Not From Scratch: The Sweet Moment of Discontinuity by Levent Kara (contributing author to Form of Absence)

In Not From Scratch Kara reflects on the epistemological ramifications of Robinson’s work by elaborating on the disjuncture he sees between the ​work’s generative references and its textual structures. Rather than looking for meaning or a history to the work, Kara articulates upon a field of phenomenal experience opened by the objects exhibited. Weaving between possible other readings and his own, Kara’s Not from Scratch: The Sweet Moment of Discontinuity​ joins the work itself in a kind of self-referential freedom.

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Polyclinic

The author lays the idea on the marble table of the cafe. Lengthy observation, for he makes use of the time before the arrival of his glass, the lens through which he examines the patient. Then, deliberately, he unpacks his instruments: fountain pens, pencil, and pipe. The numerous clientele, arranged as in an amphitheatre, make up his clinical audience. Coffee, carefully poured and consumed, puts the idea under chloroform. What this idea may be has no more connection with the matter at hand than the dream of an anaesthetized patient has with the surgical intervention. With the cautious lineaments of handwriting, the operator makes incisions, displaces internal accents, cauterizes proliferations of the words, inserts a foreign term as a silver rib. At last, the whole is finely stitched together with punctuation, and he pays the waiter, his assistant, in cash. 1

Form of Absence X-rays / Paintings / Reliquaries infatuates me if I see it as an architectural intervention on a given site. Not simply because the pieces themselves open up more for architectural readings, or because they deeply maintain a distinct spatial / tectonic exactness. The pieces are beautiful. They are architectural. But my interest lies in the project as a whole. Once you see that Form of Absence goes far beyond a Duchampian gesture2 as to its unifying intent, its performative space renders its contents noncrucial even if it emerges out / by way of them. Take FoA as a place of displaced memory constructed and reconstructed immaculately to unfold a gesture towards its contents, each piece will have a story: about life, about death, about subject, about time, about place, etc. The stories can easily be multiplied by careful readers, not unlike Merzbau. 3 And this will be fine too, the work certainly accommodates this way of looking at it. Different stories may add up to a hermeneutic insight in a fragile balance of its own in the work’s horizon, or they may constantly negate each other in a deconstructive reflexivity.2

However, I am more captivated if I see FoA as discontinuous with its contents. Neither hermeneutics nor deconstruction, its mimetic impulses4 are left behind in the linguistic universe. The work happens somewhere else, and in this performative cosmos, I am no more obliged to its meanings. FoA belongs to a world, it emerges out of a world. What this ‘world’ may be has no more connection with the matter at hand than the dream of an anaesthetized patient has with the surgical intervention. I rather stay with the work. The work belongs to a world, but it changes it, to the degree that it is no more that world. The distance between the work and its world cannot be subsumed under the reified forms of consciousness, neither of life, nor of the traditions of its trade. FoA is enduringly familiar in a strange sense. It murmurs to me that my reality is larger than my daily commerce with my life. It murmurs to me of its newness in its enduring familiarity. A collection of acts of spontaneity, of tracings, of markings, of spacings, of endless [almost] transformations, FoA is not from scratch, but it is also new: a newness not from scratch. It is more real than its realities, there are no ghosts here. Its sheer presence has something to do with a field of brute meaning5 that I do not have access to outside the experience of the work. Once I am with the work, I have a glimpse. Once I think about it, it is gone, I am left with meanings.

That FoA is not from scratch is not about the world of its contents, not because it belongs to a world. FoA is worldly in a different sense. ‘Not from scratch’ here is not the obvious empirical givenness of its site, nor a philosophical premise. It is an actuality of my experience. I see and hear it in the everberations of the work, even if I cannot pin any of this down to an even remotely known source, let alone the contents of FoA. These tracings, markings, spacings, tones, textures, these acts of imaginative spontaneity [or spontaneous imagination] systemically erase their contents and unfold a matrix of spatio-temporal performance upon them. The performative space of the work fully dissolves its contents in a fluctuating field of consciousness. FoA murmurs to me of the constructedness of my reality as I live it.

As an architectural intervention, FoA is not in the search for the placeness of its site. It murmurs to me that there is indeed no such a thing. One possibility out of many other, its site is at best accidental. Only a given, its site doesn’t specify FoA‘s actions on it. However much specific the work is, its actions on its contents, it is not the specificity of its site. The specificity of the work emerges out of its internal systemicness that invents not only its own procedures but the gestures of its subjects6 [me] as well. FoA the architectural intervention3, does not condition my experience by specifying my gestures, it lets me invent my own gestures in the specific texture it unfolds for me. I am happy in the interstitial space between the texture of FoA and the texture of life as I know / live it. I am happy with the tension; a Duchampian gesture would have not had this texture, this field. I would have not been able to stay with the work, leaving its contents behind.

The disjunct between the two textures, that of FoA and that of life I know / live, is not necessarily a space of dialogue or negotiation. For that to happen, I would have to assert a common ground to make such a space possible, a common ground as a condition of some kind of continuity, some kind of commensurability. This would have made me obliged to the works’ [pieces’] meanings, just as it would have made me obliged to my own meanings. However, I absorb this disjunct without a hermeneutic leap from one end to the other or without one dismantling the other. I absorb this disjunct in the experience of the work, in the renewed unity of my consciousness in front of the work. I am aware of a unified field of representations that also unifies me and the work. The disjunct yields to a unity at a much more primal level of lived experience [Erlebnis]. FoA murmurs to me that my selfconsciousness as the seat of the possibility of its own experience precedes my linguistic universe, that my experiences contain more than my meanings can command.

In its sheer presence, FoA assures me of my conviction of a level of pure perception: a level of lived experience, suspended and hesitant in the face of structures of meaning; a field of brute meaning before meanings. This level of perception is the constant flux of representations in a temporal unity that Kant discovers as underlying the unity of consciousness and self-consciousness, the unity of past and present, in the unity of self as substance as the condition of possibility of any experience. A level of pure perception, of tracings, markings, spacings, of an ordering in space and time, but before an order of things. FoA, systemically erasing an order of things in its own orderings, fuels my suspicion of the Geist, Dasein, etc., the whole school of Erfahrung from its roots in Hegel to Heidegger, to its later critical followers Gadamer and Derrida. “There has never been a perception,”7 Derrida can declare when he dismantles Husserl’s phenomenology by actually using the very same notion of the necessary temporality of representations Kant discovered as a condition of any representation.4

What Kant discovered in his idea of conscious experiences, that they are necessarily unified in a field of consciousness, is transferred by Derrida (and Heidegger) to language as a unified field of ‘meanings’ and ‘distinctions’. The key in Derrida’s position is the collapsing of language and thought, and thought and experience in a single unity of action. There has never been a perception, that is, there has never been a pure given in thought by perception [Husserl’s phenomenological reduction as a philosophical method depends on this givenness] other than what is already determined in the linguistic structures of intentionality. This is a highly intellectualized notion of experience [as all accounts of Erfahrung are] that reduces my reality to contexts of meaning, all my seeings, hearings to ‘seeings / hearings – as’. FoA, dissolving its own contexts of meaning, in the very performance of this dissolution, without revealing any underlying structures, cancels out any relation between my seeings and seeings-as. You may say ‘but it is all about underlying structures, is not x-ray all about this?’ I will say ‘no, the structures laid open by x-rays are not underlying structures as a grammatical system or a deep structure, they are highly arbitrary and accidental, they do not determine the objects physiognomy [for the lack of a better word]. This is, for me, the beauty of the whole performance. In dissolving its contents, FoA finds nothing to reveal deeper somewhere in its objects, causing them; there is nothing that holds the presence of its objects. Thus, nothing to hold the presence of absence either, in the objects themselves, FoA constructs its own performative structures upon its objects. X-ray is there only momentarily to distance the reality of the object, the presence, to create the critical distance that triggers and ignites the spontaneous machinery of imagination which explodes that presence in the multiplicity of iterative tracings, markings, spacings. The eidetic intensity of the work is not because of a phenomenological reduction, bracketing, that yields essences. It is there because the meticulous calibrations of each iteration altogether form a space of ordering that consciously discontinues the object while constantly referring back to it. This is also what cancels out the objects’ objectness in the experience of the work. The architecture of FoA, or FoA the architectural intervention, does not rely on its objects for its own systemicness; it casts its own machinery that re-assures ordering while constantly rejecting an order of things.

FoA returns back to an empirical level of phenomena before my concepts of things, before any order of things, which is very different from an Erfahrung that draws an ontological line at the moment of empirical familiarity of things-at-hand in a life practice. I am not Dasein in5 front of the work, with the work. The work happens at the living interaction with the world in its concrete immediacy, yes, but there is no unconcealedness here, there is no disclosure, nothing of that aletheia that Heidegger finds in Erfahrung. The pieces stand in an aesthetic nuance8 of their own that marks a distinct trace on my phenomenal consciousness. There is no necessity of object here, the experience is more of an awareness of a force field that happens to me in the immediacy of the work. I take hold of this distinctness, I am aware. Being is not part of the commerce.

Aletheia is about a wholeness. An instance of phronesis, something shows itself in its somethingness, a poetic participation in an order of things. In front of FoA, with it, my interest is in the experience, that which happens to me, the invention of my gestures; thus, it is disinterestedness9 to the objects, meanings, that maintains the distinct perception suspended right before the autopsy for any worldly significances. When I am with the work, I have a glimpse of a field of brute meaning, not through the things it orders, but in the way it orders them. This is the prime moment of worldliness for FoA, its worldliness belongs to the moment of utterance rather than what it may say. What I see in FoA is an architecture that fascinates 10 me: an architecture that intervenes deep in the texture of life by its own event structures above and beyond its contents. The work occupies me in its performative space as it carefully transforms a contingency [its site] into a true possibility without yet affirming any necessity.10

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Notes:

1 Benjamin, W. 1998. One-Way Street. In One-Way Street and Other Writings. Trans. E. Jephcott, K. Shorter, 88-89. London: Verso.
2 I take a Duchampian gesture as a cerebral diagram that sets an overall gesture towards a content by parasitically occupying and modifying its narrative space. See also, Duve, T. 1996. Kant After Duchamp. Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
3 See, for example, Dickerman, L. 2005. Memory and Merz. In The Dada Seminars, eds. L. Dickerman and M. S. Witkovsky, 103-126. Washington: National Gallery of Art.
4 “Mimesis in art is the prespiritual; it is contrary to spirit and yet also that on which spirit ignites. In artworks, spirit become their principle of construction, although it fulfills its telos only when it emerges from what is to be constructed, from the mimetic impulses, by shaping itself to them rather than allowing itself to be imposed on them by sovereign rule. Form objectivates the particular impulses only when it follows them where they want to go of their own accord. This alone is the methexis of artworks in reconciliation. The rationality of artworks becomes spirit only when it is immersed in its polar opposite.” Adorno, T. 1970. Aesthetic Theory. London: The Athlone Press, 1997. p.118.
5 I use this term in reference to a non-discursive level of perceptual significance as identified by Merleu-Ponty. Merleau-Ponty, M. 1962. Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. C. Smith. New York and London: Routledge. p. 161.
6 “Such opportunity is not given to the inhabitant or the believer, the user or the architectural theorist, but to whoever engages, in turn, in architectural writing: without reservation, which implies an inventive reading, the restlessness of a whole culture and the body’s signature. This body would no longer simply be content to walk, circulate, stroll around in a place or on paths, but would transform its elementary motions by giving rise to them; it would receive from this other spacing the invention of its gestures.” [original italics] Derrida, J. 1986. Point de Folie – Maintenant l’architecture. In Architecture Theory Since 1968. Ed. M. Hays, 566-581. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, 1998. p.577.
7 Derrida, J. 1973. Speech and Phenomena and Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs. Trans. D. Allison. Evanston: Northwestern University Press. p. 108.
8 The object is given to perception as it stands in the unity of consciousness as an “aesthetic nuance”, as Ulmer calls it, in Kant’s conception of experience. This “aesthetic nuance” can also be read as ‘being minded in a certain way’. A non-conceptual intentional content, hence not reflective in categorical sense. In Kant’s terminology, it is the consciousness of intuitions without categorical judgment, thus it is immediate, not mediated by concepts. “Lyotard pursues the question, through Kant, asking: how can feelings orient a critique. Why should the latter have any need for them?. The answer that he evolves over an extensive reading is that the state of mind a fundamentally aesthetic nuance, constitutes the reflective dimension of judgment upon the object of thought.” Gregory L. Ulmer, Choragraphy http://www.ensemble.va.com.au/enslogic/text/ulm_lct.htm
9 This is the moment of disinterestedness Kant identifies in regulative judgments. See Kant, I. 1790. The Critique of Judgement. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1989.
10 “Whoever complains about the inadequate quality of current architecture should ask himself if this architecture can be any better. It cannot, in fact, be better because with a few exceptions it is nonfunctional. It offers man nothing to occupy him; it influences in no manner his great yearning and slight talent for sociability. In a false manner it seeks to take this yearning into account. Our cities are false, and our community centers are false, because no one can be introduced to communal life merely by the image of community. And this is what we reproach architectural functionalism with: it no longer functions. What I call for is an architecture which fascinates.” Pichler, W. 1964. The Lesson of Pre-Colombian Architecture. Landscape 13, No 3: 24–25.

Levent Kara is Associate Professor of Architecture, Philosophy and Theory at the USF School of Architectre