Khôra (also chora; Ancient Greek: χώρα) was the territory of the Ancient Greek polis outside the city proper. The term has been used in philosophy by Plato to designate a receptacle (as a “third kind” [triton genos]; Timaeus 48e4), a space, a material substratum, or an interval. In Plato's account, khôra is neither being nor nonbeing but an interval between in which the "forms" were originally held; it "gives space" and has maternal overtones (a womb, matrix). Jacques Derrida has written a short text with the title Khôra, using his deconstructionist approach to investigate Plato's word usage. It is the origin for the recent interest in this rather obscure Greek term.
Key authors addressing khôra include Martin Heidegger, who refers to a "clearing" in which being happens or takes place. Julia Kristeva deploys the term as part of her analysis of the difference between the semiotic and symbolic realms, in that Plato's concept of "khora" is said to anticipate the emancipatory employment of semiotic activity as a way of evading the allegedly phallocentric character of symbolic activity (signification through language), which, following Jacques Lacan, is regarded as an inherently limiting and oppressive form of praxis.
Julia Kristeva articulates the khôra in terms of a presignifying state: "Although the khôra can be designated and regulated, it can never be definively posited: as a result, one can situate the khôra and, if necessary, lend it a topology, but one can never give it axiomatic form."
Jacques Derrida uses khôra to name a radical otherness that "gives place" for being. Nader El-Bizri builds on this by more narrowly taking khôra to name the radical happening of an ontological difference between being and beings. El-Bizri's reflections on "khôra" are taken as a basis for tackling the meditations on dwelling and on being and space in Heidegger's thought and the critical conceptions of space and place as they evolved in architectural theory and in history of philosophy and science, with a focus on geometry and optics. Derrida argues that the subjectile is like Plato’s khôra, Greek for space, receptacle or site. Plato proposes that the khôra rests between the sensible and the intelligible, through which everything passes but in which nothing is retained. For example, an image needs to be held by something, just as a mirror will hold a reflection. For Derrida, khôra defies attempts at naming or either/or logic, which he "deconstructs". See also Derrida's collaborative project with architect Peter Eisenmann, in Chora L Works: Jacques Derrida and Peter Eisenman. The project proposed the construction of a garden in the Parc de la Villette in Paris, which included a sieve, or harp-like structure that Derrida envisaged as a physical metaphor for the receptacle-like properties of the khôra. The concept of the khôra, distinguished by its elusive properties, would have become a physical reality had the project been realised.
Following Derrida, John Caputo describes khôra as:
neither present nor absent, active or passive, the good nor evil, living nor nonliving - but rather atheological and nonhuman - khôra is not even a receptacle. Khôra has no meaning or essence, no identity to fall back upon. She/it receives all without becoming anything, which is why she/it can become the subject of neither a philosopheme nor mytheme. In short, the khôra is tout autre [fully other], very.
If, as one contributor concludes, "khôra" means "space", it is an interesting space that "at times appears to be neither this nor that, at times both this and that," wavering "between the logic of exclusion and that of participation." (Derrida, The Name, 89).
contribution=ignored (help) Translation of Derrida, Jacques 1993: Khôra. Paris: Galilée.