Confinement - Aristide Antonas - Fake Exterior Folds

Fake Exterior Folds

Aristide Antonas

Aristide Antonas, Bloom’s Notes on ”Life and Prison” by Catherine Malabou, 2021.

March 2021

In her text about Afro-pessimism and its intellectual consequences, Catherine Malabou calls for a different understanding of life in prison than one necessarily counterposed to a free exterior space.1 Malabou attempts to conceptualize an inescapable prison by revisiting the tradition of Afro-pessimism, where the inescapable relates to the impossibility of being liberated from one’s own skin. Malabou compares this to another tradition, the inescapable prison of language: if, according to Fredric Jameson, “there is no way to escape language,” then we can, she claims, acknowledge an element of inescapability in different political settings offered by the view of an imprisoning language. We could crudely summarize her argument as an effort to introduce a different concept of freedom through immanence. Although she does not use the phrase “immanent freedom,” it is arguably one of the concepts haunting her text—the idiosyncratic freedom experienced in an interior space without the need for escape. If the very idea of escape forms the exterior to which one can flee, then the inescapable prison Malabou describes may indeed find its tradition in language conceived as prison.

However, this exteriorless prison is not used merely as a model for the abstract, homogenizing world of language. Malabou’s idea of the inescapable space of language draws from a real prison, namely from Michael Hardt’s description of Jean Genet’s experience of freedom in confinement.2 Malabou also invokes the contemporary struggle of Black Lives Matter to propose the exteriorless prison as an alternative political model, at a time when the views offered by the outside—the space found outside of some positions, or outside of struggle—are no more satisfactory than the views from within. Malabou seems to suggest that we need not rely on an idealized exterior to host thoughts of freedom or emancipation. Instead, we could prioritize a more pragmatic understanding of a certain “freedom in prison,” another concept that haunts her text.

In the famous cave of Plato’s Republic (to which Malabou refers) we encounter a simple exterior world that always already proves the false character of interior experiences; the bifurcation between exterior and interior is presented as a pure dichotomy between true and false worlds. Today, however, it seems more urgent to speak of a different cave that offers no promises of an exterior. This ghost-cave was already inscribed in twentieth-century philosophy, for instance, in Deleuze’s assertion that modern philosophy’s task was announced as an inversion of Platonism.3 This thought worked to dismantle the metaphysics of being by legitimizing the shadows and reflections in the cave as such, rather than their derivation from any original thing, or any “true” exterior plane of reference.4 The inversion of Platonism to which Deleuze refers could then be described as an architectural intervention of Plato's cave. In other words, the paradigm shift in modern western philosophy can be represented by a cave from which an exit is meaningless.

How, then, could we describe this new exteriorless space that replaces Plato’s cave, one that mourns the loss of the real and forces us to base our judgments on the signifying power of shadows and reflections? Without the option of an escape to an “elevated” reality, can we find a different type of liberation in the inversion of prison, a model exempt of an exterior space and only visible from the inside? If freedom is defined as the possibility of escape, what are the consequences of an exteriorless prison? To what kind of literature could it lead? These questions depart from Malabou’s argument (citing Roland Barthes) that confinement in language is sufficient to transform the banality of prison into a different type of space. The question about the architecture of such a space would have to deal with describing a different freedom. The drawings that follow are not intended as a proper critique of Malabou’s text, but rather as a re-presentation of the double bind between prison and escape today.

Aristide Antonas, The Exteriorless Theater (Abstract Model), printed in The Manipulator, Ο Χειριστής (Athens: ΑΓΡΑ, 2006).

The exteriorless cave is reimagined as a theatrical space because of its very foundation as a space of impossible exit. The simple dilemma between the “fake” obscure world of shadows and the “real” world of light is thus transformed into a far more problematic obviation of the dilemma: what does it mean to place this new trust (or radical mistrust) in acinematic” experience produced by a play of shadows, exempt of any reference to or belief in an absent outside? As Quentin Meillassoux puts it, “everything is outside, yet it is impossible to go out.” In other words, this impossibility is already enough to create space for idealism: the construction of a wish for reference to an exterior. Even as we come to terms with an immanent exteriority, we still enact elements of an idealized, transcendental outside. Chimeric or not, the “outside” in Plato’s cave defines the most stable space where escape is guaranteed, not by its existence but by its absence. Language itself, even described as an inescapable prison, cannot be thought without the constitution of an exteriority.

Aristide Antonas, The Exteriorless Theater (Section), printed in The Manipulator, Ο Χειριστής (Athens: ΑΓΡΑ, 2006).

The power of the cave is visible in the neoplatonic extensions of Christianity, as in Avicenna’s astonishing experiment of the flying man, or in the bodiless experience that structures the cogito in Descartes’s Meditations on first philosophy. These texts view the outside world from the perspective of a body qua prison that perceives an indecipherable space confused with “the space of one’s own body.” Such arguments take a hypothetical form to create the rationality of illusion. The architecture of the platonic cinema proves the fallacy of the dark interior of the cave against the evident reality of existing things enlightened by the real sun. However, deciphering the interior without the need of any counterpart of exterior “sun” we seem trapped. The rational paradigm of confinement in the human body (and its transformations of flesh, skin, gender, and inhabitation in domestic space) has become a prison. We cannot escape from the body, just as we cannot escape from the language. Furthermore, the human body is increasingly indistinguishable from a mere reader of readymade interfaces and durations of this post-platonic domestic cinema.

Michael Hardt suggests that we must elaborate on the concept of being incarcerated in language in a similar way to how Genet lived and thought literally in prison and about prison. There is a literature of freedom in prison; a perception of imprisoned freedom and of the free act in prison. A problem coined by the bibliography of “confinement in language,” as well as Malabou’s text, is the investigation of free space within prison-language; to find an “escape from within”, or to forget the “prisonness of prison.” The rationale of Malabou’s text, which ultimately leads her to consider the philosophy of Afro-pessimism, serves as an open question about the interdependence of freedom and escape only insofar as they need each other to be defined. Likewise, the idea of an inescapable prison is—from the point of view of architecture—an oxymoron: if prison is defined by the obstruction of escape, then how can there be a prison that has none? Such an ideal prison—the ultimate success of any prison authority—seems to orient to a different illusion than the platonic, where forgetting about imprisonment becomes the unique structure of its experience.

Aristide Antonas, Notes on ”Life and Prison” by Catherine Malabou, 2021.

This text and these images doubly question Malabou’s investigation, in light of her references to Michael Hardt and Frank Wilderson.5 Firstly, if we accept together with Rolan Barthes that language is fascist, it would be because we cannot prescribe any even fragmentary area of its exception or suspension. A gap in the system of language seems impossible: an “ever-prison principle” defining the constant human presence within language would remain available to every form of power as the basis to re-found pre-logical concepts of governance. The “ever-prison world” obstructs any political discussion if the principle of change is boycotted by the language that asks for it, the bearer that structures any investigation.

Placing ourselves in an ever-imprisoned condition presents us as a ready-to-use tool and an opportunity for hegemonic powers. With the turning of the ever-prison of language to their advantage presented as a mere intellectual decision, those obligatorily incarcerated immediately start to compromise for the lesser evil. There is a secret to be kept in language about its oppressive force, and the secret can be only kept as an option of a messianic outside. But this exterior serves as a point of constitution for all possible human language. In other words, the concept of the exterior is interior to language. In this sense, there is no limit between architecture and thought.

Framed as victims of language, humans abdicate their most delicate apparatus for struggle. Language has its limits, but by naming it a prison we practically inhabit the platonic cave from another point of view. This framing also appears to deprive humans of discourse, even if, as Malabou suggests, the same framing requires a post-intellectual, post-rational form. Will the promise of this new form be expected as literature, or out of language—the experience of an exterior yet again, found out of the prison of language? Every promise institutes an exteriority. The concept of “prison in language” constitutes an exterior.6

Aristide Antonas, Bloom’s Notes on ”Life and Prison” by Catherine Malabou, 2021.

Secondly, these images address the logic of an “incorporated exteriority”; the idea of an ever-prison of language directs their visuality to contemporary market governance, regulated as it is by the colonizing element of post-urban infrastructure and paralleled by a growing element of domestic phantasmagoria. A banal exoticism circulates today in the form of a comfortable, inhabitable space of imagery that can allow for free contemplation. The stability of this contemplation is immanent to the domestic realm, and the specific interiorization of a desirable exterior can be described as a banal form of tourism, one that eliminates one-way trajectories and instead always circulates back to the same.7 This allows feelings of freedom to endure in our domestic forms of entrapment. Malabou presents a response to the necessity of prison as being more promising and its views more radical. Yet the banality of this prison has an opposite in mechanisms of governance.

Aristide Antonas, Bloom’s Notes on ”Life and Prison” by Catherine Malabou, 2021.

This condition gives rise to an architecture of “escape interfaces.” In a project from some years ago, Bloom’s Room, spaces of confinement were transformed visually into a set of fake horizons. This fake openness reveals a domestic structure of time, and in this domestic temporality stability and confinement cannot be experienced as such. The open horizons of these banal landscapes are self satisfactory, fake-free moments of contemplation that are radically different from the glimpses of an uncanny, unhomely world (as in, perhaps, Friedrich’s Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog). Rather, these stills of contemplation transform the uncanny impossibility of inhabiting the world into a domestic prison with the character of a viewing experience. The seemingly open interfaces we encounter in contemporary screens originate in this radical transformation of landscapes; witnessing the unhomely world is transformed to a legitimization of an always already “domesticated exteriority.”

Aristide Antonas, Bloom’s Notes on ”Life and Prison” by Catherine Malabou, 2021.

Bloom’s Room is a project of double binds, one constructed as a series of images showing flying figures, similar to human avatars, either captured in prisons or free in fake oceanic interfaces. From the beginning, it referred to the trivial interiorization of exteriority, the opposite phenomenon Malabou described. A fear of this interiorization of the exterior can grow more rapidly than any hope about it. Tiqqun’s Bloom is an exaggerated construction, an updated version of the digital lumpenproletariat.8 Read against Malabou’s text, Bloom’s Room deals anew with the banal and false feeling of freedom, not unlike Adolfo Bioy Casares’s Plan de evasión.9 Casares’s novel constructed a different prison meant to not be experienced as such, where the imprisoned only experiences illusions of an uninterrupted free will. A growing infrastructure, one that increasingly colonizes time, can in a similar sense create folds of freedom in a domestic world, turning this constructed freedom into a system of imprisonment.

Aristide Antonas, Bloom’s Notes on ”Life and Prison” by Catherine Malabou, 2021.

We cannot escape from the world conceived of an endless interior, which hides in its foldings all possible quests for freedom. Malabou’s goal, then, to view a systematic interiorization of the exterior does not help to make enclosure better, but on the contrary, systematizes the presence of fake exterior folds that only further guarantee incarceration. Our ability to stay inside the house for longer periods as we are forced to do today due to the pandemic is akin to the institution of fake exterior folds with which a privileged home is often equipped. This interior of fake exterior folds serves as a scenographic apparatus disarming the need to visit. This even extends to the post-human gaze, which cannot avoid presenting itself as an interface of escape from the so-called anthropocenic world.

Aristide Antonas, Bloom’s Notes on ”Life and Prison” by Catherine Malabou, 2021.

Bloom’s Room could spark a new vision of the flying man, but distinct from that of Avicenna: the humans of Bloom’s Room are not deprived of their senses, but instead devote themselves to exploring a set of mediated senses provided to them by an infrastructure of illusions. Accepting an ever-incarcerated life in this manner would allow us to adapt to infrastructural conditions. Malabou not only describes an alternative way to deal with freedom in the enclosure of an interior, but she follows a pattern used by the most banal strategies of contemporary governance. We already live in this prison, and not only because of an intellectual obligation caused by language. A domesticated ever-prison is a clear description of the everyday, in which the home supplies us with fake exterior folds to visit.

Aristide Antonas, Bloom’s Notes on ”Life and Prison” by Catherine Malabou, 2021.

The autonomy of the home is contingent upon the controlled heteronomy of the domestic realm, which requires a “real” exterior world, the urban back-of-house that prolongs the time of enclosure. The banality of this ever-prison has its own literature—the literature of the domestic conceived as an aesthetics of exterior folds. In these fake exterior folds, an architecture of illusion internalizes the outside through mediated experiences and guarantees the contemplation of a lost exterior.10 In place of the body confined in its illusions, an increasingly operational architecture of illusions is approached from a growing set of different powers.

The blurring limit between the body and its illusions and the interconnected experience of reading allow the pleasant folds of a fake exteriority to be deployed; these folds of our domesticated exterior are shown as distinct alternative options provided inside the cave of our networks. They already form a literature for reading “ready-made exceptional” moments in the interior of this ever-prison-of-language, presented already as the meta-language of the networks. And it is through these folds of an “inclusive exteriority” that the meta-language we share becomes a colonizing machine; these folds are structuring human time as a mechanism for interacting with readymade interfaces; the obliged position in front of the powers of infrastructure is already accepted as providing the literature of this par excellence enclosed world.


Catherine Malabou’s essay was published as part of the Confinement project for e-flux architecture. Catherine Malabou, “Life and Prison,” e-flux architecture, October 10, 2020, .


Michael Hardt, “Prison Time”, Yale French Studies 91 (1997): 64–79.


Gilles Deleuze, Différence et Répétition (Paris: PUF, 1968), 82.


See also the extension of this history of ghosts in Francis Bacon’s “idols of the theater” and “idols of the cave,” in: Francis Bacon, Novum Organum 1620, ed. and trans. Basil Montague (Philadelphia: Parry & MacMillan, 1854), . The idols of the cave, as described in Aphorism 42, “are those of each individual. For everybody (in addition to the errors common to the race of man) has his own individual den or cavern, which intercepts and corrupts the light of nature; either from his own peculiar and singular disposition, or from his education and intercourse with others, or from his reading, and the authority acquired by those whom he reverences and admires, or from the different impressions produced on the mind, as it happens to be preoccupied and predisposed, or equable and tranquil, and the like: so that the spirit of man (according to its several dispositions) is variable, confused, and as it were actuated by chance…” This type of idol stems from the particular life experiences of the individual. Different educations can lead the individual to a preference for specific concepts or methods, which then corrupt their subsequent philosophies. Francis Bacon himself gives the example of Aristotle, “who made his natural philosophy completely subservient to his logic,” in Aphorism 54.


Frank B. Wilderson, Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010).


Different philosophical inquiries show in multiple ways how this limitation of language can be shaped. The example in Wittgenstein’s description of phenomena limited in a system of language propositions; Nietzsche’s or Freud’s irrational human animal force encaged by language; Derrida’s description of concepts as signifiers exempt from a stable signified zone. The indicative cases already oversee the limits of language, already speak about language as an enclosed world. However, they do not argue about language as a “prison” in a homogeneous way, and they structure differently possible incarcerations or liberations.


Peter Sloterdijk, In the World Interior of Capital: Towards a Philosophical Theory of Globalization, trans. Wieland Hoban (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013).


Tiqqun, Theory of Bloom, trans. Robert Hurley (Berkeley: LBC Books, 2012), .


Adolfo Bioy Casares, Plan de evasión (Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores, 1945).


Viewing from a distance can have its history in parallel to a history of reading. Even when reading becomes interactive, it always still refers to a distant recordable and replaceable experience. Peter Sloterdijk (see footnote 7) cites Marshall McLuhan, Goody and Havelock to name the past of a reader’s subjectivity, where the distance between the reader (and the situation that the reader experiences through reading) is institutionalized. These writers refer to a first banalization of the alphabet, with the Greek lettering, as the moment when experience enters a new era of being substituted. A situation can be understood, experienced or repeated “without” “participation in the situation”—without it ever having happened (as a unique event taking place in time).

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Aristide Antonas spans philosophy, art, literature and architecture. His art and architecture work has been featured, among other places, at documenta 14 in Kassel, the Istanbul Design Biennial, and the Venice Biennale. He has had solo presentations at the Swiss Architecture Museum, Vorarlberger Architektur Institut, and FRAC Orleans.

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