Image: Manfredo Tafuri
Download the PDF of Manfredo Tafuri’s “‘Gay errancy’: Hypermoderns (postmoderns).”
It is well known that in Italy, Portoghesi launched a style that has been called “postmodern” with his Strada Novissima and a dense series of publications, and thus joined an international circuit that includes analogous “opinion-makers” such as Charles Jencks and Robert Stern. Portoghesi was different, though, in that he had a long theoretical and practical interest in the manipulation of historical signs: as we have seen, his first neobaroque experiments began in the late fifties. His more recent “manifestos” are linear. They contain an appeal for a “liberation from ideas” supposedly imposed upon architects and their beneficiaries by the “modern movement,” for a joyous rediscovery of the entire repertory of the I past, for expressive contaminations of the complexity of historical eras, and for a formal expressiveness linked to the recovery of the concepts of place and continuity. Portoghesi also engaged in a critique of the utopia of the “modern” and of its nihilistic character, which was spiritually grounded in the ideology of progress. “Liberation” is presented as overcoming avant-garde attempts to “reconstruct the universe,” and also as canceling incongruous duties, in order to recover the happiness of “rich languages” that have been lost. Echoes of the philosophical writings of [Martin] Heidegger, [Arnold] Gehlen, [Gilles] Deleuze, and [Emmanuel] Lévinas — listening, simulacrum, post-histoire, angel of history — possibly mediated by Mario Perniola and Gianni Vattimo, punctuate Portoghesi’s writings, as he travels the seas of contemporary thought, a voyage that, as we shall see, has its own particular significance.
A hedonistic urge and a taste for citation, as well as free association and pastiche, counterbalance each other in the proposals of Portoghesi, whose theoretical production has been accompanied by skillful professional and promotional activities. This man and the review Eupalino soon became the focal points of a composite school intent on using design and writing to breathe new life into a stringent critique of the “modern,” thereby hailing the advent of a new era.
Portoghesi gathers almost all the motifs that have been floating about in the international architectural and philosophical debate of recent decades. His theoretical system accommodates a broad spectrum of issues: a critique of the linear concept of history, a reflection upon memory, the need for a new nonmetaphysical statute for truth, the emergence of new demands for identity and what can be imagined, the demand for peripheral identities, the cult of roots, and the explosion of ephemeral hedonisms. In fact, his cultural project is to make debate a priority once again, focused upon passwords such as the “end of prohibitionism,” rediscovered architecture, historical roots, and listening to the site and to history. In this way, the factors characterizing Italian architecture at the present — the multiplication of ideas and the slow formation of parameters of comparison — are flattened in a synthetic attempt, launched with the explicit goal of cultural “management.” And that is not all. The reduction of pluralism to a formula includes a study of the true nature of kitsch: there is an answer for everything, and the need for solutions predominates. Continue reading