“Stuttering”

Dialogue / Natanel Elfassy – François Roche / 2010
Published in LOG /Spring-Summer 2010 / Thanks To Cynthia Davidson


The only thing the reader will see marching past him are inadequate means: fragments, allusions,  strivings, investigations. Do not try to find a well polished sentence or a perfectly coherent image in it, what is printed on the pages is an embarrassed word, a stuttering.[1]– Andreï Biély

Natanel Elfassy: In a restless moment near the end of their lives, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari revealed their sensitivity to the uncertainty within their work, which was constantly being reformulated, by asking what it means to create. While the act of creation is not a representation of something that already exists, it is also not an irruption of the uncontrolled or undefined; it is not born of pure chaos, nor does it refer to it. Chaos is the ultimate enemy of thought.

Resorting to the idea of creation as chaotic and morbid, in which words lose their basis in a colorless, mute night and where we don’t see any form and don’t hear any sound, is one of the dangers that lurks in creation. This danger is based on the misleading understanding of creation as an expression either of transgression, breaking order, or madness. What cannot be thought is the nonrelational – those potentials or movements that fail to be actualized. Creation is danger; however it is not the danger of madness, but rather the danger of exposing an abundant sanity.

Deleuze and Guattari place creation in the field in which it is destroyed and trembles. Stuttering, where it cracks and fractures, enables us to see the door to the rabbit hole that leads not to what is beyond, not to the transcendental, but inward, to the immanent. It is the act of creation, the necessary act of architecture – in its singularity – that can retain the access to this door.

Stuttering architecture stems from the lack of an outlet and constitutes a single outlet – a language of architecture that cannot be traced back to its origin, but can express creation’s intensities through its tremor, giving birth to an affective and intensive “foreign” language within language. [Architectural language is a mirror containing within it the moment of transition into concrete existence; the moment when an invisible wall bursts and formed language enters the desert of discourse, always suffering from the death, commonness, and familiarity of this new materiality. Each time, with each new utterance, architecture is again required to generate a new, real state of creation, to avoid being trapped in the net of empty words.]

François Roche: Stuttering is conflictual, it appears as a disruption of continuity between emotion and language – where they simultaneously corrupt each other, creating a synaesthetic rapprochement where the degree or level of confusion reveals the impossible negotiation between something that tries to articulate knowledge in the public sphere and the protest of the body against being reduced to its simple appearance.

It could appear as a field of battle, where the forces present produce noise and chaos, beauty and barbarism, Eros and Thanatos, impulses of life and death. But more to the point, it is the contradictory aesthetic generated from this field of battle that matters.

The catatonia of the stutter is similar – it is an articulation or de-articulation of a psychism and the production of a new physiology accessing public territories and repressed depths of consciousness derived from zones of paranoia and permanent disequilibrium. Antonin Artaud tried to reach this fragile state of schizophrenia, blending language, shouting, screaming, and muscle convulsions, to create in performative works a feeling of repulsion on the part of the spectator/reader and in this way requestioning the boundaries of social conventions and normality.

That is the main point. To stutter is a-social not because of the non-understandability aspect, but because it perverts the appearance of socialization – a shameless pornography.

NE: Let’s stay for a moment at the immanent field of the battle, at the fragile and conflictual state that you are carrying and operate within. We come before dimensions that deviate from language, but attempt to define how language should be considered as capable of internalizing this energy; pulling language by the tongue, and not allowing its dialectical closure. Voids open before us, wickets through which we meet expression in its raw state.

The stuttering architect is the one who acknowledges his disability and accepts his fate, his senses, and bodily intuition. This architect is like the stuttering man who knows the pain of not being able to speak eloquently, of suffering from the sense of stammering incomprehensibly, trying not to confront certain syllables – fricatives and sibilants – since he knows too well the frustration this attempt will bring upon him.

Abandoning any grammatical semblance, the phrase falls apart. It is the event of language/architecture, in which language/architecture is not used to describe or denote, but rather to unname (undenominate) and disrupt.

The body ceases to be an appendage, becoming instead that which makes it possible for us to have an immediate, pre-reflective familiarity with reality. This points us back to the source of creation, uncovering its finiteness in aphasia, all the while showing the greatness of what is human – that which contains the consciousness of infinity. The act of architecture extends, deforms, and breaks the boundaries of language. It emphasizes and empowers the dryness and meagerness of architectural language.

Creation is destruction; we must destroy language in its present form and create it in a different form, denying certain structures as we form a structure out of what other structures are not made of. This new structure is certainly a reality; it can be seen and touched. It is certainly not nothing. Both the signifier and the signified are always present simultaneously; what is seen is a truth in presence. Therefore, for the architect, saying is doing.

We need a measured intervention – a radical and eternal reassessment that seeks to give up the prophecy (temptations to transcendence), while failing to stop stuttering time and time again. Reverence for this “failure” is instructive in this regard – the failure is the architect’s vocation, not in reference to the architect’s subject matter; rather, a failure intrinsic to the very process of the architectural production. To fail does not mean to represent successfully existential failures or existential meaninglessness; it means to refuse to represent. Thus, we preserve cracks through which we can feel the muted, endless infinity behind architectural things – an infinity more devious and secret, which rejects attempts at divisibility and striations, refuses the mere instrumentality of architecture.

This frees the architect and thinker from the endless pursuit of pointing to the catastrophe, realizing that it won’t just disappear (if we only indicate it, if we only warn and inform, if we only pursue more information). There is a need, an urgent and asymmetrical necessity, to act.

FR: It’s difficult for me to trace or track the monstrosity you talked about. The musicians in Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, in the Hell section of the triptych, produce the most ambiguous sensation, specifically because in our recent and contemporary history of barbarism, the musician was also used as the last perverse concert before the Zyklon B shower.

Not only was the bestiality increased, but I suspect that it was also the highest point of horror and pleasure (for the barbarian) – the combined malefaction and jouissance of human perversity. We reached so high a level of monstrosity in the 20th century – from Verdun to the slaughters of Pol Pot to the recent atrocities in Rwanda – that it is now difficult to hierarchically re-qualify this notion of human bestiality and the industrial dimensions of terror.

But the musician playing and dancing in Hell cannot be compared to anything else. This unnamable amoral cultural artifact elicits repulsion and vomiting that cannot be framed or clearly unfolded; vomiting in this case to be read as the ultimate expression of language.

Some extreme (in)human cultural productions, such as Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom by Sade-Pasolini, or Eden, Eden, Eden by Guyotat – have found ways to transmit and vectorize this ambivalent perception, weaving a sophisticated barbarism with empathy for the suffering victim. The most uncomfortable aspect is that they are not developed from voyeurism (at a distance), but are intrinsically embedded in our own bestial, individual schizophrenia. These works force us to look at the devil, not in front of us, but contained in our own nervous sweat.

NE: Following your multiple trajectories, shadows of the catastrophe escape from our body, screams and sparks, like an animal we had been sheltering. I hear the other voices, the gnashing of the teeth of an animal in the agony of death. The voice is in me.

We meet the spirits that haunt us, that haunt creation. Stuttering dismantles the face and we rediscover the head, the teeth, and the flesh; it emerges from beneath discourse as brute fact and takes us to the threshold. Following Francis Bacon’s portraits, Deleuze refers to this threshold as the zone of indiscernibility: flesh and bone, man and animal.

How can architecture think the moving gap as a movement of being itself? How can we cross the threshold that lies beyond the limit (beyond language, beyond the wall), which is neither virtualization nor actualization, but rather the indiscernible middle? How can architecture move from report to experience?

FR: The animal is waking up after a long hibernation. The development of the collective and individual moralism of the 20th century (hygienism, positivism, modernism, progressivism, ecologism) could be perceived as the Siamese-twin brother of the industrial potential for erasure and destruction of humans, biotopes, and entire territories. This permanent disequilibrium (destruction and preservation versus barbarism and humanism) cannot be reduced to a simple theoretical or rhetorical game; it has been and still is, here and now, the preliminary condition of any emerging discourse and practice. As a genesis, or a genetic illness, we were born out of these conditions and we have the choice, the irreducible and individual choice, to think the field of the battle, to take sides. On one side of the battlefield are those who are driven by the illusion of elegant moralism, where we might wrap ourselves with the mantle of the right consciousness and the denunciation of a system that at the same time feeds and clothes us. On the other side are those who profit from the barbarism, through individual cynicism, justified by the alleged cynicism of system, and asserted as “an individual valuation of lost values.” This apparent choice only seems to be reduced to one between the positions of the buffoon or the bastard – between the one who claims to always be on the right path, but who never tries to modify the conditions of production, and the one making, out of personal resignation, a voluntary cynical act of propaganda (and power).

But for exercer sa puissance, we have to go away, far away from these two evident and reductive symptoms, by moving simultaneously between the two sides of the battlefield, stuttering with the enemy as a permanent deforming mirror of ourselves. I cannot deny the strange “eroticism” of this schizoid strategy of shifting, but I have to recognize at the same time its intrinsic danger.

NE: The schizophrenic creative process of stuttering architecture that I seek to stress fundamentally resembles this indispensable failure or danger that you mention. But, like any defect, it has an advantage, a depth, which the shortcoming (and the shortcoming alone) may possess, losing something in order to add something else, decreasing in order to yearn. The eloquent word, the eloquent structure (the highest desire of the Modern Movement) is lost in order to teach people to give birth to a new ear – to feel the stutter, the pain preceding the birth of a new word.

Stuttering architecture is never disconnected from reality, but rather planted in the very heart of reality. This is architecture that does not seek to eliminate the separation by creating an identity and by abolishing the paradoxes, but rather stresses the differences and confirms them, and therefore spreads a rhizomatic complexity, which we must cross continuously, without halting. As Deleuze said, there are many ways to “grow from the middle,” or – as we say – to stutter architecture. Each of these ways coincides with a task, an experiment, a way of feeling space.

In Dustyrelief, an art museum project in Bangkok, you are reflecting this schizophrenia, constantly hanging between a breakthrough toward a new model and a breakdown into an old, used, and familiar model.

FR: The Dustyrelief museum is the perfect example of this ambiguity, as a building that is collecting the dirtiness of Bangkok’s biotope, which is due to several local conditions, including a lack of public transportation, monstrous traffic jams, and low-quality diesel fuel. The city and its surfaces and atmospheres are deeply polluted by carbon monoxide particles, which wrap the tropical environment in a gray, dusty coating. The aesthetic protocol that is the genesis for the building transforms this preliminary chemical condition. Through this scenario of collecting “urban failure” as a substance, as a materiality, it is possible to constitute the building and reveal the situation “here and now.” We maintained an equal distance from the two opposing attitudes that constitute this condition: first, to deny it; and, second, to dramatize it. Dustyrelief is not an “eco-smart-bio-green,” moralistic alibi for architecture, but a building-as-machine that is able to aggregate, fix, and recycle the filth, while simultaneously extracting from this process the aesthetic protocol of its appearance.

Its operation arises from a multitude of contradictions – between hygiene and dirt, topological and Euclidian geometry, panoptic and heterotopian space – and a permanent schizoid vibration between the illusion of controlling an environment and the failure – the malentendu (mishearing), of its application.

This discontinuity between what it seems to be, what it should be, and what is revealed by the crossing is an experience that could be defined as an “instructive” strategy, similar to the operating instructions you get with a new device, where the visible object cannot be reduced to its own physicality, its own appearance; where the panoptic view cannot embrace or “explain,” in the sense of explanare (making flat the relief), the protocols and apparatuses invoked by using the device.

This disruption of logic is a stuttering tool for developing narrative relationships, lines of subjectivization and apparatuses of de-identification. As Stéphane Mallarmé writes, “To name (or identify) an object is to suppress three-quarters of the enjoyment . . . which derives from the pleasure of step-by-step discovery; to suggest, that is the dream. . . . There must always be an enigma . . . the goal – there is no other – is to evoke objects (without naming them).”

The reality of the building may not be achieved by its physical construction, as when a subject is frozen into an object. In this case the construction will never accomplish its objective. The machine aspect is generating a permanent “after death experiment (ADE).”

I have to admit that this path was borrowed from a few other architects, specifically the strategy of the disruption of architectural logic. One is Adolf Loos and his raumplan, with the disjunction between the external boxy illusion and the space within. The second is Ken Adams, the Berlin architect and set designer for some of the first James Bond films, with his strange interlocking worlds, combining exotic naturalism with glossy modernist mise en scéne. Both architects, in contradiction to the mainstream of modernity, which asserts a logic of continuum (as parodied in Jacques Tati’s Play Time), developed a singular strategy of duplicity, of phenomenological disruption, of incoherencies as metaphor, in the etymological sense of “traveling vehicle.” Could we say that they reached the catatonia of Artaud, articulating the conflict between physiology and psychology.

The adventures of Alice in Wonderland proceeded from the same stuttering. The apparent illogic of the multiplication and diffraction of parallel universes, where Alice “tumbled down,” are articulated both by mathematic paradox and the paranoia of a little girl as two nonlinear inputs, two levels of the same trap.

But back to the Bangkok situation. The apparatus that collects the dirt and reveals the degree of pollution (secreted and stored day after day, year after year), realizes its own extension from this atmospheric substance generated by the city, while becoming, simultaneously (through embedding in the belly of this freak the hygiene of an art museum) a refugee zone for international contemporary art. We could complain how museums are becoming deterritorialized mausolea for art tourism (Bilbao, etc.), but in the case of Bangkok, these conventional white cubes are directly coated with the existing situation. This double identity forces the museum to negotiate and articulate a strategy of stuttering, tripping over its own intrinsic contradictions.

The collection of carbon monoxide particles is generated by several electrostatic machines (100,000 volts without any Ampere and intensity) connected to a mesh 37 meters high. It produces a negatively charged environment that is able to attract the positive voltage of the dust. A drainage system collects the detritus after the monsoon season washes it away.

As architects, we are always confronted with strange vibrations, composed by disaster and dream, by propaganda and illusion, by hypocrisies and realities. We deeply consider architecture to be a tool that could reveal and manipulate this stuttering – to eroticize our paranoia.

FR: The future is a Faustian contract drawn up by Sacher-Masoch.


[1] Andreï Biély, Carnets d’un toque (Geneva: L’Age d’Homme, 1991); cited in Gilles Deleuze, Essays Critical and Clinical, trans. Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco (London: Verso, 1998), 113.

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