Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production


© 2007, UrbisMedia

© 2007, UrbisMedia

A “black hole” is cosmological phenomenon wherein gravity is so powerful that it compresses matter to the point where a region of space-time is created from which escape to the outside universe is impossible. I had the feeling of being trapped in a black hole this past weekend when, with my brother I attended a sporting event—the international Rugby Sevens—at San Diego’s (gag!) Petco Park stadium.   This is not about the Sevens, which I discovered while living in Hong Kong some years back, and are one of the great sport spectator events; its about the spaces in between that event. [1]


More specifically, it’s about the filling of the spaces in between.  My brother and I noticed as we took our seats before the first match (between Tonga and Portugal, I think), that there was blaring from he speakers all over the stadium, raucous rap music, at decibels that can only be loved by fans whose hearing is already mostly destroyed by years of rock festivals, Walkmans and iPods, or the companies that manufacture hearing aids. I have a hypothesis that these sounds have indeed reached beyond our solar system, have been heard by intelligent life on other plants, and are the reason extra-terrestrials have no desire to get in touch with us. They wisely prefer to keep a lot of space in between us and them.


Why, you ask?   Well, my brother and I asked ourselves the same question. Although the rap and rock was turned off during the fourteen-minute matches, its insistent dissonance was blared out the moment a match was concluded, forcing us to shout at one another to have any semblance of conversation in the spaces in between the matches. Not a moment was left for social interaction (admittedly there were a number of inebriated, and not-very-interesting fanatics who did little more that shout their team’s name), or, god-forbid, even a nano-second of quiet contemplation.  Moreover, although the sensation of spaciousness that is one of the desired aspects of being at outdoor sports venues seemed cancelled by the feeling of claustrophobia created by deafening blare of the speakers. The effect of confinement is enhanced by visual pollution; a band of active, polychromatic digital advertising flashes ceaselessly throughout the event and, so that no one will miss their four-foot wide flat-screen televisions at home, a huge monitor dwarfs the play on the field.


Why allthis constant sensual overload? Could an answer be that we Americans have become terrified of being left alone with our own thoughts, even for the briefest of periods. Could it be, I hypothesize, that reality is too much to encounter or ponder, that our lives have already been brought to a level of banality, delusion and self-deception—the very stuff that is the content of what is called “reality television,” creating boring, clichéd and de-humanizing premises and participants on both sides of the screen?   Is it the tedious and un-creative jobs, the un-communicative relationships, and the endless pursuit of happiness defined by the acquisition ofstuff, that we must block out with any sound or image lest the potentially depressive realreality intrude?


We all know people who come home and immediately turn on the radio, television, or stereo, so that the noise and the “ presence” of others will be there to distract them and perhaps assuage their essential loneliness (which is quite different from aloneness, a state of being which is essential to identity and introspection). This is often after we have been distracted much of the day by our MP3 players, car stereos, and the bewildering of omnipresence ofexternal stimuli and advertising that pollutes our environment and assaults and dulls our senses.   Meanwhile our brains grow less and less able to develop their own reflective internal stimuli , nurtured on original thought and imagination.   For greater numbers of people the notion of contemplation must seem some anachronism reserved for monks, catatonics, or people stranded on desert islands.   Are more of us becoming people who feel insecure if we don’t have at the ready the comforts of the 10,000 songs on our iPods, ubiquitous WiFi Inernet access to the web and our email, a well-charged cell-phone with speed dialing and unlimited minutes.   Do we need its digital camera to record any moment, or the capability to gamble or play a video game online for hours and, in the scant spaces in between, to text message vacuous gossip and thoughts to the like-minded?   Have these worthy devices and conveniences become for some a form of tecno-meth of insidious addiction?


So many gizmos and gadgets to fill those spaces in between, to fend off the curse of un-programmed consciousness. We are the first generation that may have developed a technology that is both the etiology and treatment for the interstitially-phobic .


And yet.   Yet there is so much beauty in the spaces in between.   One must be ready and open to them—un-fettered by space-filling noise and garish visuals—to appreciate that space.   Jazz great Miles Davis once referred to his playing as mostly composed of the spaces he leftbetween notes, that they, the spaces, were as important as the played notes.   One needs to download some Davis from iTunes and give a good listen.   If you miss the meaning, then on to the Tantric hesitations in the phrasing of a Shirley Horn ballad, with her use of the spaces in between to heighten the meaning of a lyric and its elevation to poetic a-tonal foreplay.


The spaces in between have always been just as important to visual artists. Any watercolorist knows this, but Picasso said the same thing—you don’t paint everything, although those spaces are “painted” by the mind. He might have taken his cue from Da Vinci, whose notion of “aerial perspective” required a conscious employment of the spaces in between to indicate distance and proportion.


How often have we unconsciously responded to the space that a comedian might employ in a way that makes all the difference in something being humorous or not. The pause, the “take,” the hold for effect, that is as much a part of the joke or routine as the words themselves.   Comics call it timing, the same thing that we “don’t notice” in great oration, but it’s spaces in between.


Even in the field that I taught and practiced for many years I found that a respect for thespaces in between is an essential functional and aesthetic element.   People sometimes mistake the motives of urban planners to be the desire to plan everything in the city, to have urbanism conform to what used to be called the master plan. Planners were sometimes regarded (and some have been) master manipulators, would-be omnipotent designers of the entirety of our spatial environment.   But that would be equivalent to filling every measure of music with notes, every millimeter of canvas with paint, and the city would be as oppressively dull if all of it were so planned.   No, the secret to creating good urbanism is to know what to leave un-planned , to know what spaces in between should be left to be “filled-in by experience, happenstance, history and serendipity. Just like music and painting and the written and spoken word, thespaces in between are what allow the art or the city to engage us in a manner whereby we can interact with them, the way our perceptions and thoughts and imaginations fill-in the spaces in between.


And can we forget that when we are gazing into the night sky we are not just viewing the stars, but stars set in the spaces in between ?   The universe is a vast region of Space-Time, mostly Space and mostly Time. I wonder whether we hubristic humans feel that our purpose in creation was to fill it all in.


And so, with our lives, with our own consciousness, do we need those spaces in between. We must reaffirm, re-capture, insist upon those periods with no external stimuli when, absorbed with space only for our own thoughts, in the time we allocate to contemplation and meditation, we again become a whole person who refuses to become a human black hole.

©2007, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 2.16.2007)

[1] The Rugby Sevens, sides of seven players rather than the usual fifteen, is played largely by nation-based teams from the erstwhile British Commonwealth.   Two seven minute halves constitute a match.   The game is fast, and wide open, with scoring frequent and often by exciting open field runs.   In fact, the space between , i.e., the openness of the game, as played on the same size field as that played on by the larger sides, factors significantly into making the Sevens one of the most exciting sporting events in the world.   In the space of two to four days as many as 30 teams may play several matches to determine an overall champion.   Figi, a powerful teams of players with blazing speed, won the tournament that prompted this eassy.