I open my eyes. An hour has passed and I’m still on the lawn, but now right in the middle of triangular patch of shadow – the errant turret of a faux-Gothic university building has come between the late summer sun and the page of my book, which I am only pretending to read anyway. I rouse myself to move out of the shade, spotting a few familiar faces on the western side of the lawn. As usual, Sarah and Bob preside over a gathering of architecture students, their latest batch of second-year groupies. Sarah and Bob have a band, called The Doppler Effect, which has somehow managed to bridge the otherwise impossible rift between the digital design kids’ penchant for electronica and the depressed hipster ballads of the “politically engaged” clique. At the feet of Sarah and Bob, an unofficial truce reigns and the otherwise oppressive mood of the heavily factionalized architecture school lifts considerably. The duo exude a different atmosphere, a disinterested brand of conviviality that rubs off on everyone in their vicinity and gently blunts even the sharpest of daggers.
“Hey, Sarah,” I say, throwing my bag down next to them. As a doctoral student, I have some privileges when it comes to seating arrangements on the lawn. “What’s up?”
“Not much,” she answers nonchalantly. Bob nods in greeting.
“Just had to get out of there” – she gestures at the steel-clad building behind us – “for a bit. I mean, seriously, do you ever feel like you’ve already heard the same opinions expressed by the same people somewhere or other, in the same way, with the same words, turn of phrases and gestures? I’m over it. You know: this nascent mix of a critical, neo-Marxism with a celebration of the vernacular or everyday? What is this, 1984?”
Bob murmurs in agreement, and checks his phone, an object adorned with glittery stickers that somehow impress me despite their deliberate irony. It’s always like that with him.
“1984 was probably worse, Sass,” Bob mutters.
“Bullshit. 1984, like Perspecta 21-1984, has got nothing on this! Now, they’re” – again, Sarah waves at the architecture building – “basically implying that all architecture automatically occupies a de facto critical position. That our work is always situated in some kind of in-between.” The last word is extended disdainfully. “Culture and form. Kitsch and avant-garde. Objecthood and art…”
“… Capitalist development and design,” Bob finishes for her, pointing with a yet unlit cigarette towards the copy of Architecture and Utopia that I realise I’m still holding. I shove it back in my bag, secretly glad that I won’t have to discuss that with these guys, after the tussle with Isabelle earlier.
“Actually, I just had coffee with Isabelle.” I throw the statement into the ring, hoping that the two of them might be able to shed some light on my inner confusion. Their discussions were seductive in that way: as if just by talking to them, torturous ethical dilemmas could be sucked up and then spat out, like poison from a snake-bite. And after such operations, it almost felt like – here, I catch myself mimicking the Dutch accent of their all-time hero, the inimitable Koolhaas himself – we could all just live happily ever after, making fantastic architecture. I needed a bit of that right now.
“Oh yeah?” Sarah seems interested in the fact that Isabelle had finally surfaced on campus. We’d heard rumours for weeks that she would be guesting in one of the studios.
“Yeah. I mean, I know you guys think the critical has hit a dead end, and I can agree with you to some extent, but this ecology of practices stuff? I’m not so sure about it.” The two of them seem less bored than usual, so I continue.
“The idea that rather than illuminating a situation, rather than emancipating people, we’re rather to dedicate our time to constructing (inevitably partial) relations between practices, and then that we are to celebrate those relations as a ‘cosmic event’? I don’t know, it’s pretty damn close to relational aesthetics for me, and you both know my views about,” I drop my voice to a whisper so as not to be overheard by the French contingent of The Doppler Effect’s fanbase, “Nicolas.”
“Oh God, not the Nicolas thing again! You should never have become friends with Claire, babe. I told you.” I consider myself reprimanded. “But seriously,” Bob continues, “I don’t understand why you should have a problem with Isabelle or Nicolas – I mean, you all pretty much agree that disciplinarity needs to be directed against the negative reduction of qualitative experience to quantification, right?” I want to refute this, because I’ve never really been into the whole Situationist-inspired argument for altering practices. But I save it, wanting to hear his conclusion.
“What Sarah and I are saying is forget reification: disciplinarity needs to be directed towards the possibility of emergence. If that happens, serial accumulation can itself result in the production of new qualities. The Doppler.”
Sarah, adopting a more conciliatory tone, finishes. “Ultimately, we’re all in the game of eliciting particular forms of behavior in particular multiplicities, right? We’re all into multiplying contingencies, projecting forward alternative arrangements and scenarios? I mean, in that sense, we’re all post-critical.”
“Exactly!” I yell, frustrated now and speaking far too loudly for the languid atmosphere of the western part of the lawn.
I love these guys, but I really have to get out of the sun.