redric Jameson, “Architecture and the Critique of Ideology,” 1982.
(Fredric Jameson’s essay, the 37th in the Hays anthology, is barely a word short of twenty pages—twenty pages of extraordinarily dense critique, historiography, Marxism, and postmodernism. Though the structure of the essay is mostly clear—and repeated in the notes below—let me warn you now: this is the longest review so far, even using skeletally reductive notes, and this should be considered a meager guide to an extraordinarily rich text.)
In the way of an introduction, it is important to note that this text was printed in the volume Architecture, Criticism, Ideology, edited by Joan Ockman who compiled Architecture Culture, 1943-1968, after which Hays styled this very anthology. The overt goal of the former text is to examine the role of (political) ideology in architecture theory and criticism in the postmodern era. The premise of investigating the role of ideology is more or less the reason Jameson first turns to Tafuri, who is himself become a significant theme throughout these texts. I’ll explain why he is our subject below.
Lastly, let me reiterate two nuggets from Hays’s introduction to the text, in case you don’t read further than this line break, or in case you lose focus (as I did) amidst the politics, economics, and historiographic criticism. First, “Jameson is concerned to maintain architecture’s utopian vocation in a properly postmodern political aesthetic that, allegorically, turns the geopolitical system inside out so that it can again be seen.” This endeavor, facilitated through a discussion of Marxism, may be appropriately placed against Habermas, who sought to preserve the utopian vocation directly from modernism through a typology of political conservatism in postmodern architecture. Secondly, Jameson’s “now-classical” interpretation of postmodernism is as a cultural phenomenon (as opposed to capital or ideological) that includes literature, film, economics, mass media, and architecture. (Also, if you don't read past this line break, just skip down to the last three paragraphs, for your own edification.)
Jameson begins with Manfredo Tafuri’s book Architecture and Utopia (1980)—Hays wasn’t kidding when he told us architecture was “never more radically theorized than by Manfredo Tafuri;” we can’t get rid of him. We arrive at Tafuri after a (relatively) short introduction comprised of an investigative problematic: is there a method of dealing with Space (re: Lefebvre and other recent essays) that is not ideological? That is, somewhere between phenomenological or structuralist? (These two are, by 1982, apparently the only two positions that deal with Space in coherent ways, but ways that are inevitably ideological.) Jameson turns to Tafuri because his text avoids ideological premises and can therefore be evaluated for clues on how to construct non-ideological interpretations of Space in the postmodern era. (This becomes clearer in a moment.) Jameson tells us he will look at Tafuri from three perspectives: historiographically, in terms of its latent Marxism, and in its relation to Postmodernism. (Because these three sections are evaluating the same thing, we don’t necessarily arrive at a conclusive set of guidelines in the conclusion, but instead work toward a clearer understanding of (Jameson’s) postmodernism and architecture’s role regarding utopia and cultural value.)
This section mostly explains why we are working with Tafuri again. Tafuri uses a historical method that Jameson calls “dialectic history,” a method that refuses traditional narrative structures and that cohesively interprets the subject in terms of limited elements, namely Capitalism and Ideology. However, while Tafuri ultimately wraps Architecture in a burial shroud of these two things, incapacitating it beyond the role of a utility, Jameson’s subliminal purpose in examining Tafuri’s “dialectical historiography” from these three perspectives is to resurrect Architecture’s utopian promise for the postmodern age.
Narrative histories are rejected because ‘the narrative is dead;’ ‘history itself is the problem.’ Borrowing an idea from Louis Althusser, Jameson tells us the historian’s job is to produce the concept of history itself, not representations of history, such as narratives. Tafuri’s is one of only three acknowledged works that manage this dialectical strategy, the other’s being T. W. Adorno’s Philosophy of Modern Music and Roland Barthes’s Writing Degree Zero. It is also significant that we’ve encountered these entities before: Roland Barthes in Silvetti and Colquhoun; Althusser in Silvetti, Tschumi, and Agrest; and Adorno in Habermas (though I don’t mention him in the review, see Hays’s essay introduction). All are noted Post Structuralists.
Next follows several pages describing the functions and characteristics of “dialectic history.” “Dialectic history” is the practice of a “condensed, allusive discursive” form of history, rendering all earlier practices either “ideological or intolerable;” it is closed, telling of the “Necessity” of an event—“why it had to happen that way”—and so is oddly geared toward a conclusion; it reverses “our habits of idealism,” especially targeting “Hegelian notions of the history of forms and styles, but also empiricist or structuralist notions of isolated texts;” it “does its work ultimately by undermining the very foundations, framework, constitutive presuppositions of the specialized disciplines themselves—but unexpectedly demonstrating the existence…in general of an Other of the discipline, an outside, a limit, the revelation of the extrinsic.”
In sort, “dialectic history” reads the past in a way that cuts across our learned idealisms about material history, such as narrative or the comprehensiveness of a single discipline. In so doing, it weakens the notions of disciplinary autonomy, of ideals and values (thus revealing ideological workings), and exposes unexpected historical angles.
The architectural significance of Tafuri’s dialectic—explained by Hays and Jameson—is that it leaves no “Other” for architecture, or, rather, the “Other” that is indicated so vastly outpaces Architecture proper that the latter cannot keep up. “To put it most dramatically, if the outer limit of the individual building is the material city itself, with its opacity, complexity, and resistance, then the outer limit of some expanded conception of the architectural vocation as including urbanism and city planning is the [economy] itself, or capitalism in the most overt and naked expression of its implacable power. So the great Central European urbanistic projects of the 1920s…touch their Other in the seemingly “extrinsic” obstacle of financial speculation and the rise in land and property values that causes their absolute failure and spells an end to their Utopian vocation.”
“Dialectical history” also presents the present as the inevitable and irrevocable close of history: “the present is ultimately projected as the final and most absolute contradiction, the ‘situation’ that has become a blank wall, beyond which History cannot bass.” This feeling of the inescapable crisis of ‘now’ we, of course, learned from the first essay in the anthology, Tafuri’s history of Modernism. It is a negative, a fatalism, and is grim at best.
We will come back to Tafuri, but only after a brief schooling in mid-century Marxism, a clear presence in Tafuri’s work but that has mostly gone unrecognized by its American audience. In the spirit of a brief history of Marxism, Jameson tells us that the American right wing declared an “end to ideology” after WWII (esp. by Daniel Bell), efficiently replacing Capitalism with the phrases “post-industrial,” “consumer society,” “media society,” “consumer capitalism,” &c. Social problems rising from marginalized identities (race, gender, religion) as well as nationalist agendas further obfuscated the traditional Marxist class structures.
The left, on the other hand, dubbed this era “late capitalism,” proposed by Jameson as a new period in the traditional Marxists sense following the “Hegemony” or “Colonial” period coincidental with Modernism. Jameson specifies two things for us to observe before returning to Tafuri. First, “Late Capitalism” became a “total system,” marked by the dynamism with which it colonized a) the Unconscious, through the Culture Industry, and b) third world agriculture, a part of the world previously at extreme distance from early Capitalism. Second, the totality of “Late Capitalism” “triggers new forms of resistance,” precipitating localized inversions of the global system, but also marked by the pessimism and hopelessness intrinsic to such a totality. Because of that totality there can be “no qualitative change in any element of the older capitalist system—as, for instance, in architecture or urbanism—without beforehand a total revolutionary and systemic transformation.”
Translation: the advance of “Late Capitalism” as a total system integrated into everything from your unconscious to the agronomics of rural India has left no place for social changes, either in the way you live or in architecture’s practice of, say, utopian values. The only way architecture, or people, will effect a change is to coincide or follow the systemic overthrow of “Late Capitalism.”
There are two ways to locally work against the total system, both architectural and both proceeding from the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. Jameson calls the first “enclave theory,” an instance of systematic reversal within a delineated, focused space. This is the quintessence of the Siedlungen and Höfe, where different values may operate within an enclave, though that enclave is apparently ultimately incapable of prolonged survival. Then we have the “counter hegemony’ view, which preserves architectural utopian visions through their own material rigor as drawings and proposals of a system that could effectively function in a post-revolutionary world. The alternative reality of these visions is paralleled by the material possibility of their existence outside the first world, toward the fringes of the world colonized by Late Capitalism. (Here I feel we should suspect Chandigarh as an example.)
“[T]he economic periodization of capital into three rather than two stages…suggests the possibility of a new periodization on the level of culture as well. From this perspective, the moment of ‘high’ modernism, of the International Style and of the classical modern movement in all the arts—with their great auteurs and their ‘Utopian’ monuments, Mallarméan ‘Books of the World’ fully as much as Corbusian Radiant Cities—would ‘correspond’ to that second stage of monopoly and imperialist capitalism which came to an end with the Second World War. Its ‘critique’ therefore coincides with its extinction, its passing into history, as well as with the emergence, in the third stage of ‘consumer capital,’ with some properly postmodernist practice of pastiche, of a new free play of styles and historicist allusions now willing to ‘learn from Las Vegas,’ a moment of surface rather than depth, of the ‘death’ of the old individual subject or bourgeois ego, and of the schizophrenic celebration of the commodity fetishism of the image, of a now ‘delirious New York’ and a countercultural California, a moment when the logic of media capitalism penetrates the logic of advanced cultural production itself and transforms the latter to the point where such distinctions as those between high and mass culture lose their significance…”
Here we see the closing of Jameson’s large loop of analysis. First we find the interpretation of postmodernism as a cultural movement (directly precipitated by advancing capitalism) instead of a purely artistic, literary, and architectural one. This is manifest in the allusive surface games of Venturi as much as it is the Good Design movement, an generally throughout a culture dominated by the ‘fetish of the commodity.’ With all this materialism, Jameson introduces an idea from Adorno, that a potential feature of postmodernism is that “the commodity is its own ideology,” that the “immanent processes of daily life now occupy the functional position of ideology.” Translation: values and ideals can no longer free us from Capitalism or bring about Utopia; intellectual agendas have been supplanted by consumerism, which is its own cyclical purpose.
Only through cultural revolution—or the two dubious Gramscian methods of architectural separation—can the total system of Late Capitalism be overthrown, thereby allowing architecture to return to its “utopian vocation.” This is extremely important for us to grasp, I think. Tafuri’s profound dialectic history of architecture removes all utopian capacity, tying it up in the workings of capitalism. Jameson recognizes that this part of Tafuri’s analysis is (or is at least nearly) correct, but the double negative of Tafuri’s position is intolerable to him. (Double negative meaning Tafuri is both anti-modernism and anti-postmodernism.) So Jameson uses Marxist historical structures within Tafuri’s narrative, and a material-cultural definition of postmodernism as one layer of Late Capitalism, to present a pro-architectural-postmodernism possibility: by laying bare Late Capitalism as a cyclical consumer reality, and clarifying the necessity of revolution, Jameson restores hope for a (potentially architectural) postmodern overthrow of the architecturally incapacitating system of capitalism.
If you skipped the body of this review and are looking for a summary, read the last two paragraphs. Additionally, just to keep tabs on what’s happening in our readings, Hays tells us Jameson continues to fill out the matrix we are caught in: Tafuri is anti-modernist, anti-postmodern; Habermas is pro-modernist, anti-modernist; Jameson places Jean-Francois Lyotard (someone we don’t have to read) in the pro-modernist, pro-postmodernist square, apparently he’s resoundingly optimistic; and I’m tempted to place Jameson in the anti-modernist, pro-postmodernist corner…though that’s not 100.