[Oct 17, 2014] I Think Therefore I am Not
Today is the release of the English translation of the second volume of Peter Sloterdijk's Spheres. Globes, the second of his three-volume magnum opus explores the spatialization (or sphericalization) of the family home, architecture, polis, and other spaces and environments. As Stuart Elden observes, it 'proposes a way to offer a properly philosopical theory globalization.'
As Sloterdijk's Spheres is a self-proclaimed continuation of Heidegger's work, we thought is might be fitting, in celebration of this event, to revisit some of our past reflections on Heidegger's Being and Time, with a particular emphasis on how we frame architecture within the larger cosmological framework.
Originally written in February 2013
There is a tug-of-war going on, and the rope is nearing its breaking point. Contemporary architecture, and the path it follows, is being dictated by the single-mindedness of a desire for unique formal expression. The culprits are the architects and critics who value and judge the merits of architecture based on superficial images of caprice.
In the early 21st century we are at a threshold of a repetitive, oscillatory pattern between opulence and purity, where architecture is screaming for a return to the human condition. It is demanding its Being back. What can we learn from Martin Heidegger’s deconstruction of the question of being; are there parallels we can extrapolate between architecture and Dasein? We aim to find the outcome of this precipice: the enjoinment of architecture’s being. What was taken away in the age of the enlightenment, we shall return: metaphysical mysticism of (hu)man.
Heidegger, in Being and Time, calls for an interpretation of the question of being - who is asking these questions and what are they asking? Our task is the same. Heidegger says: “We must show that those investigation and formulations of the question which have been aimed at Dasein [or architecture] heretofore, have missed the real philosophical problem (not withstanding their objective fertility), and that as long as they persist in missing it, they have no right to claim that they can accomplish that for which they are basically striving.” (71)
Here it is. This is the core problem with much contemporary architectural theory and criticism. Put simply, it is only concerned with unique formal expression, and, more recently, technological means to not only design, but also build buildings. With the inclusion of technology in the design process, or dare I say, computer as architect, the architect has paradoxically destroyed the need for himself. To paraphrase Superstudio, if architecture remains the formal expression of status through socioeconomic symbolism, then there can be no architecture. Similarly, if architects continue to perpetuate the myth that architecture can be judged on expressive merit and formal opulence (as if it could actually be judged at all), then architects, and critics alike, have no right to claim that theirs is a discourse worthy of having. Their arguments, whether verbal or architectural, hang silent.
Architecture as Object?
“The person [or architecture] is never to be thought of as a Thing or a substance; the person [architecture] is rather the unity of living through which is immediately experienced in and with our experiences - not a thing merely thought of behind and what is immediately experienced... but an act is never also an object; for it is essential to the Being of acts that they are Experienced only in their performance itself and given in reflection... Essentially the person [architecture] exists only in the performance of intentional acts, and is therefore essentially not an object.” (73)
If we are to examine architecture through the lens of Heideggerian being or essence it cannot be thought of as an object. Architecture is activity incarnate.
Dasein only exists with the world (as a whole), and cannot exist in it. To be in something implies the presence of an object. There can be no object, however, just as there ‘is no such thing as the side-by-sideness of an entity called Dasein with another entity called ‘world’.”(81) Dasein (and subsequently being) is only an act through time with another being or the cosmos. The presupposition of subject and object do not, and can not, coincide with Dasein, and thus architecture. Architecture is an act of experience. ‘I think therefore I am’ is antiquated. You think, therefore you are not. Knowing is a ‘relation between subject and object.’ (87) In showing your present-at-hand while thinking, you have been limited to the realm of entities, as subject and object. Thought is extraneous with being, and thus, architecture.
Like art, architecture only exists through experience. This counterbalanced ballet between (hu)man and space is architecture. Through performance or ritual the building comes alive. Heidegger describes this as follows:
“The kind of being which belongs to Dasein is rather, such that, in understanding its own being, it has a tendency to do so in terms of that entity towards which it comports itself proximally and in a way which is essentially constant - in terms of the world. In Dasein itself, and therefore in its own understanding of being, the way the world is understood is, as we shall show, reflected back ontologically upon the way in which Dasein itself gets interpreted.”(37)
Architecture as activity is Dasein and world (architecture) becoming in response to each other. Perhaps this process of Being could be described as a transcendent feedback loop: a perpetually revolving appearing and disappearing; revealing being-in-the-world rather than a ‘spiritual thing which subsequently gets misplaced ‘into’ a space.’(79) If Being means being-in-the-world, then one’s being can not be being-in with any other entity. Objects, like subjects, dissolve into a sea of oneness with, or better, as, the cosmos.
If we regard architecture, like being, as an act connected through experience or ritual rather than an object, then we might solve the problem of the way architects think about architecture in terms of form or style, as these only relate to an object. The word ‘style’ does not exist in the lexicon of architecture; there is only ‘architecture,’ and it is just. Thinking of architecture as an activity, rather than an object, allows architecture to rid the shackles of form and style, subject and object, and thus be.