Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Two from Octavio Paz

What we need to build now is not only an aesthetics and poetics of the convergent moment, but an ethics and a politics that follow from this perception of time and reality. In such a new civilization, the present would not be sacrificed for the future or for eternity. Nor would the present be lived, as consumer societies do, in the denial of death. Rather, we would live in the full freedom of our diversity and sensuality in the certain knowledge of death. This ethical foundation of the new civilization would extol this freedom and creativity without illusion; it would seek to preserve the plurality of the present–the plurality of different times and the presence of the ‘other.’ Its politics would be a dialogue of cultures.

"West Turns East at the End of History" in New Politics Quarterly, Spring 1992


Since Parmenides our world has been one of neat and sharp distinctions between what is and what isn’t. The being is not the no-being. This first uprootedness—because it was a pulling out of
the being from the original chaos—constitutes the foundation of our mode of thought. An edifice of ‘clear and distinct ideas’ was built upon this conception, one that has made the history of the
West possible but also, one that rendered virtually illegal any attempt to embed the human being upon any other principles.
Whatever its future will be, what is certain is that from this perspective the history of the West can be seen as the history of a mistake, of going astray, in its double meaning: we have been
moving away from ourselves when we lost ourselves in the world. We ought to start all over again.

Obras completas, vol.1: La casa de la presencia, poesía
e historia México: FCE, 1994, pp. 116-117

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Melancholy and time

What is a specific architectural proposal for ruins? Beyond the devices of architectural experience and meanings which emerge from various transfigurations of the ruin, the basic emotional message of the ruin is the melancholy. In this sense, the classical formulation of melancholia as a disposition of the humors is not what is intended. Architectural spaces do not induce melancholia in this Aristotelian sense because architectural space, as constructions aimed at stimulation and inter-reference, provokes the visitor to action—whether it is the action of gazing or confusion, or the action of circulation or occupation. Therefore, the Aristotelian melancholia of boredom is not suitable towards the consideration of space. It is rather a “Kierkegaardian” melancholy which is deeply appropriate. Such a disposition in architectural space is premised upon the suspension of disclosure, or of total environmental knowledge, or of sensory satisfaction. In such dynamic spaces, the visitor awaits the Kierkegaardian moment when experience and knowledge come to fully bear on each other—when experience fully exposes the knowledge of one’s place, and when knowledge (for instance, political or social knowledge as in a site of conflict or emotional and cultural knowledge as in a site of hermitage or gathering) fully brings forth the breadth of experience.

The ruin is suitable in this capacity because it is, by laying bare in a state of ruination, establishing and broadcasting a potential—that is, a notion of what was once whole—that will never again be met. Whereas decay is always “contemporary” in the sense that a corroding stone is fully in its nature even though it crumbles and chips from a previous state, ruination is the recognition of a present state implicated in an ideal or otherwise informed state of wholeness. Whether these implications are optimistic or cynical is beside the point here (though I have a clear opinion on the matter) because both worldviews imply two things off the bat:

1. a system of valuation
2. a re-appropriation and transfiguration.

What is now evident is that the ruin, and other places of ruination, is situated by both place (as in place) and the aspirations of the visitor. In this way, the ruin is a performative social and cultural arena actively engaged at the moment a visitor beholds it. Moreover, this function when combined with the historiological weight of the ruin establishes parameters of narrativity and reiterative, projective temporality. That is, each visitor reiterates this narrativity such that the traits of the ruin (such as physical decay) that measure time are fused into the temporality of duration with-in and the projective-like thought of transfiguration that steep from the visitor’s experience. Each visitor draws out the story and urges the story onward.