aposiopesis

Aposiopesis is the figure of speech that terminates speech, calling for the power of silence to replace the rattle of discourse from subject to subject and the correlative use of discourse as a "model" for "interrogating/valuing" the object. Far from being the justification for a negative response or a purism dedicated to the heroic material gestures of mute art, aposiopesis is the most eloquent of rhetorical tricks. By breaking off suddenly, a wave of feeling (let's call it pleasure-pain) rushes into the gulf created by the reversal of what's expected.

An apocryphal (and unverifiable, as it turns out) story about a famous singer tells that, as the singer began the final number of his farewell concert, Schubert's An die Musik, itself filled with a restraint of feeling that could be counted as aposiopesis. But he broke off unexpectedly when the song "got to him," bringing the audience to an intensely painful moment of sadness mixed with the inexplicable pleasure of being present at such a momentous occasion.

Another musical example demonstrates that "silence" can sometimes amount to reserve when expressiveness is expected. The pianist Dinu Lipatti, suffering from an incurable disease and kept alive only through expensive treatments financed by his friends, decided to give a final concert for his benefactors before ceasing the treatments. He particularly avoided using pauses or dynamics that would stylistically "represent" the pathos of the moment, but the effect was devastating for the audience. The reserve and tranquility of the performance recalled the stoic last moments of the band playing on the deck of the Titanic, a moment that could be accused of being neither "sentimental" nor "heroic" in any way that would subsequently bleach out the pure stain left by combining horror with pleasure. Even on the recording of Lipati's concert, the effect can be heard and appreciated without knowing the circumstances.

Kent Kleinman has aptly remarked that work such as appears in this monograph should be "situated in practice, where it belongs." This is followed by a injunction not to mention Gordon Matta-Clark, Richard Serra, etc. that seems at first coy. Are not these the "obvious" precedents for projects that situate themselves at architecture's margins? The point, however, is not to characterize practice as a muscular, mute engagement of reality in contrast to theory's pale reliance on ambiguous but sophisticated language, but rather to remind us that practice is, after all, closely related to praxis, the "sum-total of all that can be known about human beings as social animals." Thus, we know more about music when we hear Ameling or Lipati break off or attenuate the music unexpectedly than when we hear a complete, dutifully-expressive performance.

Nonetheless, praxis would not be what it is-nor "practice," nor human beings-were it not for language, which, by virtue of the duplicity of signs, forces us to live in two worlds at the same time. We pay attention to the network of symbolic relationships where conventions lubricate tenuous relationships with authority; but, we also make fantasy-projections of another subject who escapes this authority, a subject "supposed to know," a construct requiring us to imagine a point of view able to see through appearances, to penetrate the anamorphic blob that stains our view. Theoria, literally meaning "bearing witness to the appearance of a god," is the access to the pleasure/pain that condenses the missing core that robs conventional meaning of any ultimate truth.

A work displayed in a museum or gallery interrupts us, commands us to be silent. The art historian Richard Bernheimer has noted that paintings that depict the rising of the soul from the tomb to heaven borrow from the imagery of the theater. Saints, cherubim, and the seraphic attendants of God take their place in concentric rows of seats like any theater attendee. So, silence is also structure. Our fantasy projection is also the impossible topology that connects final effects with origins, and makes the effect into the cause.

Slavoj Zizek points to an example from Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. The niece, Charlie, goes out on a date with a young FBI agent who is tailing her suspicious uncle, also named Charlie. Charlie soon realizes that the real purpose of the date is to get her to reveal information about her uncle. Her horrified reaction to this realization breaks off the conversation abruptly. She responds not to the flirtatious conversation but, rather, snaps into the Real of the Real-ization that her uncle is being treated as a suspect in a murder investigation. In effect, the horrified look goes directly to the origin of the sequence that trips the murder investigation. It is not literally the cause of her uncle's string of homicides but it does create directly the pleasure/pain that comes with the recognition of the "impossible" thesis. A god does rather literally appear: theory.

An idiotic symmetry pervades current theoretical discourse in architecture. Dominated by the "dialectic of presence and absence" that is easily converted into the currency of practice and theory, a conundrum of opposition leads to a debate about origins: does theory precede or follow practice? This is a question with no more or less sense to it than Vitruvius's account of the origin of architecture in the discovery of and subsequent adaptation to fire. Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a tempting fallacy, but effect often precedes cause where the trauma of teleology and its alloy of chance and necessity are concerned. Zizek tells a joke about the puzzled little girl who noted that "Daddy was born in Machester, Mummy in Bristol and I in London: strange that the three of us should have met!" The suppressed element "returns" to frame the scene "from the inside," which is to say that human cause and logical cause are not always the same thing-particularly where fantasy is the only way to escape the Catch-22 structure of reality.

Hitchcock knew this in other ways as well, especially in the physical structure of the set of Rear Window, where the bachelor-killer and the bachelor-pursuer meet through a suture of space familiar to all city dwellers whose visual space is so differently structured from their pedestrian world. The flash-bulb defense would be familiar to fans of the Homeric episode of the Cyclops, where a "poke in the eye with a burnt stick" now takes the illuminating form of a monocular blinding bulb, all to focus on the "Nobody" who hounded the killer out of his lair-"Her bachelors, even," as Duchamp would put it.

Krzysztof Kieslowski's Red and David Lynch's Mulholland Drive are equally insistent on putting fantasy before fact, the Vichian True of the imagination before the Made of praxis. In Red, the judge "does not exist" except for Valentine, whose fatalistic-chiastic meeting with her future love, Auguste, depends on the behind-the-scenes manipulation of the retired jurist. Mulholland Drive counterpoints the fantasy of dead/dying Betty-Diane with the reality sequence where the producer, Adam, reluctantly casts and then marries Camilla Rhodes. Diane "does not exist"; is repressed; and returns as the ingénue Betty. Her resurrection ("Time to wake up, pretty girl" says the mysterious Cowboy) in time to answer the phone-invitation takes us back to the primal scene, the slow limousine driving along Mulholland Drive.

The "moments" of these films are like the one in The Sixth Sense, when the psychiatrist realizes that he is one of the dead people his psychotic young patient sees, and the audience realizes in retrospect that, like the judge in Red, it hasn't really seen him interact with anyone other than the point-of-view character. It is a moment that "returns the repressed" with a force of realization and emotion. It returns to a place emptied out by the Other, made vacant, void, meaningless through an act of clearing, negation, or cutting-off-all tricks of aposiopesis.

Mulholland Drive shares an important feature with thriller-writer Stephen King's Pet Sematary. The desire to bring a loved pet or loved child back to life is the half-life of the zombie returned from the grave, the corpse, unsuccessfully laid to rest, who is between "two deaths" and "doesn't know it's dead yet." Isn't the audience precisely the kind of being who "doesn't know it's dead yet," who is "between the two deaths," the first death endured upon entering the theater, the second coming with the final reception of the idea of the work of art? At least, if Bernheimer is right, they're sitting in the right place.

So, architecture made into spectacle is not such a bad idea, particularly if it rescues theory from the presence-absence conundrum that forces it out of language -when in fact language itself would force it out of language through the device of aposiopesis; when in fact the sign would force it into metonymy even if metaphor should be imposed on it through the question of origins or the crisis of interpretation.

Let us not speak, then, of Gordon Matta-Clarke or Richard Serra, or others on Kleinman's list, if only out of respect for the muteness and eloquence of those aposiopetic performances and ones that have continued their dark vision. The ambiguity of death, which leads children to bury birds and other found animals with ritual refinements befitting the Druids, is the same ambiguity of silence that leads us to the sense of decorum where new meaning is born (hapax) out of the carcass of the returned zombie in funeral garb. Surplus = lack; effect = cause; pleasure = pain.

Such is life; or, rather, death-in-life. No surprise that Dracula was strangely sexy.
These inversions would be surprising were they not so plentiful. Maya Lin's lucky experiment with reflections led to one of the most successful architectural uses of suture and silence, the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Washington, D. C., where visitors get to exchange gifts and messages with the spectral dead animated by their own mirror images. Luck is more often the stuff of history rather than art. An even more compelling, and simultaneously more subtle, memorial to a trauma of the past is the permanently unused gate to the Technical University of Athens, an entry closed off since tanks stormed it during the junta of the generals in the 1960s.

What's to see when we look into or with the eyes of the dead? The absence or negation of something familiar: the recollection that the psychiatrist has not talked to any living person (The Sixth Sense); the ring belonging to a murdered woman (Shadow of a Doubt); the ring without its owner (Rear Window); the rotting corpse, Diane (Mulholland Drive); the house lying in pieces (Azar, Cathcart, Fantauzzi, Van Elslander, Williams); the honey-pump, lying on the floor of the Louisiana Museum in Denmark (Beuys); the restrained performance of Lipati or the missing verses of An die Musik.

These are a few of my favorite things.

But, unlike the Rogers and Hammerstein "raindrops on roses" list, these are "uncanny" Gahen Wilson mementos that operate like Lacanian sinthoms, voids of meaning around which actions spiral like Dante's frustrated lovers, Paulo and Francesca. What does the architect bring to these things/moments/mementi?
Calvino's answers for literature serve architecture even better: lightness and heaviness, quickness and slowness; visibility and invisibility (the "phallic" qualities of architecture); exactitude; multiplicity; and, finally, consistency, which is best evidenced when, in face of human limitations, it just has to stop.

© 2012, Donald Kunze, all rights reserved