Les hétérotopies inquiètent, sans doute parce qu’elles minent secrètement le langage, parce qu’elles empêchent de nommer ceci et cela, parce qu’elles brisent les noms communs ou les enchevêtrent, parce qu’elles ruinent d’avance la ‘syntaxe’, et pas seulement celle qui construit les phrases, – celle moins manifeste qui fait ‘tenir ensemble’ […] les mots et les choses. (Mots et choses 9)

[Heterotopias are disturbing, probably because they secretly undermine language, because they make it impossible to name this and that, because they shatter or tangle common names, because they destroy ‘syntax’ in advance, and not only the syntax with which we construct sentences but also that less apparent syntax which causes words and things […] to ‘hold together’. (Order of Things xix)]

Heterotopias are thus places of epistemological and representational disorder on the margins of a society’s order of representation. In this first avatar, they are situated in literary language. But the heterotopia itself, in Foucault’s thinking, is situated on a faultline. The very figure of the heterotopia, in its liminal positioning, indicates a ‘tectonic’ shift in Foucault’s own ways of thinking discursive and social space.

That one can come to a better appreciation of spaces worthy of being called sacred through a lecture given by Michel Foucault becomes apparent only after closer analysis of the French philosopher's thinking. "Heterotopias" is the name Foucault gives in his essay "Of Other Spaces" (1967) to places that serve as "counter-sites" of society, because there the usual social and cultural conditions are suspended at least temporarily in favour of other uses. In this context, considering that the author might have easily also referred to churches - not just colonies and barracks, but also brothels and cemeteries - the question arises as to whether the sacred encompasses a similar potential for critical distance, resistance and defiance. Does the sacred create spaces outside those of the rational, efficient and increasingly market-driven society? Are there spaces that precede or follow such spaces, or are they just places of transitory stasis, of temporary respite from the insufferable demands of the modern city in an age of increasing consumerism? One way or the other, the sacred remains an intensely if quietly contested "terrain vague". The market economy creates on the one hand new, simulated sacred spaces; on the other it seeks old, authentically sacred spaces with a view to shaping them to its own purposes, in short to exploit them. (Stegers, Rudolf. Sacred Buildings: A Design Manual. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2010. p. 32)