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On Intimacy

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

This text is an excerpt from a longer, informal discussion on the possible meaning of intimacy between Francisco Moura Veiga and Vasco Santos. As with other projects, where larger notions come to guide the course of the design process (Youth, Property, Public, etc.), Vasco’s knowledge and startling perspectives provide me with no straight answers to the original questions but keep on shaking the foundations of my knowledge, cracking new doors and windows towards broader horizons. Intimacy is here defined but in the loosest of ways.

Francisco Moura Veiga: Dear Vasco, I once again come to you with an unsettled mind. The more I try to find an enticing definition for Intimacy, one that goes beyond the mere physicality of an intimate exchange, the more I feel stuck on barren ground. So, tell me, what could Intimacy be?

Vasco Santos: The concept of intimacy is central to modernity. Not that he did not come operatively from the past, from a previous future, at least since the Middle Ages and from courteous love.

As the concept of identity, it philosophically and subliminally goes through the West. And in both, what do we find in its genesis and definition? The concept of experience. This is the concept that defines the human. The best book written on this topic is “Gli Amore Difficili” by Italo Calvino. As in “Invisible Cities”, where Calvino tries to describe Venice, here he attempts to examine the plural meaning of intimacy: the intimacy of a soldier, a bandit, a traveler, the intimacy of a reader, a married woman, a short-sighted, from a couple. And Calvino shows, brilliantly, that outside the psychologist’s speech and the adaptive banal, intimacy is life and knowledge. And runs away cut in half... It shows how the intimate and the distant touch each other in the word, in a rural nest, in the family, or in the house. Hence the saying of the Ancients: knowledge passes through the body. And ignorance too.

FMV: Since Calvino, the world has been built anew. I do see the richness and the need in approaching intimacy through his Difficult Loves but the Now, the decomposition, multiplication of time must be accompanied by, yet another take on intimacy. The notions of proximity, territory, presence have all been upgraded by the digital.

VS: Dearest architect: you cannot define (or speak of) proximity in a simple way. (Ah! and how wonderful Deleuze’s text, “What children say”). There is the map and there is the territory. And not just the parents. For example: sexuality is fantasy, illusion and communication. It is not just your practice. When you “whatsapp”, you can be eroticizing in the sense that Eros (the oldest God) is himself the God of connection (intellectual, affective and physical). Techno-sociability and the mega-machine introduced an extinction (and a culture) that is new...

FMV: So, you do accept the possibility of a remote intimacy?

VS: Remote intimacy is possible. The sexting of archaic farming... Or even less. You cannot escape modernity: it is the time of sublimation and of gratification. These are times of a new melancholy. The frustration is unbearable. And why do we prefer darkness to lights? Desire was replaced by pleasure. Oedipus replaced by Narcissus. Great artists anticipated these times: just think of Kafka or Louise Bourgeois: “L’inspiration vient du retrait en soi ... “.

FMV: Do you really think that the shift from anticipation and construction has been replaced by this anti-conceptual need for instant visual fruition? Has intimacy become utterly dependent on “seeing”?

VS: Freud discovered infantile sexuality. In it, seeing is primal as an epistemophilic function. It is a constitutional dimension to our psychic development. That is why Tiresias, blind, is a metaphor inside out about our tragic truth. Still on this topic, we can revisit Georges Bataille’s “History of the Eye” or Luis Bunuel’s “Cão Andaluz”. Works that throw us to any gutter!

FMV: Bataille! Maybe his postulation of the Erotic as “sacred” could be a catapult for our understanding of intimacy: to place something as sacred is to exclude it from the common, it is a movement of “stowing away” from the normal.

VS: This raises the problem of safety: man is the only animal that loves but he is also the only animal that has contradictions. Or said in a more beautiful and disturbing way by the architect Siza Vieira: “That is why having a home is the universal dream, a house with tubes that connect heaven and earth, with a door and with cabinets, corridor, lobby.” Not only the issue of intimacy is sovereign, but also that of hospitality.

FMV: Here you place the house as the embodiment of the self, as the condition sine qua non for intimacy - being it always a moment of sharing- in the sense that by welcoming someone into your house, your safe place, your center, you share your intimate sphere. Is it then correct to assume that intimacy cannot exist without hospitality? Or better yet, where does the safety you refer to lie in an intimate moment?

VS: Slightly beyond the subject’s historical and anthropological dimension, beyond the social construction and not just the family (oedipal) complex of its identity / intimacy. Down there, in the diversity of the world, in which we measure cultures, some based on guilt and others on shame... But what you say forces me to raise the classical question: “How do I know if I love or desire someone?” Adam Phillips says that certain people would never know if they had never heard of “knowing”. Lacan says: love is giving something that we got to someone who doesn’t exist. This sagacious formulation on the infinite lack postulates the only answer: That knowing predecessor includes love. Therefore, for Psychoanalysis, love (and the intimate) is, at the end of the stanza, a problem of knowledge. But who knows if it will be the flight of an eagle over the asylums of Apple and Robert Walser?! After all, one would run! A blue moth is what it is...

- First published in FORSCHUNG's Emotional Catalogue of Booths, Basel

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