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An Attempt At thinking by Margot Jack (cont)

Because of the contrast between the relative simplicity of the object and the potential complexity of the meaning towards which it points, the experience of symbols evokes an emotional reaction (which among other factors, it implies preference).

In speaking about preference, Derrida says that the preference can only be subjective: “”If no mathematics can as such justify a preference an advantage, a superiority, a privilege, it must be that an aesthetic judgment is implied in it…”” (p.136, (1).

In other words, the ability to interpret a given text is absolutely dependent on a perspective on a perspective from which the text is read, or on a frame within which the text is read, yet,  as Derrida says “”Deconstruction must neither reframe nor dream of the pure and simple absence of the frame””(p.73, (1)), which brings in mind reality and dream, another contradictory states, which were sought to be reconciled in what we call Surrealism: the negation of the apparent real by means of expression of total reality, a certain point of spirit “”at which life and death, the real and the imaginary, the past and the future, the communicable and the incommunicable, high and low, cease to be seen as contradictory”” (Passeron, R., The Concise Encyclopedia of Surrealism, 1984, p.32, (17)).

Framing always supports and contains that which, by itself, collapses forthwith. What does that mean. The parergon is called in by the hollowing of a certain lacunary quality, by reason of an internal infirmity within the work. Here Derrida introduces the prosthesis, and as an example of the prosthesis, he talks about “”the problem of the example and the reflective judgment””: Examples (where the example is a “”frame described in the frame”” (p.71, (1)) are thus “”the wheelchairs of the faculty of judging””, prosthesis that replaces nothing. But like all examples they give room to play: “”Thus they can invert, unbalance, incline the natural movement into a parergonal movement, divert the energy of the ergon, introduce chance and the abyss into the necessity of the “”Mutterwitz”” “”(faculty of natural judgment) (p.79, (1)).

In his essay called The Parergon (the word parergon being literally translatable as something alongside the work (ergon))(G.MacLachlan & I. Reid, Framing and Interpretation, 1994, p.16, (2)), essay from which I have quoted at length until now – “”in a collage style”” (Foster, H., Postmodern Culture (The Anti-Aesthetic), 1989, p.89, (25))-Derrida provides a useful perspective on the functions of frames in art and in perception, emphasizing this double-edged quality of the frame. The Parergon as an element both intrinsic and extrinsic to a given object of attention, does not simply separate an outside from an inside but unsettles the distinction between the two as well. But where does a parergon begin and where does it end? A parergon comes against, beside, and in addition to the ergon, the work, the text (text is now generally taken to include not only any instance of oral and written discourse but also any other cultural practice or artefact ) and this question could perhaps be answered by identifying the criteria engaged in this delimitation. Deconstruction attempts to dissolve the binary oppositions (and here for the opposition right/wrong I would like to give one example from mathematics in which the opposition right/wrong could be dissolved : if 7+5=12 is right and 7+5=10 is wrong (or vice versa), one way – as there are others – to dissolve this opposition is TO KNOW that 12 in the decimal system represents the same number as 10 in the duodecimal system. Another example, for the binary opposition, the word pharmakon (translated both as poison and remedy) shows how the opposition is dissolved: a drug could be both a poison or a remedy depending on the dosage; and I shall stress again the fact that in order to dissolve the opposition, one should know something.

Betweeness (the dissolved opposition) is a key concept in Derrida’s thought. As bridge between two opposites, betweeness, which can touch the two edges , could be considered another frame. To read between is to read otherwise, and to read otherwise opens up the possibility of endless interpretation. But endless interpretation involves an endless change of meaning, or in other words, an endless content reframing. And that would involve an endless change in the way one would perceive the text (translation constitutes a very good example in demonstrating that in the case in which words do not carry ordinary meaning (and Derrida’s texts are indeed a very good example), trying to find “”the same node”” in two different networks (languages) is difficult ( (16), the text at p.372, would explain in detail that in fact it is impossible to make an exact translation).

That is in theory. In practice, it becomes even more complicated and it is important to note that one’s knowledge (and cognitive and emotional processes) regularly filters one’s ability to perceive.

The body of information possessed by a person, or by extension by a group of persons or culture, it is what we call knowledge. In Epistemology (which concentrates on the nature of knowledge), philosophers recognize three main kinds of knowledge:

i)knowledge that, or factual knowledge, or declarative knowledge – that is the knowledge about which a person can make a declaration : i.e. “”a rose is a kind of flower””.

ii)knowledge how, or practical knowledge, or procedural knowledge – that is the knowledge about how to do something, and

iii)knowledge by acquaintance – that is the knowledge of which we are directly aware, knowledge of people, plces and things derived from sense data. (Ed., Speake, J., A Dictionary of philosophy, 1979, p.194, (10)); (Reber, A.R., The Penguin Dictionary of psychology

,  pp.384-385, (11)); for i) and ii) the text at pp.363-364, (16), gives a very good and interesting example).

It is also worth noting that the Knowledge acquired implies perception (the act of becoming aware of something) and cognition (the action or process of acquiring knowledge by reasoning or by intuition or through the senses) which represents collectively those processes that give coherence and unity to information input. In Speech and Phenomena Derrida argues that perception is not originary, but is always already representation: “”perception does not exist or that that which is called perception is not originary… in a certain fashion, everything begins with re-presentation”” is “”a proposition that evidently can only be sustained by the erasure of these two concepts: it means that there is no beginning and that the representation of which we speak is not the modification of a re- which comes after or over an originary presentation”” (Ed., Silverman & Aylesworth, The Textual Sublime, 1990, p.14, (14)).

As an organized complex, perception and cognition, together depend on other factors like:

i)Attention , about which we can say that in order to perceive and cognate an event it must be focused upon or noticed. Moreover, attention itself is selective – and selection presupposes interpretation – so that attending to one stimulus tends to inhibit or suppress the processing of others,

ii)Constancy , in that the perceptual world tends to remain the same despite rather drastic alterations in the conditions of observation. For example, a book seen from an angle is still perceived as rectangular although the retinal image is distinctly trapezoidal,

iii)Motivation , as an intervening process or an internal state of an organism that impels or drives it to action. For example hungry people perceive food objects in ambiguous stimuli, poor children overestimate the size of coins more than those from well-to-do families,

iv)Organization, as a characteristic of any complex system that reflects the degree to which its several, structurally distinguishable parts are functionally coordinated and interrelated,

v)Set, the cognitive and/or emotional stance that is taken toward a stimulus array strongly affects what will be perceived,

vi)Learning, and there are two issues here: one concerns the question of how much perception is innate and how much acquired from experience, the other concerns the question of how learning can function to modify perception,

vii)Illusion, – there are many circumstances in which what is perceived cannot be easily predicted from an analysis of the physical-stimulus array,

viii)Distortion and Hallucination – it can be said that hallucinations can be produced by a variety of causes including drugs, lack of sleep, emotional stress, etc., and that strong emotional feelings and ideology can distort perceptions rather dramatically – in speaking about ideology, both Sartre and Barthes demonstrate how “”every individual text, by its institutionalized signals, necessarily selects a particular readership for itself and thereby symbolically endorses the inevitable blood guilt of that particular group or class”” (Jameson, F., Architecture and the Critique of Ideology, p.61, (12)),

ix)Cultural determination – for example, the movie experiment carried out in ten different countries, experiment in which the subjects were shown a short silent film which they then had to describe to another person, they were told, had not seen the film, demonstrates that the “”subjects organized and altered the actual contents of the movie in many ways as they attempted to articulate what they had seen”” (pp.66-67, (2)).

Under the influence of so many factors, as I have tried to show in the above lines (factors, whose number is by no means exhaustive), the composite product, the new frame is framed by its contents, or in short, in Derrida’s words: “”the structure of the effects of framing is such that no totalisation of the border is even possible. Frames are always framed”” (p.112, (2)).

The new frame of the frame (which now becomes the new text to be framed), we should remember, is called in by a certain lacunary quality of the text. But what is lack, and on what does the lack depend? This lack, which “”cannot be determined, localized, situated, arrested inside or outside before the framing, is simultaneously both product and production of the frame”” (p.71, (1)).

The supplementary work is needed, and in this case from the two meanings of the word supplement  - the first as the addition of something to an already complete entity, and the second as the making good of an insufficiency – the second is employed (Derrida, Of Grammatology, 1976, pp.141-164, (3)).

For example, if any parergon  is only added on by virtue of an internal lack in the system to which it is added we have the case (one example among others) of the parergon of Religion: the parergon intervenes in the inside “”only to the extent that the inside is lacking””. “”Conscious of its impotence to satisfy its moral need””, reason had recourse to the parergon, “”to grace, to mystery, to miracles”” (p.56, (1)).

“”This additive, to be sure, is threatening. Its use is critical. It involves a risk and exacts a price the theory of which is elaborated. To each parergon of Religion there is a corresponding damage, a detriment and the four classes of dangers will correspond to the four types of parergon:

 i) for the would-be internal experience (effects of grace), there is fanaticism;

ii) for the would-be external experience (miracles), there is superstition

iii) for the would-be insight of the understanding into the supernatural order there is illuminism;

iv) for the would-be actions on the supernatural (means of grace), there is thaumaturgy.””

For the first sense of the supplement (as the addition of something to an already complete entity), as a surplus, as an ornament, which means “”that which is not internal or intrinsic, as an integral part, to the total representation of the object but which belongs to it only in an extrinsic way”” (p.57, (1)), Derrida brings the example of “”the clothing on statues””.

Yet, as Derrida observes “”there is no natural frame”” (p.81, (1)), it only proceeds from us. The frame is neither part of the given object of attention nor apart from it, because it has no stable existence or location independent of the interpretive act (or framing) which constitutes it: “”There is frame, but the frame does not exist”” (p.81, (1)).

The interpretive act (or framing) involves a double processing:

i) building up a composite meaning on the basis of our perception of its component parts, a process which is called “”bottom-up”” (p.70, (2)), and

ii) processing on the basis of expectation – for example, experiments show that only a small part of a visual scene is actually perceived by a viewer, the gaps being filled in – sometimes incorrectly – on the basis of expectations derived from previous experience, a reason to say that “”all perception is already an act of interpretation”” (p.7, (2)), assumptions and prior knowledge brought to the text by the interpreter, process which is called “”top-down”” (p.70, (2)).

In the real world, as opposed to the world of artificial intelligence (computers), the comprehension of texts does not occur in the socio-cultural vacuum of white room experimentation, nor is meaning making a simple, one-way process. The meaning we produce is the result of interactions between what are called Extratextual, Intratextual, Circumtextual and Intertextual framings. Whatever we read, we frame extratextually by drawing on our accumulated knowledge of the world, both experiential and textually mediated. By contrast, what is called intratextual, occurs when we pay attention to the way in which the flow of words within (intra) the text is affected by subdivisional or other internal framing devices (for example, in the case of a group of words within two commas we can say that the two commas constitute a frame for that specific group of words, and so on). In addition, our reading of a text can be framed for us by the circumtextual features of its material presentation and location in space. All texts, whether verbal or visual, rely on intertextual framing, being intelligible only by reference to prior texts.

The result is however not stable, as it comes from a prior act of framing in order to be framed again: “”Declenchement”” – “”They are in opposition to one another, these paths; they abut on one another: and it is here at this gateway that they come together. The name of the gateway is written above it: Moment… All truth is crooked, time itself is a circle”” (Hollingdale, R.J., A Nietzsche Reader, 1986, p.251, (18)) : “”a release, an opening, the unlatching of a door, which has a lock, a padlock, and keys that from now on you ought not to forget; and cadre “” (frame): “”an inscription in a square, hence an opening comprehended and reflected in a quadrangle, a squared opening, a certain singular mirror, which awaits you. Once again it is the city, with its doors and mirrors, the labyrinth:

“”1.17…And just as one might in darkness approach the busy night life of a city surrounded by nothing, just as one might find oneself willed by a throw of dice into one of the bad squares of the forgotten game, just as some combination of numbers chosen at random might open this or that armoured door, just so did I enter back into my own form without having foreseen what awaited me…The frame in which I found myself was of course impossible to fill if one evoked only the millions of stories that were in the process of unfolding…”” “” (p.298, (4)).

Translated in architectural and urban terms (with the knowledge of what translation implies), Thinking = Deconstructing = Framing (along with Thought = Deconstructed Object = Frame) should operate on certain socio-political frames (gender, race, ethnicity, class, etc.) in order to displace the traditional institutions of  theory, philosophy and culture, so that their materialization to be rendered useful to the now. Indeed architecture and urbanism could become an efficient means by which “”deconstruction becomes the material representation of an abstract idea”” (Pini, S., A Question of Deconstruction, 1992, (19)).

It might be important to dissolve the traditional oppositions between structure and decoration, form and function, figure and ground, abstraction and figuration, but it probably is even more important to answer more profound questions like “”what are the relations between architecture today and poverty. All poverties, the one about which Benjamin speaks and the other; between architecture and capital (the equivalent today of the economic crisis occurring in 1930 in der tur , in the opening of the door ); between architecture and war (the equivalent today of the shadow and of what comes with it ); the scandals surrounding social housing, housing in general (not without recalling what we have both said, which is a little too complicated for a letter, of the habitable and the inhabitable in architecture), and the homeless, homelessness today in the United States and elsewhere”” (Derida, A Letter to Peter Eisenman, Assemblage, 12, Aug., 1990, pp.7-13, (20)).

In not having a stable place for the mind and the body one is placeless (homelessness being one particular case of placelessness).

A phenomenological description of man’s being-in-the-world shows that the world is structurally differenciated into various regions, one of them being the region of environment, initially disclosed through the tools, equipment, (and home can be seen as a tool) which Dasein uses in his practical concerns. One’s world is disclosed in one of its modifications as an instrumental world in which tools (equipment) are accessible for the realization of one’s various undertakings: “”Whenever one comes across equipment, handles it, or moves around or out of the way, some region has already been discovered (e.g. equipment as part of different forms of life (mental form of life included) – Wittgenstein). Concernful Being-in-the-world is directional – self-directive. Belonging-somewhere has an essential relationship to involvement. It always determines itself factically in terms of the involvement-context of the equipment with which one concerns oneself. Relations of involvement are intelligible only within the horizon of a world that has been disclosed”” (p.420, (21)). But in the case of homelessness the home as a tool for the realization of one’s certain undertakings is missing, and with it certain parts of the region of environment of one’s world. The body and the mind are wondering through different places and respectively through different images, and in order to stabilize them various frames are constructed : as institutional practices are constructed to resist the “”wondering mind””, as “”this freedom of wondering in the mind through different images tires and impedes scholars in their studies”” (p.10, (24)), so the building, the home is constructed to resist and to protect the “”wondering body””.

To a very large extent, homelessness can be represented as the semantic contrary of home. Home can be argued to have at least six or seven dimensions of meaning, identified by the key signifiers of shelter, hearth, privacy, roots, abode, and (possibly) paradise. Each of these signifiers can be explicated in terms of its wider symbolic meaning, its evocation of a specific sense of security, and its characteristic mode of relating to oneself and to others. The selection of the signifiers is supported by Watson and Austerberry’s (1986) findings: for instance,

i) shelter corresponds to decent material conditions,

ii) hearth corresponds to emotional and physical well-being

iii) heart corresponds to loving and caring social relations,

iv) privacy corresponds to control and privacy,

v) abode corresponds to living/sleeping place

vi) roots corresponds to a sense of individual identity, involving a sense of security which is usually called ontological security because it is concerned with one’s sense of being-in-the-world ( Heidegger, Being and Time, 1962, (21)), and

vii) paradise which corresponds to the ideal home as distinct from the home of everyday life.

All these signifiers taken together comprise the meaning of home
Appart from its key significance, home has symbolic status. Such status is expressed in

i) design features (materiality);

ii) mode of disposition and action towards neighbours, visitors, etc., (hearth);

iii) pride of possession (heart);

iv) degree of territorial control (privacy);

v) degree of respectability and sense of niche (roots);

vi) quality of domestic life (abode).

Therefore home is set in a complex context of social status relations. Also, as a building, the home could be identified as an extension of “”our natural protective organs (our skin and scalp)”” (Wigley, M., Prosthetic Theory: The Disciplining of Architecture, p.7, (24)), and “”a substitute for the mother’s womb, the first lodging, for which in all likelihood man still longs, and in which he was safe and felt at ease”” (p.24, (24)). Conversely, homelessness is distinguished by a lack of social status, invisibility (the suppressed frame), or a problem to others , with the homeless being seen as outcast and rejected, at the bottom of the social scale, disreputable and nicheless (Somerville, P., Homelessness and the meaning of home, p.534, (22)).

Explanations which attempt to make sense of the context of homelessness, however, deserve more detailed considerations, which could become the topic for another paper. For the purpose of this paper, however, it is enough to say that “”class relations and class organizations, especially when expressed through legal and political relations (involving, for example, processes of state centralization, policy residualization and professionalization ) are crucial in determining the general character of this social order”” (p.538, (22)).

In the age of technological revolution, when the explosion of computer-based communications happens at all geographical levels, from intra-building communications to global networks, state policies do little for the homeless : 2000-3000 people sleep on the streets of London, and their number there and elsewhere grows daily (p.537, (22)).

Therefore, we cannot talk about qualitative change in any element of the older capitalist system – as for example in architecture or urbanism – without beforehand a total revolutionary and systematic transformation : a social transition, according to which the emergent future, the new and still nascent social relations announce a mode of production that will ultimately displace the as yet still dominant one (pp.68-70, (12)).

A transcendence of the opposition building/city, is only possible after a revolutionary  transformation of social relations as a whole.

As for the city, the “”art is now called upon to give the city a suprastructural guise””. This art is indicative “”of the refusal to come to terms with contradictions of the city and resolve them completely”” (p.81, (12)).

In this society, within the closure of capitalism as a system, the practicing architect cannot hope to devise a radically different architecture : “”an architecture of the future will be concretely and practically possible only when the future has arrived, that is to say, after a total social revolution, a systematic transformation of this mode of production into something else”” (p.55, (12)).

Whether such a change will take place, nobody can tell. If it will, it will depend on how many men and women will be attracted by this new challenge to the human mind.

If this change will take place The City of God  and The Earthly City, as binary oppositions, will be dissolved : “”If the City of God and the Earthly City were thesis and antithesis, a new synthesis is the only alternative to chaos: the synthesis between the spiritual core of the Late Medieval world and the development of rational thought and science since Renaissance. This synthesis is The City of Being”” (Fromm, E., To Have or To Be?, p.202, (23)).

But what – provided we really ought to ask such a question at all – what is Being?




Copyright ©2009  Margot Jack