Conceptual Cluster 4: The Theory Tool Box

by sepidehkarami

Border Region by Teddy Cruz, Tijana-San Diego

The red line is where Architects should act- Border Region by Teddy Cruz, Tijana-San Diego

New wars need new strategies!

Frantz Kafka writes “A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us”, and I would say this is what theory should do with the reality outside, in everyday life, in politics and in history, in time and space. Theory should be the ax to break down the frozen and solidified routines to let the sea overflow, spills and becomes “practice” in each of its stroke. And this is how it becomes revolutionary in its emergence and its action.

When Deleuze defines the operation of theory as to encounter a wall that practice is to pierce it, theory becomes the action of piercing the wall and they can’t be separated anymore. They create the network of ‘relays’, of dependent chain of actions. In this sense by defining theory as action the role of the new intellectual is also becoming significant. As Deleuze puts it intellectual should become the actor not the one being in the margin of the struggle against power. The role of intellectual is not anymore representation but presentation. When it comes to the practices of art and architecture, artist or architect as the “new intellectual” does not any more reside and operate in the safe side of the struggle but she locates her knowledge and action in the middle, in the most conflictual condition where people and power collide; she becomes “the people” to struggle. Hence the process of her action, her role falls into this network of relays.

Teddy Cruz, the architect who builds up his practice in the conflictual borders of urban dynamics like the one between San Diego / Tijuana, deliberates and exemplifies this necessity shift of locating the role of architects within the power struggle. He uses this territory of conflict as a backdrop to critically observe the clash between current top-down discriminating forms of urban economic re-development and planning legislature, on one hand, and the emerging American neighborhoods nationwide made of immigrants, on the other, whose bottom-up spatial tactics of encroachment thrive on informality and alternative social organizational practices. He basically by designing political and economic process act and try to change the legislations through political involvement with decision makers and with those affected by the very legislations. His practice is a sort of activism; a network of actions-theory that makes his machine of activism work. He puts the theory and knowledge in the middle of the interaction. Struggle here goes through the knowledge and theory toolbox to confront power and where he acts is the conflictual borders.

But when one faces the application of theory in warfare systems such as the one by IDF, it becomes curious what is missed that a progressive and utopian theory can be applied by an oppressive and brutal system? What is missed that theory can be hijacked by the most brutal power systems of the world to fuel in the machine of war and genocide? It is absolutely a smart point by Naveh when he interprets theory as “a methodology that wants to disrupt and subvert the existing political, social, cultural, or military order”, which is in a way the task of critical theory. Not only IDF but also many other oppressive systems, totalitarian regimes apply these methodologies and reverse their effects. It is in fact detaching the theory from the ethics that is once built on and adopting it for different and opposite objectives. It becomes a bare methodology naked from its ideals; a utopian toolbox against power that has become a toolbox in hand of power.

The question here is that what we can learn from this reality? Aren’t we thinking and acting at the same time? Are we delayed in taking action? Are we like “French generals”, in Bruno Latour’s term “always one war behind”? Well, perhaps if we add the issue of “time” and “context” to our operation, or in other word, taking theory as practice and make our ideals realized immediately, acting in a more micro forms of action, we’ll be more on time and perhaps taken our step before leaving our theory (or its methodology) left for the oppressing systems to hijack it! New wars need new strategies!