novel architecturale


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The archeological mask of Piranesi's Campo Marzio fools no one: this is an experimental design and the city, therefore, remains an unknown. Nor is the act of designing capable of defining new constants of order. This colossal piece of bricolage conveys nothing but a self-evident truth: irrational and rational are no longer to be mutually exclusive. Piranesi did not pocess the means for translating the dynamic interrelationships of this contradiction into form. He had, therefore, to limit himself to enunciating emphatically that the great new problem was that of the equilibrium of opposites, which in the city find its appointed place: failure to resolve this problem would mean the destruction of the very concept of architecture.
Manfredo Tafuri, Architecture and Utopia (1976), p. 15.

It seems clear that it is precisely the "archeological mask" of the Campo Marzio that fooled Tafuri. Piranesi never intended the Ichnographia to be read as an archeological reconstruction, but as a wholly new reenactment of the Campus Martius. Piranesi's "experiment" is not in the design of the Campo Marzio per se, but in his Promethean delivery of historical (and architectural) narrative. As for the city delineated within the Ichnographia remaining an "unknown", this too is false because all one has to do is read (or translate) all the Latin labels within the Ichnographia to know the "city" it depicts.
After reading Piranesi's Campo Marzio properly, the notion of irrationality does not come into play. Piranesi's narrative method is indeed unprecedented, but his message does not carry an overt irrationally, nor even a covert irrationality. This latching on to the notion of irrationality within the Campo Marzio is perhaps Tafuri's most critical mistake because all subsequent reference (within Architecture and Utopia) to the presence of irrationality may be ostensibly based on a misguided and insubstantial premise. Unfortunately, it is Tafuri himself that "did not possess the means for translating the dynamic interrelationships" between plan forms and Latin labels which Piranesi used to "present" his historical narrative.
Interestingly enough, Piranesi did "equate" opposites, but not the opposites of rational and irrational. Piranesi looked to ancient Rome's own history and there recognized the opposites of Paganism and Christianity.

Signs resemble images in being concrete entities but they resemble concepts in their powers of reference. Neither concepts nor signs relate exclusively to themselves; either may be substituted for something else. Concepts, however, have an unlimited capacity in this respect, while signs have not. The example of the 'bricoleur' helps to bring out the differences and similarities. Consider him at work and excited by his project. His first practical step is retrospective. He has to turn back to an already existent set made up of tools and materials, to consider or reconsider what it contains and, finally and above all, to engage in a sort of dialogue with it and, before choosing between them, to index the possible answers which the whole set can offer to his problem. He interrogates all the heterogeneous objects of which his treasury* is composed to discover what each of them could ‘signify’ and so contribute to the definition of a set which has yet to materialize but which will ultimately differ from the instrumental set only in the internal disposition of its parts. A particular cube of oak could be a wedge to make up for the inadequate length of a plank of pine or it could be a pedestal – which would allow the grain and polish of the old wood to show to advantage. In one case it will serve as extension, in the other as material. But the possibilities always remain limited by the particular history of each piece and by those of its features which are already determined by the use for which it was originally intended or the modifications it has undergone for other purposes. The elements which the ‘bricoleur’ collects and uses are ‘pre-constrained’ like the constitutive units of myth, the possible combinations of which are restricted by the fact that they are drawn from the language where they already possess a sense which sets a limit on their freedom of manoeuvre. And the decision as to what to put in each place also depends on the possibility of putting a different element there instead, so that each choice which is made will involve a complete reorganization of the structure, which will never be the same as one vaguely imagined nor as some other which might have been preferred to it.

The language of Finnegans Wake is still finally the English language, albeit "jinglish janglage" (275.f.6).
To confront this dilemma, Joyce resorts to a technical method which critics have already identified in their comparisons of Finnegans Wake to the "objet trouvé" collage: "Bits and pieces are picked up and incorporated into the texture with little modification, while the precise nature of each individual fragment is not always of great importance." Borrowing the term which Lévi-Strauss applies to mythical thought and mythological activity in The Savage Mind, the practice of using bits and pieces of heterogeneous materials without regard to their specific function may be called "bricolage." Joyce once asked his Aunt Josephine to send "any news you like, programmes, pawntickets, press cuttings, handbills. I like reading them"; he is like Lévi-Strauss' "bricoleur," collecting and saving things "on the principle that 'they may always come in handy.'" That Joyce's method certainly approximated that of the bricoleur is most evident in his voluminous working notebooks of the Wake, crammed as these are with list upon list of apparently unrelated words, phrases, snatches of thought, bits of data.
More important than Joyce's writing practice, however, is the way in which this method of bricolage allows Joyce to liberate materials from their old contexts, to juxtapose them freely and allow them to enter into new and unexpected combinations with each other.

Stephen Lauf, "mistake" (1999.05.17).

Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (1966), pp. 18-9.

Margot C. Norris, "The Consequence of Deconstruction: A Technical Perspective of Joyce's Finnegans Wake" (1974) in Critical Essays on James Joyce (1985), pp.216-7.



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