in General Discussion edited January 2014
Some people you just want to smack. I'm glad Mr. Wieseltier did it for me.


<a href=""; target="_blank">Ruins</a>

by Leon Wieseltier

Post date 11.19.01 | Issue date 11.26.01

[quote]... Muschamp remarks upon "the resemblance between the wreckage at ground zero and some Frank Gehry projects." Death imitating art, you might say. And "Gehry's architecture ... has constructed an aesthetic context" for the site. I mean, how contemporary can a mass grave get? And wasn't it uncanny that on the very night before the catastrophe, the Times' critic, always searching for enchantment and always finding it, was vouchsafed an early look at the shop in TriBeCa, "ten blocks north of ground zero," that Frank Gehry had created for Issey Miyake? This privilege was followed, Muschamp scrupulously reports, by dinner with the princes of design. "As a result of my experience," he concludes, "the Walls [at ground zero] remind me of Miyake's pleated clothes, and of peaceful times."

So his problem is solved. He has prevented the event from exploding his framework. The danger of silence has been averted. The continuities rule, though he must learn to live with the morbidity of pleats. In this, certainly, Muschamp is not alone. There was something grotesque, in the days and the weeks immediately following the attack, about the alacrity with which architects leaped into the Times with exciting plans for the scene of the slaughter. It was as if history itself had announced a competition. Lower Manhattan was still breathing the dust of destruction, but the architects had beaten sorrow back and mastered the meaning of what had transpired. Designs, materials, the future of the skyscraper, the integration of glass and electronic media: as Christopher Moltisanti once observed, how can I express how little I give a ****? But they were solving their problem, I guess; not their architectural problem, their spiritual problem. After all, the horror must somehow be put down. We have suffered the most extreme disruption that a bourgeois existence can suffer: an exposure to evil. We all have our avenues of flight. But when we flee, we must agree that we are fleeing.

"Piranesi's engraved visions of fantastic classicism," Muschamp confidently continues, "should be required study for those now gazing on ground zero." This is another way of saying that those who are now gazing on ground zero should avert their gaze. There is something especially egregious about the Piranesi recommendation. It is an attempt to assimilate the experience of ground zero into the experience of ruins, to transform it into the sort of lulling or elevating veduta with which we are all, as tourists or as museumgoers or as historians, sweetly familiar. Strictly speaking, of course, those are the ruins of the World Trade Center; but they are not ruins like the ruins of Luxor or Rome or Uxmal or Angkor Wat or Tintern Abbey, and the difference is worth pondering. What peace of contemplation is possible at Liberty Plaza, what ennobling idea about oblivion and eternity, what refining sensation of beauty? You cannot leave ground zero as you leave other ruins, with philosophical reflections about the inevitability of decay, because what happened here was not decay, and there was nothing inevitable about it. You cannot leave ground zero as you leave other ruins, with the warm memory of nature growing over history, because here there is only history, and it is cold. The reverence for ruins that has been a pillar of Western sensibility in the modern centuries has insisted that the encounter with them be a pleasurable encounter, but surely the pleasure was owed in part to the fact that the ruins before which Goethe and Wordsworth and Flaubert and Ruskin and Rilke and Proust swooned were not the ruins of their own homes and their own societies. The agony of the ruination had been felt by others long ago. Nobody is nostalgic for their own extinction. So with ruins, too, distance is the father of beauty. These are not the exotic and mysterious ruins of the past; these are the unexotic and unmysterious ruins of us....

... I cannot locate the balm in culture. It is just not my piety. I discovered this when I went into ground zero, in a red hard hat. I was not prepared for what I saw. I do not know how to express the quality of my shock, except to say that it banished culture completely from my mind. I fell dumb and stood there as if I had never read a book. My observations erased my memories. I was without allusions and without metaphors. Can a mind be naked? Then I was naked, without coverings. All I could do was look, and pray to see. The metal was the color of an infernal tarnish. I learned that yellow smoke is released when iron is cut. The hole in the sky was more striking than the hole in the ground. I watched the cranes scoop up soil from the pit, and then I grasped that it was not soil. There was no soil in this place. What they were moving was the substance that was formed out of the dissolution of everything and everybody that had been crushed and incinerated: a deathloam. There were spots of it on my boots. I shivered and moved away. And when I left it was not culture that was restored immediately to my consciousness. It was politics; policy; American action... <hr></blockquote>


  • Reply 1 of 6
    matsumatsu Posts: 6,558member
    Good for you! It's one thing for the artists to immediately set about their work, it is their habit to decorate everything, let them. But it is another for impatient critics -- eager for something to muse about -- to, in absence of acceptable work, quickly shore up the artistic value of lives with cultural references. I don't know Muschamp, but I think I'd hate him for being a snob. Not only a snob, but a hypocrite, at least implicitly. Snobs have always told us or, through up-turned noses and oh-so delicate gestures, made us understand that we are less: Hollow Men -- we lack even the culture to sing a nursery rhyme. They know the best paintings, the proper words, the learned pronounciations; they appreciate all the intricate notes. And because they know, they are not the shallow/hollow creatures like the rest of us. Hypocrites! They haven't 'filled up' the soul any better: If they've done anything better, they've disguised its emptiness.
  • Reply 2 of 6
    Muschamp really is an ass...I wish him gone every weekend I look at the NYTimes. He writes complete and utter babble.
  • Reply 3 of 6
    gregggregg Posts: 261member
    Those who can't do.... become critics.

    Of course, Phillip Johnson is an exception. He at least had the guts to create his own architecture for others to criticize.
  • Reply 4 of 6
    Muschamp's pseudo-intellectual ramblings are a perfect example of education gone bad.

    When people were starting to wake up to the reality that the Bauhaus "legacy" was stillborn, back in the late 60's, they eventually latched onto a curriculum more similar to the old Beaux-arts style of education than any "modern" course offering. The movement was headed by Colin Rowe and Bernard Hoesli originally and it's now been introduced to most schools in the US and Europe.

    Anyway to make a long story short, Rowe used a simple compare-contrast style of analysis: two slides, one of a Palladian villa, one of a modern Corbusian one next to one another. He would talk about the two slides obtusely for an hour trying to drive a single point home. Rowe's biggest points were often about how similar seemingly disparate things actually were. So the compare half of that formula got the most attention, and since Rowe always reduced his lessons to some form or piece of the physical building as the exemplar of this idea, it was labeled as "empty formalism." It was about form for the sake of form without cultural or ideological meaning, according to the stereotype.

    In fact, Rowe was obsessed with the cultural meanings and rationales behind certain architectures, and explained the differences in his examples as much as he compared them in his dual-slide technique. But the stereotype persists among especially the pseudo-avante-garde to which Muschamp sees himself as a distinguished member.

    But of course, lazy thinking indeed does lead him to these stereotypes in his own writing: a vacuous formalist apologia, without cultural or ideological validity or reference, desperately trying to make things seem so mundane and trite. It's not an escape but an avoidance of the very stuff that makes architecture. It's shallow.

    Some time ago now, the NY Times had a short piece asking artists and architects what they wanted to see done at ground zero. They ranged wildly, and while I do not necessarily go along with what these two think in other contexts, the only really reasonable response was from Liz Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, a small boutique firm known for their "out-there" theoretical writings and teachings. They did not have a specific idea or gesture to make except to say that it was vital not to cover up the spot with another WTC-wannabe. "Don't erase the erasure" as they put it.

    BTW: Silverman has already hired a firm to prepare studies for a new complex on the site. I'd HATE to be on that project right now. Way too much pressure on myself, nevermind the world's expectations and desires.

    We all want to do something. We talk about it all the time -- everything from life safety codes to the iconography of skyscrapers. It would be nice of architecture could save the day. But frankly, I'm at a complete loss with this one. I don't even know whether architects could or should get involved in such a difficult matter.

    PS: A rather inappropriate thing I think of when I see the skyline of NYC now is that it looks better without those towers. It's a terrible thing to say, I know.
  • Reply 5 of 6
    pscatespscates Posts: 5,847member
    Man, it just dawned on me what an uncultured, foggy-minded twit I am because, honest to God, I didn't understand anything in this thread.

    Some stuff I'm just unable to grasp and put my hooks around it, and this story (and the following discussion about it) is a perfect example.

    Gotta go find my Curious George book and see if I can latch onto that...

  • Reply 6 of 6
    [quote]Originally posted by BuonRotto:


    We all want to do something. We talk about it all the time -- everything from life safety codes to the iconography of skyscrapers. It would be nice of architecture could save the day. But frankly, I'm at a complete loss with this one. I don't even know whether architects could or should get involved in such a difficult matter.


    Architecture can't save the day. That's Leon Weiseltier's point. I'm glad you are at a complete loss. At least that much is as it should be. It's way too soon. There is too much that still needs to be "processed". Even that word feels so profane. We need to perhaps process less and let more of it or ourselves just be. Language, architecture, maybe someone will try to write some kind of music - I suppose these are the ways some people mediate the world but it all feels too much like noise, harsh sound.

    I was in NYC yesterday. I went to ground zero or at least as close to it as someone like me could get. It is a place that strikes one mute. Near the site I saw one of the makeshift memorials. Even that felt a little inappropriate. Flowers mostly dead, sea shells, notes from people all over the world and teddy bears. Who are the teddy bears for? Forgive me for saying this but it felt to me more like self pity than sorrow for another.

    There will be a time for the architects but now is not it.

    [ 11-25-2001: Message edited by: roger_ramjet ]</p>
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