Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Beforewards on the frontline

But have we a right to assume the survival of something that was originally there, alongside of what was later derived from it? Undoubtedly. There is nothing strange in such a phenomenon...
Civilisation and its Discontents

To let go. To relax the borders and to abandon position, withdrawing without panic. And yet, within the relinquished territory, in the act of abandonment, to have reintroduced subtle architectural constraints. There is, even so, building in the collapse – moments of lasting advance in the general retreat. As it has been in the succession of civilisations, so it may be in the passing from one political state to another. Designed components, traces, intentions may also be deliberately left behind when all else has been relinquished. It is not a matter of the buildings that are booby-trapped, bridges burnt, earth scorched. It has nothing to do with hostilities. Later occupants, the invaders, occupiers, are more susceptible to the architecture of suggestion. In contemplation of the persistence of lost forms, Freud casually introduces a passing fancy, 'Now let us make the fantastic assumption that Rome is not a place where people live, but a psychical entity with a similarly long, rich past, in which nothing that ever took shape has passed away, and in which all previous phases of development exist beside the most recent.'  He then abandons his fantasy as ‘pointless’ – he has introduced an association which cannot be sustained and so withdraws it. His fantasy is an inadmissible piece of evidence and is struck from the record. Even so, the image of architectural suggestibility remains. The territory has been deserted by its earlier inhabitants, who have long since, or just now, departed the scene for who knows what reason. Their space is transformed into an alien ruin for subsequent others. Bradbury gives a version of this (modeled perhaps on Tristes Tropiques): the first chronicle describes natives hiding from alien explorers; the second chronicle concerns the annihilation of an indigenous people by unfamiliar viruses; the third chronicle recounts the capture of a colonising population by a site-specific sadness, which predates them by centuries.  Archeology is the discovery of breaks between and within populations which appear as separate and distinct layers; it is the exploration of boundaries between different moments in a shared space which are otherwise not related. The unconscious movement of the archeological hand, as it traces the faultlines between populations, is to reach into the deepest recess, feeling for the ur-fault: that absolute break which separates communism from everything else. It has never yet excavated this line but it is nonetheless compelled by a fascination for the human. It draws back its hand, ha another fragment of pottery.  And so it goes on, artefactual traces of previous occupants, like an ordering presence, continue to press upon later habitations of the same space. The occupants of the future, those who could not have been imagined from the past, and still less instructed on how to go about things, will nonetheless follow the old street plan.