On modernism’s secret anxieties by Gerrit Confurius
The moderns looked upon strong and enveloping, closed forms with suspicion. These forms have been ideologically suspect ever since – even though we usually respond positively to them and, on holidays, even seek them out in traditional cities. The modern avant-garde was obsessively occupied with opening, perforating and dematerialising walls. Meanwhile, a fashion for neo-Romantic, literary nightmares centred on anxious atmospheres in excessively closed rooms. Openness, though, cause us no less discomfort. A lapse in the ability to locate and recognise space (when one no longer knows what to expect to happen in rooms) and the lack of boundaries between different spheres of action are experienced as a loss of security and personal identity. The mere fact that a room is accessible to anyone at will can cause feelings of subjection, since one can only develop coherent expectations if spaces are adequately differentiated according to their use. Thus, the troubled relationship between spaces and actions, already evident in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (the declaration of love at the agricultural show, for instance), turns into complete dissonance with Kafka. Spaces switch purpose arbitrarily. The court sits in the attic, the neighbour Fräulein Bürstner’s room is used for negotiations.