[-empyre-] Catherine Ingraham

Yes, hello.

Thank you Renate for the introduction.  I have been listening in a bit
during this past week to see how these forums develop since I have not
done one before.  In some ways the format is tedious, but the content very
interesting.  Finding formats for critical practices always interests me.

I will give a general overview of a few thoughts and then I can develop
them as we go along in whatever direction develops.

In my view, in architecture, we are at a crossroads of some kind. 
"Criticality," for which there are multiple definitions although we know
mostly what we mean, has less and less traction in architectural practice
and pedagogy.  It remains the word most used in describing studio teaching
in architecture but is less and less influential as a idea or methodology.
 Digital work in architecture (intelligent skins, interactivity, etc.),
some of which has been extraordinary and influential is, nevertheless,
heading straight for global capital, straight for a series of aesthetic
effects that have nothing whatsoever to do with any critical project,
political or otherwise.

As always, in architecture, the ideological split between academic work
and practice must be taken into account.

Critical spatial practices (those virtuoso projects described this week
for example) are never casual.  They are typically deliberate, carefully
imagined, filled with courage and promise.  But in architecture the issues
are different because there is never an audience.  An "inhabitant" is not
an audience--he/she is neither a subject nor an object, neither observing
nor observed, neither doer or viewer (to use the words of one
contributor).  An inhabitant is, in fact, almost an invisible force field
of some kind, a biological presence, certainly also a psychoanalytic
presence but not in any revealed way that can be readily captured or
characterized.  An inhabitant  is a category of the "deeply private", a
doubly shielded body (skin and building envelope) etc.  Architecture,
which always probes the mind (symbolic language etc.) and benevolently
accommodates the body, cannot be a subject of discussion per se for its
inhabitants. To do so would be to risk a kind of isomorphism.  All we can
usually say about the space we so intimately inhabit is that "we like it,"
"it's a nice space," or "we hate it," or something to that effect.  These
comments do not seem to describe what is going on.

"Distracted attention" is precisely necessary to inhabitation.  The
relation of architecture to its own meanings (ideological, critical,
aesthetic, biological) is not performative per se.  This meaning also
remains sealed inside an obtuse and semantically chaotic system of
expressions (material expressions) that we can name as modernism etc. but
that largely elude us.

Producing or designing architecture to some political or social end is,
thus, to operate in the dark.  Such architecture becomes pathologically
internalized, inventing private vocabularies and idiosyncractic gestures
that can only be read from an extremely oblique angle unless they are
spelled out, literally, with letters (as Venturi did) or cliched symbols
(as the Renaissance architects did).  And yet, we do it anyway, in an
eternal hopefulness of some kind.

There is quite a bit to say about this.  I am working at the moment on
questions of "aliveness" (along with many other people) because that idea
seems to contain not only contemporary biopolitics issues (such as Agamben
and others have spoken of) but also possibilities for looking at "signs of
life" (biological, cultural), or "life-likeness", in and around
architectural work.  Something along the lines of an "eco-ego" maybe that
connects with the "person" not as cultural construct but as "inhabitant"
who works everyday to maintain a homestatic relation to the resources
around him or her...resources that are psychological as well as material. 
The question of power over "habit", "routine", "sustainable exchanges"
becomes more potent than the question of identity per se.

  This may seem strange since life is a necessary condition for
architecture (it's the art of life in some way), but almost all the ways
we have been critically formatting the world (humanism, modernity,
post-classical criticism, gender, migration, postcolonial work) seem a
little worn.  It was a shock to discover, during the start-up of the
Iraq war that demonstrations (smart, political resistance) had
absolutely no power.  (we could certainly blame some of that on the
repression of the Bush administration, but I think it was also the wrong
format for protest at that moment--we should have been instructing
people in the issues of nomadology).

I, like Millie Chen, am also interested in the auditory (as Lacan talks
about it when he discusses the play Antigone) because the auditory, not
the visual, is where we confirm the authenticity or interest of the mise
en scene.

Catherine Ingraham

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