dimanche 26 septembre 2010

# Against Architecture. The writing of Georges Bataille by Denis Hollier

In 1974, Denis Hollier (the current chairman of NYU's French Department), published a n absolutely brilliant book entitled La Prise de la Concorde that will be later (1990) be translated in English with the title Against Architecture. The writings of Georges Bataille.
This book takes as premises the very limited amount of writings that Georges Bataille published about architecture and makes out of them a beautiful treatise on architecture and society.

I meant to write an article about this book a long time ago and I never made the time for it, so now I would rather publish an anthology of excerpts of this book than nothing at all.

Two quotes about death and architecture stroke me when I read them as I was very interested by the association of two notions at the time I read the book:

“For Bataille the world of the Aztecs will remain the model of a society that does not repress the sacrifice that forms it. Ephemeral, at the height of glory and at the peak of its powers, this society neglected to put in place the institutional structures that would have secured its future, but. When the time came, offered itself as heedlessly as it sacrificed its victims to extinction and death when Cortez’s army landed in Mexico. It presents the only image of a society based upon death and faithful to this basis to such an extent that is somehow defenseless and died out. The pyramids is left behind were not used to cover up death of the sacrificial victim. “Their knowledge of architecture,” writes Bataille in the chapter of La Part maudite (The Accursed Share) devoted to them, “served them in the construction of pyramids on top of which they immolated human beings.” Architecture is returned to the destructive interaction that its initial function was to interrupt.”

“Imperialism, philosophy, mathematics, architecture, etc., compose the system of petrification that waves of humanity, the crowd unleashed, will end up carrying off in its revolutionary uprising. “Upholding death’s work,” said Hegel, “requires the greatest strength of all.” But the relation between conceptualization and death is not the same for Hegel as it is for Bataille. In the work of the mind, which introduces divisions into the concrete, separating and abstracting, Hegel sees the mechanics of death at work. Discursive knowledge is thus the bearer of this “absolute power” of destruction that cancels the sensuous concrete. It is not until later that science’s abstract concepts, which initially liquefied the “sensuous being-there,” become in turn a unified a whole of thought, “fixed and solidied,” and are set rigidly into a system of abstract determinations. For Bataille, on the contrary, this petrification is the very essence of conceptualization (and here it is not yet necessary to make a distinction among the various sciences, mathematics, and others on the one hand, nor between science and philosophy): it is initially formalist. Conceptualization is being preserved in it, as Hegel put it, conceptualization eludes death by keeping ahead of it, propelled by whatever in its terror over presentiments of the unknown takes refuge in the forms of sameness. Death fluidifies, it liquefies; mathematics paralyze. Architecture has not even a hint of motion. Its main purpose, as the article “Informe” said, is to provide what exists with a “formal coat, a mathematical overcoat”: a form that veils the incompletion that death, in its nakedness, introduces into life. Concerning this point a paradoxical anthropomorphism of mathematics is outlined. In “Le Cheval Academique” Bataille connects the harmonious proportions of human form (form being that which covers up nakedness) with “fright at formless and undefined things.”

Classical, academic painting, under the control of architecture, is limited to masking a skeleton. Painting conceals it, but the skeleton is its truth. In many primitive societies the skeleton marks the moment of the second death – a death that is completed, clean, and properly immutable: that which survives putrefaction and decomposition. The skeleton, as architectural, is the perfect example of an articulated whole.

Later in the book, within a chapter entitled The Labyrinth and the Pyramid, Hollier basing his vision of architecture on Bataille's writings establishes that:

“The labyrinth, therefore, is not an object, not a referent. It does not have a transcendence that would permit one to explore it. Wanting to explore the labyrinth only confirms this further: there is no getting around it. But neither the category of subjectivity nor the category of objectivity can exist in this space, which, having made them unsound, nevertheless has no replacement to offer. Distance like proximity, separation like adhesion remain undecidable there. In this sense one is never either inside or outside the labyrinth – a space (perhaps that is already too much to say) that would be constituted by none other than this very anxiety, which is however, incurably undecidable: am I inside or outside?

Other excerpts:

Architecture exists only to control and shape the entire social arena. It is constituted by this impulse propelling it to erect itself as the center and to organize all activities around itself.

The revolutionary movement liberates the future from the prisons of known. Bataille speaks rarely of political action, but frequently of revolutionary agitation. The revolution destroys the authorities and imaginary dictatorships that work only because they tap the support of some faith. Including the authority of science.
“Man is seen as a bureaucratic-looking prison.” Architecture functions as the fantasy that man identifies with to escape his desire (to escape it is to control it). Man is confined: conformed within himself. Nothing of him escapes the group’s encoding synthesis, whole enclosure he himself guarantees. Because he, in fact, believes in his prison.

3 commentaires:

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