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Kleist and the space of collapse

Madsen, JL; (2016) Kleist and the space of collapse. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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In 1800 the writer Heinrich von Kleist observed that an arch remains standing because its stones all want to collapse at the same time. Rather than being an empirical observation, Kleist’s proposition of the collapsing arch as a material object made from cut stone which constructs space, inadvertently became a poetic, and a trope for his later work as it contained the possibility of its own disruption and demise. After reading Kant’s critical philosophy Kleist made a traumatic transition from empirical to critical thinking. Kleist represented the potential for collapse through the application of Kant’s premise of uncertainty and in the unknowability of truth. This thesis is practice-based and interdisciplinary. Novalis’s poetic, multidisciplinary, experimental writing is referenced. The central inquiry theorises collapse, uncertainty and experimentation through philosophical, historical, material, architectural and conceptual thinking and in film and video making as experimental practice. Through making 16mm films, videos and still photography I explored and demonstrated collapse on the island of Portland in Dorset, as an uncertain landscape where quarrying and landslips have rendered much of the island as a space that can be viewed as one of collapse. Portland is a site where material histories of place and histories of material in turn can be traced on to the constructed, empty spaces as a disrupted landscape of collapse. The quality of uncertainty pervades the island. With reference to Kant, the first chapter analyses Kleist’s letter about the collapsing arch as a material object and as epistolary philosophy. The second chapter closely examines collapse as architectural, social, material, territorial and spatial in two of Kleist’s stories and his compulsion towards the abyss. The third chapter on materiality and collapse at Portland leads back to eighteenth century theories of the earth, histories of geology and architecture, and the use of stone. In the fourth chapter the film and video as situated practice synthesize experimental thinking and practice as a poetic of collapse. The exploration and experimentation with the concept of collapse in theory and practice aims to demonstrate that collapse as imminence – potential and actual – is internal and external, and that uncertainty creates the conditions of collapse in time and space.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Kleist and the space of collapse
Event: University College London
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Keywords: collapse, uncertainty, experimentation, arch, stone, materiality, film
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment > The Bartlett School of Architecture
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1514581
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