Running Out of Place: The Language and Architecture of Lewis Carroll

This dissertation examines the links between architecture and literature through the work of English author/mathematician/geometrician Lewis Carroll/Charles L. Dodgson. The premise is that throughout Carroll’s work, questions concerning the position of the body in relation to its surroundings— the possibility for one to forge a sense of place—are recurrent. Carroll stages a series of bodily movements in space: changes in scale, transformations, alterations, translations from bottom to top, from left to right, from the inside to the outside, and so on. Reading the work, one is constantly reminded that one’s perception of space, as well as one’s understanding of where one stands, are phenomena that take place in language, through utterances, through words. Approaching Carroll’s work with particular attention to the space of bodily movements and to plays on language, one can access a subterranean architectural discourse. This discourse is oblique, suggested rather than explicit, but nonetheless raises pertinent questions concerning the formation of architectural meaning: the relationship of sense to its limits—to nonsense— in architecture. The following texts are studied: Carroll’s two architectural pamphlets; the two Alice stories with their convoluted spaces; a long epic poem dealing with the space of discovery; a drama on geometry and a logical exposition on the paradoxes of movement. Throughout Carroll’s multifaceted work, nonsense guides the construction of the texts. Working at the limits of language and literary genres, Carroll’s parodies possess strong allegorical powers: sense travels obliquely and the work remains enigmatic. However, the reader somehow understands the work; the experience of the work produces a certain kind of knowledge. In architecture, meaning is also tied to its outer limits—to the polysemy of nonsense. Through one’s experience of space, a stable and orderly building becomes heterogeneous, loaded with qualities and symbols. A sense of place emerges and meaning momentarily appears along the sinuous paths that run between bodily movements, thoughts, dreams, desire and words.

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