Long Hair, Short Ideas, and the Contemporary Status of the Architectural Imaginary

In her book, The Philosophical Imaginary, Michèle Le Doeuff troubles the discipline of philosophy by arguing that while it aspires to clear and distinct thought its texts are illustrated with “statues that breathe the scent of roses, comedies, tragedies, architects, foundations, dwellings, doors and windows” and so on.  Le Doeuff insists that these images are more than mere illustrations that assist in the understanding of abstract and complex arguments and ideas. They are more than sensitive or contradictory points in the tissue of a philosophical text, they also fundamentally structure the conditions of possibility of philosophical discourse as well as help to found claims for the legitimacy of the discipline in response to the rise of the sciences. In addition, the philosophical imaginary owns an affective dimension in that images function to ascribe ratios of pleasure and pain associated with the labour of thought. Notable with respect to the discipline of architecture is how architectural motifs and images contribute regularly to this philosophical imaginary and as such provide some of the affective material that characterises this imaginary. Compelling as it is I do not plan to map this affective network of architectural motifs and images. Instead I will turn to the ways in which the discipline of architecture makes use of philosophy to conceptually authorise its symbolic regime. I will argue that by investing, for instance, in poststructural philosophy throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s architecture not only appropriates elements of an epistemological framework, but necessarily accepts into its own realm the stowaway images of a philosophical imaginary, which are in turn often indebted to architectural sources. With the more recent waning of critical architectural theory (and by extension discursive engagements in philosophy including issues framed by feminist discourse), I will ask where does architecture turn now so as to frame its symbolic regime, what transformations are rendered on the architectural imaginary, and finally, what desert of the real does architecture venture into?

“Long Hair, Short Ideas, and the Contemporary Status of the Architectural Imaginary”, SAHANZ 2010, Michael Chapan, Michael Ostwald, eds, Imagining, University of Newcastle (30 June – 2 July, 2010). Peer Reviewed Conference Proceedings.