Florence’s heterotopia

So I was reading this section of my lit notes:

There are also, probably in every culture, in every civilization, real places – places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society – which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality. Because these places are absolutely different from all the sites that they reflect and speak about, I shall call them, by way of contrast to utopias, heterotopias. I believe that between utopias and these quite other sites, these heterotopias, there might be a sort of mixed, joint experience, which would be the mirror. The mirror is, after all, a utopia, since it is a placeless place. In the mirror, I see myself there where I am not, in an unreal, virtual space that opens up behind the surface; I am over there, there where I am not, a sort of shadow that gives my own visibility to myself, that enables me to see myself there where I am absent: such is the utopia of the mirror. But it is also a heterotopia in so far as the mirror does exist in reality, where it exerts a sort of counteraction on the position that I occupy. From the standpoint of the mirror I discover my absence from the place where I am since I see myself over there. Starting from this gaze that is, as it were, directed toward me, from the ground of this virtual space that is on the other side of the glass, I come back toward myself; I begin again to direct my eyes toward myself and to reconstitute myself there where I am. The mirror functions as a heterotopia in this respect: it makes this place that I occupy at the moment when I look at myself in the glass at once absolutely real, connected with all the space that surrounds it, and absolutely unreal, since in order to be perceived it has to pass through this virtual point which is over there.

–Dr Susan Ang, who took this from Foucault’s essay ‘Of Other Spaces’

and being a true distracted soul of the twenty first century, I tabbed out to my iTunes to see what was going to play next when I spotted the album cover of Florence and the Machine’s Ceremonials which has Florence leaning on two mirrors that form a 90 degree angle, resulting in four reflections on the album cover.

Like this.

“AHA!” my brain exclaimed. “A true example of a heterotopia! An otherness that she wants to convey with her album (her explanation for the title “Ceremonials”: she wanted to convey that sense of the mystic and spirituality after her first album, which has a very rooted title of “Lungs”), being played at this moment to my listening ears — the song is here, but Florence is not, and at the same time I am brought to another spiritual, ethereal place by her songs, removed from the here and now!”

Incidentally, the song that was playing was called “Seven Devils”. HOW’S THAT FOR AN OTHER SPACE.

I hope Dr Ang is proud of me.



  1. biixi · November 20, 2011

    good point, i’m a big fan of heterotopias and it seems like in our modern times they are everywhere. I look at the internet as the mother of all heterotopias.

    • melodily · November 20, 2011

      That’s a nice one — I hadn’t made the connection to the internet yet, but yes indeed!

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