A Rambling Introduction
I have at one time thought of architecture as the construction of order from chaos. That by creating order we made something legible to the human under-mind of pattern recognition, that surrounded by patterns we sat in the lap of “a world completely absorbed and possessed by the human mind” to borrow a quote, out of context, from Northrope Frye. I remember seeing this passage from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, as epitomizing the lost-ness of an unbuilt world:
“Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest...you lost your way on that river as you would in the desert...till you thought yourself bewitched and cut off forever from everything you had ever known once—somewhere—far away in another existence perhaps. There were moments when one’s past came back to one...but it came in the shape of an unrestful and noisy dream, remembered with wonder amongst the overwhelming realities of this strange world of plants, and water, and silence. And this stillness of life did not in the least resemble a peace, it was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention. It looked at you with a vengeful aspect.”
That outside of world, one would no doubt find loneliness, a horrible silence, dis-recognition. But that thinking has very much changed. My grandma is in her late eighties, and last year she broke her leg. She was an avid gardener, she spent time disposing and pulling weeds. Now that she spends a good amount of time in her bed, next to her window, she can’t get out there and pull the weeds that grow. I called her last week to chat, and I noticed that her words kept wandering back to what was outside of her window. She kept talking about how tall the trees are, about how she’s noticed that bunnies will come and take shelter under the weeds as they graze in the lawn. I often feel guilty that I don’t spend more time with her at the end of her life. I can only imagine how terrible it would be to be so alone and inactive day to day. But she has come to it with so much grace, and I am very grateful to the trees and plants and animals outside her window because they seem to be keeping her in a type of company that I can’t.
I think now would be a fair time to expand the context of that earlier Frye quote:
“[The poet] uses these two crude, primitive, archaic forms of thought [metaphor and analogy] in the most uninhibited way, because his job is not to describe nature, but to show you a world completely absorbed and possessed by the human mind… The motive for metaphor is a desire to associate, and finally to identify, the human mind with what goes on outside it, because the only genuine joy you can have is in those rare moments when you feel that although we may know in part, we are also part of what we know.”
Is there someone there, outside the window sill, who watches my grandma back? Or does she just project companionship onto what's out there? Does she, as a poet, imbue the world with human mind? “Human”, “Human mind,” “Human meanings” and expressions of “Human Footings”? I came to this idea, of the innate hostility–both mortal and symbolic–of the unbuilt world, as the Outside from which we carve out the interiority of worlding, by thinking. But what thinking cannot solve, life lives through.
From James Hillman’s Healing Fictions:
“Antithetical thinking… which works according to the principle of opposites… The mind sets up opposite poles, and these guiding fictions determine how we experience. Antithesis divides the world sharply.”
“Oppositional thinking itself is a pampering safeguard against the true reality of the world, which is Adler’s view is one of shaded differentiations and not oppositions. For him, to think that abstract opposites reflect reality is to think neurotically”.
That O-so neat opposition I had tried to set up: the construction of order from chaos, I’m hoping to mess it up. I have been thinking of some other designations, to sit alongside World, such as Anti-worlds and perhaps Un-worlds. What I would call, for now, an anti-world, I’d like to flesh out further in the future. I don’t think that an anti-world is the natural ur-state, but I do think it is uninformed and chaotic. My initial hunch is that we are encountering anti-worlds more and more as we design representations of values that are neither specifically natural nor human, but Ahrimanic (in the Steinerian sense), which is to say relating to the force of the materialistic and objectified. I think that there is something uncanny to endless rows of cubicles, to blank faces of glass towers, to the emergence of forms called ‘screens’ (so unlike it’s probable antecedent, the veil), that builds anti-worlds which resound back to our subjectivities as detachment.