random thoughts on architecture history theory and criticism

on writing and reading

like many who write (saying you are “a writer” sounds inaccurate and not sure what would make it true…getting paid for it maybe?)  i have a love-hate relationship with writing. i am actually not comparing myself with fellow bloggers, although after a while of reading someone you get to know their posting rhythms, which is nice. without naming names (they know who they are), some tend to have long silences followed by a series of brilliant posts, while others keep a steady flow of musings, often  more than one a day—it all depends of course of the type of blog they keep (some, more research-based, others, more introspective or reactive to current events, etc.). there are also of course the multi-taskers, who keep up with both by double-blogging or combining different feeds, usually a shorter one for comments and a longer one for essays.

so, back to the start again (you see this writing post is all very meta). like many of those who write, except perhaps these great bloggers, but like many very self-conscious writers at least that have written about writing, i have a love-hate relationship with writing. my problem is that my love of writing is at odds with my need to organize and plan things out. but although i can plan researching and reading, i can’t plan writing, which comes usually as a product of the above, but in an ingrateful, distrustful, and sneaky way. i’ll sit there and stare at the screen (i type very fast, which sometimes makes it even more frustrating). and nothing. i can’t plan writing, although it is easier to plan academic writing—at least the part that is research-based, and comes as a result of processing information. but i can’t plan blog writing. i’ll plan to write a post about something and it turns out boring and awful.  but of course, when it’s the least convenient, when i haven’t planned it at all, i’ll get an idea and spend 5 minutes and suddenly there it is, working quite nicely.

so what happens when nothing comes along? then, i read. but as a ph.d. student, reading is my job, and it has now become a completely different verb. reading is reactive, and it must be said, it is aggressive. the text is there as a site to be closely inspected, pulled and pushed apart for clues, dissected in search for the writer’s conscious and unconscious intentions and desires. this is why partly i’m so skeptical of the i-pad frenzy, because reading (i read entirely on pdf now) for me requires writing (reacting). each piece of text that i read as a pdf is bookmarked into its own outline to the side, and embedded with notes. more extensive notes, if required, go along on a separate word file, but the noted, bookmarked, and highlighted pdf becomes the product of the conversation between the writer and me. additional word files keep track of further notes relating the text to other texts, putting authors in conversation with each other or perhaps with themselves at a different date. i become, then, the mediator, the filter and the bridge that connects this web of texts. how should i build my web? in a way, i also approach this as an architectural problem: not only these connections, but the texts themselves.

perhaps because i am also an architect, i’m particularly attentive and interested in the structure of writings, so it’s something i look for when i read. for example, michel foucault is an extraordinarily organized writer: his essays outline very easily, consisting of main topics and secondary subtopics. but intriguingly, he hides this structure, eliminating subtitles and presenting the text as long chapters. in contrast, kant is the master subtitler, with the argument tidily partitioned in a series of very short chapters that echo each other, so that we understand the structure when we happen upon it again. it is a pet peeve of mine that early peter eisenman writings are all gridded (as his architecture!): he cross-references two different topics to come up with different iterations and then stays with the last, more complex one, as his proposal (see, for example, notes on conceptual architecture, where the combination of noah chomsky’s deep and surface structures with synthactic and semantic notions results in four different variants of architecture).  these are of course very formal analysis, which don’t take into account other subtleties of writing. a weakness of mine.

as a result of such architectural reasoning, i constantly turn texts into diagrams or charts. my colleagues tend to either tease me fondly or look at them suspiciously: there is that danger in the diagram, that things become too simple, that rationalism defeats the intricacies of the text. but it brings these questions to the foreground. what structure should i use for my text? how should i write my reading? in the end, the action of diagramming or charting a text is both reading and writing, and the great diagrams or charts (they are not the same thing!) only happen with great texts, and often prompt more writing. and more reading.

ps. lydia millet on reading, via loudpaper’s twitter feed


Filed under: ., eisenman, foucault, kant, reading, writing,

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