Jill Stoner‘s new book, Toward a Minor Architecture (MIT Press, 2012.) could constitute an excellent manifesto for The Funambulist as it uses a very important number of common references (Kafka, Borges, Ballard, Guattari, Deleuze, Bataille, Foucault, Robbe Grillet, Torre de David etc.) in order to express the political power of architecture and draw a strategy of resistive architectural processes, that she calls minor architecture. The title of the book, as well as its object, is, of course, a direct homage to Deleuze and Guattari’s book: Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (see previous article).
Minor, in both books, has to be understood in its double meaning that French and English allow. Minor in opposition, of course, but also minor as a discipline that digs within the matter of a dominant order. Kafka is indeed the author to look at to analyze these processes of resistance. Although he was Czech, he was writing in German and thus develops, through the language, what Deleuze and Guattari calls, an exercise of detteritorialization proper to any form of resistance against the dominant power (whichever this power is) over a territory (whichever this territory is). He is also the author of a short story entitled The Burrough, which literalizes the action of undermining; and for Deleuze and Guattari, he indeed writes like a dog digging a hole, a rat digging its burrow.
Kafka is therefore also the starting point of Jill Stoner’s book. In her opinion, the spaces of The Trial are the most expressive example of architecture’s oppression on the bodies. Each room is a prison in which the main character Josef K. can feel a strong claustrophobia increasing his endless delirium.
Kafka is perhaps the consummate master of absolute interiority. His literary space has only elusive interiors, narratives that have no end, no beginning, no real center, in fluid language that can barely be contained. But the architectural spaces within his fiction are interiority uncompromised. Particularly in the novels, doorways (but not windows) proliferate. Kafka’s doors are always a way in, never a way out. His strange and paradoxical geometries establish connectivity, but without continuity. Interiors multiply relentlessly inward; they nest, like the prose of Raymond Roussel, within an inviolable edifice of enclosure. Firmly they deny any possibility of escape.
In The Trial all rooms are stifling; everywhere is airlessness, unventilated heat, and claustrophobia. Private rooms double as offices or passageways; Josef K.’s own chamber opens into the bedroom of Fraulein Burstner, which becomes the strange first venue of his ordeal. An inspector sits behind a desk that has been moved to the middle of the room, three other men lurk in a shadowy corner, peering at framed photographs hanging on the wall. In the midst of this bureaucratic setting “[a] white blouse dangled from the latch of the open window.” Every scene is similarly crowded by suited men and incongruous assemblages of objects, a commingling of officiousness and domesticity within rooms.
Stoner Jill. Toward a Minor Architecture. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2012. P23
Architecture is oppressive (or weaponized as I usually prefer to write) for two reasons. The first one is contained within the fact that its physicality constitute as many obstacles for the body, from the simple concrete slab or asphalt pathway which prevent the minor body to operate, to the six hermetic surfaces which confine the body in a prison cell. The second reason is that its production is almost always in collusion with means of production elaborated by the dominant power. Both of those conditions are difficult to escape. Resistance, however, does not lie in an absolute escape but rather in the slow undermining of a system within itself:
To object (v) to the object (n). To register objections is to draw lines through objects of power, objects that are the result of institutions, which in turn rely on knowledge. Knowledge itself is a massive heavy object, with enormous foundations and a reliance on gravity. Theories and philosophies are constructed on the backs of canonical precedents. Like doctrines, they are dangerously authoritarian. Religions, monarchies, systems of law, corporations – these historical patrons of architecture have provided us with the objects upon which minor architects can write (or draw) their objections.
Stoner Jill. Toward a Minor Architecture. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2012. P67
We must be minor architects invites Jill Stoner. We must express our latent but powerful desires to undo structures of power. (P7) Such an assessment is not a manifesto for a non-powerful architecture, or for an architecture that would not express relationships of power, such things are unthinkable, but rather for the continuous struggle against the dominant distribution and application of power. As Felix Guattari points out, desire is the fact that in a closed world, a process arises that secrets other systems of reference, which authorize, although nothing is ever guaranteed, the opening of new degrees of freedom. (Soft Subversions as quoted in the notes sections P114).
Whether we attempt to be minor architects, digging in the subterranean matter of our system, or funambulists, walking with agility on the powerful lines that striate the world, our approach is the same to recognize, analyze, and articulate the physical and political forces that are inherent to architecture. The reason to fight in favor of the ‘minor’ consists in the fact that the ‘major’ exists only as an ideology. The failure of modernism is the perfect illustration of this assessment. It invented a body that was supposed to be the normative body when, actually, it was an ideal body (see previous essay). Nothing stranger than a body that is both normative and ideal; it is nevertheless the condition of all majority. The absolute standard of a given dominant power cannot be embodied by a single person, and therefore all can be involved in what Deleuze calls processes of becoming, in order to embrace this minor identity and thus act through it.
To finish this article, I wanted to include this small excerpt of Jill Stoner’s book which manages to concentrate this manifesto in few lines:
A minor architect is a minor destructive character, a tinkerer and hacker, journalist and editor, alter ego and subaltern. But tinkerers may sabotage as well as fix, and wildfully take apart rather than assemble. Hackers may scramble code as often as decipher it, and editors (to save us from our wordiness) ruthlessly slice the excess away. […]
Interiors proliferate outward; they escape. Objects proliferate in place; they fragment. For the architect/subject, to become minor is to exchange focused ambition for scattered flight and love of masters for that rejection of master languages with which we began.
Stoner Jill. Toward a Minor Architecture. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2012. P91