Saturday, November 23, 2002

Monumentality and dwelling

There's something about the relationship between monumental architecture, memory and dwelling:

space + time
In The Production of Space, Lefebvre writes "the monument thus effected a ‘consensus’... rendering it practical and concrete. The element of repression in it and the element of exaltation could scarcely be disentangled; or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the repressive element was metamorphosed into exaltation." Somewhat, the appeal of a monumental space is its perceived ability to answer all our questions even before we ask them. That is, monuments are “imposing in their durability... [they] seem eternal, because [they] seem to have escaped time. Monumentality transcends death...”. In this way, monumental space is “greater” than human beings, as the unfortunate reality of decay and death is reformulated as a splendid living space. But Lefebvre reminds us that “this is a transformation, however, which serves what religion, (political) power and knowledge have in common."

In order to understand how monumentality is produced, Lefebvre advocates a focus on the active “texture” of space, rather than on the “reading” of architecture and space as “texts”. Texture consists of spaces covered by networks or webs; monuments constitute the anchors for these webs. And monuments have “horizons of meaning,” where different actions in different times constitute and reconstitute a multiplicity of meanings attached to that space: the “mortal ‘moment’ (or component) of the sign is temporarily abolished in monumental space."

"Monuments should not be looked upon as collections of symbols (even though every monument embodies symbols - sometimes archaic and incomprehensible ones), nor as chains of signs (even though every monumental whole is made up of signs). A monument is neither an object or an aggregation of diverse objects, even though its ‘objectality,’ its position as a social object, is recalled at every moment, perhaps by the brutality of the materials of masses involved, perhaps on the contrary, by their gentle procedures. It is neither a sculpture, nor a figure, nor simply the result of material procedures... What appears empty may turn out to be full [as the body] is transformed into a ‘property’ of monumental space, into symbols which are generally intrinsic parts of a politico-religious whole, into co-ordinated symbols."

And finally of interest here, Lefebvre describes two primary processes which function in monumental space: “1) Displacement, implying metonymy, the shift from part to whole, and contiguity; and 2) condensation, involving substitution, metaphor, and similarity." Social space, or the place of social practice, is condensed in monumental space. Each monumental space “becomes the metaphorical and quasi-metaphysical underpinning of society, this by virtue of a play of substitutions in which the religious and political realms symbolically (and ceremonially) exchange attributes - the attributes of power; in this way the authority of the sacred and the sacred aspect of authority are transferred back and forth, mutually reinforcing one another in the process."

Part II - How is monumentality lived?


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