Monday, March 18, 2013

1. Simon Brott - Architecture for a Free Subjectivity

Published in 2011, Brott traces the history of Deleuze & Guattari's discourse, which was apparently facilitated into the larger discourse of ideas by the architectural discipline. The intention of the book is to reintroduce the explicit theory of subjectivity, which itself can be rather easily argued to be the objet of D&G's work, into architectural theory. Therefore, the starting point for this book is to figure out why, if D&G have been ubiquitous in mainstream architectural theory for over two decades, was subjectivity itself not. While never concretely answered but moreso deferred by larger historical drifts, this topic seems to be addressed rather circuitously in the larger and core discussion of D&G's operative framework for subjectivity itself and how architecture is "unparalleled" in the capacity to effectuate its social becoming.

Highlighting the fundamental departure from both Marxism and Psychoanalysis undertaken by D&G, a "free subjectivity" begins from the understanding that there is no subject. To paraphrase the argument crudely, History that brought us into Modernity is based on the transcendental definition, constitution, and representation of what we were, are, can be, want, feel, think, etc. and as a consequence of its transcendental nature, alienation. The essential (yet structural) pitfall of the modern Left is to base its project on the acceptance of these ideals and reality, and progressively try to work reality into a more idealistic place. This form of binary (dialectical) thought essentially cannot 'fix' any 'problem', it can merely sublimate, ignore, suppress, mitigate, ameliorate, etc. It cannot get rid of any symptoms, but only make them less negative (for the patient).

The project undertaken in this book is in this sense radical by not talking about the illness or its symptoms, but by claiming that while they may be real, they are contingent and therefore to some degree require an acceptance: belief and its obedience. It could be stated that it is this act of acceptance that create a subject inherently doomed to failure. What this also brings into question is, in the process of acceptance in relation to 'the subject', what is of critical and potentially operative importance?

Accepting something makes that thing real. It makes it static and abstractable. It temporally separates the producers not from production, but the product. It would have been bizarre for the Italian workers movements of the 1970s to have demanded to make different things. No, it was never what was in production that was of chief importance, but the way and the conditions in which they are produced. The issue never was the alienation of the laborer from the product, but the status of the laborer of whatever object. It is therefore not the subject itself that can be worked on, but the process by which the 'subject' can be called subject. Subjectivity, for whatever intent and purpose, is the field of subjectivization, of the production of subjects, not the 'subjects' themselves.

Architecture can be said to be not only the contingent act par excellance but the framing of immanent reality itself. This book therefore advocates Architecture as the ideal machine for producing "free" subjectivities. The way in which this occurs is preempted by an acceptance of cinematic time as the 'true' temporal modality of humans. Starting from the radical contingency and nihilistic significance of experience, we confront "effect-images" which constitute a perceptive field of immanence in (and necessarily through) which we are. We encounter reality. Architecture, as intentional spatial concatenation, has the unique ability to construct this more basic, fundamental truth of our existence. Citing Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye and OMA's 575 Broadway Prada Flagship Store as primary examples, architecture, by means of its environmental relation to us, as inhabitants of it, can effect the subject's dissolution by a radical perceptive and haptic engagement with space.

Affection is what occupies the interval. ... It surges in the center of determination, that is to say in the subject, between a perception which is troubling in certain respects and a hesitant action. It is a coincidence of subject and object, or the way in which the subject perceives itself, or rather experiences itself or feels itself 'from the inside.'
Gilles Deleuze, as cited by Brott, p58

Often citing canonical examples of architecture's past century as positive embodiments of this theory and thoroughly denouncing others as representatives of other theories that have historically gone by the wayside (i.e deconstructivism), I believe it would be privy to question the truth-value of this theory itself. My doubts lie in the process of the subject's reconstitution in an inherently heterotropic and as such fragmentary urbanism. Is creating architecturally subjective 'moments' enough to effectively constitute a sustainable free subjectivity? My intuition falls on a more critical investigation of cinematic temporality as a subjective framework, in the network (metaphysical reality) of effects rather than the production (virtual ontology) of effects themselves. That said, this book is of great efficacy in discursively revealing the 'degree zero' of architectural potentiality, and as such the horizon of praxis upon which we work in and and build upon.

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