Friday, August 16, 2013

18. Doug Spencer - Architectural Deleuzism

The essay written by Doug Spencer entitled 'Architectural Deleuzism' was originally published in the journal Radical Philosophy in 2011 and is taken from his Ph.D which is currently being reformulated into book form under the provisional title 'An Architecture of Compliance', on "neoliberal/managerial governmentality and architecture." while the essay had come into my purview some time ago, I would like to thank Ross Wolfe for raising it to my attention again.

The premise of the essay is rather straightforward and executed with stunning clarity and impressive rigor. Spencer's argument is to demonstrate how the critical devices of Deleuze & Guattari's repitoire were subsumed and coopted by the emerging market logic of the 1990's through their very politicization. In other words, how in both the architectural and theoretical work of, for example, Patrick Schumacher and Alejandro Zaera-Polo, critical concepts such as the smoothing of space and the autonomy of affect were implemented with explicitly political intentions (perhaps instead of critical intentions, and as such possible to realize in the market) and surreptitiously furthered the hegemonic reach of the very problematic these concepts were originally developed to dismantle. Spencer is able to make his critique transcend scales, ranging from managerial plans to facade patterns.

Key to the type of criticism Spencer deploys, which in its sheer power and ingenuity could, should act as a model for the criticism-to-come, is a Marxist approach. I hesitate to write this word, but there is simply no other way to describe his methodology. The hesitation is not just for fear that people will be instantly turned off from reading the essay or form preestablished judgements, but because Marx is not present in the essay, but more infiltrates it in every thought. Therefore, Spencer's methodology is Marxist insofar as it is methodological and critically grounded. It is not clear in its reading any sort of class antagonism, highly suitable for today's complex context of causality, but moreso "the market" is framed nebulously and frustratingly intangible (as it is, is it not?). Spencer's motivation, if I may make a conjecture, is fundamentally based on revealing the contemporary techniques of exploitation, in decodifying the complexities of contemporary power as it is immanently manifest in architecture, not necessarily to say what is to be done, but to raise awareness to the effects of what is done.

I will end this post with a series of quotes from the essay. The essay is available online (again thanks to Ross), which I would recommend to anyone interested in the future of critical politics.

" Between Deleuze’s ‘sieve whose mesh will trans-mute from point to point’ and ‘gradient vectors of transformation’, on the one hand, and Schumacher’s ‘spaces of enclosure’ and ‘clearly bounded realms’, on the other, the account of a transition from a striated to a smooth space can be followed in parallel across both passages. The movement that can be traced between them, however, when the passages are returned to the frame of their respective contexts, is one from critique to valorization; from Deleuze’s warning to Schumacher’s affirmation. This movement paradoxically turns Deleuze’s analysis of a nascent control mechanism into a prescription for its implementation.Critique is absorbed into the very forms of knowledge and power it had sought to denounce in order to reinvent and valorize their operation." p12

" Only within the business organization, [Zaera-Polo] argues, can the ‘progressive realities’ – such as ‘de-hierarchization, matrix andnetwork organization, flexible specialization, loose and multiple coupling, etc.’ – thus be found to fill this‘ideological vacuum’. These ‘progressive realities’ are, in any case, not seen as the creations of business itself, but as conditions ‘forced upon the capitalist enterpriseby the new degree of complexity and flexibility of thetotal production process’. Hence they can be brack-eted from their neoliberal context, and then pursued, in themselves, as a means by which architecture can locate and pursue a supposedly emancipatory project." p13

" Treated as a means to an end, affect becomes reifiedand is turned to a use opposite to that suggested by Deleuze and Guattari: rather than a path towards the deterritorialization of subject positions imposed by a molar order, affect serves to reterritorialize the subject within an environment governed by neoliberal imperatives." p19

" What is presented as an emancipatory release from the confines of a disciplinary model of spatial programmes operates, in fact, as a means through which former spaces of enclosure are opened out to the market as an uncontested mechanism of valorization." p20


  1. Friend and fellow blogger Léopold Lambert of The Funambulist just made a prescient observation regarding my consideration of Marx in relation to Spencer:

    "the appropriate word was probably more Marxian than Marxist. It is I think understood that a Marxian analysis is a description of capitalism according to Marx's book whereas a Marxist reading is more calling for an utopian society to replace this system"

    1. I personally have never liked this distinction much, but Léopold's point is valid considering the generally-accepted meanings of the two adjectives. "Marxian" usually signifies some sort of fidelity to the critical aspect of Marx's project, whereas "Marxist" usually signifies some claim to its political aspect.

  2. I'm very happy to have my work described as Marxian, in terms of its 'fidelity [broadly] to the critical aspect of Marx's project'. I'm even happier to read, here, how clearly and concisely the aims and methods of the essay have been represented and appreciated. I would add that, in the PhD that this was drawn from, I had originally hoped to mobilise a Marxian Deleuze against his interpreters in architectural discourse. However, I found, or rediscovered, a more robust weapon of critique in Adorno. It's his writing that inspired the desire to move back and forth, dialectically, between scales, and between concept and affect. I think I could pull it off better - I hope to in some forthcoming writing - but that's the ambition. Adorno also inspires in his insistence that aesthetics have to be thought, in fact depend, he argues, on interpretation to reveal their 'truth content', whereas much contemporary architecture is premised on the aestheticization of theory to produce an anaesthetics of 'pure affect' (the 'post-representational, post-linguistic etc.)