# ARCHITECTURAL THEORIES /// Decartes versus Spinoza: A Personal Reading of Tarp Not Nature
Last Friday, the journal of Pratt Graduate School of Architecture’s students released its third issue in this format. This year’s volume gathers a certain amount of well known thinkers and designers (Catherine Ingraham, Ed Keller, David Gissen, Sandford Kwinter, Alisa Andrasek, Patrik Schumacher, Antoine Picon and more) and is slyly entitled Not Nature. Slyly indeed as, through the negative form of its title, it proposes precisely to debate around the very notion of nature. In this regard, we can distinguish two discourses opposing each other in the very important discrepancy of axioms defining nature.
On the one hand, certain writers of this issue differentiate the human realm to the natural one and observe the interaction that they developed with each other. Transposed in the 17th century philosophical debate, they thus follow René Descartes who wanted to see men as the masters and possessors of nature. From there, they elaborate a critique of the current ideal imaginary of nature by (western) architects and (western) societies. They argue that the green ubiquity in the architectural discourse hides the true ‘nature’ of nature which is not fundamentally antagonist to technology. One would wish here that, in their discourse, they would reach the level of the great complaint done by a bitter Werner Herzog in the Amazon forest during the very difficult shooting of Fitzcaraldo. As I was pointing out in a former article, he evokes this same external nature, but proposes a terrifying yet superb vision of it as the scene of continuous fornication and asphyxiation as an opposite vision of Klaus Kinski’s romanticism who sees eroticism in a nature that he can seem to look at.
On the other hand, some other writers – amongst which you find regulars of this blog, Ed Keller, Catherine Ingraham and David Gissen – interpreted the negation of the title as a problematic association of words. In their Spinozist reading of the world, these other writers consider nature as the only thing that exists and compose all substances. Spinoza (see the new category) calls this nature God, and defines it as a non-transcendental and infinite substance. Before going any further, I would like to quote some propositions of the first chapter of his Ethics which establishes (and demonstrates) such philosophy:
Prop. XI.God, or substance consisting of infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality, necessarily exists.
Prop. XIV.Besides God no substance can be granted or conceived.
Prop. XVI. From the necessity of the divine nature must follow an infinite number of things in infinite ways–that is, all things which fall within the sphere of infinite intellect.
Prop. XVIII.God is the indwelling and not the transient cause of all things.
Prop. XXIX. Nothing in the universe is contingent, but all things are conditioned to exist and operate in a particular manner by the necessity of the divine nature.
Ethics by Benedict de Spinoza (1677) MTSU Philosophy WebWorks Hypertext Edition © 1997
Spinoza uses the name God as an equivalent of nature, but one should not be confused by such terminology. As well as being used as a camouflage for a pantheist vision of the world in a world still fundamentally religious, Spinoza knew the Torah in its very details and was able to interpret from it, a god who was not creator but rather creation.
Back to this issue of Tarp, this second group of writers’ Spinozist vision of nature establishes a manifesto for architecture which registers it within a non-contingent process of interactions between matter and forces in the exact same way that the human body is submitted to and created by these interactions.
Tarp Not Nature is therefore exemplary in the dialectical exercise it proposes for the approach of such a loaded notion. Rarely a journal manages to have its contributors voluntarily or involuntarily response to each other that much, but here, the consolidation or the contradiction of one’s argument by another writer makes it a consistent box of tools to address this topic.
TARP NOT NATURE (2012)
Editor in Chief
INDEX and (not completely representative) excerpts from this issue: