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Your views: Kevin Rhowbotham critiques The Big Rethink

Index big rethink 2

The London academic reacts to February’s edition of the AR campaign in its pivotal stages

A new editorial line is emerging in these pages, championed by the campaigning pen of Peter Buchanan. The implications of such a perspective seem wholly benign, and, on the face of it, worthy of enthusiastic if ingenuous support, save for the insinuation of clear and consequent anomalies within the argument. A difference exists between two cords of philosophical thinking.

The first is tied to Plato and to a subterranean dualism in which the original is veiled by the actual, rendering life a pale shadow of the real. The second cord is tied to Spinoza and then to Nietzsche, securing a view of the world as perspectival; tied to life, warts and all, relying on nothing other than the cultural constructions of the ‘human all too human’ subject in all its languaged and languaging forms. From the perspective of this second cord there is no dualism, which hides irreducible substance behind the appearance of things.

Life and its perspectives are as real as it gets; life and life only. It is the first of these philosophical cords that architecture ravels up. Futurisms establish a specious architectural economy of tribal posturing, whether these be Faustian utopias or dystopian coercions; the story is always proleptical and always the same. A presumed future is struck and considered already present; to be presented as yet another resolution to a problem inflated by an overriding political interest in centralising the discipline.

Let me put it brutally: there is no future! All things must be confronted through the eternally present. Nature is not Culture, and in the fullness of time, human cultures will be destroyed by it. There can be no return to nature because human cultures are the antithesis of nature and constitute its defining dialectical polarity. Those who proleptically urge a new vision which relies upon a so-called ‘total’ not to say ecological inclusivity, underestimate the scope of this demand, since they assume that nature includes them. It does not.

Any human ecology, whatever its self-propagandising claims to totality, is always and already cultural; always and already partial, perspectival and limiting. Architecture, in so far as it can disturb this emerging ideological landscape, will remain dominated by the seismic shifts of international capital. If the world of human cultures is to be sustainable (and sub specie aeternitatis, this is a ludicrous assumption), it will be so, and only in the shorter term, under the geological conditions necessary to sustain a mass culture.

Architects would do well to apply themselves to the pragmatics of working with the substance of reality at hand and in the present time, and avoid mythicising, proleptically, a paranoid and pessimistic ecology.The world is not ending; it does not require you to save it; things are as they always were, in a structure which is eternally returning to the same. The paranoia of the ‘all joined up’ is yet another bluster from those who would seek to control everything, not by violence but by sentimentality. And while the princess and the prince discuss what is real and what is not, life outside goes on all around you.

Kevin Rhowbotham, London

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