random thoughts on architecture history theory and criticism

three old-fashioned dishes prepared with new tools

The following three recipes are meant to introduce you to digital reading. I have ranked them according not to the difficulty of the texts themselves, but to the level of engagement expected of you in their preparation.   The purpose of these instructions is to show how to take advantage of digital reading, by taking an active attitude in the composition of the file. In the end, you should be able to jump to specific parts of the text through a series of organized and annotated links. The recipes will increasingly demand more active participation, until you find yourself unable to distinguish preparation from consumption.

1.       Kant’s Critique of Judgement

Difficulty Level: Easy

guyer’s kant, annotated. note bookmarks in outline form to left.


 1 pdf for Kant’s Critique of Judgment.

1 pdf editing software.

Hardware of your choice, be it laptop, ipad and keyboard combo, or multi-monitor array (great for extra reading space).

When shopping for your Kant, you will generally find three translations: Guyer, Pluhar, or Bernard. I recommend the Bernard, which has been described to me—by much wiser people—as the most accurate. Guyer is regarded by many as the standard academic version, but can feel unreadable, and Pluhar is the easier version, but many subtleties are lost. Kant is, of course, not what you’d call an easy read, but the preparation is very straightforward and a great pre-reading exercise.

Preliminary treatment

Open your file and make sure you have text recognition, which will allow you to underline and find passages. If you need to do an OCR text recognition, be sure to save afterward, as it sometimes takes time and you don’t want to loose any work. I also like to go to the Advanced section and re-paginate everything according to the document’s page numbers, so that I can easily jump from page to page and reference people to the right page in a discussion.

Let’s get into it!

Open the bookmarks tab, and start by finding the Table of Contents. An efficient way to do this is to bookmark bigger sections first (that would be, the big chapters, such as the Critique of the Power of Judgment, the book on the Beautiful, the book on the Sublime, etc.), but i often enjoy getting a sense of the flow right away. Either way, it helps to have the TOC bookmarked first so you can jump back to it quickly if you feel you’ve skipped a chapter or section.

Once you go into the Critique of the Power of Judgment, remember there will be sections, like “First Moment,” and then there will be the famous Kantian paragraphs. Add one bookmark per book, section, or paragraph, regardless if they are on the same page! And very important, be sure to nest smaller sections within larger sections, which you can do by dragging the bookmarks. This means the paragraphs should be contained into their sections, and the sections within their corresponding books (exactly as folders contain files in your computer). What you want to have at the end is a proper outline structure, so you can close your sections for a very general outline, or open everything for a detailed reference of all the chapters.  

If all goes well, in the end not only will you have a completely bookmarked Kant (cheat: you can actually just download the Bernard translation pre-bookmarked), but you will have a good sense of the Kantian rhythm—that is, how he tends to repeat the structure of his arguments. This gives you a great advantage in reading Kant, as you will have a sense of how his logic works. This might seem like a very formal reading of Kant, but remember this pre-reading preparation will let you anticipate the flow of the text.

2.       Michel Foucault, The Order of Things

Difficulty Level: Intermediate


– 1 Foucault, The Order of Things, preferably scanned single-paged. If you are using a Knowledge Imaging Center (KIC) scanner to scan your own texts, you can do this easily by changing the setting so that it separates the pages for you. You want to do this so you can re-paginate the document and are able to jump to the correct page number easily, again, a must for cross-referencing.

– Same as above: PDF software, computer, monitor(s).


By now you know to look for the TOC right away, but Foucault writes in longer sections than Kant. Because of this, for The Order of Things I recommend bookmarking the chapters first. Since you will not be intensely bookmarking every page (as with Kant), this will give you a preliminary structure to build upon. Remember to also bookmark parts I and II, and then go into all the chapters. After you’re done, go into each chapter and bookmark each section directly—you’ll see they all have five to eight sections, except the first one on Las Meninas. By the way, please feel free to veer briefly into graphic mode and diagram the different axis Foucault talks about in the painting—you know you want to. And also bookmark the endnotes, so you can jump to them directly when reading.

I’ve chosen Foucault as an intermediate author because he always uses what my French teacher called ‘Cartesian-style composition’—that is, he writes in a gridded way, with general themes partitioned into smaller sections. Once you are in the middle of it all, it is very easy to get lost on where he was going, since the ‘grid’ can get pretty large. This is when your bookmarked outline can be particularly helpful, as it will become a map to the text, which will let you jump to the appropriate passages.

Since Foucault doesn’t cut the text into such small pieces as Kant, you may want to go into some additional bookmarking, according to your personal preferences. Going into the structure of the sections, in this case, will mean actually starting to consume  the text. This mixed process of preparing and consuming will give you an insight into the thought process of how the text was constructed, something easy to miss when just consuming one paragraph after the other.

3.       Derrida, The Truth in Painting

Difficulty Level: Advanced

derrida, annotated and highlighted [pre-scan].


– 1 scanned copy of Jacques Derrida’s The Truth in Painting, if possible heavily highlighted by your professor/colleague/last owner of book.

– 1 PDF software, computer, monitor, as needed

– 2 aspirins


This is indeed a difficult dish to digest, not so much because of the text organization (which also has its highlights, of which later), but because of the general “are you fucking kidding me?” nature of the first pages.  I’m sorry, dear reader, but I have little patience for Jacques pulling my leg so much. However, he does eventually pull up the curtain and suddenly there it is, an insightful analysis of Kant’s critique, which will make your dinner come full circle. Every meal needs a heavy dish, and if Kant is more akin to the complex layers in good sushi, Jacques here is more like a rich, creamy desert that is sometimes too sweet, but ultimately rewarding.


That said, Derrida does have a chapter structure, so I suggest you start by bookmarking them. Then you must decide—do you accept Derrida’s framed spaces as deliberately haphazard (that is, formal devices inserted into the text randomly) or deliberate (first the text was written, and then the spaces between sections were framed). The answer will make your work easier or harder, but as I’m all for easier, let’s do that, which has interesting consequences. It lifts the curtain and reveals Derrida’s apparent rambling into its own structure—in a way, it disrobes Derrida of his emperor’s clothes. But he’d probably enjoy it.

By now you will have found that if preparation and consumption was an option in Foucault, it’s inevitable with Derrida. In other words, active pdf preparation always involves consumption for this type of material, and you might as well go full into it. Remember you can use the tools to highlight or block out relevant portions of text, so you can start your own Derridian framing (the rectangle tool is ideal). Finally, although there are text tools in the software, I generally skip them—they are not efficient yet, and for extensive notes I’d rather keep a separate text file (this is when dual monitors are ideal). For short notes, it is always better to stick to bookmarking, since you’ll be able to find them easily and appreciate their location within the structure of the text. For the same reason, I do not recommend using the ‘post-it’ note option in the software—while cute, it’s basically useless as the note will get lost in the file.

That concludes our three-course special.  As you become more agile in digital reading, you will want to experiment with the different features the format allows you. You can find specific words or passages with relative ease, and copy/paste references into other files. In other words, the tools of digital reading allow you to move with ease between reading and writing. The bookmarked, underlined, and annotated files you have produced are no longer the primary text, but a collaboration between the author and you. By actively engaging the text, you have stopped being a consumer and become a co-producer.


Filed under: ., derrida, foucault, kant, reading,

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