Mikhail Bakhtin theorized for literature a concept of immense heuristic value: the so-called chronotope, that is a determined space-time, a
ARCHITECTURE, NARRATION, UTOPIA – AND PANOPTIC IDEA
Mikhail Bakhtin theorized for literature a concept of immense heuristic value: the so-called chronotope, that is a determined space-time, a «world» in all its historical singularity’s complexity. Let it be clear, however: chronotope is not there by itself, it is not naturally given. Chronotope is a told imagined space-time, that is an imaginary world composed exclusively of writing, and primarily through narrative. Identifying a chronotope means to assign ontological value and status to an imaginary world, to trust them «blindly» and to analyze them as if there is «by itself», i.e. as they are imagined and described by literary writing. Chronotope is a world, but only a world made not only possible, but real by and in writing. It does not actually exist outside writing, which doesn’t make it a lesser world. Moreover: it can be considered that only in art, oral or images, worlds can be imagined and apparently «described». We, as living creatures immersed «like a fish in the water» and sunk in our historical worlds, rarely enjoy a sense of the world. As long as it’s not being performed, simulated, «formalized», artistically constituted (some would say aesthetically), that is estranged (in the generalized sense of the Russian formalist school) and «distant» (again, in the generalized sense of Brecht), the world can be neither seen nor told: as it is not formed. The phenomenological constitution of the sense requires distancing and «killing», i.e. transposition (some would say «sublimation») in the signs regime. The world does not exist by itself, but only as told. Only when told it becomes «real». But not all the told worlds, no matter how artistically real they might be, are also affective and current (meaning non-virtual).
What is architecture’s place in this context? What is its situation? Architecture is also and also: a sign, an intervention and semiotic transposition, which is real, but not just in terms of virtual signs, but in terms of actual reality, the current reality. Architecture is bridge building bridges between worlds. Architecture is itself a hybris, but actually an infra-hybris, a hybris not of man, but of «nature» itself, which jumps from «animal» to man. Man builds by telling stories and recounts by building, the story is building and the construction tells stories, and it’s precisely this ambiguity and indecision between worlds, i.e. between fiction-giving sense and the existing «self», «as such», but «meaningless», that architecture is performed, the world that is half-world, half architecture tale of which man cannot let go, because
he is also constantly building oneself. Architecture is human instinct because it’s humanizing: if not «bouncing», if not «overcoming itself», that is if not imagined and conceived this way, man could not conceive himself. It’s either a construction, an architecture in generic meaning, or not at all.
It would be tempting, plastic, to express it metaphorically by saying, for instance, that architecture interprets space, that architecture recounts or narrates space. And a lot of people think like that also, consecrating as sensible and common sense the metaphysical dualism scheme of the most archaic and persistent according to which there is on the one hand the reality, on the other hand its «reflection» or «representation», however sophisticatedly defined (and this is the very history of aesthetics) as visual, epic or narrative «image». But it’s not true. There is no space «in itself» outside its perception and «description». There is no non-space, either. The moment we say «space», we already build the space. There is no non-built space. There is only the total immanence (even indistinguishable) of space and construction. According to this modulatory chain, architecture is not in space, it does not occupy space with construction, but adds itself by continuing an infra-architecture or, as Jacques Derrida would have liked to say, archarchitecture.
Space is already built, already building. Space is already architecture. Space is the first building, the first plan. If there were no continuity of this ontological regime, architecture would be neither possible, «neither told». But we all, as humans-architects, claim that to build is a leap, a step, a break with the inferiority of simply given in-form or a-form of the «nature» or «reality». Architecture as a matrix of self-constructive individual claims to be established by the leap and sets a distance; it is what the whole metaphysical tradition, headed by the same that wanted to «destroy» it, Martin Heidegger, has created – pure creation – under the name of «ontic-ontological difference», the «natural» «given» being only «ontic», whereas only the construction becoming and rising to the rank of ontology, that is the real and true authentic.
Architecture is the great myth, the great story about one’s self as pure zeal and «vision» of self, by extorting its self from the «natural given», yet aporetically relying on the same self: nature as «fundament», yet a denied fundament. Burying foundations has meaning.
Man could only build himself as a story, as the idea of building itself is conceived, has the myth and tale structure. And right there at the basis of architecture and man as constructive animal lies fiction, the foundation and fundament’s narration: denied, «obsolete», buried, generator of cellars and tombs, of underground storages that are yet mandatory.
Architecture is epic, narrative and an epopee in itself. Just like I mentioned, though, saying and perceiving «space» – and «human» – we are already architects, we behave as architects. Architecture is in itself narrative, but not in the sense of telling a story about something, but to create, to build the building as a story.
Our cities, on the other hand, result. In its wisdom of not wanting to betray, that is to overcome its memory (by burying it as a fundament and foundation as unconsciousness), art permanently reminds us of the charm and the necessity of the situation, that is to be overcome by our cities, which cannot be built, as they are not constructions.
The ideal idea of fortress – which could only generate, as we will see, the idea of ideal fortress – aimed at solving this ontological offense to the constrictive pretentions of the auto-construction fiction of the constructive man rationalizing the chaos, the arbitrary and the city’s immanence, by aligning the city, the world and the unbearable idea itself of openness, meeting, hazard, and ontic inferior becoming to the idea of plan and order, of ontological superior harmony.
And so, we came, as I have mentioned already, to the idea of ideal fortress, that is the idea of utopia. The city itself, as such, aims for an idealization. There is and it has come to a utopia because the architecture itself is a utopia, mainly as a negative utopia aimed at overcoming the pre-space existence, a so called un-built and un-established space. The idea of utopia is a meta-utopia itself. The ideal fortress or the ideal city, imagined as a correction, create the illusion (that is support the meta-utopia) of the world’s existence as an imperfect one and also the illusion of possibilities, may it be ideal, mainly ideal, as a matter of fact, of its imaginary «amendment». And so, after the memory was born through foundation and fundament, now the imaginary rises.
Utopia limits itself guilefully: it does not pretend it cannot be built, only it can confer a «regulatory ideal» (like Kant would’ve said), like sort of a critic-nostalgic shadow, actually an aura of «giving» we must crave for, instead of feeling Rabelaisian content and vigilant only to the ethical construction of self. Utopia – just like the architecture – represent an escape from self, a technical «externalization» of ethical construction duty. Cities, fortunately, could not be built, as they result from the often-conflictual encounter, of multiplicity of ideas and plans for construction.
Architecture is a narration as it aims to embed meaning and to «make world», that is to establish a story (which is mainly a meta-story about self as a creative force, with divine zeal), but also to be told, to give subjects for tales, to become support for the open creation of stories. Architecture IS told. Architecture is not the establishment of space, the space is already architecture, but architecture itself, and what we call architecture aims to add in this continuum and to re-marks by over embedded architecturalization the city’s architectural potential of the world–city.
During this self-storyteller idyll, as self-construction, there is still a non-architectural utopia becoming a ubiquitous reality, a true framing of modernity and postmodernity that, precisely because it «escaped to reality», cannot be told, it has no story, the narrative is not allowed. In addition, as omnipresent realized, it is a double affront to human being, of the self-telling «ordinary» human self-building as «self-architect», through the heroic idea of architecture, and the architect itself, «onto-poet» by profession.
What is it about? It is about the idea of the panopticon. Panopticon is not architecture, but an ideal scheme, a device that has submitted the entire architecture. Panopticon is not architectural, but philosophical, and precisely because it is not proper architectural, but philosophical, that is ideal, it has subordinated the architecture and became the only utopia achieved, that is the only non-utopia, not even a dis-topia, but a «topia» itself, a topos refusing to be «cronotopos »: a «utopia» without story and prohibiting any narration precisely because it defeated and subordinated the architecture itself. A field-environment of existence that does not let itself be built, told, architecturalized as world.
Although we live in panopticons, we are actually hospitalized in the current world-panopticon. The an-architectural idea and thus to the a-narrative panoptic, utopia of utopia become «topia», was proposed by the late 18th century by philosopher Jeremy Bentham, the true creator of English utilitarianism, and although it was removed out of the unquestionable evidence of invisibility by Michel Foucault in his literally epochal book Discipline and Punish from 1975, its total domination could not be impaired. Precisely because it cannot be told and it’s not architecture, but scheme, an optical device to produce asymmetries of power, of society as a network power, the panoptic idea cannot be criticized and combated. Panoptic is the eye itself and the panoptic scheme is omnipresent in all our behaviors, that we want to see without being seen, and so to gain some advantage over others. Michel Foucault’s buoyancy discovery was that the human societies’ architecture is based on the panoptic idea, that is on power relations. Power is society’s hard core.
The panoptic idea is historic, with all its effectiveness due to the trans-architectural ideality. If in Bentham’s description and Foucault’s analyzes man becomes the target and visibility support where people are separated from one side or another of power – remember the placing of surveyed people (with no subject supervisor required) on the circumference of the outer wall, between two windows, as between the blades of a microscope, distinguishing themselves into negative, like Chinese shadows – now man is no longer the target, the privileged object, a deviant hero to be followed, but became what Bentham called «dead zones», that is residual space regardless, with no story, placed between the central tower and the circular peripheral wall.
Contemporary man is no longer the privileged target of surveillance, but became the «invisible» environment of Divine light propagation in the Mother deity of power gaze. We live between screens, we tend to become the environment more and more, the «air» as element of pure and impersonal Crato-poetical light propagation.
This monstrous becoming, truly post-human, of an idea already monstrous, architecture cannot and would not fight. The current capillary Neo-Nano–panopticism is untold and therefore irrefutable. And architecture is merely allowing it to flow, and illustrates it, for he is a great invitation you cannot refuse to discover the asymmetric constructions of power, headed by the false transparency and false openings of construction that will not only but contain, replacing the world. The panoptic scheme embraces architecture, which only incarnates it and creates a camouflage, conferring it body. Panopticism is a diabolical spirit itself, as it whispers in the architect’s ear that he can build traps of the human and organize the human. The devil alone could make man believe he’s God. Panopticism embodies the horror of Platonic Ideas sent down on earth, that is, precisely, unmediated and perhaps impossible to architecturally mediate. God revealed to Moses the law by writing it in stone, and not as architecture, like now, when Panopticon has become the Law, which no longer occasionally initiates processes, but organizes life itself as a process, as (the) Process.
It’s just the inenarrable and deeply offensive facility that architecture has to fight with, trying to revolutionize the visible and invisible distributions, the inner / outer, the public / private and false entrances and equality into the trap which contemporary architecture continues still to lure people who wonder not why suddenly the stories dried up and have become impossible – or uniform, which makes no difference. Why, in other words, architecture is no longer the story.
Architecture without story is death of architecture. Contemporary architecture’s omni-micro-panopticism – a trap for man as well as for architecture – means the built death, that is the murder of the very idea of architecture as limited planning, at human «scale», of human at the scale of encountering the other.