- Published on Amazon.com
What does it mean to have a sense of space? Enveloped as we are in the depths of a world that radiates about us, space’s intimacy has nonetheless never ceased to pose problems for our many attempts to give an account of it. With David Morris’s book in hand however, the many mysteries of space reveal themselves to be far less daunting – if not far more interesting – than we once thought. Taking his cue from the ‘problem of depth’, Morris sets himself the challenge of developing an account of depth perception that would not fall into the impasses posed by ‘inferential’ approaches to depth, approaches which construe depth as an inferential projection of two-dimensional ‘sense data’. As Morris notes, such accounts inevitably presuppose the very answer they seek to provide: why would we even begin to make such inferences if we were not minimally acquainted with a sense of depth to start with?
In order to escape the “Hydra of blooming explanatory heads” that accompany such accounts, Morris’s book charts a vertiginous path that weaves its way through phenomenology, ecological psychology, dynamic systems theory, and child developmental studies in order to develop an account of depth – and hence space – which would do justice to precisely this primordial sense of bodily depth. Key to Morris’s approach is a refiguring of space no longer in terms of a homogeneous, geometric expanse laid out according to ready-made metrics, but rather space as it is lived by moving, breathing, animated beings. Following the lead of French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Morris’s approach is grounded in rejecting any notion of a ‘ready made world’ – one in which space would exist ‘out there’ as an already-constituted positivity, wholly extricated from the beings who, in the words of Merleau-Ponty, are not simply “in space”, but rather, “of it.”
To this extent, Morris moves to develop a reworked conceptual vocabulary for thinking about space, one couched in terms of ‘folds’, ‘envelopments’ and ‘expressions’, all of which serve to highlight the dynamic, developmental and genetic dimension of space, in contrast to the static, ‘ready made’ understanding of it advanced by inferential accounts. From this dynamic, Morris in turn shows how sense – the sense of space – is itself engendered in the movement that runs across body and world, emerging at the site of their perpetual ‘crossing’, rather than residing neatly on the side of either the ‘subject’ or the ‘object’, as traditional accounts would have it. Deepening Morris's account of space are his compelling chapters on both 'place' - which link up to and expand the important work of Ed Casey - and spatial orientation, both of which show the importance of grounding - quite literally - the perception of space in an ecological and even earthly frame of reference.
Fittingly, Morris ends his book with a beautiful mediation on the ethical implications of thinking about space in the manner so outlined. Indeed, among the most important results of Morris's study is the way in which space is as much implicated in the social as it is in the terrestrial and the biological. Morris's attempt to forge a non-reductive, developmentally informed approach to the study of space opens up new vistas of disciplinary cross-pollination, one that positively encourages further investigation. If, in fact, I had any qualms at all, it'd be the wish that Morris drew connections to the work of political geographers like Doreen Massey and David Harvey, linking the thought of space to the operations of power and politics. But I doth protest too much; as it stands, 'The Sense of Space' offers a richly textured and deeply profound mediation on space that extends phenomenological thought into terrain of vital exploration.