Thursday, March 29, 2012

Hypnos At Home (Nonverbal Communication)

Every interior betrays the nonverbal skills of its inhabitants.  The choice of materials, the distribution of space, the kind of objects that command attention or demand to be touched – as compared to those that intimidate or repel – have much to say about the preferred sensory modalities of their owners.

Their sense of organization, the degree of freedom left to imagination, their coerciveness or aesthetic rigidity, their sensitivity and fields of awareness – are all revealed in their houses.

Child psychiatrists use play techniques to observe children expressing their foremost concerns through creative activities.

Psychiatrists working with adults need only study the material environment with which individuals surround themselves to secure fresh insights into their relationships to objects, people and ideas.

The contrast between a meticulously kept mansion inhabited by an elderly couple and a small home filled with children, where marks of living are found everywhere, is one that needs no comment.


The text above is excerpted from Jurgen Ruesch and Weldon Kees' Nonverbal Communication, Notes on the Visual Perception of Human Relations, Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1956, where I've lately found my rootless self rooting around.

The extraordinary interior photographs above show the Belgian Symbolist artist Fernand Khnoppf's (now unfortunately destroyed) Villa Khnopff on the Avenue des Courses, near the Bois de la Cambre, in Brussels.  An article describing the house by Hélène Laillet, which was originally published in The Studio, LVII, December 1912, no. 237, p. 206 and The International Studio, XLVIII, January 1913, no. 191, p. 201, is found Here and is well worth reading.

Khnoppf' lived and worked alone in his meticulously kept mansion (the exterior appears above this note) without a companion or children.  It's my kind of house, actually, and reminds me of interiors that my mother would also have found appealing or designed for our type of family living.  I suppose it's not for everyone and it's a far cry from the space I inhabit now.

I personally have no design talent whatsoever; I can't make a room comfortable or practical, let alone add any flair or aesthetic savor to an interior space.  (My mother's considerable gifts in that regard were passed on to my brother, I think.)

But I wonder, in terms of Ruesch and Kees' analysis, if what we aspire to but do not create ourselves also conveys significant clues as to the nonverbal skills or qualities of the "imagining inhabitants."  I just don't know.

Apart from Khnoppf's masterpiece, I think my favorite interior ever was the standard junior suite accommodation formerly (I haven't been there in years, so I'm assuming there have been changes) offered by the Mondrian Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, California.  The suite was visually perfect in all respects -- straight and curved lines all in place, soothing and enlivening colors rightly arrayed and arranged, exquisite textures, order reigning.  The only problem was that if you moved around in the room at all, if you displaced a single item from its assigned position, you wrecked the place.  I occasionally had two or three week stays there and I was constantly cleaning my own room.  Those were the days (after a fashion).


  1. Enjoyed reading this VERY much. A few days ago, I changed my handle because I've started writing a blog and decided not to use my initials any longer. It's really just an electronic diary to record my thoughts and feelings about my analysis. Analysis is lonely work. I will probably be the only one who reads it, which is just fine with me. Nell

  2. I'll read it. Analysis IS lonely work, so much so that I left my analyst (who I liked and admired) and ventured on alone. (Long story; I've always loved that witticism: "If you leave me, can I come too?"). I'm glad you liked this. And the Ruesch and Kees book is fascinating and gives a whole new view into Kees' mind. As for the Villa Khnopff, it speaks volumes for itself in silence. The linked article, which was published in the early 20th century, is fascinating. Khnopff's a "whole other thing," a fascinating precinct where the mind can wander. Curtis

  3. Curtis,

    Some mornings I am disconcerted by the relevance of your posts to things I have just been thinking. Moments before I read this I was ruminating on the way in which the world seems to murmur incessantly in a language I understand but cannot translate into any written tongue. I feel a kind of secret pride that I understand this language (after all, it's mine), but also anxious frustration that I cannot translate it. And then I thought about how deeply this picture of things, of understanding and not understanding, connects to my sense of various people in my life.

    Speaking of one of which, the interiors remind me of Wittgenstein's world. The house he designed for his sister in Vienna was of course much more severe, but it sings in the same key.


    It's lonely work all right, but don't be discouraged! For what it's worth, I think the value of this particular effort is directly proportional to the sense of its difficulty. I do hope you'll share your blog.


  4. Funny, I thought of Wittgenstein's world also. As I mentioned above, the linked article is worth checking out. I'm glad this reached you. The Ruesch/Kees book is available for popular prices on and the photos (especially) really get the imagination going. Considering the fact that Kees left a rather meager, in terms of size, body of poetic work, it's both desirable and useful to supplement it by checking out his work in other media. The photos are very curious. The sun is now shining, the printer now has paper, so I can....draft. Ugh. Curtis

  5. Thank you for the encouragement, Chris! I do agree with your assessment regarding the value/difficulty(effort) ratio. Nell

  6. Compared to the extraordinary ACravan, Curtis, my blog is quite a pitiful specimen. In fact, compared to all of the blogs I've read, mine is a rather plain, bare bones, austere page. In part, it's due to my lack of Blogger skills. Furthermore, it's very strange writing into the ether, and I am a somewhat self-conscious writer. But, it's also oddly engrossing.

    Curtis and Chris:

    If you'd ever like to take a look, the link is: