Week 1 - (:7 or The l‘(‘>llowing interview was...

Info iconThis preview shows pages 1–5. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Background image of page 1

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 2
Background image of page 3

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 4
Background image of page 5
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

Unformatted text preview: (:7 or The l‘(‘>llowing interview was developed from u so! of questions submitted by the Pratt Journal (if/lrchiier‘turu and excerpts from a dialogue between Stephen Pcrrclla and Sanford Kwinler, January 1992. On Vitalism and the Virtual Question Your interests now lie in the field of architecture, yet your training is in comparative literature. What is it that drew you into architecture? Sanford Kwinter Having spent my student career moving happily between countries, universities and disciplines, always with apparently genuine encourage- ment from my mentors, | marvel at how systematically such questions are still posed within the academy and the amount of suspiciousness that they still seem to harbor. All through the 19703 and 19805 one was told that transdisciplinarity was the wave of the future, that a significant transformation in the organization of knowledge was just around the bend — one, however, thatjust kept on bending. ln truth, I am not really jumping disciplines at all — given that my toposfor nearly ten years had been the study of the history of space — but merely trying to fix my enquiry within the domain of cultural practice that ostensibly takes the ques— tion of space as its core problem or defining object. My training is in the Renaissance and the twentieth century, in the two great epochs in Western cul— ture that supposedly underwent sys— tematic (not just episodic) processes of modernization. l have always been ori— ented towards the problem of “the modern,” and my interest in working within the field of architecture reflects a conviction that this problem can no longer be thought fruitfully within the domain of language or even within its broader analytical paradigm, but only through the minute study of our physi— cal, material and technical milieus — of which language is little more than a subset. This conviction, drawn primar- 37 18 ily from my studies of philosophy and literary theory (Nietzsche, Bakhtin, the pragmatists, Foucault), was reinforced while I was in gradu- ate school, first by the sheer profu- sion, and often brilliance, of architec- tural invention during the last fifteen years (developments that in many ways continued minimalist and post- minimalist thought and practice by extending their inquiries directly into practical speculation) and second by the fact that, in contrast, scarcely a single work of “literature” had been produced since Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow in1974 that one actually felt was worth studying. Architecture was virtually the only area of cultural practice in North America that did not fall almost com- pletely into retrograde mediocrity, commercialism or mannerism (or into mere triviality as in Europe), as did ourcinema and art. It would be unfair not to mention as well the long—term effects of that curious patina of worldliness or unparochialness, that attracts one to architecture faculties, at least from the outside; l am referring to a certain ecumenism that our overly profes— sionalized humanities faculties no longer even dream ofcultivating. Of more concern today is the phase of intellectual provincialism that is deforming the architectural milieu from within: its resistance to anything but art-historical, narrowly decon— structivist or, at best, attenuated Marxist analytics (and even these are increasingly under siege). There seems to be a fear that intellectual l, Sanford Kwinter, “La Cittz‘t Nuova: Modernity and Continuity, Zone 1 l '2, Urzonc lnc., New York, L986. Sanford Kwinter -— On Vitalism and the Virtuai invention, even ofa type that would do little more than approach the formal invention of recent years, would somehow destabilize thefield entirely. Question Recent theoretical approaches within the architecture world have suggested that architecture might yet be recast in a new way, that as a discipline it might yet take on a new status. What is your understanding of architecture as a discipline? Sanford Kwinter I can imagine no problem more pernicious, or one formulated with more bad faith, within architectural discourse today. These discussions, of architecture’s status as a disci- pline, never amount to anything more than attempts by sterile aca— demics illicitly to insinuate them- selves into "priestly" discourse, in such a way that absolutely no one with any imagination will ever con— front them, because those who pro duce new images, new ideas and concepts simply have no desire or need to legitimate themselves by defining a discipline. This petty paperwork is really the business of intellectual bureaucrats suffering from bad digestion. On the other hand, I have always maintained that architects, more than any other educated group in our soci- ety, ought to serve as our society’s real intellectual commandos. After all, who else may, and indeed must, deal with both economics and biology, human collectivities and geometry, v history and matter? One mustn’t understand this idea of commando in the classic macho sense. What is inter- esting about this manifold and promiscuous epistemological space l just described are the intricate pat- terns of interleaving, the faults and complex movements that continually destructure and restructure it, the “soft” or vague processes of partial and then violent emergence that drive it. ln a milieu this rich, the synaptic tra— jectories, the passages and the fuzzy sets, the unforeseen mixtures, are where the truly new unfolds as an unvarying law of nature, as it were. This is clearly not the space of erection and creation ex machine, but rather of variation and immanence, stealth, subtlety and vigilance. Everything in such a space is hybrid and polyphonic and favors suppleness and intuition, not arrogant and impercipient strength. This new ethic has already begun to infiltrate the more adventur- ous areas of architectural production and I see it, albeit self—consciously, in the work of some of our women theo- rists. Forces like these will change our “discipline,” not the ambitious opera- tions oftheoreticalclerks. Question ln your essay "La Citta Nuova: Modernity and Continuity”1 you use relativity theory as a paradigm that embodies many more generalformal and cultural issues. Does scientific theory legitimize a proposition any mbre than philosophy, fiction or even religion? lsn't faith, in fact, involved in all ofthose systems? Sanford Kwinter lam very happy that you asked that question. l was truly stunned — and have never entirely gotten over the shock — by the recoil of my disser— tation sponsors from my desire to integrate scientific ideas into cultural history in anything more than an alle— gorical, analogical or literary way. The "more" that interested me then, as now, has to do with how scientific concepts represent actual working models of the imagination '(one may think of these as little machines) whose criteria of acceptability are such that they must integrate and deploy massive quantities of adjacent information —greater quantities and in greater depth than are required of any other category of artifact in our cul— ture. For a scientific concept even to be proposed within a given society, a simply colossal geometry of phenom— ena, events, images, ideas, experi- ences must be available — ordered and organized — and in potentially full and transparent agreement with it. in this sense scientific concepts are indeed very much like philosophical, literary and religious models, with one very important difference: these latter may be systematic and integrate entire “possible worlds," but scientif— ic ideas need to. Science, most would admit, is clearly every bit a part of the historical process ofthe imagination — just like art and literature — yet why do so many find it flattering to their intel— ligence to deny this field of invention the same potential for creation, desta— bilization and freedom that they will— ingly accord to enterprises in the humanities? How long will our rapid— ly diminishing political options remain open if our intellectuals con— tinue simplistically to demonize the scientific imagination as a priori cor- rupt and complicit with power? And this is not to say that in Western soci- eties, the cliché of science as the “handmaiden of capital” is not fright- eningly and depressingly true. My gripe, however, is with the new breed of self—appointed "sociological" crit- ics and the clichés that they legiti- mate, not because they are wrong in what they do ~ they are often right, though rarely in a profound way — but because of their cheap form of intel- lectual satisfaction, which amounts to treating a topic only to give expres— sion to a more deep-seated contempt for whole areas of human endeavor. We need to be a little more nuanced in our understanding of the historical dynamic of mutual implication and engenderment, more patient in map— ping out the second— and third-order processes through which scientific innovations actually become sub— sumed by capital and more attentive to the powerful countermovements and remarkable richness that have always made Western science far less simple and monolithic and far more ambiguous than so many still consid- er it to be. in one’s work, as in one’s life, one should never lose sight ofthe fact that the potential of an innova- tion, scientific or otherwise, is never exhausted by the specific pathways of its subsumption by capital. That is whyl have always argued that history and theory, not to mention design, must be creative and inventive, not only critical. ' Finally, it is clearly easier today than it has been for a very long time to venture this type of commentary. We are currently undergoing a fun- damental shift in scientific method and perspective, away from reduc— tionism and towards complexity, away from fixed relations and pre— cise values, towards general tenden- cies and evolutionary behavior. We are experiencing the waning of one of our most deeply embedded "clas- sical" models. Whether this signifi- cant perturbation finds relays to, and within, other aspects of our culture depends largely on our collective and personal improvisatory skills and our ability to remain free from stylish cynicism and mindless prejudice. In that sense i myself am no enemy of whatyou call “faith.” Question Transparency of technology, language and being seem to be tacit goals of humanity. How do you see this silent trajectory in relation to lVlerleau—Ponty’s and Bataille’s write ings about the body as the most primeval, inescapable mode of being? Sanford Kwinter Though my colleagues and l at ZONE have published literally thou— sands of pages now on the subject of the body, 1 have never concealed my personal doubt that "the body” might well be a false problem when approached or formulated as such. 788 The huge bookthat l havejustfinished with Jonathan Crary, called lncorporations, explicitly addresses this doubt and attempts to engage the “body” as a merely hypothetical frame traversed in indeterminate ways by the more dynamic and unsta- ble processes of "life," understood in the broadest possible way. in this sense our project is deeply and delib— erately indebted to both Bataille and Merleau-Ponty. l agree with you that it is very important today to see the transparency myth — a central doc— trine, for instance, of the cyberspace salesmen — as a nearly undisguised form of puritanical body hatred. If the mid—century philosophies of Merleau— Ponty and Bataille are important, and strange today, it is fortheir rejection of transcendence and their brilliant affir— mations of the qualitative, the irre— ducible, the complex and the “wet” as the fundament of being. What we really have to fear now are the "nar- row—bandwidth” systems, philoso— phies and architectures peddled to us like trinkets in exchange for renounc- ing our deep and polyphonic elemen- tal and biological natures. Question The possibility exists that virtual reality will become a much larger issue in architecture than ever before. You have developed the notion of "realvirtuality." How does this differfrom virtual reality? Sanford Kwinter It is imperative to engage con— temporary technological and social Sasttt;i:l1<:; i Hzitaiism and developments in the architectural curriculum, but it is even more important not to fall into slavish adu- lation and acquiescence ofthese pro- cesses. A very broad, and danger— ous, tendency today is for architects and theorists to appear hip and on top of things, simply because they espouse modern cultural and techni— cal developments, regardless of how impoverished and depriving these may be. in other words, i agree that every aspect of our debased cultural world is worthy, and in need, of seri— ous study, but I am sufficiently snob— bish to want to insist that these all must be judged from a historical and ethical standpoint — this first — and then to be thoroughly abused in the name of détournement or “resingu— larization." The idea of “real virtuality” draws strongly on a visceral resis- tance to modern reality—engineering and its marketing. The premise in the studio l directed at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) was that no real space is ever univo- cal but always multiple and inter— twined. The metaphysics of multi— plicity, however, is obliged to account for the infinite generation of difference or information within a system in terms of the system itself, that is, in terms ofwhat is immediate~ ly and concretely available to it right there. Difference, information and form simply cannot be explained purely in terms of spatial relations without recourse to a transcendent principle that lies outside the system and that introduces preexisting forms from without. But multiplicity can be understood in terms of time: as the result of a perpetual process of differentiation that occurs through the continuous, open-ended interac— tion of many elements. This gives way to an entirely new theory of structure based on “emergent prop— erties," singularities, attractors, time series, and so on. The virtuality enters in because the space or the milieu in which forms arise is no longer seen as ideal but rather as rife with forces, tendencies and self— organizing pathways all straining to actualize themselves in morpho- genetic events (forms). We design the space first and let the forms fol— low according to their own logic of regulation and encounter. These processes can be modeled very rig- orously using quite simple topologi- cal methods. In the GSD studio we were con— cerned with trying to understand technologically driven spaces from a historical and material perspective. Our express aim was to understand how an “old” space might be used to rupture a “new” one. We rejected . from the outset the theory of techno- logical development that focuses on units of hardware rather than on the social processes through which hardware innovations are integrated into working — that means produc- tive — systems. Because we focused on the corollary processes of "sub- jectivation” that both accompany and forge the pathways of this eco- nomic~machinic integration, we were interested in the radical possi- bilities of hybridization in program— ming, and we rejected any primacy of high—tech over low. We tried to understand design as a blending of conflicting regimes, as a musical deployment of patterns and reso— nances, as a way of introducing entirely new mixtures of actions and affects into culture, like the home— made assembly of architectural genotypes that would spontaneous- ly select unforeseen phenotypes of form and behavior — new forms of life and human subjectivity — from, and in coevolution with,the complex and evolving world around it. One must understand dynamic structure as a type of é/an vital or evolutionary dynamo that cycles real virtual relations deeper and deeper into the material world. These tech— niques are entirely in keeping with broader developments taking place around us. Our culture, it might be said, is in so many ways passing decisively beyond the classical epis— temological framework of represen— tation” — a paradigm with its own his— torical specificity, problems and modalities—to one of “modeling,” in which effects are no longer seen as mere reflections of more fundamen— tal events occurring elsewhere (this is the great treason of the linguistic models in which so much of our cul— ture still remains imprisoned), to one that engages by convergence the dynamic processes and incessant unfoldings of the real through emer— gent properties, not embedded struc— tures. This new “framework” or paradigm comes to us equally from Seinfesd Kwinter w On Vitalism and the Virtual economics, materials science, embryology, philosophy and popu- lar sports and expresses, to put it very schematically, the momentary triumph of complexity and virtuality as determinant features of systems in which time functions as something creative, indeterminate and there— fore real. Question Traditional modes of thinking have prevented both architects and philosophers from understanding the entwinedness of matter and events; rather, they have preferred to see these as belonging to entirely separate realms. Yet you have con— tinued to insist on their inseparabili— ty. What does this have to do with the concept of vitalism that you have often discussed? Sanford Kwinter It is largely true that a meta- physics, or philosophy, of “events” has not existed in the West for many centuries and that its advent in rela- tively recent times might be seen as one of the characteristic and radical aspects of modernity. The problem was thought through very systemati- cally by modernist philosophy — by Bergson and Whitehead, everywhere in Nietzsche, and in certain aspects of James. Vitalism played a major con— testatory role in the life sciences for more than a century before it was put, in modified form, on a solid epis— temological foundation in the early decades of the twentieth century. Vitalists argue that there are process- es, activities and effects generated within complex systems that cannot be reduced to the properties of their parts, which brings us tothe problem of the difference between “struc- ture” and “organization.” Most of our technological and aesthetic tradi- tion has been oriented towards struc- ture: stable, homeostatic arrange— ments ofelements in apposition. But recently there has been an increasing interest in the large-scale, fluid and correlated, complex arrangements that fall under the category of pattern formation or organization. When a series of elements becomes “orga— nized,” it begins to manifest unex- pected and unforeseeable activity. One could say that, from this point on, the system is more accurately defined by the events that it engen- ders and into which it enters, than by a mere description of the physical substrate in which these events take place. By seeing the concrete world in terms of organization as well as structure, one has notrouble attribut- ing creative and even lifelike proper- ties to what was classically seen as "inanimate" or inert. To say that a building, a town or a city is not alive or is reducible to the geometries of its physical parts, will soon be con- sidered as silly and outdated a con— cept as the nineteenth— century mechanist assertion that an organ- ism’s behavior'can be explained in purely physical and chemical terms. Whether this change in outlook can bear fruit at the design level is what makes speculation and experimenta- tion so interesting today. 189 ...
View Full Document

This note was uploaded on 04/22/2008 for the course ARCH 200 taught by Professor Schafer during the Spring '08 term at Ohio State.

Page1 / 5

Week 1 - (:7 or The l‘(‘&amp;gt;llowing interview was...

This preview shows document pages 1 - 5. Sign up to view the full document.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Ask a homework question - tutors are online