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Matrix of Memory Author(s): Peter Schneider Source: JAE, Vol. 34, No.

1, How Not to Teach Architectural History (Autumn, 1980), pp. 2324 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, Inc. Stable URL: Accessed: 30/04/2010 09:53
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Peter Schneider teachesin the Department at Louisiana Tech University. ofArchitecture




conventionally tend to regard the work of fiction as being the polar opposite of works of nonfiction. We see the one as a story, a fabricationof fantasy, the other as a record of fact. Both however inevitably result out of the fictive act; the act of creating fragile structures in the mind which serve to make sense of things, which cause our interpretations and understandings of reality to present themselves. Both are inevitably what Paul Valery, the French poet and aesthetic philosopher, terms, "works of the mind," and as such they belong to that class of works which the mind makes for its own use. Both are works, rather than productions. In composing fictions and non-fictions alike our conscious action is that of "making" rather than that of "matching,"and in common with all other works of the mind they "do not reproduce the visible, rather they make visible."'1 Friedrich Nietzsche has said that "What can be thought must certainly be a fiction." We think fictively, give shape to content, and the act of fiction may in these terms be seen as analogous to the act of thought itself. The fictive nature and quality of our thinking gives form to meaning and expression to idea, and the different classes of fictive work may be seen as a general system through which our thinking becomes expressed. Our thinking and the fictive nature of our thoughts results from our conscious combination and recombination of memories. "We never come to thoughts, they come to us, and that is why thinking holds to the coming of what has been and is remembrance.9"2 If thinking can be seen to by synonymous with remembrance, how then do we think? Alfred North Whitehead, speaking about the movement of a thought from the state of the unknown to the state of the known-from "Silence to Light" in Louis Kahn's terms-sees the thought as moving through three distinct stages or modes: the the stage of isolation and stage of discovery, the stage of concentration. The general action which seems to lie at the base of our mode of thinking is that of the framing of distinctions of two kinds. We distinguish between this and that in the first place, and then frame distinctions between this and this. Our use of these two very specific distinction types relates directly to our modes of thinking in the discovery-isolation-concentration sequence, and con-


sequently to the two general classes of memory we must manipulate. The nature and quality of these distinct memory types will, if we realize them, allow us to understand the nature of these two distinctive acts we use in thinking a thought, in shaping content. When we frame distinctions of the this-that type, we work with memories, ideas and facts which are non-synonymous, which differ in both their form and their meaning, their shape and their content. These memories have the characteristicof singularity, of particularity, of difference. In composing a thought we exploit this characteristicof difference; we resolve the ambiguities latent in the signs of our inner language, discover new similarities, seemingly invisible connections. The Theory of Relativity, its fiction, was generated when an ambiguity between the concepts "gravity"and "light" was perceived and resolved. Differences came to be seen as similarities, and a new and powerful fiction emerged. Synonymous memories, on the other hand, possess characteristics of similarity. Their particular forms may differ, but the meaning they express remains constant; they exist as different shapes of the same content. Existing as distinctions between "this" and "this," they belong to the realm of the analogous and the metaphorical. In giving shape to content, in expressing our thoughts, we exploit the similarities existing between synonymous expressions rather than their differences. We use the device of the analog and the metaphor, rather than that of the latent ambiguity. The Theory of Relativity was first expressed in the inner language of the mathematician. In order to make it generally understood, it was re-stated in terms of accelerating elevators, moving trains and stationary observers, moving tramcarsand moving pedestrians-that is, using familiar analogous relationships. The two distinct classes of memory, therefore, can be seen to have specific characteristicsof use in our process of framing a thought; and the degrees of relationship between the intellectual shapes of the incept, the concept and the percept and the "this-that" and "this-this"distinctions are clearly evident. The word "history" comes to us almost directly and with very little modification from the Latin word "historia." Its Latin

meaning is narrative, story or account. While the Latin shape "historia" is very close to that of our present shape "history," the content it carries has been modified. In modern terms we tend to see history as fact rather than as the fiction which its original content implies. If we dig deeper into "history's" past, into the evolving morphology of its particular shape, we find that the Latinword has been generated by a complex of interconnections between the related memories and fragments of its Greek roots. The common content of these related fragments is the Greek form "idea," which represents the notions of form, look, semblance, shape, and which is the common root of our present words "idea"and "vision"and their derivatives. Before its meaning had been modified and given new direction by Plato's philosophical device of the idea as a representation of ideal form, the word "idea" carried and held the meaning of form: shape in the sense of that which is seen, that which is capable of perception. History became the act of seeing and giving shape to things: facts, events and experiences in the context of reality and of time; of seeing the discernable shape of content. In this original sense we are able to see history and fiction as being analogous, as sharing common origin in the action of shaping and forming. History may, as such, beseenas a visionaryact, and the connections existing betweenits visionaryactionsand the actions offiction become clearlyimplied. History begins to exist as a specialized fiction of reality, and the negative connotations of the Latin word "historia"-of its quality as story, narrative, myth, legend-are consequently avoided. The content we currently assign to history, that is, its existence in the realm of the factual rather than in the realm of the actual, would seem to have been generated as a pervasive reaction to the negative connotations in "historia."Its origiconttined nal content, its powerful and essential fictive quality, has been bleached out with the passage of time, seemingly in the interests of increasing its theoretical nature, its epistemological stature, and its place and position in Plato's famous "divided line." Its essential quality, however, is that of a fiction, a fictive composition, and the writing and teaching of history must be 23

Beginning students have difficulty accepting the fact that history is indeterminate, and that accounts for a lot of the doctoring up by architectural historians at the undergraduate level. It is extremely distressing for students to find that what they are learning is probably inaccurate--Dora Wiebenson.

The problem comes about when people attempt to describe the causes of historical monuments in terms of their feelings at the moment, without actually knowing anything about how and why they were made, and the context. On the other hand, the problem with architectural historians comes about when they stupidly follow a method because they are in this business to grind out material according to the method, never thinking about questions of quality or whether a thing is worth studying in the first place or why we should study it, and whether anybody will profit--Richard Betts.

One can think of buildings as existing in a temporal continuum and as existing in a spatial continuum. In a sense that gives you two axes. The building exists at the intersection of two axes. You have a spatial system which requires that you experience it, as directly as possible, or with surrogates as perfect as you can manage to assemble. But you can also experience it on a time continuum. I think the dominance of one over the other is very dangerous. The time continuum is what Barzun calls the "before and after school of history," in which something is simply identified as something which exists between this and that event; from that point of view that model is adequate. But I would also argue that the experiential model is also inadequate by itself. One should look at a building in both ways, simultaneously, not in one way or the other--Claus Seligmann.

seen in the contextof the fictiveandvi- particularclass stems from the latent qual- its type, the precedent and its patterns, the
sionary act, the act of thought itself. We teach history, and, in its teaching, teach fictions of memory. We give shape to the discernable fictions of the past and, by so doing, make available the rich tapestry of ideas, facts, things, events, forms, acts, personalities, and fictions which constitute what might be considered as necessary memories. We teach histories rather than History, and section the broad perspectives of time into specialized fictions such as the history of art, the history of language, the history of philosophy, the history of architecture and the history of social institutions in order to limit the vast landscape of available fragments of the past; in order to make available the particular classes of necessary memory which will allow new and original expressions, fictions of a special class, to be generated. In teaching history we explore the past, the memory, of the expressions generated within a particular system of expression, and through this exploration we then create a potential in those we teach for the shaping of new fictions, new expressions, within that particularsystem. The only requirement that the nature of the fictive act imposes on how we teach memories of a 24 ities inherent in memories themselves. We think, compose our thoughts, by manipulating memories which are nonsynonymous. We express our thoughts, our fictions, by manipulating memories which are synonymous. In thinking, in deriving content, we choose initially between different ways of saying different things; we then express our thought, shape our content, by choosing between different ways of saying the same thing. If we are to create the potential, the framework, within which the fictive act can take place, the memories we teach must clearly fall into each of these two dominant classes. We cannot teach one class, and not the other. The two are mutually inclusive, and just as we do not think a thought and then express it but think it by expressing it, we cannot manipulate the non-synonymous without the simultaneously manipulating synonymous. Therefore, the teaching of history, if we are to do it effectively, imposes its own requirement: We must teach both different ways of expressing different things within a particularhistoric or fictive system, and the different ways of expressing the same thing generated within that system. We must teach both the class and idea and its images, the meaning and its expressions-the content and its different shapes. We therefore teach history as a matrix of memory, and through this make remembrance, and consequently thought, possible. We generate the expectations of things to come, the necessary "recessions of the mind from which come that which is not yet said, not yet made"-the expectation of future fictions, the unseen and invisible shapes of the yet-to-be discovered content.

References 'Paul Klee, "Creative Credo," in Theories of Modern Art, HerschelB Chipp editor (Berkeley: Univ of California, 1968), p 182. 2Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language and Thought (New York:Harperand Row, 1971). Poylani, Michael, Meaning Chicago: University of Chicago, 1975. Ryle, Gilbert, The Concept of Mind. London: Hutchinson, 1949.