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Absence, the Presence of Absence and the Pleasures of Absence Na-pat Tengtrirat

Of Grammatology 1967 Jacques Derrida

Dissemination 1972 Jacques Derrida

Manhattan Transcripts 1976 Bernard Tschumi

House 11a 1976 Peter Eisenman

Writing and Difference 1978 Jacques Derrida

Cannaregio 1978 Peter Eisenman

Parc de la Villette 1982 Bernard Tschumi

Romeo and Juliet 1985 Peter Eisenman

Chora L Works 1987 Peter Eisenman + Jacques Derrida

Fireworks 1991 Bernard Tschumi


This is a Deconstruction of Deconstruction in order to show that architecture is not a means towards some end, to reevaluate our position that inscribes the writing, experimentation and thinking of architecture as being inferior to that of real building, to acknowledge that architecture can never have a telos, to understand that architecture can never be stripped of its philosophical implications and to accept that contributions to architecture is not alone attributed to built work.

It is subdivided into four texts plus a text that may or may not happen. Derrida’s text, Identifying the Strength of a Certain Weakness Tschumi reading Derrida, Not the Madness But the Madnesses Eisenman reading Derrida, The Three Fictions Derrida and Eisenman reading Derrida, Eisenman and Tschumi, Chora L Works Plus, Un-authored, A Text That Is Yet To Be Written

The first text retraces the force of Deconstruction on architecture, exposing and liberating an other that is concealed and suppressed by institution. The second and third text analyses the work of two architects who are most theoretically aware and most committed to the dogmatic scepticism of Deconstruction. The fourth text reads the first, second and third text as supplements, presenting a garden in Parc de La Villette.


Identifying the Strength of a Certain Weakness Derrida’s Text

Derrida defines deconstruction as the translation of the Heideggerian terms Destruktion, to destroy, and Abbau, to dismantle or to displace. In Derridian term, Destruktion does not mean to destroy ‘but precisely a destructuring that dismantles the structural layers in the system’ and Abbau is to ‘take apart an edifice in order to see how it is constituted or deconstituted.’ 2

“In the wake – the interminable wake – of modernism and modernist postmodernism, questions of refuse and refusing arise. Suppose carnival and festival always harbor darkness . . . suppose Dionysus’s bacchanalian revel is the mask of tragedy . . . suppose the death of God is not the arrival of the Parousia but the mark of the impossibility of its arrival . . . suppose reconciliation is a mirage . . . suppose the utopia has not arrived . . . the Kingdom is delayed . . . perhaps infinitely deferred.” 1 Mark C. Taylor, Disfiguring

“Without a doubt, Aristotle thinks of time on the basis of ousia as Parousia, on the basis of the now, the point. And yet an entire reading could be organised that would repeat in Aristotle’s text both this limitation and its opposite.” The reading of Deconstruction is the unraveling and retention of an absence that institution attempts to imprison but yet depends on; it is a strange structural condition that must be concealed into order to present presence as stable. However, the very possibility of presence is marked by the survival of absence. (Jacques Derrida, ‘Ousia and Gramme: Note on a Note from Being and Time’ in Margins of Philosophy, p.61) 5

Ever since Jacques Derrida first outlined the Deconstruction project in his 1967 book Of Grammatology, it has never been far from controversy. He introduced Deconstruction as a new approach to linguistic theory, one that is never purely within language but uses language as a fulcrum in which his arguments can then hinge off.2 Derrida argues that words establish meaning by referring to other words, “there is no outside-text”3, meaning is never present, it is infinitely deferred. Consequently, Deconstruction’s raison d’être is the desire to expose internal contradictions within language, within the very foundations that has always been portrayed as stable, secure and governing. In Of Grammatology, Derrida repeatedly describe Deconstruction as the soliciting of an edifice, “in the sense that Sollicitare, in old Latin, means to shake as a whole, to make tremble in entirely.”4 In this way, Deconstruction’s methodology is one of dissection, a necessary violent, an acultural transgression, a non- anthropomorphic crime, a demonstration against the assumption that text exists as a discrete whole in order to re-present it as irreconcilable, fragmented and disjoint. As follows, the fundamental Deconstructive proposition is the questioning of the metaphysics of presence, that is, the privileging of presence over absence.5

Since philosophy persistently constructs itself as a kind of architecture, theorizing is understood in architectural terms. In Critique of Pure Reason, Kant describes metaphysics as “an edifice erected on secure foundations laid on the most stable ground.” In this way, the question of metaphysics is that of the relationship between edifice and ground. 7

During the postmodern era, Deconstruction was absorbed and transcribed into various disciplines.6 The most prominent appropriation of Deconstruction, however, cannot be argued to be anything but architecture, for architecture, according to Derrida, is the locus of the metaphysics of presence.7 What is presented here is an interesting situation. Having exhausted the fortitude of Deconstruction within linguistic theory, Derrida was looking to test its pedagogy against its limits, namely architecture. Architecture, on the other hand, was being drawn into the alluring promise of Deconstruction. But what is Deconstruction? What does it mean to Deconstruct? When can you claim that something is Deconstruction? Is it a movement? Is it a style? Can it be translated into architecture?8 As these questions proliferate, answers are fragmented and imprecise. To pin down Deconstruction to a single definition is a near impossible task. One way to define Deconstruction is to not define it but to set up a parameter in which it could maneuver, that is, you are saying what it is by saying what it isn’t. Mark Wigley did this very clearly when he wrote: “Deconstruction is not a method, a critique, an analysis, or a source of legitimation. It is not strategic. It has no prescribed aim, which is not to say that it is aimless. It moves very precisely, but not to some defined end. It is not even an application of something. It is, at best, a strange structural condition, an outgoing structural event, a continuous displacement of structure that cannot be evaluated in traditional terms because it is the very frustration of those terms. Deconstruction is that which is necessary to structure but evades structural analysis (and analysis is invariably structural). It is the breakdown of structure that is the very possibility of structure, but which must be concealed to produce the effect of structure in the first place.”9

Understood in this way, the slippery unstable nature of Deconstruction, being at once esoteric and Delphic, is the very thing that makes it so compelling. When you give 3

The questioning of Deconstruction is embedded within the questions Deconstructions asks, “what kind of relationship does deconstructive discourse assumes with the account of architecture that the traditional economy resist but cannot avoid, the always threatening architecture repressed by tradition? Can deconstructive discourse speak about this unspeakable architect?” (Mark Wigley, ‘The Survival of Deconstruction’ in The Architecture of Deconstruction: Derrida’s Haunt, MIT Press, 1993, p.20) 8

yourself up to its process – or non-process – you are abandoning a single goal, you can never know what the end product is, there can be no telos because that knowledge invokes the entire systemization of desires, the anthropocentrism, which Deconstruction looks to dismantle. It is the notion of locating the inbetween, the ugly within the beautiful, the darkness within the light, the irrational within the rational, to uncover the repressed, the incarcerated and the illegitimate. If Deconstruction is the search for the structural flaws and the non-space to which these flaws are allowed to unfold then it becomes increasingly clear that it is the analysis of a tradition that is falsely understood “as self-evident and natural, as if they had not been institutionalized at some precise moment, as if they had no history. Because of being taken for granted they restrict thinking.”10 Therefore, to formulate an analysis between Deconstruction and architecture is to locate a possible entry point in the seemingly “self-evident and natural” laws of architecture and to show that the eversion of these laws is possible. Peter Eisenman argues that the “history of architecture can be seen as the continual rereading, and misreading, of the metaphysics of architecture through successive dislocations, and the subsequent institutionalization of each dislocation, which thereby reconstitute the metaphysic.”11 The institutionalization that Derrida and Eisenman speak of is the moment in which the metaphysics of architecture establishes itself as a governing truth. However, for Eisenman, architecture have always had the potential to challenge itself by dislocating and (re)imprinting new ideas. If we take the platonic assumption that ideas are superior to matter as a first principle then a possible entry point is the fact that logocentrism assimilates itself in our understanding and thinking of both philosophy and architecture. It enters “via the rearticulation of metaphysics. It is of course a rearticulation that is housed architecturally and yet extends beyond architecture.”12 To follow this path, two important arguments, which could be said to be dialectical but also having the same intention, needs to be address. Following differing methodology, both attempts to open up the hermetic implications of architecture. One pin points the closedness of architecture, opening it up by means of deduction (a priori), while the other finds cracks and fissures through the possibility of multiple interpretations and the deferral of meaning (différance). Both identifies its strength in the others weakness. In Building, Dwelling, Thinking, Heidegger asserts that “man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man.”13 However, logocentrism represents something much more fundamental than the paradoxical thesis that language governs our understanding of external reality but rather, it follows that language is the mere signification of an original, irreducible presence. There exists a transcendental signified, a presence that transcends all other by having a privileged viewpoint, being more truthful, more authentic, more natural. Presence in the form of the transcendental signified reconstructs itself in two stages, language being the primary stage and writing being the secondary stage. In this way, language is a sign and writing is a sign of a sign, suggesting that the conceptualization of our universe is mediated by this two-fold translation. But the translation contract is never linear, leading to a displacement of the meaning of building, thus architecture.14 Retracing the etymological roots through a priori, the origin of building (bauen) comes from the term dwell (buan) and to dwell is to be a mortal on earth, to be aware of being in space and time. Accordingly, the word architecture is the association between the Latin terms arkhi and teckton, which means master-builder, which in turn means master-dweller. By locating an original presence and establishing a transcendental signified, Heidegger reformulates the relation between man and space, between building, dwelling and thinking, arguing that “space is not something that faces man. It is neither an external object nor an inner experience”, to think of space, or of architecture, is to be at that space.15 As follows, architecture is not restricted to the grounding of an edifice or the preservation of an existing phenomenon; it is not a means towards some end.16 There exists another layer that is suppressed and undervalued by institution, its status being inferior to that of ‘real buildings.’17 4

Heidegger argues that the meaning of building, in its transcendental signified state has been displaced. Through the rigour of time, in which building is spoken of with such an ease that it becomes habitualised, its original meaning recedes to the background while a more superficial understanding of building takes its place in the foreground. In turn this inevitably transforms into something we implicitly assume but don’t explicitly understand, thus remaining elusive in its essential nature. Similarly, philosophy has been in the state of groundlessness ever since the metaphysics of ground, or ground as presence, is translated into ground as support, ground as the supplement of a presence. If presence is an edifice then, “the site can only be seen through the building. The edifice makes visible the ground on which it stands […] It is not simply looked at by an eye. Rather, it constructs the eye. Furthermore, this newly constructed eye is not directed from the building towards the site. It produces what it sees. The building produces the site.” (Mark Wigley, ‘The Survival of Deconstruction’ in The Architecture of Deconstruction: Derrida’s Haunt, p.60) 14

“If building is the presentation of the ground, architecture is the representation of that grounding. Architecture is, as it were, the translation of building that represents building to itself as complete, secure, undivided. The architectural supplement is always called for by structural failure, called in to provide a particular image of building in its absence […] The fundamental sense that the building faithfully translate the ground is but an effect of the supplementary layer of architecture that is meant, in turn, to faithfully translate the building and obey its law.” (Mark Wigley, ‘The Survival of Deconstruction’ in The Architecture of Deconstruction: Derrida’s Haunt, p.24-25) 16

Peter Eisenman claims that there has to be a distinction between architecture and building because ‘real architecture’ only exist in drawings and ‘real buildings’ only exist outside of drawing. 17

The second method, or différance, is where Derrida performs a Deconstructive reading on the transcendental signified. In Dissemination, he locates internal contradictions within the logic of the transcendental signified, “the purity of the inside can only be restored if the charges are brought home against exteriority as a supplement, inessential yet harmful to the essence, a surplus that ought never to have come to be added to the untouched plentitude of the inside.”18 In making tremble the structure of the transcendental signified, Derrida establishes his argument, placing the ideals of purity under severe pressure in order to question the premise that presents the exterior as harmful and impure. According to Derrida these ideals can never be absolute because it is subjected to contamination from exterior forces, the charges “brought home against exteriority” will not restore the purity of the inside. As such, rather than being anchored down to a transcendental signified, the relation between the signifier and the signified presents itself in the state of free-play, one that has an “indefinite referral of signifier to signified.”19 He calls this relation free-floating signifier. Architecture, in this way, does not have a governing transcendental presence but is a continuous displacement of the established institutionalized metaphysics. It searches for strategies of rereading and misreading in order to disfigure and reconstruct. The history of architecture is accrued with such dislocations. If the primary objective of architecture is the provision of shelter then the first dislocation can be traced back to the epoch of the cavemen: “man’s first shelter was the cave. It preexisted him; it was not designed and had no intrinsic cultural meaning.” But “shelter can also exist in the mind as an idea. It can be said to be the first idea or principle of architecture, and as such, a basic part of the metaphysics of architecture. A dislocation of this metaphysics occurred when the cavemen left the cave and found materials with which to build.”20 As Jeffrey Kipnis points out, “no cavemen ever set out to find a two-bedroom cave.”21 The idea of privacy was not conceived of in the cave, it only became apparent to the cavemen through the dislocation of the metaphysics and the possibilities of the new. Consequently, the development of architecture is only possible when the established metaphysics is dislocated, allowing for new ideas to be imprinted. Thus, the initial architectural operation is one of dislocation. Italy in the 15th century is the site of a major dislocation that redirected the trajectory of architecture, aligning it with the path of today. Associated with “manual labour and dispersed authorship, the status of the architect was often low.”22 However, after the Italian Renaissance, the role of the architect shifts from building to drawing, hinging off the platonic notion that ideas are superior to matter. Drawing, hitherto, is both an instrument of articulation and the generator of ideas. Nonetheless, it was still a means towards an end, an inferior entity that will be translated into building. Its only role was to substantiate. The work of Eisenman and Tschumi pushed the hierarchy between ideas and matter to its extreme, and the role of the architect would again breakoff into a new sub-trajectory. Their drawings, in most cases, are more influential than the completed buildings and the buildings became a way to substantiate the project or to test its ideas rather than being the telos. The spectator had to know the process, the drawings and the entire intellectual operation if they are to understand the building. They cannot gain access to the project by the immediacy of the building. In some cases, simply knowing the drawings and the intellectual process was sufficient; the spectator would learn little else from experiencing the building.23 If the movement from modern to postmodern is the shift in the strategy of dislocation, “from the exclusive logic of either/or to the inclusive logic of both/and”, then the doctrine of Eisenman and Tschumi is located within this shift but also outside of it. In its third guise, dislocation “neither erases nor absolutizes figure but enacts what Freud describes as the process of denegation, through which the repressed or refused returns. Neither simply an affirmation nor negation, de-negation is an un-negation that affirms rather than negates negation. The affirmation of negation by way of un-negation subverts every effort to negate negation.”24 5

Classical architecture is governed and structured by experience. Walking inside a classical building, the spectator can easily understand its content. Classical architecture, as it were, has two textual dimensions, the vertical text (façade) and the horizontal text (plan). With most of Eisenman and Tschumi’s work, there is no treatment of the vertical text. In this way, where is the ideal position for spectator to understand the project? For them, it is from above as presented in the drawings . . . God’s view. 23

Eisenman and Tschumi’s praxis is concerned with the distilling and the expulsion of individual style. If Eisenman is the Icarus of architecture, then Tschumi is Daedalus.25 Yet their oeuvre could be described as a kind cursive script, the inscriptions are “so hermetic as to defy decoding.”26 What is evident here is a paradox of Deconstruction. Following a cult led by Roland Barthes, Eisenman and Tschumi announced The Death of the Author and The Pleasure of Text, nonetheless in the death of presence and the wake of absence, they constructed an architecture of extreme individualism, so esoteric that the work can only be decipher through the commentary of its author.

The epistemological rhetoric of Eisenman draws similarity to the Greek mythology of Icarus. They are both concerned with the questions of the ground, the markings of the ground and the violence of the ground. See Manfredo Tafuri’s The Mediation of Icarus. 25

“Beyond such opposites lie the mythical shadows of Apollo’s ethical and spiritual mindscapes versus Dionysus’ erotic and sensual impulses. Architectural definitions, in their surgical precision, reinforce and amplify the impossible alternative: on the one hand architecture as the thing of the mind, a dematerialized or conceptual thing, with its topological and morphological variations, and on the other hand, architecture as an empirical event that concentrates on the senses.” (Bernard Tschumi, ‘The Pleasure of Architecture” in Architecture and Disjunction, MIT Press, 1996, p.83) 29

Not Madness But the Madnesses Tschumi Reading Derrida

“I would claim that the first Deconstruction/superposition work was my Manhattan Transcripts.”27 Bernard Tschumi, Parc de la Villette The failures of utopian ideals resulted in disillusion and disenthrall. For Tschumi, it represented an opportunity to reassess and disregard established institutionalized visions in order to “abandon any notion of a post-modern architecture in favor of a post-humanist architecture”28, one that turns to the philosophy of de-s and dis-s. Such attitudes, as Tschumi has claimed, first manifested in the Manhattan Transcripts where architectural norms of space, event and movement are challenged. The non-reciprocal relation between form (space) and function (event) became a disjunctive point of departure, where form does not follow function and function does not follow form. Because space and event are mutually exclusive, Tschumi introduced movement as a mediator of the two. The Manhattan Transcripts is the articulation of this new relationship. In Questions of Space, Tschumi placed modern architecture in direct opposition to Deconstruction by denoting them to the metaphor of the Pyramid and the Labyrinth. For him, the pyramid is the sign of reason and civilization whereas the labyrinth represents chance and madness.29 Inevitably, architecture is exposed as paradoxical and conflicting. But Tschumi’s rhetoric is not the concretization of opposition; rather it is to enfold. Architecture “may lie at the intersection of logic and pain, rationality and anguish, concept and pleasure,” thus it is guided by the pleasure of excess, that of madness.30 If the Manhattan Transcripts is the first Deconstructive work then Parc de la Villette is a first of its kind that was built. Developed as a “Park of the 21st century”, the pleasure of excess materialises – or dematerialises – into a new architectural logic, structurally, as the axiomatic superimposition of points, lines and surfaces, and conceptually as folies. The three autonomous systems of point, line and surface, activated through the investigations done in the Manhattan Transcripts, dismantle modernist ideals of homogeneity and unity, instead proposing heterogeneity and interruption. He intended for la Villette to be interpreted as la case vide (empty slot), confronting the spectator by unfolding into a discontinuous decentering of the postmodernist nostalgia. Through endless combinatory possibilities, Tschumi tries to reprogram space by effacing the notions of preprogrammed programs. The production of meaning belongs to the reader of the space - the author is dead. The folies, a play on 18th century English gardens (folly) and Foucault’s notion of Madness (folie), is a series of deconstructed cubes.31 Charged with this double-meaning, 6

Foucault examined the notion of madness within Western culture, from 1500-1800. He retraced the archeology of madness, from the time when insanity was integrated into everyday life and ‘madmen’ were accepted into society, to the time when insanity became a threat to civilization and asylums were built to contain this new mental illness. “ […]modern man no longer communicates with the madmen […] There is no common language: or rather, it no longer exists; the constitution of madness as mental illness, at the end of the eighteenth century, bears witness to rupture in a dialogue, gives the separation as already enacted, and expels from the memory all those imperfect words, of no fixed syntax, spoken faltering, in which the exchange between madness and reason was carried out. The language of psychiatry, which is monologue by reason about madness, could only have come into existence in such a silence.” (Michael Foucault, ‘Preface to the 1961 Edition’ History of Madness (Histoire de la folie), Routledge Press, 2006, p. XXVII) 31

they, nonetheless, cannot escape from being a metaphorical application to the city, “ensnared within the further opposition of inside and outside.” A central property of the folies is the “retention of both madness and chance.”32 In this way, they are not “madness (la folies), the allegorical hypostasis of un-reason, non-sense, but the madnesses (les folies).”33 Embedded within Freud’s idea of denegation, the folies becomes an anchoring point in which fragments of dislocated reality can be apprehended.34 The site represents the disassociation between eros and transgression, seeking a kind of perverse pleasure in which the refute returns. “Instead of covering faults and mending tears, the architect who seeks perverse pleasure opens wounds that never heal by deconstructing structures that once seemed whole.”35 Fireworks, performed at la Villette, mirrored the superimposition of points, lines and surfaces by projecting it into the sky as a three-dimensional dialogue. Since real pleasure is recognised by its uselessness and “good architecture must be conceived, erected and burned in vain, the greatest architecture of all is the fireworks.”36 Fireworks pushed the complex of eros and transgression to its limit; it is the ultimate pleasure and therefore the ultimate madness. The three projects mark decisive moments. Manhattan Transcripts introduced Deconstruction to architecture. La Villette woke the world up to the era of built Deconstruction. Fireworks celebrated architectural Deconstruction and the pleasures of absence.

The Three Fictions Eisenman Reading Derrida

“Architecture from the 15th century to the present has been under the influence of three fictions. Not withstanding the apparent succession of architectural styles, each with its own label – Classicism, Neo-Classicism, Romanticism, Modernism, Post-Modernism, and so on into the future – these three fictions have persisted in one form or another for 500 years. They are representation, reason and history. Each of the fictions had an underlying purpose: representation was to embody the idea of meaning; reason was to codify the idea of truth; history was to recover the idea of the timeless from the idea of change.”37 Peter Eisenman, The End of the Classical: the End of the Beginning, the End of the End

It is symbolic of Eisenman to invoke a catena of operations against the metaphysics of architecture, dislocating until the point of alienation, formlessness and above all, non-image, for image serves up to the privileging of presence over absence, the very privileging that established the three fictions. These operations, set out before any dislocation can take place, is motivated by the scepticism in metaphysical values, by the struggle to locate meaning and by the indefatigable Ulysses to identify an architecture of absence. For a moment, Eisenman found respite in the intentional misreading of Chomsky, Nietzsche and Freud but it was not until Deconstruction announced itself as a critique of the metaphysics of presence that he found a way to justify and develop his architecture.38 Derrida’s texts directed Eisenman’s dislocative operations towards a programmed absence that constructed his architecture. The strategy of dislocation, mediated through différance, disrupts presence by recessive absence, revealing Eisenman’s architecture as textual, as “a differential network. A fabric of traces referring endlessly to something other than itself […] it is not a stable object but a process, a transgressive activity that disperses the author as the center, limit and guarantor of truth.”39 The desire of such transgression is to reduce architecture from 7

The folies locates itself across la Villette by tracing a subversive grid that echoes the plans of Paris. The introduction of this grid is not meant to give order but precisely the opposite; to decenter and dissect structural order. “Just as the (the grid) resisted the humanist claim to authorship, it opposed the closure of ideal compositions and geometric dispositions, Through its regular and repetitive marks, the grid defined a potentially infinite field of points of intensity: an incomplete, infinite extension, lacking center or hierarchy.” Here, the work of Foucault is being used as a supplement. The grid “suggests the bars of the asylum or prison, introducing a diagram of order in the disorder of reality.” (Bernard Tschumi, ‘Abstract Mediation and Strategy’ and ‘Madness and Combinative’ in Architecture and Disjunction, p.173-191) 34

ambiguities and in the process, subject its metaphysics to decontamination. Read alongside the anti-humanist episteme of modernism, Deconstructive notions are utilised to condition the alienation between and among signs.40 A textual architecture, by definition, is one of reduction and alienation. Since the history of architecture is disseminated with dislocations, three crucial ruptures, “the triadic cosmology of God, man and nature”, established and crystalized Eisenman’s three fictions. At any specific moment in time, one of the three governed the metaphysics of architecture. Prior to the fifteenth century, God mediated man’s conception of his universe, depicting truth and thus, establishing meaning. However, in his growing self-awareness, man projected himself in the position of God and re-represented truth. “Whereas the architecture of the theocentric world had been a celebration of God, the anthropocentric world now celebrated man […] this mimetic condition, despite continuous stylistic changes, remained constant for four hundred years.”41 The nineteenth century is where the third rupture began to unfold. With the development of technology and science, man was finally displaced and the naturalness of knowledge along with the promise of a utopian future became morality, a truth that is more truthful than that of God and man. In architecture, a rationalist attitude, motivated by social morality was adopted in the name of modernism.42 Understood in this way, Eisenman’s position derived from the same point of departure as Tschumi’s. But whereas Tschumi tries to enfold architecture’s paradox under the roof of transgression, Eisenman’s architecture is one of complete alienation. Whereas Tschumi speaks of post-humanist architecture, Eisenman speaks of anti-humanist architecture. Eisenman has an uncompromising axiom where anthropocentricism is acknowledge but does not generate the systems of value, “what is inevitable does not have to govern, does not have to be thematic.”43 The paradox of architecture, rather than being the Pyramid and the Labyrinth, is presence and absence. His architecture attempts to activate absence in order to operate it simultaneously with presence. In other words, “traditionally architecture centers, and its textuality speaks of center or presence.” Eisenman’s architecture subverts this condition by proposing an “architectural text which, while centering, at the same time speak of an other, a decentering.”44 Eisenman’s house series is analogous to the folies of Tschumi. But unlike Tschumi, by adopting a thoroughly anti-authorship transformational operation, the house series is a syntactic investigation in order to identify the structural essence of architecture. He casts suspicion to the degree in which the pleasures and experiences are the primary role of architecture, instead repurposing it as didactic and indexical. The last of the series is House 11a, an eroded cube that is half buried. It suggests an “uncertain condition of the universe. House 11a takes this condition of uncertainty as a point of departure […] we live in an age of partial objects […] the whole is full of holes.”45 The program of the house is the dialectic of presence and absence, a condition of space that when inside, has the presence of an outside and when outside, has a presence of an inside. In the center of the house is an inaccessible room, an absence, and its presence can be felt everywhere in the house. Since the ultimate interior cannot be apprehended; the most inside is conceptually, the most outside. The project represents the movement from Cardboard Architecture to Cities of Excavations, from “the structuralization of object to the textualization of site.”46 Up to House 11a, Eisenman’s work was about the self-reflexivity of the autonomous object, thus it is completely disengaged from context. However, beyond this point, the work became more textual engaging with the site through the strategy of immanent text.47 Cities of Artificial Excavation, as Michael Hays points out, “enact a kind of Derridean archi-writing in which the very possibility of producing architectural meaning through the tracing and pantographic scaling of deep structures of specific sites also decenters and unravels the certainty of that meaning, requiring the supplementation of authors and authorities to the sites’ own histories, supplementation, indeed, to backward to forward to infinity, except the past is not recoverable and the coming of the future has been pitilessly stalled.”48 It is the end of the end. But what comes after? In the debris of dislocated presence, can a structure of absence that remembers a no-longer future be 8

“There is no such thing as believing in a Modernism of alienation. Modernism was a condition of alienation because the questions of truth, value, origin and substance were called into questions in science, philosophy and theology. In fact, it is this calling into question of the supposedly natural truths and the exposition of disjunctions in each discipline that Modernism is about. This produced a condition of some anxiety and dislocation and it is dislocation that is called alienation.” (‘Peter Eisenman: An Architectural Design Interview by Charles Jencks’ in Architectural Design Volume 58: Deconstruction in Architecture, p.49) 40

“For the new dominant vector, science, harbored a profound and unresolvable dichotomy. On the one hand, through technology and the social sciences, it promised the realization of something that had always been a dream, a utopia of perfect certainty. On the other, in its deeper implications, it already anticipated both the impossibility of achieving that vision and its own fatal anthropocentrism. Euphoric modernism, intoxicated with its vision of the former, ignored the consequences of the latter. And its vision was really only a reaffirmation of a long-held classical teleology. The radical and necessary dislocation lay in the decentering of the latter. Hence, modernism, though proclaiming itself to be the major dislocation in the history of architecture, could be considered as a disguised reinforcement of institutions, a repression of and defense against the anxiety of uncertainty that man now inescapably faced” (Peter Eisenman, ‘Misreading’ in Houses of Cards, p.170 ) 42

An immanent text, a term introduced by Jeffrey Kipnis, is “one that is not authorized by architecture. It is a text which is authorized by the program and the site not in architecture but rather in using this idea of text to denote a strategy for the dislocation of traditional ideas of time and place in architecture.” (Peter Eisenman, ‘Architecture as a Second Language’ in Re:working Eisenman, p.21) 47

traced? For Eisenman, amidst the void of representation, reason and history, the only thing left is the totality of infinite deferral. House 11a became the protagonist in the Cannaregio project. Eisenman refute the fabric of Venice by introducing the absence of Le Corbusier’s hospital grid as a dislocative agent. His contextualism is non-contextualism, the three fictions – representation, reason and history – is effaced through strategies of non-mimetic, non-scale, non-narrative and non-vertebrate. House 11a is decomposed into model scale, human scale, and an exaggerated non-anthropocentric scale.49 The three objects is then superimposed onto one another creating a network of constant self-referential where the meaning is reregulated by the absence of presence and the presence of absence. After this operation, the non-building and the absence Le Corbusier’s grid undertakes a process of textuality, that of alienation and reduction, resulting in a series of voids punctured into the ground.50 Similar to the Cardboard Architecture period, the dislocation of representation is not only appropriated into architecture but also in the way the project is drawn. Cannaregio reads continuously with the existing fabric of Venice, there is no distinction between what exists and what is being proposed. Does the proposal include Le Corbusier’s unbuilt hospital? A more accurate answer could be that, in declaring to be a provocative intellectual process, Cannaregio is condemned to an unbuilt status. The Romeo and Juliet project in Montecchio, where the twin castles of Montague and Capulet can be found, further exposed the three fictions, distilling them into one problematic idea, that of origin. Inherent within the conditions of the site is a text –the story Romeo and Juliet. However, this text cannot be grounded by one origin, as there are at least three adaptations (Da Porto, Bandello and Shakespeare). In this way, Eisenman introduced Moving Arrows, Eros and Other Errors as a text of the in-between, misreading the three adaptations and recomposing fragments from each text into a discontinuous palimpsest. The textuality of Romeo and Juliet “is as a set of fragments which are internally incomplete. They signal the impossibility of a return to a more traditional forms of text in architecture.”51 Developing a thoroughly Deconstructive text, Eisenman introduced the strategy of scaling, the introduction of time into architectural space, as a dislocative agent. By extricating chosen objects from its context, the metaphysics of presence, a premise that architecture must be anthropocentric, is negated through the operation of disfigurement. The disfigured objects are then reintroduced into a new site, writing a non-continuous, non-stable text between object and context. The process of scaling follows three destabilizing concepts, “discontinuity, which confronts the metaphysics of presence (site); recursivity, which confronts origin (program); and self-similarity, which confronts representation and the aesthetic object (representation).”52 In its new disfigured figure, Eisenman reintroduced the three fictions: history becomes origin; reason becomes the metaphysics of presence and representation becomes the aesthetic object. Like Cannaregio, the dislocation does not stop within the strategy of architecture. Moving Arrows, Eros and Other Errors, is presented as thirty superimposed transparent plates that could be rearrange. The presentation of the project reads in parallel with its strategy. The text of the in-between is translated into a palimpsest, which is then the possibility of writing a new narrative by rearranging the plates. The idea of trace translates itself as the strategy of scaling which is then the possibility of literally tracing the thirty plates, uncovering hidden absences. In no other project has the metaphysics of presence been negated with such extreme alienation.


“Here we have for the first time, then, not only an incorporation of the immediate context into the structure of the work, but also an important new operation: that of appropriation and the concomitant nullification of semantic qualities of the image that was confiscated.” (K. Michael Hays, ‘Repetition’ in Architecture’s Desire, p.59) 50

Chora L Works

Derrida and Eisenman Reading Derrida, Eisenman and Tschumi

“I insisted, and Eisenman fully agreed, on the need to give our common work a title, and an inventive title at that, one that not only does not have as its sole function the endowment of collective meaning, the production of those effects of legitimizing identification that one excepts from titles in general. On the contrary, precisely because what we were making was not to be a garden, but something else, a place yet without name, and with this naming make a new gesture, a supplementary element of the project itself, something other than a simple reference to a thing that would exist in any case without its name, outside the name.”53 Jacques Derrida, Why Peter Eisenman Writes Such Good Books

Whose title is Choral Works? Who is its author? Even though it is a collaborative project between Eisenman and Derrida, it only exists through supplementation. Choral Works is the process of overlaying three texts, each one a misreading of an other. Tschumi’s text (La Villette) is a misreading of Eisenman’s Cannaregio. Eisenman’s text (Moving Arrows, Eros and Other Errors) is a misreading of Derrida. Derrida’s text is the misreading of Plato’s idea of Chora. In this way, Choral Works is as much conditioned and authored by Eisenman and Derrida as by Tschumi and Plato. The project is constructed through supplements and its title is yet another supplement, the addition of the L, Eisenman’s signature, to chora. Plato’s chora is Derrida’s différance. “So, we have two kinds of being: the eidos, which is eternal and unchanging, and the becoming-world, the sensible. Two kinds of being, one the copy of the other. Now Plato says – and there is something very strange here – that there is something else, the third element, triton geno. This third kind, or genus, is neither the eternal eidos nor its sensible copy, but the place in which all those types are inscribed – chora.”54 In refiguring différance, chora becomes the space of interval, of receiving and giving, but is totally foreign to what it receives, anything that is imprinted is automatically effaced. If chora is a receptacle, then Choral Works must not only provide a place to receive the three texts in order to understand the whole but also a place where there is a possibility of writing something new. But how can it be physically embodied? Chora is, of course, unrepresentable; therefore it cannot give place to architecture. By confronting this impossibility, the architecture becomes the non-representable space that is the possibility of thinking about architecture. Similar to Tschumi’s folies, Choral Works trains its reader to confront an other, introducing the spectator “to the possibility of the discursive, rather than the figurative.”55 Spatially, Choral Works has three sites – a quarry, a palimpsest and a labyrinth. Each of these sites has a double text. The palimpsest is “where the superimposition of Tschumi’s la Villette is read over the archaeology of la Villette. The stones of Eisenman, from the quarry site, are moved to the palimpsest site, where a movement both marks itself on the site and is itself marked by what is on the site. When moved again, it leaves a trace of its presence and takes with it the absence of presence of the palimpsest to the third site – the Derrida/Plato site.” This third site is the labyrinth, “the destruction of narrative; the breakdown of the continuous story; the attempt to define the undefinable chora, the site of erasure. No matter how many stones you bring there, it can never be complete.” In the end, the project could be read as a cycle, “the erasure could be the bringing of stones back to the quarry, the replenishing of the quarry and the erasure of the labyrinth. And thus the process continues.”56


A Text That Is Yet To Be Written Un-authored

What becomes of Deconstruction when absence is no longer undervalued, when the incarcerated is released? What becomes of Deconstruction when the desire for absence and diffÊrance is the norm? What becomes of Deconstruction when it is misread as nothing but aesthetical, superficial, exterior? In this period of lateness, the problem of otherness is replaced by the problem of nothingness.57 But since Deconstruction is not a movement but the strangeness of a structural condition, it is never over; there can be no conclusion. Then, is it possible to deconstruct the architecture of Deconstruction? If one were to perform a Deconstructive reading on Deconstruction what would one find? If one were to write a new text, what would it be? Something is around the corner, it’s author unknown, its content unknown but what is known is that it must dislocate the existing metaphysics.

We wait for a text that is yet to be written.


Every movement can be broken down into three phases: avant-garde, acceptance and lateness. Lateness is marked by the unsuccessful attempt(s) to be avant-garde, retracing the steps by unable to locate a new point of departure. Instead of dislocating and establishing new ideas, it reenacts what used to be avant-garde. 57

Manhattan Transcripts Two Panels


Parc de la Villette Superimpositions of Point, Line and Surface


Parc de la Villette Folies


Fireworks Strategy and Performance


House 11a Model


Cannareggio Disfigured House 11a and Site Plan


Moving Arrows, Eros and Other Errors Eight Plates


Moving Arrows, Eros and Other Errors Model


Moving Arrows, Eros and Other Errors Transparent Plates Overlayed


Chora L Works Site Plan


Chora L Works Drawings


Chora L Works Pages From The Publication



Mark C. Taylor, ‘Refuse’ in Disfiguring: Art, Architecture, Religion, The University of Chicago Press, 1992, p.230

Jacques Derrida, ‘Introduction to the Ages of Rousseau’ in Of Grammatology, p. 159 This sentence is translated from the French “il n’y a pas de hors-texte” and is often misinterpreted as “there is nothing outside of the text”. This mistake often leads to the criticism that Derrida believes there is nothing but words. What he meant, in fact, was the unavoidability of context, that is, his notion of différance. 3


Jacques Derrida, ‘Différance’ in Margins of Philosophy, University of Chicago Press, 1982, p.21

The art of Sol Le Witt, Donald Judd and Gordon Matta-Clark, the music of John Cage, Phillip Glass and Alvin Lucier, the films of David Lynch, Federico Fellini and Leos Carax. 6


Mark Wigley, ‘The Survival of Deconstruction’ in The Architecture of Deconstruction: Derrida’s Haunt, p.29


Jacques Derrida, ‘Architetture ove il desiderio può abitare’ in Domus N.671, Editoriale Domus, 1986, p.21


Peter Eisenman, ‘Misreading’ in Houses of Cards, Oxford University Press, 1987, p.167

Andrew Benjamin, ‘Derrida, Architecture and Philosophy’ in Architectural Design Volume 58: Deconstruction in Architecture, E G Bond Ltd Press, 1988, p.10 12


Martin Heidegger, ‘Building, Dwelling, Thinking’ in Basic Writings, Routledge Press, 2010, p.348


Martin Heidegger, ‘Building, Dwelling, Thinking’ in Basic Writings, p.358


Jacques Derrida, ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’ in Dissemination, Continuum Press, 2004, p.128


Jacques Derrida, ‘Force and Signification’ in Writing and Difference, Routledge Press, 1978, p.25


Peter Eisenman, ‘Misreading’ in Houses of Cards, Oxford University Press, 1987, p.167-169

Jeffrey Kipnis, ‘Star Wars III: The Battle At The Center Of The Universe’ in Investigations in Architecture/ Eisenman Studio at the GSD: 198385, Cambridge: Harvard School of Design, 1986, p.46 21


Jonathan Hill, ‘Building the Drawing’ in Architectural Design Volume 78: Design Through Making, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2005, p.14


Mark C. Taylor, ‘Refuse’ in Disfiguring: Art, Architecture, Religion, p.230


Charles Jencks, ‘Deconstruction: the Pleasure of Absence’ in Architectural Design Volume 58: Deconstruction in Architecture, p.22


Bernard Tschumi, ‘Parc de la Villette, Paris’ in Architectural Design Volume 58: Deconstruction in Architecture, p.33


Bernard Tschumi, ‘Parc de la Villette, Paris’ in Architectural Design Volume 58: Deconstruction in Architecture, p.33


Bernard Tschumi, The Manhattan Transcript, John Wiley & Sons, 1994, p.83


Andrew Benjamin, ‘Derrida, Architecture and Philosophy’ in Architectural Design Volume 58: Deconstruction in Architecture, p.9


Jacques Derrida, ‘Point de folie’, trans Kate Linker in AA Files No 12, The Architectural Association Press, 1986


Mark C. Taylor, ‘Refuse’ in Disfiguring: Art, Architecture, Religion, p.247



Bernard Tschumi, ‘Manifesto 1, Fireworks, 1974’ in Architecture and Disjunction, p.262

Peter Eisenman, ‘The End of the Classical: the End of the Beginning, the End of the End’ in Re:working Eisenman, Academy Editions, 1993, p.24 37


See interview between Eisenman and Carsten Juel-Christiansen, SKALA no 12, October 1987, p.10


Peter Eisenman, ‘Architecture as a Second Language’ in Re:working Eisenman, p.19


Peter Eisenman, ‘Misreading’ in Houses of Cards, p.170


Peter Eisenman, Jacques Derrida, ‘Transcript One’ in Chora L Works, Monacelli Press, 1997, p.8


Peter Eisenman, Jacques Derrida, ‘Transcript One’ in Chora L Works, p.9

‘A poetics of the Model: Eisenman’s Doubt’, interview with Peter Eisenman and David Shapiro and Lindsay Stamm in Idea as Model, IAUS Rizzoli, 1981, p.121-125 45


K. Michael Hays, ‘Repetition’ in Architecture’s Desire, MIT Press, 2010, p.59

Eisenman’s Evolution: Architecture, Syntax, and New Subjectivity, Interview with Peter Eisenman and Iman Ansari, in Architectural Review Issue 1393, p.121-125 Undertaking the practice of psychoanalysis, Eisenman realized the power of the subconscious. “Through my psychoanalysis sessions I realized that what was wrong with my architecture was that it wasn’t from the ground, from inside the unconscious, beneath the surface. So the first evidence of this occurs in Cannaregio where for the first time I do a project that is totally in the ground. And it’s not only in the ground, it’s also urban. But it’s also not real.” Eisenman acknowledge that the move from Cardboard Architecture to Cities of Excavation is the move from “linguistic operations to textual – because texts are about the site but they are no longer syntactic and grammatical, they are other. And if you say the early houses are analogically grammatical exercises to linguistic exercises, these are no longer analogical to language. I had lost the faith that language could be somehow an analogous model for architecture. I thought I had to find what I was doing in architecture rather than without architecture.” 47


K. Michael Hays, ‘Repetition’ in Architecture’s Desire, p.53

‘A poetics of the Model: Eisenman’s Doubt’, interview with Peter Eisenman and David Shapiro and Lindsay Stamm in Idea as Model, p.121-25 “One of the objects is about four feet high, it sits in the square and is the model of a house. You can look at it and think “well, that is not a house; it is the model of House 11a. Then you take the same object and put it in House 11a; you build House 11a at human scale – and you put this same model of it inside.” The large object minimalizes the smaller one. Once the object inside is memorialized, it is no longer the model of an object; it has been transformed into a real thing. As a consequence, the larger house, the one at anthropomorphic scale, no longer functions as a house. Then there is the third object, which is larger than the other two, larger than reality, larger than anthropomorphic necessity. It becomes a museum of all these things.” 49


Peter Eisenman, ‘Architecture as a Second Language’ in Re:working Eisenman, p.21


Peter Eisenman, Moving Arrows, Eros and Other Errors: An Architecture of Absence, p.7


Jacques Derrida, ‘Why Peter Eisenman Writes Such Good Books’ in Chora L Works, p.102


Jacques Derrida, ‘Transcript One’ in Chora L Works, p.10


Peter Eisenman, ‘Transcript Two’ in Chora L Works, p.36


Peter Eisenman, ‘Transcript Two’ in Chora L Works, p.46


Absence, the Presence of Absence and the Pleasures of Absence  

Third Year Essay at the University of Westminster 2017

Absence, the Presence of Absence and the Pleasures of Absence  

Third Year Essay at the University of Westminster 2017