 1960s places called adventure
playgrounds sprung up around the United States. These were spaces that gave children
the ability to modify their environments and exercise a large degree of autonomy from
parents and in general from the adult world. They were places that were ambiguous and
So the spaces I found as an eleven-year-old were nameless and invisible, secret
and anonymous. They were not subject to any controlling gaze nor were their functions
fully set in stone by nomenclature or a profession. They were in that margin of the wild
where the Other can thrive unfrozen. This continual change and movement of life is much
about the nature of temporality and whether the notion of time is constructed as linear or
cyclical, fast or slow, or paused as opposed to moving.
Feminine Wilderness and Temporality
The scent of rain and the exposure of decay (the cost of times toll) were intrinsic
to my experience in spaces where nature overtook architecture and planning. The places I
found were ephemeral. I would inhabit them briefly, leave, come back, and find them
different than they were before. I left yet they still contained traces of my previous
inhabitation. Here seasons were accentuated and exposed. The feeling of spring on the
skin and in the nostrils was as powerful as the chill of winter or the soft death of autumn
beneath the feet. This was an experience of cyclical time, of feminine time year after year
these experiences repeated themselves with variation. This butted up against the fiercely
linear time of civilization.
Time for females works in cycles far more apparently than time does for males.
Menstruation, pregnancy, and hormonal stages measure out time diffusely, imprecisely, as
opposed to seven days a week in each calendar month. Nature similarly has cycles that
escape the imposition of human-devised frameworks yet functions in cycles. Mechanical
time (the second, the hour, the day, the atomic clock), celestial time (solar, lunar,
geological, the earths rotation, seasons), and perceptual time (memory, gestalt gap
suturing, psychological time) all require leap units of time to line up with the earths cycles
and to be compatible with each other. Furthermore, units used in physics for measuring
distance, time, mass, etc. all create similar leftovers out of which even an entire
theoretical universe has been created (Unsigned, 1). So natural time (rooted in and
expressed by the earth and celestial cycles, that which is considered feminine) is made
subservient to linear and mechanical manmade systems of time, even though its
complexity evades even the precision of our most accomplished technology and science.
Inside the home, within the school, and on the streets, the calendar, clock, and
stoplights kept strict time. Although linear time seems more prone to seeming finite, the
built environment usurps this by yielding the impression of permanence: the infinity of
empire and power. Civic buildings, those bastions of culture and civilized humans, are
typically made of stone, marble, and columns materials and forms seemingly impervious
to the wear and tear of natural processes. Chipped paint or crumbling bricks are quickly
repaired to mask these structures fragility and susceptibility to time. Humans also work to
erase the process of time with implants, lifts, and suctions the illusion of immortality.
According to Kwinter, time seems to have undergone three levels of cultural
organization: one, of pragmatics, as a capture or refixing point for the human overflow, or
the organization of chaos two, of a collective subjectivity, a mode of relating one citizen
to the other, with it coming a contempt for the body and its passions and three, as a way
to organize motor patterns, further domesticating and training otherwise deemed wild and
unruly human behavior. With an establishing of such a structure, the clock became
something at once invisible and inseparable from the continuum of bodies, both human
and architectural, and time was no longer fluid but set in stone, cradled in moving
mechanical hands, and now completely embedded within the city (Kwinter, 17). A childs
perception of time can be said to develop in a parallel fashion. First it becomes an abstract
method of organization. Parents count to ten before reprimanding misbehavior, a bedtime
is set, and so on the time itself is not yet understood what or when eight pm" is is not
understood in-and-of-itself but rather relationally as to what happens at that time, an
organizing element of habit or ritual. Similarly, when I was in the hills, I knew it was time to
head home when it began to get dark, not because the hour hand on the clock rested at a
certain position. This kind of natural time has been pushed to the margin. We have traded
in sunrises for alarm clocks, times of mourning and healing for therapy sessions and
prescriptions, and menstruation rituals for tampons.
Feminine Wilderness and The Other
The neighborhood where I lived was suburban in demographics but odd in
location, nestled in the hills of Austin Bluffs in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It was a small
shallow valley with oak brush, rock formations, and fundamentalist Christian values. Our
house was the second generation of development. Half the neighborhood was still wild
field and overgrown brush. Everyone quickly labeled us as foreigners and when I would
ride my old Polish green bicycle (brought over by my paternal grandfather), the kids would
interlock their arms and bar me from passing in front of their houses on the street. We were
the outsiders the exotic, the foreign, the wild, and the threatening unknown.71 was on the
outside looking in and the inside looking out. These were my early introductions to social
margins, a category I would become more and more aware of in adolescence.
As a child I was more than likely, at least subconsciously, if not consciously, aware
of processes that divorced the human from the wild. The spaces I sought from the age of
eight to eleven were places that attempted to suture divisions while I was actively hiking
into the hills to find places (Freud would dub this masculine), I was at the same time
escaping aggression and territoriality (a feminine act). I also worked to suture the
manmade and the natural by collecting photographs and found bones, or nails and
feathers, and incorporated them into my rituals. This had to do in part with finding spaces
that were conducive to a synaesthetic experience. During my preadolescence I found
places where time was cyclical and sensually experiential, where imagination bled into the
mystery of the natural, where gender was diffuse, and where there was no controlling
Feminine wilderness, then, has a two-fold nature rather than binary logic. It is
rooted in the visceral and sensual corporeal reality, one that also privileges relationships
over fulfilling the desires of the ego. Feminine wilderness is just as active as it is passive;
the active and aggressive protects and harbors relationships between human and object,
7 See Roman Polanski's Chinatown for a superb cinematic exploration of the wild
immigrant city as a place of dreams, ghosts, the intangible, and the alien.
human and nature, and human and human. The passive allows for an exchange to happen
and curbs the active from dominating the Other.
After puberty, however, my subconscious and conscious quest rendering an
independent identity (which involved a quest for power) overthrew the symbiosis of my
earlier expeditions. My interest in quasi-rural, suburban exploration of overgrown fields
shifted to a fascination with the urban. The concepts of wild and wilderness also shifted
within this context. My desire for those early feminine spaces of my youth lay dormant
throughout my adolescent years, masked by a masculine guise and venturing into the
industrial decay of civilization's underbelly.
Even before my body became more female by having the capacity to become
pregnant, already I felt the pressures of what a girl should be. These were values and
expectations that were thrown about in school, on television, from friends and
acquaintances, and from my extended family. Juxtaposed to these images of passive
females taking interest only in their appearance were the images of active males engaged
in changing their environment. The pop culture images of cheerleader and athlete seems
to illustrate this dichotomy well the boy performs while the girl is on the sideline being
supportive, watched (she, that is to say her body, is being watched, not her performance),
but not involved in the game. While most of my female classmates were exaggerating their
femininity, I was masking it with masculinity. More subconsciously than consciously, I
wanted to escape the male gaze by becoming one of the boys and wanted to escape the
stifling expectation of domestication by exploring the public realm.
ADOLESCENCE AND EXPLORING THE
UNDERBELLY OF CIVILIZATION
I remember the first day of middle school vividly. I had grown out of all my clothing.
I didnt want to wear my old shoes and my leggings seemed out-dated, too small, and too
revealing. So I asked my mother to help piece together an outfit for the first day of school. I
remember wearing a home-sewn skirt and my mothers sweater and black leather ankle-
high boots. I walked the halls in the two-story gargantuan school and felt as if the whole
world was staring at me. I stuck out like a sore thumb not only in my attire but because I
felt so awkward in my body. The elementary school had lower ceilings, carpeting, colored
walls, and smaller toilets. There were aquariums with fish and frogs in their various stages
of development. The middle school was utterly different bare, with adult-sized chairs,
bathroom stalls overthrown by graffiti, thousands of staircases that efficiently connected
the orthogonal floor plan, all replete with a coat of sickeningly beige paint.
Being expelled from Eden (or any other utopic garden, or, say, elementary school
and preadolescence) seems to be a myth surprisingly engrained in our approach to the
environment. As the story goes, humans are promptly booted out from the garden upon
receiving knowledge, some sort of self-awareness, skepticism, and realization of needs
beyond survival. No longer could nature provide for us, rather we had to fill in the gaps left
behind in our making (or evolution). In other words, animals are born with instinct they
know how to climb, find food, find or create shelter, how to breed, and so on. Humans, on
the other hand, are some of the weakest infant creatures on this earth. We are born with
few obvious instincts. Our shelter takes the form of architecture, an elaborate way to
respond to the unpredictable weather patterns that plague our vulnerable bodies, and,
especially now, a display of our technological, intellectual, and creative feats.8
During adolescence there are subconscious and conscious indicators that the
female is marginalized in society. Nature also is marginalized and becomes analogous to
the feminine as both are personified as erratic and mysterious. Temporality becomes
gendered since the females body begins to function in cycles while civilization (mans
answer to womans ability to produce child) functions linearly and denies aging, decay, or
death. So during adolescence the female occupies a margin and often tears herself away
from nature through acts of toxic mimicry: civilized acts that mutate and echo back the
natural in a harmful fashion. This can take the form of hyperfeminity or it can take the form
of taking upon the self a masculine air thereby cloaking the reproductive and sexual
repercussions of being female. In the latter case, power is bestowed upon the female as
she is able to explore the outer boundaries of the city and able to connect with other social
Nature and Woman vs. Civilization and Man
Through urban architecture and planning we have made it incredibly difficult to
view ourselves as animals, as a part of nature. Even in rural settings we see a harsh
delineation between animals (that are herded, caged, tamed, and saddled) and humans
(who draw the line between us and them and maintain that distinction through
exercising power). The nature versus human debate has been raging in literature since the
birth of architectural texts (Alberti, 35; Laugier, 19). Now it is being wholly revived via the
81 think here of the humorous and cliche quip that with all that science has done for us, we
still have no idea what the weather tomorrow will be.
green movement alongside it green tech, green building, and sustainability a too-
little-too-late attempt at recognizing the consequences of our self-imposed separation from
nature (Madge, 150). Current literature typically defends either side of the debate which
can be summarized as 1) Nature is pure and perfect and we humans are a cancer that
plagues the world (therefore we aim to either eliminate ourselves, enjoy nature through
leisure, or imitate natures work) and 2) Nature is there as a resource for our use (therefore
we privilege science and technology, our domination and control, and have no particular
alliance to nature other than a utilitarian one). Both sides, as David Harvey points out,
assume there exists a separation between nature and human or nature and civilization, or
I and it (Harvey 122).
This separation is an act of marginalizing. It puts humans at the center in both
cases. Even in the case of worshipping nature, it is what nature has to offer us that makes
it so important or revered (Harvey 157). The human-made and the human-controlled, the
act of domestication, is privileged over the wild. Nature is pushed to the periphery. Nature
in itself has been characterized as female in many philosophical texts and the relationship
between female and nature has been explored in depth by the relatively new discipline
of ecofeminism.9 The woman is a mother yet she is also wild and mysterious. Friedrich
Schiller, for example, says that man can err in two ways: either he can become a barbarian
and dishonor nature and all sensuous experience, or he can become a savage who
despises civilization, and acknowledges nature as his sovereign mistress. The solution is
to find balance through being a man of culture who, makes a friend of nature, and honors
her freedom while curbing only her caprice (Schiller 95).
9 Carolyn Merchants The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution,
for example, challenges the notion of mechanical and scientific progress and emphasizes
the notion that these paradigms subjugate both women and nature.
This caprice is the moody, emotional, and unpredictable. Both women and nature
are frequently caricatured in this way and purely in a negative light since science has
overthrown the legitimacy of emotion in the name of rationality. To take nature as your
mistress is to blunder but to give her some freedom yet keep her on a leash is to be a
cultured man. Nature is curbed, domesticated, and yet her sensuous and feminine qualities
are there for the taking. There is a reduction to the utilitarian where, "Ones description of
the natural world is determined less by culture than by need... (Soule152). Although to
say that would be to disregard the masking of culture and want as natural and need via the
construction of myth. We will get to this later. For now, the point is that both nature and the
feminine are marginalized whether separately considered or as a conflation.
Further From the Domestic
Women have been effectively marginalized by architecture and urban planning.
Beatriz Colmina writes of modernist architecture (such as that by Loos, Muller, and Moller)
and its demarcation of female versus male spaces. Architecture controls the gaze with
mirrors and windows, contains the interior and rendering sexuality invisible with the
placement or rooms and walls that constantly direct the gaze in on the interior (Colomina,
90). The house is thus a stage for a production, for a scene, and it is a place that
encourages voyeurism and a controlling gaze. In the 1400s Alberti wrote a treatise on how
to build architecture. In his ten books he frequently referred to the needs of men and their
separation from wife, children, and servants: I would also recommend the inclusion of
secret hiding places, concealed recesses, and hidden escape routes, known only to the
head of the family... The prattling and noisy hordes of children and housemaids should be
kept well away from the men, as should the servants with their uncleanliness (Alberti,
120). He privileges places designed for surveillance, the control of windows so that
strangers cannot see in and the domestic residents cannot see out, and so forth.
The womans only connection the outside was the window as she was to be
constantly watched and monitored inside the house. The woman at the window is such a
prevalent image in Western culture that it has infiltrated literature and film. So much so, in
fact, that feminist filmmakers challenged and commented on this image alongside the
image of the caged and controlled suburban housewife from the 1950s.10
The home, for me in my adolescence, echoed these power relationships and was
where I felt most disempowered. Therefore I drew a boundary between my parents and me
(a natural stage of development where adolescents strive toward displaying
independence). I appropriated a male guise, probably the worst thing I could have done to
my father who vehemently opposes machismo and any other American sense of
maleness. As for my mother, who grew up a tomboy, she seemed more or less happy I
was finding this niche and to relinquish her control. She was, after all, working day in and
day out to support us and found the extra task of domesticity exhausting. On the other
hand, I was no longer wearing the clothing she made for me. She no longer dressed me
and thus lost control of my aesthetic presentation. Where once I was a model for her
clothing in the outside world, now I represented her as a mother, not as a designer. And
during that time, my mother was mostly absent. My stepfather shot hoops with me and
drove me to volleyball practice, less a parent and more a friend, supporting whatever it was
that I needed. Sports became a way to take control of the masculine built environment and
10 See Maya Derens haunting and beautiful Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) for an
example of this.
to mitigate the chaos of my body. I left the home (as it was a symbol of the confinement of
both my gender and my age group) and ventured into the public sphere.
If the private domain has physical walls and doors, imagine the barriers of public
marginality to be psychologically rooted, created more by perception and myth than by
physical boundaries. Perhaps you walk into a house and the inhabitants are cold and
unwelcoming though the space is physically accessible, psychologically you feel barred
from accessing it. Or perhaps a pleasant memory can imbue a space with beauty that to
others seems barren and ugly because the visible, spatial environment is derelict. In other
words, space should not be conceived as purely utilitarian. Rather there is a poetic
dimension of space, a phenomenology that is deep and constantly changing. This
experience of space is not valuable to an economic market and therefore lies outside of the
common notion of place: ...material use of place cannot be separated from psychological
use... places have a certain preciousness for their users that is not part of the conventional
concept of a commodity (Logan and Harvey, 17). This is the part of the built environment
that is wild, that does not have quantitative value, and that can be found both inside the
home and out in the city. These are the spaces of non-institutionalized ritual: ...naming,
sacred, symbolic and mythic space replete with social meanings wrapped around
buildings, objects and features of the local topography, providing reference points and
planes of emotional orientation for human attachment and involvement (Tilley, 17).11
As children we create these spaces all around us as we transform the banal into
the fantastical: a cardboard box turns into a castle, a paper airplane turns into our flight,
and figures or dolls turn into human roles and relationships. As an adolescent I found an
11 It may be possible to argue that these connections to space and object are more
commonly found inside the home than out in the city this again raises questions about
domestication and feminine qualities with relationship to the quality of public marginal
space. Is marginal space in the city a home away from home? Is it a stand-in for a home
abandoned foundry where the cement walls were covered in painting and writing. Brooding
poetry, graffiti, drawings, and makeshift sculptural relief revealed the nature of the previous
inhabitants and gave clues as to their mood and worldview. These spaces were coded
culturally as goth or junkie or b-boy, and dreamer or rebel or defector, and euphoric or
maddening or dispiriting. They were coded by traces of others who used that space not for
function, but for inhabitation and transformation. Neighborhoods can display this same
degree of emotional topography and cultural geography as can city centers. A cafe can be
a place to get a beverage and also a place where ones friends or family works, where
travelers come to exchange stories, where someone mourns a great loss, and where new
creative endeavors are discussed. These multi-use, multi-sensory, psychological spaces
are very much placed in the margin in the United States and one has to wonder why.
The emotional and the sensuous, the natural and the wild, are let loose in the built
environment where they are needed, or, in the leftover places of refuge from the
perfunctory and controlled space of the planned city. They are often looked at as empty
spaces: These are negative, often suggesting decline, which may have a moral
dimension, idleness and waste, absentee owners, and subsequent dereliction... Without a
visible, understandable function, land is difficult to manage and classify..." (Corbin, 15).
These are spaces that are more of an oral narrative than a fixed written text: ... every
situation of vacancy is essentially a narrative, inherently unstable and contingent (Corbin,
14). All this is to say that there are these spaces that appear to have no value to the city
and yet, like the space between the frames of a film, actually contain our experience and
stories. We fill in the blanks and engage in the structure. They are wild spaces because
they are created from our dreams, our passions, our spirit, our fears, and all things
domestication is to rid us of.
Changing Costumes and Playing the Masculine Role
The first day of middle school all of grade six broke into smaller groups and we
introduced ourselves. I remember how confidently my male friends from elementary school
said their names and made jokes and took over the groups conversations. I stared down
at my skirt and boots and knew this wouldnt do. I couldnt run down the halls with the boys
or climb the fence that surrounded the place designated for recess. While my old clothing
functioned well in a natural environment without surveillance, the wilderness of the built
environment could only be explored by someone clothed as a male. I remember seeing the
boys baggy pants and their careless t-shirts and knowing that had to be my new skin.
During pubescence, when a young woman is confronted with womanhood (most
fundamentally at this stage the ability to bear a child) it seems that the American female
either masks herself as male or double masks herself first as male and then as female.
The latter is about the hyperfeminine, a role brought to fruition with the use of make-up,
sexually provocative clothing, passive high-pitched voice tone, and so forth all modes of
role playing what a sexually fertile female is expected to be. In essence it is an
exaggeration, a display of transformation and an act of differentiation. I chose the former,
masking the self with masculine attributes, since to occupy the new territory of the public
realm I had to play a boy.
For Neil Smith, wilderness in the city has been culturally formulated and re-
appropriated. The United States, he argues, is a country premised on the myth of Manifest
Destiny, the expansion to the West the everlasting desire to break the spirit and the wild
and reach farther. This was the duty of a lone male ranger in a land free of women and
occupied by savages. Now that we have run out of physical geography to discover,
gentrification plays the role of domesticating what Smith terms the new urban frontier, the
parts of the city considered derelict by the media, city government, and the economically
elite:"... [myth] makes of urban life a cowboy-fable replete with dangerous environment,
hostile natives, and self-discovery at the margins of civilization... This depiction of the new
city is so entrenched, so apparently natural, the geographical and historical quality of
things is so lost that the blend of myth and landscape is difficult to discern (Smith, 70).
Without a nature to go up against, the city must fight its own wilderness to become a
refuge from the wild and from women. The other is no longer comprised of the animal
kingdom and unpredictable weather, but of the homeless population, half-domesticated
wild animals like rats and pigeons, plant matter in the form of weeds, and abandoned
buildings. It is also comprised of women who are economically disenfranchised and whose
roles are carefully monitored and externally shaped. Being denied centrality but being
intrinsic and necessary to the whole is the strange condition of marginal or third space
(Soja, 100). In the same way these spaces that expose another side of urban life are
economically and socially left on the fringes they are rendered powerless and then re-
colonized (via gentrification, fashion, etc.).
G.W.F. Hegel writes of self-consciousness and the relationship between master
and slave the master is dependent on the slave yet the slaves work masks that
dependence and creates the illusion of the masters independence (Hegel, 117). In less
convoluted terms, the slave is the author of the masters power and to a large extent
controls the outcome of the relationship. So then this is about visibility and invisibility, of
masking power infrastructures, production, and process. Furthermore, we have propagated
a visual ideology [that] masks the social forces and relations of production (Tilley, 25).
These master-slave power relationships play out throughout American urban settings in the
literal and metaphorical forms of the plantation (race), employment (class), and family
(sexuality).12 Temporally speaking, nature is thought to operate in cycles whereas culture is
thought to operate linearly. Culture attempts to mask transience as permanence, as
causal, while nature is thought to expose its own process (where one sees death, decay,
rebirth, and so forth). Nature as experience, sensuousness, process, and lifecycle has
been sterilized and reduced to waxed apples and bagged cereals. Or, has been cloaked by
solar panels and electric cars to alleviate our guilt. Or, has been turned into a ride in
Disneyland where Native Americans canoe American Mid-Westerners with cameras
through a constructed landscape.
The same thrill and fetishization of the Other takes place in these urban areas by
the white wealthy who begin to lay claim to the territory.13 This new rendition of the
colonization of the margin is not unlike Bhabhas outlining of stereotypes in colonial
discourse. Homi Bhabha argues the role and nature of the stereotype in colonial discourse
primarily in terms of Freud. The stereotyped colonized becomes an object of desire and at
the same time, of fear. This fetishism is a complex relationship between oppositions where
all the binaries coexist while masking and emphasizing one another in a play between the
metaphoric-narcissistic and metonymic-aggressive moments in colonial discourse that
four-part strategy of the stereotype... (Bhabha, 377).
On the one hand, the structure and function of the stereotype is fixed by repetition
of its own simplification and representation as well as its relationship to other stereotypes
(Bhabha, 376). According to Bhabha, it depends on a myth being made real, culture being
naturalized a la Roland Barthes (Bhabha, 373). This mythmaking is of particular relevance
because it strips identity of complexity. Complexity is difficult to understand, to fully
12 Thank you to Joseph Juhasz for this triptych.
13 One can think about the concept of the urban safari a safe tour for middle- to upper-
class tourists of ghettoes, or, of the devastated Ninth Ward in New Orleans, all from the
comfort of a hummer or locked up bus.
rationalize science uses theories and empirical data to approximate, or to find the best fit
match, of complex systems. Simplicity and reductionism is valued. In the same way a
stereotype takes a characteristic and uses it to explain the whole, it freezes and reduces a
dynamic system into an image.
Scott Herring argues that cities are a place of appropriation. Spaces of feminine
wilderness are among those places. One can look at queer space as an incarnation of
feminine wilderness. Queer is used as a term here not only defining sexual acts between
same-sexed partners but also as the state of transition, deviance, and most importantly the
aforementioned coexistence of vulnerability and power that plays out in the sexual act. The
same-sexness of a couple often begins to undo the gendered power structures within a
relationship. Within differently sexed or gendered couples, the shift in power also begins to
blur (or at least power relations are revealed and challenged) as both partners recognize
they can be penetrate and be penetrated. But the feminine wilderness has been more or
less effectively removed from the queer. Queer space and queer culture in the city has
been polished and reduced to a stereotype by fashion magazines and niche areas of larger
American cities (the Castro in San Francisco, Greenwich Village in New York City, and so
on). In the 1970s, then, there was a massive flight into rural areas escaping not only the
heteronormative aspects of culture but also of metronormative lifestyles (Herring, 345).
Lesbians ran from man-made cities and men ran from the racial (white) and economic
(middle-to-upper-middle class) depiction of gays. Essentially if too much of something or
someone inhabits a margin, a critical mass or established majority emerges and the margin
loses its marginality, its heterogeneity, its ephemeral nature and lack of predictability. The
citys fragmentation allows for these small heterotopias to emerge where they gain
recognition and then are used for financial gain.14
Generally, the most domesticated, refined, civilized people will avoid the seedy,
wild, illicit margins unless it is part of slumming it or an urban safari.15 This fear or
general dislike is a product of a locations reputation via oral urban mythologies (Harlem is
dangerous. Or, The Tenderloin is full of addicts and criminals.) and aesthetics (Look at
the decaying house with broken windows." Or, That person looks dirty and malevolent.).
Interestingly, these visual cues of danger are closely aligned with perceptions of nature.
Overgrown weeds, decay, and the unknown all signal disorder and some sort of natural
process and of regeneration. In the realm of production and reproduction, there is also
regeneration a between, the thing or process that surfaces again although not the same
as before. This is perceived as a threat though it has little to do with real danger: The
social perception of threat becomes a function of the security mobilization itself, not crime
rates... white middle-class imagination, absent from any firsthand knowledge of inner-city
conditions, magnifies the perceived threat through a demonological lens (Davis 195).
One can read marginal space at this juncture as a kind of second-order
semiological system of nature the myth of the wild or maybe third-order, a myth of a
myth of the wild.16 It has a two-fold nature of both simply telling and revealing and being
filled by a new history (the myth of the wild, of a space diametrically opposed to civilization
14 Graffiti, for example, also endured this process where it went from something radical in
the 1980s to being used to sell soda in commercials in the 2000s.
15 Again, this is a result of fetishization and an infatuation with danger. Baudrillard writes of
Americans desire to prove that they can come close to death and survive. Since few
Americans experience wars, famine, or epidemics, they undertake extreme sports or
venture into perceived dangerous city areas to get a taste of danger, of basic survival.
Perhaps Americans seek a simulacrum of natures unpredictability and threat.
16 The 1970s gave way to a fascinating new sub-genre of the urban Western. Midnight
Cowboy, Electric Horseman, and so on, all examined gender, sexuality, and the nature-
culture dichotomy within the American dream and the myth of the wild.
rather than a part of it). As Roland Barthes writes,"... myth is constituted by the loss of the
historical quality of things: in it, things lose the memory that they once were made... The
function of myth is to empty reality... Myth does not deny things, on the contrary, its
function is to talk about them; simply, it purifies them, it makes them innocent, it gives them
a natural and eternal justification (Barthes, 57).
Confronted with the stereotype of the female as well as economic class systems, I
fled into areas of disarray, of decay, and places predominantly surveyed by males. At the
same time this role-appropriation became a fetish of the Other as I wanted to distance
myself more and more from what was expected of me as a white female I at once
empathized with the outsider (being a child of immigrants) and at once fought off the role of
the oppressor that was designated to my skin and privileged class. Similarly the spaces I
sought were two-fold: they were at once places of the wild and at once spaces that were
frozen by stereotype as places that were outside the norm.
The Social and Spatial Margin
The character of marginal spaces has changed over the past two decades and
continues to change. After World War II, the flight from the urban center into suburbia left
behind an inner-city that reversed the center-periphery model. The center became the
periphery and the margin. Now, with gentrification and the emergence of sub-suburbia as
well as ex-urbia, the margin is disappearing from the city and seems to resurface in the first
generation of suburbia where foreclosure rates are rampant. The wilderness emerges
there where houses are purposefully burnt out, evacuated, or simply abandoned. The
boundaries of the marginal spaces are in large part controlled by institutions (economic
ones, especially) and in part created by fear. Socially speaking, those that are wild have
places where society keeps them. Think for example of mental institutions, schools (as a
way of breaking the wildness of children), brothels (in response to the connotation that
sex is primitive and bestial), and so forth. Nowadays these places of confinement have
been replaced with drugs the nature of this kind of marginal space has shifted almost
entirely from the spatial to the psychological. Young boys are diagnosed with ADHD and
are prescribed Ritalin. The insane are prescribed Prozac or an anti-schizophrenic and set
free into the streets. The same has been done to nature. We have gardens and parks,
places where we use nature for leisure, aesthetic enjoyment, or function. We place sod on
our roofs. Once there were places of runoff, so to speak, where the wild waters of urban
living are curbed and organized by grids and invisible places to hide the unwanted.
In terms of city planning on a residential scale, there used to be alleyways that
were created to place garbage, to hide the consequences of our civilization (Ford, 59). In
the alleys our cars could leak oil, our rotting meat could find respite, our system of control
and sanitation has a place to release the refuse and expel the C02 of our noxious breaths.
In the inner city these alleyways provide solitude for nomads and the homeless, for
immigrant workers, and for other aftermaths of our civilization that we choose not to see in
the storefront. Recent redevelopments of the inner city, however, often do not have alleys
at all. High-rise lofts have garbage disposals and parking lots built into the interior,
rendering everything even more imperceptible than before.
Marginal space thus seems to serve two functions. 1) As a place to keep
resistance from impeding the empire: The frontier was conceived as a social safety valve
for urban class warfare... (Smith, 73). In this sense, it is difficult to romanticize the nature
of marginal space as a place of resistance that somehow is outside of all places
(Foucault 1986, 24). Marginal spaces are a product of the empire, therefore inside the
empire, and therefore serve a purpose for the empire. In other words, the empire creates
its own opposition. It becomes a place, an institutionalized release valve, where the others
can come to the surface yet still be hidden: ...the frontier ideology displaces social conflict
into the realm of myth...The substance and consequence of the frontier imagery is to tame
the wild city (Smith, 74). The meeting point between savagery and civilization is
neutralized. 2) As a place to expose the empires secrets and to reconnect to nature (that
is nature and all its various guises literally the trees and earth, ecologically about lifecycle
and process, figuratively as multi-sensory experience and emotion, in terms of gender as
feminine and sexual identity as queer, and so on).
Mimicry and Mimesis
I stopped wearing skirts altogether and only wore pants. I stopped walking into the
hills by my fathers house. I began to take bicycle rides in the rain through the urban alleys
by my mothers house. I ran alongside the railroad tracks and broke into abandoned
buildings. I began taking photographs and never allowed anyone to take my picture. I
learned how to control my environment and others perception of me with machines: a
camera, a car to take me far away, a bicycle to do the same, a skateboard to take control
of concrete, spray paint to mark my name, a stereo to play music, a computer to connect
me to a world I could never inhabit. I began to take power through culture while still
destined to be at the margins: I am on the edge of the crowd, at the periphery; but I belong
to it, I am attached to it by one of my extremities, a hand or foot. I know that the periphery
is the only place I can be, that I would die if I let myself be drawn into the center of the fray,
but just as certainly if I let go of the crowd (Deleuze, 29). It was no longer natures
wilderness that I sought out but rather the cultural wild.
Because of globalization, because of the advent of photography and film, and even
before that, because of landscape painting, humans quickly have been rid of any concept
of untouched nature or the unseen wilderness: ...there can be no concept of landscape
without prior imaging (Corner, 8). In other words, we already have preconceived notions of
virtually every square mile of this planet and the people that inhabit these miles. Those of
us that live in cities are far removed even from leisure areas of nature hikes or lake
swimming. To experience anything outside of asphalt and trimmed grass is at least a day
trip for some, a full vacation for most others.
We have absolutely no idea from where our water comes when we turn on the
faucet, we have a hard time thinking of our hamburgers as cow, and think our shirts came
from a local store rather than a country half a world away. This is what can be thought of
as the Wal-mart effect, a product of modern industrial society. Then there is something like
the Whole Foods effect, a product of the postmodern post-industrial society, a backlash
against the Wal-mart effect, and the ideological end of the affair with the synthetic.
Members of the privileged class can go grocery shopping and purchase organic
vegetables. Even wealthier families pay a farmer to raise a turkey for Thanksgiving.17 One
can play a tourist and time-travel to the past for a taste of how it might be to go to a market
where farmers sell their goods. But in fact the market has little to nothing to do with how a
market used to be and the picturesque vision we have of a free-range chicken running
around in an open sunny field is in reality a chicken confined in a slightly larger cage.
This is a process Derrick Jensen has unveiled in his texts as toxic mimicry, a
stealing of identity by exercising power from the natural, the original, or the Other (Jensen,
17 Thank you Joseph Juhasz for this little anecdote.
164). Toxic mimicry is a mirror image, similar to the stereotype and the myth, whereby the
content and complexity is reduced and then reformed. Our concept of the original market
grew into a Wal-Mart and then mutated into a Whole Foods the latter attempts to mask
itself as a local market though its scale and modes of production and distribution are closer
to that of Wal-Mart. In the same way the town transformed into a city, suburbia retaliated
against the city, and now the revitalized city mimics the town of yore yet functions on the
same principle as suburbia. And finally the same kind of strange mimicry after a backlash
occurs in gender constructs in space among other examples, women were confined to
the domestic, then were allowed into the work force, and now the home echoes the
structure of the industrial more than the domestic.
For Elizabeth Grosz, Mimesis is particularly significant in outlining the ways in
which the relations between an organism and its environment are blurred and confused...
(Grosz, 38). Without a connection to the land on which we live, the processes of our
existence, and a relationship to how our space is coded, we are essentially bordering
neurosis We have appropriated the organizing principles of the backlash while wanting to
appear like the thing against which the backlash occurred. The relationship is incestuous.
Lacan focused on the importance of the mirror stage as a mode of development seeing
the other and at once finding similarities and differences while building an identity on that
Other through mimicry (Lacan, 4). Yet our current way of life is less about reflection than
what Baudrillard called simulacra where the imitation subsumes the original and becomes
more real (Baudrillard 1994, 12). In a phrase, we are living in a state of psychosis,
perhaps hallucination, where our spaces have no identity of their own and neither do we.
There is no communication or being.
A similar process of commodifying ecological ideology and evading responsibility
for our consumer habits has infiltrated architecture in the realm of LEEDS certification.
Green architects such as William McDonough introduce design slogans like cradle-to-
cradle" and as much as this might serve to reinforce some concept of generations, it
entirely devalues the natural processes of decay and death. Again there is this constant
desire for the new, the hiding of aging, the disposable, and the magically revitalized (lifted,
implanted, painted over, with a new-fangled facade).
Furthermore there is a perverted folding-in-of-itself when one looks at
environmental activism. Where nature and woman and marginal populations were once
aligned in a binary opposition against patriarchal culture, now with increasing
fragmentation and this corporate commodification of awareness, there are now clashes
between environmentalists and other marginal populations. They have, for example,
attacked native populations for whale hunting or seal hunting or blamed third world
countries for their population rates that are destroying the earth. These activists who come
from a place of privilege often further marginalize populations for the sake of protecting the
earth instead of attacking the corporations whose activities do far more damage than any
small tribe. Graham Huggan unveils these conflicts and states that environmental issues
cannot be separated from quests of social justice and human rights (Huggan, 704).
Whether we are speaking of Wal-Mart or Whole Foods, for a great majority of the cities
populations, process is hidden or imitated. The rural and the poor still are those that see
process in the realm of production in all its messy glory.18
There is a point where the urban folds into the natural and that overlap is the wild.
Truly urban areas relinquish control the landscapes are either fragmented or so dense
18 Women are the only ones that can carry a child, be morning sick, and experience the
pain of childbirth in the realm of reproduction. Marx argues that workers are separated from
the process, from work, and from the end product because of mechanization. Essentially
the pride and joy of creating a product no longer applies in the industrial and post-Fordist
age. In the same way a mother is separated from her adolescent son since a male is
expected to follow in his fathers footsteps (Freud, 55).
that sterilization of the environment is nearly impossible. In high-density areas this overlap
occurs because of social use and human interaction. In lower-density cities, wildness if
found in ruins and in the forgotten or hidden places where culture produces itself. So it was
that I sought out the exposed belly of civilization factories and veins of transportation,
places of movement and industry this was like time travel without the Disney effect. I was
witnessing and inhabiting the destroyed remnants of a mechanical age. This was another
act of archaeology, of connecting with the social pasts and inhabitants. Graffiti and candles
and empty bottles told stories. At the same time I was romanticizing heterotopias and
appropriating them through a gaze that was in part one of privilege and power.
EARLY ADULTHOOD AND RECLAIMING THE INTERIOR
AS A SPACE OF FEMININE WILDERNESS
I was raised by a mother who had utter disdain for the concept and realization of
the character of the 1950s housewife as portrayed by American television shows. We
baked clay instead of cookies, we sewed wearable art pieces instead of quilts, and our
home was always minimalist and constructivist in aesthetic and feel.19 It was at a young
age that I learned how to home-make in my own way, leaving my room in a wild,
disordered mess, to create a refuge from the sterile environment of the rest of the home. I
remember sounds drifting through the space more than smells or tactile senses. Later I
developed an interest in cooking, organizing interior spaces, and consciously creating a
home. Instead of seeking refuge outside of the home, I spent my post-pubescent and early
adulthood inside of the home. For the most part, the post-industrial decay and derelict
places of my adolescence were gone alongside the marginal spaces of most American
cities wiped clean by gentrification. Those spaces still seemingly wild within the city were
rendered inaccessible to me because of one reason or another. Race, gender, economic
class, age, and so on all became identifying factors that no longer allowed me to inhabit a
public wild space. The private domain became a vestibule for the wild, the interior home
space of architecture defied the processes of the outside while somehow mimicking or
being part of natural processes.
19 It was from my mother that I developed an appreciation for and an adoration of rust and
There is a correlation between the psychology of people and the places they seek
and make. This extends to marginal populations and people who seek and inhabit marginal
places. These people and places are at once of the land and at once able to look at it from
outside. Those that are marginal seem to seek out, or at least find a home and refuge,
within marginal spaces. The specifics of their marginality write and determine the details of
the characteristics of the space and who else cohabits those spaces. As a female, an
immigrants child, queer, a person of color, of lower income, as insane, and so on, one
inhabits a social and physical realm that is this two-fold doubling.20 Often marginal spaces
will become institutionalized becoming spas, brothels, bars, public housing, insane
asylums, and the like. But always paralleling these controlled spaces are ones seemingly
free of top-down control mechanisms.
Places of Empathy and Places of Conflict
Most American men (and women who mask themselves with masculine qualities)
go to pubs and bars to become wild and undo their civilization. They go to sports bars and
stadiums to see a toxic mimicry of war and struggle for survival. They erase their thinking
and experiential abilities by imbibing themselves. They come in from the suburbs and
make the city unleash its primitive side the howling predators and the vulnerable victims.
Opposing this, most American women go to spas and salons where the primary mode of
escaping civilization is a process of touch and pampering creating female space of
bonding not through aggression but through the tactile and the comfort of nesting and
communicating. This is not to say that no males enjoy social bonding through touch or that
20 Ralph Ellisons The Invisible Man illustrates this notion extremely well as does Krystof
Kieslowskis film The Double Life of Veronique.
no females enjoy watching or playing football. This is simply viewing American culture and
its institutions that are gendered and somehow mirror back with perversion the tendencies
of hormonal and brain wiring. Note also that it is almost admirable for a woman to use male
spaces and appropriate male behavior yet for a male to occupy female space is to castrate
him, to make him weak (emasculation always has a negative connotation). The masculine
is still the overt and empowered term within the public interior and exterior domains.21
Freud writes, ...women soon come into opposition to civilization and display their
retarding and restraining influence those very women who, in the beginning, laid the
foundation of civilization by the claims of their love. Women represent the interest of the
family and of sexual life (Freud, 59). Following suit with his analysis, I became more
interested in my familys history and my Polish blood. I stopped fighting the stigma of the
domestic realm and continue to challenge the stigma of womanhood, or for that matter
manhood. Joan Scott writes that previous feminists have had a notion of gender that is
ahistorical, defining woman/man as a universal self-reproducing binary opposition fixed
always in the same way (Scott, 1065). Perhaps one of the greatest difficulties of our time
is allowing for difference but in varying degrees instead of in opposition. In the same way
the built environment in the United States struggles to find transitional spaces and spaces
that can mutate instead of, for example, grand sweeping loft redevelopments that
homogenize a previously heterogeneous area.
21 This does not imply that the masculine is not also undergoing crises. We can turn to
Fight Club as an indication of the wild and repressed elements of maleness.
Places of Time, Spaces of Movement
Architecture, constructed predominantly on masculine principles, is the denial of
time and in many ways, the denial of the body and its place in time. It serves the spirit,
eternal, the transcendental, and the cultural. Yet there has been a recent return to a
preoccupation with the body more than the mind and the soul a curiosity about time, our
perception of it, and its relationship to the body within the discourses of various disciplines.
Elizabeth Grosz points to the importance of recognizing not only the cultural construction of
gender, politics, space, and the like but also realizing the biological foundations and
allowances of those constructions. In doing so she aims to step away from representation
and instead examines the boundary between the cultural and the natural in terms of the
natural and the temporal (Grosz 2004, 255). Certainly this is about the life of the physical,
the material, and the earthly in relationship to that of myth, culture, and empire.
The idea of the eternal and immortal empire has much to do with colonization of
making a place ones own and denying or denigrating the history of all else that came
before. In the same way the agricultural revolution brought forth a colonization of nature.
People stopped moving and seeking. They conquered their vulnerability by beginning to
control seeds, plants and animals, by staking a claim in owning land. They thus began to
accumulate goods and derive abstract values that gave birth to capital, money, and
contracts. These values took civilization further and further away from the body and a
relationship (or vulnerability) to nature (Marx, 177).
Architecture became less about housing the people who lived inside than
demarcating boundaries and rendering visible territory and power. Instead of tipis, tents,
igloos, caves, or other such found or temporary residences, there were now walls and
roofs that stripped the land bare of its previous meaning. The site in architecture is erased
and considered a void (Corbin, 12).
If permanence and facade are the modes of an architecture that serves empire,
then it follows that its opposition (constructed, self-constructed, mythologized, or otherwise)
is nomadic. And if the opposite of masculine aggression and civilization is feminine
networking and nest building, then it seems that the nest must keep moving (or at least
have the ability to be mobile) to be a place of refuge and resistance. In the Wizard of Oz,
the phrase no place like home has great significance. There is no place like home not
only because home cannot be replaced by other places but also because home is not a
place. Home is something that one loses and to where no one can truly return and is
something that is constantly reshaped and recreated by inhabiting various spaces.
The Magic of Home Space
Here is an interesting and rich paradox: domestication is considered feminine (the
wife as homemaker) yet so is natures wilderness. This is among the various paradoxes
and conflicts found in womens multiple roles (consider a woman who is to be a good
wholesome kind mother while maintaining power in the work place while also being
sexually attractive to all males while negotiating the role of wife each role has entirely
conflicting identity markers). Thus she is seen as something in between culture and
nature, occupying an intermediate position (Ortner, 24). Inside the house, the woman
seems to simultaneously bring in the feminine wilderness while exorcizing the masculine
wild of territoriality (urinating on the toilet seat) and aggression (destruction of objects). She
gives life to objects.
The life of objects has certainly been a subject of the Myth of American Culture
especially within cinema geared toward a young audience as a mode of socialization. A
witch has a broom, at her very root in storytelling, which is to say she has the ability to take
an object, give it life, and change its use. It is the ability of transformation and mutation
rather than reassignment or erasing and re-writing. It is an allowance of the past state to
exert influence and exist within the current state. The broom can return to its broom state
after it flies.
When wizards meddle with witchcraft, however, all hell breaks loose think of
Disneys Fantasia where the wizard tries to grant life to the brooms only to have them
retaliate, fragment, and become altered forever. Or in Mary Poppins where the young boy
finally is able to join his sister and Mary Poppins in making the toys in the nursery organize
themselves. His participation in the act of witchcraft brings on a cacophony of the objects
euphoria and misbehavior until Mary Poppins herself must put the objects back in their
place. Or in The Wizard of Oz where the wizard is a meek and cranky man behind a
curtain playing with machines while Dorothy is able to give life (a heart, courage, and a
brain) to her companions. The realm of the male wizard is deception (mostly visual) while
the realm of the female witch is true magic, a communication with nature (as opposed to
technology) and the intangible (the unscientific).22
Wizardry then is about the synthetic. Technology and the virtual has allowed us to
explore a toxic mimicry of social relations and spatial explorations. It is not magic or
witchcraft, it is simply an organization of ones and zeros, a binary logic. In the same way,
we can think of architecture as an act of wizardry, as a play on visibility and invisibility, as a
22 Thank you to Joseph Juhasz for placing the notions of wizardry and witchcraft in front of
slight-of-hand. The deception is one about containers (an ear for a coin, a hat for a rabbit,
and a deck of cards for a special card) rather than what is in that container.
Witchcraft is not about the cauldron but about what bubbles inside of it.
Architecture takes interior space and programs it with a designated use one
cooks in the kitchen, one eats in the dining room, and one sleeps in the bedroom. Its
concern is with the use and the illusion of power, surveillance, and order rather than the
magic within its walls. Even the archetypal role of woman in the interior does witchcraft.
She infuses the space with the spice of life scents of cooking, tastes of food, sounds of
singing and stories, touch of kissing bandages, and so on. She weaves webs and nests on
the inside, making connections and overwhelming the predominantly visually and
programmatically based architecture. She not only inhabits, she infiltrates. In a parallel way
a woman is simultaneously container and contained when she contains a growing child.
This may very well be one of the biological signifiers of a feminine architecture as opposed
to a masculine architecture this two-fold nature of being inside and outside
Edward Soja quotes bell hooks who writes of, ...the subversive value of
homeplace, of having access to private place... Homeplace has been a site of resistance
(Soja, 103). The private realm offers a place to hide, to house secrets, and to rely on
physical barriers for protection. The value of these hidden spaces was taken into account
by, among many others, the Masons, the Skull-and-Bones, and the Elks. However the
domestic realm, perhaps masked by the stain of femininity, is allowed to fall under the
radar of public patriarchal politics.
Outside the Home, in the City
The public realm became something entirely different than what it was in my
childhood or adolescence. Where once I was safe in the undeveloped landscape of my my
neighborhood, or later when I was able to keep myself afloat with a masculine guise, in my
early twenties I became a nomad. I moved to a different city. I was held at gunpoint by a
person in the margins, an experience that wounded my feeling of invincibility and
challenged my perception of my own marginality. To my aggressor I was an Other and
perhaps viewed as a privileged oppressor. This was the first major event of many
subsequent smaller events that signaled my identity being constructed from the outside in,
rather than my having the control I thought I had over my role in civilization. My own self-
perception was far from enough. I stopped wearing pants altogether and traded them in for
skirts. Although I always felt very much on the outside, cultures that formed in unity against
whatever they perceived as the central hegemonic threat felt far from home for me almost
as far away as my suitability (or interest, for that matter) to be part of the American Dream.
I was neither on the outside enough nor on the inside enough.
In talking about third place, Soja does not address the difference between private
and public sites of resistance in terms of marginality. If there is potential power in
domesticity and the private realm, one can ask what value to resistance the public realm
offers. While the home is a feminized site of resistance, an antithesis to the male public
realm, public marginal space can be personified as wild and natural, hidden in the
organized sterility, the civilized domesticity and domination, of the modernist grid: space
as geometry versus space as experience (Dovey, 247).
Yet there are not many public marginal spaces open to female participation. There
lies the problem of safety, first and foremost. With rampant gentrification there is also a
lack of spaces that are allowed to become lost or hidden. With technological advances,
there is constant surveillance and therefore an inability to escape the domineering gaze.
Those alleyways and abandoned lots that still exist are more a toxic mimicry of wild space
than wild space itself they are spaces of drug use, prostitution, and graffiti which in some
form or another all take "natural wild acts (dreaming, sex, identity- and place-making) and
mirror them into addiction, violation, and abuse.
And generally the thirst for the new and yet apparently eternal keeps American
spaces clean, sterile, organized, and practically devoid of human use. In other words the
opportunity for chance encounters, dynamic self-organization, irrational space, or social
networking is slim to nil.
In Vietnam, in Poland, in countries where there still are areas of truly urban high-
density and self-organization, there are women who do not have to continually mask and
re-mask their gender. They are obviously feminine. They retain a strength that is based
neither on aggression nor on appropriating other modes of male power.
In the same fashion, maleness is not one-dimensionally represented and although
most men are obviously read as male there is not the added hypermasculinity-mask that
plagues much of the American social landscape.
Although with globalization and the rampant introduction of capitalism (or at least
free-market economy) to these countries, one quickly sees gender roles undergoing
changes as well. In the summer of 2007, for example, I saw a Kodak billboard in Wroclaw
with a photograph of a baby dressed in blue and a baby dressed in pink with the tagline.
When color is most important. Before the fall of communism in 1987, my parents tell me,
blue was never attributed to maleness or pink to femaleness.
With these kinds of arbitrary values come the twisting and folding of female
identities in these countries as they are juxtaposed against a female image, a fixed and
aesthetic presentation of what woman should be which is pitted against what man should
be. From this observation one can draw a connection between the political state and the
use and creation of space for example the mutational use of an open space between
buildings as a variety of markets that rotate throughout the day as opposed to a
supermarket that has set hours and is fully controlled within a hierarchal system. And one
can draw a connection between the political state (and the type of spaces that exist within
that political structure) and the toxic mutation of gender roles and how spaces are
gendered. In communist and post-communist countries, there seems to be a greater
allowance for feminine wilderness to thrive in public spaces.23 It seems that late-stage
capitalism pigeon-holes peoples identities and the roles they play out in space.
De Certeau wrote about the importance of walking in the city, as an act of
synthesizing the environment and creating narrative: [Walking] allows a certain play
within a system of defined places. It authorizes the production of an area of free play on a
checkerboard that analyzes and classifies identities. It makes places habitable (De
Certeau, 106). Domestic space (specifically that which is devoid of a ruling authority)
offers a vestibule for feminine wilderness but it does lack this communication with the city
and with the ability to simply walk and to write ones own texts into the city.
The Situationist International (SI) fell in love with the unrealized potential of
happenstance in cities. That movement emerged out of the roots of Dada and surrealism,
though later writings seem to berate its predecessors. It was Dadaism that brought the
concept of ambulatory aleatory to the forefront, as artists would engage their surroundings
finding the senseless and the disordered, or, objective chance" (Plant, 45). These
experimentations would later surface in the Sis derive as well as permutations of games-
23 This certainly seems strange and contradictory since a great deal of communism was
about the domination of nature by industry...
the surrealists had one deemed the game of exquisite corpses that would be transmutated
into the Sis game of debate. The surrealist desire to, straddle madness and sanity, chaos
and poetry, began to surface in the Sis obsession with human experience in the cities
Elizabeth Wilson writes of urban London as a place for females and queers to find
a wild space of their own: The socialization of women renders them less dependent on
duality and opposition; instead of setting nature against the city, they find nature in the city
(Wilson, 8). Other female authors and artists also found a home in the eccentric nooks of
European cities Gertrude Stein comes to mind. Yet that same kind of city, the Paris or
London where one never retraces the same pathway twice, for the city is in a constant
process of change, and thus becomes dreamlike and magical, yet also terrifying in the way
a dream can be, is altogether absent in the United States (Wilson, 3).24 The United States
urbanized slowly in comparison to its South American neighbors, Asian competitors, or
British kin. It also never seemed to urbanize to the full extent that other post-industrial
nations have due in part to a strong anti-urban sentiment (Wilson, 66). Urban spaces in
the United States also have banished walking and spaces that blur the boundary between
inside and outside in favor of highways and malls (Ford, 40).
24 There is a reason the haunting films of David Lynch take place in the suburbs, in hotels,
and in the wealthy neighborhoods of Hollywood instead of the city these are the
landscapes of the United States that have the nightmarish underbelly they are a toxic
mimicry of the American Dream of the 1950s. These are also the places where women
continually have their roles and identities fragmented and multiplied (Mulhulland Drive and
Inland Empire are two wonderful examples).
Between Home and City
The neighborhood is supposed to offer that buffer between the wild anonymity of
the city and the domesticated privacy of the home. In this case race and class seems to
play a huge role in the nature of the life of the neighborhood most white neighborhoods
give the air of being barricaded, quiet, and austere. In contrast, for example, African
American communities utilize yard space, the street, and the stoops as a place of buoyant
social interaction sounds, smells, and motion fill the air. These use patterns of space are
more in line with those found in high-density urban areas such as those found in other
countries and are not really found in other minority neighborhoods. For example, although
Vietnamese neighborhoods in the States also form tight-knit communities, they do not sit
on the front porch with their neighbors and call out to passersby.25 This may have
something to do with the history of segregation as well as cultural differences. In any case,
this transformation of space seems to offer a space for feminine wilderness in the
manifestation of social connections. Within American inner city neighborhoods, however,
are rapidly changing. Young women appropriate male signifiers of power, among them,
violence (Ness, 33).
Many of the African American neighborhoods have already been occupied by what
David Brooks calls bobos a hybrid of the bohemians and the bourgeois (Brooks, 15).
These artists, musicians, intellectuals, graphic designers, bankers, lawyers, and architects
who flaunt tolerance, taste, and awareness, displace the African American communities.
Or, if market value drops instead of rises in these neighborhoods, there is an influx of
25 The distinction made here is also one of zoning. One can look at Chinatowns in large
cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York and see a synaesthetic mixed-
use neighborhood where markets bustle and social interaction is plentiful, though only for a
Latino residents and the African American population also moves elsewhere. Frequently
they move into older, previously-white suburbs. Partially because of the physical
architecture and planning layout of the neighborhood and partially because of the
transplant, these old suburbs typically do not weave the same lively and vibrant tapestry as
did the original neighborhoods. The social fabric is instead fragmented and dispossessed.
Since men inhabited the public realm, their sexual and queer space was often on
ships and other realms that were devoid of females and were floating fragments of
society (Betsky, 46). For women, these sexual spaces were enclosed gardens and private
quarters again spaces that are private, enveloped, and overlap with nature. For all
women after puberty, there is not only the need to double and redouble the self into
multiple roles but also the sense that one can double the self by bearing a child. This shift
in consciousness is dramatic there is always the potential of giving life, of not being
alone, of carrying an invisible double. Men are more able to be truly alone and therefore
seek spaces that can be completely devoid of enclosure and company. For women spaces
often require that sense of potentiality.
What the American city lacks is not only places for women that are safe, engaging,
and wild but also a place of completely escape for the daily mechanisms of civilization.
Flormone patterns will often flood the brain and the body during a cycle and instead of
being granted repose, the contemporary woman feels neurotic, overwhelmed, and
marginalized. The womans body is often experiences turmoil, exhaustion, and intense
pain in stages of the cycle. While people are quick to attribute mood changes to the
menstrual cycle in half-joking-half-biting commentary, they rarely ascribe the intensity of
the situation to an over-stimulating environment. Sensitivity to noise, light, others
emotions, and other characteristics of space are biologically emphasized. The interior
domestic realm can offer a healing place a place of quiet and refuge and possibly one of
empathy. That is not to say that the public realm or the city cannot offer such spaces it is
just to say that it currently does not
When women speak of the girl they left behind it might not only be nostalgia for
the time of their lives, before puberty, when their hormones were the most stable
(Brizendine, 23). It may also be homesickness for when they felt most connected and least
estranged from their environment. It is a time of exploration, of going into the wild (being
half wild yourself), of finding connections between the self and the surrounding world. It is
before the constant potentiality of having something inside of you. After puberty the world
becomes far more socialized the folding and doubling and masking comes into play.
Spaces become coded and civilization appears to split into two. The boundary between
inside and outside, wild and civilized, center and periphery, and powerful and weak, can be
crossed by putting on a costume either a feminine one or a masculine one. Early
adulthood brings with it a quest for finding a new home after leaving the one of childhood
and pubescence behind. This has much to do with re-rendering the relationship between
body and object as well as untwisting the images of civilizations hall of toxic mirrors. It is
about rendering the invisible, visible and trying to find a place that is alive, feminine, and
Through reflection on my own experiences and reading existing literature I have
found an intimate relationship between the lives of females and the wild. This relationship
undergoes various changes throughout developmental stages that have much to do with
gender as well as the availability of spaces to inhabit and create during those stages. At
this stage in my life I find myself constantly renegotiating the conflict between the reality of
being a woman and the various existing cultural (and thus also spatial) constraints. At this
point I look forward to growing old, for time to slow alongside my body, and for the cultural
pressures premised on sexuality and power to subside. Undoubtedly this is a romanticized
version of the future, another act of escapism, since looking at senior housing and the lack
of healing spaces in general make age look bleak and frightening. Regardless I cannot
help but crave the separation and repose that old age can offer us while wondering how
marginal space and my relationship to feminine wilderness will change during my last
stages of womanhood.
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