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a critical system for architecture, film, landscape, visual culture

The idea of critique is central to architecture education, both as a style of pedagogy and a mode of thinking that supplements the development of designs. Critique develops ad hoc and in many styles, but it draws from the legacies and contemporary practices of critical theory, a branch of philosophy and the humanities that addresses central questions of subjectivity, making, and reception. These seminars aim to discover a working vocabulary to compare and discuss issues bridging the scholarly basis of critique and its everyday practices.

The seminars at Penn State and WAAC are based on the resources of the Boundary Language Project, initially sponsored by a Shogren Foundation Grant (NCSU) and has since been expanded through grants/fellowships from the University at Buffalo, LSU, University of Pennsylvania, WAAC (Virginia Tech.), and Penn State University. Boundary Language is a critical system accompanied by a graphic system deployed to explore the overlaps of architecture, film, landscape, literature, and the visual and performing arts. This collection includes full essays, short position papers, drafts, readings, and materials, many of them prepared for specific projects and contexts long vanished. There are redundancies and gaps. For questions about reproduction and re-circulation, contact the author, Donald Kunze. To explore this site go to specialized indices linked from sub-heads, or try Googling any topic followed by “art3idea.” For information directly related to workshops, go to the new Wix site, "boundary language."

The aim is to provide a framework for allowing conversations to develop and move in a variety of directions, supported by a common vocabulary of linked terms and ideas.

At WAAC, the Critique Seminar will be co-directed by Prof. Paul Emmons. The seminars will be sistered to a theory seminar and studio conducted by Claudio Sgarbi at Carleton University, Ottawa, and a workshop discussion will be held November 22–27 in Ottawa.


Two reviews stemming from "the cubic real" and "the binary" have taken up the matter of ethnography as a means of method and proof in humanistic research. Ethnography considers the relation between the sorites and polythetic sets in Vico's connection of the True and the Made. Ansatz! Urban Evolution, Hermetic Trade, and Ethnographic Method, in process, makes the connection between historical processes, ethnographic examples, and individual study methods. The second essay should be roughed out by November 11, in time for the next Alexandria seminar.

The first draft of the "Ashgate style" essay is due on the Friday before the US Thanksgiving holiday, November 20. Earlier submissions will have more chances for corrections of technical/formal issues. See below.


A silly assignment that provoked heart-felt and engaging results from the WAAC seminar: "construct a cube that represents this seminar for you." There were many cubes, many shapes, and many twists on the idea of the cube. All interesting. Emerging from the discussion however (this is the point of seminars) was the matter of what, in heaven's name, is the "cubic" in that a dimension of depth (or height) is added to our mainly two-dimensional "flesh interaction" with the world.

A new model came up — namely that within the Cartesian order of 1, 2, and 3 dimensions, a fourth dimension is inserted between 2 and 3, yielding 12\4/3. The fourth has to do with motion, interaction, muscular engagement, touch, "the act," and other forms of temporality. An "ethnographical proof" appears in the form of the rituals required by almost every culture for a house or larger building to be raised symbolically as the physical building is realized literally. The third dimension is a result, but the fourth dimension is required as a cause or observance.

A longer meditation on the issue is available in the essay, "the cubic Real," which ends by reflecting on the complex matter of two forms of Eros/jouissance … a matter that will/must be taken up in detail in the last days of the seminar. There is a lot crammed into this review, do not expect it to reach anything like crystal clarity. It is meant to provoke rather than settle.

MORE HARD WORK: this is a work-in-progress, but the question of khôra had to be addressed eventually; is this the "third kind," pure receptivity, as Plato described it in The Timæus, or is it a utopian condition that architects can achieve by being witty? It all has to do with that 12\4/3 issue of architecture always being in the need of ritual renewal. The Question in this review is … Who is Metis and how does She relate to sollertius? Read binary.


THE MATTER OF SORITES is central to the approach to the critique. Why? Because the critique does not order its materials. Rather, it is and must remain open to encounters. One thing "predicates" another and is in turn predicated by something else. Conversation begins in one place and takes off in unpredictable directions. Otherwise, the critique dies a horrible death of boredom, stricture, and repetition. Imagination turns into regulation, speculation is stiffled by fact-checking.

Sorites (an anagram for "stories") opens narrative to story-telling, speculation, and digression. The sorites is both a whole that is suddenly realized as parts gradually accumulate as well as a temporal movement that branches out from an initial key distinction. The master of fantasy, Lewis Carroll (Rev. Charles Dodson) used sorites to show off his non-Boolean logic — which, not coincidentally, begins with a quadration setting forth the permutations of relations between affirmatives and negatives (+/+, +/–, –/+, –/– … identical to Lacan's mathemes defining sexuation). Carroll's soriteses were idiotic collections of seemingly random associations, a kind of Finnegans Wake in 7 lines. Each association involves a predication of one term that is limited or contained by another. Symbolizing the sorites allows a negative to alter this container/contained relationship, and the British philosopher George Spencer-Brown simplified Carroll's symbolism so that the statements were immediately and visually evident. A process of reduction — cancelling out the predicating and predicated versions of each element reveals two elements that, unpaired, are joined to reveal the "answer" to the puzzle, emerging from the forest of seemingly random statements.

One of Carroll's most famous soriteses was about Amos Judd, whose strange neighborhood includes policemen who like to sup with the family cook, long-haired men who cannot fail but be poets, as long as they avoid jail, etc. etc. The "bottom line" of the Judd sorites is Amos's fondness for a certain menu item (you can discover this on your own). What goes past this silly exercise, however, happens when we look at the temporal dimension. An original statement (stage 1) leads to a reversal of each element, from positive to negative and negative to positive. As this happens, the converted element joins up with a new element in an appropriately positive or negative form (stage 2). The next step, stage 3, drops the original elements, keeps the previously added ones but inverts them (predicated to predicating or vice versa), and adds another set of new elements. This can on on for many steps, each conserving the previously added elements in inverted form and adding to them a new predicator or predicated.

No one has temporalized the sorites in this way before, but once it is done, our ersatz subsitution turns out to be a lucky guess, an ansatz move. We discover not just that the original predication works as a "hinge element," but that this hinge can be represented productively by some spatial element that, used in time, materializes both the idea of the hinge and sets up materializations for future predications in the sorites style.

These materializations allow us to corroborate our lucky guesswork with "ethnographic" evidence: folklore, mythology, popular culture, films, architecture, novel plots, etc. It's also lucky that the diagram that puts the hinge piece at top and the two legs of predication reversals stretching out left and right resembles some famous architecture where there is an identical form, function, and semantic/poetic function. Needless to say, the staircase in Joyce's story, "The Dead," is a "dead ringer" for the sorites template.

Review this introduction and film treatment (Hitchcock's Rear Window) to see the sorites in all its temporalized glory. With the emergence of the element, which relates to the "kenotic" knowledge of things we did not know we knew, comes a new way of seeing clinamen, tesseræ, and apophrades. Needless to say, the dynamic retreat and advance of askesis (in all its architectural glory) and dæmon (with all its erotic potentiality/fear), falls in place suddenly and provocatively.

Amos Judd

Amos Judd Goes to the Movies: Rear Window


Those WAAC-y folks suggested that, if we are having a seminar on "Critique!" we might start with a critique of something. Thoughts were: a novel? a film? a poem? All of these were good but the group concurred with Luc Phinney's suggestion of "The Dead," a short story by James Joyce, published in the collection, Dubliners, 1914. 

The luck of this is that there is also an excellent film made from the story, quite close to the story and its language and sensibilities, John Huston's The Dead  (1987). 

This embarrassment of riches is topped off by a series of topics that fit right in to our starter theme of the "Rumsfeld Categories of Knowledge." Although we were going directly into the somewhat difficult topic of sorites (see the web site), we can use this story and the film to talk about predications, reversed predications, and the function of occultation in the process of binary signification. Sound like gooble-dy-gook? Yes of course, that's critical theory for you, but "The Dead" will make the medicine go down rather easily.

Mainly, it allows us to put our money where our mouth is — to use the "ersatz to ansatz" technique of trying something with no particular rhyme or reason to see if we can "get lucky." Our bet is that we can find all the ideas we want to talk about embedded inside this story and its references. First of all, we get lucky with the idea of epiphany, one of the goal-ideas of the seminar — i.e. to know what this means and means for us. The party that is the main scene of "The Dead" takes place on Twelfth Night, the 'feast of the epiphany'. Epiphany is "discovery," but we already know we are talking about not the discovery of some piece of bland information but a revelation on the level of kenosis, that "knowing without knowing" that connects us all the way back to shamanistic lore.

The main character, furthermore, is named "Gabriel," like the angel who announces to the Virgin Mary that she carries the child of God. We are off and running. Gabriel, a scholarly, well respected relation of the Morkan sisters, whom he compares (along with their niece Mary Jane) "the three graces," a reference to the classical trio who, in other guises, are also the three Fates. The POV shifts from the maid Lily's frustration at taking care of the arriving guests gradually to Gabriel, who is to give a speech at dinner. This takes us to the heartland of other dinner speeches — not the least of which is Simonides' praise for Scopus and the Twin Gods, the Dioscuri. But, a more local reference is another film made from a short story, Babette's Feast. We will watch this film in conjunction with Huston's The Dead, if only to wait for the beautiful dinner speech at the end.

Head into the Joyce short story in all of its forms. There is an online text; a great reading of this text, and a film clip, the scene of Gabriel and his wife Greta standing on the stair before they leave, caught by a song being sung upstairs that makes Greta remember a boy who loved her when they were both very young (Michael Fury), but who had died from tuberculosis. Death drenches the film, but we must take heart. We can see some important global themes if we stick with the uncanny aspect of death, that there is always an element of life; just as in life there is, at the center of things, an inscribed presence of death. Read the Ernst Jentsch essay to get the gist of this.


One bit of luck with the suggestion of "The Dead" as a central project for the seminar is that Joyce used the idea of epiphany to generate literary ideas. The party described in the story takes place on the Feast of the Epiphany, the 12th Night of Christmas, about which there is much tradition, both in Christian lore and pre-Christian folk-lore. Epiphany is also a sudden revelation, the kind that art of all kinds depends on critically. Epiphany itself involves "ersatz," and its model in antiquity is divination, its place in antiquity is the hearth, ruled by Hestia and her priestesses, the mother and daughters of the family. As if this weren't enough of a treasury of clues, the hearth was always kept invisible from the gaze of strangers, and in "The Dead" we have some fine mediations of visible/invisible, speech/gibberish, noise/silence, comment/rebuke, and other back-and-forth transactions that are epitomized by the dances of the guests. Also, we remember that "host" in Latin has the meanings of both hospitable and hostile, just as "host" is also close to "ghost." Voilà!

The sage Giambattista Vico, a scholar of divination if there ever was one, tells us about four kinds of knowers, matching up to the Rumsfeld list. There is the fool, who neither knows higher truths or pays attention to details. There is the "learned ignoramus" who pays attention only to the higher truths, ignoring details. Then, just as bad, is the "learned person destitute of prudence," who tries to deduce the "lower truths" (details) from the higher ones. The sage, in contrast, deduces the higher truths from the most menial details of life. Just so did James Joyce take copious notes of things happening around him, not allowing any thematizing until things began to fall into place of their own accord.

Thus, the story "The Dead" seems to be realistic fiction of the kind Zola popularized until we realize that Zola was headed in a Positivist-determinativistic direction while Joyce aimed at epiphany. Where Zola sought one cause to explain many effects, Vico sought to find as many causes as possible for any single effect — the principle of polysemy (multiple, layered meanings). Polysemy in thought is like polyphony in music: dependent on counterpoint, whose other name is chiasmus. Don't lose sight of the ploy of the sage, which is, as Vico advises in On the Study Methods of Our Times (1708–1709), manages to "follow a roundabout way whenever he cannot travel in a straight line."

Want more about Vico: try this and that. Or even this.



Maintain a (more-or-less) daily "zairja," an intellectual diary that adds a new idea, from dreams, daydreaming, readings, or any thoughts to a notebook whose at-first blank pages offer at least 2 pages to a topic of your choice. The topics form a list of things you are interested in, a map of your present concerns. When you enter in the new topic, randomly pick the point of entry, and write an "accommodation" of the new idea to the pre-set topic. The accommodation can be some connection of the new idea to the randomly picked topic, a new aspect that the new idea has uncovered, or a statement about the lack of a relationship.

Take that accommodation to TWO more randomly chosen pages and accommodate the accommodations. Repeat daily until the end of the semester. We will discuss the results. For background on the zairja, refer to the website.


The Architecture 511 seminar will undertake a snooping exercise based on topics chosen from a list of the "Bloom Set." Snoopers may work in pairs or larger groups, or investigate a topic not on the list. With luck, the results could produce a topic suitable for development in the final required essay. WAAC seminar members have "kinda" agreed to serve as informal consultants on this for the PSU group.


Write (at least a part of) an essay to be submitted to Ashgate Press, edited by D. Kunze, in a collection entitled "Joyce and Architecture: Perspectives on the Structure of Epiphany."

You must follow the Ashgate Humanities style book exactly, with the aid of instructions from the editor. You must involve at least one idea from the seminar's list of topics (or an allowable extension of one of these topics). You can take your essay in any direction, but it must deal with the text and/or film of the story.

You chance of survival improves if you work collaboratively with other authors included in this selection, at your own or the other campus. Share your ideas, others may repay you generously and give you what you need.

The first draft of the essay is due before the Thanksgiving holiday week (Friday, November 20). One point off final grade for each day late. These first drafts will be edited by the editor, D. Kunze, and returned by Thursday, December 3. Authors have until December 10 to turn in the final drafts, which must be final. Each error results in a point, but only text form will be graded, not content. That will be "your reward" — to have come up with a better idea than you ought to have, thanks to the discussions and controversies of the seminar.

The point of this method of evaluation is to insure that you will be free to write and talk freely, within the frame of the course and its topics and main source, Joyce's "The Dead." In effect, you can have an idiotic essay (hopefully in the right sense) as long as it relates the story and our reception of it to the topics.


Readings will vary from class to class; most will be posted on this web site.

SEMINAR INFORMATION: syllabusreading list • psu schedule • psu classlist • waac schedule • waac classlist

SEMINAR TERMS AND IDEAS: critical languagepavel florensky and james joyce

SORITES ANALYSIS: sorites 1sorites 2sorites 3sorites 4

SUPPLEMENTS: lucid dreaming and beyondnegationarchitecture education todaybetween the two frames

POSITION PAPERS: deductive binariesendtimes: Lacan, Vico, and others

PROJECTS/EVENTS: zairjaresearch assignment • workshop in ottawa • claudio sgarbi visit • alexandria hook-ups

button LINKS

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, "The Queer Feet" (1910).

This short story features a fictional character modeled after the Catholic priest who was instrumental in Chesterton's conversion to Catholicism. The priest, who is exposed to sin of all kinds in the confessional, develops a professional interest and becomes involved in solving crimes. He is called to the Vernon Hotel, where an Italian-Catholic waiter is dying. The hotel is presently hosting an annual event, a banquet of The Twelve True Fishermen, whose use of a bejeweled set of fish-knives has attracted the master thief Flambeau. Dressed in formal clothes, Flambeau looks like a guest and a waiter, but must adjust his gait and gestures to look like a guest when approaching waiters and a waiter when approaching guests, preserving his anonymity with both groups. Brown is given a vestibule in the cloak room adjacent to the hotel corridor where guests and waiters circulate between the kitchen and dining room. He notices the sound of a pair of squeeky shoes is slow in one direction, quick in another. He deduces that the wearer of the shoes wishes to appear to be a waiter when walking in one direction (towards guests) but puts on the casual swagger of a guest when facing a group of waiters. He then realizes that the disguise (formal dress) is perfect as long as each group thinks the wearer belongs to the other group — a perfect chaismus. Father Brown apprehends Flambeau before he can leave the hotel, concerned to save the thief's soul rather than apprehend him legally. This story demonstrates the role of "intransitive" space, where dimensions change with a change in direction.

Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium

This book is based on a series of lectures written by Italo Calvino for the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard, but never delivered as Calvino died before leaving Italy. The lectures were originally written in Italian and translated by Patrick Creagh. The lectures were to be given in the fall of 1985, and Memos was published in 1988. The memos are lectures on the values of literature which Calvino felt were important for the coming millennium. At the time of his death Calvino had finished all but the last lecture. [Wikipedia]

Edgar Allan Poe, "The Purloined Letter"

This important study text sets up many themes for the seminar: occultation, "lambda" design, chirality, chiasmus, anamorphosis, body loading, super-symmetry … Poe was a genius at cyphers and was able to structure chiasmatic cross-overs "on the run." As the story says, "It was an odd evening"! "The Purloined Letter" is the third of his three detective stories featuring the fictional C. Auguste Dupin, the other two being "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt". These stories are considered to be important early forerunners of the modern detective story. It first appeared in the literary annual The Gift for 1845 (1844) and was soon reprinted in numerous journals and newspapers. [Wikipedia]

Slavoj Zizek, Looking Awry

This is one of Zizek's early classics, with ideas developed later in Parallax View and his books on Hegel. This is a good introduction to this master of critique. Thanks to Ezgi Isbilen for digging this up. Even though it's missing 30 pages we can still glean a lot. And, yes, this difficult English word is pronounced uh-WRY'.

Edward Hussey, The Presocratics

Hussey gives a good account of the complexities lying within the fragments of Heraclitus's case for "everything flows." This is our source for thinking about the distinction between two fundamental contrasting ideas of time, palintropos (alternation) and palintonos (tension). Neither is exactly what they seem.

Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny (1919)

Ernst Jentsch, "On the Psychology of the Uncanny (1906)

Henry Johnstone, "Odysseus as Traveler: A Categorial Study"

Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, vol. 3, The Phenomenology of Language

Many who have not run across Cassirer before are surprised to find has accounts "more contemporary than they ought to be." Cassirer, one of the Warburg group before its move from Hamburg to London, sifted through evidence from ethnographers, explorers, linguists, neurologists, philosophers, and many others to create a true overview of human subjectivity from the ground up.

Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges,The Ancient City (1864)

It was at Strasbourg that Fuetel de Coulanges published his remarkable volume La Cité antique, in which he showed forcibly the part played by religion in the political and social evolution of Greece and Rome. The book was so consistent throughout, so full of ingenious ideas, and written in so striking a style, that it ranks as one of the masterpieces of the French language in the 19th century. By this literary merit Fustel set little store, but he clung tenaciously to his theories. When he revised the book in 1875, his modifications were very slight, and it is conceivable that, had he recast it, as he often expressed the desire to do in the last years of his life, he would not have abandoned any part of his fundamental thesis. Scholars today typically dismiss Fustel's conjectures but have missed the general patterns.

Nicole Loraux, The Divided City (2002)

This book offers elegant interpretations of the intersection between conflict, "the political," and voluntary forgetting. Loraux considers the post-oligarchic Athenian amnesty of 403 in light of decades of previous Greek thought on stasis, concluding that at this point in history Athens was founded anew by purposeful obliviousness to the political divisions that had become natural within the city. For Loraux, being truly "political" in the Athenian sense thus involves willful forgetting after both defeat and victory, as the construction of an altar to Lethe in the Erechtheion, the site of the original quarrel and reconciliation between Athena and Poseidon, attests. [Bryn Mawr Classical Review]

Maurice Merleau-Ponty,The Visible and the Invisible

This is the French Phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty's last unfinished work, a masterpiece, wherein we are treated to such original ideas as "wild being," "the flesh of the world," and "the chiasm." Large file.

W. J. Urban, "Sexuated Topology and the Suspension of Meaning: A Non-Hermenutical Phenomenological Approach to Textual Analysis," Ph.D. dissertation, York University, Toronto, 2014.

Complex, engaging, and insightful! (As if you didn't need more to read!)


The Zairja (link to the boundary language web site; see also the local link)

The aim of any critique is the ideal of “unlimited semiosis” — fundamentally, how to think about relationships linking any set of conditions, ideas, events, or operators, so that this relating becomes a means of thinking. Unlimited semiosis contributes to public discourse, but the “centripetal” value to the thinker is even greater. Metalepsis allows the consideration of relations to serve as a kind of artificial intelligence, a “topical machine,” able to experiment, speculate, and discover. The “unlimited” component of unlimited predication is not an authoritative encyclopedia for others but, rather, a private device for generating a white noise that amplifies weak signals to a level where they may be excavated from an anonymous background.

The idea of a metaleptic thinking machine draws from the tradition of the ancient zairja (ةجرياز), an actual device that existed and was described by Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406), the Tunisian–Andalusian historiographer and economist. It is likely that the Catalan mystic Ramon Llull (1232–1315) contributed to or was influenced by the astrology of the zairja. How the zairjas worked is not entirely clear, except that the main aim was not to clarify thought but to confuse it. Combinatorial diagrams cross-pollinated ideas so that their inner forms became visible. An “agutezza” figured as (Stoic) animus was distilled and extracted.

A modern text-based zairja can be made by creating a list of topics (20-30), each of which takes up two or four pages in a notebook. Each day, a topic is chosen — based on a hunch, a dream, or the previous day's work — and a random page is chosen to add the topic to another on the list, accommodating the topic to the randomly chosen one. The result is carried forward to another randomly chosen page, then a third. The process can be done individually or in groups, with "players" sharing topics and topic mergers.

The seminars will begin by taking the first steps to create individual zairjas — setting up notebooks, trying out a small-scale version, etc. Actual zairja notebooks will begin when the seminars begin to add terms from their study of the critique.