I first met the khôra through Richard Kearney's Strangers, Gods and Monsters and through him, a concatenation of khôras through Derrida, Caputo, Kristeva, then Sallis and others. I had to read Plato's Timaeus, take it apart, to find its spine, to approach this strange term with a "certain bastard reasoning," as Plato himself cautions, or through dream-life. The khôra seduces all of us, like the Sirens whose music unravels desire. She/it is the receptacle and here only for us. She/it is the abyss and the source of becoming yet what she generates she is not.
Timaeus, the astronomer, considers the problem of primordial origin. But the dialogue starts on the festival of Athena, and before it begins, Socrates reviews his dialogue from the day before (on the Republic) and Critias is encouraged to takes up the tale of the ancient Atlantis [171-27b]. (Yes, that Atlantis. ), a poem of Solon recorded by Egyptian priests who dismiss Greeks as too young to discern the many cycles of history [22b-c], natural disasters upon disaster, as civilizations rise and fall. So it is with Atlantis, that collapses into the sea after powerful earthquakes, that is taken up in Critias.
Only then does Timaeus embark on beginnings - but there are two beginnings.
He argues that before the second beginning - the intelligible order - there is primordial first beginning. In this, there are three elements, "that Being and Place and Becoming were existing, three distinct things, even before the Heaven came into existence" [52c] In other words: Being as intelligible reality, the unchanging world of Forms, Becoming as sensible reality of created cosmos and khôra means place, space, the place a thing occupies. The khôra is introduced in 48e–53b, though the term only appears twice (52b and d). Indeed, there are four other terms that designate the reality that is subsumed by khôra: receptacle (49a; 51a) or what receives 50d); 2) nurse (49a7;52d) or mother (50d;51a ); 3) that in which (49e, 50d), the sensible characteristics appeared and 4) matrix (50c) (Naddaf 2002). It's a tricky piece, hard to grasp. I want to render it here to give you a sense of the language and its indeterminacy.
In this first primordial place, there is, in "the absence of God" a "state devoid of reason or measure" and the four elements surge and circulate, like corn through a sieve that falls one way if it's heavy and elsewhere if it is spongy and light [53 a].
53b] fire and water and earth and air, although possessing some traces of their own nature, were yet so disposed as everything is likely to be in the absence of God; and inasmuch as this was then their natural condition, God began by first marking them out into shapes by means of forms and numbers. And that God constructed them, so far as He could, to be as fair and good as possible, whereas they had been otherwise,—this above all else must always be postulated in our account…
Let us recall again, that this generation is possible because between the Being and Becoming -- the fixed reality and motile appearance -- is a Third, the khôra . This spacial non-space holds all things that are created, as "formless, invisible being."
50c ...nowhere and in no wise does it assume any shape similar to any of the things that enter into it. For it is laid down by nature as a molding-stuff for everything, being moved and marked by the entering figures, and because of them it appears different at different times. And the figures that enter and depart are copies of those that are always existent, being stamped from them in a fashion marvellous and hard to describe...
but their original meaning is fragile and can only be referred by other images, being and thoughts. It seems that Timaeus is granting khora a primordial presence, her ontology is unclear, but her necessity is evident. To John Sallis, khora is the "irreducible remainder." And yet, there is a space...
... provides room for all things that have birth, itself being apprehensible by a kind of bastard reasoning by the aid of non-sensation, barely an object of belief; for when we regard this we dimly dream and affirm that it is somehow necessary that all that exists should exist in some spot and occupying some place, and that that which is neither on earth nor anywhere in the Heaven is nothing. So because of all these and other kindred notions, we are unable also on waking up to distinguish clearly the unsleeping and truly subsisting substance, owing to our dreamy condition
[52c] or to state the truth—how that it belongs to a copy—seeing that it has not for its own even that substance for which it came into being, but fleets ever as a phantom of something else—to come into existence in some other thing, clinging to existence as best it may, on pain of being nothing at all; whereas to the aid of the really existent there comes the accurately true argument, that so long as one thing is one thing, and another something different, neither of the two will ever come to exist in the other so that the same thing becomes simultaneously
Here, I am interested in following Isar's work with Byzantine chore-o-graphy as icon of movement. She takes this as a riff on khorós a reference to collective movement, as in a dance, a chorós ástrôn (the dance of the stars), or chorós melitôn (the dance of bees), and always a circular motion (41-42). She argues in part that sacred space was a dance of ‘sacred containment’, from which the modern distinction between contained space and container should be removed in order to make room to that power of creative imagination, which has once enabled the participation of being in the wholeness of the universe and in Being. (44).
Caputo, John. The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, Indiana University Press, 1997
Derrida, Jacques. "Khora" in On The Name, Stanford U Press, 1995
Feld, Alina. Melancholy and the Otherness of God: Study in the Genealogy, Hermeneutics and Therapeutics of Depression, Lexington Books, 2011
Isar, Nicoletta, "Chôra: Tracing the Presence," Review of European studies, Vol 1, No 1, June 2009, 39-55
Lamb, John. Not in His Image: Gnostic Vision, Sacred Ecology, and the Future of Belief, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2006
Manoussakis, John. Khora: The Hermeneutics of Hyphenation, Revista Portugeuese de Filosophia, 58 (2002) 93-100
Sallis, John. Chorology: On Beginning in Plato's Timaeus. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1999 See online review