05 June, 2006

Space as reality

Paolo Soleri, Quaderno #2: Space as Reality (2003).

Paolo Soleri, one of my great pleasures, has always been one voussoir short of a soffit; so when we visited Arcosanti last year, I couldn't resist picking up one of his latest philosophical booklets from the gift-shop. Space as Reality, another nonsense-masterpiece in the grand tradition, was well worth eight bucks; his argument, if one can call it that, is that reality consists entirely of modulations ('geometries') of a spatial fabric, time being only an illusion. (Incidentally, Soleri includes a list of titles for his other Quaderni, which include 'Pretzel Architecture and Stilitas', 'Via Dolorosa-Via Deliziosa' and 'Nudes'.) Soleri's style makes great use of two classical nonsense techniques: bathos and superpleonasm—similar to what Beckett once called the 'comedy of exhaustive enumeration' (Proust, p. 92). The former can be seen in an opening invocation:
Take away space and you haven't got any moons.
Take away space and you haven't got any chopsticks.
The latter, meanwhile, is well demonstrated by this fantastical riff on the word 'geometry', perhaps my favourite passage in the whole pamphlet:
The apple broadcasts its particles into the air; the particles are geometries specific to the apple. The apple is a coherent, working assemblage of geometries. A nose intercepts some of the apples' geometries floating in the air. Some of the geometries of the nose's olfactory mucus (a whole repository of diverse geometries) lock in the apple's geometries (key and lock binding) and an incipient odor geometry is generated. The geometry is incipient, because other geometries convey the will-be-odor to the hypercomplex geometries of the brain and among them, to the geometries that are willing receptors of the incipient odor. "Apple!" says the brain. A sequel of geometries conveys the odor message to the geometries of the vocal chords [sic] and voila, the geometry of the air is stimulated into sounds, which are very specific geometries themselves.
Both bathos and superpleonasm have a deadening effect: the first from its too-sudden fall of register, the second from its relentless repetition. And so Space as Reality is essentially the comedy of deadness, of a language articulated so clumsily as to become, suddenly and then relentlessly, itself an object of our thought—and our disorientation at Soleri's prose, like a sweater with arms in the wrong places, makes us laugh. But offered also is a comedy of the spirit, in the form of neologism. If Cusanus could whimsically put posse and est together in possest, the unity of power and being in God, surely Soleri can offer us these, among a series of philosophical definitions crowning his pamphlet:
esthequity. Where beauty makes itself into esthetics via the brain's filtering and somehow carries on the burden of life's self-creation with equity.

Howness. The what, the why, the how, and the where (the when is a game of words) is a wrong sequence. Becoming is mute in the absence of Howness. Howness does not need whats and whys to be operational; in fact, in the absence of Howness, intellection is absent. The how needs only space. The how is space's cavorting.
Did you read that? The word was, yes, 'cavorting'. This literature is the rapt play of a language only half real, without any self-awareness. I realise the difficulty of convincing my readers of the value of such perfect nonsense, but— there is a freedom of the soul here, a total joy. Soleri has erected his futuristic arcologies like ziggurats in the Arizona desert, quite the hunter before the Lord, and he has created his own mythology, steeped in the doomsaying of 1960s ecology and city-planning. This particular brand of nonsense, then, is the nonsense of a superurban manifesto, a latterday mystery initiation, comparable to Dianetics or the Little Red Book. It promises worlds.

Above: an unannounced nonsense-diagram from Space as Reality. Soleri's original masterpiece, The City in the Image of Man (1973), a visionary work resurrecting the glassy ideals of an Antonio Sant'Elia, and published by no less than the MIT Press, will be the work that lasts, but these pamphlets are delightful ephemera, the disjecta membra of a mind that thinks it can get away with anything, now in the process of steady dissolution.

[Bonus: can anyone identify the painting used in the 'historically fit behavior' bubble, above? My guess is Sienese trecento-early quattrocento, but beyond that I haven't a clue.]

Update 27/02/07: I return to Arcosanti. And subsequently discover a very nice chap from there has a blog.


Anonymous said...

Trying to find the painting was a great way of spending almost an hour (mostly browsing wga.hu), but none of my guesses seemed to be close enough to an answer.

I am far from being a connaisseur, but I would modestly point that the background is quite realistic and the human figures are not very majestic; thus, while I agree that it looks senese, it could hardly be from the Trecento. My completely uneducated guess is 1440-1450; perhaps Gawain (I have been reading his archives too) would be able to help.

- TT

Conrad H. Roth said...

Well, since writing this post, I have learned a lot more about Early Renaissance painting. For the colours it cannot be post 1500, unless it is just a pastiche. It is hard to make out the quality of perspective on the city, and the rock in the background is not so stereotyped as in earlier painting. But the sky is very odd. It does look later in regards to the detail. So I'm not sure about dating or even placing any more.