Thursday, September 13, 2007
Orienting Ourselves On The Site
(oh wait...one additional note: you may notice some overlap between the previous post that will actually go up at church and postmodern cultre and this one, as well as with the other post later to be dug up from the trash bin)...(oh and another...as for my reader's reaction: you may judge for yourself whether I chose the best route for posting over at church and postmodern culture, or you may treat each post separately as its own work...or some other unknown-to-me alternative :)...(oh and one more: I may actually still follow up on what I said I would follow up on but obviously did not since I didn't actually post this at the place that would have involved the follow-up)...
It is interesting to me that the first four chapters of the first book of the first treatise ever written on architecture – The Ten Books of Architecture, by a Roman architect named Vitruvius who died right about the same time as Jesus – contains just about all of the seeds of conversation in which I would like to engage in order to address the various ways that architecture is relevant to the church and to the conversation that is happening here at “the church and postmodern culture: a conversation.”
The opening of Chapter IV, called “The Site of a City”, seems to provide a kind of focal point, both for how I hope to illuminate how architecture in general itself “sits on” this web “site” and as well for how I hope to relate architecture to the church (besides the fact that churches often have buildings). I see a kind of triangulation happening. There is the “conversation” happening at this site. Then there’s a whole history and tradition of architecture, largely forgotten by most architects and unknown, I think (?), by much of my audience here. And then, of course, there is the church, of which many of us are a part. The conversation here at this “site” focuses primarily on how contemporary culture and theory relates to various issues or maladies (depending on who is speaking about them) and their justifications or cures (also depending on who is speaking).
To state it succinctly, then, my hope for this post is to relate architecture to the conversation occurring at this site. This conversation is obviously related to the church, so I also hope to clearly relate for my audience, much of whom I’m assuming has (for the sake of ease) a lack of knowledge of architecture, some architectural theory and practice to some church theory and practice. Later I will discuss these things in more detail as they pertain more to architecture specifically.
So back to Vitruvius: his Chapter IV opens as follows:
For fortified towns the following general principles are to be observed. First comes the choice of a very healthy site. Such a site will be high, neither misty nor frosty, and in a climate neither hot nor cold, but temperate; further, without marshes in the neighborhood. For when the morning breezes blow toward the town at sunrise, if they bring with them mists from marshes and, mingled with the mist, the poisonous breath of creatures of the marshes to be wafted into the bodies of the inhabitants, they will make the site unhealthy.
Now, my contention is that we’re already screwed on that count. We’re already settled into a very unhealthy “site” with lots of both mist and frost, and located all to near to lots of local marshes blowing “poisonous breath of the creatures of the marshes to be wafted into the bodies of the inhabitants” (ancient people spoke funnily, lol). What do I mean by that? I do not mean that this website “blows” and that I hope to avoid conversation with all of you sickly creatures so as to avoid catching your diseases. What I mean is that I think our cultural “site” in which we are all situated, in which we are all trying to work and “make a living” (or do church), is “sick.”
Now, Jesus seems to have had a bit of a different attitude toward sick folks than did Vitruvius. Vitruvius says: “First comes the choice of a very healthy site.” Compared to Jesus who says: “Here I come you sick screw-ups into a very unhealthy site. Welcome to my neighborhood! I love ‘ya.” That is just, however, to state the obvious so as not to stumble over it. I will mostly leave that aside for now, and move on to figuring out more of what I mean when I say that our “site” is sick. My professor once said that if Architecture is most like any profession, it is that of Medicine. Let’s then see what kind of diagnoses and prescriptions we can make out. Uumm…with the help of our healing Counselor, of course!
So, I’d say that its fair for me to say that three of the top topics of conversation these days in the church are: discipleship (and its programmatization), spiritual formation (even if the topic of conversation is either a more philosophical notion of “the formation of the self”, or how it is too often ignored) and liturgy (and the supposedly less “mechanical” and more protestant ways of doing worship). The architectural seeds of all three are found right there in Chapters I – III of Book I of Vitruvius’ treatise. Obviously, though, the categorizations shake out a bit differently in Vitruvius’ discussion on architecture!
What I am referencing as discipleship corresponds to Chapter I of Book I of Vitruvius’ treatise, which is on “The Education of the Architect.” In it he discusses how the knowledge that an architect must acquire “is the child of practice and theory.” He goes on to discuss how theory and practice should properly relate to each other. I find these thoughts from Vitruvius, then, to be fascinatingly relevant to what I’ve heard David Fitch complain about toward the church as its “pragmatization.” I will explain more of this later, as well, but I don’t think it’s a great leap to relate the church’s pragmatization to its programmatization (nor its programmatization to its mechanization, more on that as well).
Again, my take is that such a “pragmatization” does exist, as a sickness. And I know of at least one contemporary architect who, correspondingly I think, complains of the constant proliferation of “meaningless form” in architecture (meaningless utilitarian and beurocratically acceptable form, of course!).
What I am referencing as spiritual formation, and connecting to the more philosophical (and/or psychological) notion of the formation of the self, is often dealt with these days in a conversation about language (how or whether language plays an active role in the formation of the self). One section of Vitruvius’ chapter on education is on what I first interpreted long ago when I read Vitruvius for the first time as “the idea of sign and signified.” Basically Vitruvius says that an architect has to be both naturally gifted, corresponding in a building to “the thing signified” (the laws of nature), and also “amenable to instruction,” corresponding to “what gives it its significance” (the laws being demonstrated by buildings, which then signify natural laws).
There is also more on this to come, but the point here is that the seeds for our current conversation on language and the formation of the self seem to be present right there in Chapter I, Book I of Vitruvius writings. For now I will just note how the talk of the town these days is how the capitalist machine manipulates our identity, and yet how the church is mostly not only doing nothing to fight back, but is capitulating to such smelly marsh winds. Architecturally, although this is quite the rabbit hole, I think the place to start is, again, with the repeated observation that much contemporary architecture is pretty devoid of meaning, besides, of course, the meaning graciously granted to it by the market. My contention, then, is that architecture often participates in the very same consumerist forces of manipulation of the self that folks complain about in the conversation about church. Why have or worry about spiritual formation, of the self or of buildings, in the church or in the practice of architecture when…uumm…eerrr…you just buy them (both selves and buildings)?
What I am referencing as liturgy corresponds to Vitruvius’ Chapter II of Book I on “The Fundamental Principles of Architecture.” In this section Vitruvius discusses how the parts of a building should be properly arranged in an orderly relationship to each other according to the principle of “Eurythmy” (the Greek flows better: “eurythmia”) in such a way that the parts correspond properly to the whole and its character. The question of liturgy or a lack thereof in church is a question of how to properly arrange the various parts of the ecclesial service or mass in relation to each other in response to the calling of a good God who works in all of history and eternity. More liturgical ways of doing church often seem to be organized and guided by a higher kind of musical rhythm present in how the very flow of time is itself kept by and participated in with this rhythm, which appears sensibly in the actual audible music that occurs throughout the liturgical proceedings.
I like when a well-proportioned house (very, very uncommon) has a grand piano in it (also uncommon). And most church services appear to me as like the cacophony of and MTV video. Keep in mind, also, that when I say “cacophony,” I am referring not just to the bad sound of it, but also to the disorderly relations of the parts of the service – and thus, of man - that do not lead to a coherent picture of wholeness that reflects or glorifies the character of the God who made us (to reference spiritual formation again).
Now, Chapter III of Book I of Vitruvius’ treatise is on “The Departments of Architecture.” It opens: “There are three departments of architecture: the art of building, the making of time-pieces, and the construction of machinery.” Liturgy has already arisen here as sort of a way of keeping time. Additionally, I previously made note of “and the supposedly less ‘mechanical’ and more protestant ways of doing worship.” As it turns out, the changes in architecture’s relation to the machine throughout the historical sands of time is a good way to tie all of these various themes together, which I plan to do in a future post or two. This should now come as no surprise, considering the rest of the post.
This question of the machine and the departments of architecture, however, does relate I think, to a current hot-button topic of conversation whose seeds are not directly or actually present in Vitruvius’ treatise. And that is the question of how to relate either to contemporary pluralism or modern colonial imperialism (again, how it is referenced depends on who is speaking). Vitruvius was Roman, and speaking to the Emperor (as per his Apologia, which I will discuss in a moment), so I don’t think he was too concerned with anyone else! Architecturally, however, I am not a fan of “eclecticism.” I am not a fan of collage. I do think that things appearing in the world should have a certain coherence to them, which should naturally be reflected in certain truths that I do believe lie at the bottom of nature. How exactly that should work out in church, I do not know. But our narcissistic diseases that cause us to refer to Paul as an expository preacher and Augustine’s former Manicheanism as “materialistic” has got to stop.
So, and this is completely backwards, I feel that a bit of an Apologia is in the works. Vitruvius’ “apologia” is in the Preface of Book I, so that’s what I mean by “backwards,” lol (this is the end of my post). His reads:
While your divine intelligence and will, Imperator Caesar, were engaged in acquiring the right to command the world, and while your fellow citizens, when all their enemies had been laid low by your invincible valour, were glorying in your triumph and victory, - while all foreign nations were in subjection awaiting your beck and call, the Roman people and senate, released from their alarm, were beginning to be guided by your most noble conceptions and policies, I hardly dared, in view of your serious employments, to publish my writings and long considered ideas on architecture, for fear of subjecting myself to your displeasure by an unseasonable interruption.
Wait. Lacan just whispered in my ear that Vitruvius had major Father issues. Lol. Shoot. Let me start over, then! After all, everyone here knows that in a man’s work, which has theatrical meaning and political implications, the Apologia goes to the audience. And – more relevant to why I have to start over here with my backwardsly-placed Apologia – we all know as well that in our contemporary modern liberal democracy the audience is “The People!” But of course, most of those people are still busy glorying in Imperator Market’s (probably not a technically correct turn of phrase – “Imperator Market” - the market is the house, not the head of it; and “capital”, the head of the column, eerrr…house, drives the market rather than is the market) “triumphs and victories,” since he seems already to have “acquir[ed] the right to command the world.” What is the economic use of pluralism? Even “all foreign nations” are still “awaiting [his] beck and call”, so I must await his call before setting out on something so ambitious as a treatise (against him, snicker snicker).
Here I humbly begin, however, a short series of posts on architecture and its relation the postmodern culture in which we find ourselves, as well as its relation to various church issues often discussed at this “site.” As noted previously, the capitalist machine “turns out” to be a good way of bringing together lots of themes that, at the first glance had in this introduction, might appear as disconnected or disorderly categorizations.
And although I am not writing a treatise, the preface of Vitruvius’, however, continues by explaining how he began to take note that Caesar’s attention was being given, ”not only to the welfare of society in general and to the establishment of public order, but also to the providing of public buildings intended for utilitarian purposes.” Vitruvius himself took his continued commissions from the Emperor as evidence that, “I need have no fear of want to the end of my life, and being thus laid under obligation I began to write this work for you…”
Oh, and before I forget, dear audience. Please extend lots of grace from the very depths of your soul to my small number of Doctorate and Masters degrees (a big fat zero) as compared to the large number that usually accompanies the writers here at this “site” (usually somewhere between two and six – no exaggeration!).
And grad school credit...lol. Maybe I should get a Masters first! Sheesh. Was that a joke or were you trying to give a compliment?
As for the UTube thing...I'm not a model. Nor am I like one of those new news anchors seeking to blend entertainment and information. I'm just Jason, dude. On top of that, all this stuff comes out much more clearly when I'm writing it! Although its an entertaining thought.
Second link, broken up (also for my own use):
Which film was the first one from. "Mother and Son"? Did Sokurov do a film called "Mother and Son" also?
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