Cień Boga w ogrodzie filozofa. Parc de La Villette w Paryżu w kontekście filozofii chôry

Wrocław: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego (2021)
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The Shadow of God in the Philosopher’s Garden. The Parc de La Villette in Paris in the context of the philosophy of chôra I Bernard Tschumi’s project of the Parc de La Villette could have won the competition and was implemented thanks to the political atmosphere that accompanied the victory of the left-wing candidate in the French presidential elections in 1981. François Mitterand’s revision of the political programme and the replacement of radical reforms with the construction of prestigious architectural objects and urban assumptions in the French capital gave Tschumi a unique opportunity to realise ideas that polemicised with traditional forms of social life, questioned the basic principles of architecture and included architectural work in the philosophical disputes over the issues of metaphysics. Tschumi’s theoretical assumptions put forward during the design of the Parc de La Villette highlighted the questions of conflict between the main components of the project and suggested that the intensification of differences was analogous to Jacques Derrida’s creation of the concept of différance. It was this philosopher who in a special commentary to Derrida’s project also introduced the concept of maintenant, which aimed at demonstrating that the architect’s polemical inclinations remain in a hidden balance with his inclinations to affirmation of architectural principles. During the discussion between Derrida and Peter Eisenman, who was to take part in the design of the Parisian park, the concept of the chôra was also put forward, which in the course of the debate led to an additional confusion of architectural and philosophical problems. II In the period from the Antiquity to the Renaissance, the dialogue Timaeus was the most frequently commented work of Plato. At present, the most frequently discussed is the issue of the chôra included in it, which aroused fascination among philosophers, researchers of rhetoric, religion, feminism, but also architecture. The work on the chôra also influenced the development of the interpretation of the Parc de La Villette, among which the topics related to the beginning and the change were highlighted. In early uses of the word chôra in Greek, as in Homer’s 18th Book of Iliad, it meant both dancing and a place to dance. On this occasion, it can be seen that it is not possible to determine which phenomenon took precedence in the creation of the name. It cannot be denied, however, that the word concerned a specific movement, as if circular and returning to an indefinable beginning. Despite gaining more and more general meanings, the word chôra has retained its connection with the dance of people on the threshing floor, the dance of bees (choros meliton) or the dance of stars (choros astron). In Timaeus, the chôra is a space filled with movement with an effect similar to shaking the sieve to husk the grain: it separates similar elements from the dissimilar ones. The juxtaposition of the Parc de La Villette and the chôra already at this stage leads to the suggestion that the park was treated by the architect as a place of dynamic changes leading to the establishment of new social solutions. In his statements, the architect confirmed that the park was to be a space of new politics and ethics. The book by Julia Kristeva La Révolution du langage poétique contributed to the spread of the belief that works of art can play a role as factors of political revolution. In this work, the author put forward the thesis that the chôra is a kind of space, the character of which has a destructive influence on attempts to conclude language games. The chôra gives beginning to words, but at the same time, by leaving a trace of this beginning it forces us to renew their meanings. The chôra understood in this way, turns out to be an irremovable beginning, to which one has to return all the time. Kristeva found manifestations of the chôra’s activity in avant-garde French poetry, to which she attributed the role of a mediator between criticism of metaphysics and aspirations for social change. The chôra, violating the language, introduces some voids into it, as if traces of the abyss, which direct the consciousness towards understanding the necessity of political changes. The Parc de La Villette was to pursue similar objectives in the city space. In his essays, Tschumi considered the problems of creating spaces that would give rise to a radical democracy. The proposed rebellious spaces should have the characteristics of a void, in which contradictory forces would occur as forms of pure activity. The means of achieving this goal was to concentrate contradictions and make them visible. The Parc de La Villette was supposed to collect differences as indelible and at the same time by showing them it was supposed to raise awareness of the social world as a conglomerate of differences. Saturation of the space of the park with subversive values results from the character of this space suppressed in the consciousness, as well as from the social diversity which has not been taken into account so far. The main contradictions contained in space relate to the division that exists between its presentation as a mental problem and a sensual one. The park was the deliberate creation of a place that transcends such a division and creates a separate space for negotiation between architectural theories and its practical applications. The purpose of the park was to become a place of future events, which would not hide their conflicting character coming from diversity of both space and society. The method of composition usually aimed at achieving a harmonious whole has been replaced by Tschumi with a system of juxtaposition of non-coherent elements or those resulting from variations and transformations. Tschumi did not seek direct influence on politics in the Parc de La Villette, but made room for thinking about the possibilities of the future. He introduced problems rather than showed solutions to them. The task of the park was to put the principles of architecture into a kind of vibration that would inspire users to participate in the new community. III Tschumi believes that the quality of architecture depends on the theoretical factor it contains. Such a view led to the creation of architecture that would achieve visibility and comprehensibility only after its interpretation. On his way to creating such an architecture he took on a purely philosophical reflection on the basic building block of architecture, which is space. In 1975, he wrote an essay entitled Questions of Space, in which he included several dozen questions about the nature of space. The questions he formulated could be regarded as analogous to the situation in the philosophy of the time, in which the interest in questioning the most obvious forms of understanding the world and intellectual categories increased. The research on space is an area common to many fields of natural sciences, humanities and artistic creation, but it also deals with other problems, such as issues of experience. The concept of space-time continuum proposed by Hermann Minkowski drew attention to the identity of time and space with the events taking place. Probably regardless of the postulates of physicists commenting on Albert Einstein’s discoveries, also in philosophy it increased the importance of the concept of the event which became dominant in Martin Heidegger’s latest work Contributions of Philosophy: Of the event. Furthermore, Tschumi’s reflections on space entered into relation with the problem of experience, which aroused the interest of a group of French philosophers trying to assimilate Georges Bataille’s concept of “inner experience”. Both Tschumi and Derrida referred to Bataille because his views could be used not only to modify the concept of the subject, but also to change the understanding of what constitutes the area of architecture. The discussion on experience has led to the recognition that the subject is not sovereign, but actually a form of what is on their outside. Such insights make it possible to treat the area of the Parc de La Villette as existing mainly when it is organised by its users. The decisive features of the park are its assumptions, according to which it is a variety of active void that leads to agreeing new social relations with it. The park does not force to participate in already existing moral or political communities, but tries to move into an unknown future in which the scope of free functioning of individuals will be increased. Doubts about the principles of functioning of the individual self and its discovery as a whole composed of non-coherent parts, as well as its dependence on its own depth full of disordered forces, influenced the understanding of architecture as a set of contradictions whose source is a fundamental void anticipating the empty phenomenal space. The use of this phenomenal void in architecture, as well as the rejection of the whole and unity, had a specific political purpose and drew its inspiration from political analyses. In the Parc de La Villette, metaphysics and politics were brought closer together because the philosophy of void was used to create new conditions for community action. It can be argued that the source of this philosophy was the perception of errors in existing societies dependent on the shortcomings of traditional metaphysics. Spacing (espacement) was one of the key terms in Derrida’s philosophy, which was also combined with the concepts of différance and chôra. The study of the nature of space, especially its transition from the level of pure possibility to the level of sensual phenomenon, also contributes to understanding how well designed space can have an impact on its audience. This explanation is based on Tschumi’s assumption that the space of the Parc de La Villette contradicts the integrating approaches and instead exposes contradictions, but it does so in a way that combines incompatible properties into a single piece of architecture. The specificity of such integration is similar to the invention of a musical phrase, which is an ideological message: moral and political. Such a thesis may raise doubts, however, if both the clearly adopted assumptions and those deduced from the work allow for their logically ordered presentation then to a limited extent it may be assumed that the work has achieved a connection between a specific philosophy of space and its practical application. Derrida combined the problem of spatiality with the problem of transcendental imagination in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, who in the first version of Critique of Pure Reason assumed that pure imagination precedes the appearance of time and space, even in their transcendental forms. The imagination in such a situation can be described as a factor activating time and space, which indicates what function is played by movement in this activity. This leads us to recognize that the ultra originary source of pure forms of sensual intuition is movement, which in early Greek philosophy was identified with void and its lack of resistance to phenomena occurring in it. Derrida’s philosophy in search of a certain super-transcendental source of time and space pointed to différance which, like void or the chôra, does not have material features or even any other form of being. Différance is the primary cause of the disruption of motionlessness and the introduction of activity into motionless time and space, thus its activity can be described as spacing (espacement). Derrida’s discoveries in this respect are not entirely original, because Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel already pointed out when examining the present that it is primarily a differential relation (differente Beziehung), which, being seemingly neutral, influences the present with supernatural force and makes it unidentifiable with itself. Differente Beziehung must similarly influence the originary space, negating its initial character by multiplying its divisions and expanding its boundaries. Différance acts by revealing contradictions wherever there is apparent undifferentiation. Tschumi, composing the Parc de La Villette as a variety of void and a set of incompatible layers, followed the rules of différance or the chôra: he made void visible together with its saturation with contradictions. If space can be considered to be the result of the activity of difference, such activity has a certain regularity, which influences the behaviour of its observers. Differences or contradictions fall into a certain rhythm, which can be considered a manifestation of transcendent order. The problem is that what can be considered the source of such order, namely the logos or God, is partly disorder and error. According to descriptions contained in Timaeus, the world is a combination of forces that drive to order with forces of erroneous necessity that resounds in every order and forces it to return to disorder. Derrida denied the possibility of understanding différance as a theological value, even if it were a negative or apophatic theology, but no categorical denial could be perfect. The assumption that différance or the chôra are not endowed with any substance properties cannot deny their activity, and thus a certain force. Already since Democritus, philosophy has multiplied the names of such a force and the contradictory variety of its manifestations, never forgetting also the necessity for reason to withdraw from the possibility of giving its correct characteristics. Such a withdrawal may be interpreted as an expression of respect and, in certain situations, as a cult of the force that precedes reasonableness. The Parc de La Villette, which is an artistic divagation about the contradictions and forces behind them, can be considered as a place of their sublimation, and therefore as a variation of the temple of what differs from order and disorder. IV In the texts that presented the theoretical assumptions of the Parc de La Villette, Tschumi used a large number of terms that contradicted not only the traditional principles of composing architecture, but also negated the rules of social order and the foundations of Western metaphysics. Tschumi’s statements, which are a continuation of his leftist political fascinations from the May 1968 revolution, as well as his interest in the philosophy of French poststructuralism and his collaboration with Derrida, prove that terms such as “disruption”, “dissociation”, “disfunction”, “disjunction” and “dispersion” not only referred to architectural problems but also applied to political criticism and the deepest foundations of thinking itself. His collaboration with Derrida manifested itself primarily in the publication La Case Vide: La Villette 1985, in which the architect’s design drawings and texts explaining his concepts related to the Parc de La Villette were accompanied by an extensive essay by Derrida, which included theoretical problems taken up by Tschumi in a philosophical context. Architectural and philosophical issues were also combined during seven discussion meetings organised by Eisenman, invited by Tschumi to collaborate on the design of the Parc de La Villette. Eisenman, who, like Tschumi, invited Derrida to participate in the design of the park and also led to the publication of Chora L Works: Jacques Derrida and Peter Eisenman, in which his ideas were confronted with Derrida’s philosophical text. In this case, Derrida’s essay was not a direct commentary on the architect’s concepts, but rather a reflection on the question of the chôra presented by Plato in Timaeus. During the discussion and in his essay, Derrida pointed out that the chôra is a component of the created world, yet it does not belong to it, but precedes it. The originality of the chôra is so radical that she also precedes all the factors of creating the world, including ideas and the Demiurge. Thus athesis appeared in the metaphysics of the West that the chôra is a form of active abyss, in relation to which all beings are secondary, both those perfect (as ideas or God) and those created, such as the world, things, people or language. This leads to the conclusion that the chôra does not exist, because all existence is a derivative of the chôra. Nor could the chôra be described, since it is a form of developing a space that is preceded by a lack of space characteristic of the chôra. Derrida intended the chôra to be an instance with an exceptional degree of transcendentalism, an anti-metaphysical instance, but also an a-theological one. However, this attempt failed, both in the field of secular philosophy and in the field of theology. Derrida’s characteristics of the chôra to strengthen its transcendentalism and negation of metaphysics had to be expressed in a language that immediately produces new concepts and a new metaphysics that reproduces the categories of the beginning, the origin or the foundation known from earlier philosophical traditions. All forms of criticism of metaphysics are also inspired by negative, apophatic and mystical theology. The undermining of many concepts of permanent meaning and the introduction of new concepts of unstable meaning, characteristic of the philosophy of deconstruction, had many features of originality, but it was directed towards problems whose solutions repeat, with the use of new vocabulary, the findings known in culture since Democritus. Thus, if apophatic philosophy can be regarded as deconstruction avant la lettre, then deconstruction itself in its late versions began to take on the features of a new religion. The exchange of inspiration between theology and deconstruction was manifested in a series of scientific conferences and publications in which Derrida’s philosophical concepts were interpreted within the scope of religious thought. Theological threads began to be found in such concepts of deconstruction as différance or the chôra, while at the same time Derrida himself undertook in his philosophy to study problems such as the Other (L’Autre) or the Impossible (Impossible), which belonged to newer theological traditions. As a consequence of the new problems, the deconstruction became closer to the features of a new religion. Philosophy, at least from Kant’s time, has tried to create a system that would take over from religion the tasks of setting moral and political goals. Similarly, Derrida has directed his interest towards the problems of democracy and ethics, which would enable their renewal. Attempts to create a new religion (cleared of old metaphors), a new community or a new democracy bring problems and threats which may be no less troublesome than the previous systems. All promises of freedom carry with them threats, the greater the more they strive for perfection. The renewal of existential orders, sometimes carried out by means of violent changes, is a certain repetitive feature of human cultures. Deep changes, however, do not protect against the return of both old gods and old demons. Tschumi and Derrida were shaped in their youth by the atmosphere of leftist rebellion against the moral and political limitations of ossified communities and the imperfections of democracy. The ethical theme distinguishes many of their works, including the Parc de La Villette. The opposition to the metaphysical traditions of philosophy and architecture contained in this park was prompted by specific political situations and resulted from bringing political issues to the level of philosophical considerations. Achievements made at the level of pure concepts were then subject to elevation, to a kind of sacralization, which made them religious concepts. The deconstruction reached for the status of the new religion especially when it found its followers and began to generate moral obligations. In the new situation, terms such as the chôra, l’Autre or the Impossible were absolutized and in relation to them a cult and attitude of adoration emerged. The Parc de La Villtette then gained new post-secular meanings, which allow it to be assigned the function of a Temple of Otherness (L’Autre) and Impossible. V In the traditional sense, a work of art creates an illustration of the outside world, or of a certain text or doctrine. Sometimes it is considered that such an illustration is not literal, but is an interpretation of what is visible, or an interpretation of a certain literary or ideological message. It can also be assumed that a work of art creates its own visual world, a separate story or a separate philosophical statement. Parc de La Villette represents the last of these possibilities: it is a philosophical statement that develops the premises derived from poststructuralist philosophies and the philosophy of deconstruction. The uniqueness of its being status, however, is that it does so not only at the level of the theoretical assumptions, but also through its functioning as an active philosophical work. This means that a park is a happening philosophy. Its activity, however, does not refer only to the present tense, but is also an attempt to penetrate the future, all otherness and impossibility. This kind of activity assumes that the work, in a sense, does not yet fully exist, but is also still produced in the processes of its interpretation. The theoretical foundations of the park included texts by Tschumi, in which he questioned traditional ways of creating a work of architecture, postulating in return the use of a long series of negations, which were comparable to the crisis of metaphysics characteristic of contemporary philosophy. It is therefore no coincidence that the publication containing Tschumi’s theoretical text on Parc de La Villette was accompanied by an essay by Derrida developing some of the architect’s concepts. The next step in integrating philosophy into the process of park design was a series of discussions between Eisenman and Derrida, who completely moved the creation of the park into the world of thoughts, without accentuating the need for their realization in the material reality. The main topic of these discussions was the problem of the chôra, which was taken up by later commentators and used to interpret the park as a work in which the philosophy of the beginning is manifested relating to issues of politics, morality and religion. The park was therefore interpreted as a space of invention within the scope of creating new rules of functioning of the community and democracy. Thinking about the political future may, however, exceed the horizon of ordinary expectations. Although philosophical thought is always connected with contemporary problems and metaphysics sometimes intertwines with current politics, yet at the same time the customs of philosophy also include crossing horizons and thinking about absolute otherness and impossibility. Initially, the chôra, différance, absolute otherness (tout autre) and the Impossible were concepts of pure philosophy of atheistic character, but with the further development of the discussion, more and more theological motifs began to emerge. One of the reasons for this phenomenon was the fact that radical negations of all being, which were contemplated in contemporary philosophy (by Heidegger and Derrida, among others), had previously been manifested in negative and apophatic theologies (by Master Eckhart, among others).Also the category of the “Other”, taken from Emmanuel Levinas, was clearly connected with the thought about God. A further reason for connecting the chôra with the theological thought was the interest in the philosophy of deconstruction expressed by some theologians. John Caputo in particular managed to persuade Derrida to participate in discussions on the current status of religion. In the late period of Derrida’s writing, further statements on religious topics appeared. All these reasons led to posing a question about the identity of the chôra and God. Although there were no satisfactory conclusions on this issue, the discussion was also important to create an interpretation of the park as a place of worship. The chôra, representing, according to Plato, the preoriginal emptiness is the place of every beginning, but it turns out that it is not neutral to the being created in it. The chôra deposits itself in every being as an irremovable beginning that interferes with its stability. The chôra, therefore, forces us into a palintropical movement, but it also turns out to be a pure compulsion, an erring necessity and a fundamental force from which, in the human perception, motifs useful to the individual and to the community are extracted. All definitions of this force, including its anthropomorphisation, are formulated in such a way that they allow for building private and collective morality upon them. Such definitions are changed depending on variable political situations. It is difficult to determine whether in the processes of changes in the formulation of “God’s names” any essential value is retained, which is not subject to change. The current definitions of the chôra (God?), which can be found, for example, in the philosophy of Caputo, stress that she is a combination of various and contradictory forces. This characteristic inherits much of Plato’s concept, reminds us of Master Eckhart’s views on Gottheit and, at the same time, is not unfamiliar to Tschumi, whose essays were an apologia of contradictions. The current concept of chôra, transferred into the sphere of politics, is the praise of social diversity and the protection of the difference from the forces of order. In the Parc de La Villette, the future community and democracy were elevated as a system of safe existence of individuals in all their singularity. The park is a temple of a future community in which individual beings have nothing in common.

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Cezary Wąs
University of Wroclaw


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