Mit deinen Augen, welche müde kaum
von der verbrauchten Schwelle sich befrein,
hebst du ganz langsam einen schwarzen Baum
und stellst ihn vor den Himmel: schlank, allein.
Und hast die Welt gemacht. Und sie ist groß
und wie ein Wort, das noch im Schweigen reift.
Und wie dein Wille ihren Sinn begreift,
lassen sie deine Augen zärtlich los…*

Rainer Maria Rilke

Of all things, containing all things, space – res extensa – is given to us as a place that all things occupy, as things themselves that occupy places, and as gaps between things where the wind blows freely, interstices that contain nothing but unmoving air – the vaguest of all things, whose existence we often forget.

Depending on how one thinks the extension of space – as something empty or as something full – two opposing ontological perspectives arise. Whoever says that extension is an empty container for the subsequent agglomeration of things believes in the “fundamental unity of Being.” Whoever insists upon the abundance of what not, sees the meaning of this abundance in abundance itself, that is, in the “multiplicity of beings”.

Moreover, space is associated with the notion of freedom. Space is the wayfarer’s great wide open, a space to be crossed in wandering. ** But is space really free? Does it even contain free places? Not empty, but free; empty space and free space are different things. What freedom can there be in emptiness, where there is nothing at all?

“Free ad space!”, “This is a place for your ad!” “Your billboard could be here”: the people who put up slogans like these to lease out any location that seems vacant are called “space brokers.” But the places for advertisements are not free. They are empty.

Ad space may still be empty, but it is quickly filled: advertisements on tables and chairs, on cupboards and closets, on dishes and cups, walls, windows, the ceiling, on the roadside, on clothing, against the backdrop of a landscape, on a woman’s body, and even on the face of someone who has been executed or is about to be executed. Open spaces (sky, mountain, forest, footpath, body of water, animals running wild) are fixed and frozen in photographic immobility, framed by ugly little logotypes.

This is how world appears in ad space. It fits fully into the capacious emptiness of an ontological unity: despite its apparent variety, advertising has an ontological guarantee. The uniformity of the money-mass guarantees the multiplicity of commodity forms.

Ad space presents itself as a wall, a flatscreen. On one side, there are commodities; on the other side, there is money. But money is not a thing, but a sign of other-sided emptiness, which is exchanged for a thing. Anything can be made into a commodity, gauged by the measure of this emptiness. The price of a thing, related to nothingness through money, is established by how much ad space it occupies.

The world packed and piled shelf-high with commodities belongs to the empty mass of money, since this mass is the unifying unity of nothingness in which this world hangs suspended like condensation. In it, not only movement but even breathing are impossible.

Space needs to be freed.

Guy Debord writes: “Proletarian revolution is the critique of human geography through which individuals and communities have to create places and events suitable for the appropriation, no longer just of their labor, but of their total history. In this game’s changing space, and in the freely chosen variations in the game’s rules, the autonomy of place can be rediscovered without the reintroduction of an exclusive attachment to the land, thus bringing back the reality of the voyage and of life understood as a voyage which contains its entire meaning within itself.”

An insidious melancholia seeps from this critique, turning it about face to bygone times, to which it is necessary to return. But what if there was never such a thing as “the autonomy of place”? Didn’t space always belong to someone: to the despot, the owner, the master, or other deputies of the emptiness into which things are placed?

To free space – not again, but for the first time – one needs to search for the fullness and freedom of spaciousness. A space free of money-mass, things free of commodity form: this is the kind of world that we have yet to make together.


* With your eyes, which in their fatigue can just barely / free themselves from the worn-out thresholds, / very slowly, lift a single black tree / and place it against the sky, slender and alone. / With this you have made the world. / And it is large / and like a word that is still ripening in silence. / And, just as your will grasps their meaning, / they in turn will let go, delicately, of your eyes …

** In the original, the author plays a Heideggerian game with the etymology of the Russian word prostranstvo (=space), which is a prostor (=expanse) for stransvie (=wandering).