The Archaeology Of Surfaces, or What Is Left Moment To Moment, or I Can't Get Over It

"... an event is the arrival of something we can't get over, which does not leave us the same."(1)

"In the 'Manifesto [of Surrealism]' Breton alludes to [an] uncanny image sphere in terms of the nonsynchronous: "The marvellous is not the same in every period: it partakes in some obscure way of a sort of general revelation only the fragments of which come down to us: they are the romantic ruins, the modern mannequin." These image fragments may be "residues of a dream world," as Benjamin calls them, but the surrealists did not wish to remain asleep in it, as he sometimes stated: they too sought to use these outmoded images to awaken this world."(2)

Gerald Murnane's writes in The Plains:

"Twenty years ago, when I first arrived on the plains, I kept my eyes open. I looked for anything in the landscape that seemed to hint at some elaborate meaning behind appearances."(3)


"A composer explained that all his tone-poems and symphonic sketches had been conceived and written within a few miles of his birthplace in one of the least populous quarters of the plains. He was trying to find the musical equivalent of the characteristic sound of his district. Strangers commented on the utter silence of the place, but the composer spoke of a subtle blend of sounds that most people habitually failed to hear."(4)

There are two small personal stories I'd like to tell:

1. Twenty years ago I spent some time in the Himalayas. I was fortunate enough to trek for a few days in Nepal. The mountain landscape is relentlessly spectacular. Gradually though this 'beauty' became unbearable - I thought that if I rounded one more corner to see yet another exquisite (and I refrain from writing 'sublime') scene I would vomit. I was, in effect, choked up. Soon after thinking this I was walking along a high track with the mountain wall on my right and a sheer drop on my left; the track was winding slowly downward. Suddenly, the edge of the track gave way, and I began to slide down into the void of a vista. Although I was with a group, at that moment I was alone, no-one in sight before or behind me - just their distant voices. I did not fall too far, and was able to scramble back onto the track. I think of that moment often; of the possibility of sinking into the beautiful landscape and disappearing forever, and that my attention to my own inability to take-in, or pay attention to, the gift of the 'spectacle', was an inattention to its real (and present) structure, in this case to the conditions of the earth and plants and horizontals and verticals. I think of it as 'beauty' almost-killing me for my lack of respect for how it came, how it continually comes, to appear as it does.

2. Recently I taught in North Cyprus. I arrived at night in the city of Famagusta. In the morning I looked out of my bedroom window to see what appeared to me as a place of rubble, rubbish, and unfinished buildings. Houses had thin steel poles sticking out of the roofs, twisted and rusting, as if construction had just stopped, or enough was good enough. There were large concrete architectural skeletons everywhere, abandoned, waiting. Grey and hard. Everything seemed slapped-up, incomplete, brutal. Soon though bits and pieces of 'local knowledge' came to me, incidentally, accidentally. Houses are deliberately left to appear unfinished, as rates and taxes are higher on finished places. The money for shopping complexes and apartments can simply dry-up for various and unforeseen reasons. There are few enforced planning regulations. Some apartment blocks are only worked on at night after the itinerant workers have finished on other building sites. Their geometries are creative. Adjusting sight to the conditions of a place in a perilous political situation took time. Beauty is not a priority. And yet those skeletons were ghostly soft in a certain light, and the steel poles took on a sense of poetic resistance. This city was once the richest in the world. All that appears now sits amongst extraordinary archaeological sites - ruined gothic cathedrals, Venetian palaces, monasteries, orthodox churches. I was simultaneously looking at a ruination of the present, and the ruination of the ruins of a fabulous past; there is no public money to conserve or preserve.

What follows, in 'Passing' is a type of sketch or diagram. The sketch or diagram in architectural studies is, in itself, a topic or practice. Often the entire building comes potentially into existence from one or two quick lines on a scrap of paper. The process of design produces countless scratchy, beautiful, shapes, together with odd phrases, lists of words, references, reflections. Steven Holl makes small watercolours. Eileen Gray's famous house E1027 was not only the house itself, but a particular way of bringing it about as sketches, plans, colours, floor rugs, wall hangings, furniture, writing - and how these could combine to nourish the thinking body. Daniel Lebeskind's diagrams/drawings for the Jewish Museum in Berlin are complex and layered, historically, culturally, and philosophically. And John Hejduk's architecture was primarily paper-architecture. A poetic, humane, place-making approach to the isolation and loneliness of being-alive - a way of recovering ideas and thoughts: "Through his drawings, Hejduk brings speculation into the realm of practice and practice into the realm of speculation."(5) Sketches and diagrams in architecture seem to work toward, or approach, the surfaces of language. What I imagine doing is the other way round: work language/writing toward, or approach, the surfaces of sketches and diagrams, in a manner of speaking.

In her book Pleasure of Ruins, first published in 1953, Rose Macaulay writes this about the city Famagusta in North Cyprus: "In ... Famagusta ruined Latin and Greek churches crowd together among Gothic cathedrals now mosques, escutcheoned palaces now offices, medieval chapter houses now garages, a Turkish market house once a Greek cathedral, its rich carved doorway facing the Latin St Sophia across the road. ... Famagusta is a city of ruins in hiding, ruins restored, the glory and the luxury ... broken to pieces or disguised. Many of the Gothic churches are now mosques ... All about lie ruined palaces and the houses of chevaliers, set with Lusignan and Venetian coats of arms, strewn with broken fragments of classical friezes, Gothic columns rising out of classical drums. The massive citadel wall encloses the old town - an exquisite group of tawny Gothic churches, set about with palms in an arcaded square, a few Turkish streets. Odd bits of carved and inscribed Greek stones are set in medieval and modern houses or lie foundered in Famagusta Bay ..."(6)

When space is abandoned, space remains. Built forms persist. In ruin they remain as remains. And are moving and sometimes, with time, romantic. New ruins are continually being made -- deliberately neglectfully, politically, financially. There are abandonings of infinite minuteness; and sentences that have to cope, to attempt to voice (or attend) such smallness, and inevitably such bigness. The 'world' can, and has, turned its back on people and places. Still, writing is written; and that writing 'is', and is continually done, is an outcome, 'is' an issue, is always a shape and an 'event' which is of another order or shape or mis-shape: impossible, possible, done, undone, just, unjust, declamatory, doubtful. Abandonment evokes the impossible. Abandonment is, in the first instance, an 'impossible' (unbelievable) thought. And then it happens. There's no way, no pattern, or model, or template, to write 'abandonment, as there are facets, facades, fractures, fragments, filaments, filings, a thousand approaches, passages, thresholds, all without knowable or definable borders, and which are all to some extend, and at the same time out-of-bounds. The voice, or attention, then is myriad and conflictual and everlasting, and offers just the slightest means of consolation, in other-words, a field of reading, places where others speak. Abandonment (or the 'desert', as a possible description, or ambience) might be an offering ... a giving or tolerance in the realm of faith, a durable, durational, act of surfacing, a coming to the surface, of time, a kind of visible haunting.

The ruin, at every moment, is a site of beginning, as at any/every moment it is replete with memory, with the possibility and potential to reveal, to give-way to thought and speech, and speculation and writing.

The ruin is a 'baroque', convoluted, compressed story, which, as Paul Carter described the 'value' of the city, is "... eternally, unresolved, surprising, [and] in the end unknowable ...".(7)

Here my interest is in what 'appears'; what appearance is (and how to approach appearance (8); what the surface is, and how surface itself is abandoned (for the idea of depth), and how surface is a site of an abandonment of attention. I am drawn to the beauty of the unsightly, or what might be termed 'the unsightly', or what in its 'unsightliness' or unsightedness is ignored or passed over, or by, and that asks for nothing. A threadbareness. And which being in sight, available to sight, is not unsightly, or unavailable to sight; in other words, is a site for seeing, for staring, and for what, in Elaine Scarry words, could be "an impulse for begetting"; or in Gregory Ulmer's words, could be a place which begins "a writing ... that produces "understanding without representation", or could be a space for what Jean Luc-Nancy thinks of as 'transformation' (or praxis, an action, a thought that might let sense "carry it away, ever one step more, beyond signification and interpretation").(9) And I am interested in how 'beauty' is thought. Elaine Scarry in On Beauty and Being Just comes toward the end of her book - which looks at how in the humanities 'beauty' (and I would say 'love' too) has been argued against - to the subject of 'aliveness' and the moments when we see something beautiful. She writes: "The surfaces of the world are aesthetically uneven. You come around a bend in the road, and the world suddenly falls open; you continue on around another bend, and go back to your conversation, until you are once more interrupted by the high bank of radiant meadow grass rising steeply beside the road. The same happens when you move through a sea of faces at the railroad station or rush down the aisle of a crowded lecture hall. Or you may be sweeping the garden bricks at home, attending with full scrutiny to each square inch of their mauve-orange-blue surfaces (for how else can you sweep them clean?); then suddenly a tiny mauve-orange-blue triangle, with a silver sheen, lifts off from the sand between the bricks where it had been sleepily camouflaged until the air currents disturbed it. It flutters in the air, then settles back down on the brick, demure, closed-winged, a triangle this big: ∆ Why should this tiny fragment of flying brick-colour stop your heart? Folded into the uneven aesthetic surfaces of the world is a pressure toward social equality. It comes from the object's symmetry, from the corrective pressure it exerts against lateral disregard, and from its own generous availability to sensory perception."(10)

My concern with abandonment and surface goes back a long way. It comes from my reading of two fiction writers, Marguerite Duras and Clarice Lispector whose entire writing seems to be about the surfaces of abandonments, about wrecks, wounds, distress, trauma. In my doctoral thesis I wrote about the abandonment of one woman and how matters-on-the-surface implicated her, and as a result she was executed. What all of this comes down to is story, the way we tell ourselves and others of ourselves and of the world. What Jean-Luc Nancy calls, ordinarily, 'sense'.

In Duras's and Lispector's novels it is 'abandonment' that sets off the narrative.

In Duras's novel The Ravishment of Lol Stein "the narrator [to reconstruct the tale of abandonment] evokes one of the fundamental tensions in [her] work, that between the atemporality of intense visual experience (the memory of a bewitching summer dance where she was abandoned by her fiancé for another woman, a stranger), and the will to historicise and represent that experience in narration."(11) This could be how writing tries, in this instance, to bring to the surface the appearance of the abandonment as a now imagined surface, and a surface nevertheless. The story stays with the surface; the surface is told as infinitely intense, as if already its depth is dense, and replete, and as if, as well, the surface is the surface of another surface. For example: "[O]f the many aspects of the dance ... it's the end that fascinates Lol ... the very moment of her end when the dawn arrives with a startling brutality and separates her forever, forever, from the couple ... Lol moves forward daily in the reconstitution of this event. She is even able to capture its lightening rapidity, to slow it down, spread it out, entrap the seconds in a fragile immobility, which is, for her, of infinite grace. She walks through it again and sees more and more clearly what she wants to see. She reconstitutes the end of the world."(12)

In the novel The Stream of Life, Lispector attempts to write the surface of the present, moment to moment, to take what is given 'now': "Let me tell you ... I'm trying to capture the fourth dimension of the now-instant, which is so fleeting it no longer is because it has already become a new now-instant, which also is no longer. Each thing has an instant in which it is. I want to take possession of the thing's is. Those instants that elapse in the air I breathe: in fireworks exploding silently in space."(13)

This, what I am calling an archaeology of surfaces, is about looking at what 'is' in the built (and unbuilt) environment, as it 'is', as it endures in time, and as it comes to be with time. These surfaces are everywhere and have no special or particular quality, and are as much about juxtaposition, or in-company, as they are about themselves. What they offer up, in terms of the appearance of the world, is an otherly ghostly (fleshy) presence that is a remembrance of neglect, disrepair, isolation, forgetfulness, destruction; and yet the presence and remembrance also of care, repair, remembering, constructing, hoping, loving. Things falls apart. And there they are. They are as they are, and they are terrible, and we either allow them to be, conserve and preserve them (call them heritage, romantize them, give them holy status), or raze them.

Abandon means to leave, to leave free, to give up, yield, to desert (to be in the desert) or to forsake, to surrender oneself unreservedly, to wholly give up to wickedness.

The word 'abandon' goes back to the fragment 'ban', and to the Middle English word 'bannen' meaning to summon or curse, and to the Old Norse word 'bann' meaning "a public prohibition", and then to the Middle English 'banishen' meaning "to banish"; I like the Italian connection, the word 'bandito', which turns up as "an outlaw" and the Old French 'ban' whose adjective is 'banal', meaning "merely obligatory, perfunctory ... commonplace, trite". With the inner bit 'ban' (from 'abandon') we have both ordinary and contraband. The 'abandoned' becomes perhaps the common-'contrabanded', which carries within it, alongside it, thoughts of elimination or removal. (14)

Archaeology is the study of antiquities, artefacts, remains, the material and immaterial culture of what was and went before us, before what we think of as the present, here where we find ourselves. I'm taking the 'surfaces' of the built environment as artefactual 'appearances', or as artefactual planes (provided by human acts, worked upon by time)' taking the surfaces as they are, as present and visible, as cultural material within (held while in-passing) the living tenor of life now; they are infinitely between states (they are not, in this context, out of sight, or having to be dug-up; they are remains acting in the everyday; they are placed, and of a place) and in their place are not objects (as artefacts are generally thought) but fields of substance, events, styles, colours, changes. (They are not metaphoric landscapes (examples), for example. These surfaces become marked, written on, damaged (inscribed) - they are literal (and imaginative) borders, barriers, limits which encounter the literal (and imaginative) human body and the literal (and imaginative) body of the world - its weather, time, social/civic practices, violence (and their excesses). The bodies wear themselves upon each other. And over time these 'wearings' become, slowly, forms of writing, raising the question: how then can writing (words) come to be another surface amongst surfaces, without being descriptive, interpretive, analogous; how can writing be a-representational. The use of the word 'archaeology' in this architectural research relates to recent trends in archaeological research: "' ... in the last half century, [archaeology's methods were enriched by the study of what might be called the by-products of excavation: small animal and vegetal debris, modest traces of the passage of man. Finally the sediments themselves, this veil which the old archaeologist moved out of his way as quickly as possible, have become an important source of information."(15) [The focus becomes transformations, and these are] "... not limited to the construction process. They also encompass the 'unmaking' of things: the wear and tear of objects and their eventual disposal, for instance, as well as processes of decomposition, compacting and erosion. Architects and constructors are given an infinitely humbler role, in scenarios primarily concerned with 'the operations of living systems, all of which are dynamic, "flow-through systems, in which energy is captured and its potential reduced. ... The archaeological record must therefore be viewed as matter transposed and organized during the process of energy use and entropy production.'"(16)

Several years ago I was walking along a street in Valencia with a Spanish friend who is a conservator of ancient artefacts. We were in the centre of the city and passing what seemed to be a fenced-off construction site. A site where a new building might be going up. The fence was wire and lined with hessein. We stopped where there was a hole in the fence, to see what was going on. It took a moment to figure out what the group of people sitting on the ground and standing around several metres below us were doing. It was an archaeological dig and a human skeleton was being painstakingly extracted from the yellow earth with fine scraping tools and brushes. As each bone was revealed it was photographed in context and sketched before being removed and placed in a container. It was a compelling event, and the first time I'd considered human remains as artefacts, as a gathering of fragments from which to construct stories, histories, understandings, and that the being whose living was far back in time, and who is unearthed knowingly or by chance, is beautiful, mysterious, and evidential. That in being unearthed it is, and bears within it, in its death and continual ruin, an inscrutable witnessing. It possesses the unknown. Abandoned, buried, in time, it remains as remains, to haunt, to offer up, in a state of complete or replete vulnerability, haunting itself. It was being taken apart (de-composed) to be put together (re-composed) somewhere it could never have imagined itself in its wildest dreams, where its wildest dreams could not ever be touched upon, but where they might come to be re-imagined. The remains, in their haunting, were giving, or opening, a space for thought and a dreaming of past presence.

In North Cyprus I was teaching in a Department of Archaeology and Art History. I found myself in the midst of a country that is, in its entirety, an archaeological site, or an 'open-museum', and in the company of people whose work it is to deal with and make sense of remains. One archaeologist in particular, a Canadian, whose speciality is zoology, and whose office was next to mine, connected me back to bones. Every trip to the fields or beach or mountains, yielded bones of some sort. Importantly to her though was how to keep the possibilities of the bone's sense open. That is, it could be named, and dated, but the why, how, and wherefore of it, its event in the world was what the work, for her, was about. So that everyday life became the what-if and yes-but and then-what of stories. And the telling of the same event, or artefact, from as many possible aspects or views or opinions or facts as could be gathered. Every single bone became an endless work of conversation.

I was living in the city of Famagusta; it has a population of about 30,000, which increases by between 12-20,000 with foreign students during the academic year. The city has three distinct areas: the Old City, a walled Venetian city, perhaps dating from 285BC; the outskirts of the Old City, where most people live; and Maras or Varosha, a large suburb on the beach which was abandoned by its mainly Greek-Cypriot citizens in 1974 (the year of the last conflict) and remains fenced off, guarded and used by the Turkish military, with local people having access to one small beach. It's a ghost town that butts right up to Palm Beach, a popular tourist spot. You can sit on the beach, sips drink on the hotel patio, and look at the apartment blocks with their scars of shelling and at the natural decay and ruin slowly happening. Everything was left behind, all the belongings of the people, all the goods in the shops. You are forbidden to take photographs of it.

However, I began re-thinking ideas of 'abandonment', wreckage, ruin, and the making of built environments and landscapes, when one of my students told me about his passion for and worry about the orthodox Christian village churches. These were the churches of the Greek-Cypriots who now live in the south of the island, below the green line, or the border that divides the country, including the capital Nicosia. This student was concerned about the physical exterior and interior damage to the churches by neglect, desecration, vandalism, and their use as animal shelters and animal feed sheds. His aim was to document them photographically, in case of their complete ruin or removal. He took me to visit several of these churches, there often being two or three in one small village, and sometimes one solitary church way out in the middle of the countryside, with nothing else in sight. His love of their architecture and his hope of a resolution to the Cyprus problem gave him impetus to try and understand their past cultural/social position in the lives of the Greek-Cypriot villagers, and to recognize them as powerful built forms, which even though presently abandoned, have somehow resisted their abandonment, and stand, or remain, to be what they had always been, iconic ritual markers in space.

Looking at these churches, and within a particular and fragile political situation, led me back to how things appear. They are individually small, but dramatic and abundant, sites of contemporary remains -- archaeology above the ground, present, full of presence, and in the process of wreckage, and overflowing with surfaces. Both their insides and their outsides have been looted - objects stolen, mosaics chiseled off walls, frescoes scraped and scratched, graves excavated, tombstones smashed, bells pulled down.

These churches are now a touchstones for this interest in the appearance of surfaces, as their abandonment, the displacement of their iconic role, and their reserve, or even silence, in a fragile country, which itself has experienced and is experiencing abandonment, testifies to something troubling, irresolvable, irreparable. A kind of sense without sense. A sense that is multiple and excessive, and yet beyond its own (scripted) temporal, spatial (and political) destiny. As when you get right up to the surfaces of the churches and inside their spaces, an altogether otherness comes into view in the materiality, in the tangible visibility, of their surfaces. That exactly there in their desertion, in all the cracks and crevasses and broken doors and windows and worn floors and graffiti and faded fragments of frescoes and animal and bird droppings there is nowhere to turn (away). Suddenly they are precisely what they are - what the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben would call their 'being-thus', "... that in their being-thus they are absolutely exposed, absolutely abandoned ..."(17) - sites of terrible events, and not only that, they are sites of events ongoing (like our visits, our photographing, our discomfort, our disbelief), and ones yet to come, and even those never to be known by anyone other than the one who knows (who came to pray early in the morning, or who fired at the bell, or who uprooted the flowers, or who smashed the gate). They are not places where one is expected to be, they are meant to be left, to remain silent, to be remained in silence, alone, discarded, trashed, or suddenly useful for 'something' - for animals, for a meeting, for a school. But those whose damage is extreme are within, in the time of, a continual abandoning. It is never-to-end perhaps, and perhaps this is something like Jean-Luc Nancy's 'desert'. He writes: "The growing of the desert could indeed unveil for us an unknown space, an unknown, excessive aridity of the sources of sense. The end of sources, the beginning of the dry excess of sense. Maybe nothing will grow but this drought, and it is this drought that will carry us. And maybe it will be overturned by something else: a major economic crisis, a collapse of states, a world conflict - East-West or North-South (or both crossed) - great genetic or ecological mutations and manipulations, discoveries in space, sudden progress in one science, or the exhaustion of several cultures. But the unforeseeable matters little. What is not foreseeable but already present, it seems, is that there will no longer be any 'reason in history' or 'salvation of the human race'."(18)

Amidst all and each of these wrecked churches there was an unexpected expectance, even though 'we were not expected' - not a 'sense' of the what-was of the past, and all that that must and will always mean, but the fact and matter of "... this world here, the world in which we actually find ourselves ...".(19) That at once, it was not sorrow or pity or resignation or injustice or rage that one felt, but the very hereness of the self-here. That we were here, we had come to 'here', or even, we-had-come-to-this. And that every surface, 'here' abandoned or not, is the appearance of its one and only, singular, beauty 'there', as it is. It is. It seemed therefore that it was necessary, essential, to look, and repeat looking, to stare, to see what remains in the here, in the there. And that 'here' was just a beginning; that into this beginning there could only be a working, another kind of ruin or wrecking. That the abandonment, the disrepair and neglect, and thread-bareness (of the building in relation to its once thick and invested attachment to specific meanings and uses) could not in itself be abandoned, but sensed as an opening or porousness that could welcome or at least invite an accompanying of the trauma or shock, a kind of mourning, or voicing. This might be a memorialising, in the way Gregory Ulmer suggests, an accumulating bit by bit of memories, and in keeping with the ephemera of memory, and not a monumentalising, as a concretising; rather a monumentalising - to keep the word - of accretion, leakage, staining, flaking, fraying (bringing into sight, together, attending, touching). A memorialising of appearance, of the world as it appears.

All of his writing life John Berger has written about appearances. Beginning with Ways of Seeing. And then all the novels and books of essays and poems; always a writing of pictures. In the novel To The Wedding Berger has a woman turn to a window just before dark and see this, as she passes in the train: "The last sunshine lights the distant mountains, a church hidden between hills, leaves, countless millions of them, the nearest along the edge of the road made to flutter by the draught of the passing coach, village houses of three storeys, apple trees, many wooden fences, a solitary horse."(20)

"She sees things as she passes, she sees their appearance. Then they have gone, from her sight. Still there, and gone, she sees disappearance.


She ... touches the passing scene, as she passes, through the window. It is given, the scene … then she turns away to speak to someone. What does the appearance of that scene mean as it appears in writing. It can be 'whatever' is made of it by the type of touch one touches it with, with the eyes, with thought, and then 'whatever' one then says or writes of it, the scene. The appearance is touched over and over, and then it is touched by hearing, by reading, and by 'whatever' is brought to meet the voice, the page. This, touch, is the telling, the way of telling, the way in which one touches, and is touched by, the story. It's how the story comes to be, with what sort of touch it finds itself written, with what volume and vibration, in whose company, and without whose company.

What Berger's writing of appearances seems to do is lead us toward a "concrete thinking"(13), toward the very things and their singularity in the world, and what they are, in their place, in their position, in the life of a person, an animal, a family a community (and 'the world'). He leads us by an idea of love, of the love of things, of their 'only-them' appearance in the affairs of lives - it appears that the appearance of things, that appearance itself, shapes, or gives shape to, the particular world each of us inhabits. This 'concrete' (which does not concretise) thinking is a political thinking which cannot avoid seeing what is there, before us, bodies, as evidence, but evidence of nothing absolute, yet absolute too, exposed, and exposing, as weight, colour, texture. A sort of concreteness which, in the hands of Berger, never forgets poetry, and is a sort of unconcrete-poetry; and, in remembering poetry, remembers 'one-self', the one who is writing, and so the writing, the making, the thinking, is personal, openly auto-biographical, not to reveal self, but to place self in the company of the subject of one's thinking.

'Concrete' is, as I'm defining it, a coming back, a returning, to the matter, to the thing, to the thing at hand, nearby, before one, out the window, everywhere. A way, a thinking, which is spacious and generous, which is infinite, and fleeting. Nancy says that as soon as we address ourselves to a thing, this or that (in Agamben's terms 'thusness'), we are dealing with geology: "It is a disposition of slabs, of strata pressed and folded one upon the other. The world is the cut of their multiple contiguities. But it is also the topography of their distinctions, of the total discretion of their 'here's'. No thing-here is the same as another thing-here ..."(14) And, this is the dilemma of concrete-thinking. That every single thing is itself, and unlike every single other thing. And yet every thing is all at once with every thing else. That's why when she/the woman looks out the window, the very appearance of what is there is precise, and in its overall appearance is a thing, and will be meaning as a thing forever seen. The 'concrete' here then is a way in which seeing becomes a thinking and a mode of story-telling which is never-ending, and which is likely at any moment to change direction - to be the story of her as turns from the window to the [person] alongside ..."(21)

Berger evokes the difficult 'event' of beauty, its very ordinariness, and its conditioned (learned) coming to attention, and on the other hand, its sudden arrival, as if by chance, or out-of-the-blue, a surprise or shock. Perhaps, then, variations on a sense (an emotion) of marvel: there, the marvellous; and, the marvellous(22) passing: "The beautiful obliges us to think (its singularity poses a problem), without there being any concept for thought to settle on. The thought of the beautiful is identical with the series of incomplete determinations it gives rise to, in which it creates and indefinitely recreates itself; it is identical to the repetition of its singularity in an open-ended movement. ... The event of the beautiful marks a beginning rather than an end-point, without the pretension of being an Origin, as it happens just any time. The principle of the 'any-moment-whatever' enfolds both an indifference and an obligation to differentiate, an impersonality and total individuality."(23) And, it is the passing quick or slow of the insignificant(24) that is - as it appears, as it is caught in appearance(25) and one sees as if for the first (or last) time - a space, a space made-up of myriad surfaces, not unlike conversation(26), and which is then a matter or materiality of moments.(27)

"At the moment we see something beautiful, we undergo a radical decentering. Beauty, according to Simone Weil, requires us "to give up our imaginary position as the centre. ... When we come upon beautiful things - the tiny-orange-blue moth on the brick - they act like small tears in the surface of the world that pull us through to some vaster space ... or they life us ... letting the ground rotate beneath us ... so that when we land, we find we are standing in a different relation to the world than we were a moment before. ... We willingly cede our ground to the things that stands before us."(28)

Linda Marie Walker October 2003


1. John Rajchman, What's New In Architecture: Philosophical Events: Essays of the 80s, Columbia University Press, New York, 1991: 35

2. Hal Foster, Compulsive Beauty, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1993: 163

3. G. Murnane, The Plains, Penguin Books: 9

4. ibid: 64/65

5. James McGregor, The Architect As Storyteller, in Architectural Theory Review, Vol 7 No 2, University of Sydney, 2002: 61

6. Rose Macaulay, Pleasure of Ruins, Thames and Hudson, London, 1953: 251

7. Paul Carter, Myth forms: on the Non-Design of Meeting Places (unpublished), quoted in Stephen Loo, Languaging: Digital Diagrams and the 'Show and Tell' of Design (unpublished) paper for the Australian New Zealand Architecture Science Association, Deakin Campus, University of Geelong, November 1, 2002

8. "To approach experience, however, is not like approaching a house. 'Life', as the Russian proverb says, 'is not a walk across an open field.' Experience is indivisible and continuous, at least within a single lifetime and perhaps over many lifetimes. I never have the impression that my experience is entirely my own, and it often seems to me that it preceded me. In any case experience folds upon itself, refers backwards and forwards to itself through the referents of hope and fear; and, by the use of metaphor, which is at the origin of language, it is continually comparing like with unlike, what is small with what is large, what is near with what is distant. And so the act of approaching a given moment of experience involves both a scrutiny (closeness) and the capacity to connect (distance). The movement of writing resembles that of a shuttle of a loom: repeatedly it approaches and withdraws, closes in and takes its distance. Unlike a shuttle, however, it is not fixed to a static frame. As the movement of writing repeats itself, its intimacy with the experience increases. Finally, if one is fortunate meaning is the fruit of intimacy." (John Berger, The Act of Approaching, in Nikos Papastergiadis, Dialogues in the Diasporas, Essays and Conversations on Cultural Identity, Rivers Oram Press, London & New York, 1998: 24/25)

9. Elaine Scarry, On Beauty and Being Just, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1999: 9; Gregory Ulmer, Heuretics, The Logic Of Invention, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1994: 66; Jean-Luc Nancy, The Sense of the World, trans. Jeffrey S. Librett, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis & London, 1997: 9

10. Scarry, ibid: 110

11. Deborah N. Glassman, Marguerite Duras, Fascinating Vision and Narrative Cure, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, London and Toronto, 1991: 35

12. ibid: 45/46

13. Clarice Lispector, The Stream of Life, trans. Elizabeth Lowe & Earl Fitz, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1989: 3/4

14. Eric Partridge, Origins, A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1982: 1 & 37

15. André Leroi-Gourhan, Le Fil du Temps; ethnologie et préhistoire 1935-70, in Le Temps des Sciences, Fayard, Paris, 1983: 135

16. Lewis Binford, Translating the Archaeological Record, in John F. Cherry and Robin Torrence (eds.) in Pursuit of the Past, Thames and Hudson, London, 1983: 19

17. Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, trans. Michael Hardt, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, London, 1993: 39

18. Nancy, ibid: 24

19. ibid, quoting Schelling: 25

20. John Berger, To The Wedding, Pantheon Books, New York, 1995: 128

21. Jean-Luc Nancy, The Heart of Things, in The Birth To Presence, trans. Brian Holmes and others, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1993: 170

22. ibid: 181

21. The paragraphs indented come from an essay (slightly altered) published in What John Berger Saw, ed. Nikos Papastergiadis, ANU Canberra School of Art Gallery Publication, Canberra, 1999: 39-41

22. "The ruin here [a "ghostly landscape"] is real, the work of the pickaxe of development. But it is also an effect of the surrealist vision of history: "Everything is crumbling under my gaze." This gaze is not melancholic; the surrealists do not cling obsessively to the relics of the nineteenth century. Rather it uncovers them for purposes of resistance through re-enchantment. If we can grasp this dialectic of ruination, recovery, and resistance, we will grasp the intimated ambition of the surrealist practice of history." (Hal Foster, ibid: 166)

23. Melissa McMahon, Beauty, Machinic Repetition in the Age of Art, in Brian Massumi (ed.), A Shock to Thought, Expression after Deleuze and Guattari, Routledge, London & New York, 2002: 7 (McMahon discusses Kant's 'beauty' and Deleuze's dynamic singularity; see also Steven Shaviro, ibid., especially his discussion of Sonic Youth's 'Beauty Lies in the Eye'.)

24. "... an immense museum of strangeness ..."(Foster, ibid: 62)

25. Named the 'uncanny' or the 'veiled-erotic'. (see Foster, ibid: 157-191) 26. "Suddenly, coming back from the coatroom, he sees them in intimate conversation, leaning close to one another." (Roland Barthes, A Lover's Discourse, Fragments, trans. Richard Howard, Hill & Wang, New York, 1987: 132)

27. "When we enter an unknown place, the emotion experienced is almost always that of an indefinable anxiety. There then begins the slow work of taming the unknown, and gradually the unease fades away. A new familiarity succeeds the fear provoked in us by the irruption of the 'wholly other.' If the body's most archaic instinctual reactions are caught up in an encounter with what it does not immediately recognize in the real, how could thought really claim to apprehend the other; the wholly other, without astonishment? Thought is in essence a force of mastery. It is continually bringing the unknown back to the known, breaking up its mystery to possess it, shed light on it. Name it. (Anne Dufourmantelle, in Jacques Derrida/Dufourmantelle, Of Hospitality, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2000: 27/28)

28. Scarry, ibid: 112

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The research for this website has been assisted by a Divisional Research Grant from the Division of Education, Arts and Social Sciences, University of South Australia