Or, rather, homosexuality itself, even as an erotic orientation, even as a specifically sexual subjectivity, consists in a dissident way of feeling and relating to the world.
Noted: And yet Roland Barthes argues against constant refutation, as a modus operandi. Might his stance have emerged from the closet? How much is Halperin’s claim a generational one?
Addendum: How might the project of HtbG be compared to Barthes earlier work, especially Writing Degree Zero and Mythologies?
…the common notion that there’s a right way to be gay.
Raises questions of fascism.
So this entire project, trashy as it might seem at first, could actually help us get at something both elusive and profound.
What does trashy mean here? How might it have it’s roots in what has come to be identified as “gay shame?” How would this sentence and its meaning in context be inflected by a reconsideration of the use of the word trashy, and its possible substitution with other literary self-interpellations—like “insipid,” or “pointless,” or “uncultured,” or “unsophisticated?”
In addition to the authors and books listed above, countless gay men have written learned, engaging, lovingly detailed studies of Hollywood cinema, the Broadway musical, grand opera, classical and popular music, style and fashion, interior decoration, and architectural design. But, with a few important exceptions (which I’ll discuss in later chapters), they have said nothing about the relation between gay men and those aesthetic forms, about the gayness of those non-gay forms, or about the reasons for gay men’s personal investment in them.1 Because for them, no doubt, gay male culture is not a problem. It’s not alien to them, and so they don’t need to make an effort to understand it. They already understand it. Which is why they feel no particular impulse to explain it, either to themselves or to others.
My goal is to examine the figural and formal dimensions of some of the mainstream cultural objects that gay male culture appropriates and endows with queer value. I will seek meaning in style and I will look for queer content in form itself.2 for that purpose, what I need is not a large quantity of empirical data, but a thorough, detailed understanding of how some typical and particularly expressive gay male cultural practices actually work. The goal is to make style speak, to make sense of gay aesthetics—of the peculiar, anti-social brand of aesthetics in which gay male culture specializes—and to seize hold of social forms in all their specificity.
See “NOTE 1.”
But so long as we cling to the notion that gayness is reducible to same-sex sexual object choice, that it has nothing to do with how we live or what we like, that our homosexuality is completely formed prior to and independent of any exposure to gay culture—and so long as we hold to that belief as to a kind of dogma—then the persistence of gay culture will remain a perpetual embarrassment, as well as an insoluble analytic puzzle.
[Quoting Fellows] …the old saw about gay males being no different from straight males except for their sexual orientation. This notion developed as a central tenet of the gay rights movement since the 1970s… If outside our sex lives we gays are just like straights, then it must be only a stereotypical illusion that gay men are inordinately drawn to being house restorers and antiquarians—or interior designers, florists, hair stylists, fashion designers, and so forth. Now I t is clear to me that gay men really are extraordinarily attracted to these kinds of work. Rather than dismissing these realities as the stuff of stereotype, I see them as the stuff of archetype, significant truths worthy of exploration.
Unlike Fellows, I do not regard gender variance as the key to understanding gay male subjectivity. But the project of my class and of understanding gay this book agrees with his insofar as it bucks the historical trends that are responsible for making gay male culture a permanent embarrassment to gay men—and that do so by constituting gay culture as inherently backward, archaic, unmasculine, unsexual, and therefore inassimilable to modern, normative gay identity. These are the same historical trends that have made the denial of any and all non-sexual differences between gay male culture that implies some sort of female identification or effeminacy. [PARAGRAPH BREAK] A similar denial persists, more surprisingly, throughout much writing in the academic field of “queer theory.” There it assumes the protective coloration of an axiomatic opposition to “essentialism”—the stubborn but ultimately untenable belief that social identities are grounded in some inherent property or nature or quality common to all the members of an identity-based group. The rejection of essentialism did not prevent the original founders of queer theory from asking, “What do queers want?” or from exploring the particularities of gay culture.46 But as queer theory has become institutionalized, the understandable reluctance to accept essentialist assumptions about lesbians and gay men has hardened into an automatic self-justifying dogmatism, a visceral impulse to preempt the merest acknowledgement or recognition of any cultural patterns or practices that might be distinctive to homosexuals.47
NOTED AND MODIFIED: How is this transphobic? What is its relation to Sedgwick?
ADDENDUM: Cf. Tom of Finland exhibition at MOCA.
The very attention that queer theory has lavished on difference, intersectionality, and comparison has ended up screening out the question of how for a large segment of homosexual American men during the past century or so, being gay has been experienced through highly patterned forms of embodied sensibility—even as those patterns tend routinely to be disavowed by gay men in their efforts to escape “stereotypes” and “labels.” It is no accident that the studies of gay male culture that do focus most intensely on that question have tended to be undertaken by academics like Will Fellows and John Clum, who write at least in part for non-academic audiences, or by community-based intellectuals like Michael Bronski, Neil Bartlett, and David Nimons—all of whose work falls outside the canon of queer theory.49 [PARAGRAPH BREAK] The general denial of any and all homosexual specificity, especially cultural specificity, is an eloquent symptom of our current predicament. It testifies to the emergence of a powerful taboo, what legal theorist Kenji Yoshino has called a “new form of discrimination” that “targets minority cultures rather than minority persons.”50 We may value diversity and difference, but we flinch at the very notion that minorities might be culturally different.51 And anyway, gay culture in its manifold concrete manifestations often seems to be much to low-brow a topic for serious intellectual inquiry, which may also explain why many academic queer theorists—even especially some of the most prominent ones—tend to shy away from it.
63-4 (bold emphasis mine)
If, for example, it actually were the case that African Americans largely defined themselves to themselves by their shared understanding that being Black implied a distinctive, unusual, or marked preference for fried chicken, ribs, and water melon (to use John’s example), I would not in fact be afraid to inquire into the cultural meanings that might be involved in the selective appropriation of those foods.52 Being Black, after all, can also be understood as a set of peculiar and defining cultural practices, though it is a rare event when such a model of Black identity makes its way into respectable political discourse—even as a joke. On January 21, 2008, in the debate before the Democratic Party’s electoral primary in South Carolina, Barack Obama was asked what he thought of Toni Morrison’s remark that Bill Clinton was the first black president. He replied, “I would have to investigate Bill’s dancing abilities.”53 Black writers and critical race theorists have recently taken up the topic of how to be Black” and have treated it as worthy of sustained investigation.54
How racist is this?
Sexual desire is only one aspect of gay male desire. Sex is not the sum of queer pleasure. Gay desire seeks more than the achievement of gay identity. Gay identity does not answer to all the demands of gay desire. Gay identity is inadequate to the full expression of gay subjectivity. Gay identity may well register the fact of gay desire; it may even stand in for its wayward promptings, its unanticipated urges and satisfactions. But gay identity will not—it cannot—capture gay desire in all its subjective sweep and scope. It cannot express it. [PARAGRAPH BREAK] Desire into identity will not go.
[t]he current conditions under which gay people typically gain admittance to the public sphere—and to the official discourse of the news in particular: our difference from normal folk is at once hyped and disavowed.
The closet operates here to conceal not homosexuality as identity or desire but homosexuality as queer affect, sensibility, subjectivity, identification, pleasure, habitus, gender style. [PARAGRAPH BREAK] What remains literally unspeakable is no longer the love that dare not speak its name. […] Instead, it is a less classifiable but still quite specific definition of faggotry: whatever it is in its particular that accounts for why so many countertenors are gay.
To be fair to Daniels and Tommasini, no one in queer studies is talking, either. At least, no one seems to be in much of a hurry to tackle these questions.
Cf. Email, 1/16/2013
[W]hen psychoanalytic thinkers advance their claim about desire exceeding identity, the main purpose, or outcome, is to destabilize heterosexual identity, to free homosexuality from identity—a procedure whose effect is ultimately not to undermine but to promote and to universalize homosexuality.3 […] I choose to take a different route, and to dramatize then limits of gay male identity by attending to the cultural practices and life experiences of gay subjects themselves.
Through what method?
Gay culture’s hard-won ironic vision of the falseness and performative character of family sentiments also registers something more general and more profound about emotional expression. It reflects the very structure of the social life of feeling. In particular, it testifies to the inevitable gap between what is felt and what in any specific context is capable of being expressed.
The tragic necessity of accepting, instead of refusing, the inevitable gap between feeling and its expression provides the point of the rebuke that Ajax addresses to Achilles in Book 9 of the Iliad. It is here that Achilles announces his intention to refuse any and all material compensation for the social degradation and emotional damage he has suffered from Agamemnon. Complaining that Achilles is “pitiless,” Ajax advances a radical argument that acknowledges the incommensurable distance in social life between what we feel and what we can do about it. That incommensurability, he implies, is at once a consequence of human mortality and a generative source of the symbolic social forms whose reparative functioning affords the sole means of bridging (but not closing) the gulf between human subjectivity and human sociality.
In this context, the gap between feeling and expression is tragic, because it is the manifestation of a basic existential catastrophe—a fatal, irreparable, inescapable void in human meaning.
The gap between feeling and expression.
For language itself is a realm of symbols to which we resort when, at the end of infancy, we discover that we have no direct means of expressing our longings, and no hope of obtaining what we want on our own.
Unless the inauthenticity intrinsic to the social expression of feeling is understood to be tragic and not comic—serious instead of ridiculous or deflating—tragedy cannot get the respect it is culturally entitled to.
Gay male culture has therefore had to devise a number of remedies against the romaintic ills to which it is vulnerable. That, after all, is what camp is for. Camp is designed to puncture the romantic appeal of beauty, to mock the seriousness with which you might be tempted to endow your own emotions, especially your feelings of love and desire, and to deconstruct the kind of authenticity with which you might be tempted to invest them. Camp, as we have seen, is a practice internal to a dialectic in gay male culture that revolves around a series of oppositions between romance and disillusion, seriousness and unseriousness, authenticity and inauthenticity—between the unironic intensity of gay men’s desire for masculine beauty and the ironic deflation of that intensity. [PARAGRAPH BREAK] Camp belongs to one side of that polarity. It is the antidote to romanticism. It breaks into the self-contained world of passionate desire and interrupts its unironic single-mindedness—its systematic exclusion of competing values, its obliviousness to tis larger social context, its obsessive focus on the desire object, and its refusal of alternate perspectives. Camp is a reminder of the artificiality of emotion, of authenticity as a performance. At the same time, camp is not the whole story. For it represents a challenge to the power of a feeling for which it knows itself to be no match. It does not seek or hope to conquer love, or to end our breathless, religious veneration of beauty. It merely strives to render their effects less toxic—by making the value and prestige of romantic love less axiomatic.
Then the label [of melodrama] is applied to yourself, it can also exemplify the camp practice of inclusiveness—a communal practice that consists in refusing to exempt yourself from the universal deflation of other people’s pretentions to authenticity and seriousness, yet without forging all claims to be treated decently yourself.
Far from being fatal to love, a camp sensibility is the result and expression of love’s self-knowledge. It indicates that the fusion of gay desire and gay sisterhood, of beauty and the camp, though never easy, is possible, and can happen. [PARAGRAPH BREAK] There is, in sum, an erotics of melodrama. At their wisest, gay men’s love relationships exemplify and embody it. And one of gay male culture’s jobs is to enshrine that erotics, to preserve it, to communicate it, and to transmit it.
On Camille and failure and the possibility of a gay writing position, through camp flatness, and a transmission of that possibility as such.
But if melodrama has an erotics, it also has a politics.
Tell me who do you think I am?
Tell me who do you think you are?
You’re talking like you’re my father.
[On the funeral of Vito Russo] Douglas Crimp, who recounts this incident and provides the background I just summarized, does so in the course of making a passionate and powerful plea for basing a progressive politics not on identity but on identification.
LG: Or just as good at just finding things out bc we don’t know the answer must exist. I’ve never understood a defeatist approach in regard to knowledge
LG: I am quite organized thank you
LG: I lolled and lolled at the thought of one of these fools editing my in design file; good luck people my work is done
LG: I asked for the written thing they turned in; how the fuck has this not only been given to me
LG: Still no response
Rooney: Everyone’s trying to suckceed.
Rooney: But I’m holdin’ on, yes I’m holdin’ on
LG: That was fun n all now I get what signe (one of my profs) does every day
The work of all gay male cultural politics can be summed up in a single, simple formula: to turn tragedy into melodrama.
Melodramatic appropriation of heteronormative modes as a defense posture… an exemplification of camp inclusiveness.
LG: Also I’m not sure what exactly these people are expecting as they never said so much so…
The historical function of gay male culture has been—and its ongoing political task remains—to forge an ironic perspective on scenes of compulsory, socially validated and enforced performance, to decommission supposedly authentic social identities and return them to their status as willfully or witlessly iterated roles.
Rooney: Even if I try, try, you’re never going to leave me alone.
LG: Also half off the ride to see you!
LG: Even tho the mta was broken and that was the long train ride home ever but yay!
LG: And I made SO many mistakes during the site visit it’s good that…
Rooney: I can’t get enough.
Rooney: Cause you are my only friend. Yes you are my only friend.
LG: … No lavish parties or anything. But rent should be good. Congrats.
Rooney: It’s the same old story, it’s the same old movie, but when you’re with me it’s a masterpiece, because you are my only firend.
LG: I can visit you and drive down Santa Monica and stars at pretty ppl.
Heterosexuals don’t usually tell themselves that, by watching a film like Titanic, they are undertaking an initiation into the culture of heterosexuality [SHE’S TEXTING AGAIN NOW, BUT I WANT TO FINISH THIS ONE FIRST], into a very specific ideology of romantic love as a source of salvation [THE PHONE SCREEN IS SO BRIGHT], and into a literally catastrophic model of feminine gender identity [DO I SOUND LIKE GEORGE SAUNDERS?] as a calamitous condition requiring rescue (“he saved me, in every way that a person could be saved”) [I TOTALLY HAD A CRUSH ON THE GIRL WHO INTRODUCED ME TO GEORGE SAUNDERS. HER NAME... WHAT WAS HER NAME?].
LG: And the weather!
SJ: Yes, the weathes
SJ: It is warmer
[WRITES AND SENDS TEXT MESSAGES, EDITS TEXT ABOVE]
Is bored, takes short break by browsing online used car listings.
Rooney: If I were you, I’d be hurting too, cause it’s all or nothing, all or nothing now. If you were me, I know you’d see-e-e, that it’s all or nothing, all or nothing now;
[USED CAR LISTINGS]
This is the one I want to get.
Rooney: I got a funny feeling, I could smell that funny something, that was cooking at my place that night. I got the hunch, and the hunch don’t tell no lies.
[Did they plow the street?]
[Ugh, my headphone cord is tied in a knot…]
[They didn’t plow.]
[They don’t plow here much.]
[Roland is back from the bathroom]
Social constructions are not false, in other words, and it is mistaken to regard social analysis as implying that our fundamental intuitions about the world are erroneous or groundless. On the contrary, they are very well grounded—it’s just that they are grounded in our social existence, not the nature of things. To search for the social grounds of subjectivity is therefore not to invalidate people’s deepest feelings and intuitions or to reduce them to the status of mere illusions or delusions.3 [EMPTIES GLASS OF BOURBON] To search for the social grounds [THINKS OF SHOWING ROLAND HIS NOTES] of subjectivity is therefore not to invalidate people’s deepest feelings and intuitions or to reduce them to the status of mere illusions or delusions. [OH… I ALREADY TYPED THAT.] It is, quite simply, to explain them.
[Thinks about showing the notes, decides not to.]
[Roland shuts some of the lights off in the apartment]
NOTE [… what number?] [SCROLLS, CHECKS] 29
[TURNS PAGE] Historically, there has been a tendency to conceptualize the sexual practices and gender identities of gay men separately from each other ,to give one priority and to treat the other—if at all—only as a mere consequence of the first. The result has been either to promote sexuality at the expense of gender or to privilege gender over sexuality. The post-[FIXES ERRORS] Stonewall
Rooney: How could we know in a heartbeat, things could never be the same? It’s your little brother’s dream to be on the same team someday.
gay movement tried to do the former; third sex theories generally do the latter. [PARAGRAPH BREAK] Since homosexuality ha… [ADJUSTS FOR MISTYPE] h… had for so long been treated as a psychological ambormality or pathology consisting in sex-role reversal or gender inversion, a prominent strain in post-Stonewall gay male political thought and culture attempted to sever homosexuality from gender and to preset [NO] present it as a purely sexual orientation, having to do entirely with sexual object-choice and thereby proving to be fully consistent with nortmative [NO] normative sexuality. [NO] masculinity.
[BREATHES, GETS GLASS OF WATER, AFTER TYPING OUT ACTIONS]
[PEES, TALKS WITH ROLAND ABOUT DINNER, AND SAVES AND CLOSES, INTENDING TO EAT A SLICE OF CHEESE, PLAY A VIDEO GAME, AND ATTEND A SKYPE MEETING]
Notes on Sexuality & Space
FORTHCOMING: Winter 2014
Sexuality & Space (Princeton Architectural Press, 1992) contains the proceedings of an eponymous 1990 conference at Princeton University, and was both the first and last book-length publication dedicated to a comprehensive discourse on sexual identity, as addressed from within the discipline of architecture. In this book I argue that, to the extent that feminist theorists conspicuously ignored in architectural discourse and practice are addressed by Sexuality & Space, its interdisciplinary exchange, in which theories of sexuality are reread in architectural terms, and architecture is reread in sexual terms, has the effect of asserting the very silence that its inquiry ostensibly alleviated. This is a result of the volume’s particular and strategic historicization of its cultural condition. By carefully examining the constative impact of literary style within Sexuality & Space—that is, by looking at how the use of language, therein, impacts that document’s inscription of its historical context—I have come to a better understanding of how that publication was both the beginning and end of the conversation it sought to inaugurate.
Notes on Sexuality & Space analyzes three related essays from that publication: Laura Mulvey’s “Pandora: Topographies of the Mask and Curiosity,” Beatriz Colomina’s “The Split Wall: Domestic Voyeurism,” and Mark Wigley’s “Untitled: The Housing of Gender.” Paying close attention to word choice, syntax, and the order in which ideas unfold as they are read, I develop a comprehensive narrative of how these three essays together paradoxically instantiate and negate a shared discourse. Each essay has been given a corresponding chapter; the method, generally speaking, has been close reading.
In the broadest possible terms, it is the intention of the book to come to an understanding of how text happens in the context of architectural discourse. In the discipline of architecture the written word is often viewed with suspicion; for people who create spaces it is difficult to trust what cannot be touched. For the first time, I try to understand how architecture’s theoretical spaces are constituted by its authors, and to interrogate the materiality of language therein: to understand how our texts configure their successors, to interrogate the particular cordoning off of disruptive intimacies within our field and to deconstruct their effects through taxonomy, and, most importantly, to assert the embodied agency that inevitably underlies the ontology of the author as an architect of text. Sexuality & Space has been the site of my investigation; it could have occurred elsewhere.
FROM AN EMAIL
Paul Rudolph fascinates me, both because of my sympathy with Brutalism and the puzzling open secret of his sexuality, as related to his queer status in the canon of Architectural Modernism (some people include him, some never mention him, a pattern shared with Johnson, among others). I would argue Rudolph is partly to blame for the inconsistencies of his legacy. As I tried to write about several years ago–auditing a class taught by David Joselit, at Yale–it’s evident from his interviews that Rudolph was inordinately canny in negotiating perceptions of difference at the scale of the streetscape. The Art & Architecture Building (New Haven CT, 1963) is an excellent example of that; consider the following statements, in his April 1964 interview with Architect, that “Yale’s buildings are unified in the sense that they are all masonry, dependent on their light and shadow for effect” and are also “large buildings that are actually broken down in terms of scale so that they often read as clusters of buildings rather than a single building.” Are these statements true of Yale’s buildings? Yes, but the truth of the statements is more a matter of clever architechtonic convenience than it is a critical evaluation of the downtown New Haven streetscape: Rudolph portraying New Haven in a manner than naturalizes his design. In other words, Rudoldph has made his revolutionary intervention disappear, in the rhetoric of the interview. As a good architect I will also mention that his drawings do the same; consider this contemporaneous elevation of Chapel Street.
As I wrote for David (badly), the A&A Building can be read as an architechtonic diagram of Rudolph’s hierarchical design pedagogy, with the gaze of various levels of students and faculty controlled such that those who Rudolph wants observing others are made to do so through the organization of spaces within the building’s famous terrace-scheme; there is, additionally, a controlling of views to the exterior such that movement through Rudolph’s sectional hierarchy of art allows for greater and greater visual access to the streetscape. Thus first year sculptors, lecturers, and graphic designers are relegated to the blindness of the basement, with the liturgical event of speaking before an audience occupying the symbolically important (but also entirely contained) double height space between; study and research occupy the ground floor, a space for interaction with the street and the epistemological and literal infestation of architecture with literary and bipedal forces from the outside world; one then moves up to exhibition space, also easily accessed from outside and gazed upon by the A&A’s newest architectural students and more advanced sculptors (who are also given the first views of the street); later design students and city planners are granted an analogous, autonomous set of spaces in the two stories above, and painters and additional city planners get the spaces above that, looking only onto the street. The conclusion of this sequence is the rooftop apartment, the only space in the building with clear visual command of the city, reserved for the director of the school and his dignitaries.
The disciplinary set-up here is clear: architecture in its ideal form rises out of but is ultimately autonomous from the city it takes as its setting; pedagogy is the process of introducing individuals to that condition, and allowing them to achieve greater levels of remove from and formal command, expressed though visual agency, attained in concert with increased skill. It is a lonely journey, concluding with a complete panoramic ability, predicated on conspicuous invisibility. Reading laterally, one can say that Rudolph sees the condition of becoming an architect as similar to that of the contingent erasures of “the closet,” as it existed within the urban conditions of twentieth century America: ignorance, interpellation, and initial and internalized search for meaning, followed by more particularized, isolated, and externally-aware explorations, and finally lonely and untouchable awareness. Given the lapses between the philosophies of architectural practice and the domestic and public architectures of the containment of sexual expression characteristic of the evolution of architectural Modernity (outlined most comprehensively, if also problematically, by Wigley’s various historiographies of the subject, from Alberti to Semper to Corb et al) I think the possible and uncanny relationship between Rudolph’s disciplinary outlook and personal decorum of sexual self-knowledge is entirely feasible if not wholly unavoidable.
So I wrote several years ago. As it happens my partner works in the building next door, and lives around the corner. In my many walks past the renamed, renovated “Rudolph Building,” I’ve come to realize that it expresses Rudolph’s geometry of the architectural-sexual mind in iconic fashion on Chapel Street, where there is a sort of punctuated obelisk. On its flat, filleted corners, the sculptor, Robert Engman, includes the names of his mentors (Kubler and Albers come to mind immediately, Rudolph is listed as well); the guts of this concrete thing are partially evacuated by complexly-curved, smooth-surfaced abscesses; at its base, it is inscribed with the word “STRAIGHT.” Thus we come to my reason for writing you, since in many ways the condition materialized is that of the warped grid, in the sense that orthagonality is here simultaneously signified, in geometry and concrete and language, and also negated, by the abscesses and the irony of the application of the word “straight” to a thing which both is and is not that, within the work of a person whose relation to the description was intentionally ambiguous. As I see it, here both architecture and sexuality are portrayed as anamorphic conditions: the integration of political (in the sense of identity being determined by public and external consensus) and utopic (in the sense of ontology, personal and disciplinary, being dependent upon a central void, and therefore inherently occupying a sort of non-existent space) energies to create forms and formats for subjectivity that are only apparent through the parallax of intellection and paranoid representation.
The question this all poses to me is: what to do? Given my history, which includes a number of negative interactions with sexuality or my sexuality with views of architectural disciplinarity (that is, interactions whereby anything other than compulsory heterosexuality and monogamous cohabitation are configured as outside the concern of design and its representation; interest in any sexual identity other than the transparent and cryptic hegemony of Modernist, masculinist, generally eschatological authorial hero worship is interpellated as beyond the concern of architecture studies; and resistance to either concern appears as either or both professional and intellectual weakness, stemming from a deep-seated and persistent confusion of masculinity with intellectual and artistic prowess) it is of a level of importance rivalling that of the motivation of identity politics that I seek to narrate what I, for political reasons, aim to represent not only as a plausible reading of Rudolph’s building but also as its reality. To that end (among others) I’m fascinated the idea of anomaly as precious. For me it begs the question of what to do about the disambiguation of anomalies that have been *intentionally* covered: situations of present disappearance, related to the interface of gender and sexuality with the space/reality of the public. This is to say that through Rudolph I am considering our conversation, as it might apply to a revolutionary interest in the lapses, excesses, and eccentric ambiguities, related to sexual identity and practice, that one might label “queer.” As the present condition of Queer Theory demonstrates, the identification of eccentricity is not enough to sustain a politically or intellectually effective discours. So I am trying to forge ways of moving forward. One, which I circled around in the thesis and book, is a negotiation of intellectual apoplexy, pushing through impairment or impossibility with means of verbal and syntactical and graphic effusion. As I mentioned in our conversation, if I could figure out a more productive alternative to this tiresome and tiring methodology I would consider my work a success. I guess I would phrase that desire through the question: how does one represent bad faith in such a way that minimizes the imposition of a particular ideological perspective; in other words, is it possible to represent something that has been made to disappear, faithfully?
FROM ANOTHER EMAIL
Since September I’ve been living around the corner from the recently renamed and renovated “Rudolph Building.” As you’ll recall, during our conversation I brought up Robert Engman’s sculptural contribution to the “Art and Architecture Building,” as it was originally known. Contemporaneous with the 1963 structure, this obelisk-like concrete column features a series of complex-curvature voids in its interior, aligned vertically, through the height of the sculpture; these voids direct the gravitational loads imposed on the sculpture towards its corners, which are inscribed with the names of Engman’s mentors and colleagues (among them: Kubler, Albers, and Rudolph). At its base, the sculpture is inscribed with the word “STRAIGHT.”
You can read Art at Yale’s entry on the structure here: http://www.yale.edu/publicart/column.html
Given my reading of Rudolph’s architectural pedagogy, as manifest in the parti of his “A&A Building,” I believe it is appropriate to read this object as a material diagram of a particular disciplinary identity in mid-twentieth century America. The route of self-formation implied is as follows: in assuming the status of the art or architectural practitioner, the self is evacuated, with the purposive forces of both intellect and action flowing towards a reification of disciplinary dictum, based on adherence to given precepts; likewise, all imposed forces in Engman’s column are directed towards the names of those individuals of pedagogical import not only to himself, but also to the interdisciplinary model of art and architectural practice embodied by Rudolph’s building. The sculptor’s work is supported by those who have influenced him.
It is the possibly ironic inclusion of the word STRAIGHT at the base of the column (is it? isn’t it?) which invites some conceptual porosity between this model of professionalism, or practice, or praxis, and the body of ellipses, lapses, and masquerading performances constitutive of the “closet,” as it came to be understood in the discourses of or that would become Queer Theory, at the close of the twentieth century. Of course, with the lack of either clear material signification towards this reading, or a given archive to support my claim, this porosity exists only in the parallax view of obliquity and paranoia. Possible responses include apoplexy, or a slightly softer and more speculative metaphysics; which is to say, allowing present and embodied realities to start to enter into the story.
FROM A LUNCHTIME WALK
FOR A COMPETITION
MOLLY is a phenomenon for which exists a twofold value. In the first place, it has historical value as it marks a decisive turning-point in the material development of the urban landscape. In the second place, it typifies an essential embodied relationship with the park and city.
Three surfaces lean together at points both on the ground and in the air, in synergistic stability. Their convex mirrored-fabric lenses are created in tension by an integral, light-weight plastic frame, anchored by buried concrete footings.
As architects, we have built on the folly’s historical interrogation of architecture’s use value, within a landscape condition; operating through the sculptural metaphor of the spider our MIRROR FOLLY folds the landscape of park and city into itself, both in an accessible interior (a vortex of views) and in its exteriors (trapping composite distortions); the sum is a playful architecture of environmental refraction: it spins the city into something beautiful.
The city is incomprehensible; we unsheathe its daggered definition, shattering its complete-city and awakening a vision, as if to be born anew. In Gothic ruin and Byzantine expense, it is fallow landscape from Le Nôtre to Tafuri that is the nightmare from which we now awake: it is not to shape the landscape, it is to trap it, consume it. Our city’s epic has yet to be written, we say, but it is becoming important. DEAR, DIRTY QUEENS, the snotgreen river, the rising co-ops, the grass and leaves and auto repair shops: ours is the crooked lookingglass of a devoted servant; we are the supreme naturalists: unearthly, ungainly, and sincere!
To our expiring installation we offer—dissembled, cut, sewn, stitched, refashioned—new life as a stylish, shiny tote bag. Come ye, yuppie snobs who cry “how nice!” and consecrate the ruins of our world-unto itself; our FOLLY, a tranquil spectator that knows perspectives, shall create a worthwhile charitable opportunity after fronting the fierceness of Queen’s elements (and greasy fingers). Not pride, alas, but love of your institution encourages our laying down place into piecework: from our ruined palace shall others walk the city newly stylish at $50 each (the proceeds benefitting you!).
We celebrate the here-and-now, we explore the inward, the surfaces of living, the life that will exhibit itself.
Originally published on SAH.org
With a team of administrators, programmers, video editors, and student interns I spent the summer developing the first ever massive open online course on the subject of architectural history. Offered on the edX platform beginning September 17, the MITx course “A Global History of Architecture: Part 1”—known to us at MIT by its course number, 4.605x—is intended to serve as a platform for thought about architecture throughout the world and the history of human society. Like most online courses entering the education marketplace today, 4.605x is constructed around a body of pre-existing material. The bulk of the course is derived from the spring 2013 offering of Dr. Mark Jarzombek’s recurring MIT architectural history survey, 4.605 “Introduction to the History and Theory of Architecture.”[i] This aspect of adaptation generated some of the most compelling pedagogical challenges to our creation of the online offering. It is because of the exemplary nature of these challenges to the field of architectural history and its instruction at the college level I would like to share some of my experiences and thoughts with you, here on the SAH blog.
4.605, the original course, was uniquely suited for an adaption of its kind because of the conceptual design of its learning objectives. The course’s overall structure is dependent upon the facilitation of a spirit of pluralism, for pedagogical effect. For example, Jarzombek’s first lecture begins with a rational and cautious conveyance of the limited theories and facts known about early civilizations. This includes a discussion of ochre, and its use in ancestral worship ritual; drawing a connection between the uses of this material in various societies, historically, without naturalizing this phenomenon within ostensibly trans-historical explanations, Jarzombek’s portrayal of the first societies imparts upon those groups a level of historical autonomy, whereby their cultural practices are represented as a cumulative instance, sitting at the end of an ongoing historical unfolding (rather than functioning as an antecedent of the present). Building upon this example, 4.605x can be rightly understood as a format for historical pluralism: it recounts the story of architecture and history in various instances as it moves through them, chronologically, in an attempt to foster a type of historical literacy. Presented in episodes, the history of architecture and society gradually accumulates, its instances receding form their particularity and towards their implication in a continuum. As a student, this revelation becomes ever-more seductive by virtue of the ignorance it produces: everything one learns reveals the possibility for learning that much more, as the unfolding of architectural history continues revealing itself as ever vaster and more complex than it seemed before. Embodying the curiosity of its self-selected student body, 4.605x creates for itself a new demographic of architectural historians: independent, global, and operating outside the normative boundaries of our field’s academe.
That this should be so inherently pushes against the medium condition of MOOC development in its present, early iteration. In general terms the repackaging pre-recorded lectures as a free online course, while expanding availability to content, also highlights the elite privilege of access to today’s institutions of higher learning. In our case while 4.605x is making available, for free, to anyone with an internet connection, a simulacrum of an experience that up until this moment was only available to those with the ability to attend MIT classes, those who enroll in 4.605x will receive no official credit for the course and, since MIT retains copyright to its materials, enrolled students are not free to engage with course lectures, readings, or assessment outside the edX online environment. The experience is approximately analogous to auditing a traditional university course, with the added consideration that one cannot watch lectures live or interact personally with the professor. The necessary formatting of our recorded material heightens this potential alienation of the student from their online instructor, when compared to a traditional auditing situation: divided into segments, edited for length, and released en-masse, the lectures seen by 4.605x students will read unavoidably as a derivative product, awkwardly adapted for their online viewing and always feeling like a secondary sort of experience. Bearing these factors in mind, 4.605x is no more than the sum of what has been lost in translation; a teasing reminder of the world-class instruction offered by MIT, to individuals who will probably never be able to experience it.
Such cynicism is misplaced. To view our MOOC as mere branding exercise misses the opportunities that the online medium provides for new forms of instruction and individualized learning, which are numerous and compelling. MOOC lectures, even those adapted from residential courses, differ from traditional lectures because students are free to absorb information at their own pace: with streaming online video, a student can watch when they please, with the ability to pause, rewind, and revisit portions they may not have understood the first time around. In our course, self-scrolling, time-stamped transcripts, displayed beside the lecture videos, enable better comprehension for the hard-of-hearing and English learners. Additionally, questions displayed beneath videos have been used to highlight salient points in our video segments; this simple gesture is of tremendous importance: by taking advantage the necessary fracturing of our video content as a pedagogical opportunity, 4.605x starts to utilize its digital nature as a value added opportunity for its global community of students.
There are many other ways in which the 4.605x course team attempted to capitalize on the edX platform, building on the learning objectives implied by the material available from the original MIT course. The content of Professor Jarzombek’s course holds up the ideal of free, rational association between historical episodes. Paraphrasing his course abstract, 4.605/4.605x’s lectures give students grounding for understanding a range of buildings and contexts; analyzing particular architectural transformations, arising from various specific cultural situations, the course lectures answer questions like:
- How did the introduction of iron in the ninth century BCE impact regional politics and the development of architecture?
- How did new religious formations, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, produce new architectural understandings?
- What were the architectural consequences of the changing political landscape in northern Italy in the 14th century?
- How did rock-cut architecture move across space and time from West Asia to India to Africa?
- How did the emergence of corn impact the rise of religious and temple construction in Mexico? (Jarzombek)
These questions coordinate very particular narratives about architecture and its role within the unfolding of social history. In a traditional lecture course, student concerns involving these narratives and their relationship to each other could be addressed in recitation sessions, but in the MOOC environment this is not possible. While technologies exist to facilitate personal interaction between instructors an online students, such as edX’s built in discussion form or products like Google Hangout, even with these tools it is not possible to address individualized concerns with the attention and care of graduate student teaching assistants. Building upon spring 2013 4.605 TA input, the 4.605x course team devised a moderated approach to facilitating student discussion that emphasized the course learning objectives without necessitating the input of additional resources.[ii]
To discuss these strategies it is necessary to understand how 4.605x configures its narratives of architectural history. As an example, let’s consider the third question above, about early modern northern Italy. In his lecture on the topic, Jarzombek argues that the example of the emergence of the town square in Siena in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and concomitant consolidation of the medieval torre typology from its proliferation in family compounds to the singularity of town hall, signals the emergence of civil society in that region. Thus, the comparison between the later and earlier town-scape conditions, illustrated below, relates indexically to the creation of the concept of citizenship and the growing role of civic institutions during the Renaissance.
In this and other incidents, 4.605 lectures enact an historical methodology, whereby architectural developments are seen as causally related to a wide variety of cultural factors, across related geographical and chronological contexts. With respect to the issue of fitting incidents together, it is important to note that there are other metanarratives that one might fit this event in Italian history in to, and that in 4.605/4.605x a student is not given an opportunity to choose, or even explore, such counterpoints. It should be stated that in offering an admittedly singular and sanctioned narrative among a broad variety of twenty-four related, but autonomous incidents, students are enabled if not forced to use their own reasoning to create a comprehensive understanding of global architectural history; therefore, despite operating on an inherent notion of propriety and sanctioned knowledge, 4.605x’s epistemic values nourish and encourage an individualized engagement with architectural history, and therefore history, writ large. It is with this directed encouragement in mind that we, in developing 4.605x, tried to facilitate a conversation that could be as open as possible, and that took maximum advantage of our online course’s large and diverse community of motivated students. Like most surveys, in 4.605x the fostering of intellectual connections between related materials is foregrounded at the expense of individualized exploration. That said, the global character of our course community offers an unprecedented opportunity for students of diverse backgrounds to connect with each other, and these connections offer opportunities for personalized reflection and exchange that the original MIT course cannot match. Indeed, we see the open-posting capability written into the edX discussion forum as a wonderful tool for students to get to know each other as they get to know the material—and to experience whatever benefit this may offer. To this end, simple policies have been devised such that the discussion can remain free without impinging upon comprehension of the class’s radically inclusive historiographical methodology. Those policies, informed by previous edX courses, include:
- Be polite. We have learners from all around the world and with different backgrounds. Something that is easy for you may be challenging for someone else. Let’s build an encouraging community.
- Search before asking. The forum can become hard to use if there are too many threads, and good discussions happen when people participate in the same thread. Before asking a question, use the search feature by clicking on the magnifying glass on the left-hand side.
- Be specific. Choose a descriptive title, and provide as much information as possible: Which part of what problem or video do you want to discuss? Why do you not understand the question? What have you tried doing?
- Write clearly. We know that English is a second language for many of you but correct grammar will help others to respond. Avoid ALL CAPS, abbrv of wrds (abbreviating words), and excessive punctuation!!!!
- Use discussion while working through the material. On many pages in the learning sequences and homework, there is a link at the bottom that says “Show Discussion”. Clicking on this link will show all discussion on the forum associated with this particular learning material.
By foregrounding concerns of civility and legibility in our management of the discussion forum, we hope that our course community will develop itself into a vibrant forum of equal interlocutors, despite the centralizing epistemological tendencies of the survey format and sense of alienation imposed by the digital adaptation of an existing course.
To get things moving, and emphasize certain salient aspects of course lectures, a small body of conversation topics, written by Dr. Jarzombek, have been pre-seeded. Released onto the discussion forum with each lecture, these directed prompts offer opportunities for personal reflection that is based on the material discussed. Emphasizing the living nature of architectural history, it is hoped these discussion questions help students to connect material together as they form associations between what they are learning about and their own lives. For the lecture on early modern Italy, for example, the discussion prompt includes the question “Have you ever visited an Italian city and had a coffee in a piazza?” By answering this question or responding to the experiences of others, students can start to understand how they have interacted with the contemporary legacy of the urban-political shift addressed in the course, even in something as everyday as having an espresso.
We hope that this intentionally limited mode of fostering student engagement catalyzes additional ancillary benefits. It is true that, by not encouraging engagement with alternative philosophies of history, 4.605x often works to reinforce its epistemological authority, to the effect of performing as a vehicle for sanctioned facts and narratives. That said, given the specifically anti-hegemonic nature of Professor Jarzombek’s architectural history—which engages the subject across traditional chronological and cultural boundaries—I am incredibly optimistic about 4.605x’s ability to enable new connections to the field of architectural history, conceived in the broadest possible form. These directed questions are one excellent example of how this could occur; there are many others. Ultimately, it is the global nature of the content developed for the course that will help an unprecedentedly diverse audience to relate to what has traditionally been a somewhat elite and generally Eurocentric subject. In catalyzing this novel opportunity to create a new community of persons interested in architectural history, allowing for personal reflection is of immense importance. It is in this sense that the discussion component of 4.605x is helping to build on the course’s pedagogical strategy, even if the online formatting of the course ambivalent about our inability to engage with students personally.
My measured optimism comes with a wealth of caveats, predicated on uncertainty. Like many universities, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is helping to develop curricula for an emerging university outside the United States, and it is likely that 4.605x will be adapted as an instructional tool for use at that institution in the near future; it is also likely that the course will be used as an instrument in similar “flipped instruction” utilizations elsewhere, further in the future. The details about this were still developing as 4.605x was being put together, but the continuation and adaptation of 4.605x into new and different forms seems inevitable. The inherent problem with this dynamic is one of derivation. Not only is our online course inherently derivative—based, as it is, on recorded lectures from spring 2013—but it is also going to be used to develop derivative content—such as materials to facilitate residential instruction elsewhere. Here is my fear: 4.605x is a survey course, composed of relatively autonomous episodes, portrayed in lectures; I can see its content being easily misused, formulating connections that the course itself leaves ambiguous, to the detriment of students.
The motivation of my fear is an attachment to 4.605x’s present and delicate neutrality, as a format for content, from the perspective of historiography. Having watched the course lectures out of order, a few times, I can say that all of them stand on their own easily. They are comprehensive, and entertaining. I can also say that no particular lecture is necessary to satisfy the overall pedagogical ambition of the course: the ambition of training students in an understanding of history and architecture can be achieved even without a unit on the Minoans and discussion of the impact of the collapse of the Indus River Valley civilization in 1500 BCE, for example. That said, 4.605x does not lend itself easily to historiographical agendas outside the moral philosophy of the autonomy of practical reason. So, while 4.605x courseware can and should be used as a resource for teaching global architectural history—few exist, more should—I would hate to see it adapted in a manner that naturalizes secondary aspects of the course as overriding concerns. It would be an abuse of the course’s content to create a derivative from it which is centered on ideological critique (cf. Tafuri) or technical determinism (cf. Semper; Banham) for example, or to make an argument that architectural history is characterized by expressions of singularity (Frampton) or signification (Jencks)—all of which are possibilities, should one cherry-pick content to adapt based on ideological interest. To provide an extended example: bearing in mind my interest in sexuality and space, it would be entirely possible to utilize 4.605x lectures to create a limited course on the history of human sexuality and the architecture of domestic environments; this course could include clips about matriarchal societies in the pre-classical Mediterranean (Lecture 6), the relationship between the rise of farming and more dimorphic gender roles in the Holocene (Lecture 3), connections between the lack of public space and the culture of rape renaissance Italy (Lecture 22), among many others. While I am OK with the idea of using 4.605x videos in an external and unrelated environment, it is crucial that this adaptation not be presented as an abridgement of 4.605x. The absolute character of “A Global History of Architecture: Part 1” (covering the whole world, and the complete history of society) neutralizes its particular content such that its only agenda is that of conveying material, to foster the intellectual growth of a student audience. It is for this reason that the course can cover 100,000 years of human history with efficacy: none of its admittedly limited dives into particular subjects are inherently necessary to the overall integrity of the course. Once that neutrality is compromised, the course becomes a political instrument, using incomplete materials to enforce a set of propositions. Rather than learn to teach themselves, students are merely indoctrinated.
The question facing 4.605x now, as future adaptations remain to be considered, is: can the course’s present ethos of facilitation be expanded to include a body of teachers? Stated another way: Can 4.605x become a platform for facilitating new and novel engagement with global architectural history instruction, in both senses of the phrase (instruction on the subject of “global architectural history;” and on architectural history, generally, around the world), in the same manner as it encourages new, global connections to the subject of architectural history? I don’t know. What I would like to see is metamorphoses of 4.605x, not derivations, elicited in the same way that the course hopes to have an impact on student thinking about architecture and history, but not necessarily to shape it.
I am able to present several informed judgments about the state of 4.605x with regards to the ambitions of its institutional stakeholders. Presently members of the MIT Office of Digital Learning (which also oversees MITx) are utilizing analytics to reconsider how MOOC courseware can be designed to maximize intended impact. One recent study, “Exploring the Relationship between Course Structure and etext Usage in Blended and Open Online Courses,” uses anonymous, aggregated, and chronologically analyzed student click data sets to understand when and how often students utilize certain resources. This research had a marked impact on our course, leading to the implementation of four regular exams rather than a mid-term and final, since research has found that students engage much more with eText when this format is used, and more engagement is assumed to be beneficial. The impact of this leveraging of analytics remains to be seen. In developing our course, research was used to short-circuit the traditional iterative refinements by which university courses are developed over the years. The intention was to improve 4.605x’s online learning experience based on scientific data, but it is just as possible that our creation of additional tests will work to over-emphasize an aspect of the courseware (eText), at the expense of the other possible developments obviated by the labor necessary the additional tests (for example peer reviewed essay assessments, or the beta testing live office hours analogues).
The dynamic of derivation within which 4.605x presently sits involves a high degree of free play. It is my hope that future analytics data about, for example, what students click on the most, how this is reflected in assessment outcomes, and how demographic data might be implicated in such outcomes, can be leveraged to continue thinking pragmatically about improved learning outcomes. Put another way: it is my hope that those responsible for 4.605x in down the line will leverage gathered data to learn what there is for the architectural history community to learn, about learning, rather than to attempt to manipulate the structures we have created to conform to externally generated assumptions.
Addressing the issue in this way might be too limited. From the perspective of architectural history as a subject and discipline, the ultimate question provoked by this course at present—and therefore by MOOCs, towards the future of architectural history instruction—is: what do we want? 4.605x proves that creating a high-quality massive open online course on the subject of architectural history is possible, and demonstrates that even following the simplest model for online courseware production (adaptation of existing materials) there is a lot to be gained pedagogically from a careful consideration of the capabilities of the format of content distribution. I personally think that 4.605x will help to fill a gap that exists at many professional programs, who lack the resources retain a dedicated, experienced PhD-level instructor of architectural history capable and motivated to teach a broad, undergraduate-level survey course, and for this reason the course is highly noteworthy. Your views on what qualifies an individual to teach the subject of architectural history and what should be taught to whom likely differ from mine but it is likely we agree that expanding access to college-level instruction in architectural history is a service to the field. What this service will mean, as the project evolves, can start to be evaluated by looking at the landscape of online education today. Compared to disciplines such as math, biology, or electrical engineering, architectural history is relatively unique in its limited size and scope, with only a few institutions able to maintain robust programs of study; 4.605x is an interesting case study in the early history of MOOC education since its licensing and re-distribution likely does not offer the threat of professional displacement that speculated about similar MOOC surveys in subjects with larger teaching communities, threatened by our current age of austerity.[iii] What these things mean, together, is that the relative value added by increasing access to and otherwise facilitating instruction on the subject of architectural history online is high, while the risks, at the level of administration and job security, are relatively low. Even if 4.605x fails to meet your best expectations for the first architectural survey online with regards to content I think you can concede that the precedent it sets with regards to the possibilities for architectural history instruction is a worthy one. It does not replace its traditional equivalent, but it allows greater access to its content, and this is a benefit. Given that, I ask you the members of the Society of Architectural Historians: where do you want to take this? Certainly some serious consideration of what we want the future of architectural history to look like is warranted. The fact of 4.605x occurring, now, and the prospect of its continued adaption brings to that consideration some urgency: massive open online education in architectural history is happening, and will continue. While it is unlikely that a competing MOOC on the subject of “global architectural history” will emerge soon, it is quite likely that similarly constructed offerings on the subject of architectural history—adapted, comprehensive, and lecture-driven—will proliferate over the coming years. I am content with how this course turned out, but not satisfied; to the effect that I remain insecure about its present iteration I worry about its future adaptation, and the design of other MOOCs on the subject of architectural history. In the translated words of Roland Barthes, “whatever its sophistication, style has always something crude about it: it is a form with no clear destination, the product of a thrust, not an intention, and, as it were, a vertical and lonely dimension of thought.” Applying this maxim to 4.605x: our course is configured as it is as a result of its context and the resources available, future iterations will remain the same in that regard, and related courses will bear some resemblance in that concern. It is likely that other online courses on architectural history will resemble ours in terms of formant. Thus it bears asking: how do we want online education to benefit the field of architectural history, and how can the possibilities and capabilities of emerging online education platforms be utilized in the service of these goals?
To begin this conversation, I would like to offer some interdisciplinary reflection. Many in the arena of Internet Studies have argued that the World Wide Web is a powerful, flattening force, capable of everything from radically decentralizing economies and reproduction (cf. Friedman, The World is Flat), to revolutionizing technological evolution (cf. Zittrain, The Future of the Internet—and How to Stop It), to transcending traditional boundaries of place and culture. In support of this last proposition, Canadian online education pioneer and activist Stephen Downes has argued that the internet is capable of functioning as a global public sphere, where people from around the world can talk to each other without regard to their social position. MOOCs are a fundamental vehicle for achieving this openness; as Downes stated in his EdgeX2012 presentation,
Online, the Prime Minister of a country can have a conversation with people from all over the place; offline, that’s a lot more difficult, because the Prime Minister’s always surrounded by advisors, and then media, and then other media, and then a crowd of people, and that prevents the Prime Minister from talking to people directly. It is this directness, this immediacy of communication, that you can do online that allows a MOOC to be open, that is one of its defining features. The MOOC is structured as a network. And again, this is the sort of thing you can’t really do offline. But online – I see people laughing at the diagram, that’s a creative representation of a MOOC, by one of our students in a MOOC – and the idea here of a MOOC is that it’s not one central entity that everybody goes to, it’s not like a school or a classroom or a book where everybody would go to this one thing. It’s distributed… it’s the website of this student, this student, this student, it’s the website of a person in Spain, a person in Brazil, a person in India, a person in Canada, the United States, wherever. (Downes)
Despite this flattening aspect, like all public spheres, MOOCs are characterized by barriers to access. The most important one here is that of regular sustained access to an internet connection. Downes makes a note of this in his presentation:
Anybody can enter a MOOC. Well, OK, I have to be a bit careful here: anybody with a computer and an internet connection, or access to one, can enter a MOOC. These are types of online learning. I’m going to emphasize this a little bit later as well, but what we built is a type of online learning. And it requires a certain infrastructure. (Downes)
Here, the non-possession of prerequisites for participation (an internet connection) preemptively disqualifies a person from participation in the public sphere of the MOOC. This problem is negated, however, when it is turned into a question of taste; in this vein Downes continues the selection above…
It takes advantage of that infrastructure to do things that we could not formerly do without the infrastructure. You might say, and you’d be very reasonable in saying, well what if you don’t have that infrastructure? Well then probably you’re not going to want to do a MOOC, because it’s going to be a lot more difficult. (Downes)
When one considers that this factor of preference might be motivated by other contingencies (including wealth) the narrative offered by Downes echoes those seen elsewhere. Consider Craig Watkins and Juliet Schor’s recent report on connected learning, which argues that new educational approaches risk becoming an opportunity to reinforce already existing privileges of class and status. So they write,
The trend for privileged young people and parents to mine the learning opportunities of networked and digital media is one more indicator of how differential supports in out-of-school learning can broaden the gap between those who have educational advantages and those who do not. When the public educational system lacks a proactive and well-resourced agenda for enriched and interest-driven learning, young people dependent on public institutions for learning are doubly disadvantaged. (Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design)
To summarize: the societal value of MOOCs is moderated by limitations to their access. At the same time, the medium can be considered of incredible importance because of its ingenious operation between ideas and ideology: at this precise moment the MOOC remains both a pursuit of education content and its universal access, but its utopic promise remains precisely that. To these ends, while massive open online courseware can serve institutional and egotistical functions, covering elitism with a bad-faith gloss of equanimity, it can nonetheless also be leveraged as a means for identifying social and institutional conditions that foster autonomy and personal growth.
The MOOC as described by Downes is not really free and available to all but I nonetheless serves as a means of resistance to established social orders; it is building on this compromise that I feel that the MOOC can function as a means towards broadening the availability of architectural history instruction at the college level while also facilitating the creation of a new diverse generation of independent, self-motivated architectural historians. Downes believes that the MOOC can be a democratic space capable of withstanding the corrosive effects of prejudice, narrow-mindedness, and elitism, and I agree. I think that 4.605x has started to model what the space of the MOOC might be within architectural history. I invite you to improve on it.
[i] In producing the online course, lectures, recorded during the run of the class, were divided into eight to seventeen minute segments. Images and videos from lecturer PowerPoint presentations were spliced over the video feed where appropriate. In addition, four custom-coded, comprehensive exams were developed from the spring mid-term and final exams. As is typical for the massive open online course a.k.a. “MOOC” medium, videos are each accompanied by short multiple-choice exercises, and each lecture includes an opportunity for guided discussion. Some supplemental resources, such as a map of sites mentioned in the course, were also created, based on existing resources. Twenty-three of the twenty-four lectures are presented MIT Professor of the History and Theory of Architecture Mark Jarzombek, and one by Ana Maria Leon, PhD Candidate in the History, Theory and Criticism of Architecture and Art at MIT. Six supplemental lectures are also offered with the course package, two by Jarzombek, two by Leon, and two by University of Washington Professor of Architecture Vikramāditya Prakāsh. These were recorded over the summer.
[ii] Currently MITx estimates that managing their discussion forums requires approximately one hour per thousand students, per week, at a minimum; given limited resources it was necessary to devise strategies for discussion forum management that were as efficient as possible.
[iii] See recent controversies involving JusticeX, a Harvard course offered to San Jose State University students, as well as Princeton sociology professor Mitchell Duneier’s decision to withdraw from his partnership with MOOC distributor Coursera, citing uneasiness over licensing his course to the University of Maryland and the University of Akron. http://chronicle.com/article/Why-Professors-at-San-Jose/138941/; http://chronicle.com/article/A-MOOC-Star-Defects-at-Least/141331/
Downes, Stephen. “Education as Platform: The MOOC Experience and what we can do to make it better.” EdgeX. Delhi, 2012. Keynote address.
Ito, Mizuko, et al. Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design. Irvine, CA: The Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, 2013. Report.
Jarzombek, Mark. https://www.edx.org/course/mit/4-605x/global-history-architecture-part/884. Ed. Samuel Ray Jacobson. 6 June 2013. Online course description. 10 July 2013.
Seaton, Daniel, Yoav Bergner and David Pritchard. “Exploring the Relationship Between Course Structure and etext Usage in Blended and Open Online Courses.” 6th International Conference on Educational Data Mining. 2013. Conference Proceeding.
In his statement for the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale exhibition, titled “Fundamentals,” curator Rem Koolhaas has written the following:
Fundamentals will be a Biennale about architecture, not architects. After several Biennales dedicated to the celebration of the contemporary, Fundamentals will focus on histories – on the inevitable elements of all architecture used by any architect, anywhere, anytime (the door, the floor, the ceiling etc.) and on the evolution of national architectures in the last 100 years. In three complementary manifestations – taking place in the Central Pavilion, the Arsenale, and the National Pavilions – this retrospective will generate a fresh understanding of the richness of architecture’s fundamental repertoire, apparently so exhausted today.
Invited to participate in an associated exhibition I have composed the following in accordance with Mr. Koolhaas: an interim manifesto. Enjoy:
The structure of architecture represents that of the contemporary situation. Since the principles of form and representation do not arise purely out of nature, they collude with the social organisms that we regard as means or for resistance. Our community and individuality perished when what was required was autonomy; consequently it is only as a tiny piece of the world that design can clamber towards efficacy and service to society, with or without friction. A profession oblivious to differences in humanity, we lead on our own blurring of national characteristics and to the production of modernisms that can be deployed equally well at any point on the globe.
Like capitalist production, the architectural process is an end in itself. The star-objects it spews forth are not actually produced to be of service or function; rather, they are made for the sake of egos that know no limit. Its growth is tied to that of capital. Architects do not labor for private gains whose benefits he and she can enjoy as an artisan. No: the architect labors to expand the development business. Buildings are not produced for the sake of art. Though art may well have once served to produce and consume buildings up to a certain point, architecture is a side effect in service of global capital. The designs subsumed by that process have divested themselves of their autonomous value.
Our bad faith runs its secret course in public. Everyone does his and her design in service to finance, performing formal acrobatics without grasping the ignobility. Like figures on a ledger sheet, architecture stands among investments, sad creations whose creators withdraw from reality and barely observe it themselves. Developments are conceived according to formalist principles that the star system merely pushes to its ultimate conclusion. Mouse-clicking fingers correspond to the hands in the factory. Going beyond aesthetic capacities, critical aptitude tests attempt to calculate dispositions of the soul as well. Our mass and ornament is the concrete reflex to which the prevailing architecture system aspires.