You are on page 1of 6

The Architectural Uncanny: Essays in the Modern Unhomely by Anthony Vidler Review by: Elena del Ro Discourse, Vol.

15, No. 3 (Spring 1993), pp. 177-181 Published by: Wayne State University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41389291 . Accessed: 25/09/2013 09:57
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

.
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Wayne State University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Discourse.

http://www.jstor.org

This content downloaded from 132.206.33.155 on Wed, 25 Sep 2013 09:57:39 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Book

Reviews

in theModernUnhomely TheArchitectural Uncanny: Essays Vidier Anthony MIT P,1992.257 pp. Cambridge:

Elena del Rio is withthejargon and techniquesof architecture Lack offamiliarity not a drawbackwhen it comes to reading AnthonyVidler's The lies in the ofVidler'swriting The accessibility Architectural Uncanny. Vidiershatters thatdefinethisproject.First, constitutive parameters as an autonomous topreserve architecture thatcontributes themyth culturaldomain; developmentsin architectural and self-enclosed conceptualanalogues in practiceare thusconceivedalongsidetheir criticaltheory, the fieldsof literature, and, psychology, philosophy, otherartistic Second,Vidler'sinterdisciplipractices. byimplication, for a materialist allowshimto substitute perspective naryframework method.Thus, unlike the conventional an abstractor prescriptive logic as the transapproach, which misconstruesarchitecture's essence of the discipline, Vidierexplores the conceptual historical of this lines of forcethathave givenrise to both the construction In TheArchitecand effects. logic and the mappingofitsfluctuations Vidier envisionssuch conceptual lines of force as turalUncanny as explicit in the materiality of thebody.Whether embedded firmly standard or structuring absence, the body repeatedlyappears as in theshifts whatever index or echo of a certainpsychic inscription; here notas thebodyfigures or tendencies, movements architectural the point of origin of aestheticproduction,but as unstable,yet the human psycheand the architectural materialforce traversing alike. object other more Haunted by a kind of inferiority complex vis--vis has strivedto make the "spiritual" arts, traditionalarchitecture

This content downloaded from 132.206.33.155 on Wed, 25 Sep 2013 09:57:39 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

1 78

Discourse 15.3

and the pillarsof itsconceptualization notionsof use and function thatallows architecture to disorientation practice- a fetishistic the"innermost" contents of to articulate avowitssupposed inability the human soul. Vidler's analysisdiscloses and challenges this notablyby arguing that its tendencyof architecture, fetishizing offset intrusion of orientation is bythemassive invariably empirical exceed the and effects concerns of a aims which always uncanny In function-absorbed Vidler's practice. transparent, projsupposedly whose productivity ect, the uncannyoperates as a broad category and revalorized however reinforced and efficacy, byFreud'swritings, nevertheless specificity assignedto it bypsychosurpassthe psychic theuncanny As applied to architectural form, presidesover analysis. of estrangement and encompasses of representations a widevariety a broad culturaland historical expanse,fromthefeelingof unease in late-eighteenth-century first identified of anxiety-ridden practices theRomantics, to the equallyanxiety-ridden archiyetfree-floating tectural and spatialsignsof postmodernity. In the attemptsto approximate a useful definitionof the Vidiershowshowtheterm uncanny, mayenjoysuchwideapplicabilstill free from essen tialist connotations:"The while ity remaining "is a of the Vidier not norcan writes, uncanny," property space itself it be provokedby any particularspatial conformation . . . while not essentially nevertheless [cerevidently uncannyin themselves, tain buildings and spaces] have been seen as emblematic of the uncanny, as the cultural signs of estrangementfor particular theuncannynegatively, and thusretainperiods" (11). In defining of the term,Vidier speaks not so much to the ing the ambiguity absence of a conceptualcore in the termas to theneed to preserve thedistinctiveness ofitsmanifestations within different cultural and theuncanny as historical horizons.Moreover, a of emerges category the intractable and unmasterable indeterminacy, by pure produced slippage between thatwhich is familiarand reassuringand that which should have remained secretand hidden, yethas come to light.FollowingFreud and Daniel Sanders,Vidier points out the and disturbingaffiliationsbetween the two terms - heimlich - constituting theone as a direct of the unheimlich other: outgrowth "Fromhome, to private, to privy ... to secretand thereby magic. . . was an all(24). too-easy slippage" Vidierdivideshis book into threesections- "Houses," "Boda particular context forthe ies," "Spaces" - each ofwhichprovides In the explorationof the notion of the unhomelyin architecture. of the uncannyis still opening section,"Houses," the articulation orientation. Despiteitsestranging dependenton a certainhumanist of house still defines the the effects, degree its unhomelinessin and affirmation; to thehumansearchforsecurity contradistinction habitatis - in each of the the relianceon a secure and protective

This content downloaded from 132.206.33.155 on Wed, 25 Sep 2013 09:57:39 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Spring1993

179

by a numberof topoi essaysthatcompose thissection- thwarted statusthroughtheirvariousculturalinscripthatacquire mythical In "UnhomelyHouses," and effects. interactions, tions, reworkings, of the haunted forinstance, Vidiermakesuse of theromantictopos of the signifying field of the house to determinethe specificity Thus he traces both the affinities and the uncanny. disparities between the uncannyand the romanticsublime. "Buried Alive" of nineteenth-century archaeoexplores the uncannyimplications The unhomely of the ruinsofPompeii domesticity logical interests. ofhistorical factin twocrucialways: it first, challengesthereliability an of about and second, brings unsettling merging pastand present, it confirmsthe existence of a "dark side" of classicism in its unabashed insistenceon eroticdisplayand its celebrationsof the body.Vidieralso notestheanalogybetweenexcavations fragmented of antique sites,which so fascinatedFreud, and the uncovering itself. The finalessayin thissection, proceduresof psychoanalysis on the paradox thathauntsthe searchfora "Nostalgia,"meditates fixedabode - a paradox thatrests on the theoretical of alignment thehouse withtheirretrievably lostobjectpostulated bypsychoanalseen in thecontextof modernist to produce Whether ysis. attempts the "healthyand beautiful"house, freeof death and memory, or that substitutes fromthe postmodernist for subperspective image stance, the Heideggerian notion of dwelling is invariablypro- eitherreduced to a modernist blematized versionofnostalgiafor a never-experienced to thesurface space,or destabilized byreferring of an absent imprint past. in gaininga briefbut substantial The reader interested viewon that have affectedthe place of the the conceptual fluctuations humanist should turnto themiddle section subjectin architecture ofthebook. Itsopeningessay, "Architecture fleshes Dismembered," - a out theunderlying concernin all ofVidler'sinsightful analyses consistent of the architectural conceptualization objectbyreference localized and heterogeneously to a diversely assembled body.The historical ofthebodily tracing analogyin itsarchitectural inscription a thatalso informs the signals deanthropomorphizing progression visualeconomies in the history of painting, as well as the areas of literature and criticism. Thus in theclassicaltheory of architecture, thebody/building analogyservesto advancetheclaimsofauthority, and stability that characterizethe transcendental, confirmation, Cartesiansubject.In a second stage,beginningin the eighteenth architecture reactsagainstthesupposedly"natural" premcentury, isesofclassicalorganicism. Once seen as a standard ofjudgment,the in is the of now service body placed subjectperception.The superstatesof bodyand mind fractures the unity session of subjective of ofprojection fora naive thecategory bodyand building, substituting A third momentis definedbytheextensionof beliefin immanence.

This content downloaded from 132.206.33.155 on Wed, 25 Sep 2013 09:57:39 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

180

Discourse 15.3

- a biomorphism the body beyond itssovereign limits thatis "no human but embrace[s] all longer confined to the recognizably from theembryonic to themonstrous"(70). In biologicalexistence "Homes for Cyborgs,"for example, the interstices between the and the are characterized as a fertile inorganic organic groundfor in the cyborgian the emergenceof uncannysensations: house, the of the human and the machine constructs an merging opticalscene in whichsubjectsare included as partof a system ofvirtual signs,a spatialscene reduced to theflatsurfaceof a monitor. In discussingthe moment of architecture beginning in the 1960s, Vidier points out the change undergone in the relation between the architectand his/her work.The projects of Coop Himmelblau, for example, inscribe the body language of the thus instantiating the author's designeronto the map of the city, celebrationof thewillto lose poweroverthe object,as well as over the social body scrutinizing his work.By revealingthe effects of a commonideologicalsubstrate on all significant in thevarious shifts artistic and culturalpractices, Vidler'scharacterization of the present stateof authorialinscription further confirms thevalidity of his eclecticapproach.In a lateressayentitled the archi"Trick/Track," tectural comesto embodythis designitself crossdisciplinary perspective:BernardTschumi'sparkofLa Villette in Parisis describedas a workof intertextual "notation,"where codes (para) architectural fromliterature, film,and music are made visiblefor philosophy, and inspection. scrutiny attenAlthoughVidler'sprojectseems to focuswithparticular tion on the workof contemporary architects(Bernard Tschumi, Rem Koolhaas, Peter Eisenman,Coop Himmelblau, John Hejduk, ElizabethDiller,and Ricardo Scofidio),some of his essaysintimate thatfundamental features of a typically deconstructivist perspective are alreadypresentin worksthatdate fromearlierepochs. Particufor its seemingly anachronistic larlystriking conception is Louis Boulle's Temple an eighteenth-century Death, of designwhichanticinvalidation of a transparent and positivist ipatesthe contemporary architecture. similar modernist such asJames lines, Along buildings for the in Sterling's project Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, espouse theidea of a facelessarchitecture whose implications are no less disruptive of anthropomorphic analogies and expectations.In any case, the scene alreadyadvancedin theseearlierworks contemporary points to a consistent denial of the thrust of historical force,and a refusal ofarchitecture to lend itself to familiar meaningsand uses,insisting insteadon itsown right to questionitssignificance as wellas thatof thesubjectit impliesor addresses. While providingirrefutable evidence that the categoryof the is not a whimsical of postmodernity, invention Vidler's uncanny at the same time in a shift the analyses figure major wayspresent

This content downloaded from 132.206.33.155 on Wed, 25 Sep 2013 09:57:39 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Spring1993

181

and designsincorporate and embodythisphenomenon.No projects as thesignified longeremerging repressed bythebindingrulesand thatformerly functions contained the architectural object, today's thathas come to uncannyexplodes as a free-floating non-meaning inhabittheobject/signifier itself. Whether lack suggesting psychical or ideological shelterlessness, today'sdesigns may become literal of psychoanalytic notions. and/or poststructuralist representations in otherwords, The lack thatstructures thehumanpsyche, showsits - in thedesolatespaces and artefacts face- or rather, non-face that derealize the of the The or the increasingly space city. building architectural ensemble is no longer the guarantorof the subject's capacityto name and appropriatethe world,but ratherthe image whoseinitial and fulfillment reverts tounprepromiseofdestination dictabletrajectories, surfaces of obduraterepetition, and dispersal, opacity. One can onlyhope, with thatthe tangibleand materially Vidier, embedded reality ofarchitecture willcounteract thekindofself-gratformalism on the psychological which,bymerely ifying expatiating side oftheunhomely, theissueofreal homelessignoresor trivializes ness in our cities.Fortunately, Vidierargues,thepoliticalcannotbe so easily eliminatedfromculturalpractice;rather, followingthe social and politicalconcernsseem paradoxicallogic oftheuncanny, to reeruptin spite of the efforts mobilized to represstheirvoice. Thus it is witha mix of ironyand reliefthatVidier remarks: "The of is ... difficult to exorcise ghost avant-garde politics proving (14). entirely"

Travel as Metaphor: From toRousseau Montaigne GeorgesVan Den Abbeele U ofMinnesota P, 1991.176pp. Minneapolis:

Stanley Fogel In the old cigarette ad, the guywho would walka mile fora Camel - thatis wouldnot have thought himself Or peripatetic pedestrian. a wordreserved foracademicswalking thethinline betweenpublish - the twowordsyokewanderers or perish.Travelmetaphors and as easilyas a lap computerletsthe former writing lap up the miles - travel I say, abound. It is GeorgesVan doing thelatter metaphors,

This content downloaded from 132.206.33.155 on Wed, 25 Sep 2013 09:57:39 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions