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Deconstruction and Architecture by Margot Jack

Summary :

Originated by Jacques Derrida, deconstruction is a process which brings into open the Text's contradictions. Texts exist as a surface - having no within/without - and deconstruction works at the margins of this opposition. The fundamental opposition is that between presence/absence. In order to expose the inseparability of opposing terms deconstruction destabilizes the separatrix. Deconstructivist architecture is associated both with Post-Structuralism and Russian Constructivism and it was at the beginning a one man movement advanced by Peter Eisenman. Deconstructivist architecture identifies within the pure form the symptoms of a repressed impurity and tries to release it. Eisenman believes that it is improbable to effect in architecture what Derrida does in language, because architecture is not a two-term, but a three-term system, dominated by presence. Eisenman's architecture, in the process he calls dislocation, addresses the need to break apart the bond between form and function, allowing for the unintended.

In order to examine the relationship between Deconstruction and Architecture it is essential to begin with Deconstruction itself. Deconstruction, a translation of Heidegger’s terms – Destruktion, which means a destructuring that dismantles the structural layers in a system, and Abbau, which means the taking apart of an edifice in order to see how it is constituted [2](Wigley,M, The Translation of Architecture, p.251) – is a textual analysis singularly developed and originated by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. Derrida, which has been concerned with questions of structure, in particular as they relate to the constitution of meaning itself, has argued that the conditions of the possibility of a given structure can never be understood from within that structure – the fable of Flatland [2](Couliano, I.P., The Tree of Gnosis, pp.1-3)is a good example.

 Derrida’s principles were first formulated as such in 1967 in his monumental early work Of Grammatology, where he introduces the term Deconstruction. Through Deconstruction, Derrida destabilizes metaphysics by arguing that its fundamental condition, its structural possibility, is the concealment of the Abyss (the work of Mandelbrot, who realised that natural sets, also bounded, are not finite, is of importance beyond mathematics and physics). This principle provides the framework for all of his subsequent writings. Derrida’s writings on architecture are of particular interest because he tries to indicate in what sense a philosophical argument can be translated into a different field – any translation between Deconstruction and Architecture does not occur between the texts of these two discourses, it rather organizes both discourses, and as a consequence, in the end one can talk about an architectural translation of philosophy and a philosophical translation of architecture [3]( Wigley,M, The Translation of Architecture, p.243).

 Taking an example from biogenetics, when writing about Tschumi’s Folies, Derrida wonders how the architectural chromosome [4](Derrida, J., Point de Folie-maintenant, p.73), which no longer pertains to biogenetics, could be analysed.

 “Following Derrida”, Eisenman’s descriptive text drafted for Bio Center in the University of Frankfurt competition says that:

Deconstruction is a process, and as a process it is an empirical approach to the text of any genre – e.g. philosophy, literature, architecture, etc. – which in a certain respect applies the text’s own principles to itself : Derrida’s analysis of Rousseau is particularly exemplary in this respect, also consistent with the position concerning the surprises for the author in textuality of which Rousseau himself was aware. Deconstruction is a process which brings into the open the blind spots [6](Sturrock, J., Structuralism, p.138) endemic in all creative writing. The blind spots occur as a result of the inability of those who write to wholly master the language which they use, or of the meanings which this language generates in the minds of those who read or hear it. The Text’s contradictions or blind spots, where the Author (whatever remains of him is textual – the best example is Saussure) has lost control of his argument, could be viewed as symptoms of some unconscious desires (suppressed aliens in a Freudian view).

 In this perspective the Text itself would appear as a revenge of language on authorial presumption, and the critic in the process of deconstruction would seem to be the agent of this revenge, since blindness is transformed in sight within his/her subsequent Text. Against such a possible charge, a Derridean defence would point out that Will does not come into it where Texts are concerned. Language, in its autonomy, does the work of confusion and misunderstanding. For Derrida Deconstruction works towards a certain relationship, that the writer is not aware of, between what he controls and what he does not control of the patterns of the language that he uses. Betweeness is a key concept in Derrida’s writings, exemplifying his case for the productivity of language [7]( Sturrock, J., Structuralism, p.138).

To read Between is to read otherwise, and Derrida insists that the freedom to read otherwise opens up the possibility of endless interpretation:

 “Rousseau’s text must constantly be considered as a complex and many-levelled structure; in it certain propositions may be read as interpretations of other propositions that we are, up to a certain point and with certain precautions, free to read otherwise. Rousseau says A, then for reasons that we must determine, he interprets A into B. A, which was already an interpretation, is reinterpreted into B. After taking cognizance of it, we may, without leaving Rousseau’s text, isolate A from its interpretation into B, and discover possibilities and resources there that indeed belong to Rousseau’s text, but were not produced or exploited by him, which, for equally legible motives, he preferred to cut short by a gesture neither witting nor unwitting [8](Derrida, J., Of Grammatology, p.307).

Texts have no within/without, for Derrida, because they exist entirely as a surface, extended in time. His thinking is about the necessary contamination of insides and outsides, and Deconstruction always works at the margins, on the limits of this organizing opposition. The conceptual pairs which are currently accepted as self-evident and natural, as if they had not been institutionalised at some point in history, are questioned and analysed. To take them for granted is to restrict thinking. To deconstruct is to think. Derrida’s philosophical project (the word project is preferred to the word theory, the underlying motive in this preference being the intent to make the point that Deconstruction cannot be discussed using the tools of reason and logical analysis because it functions in another way – Derrida even calls to “write in another way” [9](Kipnis, J., /Twisting the Separatrix/, p.33) leads him to dissolve oppositions and restore the terms to the continuity of language. The fundamental opposition against which Derrida has battled is that between presence/absence, an opposition which occurs prominently in Saussure, who takes it to underlie his linguistic opposition between the syntagmatic (language as presence) /paradigmatic (language as absence) axes of language. In order to eliminate the notion of opposition between absence and presence, Derrida attempts to make us see both terms as containing the trace of the other so that our minds can find no shelter in either extreme [10]( Sturrock, J., Structuralism, p.162).

Deconstruction, as a process, is what is happening, coming to pass: It’s all intransitive locutions that dislocate the predicate’s tie from any stable present. Derrida shows that the traditional examples of speaking depend for their meaning on the concept of an essentially nonspoken trace with its associated space of writing. As for Derrida Deconstruction does not name a theory, a method, a school, or any such delimitable entity, he makes the following important claim about any attempt to either define or translate the word Deconstruction:

“To be very schematic I would say that the difficulty of defining and therefore also translating the word deconstruction stems from the fact that all the predicates, all the defining concepts, all the lexical significations, and even the syntactic articulations, which seem at one moment to lend themselves to this definition or to that translation, are also deconstructed and deconstructible, directly or otherwise, etc. And that goes for the word, the very unity of the word deconstruction, as for every word [11](Norris, C. & Benjamin, A., What is Deconstruction?, p.33).

Deconstruction names a work, a movement, a process, and as a name, like any other name, is replaceable (as Derrida claims) or substituted for other words, for example: trace , difference, etc. Derrida points out that any claim of the form Deconstruction is X lends itself to a subsequent deconstruction and, a plethora of different answers is the result. In accordance with its principles, Deconstruction is possible only because is already occurring. Above all, what is named with the new name Deconstruction, is a newly identified instability that is always already at work, and that is irrepressible. The process of searching out and destabilizing the Separatrix represents the most powerful technique of Deconstruction. Separatrix is / , and among its many punctuations it marks:

“ratios and fractions (2/3), simultaneity (president/commander-in-chief), choice (and/or), opposition (nonserious/serious, inside/outside), and all other manner of structural relationship (signifier/signified, ornament/structure)[12]( Kipnis, J., /Twisting the Separatrix/, p.32)

Throughout his work, Derrida oversees the separatrix in all its operations, so that to turn it back on itself, in order to bring to light the inseparability of those terms that it separates. For Derrida Deconstruction is no arbitrary move, but one in which philosophy turns to consider its own state of possibility. The question What is Deconstruction? And Derrida’s answer that Deconstruction is not one thing, involves a refusal to take responsibility and continue the tradition that dominates the history of philosophy (the history of forgetting of one question, as Heidegger was describing it) – that of the idea of structure as a totalized and complete organic whole. Derrida’s texts in modern philosophy represents a challenge to the whole tradition and self-apprehension of that discipline. This challenge can be described as a refusal to grant philosophy the kind of privileged status it has always claimed as the sovereign bestower of reason. Derrida argues that only by ignoring, or suppressing, the disruptive effects of language, the philosophers have been able to impose their various systems of thought and, that his aim is to draw out these effects by a critical reading which is sizing particular points, takes out the elements of metaphor and other figurative devices acting in the texts of philosophy. Above all Deconstruction tries to cancel the idea that reason can somehow refrain from language and arrive at a pure, self-validating truth. To declare that language does not generate meanings but disclose them, thereby implying that meanings pre-exist their expression, is a nonsense: For Derrida cannot be meaning which is not formulated, or in other words it is not possible to reach outside the language. As the structure of time and of language are identical for Derrida, the Present moment is for him not a point but a structure, depending for its existence on its relations with Past and Future. Like any linguistic sign it is inhabited by other sugns (can we say, like any sign, the sign of Present is inhabited by the signs of Past and Future?). Every sign contains what Derrida calls a Trace of signs other than itself. Derrida argues that Trace is a nonexistent, but nevertheless necessary condition for and always anterior to any production of meaning. The Originary trace – “the trace which is not a trace of anything” [13](Sallis, J. (Ed.), Deconstruction and Philosophy, p.150) – frustrates the desire for a transcendental origin – a first and final actual meaning – and thus guaranties the infinite openness (the Abyss) of writing and reading.

This process of endless referral is called by Derrida Differance. Since any thing depends for its individuation and meaning on its differential interrelations with other things, it then follows that what any object is , is essentially a function of what is not. Yet, Difference cannot be thought on the basis of the old metaphysical opposition, which, Derrida says, makes the thinking of it uneasy and uncomfortable. With these words, Derrida simultaneously acknowledges our difficulty and disarms it of any critical force [14]( Sallis, J. (Ed.), Deconstruction and Philosophy, p.147). The inescapability of Difference ensures that there can be no escape from time in the process of the signification. Derrida acknowledges the temporality of his own investigations, which are successive and not simultaneous. We can think of the sequences of words as existing somehow simultaneously when they are written and thus made permanent (the text of a book, or what we can call a volume, is a clear indication of how the language transforms the temporal – or successive into the spatial  - or simultaneous timeless).

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