The Pleasure and Pain of an Archaic Alliance: on the atopy of sujectivity in occidental architecture – and beyond, by Wolfram Bergande

Even though architectural Deconstructivism received important impulses by Jacques Derrida’s deconstructionist philosophy, the relationship of the two ended up as a missed encounter, as indicates the ultimate controversy between Derrida and Peter Eisenman.

While deconstructivist architecture thus to a certain extent took up and transformed ideas of the early Derrida, particularly his concept of subjectivity as dislocated and deferred textuality, it did so to a much lesser extent when it comes to the later Derrida’s ethics of undecidability.

In this manner, Deconstructivism also somehow missed out on the psychoanalytical import of Derrida’s philosophy, given that its essential theorems, as recent research has shown [1], are heavily indebted to Jacques Lacans psychoanalytical theory of subjectivity.

Against this background, it is the aim of my paper to show, first, that Lacanian psychoanalysis is a major source of both Deconstruction and Deconstructivism. Second, I argue that it can offer vital insights into the close relation between the occidental notion of subjectivity and contemporary architectural theory and practice in its both moral and aesthetic dimension.

Following Lacan, I argue that occidental subjectivity must be conceived of in a judeochristian framework, i.e. subjectivity as constituted by submission to a moral law. Particularly, there is, at the heart of occidental subjectivity, a primordial absence in place (atopy) and time (achrony). This atopy/ achrony shows, in terms of transcenddental aesthetics, as a scansion of or an interference into the homogeneous continuity of space and the linear chronology of time.

At various points of his teaching Lacan put forward that occidental architecture must essentially be understood as a practice that uses surfaces or volumes to cover this primordial absence as the atopic lieu of the moral foundations of aesthetic subjectivity.

Historically and idea-historically, this archaic atopos must be traced to what Lacan calls the “archaic alliance” between the Jewish people and the God of the Old Testament. The destroyed temple of Jerusalem would be one of its paradigms.

In later epochs, for example in neo-classicist and baroque architecture and sculpture Lacan detected a Kuntswolle that through somewhat “tortured” forms undertakes to give an expression to the feelings of pleasure and pain that precisely must be traced back to this archaic and atopic scene where subjectivity in its occidental form took shape. Thus, as to Lacan, architecture essentially deals with a “presentification” of affective states like pleasure and pain inasmuch as they stem from this primordial moment. In terms of individual psychopathology they can be linked to fantasies or dreams of being petrified and being unable to move.

Deconstructivism, when it dismantles or unsettles pagan norms like venustas, firmitas and utilitas in a judeo-christian framework, is heir to the occidental tradition of subjectivity and to the moral grounding of aesthetic feelings that we witness even in authors like Hume or Kant.

Precisely, and with the theoretical import of Lacan and Derrida, Deconstructivism must be interpreted as – in Hegel’s sense – “romantic” discursive practice in which and through which this tradition has become self-reflexive and has started to question and explore the moral and aesthetic conditions of possibility of the pleasures and pains that we experience in architecture as well as in the other arts.

It is only when we will have left this broader post-Hegelian frame of reference that the relationship between the moral and the aesthetic dimension of architecture can be thought in innovative ways that go beyond the deconstructivist position.

[1] See, among others: Bergande, Wolfram (2002): Lacans Psychoanalyse und die Dekonstruktion, Vienna: Passagen.

Wolfram Bergande, Weimar University, DE

Harvard Citation Guide: Bergande, W. (2012) The Pleasure and Pain of an Archaic Alliance: on the atopy of sujectivity in occidental architecture – and beyond, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 06 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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