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13 Things 2009

13 Things 2008

Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology

Search Brown



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]

Notes on Methodology: An Introduction

The Door Knocker cannot exist as any one sensory experience. It is not a discrete object. It is not a thing, it’s a thing experienced, which is what all things really are.

The Door Knocker is simultaneously the sound it produces, the experience of its touch, and the way it looks. To that end, I've decided to approach the door knocker as one might approach it in the built environment, encountering it first as a visual symbol, second as a tactile object, third as auditory device, and finally as an embodiment of social interaction. This sensory methodology is based on the progression within which one engages a door knocker in everyday life, seeing, feeling, and hearing the object before realizing what it might mean when you are greeted at the door by a friend. Each one of these "moments" if they could be called such, demonstrate fascinating qualities about the ways in which the door knocker is designed, framed, and considered by society.

The first moment, for example, when an individual encounters the door knocker as a visual symbol embedded in a door, is the most common way architects, historians, and homemakers have considered the object. Almost every description I found in my research, works to provide a visual description or photograph of the door knocker, in an attempt to transmit the "idea" of the thing adequately. As has been argued in the work of Michael Shanks, and Matthew Johnson, any one way of approaching an object essentializes the thing, and closes down understanding rather than elucidating. In this capacity, any photograph, sketch, or verbal description of the way a door knocker looks provides only the understanding of the object as aesthetic, and does not give a sense of the mass, or tone of the door knocker, which were certainly considered in its construction.

From looking at a door knocker, one must move to physically engaging the object, and considering how the "knocker" is to be held, moved, and ultimately, struck. Or not. Perhaps door knockers are too formal today to really be physical objects. Perhaps they are merely ornament (looking) and do not require physical interaction. Perhaps there is a door bell instead, and why would one use a door bell rather than a door knocker? The moment one touches a door knocker (in fact, even at the moment one reaches and prepares to touch a door knocker) the object changes. Not only does it gain weight and materiality (consider its form, material of construction, condition), but upon touching the door knoker one realizes that it is not a single object, but at least two objects, a base and a knocker. Do you touch the base? Or only the knocker? Is there something monumental about the object? Does the door knocker impress, signify social standing, a sense of permanence? Or is it an object of terror? Just why would Charles Dickens animate the door knocker of Ebeneezer Scrooge into the vivid face of his old business partner?

The knock. From touching and moving the knocker, one moves to strike the door. To announce one's self. It is strange that at the moment of knocking, one is made more aware of the door and the knocker, than the friend inside to whom the knock is ostensibly addressed. Or is addressed to the friend. What does the knock mean, and why do we knock to demonstrate our presence. Why not knock with your fist, or ring a door bell? What is the knock doing? If the materiality of the knocker is sufficient, one can let the knocker fall rather than forcing the knocker against the door to make a sound. It seems that this would represent and interesting social idiosyncrasy. Do you knock or does the door knocker knock? I also wonder about the quality of the sound, what would mean for the knocker to produce a resonating knock versus a thin, tinny sound?

These are the aims of this study: to engage the door knocker as a visual symbol, a tactile object, and a sonic production. In this phenomenology of the door knocker, the critical values of experience will become thematic approaches to other values, relationships, and significations embedded within the door knocker. As a part of my research, I conducted extensive fieldwork on Benefit Street in Providence, Rhode Island, an older section of the city that has been well preserved (and restored) and has over 60 door knockers. For over two weeks, I photographed, touched and recorded the street’s door knockers, interviewing those who answered the doors about their experience of their knocker. These narratives, alongside the data I collected from this fieldwork, is woven throughout the text.