Dpr-barcelona and The Funambulist associate themselves in a dialogue around the last project designed by the very talented Aristide Antonas (see also his very rich blog): The Zizek Residence. Both Ethel Baraona Pohl & César Reyes (from dpr) and myself were in charge of writing a short interpretation of this project associated to a direct question to A.Antonas and post them on our respective blogs.
Here is the link toward the article written by Ethel and César on dpr-barcelona (in which you’ll be also able to see more documents about the project).
The axiom of this project is directly inspired by the book Violence (see my previous post about it) written by Slavoj Zizek in 2008. In its introduction, the Slovenian Philosopher uses the example given by Jean-Paul Sartre in his Existentialism and Humanism about a young French man’s dilemma during the Second World War as he is torn between entering the Resistance or helping his ill mother. In fact, in front of this choice without any a priori answer, Zizek proposes, once again, a third pill (see his chapter about the Matrix in his Pervert’s Guide to Cinema). This third proposition is to withdraw to a secluded place in order to work and analyze the situation from outside of it.
The Zizek Residence is therefore a secluded house in which one can withdraw in order to work. A.Antonas even considered as Zizek himself as the inhabitant of such a house as you can see on his drawings. His argument, that you can read below the series of images, implies this house to be contemporaneous and connected to the internet, but in the interpretation I am about to develop, I would like to ignore that fact and questions the notion of ivory tower in general. Although the very name of the ivory tower has originally nothing to do with seclusion -it is first used in the Song of Solomon in the Bible- it is probably not by chance that the figure used for a wise withdrawing owns some obvious architectural implications.
The ivory tower is not to be confused with other architectures of seclusion like the monastery, the hospital or the prison. The three latter examples are destinations in themselves, they are the heterotopias from which one does not comes back, on the contrary of the ivory tower that constitutes a transitional space. Again, here one must not interpret this “transition” like a station situated in between two localities, but rather as a transitional space that will allow its inhabitant to go back to where he comes from. The paradigmatic example of such a movement of reterritorialization is the one effectuated by Zarathustra in Nietzsche‘s masterpiece. Regularly, he withdraws to his cave before going back to the world in order to expose his philosophy.
This movement is fundamental in this vision as its premises were based, not on an abandon of society but, on the contrary, on a deep will to act within its frame. In this spirit, such a seclusion is only legitimate if it prepares action. This whole figure of seclusion is in fact, a metaphor for theory in general that could not exist without its materialization that then gives it a retroactive justification.
In this matter what follows Zizek’s explanation of the young French man that could tell his mother that he enters the resistance, and tell his resisting friends that he helps his mother when, in fact, he withdraw to a secluded place to study is -as usual with Zizek- a joke that describes such a process:
Marx, Engels, and Lenin are asked whether they would prefer to have a wife or a mistress. As expected, Marx, rather conservative in private matters, answers, “A wife!” while Engles, more of a bon vivant, opts for a mistress. To everyone’s surprise, Lenin says, “I’d like to have both!” Why? Is there a hidden stripe of decadent jouisseur behind his austere revolutionary image? No –he explains: “So that I can tell my wife that I am going to my mistress, and my mistress that I have to be with my wife…” “And then, what do you do?” “I go to a solitary place to learn, learn, and learn!” (Zizek Slavoj. Violence. NY: Picador 2008)
Slavoj Zizek always embodies the third option, he is the one that brings doubt -as Aristide Antonas points out in his text, “skepsis” (that gave skepticism) in ancient Greek means supervision- to our most assumed certainties. However, one should be doubtful even of the doubt itself and sometimes, the third option could easily be considered as the worst one. Sophie‘s third option is to let her two kids being killed as she would, based on her principles, to choose which one of the two she can give up to. Zizek’s entire work can probably be concisely considered as a continuous manifesto against the policy of the “least worst”, which we crucially need in a neo-liberal so called democratic capitalist world that is built around this notion (“democracy is the worst system at the exception of every others” as Churchill would say and he knew what pragmatism was about when he was convincing the Americans to join him in his systematic bombing revenge of German cities at the end of the last World War). However, this attitude should be combined with the understanding of the right time to take responsibilities and to act based on the work accomplished until then.
My question to Aristide Antonas (the answer will be published later) would therefore consist in asking him how does his Zizek Residence can architecturally recounts its ephemerality as a seclusive place; or in other words, how can architecture, by its very physicality, express the fact that its inhabitant, at some point, should follow the example of Zarathoustra and go back to the world.
Zizek’s residence / responsible residence / responsible house / withdrawal unit for patient critique of changing realities by Aristide Antonas
This Zizek’s house was undertaken in order to design an intellectual response and in the same time a shelter for the person that could follow the Zizek’s quotation: withdrawal to a “secluded place” would serve in order to “wait and see” the evolution of today’s condition performing at the same time a systematic patient critical analysis. It is not a pessimistic project but it rather marks an impossibility of the concept of “stepping back” today. It is a structural detail concerning thinking that is in its core. A responsible political understanding of nowadays condition would be the background of a responsible house: a refuge for a hero of the global north challenging himself in concepts of political responsibility. The house itself is supposed to be a responsible device but it may already introduce to a new concept of responsibility while in the same time it gives a perspective towards an idiosyncratic notion of irresponsibility (founded in today’s participation in the social phenomena): it is a project of self criticism. It produces a simple observation tool that is isolated but it can include all information from the exterior world through Internet. It is already a place where one can in the same time perform an exit from the community and organize the exact type of presence through which the community itself is structured.
The first presupposition in this project is to affirm this Zizek’s exhortation and dispose such a place for a hero of withdrawal. If we have to construct a refuge imagined in the particular circumstances of today, our hero would have to be installed in front of a connected computer, which will be the equivalent of pen and paper of the past; in order that he stops this engagement pressure today the hero of withdrawal will need to perform whatever study of his while connected in the Internet. The hero will learn about everything in the Internet and react to it (in a form of a thoughtful attitude) by leaving some signs in this live archive.
Withdrawal is always related to the exact conditions that it implies. A quick view to the field of literature shows how different are heroes of withdrawal: for instance heros as Des Esseintes of Joris-Karl Huysmans (Against Nature), Goncharov’s Oblomov or Jean-Jacques Rousseau when he describes himself in a short self exile period in an island in his “Rêveries du Promeneur Solitaire”. Trying to conceive the residence that Zizek would need in order to withdraw today for a political vigilance we find ourselves within a paradox. The condition of the Internet is not providing any easy way to leave it or stay out of it. The condition of Internet characterizes a whole system of implications that blur the difference between interior and exterior space, between the private and the public. The inhabitation of the Internet obstructs the possibility of exit from the world and makes the idea of withdrawal unpractical. Every trial to withdraw leads back to this same world we try to avoid. The condition of denying the engagement pressure that Zizek records in his text is the same condition that constructs this pressure, the same that accepts its character defined through the Internet. The same residence of withdrawal is already an extrovert place: the accumulation of such refuge places forms already the demand to be engaged in this particular way that engagement is problematic. If engagement seems to exert its pressure on us in all directions it is exactly because our interior spaces become more and more public. Stepping back is not really possible while in the net. Stepping back can only be a function of exposure.
The character of pensive or thoughtful solitude that is aimed in this design for a Zizek’s residence, or a Zizek responsible shelter unit, in the same time shelters a patient critical analysis but also exposes every surface impression to thoughtless, unreflected and irresponsible engagement through the Internet. The residence can construct the most valuable interior while it organizes a public space. The residence itself is a particular screen or a jar that exposes in public what it shelters. Even for the most radical events, even for wars or massive destructions, the view from the shelter would propose the closest perspective (giving interior details for the evolution of the situation or of operations as if we were always already within the evolution of things) and would also transform this new interiority to the most untouchable spectacle. Zizek himself and a lot of intellectuals are found as theorists (“viewers” in ancient greek) in this idiosyncratic position. The problem is not that Zizek is wrong but that there is a change in viewing reality: the responsible global-north hero would find no way of return anymore to this private sphere that could permit the thoughtful distance from reality. If the structure of reality has changed, the structure of thought has been altered too. For the global-north hero reality is constructed today within the house through the necessary network and viewing equipment. Thought (in ancient greek “skepsis”: supervision, contemplation) is necessarily linked to what it is addressed to: the way we see an exterior world forms the major part of our possible thinking apparatus. Even constructed in order to provide the best conditions of intellectual solitude, even performed as an exotic ascetic denial of the common Zizek’s residence constructs a common place: a difficult place for responsibility, the experience of which is already done in the ruined fields of our old “living” cities.