genus loci & zeitgeist

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The upshot of the argument in Brunelleschi Lacan Le Corbusier (2010), if not its conclusion, is that Brunelleschi and Le Corbusier are arch-types of the modern subject. Le Corbusier invented the temporal subject through his practice. And Brunelleschi, through his practice, invented the spatial one.

Eisenman’s project has been to expose the underlying metaphysics of presence that operates through architecture. He has used his practice to invent architectural strategies for deconstructing presence, showing it to be what it is, a metaphysics that has no more a place in a material practice such as architecture as it does in a material practice such as language. For Eisenman, the metaphysics of presence enters architectural discourse through the twin doctrines of zeitgeist or spirit of (the) time(s) and genus loci or spirit of place(s).

Following Eisenman then… Le Corbusier, the subject of zeitgeist; Brunelleschi, the subject of genus loci.

For Le Corbusier, inventor of the free plan that freed the plan of space,… a future anterior subject, or subject of time in the future anterior tense. I argue that he used his practice to articulate a kind of future anterior loop in which he will have always already seen himself looping the Parthenon. The story of Le Corbusier’s career: he stands before the Parthenon as a young man [1911], with the premonition that when he is on his deathbed, he will realise that he was always obsessed with the Parthenon and that all his work was dominated by it. He glimpses what he will only learn about himself in retrospect, that his future practice is now being formed by his encounter with the Parthenon. The lesson of this story about a reflective practice is that the zeitgeist thrusts forward, by looping back upon itself. Although it takes the form of forward thinking through technology, a present that is already flush with the future, it anticipates itself, it repeats.

Brunelleschi invented perspective [probably 1420s] and went on to invent the perspectival space of the nave [San Lorenzo and Santo Spirito, 1440s-60s], and by so doing, the modern punctual subject of space, whose model is visual space. I argue that perspective is a form of space bound to the vanishing point in the way that we are bound by our fathers. The spatial subject is always threatened with annihilation and always imagining its way back into the picture.

Close readings of the following texts will substantiate these arguments:

Le Corbusier, Journey to the East (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1987) + The Final Testament of Pere Corbu: a translation and interpretation of Mise au point (New Haven: Yale, 1997)

Antonio di Tuccio Manetti, The Life of Brunelleschi (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1970)