In her introduction to the excellent anthology of essays – Thinking on thresholds: the poetics of transitive spaces – Subha Mukerji refers to the ‘mesmeric quality of the threshold’ (Mukerji, p. xxi) and the ‘elusive but crucial experiences at a variety of boundaries’ (p. xix).  Later in the book  the theme is developed by Gillian Beer in her thoughtful analysis of windows and their uses and meanings in literature.  They are a ‘liminal connection between inner and outer’ (Beer, p.3). Windows link and separate; provide access yet exclude; are both medium and barrier.  Incidentally, they are also places of concealment and Beer evokes the image of a spy mounting surveillance on the world beyond.  Or a voyeur perhaps – which suggests our flaneur, peering through the shop windows in a Parisian arcade: detached and distant, the spy without.

It made me think how office buildings often reflect rather than reveal.  They are more looking glass than window.  What you see is where you are rather than where you want to be. The organisation within is secluded and the story it might tell literally a closed book.

But more disturbing than the window as looking glass is the room deprived of windows.  In reference to new office buildings, Beer notes how windows are often ‘done away with’ and how ‘rooms entirely without windows have been traditionally understood as sinister or subjected…the presence of windows brings the light of the outside world to bear on what is happening in the room’ (p.6).  How many meetings have you sat through and how many training sessions endured in cell like chambers?  How can ideas, imagination, creativity flourish if the light of the outside world (or rather, enlightenment) is denied.  If we see the threshold as ‘mesmeric’, a place of liminal connection and transformation, then it is surely perverse to plasterboard it over.  How ironic that in exhorting our colleagues to – and it’s a ghastly phrase I know – ‘think outside the box’, we encourage this by placing them in the very box their imaginations are required to escape from.

But office windows can be creative in other ways too.  As you wander the corridors – an organisational flaneur perhaps? – you may peek through the windows of the offices you pass.  The door is closed; figures gather around a table and a phone; their looks may tell of frustration, excitement, anxiety.  What’s going on?  If the combination of figures is puzzling – so why are x and y meeting up? – then our irresistible urge to spin a narrative takes hold once more.  We formulate a plot, a causal and temporal chain of connection that explains these vexing stimuli.  We are excluded yet involved and perhaps it is this ambiguous, liminal state that stimulates our imaginations.

In her analysis of Yeats’s poem ‘Ego Domimus Tuus’, Beer deconstructs the image of the poet Keats ‘with face and nose pressed to a sweet-shop window’.  But it is this ‘gap between nose and the sweets, the cold glass between’ that stimulates ‘Luxuriant song’ (p. 8).  It is the threshold that excites poetry.

And so too in our offices.  We may view our windows as organisational prose – boring, formulaic, transparent (in more ways than one) – but are they also not coated with a thin film of poetry? Not just windows but Keats’s very own ‘Charm’d magic casements’ that open on our ‘faery lands forlorn’ (Gittings, p.126)?

Beer, G. (2011) ‘Windows: Looking In, Looking Out, Breaking Through’, in Mukerji, S. (ed.)  Thinking on Thresholds: the Poetics of Transitive Spaces.  Anthem Press.

Gittings, R. (ed.) (1966) Selected Poems and Letters of John Keats. Heinemann.

Mukerji, S. (2011) ‘Introduction: Thinking on Thresholds’, in Mukerji, S. (ed.)  Thinking on Thresholds: the Poetics of Transitive Spaces.  Anthem Press.

8 thoughts on “Window

  1. A wonderful introduction to a couple of texts which may be new to CityLIS readers, and some valuable thoughts on how our physical environment shapes and contributes to our sharing and understanding of information. Many thanks for this writing Ian!

    “[windows] .. are they also not coated with a thin film of poetry..”


    Liked by 1 person

    1. A pleasure, Lyn. Thinking on Thresholds is an elegant and thought-provoking text. Would thoroughly recommend it. I have also ordered through ILL ‘Liminality in fantastic fiction: a post-structuralist approach’. This might also be of interest for fan culture too?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A very nice post, Ian. Do you know if anyone has studied, even by just collecting anecdotes, the effect of windows, or lack of them, on creativity, for want of a better word. One imagines that there must be lots of stories along the lines of “I was idly looking out of the window, when I suddenly thought ..”. I can’t call any to mind, and rather to the contrary I think of the famous picture of Albert Einstein in his (apparently windowless) office at the Patent Office in Berne, where he thought up relativity in the long afternoons….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, David! Instinctively I believe it does have an effect – if just anecdotally from my own experience and what colleagues and friends have told me. But I will explore. Interesting about Einstein – Jung, apparently, used to write in a locked room (for which he had the only key), in a tower, surrounded by a moat. Maybe, some are drawn to isolation/lack of distraction so they can focus on their own thoughts. My preference however is for gentle distraction; nothing better than a train window – not just an outside but an outside in motion. There’s a lovely quote in the Introduction to Thinking about Thresholds which suggests how the window acts as a metaphor for the creative act arising from ‘the space between glimpsing and failing to grasp or touch’. It’s a space I know well!


      1. There is a substantial collection of anecdotes about scientific insights being gained on trains and buses, which I can bore you with at any time you wish … Bridges are also good it seems…

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s