University of Central Lancashire
Is there a species of historiography that considers a space for future histories and how does this relate with both immediate and present histories to contribute to the status and the future of modernism
Aryan Tehrani AO2005: Architectural History and Theory Rebecca King Charalampos Politakis Ronny Ford May 2014 Student Number: 20554760 Word Count (Excluding Bibliography): 4017
Is there a species of historiography that considers a space for future histories and how does this relate with both immediate and present histories to contribute to the status and the future of modernism
We believe in laws, which are founded only on experience without perceiving exactly what they mean in terms of experience1
Historians charted both the narratives and chronologies of modernism, which collectively influenced the categories of what went before and what came after. A powerful and permanent element of modernism continued to be pursued in built projects, books and manifestoes. This essay will scrutinize the writings, ideologies and theories of several architectural theorists and historians whose positions on architectural history have both manipulated the role of architecture in the past and may well have carved its possible route in the future. As well as this, the essay will look at how the historiography that is responsible for the consumption and organization of the past is able to consider a space for future histories and how both past and immediate histories relate to the current status and future status of architectural modernism.
Although the realm of architectural historiography includes many profound and pioneering works by the likes of Colin Rowe, Reyner Banham, Siegfried Gideon and many others, there are two critics who acted to criticize and explore the depths of architectural historicism and the role of history as a whole, these being Anthony Vidler and Reinhart Koselleck. Few others have chartered a view of history that has such an impact on the subject that it is said to be reviewing and overseeing. To further dissect this I will be referr ing to three primary
Nicod, J., Geometry of Induction (1st ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970) 2
sources, the first two being Futures Past; on the semantics of historical time 2 and The practice of conceptual history; Timing History, Spacing concept 3 , both by the German born historian Reinhart Koselleck. The third is Histories of the immediate present: Inventing Architectural Modernism 4 , 1930-1975 authored by the English critic Anthony Vidler.
Reinhart Koselleck Futures Past; on the semantics of historical time
Although Reinhart Koselleck charts his views on history over sever al books, the narrative themes and the architectures of the essays are of such a nature that they interweave, support, echo and occasionally contradict each other. This allows the separate works to be reviewed, discussed and criticized almost seamlessly. In his two works on historiography: The practice of conceptual history and Futures Past; on the semantics of historical time, Koselleck uses these essays as probing enquiries to propose the question, how in any contemporary situation, are the temporal dimensions of both the past and the present related?
In order to fully understand and criticize Koselleckâ€&#x;s views on historiography it seems correct to begin with Koselleckâ€&#x;s own definition of historical time. Even the singularity of a unique historical time supposedly distinct from a measurable natural time can be cast in doubt. Historical time, if the concept has a specific meaning, is bound up with social and political actions with concretely acting and suffering human beings and their institutions and organizations. All of
Koselleck, R., Futures Past; on the semantics of historical time (1st ed, New York: Columbia University Press, 2004) 3 Koselleck, R and Presner T., The practice of conceptual history (1st ed, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002) 4 Vidler, A., Histories of the Immediate Present (1st ed, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2008) 3 2
these actions have definite, internalized forms of conduct, each with a peculiar temporal rhythm5 . This is a notion that runs through the majority of Koselleck‟s writings, that historical time is not merely a chronological measurement of events but actually a concept that is intertwined with all aspects of the human condition and experience. These actions form the temporal backbone, which acts to support the concept of historical time.
Koselleck‟s definition of historical time runs parallel with his notion that our perceptions of „history‟ can be divided into two linguistic categories. Geschichte and Historie. Koselleck then goes on to provide a meaning for the term history; The characteristic meaning of history, such that it is at the same time knowledge of itself, can be seen as a general formulation of an anthropologically given arc, linking and relating historical experience with knowledge of such experience 6 . To Koselleck, although it exists as itself a singular object, the term Geschichte or „History pure and simple‟ also presents itself as an umbrella term that spans a wide range of aspects and events that are anthropologically linked to the modern experience. This is echoed further when Koselleck writes that for a history to have a transcendental character that acts like a wind throughout numerous eras and generations,
The theoretical premises must be developed that are capable of comprehending not only our own experience, but also past and alien experience; only in this way it is possible to secure the unity of history as a science.7 If we are to explore this further then we find that history should not be viewed just within the modernity of which it is present but we must take into account „the infinite histories that
Koselleck, R., Futures Past; on the semantics of historical time (1st ed, New York: Columbia University Press, 2004) p.2 6 Ibid, p.93 7 Ibid, p.89 4 5
were once recounted‟ 8 . The word recounted here is used with great deliberation from Koselleck, used in place of recorded or documented, the word recounted twinned with the notion of infinity interweaves with Augustine‟s principal of historia ipsa, which was claimed to derive from God. Giving the concept of history this transcendental force.
In Koselleck‟s journey to provide a interpolation between the singular object History and Plural Histories he proposes to interrogate what he calls „temporal structures‟ which are characteristics of both histories. This is used as a mechanism to catechize the individual temporal experiences that contribute to history pure and simple in a way that eliminates the overwhelming and subconscious urge to draw comparisons between histories past and present.
Koselleck unveils what are to him the three modes of temporal experience; 1. The irreversibility of events, 2. The repeatability of events and 3. The contemporaneity of the noncontemporaneous. 9 Using these three modes Koselleck postulates that although the experiences may be of different variation and impact, they are to be measured against and compared with, each other. Koselleck then proceeds to relate these to the „prognostic structure of historical time‟ 10 , for each prognosis anticipates and predicts events which are already existent in their own modernity although they have not actually occurred.
Koselleck, R., Futures Past; on the semantics of historical time (1st ed, New York: Columbia University Press, 2004) p. 94 9 Koselleck, R., Futures Past; on the semantics of historical time (1st ed, New York: Columbia University Press, 2004) p. 95 10 Koselleck, R., Futures Past; on the semantics of historical time (1st ed, New York: Columbia University Press, 2004) p. 95 5 8
Of course, events and conditions can still be related to a natural chronology, and in this chronology is contained a minimal precondition of its actual interpretation. Natural time and its sequence- however it might be experiencedbelong to the conditions of historical temporalities but the former never subsumes the latter. Historical temporalities follow a sequence different from the temporal rhythms given in nature.11
Figure 1 Primordial Hut, Illustration from Vitruvius 1.1 12
In this quote Koselleck is distinguishing the chronology of natural time from the historical temporalities that occur on a daily basis. He postulates that although events and conditions
Ibid, p.96 Evers, Bernd, and Christof Thoenes. 2003. Architectural Theory. 1st ed. Kรถln: Taschen. P.69 12
occur within a natural order of chronology, natural time and its sequence always has done and always will belong to the conditions and rules of historical temporalities. It seems obvious to us today that the political and social space of action has become systematically denaturalized by force of technology.13 This quote summarizes Koselleck‟s disdain for the technological age as being responsible for the abbreviation of natural chronologies to the extent that these periods have been freed and removed of the influence of the ever changing and changeable natural forces and deviations. Koselleck then links this technological abbreviation with the reduction on the shrinkage of political freedom and independence. Koselleck then goes on to remind the reader that such reflections serve only to remind them that the „denaturalization of historical temporalities might primarily be driven by technical and industrial conditions ‟. For Koselleck it is this technologically positive retrogression that acts as empirical proof of „history pure and simple‟. It distinguishes the period of time that we label modernity from civilizing process historically registered within the realms of natural chronology. The relations of time and space have been transformed, at first quite slowly, but in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, quite decisively. The possibilities of transport and communication have engendered completely new forms of organization.14 The relationship between time and space is a topic debated between historians and critics for many years, most notable bought to light by Siegfried Gideon in his 1941 book Space, Time and Architecture 15 , the space and time affiliation is the glue that links the cultural and experiential aspects of human society with the works of architecture and art that it creates. According to Reinhart Koselleck, the advent of mechanism and technology is the force 13
Koselleck, R., Futures Past; on the semantics of historical time (1st ed, New York: Columbia University Press, 2004) p.96 14 Ibid., 15 Gideon, S., Space, Time and architecture (1st ed, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1967) 7
responsibly for the interruption of this relationship, one that had been consistent until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These â€žnew forms of organizationâ€&#x; 16 are the result of the only period of human existence where the historical temporalities are the cause of human action. From this we can take one of the fundamental differences in historical time and natural time to its purely variable rate of accelerations, that unlike natural time, historical time and knowledge is affected by human action in a way that natural time is not, that this human action dictates a society in which the legitimacy and permanence of experience are balanced with both the struggle and despair of the past, and the innovations and hopes of the future.
Figure 2 The Parthenon, For Le Corbusier The Temple was the accumulation not of architectural knowledge and ability, but of all of the temporal and natural chronologies and experiences that preceded it. 17
Koselleck, R., Futures Past; on the semantics of historical time (1st ed, New York: Columbia University Press, 2004) p.96 17 Le Corbusier, and Frederick Etchells. 1946. Towards A New Architecture. 1st ed. London: Architectural Press. P.169 8 16
Figure 3 St Peters scheme by Michelangelo. This scheme is relevant in its dimensions only, which are notable due to their considerable influence from the colloseum. The heights are the same; all of these similarities come together to provide a design of unity. 18
Koselleck uses the example of Herodotus, whereby the observation that the efforts to enforce aristocracy and democracy often led to monarchy resulted in the decision to implement monarchy from the offset to increase the efficiency in the political systems. This as an example brings into play the aspect of historical legitimacy that before the Greeks was a previously unrecorded notion. The example of the Greeks leads to Koselleckâ€&#x;s speculation that this particular temporal experience summarizes the repeatability of histories. He mentions the associations between constitutions and the human body, a link that is heavily contribute to antiquity and humanism but was still referenced in the baroque period. This relationship provides a â€žconstantâ€&#x; against which any divergence or convergence of temporal experiences can be measured. He 18
Le Corbusier, and Frederick Etchells. 1946. Towards A New Architecture. 1st ed. London: Architectural Press. P 170 9
concludes this notion with the idea that historical motion and progress is „bound up with natural, organic categories‟ 19 . These ideas start to contribute to the idea that it is not the manner in which we conceive these histories or indeed record them that contributes to their effect on the future, however it is our interpretation of these historical experiences that shapes their consequences on us, where the experience of the event itself precedes the reflection that is necessary to attribute a historical significance to the event itself, this being a notion which according to Koselleck which is unique to the Greeks.
For me, the use of the word concept summarizes Koselleck‟s intentions in his essays. Although easily over sighted, the word concept acts as a device with avoids the rationalization of history. Used instead of the idea of history, or history itself, the concept of history denotes the idea of history as a totality, an absolute, a histor y that identifies and contains all of the aspects of history that will add up to the sum of history itself. All of this leads Koselleck to the conclusion that under which circumstances can the specificity of modern history be distinguished from the regularity and consistency of the repeatability of past histories, for us to answer this question it is essential to fully understand the true difference in the motion and acceleration between our most immediate history and those that we associate with the entire past. Finally it expresses the step from a universal history in the form of an aggregate to a world history as a system, conceptually registering history‟s need for theory and relating it to the entire globe as its domain of action. 20 For Koselleck, the advent of modernity has brought about a history that due to human actions has become liberated from external conditions, „no longer simply deducible from natural Koselleck, R., Futures Past; on the semantics of historical time (1st ed, New York: Columbia University Press, 2004) p.99 20 Ibid., p.104 10 19
conditionsâ€&#x; 21 and therefore it cannot be explained in natural terms. The dynamic of the modern is one that is both unique and yet free of the repetition that was once a consistent factor in historiography. The individuality involves a process of the production of history in which the reflection and interpretation of the events results in the grasp of the future without actually influencing the determination of the process. What we today call history was certainly discovered but history was never explained in terms of history.22 This quote is painting the picture of how modernity and modernism as a period it not recognized as a break from one chronologically defined period to another, but as a fundamental difference in the quality of the historical time itself. The existence of modernity is not the apparition of a new era, but the emergence of a period, which through its progress and transformation has gained characteristics and attributions, that separate it from the former periods.
Anthony Vidler Epilogue: Postmodern or posthistoire?
Although Reinhart Koselleckâ€&#x;s views and ideologies on historiography and the role of historiography in the formation and the future of modernism is very well researched and wide reaching, Histories of the immediate Present by Antony Vidler accounts a journey into the role of history in shaping the contextual and social political aspects of modern architecture. Specifically looking at the works of the four great historians, Emil Kaufmann, Colin Rowe and occasionally delving into the more abstruse aspects of Le Corbusier and finding inspiration from the earliest discourse of the renaissance Histories of the immediate Koselleck, R., Futures Past; on the semantics of historical time (1st ed, New York: Columbia University Press, 2004) p.104 22 Ibid,. p.103 11 21
present, Vidler traces the impact (or lack of impact) of historical experiences on the modernist movement itself.
Figure 4 Le Corbusier, Bourdeaux-Pessac, 1924. Modern Dwellings 23 These series of drawings chart Le Corbusierâ€™s ventures into the more abstract elements of modernism. For Vidler, these were the most important and interesting works to scrutinize.
Figure 5 Le Corbusier, Ville Radieuese. 24 These series of drawings chart Le Corbusierâ€™s ventures into the more abstract elements of modernism. For Vidler, these were the most important and interesting works to scrutinize.
Le Corbusier, and Frederick Etchells. 1946. Towards A New Architecture. 1st ed. London: Architectural Press. 24 Evers, Bernd, and Christof Thoenes. 2003. Architectural Theory. 1st ed. KĂśln: Taschen. P.713 12
This highly critical and occasionally scathing report on modernism initiated resurgence in the critical assessment of architectural historicism, especially the significance of modernism on architectures legacy. As Vidler states, I am interested in the ways in which histories of modernism themselves were constructed as more or less overt programs for the theory and practice of design in their contemporary context.25 This model of architectural and historical criticism was highly criticized by the Italian architect-critic Manfredo Tafuri, labeled as “Operative Criticism”. This term was used to denigrate this style of criticism where historical and temporal elements and styles are used as a vernacularly framework on which to scrutinize and criticize current and future architecture elements. For Vidler, this model of Operative Criticism was treated not as a degenerative disease that decimates the original and innovation that for Tafuri the modern era deserved, by an unavoidable and predictable trait of historiography that should be embraced. If there is any underlying question that Anthony Vidler Poses in his book, both it and its answer may be found in the books concluding chapter, “postmodern or posthistoire” 26 . Within, Vidler remonstrates that Postmodernism is simply the terminal or a finite development of cultural society where all that remains is to perfect and reiterate existing forms and ideologies, where further progress is improbable. Modernism, we have been told, refused history in favor of abstraction; its functional promises and technological fetishism were nothing but failed utopias of progress; its ideology was out of touch with the people, if not anti-humanistic.27
Vidler, A., Histories of the Immediate Present (1st ed, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2008) p.1 26 Ibid,. p 208 27 Ibid,. p 208 13 25
For Vidler, Modernism was established, or arrived at, as the conclusion of architectural thought. „Failed Utopia‟ 28 implies just that, that modernism was constructed in practice as a finale, and in history as a failed one. The argument for postmodernists stands that just as modernism „refused history in favor of abstraction‟ 29, postmodernism acted as the antithesis to this idea. If we are to run with this vein of thinking, then modernism strikes us as anti-history, blurring the boundary between simply ignoring it, and decimating its legacy as a whole. Contrary to this, postmodernism seemed to be the antidote to this ailment of history, once again connecting architectural thinking to a humane historiography that it practice would „comfortably tie us back to our humanistic roots and thereby render us more human‟ 30.
Figure 6 Frank Lloyd Wrights Vision for Broadacre City, a departure from architectural thinki ng that delved deep into the realms of utopia. 31
Vidler, A., Histories of the Immediate Present (1st ed, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2008) p.208 29 Ibid,. p.208 30 Ibid,. p.208 31 Lapping, Mark B. 1979. 'Toward A Social Theory Of The Built Environment: Frank Lloyd Wright And Broadacre City'. Environmental Review: ER 3 (3): 11--23. 14 28
Vidler however brings a novel perspective on the matter, one where rather than the dismissal of historicism, Modernism held history in too high a regard, where the pioneers of the movement generated the notion that if any of the historical aspects were desirable it was its ability to act as a transcendental force that had a motion that was almost synonymous with the movements of the social, political and cultural aspects on humanism. In this same vein, Postmodernism is looked at as a style that chose to demonstrated a â€žprofound disdain for history in favor of an a -historical mythâ€&#x; 32. This antithetical treatment of history is attributed to postmodernisms easily recognizable traits and movements, eschewing the past and more significantly, the present. These notions are surmised in the following quote; To think modernism, then, would be to think of history as an active and profoundly disturbing force; to take history on its own terms; realistically or idealistically to tangle with history and wrestle it into shape. It would be, indeed, to think historically. To think postmodern, by contrast, would be to ignore everything that makes history, history, and selectively to pick and chose whatever authorizing sign fits the moment. History is used and abused in postmodernism; it is feared and confronted in modernism. 33
Ibid,. p.209 Ibid,. p.210 15
Figure 7 OMA/ Rem Koolhass, Design for Bibliothéque Nationale
Evers, Bernd, and Christof Thoenes. 2003. Architectural Theory. 1st ed. Köln: Taschen. P.69 16
Figure 8 Adolf Loos, Villa Moller Vienna (1927/8)
Evers, Bernd, and Christof Thoenes. 2003. Architectural Theory. 1st ed. Kรถln: Taschen. P.678 17
Figure 9 Adolf Loos, Tristan Tzara House and Building Design for Chicago Tribune (1922) 36
Vidler concludes that to agree with the views of the critics whom he was reviewing, that modernism was the epistemological finale of the natural chronology that included the periods of the renaissance and medieval worlds, Vidler concludes, mentioning that if only modernism had
Evers, Bernd, and Christof Thoenes. 2003. Architectural Theory. 1st ed. Kรถln: Taschen. P.679 18
been predicted or envisioned as the end or the finale then „the future would be bereft or repetition‟.
Vidler brings to the fore the notion of posthistoire, a system of criticism where the general the view is that modernism is treated as the end-point of architectural history and criticism, and all that is left to be done was its endless reconfiguration and perfection. The „post historical phase‟, a phrase that he credits to the mathematician Aleixandre Cournot was one that marked this endpoint, where the system refuses to be apart of the positive progression and technological innovation that it was responsible for creating. Vidler cites the Belgian Philosopher Hendricks de Man: The term post historical seems adequate to describe what happens when an institution or cultural achievement ceases to be historically active and productive of new qualities, and becomes purely receptive or eclectically imitative. Thus understood Cournot's notion of the post historical would [...] fit the cultural phase that, following a "fulfillment of sense," has become "devoid of sense." The alternative then is, in biological terms, either death or mutation38 This sense of „death or mutation‟ is one that Koselleck also echoes in Futures Past, the concept that modernism is mutation without mutation, where the frequency of the technological and social progressions also start to fit into a sort of „routine‟, the constant modern temporal experiences blur into a reality that is devoid of any historicism or sense of historiography. All of this accumulates in a species of postmodernal architecturalism that is seemingly devoid of all of the aspects, which granted history its transcendental attributes. „This force and discomforting violence‟ accumulated in an immediate history in which may take on the guise of modernity, nonetheless corresponds with a strikingly counter-historical trend. Complementary to this, posthistoire alludes to modernism as being an entity solely unto itself, independent and ignorant of all histories past and present. In the search for a present history that eschews the past,
Vidler, A., Histories of the Immediate Present (1st ed, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2008) p.194 38 Ibid,. p.211 19 37
architects and historians have developed styles and systems under the guise of constructivism and deconstructivism, however these, however modern as they seem, correspond as strongly with historical temporalities as do the styles of the humanistic and renaissance periods themselves. This leads Vidler to his own conclusion that any modernity arrives at the result of its own reflections and „internal investigations‟, regardless of natural time; this phenomenon can be predicted and expected.
Figure 10 Warren Chalk. "Spaceprobe" Cartoon, in ARCHIGRAM, 1964 39 An Example of this de-constructivist and futurist style, which Vidler Claims is a misrepresentation of modernity which favor humanism and history. Thus falling under the category of Postmodernism.
This aspect of historical time having different rates of acceleration independent of the natural temporal rhythms is a theme, which both Vidler and Koselleck have in common. It seems that for both critics, the varying criteria in the formation of new experiences is responsible for the
Evers, Bernd, and Christof Thoenes. 2003. Architectural Theory. 1st ed. Köln: Taschen. P.772 20
formation of past and present histories. It is this predictable nature of the formation of new experiences that presupposes. The fact that the historical rhythms differ to those of the events and experiences themselves echoes with the fact that the histories we regard are always viewed from differing times and histories, this ever changing viewpoint has an even more potent warping effect on the histories themselves, changing both there significance on their own histories and their effects on the futures which they presuppose.
Here we arrive at the subject of future histories also, what role does modernism and postmodernism have in the formation of immediate and future histories? Both for Koselleck and for Vidler the phrases Modernism, Modernity and Modernization offer no transcendenta l or special qualities that distinguish them from the other epochs or periods of history. Modernismâ€&#x;s only qualities that separate it from other periods would be its acceptance of histories status as a concept. With the acceleration of technologies and social progressions happening at a rate faster that any precedents, modernism is the only epoch to understand and fully comprehend its position within the progressional natural chronology that is history. Our understanding of society and its mechanisms are historical in nature, the many facets and planes that are associated with modernism come at the price of the discovery of the role of historiography in both society an d knowledge. This knowledge of course is subject to the same rules and precedents of with history are also apart. This meaning that the â€žepistemic validityâ€&#x; of the immediate histories is firmly ground within the time, place and social standings of its production. However, there is a contrast here with the notion that the viewpoint from which histories are regarded holds as much temporal significance as the period in which they were formed. That no matter the social conditions of which histories are a product of, they will always be tied to the social and human contemporary situations. As we are apart of more immediate histories, the myths, falsifications and misrepresentations of history will fade as we penetrate further and further into a future that
is full of both social and technological advancements. This future will provide a stable foundation from which we can implement that ideologies of historians such as Koselleck and Vidler, to use the language of historicism to assess and manipulate „the space of experience‟ in which we as humans are responsible for creating this notion of present modernism that is every changing and ever more evolving into itself.
In conclusion, I believe that although Reinhart Koselleck and Anthony Vidler are correct in their statements that although all periods of history are subject to the rules of repetition, modernity is the product of extreme variations in the rate of the acceleration regarding the speed of historical experiences, they are both wrong that any period of modernism „requires „a variation in the formation temporal experiences that we have witnessed in past histories. However, a feature of this debate that is not discussed in these works by these critics is the haunting effect that history has held over the future of modernism, the period of modernism has only been labeled a „failure‟ due to its standings and relations in regard to past histories. The failure attributes to a sense of self-transcendentalisation, which creates a species of cultural anxiety within society, this seemingly harmless break with history has created a chronology of periodization that is fully of both social, cultural and technological innovations remains overwhelmingly black in terms of historical legitimization. This „failure‟ is a feature that will forever be associated with modernism and even more frighteningly, progress itself. For me, modernity‟s role in the future histories should not be regarded as a failure, but that they should be seen as attempts to distance themselves from the historical malformalities and thenceforth transform themselves from failed periods, to future projects. In this time where modernism is seen as the end-point of the totality which is history, our only positive option is to re-consider modernism as the transformation of history as it gains unspeakable acceleration with time.
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