We never close

At HKW’s The Principle of the City tonight, Eve Blau was one of the speakers offering a reaction to Richard Sennet’s (et al) discussion 1. Sennett had referred to one of his central ideas, the Open City, 2 and mentioned that he has become interested in open software, specifically Linux. Blau contrasted this form of open-ness with Umberto Eco’s idea of the open work. 3.

Insofar as I’d ever thought about it, I realise that I had always taken “open” to mean the same thing in both cases. For Eco, a work is open in the sense that it can be “closed off” in one of many ways by the reader; open in the software (and, perhaps, Sennett’s) sense is probably something else. There is not really the distinction of reader/producer. The readers are assumed to be future producers.

Having said that, it is also a principle of open software, that the software can be put to different uses, read differently, closed off’ differently in Eco’s sense. 4

While listening to Sennett, the military term of art, open city kept coming to mind. An open city is a demilitarised city, one that is not defended and therefore—in international law—not legitimately attacked.


  1. 1Blau’s statement is available here, starting at 73:30
  2. 2See also, lecture delivered at Harvard GSD.
  3. 3See, for instance, The Role of the Reader
  4. 4Bergson’s and Popper’s “open society” is yet another tangent which can be contrasted with these other uses of the word.