Manfredo Tafuri

The historical project

Manfredo Tafuri
The Sphere and the

There comes a moment (though not always) in research when all the pieces begin to fall into place, as in a jigsaw puzzle. But unlike the jigsaw puzzle, where all the pieces are near at hand and only one figure can be assembled (and thus the correctness of each move be determined immediately), in research only some of the pieces are available, and theoretically more than one figure can be made from them. In fact, there is always the risk of using, more or less consciously, the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle as blocks in a construction game. For this reason, the fact that everything falls into place is an ambiguous sign: either one is completely right or completely wrong. When wrong, we mistake for objective verification the selection and solicitation (more or less deliberate) of the evidence, which is forced to confirm the presuppositions (more or less explicit) of the research itself. The dog thinks it is biting the bone and is instead biting its own tail.[1]

In this way Carlo Ginzburg and Adriano Prosperi synthesize the labyrinthine path of historical analysis and the dangers with which it is fraught, in one of the few recent volumes that have had the courage to describe, not the Olympian and definitive results of research, but rather its tortuous and complex iter. But why should we propose, at the beginning of a volume dedicated to the adventures of architectural language, the problem of the “jigsaw puzzles” characteristic of historical research? In the first place, we could answer that our intention is to follow an indirect path. Contrary to those who pose the theme of architectural writing — the term “language” should, it seems to us, be adopted only as a metaphor[2] — we shall present the theme of critical writing: is it not the function of criticism to constitute the historical (and thus the real) specificity of artistic writings? Does not historical work possess a language that, entering perpetually into conflict with the multiple techniques of environmental formation, can function like litmus paper to verify the correctness of discourses on architecture?

Only in appearance, then, will we speak of something else. For how often, when probing what is on the fringes of a given problem, do we discover the most useful keys for dealing with the problem itself — particularly if it is as equivocal as the one that we are about to examine.

Let us further define our theme. Architecture, language, techniques, institutions, historical space: are we simply lining up on a wire stretched over a void a series of problems, each with its own intrinsic characteristics, or can we legitimately contest the “terms” used here to trace these problems back to an underlying or hidden structure, in which these words can find a common meaning on which to rest? It is no accident that we have reduced to “words” the density of historically stratified disciplines. Every time, in fact, that the critic’s zeal causes his guilty conscience to erupt, constructing linear routes that force architecture to migrate into language, language into institutions, and institutions into the all-encompassing universality of history, one feels the need to ask how such a totally illegitimate simplification could gain currency.

After the persuasive demonstrations of the untranslatability of architecture into linguistic terms, after Saussure’s discovery that language itself is a “system of differences,” after the calling into question of the conspicuous features of institutions, historical space appears to dissolve, to disintegrate, to become a justification for disordered and elusive multiplicity, a space of domination. Is this not the final outcome reached by a good part of the “Lacanian left” or by an epistemology of pure registration? And after all, is not architectural writing (this phantasm that we now recognize as divided and multiplied into techniques incommunicable among one another) itself an institution, a signifying practice — an ensemble of signifying practices — a multiplicity of projects of domination?

Is it possible to make a history from such “projects” without breaking away from them, without abandoning the multiple perspectives of history itself, and without inquiring into that which permits the very existence of history? Is it still necessary to remember that the totality of the capitalist means of production is a condition for both the cohesion and the diffraction of techniques, that the “mystical character of the commodity” breaks up and multiplies the relationships that are at the base of its own reproduction?

A series of questions confronts the historian who discovers the dishomogeneity of the materials of his work. These questions go to the very roots of historiographical work, uniting indissolubly the question of languages, of techniques, of sciences, of architecture, with that of the languages of history. But which history? Toward what productive ends? With what long-term objectives?

The questions that we are posing arise from a precise assumption. History is viewed as a “production,” in all senses of the term: the production of meanings, beginning with the “signifying traces” of events; an analytical construction that is never definite and always provisional; an instrument of deconstruction of ascertainable realities. As such, history is both determined and determining: it is determined by its own traditions, by the objects that it analyzes, by the methods that it adopts; it determines its own transformations and those of the reality that it deconstructs. The language of history therefore implies and assumes the languages and the techniques that act and produce the real: it “contaminates” those languages and those techniques and, in turn, is “contaminated” by them. With the fading away of the dream of knowledge as a means to power, the constant struggle between the analysis and its objects — their irreducible tension — remains. Precisely this tension is “productive”: the historical “project” is always the “project of a crisis.”[3] Franco Rella writes:

Interpretive knowledge has a conventional character and is a production, a positing of a meaning-in-relation and not an uncovering of the meaning. But what is the limit of this operari, of this activity? What is the locus of this relationship? What lies behind the Fiktion of the subject, of the thing, of the cause, of the being? What, then, can bear this “awful plurality”? The body. “The phenomenon of the body is the richest, the most significant [deutlichere], the most tangible phenomenon: to be discussed first [voranzustellen] methodologically, without coming to any decision about its ultimate meaning.”[4] This, then, is the limit of interpretation, that is to say the locus of the description… In fact, through criticism and the “plurality of interpretation” we have acquired the strength “not to want to contest the world’s restless and enigmatic character,” and in this way genealogy has proved itself to be a critique of values, for it has discovered the material origin of them, the body.[5]

Thus emerges the problem of the “construction” of the object — disciplines, techniques, analytical instruments, long-term structures — to be put in crisis. Immediately the historian is confronted with the problem of the “origins” of the cycles and phenomena that are the objects of his study. But is it not precisely in the study of long-term phenomena that the theme of the origin seems mythological? However much Weber’s “ideal types” or Panofsky’s conceptual structures appear to be instrumental abstractions, is it not precisely in them that the fundamental difference between beginning and origin is posed? And why a beginning? Is it not more “productive” to multiply the “beginnings,” recognizing that where everything conspires to make one recognize the transparency of a unitary cycle there lies hidden an intertwining of phenomena that demands to be recognized as such?

In effect, to link the problem of history with the rediscovery of mythical “origins” presupposes an outcome totally rooted in nineteenth-century positivism. In posing the problem of an “origin,” we presuppose the discovery of a final point of arrival: a destination point that explains everything, that causes a given “truth,” a primary value, to burst forth from the encounter with its originary ancestor. Against such an infantile desire to “find the murderer,” Michel Foucault has already counterposed a history that can be formulated as genealogy: “Genealogy does not oppose itself to history as the lofty and profound gaze of the philosopher might compare to the mole-like perspective of the scholar; on the contrary, it rejects the metahistorical deployment of ideal significance and indefinite teleologies. It opposes itself to the search for ‘origins’.”[6] Not by chance does Foucault base on Nietzsche his “archaeology of knowledge,” which, like Nietzsche’s genealogy, is “made up of little, not obvious truths, arrived at by a rigorous method.”[7] To avoid the chimera of origin, the genealogist must avoid all notions of linear causality. He thus exposes himself to a risk, provoked by the shocks and accidents, by the weak point or points of resistance that history itself presents. There is no constancy in such a genealogy, but above all no “rediscovery” and no “rediscovery of ourselves.” For “knowledge is not made for understanding; it is made for cutting. “[8]

So, in opposition to wirkliche Historie [real or actual history], then, an analysis capable of reconstructing the event in its most singular and precise character and of restoring to the irruption of an event its disruptive character. But this analysis primarily serves “to smash to bits those tendencies that have encouraged the consoling play of recognitions.” Recognition, in fact, presupposes what is already known: the unity of history — the subject to be “re-cognized” — is based on the unity of the structures on which it rests, on the unity, as well, of its single elements. Foucault makes quite explicit the consequences of such a cruel “will to knowledge” exempt from consolatory temptations:

Even in the greatly expanded form it assumes today the will to knowledge does not achieve a universal truth; man is not given an exact and serene mastery over nature. On the contrary, it ceaselessly multiplies the risks, creates dangers in every area; it breaks down illusory defenses; it dissolves the unity of the subject; it releases those elements of itself that are devoted to its subversion and destruction.[9]

This is exactly what Nietzsche had predicted in Aurora: “Knowledge has been transformed in us into a passion that shrinks at no sacrifice, at bottom fears nothing but its own extinction.”[10] And in Beyond Good and Evil, he went on to warn that “it might be a basin characteristic of existence that those who reach absolute knowledge of it face their own annihilation. “[11]

But is not this limit, this mortal risk, the same one that language runs when it tries to theorize itself perfectly? Is not the crystalline purity that one claims from history analogous to what Wittgenstein regarded as the preconceived idea of the crystalline purity of language? What guarantee do I have that, after breaking up and dissociating stratifications that I recognize as already plural in themselves, I will not arrive at a dissemination that is an end in itself ? In fact, by instituting differences and disseminations, as Derrida does, I actually run the risk of encountering the “annihilation” predicted and feared by Nietzsche. But perhaps the real danger does not lie even here. The danger that menaces the genealogies of Foucault — the genealogies of madness, of the clinic, of punishment, of sexuality — as well as the disseminations of Derrida, lies in the reconsecration of the microscopically analyzed fragments as new units autonomous and significant in themselves. What allows me to pass from a history written in the plural to a questioning of that very plurality?

Undoubtedly, for both Nietzsche and Freud theoretical language must comprise within itself a plurality: the plurality of the subject, of knowledge, of institutions. Once language has been discovered to be only one of the ways of organizing the real, it becomes necessary to introject the profound fragmentation of the real itself. Hence it must be made clear that history cannot be reduced to a hermeneutics, that history’s objective is not to rend the “veil of Maya” covering the truth, but rather to shatter the barriers that it itself sets up, in order to proceed and to go beyond itself. There is no point in identifying these barriers with the great institutions. Power is itself plural: it runs through and cuts across social classes, ideologies, and institutions. On this we can still agree with Foucault: a single locus of Great Refusal does not exist; only from within systems of power can the mechanisms of power be known.[12]

In other words, it must be clearly understood that between institutions and power systems perfect identity does not exist. Architecture itself, inasmuch as it is an institution, is anything but a unitary ideological block: as with other linguistic systems, its ideologies act in a highly nonlinear fashion. So much so that it is legitimate to suspect that the very criticism of architectural ideology — as it has been conducted up to now — has only reckoned with the most obvious and immediate aspects of that ideology: the refusals, repressions, and introspections, which run through the body of architectural writing. However, to displace the investigation from a text (a work that offers itself up in all its character of apparent completeness) to a context is not sufficient. The context binds together artistic languages, physical realities, behaviors, urban and territorial dimensions, politico-economic dynamics. But it is constantly broken up by “technical accidents”: it is broken up by tactical maneuvers that obscurely intersect larger strategies; it is broken up by subterranean ideologies that nevertheless act on an intersubjective level; it is broken up by the interaction of diverse techniques of domination, each of which possess its own untranslatable language.

Simmel, on the basis of a partial reading of Nietzsche, recognizes this in his Metaphysics of Death: “The secret of form lies in the fact that it is a boundary; it is the thing itself and at the same time the cessation of the thing, the circumscribed territory in which the Being and the No-longer-being of the thing are one in the same. “[13] If form is a boundary, there then arises the problem of the plurality of boundaries-and the calling them into question. It is not by chance that Simmel himself in his essay “Fashion” recognizes that “the way in which it is given to us to comprehend the phenomena of life causes us to perceive a plurality of forces at every point of existence; we feel that each of these forces aspires to surpass the real phenomenon, limiting its own infinity in relation to the others’ and transforming it into pure tension and desire. “[14] And he adds shortly afterward: “The principle of adherence to given formulas, of being and acting like others, is irreconcilably opposed to the striving to advance to ever new and individual forms of life; for this very reason social life represents a battleground, of which every inch is stubbornly contested, and social institutions may be looked upon as the peace treaties, in which the constant antagonism of both principles has been reduced externally to a form of cooperation.”[15]

At issue is not the validation, through Simmel, of the Freud of Eros and Thanatos or — perverse but nonetheless possible — the metaphysics of desire of Deleuze and Guattari. Rather it is a question of recognizing that the thematic of the boundary intrinsic to forms, of the limits of language, is an integral part of a historically determined crisis beyond which (but within the signposts that it has imposed upon us) we are today obliged to situate ourselves. This is to say that one may speak of language only when realizing that there is no place from which an all-encompassing fullness springs forth, because that fullness has been destroyed by history.

The failure of a science of signs in general — of a semiology capable of translating one linguistic system into another — stands before us. One could try endlessly to relate Saussure’s “system of differences” to that of architecture, of the physical environment, of nonverbal languages. One could try endlessly to exorcize the uneasiness provoked by the perception of “epistemological breaks” by attempting to regain the innocence of archetypal symbols; the pyramid, the sphere, the circle, the ellipse, and the labyrinth could be installed as permanent structures of inexplicably changing forms, so that the archaeologist could placate his anxiety by recognizing an “eternal return of the same.” A more radical betrayal of Nietszche cannot be imagined than that which the inattentive readers of Cassirer are capable of carrying out today.

The problem is rather to discover why such a need for certainty still persists, and to ask whether such infantile attempts at reconstructing a lost fullness for disenchanted words are not equivalent to the privilege attributed by Lacan to the pure materiality of the signifier. Once this equivalence is established, all that remains is to attend to the analysis of forms as instantaneous advents of the Subject — the ectoplasms of Borromini, Piranesi, or Le Corbusier would lend themselves perfectly to the game — and their reunification as the manifestation of the world of the Other. The nostalgia for dialectical synthesis, in other words, is fed by terror in the face of “differences” that dominate linguistic games and multiple practices of power dispersed in innumerable mechanisms. The temptation to rediscover a cozy, domestic hearth by resuscitating — through the most underhanded of means — the I think of Kant is intrinsic to the history of a crisis that sets up fragile barriers in the way of its own path of progress.

How much longer must we remind those who cling nostalgically to “centrality” that there is no other alternative, at present, than to trace the history that leads to the divorce between the signifier and the signified, to re-traverse the crisis of that unstable marriage, to concretize its inner structures?

To look for fullness, an absolute coherence in the interaction of the techniques of domination, is thus to put a mask on history; or better, it is to accept the mask with which the past presents itself. Does not the same “ideological crisis” theorized by great bourgeois thought perhaps conceal the appearance of even more underhanded signifying practices, hidden in the folds of the techniques for the transformation of the real? And if that real is the site of a permanent battle, will it not be necessary to penetrate it to bring to light what it contains that is less evident?

“Precisely because Napoleon III was nothing,” writes Marx, “he was able to signify everything, except what he in fact was… He was the common name for all of the parties in coalition… The significance of the election of Napoleon III could only become clear when… the multiple meanings of his name were substituted for the one word Bonaparte.”[16] In place of one, then, there are “multiple meanings.” Only by assuming that hidden plurality as real, can we break through the fetish that attaches itself to a name, a sign, a language, an ideology. With this, we go right back to Nietzsche, who writes in Aurora:

Wherever primitive mankind set up a word they believed that they had made a discovery [Entdeckung]. How different the truth is! They had touched upon a problem, and by supposing they had solved it, they had created an obstacle to its solution. Today, with every new bit of knowledge, one has to stumble over words that are petrified and hard as stones, and one will sooner break a leg than a word.[17]

Inasmuch as the use of language is a technique of domination, it should not be difficult to apply Nietzsche’s observation to other techniques. For example, the whole of Marx’s Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy executes a filtering and rewriting that serves to break “words that are petrified and hard as stones.”

With such “words,” criticism — and not just architectural criticism — constantly constructs impenetrable monuments. The “stones” get piled up; their multiplicity is hidden by buildings that pretend (and pretend only) to give form to an “imaginary library.” Or the opposite occurs: always leaving to the “stones” their indisputable density, caverns are excavated in their interstices. And so criticism finds itself obliged to make superfluous journeys. The phantasms it meets within the false space it itself has carefully delimited assume the most varied guises — urban analysis, typological analysis, semiological analysis — but only to hide the true interlocutor at the bottom of that cavern: dialectical synthesis. Cacciari has recently noted:

There is currently a criticism of dialectical synthesis because this synthesis has been in a crisis, which has marked the history of an entire phase of contemporary development and of the contemporary State… If it is by now “indecent” to speak of the Political in metaphysical terms — or of a political Language that is perspectively privileged, all-encompassing, “panoptic” — then it is equally indecent to want to “save” the forms of the Political as institutions that are in some way “autonomous” with respect to the transitoriness of other languages and to the constant transformation of the “techniques” in whose universe the Political remains inexorably confined.[18]

Architecture as politics is by now such an exhausted myth that it is pointless to waste anymore words on it. But if Power — like the institutions in which it incarnates itself — “speaks many dialects,” the analysis of the “collision” among these dialects must then be the object of historiography. The construction of a physical space is certainly the site of a “battle” [Kampfplatz]: a proper urban analysis demonstrates this clearly. That such a battle is not totalizing, that it leaves borders, remains, residues, is also an indisputable fact. And thus a vast field of investigation is opened up — an investigation of the limits of languages, of the boundaries of techniques, of the thresholds “that provide density.” The threshold, the boundary, the limit all “define”: it is in the nature of such definition that the object so circumscribed immediately becomes evanescent. The possibility of constructing the history of a formal language comes about only by destroying, step by step, the linearity of that history and its autonomy: there will remain only traces, fluctuating signs, unhealed rifts. The “knight’s move” can be historicized as a “game” complete in itself, finite, and therefore tautological. The “many languages” of the forms thus lead us to discover that the limit of the forms themselves does not contain monads casually floating in their “divine” self-transformation. The boundary line — that which the rigorous formalism of Shklovsky, author of the Theory of Prose, or of Fiedler and Riegl has so skillfully traced around the verbal and figurative arts — is there to mark the points of impact that determine the interaction of signifying practices with power practices endowed with their own specific techniques.

But when and why did it come about that the disciplinary fields recognized themselves to be so specific as to become untranslatable into one another, lacking transcendent unifications? When and why did the autonomy of techniques define itself as a permanent crisis, a conflict among languages, and even among the various dialects found within one language alone? Does it help us in some way, in the field of architecture, to recognize its increasingly radical fragmentation, from the eighteenth century on, into disciplinary areas that only a regressive idealism today wants to reestablish as operative unities?

And regarding all this, a new question: is it legitimate to pose the question of when and why without constantly and repeatedly submitting to criticism the theme of the origin? Thus we have come full circle, to face once again the question of genealogy, just as Nietzsche had proposed it — as a “construction” in the true sense of the word, an instrument (modifiable, therefore, and to be consumed) in the hands of the historian.

Historical genealogy presents itself with all the characteristics of a labor: a deconstructive and reconstructive labor, a labor that displaces the Nietzschean “stones” and reassembles them, which produces meanings by re-moving those already given. Jean-Michel Rey has very acutely taken the “massive omissions” that Nietzsche had discovered in the formation of languages, of values, of knowledges and related them to the work of decipherment that Freud indicated as basic for analysis.[19] Freud observes in Moses and Monotheism:

In its implications the distortion of a text resembles a murder: the difficulty is not in perpetrating the deed, but in getting rid of its traces. We might well lend the word Entstellung [distortion] the double meaning to which it has a claim but of which today it makes no use. It should mean not only “to change the appearance of something” but also “to put something in another place, to displace [verschieben].” Accordingly, in many instances of textual distortion, we may nevertheless count upon finding what has been suppressed [das Unterdrückte] and disavowed, hidden away somewhere else, though changed and torn from its context. Only it will not always be easy to recognize it.[20]

Let us try to turn the discourse back on itself. Are not the language of history and the languages codified by critical analysis also “spoken” through a series of censures, repressions, negations? Textual criticism, semantic criticism, iconological reading, the sociology of art, the genealogy of Foucault, our own criticism: are they not techniques that decipher only by hiding the traces of “murders” committed more or less consciously? We could put it in another way and say that even the language of criticism, the language that should “move and break up stones,” is itself a “stone.” How are we to utilize it, then, to prevent it from becoming the instrument of a sacred rite?

Thomas_Cole_-_Architect’s_Dream_-_Google_Art_Project Pages from Jean-Louis Cohen - The Future of Architecture (2012)_Page_1

Perhaps we can now see more clearly the danger that lies in the analyses of a Blanchot, a Barthes, a Derrida. By willingly taking on the plural aspects of objects themselves written in the plural — literary works acting as human sciences — these critical languages prevent themselves from crossing the threshold that divides language from language, one system of power from other systems of power. They can break up works and texts, construct fascinating genealogies, hypnotically illuminate historical knots glossed over by facile readings. But they must necessarily negate the existence of the historic space. It is indisputable that the task of science is to cut rather than to join together. And it is equally indisputable that the true supersignifying metaphor — supersignifying to the point of impenetrability — is the linearity of scientific discourse: a discourse that by definition has sought to eliminate every metaphor from itself. Therefore, it is not against the acceptance of metaphor or aphorism within the historical sciences that we protest. The real problem is how to project a criticism capable of constantly putting itself into crisis by putting into crisis the real. The real, mind you, and not merely its individual sections.

Let us return to Marx: if values pass into ideologies that repress initial needs, we can interpret these ideologies as “delirious representations” in a Freudian sense. On the other hand, a delirious representation is produced socially. The history of German Social Democracy demonstrates how the myth of “fraternity” and peace split up the great Bismarckian strategy and the forces that opposed it. But the myth also splits up the factions within this same opposition and reunites different signifying practices. [Ferdinand] Lassalle, [Karl] Kautsky, the various expressionist currents, the Aktion group, Spartacism, Berlin dadaism, the utopianism of the Gläserne Kette and the Arbeitsrat fur Kunst, come to be “spoken” through instruments laden with interstices — interstices through which the grotesque populist ideologies of [Richard Walther] Darré and [Alfred] Rosenberg can penetrate. Should we really be surprised when we detect affinities between the superman anarchism of [Bruno] Taut’s Alpine Architektur and the horrifying ideologies of the Blut-und-Boden?[21] And yet, these delirious representations turn out to be historically necessary. By suturing the “discontents of civilization,” they permit the survival of that same civilization. But since they act as dams to restrain surging forces, they soon become obstructions if not quickly broken through. The deconstruction of these dams is the task of historical analysis, but not to keep vigil for improbable epiphanies of the individual or collective subject nor to celebrate Masses for flows of desire finally set free to explode.

As representation, history is also the fruit of a repression, of a negation. The problem is to make of that negation a determinate abstraction, to give a sense of direction to theoretical work. Not by chance does Marx employ abstraction for the analysis of political economy.

The determinate abstraction is such only if it knows its own limits: that is, if it is constantly willing to put itself into crisis; if, in transforming and shattering the material of its own analyses — its own ideological dams — it transforms and shatters itself and its own language. Criticism, therefore, is labor in the true sense of the word, and the more fecund the more it is conscious of its own limits. But it is not permissible to feel complacent about this consciousness.

The theoretical knot that must be confronted is how to construct a history that, after having upset and shattered the apparent compactness of the real, after having shifted the ideological barriers that hide the complexity of the strategies of domination, arrives at the heart of those strategies — arrives, that is, at their modes of production. But here we note the existence of a further difficulty: modes of production, isolated in themselves, neither explain nor determine. They themselves are anticipated, delayed, or traversed by ideological currents. Once a system of power is isolated, its genealogy cannot be offered as a universe complete in itself. The analysis must go further; it must make the previously isolated fragments collide with each other; it must dispute the limits it has set up. Regarded as “labor,” in fact, analysis has no end; it is, as Freud recognized, by its very nature infinite.[22]

But at this point a new problem arises: ideology never acts as a “pure” force. Not only does it “sully” and is in turn “sullied” by praxis, but it also gets entangled with other, often antithetical ideologies. One could say that ideologies act in groups [per fasci] and expand in a capillary fashion in the construction of the real. Negation of the subject, sacredness of the banal, Schopenhauerian asceticism, devastation and reaffirmation of matter, celebration of the “mystical character of commodities” and desperation in the face of it: all are inextricably intertwined in the poetics of the negative avant-gardes. The advent of the ideology of labor translated into ascetic images, characteristic of “radical” and constructivist architectural and artistic currents, shifts the factors which make up that intertwining; but the neue Sachlichkeit sinks its own roots in the macabre decompositions of Gottfried Benn’s Morgue. The ramifications of ideology are thus never an open-and-shut case; they can become so once their own historical tasks have been exhausted — as happens today — displaying a viscosity that must be combated, but must first be analyzed in its most particular characteristics.

We would not like to be misunderstood. By no means do we intend to sing hymns to the irrational or interpret the ideological groups in their complex interaction as “rhizomes” à la Deleuze and Guattari.[23] We firmly believe it necessary “not to make rhizomes” of those groups. Implicated though it may be in the objects and phenomena it analyzes, historical criticism must know how to balance on the razor’s edge that separates detachment and participation. Here lies the “fertile uncertainty” of the analysis itself, its interminableness, its need to return constantly to the material examined, and, at the same time, to itself.

A new doubt arises at this point. Having recognized that ideologies and languages — Nietzschean “stones” and Freudian “delirious constructions” — are social productions, one could fall into a crass idealism by maintaining that their theoretical illumination through pure historical analysis could bring about their efficacious and actual elimination.

It would be useless to tear into the methods of “operative criticism” (but it would be more correct to call it “normative,” to avoid the ever-possible misunderstandings as to our true intentions) while leaving intact the principles upon which these methods are based. One fights a social production with alternative social productions; this seems to us indisputable. Must we invoke a mythical dialectical exchange between the “collective intellectual” and restructured disciplines? Is not perhaps such a path, which nonetheless one cannot avoid following, still the traditional decanting of subjective experiences into institutions left unanalyzed and ultimately considered untouchable?

Perhaps it is not yet possible to offer valid and concrete answers to our question; it is important, however, to grasp its centrality for the present debate, precisely as it is a delicately political problem. Whoever does not wish to mythicize the space of “theory” is today faced with the unresolved problem of the socialization and productivity of historical space. Analysis and project: two social practices divided and connected by a bridge that is at the moment artificial. Here the unsettling theme of interminable analysis crops up again — interminable because of its internal characteristics, because of the objectives that as such it is obliged to set for itself. But for this kind of analysis without limits to become a praxis, it must establish its own boundaries, at least partial and temporary ones. In other words, historical work is obliged to betray itself consciously: the final page of an essay or investigation is necessary, but it should be interpreted as a pause that implies ellipsis marks. In any case, the more a pause is programmed, the more productive it is.

Such a work, then, must proceed over time, constructing its own methods as supports in perennial transformation: what determines the modes of such a transformation is always the material on which it is operating. History — exactly like Freudian analysis at its core — is not merely a therapy.

By questioning its own materials, it reconstructs them and continuously reconstructs itself. The genealogies it traces are therefore also temporary barriers, just as analytic work is anything but shielded from the conditionings of signifying practices or modes of production. The historian is a worker “in the plural,” as are the subjects on which he performs his work. In history, then, the problem of language exists. Inasmuch as it is a criticism of signifying practices, it will have to “shift the stones” by shifting around its own stones. Criticism speaks’ only if the doubt with which it attacks the real turns back on itself as well. Operating on its own constructions, history makes an incision with a scalpel in a body whose scars do not disappear; but at the same time, unhealed scars already mar the compactness of historical constructions, rendering them problematic and preventing them from presenting themselves as the “truth.”

Thus analysis enters into the center of a series of battles and takes on the characteristics of a struggle: a struggle against the temptation to exorcize sicknesses, to “cure”; a struggle against its own instruments; a struggle against contemplation. Every analysis is therefore provisional. Every analysis seeks only to measure the effects that it sets into motion in order to change itself according to the intervening transformations. The certainties that history presents should thus be read as expressions of repressions. They are nothing but defenses or barriers that hide the reality of historical writing. They incorporate uncertainty: “true history” is not that which cloaks itself in indisputable “philological proofs,” but that which recognizes its own arbitrariness, which recognizes itself as an “unsafe building.”

Again, this characteristic of historiographical work is measured by the processes which that work provokes: precisely these processes determine the validity of the temporary construction, itself offered as material to be reinterpreted, to be analyzed, to be overcome. But at this point we are again confronted by the problem of the materials of history. With respect to history, certain artificially pre-established fields of inquiry stand out sharply: the sciences and techniques of the transformation of the real, the systems of domination, the ideologies. Each of these fields of inquiry presents itself with its own language. What this totally formalized language conceals is its own tendency to dissolve into an all-encompassing language, its inclination toward the other. Is not the distance that separates words from things — the divorce of the signifier from the signified — an instrument of differentiated techniques of domination? To break them up, to reveal their arbitrariness, to throw light on their hidden metaphors, does not this require identifying new historical spaces?

Historical space does not establish improbable links between diverse languages, between techiques that are distant from each other. Rather it explores what such distance expresses: it probes what appears to be a void, trying to make the absence that seems to dwell in that void speak.

It is, then, an operation that descends into the interstices of techniques and languages. While operating within these interstices, the historian certainly does not intend to suture them; rather he intends to make emerge what is encountered on the borders of language. Historical work thus calls into question the problem of the “limit”: it confronts the division of labor in general; it tends to go outside of its own boundaries; it projects the crisis of techniques already given.

History as a “project of crisis,” then. There is no guarantee as to the absolute validity of such a project, no “solution” in it. One must learn not to ask history for pacifications. But neither must one ask it to traverse endlessly “interrupted paths,” only to stop in astonishment at the edge of the enchanted forest of languages. One must abandon the path to discover what separates it from the other paths: the practice of power often occupies the unfathomable forest. This is what must be broken, “cut,” traversed, over and over again. We harbor no illusions regarding the power of historical analysis to demystify per se; its attempts to change the rules of the game enjoy no autonomy. But inasmuch as it is social practice — a socializing practice — it is today obliged to enter into a struggle that puts into question its own characteristic features. Within this struggle, history must be ready to risk: to risk, ultimately, a temporary “inactuality.”

How do we fit these premises into the specifics of architectural writing? We have already pointed out here, too, the usefulness of instituting a “system of differences,” of identifying a constellation of diverse practices, each with its own history to be constructed by archaeological means. Let us return to the beginning of our discourse: architecture, techniques, institutions, urban administration, ideologies, and utopias converge in a work or a formal system only in the most felicitous moments — at least for the historian. Especially since the Enlightenment, this convergence has been called for by intellectual work, but only because the fragmentation of the classical ordo has dispersed and differentiated the diverse approaches to the construction of the physical environment. As many histories are written as there are techniques. But for architecture in particular, it often turns out to be more productive to start with fragments and unrealized intention, with the purpose of tracing back to their contexts, in which are inscribed works that otherwise remain mute.

A failed work, an unrealized attempt, a fragment: do they not, perhaps, raise problems hidden by the completeness of works that have attained the status of “texts”? Do not Alberti’s “errors” in perspective or Peruzzi’s excessive “geometric games” speak more clearly of the difficulties intrinsic to the humanist utopia than do those monuments that appease the anxiety appearing in these incompleted attempts? And to comprehend fully the dialectic — suspended between the extremes of the tragic and the banal — that shapes the tradition of the twentieth-century avant-garde, is it not more useful to go back to the hallucinatory buffooneries of the Cabaret Voltaire than to examine those works in which the tragic and the banal are reconciled with reality?

The manipulation of forms always has an objective that transcends the forms themselves: it is this constant “beyond architecture” that triggers the moments of rupture within the “tradition of the new.” And it is precisely against such a “beyond” that the historian is obliged to measure himself. Not to have it constantly present leads to a sinking into the quicksand, formed of sublime mystifications, on which rests the monumental construction of the Modern Movement.

We are hence forced into a constant process of dismantling with regard to the object of our research. This research presupposes the chemical examination of the quicksand, its analysis made with reagents of a nature opposed to it.[24] This means placing emphasis on the dialectic that in time comes to establish itself between concrete labor and abstract labor, in the Marxian meaning of both terms. In this way, the history of architecture can be read on the basis of historiographical parameters that are relative to both the vicissitudes of intellectual labor and to the development of the modes and relations of production.

Architectural history thus assumes diverse tasks. On the one hand, it must be made capable of critically describing the processes that condition the “concrete” side of the creation of projects, that is to say, the autonomy of linguistic choices and their historical function as a specific chapter in the history of intellectual labor and its mode of reception. On the other hand, it must be fitted into the general history of the structures and relations of production; it must be made, in other words, to “react” with respect to the development of abstract labor.

By this standard, architectural history will always seem the fruit of an unresolved dialectic. The interweaving of intellectual models, modes of production, and modes of consumption ought to lead to the “explosion” of the synthesis contained in the work. Wherever this synthesis is presented as a completed whole, it is necessary to introduce a disintegration, a fragmentation, a “dissemination” of its constitutive units. It will then be necessary to submit these dis-integrated components to a separate analysis. Client reactions, symbolic horizons, avant-garde hypotheses, linguistic structures, methods of reorganizing production, technological inventions will all be seen thus stripped of the ambiguity ingrained in the synthesis “displayed” by the work.

Clearly no specific methodology, when applied to such isolated components, can take into account the “totality” of the work. Iconology, the history of political economics, the history of thought, of religions, of the sciences, of popular traditions will each be able to appropriate fragments of the broken-up work. The work will have something to say for each of these histories. By taking apart a work of Alberti, for instance, I can illuminate the foundations of bourgeois intellectual ethics in formation, the crisis of humanist historicism, the structure of the fifteenth century’s world of symbols, the structure of a particular patronage system, the consolidation of a new division of labor in the building trades. But none of these components will serve to demonstrate the validity of that work. The critical act will consist of a recomposition of the fragments once they are historicized: in their “remontage.” Jakobson and Tynyanov, followed to a certain extent by Karel Teige and Jan Mukarhovsky, have spoken of continuous relations between linguistic and extralinguistic series.[25] The complete historicization of the multiple “nonlinguistic” components of a work will have, in this sense, two effects: that of breaking the magic circle of language, obliging it to reveal the foundations on which it rests, and that of permitting the recuperation of the “function” of language itself.

But with this we have returned to our initial assumption. To study how a language “acts” means to verify its incidence in all the individual extralinguistic spheres obtained by the “dissemination” of the work. At this point, we find ourselves faced with two alternatives. Either, following Barthes and the nouvelle critique, we can endeavor to multiply the metaphors within the architectural text, dividing up and varying ad infinitum its “free valences,” its specific “system of ambiguity,”[26] or we can return to factors external to the work, extraneous to its apparent structure.

Both approaches are legitimate: it is only a question of the ends that one proposes. I could choose to descend into what we have defined as the magic circle of language, transforming it into a bottomless well. So-called operative criticism has been doing this for some time, serving, like fast food, its arbitrary and pyrotechnic send-ups of Michelangelo, Borromini, and Wright. Yet if I choose to do this, I must realize clearly that my aim is not to forge history, but rather to give form to a neutral space, in which to float, above and beyond time, a mass of weightless metaphors. I will ask of this space nothing but to keep me fascinated and pleasantly deceived.

In the other case, I would have to measure the real incidence of language on the extralinguistic series to which it is connected. That is, I would have to measure just how the introduction of a measurable conception of figurative space is a reaction to the crisis of the Renaissance bourgeoisie; how the disintegration of the concept of form corresponds to the formation of the new metropolitan universe; how the ideology of an architecture reduced to an “indifferent object,” to mere typology, to a reorganization project of the building trades, fits into the real perspective of an “alternative” urban administration. The interrelationship of intellectual labor and conditions of production will offer, in such a case, a valid parameter for recomposing the mosaic from the pieces resulting from the analytic disassembly previously effected. To reinsert architectural history within the sphere of a history of the social division of labor does not at all mean regressing to a “vulgar Marxism”; it does not at all mean erasing the specific characteristics of architecture itself. On the contrary, these characteristics will be emphasized through a reading that would determine — on the basis of verifiable parameters — the real significance of planning choices within the dynamics of the productive transformations that they set into motion, that they slow up, that they try to impede. It is clear that this kind of approach is intended in some way to respond to the problem posed by Walter Benjamin, when, in “The Author as Producer,” he pointed out that what the work says of the relations of production is of secondary importance, putting primary emphasis instead on the function of the work itself within the relations of production.[28]

All this has two immediate consequences: (a) With respect to classical historiography, it obliges us to reexamine all the criteria of periodization; the above-cited dialectic (concrete labor/abstract labor) presents itself under a new aspect only where it triggers a mechanism of integration between an intellectual model and modes of productive development. And it is the task of historical analysis to recognize such an integration, for the purpose of constructing structural cycles, in the fullest sense of the term. (b) With respect to the debate on the analysis of artistic language, the proposed method switches attention from the lever of direct communication to that of underlying meanings. That is to say, it obliges us to measure the “productivity” of linguistic innovations and to submit the domain of symbolic forms to the scrutiny of an analysis capable of calling into question at every instant the historical legitimacy of the capitalistic division of labor.

The need for this overturning of analytical criteria is already implicit in the central assumption of our research: that is, the historical role of ideology. In fact, given the superstructural nature of ideology, the historicization of ideology’s concrete interventions into the real opens up an original field of inquiry. One task, indeed, seems increasingly urgent: the ambiguous face of the superstructure must not be left to itself. Namely, it is necessary to prevent it from multiplying ad infinitum in the engrossing game of mirrors that it presupposes as its own attribute. But this is possible only if one succeeds in entering the magic castle of ideological forms, armed with a philter that functions as an effective antidote to hypnosis.

The parameters proper to a history of the laws that permit the existence of any architecture must thus be called upon — like the threads of Ariadne — to unravel the intricate and labyrinthine paths traveled by Utopia, in order to project, on a rectilinear grid, the “knight’s move” institutionalized by poetic language.

It is precisely this, in fact, that Viktor Shklovsky meant to stress when, in speaking of the trajectory of poetic language, he referred to the “knight’s move.”[29] Like the discontinuous, L-shaped move of the “knight” in the game of chess, the semantic structure of the artistic product executes a “swerve,” a side step, with respect to the real, thereby setting in motion a process of “estrangement” (Bertolt Brecht understood this well) and organizing itself as a perpetual “surreality.”[30] The entire energy of a philosopher like Max Bense has been devoted to defining the relationship between this “surreality” and the technological universe from which it springs and to which — in the case of avant-garde art — it returns as the stimulus to constant and permanent innovation. But even here, it is necessary to make careful distinctions. To define ideology tout court as the expression of a false intellectual consciousness would be totally useless.

No work, not even the most pedestrian and unsuccessful, can “reflect” an ideology preexisting itself. The theories of “reflection” and “mirroring” have been in disrepute for some time. But the “swerve” that the work executes with respect to what is other to it is in fact charged with ideology, even if the forms it assumes are not completely expressible. One can reconstruct the specific structure of these forms — but only by bearing in mind that between the ideology incorporated into the signs of the work and the current modes of ideological production there always exists a margin of ambiguity. One can recognize more immediately, however, the way in which that swerve “functions” with respect to the real: how it reaches compromises with regard to the world and what conditions permit its existence.

Another consideration must be added here. The principal goal of much of avant-garde art and architecture has been to reduce, to the point of extinction, that “swerve” between the· work and what is other to it, between the object and its conditions of existence, of production, of use.

Once again, the ideologies invoked in support of architectural practice, or underlying it, fracture, calling for a complex critical operation. An ideology molded on the existing order, of a purely documentary value, is opposed, in history, by at least three other modes of ideological production: (a) a “progressive” ideology — typical of the historical avant-gardes — that proposes a total seizure of the real: this is the avant-garde (spoken of by Fortini)[31] that rejected every form of mediation and that, when the chips were down, clashed with the mediating structures of the consensus, which in turn reduced it to pure “propaganda”; (b) a “regressive” ideology, that is, a “nostalgic utopia,” distinctly expressed, from the nineteenth century on, by all forms of antiurban thought, by the sociology of Tönnies, and by the attempt to oppose the new commercial reality of the metropolis with proposals aimed at restoring mythologies of anarchist or “communalist” origins; (c) an ideology that insists directly on the reform of the major institutions relating to the management of urban and regional development and the construction industry, anticipating not only real and proper structural reforms, but also new modes of production and a new arrangement in the division of labor: an example is the American progressive tradition, namely, the thought and the works of Olmstead, Clarence Stein, Henry Wright, and Robert Moses.

There is nothing abstract in these classifications. To repeat, ideologies always act “in bunches”; they intertwine among themselves; they often make complete about-faces in their historical unfolding. Typical is the case of antiurban ideology, which, through the work of Geddes and Unwin and their confluence in the currents of American Conservatism and Regionalism in the 1920s, takes an unforeseen turn with the founding of the modern techniques of regional planning. So also, a single cycle of works — the example of Le Corbusier is extremely pertinent — can be assessed according to diverse yardsticks of judgment, presenting itself simultaneously as a completely internal chapter in the overall story of the avant-garde and as an instrument of institutional reform.

But it is rather important not to confuse different levels of analysis. That is to say, one must screen with differentiated methods products that interfere in different ways with the overall productive order. To be more specific: One can always carry out a purely linguistic analysis of housing developments such as Radburn or the Greenbelt Cities of the American New Deal. But a similar method — the only one valid for giving a historical account of the work of [Konstantin] Mel’nikov or [James] Stirling — would prove inadequate for placing these proposals in their correct context, namely, the relationship between the institutional renewal of the economic management of public administration and the reorganization of demand within the building industry.

To those who would accuse us of methodological eclecticism, we would answer that they are incapable of accepting the transitional (and thus ambiguous) role that even today is assumed by a discipline as multiform and disorganized as architecture.

Again, all this implies that the term “architecture” must still be used in an extremely broad sense. It is clear that the validity of the analyses we propose is measurable in an extremely particular way in the modern and contemporary periods — from the crisis of the feudal system to the present day — where they must pass through changing meanings of intellectual labor that are bound to the transformations of the economy of the building industry and that cannot be reduced to a single common denominator.

The difficulty can be gotten around by attributing a transient and flexible significance to the concept of architecture. Thus it will be necessary to destroy the contrived mythology connected to the concept of “the work.” But not, as Foucault proposes, in order to establish the ineffable supremacy of the anonymously produced word, nor to revive slogans dear to the infancy of the “Modern Movement.”

The history of contemporary urban planning does not at all coincide with the history of avant-garde hypotheses. On the contrary, as certain recent philological investigations have been able to ascertain, the tradition of urban planning rests on foundations constructed outside of any avant-garde experience: on the “medicalisation de la ville″ so intrinsic to physiocratic thought; on the late eighteenth-century taxonomy of service spaces; on the nineteenth-century theories of Baumeister, Stiibben, Eberstadt; on the practice of the American Park Movement; and on French and English regionalism. This necessitates a radical reexamination of the interrelationship between the history of urban planning and the parallel history of the ideologies of the Modern Movement. If this method is followed, many myths are destined to crumble.

To undo the mass of threads artificially tangled together, we shall have to lay out many independent histories alongside each other, so that we may recognize, where they exist, their mutual interdependencies or, as is more often the case, their antagonisms. The “great beyond,” to which modern architecture by definition tends, must not be confused with the reality of the urban dynamic. The “productivity of ideology” can be verified by mirroring its results in the history of political economy as embodied in urban history.

The phenomena that have made possible the direct comparison between artistic writing and the reality of production mark an extremely complex process, whose beginnings cannot automatically be made to coincide with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Robert Klein has described the stages in the process of the “disappearance of the referent” for the cycle of modern art, and André Chastel has justly noted the affinity between Klein’s approach and that of Benjamin. Klein writes:

This contradiction [the slow agony of reference and its kaleidoscopic transformation] is, in the end, epistemological, comparable to the logical impossibility of knowing the object of knowledge. How can one postulate, beyond the image, a non figurative norm, a telos of figuration against which the image is measured? Sooner or later such terms of reference have to be placed within the work itself; we must finish with any thought that places outside itself a subject and an object, and whose last word, already unsure because of its initial postulate, was psychologism in philosophy and impressionism in art.[32]

The relationship among referents, values, and aura is immediate: one can give neither the history of the actual attempts to reduce the work to the pure existence of the act that mimes the processes of art nor the history of the attempt made by modern architecture to break the barrier between the language of forms and that of existence, except in dialectical opposition to the historical cycle of classicism. To “actualize” that cycle means to recognize its profound structurality, to individuate, diachronically, its closed systematic nature. But it also means to grasp its twofold character: the emergence of a mode of intellectual production with which we are still called upon to reckon and the appearance of a conception of language totally directed toward “referents,” which the “dialectic of enlightenment” will set about to destroy. For this reason, the history of classicism already reflects the difficulties of contemporary art; and for this reason, the method we are trying to fine-tune must be applicable, with appropriate adjustments, to the prehistory of bourgeois civilization. In other words, the cycle opened by the rationalization of sight introduced by Tuscan humanism can function as a rearview mirror — a mirror in which are reflected the ghosts of the contemporary bad conscience — for a history intent upon seeking the beginnings of capitalist Zivilisation.[33]

And on that subject, we can even accept the warning formulated by Adorno:

The theory of the aura handled in a non-dialectical way can lead to abuses, for it serves as a convenient mechanism to translate the notion of desubstantialization [Entkunstung] of art into a slogan. This trend is already well under way since the beginning of the age of mechanical production in art. As Benjamin pointed out, the aura of art works is not only their here and now, but also their content insofar as it points beyond the work’s givenness…Even demystified art is more than sheer function. It may have lost its auratic “cult value,” but there is a modern substitute which Benjamin calls “exhibition value.” The latter is an imago of the process of economic exchange.[34]

The result of such reasoning does not in reality greatly modify Benjamin’s original thesis, which could quite readily admit that the “exhibition value” is the imago of the exchange process, but only in works that have not completely incorporated that process within themselves. Adorno’s proposition betrays a nostalgia that becomes explicit at the end of his passage on “expression and construction”: “the category of the fragmentary,” he concludes, referring to the contrast between integration and disintegration in the art work, “is not some contingent particular: the fragment is that part of the totality of the art work that resists totality itself.”[35]

Beyond this nostalgia, there remains the problem of “handling the theory of the aura in a dialectic manner.” That which the work “exposes,” even when it takes as a starting point the intention of laying bare its own process of creation, is merely the least vulnerable side of its structure. The semiological approach can turn back on themselves the laws governing the production of images;[36] but throwing light on their implications belongs to another method of dissection.

The failure to acknowledge the need to weave together and integrate multiple methods of analysis has led to a historiographical impasse: instead of clarifying the real resistances presented by the institutions of the capitalist system to the hypotheses of the global renovation of the physical arrangement of territory, historians have preferred to devise histories completely internal to the development of the supporting ideologies of that system.

It is no accident that the jeremiads of the “crisis of architecture,” as well as the weak-willed proposals for “anticlassical languages,” seem increasingly confused and ineffective. To arrive at an eventual understanding of the meaning of the real transformations of the activity of planning, it will be necessary to construct a new history of intellectual labor and its slow transformation into purely technical labor (into “abstract labor,” to be precise). Besides, have not [Aleksandr] Rodchenko’s productivism, [Vladimir] Mayakovsky’s work for Rosta, and the prophecies of Le Corbusier and (on the other side of the coin) Hannes Meyer raised the problem of the transformation of artistic activity into labor directly inserted into the productive organization?

It is useless to cry over a proven fact: ideology has changed into reality, even if the romantic dream of the intellectuals who proposed to guide the destiny of the productive universe has remained, logically, in the superstructural sphere of utopia. As historians, our task is to reconstruct lucidly the road traversed by intellectual labor, thereby recognizing the contingent tasks to which a new organization of labor can respond.

The influence of physiocratic thought on the ideas of urban reform in the eighteenth century; the birth and development of company-towns in the nineteenth century; the birth of urban planning in Bismarck’s Germany and in laissez-faire America; the experiments of Sir Patrick Geddes and Raymond Unwin and, later on, those of the social-democratic and radical administrators of the German cities; the theoretical work of the Regional Planning Association of America; the organization of the Soviet cities of the first five-year plans; the contradictory reorganization of territory realized by Roosevelt’s New Deal; the American urban renewal of the Kennedy era: these are chapters of a story in which manifold experiments are bound up together, all aimed at finding new roles for the work of a technician, who remains the traditional architect only in the less significant cases (even though often more linguistically significant). And if someone should point out that from time to time a gap can be perceived between the history that can be traced by following this continuous succession of themes and the history of the forms of the architecture of the Modem Movement, we shall answer that it is the very gap that exists between avant-garde ideology and the translation into techniques of that ideology. It is a gap that historiography is incapable of filling, but one that it must instead accentuate and tum into the material of concrete and widespread knowledge.

The present volume may at first glance seem to be a collection of essays. In reality, however, in writing the single chapters — published in provisional form in various Italian and foreign journals between 1972 and today, and subsequently completely revised — we have adhered to a design that we invite the present reader to contrast with the theses expounded in this introduction. The themes that weave in and out of this design are, we believe, evident: at the beginning, the discovery of “transgression” and of formal writing as a perverse excess, as the subject’s voyage beyond the columns of Hercules, beyond the codified limits; then, the slow taking over of a “language of transgression”; the realizaton that the subject’s freedom was merely “freedom for techniques,” rather than freedom for writing. At the center is the search for an unstable equilibrium between the dialects of this new writing and its new institutional referents. Only in certain chapters is the “technique” that the avant-garde speaks of confronted as such — to demonstrate that its history is other, certainly, but also to trace its points of tangency with the themes we have chosen to analyze.

My intention, then, has been to present, not a piece of history complete in itself, but rather an intermittent journey through a maze of tangled paths, one of the many possible “provisional constructions”; obtainable by starting with these chosen materials. The cards can be reshuffled and to them added many that were intentionally left out: the game is destined to continue. As always, for the concrete help and the stimuli received over the past ten years that have enabled my work to take shape, my thanks to my friends and collaborators in the Department of History at the University of Venice, who are responsible with me for these “jigsaw puzzles,” these “giochi di pazienza.”


1. Carlo Ginzburg and Adriano Prosperi, Giochi di pazienza: Un semina rio sui “Beneficio di Cristo” (Turin: Einuadi, 1975), p. 84. The reference to this exceptional volume, which, in its fitful progress, its meanderings, its false starts and errors overcome, exposes the doubts and accidents that characterize historical research, is not casual. The first part of the present study, like the work of Ginzburg and Prosperi, is the result of a joint effort, that of the author together with Franco Rella and the students of architectural history at the Istituto universitario di architettura in Venice. They are, in some way, coauthors. Franco Rella has set forth his conclusions from the team-taught seminars, given in the academic year 1976-77, in the article “II paradosso della ragione,” Aut aut 161 (1977): 107-11.
2. Here we are i n agreement with the reflections on the theme of artistic language that Emilio Garroni has elaborated over the years. See especially Garroni, Progetto di semiotica (Bari: Laterza, 1972) ; idem, Estetica ed epistemologia: Riflessioni sulla “Critica di giudizio” (Rome: Bulzoni, 1976); idem, “Per Marcello Pirro: Sui sentimento, la bellezza, Ie operazioni e la sopravivenza dell’arte,” in Notes Pirro (Udine, 1977). It seems of particular interest that Garroni, starting from Kant, arrives at conclusions similar to our own on Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals and on Freud’s Analysis Terminable and Interminable. Garroni writes: “The problem is precisely here: in this particularity and the infinity of modes in which particularity presents itself. Things do not offer themselves up as already clear and simple to those who set out to know them…the world becomes intelligible and synthesized only after a cognitive and analytical operation has taken place…from this point of view, things are, in fact, ‘inexhaustible’ (unerschöpflich, says Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason), in the sense that they can be determined and organized, to cognitive ends, only if we assume a proper ‘point of view,’ an ‘organizing principle,’ adequate with respect to a certain scientific consideration” (“Per Marcello Pirro,” p. 2).
3. See in this regard the article of Massimo Cacciari, “Oi alcuni motivi in Walter Benjamin (da ‘Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels’ a ‘Der Autor als Produzent’),” Nuova corrente 67 (1975): 209-243.
4. The passage cited is in Wille zur Macht (Leipzig: Naumann, 1911), p. 489; and in Friedrich Nietzsche, Werke, ed. K. Schlechta, vol. 3 (Munich: Carl Hanser, 1969), p. 860; English ed., The Will to Power, ed. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Random House, 1976), p. 270.
5. Franco Rella, “Dallo spazio estetico allo spazio dell’interpretazione,” Nuova corrente 68-69 (1975-76): 412. But see also his “Testo analitico e analisi testuale,” in Rella et al., La materialità del testo: Ricerche interdisciplinari sulle pratiche significanti (Verona: Bertani, 1977), p. ii ff., and his introduction to La critica freudiana (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1977).
6. Michel Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, ed. Donald Bouchard (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), p. 140. “Nietzsche, la genealogie, l’histoire” first appeared in Hommage a Jean Hyppolite (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1971).
7. Friedrich Nietzsche, Umano troppo umano in Opere, ed. G. Colli and M. Montinari, vol. 4 , book 2 (Milan: Adelphi, 1965), p. 17; English ed., Human, All Too Human (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984).
8. Foucault, “Nietzsche,” p. 154.
9. Ibid., p. 164.
10. Friedrich Nietzsche, Aurora, 429, in Opere, vol. 5, book 1, pp. 215-16; English ed., Daybreak (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).
11. Friedrich Nietzsche, Aldi là del bene e del male (Beyond Good and Evil), 39, in Opere, vol. 5, book 1, pp. 45-46; English ed. Basic Writings of Nietzsche (New York: Random House, 1968).
12. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality vol. 1: An Introduction (New York: Random House, 1978), in particular beginning p. 92; original ed., La volonté de savoir (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1976).
13. Georg Simmel, translated into Italian, in Arte e civiltà, ed. Dino Formaggio and Lucio Perucchi (Milan, 1976), p. 67; original ed., “Zur Metaphysik des Todes” (1910).
14. Georg Simmel, “Fashion,” in On Individuality and Social Forms (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), p. 294; original ed. , “Zur Psychologie der Mode, Soziologische Studie,” Die Zeit (12 October 1895).
15. Ibid., p. 295.
16. Karl Marx, Class Struggles in France, in Surveys from Exile (New York: Random House, 1973), p. 73.
17. Nietzsche, Aurora, p. 40.
18. Massimo Cacciari, “Il problema del politico in Deleuze e Foucault: Sul pensiero di ‘autonomia’ e di ‘gioco’,” mimeographed report to the seminar on the analytical method of Michel Foucault (M. Cacciari, F. Rella, M. Tafuri, and G. Teyssot), held in the Department of History at the Istituto universitario di architettura in Venice on 22 April 1977. (But now published as Il dispositivo Foucault, Venice, 1977, pp. 57 ff. ) Cacciari’s criticism is based principally on the Foucault of Surveiller et punir and on the dialogue between Deleuze and Foucault contained in the volume Deleuze (Cosenza: Lerici, 1977). For further discussion of the theme, see the introductory and final essays of Cacciari’s Pensiero negativo e razionalizzazione (Padua: Marsilio, 1977). Departing from the considerations of Cacciari, which deserve further elaboration, the theses expounded by Jean Baudrillard in his pamphlet Oublier Foucault (Paris: Galilee, 1977) seem to be in large part arbitrary.
19. Jean-Michel Rey has written: “Philosophic language has not been able to define itself as ‘autonomous’ or ‘univocal,’ because of a greater omission, that is, because of a decisive repression, that of its production, of its metaphorical texture, of its borrowings, of its debts, of the whole of its design. It is the effect of this massive omission that Nietzsche reinscribes in his text, by means of a double inscription, a redoubling/recasting, a productive translation. This work is wholly analogous to the decipherment carried out by Freud. ” Jean-Michel Rey, “Il nome della scrittura,” Il Verri 39-40 (1972): 218.
20. Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism, in The Complete Psychological Works, trans. James Strachey, vol. 23 (London: Hogarth Press, 1957), p. 43.
21. We feel obliged, however, to reject too linear an interpretation of the processes by which many themes characteristic of expressionist and late romantic ideologies are translated into the practice of National Socialist propaganda, such as that maintained in the essay by John Elderfield, “Metropolis,” Studio International 183, no. 944 (1972): 196-199, or in the nonetheless admirable volume of George L. Mosse, The Nationalization of the Masses: Political Symbolism and Mass Movement in Germany from the Napoleonic Wars through the Third Reich (New York: Fertig, 1975). Richer and more articulated is the reading executed by Giancarlo Buonfino, La politica culturale operaia: Da Marx e Lasalle alla rivoluzione di novembre, 1859-1919 (Milan, 1975), which is discussed in this volume, pt. 2, chap. 4, pp. 149-50.
22. Sigmund Freud, Analysis Terminable and Interminable, in the Complete Psychological Works, vol. 23, p. 209, and the comment on it by Franco Rella in his introduction to La critica freudiana, pp. 45 ff.
23. See Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Rhizome (Introduction) (Paris: Minuit, 1976). “The rhizome,” write Deleuze and Guattari, “is an antigenealogy. The rhizome proceeds by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, implantation. Unlike writing, drawing or photography, unlike tracings, the rhizome relates to a map, which must be produced or constructed, and is always capable of being connected and disconnected, turned upside down, modified; a map with multiple entrances and exits, with its lines of flight…the rhizome is an acentered, nonhierarchical and non-signifying system, without a General, without any organizing memory or central automaton, uniquely defined by a circulation of states” (Rhizome, p. 56). An accurate criticism of the fetishism of theory in Deleuze and in his “school” is to be found in the article by M. Cacciari, “‘Rationalità’ e ‘irrazionalità’ nella critica del politico in Deleuze e Foucault,” Aut aut 161 (1977): 119-31.
24. A further observation of Foucault’s underlines in its way the above: “We must conceive of discourse as a violence that we do to things, or, at all events, as a practice we impose upon them; it is in this practice that the events of discourse find the principle of their regularity. Another principle, that of exteriority, holds that we are not to burrow to the hidden core of discourse, to the heart of the thought or meaning manifested in it; instead, taking the discourse itself, its appearance and its regularity, that we should look for its external conditions of existence, for that which gives rise to the chance series of these events and fixes its limits.” Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language (New York: Pantheon, 1972), p. 229; original ed., L’ordre du discours (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1971).
25. Consider, for example, the text of Yury Tynyanov and Roman Jakobson, Voprosy izuceniya literatury i yazyka, Novyi lef 12 (1927). The two authors affirm that the correlation between the literary series and the other historical series has definite structural laws, subject to separate analysis. In comparison with Shlovskian formalism, we have here a recognition of the autonomy of the analysis of the “system of systems,” to be correlated to the discovery of the value of the dynamic integration of materials as a foundation of the work. Cf. Y. Tynyanov, “O Literaturnoy evolucii,” in Archaisty i novatory (Leningrad, 1929), pp. 30-47, now in Tzvetan Todorov, ed., I formalisti russi (Turin: Einaudi, 1968), pp. 127 ff. Also see Stephen Bann and John E. Bowlt, Russian Formalism (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1973). The link between the thinking of Mukarhovsky and that of Tynyanov and Jakobson has been pointed out also by Sergio Corduas in his introduction to Yan Mukarhovsky, La funzione, la norma e il val ore estetico come fatti sociali (Turin: Einaudi, 1971). Also see Mukarhovsky, Il significato dell’estetica (Turin: Einaudi, 1973); original ed., Studie z estetiky (Prague, 1966). It should be borne in mind, however, that in these works (and in those of Karel Teige, still too little known in Italy) the range given to the concept of the “extra-aesthetic series” is extremely limited and traditional (ibid., pp. 259 ff.). Even more limited, it seems to us, is the utilization of Gestalt psychology and the theories of Piaget, Bense, and Ehrenzweig by Norberg-Schulz, in his attempt to define a comprehensive analytical method for the architectural work. See Christian Norberg-Schulz, Intentions in Architecture (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1966.)
26. See Roland Barthes, Critique et vérité (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1965), and Serge Doubrovsky, Pourquoi la nouvelle critique: Critique et objectivité (Paris: Mercure de France, 1966). But the limit (and, at the same time, the maximum expression) of Barthes’ “sinking” into the metaphors of the text can be seen in the “all-too-true” truths expressed in another volume by Barthes, Le plaisir du texte (Paris: Editions du Seuil. 1973); English ed., The Pleasure of the Text (New York: Hill and Wang, 1975).
27. Relative to this, see the chapter “Architecture as ‘Indifferent Object’ and the Crisis of Critical Attention,” in Manfredo Tafuri, Theories and History of Architecture (New York: Harper & Row, 1980); original ed., Teorie e storia dell’architectura, 4th ed. (Bari: Laterza, 1976).
28. See Walter Benjamin, “The Author as Producer,” in Reflections (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978); originally published as “Der Autor als Produzent,” in Versuche Über Brecht (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1966). An unacceptable critical reading of Benjamin’s essay can be found in Jürgen Habermas’ Zur Aktualität Walter Benjamin (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1972).
29. See Viktor Shklovsky, Khod konya (Moscow-Berlin, 1923). We would like to stress the significant observation of Shklovsky regarding the “obliqueness” of the artistic process: “the knight is not free; it moves sideways, because the direct road is closed to it beforehand.”
30. See, in particular, Max Bense, Aesthetica (Baden-Baden: Agis Verlag, 1965), and his Geräusch in der Strassen (Baden-Baden and Krefeld, 1960). See the excellent volume by Giangiorgio Pasqualotto, Avanguardia e tecnologia: Walter Benjamin, Max Bense e i problemi dell’estetica tecnologica (Rome: Officina, 1971).
31. Franco Fortini, “Due avanguardie,” in the volume by various authors, Avanguardia e neoavanguardia (Milan: Sugar, 1966), pp. 9-21. The contradiction and conflict embodied by the avant-garde artist, writes Fortini, “do not enter into a dialectical relationship.” They are the “juxtaposition or polar alternation between absolute subjectivity and absolute objectivity, between abstract irrationality — that is, rejection of the discursive, dialogical moment in favor of free association, involuntary memory, and dream and abstract rationality, that is, intelligibility achieved by discursive and rational means, in the particular naturalistic and positivistic meaning of the idea of ‘reason.’ The avant-garde takes refuge in one or the other of the extremes, or lives them both simultaneously, in a way well known to all the mystical tradition. ” “Due avanguardie,” pp. 9-10. See also F. Fortini, “Avanguardia e mediazione,” Nuova corrente 45 (1968): 100 ff. We do not agree with all of Fortini’s argument, but we believe that his interpretation of the avant-garde as the absence of mediation — a reprise of one of Lukács’ themes — can be expanded still further. For the avant-garde, refusal and assent not only do not enter into a dialectic (often one is hidden beneath the disguise of the other), but they also avoid any mediation with respect to the real, into which, nonetheless, they claim to “erupt.” This consideration can give rise to important methodological redimensioning in the study of the historic avant-gardes.
32. Robert Klein, Form and Meaning (New York: Viking, 1979), p. 186; original ed., La forme et l’intelligible (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1970). On the Klein–Benjamin relationship, see André Chastel’s introduction to the above-cited volume, pp. XI-XII.
33. A masterly diachronic analysis, in this sense, can be found in the essay by Massimo Cacciari, “Vita Cartesii est simplicissima,” Contropiano 2 (1970): 375-399.
34. Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984), p. 66; original ed., Aesthetische Theorie (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1970).
35. Ibid.
36. One should recall, however, what Kristeva wrote some years ago regarding semiological research; even starting out from a much less teleological Marxism than hers, one can well agree that “semiological research remains a discipline that finds nothing more at the bottom of its investigations (no key to no mystery, Levi-Strauss would say) than its own ideological gesture, having to recognize it as such, to negate its own results, and to start all over again. By positing a precise knowledge as its final goal, it arrives upon completion of its itinerary at a theory that, being itself a signifying system, sends the semiological research back to its starting point — to the model of semiology itself, to criticize it and overturn it.” Julia Kristeva, “La sémiologie comme science critique” in Théorie d’ensemble (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1968), p. 83. Furthermore, that semiological activity is “creative” is taken for granted by a large segment of French criticism. Such an awareness is less evident in the attempts at a literal translation of the linguistic model into the field of the analysis of architectural texts. See again Garroni, Progetto di semiotica. Agreeing with some of his theses on the inappropriateness of speaking of “language” when dealing with architecture is the essay by Diana Agrest and Mario Gandelsonas, “Semiotics and Architecture: Ideological Consumption or Theoretical Work,” Oppositions 1 (1973): 94-100. An assessment of the recent research in architectural semiology can be found in Patrizia Lombardo’s article, “Sémiotique: l’architecte s’est mis au tic,” L’architecture d’aujourd’hui 179 (1975): xi-xv. But see also Tomás Maldonado, “Architettura e linguaggio,” Casabella 41, no. 429 (1977): 9-10; Omar Calabrese, “Le matrici della semiotica dell’ architettura in Italia,” ibid. , pp. 19-24; and Ugo Volli, “Equivoci concettuali nella semiotica dell’architettura,” ibid., pp. 24-27. Interesting, as the testimony of a working architect, is the interview with Vittorio Gregotti, “Architettura e linguaggio,” ibid., pp. 28-30.

2 thoughts on “The historical project

  1. Pingback: Mies van der Rohe | The Charnel-House

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