Which Door?


Abolition in Practice?

Volume 9, Issue 03
December 1, 2023

This column is a contact zone: the encounter of your beliefs and mine, a shared vulnerability blooming from a double openness. Reading is, in a way, a moment of truce and trust. At this literary threshold, I now invite you to read with me what I believe to be two of the finest texts on the “door.” The first is by the Brazilian poet João Cabral de Mello Neto and the second by the German sociologist Georg Simmel.

“Tale of an Architect” (1966)

Architecture: the art of building doors
to open up—the building of openness;
building not to isolate and hem in
nor to shut up secrets, but building
every door an open door—building
houses made only of doors and roofs.
Architect: the one who opens to man
(in open houses all would be cleansed)
doors-leading-to, never doors-against;
doors to freedom: air light sure reason.
Until, intimidated by so many free men,
he stopped letting them live transparently.
Where there were openings he put in
opacities; instead of glass, plaster—
resealing man in the chapel-uterus
with the old comforts, once more a fetus.
(Translated by Richard Zenith)

Excerpt from “Bridge and Door” (1909)

Because the human being is the connecting creature who must always separate and cannot connect without separating—that is why we must first conceive intellectually of the merely indifferent existence of two riverbanks as something separated in order to connect them by means of a bridge. And the human being is likewise the bordering creature who has no border. The enclosure of his or her domestic being by the door means, to be sure, that they have separated out a piece from the uninterrupted unity of natural being. But just as the formless limitation takes on a shape, its limitedness finds its significance and dignity only in that which the mobility of the door illustrates: in the possibility at any moment of stepping out of this limitation into freedom.

(Translated by Mark Ritter)

The first text closes a door. The second opens it. Whether you are in or out (depending on which text your soul chooses to inhabit), it is clear now that the door is not simply a constructive element. It is an architectural device through which we define our society’s boundaries: a door, unlike a wall, represents the active negotiation of co-existence. Every closed door is a political project, just as every opening of a door suggests the will to ascend from one reality to the next. The magic threshold, through which the body is transmuted from the before to the after, digs grooves both in ourselves and in space. Every time we open or close a door, we inscribe a code in-between, coagulating this connection, ratifying a political contract. As political subjects we can tear down walls, write manifestos, occupy the streets, depose politicians, equip ourselves with flowers or weapons. But only as architects can we design doors-leading-to, instead of doors-against.