Thursday, April 25, 2013

7. Jean Baudrillard & Jean Nouvel - The Singular Objects of Architecture

It is only since the time this book was published, in 2002, as we have grown accustomed to seeing it next to the likes of Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Daniel Libeskind, et al, that it would appear odd to find Jean Nouvel's name next to a philosopher of Baudrillard's kind. Despite his inauguration into the world order, it is perhaps no coincidence that these two came together on two separate occasions to converse, from which this book, The Singular Objects of Architecture, is the result (it would behoove us to remember that Nouvel started his architectural career by collaborating with Paul Virilio and Claude Parent).

Their dialog is extremely deep, yet at times non sequitur, as if the two were not talking directly to each other, but past, and towards a common point outside of each somewhere in the distance. Although Baudrillard famously wrote about the Beaubourg and a resident of Paris during the construction of Nouvel's seminal Arab World Institute and Foundation Cartier, and Nouvel's vocalized recognition of Baudrillard's work, the conversation is not about architecture per se, nor philosophy. The two settle on what we can call 'the metaphysics of space' and the future of the city.

Both situate their work as addressing the conditions of postmodernism, the oversignification of hyper-reality, which they locate singularity as a mode of resistance.
"J.B. A successful object, in the sense that it exists outside its own reality, is an object that creates a dualistic relation, a relation that can emerge through diversion, contradiction, destabilization, but which effectively brings the so-called reality of a world and its radical illusion face-to-face." (p9)
Nouvel's preliminary claim of the architect's and architecture's role is to "define a place" (p6) and the subsequently modern notion of happiness, but their conversation gravitates around the shared conclusion that the epistemological foundation for place has been sublated, and as such the purpose of architecture (p19). In this situation, the singular potential for architecture becomes somewhat representative of this disjunctive paradox: the over signification of the built environment and its impossibility of meaning anything. The production of the unknown, intrigue, uncertainty and ambiguity become the contemporary purpose of spatial objects.
"J.N. Such technological innovations are heading in the direction of new sensations and added comfort, in the direction of new forms of pleasure. So maybe the situation isn't as desperate as all that!
J.B. I wasn't talking about despair. I simply find that there is a strange attraction, a fascination with such things ... Is fascination a form of happiness? For me it is, but it's not the happiness associated with seduction; it's something else. The vertigo [of fascination] that pushes us to go further and further in that direction exists, clearly, and we all share in it collectively, but we have to make sure that when we reach the boundaries of our exploration, we don't trigger processes that are completely obliterating." (p32)
Despite more simple pragmatic objects, such as the fact that we likely would not be able to recognize obliterating processes if they were to occur, and even if they were, we would be additionally unlikely to attribute a direct causality to them, my objection with these highly postmodern claims is that they are both blatantly apolitical, though moreso in this specific example Nouvel: the conditions which engender the objects are neither touched nor modified; they assume social and spatial relations to be ossified, and the project of pleasure becomes one of the 'less bad.' Baudrillard's nihilistic apoliticality is located earlier:
"J.B. Precisely because to create something of an inverse universe, you must completely destroy that sense of fullness, that sense of ripe visibility, that oversignification we impose on things." (p11)
Neither does the destruction of signification stop the signification machine from reinscribing the destroyed signifier back into the chain of significance, nor does it actually do anything to "create something of an inverse universe." There is paradoxically a causal chain assumed between the destruction of signified objects to a new non-signifying machine, but this belief has been proven to not be the case in neoliberal capitalism, particularly when the insignificant becomes significant:
"J.N. We found ourselves with a body of architectural material - things that were built, abandoned, rebuilt - which have to be modified or demolished; in any case, that what we have to work with. It's not a question of any prior intention to conserve a certain number of signs of the past, nor of 'rehabilitating,' in the conventional sense of the term, some sort of 'refined bourgeois taste, the essence of the picturesque.' It's about creating architecture, meaning and essence, from some raw, unworked material."  (p42)
Even though Nouvel takes a novel approach to this metaphysical paradox by seeming to erase the distinction between the significant and the insignificant (p45), Baudrillard identifies the paradox itself as the problem, in the virtualization of significance (p47).

Since these discussions took place, this metaphysical situation of architecture and the city has not changed: its problematic nature has only been further revealed into plane sight. Even though its faults may not be new and may have even been there all along, neither nihilistic passivity nor blissful servitude is necessary. The bigger problem than significance itself is its realization. Things signify. Signification is a gift, and a weapon. For something to be significant to anyone is to have it mean nothing to everyone.
"J.B. Anything can be appreciated; I'm very skeptical about the notion ... It's not a question of relations, affects. You can have an affect for any object whatsoever that singularizes it for you. But at some point, what's needed is a different kind of awareness. If you like it, it becomes your dog and not someone else's. But this is something different, which is harder to articulate, because it can't be grasped intellectually ... It even seems to be that there's something a bit demoniacal in it." (p67)
We are saturated with signification. We create significations, we receive significations, we preserve significations, we destroy significations. But what about the sign's themselves? We do battle amongst ourselves through our signs, despite its disastrous human consequences. Signs contest each other's survival through us, with seemingly no repercussions aside from nostalgia. We could certainly imagine waging war with others because of who they are, and we would deem it unethical. What would a virtual war of signs look like? Would we think of it as wrong, or is it the right we need?

No comments:

Post a Comment