Saturday, July 13, 2013

14.2. K. Michael Hays - Ludwig Hilberseimer and the Inscription of the Paranoid Subject

The architecture of both Hannes Meyer (whose work was the subject matter of the first part of this book, previously discussed here) and Ludwig Hilberseimer can only be appropriately understood as pivotal figures in Modern Architecture if observed as a part of a larger avant-garde movement that swept throughout Europe in the early 20th century, manifesting itself in a particularly radical form in the years following World War I within the geopolitical context of Germany and the Weimar Republic. Despite the undeniable pedagogical and conceptual influence these two architects had upon the historical development of architecture as a modern discipline, it still may be pertinent for some to question whether and why we (as architects) should view them as an integral part of our ancestral lineage, particularly when the affective reasons not to do so are readily apparent in their interpretably fascistic aesthetic. Akin to other notable Germans such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger in the years following World War II, it is therefore the task of any writer who seeks to treat these two architects as a historical force, particularly as one that cannot be ignored, to distinguish right from wrong, good from bad, safe from dangerous. But the question still remains: what value is to their potential good if it can hermeneutically result in such bad? Can the two really be separable? To the extent that it is this very separation, inscribed deeply into the modern subject, that acted as the impetus and central problematic for their works, we must answer yes.

Perhaps one of the most enigmatic characteristics of their work, particularly noticeable in the extensive writings of Ludwig Hilberseimer, is the extent to which it was predicated on the interpretation of contemporary metropolitan conditions and the subsequent formulation and projection of an immanent form of metropolitan subjectivity. In this sense, the work can paradoxically be 'diagnosed' as diagrammatic and realist, acting more as a rhetorical device of reflective self-awareness than ethical statements on the way things should be. This is not to say that the architects were disinvested in the projections they were making: their use of architecture as a diagram is a carefully deduced conclusion from a series of political and ideological beliefs. It is therefore from the vantage point of a particular subject position, perhaps itself related to the problematic subjective mode of the industrial city, which the architects themselves sought to representationally embody through the creative medium of architecture.

This approach to a problematic subjectivity is peculiar from a methodological standpoint, and is perhaps more important at this point than the historically contingent problematic mode of subjectivity itself. The approach can be conceived of as such: if there is a problem for the subject, it could be logically assumed that the cause of the problem is not the subject itself (in its agency/will), or else the subject would act to correct that problem. Let us think of the problematic situation as that of the relation between the humanist model of subjectivity, one based on identity, unity, authenticity, sincerity, quality, meaning, definition, value, etc., and the modern industrial metropolitan society in which the subject inhabits, one based on economics, mechanization, repetition, ambiguity, abstraction, optimization, totalization, etc. The problematic relation between the individual and society (or part and the whole) is certainly not a modern invention, but its modern incarnation is particular in that the subject is alienated, structurally incapable of 'correcting' the problem, inherent to the problem's essential indeterminacy, ambiguity and deferral. Based on these presuppositions (which we will take up in closer detail later on), the question then stands as, how can the subject deal with the pathological consequences of this situation, one in which the subject is not the origin and can only marginally effect its manifestation? 
"For Adorno, as for Mies, the renunciation of humanist subjectivity is consequent to an act of 'immersion in particularity,' of the subject giving itself over to the object (in Mies's case the city), which leads not to the subject's self-discovery but to the discovery of a social structure in a particular historical configuration. ... [Mies's early unrealized skyscraper projects] plunge into the chaos of the metropolis to seek another order within it through a systematic use of the unexpected, the aleatory, the inexplicable. [They] are objects in crisis. They attest to the fact that the humanist conceptions of formal rationality and self-creating subjectivity cannot cope with the irrationality of actual experience. In the modern city, such constructs of rationality fail to function, and the mind, the subject, is consequently unable to perceive a pattern in the chaos. At such a moment, the subject has its one opportunity to escape reification: by thinking through what it is that causes reality to appear to be only a collection of fragmented images; by looking for structures and processes operating in time behind what appears to be given and objectified; by constructing, in an aesthetic modality, a cognitive mechanism understood 'as a dialectically entwined and explicatively undecipherable unity of concept and matter.' Crisis, in short, is converted into a critical mediation between various levels of form and its social context. And the other aspect of Mies's 'exact fantasy' ... attempts to negate that contextual status quo, asserting itself as a radically different, subversive object within an unsatisfactory social and physical fabric" (Hays, p.190-194)
Mies's posthumanist approach to a politically operative architecture can therefore be construed as follows: within metropolitan social space, architecture can interject an objective presence of the other, a sign of contingency, and through its immanent juxtaposition allow the subject to dialectically rationalize the fragmented-whole and the significance of that very difference. The subject therefore does not change the problematic situation, but instead gains a degree of faith that the problematic situation may not one day be as such; indeed, the solution bears the mark of the problem itself: deferred, ambiguous, sublated. Hilberseimer's approach bears the same genetic code of negation, but is singular with regards to the extent he is able and willing to take it. He critically faults Mies's architecture for slipping back into the fallacies of expressionism, the humanist direct causal relation "between matter and spirit, between daily life and life's essence", despite bearing the flag subversion.
"the nostalgia for past totalities, the welling up and formal dramatization of subjective protest against the objective universe that threatens to crush the individual, along with the provincialism of presentness, what [Hilberseimer] called 'the unshakable belief in one's own face,' these expressionist tendencies effectively block the possibility of any genuine opening onto the future, of imagining a future that might be constitutionally (rather than affectively) different from the present." (Hays, p.220)
If Mies essentially located the solution to modernity's problematic subjectivity in the appearance of space (which we could therefore conjecture that Mies locates the problem itself as being one of spatial appearance), we could henceforth posit that Hilberseimer locates the problem (and its solution) neither in space nor the subject, but a shared existential principle between the two. This is to say, yes, the subject is alienated, but so is the city. Hilberseimer thus asked the question, what if the subject is not alienated from the city and vice versa, but the two are equally alienated from the same thing? Hilberseimer prescribes the same ontological status to the subject and to the city itself, united them in a dialectical, mediated relation. 
"Between the multilayered functions within the city, the means of production, and the architectural form that is supposed to be their product, there is not the determined correspondence necessary for a notion of origin. On the one hand, the serial, cellular organism that constitutes Hilberseimer's city follows from the placable logic of the city's production cycles. But it is not transparent to those cycles. It is rather a tissue of representation that reveals only their most salient contours. Hilberseimer's project organizes a metaphor for the city's own productive and functional procedures, mediating those procedures through the conventions of architectural form and thus effectively truncating the complex technical, social, and economic conditions that produced the project, concealing the 'real' origins of its formation by displacing them with a substitute-an irreducibly architectural form." (Hays, p.179-180)
At this point it is important to turn our gaze to the contextual specificity of Hilberseimer's early years in the Weimar Republic. Following the First World War, a specifically new mode of subjectivity was actively projected to reconcile the social and political tensions brought about by the forces of Modernity, whose latent antagonism could be conjecturally claimed to have helped to engender the war itself. Modernity's primary instruments of change, industrialization, was recognized as an extant fact, an irreversible presence, and its pregnant futures were subsequently evaluated. Despite its inherent potential for communalization, the split subjectivity of Modernity effectively undermined the possibility of a causal and determined faith in a single mega-identity such as the state or even a meta-identity such as a community. The contingent forms and processes of the present that engender its alienated, distracted, paranoid, schizophrenic subjectivity, in a truly anti-humanist gesture, were projectively naturalized under the pretenses that what we thought to be a problem is only a problem if we view it as such, and therefore, if shifted in a parallax, is not only not the problem, but the very base condition for the possibility of a solution. In other words, despite Modernities' contingent nature, it is real, and despite causing the will to escape and flee to the utopia 'before the fall', such a metaphysical revolution is perhaps even more transcendental than the development of an immanent and contemporary subjectivity. The task of avant-garde political action was therefore first and foremost to expose the present as an immanent and singular historical temporality, and therefore liberate it from the contingencies of the past. Perhaps due to its unparalleled generative, autopoietic, and ideological force it provided to Modernism, capitalism was conclusively interpreted as a necessary essence to the present, as the existential cause of both the subject and the city, and as such the condition for its future. Furthermore, capitalism itself is predicated on, if not inaugurating itself, this anti-humanist avant-garde metaphysics.
"capitalism is a stage in the process of demystification (Entzauberung) by which history, through unsentimental rationalization, continually dismantles those superstructural and naturalizing myths whose regressive effect is to prolong the notion of some unchanging and proprietary human essence.
'However, the rationale of the capitalist economic system is not reason itself but obscured reason. ...  It does not encompass human beings. The operation of the production process is not set up to take them into consideration, nor is the formation of the socio-economic organization based on them. There is not one single instance where the system is based on human essences. ... Capitalism does not rationalize too much but too little' [Kracauer, "The Mass Ornament," 70, as quoted by Hays]
The sign of capitalist thought is abstraction, but the present state of abstractness is ambivalent; its alternative poles are the growth of abstract thought or the decline into false concreteness. All of which means that the process of demystification and demythologizing is incomplete." (Hays, p.265-266)
Hays's diagnosis of Hilberseimer as a paranoiac projectionist has become evident in these bare revelations of his methodological presuppositions, from which we can begin to formulate a critique. Primarily, if we view his anti-humanist approach as intent on separating that which is necessary from that which is contingent, seeking for solely that which is necessary ('functionalism'), Hilberseimer views the past as contingent and the present as necessary. A problem quickly arises when we think of the terms 'past' and 'present' as things that can be either contingent or necessary: necessity implies corporeal embodiment, a material presence, an objective definition, an absolute inertia, whereas contingency presupposes that whatever is contingent exists but theoretically can not, affording it the status of being 'immaterial'. It is therefore contradictory to believe that the present, that which passes day by day, is necessary, and that the past, that which remains, is contingent. Evidenced by the immemorial western cultural beginnings of the 21st century, a paradoxical effect is produced when the present is conceived of as a temporal necessity in that it automatically not only becomes contingent, but simply not a part of the present (and as such, disappears).

When confronted with the will and subsequent impossibility of utilizing the present as a necessary thing, Hilberseimer was forced to abstract its referent, metropolitan vitality, the busyness of the streets, the sound of the industrial machines, the anguished citizen, into its causal force, which, particularly in the moment of the Weimar Republic, was easily identifiable as capitalism. Hilberseimer needed to abstract his metropolitan context in order to posit the present as necessary (and in his opinion, the future as possible), to locate a seed of the positive (future) within the negative (present), ultimately resulting in a diagram of architecture's potential to be a part, and as such a potential guide, to the project of the city. Despite his resolutely anti-humanist ideology, Hilberseimer was surreptitiously only able to represent that image of the future by resorting to a humanist epistemology that is based on fixed identities, timeless essences, absolute truths and pure meanings. Despite the fact that Hilberseimer abstracted, he still abstracted it into a thing: by Hilberseimer's logic, capitalism itself was an essential necessity to the metropolis of his time and was therefore the elementary possibility for the realization of its will-to-future (based out of a discontent with the present).
"Hilberseimer's solution, however, is not to reassert the now discredited forms of individual unity or transcendental subjectivity, but to totalize the disunifying components of the real with an entirely different conception of the subject. The amalgam of Riegl's supraindividual Kunstwollen [the will-to-art] and Nietzsche's will to power ... replaces the individual subject in a construction that can totalize capitalism as the socioeconomic force of modern society, Fordism or Taylorism as its logic of instrumentalization, cellular repetition and seriality as its architectural form, and dispersion as the subjective condition of everyday life. The very concept of the subject is thus prized loose from the embodied individual and catapulted into some ontological sphere, and there the Kunstwollen, suitably ambiguous, can play its totalizing role. The fundamental category under which Hilberseimer's thought operates is that of the latitudinal whole: we oscillate back and forth between the cellular and structural, molecular and molar, local and global, between euphoria and distraction, until a totality of 'will' is reached. As the Kunstwollen becomes a kind of field phenomenon, it appears to operate as a virtual subject, accountable to no one while seeming to account for everything, and thus resolving the tension between the impacted closure of the present structural matrix and that impossible, free-floating, and inchoate future to be installed in its place." (Hays, p.272-273)
I would like to draw attention to what I believe is a non-coincidental relation between the notion of metropolitan architecture as an abstract diagram, industrial capitalism as an economic model, and a non-humanist future as an historical possibility of transcendence. All of these three projects converged in a single historical moment in post World War I Germany and the Weimar Republic, and through their dynamic positive feedback reached new representational and epistemological limits, the fruits of which we are still discovering today. But despite this immense capacity for theoretical productivity, the problematic nature of subjectivity which Hilberseimer and his contemporaries sought to mediate and overcome has arguably only become intensified since the aesthetic project of the avant-garde began. Furthermore, an affinity between Meyer & Hilberseimer's theoretical project and the alienated autopoiesis of the contemporary metropolitan multitude again calls into question the potential value of Hilberseimer's discourse as an operative critique and not merely a reflective image. 
"what seems to structure Hilmerseimer's punctually felt urge to totalize is, as I have said, a kind of paranoia: a paranoia that is all to cognizant of everyday life, all too aware of a world out of control, and that consequently tries to fend off the threatening and destructive identification between the discursive formations of architecture and social reality in favor of some more affirmational construction of the same." ... "The totalization is fundamentally imaginary in Lacan's sense, which is to say it is illusory with respect to the chaotic reality of the city and the body (Lacan's corps morcelĂ©), and it is essentially visual, for it is only before a visual image, a Vorbild, that the subject constructs its 'beautiful totality,' even at the same time that that image 'prefigures its alienating destination; [the image] is still pregnant with the correspondences that unite the I with the statue in which man projects himself, with the phantoms that dominate him, or with the automaton in which, in an ambiguous relation, the world of his own making tends to find completion.'" (Hays, p.274)

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