‘Stumbling’ through Hyde Park

I am a sensible anthropologist-architect thinking about the built environment in Hyde Park, generally, at the University of Chicago, specifically. This paper will parse this banal encapsulation of my virtual self — which is a non-body — into its differnciated incarnation, both in matter and, now, language. This first journal entry will hold up a mirror representing myself as architect-anthropologist-in-Hyde-Park, standing before another mirror reflecting this reflection; this second mirror is Deleuze’s theories, the one that distributes a singular form across infinite virtual forms (reflections on virtual mirrors), simulating a multiplicity that exists behind Cartesian space and time. “There is more in heaven and earth,” and Hyde Park, “than is dreamt of in our Philosophy,” to repeat, differentially, Hamlet’s musing to Horatio. This essay plucks several of Deleuze’s arrow from the midway and, pointing it the general direction of the University’s architecture, fires questions and thoughts regarding novelty, translation, the involuntary, and erotics at its sundry forms. To what plane of architectonic thinking do these structures extend from? How is space-time folded in the indexical and mnemonic relations amongst these structures, and through my experience of them? How are projects under construction and those only anticipated correspond with this plane of immanence?

Two central concerns addressed in this course (in Hyde Park) thus far are: one, Deleuze’s exploration of the immanent relationship between art and philosophy and, two, his exposition of philosophical morphogenesis, or the study of how forms come into being. Our discussions have unfolded in Cobb Hall, a renovated Gothic Revival building constructed early in the University’s history when its administrators and benefactors decided to repeat, with some key differences, the Gothic forms of Oxbridge and Ivy League architecture. Since the 11th century, Gothic forms have been commonly associated with the scholastic and the ecclesiastical; it is an image of the architecture within which thought — in ‘the west’ — is doxically expected to occur. Almost equidistant from Cobb hall, but in opposite directions, stand two more contemporary structures separated in (machine) time by a generation: Mies van der Rohe’s 1965 School of Social Services building, to the South, and Studio Gang’s design for the new residence halls, under construction precisely six blocks to the north. The former is a three story edifice clad in a series of identical, repetitive vertical elements that alternate consistently between column and mullion, in between which spans large panes of glass. This is a modernized classical form: like that of the Stoa of

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School of Social Service, by Mies van der Rohe

Atalos or other Greek trabeated colonnades, which repeat a consistent interval of columns and bays around the perimeter of a building. However, it is flamboyantly (second Chicago school) modernist in its minimalization of the structural elements and expression of its steel structure. Studio Gang’s design is a dramatically larger complex of low and mid rise structures the facades of which are, similarly, articulated in repeated columns and bays, extending between 5 and 14 stories in height. Again, the ‘image’ of an Agora with serial colonnade surfaces reappears, but in noticeably transformed iterations that both reference and differentiate themselves from the Stoa and Mies’s building. All columns (which are in fact identical to the to the others) are clad in panels of varying widths that appear to twist 180 degrees along their vertical axes. The bays between each column along each structure also appear different: a repetition of difference. This columnar cladding provides the illusion that each column undulates up and down the facade, serially, creating irregular shaped bays when, in fact, each window is actually square. Both Mies and Gang were and are, like the best of their contemporaries, impelled towards morphological innovation, the mandate to create a recognizably ‘new’ architecture for a ‘new’ context that the existing neo-Gothic fabric of the campus only enunciates through contrast. What “nonphilosophical understanding,” which Deleuze gleans from Art, can this formal juxtapositioning and temporal interconnectedness reveal?

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University of Chicago Residence Halls, Studio Gang

The emergence of the Mies – Cobb – Gang triad differnciates ideas into incarnate form. I hesitate to bracket or presume to recognize any single idea, because, as Deleuze argues, ideas are themselves tripartite, distributed across the vertices of extension, intension and the virtual. The buildings are instantiations, or extensivities, of underlying thought, and their singular formal articulations are outbursts of something pre-image, pre-architectonic that is virtual. In their extensive, materially constructed forms that we now experience, they are generative in our thoughts and embodied experience as we move through and around them. I, as an architect- anthropologist, am obviously more consciously biased to what Benjamin would describe as the temporal constellations of the “dialectical image” that the University is continually populating, a cosmos linking the intensions that manifest in such repeated yet different extensions:

It’s not that what is past casts its light on what is present, or what is present its light on the past; rather, image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation. In other words, image is dialectics at a standstill. For while the relation of the present to the past is a purely temporal, continuous one, the relation of what-has-been to the now is dialectical: is not progression but image, suddenly emergent.  

Deleuze would resist the bracketing of such interactive dynamics across space time in the form of the dialectic. And, conscious or no, the potentiality of these relations across space-time ‘fold’ through the triadic structure of the concept. “Affects, percepts and concepts are three inseparable forces, running from art into philosophy and from philosophy into art.” Percepts and affects are two dimensions of the concept, the former are “packets of perception that live beyond whoever experiences them” and the latter “becomings that spill over beyond whoever lives through them.” The Mies | Cobb | Gang buildings are points along a differential equation, to use Deleuze’s choice calculus imagery, or architectural knots on the fold of a deeper plane that pass through our perceptions and experiences of them in the forms of affects and percepts.

I am trepidatious about making too strong an association with Deleuze’s ontological claims on difference and repetition and the manifestation of difference and repetition amongst, first, buildings defined by repetitive colonnaded facades and, second, within even a single facade, like the Gang complex. Deleuze’s concept of ‘the fold’ has been directly transduced into many folding, continuous architectural surfaces by the architectural progeny of the 1968 coterie of thinkers and artists, of which UN Studio’s Mercedes Museum, the ‘Changing Room’ for the Venice Biennale, and Villa NM are the most exemplary instances. And yet, Deleuze himself refers to artistic work of the Baroque that shares a common, almost metaphorical formal similitude to his and Leibniz’s conceptualization of folding. “Everything folds, unfolds, enfolds in Leibniz; it’s in the folds of things that one perceives, and the world is enfolded in each soul, which unfolds this or that region of it according to the order of space and time.” This folding happens through percept and

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UN Studio, “Changing Room” at the Venice Biennale for Architecture

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UN Studio, House NM

affect as we circulate among the Mies | Cobb | Gang structures. Deleuze argues that “the baroque carries folding to infinity, as in El Greco’s paintings and Bernini’s sculptures, and so opens the way to a nonphilosophical understanding through percepts and affects.” El Greco’s figures stretch, taper and torque across the canvas, manipulating perspectival space into a more fluid image of space. Oddly, Deleuze’s reference to Bernini’s sculptures, and not his architecture (!), seems like a surprisingly, frozen-image transduction of folding in extension. His sculptures are exquisite: their physical contortions and supple rendering of flesh are masterful copies of their models, and action is frozen in the arrested billowing of flowing and folding garments. Yet, classical space, unlike in El Greco, is preserved. Bernini’s architecture, however, is revolutionary for how it bends, stretches and folds classical architectural conventions. His design for Sant Andrea Al Quirinale, for instance, bends what would otherwise be a flat wall below the entablature, as well as the portico’s entablature itself into a concave curve, and the compound walls that extend beyond this facade he then reverses, folding the lines backwards into a convex curve that envelops any passersby along the street it faces. The lines of the concave armature extend and visually connect with the stringcourses and geometries of what was the neighboring palazzos. Deleuze, without knowing it, describes the effect performed spatially by Bernini but in

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Bernini, Sant Andrea Al Quirinale

another article, “What is an Event,” analyzing Leibniz and Baroque music: “In short, the Baroque universe witnesses the blurring of its melodic lines, but what it appears to lose it also regains in and through harmony. Confronted by the power of dissonance, it discovers a florescence of extraordinary accords, at a distance, that are resolved in a chosen world.” Folding together Deleuze’s descriptions of the morphological qualities of Baroque painting, sculpture and music — and inadvertently, architecture — a common virtual idea diffenciates itself in the bending, coalescing transformations of pictorial, sonic and architectural extensivities. Bending, torquing, stretching and folding are read against classical and renaissance conventions of balance, symmetry and order; this difference of formal and spatial relations are repeated across artistic media in Baroque space-time. Perhaps, then, it is not a stretch to entertain such thoughts as I encounter when walking up Woodlawn avenue, witnessing the repetition of repetition (columns) becoming increasingly expressive of internal difference (as in Gang’s twisted, somewhat Baroque columns).

If my prose or accompanying images fail to conjure a clear image of such complex Baroque geometry, no worries, we live in Hyde Park! Just walk along Blackstone between 56th and 57th street, just four blocks west of the axis between Mies | Gang,  and stand in front of the

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St Stephens Church, Hyde Park

shuttered doors of St Stephen’s church. Here you will find a distinct repetition of the Baroque bending of the facade into a concave embrace that Bernini created in Rome at Sant Andrea. The form has, what Peirce would call, an indexically iconic relation to the sign of Sant Andrea, which itself iconcially and indexically related to the neoclassical Renaissance conventions it was distorting. Each instance is a translation, literally across space, time and form, of the other, induced by the encounter of a day’s dog-walking itinerary from my home, down Blackstone, across the midway and up Woodlawn Ave. The resulting psycho-geographical map would have to plot these four buildings within a complex four dimensional model of space and time connected one to the other and to the signs they are repeating differentially from ancient Greece to the present. This, and the ruminations clumsily unfolded in this journal entry, are my thoughts ensuing from encounters with these interconnected sign systems. According to Deleuze,

what forces us to think is the sign. The sign is the object of an encounter, but it is precisely the contingency of the encounter that guarantees the necessity of what it leads us to think. The act of thinking does not proceed from a  simple natural possibility; on the contrary, it is the only true creation. Creation is the genesis of the act of thinking that does violence to thought, which wrests it from its natural stupor and its merely abstract possibilities. To think is always to interpret — to explicate, to develop, to decipher, to translate a sign. Translating, deciphering, developing are the form of pure creation.

The St Stephens | Mies | Cobb | Gang constellation are themselves extensivities of architectonic thought, translations of orthodox conventions, and developments into new formal iterations. All are interconnected, using Deleuzian thought and parlance, across space time both in their physical instantiation, and in my own intellectual extension unfolding on this digital page.

But there are hundreds of buildings dispersed between this quadrad of neo baroque, neo gothic, modernist, and ‘parametric’ post modernist structures that were not absorbed into this intertextual and intertemporal network. Why these? Deleuze does not recognize the thought of the cogito as real thought, only the form presupposed by classical philosophy. For Deleuze, thought must be forced, as in a force must act upon the sensibilities of a subject, activating that subject and the plane of affects and percepts flowing through her, to “arouse” thought. Again, why are my thoughts “aroused” by these structures? One, we have an assignment, a second-hand conjuration of thought first, from Deleuze, and second, from you, Professor Rodowick, delineating a framework within which we must confront the former’s theories (thank you for this). But, why amongst the universe of possible applications, or to revive the metaphor, of directions to point the drawn bow of my inquiry, should the Deleuzian arrow pass through these structures? As a concluding hazard, which will hopefully unfold in later journal entries, I would argue they share an underlying idea of intensity. Neo-gothic architecture was prescribed against the ennui and corporeal degradation of mechanized industrialization; in the irregular, erroneous ornamentation of gothic forms, according to John Ruskin and AWN Pugin, the industrial man could see humanity’s trace. Mies’s modernism attempted to capture “the will of the epoch” in “almost nothing,” to use his aphorisms. The Baroque, both in its original and differentially repeated forms, pitted Catholic Counter-Reformation affect against Protestant rationalism and reserve. The architecture of Bernini, and even more so of Francesco Borromini and Guarino Guarini, abandoned the rigid symbolism of pious fidelity to classical Vitruvian principles in


Francesco Borromini’s San Carlo Alle Quatro Fontane


Guarino Guarini’s Palazzo Carignano


favor of flamboyantly, decidedly sublime formal and spatial distortions both of their respective buildings and those insinuated from their surrounding contexts.  “The leitmotif of Time regained,” and as it happens these structures, “is the word force: impressions that force us to look, encounters that force us to interpret, expressions that force us to think.” Each project sought to arrest the passive commuter and awe the incoming visitor. Whether it’s my professional indoctrination or intentional resonance with these extensivities (or both because of each other), I will end this entry by repeating Deleuze’s own words: “I was not free to choose them, that they were given to me as they were…I had not gone looking for the two cobblestones of the courtyard where I had stumbled.


Agency Continued


It seems curious to me in many ways that we’ve spent a significant amount of time thus far on the concept of agency in Deleuze’s thought, without really investigating why it is that this might matter, or even, what it is we mean when we use the word. There is, I suppose, the obvious reason that a philosophy dedicated to decreasing the agential power of the subject comes as a bit of a shock, and potential a threat—if Deleuze is arguing for a conception of human agency that removes us from the pilot seat of our own lives, how are we to behave? How are we to act? What is the point of striving for a particular goal or state of affairs if we lack the ability to bring them about? What, especially, might be the point of “learning”? The ramifications for this are diverse, but I think Deleuze’s claims are subtle and complex, attentive to the diversity present in forms of agency, and also possibly less restrictive than they initially appear.

The most obvious point of possible disjunction in the material that we’ve discussed comes between Deleuze’s evocation of the philosopher’s duty to create concepts, his general reverence for the act of creation, and his apparent doubt in an autonomous human subject. When he discusses the history of philosophy as the history of concepts, as the history of concepts being produced, Deleuze also seems inclined to tie these to the subjects that are conventionally thought to have produced them – Aristotle’s Substance, Descartes’s Cogito, etc. Deleuze’s very definition of philosophy requires an understanding of the philosophical act as a “constructivism,” as an act of building, erecting edifices of actualized or stabilized thought. And yet, he also complicates this constructivism, replaces the unified subject with the “ non-totalizable complexity, ‘non-representable by a single individual (Cinema 2, 254),’” of the automaton; shifting the relationship of philosopher to concept from one of claimant or possessor to that of friend (WIP, 1-4); and self-identifying not as a person, but rather a stream of events (Negotiations, 141). However, this disjunction, that of week one of class takes place over an array of different texts with a number of different agendas, and it seems overly speculative to dive deeper into the issue without finding another resource, one with perhaps a little more detail.

There are any number of places in Difference and Repetition that could prod this discussion further along, but the distinction that Deleuze draws between learning and knowledge is particularly thought provoking for me. On pages 164-167 of Difference and Repetition Deleuze distinguishes learning as a continuous process, engaged with the problems that provoke it in a way that proliferates more problems, as well as more ideas, concepts, etc. He contrasts this to knowledge, which although it invokes the learning process, renders it “an empirical figure, a simple result which continually falls back into knowledge (Difference and Repetition, 166).” Knowledge limits learning by closing off further self-reproduction in the satisfaction of its goals resolution. Learning, on the other hand, is characterized as a mode of being that does not end in the production of knowledge, but rather recursively produces new avenues of thought to be followed as it confronts and multiplies problems.

Although it might not be clear what this has to do with agency, I think the status of learning in Deleuze’s thought is an example in which the reader can glean some insight into a subjective process; one that is produced by the subject while it is also produced in or through it. Deleuze initially defines learning as “the appropriate name for the subjective acts carried out when one is confronted with the objecticity of a problem (Idea)… (164).” Further on, when he defines the task of the apprentice, Deleuze claims “The apprentice…attempts to give birth to that second power which grasps that which can only be sensed (165).” The learning subject is confronted with problems beyond her control, will, or agency—ideas are to be “entered into,” and “conjugated” rather than mastered and resolved. However, this same subject and her agency are not written out of the process of learning – she must attempt to learn, act deliberately when she is confronted with the idea, and resist the call to a subjugation of knowledge.

Deleuze seems to be making the claim that agency is not unidirectional or founded within the subject, the site in which thought takes place. But this does not mean that the subject’s agency is entirely withheld. Agency, defined as sometimes conscious will—is instead shared, networked, re-registered amongst the total field of thought. Which brings me back to the beginning again – what do we mean when we use the word agency? It seems as though generally what we mean is the ability to control what happens within our subjectivity, and the ability to shape and interact with the world around “under our own steam.” Deleuze’s framework seems to threaten this conception of autonomy, by introducing the way in which the things that previously appeared to us as parts of ourselves or capacities that were ours are somehow other, with their own form of autonomy and their own, inscrutable motivations and engines. The more I think about this conception, however, the more I wonder if Deleuze’s project necessarily requires a diminution of our own agency.

Rather than propose a conception of agency that diminishes the more that it is shared, I think Deleuze would rather us consider a conception of control, authority, autonomy that retains its ability to act in the world but refuses to consider itself as sovereign, or unique. In his examination of the concept of the Other, that for Deleuze is the “structure which grounds and ensures the overall functioning of this world as a whole (281),” he also proposes following this logic to its necessary dénouement, “far from the objects and subjects that it conditions, where singularities are free to be deployed or distributed within pure ideas, and individuating factors to be distributed in pure intensity (282).” Or perhaps, even more striking, consider Deleuze’s definition of erewhons, his conception of an genuinely open structure of categories: “complexes of space and time, no doubt transportable but on condition that they impose their own scenery, that they set up camp there where they rest momentarily: they are therefore the objects of an essential encounter rather than of recognition (285).” These definitions of other structures contain a form of agency, that while possibly still alien to our own, shares with it the ability to force the encounter that sparks the production of problems and ideas. These structures are just a few of the many that Deleuze defines throughout D&R, but their common linking thread seems to be an ability to act, encounter, challenge, and force.

When we talked about this in class, one of the ideas floated around was that Deleuze wants to delink the concept of agency as a human capacity. I think this is right, but it would seem that this takes a different form than reducing the concept to include other forms of sovereignty. To me, it almost appears that Deleuze wants us to retain our conception of human agency, but then extend it to all other singularities that participate in our networks – ideas, beings, objects, etc. What would a mastery over the self look like if all the things we had mastery over also had mastery over themselves? It seems baldy contradictory in terms, a paradox, which is part of the reason that, to me at least, it intuitively seems to fit into Deleuze’s schema.

To put it briefly, while reading Deleuze, I don’t often get the idea that he wants to di-/de- (diminish, dilute, demystify etc.) anything. Rather, he wants to extend, multiply, recomplicate, replicate, etc. So when he talks about agency, my feeling for his work thus far encourages me to find a formula that, while it appears to impact our ability to shape thought, to act, does so only in the terms that it extends those abilities to other actors. Which doesn’t seem to necessarily involve having less than they started with.

This rubs up against another part of the Deleuzian project that I want to ponder over as a final thought. A semi-revelation about Deleuze’s project accompanied the readings and discussion for last week, one that is constantly rewriting my understanding of his work as I read through it. Maybe it’s obvious to others, but it seems to me like what Deleuze is attempting is not a normative, prescriptive project, but rather a descriptive one. That is to say, Deleuze is not attempting to usher in a new realm of thought, but rather describe the way thought has always operated. He’s not offering a conception of thought that would challenge Plato, Descartes, etc. as models to be worked towards and achieved, but instead attempting to describe the way they, and we, actually already think. The Image of Thought covered up the way that thinking actually works, rather than operating as its own (failing) process of thought. If Deleuze’s project has political and ethical implications, it’s not because he’s offering us a new way to think that’s different from how we already think. Rather, he’s encouraging us to realize or understand the way we already think—if we do so, we can’t avoid the radical political, ethical, epistemological conclusions that follow. Understanding Deleuze’s version of the thought without image would change the way we encounter the Other and the world. However, it would do so only because we would encounter it in the new light of how we operate: as regimes of variation amongst an always-shifting multiplicity.