Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Last words from Hejduk's Such Places as Memory

from Prayer for a House
        "matrix like a painting fool
         And blessed is the school"
from Orpheus's Memory
        "her heart burst red roses"
from Bacchus
        "seepage is inevitable"
from Florentine Grey
        "kept from descending
         by a pull of a heart"
from Without Interior
        "triangles shift as in a sea"
from On a Bridge
        "which reflects the graphite"
from Oslo Room
         might be kissed"
from The Metronome
        "densities silently implode"
from Outside Rome
        "the photos bled"
from Venice
         bird and man"
from Lampasas Square
        "endless twirl of fan"
from Helsinki Warehouses
        "slip out while you can" 
from Berlin Looms
        "the plan had been
from Arcadia
        "the sculptor knew
         the northern architect"
from A Monster Slain
        "there were such things"
from Vicitims-2
        "The past is not past"
from Atomic Light
        "their terror
         of abandonment"
from Parallel Implosions
        "Einstein laughing
         to an infinity"
from the Sleep of Adam
         of the lament"
from The Breath of Bacchus
         silencing all sound"
from Where Irises Once Were
        "the tears of blood"
from A Journey of Two
         aging simultaneously"
from Eros
        "a blush that made
         desire wait"
from Weightless Heart
        "the earth
from Soundings
         for birth
         and you?"
from Whispers of Prague
        "your building stones entomb"
from Munch's Night Crossing
         photograph he had taken himself"
from Electra
        "the chambers of her heart"
from Seville Blue
        "the skin
         explaining night"
from A Dead Oak
        "the silence of the bull"
from A Distant Breath
        "a distant breath"
from A Dark Plum Room
        "in a dark plum room"
from Abduction
        "the night sky"

from Under the Granite Arches
        "dragged from the light"
from Obsession of Dürer
        "left her

from A Lament
        "to a point
         celebrating a sadness"

from Chartres Dusk
        "the ancient dust"

from Hymn to a Sculptor
        "your signature of roughness"

from An Evening Conversation
        "to begin?
         We have already"

from Investigation of a Museum
        "in such a place"

from Archaeological Museum
        "their reality"

from Acropolis
        "Exit implies entry's lament"
from Medusa

        "your mouth and eyes

— a selection of last words from John Hejduk's Such Places as Memory: Poems 1953-1996 (MIT Press, 1998); in other words, archi-poetry begets archi-poetry.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

but a step from sublime to ridiculous

"The 'center' of the picture is not spatial but is the focus of interacting forces.
     The definition of [mirror] symmetry in static terms is the exact correspondent of the error by which rhythm is conceived to be recurrence of elements. Balance is balancing, a matter of distribution of weights with respect to the way they act upon one another. The two pans of the scales balance when their push and pull on each other is adjusted. And scales exist ... only when their pans are operating antagonistically to each other with reference to reaching an equilibrium. Since esthetic objects depend upon a progressively enacted experience, the final measure of balance or symmetry is the capacity of the whole to hold together within itself the greatest variety and scope of opposed elements.
     The connection of balance with stress of weights is inherent. Work in any sphere is performed only by the interworking of opposed forces—as by the antagonistic systems of the muscular frame. Hence everything depends in a work of art upon the scale attempted—that is the reason it is but a step from the sublime to the ridiculous. There is no such thing as a force strong or weak, great or petty, in itself. Miniatures and quatrains have their own perfection, and mere bigness is offensive in its empty pretentiousness. To say that one part of a painting, drama, or novel is too weak, means that some related part is too strong—and vice versa. Absolutely speaking, nothing is strong or weak; it is the way it works and is worked on. It is sometimes surprising in an architectural vista to see how a low building rightly placed will pull together surrounding high buildings instead of being annihilated by them.

    The commonest fault in works having some claim to be called works of art is the effort to get strength by exaggeration of some one element. At first, as with temporary best-sellers in any line, there is an immediate response. But such works do not wear. As time passes it becomes every day more evident that what had been taken to be strength signifies weakness on the part of counterbalancing factors. No sensuous charm, however great in amount, is cloying if it is counteracted in relation to other factors. But in isolation sugariness is one of the most quickly exhausted qualities. The 'he-man' style in literature soon wearies because it is evident (even if only subconsciously) that, in spite of violent movement, no real strength is displayed..."

— John Dewey Art as Experience [1934] (Penguin 2005) p187-8.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Make the community of experience delightful

"There is no need for me to go out of my way to condemn the insincerity of using adornment to conceal weakness and cover up structural defects. But it is necessary to note that upon the basis of esthetic theories which separate sense and meaning, there is no artistic ground for such condemnation. Insincerity in art has an esthetic not just a moral source; it is found wherever substance and form fall apart. This statement does not signify that all structurally necessary elements should be evident to perception, as some extreme 'functionalists' in architecture have insisted they should be. Such a contention confuses a rather bald conception of morals with art. For, in architecture as in painting and poetry, raw materials are reordered through interaction with the self to make experience delightful." (132)

To this I would just add the caveat that, like all the arts, architectural experience is always to some extent social (even if one imagines their experience to be solitary): "works of art are the only media of complete and unhindered communication between [human beings] that can occur in a world full of gulfs and walls that limit community of experience." (109)

— John Dewey, Art as Experience [1934] (Penguine 2005)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

urban(e) paradox: sensual mediation "produces community through differentiation of the milieu"

"The gap makes all the difference, inviting us to differentiate and discriminate…[But] Aristotle replaces the common notion of sensing through distance…with sensing through mediation… a [mediating] potency which can take on the form of anything other than itself without being it; and an act which establishes a continuity across distance and difference… Metaxu [the intermediating between, or middle-ground] is the spacing of the interval which produces community through the differentiation of the milieu. It both unites and separates at once. It does not preexist the operation of mediation—it is mediation."

Richard Kearney, The Wager of Carnal Hermeneutics (Fordham U. Press, 2015) p25-26.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Used to light, one must also get used to the dark.

[in Plato's Republic] "the ideally ordered polis, fails not because of malevolent or external forces, but because of its own complexity. That is a true statement concerning something we all know to be the reality of any humanly planned economy: be the rationality of the planning ever so highly developed, in the execution of it there is always the power of coincidence, and above all, there is always human shortcoming. Because we are human beings, not because we planned mistakenly, even an ideal self-sustaining organization in full accord with the plan for it will nevertheless go under in the rolling seas of historical life. To say this is not at all to deny the task of reason to shape action reasonably. …human reason is not restricted to the realm of utopia and strict ideal order. On the contrary, it is fully capable of expanding into the historical world of vague regularities. The disorder of human things is never complete chaos. Ultimately this disorder represents the periphery of a sensibly ordered universe that under any circumstances would have its periphery. … In respect to interpreting the allegory of the cave …this wonderful and many-layered metaphor… [the] theme is the blinding by the brightness that befalls those accustomed to the dark, and conversely, the blinding of those who leave the brightness and enter the dark. … One must not only get used to the light; one must also get used to the dark. "

Hans-Georg Gadamer, "The Polis and Knowledge of the Good" in The Idea of the Good in Platonic-Aristotelian Philosophy (Yale University Press, 1986) p73. English translation by P. Christopher Smith.

Monday, August 17, 2015

On Becoming a Midway Radical

"...towards being angered: if we are angry overmuch, we stand in a bad relation towards anger, whereas if we are not angry at all where we ought to be, in that case also we stand in a bad relation towards anger.

The mean state, then, is neither to be pained overmuch nor to be absolutely insensible. When we stand thus we are in a good disposition…

Similarly in the case of boastfulness and mock-humility. For to pretend to more than one has shows boastfulness, while to pretend to less shows mock-humility. The mean state, then, between these is truthfulness."

— Aristotle, Magna Moralia (1186a15-27)


"The man who is angry at the right things and with the right people, and, further, as he ought, when he ought, and as long as he ought, [is a] good-tempered man [but] he is not revengeful [and] tends to make allowances....
nor fails to take sufficient delight when it is appropriate to do so."

— Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (1124b32-1126a3;

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

cutting through the middle to encounter ideas

"It's safer to go cutting through the middle;
it's there rather that one might encounter ideas.
This makes all the difference in inquiries."

—The Stranger (from Elea), in Plato's Statesman (262C)

Saturday, July 4, 2015

floor plans for the house of desire

the answer was within

a radius of several
floor plans for the house

desire was always building
and destroying..."

Robert Hass, excerpt from the poem "Breach and Orison"
in Time and Materials (Ecco Press, 2007) p16.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Nothing is known in lightning speed from thought to deed

"Nothing is known to match in lightning speed
The mind of man, passing from thought to deed.

Whatever nature shows to human sight
Is not so swift as is the soul in flight."

— Lucretius (On Nature), as cited by Michel de Montaigne in "How we cry and laugh for the same thing" [1572-74], The Complete Essays of Montaigne, Donald Frame (trans, 1943) (Stanford University Press, 1958) p174.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Suppose the man should fall asleep

London Bridge is broken down,
Broken down, broken down.
London Bridge is broken down,
My fair lady.

Build it up with wood and clay,
Wood and clay, wood and clay,
Build it up with wood and clay,
My fair lady.

Wood and clay will wash away,
Wash away, wash away,
Wood and clay will wash away,
My fair lady.

Build it up with bricks and mortar,
Bricks and mortar, bricks and mortar,
Build it up with bricks and mortar,
My fair lady.

Bricks and mortar will not stay,
Will not stay, will not stay,
Bricks and mortar will not stay,
My fair lady.

Build it up with iron and steel,
Iron and steel, iron and steel,
Build it up with iron and steel,
My fair lady.

Iron and steel will bend and bow,
Bend and bow, bend and bow,
Iron and steel will bend and bow,
My fair lady.

Build it up with silver and gold,
Silver and gold, silver and gold,
Build it up with silver and gold,
My fair lady.

Silver and gold will be stolen away,
Stolen away, stolen away,
Silver and gold will be stolen away,
My fair lady.

Set a man to watch all night,
Watch all night, watch all night,
Set a man to watch all night,
My fair lady.

Suppose the man should fall asleep,
Fall asleep, fall asleep,
Suppose the man should fall asleep?
My fair lady.

Give him a pipe to smoke all night,
Smoke all night, smoke all night,
Give him a pipe to smoke all night,
My fair lady.
— I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 270-6.  An "archi-poem" posted in response to the recent election results in the UK, and London's recurring fascination with over-the-top bridges.Commentary:

With all the hullaballoo about bridges in London, and the Falling Down in the recent UK election of those many hoped could Bridge Left and Right, and who we imagined were Strong Enough to Stand Up against Nationalism, Xenophobia, and the Hoarding of Wealth and Power.... well... with all that in mind, I thought I'd revisit the classic "archi-poem" called London Bridge.

It an interesting poem if you read it all the way through, 
and bother to interpret it. 

Also, consider the poem in relation to the old London Bridge, which had dense housing on it (as impressive as Kowloon in its day). Look - it's about people as a vulnerable bridge, living in a precarious and absurd, but somehow wonderfully propped up, situation in the city. Both city and bridge (it is a metaphor, duh) were crumbling under their own weight, and the burden of time: i.e., there were people living on that falling down bridge/city; singing this song in a morally decayed bridge/pub; not simply singing a lullaby to their kids—who may indeed have had a hard time sleeping, knowing the bridge was crumbling beneath them, and in need of restoration, not cynical demolition of housing.

Seeing London Bridge as part of this spectacular panorama (with the Globe theatre in the foreground), reminds us of the dramatic tension of a city crossing and surrounding a river that also divides it. An allegory one can stuff in a pipe and smoke it, if one imagines one does not need to (or cannot) take a more difficult course of action: i.e., to collectively cross the bridge of indifference, and span the gulf of that all-too-human desire to be forever young and absolutely free.

Link here to an interesting before and after of London Bridge

And for the latest news on the Garden Bridge Scandal Link Here:

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

vivid pleasures

"Those stairs: there were five of them: I took three in a leap, coming home from school, and then four, and one day five, and have complicated feelings about the fact that it was one of the vivid pleasures of my life..."

It was years before I understood...
It's hard to see what you're seeing with..."

— excerpted from the poem "Consciousness" by Robert Hass, in Time and Materials (Ecco, 2007) p83-5.  This work is cited for the purpose of encouraging others to read/write what I like to call "archi-poetry."

Monday, March 30, 2015

the future... other people will pick up and go beyond

     "When I speak about a social goal, the goal of society...I don't say, 'This is exactly what it's going to be like.' I don't have a blueprint in mind. I'm thinking more of a vision, I'm thinking of direction and I'm thinking of steps. I'm thinking more in terms of signs pointing in the right direction than I am of the shape of future society because I don't know what that shape is going to be—I don't know of anybody who has predicted correctly...
     "I think it's important to understand that the quality of the process you use to get to a place determines the ends, so when you want to build a democratic society, you have to act democratically in every way. If you want love and brotherhood, you've got to incorporate them as you go along, because you can't just expect them to occur in the future without experiencing them before you get there.  I agree with Che Guevara: the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love. If that love isn't built in, you'll end up with a fascist society. 
     "A long-range goal to me is a direction that grows out of loving people, and caring for people, and believing in people's capacity to govern themselves. The way to know they have these capabilities is to see something work well on a small scale... I think your belief in people's capabilities is tied in with your belief in a goal that involves people being free and being able to govern themselves.
     "... A long range goal has to be something for everybody. It can't be a goal that helps some people but hurts others.
     "Goals are unattainable in the sense that they always grow. My goal for the tree I planted in front of my house is for it to get big enough to shade the house, but that tree is not going to stop growing once it shades my house. It's going to keep on growing bigger regardless of whether I want it to or not. The nature of my visions are to keep on growing beyond my conception. That is why I say it's never completed. I think there always needs to be struggle. In any situation there will always be something that's worse, and there will always be something that's better, so you continually strive to make it better. That will always be so, and that's good, because there ought to be growth. You die when you stop growing.
     "Your vision will grow, but you will never be able to achieve your goals as you envision them. My vision cannot be achieved by me. You may save the whales, but the dream must push beyond that. It's a dream which I can't even dream. Other people will pick it up and go beyond. To put it in a simple way, I once said that I was going to start out on a life's work. It had to be big enough to last all my life. And since I didn't want to have to rethink and start over again, I needed to have a goal that would at least take my lifetime. After making that decision, I never thought of doing anything else, because I knew that I could just hack away on it, and what little I could do would take my lifetime. And even if we had a revolution, the quality of that revolution wouldn't necessarily be satisfactory, so I'd have to try to make it better."

— Myles Horton, concluding chapter called "The Future" in The Long Haul (Doubleday, 1990) p226-8.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

architecture: how we touch the world, and the world touches us back

"All meaningful architecture mediates and structures our experience and understanding of the world... our being in the world. Moreover, architecture makes visible how the world touches us."

—Juhani Pallasmaa, "Voices of Tranquility: Silence in Art and Architecture" in Architecture's Appeal: How Theory Informs Architectural Praxis, edited by Marc J. Neveu and Negin Djavaherian (Routledge, 2015) p.199.

Friday, March 6, 2015

so difficult to sail away from your immovable home... To move from an apartment floor plan to the map of the world

"Should we build small houses on legs, a separate room, a studio for one person, so that he can be either with everyone else or completely alone? Or should we build huge buildings with elevators and maybe tram cars in the hallways? We don't know... Our house floats like a small steamship, exhaling heat through the funnels. It floats under the sky. That's probably called 'drifting'... The house drifts on the ground. Nothing has been decided yet. The way hasn't been found... Reader, it's so difficult to sail away from your immovable home... To move from an apartment floor plan to the map of the world. Silence befalls when you finish the book."

— Viktor Shklovsky "On Architecture" [1930] in A Hunt for Optimism [1933], translated by Shushan Avagyan (Dalkey Archive Press, 2012) p4-5.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Words work as release—well-oiled doors opening and closing... And despite everything the body remains

"Words work as release—well-oiled doors opening and closing between intention, gesture. A pulse in a neck, the shiftiness of the hands, an unconscious blink, the conversations you have with your eyes translate everything and nothing. What will be needed, what goes unfelt, unsaid—what has been duplicated, redacted here, redacted there, altered to hide or disguise—words encoding the bodies they cover. And despite everything the body remains."
— Claudia Rankine Citizen (Graywolf, 2014) p69. This is a must read book.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ray Bradbury's advice to architects

"Fill me with wonder, you architects:
Make me wander.
Let far be near at hand

And near? Up yonder
Let me not know quite where I go,
Let me seem lost;
Stuff my eyes with texture on texture
At any cost.
Confuse me with where I might maunder
And yet arrive;
And the final end of my journey?
I'm alive!

Let each twist and turn be target and goal
So that each jigsaw scrimshaw turnabout patch
Is part to the whole.
So each part of the plan, every feature and phase
Is a chart where I'm lost and yet found in amaze..."

— Ray Bradbury "Fill Me with Wonder, You Architects" in Yestermorrow: Obvious Answers to Impossible Futures (Capra Press, 1991) p16-17. This excerpt is posted in honor of Bradbury, whose home in L.A. was callously destroyed by a shockingly egotistical and obviously illiterate architect: Thom Mayne.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

the humanities curriculum as a place of mediation in which we may think together

"The challenge of choragraphy is to add heuretics to hermeneutics, fabrication to interpretation. The goal of reading the figures composed in the arts-and-letters relays is to learn how to make a figure oneself, to use the works in the humanities curriculum as a chora or place of mediation in which, in the prosthesis of the Internet, we may think together our personal and collective dimensions, grounded and manifested in our own local setting…  This extrapolation from the models and application to myself are the real challenges of choragraphy and of the collective online experiment…  The critical power of the project depends upon this anchor or grounding of theories and emotions in the maker’s own material existence, which then may be included in the act of reading and writing."

—Gregory L. Ulmer "Walden Choragraphy: Frog Maintenance" in Discourse v31, n1/2 (Winter/Spring 2009) p72-85.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Language—social and figurative—originated out of passion

According to Rousseau, language originated out of passion—not necessity—and was social and figurative before (and after) literal truth became a possibility seizable by name.

I paraphrase two mercifully short chapters in Rousseau's "Essay on the Origin of Languages which treats of Melody and Musical Imitation" [ca1749-55], as translated by J.H. Moran in On the Origin of Languages: Two Essays (U of Chicago, 1996) p11-13.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

the root of every manmade problem

The following (probably sarcastic) quip from the polemicist Karl Kraus captures that most unfortunate attitude at the very root of every ethical problem human beings have created - both for themselves and for one another:

"I have often been begged to be just and to view a situation from all sides. I have done this in the hope that a situation might be better looked at from all sides. But I came to the same conclusion about it. So I persist in viewing a situation from only one side, whereby I save myself much labor and disappointment."

— Karl Kraus, from Kraus' satirical periodical The Torch (1911-1936), as found in No Compromise: Selected Writings of Karl Kraus, Frederick Ungar (ed), NYC: Ungar Publishing, 1977, p222.

Friday, January 16, 2015

ever-expanding open-ended world, in contradistinction to a closed cosmos: experience of [this] crisis splits culture itself apart

"The battle was triggered by the question
of how to achieve perfection, an aim
that both the moderns and the ancients shared. 
For the latter, perfection was achieved
by imitating nature, whereas for the former,
the ancient models were
no longer to be imitated
but had to be surpassed. 
Such a shift was largely due to the fact
that the moderns found themselves confronted
with an ever-expanding, open-ended world,
in contradistinction to the ancients,
who entertained the idea
of a closed cosmos.
Consequently, progress became
the guiding light for the moderns,
who thus turned the inherited world order
completely around by conceiving it as
an irreversible advance into the future.
The cyclical movement of day and night
and the seasons, indicative
of an ordered cosmos,
was replaced by a linear ascent. 
Perfection therefore was no longer a given
that required contemplation, as exemplified
by the Greek theoria
instead, it was now something to be achieved,
and as a task to be performed
it could no longer be an act of imitation.
...Moreover, the moderns proved
to be rather self-assertive
in this process of differentiation,
thereby endowing their discourse of history
with a teleological direction.
What, however, happens
when such optimism wanes?
The stage was reached...
when Rousseau 1750
by stating that the arts and sciences
had not, in actual fact, improved morals
but had corrupted them.
Such a devastating statement marked
the beginning
of what has since come to be known
as cultural critique, sparked off
by a crisis of culture
that had not been in the orbit
of those [moderns] who had pleaded
the superiority of their own culture
over the ancients. The experience
of crisis splits culture itself apart,
and this process began to deepen
and accelerate with the dawn
of the Industrial Revolution.
Fundamental differences opened up
in individual cultures..."

— Wolfgang Iser, "Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus"
in The Range of Interpretation [1994] (NY: Columbia U Press, 2000) p160-1.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

War is only an invention - tied to manly prestige

"…if it be granted that warfare is, after all, an invention, it may nevertheless be an invention that lends itself to certain types of personality, to the exigent needs of autocrats, to the expansionist desires of crowded peoples, to the desire for plunder and rape and loot which is engendered by a dull and frustrating life… In many parts of the world, war is a game in which the individual can win counters - counters which bring him prestige in the eyes of his own sex or of the opposite sex; he plays for these counters as he might, in our society, strive for a tennis championship. Warfare is a frame for such prestige-seeking merely because it calls for the display of certain skills and certain virtues; all of these skills - riding straight, shooting straight, dodging the missiles of the enemy and sending one's own straight to the mark - can be equally well exercised in some other framework and, equally, the virtues endurance, bravery, loyalty, steadfastness - can be displayed in other contexts. The tie-up between proving oneself a man and proving this by a success in organized killing is due to a definition which many societies have made of manliness. …Grant that war is an invention, that it is not a biological necessity nor the outcome of certain special types of social forms, still once the invention is made, what are we to do about it? …If we know that it is not inevitable, that it is due to historical accident that warfare is one of the ways in which we think of behaving, are we given any hope by that? What hope is there of persuading nations to abandon war…whenever certain defined circumstances arise? …[I]f we despair over the way in which war seems such an ingrained habit of most of the human race, we can take comfort from the fact that a poor invention will usually give place to a better invention. For this, two conditions, at least, are necessary. The people must recognize the defects of the old invention, and someone must make a new one. Propaganda against warfare, documentation of its terrible cost in human suffering and social waste, these prepare the ground by teaching people to feel that warfare is a defective social institution. … A form of behaviour becomes out of date only when something else takes its place, and, in order to invent forms of behaviour which will make war obsolete, it is a first requirement to believe that [such] an invention is possible."

—Margaret Mead, ‘Warfare is only an invention - not a biological necessity’ (1940). Her full essay, "Warfare is Only an Invention -- Not a Biological Necessity"
is available online, and in The Dolphin Reader, ed. Douglas Hunt (Houghton Mifflin, 1990).