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    it sounds good in theory - adorno

    Quilian Riano
    Oct 4, '06 10:43 AM EST

    This week's readings for Buildings Texts and Contexts:

    -Hitchcock, Henry-Russell. "The Architecture of Bureaucracy and the Architecture of Genius." Architectural Review 101, no. 601 (1947): 3-6.
    -Adorn, Theodore W. "Theses Upon Art and Religion Today." The Kenyon Review VII, no. 4 (1945): 677-82.
    -Adorn, Theodore W., and Max Horkheimer. "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception," [1947] in Dialectic of Enlightenment, 120-131. New York: Continuum, 2000.
    -Wiener, Norbert. "Progress and Entropy" in The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1950.

    Through all these essays we are exploring the following argument laid out by Hitchcock:
    "The distinction between the character of the operations of a lading bureaucratic organization like Kahn, Inc. and an individual practitioner of established fame like Wright is real, but can be exaggerated if applied ruthlessly to the whole architectural profession... But conceptually the two types of work are distinct and should not be subjected to the same type of analysis and criticism..."

    I am not sure that I buy the argument that we need to think of the built environment in these two simplistic ways. What is interesting is that it is an issue we are struggling with today probably more than back then. Also, it would be interesting to study the Libeskind-Childs WTC debacle through this lense.

    Anyhow, the real reason I was inspired to post is Theodore Adorno's essays. His essays are very much applicable today and can be seen in issues discussed far and wide: should wally-world be allowed in our community? how come all music/movies (buildings?) sound/look the same? How come I cannot distinguish politicans?, etc... I recommend reading "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception," specifically.

    My reading of the argument (all my bias included):
    Increasing organization since the enlightenment comes out of an 'instrumental reason'* that started then and has led to the industrial and capitalist revolutions since. He argues that a few with power are bringing an artificial order in the disguise of progress to control the many. He concludes that art (with its lack of usefulness) is the last refuge from 'instrumental reason' and thus very important for society and humanity. The question this brings up is whether architecture can be separate of a society ruled by 'instrumental reason' or are we too intrinsically tied in to the larger society and its methods of manufacturing and production to do so.

    *'instrumental reason' is what we call rationality and that in all reality sees everything (including people) as mere instruments of a larger organization. This thinking allows for children to be exploited in the name of progress, for communities to fail in the name of lower prices, etc...

    since i dont like entries without images here is one of adorno chilling, trying to avoid the society of 'instrumental reason'.


    • vado retro

      thats not rationality, its rationalization.

      Oct 4, 06 11:04 am  · 

      rationality (in my meaning for the sake of the post above): the process since the enlightenment to bring order and rational thinking to a world of inceasing entropy.

      Oct 4, 06 11:19 am  · 
      Smokety Mc Smoke Smoke

      Adorno is relevant, sure ... but there has been a consistent stream of works that start to dismantle the "cultural stewardship" that is advocated by the mandarins of the Frankfurt School. I'm talking about books like Peter Burger's Theorie der Avantgarde or even Jeffrey Herf's Reactionary Modernism. Although I have a real problem with the way that Adorno couches his arguments (especially in his essays about popular music and his Philosophy of Modern Music), there is something to be said for the idea of a critic. Adorno's thought seems like a variant of Kant's "Original Genius," (cf. Critique of Pure Reason) the person who is able to get beyond this business of transcendental illusions and gain true insight into the sublime. But Kant's notion of original genius is only a tack in the trajectory of his philosophical system. It is far removed from Hegel's more vivrant, open, expansive Phänomenologie des Geistes. I'll take Hegel over Kant any day. And I guess that means I'll take Benjamin over Adorno.

      The relationship between Adorno and Benjamin fascinates me, especially since Adorno thought that Benjamin's writings did not employ true Marxist dialectics. Notice that Tafuri is heavily influenced by Benjamin ... but then think again ... why is it that Tafuri relies so heavily on an imperfect Marxist like Benjamin?

      I also wonder why you all read Wiener's The Human Use of Human Beings as opposed to Cybernetics: On Control and Communication of the Animal and Machine? I've read both for my own research, and I am always taken aback by the former book, which seems like an appeasement to Wiener's critics.

      Oct 4, 06 11:20 am  · 

      if what qualified art to be an exception to 'instrumental reason' was its lack of usefulness, architecture doesn't qualify. does it?

      and we're definitely subject to the much larger organizational structures. we're ultimately a lame duck player in the construction industry. tried to use a 5'x13' sheet of plywd lately? watched your beautiful detail adjusted to conform to 'industry standard'? seen a commercial construction project without insurance, bonding, or financing involved? ...and try specifying a product to be used in a way that it's not intended and it comes back to bite you.

      Oct 4, 06 12:09 pm  · 

      Great question Steven, in my quickly written notes i have that adorno says that architecture can be achieve non-IR status through:

      b-a building that as whole captures the spirit of the age in an architectural language and is not simply a functional box.

      I am not sure and will have to probably track down his one paper on architecture.

      Oct 4, 06 1:45 pm  · 
      vado retro

      the ceo's are the high priests of this age. capitalism is religion. get on yer knees.

      Oct 4, 06 6:47 pm  · 
      Smokety Mc Smoke Smoke

      In the words of Killdozer (the best band you've never heard of from Wisconsin), Intellectuals are the Shoeshine Boys of the Ruling Elite.

      Oct 4, 06 7:17 pm  · 
      vado retro

      get rhythym smoke. when you get the blues.

      Oct 4, 06 7:30 pm  · 
      Arjun Bhat

      If i'm correct in assuming IR is a sort of rationalized exploitation, then I would argue that art isn't outside of it (this, of course, would vary according to one's definition of art - which can be a whole other discussion). Artists in China, for example, lead very good lives as symbol makers for the establishment, while ignoring the requests of artists abroad to fight the said establishment. Is what they do art? Yes and no, depending on your definition of art. If your def. is something akin to Richard Serra's (art has no purpose, and if it does, it isn't art) then I suppose it doesn't qualify ...

      Maybe I'm just a cynic, but I don't think anything on this planet is above or outside of exploitation. And if you can think of something that is, then I'm inclined to say that society just hasn't thought of a way to exploit it just yet. (actually, i'm pretty sure that does qualify me as a cynic ... oh well.)

      Oct 5, 06 12:55 am  · 
      Arjun Bhat

      one more thing - is IR qualified by an exploitation in the name of ____ -- where ____ is some kind of societal/establishment goal? If it is, fine, but if IR can also include exploitation for personal gain/satisfaction, then I would argue that definetly art is intrinsically(sp?) useful to the individual and therefore is open to exploitation.

      Oct 5, 06 12:59 am  · 

      [keep in mind that i'm only in this as part of the discussion, having not read any of the source texts. i'm relying on +q's admittedly biased summary of instrumental reason above. but i think this is fascinating and it might even make me want to read adorno.]

      i didn't understand +q's take on IR as rationalized exploitation so much as i understood it per the key word 'instrument' > it's suggests that there is a path forward and that most of our activity is enmeshed in this narrowing path forward to the extent that it enables some other activity or development.

      art can, very easily, short circuit this, um, circuit. (as can tuning in, turning on, and dropping out.) my thought was that architecture which was critical to the point that it did the same short-circuiting would be considered (economically, functionally) a failed architecture, though we architects might like it.

      i'm assuming we're talking about a critical art here, because a decorative art is still part of the organizational structure: commodity.

      if a critical art serves any purpose, it's to be against the organizational structure's path forward - it's possibly even destructive - and therefore against instrumental reason, in that it opens up new opportunity through new ways of thinking about things.

      Oct 5, 06 7:32 am  · 

      Great comments, Smokety as always.
      Random comment, The Human Use of Human Beings was also the Weiner book that Robin Evans chose to cite. I don't know enough about it to know what that means though...
      Who teaches this class? When I was at the archive at Harvard the first year design students had been sent down to look for Evans' Figures Doors and Passages, so maybe there is an Evans fan there? He did teach there.

      Or more likely, I am the Evans fan, and that book is just generally popular with architects for some other reason?

      What is the difference between the two that makes you find it odd that the course is using The Human Use of Human Beings?

      Oct 5, 06 9:43 am  · 
      the cellardoor whore

      going about askewing purpose deliberately is still purposeful and has ,like any other, attained a market of its own. the niche of the art world, much more a world than ,say, politics (this being assigned, except in the case of a universal explicitly laid out ideology ...such as facism, communism or religious sharias...a local or local-to-global function of convenience) that talks and listens in installations, material that can't be owned materially, the post-duchamp that can range from the finger pointing towards material (authenticity, materiality..etc) to its 'functional integration' (the finger pointing towards the finger pointing..etc) in the mode of 'montrer du doigt' that cashes in on the value of a self referential work. in lieu of the patron royalty, the curator. instead of being on the wall in the room...maybe the art is now the wall or the room...a jump from the thing in the enclosure to the enclosure itself. this has evolved into a global phenomenon where people go into rooms that enclose, specifically, an experience.

      i do not really understand what is meant by:
      "it's to be against the organizational structure's path forward - it's possibly even destructive"

      Oct 5, 06 9:54 am  · 
      the cellardoor whore

      since to be able to come to any fruition, to make any just has to be implicated, in substance and content. do we see, normally, a group of champagne glass holding people donning guccis and vuittons marchalling against ....? well..exactly...against what?
      the object of this so called destruction is no more than an ideological residue,a cliche, in a chi chi world (and not all worlds) that celebrates and deduces value out of a generic will to 'subversion'. rather than the purpoted sense of the word, this so so called subversion creates its object subverted in order to recreate it (deconstruct). from the critical! post-modern, reification has now attained the super-power of shape-shifting. a lycanthropic eats and it masquerades as the reluctant eaten. and this is precisely the case of habermas against adorno. but it is also habermas against habermas. adorno says its in the roots, habermas says if that is so, then how could a flower, adorno, reject its roots. point taken. either adorno's is the first and last mouth to denounce (his negaticve sense of finality: LEGEH - like saying jesus was the last jew) or he is at fault. if the latter so, then how could habermas proceed with any vestige of criticality, if each incident of the critical is tantamount to being a flower rejecting its root.
      by criticizing the critical in adorno, habermas liberates criticism from its gluttural negativity...from a verticalized root-based thinking. the critical becomes stylized, a tone, a horizontal voice amongst others.

      so, do we, wherever this we exists beyond the need to fight against something that practically inhibits us from gaining decent food and shelter, live in the belly of a self digesting monster a l'adorno?
      Oct 5, 06 9:54 am  · 
      Smokety Mc Smoke Smoke

      Hmmm ... well I think one of the reasons why syllabi tend to stress The Human Use of human Beings over Cybernetics is that the former is more readable than the latter. Cybernetics is a weird book, it makes a (well-founded) inferential leap from ergoditic functions and other types of statistical analyses to communciations theory. The book does not flow very well, and it is ripe with these complex differential equations and algebraic matrices that will make anyone's head spin. The last chapters of Cybernetics contain controversial statements interpreted to absolve scientists from the moral responsibilities of their craft. This is an imperfect comparison, but imagine Adolf Eichmann writing a treatise on rail transportation, or of Mahdi Obeidi writing about nuclear reactor centrifuges, without any acknowledgement of the ancillary effects of their endeavors, and you begin to see some of the problems with Cybernetics ... it was a scientific discipline that did not disguise and that did not have any problems with the fact that it was borne out of military research.

      Which is how The Human Use of Human Beings comes to play. It was written in 1954, as the dust from years of war was still settling. It does not dismantle Wiener's views on Cybernetics, it just tries to engage in some type of moral examination of the process. It's interesting, because The Human Use of human Beings perhaps inspired a series of other books that sought to apply cybernetic principles to other domains. These include Gregory Bateson's Steps to an Ecology of Mind as well as Anthony Wilden The Structure of Systems.

      Oct 5, 06 4:02 pm  · 
      vado retro

      perhaps one could argue that art resists this idea of intrumental reason. but, art is a product and can therefore be turned into a commodity. this commodification of the "fine" arts is easily accomplished by the "rationalists" who can either add a monetary and propreitary value on a object, or can appropriate that object for mass cosumption as entertainment or marketing or by dismissing it as valueless. As most people would not define art as useless it is no difficult task for the "rationalists" to dismiss what they see as not objectifiable. Doesn't everybody know this by now???

      Oct 5, 06 6:21 pm  · 

      Man, Smokety, you continue to impress and intrigue.

      I wonder, to what extent does our current climate data collection and data management do similar things but for some reason we think of it as much more benign? Just thinking about things like credit card records, shoppers club cards, amazon recommendations and other things that seek patterns in massive quantities of data in order to... to what? To sell you the kind of art that you are likely to buy? Based on what others like you have bought in the past on a wednesday morning where the temperature is a cool 54 degrees?

      Or more historically speaking, did reading this stuff cause architects in ivy league schools to freak out so much that they turned to formalism, an aesthetic worship of false quantities of data but severed (they hoped) from any real world implications? Is that what the empty white ether surrounding the drawings is really related to?

      I was just reading "Toward a Human Architecture. A Sociologist's View of the Profession" from 1977 by Herbert Gans and he argues that architecture is irrelevant to social well-being. I wonder if that was a very appealing excuse for architects in the face of all that had gone wrong at the time? I am still groping at this, but I did think his piece was an inciendiary but precise description of the ways that architecture goes bad when it tries for social relevance and how inappropriate he thinks it is for architects to be "social engineers". Odd to hear a sociologist sound like a formalist.

      Oct 7, 06 11:24 am  · 

      oops, climate _of_ data collection, I meant

      Oct 7, 06 11:26 am  · 

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