Things That Aren’t There

Suppose you wake up one morning and look at the white wall in front of you. It is the usual wall you see every morning, of course. But this time, right there in the top left corner, something new catches your eye: you see that a little hole is now there that was not there yesterday.

How do you describe what you see? A spot in the wall, darker than the rest, filled with shadow, that goes deep inside (though you cannot really tell how deep). It looks unitary and complete, compact, though less dense than the wall. A thing, perhaps, but a bit mysterious. It is not made of the shadow you see. It is not even made of the sort of stuff ordinary things are ordinarily made of: not of the air that is inside it, nor of the plaster and bits of paint that have fallen on the floor over night. In fact, if it is something, it does not seem to be made of anything.

[Casati, R., Varzi, A.C., Holes and Other Superficialities, MIT London, 1994, p. 9.

Let’s perpetuate the stammering of our beginning, then, and posit another on the basis of the insight emerging in its pleasing way in the heart of the last remarks: ‘Hybrid Repository’ becomes ‘Hybrid-repository’. The box in question may be one for hybrids, but more importantly, repository is hybridised. And what it’s hybridised with is nothing other than hybridity itself.

What does the latest beginning achieve? It gives us a proposal – one we can describe, with what might first look like carelessness, as ‘interesting’. The proposal focuses attention in the way that the mouth does for the one iterating Jenny Holzer’s famous truism (see below). It gives us the hybrid on two levels simultaneously, first as an actual conjunction, which is to say a conjunction of bodies that share dimensions of space and time; and secondly as the repository’s mode of operation. Such folding makes things complex in the way that the mouth is made complex when it is observed that here, the body’s outside and its inside, which we’d assumed to be in opposition, are seen to share a continuity of surface. The mouth, like the ‘hole’ in Casati and Varzi’s account quoted above, is one more in that strangest of sets: things that aren’t there.

Now we can see more clearly how the proposition drawn out here as a starting point might have emerged as it did from a close consideration of the box, with its inside revealed in such a provocative way through the narrow slot, its outside obfuscated – smeared with the everyday so as to camouflage it from all but the most thoughtful glances. As we can see again, in a different way now, the economy of regulations governing its use, perhaps there is an implicit suggestion, that more stories should be concretised in their peculiar ways, and that the assemblage of stories gives us another beginning to ensure the stammering of beginnings  sustained.

It was in two parts before it was screwed to the wall, the second part being a simple panel fitting into a rebate around an opening in the box’s front – an opening that might first have been designed for a door but which here became access. In place, the panel disappears; removed it turns the box in a surprising way into the mere framework for a Hybridity-repository and its unexpected operation.

(There was always something of the time-capsule implied by the Hybrid-repository. Or think of that film in which bank robbers tunnelling their way into the vault from the corridors of the sewers beneath, and whose work had to be conducted over many days, cut a hole-shaped board as a disguise for its opening and fixed it in place when their work was done each evening with a fist-sized lump of putty kneaded into the tell-tale crack.)

So, prior to its annexing the box had a second opening, a door on a swinging hinge, a door to be clasped and locked shut, to be opened by a postman.  In its reconstruction as the Hybrid-repository no hinge was necessary. The panel only had to be screwed firmly in place after the box was fixed to the wall, closing the access that had allowed the wall-affixing to be done. Might a drawing be helpful?. But then, with filler and with a coat of white emulsion, the screw-heads and other signs of the front-panel’s autonomy were hidden so that an astute observer in the corridor – one who saw the post-slot as having a different presence than slots normally do, and who thus wanted to know how this box’s deposits might be retrieved, would perhaps have been inclined to bend low, to feel the hidden underside for signs of a trapdoor. There was none. But such hands-on investigations are just one intensification of the sense troubling less inquisitive but equally sensitive observers of the box, who would walk by without attempting the tactile inquiry. In both cases, if in different ways, the Hybrid-repository’s mechanism comes into view. Here again, a nod is given towards remarks that articulated these things earlier: the mechanism is not reducible to the architecture of a wall-mounted receptacle, it is manifested too in a barely-perceptible flicker of puzzlement on the face of one walking by, or in the blind exploration of inquisitive fingers, it cannot be placed without partitioning bodies and things differently. As the mechanism finds its place also in that set of things that aren’t there, we have coordinates to be plotted against each other, and a method for testing like that employed by code-breakers.