Interstitial Affective Zones: Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou (emotive geographies 7)


In between-ness, conflicting emotions, divided points of view, also form an important part of our experience of place. The emotions that spaces around us produce are at times not as clearcut as positive and negative – and this has certainly been the case for this blogger in navigating and trying to discover London and Paris.  

While both cities offer so many different opportunities for motivation, delight, inspiration,  and other positive emotions, they also present emotive states that are ‘in-between’ – ‘interstitial’ if one wants to get silly and academic about it;

‘Interstitial’, to me speaks to those spaces that are not easy to define because they are pauses, they are in-between, neither here  nor there.  It is the space between a thought and the point when a word is uttered from one’s lips – pregnant with meaning, yet void at the same time. Hard to define, and best left alone without judgement.

Perhaps I ramble too much. And as such, none of what I am saying here makes sense – but it seems to make enough sense in my own head for me to identify a few spaces in Paris and London that evoke these feelings of ‘in-betweeness’.

The Centre Georges Pompidou is one of these spaces: a large, abstract piece of contemporary architecture that sits (awkwardly?) close to  Le Marais  (one of the more exceptional  quarters in the city that went untouched by the 19th century wide-scale renovation of the city).

It is both disturbing and intriguing: on one hand it interrupts the aesthetic of Paris which tends toward being uniform and reflective of the city’s ‘history’. And by ‘history’ I think I (wrongly?) mean non-modern history. So perhaps I could rather say it disturbs more classical approaches to architecture and introduces this  disconcerting newness. Steel, glass, exposed pipes, bars of iron … it  seems to resemble a factory of sorts from some angles. What is its place in a  city like Paris that demands aesthetic conformity?  A city that disciplines appearance and is not known for unbounded spontaneity?

Yet, at the same time, it is a welcome piece of confusion. It introduces an element of surprise, being out of place and a challenge to the status quo. It  disturbs notions of history as being only ‘classical’ and conceptions of heritage that only refer to the antiquated and medieval. It seems to say the 70s , the 80s, the present, are also part of history; That rules are meant to be broken, that conformity can be defied even in the very heart of Paris.

I find the emotion evoked by this part of Paris to be quintessentially  interstitial: neither strongly this nor that, neither positive nor negative. And in that, I am constantly reminded of the need to be at peace with ambiguity. To be at peace with not having strong emotions to attach to, and define, space – and to perceive of life more broadly as a confluence of the certain and the ambiguous. 

I am thankful for spaces, like Centre Georges Pompidou, that challenge and disturb, inspire and confuse, elevate yet bring down. That’s part of what makes the experience of studying and living in a place like Paris a textured and rich experience. The space, while ordered and structured to a great degree, offers small  provocations  to exit from the box every once in a while and face the strange and awkward.

It also gives this blogger a 239th reason to be thankful for this privilege of being split between London and Paris – the prospect of challenge to the status quo…greyness…ambiguity of affect…dashes of surprise (measured dashes that is)… restricted doses of weirdness….all in the midst of order and predictability.