Heterotopic Suicide Hotels

It is often stated that Foucault never returned explicitly to the topic of heterotopia after his 1966/67 accounts of the concept. However, here and there, he did conjure up spaces that might be described as heterotopic. An example can be found in a short text ‘The simplest of pleasures’  – first published in Le Gai Pied in 1979 –  in which he reflects somewhat playfully on alternative spaces for contemplating suicide.

Foucault suggests that suicide should be considered an opportunity ‘to make of it a fathomless pleasure whose patient and relentless preparation will enlighten all of our life’. It should not be left to unhappy people who commit it in often sordid, hurried and bungled circumstances. Suicide should be faced with ease, intricate deliberation and imagination.  He thinks that ‘suicide festivals or orgies’ might be possibilities, but also imagines there might be other  alternatives that avoid the ’pre-packaged’  banalities that often surround death in modern culture. Just as ‘love hotels’ in Japan have provided an alternative space for having sex, perhaps places could be devised:

 ‘…. without maps or calendars where you can enter into the most absurd decors with anonymous partners to look for an opportunity to die free of all stereotypes. There you’d have an indeterminate amount of time – seconds, weeks, months perhaps – until the moment presents itself with a compelling clearness’.

Such a space ‘would have the shapeless shape of utterly simple pleasure’.

What makes such a place heterotopic? Like most heterotopias mentioned by Foucault, the place disturbs or intensifies the usual sense of time. Prisons, cemeteries, fairs, ships, libraries, theatres all do this in different ways.   Foucault invents a distinct term ‘heterochronias’ to identify spaces that involve ‘temporal discontinuities’ [decoupages du temps], but in a sense all heterotopias are thoroughly chronic. In this instance, a place ‘without calendars’, involving an ‘indeterminate amount of time’ to contemplate our absolute temporal break, a moment out of time, without comparison, deserves our utmost attention.

Foucault, M. (1996) [1979] ‘The simplest of pleasures’ in Foucault Live: Collected Interviews 1961-1984, ed. S. Lotringer, trans. L. Hochroth and J. Jonhston, New York: Semiotext(e)  196-99.

Afterthought – sex, mirrors, death

In Angela Carter’s short story ‘Flesh and the Mirror’ the narrator  recounts a visit to a ‘love hotel’ in Tokyo where she makes love to a young man she had met by chance. The hotel room has a mirror covering the whole ceiling which enhanced a sense of anonymity through an annihilation of ‘time, place and person’. It reflected the essence of chance embraces where the two became mere ‘ghosts’ of themselves’.


30 March 2017