Issuu on Google+

Michael Meredith

For the Absurd. Are you reading this? You must be bored. If you’re looking for pizzazz, it might be a good idea to look elsewhere. Haven’t you heard of the Internet? There’s everything you can think of on the Internet, everything all the time. It’s so fantastic I can hardly bear it. Architecture seems so dull and primitive in comparison. If you’re still reading, I have to say I’m not trying to be self-effacing or nihilistic. It just happened. To be honest, nihilists are awful, always constructing arguments in those dialectical structures only to negate them or to finally find some other third condition – High vs. Low, Classicism vs. Modernism, Hot vs. Cold, Easy vs. Difficult, Inside vs. Outside, Abstraction vs. Realism, Up vs. Down, etc. You know the setup. You know the punch line. But did you know that those intolerably – heroically – tragic people are just a second order of nihilism? Their predecessors were just as annoying to bring to a cocktail party, critical of everything, screaming ----- when everyone else was saying ++++. Exhausting. Eventually someone wanted to annihilate them. I don’t blame them. That’s when the second order came along. Actually, I’ve heard there’s also a third order of nihilists out there who just decided it’s all completely meaningless. They jabber on about the inaccessibility of language, but I don’t get it. They think it’s better to be quiet, to be nothing, to be static, to be meaningless. They think at the core of everything is a mathematically precise and rigorous vacuum. They believe time stopped in Vienna at 6:32 pm, August 21, 1905. They’re a very clandestine group, and from what I’ve heard, they stay indoors mostly. They’re real misanthropes, quote-unquote posthumanists; whatever you do, don’t look them directly in the eyes. But who knows, I wasn’t there when any of this happened, this is just what someone told me. Trust me, I’m not negative. I don’t want to be a nihilist. Nihilists think everything is ending constantly, that everything is meaningless. They’re intellectual valley girls that are so post-whatever. They’re easy to spot – they avoid eye contact and they typically dress in black. I’m sure you’ve seen them before. They’re lurking everywhere, especially in schools. They prefer to talk in absolutes, in meta-dialects. It’s evangelical mumbo jumbo, if you ask me. You know what 7


they say: misery loves company . . . but whatever you do, please don’t get seduced by their self-proclaimed oh-so-complex anxieties – “company” is okay, but the “misery” part isn’t great. Maybe I shouldn’t be saying these things . . . Listen, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but really, I wish they would just go away already. All I’m asking is for some kind of awareness, just a little self-consciousness. How did we get so far astray? When I started writing this I was just trying to be utterly straightforward. I suppose a part of me believes that writing anything about architecture is ridiculous, a diversion from the concrete facts of building – the weight, the materials, the performance, the proportions, the organization . . . Another part of me believes that our cultural fictions are at the core of this discipline. All we are is a group of weirdos who share a common disorder. Well, maybe they’re the same part of me. I’m not sure. Does anyone understand why architects obsess and care about something most people just ignore? Why do we follow the history of inanimate objects? Why do we study them and their invisible geometries? Frankly, it’s a pretty arcane profession and it’s downright scary at times. It’s like being part of a Masonic lodge – what are they doing in there? I’m just glad we don’t have to wear funny hats. Most other people walk by and live in buildings, but don’t think about them – not like we do. They have other things on their minds. They only seem to care when it doesn’t work or when they stub their toe on it or if it isn’t right or if it’s too different, etc. . . . but otherwise they don’t think about the fact that all of this is constructed. That we’re all wandering around an endless artifice, a neverending hall of mirrors. Someone made it up, someone else believed in it, and then someone repeated it! Those of us who care, we try to track the pieces in motion as best we can – the choices, the discussions, etc. But there are few of us and a lot of pieces. It’s been said before, but Architecture is a narrative of interesting buildings, the ones we remember and debate, the ones we build stories around, the ones we dissect and recycle. Architecture is not a discipline, it’s a book club. It’s a book club where the illustrations are usually more important than the texts. Architecture is a sequestered jury. It’s a cultural bracket under intense pressure trying to produce diamonds out of dirt. And if it could have any autonomy it wouldn’t be formal or technical, it would be social; but it’s all temporary, I suppose. I know we’ll both forget this, but in the meantime, it’s comforting that we oddballs have each other for a little while to discuss and project possibilities, to 8

Log 22


try to convince each other (and the others) to see the world as it could be. Look how different, exciting, and liberating it could be. This sounds right. This feels interesting, I can relate to this. I can’t stand that other stuff, the stuff those other people like. This is better for these reasons, etc. . . . In reality, though, I’m not sure why anyone would be interested. Really, we should focus on the facts of the world-at-large, try to make things better. We should probably be engineers. Anything else is absurd. Architecture’s self-serious tragedy has been written and rewritten ad nauseam. I’d prefer something else, something I can relate to. You know what I mean. I guess what I’ve been trying to say, if it wasn’t clear already, is that someone should really write a manifesto, a manifesto for the absurd. It’s probably the most earnest thing to write. At this moment we don’t need a manifesto for the competent or the sustainable. Those have already been written and they’re so completely boring and so totally obvious. This yet-to-be-written manifesto should be called “Absurd Realism,” so that people would know that it’s not simply solipsistic ironic winking but that it’s actually engaged in the world. It is not against Realism or Humanism. It’s not against Abstraction or Formal Logic or Positivism. It’s not art for art’s sake, and it’s not about heteronomy of life, of urbanism, of function. It’s for both and neither. “Absurd Realism” would be extreme in its parallel, multiple ontologies. The more I think of it though, the more I realize I can’t write it, I wouldn’t know how to begin. Maybe you could write it? “Absurd Realism!” – I could help you with it. My advice would be to keep it simple, like a Beckett play. Well, I suppose I should confess – I actually wrote this manifesto already. It was great, incredibly original and utterly searing. Unfortunately this was before auto-recovery . . . suffice it to say it was a devastating loss. Years and years of my best writing erased with one inadvertent push of a button. DELETE. I really don’t have it in me to start over, it would just be a pale copy of the original. You understand. I did manage to find an old bibliography and a partial list of footnotes from an earlier draft. Maybe you can start with that.

Working Bibliography Adorno, Theodor. “Trying to Understand Endgame.” Notes to Literature. Ed. Rolf Tiedemann. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991. 241–76. 9

Log 22


Allen, Stan. “From Fields to Emergent Particle Systems that Begin to Coalesce toward Malformed Objects, then to Objects and Finally to Fields Again.” Points and Lines: Diagrams and Projects for the City. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999. 90–137. Beckett, Samuel. Endgame 2: The Rematch. 1964. Bois, Yve-Alain, Rosalind Krauss, et al. Appendix with Every Illustration of the Formless That Became Form and an Institutionalized Technique As Soon As We Published This Book. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2007. Cage, John. Silence: Lectures and Writings. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1961. Cohen, Preston Scott. Private Arguments with Anxious and Unruly Geometries. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000. Critchley, Simon. On Humour. London: Routledge, 2002. Eisenman, Peter. Notes on Conceptual Architecture: The Revised 2010 “Alternate History” Edition In Which Illustrations of LeWitt and Judd Have Been Replaced with Serra and Smithson. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 2011. Eisenman, Peter. Post-Post-Formalism and Post-Post-PostFunctionalism, 4th edition, with new post-introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979. Fried, Herbert Simon. Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Previously Unpublished Knock-Knock Jokes and Philosophical Pick-Up Lines. Pocket ed. London: Vintage, 1989. Freud, Sigmund. Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990. Herzog, Jacques. A Picturesque of Flatulence. Vienna: Springer Vienna Architecture, 2004. Johnson, Philip. “The Gentleman’s Index of Stylish, Meaningless, and Happy Buildings.” Writings. London: Oxford University Press, 1979. Joyce, William, ed. The Anxiety Caused by Reading the Anxiety of Influence: A Reader. London: Oxford University Press, 1997. 10

Log 22


Kipnis, Jeffrey. “The Importance of the Insignificant.” Log 4, Winter 2005. Koolhaas, Rem. Junkspace Recycled. New York: Taschen, 2010. Lavin, Sylvia. Sparkles: Architecture’s Ephemerality. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2012. Martin, Reinhold. More Postmodern Than You. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2009. Nyman, Michael. Experimental Music. New York: Schirmer Books, 1974. Rancière, Jacques. “The Aesthetic Revolution and Its Outcomes: Emplotments of Autonomy and Heteronomy.” New Left Review 14, March–April 2002. 133–51. Ross, Alex. “Searching for Silence.” The New Yorker, 4 October 2010. 52–61. Rossi, Aldo. “Still-life Urbanism: The City is Dead, Long Live the City!” Oppositions, 1983. Stirling, James F. Fruit Salad, Modernism, Classicism, Oversized Bundt Cakes and Lime Jello: Disembodied Urbanism, Melted Objects, Soft Spaces and Missing Corners. London: Thames & Hudson, 1977. Sample, Hilary M. and Michael Meredith. The User’s Guide to Becoming Robert and Denise, Alison and Peter, Charles and Ray, Liz and Ric and Every Other Architecture Couple You Can Think Of. New York: Actar, 2010. Schmitt, Louise. Schoenberg, Dodecaphony and the Inherent Comedy of Technique. London: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Somol, Robert. Huh + Wow = Whoa! London: AA Publications, 2004. Venturi, Robert. Complexity and Contradiction In Architecture, Abbreviated CliffsNotes Edition. New York: CliffsNotes, 1993. Wallace, David Foster. “Laughing with Kafka.” Harper’s Magazine (July 1998): 23–27. Warhol, Andy. The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again. New York: Penguin Classics, 2007. 11

Log 22


Recovered Footnotes to “Absurd Realism” 1. Ibid. Actually, this may not be the case. 2. Tragedy, after all, being the dominant narrative of “AvantGarde” Architecture! 3. The final ______ at the end of that incredibly thoughtful sentence on the meaning of architecture seems out of place. Its meaning has been debated for years by various esteemed scholars, including K. Francis Klarknip, Rosalie Cracken, and M.F. Taftuti. Personally, it made me feel a little uneasy. You usually don’t see a “______” hanging out there at the end of a statement like that. Possibly it’s there for effect, to leave things unresolved, to make it “funny” – not laugh-out-loud funny, but weird funny, or maybe even absurd. Why is that important? Who knows. But it has been generally acknowledged that that sort of absurdity produces humor through a nihilistic approach toward nihilism, utilizing non sequiturs, misplaced elements, awkward relationships, and incongruity. Even with all of the mishaps, it doesn’t devolve into an absolute atomization of the elements, a complete erasure, an infinite fragmentation, or a tragic totalizing alienation. ______ may be the conclusion of what architecture means, but it isn’t a sad ______. 4. [Note to self: Look up the metrics of the situation, insert into methodological formula, surf Internet, and canvas friends to see what they think of it all.] 5. R. “Not The Body” Ventur begins to hint at this paradox in Complexity and Confusion in Architecture (1966), 26–27, where the meaning and the making of a work of art are suggested to be two sides of the same coin, sharing the same space, but with different views. In expanding his argument to architectural practice, Ventur proposed that orthodoxy toward the medium of architecture was more impediment than opportunity, especially if one assumed the so-called “Ultraclear” communication to be the penultimate goal of cultural production. In “No Need to Tie the Dollar to the Gold Standard” (see Brochure Architecture 11), Ventur continued to frame medium in terms of currency. That piece ended with his now-legendary statement, “Does anyone really care about the material composition of cash other than counterfeiters?” 6. Simply: there is a preference for relative complex confusion over absolute clarity, although that preference can produce an absolute clarity. More work needs to be done on this. 12

Log 22


7. If your primary residency is established on a foreign vessel, you can be declared legally dead but the government can’t levy an estate tax until your body is repatriated. Your untaxed assets are transferable by power of attorney as long as you/ your body remains in international waters, and of course you’ll have to be buried at sea. Seriously, they’ve got whole cruise lines based on this. It’s a pretty big deal. 8. In a little known postscript to the White/Gray debate, the “Splinters,” led by K. Frampton, responded to the rising criticism of What is an Architect’s Medium? by pleading, “Tectonics and Materials are all we have left, can we as a profession please not shoot ourselves in the foot?” (see “Frampton Comes Alive”), to which “The Academy” replied, “No, thank you.” (See the essay “No, Thank You” in Oppositionalities VII). Though some Splinters stayed to fight, many retreated into the hills of Switzerland and parts of Canada. 9. [“Total Clarity!” section – expand or remove entirely.] 10. In retrospect, Ventur’s call for contradiction and ambiguity in architectural production laid the groundwork for Absurd Realism’s demand for an architecture that is “postmedium” (Po’ Me). (See R. Krauss, “The Grid – What’s it done for me lately?”) Absurdist architecture is diffuse and relational. It is made up of incomplete and unresolved bits and fragments, but “Collage” (C: Roew) is not its product. “Both-And,” “Either-Or,” “Simple-Complex” – all dualisms are to be stricken from the record as being too lazy to indulge. Reductive thinking is the enemy of the Absurd, though it’s worth pointing out that reductive thinking is of the utmost absurdity (see T. Parti). 11. Frankly, I couldn’t be more serious, I just don’t understand how you could deal with this without a sense of humor. 12. “A joke, when successful, induces a sense of the familiar defamiliarized . . .” (Simon Critchley, On Humour, 29). 13. The former was based upon the Greek mathematician Hippapus, who was known to laugh while working through his calculations of the Golden Ratio. In a paraphrased copy of the speech given by David Foster Wallace titled “Laughing with Kafka,” later published as an essay, he discusses the humor and absurdity of Kafka’s work. According to the piece, Kafka is funny (but not ROFL funny) precisely because of the 13

Log 22


____ removed from the work, that which is connotative or implied. Of course, timing is everything. 14. H. Murakami later expanded on this theme in his 2002 novel, Kafka on the Shore, which, had it been set in Tangier in the 1970s, may have put the somber insurance clerk looking for his parents’ lost cat on a collision course with a vacationing Beckett. This alternate ending, in fact, is said to be the inspiration for one of I. Calvino’s unfinished manuscripts titled “Estranged Quarks,” where Kafka was played by a proton and Beckett an electron. 15. Reductio ad absurdum: a proposition is disproven by following its implications to their logically absurd end. Alternatively: a proposition is proven through self-contradiction. 16. As one follows the signage, the experience of the memorial is embodied in the fruitless search for the monument itself. 17. Ontological relativism must accept the devastatingly realist implications of its own truth claim. Absurd Realism, on the other hand, is open to the momentary action of multiple interpretations – even (especially!) the interpretation that says it is the only absolute interpretation and that all the other interpretations are baloney. 18. Most notably, Magical Realism in literature and postsurrealist economics. 19. Absurd Realism produces a space in which the search for meaning in something both vague and concrete is highly encouraged, unlike a search for one’s keys, which is concrete and vaguely frustrating, or the search for “the Other,” which is vague and concretely frustrating. Neither promoted nor forbidden, frustration is a common side-effect of both games and reality. 20. This argument has been put forward by S. Lavin in Sparkles & co. 21. i.e., No stable grid, no absolute datum. Language itself is in continual transformation and renegotiation through its use, misuse, and need for our strange construction of ontological relevance. In any event, the “familiar” here is not necessarily a general familiar to everyone, but remains in the court of the respective audience, producing a polyphony of 14

Log 22


legible illegibilities. Absurd Realism operates with a disciplinary “familiar” within our own sequestered group. 22. This is a reference both to D.F. Wallace and to one of J.-P. Sartre’s later essays, “I Know You Are, But What Am I?” which states that “hell” is not merely comprised of “other people,” but more specifically next-door neighbors and family members. In contrast, Wallace reminds us that both humor and meaning are not something to “get,” and neither is the “self.” They are about the search. Without this basic understanding, what Wallace calls the “laugh traK,” it becomes impossible to appreciate Kafka’s knock-knock jokes, as it is only through a contingent situation of the Self that the subject can challenge the void: “Who’s there?” 23. Unlike Dasame, a belief that it has all been done before, Heideregel’s Throwness opens up the space between ironic know-it-all-ness and naïve know-nothingness. It engages without expectation, celebrating wit, intuition and playfulness, engagement and informality. It is a way of working that avoids tasteful composition and the construction of absolute ideals. 24. ( ) Both ( ) Neither

Michael Meredith is a partner in the architecture practice MOS and assistant professor at Princeton University’s School of Architecture. He is the guest editor of LOG 22. 15


Log22_For The Absurd