What can be the model for architecture when the essence of what was effective in the classical model -- the presumed rational value of structures, representations, methodologies of origin and ends and deductive processes -- have been shown to be delusory?
What is being proposed is an expansion beyond the limitation presented by the classical model to the realization of architecture as an independent discourse, free from external values -- classical or any other; that is, the intersection of the meaning- free, the arbitrary, and the timeless in the artificial.
Peter Eisenman, "The End of the Classical,"
Perspecta 21, (1984):166
(1) Little doubt arises today at the influence of Nietzschean philosophy both in the arts and in popular culture. Allan Bloom asserts in his article, "How Nietzsche Conquered America," that the underlying premise of the contemporary cultural attitude is based on Friedrich Nietzsche's (1844-1900) philosophic teaching.Ref.1 From such a premise, the post-modernist movement in contemporary art and architecture is found to owe a great deal to his philosophy. Thus, major Nietzschean themes can be uncovered. This conjecture does not imply that Eisenman consciously subscribes to Nietzsche's thought but rather it attempts to compare and contrast the architectural themes in the theoretical projects of Eisenman with the philosophical themes developed by Nietzsche.
(2) As an aside, it appears appropriate to explain the extent of architectural investigation as a creative endeavor in order to perceive further how it might directly relate to philosophy: Architecture is more than building, just as literature is more than journalism. Architecture stretches into the realm of ideas with the intent of signifying those ideas in built form. Architecture attempts to express human attitudes and emphases, and, like any other art form, is dependent on philosophy for direction.
(3) The primary work by Peter Eisenman discussed in this essay is a theoretical house designed in 1985. Eisenman's early house designs were meant to be theoretical exercises (experiments) -- usually existing totally in abstraction -- not meant to be built. Eisenman developed his architecture without the influence of a client, without concern for its use, and outside of a specific context. The significance of this architectural work lies in the conceptual procedure by which the architecture is generated.
(4) In order to formulate a basis for drawing parallels, the development of Nietzsche's thought shall be discussed first.
(5) Nietzsche's first work, The Birth of Tragedy (1872), already presented a strong-willed critique of his contemporary culture: an attempt to rustle faith in the "Socratic" or the "theoretical"; a faith in the ability to understand existence fully; and, to some extent, our ability to correct it. In this early work, Nietzsche saw the desire to comprehend life as deception and illusion. He perceived that the Socratic impulse is that of contemporary science -- the will to understand and, in understanding, to alleviate the conflicts of existence. He foresaw the inescapable limits of scientific logic: to accept finally that, perhaps, that which is not understandable is not necessarily confused. Hence, the statement, "For it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified."Ref.2
(6) Nietzsche continued the critique of his own contemporary culture in Untimely Meditations (1876). In the first meditation, Nietzsche's attack on David Strauss, a contemporary theologian, utilized Strauss as an exemplar of the cultural philistinism that existed in Nietzsche's Germany. Nietzsche argued, contrary to Strauss, that the Franco-Prussian War (1870- 1871) was not an expression of the triumph of a superior Germanic culture -- an idea commonly held after German victory -- but rather an exposure of the superficiality of German culture.Ref. 3 All four essays comprising Nietzsche's Untimely Meditations critique and expose a Germany which lacked creative minds, a Germany of the cultivated and knowledgeable. His structured attacks challenged the common notion of culture as a thing about which to be educated, a grouping of all proper names and notions. Nietzsche opposed to this view of cultural learnedness one of a cultural wholeheartedness. In this new perspective, culture was a thing that was constantly becoming. Society must look toward creating an even greater culture to be successful and fresh; such a culture, for Nietzsche, must affirm life. Thus, by propounding the development of culture as a creative and life- affirming activity, Nietzsche developed a notion of culture that fundamentally opposed his contemporary age.
(7) In The Case of Wagner (1888) Nietzsche diagnosed the affliction of the modern soul. This affliction he characterized as a contradiction of values in a society that says, "Yes" and "No" to life in the same sentence. Nietzsche felt modernity as false, lacking the wholeheartedness of a consistent morality.Ref.4 In Ecco Homo (1888) Nietzsche typified his concept of modernism in a quotation from Vischer: "The Renaissance and the Reformation, only the two together make a whole: The aesthetic rebirth and the moral rebirth."Ref.5 For Nietsche, it is this flagrant contradiction that exists simultaneously in the modern and expresses its decadence. Thus, it was his longing for a better (more coherent) culture and a stronger morality that determined the course of his philosophy.
(8) Through Nietzsche's writings, both the madman and Zarathustra speak of the "death of God" and the implications of this circumstance. That faith in God was dead, had become a matter of cultural fact. The prevalent scientific attitude was seen by Nietzsche as a substitute for the loss of Christian faith. Yet science also remains a dead end in the pursuit of universal truth, for science through its own means discovers its own limitations. Humanity discovers a great difficulty in confessing the inherent nihilism of existence.
(9) As a popular phenomenon, the philosophic work of Nietzsche has been characterized negatively.Ref.6 Arguably, however, Nietzsche was actually a great affirmer of life. The whole of his philosophy is a "Yes-saying" attitude towards existence, offering the ability to live life wholeheartedly. Therefore, his philosophy attacks all life-negating tendencies.
(10) In his profound critique, The Genealogy of Morals (1887), Nietzsche presented the basis of Christianity and its morality as being "ressentiment" (revenge and resentment). Nietzsche branded Christianity as a great "No- saying" attitude toward life; it negates the value of this world by placing emphasis on the afterworld. Nietzsche's explanation of the development of Christian morality further emphasized the life-negating powers of the priestly class: It was the Jews... (one of Nietzsche's priestly classes)..., who with such awe-inspiring consistency dared to invert the aristocratic value- equation (good = noble = powerful = beautiful = happy = beloved of the Gods) and to hang onto this inversion with their teeth, the teeth of the most abysmal hatred (the hatred of impotence) saying, 'The wretched alone are good... and you, the powerful and noble are, on the contrary, evil.'Ref.7
(11) Christianity had inherited this attitude and reinforced it with the hopefulness of an afterlife, further negating existence in this world. As can be demonstrated historically, it is the priestly man whose revenge has triumphed through the prevalence of Christian morality. Thus, Nietzsche arrived at the concept of the "slave revolt in morality."
(12) "Man would rather will nothingness than not will."Ref.8 In the third essay of The Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche explains how through religion man has been transformed into a goal-oriented being. Thus, by augmenting guilt in the human psyche, Christianity gained control over humanity's hedonistic impulses. The question, "why do I suffer?" implies a way out through active means. Christianity motivated human endevours toward goals of resolution and completion. The instrument of God satisfies a basic fact of human will: our fear of nihilism. A horror vacui necessitates a goal to which Christianity gave meaning.
(13) Nietzsche left his challenge thus: Can man exist without a goal? How can man face the inevitability of the statement, "God is dead"? Can man face the abyss of nihilism? Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1884) indicated the impending nausea that resulted from this realization, the nausea impending in a thing which must be overcome.Ref.9 However, two possible attitudes arise with respect to nihilism are set forth by Nietzsche in Book One of The Will to Power (1888).
Nihilism, it is ambiguous:
A. Nihilism as a sign of increased power of the spirit; as active nihilism;
B. Nihilism as decline and recession of the power of the spirit; as passive nihilism.Ref.10
This is to say that the nihilistic attitude can result in two tendencies: one that is life-negating, a Buddhistic resignation to give up on life because of its valuelessness; the other, the way of the overman -- the person who finds value in living -- who constantly attempts self overcoming, whose enjoyment is the creation of self. Thus is stated one of the most powerful aphoristic transformations of Nietzsche's philosophy: "All is false, everything is permitted."Ref.11
(14) There exists little doubt that Eisenman has been influenced by the philosophic works of Nietzsche. During an interview with Charles Jencks, Eisenman was asked what the major influences on his works were. Eisenman replied, "...I also read Derrida and Kipnis and Vidler and Wigler and Nietzsche. It is not clear to me how much is consciously or unconsciously present."Ref.12 The influence on Eisenman's works appear at first glance extensive, but it is Eisenman's prerogative to forward the attitude and consciousness of the architectural profession in a way that expresses the sensibilities of the present age. He attempts to wrest architecture from its traditional inspirations and extend it outwardly, pushing the boundaries of architectural understanding.
(15) Eisenman continually refers to his contention that the world has changed since the cataclysmic events of 1945. His belief is that humankind is now in a period after Modernism, a period of changed sensibilities. As stated in his essay, "Misreadings:"
With the scientifically orchestrated horror of Hiroshima and the consciousness of human brutality of the Holocaust, it became impossible for man to sustain a relationship to any of the dominant cosmologies of the past; he could no longer derive his identity from a belief in a heroic purpose of the future...; for the first time in history man was faced with no way of assuaging his unmediated confrontation with an existential anxiety.Ref.13
(16) According to Eisenman, the society of people born after World War II subconsciously feels a fundamental change; there exists a collective anxiety resulting from this "futureless present."Ref.14 With the cosmology professed by Eisenman, a world which is human-created (anthropocentric) or based on hierarchical value is impossible, leaving a world which is decentered and fragmented in nature.
(17) Eisenman acknowledges that architecture is bound intrinsically with the fundamental need for shelter, but that shelter has both physical and metaphysical implications. The physical aspect of architecture obviously requires that it be built -- that it possess a material reality. Thus, building asserts the condition of presence. Therefore, "any act of building will necessarily be an act of presencing." Yet to Eisenman, architecture, as distinguished from building, resides in the area of critique, "... the initial act of architecture is an act of dislocation."Ref.15
(18) The metaphysical aspect of architecture, according to Eisenman, resides in the critique, transformation, and creation of institutions.
"Thus architecture can be considered paradoxically, contradictory to building, to its institutionalizing presence. Such an architecture cannot be except as it continually distances itself from its own boundaries; it is always in the process of becoming, of changing, while it is also institutionalizing. It has the potential to be simultaneously a creation and a critique of the institution it builds."Ref.16Thus Eisenman exposes an architectural process that is a critique of itself, an object which expresses both its presence and absence.
(19) In his article, "The Futility of Objects," Eisenman defined this process of criticism -- of both presencing and absencing -- as an act of "decomposition":
Decomposition goes further in that it proposes a radically altered process of making from either modernism or classicism. Decomposition presumes that origins, ends and the process itself are elusive and complex rather than stable, simple or pure, i.e., classical or natural... By proposing a process which at root is the negative of classical composition, the process uncovers (or deconstructs) relationships inherent in a specific object and its structure, which were previously hidden by a classical sensibility. Rather than working from an original type toward a predictable end, decomposition starts with an heuristic approximation of end, an end which is immanent within the new object/process. The result is another kind of object, one which contains a non- existent future, as opposed to an irretrievable past.Ref.17(20) The Fin D'ou T Hou S (1985) is just such an object. Even the title of the Fin D'ou T Hou S contains allusions to the absence of a singular truth; many interpretations could exist within the title: find out house, find doubt house, end of where (French), end of covering (French), or end of august (French).Ref.18
(21) The Fin D'ou T Hou S is purely an object whose significance is based on process. By questioning its own composition it decomposes itself in order to create itself further. Here the question of origin begins with the "el" form. The "el" is an unstable geometric form. If one were to extend the indented quadrant of the "el" form outwardly along its diagonal axis, the form completed would be a whole cube. If the opposite movement were to occur (the indented area moving inwardly on the diagonal axis), the form of the "el" would lose all volume. The "el" is unstable in that its origin is unknowable as a process of addition or subtraction. Therefore, Eisenman's whole exercise begins at an unstable point of origin.
(22) The object that results is an attempt (on the part of the "el") to uncover its own teleology. So, two "el" forms -- one inserted in the other -- dialogue by presuming that their origins are unknowable; they guess at or approximate their origins in order to further decompose themselves, in a kind of de-ontology.
(23) The Fin D'ou T Hou S is an object based on process, unknowing of its origin and realizing its final outcome is indeterminate. Since the object did not begin from a single point of origin, it can never arrive at a stable end. The condition of the two "el" forms remains ambivalent; their nature is indeterminate. Eisenman describes:
Thus suspended between substantiation and ephemeralness, the condition of the object is part presence, part absence. It is an object-in- process which began nowhere and ends nowhere, existing in a present of absence and presence, suspended between reason and madness, between art and folly.Ref.19(24) One could suggest that Eisenman has attempted to create an object that expresses the dysfunction of goal-orientation: an object that exists outside of meaning and significance as a product of schizophrenic nihilism; one that internally searches itself for meaning outside of metaphysics. The Fin D'ou T Hou S is something that exists no longer as arbitrary once it is realized that there is not necessarily one correct understanding. Thus, the object remains in a decentered state; the object acknowledges in itself the absence of a singular truth, "while continuously positing a variety of subversive 'truths'; in other words, it decenters while it centers."Ref.20
(25) Eisenman's architecture appears to be a product of accepted nihilism, his suppressed realization of an irreparable estrangement from absolute truth, and thereby paralleling the themes grounded in the later works of Nietzsche. Eisenman's architecture makes an attempt to undermine the goal-oriented man (reason as ends and means) by creating an architecture born out of pure process. His concept of the "futureless present" fortifies his fascination with a design process that denies the attainment of any goal in so far as it relates to the future.
(26) Eisenman develops an architecture devoid of consistent meaning. It is the result of a decentering process; that is, the full knowledge of the loss of common truth results in the superimposition of substitute truths which constantly and consistently deconstruct themselves. Hence, his architecture results in the recording of this critical process.
(27) Furthermore, the architecture of Eisenman could be reinterpreted in Nietzschean terms as a process of self over- coming, since the only goal of his architecture is to analyze itself constantly and critically. Just as Nietzsche placed all value in the action of life fulfilled through the will to power, Eisenman expresses this in his architecture. The value or significance of Eisenman's architecture is projected internally to the procedure of decomposition.
(28) Thus comes Nietzsche's question and challenge: Can man face a world which contains no truth? Is it possible for man to affirm a life that contains no metaphysical value? These questions are implicit in Eisenman's teleological questioning of origin and stability in his architectural process, a questioning which manifests itself in the conditions of the architecture that results from it -- part absence, part presence.
Ref. 1: Bloom, Alan. "How Nietzsche Conquered America." Wilson Quarterly, Summer 1987: 80 - 93.
Ref. 2: Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy and the Case of Wagner, translated by Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1967): 52.
Ref. 3: Nietzsche, Friedrich. Untimely Meditations. Translated by R. J. Hollingdale. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983): 3 - 55.
Ref. 4: Nietzsche. The Birth of Tragedy, 192.
Ref. 5: Nietzsche, Friedrich. On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo. Translated by Walter Kaufman. (New York: Vintage Books, 1967): 319 - 20.
Ref. 6: Bloom, Alan. 80 - 93.
Ref. 7: Nietzsche. On the Genealogy, 34.
Ref. 8: Ibid., 163.
Ref. 9: Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Portable Nietzsche. Edited and translated by Walter Kaufman. (New York: Viking Penguin, 1982): 271.
Ref. 10: Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power. Translated by Walter Kaufman and R. J. Hollingdale. (New York: Vintage Books, 1967): 17.
Ref. 11: Nietzsche. On the Genealogy, 150.
Ref. 12: Jencks, Charles. "Peter Eisenman, An Architectural Interview." Architectural Design, 58, no. 3/4 (1988): 49.
Ref. 13: Eisenman, Peter. House of Cards. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. 170-172.
Ref. 14: Interview, "Leon Krier and Peter Eisenman." Interview. Skyline Magazine, February, 1983: 12-15.
Ref. 15: Eisenman. House of Cards, 168-86.
Ref. 16: Ibid., 182-83.
Ref. 17: Eisenman, Peter. "the Futility of Objects." Lotus International, 42, (1984): 67.
Ref. 18: Eisenman, Peter. Fin D'hou T Hou S, Introductory Essays by Jeffrey Kipnis and Nina Hofer, (LOndon: Architectural Association, 1985).
Ref. 19: Eisenman, Peter. "American Architecture." American Design Profile 55. n. 1/2 (1985): 48-55.
Ref. 20: Eisenman. House of Car ds, 186.
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