Nomad architectures

Each ‘misprision’ of Stonehenge mentioned above, is a way of understanding the stones, which remain the same object throughout. In each understand­ing they are refracted through a different set of cultural knowledge and memories, so that each produces a different experience of Stonehenge. Geoffrey of Monmouth had a different experience of Stonehenge from Inigo Jones, and so on. It is not just that they knew different things about the place, but they would have had a different range of feelings when they visited the place, and the experience would have felt spontaneous. There is also the certainty that some elements of the experience were shared by visitors with different cultural apparatuses – for example, the purely optical effect of the stones on the viewers must have been fairly similar, even if it were interpreted differently. One recognizes Stukeley’s descriptions of the place, even if one demurs from following the interpretations that, to him, might have seemed self-evident. There is nothing deliberately contrived about these experiences. They are genuine and authentic for the people involved, and are not so indi­vidualistic that they are comfortably labelled as ‘subjective impressions’ but have a degree of acceptance across cultural groups, so they are better called ‘cultural constructs’. Michel de Certeau has suggested drawing a distinction between the use of the words ‘place’ and ‘space’ such that the ‘place’ would be the unmediated fabric (the stones of Stonehenge) but the ‘space’ that visitors experience would be a ‘practised place’ – the place refracted through the visitor’s culture, experience and use of the place.30 If people immersed in different cultures come and visit the place then they continue to occupy and experience different spaces – Druid space, Merlin space, etc. The term that Michel Foucault used to describe this phenomenon was ‘heterotopia’ – a place that is different from itself, on account of the plurality of readings of its events.31 In the light of such readings, it is necessary to draw a distinction between a building as an object (the stones of Stonehenge) and the various experiences of the building (the ‘misprisions’ of the place) which can properly be called ‘architecture’ – which is to say (following Dewey’s terminology) that architecture is our experience of buildings. In the case of Stonehenge we can then point to at least four architectures that all impinge on the same building; the architecture of Merlin’s magic, of the Roman temple, of the Druid shrine, and the new-age gathering-place. There are, of course, far more than this – some of them idiosyncratic and personal and of no wider import, others that were important in their day, but which are now utterly lost.

In the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, the practices of dealing with one’s environment are inseparable from the mental processes involved in forming the idea of the self, usually working at an unconscious level. There are three of their concepts that seem particularly valuable in the current analysis: the machine, nomad thought, and paysageite.

In Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, the machine is conceived in a very generalized way, so that it includes not only the usual sorts of mechanism that we would ordinarily think of as machines (technical machines) but also the less tangible ‘mechanisms’ that produce states of mind and suchlike. In particular, there are the machines that produce desire – machines that are always hungry for the next part of the mechanism (which is missing). These ‘desiring machines’ work in effect by breaking down; they are always breaking down.32 If we look at architecture, as analysed above, with reference to these mechanisms, then we can see it as the product of some such machine, composed partly of solid material substance, and partly of the responses of the people who come into contact with the solid material. The building and a person together form an agencement (an assemblage) that is a temporarily constituted machine that produces architecture. The architec­ture that is produced will depend partly on the kind of stimuli and sensations that are caused by the building (as an inert object) and partly by the cultural apparatus in the mind of the person – the instincts, concepts, and habits through which the stimuli are refracted. Both the building and the person’s mind are necessary to the architecture, and different minds might produce different architectures when brought into contact with the same building – as in the heterotopias mentioned above.

Second, there is the idea of nomad thought. Deleuze’s conception of philosophy was formed through the study of the history of philosophy, and he described philosophy as the invention of concepts. Deleuze’s ‘method’ was to identify the first appearance of a concept, at which point it can be apprehended most clearly, because it is there that one sees the concept fully engaged with the problem that it was invented in order to solve. Once it is properly understood, it can be analysed in the abstract, and once it has been understood in the abstract it can be redeployed at will, wherever it is useful. This method is self-consciously empirical, and positioned against the Platonic doctrine of ‘forms’.33 The terminology that Deleuze and Guattari used to explain this idea is that the concept is ‘territorialized’ in particular instances, and ‘deterritorialized’ when it is abstracted from them. Or else it is ‘actual’ in particular instances, and ‘virtual’ in itself, away from individual embodiments. If this way of thinking is applied to architectural history, then one would be concerned to isolate ways of thinking about buildings. From time to time a new architecture is produced, and then one wants to make a close analysis of the circumstances that gave rise to it. From this analysis one can see the traits of a ‘type’, which might then be used again and again in different circum­stances with perhaps a great variety of superficial appearances. For example, the general idea ‘home’ has connotations that seem to be congruent across more than one culture, but particular instances of homes might be very varied. In a Deleuzian way of thinking, my own experience of home would be the basis from which the idea ‘home’ might be deterritorialized and made more widely applicable. I would then recognize that idea reterritorialized in the homes of sub-Saharan chiefs, or ancient Greeks (and I might well be wrong in recognizing the idea in those places, but without further experience that is what I would tend to do). In the case of Stonehenge, in this terminology, we can recognize the building being reterritorialized in a variety of cultures, as it is understood as a magical monument to the British dead, as a practical Roman temple, or as a place of Druidic worship. As it moves between these territories, it can be seen to be nomadic. The monument travels across cultures, and across realms of ideas, so it is found in a variety of different lieux de memoire, and is therefore nomadic if we give proper weight to the role of ideas in forming places and architectures.

Updated: 3rd October 2014 — 1:37 pm