Best thing read this week:
It's a TIE! First winner: Learning from Las Vegas by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown (the architects of Frist and Wu dining hall). Venturi is also called, in some circles "the father of postmodernism" and it feels this way (very Baudrillian, filled with irony, musings about pleasure spaces and reveling in low culture which is always rooted in high culture anyway) This book is basically about how "ugly and ordinary" architecture is way better than Modernist-wanna be architects of the 60s and 70s who can't give up the dream and keep using industrial architectural vernacular when its tired and uninteresting and "too beautiful" to be interesting any more. Apparently, le corb. and Gropius and crew were inspired by the BACKS of roman cathedrals and train stations and this is where they got their pared down aesthetics. So Venturi is trying to say that decoration and ornamentation on top of plain architecture is what the Romans did and we see it in the Las Vegas strip of the 1970s. This is the decorated shed technique which should trump what he calls "duck architecture"--the building in the shape of a duck which is both sign and building and modernist too boot.
The description of the strip is beautiful and analytical and lovely and makes me want to go there very much. The charts are a riot as well. Architectural writing might be my favorite. The manifesto definitely has not died. Also, he has really smart things to say about symbolism which you poetry people might be interested. And he opens the sections of his books with quotes from Wallace Stevens and Eliot to highlight his desire for more "literary buildings"
Quote from Venturi:
"The order of the Strip includes; it includes at all levels, from the mixture of seemingly incongruous land uses to the mixture of seemingly incongruous advertising media plus a system of neo-Organic or neo-Wrightian restaurant motifs in Walnut Formica. It is not an order dominated by the expert and made easy for the eye. The moving eye in the moving body must work to pick out and interpret a variety of changing juxtaposed orders…it is the unity that 'maintains, bu tonly maintains, a control over the clashing elements which compose it. Chaos is very near; its nearness, but its avoidance, gives…force.' "
Second best text: Nella Larsen's Passing. It's not at all sentimental! I was prepared for a dripping book of tears and anguish and troubled mulattresses. That's there, but it's more about lesbian desire and mutilated bodies and noir-ish guilt. Larsen's writing is amazing and I think the book is a response to Mrs. Dalloway (there's a scene where the protagonist goes to buy flowers for a party, while she's having murderous thoughts about her sexual love/rival. It's great!)
Runner Up: Brent Edwards, Practice of Diaspora. Beautiful writing, inspiring ideas (I mean, thought-process changing thoughts, genre-rethinking thoughts...its great)
Loser for the week: Cambridge Companion to Modernism
It sucks. it's too long for being so empty of content or any real statements worth anything. Shame, cause I really enjoyed the Cambridge Companion to American Modernism. (Oh, and I found a copy of the Cambridge Companion to Lacan in the trash today! SCORE!)
Okay, i'm not proofreading this so if it doesn't make sense, whatevs.