Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Cubists and other Pharisees of modern architecture


The Cubists and other Pharisees of modern architecture refuse to admit the existence of such trifles as national traditions, long-established habits and the congenital peculiarities of human nature. For them, man is made for modern technique, not modern technique for man. Thus, in the name of modern technique, Le Corbusier would compel us all to inhabit a mixture of green-house and hospital ward, furnished in the style of a dentist's operating chamber.



 


Huxley, Aldous. 
"Puritanism in Art." 
The Studio 99, no. 444 
(March 1930): 200-03.

Le Corbusier 
Villa Baizeau,
Carthage, 1928


Igor Stravinsky: Variations - Aldous Huxley in memoriam
London Sinfonietta
Oliver Knussen

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Tauranga, the Riviera of the North

The architecture of Tauranga is a curious mingling of new and old.

The influence of the Spanish Mission is strong, and plaster fronts and sun-tinted pillars jostle half-timbered Tudors and pseudo-English cottages, and all lie cheek by jowl with small starting houses of no particular design, whose windows probably watched the redcoat soldiers march through Tauranga.

Among the sand-dunes and the pines and sea-grass, the holiday houses of the Mount are scattered, without symmetry or design. Their green and red and orange roofs and swinging shutters give the place a strangely picturesque and foreign appearance. Bright canoes are drawn upon the white sand, and Pilot Bay holds a fleet of pleasure craft as neatly at anchor as walnut shells in a tea-cup.

West, Joyce. "Tauranga, the Riviera of the North." 
The New Zealand Railways Magazine
1 September 1937, 22

Monday, November 07, 2016

When we grow desperately weary

We have got so used to the cliche that the age we live in is one of disillusionment, cynicism, agnosticism and the likea characteristically jazz age, in factthat we are liable either to accept it without troubling to think of its implications, or to deny it outright from sheer cussedness. When we grow desperately weary, as all of us do from time to time, of jazz and modernism, sex and anthropology, the poems of Mr Eliot and the savagery of Mr Wyndham Lewis, we tend to comfort ourselves with the thought that the bulk of our people are untouched by all this clamour, bustle and absurdity, that it is only a small part of the nation, a few hundreds perhaps in London, shouting across the Atlantic to a few hundreds in New York, who are vocal and ridiculous in their disenchantment.




Carruthers, John. 
Scheherazade; or the Future of the English Novel. 
London: Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd, 1927.
John Carruthers was a pseudonym of John Young Thomson Greig

Portrait of  T. S. Eliot by Wyndham Lewis, 1938, Durban Municipal Art Gallery

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Ugly houses

WRY CUPS AND CROOKED SAUCERS

SKINNY MUTTON AND "HIGH" BUTTER.

(N.Z. Times.)

The Times reporter, boiling with indignation, approached a man with a foot-rule and a large pan in his hand. The man was an architect—cum— bricklayer—carpenter—builder.

"I see," said the inquirer, that the Governor has been saying that architecture in New Zealand is contemptible, that the dwelling-houses of this fair land are eyesores, so to speak, and that for sheer ugliness there, is nothing to compare to a Dominion cottage as it were."

The architect measured off a piece of land three feet six by seven and a half. He intended to erect on that piece of land a two-storey six room house. Being a philanthropist he would only charge 31s 6d a week rental.

When asked if it was true that the house he intended to erect out of fourth-class timber (and as little as possible of it) would be the worst kind of a blotch on the scenery he was intensely angry and said several columns of things about the fearful price of timber and labour, the decline in the birth-rate, and threw in a few reflections about Baltic and Oregon pine.

In the course of a voluminous statement, he said that it was absolutely unnecessary to erect houses that were beautiful because no one in New Zealand demanded beautiful houses, and if they did so this was no reason why a builder should build beautiful houses. When the reporter told him that there were people in this vast world who would refuse to house their dogs and horses in the weatherboard boxes with which this city abounds, he said that the poor landlord had to live somehow and if he couldn't live honestly—at this point he exploded violently and the reporter had to leave.


Another reasonable soul who was about to stick fifty pounds worth of timber on the side of a scraggy hill —the whole when erected to be purchasable for eight times its value— snorted defiantly.

“It isn't only the houses in New Zealand that are shoddy. We depend almost entirely on the outside world for the manufactured goods we use. We pay first prices for third-class goods. Did you ever see a real good cup and saucer, a shapely frying-pan, a tip-top saucepan (etc., etc., etc.). The Home manufacturer, and his German relative and his generally Continental cousin see us coming. The point is that it is too far away to the other side of the world to send rubbish back, and so in disgust the colonial shopkeeper sticks to it and adds 10 per cent, to the selling price to heal his anger."

"I know that the houses in New Zealand are the jerriest built houses in the world," said a man with shavings in his hair, "and that New Zealand carpenters do the worst work in the world (not because they are not skilled workmen but because the bosses hustle them along to finish a job.) But we only follow precedent. New Zealanders don't understand having anything decent and why should we give 'em good goods? The New Zealander has for years and years subsisted on 'seconds' in the way of tucker. His best butter goes Home. He takes the scrag mutton because the London market won't have anything but prime, for which it pays only two-thirds of the price we pay for the scrag. If we ever raise anything decent —and we can raise the most decent things in the world—we pack in a box and ship it Home, where the people sniff at it and buy it because they can't afford to pay the price for Home-made stuff. As for the houses nobody in the country has ever yet demanded real comfort and that's why they don't get it.



“The New Zealander is absolutely unappreciative of beauty. He doesn't know that his bush is the most beautiful thing in the arboreal line this side of Kingdom Come, until some foreigner comes along and tells him so. He shaves the bush down, by the million acres, and when he wants a breakwind he plants some forlorn-looking foreign specimens that are as near being an eyesore as anything can be that the Creator turns but. Any old box of a house will do for the Colonial. He doesn't roar if the wind comes through the weatherboards and blows his candle out. If he roars the landlord tells him to quit, and gets another tenant in at an increased rent. Other countries have a habit of thinking of to-morrow and the day after. The New Zealander thinks only of to-day. He doesn't care how soon a house falls down if he has left it and he never has cared twopence about the appearance of anything except himself. He will wear a six guinea suit and gleefully drink out of a cracked penny cup for which he has paid sixpence. His wife will pile a heap of expensive gauds on herself looking out all the time on a backyard twelve feet square and which the jerry builder has left in its native state. She doesn't care. He doesn't care. Why should the jerry builder care?"

The reporter was speechless and forgets now whether he agrees with the infuriated persons he interviewed or the calmly condemning governor.

"Ugly Houses," Marlborough Express, 
Volume XLII, Issue 224, 
21 September 1908, 
Page 6


Friday, November 04, 2016

World and dwelling



The sense of physical well-being they produce is one of the most persuasive aspects of modern architecture in its California Style, as such living arrangements came to be called in popular magazines. Yet it is still possible to sit in a Neutra living room and wish that one could get indoors.
Drexler, Arthur, and Thomas S. Hines. The Architecture of Richard Neutra: 
From International Style  to California Modern
New York: MOMA, 1982, 55.



Saturday, September 10, 2016

It's not plagiarism, it's intertextuality


After the publication of ‘Architecture and Transgression,’ a reader complained that Tschumi had failed to cite Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, although he had, without any doubt, almost integrally copied a passage from it. A comparison of the paragraphs revealed that Tschumi had simply replaced the word “science” from the original text with the word “architecture” in his own. He had then slightly transformed Kuhn’s prose to make it fit into his own article. Through this operation, Tschumi’s text acquired an immediate depth. Without the quotation marks, the idea developed by Kuhn in the field of science was integrated in architecture and could be seen as an original theoretical concept. Once the appropriation was discovered, Tschumi’s text remained autonomous, although it could also be read as an invocation of Kuhn’s authority.

A verification of his sources reveals that Tschumi made extensive use of this procedure in the construction of his texts. That he did so consciously may be seen in another example, taken this time from ‘Questions of Space.’ Here, Tschumi introduced his solution to the “paradox of architecture” as a proposition perhaps unbearable for scientists, philosophers, and artists alike. This description, however, employed the exact words that Philippe Sollers used to characterise the work of Bataille. With full awareness, Tschumi was trying to transpose into the realm of architecture the effects sought by Bataille in literature.

Although Tschumi publicly apologised for the “oversight” after he was discovered, these articles may be read as the site of a systematic operation inspired by another prominent element of Tel Quel’s theory of the text: the concept of intertextuality. In his article for the Encyclopedia Universalis, Barthes, responding to the question ‘What is a Text?’ summarised the theory. For him, the notion of “text” emerged after the critique of the sign, when the sign entered into crisis. He attributed to Julia Kristeva the epistemological definition of the text, which incorporated several theoretical concepts including that of the intertext. Barthes explained that all texts are made of fragments of other texts and are thus necessarily intertextual. The production of the texts is a permutative operation of “deconstruction-reconstruction” of former texts. But the intertext is that which, in the text, is given, without quotation marks, as anonymous, unconscious or automatic formulae. Barthes argued that the intertext gives to the text a productivity that is not mere reproduction, because the intertext cannot be conceived as a voluntary imitation or a visible filiation.

After his reading of Bathes, Genette and Kristeva, Tschumi conceived his texts as collages, palimpsests, composed through the intentional juxtaposition and superimposition of fragments of other texts that were often reduced to mere objets trouvĂ©s whose origins and contexts of emergence were blurred. Together with Tschumi’s technique of substituting one word with another - the title of ‘Architecture and its Double’ directly referenced Antonin Artaud’s Theatre and its Double - this operation was an extreme and provocative use of the concept of intertextuality.


Louis Martin. “Interdisciplinary Transpositions: 
Bernard Tschumi’s Architectural Theory,” 
in The Anxiety of Interdisciplinarity.
ed. Alex Coles and Alexia Defert
(London: BACKless Books, 1998), 75.



Friday, September 09, 2016

Why oh why?





With the publication of Jim Flynn's New Torchlight List and an accompanying series on NatRad, bookish types and media hacks are clamouring to read again my review of Flynn's previous book. Here, I succumb to their demands. The following is my review of Fate and Philosophy, (Awa Press, 2012) published in the September 2012 issue of Metro.






It’s not easy being Jim Flynn. He teaches politics at Otago University and, he tells us in the first lines of this book, every year students enter his courses with a collection of attitudes and opinions. Some of them, happily, leave as “altered beings,” now holding the same views as Professor Flynn about religion, science and free will, among other things. But what about the others? And what about the rest of us? What will become of us, without the wisdom of Flynn?

We will become prisoners of fate, unless we learn to reason about what we believe. And what is reasoning? It is thinking what Flynn thinks, that is what.

A couple of years ago, Professor Flynn decided that his students did not know enough about history. So he wrote The Torchlight List, telling them, and us, what to read – novels, mostly. Not that Professor Flynn is an historian, of course; but he knows the way to learn history is not from them and their history books but from his favourite novels. And now he addresses the central problem of philosophy, the problem of people holding opinions that differ from his.

This is a book about life’s great questions. It says so on the cover (which, for no apparent reason, is illustrated with a photograph of a woman ascending a staircase while wearing a pair of ill-fitting angel’s wings; on the back is a photograph of a field). Life’s great questions, in case you were wondering, are:

What is good?
What is possible?
What exists?


These questions have bothered philosophers for centuries but, happily, Professor Flynn has answered them all to his own satisfaction. Having solved the problems of history and literature, he has now solved the problems of philosophy. He has also written a slim volume of poetry.

In short, Professor Flynn is a wiseacre. He insists he knows it all, that those questions can now be laid to rest. And now, to have a full and happy life, all you need to do is read this grim and humourless book.

This is what to think: there is no God, but there is mystical experience. Science is right. Derrida was wrong – he said bad things about science. Wittgenstein was wrong - Professor Flynn has read one of his essays and found it wanting; he was bad too: he fought in the First World War and gave rotten careers advice to his students. Yes, that bad.

It goes on like this for pages and pages, a litany of instruction and denunciation. On page 217, if you still have your wits about you, finally you will learn what it is all about. Professor Flynn tells us:

Today is my seventy-seventh birthday, so it has taken sixty-five years to replace Catholicism with a personal philosophy I can live with. This book is intended to give you a head start.

Well yes. Professor Flynn has replaced one dogma with another, one of his making. Not surprisingly, his personal philosophy is remarkably similar to those of many other freethinkers who have discovered the Truth and who will broach no argument about it. This is not really a book about philosophy. It is not about the big questions, whatever they are. It is about Professor Flynn.

Worse still, it turns out that this book is the second in Professor Flynn’s Modern World Trilogy, the book about history having been the first. So there is another tome to come. Perhaps Professor Flynn will have discovered that his students are not doing sex right and offer them, and us, a manual of all the correct positions.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Tragic death in a climbing accident


The seven lectures collected in this volume were the second Winter Lectures, a series of public talks given at the University of Auckland in the second term of 1960, No attempt has been made to disguise their origins as lectures, and where the speakers differ on incidental points, the differences have been allowed to stand. The topic was suggested and the speakers chosen by Dr Thomas Henry Scott, Head of the Department of Psychology, before his tragic death in a climbing accident on Mt Cook on 1 February 1960.
Keith Sinclair (ed.). Distance Looks our Way
Auckland: Paul’s Book Arcade 1961, n.p.

Among these authors was Professor Fred Laserre, whose tragic death in a climbing accident has since shocked his friends and colleagues. He wrote the article on Canada.
J. M. Richards. New Buildings in the Commonwealth
London, Architectural Press, 1961, 8. 

David Robbins was Lecturer in Sociology, University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, until his tragic death in a climbing accident in 1986.
Colin Creighton and Martin Shaw (eds.) Sociology of War and Peace
Houndmills: Macmillan, 1987, viii

Before his tragic death in a climbing accident in 1947, [Glen] Millikan had begun to assess anesthetic applications of oximetry.
Paul G. Barash et al. Clinical Anaesthesia
Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2009, 9.

Unfortunately, plans for this had to be abandoned following the tragic death in a climbing accident of Professor Iztok Saksida, its main organizer.
Barbara Bajd. “Human Evolution and Education in Slovene Schools.”
Evolution: Education and Outreach
September 2012, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 405–41

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Twitter and bisted






At 9.20 on the morning of  Saturday 16th January, Dr Giovanni Tiso announced to his readers his discovery that I had been tweeting about  Dr Matthew Dentith. Although Dr Tiso is outraged serveral times every day, it is nice to be the subject of his first rage of the morning, and on a Saturday as well.


Of course, Dr Tiso is quite wrong about my purpose. There is nothing nasty about the tweets from Dr Dentith on which I have commented, and they have nothing to do with the Twitterati. I posted them because they are ridiculous, because they amused me. I posted them to mock Dr Dentith, for his pomposity, pretension and paranoia. Dr Dentith, after all, claims to be a public intellectual. As such, he should be subject to public scrutiny.

Of course, the Twitterati are nasty, but that will be the subject of future posts. Dr Dentith tries to be nasty, but he is not very good at it. Take, for example this tweet. It is about me, of course. They so often are. On this occasion, Dr Dentith leapt into a discussion about me that had been orchestrated by Dr Tiso. He had no reason to be part of this conversation: he was not party to the events that caused it, but he was desperate to explain what it is that makes me hold my own opinions, my essential character flaw. He was ignored by the others.

Although he cannot quite manage it online, Dr Dentith was very nasty to me in person, cruel even, for an extended period. This also will be the subject of posts to come. Until then, here is Debsey Wykes again, with Birdie:










Monday, January 11, 2016

Who do you think you are?







Sometimes, Matthew Dentith's subtweets defy explanation. So instead, let's listen to Saint Etienne performing Jigsaw's Who Do You Think You Are. Sarah Cracknell and Debsey Wykes do the singing.