The Spatial Intimacies Research Group was a failed 2019 reading group that turned into a series of short reflections and conversations about the intersections of intimacy and space. I’ve collected my writings from the project into this short, freely available chapbook.
Is intimacy a useful concept to ask both how we messily relate to one another and how we cooperatively make the structures that oppress us? The problem is spatial and walking the perimeter of intimacy as a concept means tracking our own bodies as they machine together. Constantly, we are grasping and being grasped. Adorno and Horkheimer argue that “[t]he instruments of power —language, weapons, and finally machines— which are intended to hold everyone in their grasp, must in their turn be grasped by everyone.” Lefebvre, hovering critically over the street, echoes this in his insistence that “to grasp a rhythm it is necessary to have been grasped by it; one must let oneself go, give oneself over, abandon oneself to its duration.”
Over the five sessions of this group, I want us to ask what the logics and logistics of our intimacies are. At a glance, the concept of intimacy points us to problems of proximity, shared affect, and sexual politics. It points us to the sparking paradox between a love that collapses two into one and a rutted desire for autonomy, between soft vulnerability and hard security. It points us to our face-to-face meetings with one another. But, read in the harsh contexts machining those meetings, intimacy also points us to the way our everyday lives aren’t always filled with a touching lean towards friendships or kinships that challenge the wider structures that bear down, determine, and police. Instead, our intimacies are often shaped without our knowledge, consent, desire. How do we discipline and fail to discipline one another? How are intimacies uneven and oppressive? What if I don’t want to grasp or be grasped? What if I have no choice—structurally, always more than one? What hope is there at such a small scale?
This research group mirrors and responds to Vancouver writer Danielle LaFrance’s public research project #postdildo, which over the summer of 2018 plunged into the uneasy contradictions at the heart of sexual desire by focusing on the dildo as sexual object and social relation. At the end of her sessions, LaFrance critically identified a limit both in the declaration “it’s a structural problem” and in her own appeals to complexity and contradiction. She reflects: “My own simple declarative has often been ‘relationships are messy.’ Why are they messy though? They are messy at the point the hegemonic structure meets, or responds to, the interpersonal structure. And vice versa.” My hope, inspired by LaFrance’s method, is that dwelling in the messy contradictions around intimacy will provide a useful sightline to consider the ways our daily meetings and interactions add up into the spaces that shape us.
Sincere thanks to the Social Science and Humanities Research Council and the University of Toronto Scarborough for their support.