Lahi­ji, Nadir. (Ed.) 2011. The Polit­i­cal Uncon­scious of Archi­tec­ture: Re-Open­ing Jameson’s Nar­ra­tive. Farn­ham, Sur­rey, UK, and Burling­ton, VT: Ash­gate. Pp. 334. ISBN 978-1-4094-2639-4.

Book Review by Pablo B. Markin

Seek­ing to reex­am­ine Fredric Jameson’s work in terms of its the­o­ret­i­cal impact, his­tor­i­cal recep­tion and psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic inter­pre­ta­tion, this edit­ed vol­ume speaks to the audi­ence of schol­ars and grad­u­ate stu­dents in the fields of archi­tec­ture, visu­al stud­ies, and philosophy.

This col­lec­tion of essays demon­strates how archi­tec­tur­al, philo­soph­i­cal and the­o­ret­i­cal dis­cours­es diverged, while leav­ing scarce­ly bridge­able gaps between their treat­ment of space, rep­re­sen­ta­tion and ide­ol­o­gy. In this respect, Jameson’s texts are con­sis­tent­ly rep­re­sent­ed to point either to their ear­li­er the­o­ret­i­cal antecedents, such as Man­fre­do Tafu­ri, Georg Lukacs and Karl Marx, or to con­tem­po­rary philo­soph­i­cal devel­op­ments. Tak­ing recourse to Michel Foucault’s con­cept of biopol­i­tics, Jacques Derrida’s of haunt­ing and Gior­gio Agamben’s of homo sac­er, Bechir Ken­zari puts Jean-Luc Nan­cy and Jacques Ran­cière into the cen­tre-stage of his dis­cus­sion of an inclu­sive polit­i­cal com­mu­ni­ty and a pol­i­tics of space, rather than of archi­tec­ture per se. Inter­pret­ing archi­tec­ture in terms of urban struc­ture, city plan­ning and urban design, Kojin Karatani, as a philoso­pher in his own right, refers to Jane Jacobs’ work on cities in con­nec­tion to urban diver­si­ty, den­si­ty and vibran­cy. Fur­ther­more, approach­ing archi­tec­ture via Lacan­ian analy­sis, Slavoj Žižek con­cen­trates on psy­cho­log­i­cal, social and eco­nom­ic struc­tures man­i­fest­ed in per­for­mance arts cen­ters, Hitchcock’s films and vir­tu­al spaces.

In David Cunningham’s read­ing that returns to Marx’s think­ing on abstrac­tion and com­mod­i­ty, Jameson’s han­dling of post­mod­ernism is an effort to go beyond the oppo­si­tion between real­ism and mod­ernism as Georg Lukács inter­prets them. In the same vein, Cun­ning­ham returns to Georg Sim­mel as a clas­si­cal the­o­ret­i­cal fig­ure whose work on moder­ni­ty as a process where­by mon­e­tary rela­tions replace social ties he sin­gles out, in order to demon­strate how the rise of mon­ey unleashed the dynam­ics of cap­i­tal­ism, as reflect­ed in mod­ern archi­tec­ture and its his­tor­i­cal trans­for­ma­tions. In line with this per­spec­tive, Ter­ry Smith empha­sizes the moder­ni­ty of what was termed post­mod­ern archi­tec­ture. Smith reads Jameson’s 1984 essay ‘Post­mod­ernism, or, The Cul­tur­al Log­ic of Late Cap­i­tal­ism’ against its grain based on his lat­er vis­its to John Portman’s hotels in Los Ange­les and Detroit. Built in the 1970s, these spaces are exam­ples of mod­ern archi­tec­ture, cap­i­tal­ism and cul­ture rep­re­sen­ta­tive of not only ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can archi­tec­tur­al prac­tices, but also Sovi­et avant-garde struc­tures of the same peri­od. Smith inter­prets post­mod­ernism as a metaphor­i­cal ref­er­ence to the future of moder­ni­ty that became assim­i­lat­ed into archi­tec­tur­al envi­ron­ments of sim­u­lat­ed nos­tal­gia, dis­ori­en­ta­tion and globalization.

Ref­er­enc­ing Ulrich Beck’s notion of sec­ond moder­ni­ty, Hal Fos­ter relates Nor­man Fos­ter and Ren­zo Piano’s archi­tec­ture to Le Corbusier’s mod­ernist aes­thet­ics. Like­wise, in the con­text of anti-utopi­an, post-crit­i­cal and prag­mat­ic atti­tudes in con­tem­po­rary think­ing on archi­tec­ture, Louis Mar­tin shifts the focus of their dis­cus­sion to Tafu­ri, K. Michael Hays and Rein­hold Mar­tin. Caught between instru­men­tal uses and for­mal auton­o­my, archi­tec­ture reflects rec­i­p­ro­cal rela­tions between econ­o­my and cul­ture that set lim­its to alter­na­tives and the change it can make pos­si­ble. It is avant-garde and mod­ernist aes­thet­ics that artic­u­lates a cri­tique of archi­tec­ture in terms of resis­tance, nega­tion and oppo­si­tion, as Mar­tin indi­cates. By con­cen­trat­ing on archi­tec­tur­al pho­tog­ra­phy, Robin Wil­son explores archi­tec­tur­al reifi­ca­tion, alle­go­ry and utopia. In this regard, Wil­son con­curs with Jameson’s stress on the incom­men­su­ra­bil­i­ty of dis­tinct spa­tial, eco­nom­ic and social dimen­sions that archi­tec­ture, pho­tog­ra­phy or paint­ing can only fail to resolve or represent.

Dis­cov­er­ing in Aki­ra Kurosawa’s thriller High and Low spa­tial topolo­gies and symp­tom struc­tures, Don­ald Kun­ze approach­es this film’s nar­ra­tive in terms of Lacan­ian psy­cho­analy­sis and Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s phi­los­o­phy. As she explores mod­ernist archi­tec­ture of London’s apart­ment blocks, Jane Ren­dell points to styl­is­tic analo­gies between Lon­don archi­tec­ture and Russ­ian con­struc­tivism as Freudi­an indi­ca­tions of a repressed polit­i­cal uncon­scious. Sim­i­lar­ly, Joan Ockman’s symp­to­matic read­ing of the effects of eco­nom­ic trans­for­ma­tions on urban space applies Jameson’s notion of polit­i­cal uncon­scious by con­trast­ing the archi­tec­ture of Wall Street with gener­ic urban spaces of the Unit­ed States.

While these empir­i­cal analy­ses of film nar­ra­tives, archi­tec­tur­al pho­tographs and urban space take Jameson’s work in Lacan­ian, Freudi­an or his­tor­i­cal direc­tions, the­o­ret­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions to this vol­ume, such as Cunningham’s, Smith’s and Žižek’s, reeval­u­ate clas­si­cal soci­o­log­i­cal fig­ures, crit­i­cal­ly recon­sid­er Jameson’s lega­cy and open it to broad­er inter­dis­ci­pli­nary dis­cus­sions. A close focus on Tafuri’s vis-à-vis Jameson’s work by Gevork Har­toon­ian, Louis Mar­tin and Nadir Lahi­ji rep­re­sents a his­tor­i­cal recon­struc­tion of the­o­ret­i­cal posi­tions of Ital­ian Marx­ism, archi­tec­tur­al crit­i­cism and polit­i­cal the­o­ry that Jame­son was among the first to explore.

Thus, this pub­li­ca­tion col­lects under its cov­ers an insight­ful and polem­i­cal con­tem­po­rary overview of appro­pri­a­tions that Jameson’s notion of the polit­i­cal uncon­scious finds in archi­tec­ture, pho­tog­ra­phy and film studies.

Author Biog­ra­phy:

Dr. Pablo B. Markin con­ducts post­doc­tor­al research on aes­thet­ics, post­moder­ni­ty and cul­tur­al glob­al­iza­tion at the Phi­los­o­phy Depart­ment of East Chi­na Nor­mal Uni­ver­si­ty, Shang­hai, Chi­na. Dur­ing 2008-2010, he did post­doc­tor­al research on Berlin as a city of cul­ture at the DAAD Cen­ter for Ger­man Stud­ies at the Euro­pean Forum of the Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty of Jerusalem, Israel. In 2008, he defend­ed a doc­tor­al dis­ser­ta­tion on Richard Münch, a Ger­man con­tem­po­rary soci­ol­o­gist, at the Mod­ern Lan­guages and Cul­tur­al Stud­ies Depart­ment of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Alber­ta, Cana­da. In 2007, he was invit­ed as a Vis­it­ing Schol­ar to the Ger­man Lan­guage and Lit­er­a­ture Depart­ment of Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty, New York. His grad­u­ate degree was earned in Soci­ol­o­gy and Euro­pean Stud­ies at the Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty of Jerusalem in 2003.