Vision and the psychotic

architecture+transgression copy 4 backg.001-001

Let us speculate that the psychotic subject has a form of vision that we call parallel vision, and that this is a question of conception not fact (anatomic, optic, or otherwise). The psychotic subject is not without unity or coherence but it is not the unity imposed upon the subject by the linguistic environment in which most subjects dwell (what Lacan calls the symbolic order). Language binds the subject into a single point of perception and thought. The coherence of the psychotic subject is the coherence of parallel lines. S/he slides along the striations of a layered space. S/he sees one thing many times when the neurotic sees many things once. It is more objective, in the way that the elevation and the axonometric drawing are more objective than the perspective drawing. In the elevation and the axon, the lines of construction are parallel; the world appears from all or no points of view. There is no projection and no points of projection; the world is simply stamped onto the drawing paper the way a penny is pressed into clay. By contrast, in the perspective drawing, the world appears from a point of view. It is the model of a certain form of inter-subjectivity. It is inter-subjective because it is cross-checkable with other subjects, and so constitutes the space of the shared external world.

architecture+transgression copy 4 backg.002-001

The psychotic subject is typically regarded as disorganised and detached from the shared world of others. In Freudian and Lacanian analysis, this is regarded as a fundamental loss. In the paper ‘Neurosis and Psychosis’ (1923), Freud describes the psychotic subject’s delusion as a ‘patch’ placed over the ‘rent’ where the ego would have been attached to the external world. For Lacan, the external world is the inter-subjective world shared by many subjects, may subjectivities joined together by a shared linguistic or symbolic environment. Lacan describes the psychotic subject’s disengagement with the joined up world of others as a loss of symbolic authority: the name of the father, i.e., the symbolic father, authorises the symbolic world for the subject. In the case of the psychotic, it was never assimilated in the subject’s development. In Lacan’s paper ‘On a Question Prior to any Possible Treatment of Psychosis’ (1958), it is foreclosed to the subject (note the real estate terminology).

Perspective is a model for a certain form of organised vision, in which all angles within the cone of vision come to a single point. It enjoys the elevated status in western thought as the formula for reality, because it colludes so closely with the egos view of itself and its relation to the world. In philosophy, perspective is often associated with concepts of the self. The internal world of Descartes’ Cogito is pictured as a single point of self defining doubt vis-à-vis an extended triangulated external world. Because this cone of vision is an analogue of the way optics works, perspective is also regarded as reality. Moreover, the perspective model of eye (point of projection) – window (picture plane) – city (world) provides an easily understood geometric model for the relation between the interior of the subject’s psyche and exterior worlds of shared space.

Psychotics see perfectly well, although without the agency of the symbolic father; it is how they relate themselves to the shared world of others that is different; they are not attached to the world the way we are; nor do they join it up the way we do. We can reflect this in a diagram for vision in which the perspective cone of vision is foreclosed to the subject, leaving him/her in a parallel world.

rooms + cities 2


Our aim is to study – by architectural means – the forms and conditions for the eruption of rooms within the fabric of the city. By fabric we mean texture, infrastructure, morphology, topography, and zoning, even. Rooms may take many forms and scales, they may be big or little, public or private, commercial or residential, habitable or uninhabitable, accessible or inaccessible,…. Let us wager that the subject of the city sees itself in the room. The subject uses the room to locate itself, whether the room is accessible or not. In their many and varied forms, rooms represent the subject of the city to itself and to others. In the language of Lacan, the subject is in an imaginary and/or symbolic relation to the room. Imagine for a moment that the city has two surfaces, both of which are problematic. There is an outer surface and an inner surface. The outer surface is the interface between the city and its region or hinterland, usually rural. The inner surface is the interface between the spatial subject and the city or city fabric. Both are problematic, not least because the outer edge no longer exists (it has been urbanised), and the inner edge never did (it is symbolic or imaginary, it is always already disappearing).

If the spatial subject did not exist, this architectural project, which creates a space for inhabitation by projection, would not be intelligible as a project, or, if intelligible, not poignant.

SOM, Lever House, NYC (completed 1952). Designated as a NYC Landmark, 1982. Built by British soap manufacturers Lever Brothers as their American headquarters. Lever Bros. founded in Warrington (1885), merged (1930) with the Dutch margarine company Margarine Unie to form Unilever. Merger based on the natural affinity of soap and margarine.

rooms + cities

madrid placa mayor

The city has an inner surface and an outer surface. It is as crucial to give the city an inner surface as it is for it to have an outer one, especially when the outer surface is losing its clarity under the continual pressure of urbanisation. These surfaces are urban scale structures and structures of experience. There is also a question of institutions and enclaves. For Tafuri, the problem of architecture is how to understand or position architectural ‘ideology’ within the context of capitalist development (economics, production, planning, its history). For me, the problem of architecture is how to understand architectural ideology – i.e., architectural thought, principles, values, its many and varied discourses – within the context of an ecological crisis. The difference between our approaches has to do with what we regard to be the determining context for architecture: capitalism and the environment. Architecture is a tool for acting out our desire upon the surface of the earth. We can ask, why do we want to poison our habitat, destroy our own house? We do it in capitalist and socialist societies. The economic/political neutrality of my thesis is a function of the nature of the beast (both regimes are heavy polluters), and a function of the hegemony of capitalism (Zizek has argued that there is now nothing outside of capitalism, we are all capitalists, there is no choice anymore, and no class consciousness. These two contexts manifest differently for architecture. For Tafuri, capitalism as the determining context for architecture seems to be the hand that drives it. For me, the ecological crisis as context is the challenge confronting architectural thought, the problem it has to solve. The former pushes and the latter pulls. They are not exclusive of each other. If humans are fundamentally exploitative, if work is a process of exploitation, there may be an historical shift in our thought and labour. Man exploiting man. Man exploiting nature.

Google Earth image of Plaza Mayor, Madrid (598–1621) from 877 metres. See also Manfredo Tafuri, Architecture and Utopia: design and capitalist development (MIT Press 1979)

architectural evidence that the spatial subject exists

Monument Paul Vaillant Couturier - Villlejuif, yellow

The relation of mouth and hand, speech and gesture (the poignancy of both), a concrete cantilever beam accusing a concrete plane surface to describe a triangular site (the poignancy of both), the people beneath, a scalar relation: the immediate and intuitive intelligibility of this project is additional evidence that the spatial subject exists.

Le Corbusier, project for a monument to Paul Vaillant-Couturier, Villlejuif, Paris (1937). Paul Vaillant-Couturier, Villlejuif was editor-in-chief of the Communist newspaper L’Humanite.

architectural evidence that the spatial subject exists

04_palazzo-del-littorio_carminati-lingeri-saliva-terragni-vietti-nizzoli-sironi1 crop

We draw buildings,

build buildings,

use buildings, and

write about buildings.

No one has yet explored, or explored fully, the quadripartite structure of our engagement with architecture. And in particular, the relation between these terms – drawing, building, using, writing – which is sequential episodic and cyclical. One thing is clear however: this engagement with architecture is also an engagement with ourselves. We draw buildings, which puts them in relation to the symbolic world of desire and ideology (think of the ideological shift attending each new technique of representation). We build them, which extracts them from a representational context and puts them in an organised world of finance and production. We use buildings in symbolic and material ways, the latter primarily by inhabiting them. We write about them to reorient them within their symbolic and material contexts, and to plot the path of their efficacy, as part of a continual process that critically rearranges our thinking on architecture. This is not a process of correction; it is work, psychical and physical work.

In order to put buildings in relation to the human subject that inhabits them, we draw on philosophy and psychoanalysis because these are the two discourses that treat the human subject in its capacity as a thinking being and a speaking being. These capacities are so essentially human that research relevant to architecture always ignores them. One of the challenges of writing about architecture is how to bring the human subject as a thinking and speaking being in line with the human subject as a spatial being. This capacity to be spatial is not exhausted by the material fact that we have a body; nor indeed, is the capacity to inhabit architecture exhausted by the fact of the body. The relation between thinking, speaking, and spacing needs to be explored. How does architecture reflect the fact that the human subject who inhabits space, inhabits it as a speaking being and a thinking being? How does this fact change our thinking on the social political economic historical material aesthetic efficacy of architecture? The immediate and inherent intelligibility of a project for a palazzo that addresses the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine, witnessed by the Colosseum, is architectural evidence that the spatial subject exists.

If spatial subjects did not exist, this architectural project would not be intelligible as a project, or, if intelligible, not poignant.

Guiseppe Terragni, with A. Carminati, P. Lingeri, M. Nizzoli, E. Saliva, M. Sironi, & L. Vietti, Competition entry for Palazzo Littorio, Rome, project A, 1934. Littorio addresses Maxentius, witnessed by Il Colosseo, on a triangular site. Note also Il Duce’s podium and the curved facade decorated with stress fractures.

the multitude >< the field of the Other


Vitruvius’ account of the primitive hut.

Three configurations of the group – three innovations – three (forms of ‘associative life’):

1. the individual – fire – (brownian movement)

2. the multitude – speech – (the field of the Other)

3. the people – building – (an armory, an exoskeleton, architecture is the first discourse)

The individual becomes a multitude when it enters the associative life of language. The multitude becomes a people when it builds a wall around itself, when it publicly (re)presents itself as architecture. Vitruvius’ account of the primitive hut is an analogy for the formation of the nation state (by nation state we mean a power structure that puts itself in dialogue with an imaginary entity called the body politic).

In Vitruvius’ account of the primitive hut, language and architecture are born together in fire. In his originary state, primitive man wanders alone in the forest. Imagine a kind of Brownian movement: each person exists alone, save for unmotivated chance encounters. A forest fire raises the statistic likelihood of chance encounters by driving these originary solipsists out of the forest and into a clearing where they gather around the remainders of the fire. Once so gathered, they decide that they ought to speak to each other. Hence the birth of language. Once speaking, they cooperate to build the first building.

This parable says something about the role of fire, which first presents itself as a danger, and subsequently an opportunity. It also underscores the opportunistic character of the primitive. There is no particular drive to speak or to build. Nor does the hand of god (or fate or destiny) drive progress. The primitive – like that contemporary persona, the slacker – is simply riding along on the flow of life, taking advantage of opportunities as they arise.

I would like to put Vitruvius’ account of the primitive together with the concept of the multitude as it is deployed in political discourse as a model for resistance to national and global power structures. The concept of the multitude was first mooted by Machiavelli, developed by Spinoza, hated by Hobbes. In Vitruvius, language and architecture are born together, but not simultaneously. First language then architecture. The fear of fire drives individuals together, which makes language possible, and language makes architecture possible. In the shift from speaking to building, from language to architecture, there is a shift in how the group is configured. This change is mirrored in political discourse by the shift from multitude to people. In Grammar of the Multitude (2004), Paolo Virno argues that political discourse distinguishes the people (champion, Hobbes) from the multitude (Spinoza). These are competing ways to invoke ‘associative life’. The birth of the modern nation state was made possible by the ascending concept of the people. Virno argues that modern political discourse may have run its course and it is time to reintroduce the political concept of the multitude. Whereas the people are the counterpart to the sovereign state, there can be no social contract between the state and the multitude.

‘I maintain that the concept of “multitude”, as opposed to the more familiar concept of “people”, is a crucial tool for every careful analysis of the contemporary public sphere. [It is a middle term.] One must keep in mind that the choice between “people” and “multitude” was at the heart of the practical [political] controversies… of the seventeenth century [the foundation of the modern centralised nation state]. These two competing concepts,… played a primary role in the definition of the political-social categories of the modern era. It was the notion of “people” which prevailed. “Multitude” is the losing term… In describing the forms of associative life and of the public spirit of the newly constituted great States, one no longer spoke of multitude, but of people. But we need to ask whether, today,… this once defeated notion is not displaying extraordinary vitality, thus taking its dramatic revenge.’ p21 [with my ‘intrusions’ in brackets]

I am attempting to understand the social conditions of the production of architecture on the basis of categories and concepts drawn from political philosophy and psychoanalytic theory, which are in turn drawn from linguistics. In order to understand clearly how architecture functions in respect to the social order of the individual, contemporary architectural production demands this depth of specialist analysis. Anything less fails to penetrate a cluster of self-serving political and spatial illusions.

We want to return architecture’s account of itself to its ground in individuals. In Vitruvius, the group is not a given, but undergoes a transformation between forest, fire, language, and architecture. The question is how to maintain a practice of architecture and the constitution of the group without constituting a unity. Driving this is a notion that we can restore the link between architecture and subjectivity, or what is the substantially the same, between architecture and production. How to have a collective discourse of the multitude that does not go to the fictional unity of the people? How to aestheticise the multitude without appealing to wholeness and unity. Lets wager, we can do this via the psychoanalytic concept of the field of the Other (about which, more later), in other words, the linguistic, architectural, cultural codes that bind us.

‘In order to name, with a unifying term, the forms of life and the linguistic games which characterize this era, I have used the notion of the “multitude”. This notion, the polar opposite of that of “people”, is defined by a complex of breaks, landslides, and innovations which I have tried to point out…: the life of the stranger… experienced as an ordinary condition; the prevalence of “common places” in discourse over “special places”; the publicness of the intellect…; activity without end (virtuosity); the centrality of the principle of individualism; the relation with the possible… (opportunism);… idle talk.’p97

Breaks Landslides Innovations – I read the multitude in the unmotivated opportunism that characterises the people in Vitruvius story. The multitude appears not simply as a polar opposite of people, as in Virno’s text, but as a middle term between people and individual. It is the murky surface from whence the individual and the people emerge and into which they return. What constitute the multitude as a multitude, without making them over as a people, what binds them without becoming a totalising unity, is language. It is not discourse per se, but the pre-condition for discourse that makes discourse possible. Let me therefore go one step further: what constitutes the multitude is the field of the Other. I borrow the field of the Other from Lacanian discourse. In its initial enunciation, this term is primarily linguistic (psycho-analysis is concerned with speech); in its development it encompasses all the symbolic codes of contemporary life, from language, to the law, to white dresses at weddings. The field of the Other is the field within which architecture is practiced. The field of the Other is a way to theorise the multitude without totalizing and unifying it. It is a way to treat the empirical reality of individuals, a reality founded in biology as much as subjectivity, as the collective that it is, without losing site of the multitude. And without defaulting to the political fantasy of a unified body politic which the state has to posit as its reflection, its reflective other.

‘In the multitude there is the full historical, phenomenological, empirical display of the ontological condition of the human animal: biological artlessness, the indefinite or potential character of its existence, lack of a determined environment, the linguistic intellect as a compensation for the shortage of specialised instincts.’ pp97-8

‘The multitude is this: a fundamental biological configuration which becomes a historically determined way of being, ontology revealing itself phenomenologically.’ p98

The individual becomes motivated when it enters into the associative life constituted by the field of the Other. The field of Other is the reality of codes that motivate and shape our actions, rather than the imaginary groups to which we identify. Desire is a function of language and other social codes. Desire flows through the individual and from one individual to another to form the multitude of individual desires of desiring individuals. When it manifests spatially, the individual finds itself literally immersed in desire. In this regard, Deleuze+Guattari (Anti-Oedipus: capitalism and schizophrenia) recognised the affinity between Freud and Marx: in their respective texts, the world is a continuous flow of libido (Freud) and capital (Marx). The multitude is a flow and the function of flows.

Where to go from here? We need to understand more fully the spatiality of the multitude. We need to trace our Vitruvian progression, individual-multitude-people, through Aureli’s distinction between the figured City and contemporary processes of Urbanisation. We need to find a third term between City and Urbanisation.

Paolo Virno A Grammar of the Multitude: for an analysis of contemporary forms of life (New York: Semiotext(e) 2004). Cf. also, ‘Multitude’ Wikipedia at                                                                                                     Vitruvius, On Architecture or The Ten Books of Architecture (New York: Dover, 1960). This woodcut from the Cesare Cesariano Italian edition (Como, 1521) the first translation of Vitruvius’ De Architectura out of Latin.

the assembled self

blog 1

Beckett’s trembling surface                Le Corbusier’s exteriorized matrix

Two different architectural models of the self: a black single sided surface/space with a mouth hole that speaks. A scaffold with eye and organ and cosmos that sees.

What does it mean to say who I am? What does it mean to say I am an architect?

Any answer will be in code, in this case avant-garde theatre or avant-garde architecture: all their props, language, forms. The code precedes you or your answer. The presence of the code presupposes an other. Code and other, precede you and your answer. [Lacan insisted that coded seeing, or seeing in perspective, is preceded by the gaze.] Accordingly, we can be more precise: What does it mean to say who I am? always goes to What it mean to you, for me to say who I am?

Still from Samuel Beckett’s Not I, performed by Billie Whitelaw at the Royal Court Theatre, London, 1973, and recorded by BBC2 for the program A Wake for Sam (screen grab by author). A Wake… was broadcast in January 1990. Beckett died in December 1989. Whitelaw described her performance at the Royal Court: ‘this relentless mouth that wouldn’t let go’ of the audience.

Le Corbusier, sketch of his installation for the Ideal Homes Exhibition, London, 1938, featuring La Ville Radieuse. From Oeuvre Complete vol 4 1938-1946 (Zurich: Artemis, 1946) p 13.

human >< nature


We can ask, what is the subject of architecture, or perhaps more fundamentally, the subject of space? What positions does space, theorized as a system, leave open for filling with subjects and objects? How do we understand this subject – does it have components or form or internal relations? This may be a new, less ontologically loaded, way of approaching the question of human nature. This blog will go from self to Other, from human nature to nature. This blog will begin with the problem of the subject, and it will end with a consideration of the environment. It will attempt to articulate, or at least point in the direction of, the environment. How do we position ourselves in nature with our human-ness? How do we recuperate our originary wildness? If it has an instrumental value, it will be for thinking a new humanism, a humanism for addressing the environmental problems of our world.

We will go from subject to environment:

1. from individual to habitat (social habitat or Other, spatial habitat or environment)

2. from the problem of the subject of architecture (what is the subject of architecture + what sort of architecture has a subject) to our problem of habitat destruction and the sustainability of our environment

Frontispiece to Marc-Antoine Laugier, Essai sur l’Architecture (1753/1755) showing an image of the primitive hut by Charles-Dominique-Joseph Eisen

self & society

Patte 39

Lacan is arguably the most astute and extensive theorizer of self and society, in a discipline and practice dedicated to self and society.

Lacan is someone whose theories an architect may be interested in knowing about if they want to know more about how their buildings may have an effect on an individual (a self) and on a group (a society). And also how they may have an effect on their client or their client on them, because to you your client is part of society, and to your client, you are society.

We need to know more about what Lacan means by self and society. Lacan does not say society, but Other. Other with a capital O. Other is not other people per se, that’s others (small o) other people, your significant other, but rather the social, ethical, legal, economic, political, legal codes that regulate other people and organize them as a society, and, known and unbeknownst to you, regulate you too. It is all the codes, laws, regulations, taboos, customs, what Foucault called power relations, whether they be explicitly stated and enforced, like the legal code, or an uncodifed practice, like customs that regulate marriages or care of the body or familial relations. And self has at least two components. There is an ego which is what we usually refer to as sense of self and which in psychoanalysis is regarded as imaginary, because it is something that only you perceive even though you think others do too, and is closely related to self-image. And an unconscious which is subject to the codes that constitute the Other. If the ego is imaginary, the unconscious is symbolic because codes are symbolic and language like, and when explicitly formulated, are formulated as symbols with a form of grammar. The self is therefor an assemblage of ego and unconscious, which Lacan usually refers to as the subject, the human subject. He also calls the subject the speaking being or parletre, which underscores the important role that the symbolic realm – in particular, language (hence a neologism) – plays in human life, but also the fact that psychoanalysis is the talking cure. In psychoanalysis, the subject speaks. In addition to subject and Other, we can speak about the relation of self to Other. Lacan frequently says ‘field of the Other’. The Other is an almost limitless symbolic field that we navigate as our daily lives. We can ask, what relation does the subject have to the field of the Other; how is the subject positioned in this field? The three so-called clinics of psychoanalysis, or broad areas of treatment are the neurotic the psychotic and the pervert.

Pierre Patte, Key Plan of the Monumens eriges en France a la gloire de Louis XV (1765)


st louis double exposure

Lorens Holm, photomontage of downtown St. Louis, 1990

Place-making – still popular amongst planners in search of a legitimate and certain practice – is derived from a watered-down phenomenology. We attribute the failure of place-making to the phenomenological concept of place as a locus of qualities. In other words, to the place bit of place-making. The making bit is potentially ok. There is an unspoken but underlying phenomenological approach to city thinking that privileges sense experience and has led directly to thinking about places as if they were constituted of qualities. This has led to city planning full of places with terrible qualities because they fail to engender any genuine engagement with the architectural environment. It is precisely the attempt to build qualities that screens or cuts off the occupant from its environment. Think of all the plaster-board Il Redentores that clutter our cities. What is missed is thinking the environment as a grammar-like construction for subject-object relations. Grammar is the structure of a language. The idea of subject-object is borrowed from grammar and grammar is theorised in linguistics. Subject-object only exist in so far as they are positions in a grammar. They exist only within a structured system, the more highly structured, the better. If we want to understand the conditions under which can obtain a genuine, resilient, enduring engagement with the architectural environment, we could do worse than look to the ways we structure our environments and the objects in them. We could do worse than to look sideways at both linguistics and psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is where subject-object are most fully worked out within the realm of human affairs.

We need to start thinking the city as a structured space in which subject-object are defined as positions relative to each other. How can we talk about a grammar of space, of which the city is an emergent property? How can we talk about the city as a system that has a position for a subject? Film studies talks about the film-goer, which film addresses generically, and which has certain attributes that film is designed for [the 24 frames per second subject]. The economy has its labourer and its capitalist, which exist entirely as functions of the money system. Literature has its reader and its author, such that Barthes could proclaim the death of the author [1967] and Foucault could ask what is an author [1969]. Architectural thinking is not completely bereft of the subject, but it needs to be developed. City studies has the flaneur [1863] for instance, the detached man in the crowd who watches people flow by. This subject is invoked or called into being by the boulevard and its multitudes. For Geddes, the city is an interactive knowledge-scape that invokes, like the agora, the informed voter or participant in democracy. In this view, you cannot have an informed participant of democracy without a certain type of city, not because you cannot vote in the countryside, but because the informed voter is a position defined by a type of city that functions as a knowledge landscape for its inhabitants. [Note – the flaneur is invoked by the boulevard; the agora invokes the participant in democracy] We need to be able to ask of any space, who is its subject?

The phenomenological concept of place, as it is used by architects, is infantilising. If a place is thought as a container for qualities, then the question about places becomes a question about the qualities you like (do you like red? a fountain for the missus?). The subject of place is reduced to a grasper after qualities. Consensus becomes impossible because everyone likes something different. And no one really cares what you like, anyway. Architecture is not about what you want, but about living a good life. As soon as we get away from making places and instead start making structure, we will find that the architectural environment is full of good places to be.

Lets pretend that posts can have footnotes.
In architects’ phenomenological discourse, place is always singular. It is always place, never places, even though place is a ‘thing’ word like car or hat, and not a ‘stuff’ word like, e.g., space, hair, or water. This tends to elevate its status: place becomes an abstract and hallowed concept that sometimes deigns to touch down upon the surface of the earth and bless us with an infusion of its metaphysical content. Imagine if we had hat, which sometimes infused the things we put on our heads with the quality of hatness. We can help to undermine phenomenological discourse amongst architects simply by attending to our language. Always use places [plural] rather than place [singular], in cases were we are not referring to a particular place, but to places generally.