The Metaphysics of Doors

The Metaphysics of Doors

I have what could be con­sid­ered a mild, although like­ly to most, dry and banal, obses­sion with doors. What has always drawn me to them is not only the mys­tery of the oth­er side but the mean­ing of the spaces that they divide, both imag­ined and phys­i­cal. Doors cer­tain­ly stand in the way of phys­i­cal space, but in no way do the impede imag­ined space. They force one to ask what is beyond them or to pon­der what the exact pur­pose it is that they are serv­ing. An inquis­i­tive mind might draw cer­tain con­clu­sions based on design, archi­tec­ture, adorn­ment or gen­er­al aes­thet­ic to iden­ti­fy their pur­pose or what is beyond them, but lack­ing a key or the appro­pri­ate access, what is behind a door will remain a mys­tery.


A la porte de la maison qui vien­dra frap­per?
Une porte ouverte on entre
Une porte fer­mée un antre
Le mon­dre bat l’autre côte de ma porte.

At the door of the house who will com­ing knock­ing?
An open door, we enter
A closed door, a den
The world pulse beats beyond my door.

 Pier­re Albert Birot
 Les Amuse­ments Naturels

Con­verse­ly, doors can act as pro­tec­tion from the large and often over­whelm­ing nature of the world and our uni­verse. The ago­ra­pho­bics best friend. A heavy wood­en door stand­ing between our­selves and the world. In the same way we might imag­ine what it is like to be out­doors when we are too ill to leave our homes. Day­dreams of open­ing the door to bright beams of sun­light, the days bronze glow.


Why it’s sim­ply impas­si­ble!
Alice: Why, don’t you mean impos­si­ble?
Door: No, I do mean impas­si­ble. (chuck­les) Nothing’s impos­si­ble! 

Lewis Car­roll, Alice’s Adven­tures in Won­der­land & Through the Look­ing-Glass

The ide­al door rep­re­sents some­thing of an impasse. But this is pure myth. The mind is like a Tro­jan horse when it comes to doors. Besides, a spirit­ed adven­tur­er can always find a win­dow and where there is no win­dow a win­dow can be made. A flu­id imag­i­na­tion can fit into any key­hole and where the imag­i­na­tion fails brute force can open most walls. After all, what else is a door for if not to cov­er a hole in a wall?


If the doors of per­cep­tion were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed him­self up, till he sees all things thro’ nar­row chinks of his cav­ern.

William Blake, The Mar­riage of Heav­en and Hell

What is worse: to be locked in? or to be locked out? // Or is one com­fort­able sim­ply being the door?


It’s doors I’m afraid of because I can’t see through them, its the door open­ing by itself in the wind I’m afraid of. 

Mar­garet Atwood, Sur­fac­ing.

The voyeur can already imag­ine what is beyond a door, it is their curios­i­ty and fear of being caught which com­pels them to peep. The voyeur knows what it feels like to be watched and this is a part of their reward. Though they feel it is not an act of cow­ardice, it is being labeled a cow­ard that they fear. Of course, it isn’t the door which pre­vents the voyeur from enter­ing the room. They are always present, they are omnipresent. No door can pre­vent the gaze of the minds-eye. In this sense, the door is a dis­trac­tion when we cen­ter our fears on it. For it would be fool­ish for the voyeur to peep through the key­hole when the win­dow is wide open. Per­haps we shouldn’t fear what is on the oth­er side of the door (who or what is look­ing in), but instead, we ought to learn to fear what is already inside the room as we stare into anoth­er sort of door: the mir­ror. The reflec­tion of a voyeur try­ing to peek some­where into their own soul.


From up here, noth­ing of Argia can be seen; some say, “It’s down below there,” and we can only believe them. The place is desert­ed. At night, putting your ear to the ground, you can some­times hear a door slam.

Italo Calvi­no, Invis­i­ble Cities

The door might express her lone­li­ness and neglect with a crack or a creak. The only voice she has is the voice of her han­dler. A door is an emo­tion­al barom­e­ter. The sound of a door can alert us, strike our hearts with, or fill us with joy. If we lis­ten care­ful­ly enough to her wis­dom and coun­cil, we can take her advice as if it were our own. The door might also express our emo­tions. Is there a bet­ter way to say “Fuck Off!” than with the slam­ming of a door?


There is in Fan­tas­ti­ca a cer­tain place from which one can go any­where and which can be reached from any­where. We call it the Tem­ple of a Thou­sand Doors. No one has ever seen it from out­side. The inside is a maze of doors. Any­one wish­ing to know it must dare to enter it.

Gro­gra­man, in Ch. XV : Gro­gra­man, the Many-Col­ored Death

Michael Ende, The Nev­erend­ing Sto­ry

A sin­gle door rep­re­sents the infinite nature of the space that sur­rounds it. We must keep in mind that one can go any­where sim­ply by open­ing a door and step­ping through it. In this sense, all doors are one and the same.


I know they accuse me of arro­gance, and per­haps mis­an­thropy, and per­haps of mad­ness. Such accu­sa­tions (for which I shall exact pun­ish­ment in due time) are deriso­ry. It is true that I nev­er leave my house, but it is also true that its doors (whose num­bers are infinite) (foot­note: The orig­i­nal says four­teen, but there is ample rea­son to infer that, as used by Aste­r­i­on, this numer­al stands for infinite.) are open day and night to men and to ani­mals as well. Any­one may enter. 

Jorge Luis Borges, The House of Aste­r­i­on 

Four­teen doors. Sev­en doors ajar, all open­ing into the wilder­ness. The remain­ing doors open to and con­nect sev­en iden­ti­cal rooms. Iden­ti­cal except for the room whose door exits to the knot­ted twist­ing wilder­ness out­side, and faces direct­ly south. All of the rooms share three doors, two con­nect­ing each room and one to the out­side. All of the rooms except the mid­dle one fac­ing the south are paint­ed a beau­ti­ful sea-foam green. The mid­dle room, being spe­cial, appears gold to some, while to oth­ers it is more of a ruby-red. Before enter­ing the House of Aste­r­i­on, one must already under­stand Zeno’s dichoto­my para­dox. Four­teen is indeed infinite as are the ways to enter and exit the house through the sev­en doors one might enter. While the rooms are iden­ti­cal, they are also pro­found­ly dif­fer­ent and depend­ing on whose foot hol­lows out her floor­boards the house will always be expe­ri­enced dif­fer­ent­ly by dif­fer­ent folk. Aste­r­i­on is a hos­pitable patron to his home, but his hos­pi­tal­i­ty must first be reached for no mat­ter what room one enters, it will seem as if Aste­r­i­on is some­how and forever in the next.

* A sus­pi­cious note: one wom­an report­ed that dur­ing her vis­it to Asterion’s house, she swore she could always see her­self exit­ing a room as she was enter­ing it. She would see the tail of her dress across the room as if it were enter­ing the next door. Of the mid­dle room, she not­ed, if she reached her hand through one door, she could see it com­ing through the door on the oppo­site side of the room. She report­ed nev­er see­ing or meet­ing Aste­r­i­on but claimed that she came to know him very well. Upon leav­ing the house some years lat­er, she also claimed that she had nev­er known her­self bet­ter. As she left the house she heard the voice of a man: “Would you believe it, Ari­ad­ne? The Mino­taur scarce­ly defend­ed him­self.” So many doors that always remain open. Cor­ri­dors where all the ghosts of the past pile up like the corpses of Babel.


What we need to ques­tion is bricks, con­crete, glass, our table man­ners, our uten­sils, our tools, the way we spend our time, our rhythms. To ques­tion that which seems to have ceased forever to aston­ish us. We live, true, we breathe, true; we walk, we open doors, we go down stair­cas­es, we sit at a table in order to eat, we lie down on a bed in order to sleep. How? Why? Where? When? Why?

Georges Perec, The Inra- Ordi­nary

There was once a cob­bler who was born with a shell on his back. The chil­dren used to tease him. He lived a soli­tary and lone­ly life. After work every­day, he would go to have a pint of beer, eat a piece of bread with the dai­ly soup, and read the news­pa­per at a pub between his shop and home. On the side of his shell was a door. He nev­er ques­tioned it. He nev­er allowed his curios­i­ty to lead him to won­der where the door went. It was just there, an old wood­en door on the side of his mon­strous shell. At the pub where he would fre­quent worked a pair of beau­ti­ful twins. One was shy like he and the oth­er was out­go­ing and always danc­ing as she served patrons their drinks. Of one of the twins, the cob­bler shared a secret love. But one twin would nev­er do with­out the oth­er. So the love remained latent, a dream. One evening as the pub was clos­ing down the twins inquired about the cobbler’s shell and its door. The cob­bler didn’t have much to say beyond telling them he was born with it. The twins decid­ed that they should enter the door in the side of the shell and so they did. On the oth­er side of the door was noth­ing. It was as if they had entered a time before time. A bril­liant light began to glow as the door shut behind them. They dis­ap­peared into the cob­blers shell. Hours and days passed. Noth­ing. They were gone forever the cob­bler thought until one day a wom­an opened the door and crawled out of the shell. It was one of the twins, but she was dif­fer­ent. Some­thing about her eyes, her face, her hands. She hugged the cob­bler embrac­ing him with the strength of two wom­en. He could feel her heart­beat behind her breast, but it was not only her heart beat­ing … it was if there were two hearts. She couldn’t explain where she had been, and when she spoke she was speak­ing for two. The sis­ters had become one at the begin­ning of time it would seem. Years lat­er the cob­bler and the wom­en would be mar­ried and their love would out­last time.


Good and evil have no self nature; 
Holy and unholy are emp­ty names; 
In front of the door is the land of still­ness and qui­et;
Spring comes, grass grows by itself. 


At some point a door is just a door. Paint it green, black, blue or gold … it will remain a door for that is its nature.


Listen: this world is the lunatic’s sphere,
Don’t always agree it’s real,

Even with my feet upon it
And the post­man know­ing my door

My address is some­where else.

Hafiz, The Winks

If any­one knows your door, it is the post­man. But our doors don’t always tell us where home is.



The door to the invis­i­ble must be vis­i­ble.

Rene Dau­mal, Mount Ana­logue

What is on either side of a door must be holy. That is why it must be kept at bay. We might lock a world out or lock a world in. No mat­ter, it is com­plete­ly vis­i­ble to those who wish to see it. The door does not dis­guise our secre­tive grandeur. It pro­vides a point of access. To enter is to know and to see the unseen. But if we don’t feel com­fort­able enter­ing through the door, some­times the win­dow is a bet­ter option. And we mustn’t for­get that some­times all we need to do is knock.