Beyond Buildings


Double Negative: DSK, Nixon, Clinton, and the Space We Will Never Know

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Courtesy: Sofitel


The 22 minutes are becoming like the 18 minutes. For those of us who are old enough to remember one of the last great debates about an unrecorded gap, the silence remaining on former President Nixon’s tape spoke louder than anything that that venal Commander in Chief could have cursed. Now the time that DSK, as even Americans are calling the former IMF chief Dominique Strauss Kahn, spent with a chambermaid in his suite speaks just as loudly of something horrid that we will never know.


What we cannot know or cannot see, and especially that which we cannot enter, is the vessel into which we pour our hopes or our fears. It does not have to be a distant land or another place. Spaces we cannot access, whether they are palaces or haunted houses—or palatial suites or jails—are the ones that must contain and give place to everything we either aspire to or dread. Silence is not golden, but pregnant with meaning, waiting for us to fill it, and thus enabling us to imagine what could be there instead of crowding us out with a known reality. So it is with a space we cannot know.


In this case, we know something happened in the Sofitel Hotel, as there is proof: semen on a dress, which brings to mind another presidential scandal. We will never know what “really” did occur. The New York Times offers three scenarios, but points out that we probably will have no access to truth. That is because of the particulars of our legal system, which works in such a manner that any opening that can be created for legal maneuvering will provide an insurmountable advantage for those who know how to manipulate its structures. The space we are left with is not only the dark labyrinth of DSK’s suite, but also the intricacies of the legal system, which will keep this particular secret. The case will not come to trial, and thus the light of justice will not shine into its recesses.


So it was with Nixon’s tape. We will never know what he said in that gap, though history has revealed enough about what he said before and after the 18 minutes his secretary allegedly erased that we can guess it was not pleasant, polite, or legal. Nor will we know what happened between former President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.


We know little of what goes on behind closed doors unless something leaks out—semen, a sound, a tape, or a report. It is then that we imagine the oval office or the suite, with all its trappings of comfort and power, cushioning and coddling its inhabitants until something so carnal occurs that it escapes. Whatever that is then enters into the public realm. However, at least in our society, it does not necessarily take shape.< It can remain a ghost, a hiss on a tape, a gap in language (“I never had sex with that woman”), or something merely undecidable.


We have, in other words, made two kinds of spaces of power. The first, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, is the cocoon in which power resides and imagines itself invulnerable. The other is the space of our legal and linguistic system, which is much more of a labyrinth and much scarier—or attractive, depending on your position—than any physical place we can make.


What would be an architecture that would offer an alternative to that particular space?




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About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.