impromptu remarks…

Summary of Impromptu Remarks
58 min 41 sec

from ANYONE, ed. Cynthia Davidson, 1991, p. 39-45

(The following remarks were presented in an improvised translation. They have since been transcribed, edited, reedited, and so forth. Therefore, caveat lector.)

We do not have much time, so I will limit myself to some points. I will make some points, as you say in the language that remains foreign to me and to which I remain foreign. But, in any case, how can one make a point? And as I try to say something on the subject of the point and the point of the subject, I must also ask something of the stranger and the foreigner. What do strange and foreign mean? What, from the point of view of architecture, are a stranger and a foreigner?

The first point: At this conference, the point is the subject. Traditionally, the point is very determined, marking the one, the unity, the identity, the singularity. At the same time, however, the point is the least determined unity, identity, or singularity, that one can represent.

One can present a point of view. There is as well a point of departure – a point of departure for a line, which is also the point of departure for a surface, for a volume, and ultimately for time – time being the truth of space for Hegel. Whether in the language of Hegel or Klee the derivation point, line, plane, volume, time is the normal form of derivation and of the construction of space and within space. Not much rhetorical effort is required to argue that the question of points links all the questions of architecture to the question of the subject, the self, the identity, the one of anyone. In this sense, the point is very determined.

At the same time, the point is so undetermined, so anonymous, so unnameable, that it lends itself immediately to substitution – even sacrificial substitution. A point – en vaut un autre, I would say in French – is equivalent to another, is exchangable for another, and is worth another. Likewise, the subject, the self, the signature, and man, to the extent that they are representable by points, are at one and the same time calculable and replaceable, determined and undetermined. As such, each defines a necessary, though not sufficient, condition of the access of the individual (the individual as indivisble resembles a point) to law, to rights, to equality, to electoral democracy, to parrliamentary regimes, to individual property, and, therefore, to capitalism. Il faut du point – one must have a point, the point is necessary. The indivisible point is indispensable to the maintenance of all these institutions, to their holding up or standing together. This determination of the point has two serious implications. First, that the point is indivisible and, therefore, does not relate to itself, the relation to self (without which there is no self) supposing internal difference – fold, reflection, division – even if it is notself-consciousness. This implies, then, that a point can be one but on the condition of not being a self (selfsame).

Second, to the extent that it remains absolutely undetermined in its determination, the point has no singularity, no simple unicity. It is replaceable; it cannot constitute a signature, even less a work or an event. It cannot have a proper name. And what is true of the point is true of a multiplicity of points, of ones as points.

Kojin Katarani has mentioned the cogito. One of the characteristics of that cogito – as well as the tradition of the law, the theories of rights, and the architecture that presupposes this cogito – is that this cogito essentially requires a god (a god as creator, rather than as demiurge architect) in order to assure the certitude of the relation to self. This is a god of continuous creation, since without him there could be no account of a world, of a time, of a history made up of instants, of points. None of these singular points could derive from another without the intervention of the great theological Subject.

One must never forget that the cogito is an instantaneist and punctualist theology. And that Cartesianism, with its abundant architectural metaphors (Descartes speaks very often of foundation, fundaments, roofs, cities – these are classical topoi for professional philosophers), that this important stage in the constitution of the modern subject is accompanied by a philosophy, which is also a theology, of the individual point, of the instant, and of time as a series of instants.

To go quickly, too quickly: What is true of Descartes will remain true of all modern philosophies of the subject, including its dialectical Hegelian and neo-Hegelian forms. The positive consequences and the limits of this could also be drawn for politics, for a certain concept of democracy and law – and for architecture. What is rather curious is that, although architectural metaphors proliferate in these architectonics or these systems of the subject (architectonics is the art of the system for Kant), although it is a metaphor, a model, a pedagogy, and a rhetoric, architecture is not essentially a place of habitation, a habitat. Whereas when Heidegger attempts to deconstructs this epoch of the subject (that is, the interpretation of Dasein as subject, consciousness, but also as present thing – vorhanden – dominated by the privilege of the instant and the present), he will recall the co-essentiality of Dasein, dwelling, building, thinking, wohnen, bauen, denken. And he does so in a space, in a context in which the values of reappropriation, authenticity, the opposition between heimlich and unheimlich, and a certain nostalgia or homesickness reappear in the definition, in the description of Dasein.

Now, if I were forced to stope here and to say what the architecture of the next millenium should be, I would say: in its type, it should be neither an architecture of the subject nor an architecture of Dasein. But then, perhaps, it will have to give up its name of architecture, which has been linked to these different, but somehow ccontinuous ways of thinking. Indeed, perhaps it is already losing its name, perhaps architecture is already becoming foreign to its name.

Second point: I must say a word about what is like me (or for someone like me) foreign and a foreigner, whether that is with regard to the country, the language, or architecture – the strangeness within the one. Here I need to make two or three subpoints.

When I tried to translate anyone into French and into some other languages with which I am less familiar, the difficulties I encountered seemed to me very interesting from two points of view. First, the grammatical and semantic differences between anyone and everyone are so subtle that one cannot simply restitute or restore the difference in another language. Consider the difference in French between n’importe qui and chacun, tout un chacun. N’importe qui draws toward the indeterminate and anonymous – toward a levelling-off, Heidegger would say, toward the one as on, das Man, and as they. Whereas chacun – everyone, each one – would more easily welcome the right of every singularity. But neither captures the movements of anyone.

If I have mentioned that I am a foreigner here, it is not in order to underline a signature but to put the emphasis on two schematic issues. First, this series of conferences, which will take us into the next millenium, is dominated in its program, if there is one,its title (a lexical and sysntactic problem, 10 times any-, which is not purely formal), its hosts, guests, means, and so forth by one language and two nation-states. I do not want to exploit here the political arguments which are well-known and easy, though not simpl worthless. These conferences, and this will be true for the future of architecture as well, will not be dominated by just anyone. We know that. Anyone is not just anyone.

I do not believe that one can think about the future of architecture without taking into consideration not only the phenomenon of linguistic and capitalist hegemony in their classical forms but also and especially in the new forms, predictable or not, that these hegemonies will take precisely from an architectural point of view in the relationships between nations and states the mobility of the new trajectories of capital, and the evolution of international law. We have seen this in the terrible and as yet unfinished experience which is called the Persian Gulf War. That event demonstrates, among other things, that so-called international law – whatever its value may be – remains an interstatic, interstate law dominated by Western powers and concepts. This “international” law waits for and calls for decisive improvements.

At the same time, I hesitate to elaborate upon these rough indications as if they could be simply located under the general category of politics. On the one hand, we should not forget the classical problems – economic, juridical, ethical, and political – in their stable or evolved forms. One must remind architects of them as well as all those who negotiate decisions that bear upon space, ecology, demography, justice, and so forth. Such responsibilities remain and become even more acute in the third world than in the richer, industrial capitals.

One should not be content with inventing new, sophisticated forms, a la pointe, on the cutting edge of the avant-garde, while abandoning the terrain, to anyone, to any economic or political power, under the pretext that this is the “old” space, the old limits od architecture or urbanism in the premodern or modern form. One cannot be satisfied, for instance, with the Heideggerian argument that, if there is today a housing shortage (he was talking about the conditions before and after the war), it is rooted in a metaphysical essential, in the sense of dwelling and not of habitation. Whatever value we grant this argument, we cannot be satisfied with it.

On the other hand (and we remain still at the level of watchwords), the necessity of recalling and exercising the traditional responsibilities of political philosophy and architecture should not authorize a critique of inventive, adventurous, more or less solitary experimentation and research. The assault of the so-called “individual signature”, with all its accusations of narcissism, elitism, solipsism, and so on, under the pretext of the “good political conscience,” seems to me disastrous. Not only because one does not make good politics with bad architecture, or without architectural research and experimentation, but because, it seems to me, every new architectural writing is already motivated by a though of the political. Architectural writing tries either to displace the given political categories or to anticipate or follow the evolution and deep mutations of the political.

We should not forget that all of the different categories of political philosophy, classical or modern, have been built around the concept of the unity of the one, around the units called polis, city, state, and so forth. And to the extent that what is happening at this fin de siecle (and especially in cities like Los Angeles) is a passage to what has been called the post-city age, a transition that is also a transition toward great mutations in the relations among states, nations, civil societies, and so forth, architectural theory and praxis cannot look for their prescriptions in what is still called the political – the thinking of the polis or the city – or in a democracy which would still be measured by these concepts of the political. These concepts as well as the opposition between public and private are in the process of being deconstructed.

This does not mean that one must simply abandon the political terrain and democracy. Rather, one must negotiate between democracy in its given model, the familiar, demographic model founded on the one as a calculable subject, and the democracy to come. This negotioation, which is a double bind, must divide the one who is architect, and there is as a rule no program for handling such division. And the traces of this division, and even the division of its self, constitute the signature, the paradoxical event of a signature which is never one, never one with itself.

If I recall that I am here a stranger, remember that it is not to underline a signature but to recall two themes. I have just touched on the first. The other one let us call language, tongue, discourse, theory, philosophy, everything that apparently requires words. On a few occasions I have been lucky enough to have worked with architects in relationships which were both aleatory and necessary. In all these collaborations I have apparently been on the side of non-architecture, and consequently was provoked to analyze better the relation between architectural construction and, let’s say, language, tongue, discourse, or non-architectural events.

It is a very complicated story, of course, but, as a very brief summary of my thoughts of these experiences, I would say that the displacement that is occurring today and that I believe will be confirmed more and more in coming years, consists in over- determining, against all the hierarchies and even against the concept of art, not to speak of such concepts as spirit and expression, the co-implications between the non-architectural arts – music, literature, history, and philosophy, for example – and the architectural arts. As a result, new writings of memory and utopia will intervene in architectural works, the signature of which will be more and more singular, or, more precisely, more and more singularly collective.

Now here we have to be very simplistic. We are presented with the problem of determining what “building” will mean in these new works. I remember recently hearing Daniel Libeskind say, “Architecture for me does not consist in building. I have not built many things so far, and what I do – writing, drawing, publishing projects – is what interests me. Perhaps I am not an architect. I have no architectural license; I am not very interested in architecture.” This is very interesting. It shows that today many arts and practices are not so much integrated as inscribed. Even if Libeskind or Peter Eisenman or other architects never built, nevertheless what they publish is legitimized as architectural, as belonging to architecture, as implying the possibility of building.

It is this possibility that today we have to analyze. What does this possibility mean? In this space or place which is not simply an indeterminate dream, even if it si not built, research will concern the modality of this possibility. Here, the signature is a divided one, a divided One. In these experimentations and productions of the divided signature, all of the aesthetic, economic, and political problems are at stake.

A final point. A word about this perspective of the event we call the work and the signature of the architect. For the sake of economy, I will make this point by evoking the name Ulysses and his return trip home, his suffering from homesickness. His round trip describes the very circle of the oikonomia, the law of the house, the return home. Evoking the name Ulysses, I would insist on that which distinguishes singularity from individuality, and from the totalizing circle.

An event, whether it be a work, a trace, or a signature – or the work as signature – an event must always be singular, be one. But the one of the event is not necessarily, I would say, especially not, individual and indivisible. The singularity of the event does not consist in a unity of a recollection or gathering with itself, but in the sealed mark of division, of the double bind that we have already mentioned in terms of political responsibility. One cannot be responsible as such without experiencing contra- dictions, contradictory duties. Confronting a problem free of contradition or undecidability requires no responsibility.

The sealed mark of the division, the double bind, is the double obligation requiring the most inventive architects to proceed, to attempt the impossible while at the same time not abandoning the terrain of their traditional responsibilities – the city, demography, homelessness, and so forth – to people who are not just anyone, who “know how to handle the problem”, to people who are therefore without responsibility. This double bind must be sealed in the signature. I would say it is precisely this sealed double bind that holds together in the singular, nonpunctual, unstable strife of the work or the signature.

This tension within the signature leaves its mark on the dominant forms of many works today which, though different from one another, nevertheless have something in common: a dislocation, a disassociation which tries to hold together things that do not easily hold together.

As I consider these questions, why do I name Ulysses, the proper name, Ulysses? Ulysses means two things: first, regarding the one – here I am following the Anyone program – Ulysses means the circle of return, nostalgia, dwelling, the oikonomia. From this perspective, I would say that the architect of the next millenium – and of today aready – will not be a Ulysses, even if he or she must take into account and inscribe the political and economic dimensions of dwelling in his or her work.

But Ulysses means something else. Recall the passage in the Odyssey when he encounters the Cyclops Polyphemos. Trying to disguise himself, to hide himself, Ulysses calls himself Outis – nobody, no man, personne. Here, in a strategy of simple erasure, the Subject masks his singularity behind no one, das Man (here in a sense that does not depend on the Heidggerian distinction between the authentic Dasein and the inauthentic das Man). In French, Outis is translated as personne, meaning no one, no particular subject.

I think the architects of tomorrow will not be personne; they will not be anonymous, the singular signature will not be erased. The proper name, that which cannot be reappropriated, is here simply the seal of the singularity of the event that cannot gather itself into itself as itself. Singularity does not mean an identity with oneself. It is another experience of the name, other than the one which has dominated Western philosophy as well as Western architecture, and it does not mean the simple indivisibility of the identity of the work with itself.

Here, the signature may continue to mean unique as Heidegger said: the unique is not the identical, not the same. It is difference. We must distinguish here among one, self, same, unique, singular, individual, and so on. The one is the difference. We can accent the one so that it does not mean identity with itself but rather the difference that holds together the singularity and its difference.

Thus, the anyone will have to decide, to hesitate, to choose between the negative indeterminacy, the calculable structure of the anonymous, the indivisible and encircled individual, circled in its monumental specularity on the one hand and, on the other, the anyone who, beyond authenticity and inauthenticity, beyond a certain ethics, beyond das Man and man, would sign the experience of the impossible, of the double bind that makes a possible ruin of every architecture and an originary signature of every ruin. At that moment, architecture will have perhaps lost its name, its unity; it will perhaps become a stranger to itself, foreign to itself. And that will be good. Perhaps this has already begun today. Perhaps architecture will, as I have tried to do today by treating these points otherwise, move from anyone to anything.

back up…

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~ by aikaterine on June 11, 2007.

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