Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Criticism 2

When Chuck Klosterman states that Van Halen's 'The Cradle will Rock' is exactly the most average rock record ever made, it is not so much this preposterous presumption that amazes me but the fact that I am prepared to believe him. This perhaps says a great deal about the business of writing. Taking a scientific measure to a supposedly creative field - but one crucially mediated by all sorts of quasi scientific agencies, invisible agencies the surface of which we would only understand as 'the tip of the iceberg' as in, for instance, the massage to 'FM radio playability'- is very smart, also silly, arrogant, presumptuous and to many just annoying. However I will think on whether 'The Cradle Will Rock' is exactly the most average rock record ever made all day. Perhaps I don't have enough to do, but that is exactly what I do, and it's not so far from the practice of architectural criticism.
Or take Raymond Chandler writing in 1946 on the Oscars ceremony (find it in his collected letters) a fabulous encapsulation of recognition, interpretation, profound understanding, resignation, and inward despair. Chandler was about to leave Hollywood, despite it's having brought him plenty of money, his understanding of the idiocy of the movie business is wrought in a play over three pages on the almost mathematical inevitability of this idiocy which is as pertinent today as the day it was written, hence the deep sense of tragedy.
The same can be brought to a discussion of late Corbu -but I won't do that just now- or, with closer proximity, the Case Study Houses, the precursor of IKEA. Built ostensibly for 'progressives', these first evocations of lifestyle modernism, in Hollywood or thereabouts, have presented us with a basic conundrum; can architects design houses for the average person, or rather, could they do it under those particular circumstances? A basic question you would think. However if the answer, for all sorts of reasons, is 'no they couldn't' then you are probably in the soup with regard to most of your presumptions about what architecture can do.
It took John Chase to smash the idolatry, fostered by progressives (those who go yachting at weekends) with his simple remark that such neat houses, in Hollywood, would be bought and sold and as naturally as night follows day remodeled as Grecco-Roman by people for whom doing just that was their daily bread. This was, after all, Hollywood! If they wanted a front door just like Johnny Matthis they were going to get one. It took others to note that Case Study 22 was now merely the province of Barclaycard, Robbie Williams and British Airways advertising and window cleaners carrying vast insurance policies. It took Neil Jackson to blow a few myths about Craig Ellwood and automatically make him a far more interesting, human, fallible modern master than anybody thought he was (Case Study 16 is in my opinion exquisite, even to the point of it being absurdly cramped on the site - a fact which somehow makes it better).
To wit, what? Well changing the context entirely, as bewildered pundits and politicians wonder at why today's neoliberalist youth was inspired to riot across Britain - refusing to understand it's inevitability, it's root cause, as whole generations have nothing to do but sublimate their ancient right to go down the mines and kill in wars on Playstation - as they bleat for better this or better that (which usually means some ersatz sense of 'community', 'character', 'resilience', 'meaning' etc to be applied somehow restoratively- unfortunately not a million miles away from 'blood and soil') they better grab some ancient mathematical truth about capitalism; bad things happen and it is not usually architecture's fault. In fact I doubt anybody has ever rioted over architecture. Meanwhile only the deluded have danced to it. Humans appear to adapt to the most appalling conditions. Architecture is a rather trivial subset to be ranked in our consumption of material not too far above Raymond Chandlers mystery stories or David Lee Roth's magisterial WOA WOAHHs!!

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