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Piranesi's "Campo Marzio": An Experimental Design

Author(s): Stanley Allen and G. B. Piranesi


Source: Assemblage, No. 10 (Dec., 1989), pp. 70-109
Published by: The MIT Press
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3171144
Accessed: 03-09-2019 11:20 UTC

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Assemblage

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Stanley Allen
Piranesi's Campo Marzio:
An Experimental Design

Stanley Allen is an architect working in The archeological mask of Piranesi's Campo Marzio fools no one:
New York City and a project editor for this is an experimental design and the city, therefore, remains an
Assemblage. unknown.
Manfredo Tafuri, Architecture and Utopia, 1973

What is the nature of an experimental action? It is simply an


action the outcome of which is not foreseen.
John Cage, "History of Experimental Music in the United States,"
1958

To locate precisely the beginnings of modernity has been a


preoccupation of recent critical and historical work.' The
work presented here seeks to suspend this "search for ori-
gins," proposing instead to enter into the classical at a stra-
tegic moment: a seam opened by Piranesi's "necrophiliac
passion for the glory of ancient Rome."2 What is uncov-
ered in the decay of the classical is not only a latent mod-
ernity (which could be a parasite upon this disintegrating
body), but also the instability of the classical itself. Within
Piranesi's project, the "naturalness" of the language of clas-
sical architecture (already called into question a century
before) is destroyed by a contamination and fragmentation
completely at odds with historically developed ideas of the
wholeness of language.

By directing architecture's gaze back upon itself with this


"morbid precision," by demonstrating the futility of a
return to origins, Piranesi establishes in the Campo Marzio
1. G. B. Piranesi, frontispiece to
a plane - a shifting, indeterminant plane - upon which
II Campo Marzio dell'antica the horizons of classicism and the most radical project of
Roma, 1762 modernity momentarily coincide. It is for this reason that

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assemblage 10

2. Theater plan with


performance notations

twentieth-century readings of Piranesi have underlined a Site: The Fictional Present


dissonance and disjunction existing alongside of the classi- Now let us, by a flight of the imagination, suppose that Rome is
cal: Sergei Eisenstein has called this explosion of concrete not a human habitation but a psychical entity with a similarly
relations in space an "ecstatic transfiguration"; Manfredo long and copius past - an entity, that is to say, in which nothing
Tafuri has referred to the application of the "technique which has once come into existence will have passed away and
of shock" to the foundations of rationality. Duchamp, all the earlier phases of development continue to exist alongside
Picabia, Kafka, and Roussel have all echoed the spirit of the latest one. This would mean that in Rome the palaces of the
Piranesi in which, Tafuri writes, "the obsessive reiteration Caesars and the Septizonium of Septimius Severus would still
of the inventions reduces the whole organism to a sort of be rising to their old height on the Palatine and that castle of
S. Angelo would still be carrying on its battlements the beautiful
gigantic 'useless machine.'"'4
statues which graced it until the seige of the goths, and so on.
This project intends an excavation - through drawing and But more than this. In the place occupied by the Palazzo
writing - of the "negative utopia" drawn by Piranesi for Cafferelli would once more stand - without the Palazzo having
the Campo Marzio of Rome. I have conceived of Piranesi's been removed - the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus; and this not
large plan (the grande pianta) as a site to be colonized, only in its latest shape, as the Romans of the Empire saw it, but
also in its earliest one, when it still showed Etruscan forms and
covered over, and modified, as when a building is erected
was ornamented with terra-cotta antefixes.
on ruins. My attempt is to uncover and articulate the sur-
Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, 1930
plus residue of meaning that confirms the inexhaustibility
of a work of architecture. This process of rereading estab-
lishes a relationship parallel to that which Piranesi main- The problem of site is fundamental to Piranesi's project.
tained toward his own (archaeological) sources: dreamlike, "Before treating of the works of the Campo Marzio," he
inventive, and improvisational. notes, "it must be said in what place it was located, and
what was its extent in ancient times." He defers here to the
Given this inexhaustibility, the evident surplus meaning, I
authority of classical texts: "The Campo Marzio, therefore,
would suggest that the only way to confront adequately the
according to these witnesses, was that level ground [pia-
project of Piranesi is with another project. I have main-
nura] of the City between the hills and the Tiber, situated
tained a strict parallelism of drawings and text. The draw- at one time outside of the walls. '6 From here follow
ings are independent of specific references to the text but
descriptions of the grandeur of the Campo Marzio and of
must be read together with it. Analytical drawings map out its architecture. But what motivates Piranesi in his choice
the relation of the Piranesi reconstruction to existing ruins
of site? Why, in a project devoted to reconstructing ancient
and the context - real and fictional - of eighteenth-
Rome, has he ignored the historic, monumental center of
century Rome. Projections and constructions suggest new
Rome, where the existing ruins were concentrated and
ways of reading the notations of Piranesi's project. The text
stood more or less free of contemporary building? Cer-
follows an absolutely normative pattern: site, context,
tainly, in other volumes, such as the Antichitac romane, he
program. Each of these three terms, however, is reread in
had already described these monuments, but this still fails
light of Piranesi's own intentions, and the doubling of the
to explain the inordinant space given over to the Campo
middle term "text-context" intends to disrupt the stability of
Marzio; nor in the other works do we find the topographic
the three-part structure.
and planimetric preoccupations that characterize the
As this project has acquired shape and certainty, I have not Campo Marzio. What, then, is the basis for Piranesi's
sought an elaboration of meaning, but rather, a greater interest in this (literally) marginal zone, "outside of the city
precision of detail and description, remembering, as walls"? And paradoxically, if this site is marginal with
Robbe-Grillet said of Kafka, that "even what the hero is respect to ancient Rome, it coincides with the most densely
searching for vanishes before the obstinancy of his pursuit, built and crowded area of contemporary eighteenth-century
his trajectories, his movements; they alone are made appar- Rome: the lowland marshes where, since the fall of impe-
ent, they alone are made real."'' rial Rome, a crowded medieval city had grown up.
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assemblage 10

Ab-

-p- o

oborSuperpositiona II t
74

oro-
Servian Wall "

Sof borders and frames

n4. Axonometric superposition


.:

Roma Quadra

3. Diagrams showing '"


chronology and framing of the
Campo Marzio 4-- Monumental Figures

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Allen

The first clue appears in the dedicatory letter to Piranesi's plane and establish a barrier to the view of the site itself,
volume of plates: The Campo Marzio, he notes, had marking out precisely on the image that they frame the
always been dedicated to the training of youth and military extent of the Campo Marzio as it is rendered on the large
exercise; but during the empire it was opened to other uses plan.
- pleasure and spectacle. As more and more buildings
were erected for such pursuits, "the Campo no longer Piranesi depicts the monuments themselves in ruins, indi-
appeared to be an appendage of Rome, but, more properly, cated by trace or fragment. He accurately shows their
Rome, the sovereign of all cities, an appendage of the locations and the surrounding topography, establishing a
Campo, as Strabone has attested."' Piranesi has faithfully correspondence to the actual condition of the ruins in the
mirrored this inversion, and gone even further. In his mid-eighteenth century. In this way Piranesi's drawing
variant, the city itself is absent, a blank space on the acknowledges the passage of history. But the fiction of the
drawing. 8 drawing is to present these objects shorn from their actual
context, as if the intervening years had passed without the
This marginal status is consistent historically and is rein-
occupation and transformation of this part of Rome, as if
forced by an examination of the programmatic legends of
the level of the terrain had not risen, burying the colon-
the building represented in Piranesi's plan. Buildings of
nades up to their capitals. The Stadium of Domition, for
military use are evident, as are those devoted to spectacle
example, is indicated by a track in the earth and a solitary
and to the culture of the body. But the plan is dominated
structural bay, the remains, perhaps, of the imperial box.
by the immense figures of two funerary monuments to
Its figure is preserved, empty, in denial that a medieval
Hadrian and Augustus. Lying outside of the consecrated
town had grown up precisely in this area, that the form of
ground defined by the city walls, the Campo Marzio had
the circus, while still preserved, exists as a densely built
traditionally been the site of funerals and burials. Thus the
urban space created by the churches and houses con-
urban texture of the Campo Marzio is also characterized structed over the ruins of the stadium.
by marginality, by otherness. It becomes the locus of all
that is excluded from the city proper: the armories and
This selective erasure of history has a parallel in certain of
military exercise yards; the stadia and gymnasia; the amphi-
Piranesi's vedute, where he repeats this operation by dis-
theaters and circuses; the gardens and pleasure fountains;
mantling subsequent construction and presenting the view
the crypts and tombs. The conventional institutions of the
of the ancient structure as a spectral ruin.9 This makes
imperial city are absent. Save in the funerary monuments,
clear a fundamental ambivalence in Piranesi: the simulta-
there is no civic presence; streets are nonexistent, as is the
neous negation and affirmation of the value of history.
whole domestic fabric of the city.

If the site plan is the result of an inversion, the city having But, further, the equivalence established between the
been folded back upon itself, something analogous happens piled-up fragments in the foreground and the ruins on the
in Piranesi's representation of time. A second clue appears site seems to undercut the importance of topography and
in a plate entitled Scenographia Campi Martii. The use of precise location. Within the compressed space of the fore-
a theatrical term here is not insignificant. It inscribes this ground, each fragment represents, through a metonymic
view within the whole problematic of Piranesi's relation to operation, an entire monument, ready to be moved into
the theater and to scenic design. But, paradoxically, this place on the almost tabula rasa in the background. In this
image, by the criteria of the traditional scena per angolo sense, Tafuri's characterization of the Campo Marzio as
with which Piranesi is often identified, has none of the "a formless heap of fragments" does not seem exaggerated.
conventional scenographic elements or illusions. The point And the actual displacement of monuments may be veri-
of view is from above; the horizon is excluded. The ruined fied by comparing the Campo Marzio with the Severan
fragments, covered with hieroglyphics, occupy the frontal marble plan of Rome.10

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assemblage 10

RINK`

MAP

Ow"

Or

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le.

Wo

t"A:

Al.

5. Piranesi, Scenographia
Campi Martii (aerial panorama
of the Campo Marzio). Plate
from the Campo Marzio.

The Scenographia signals the procedure ambiguities


of doubt to in the plan cut (sometimes a r
which
ers a cellar
Piranesi subjects the raw data. His is a violent act ofor dis-
foundation) is the representa
Andcontinuity
tancing the project from the real historical this is a third
of clue: like a primitive X-r
Rome in order to reinvent that history. sentation in ruins actually clarifies the stru
In ideological
terms, this operation is highly ambivalent,previous
in ashistory,
much asthe traces of its past occu
transformations.
it engages in the very manipulations it seeks to criticize.
With history and memory brought into play in this equivo-
At this point, the reference to the well-kn
cal manner, we are left to wonder, given the fiction of the
Civilization and its Discontents cited at th
starting point, whether the subsequent this moves can be
section any
becomes clear. Freud and Pirane
less contingent.
radicalized a condition existing in Rome it
persistence of traces and fragments of the
This elasticity of historical time may also be observed
juxtaposed withinthe process of decay and d
the representations of the large plan itself. A careful
Piranesi, exami-
this condition is made thematic: h
nation of this plan reveals that the project
cess of
of the
decayCampo
and deterioration into a parad
Marzio anticipates its condition as ruin. method.
This applies
This is consistent throughout his w
equally to a formal strategy that encodes the passage
systematic of
nature of this transformation di
time in the collisive juxtaposition occurring
fromin the city
a picturesque romanticism. For Freu
when a site is continually built over as itence
doesoftomemory
the repre-traces is the key to using
sentation itself. The only device capabletheof resolving
city. Yet thetheimpossibility, in physical t

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Allen

conditions. And these new conditions are uncontrollable


- open to chance and free play.
Here Piranesi confronts another paradox, and in so doing
anticipates certain modernist preoccupations. In the
Campo Marzio, he is the author of that which has no
single author. In the city, time is represented by the ac-
cumulation of material and its decay and transformation;
this is why Piranesi takes pains to represent himself as the
recorder, and not the inventor, of the form of the Campo
Marzio. The internal consistency of a work authored all at
once is absent, by necessity. Two options emerge simulta-
neously: the autonomy of the discipline, a set of intrinsic,
self-referential rules that would supercede the subjectivity
of a single author, and its inverse corollary, the uncon-
trolled play of chance and contingency. "

6. Man Ray, Dust Breeding, Michel Foucault has noted the way in which the figure of
1920. Photograph of Marcel the table can simultaneously stand for the rule of order
Duchamp's The Bride Stripped and the realm of free play:
Bare by Her Bachelors, Even
signed by Man Ray and I use that word 'table' in two superimposed senses: the nickel-
Duchamp. plated, rubbery table swathed in white, glittering beneath a glass
sun devouring all shadow - the table where, for an instant, per-
haps forever, the umbrella encounters the sewing-machine; and
scene he describes suggests another reading: the architec- also a table, a tabula, that enables thought to operate upon the
ture of the city, too, is subject to amnesia and displace- entities of our world, to put them in order, to divide them in

ment. But, paradoxically, for Piranesi, this is precisely how classes, to group them according to the names that designate their
similarities and their differences - the table upon which, since
the negative of history and the city may return as a positive
the beginning of time, language has intersected space. 4
value for an architectural culture "condemned to operate
with degraded means.""1 It is this copresence of the scientific (geometrical and
archaeological) and the ludic that makes Piranesi's project
Finally, then: campo, a plane, a (battle)field; pianura, a
resonant in this century. The same site that authorizes
level ground. But also tabula, a table or tablet. This is
Piranesi's "lawless" combinations also authorizes the cross-
how Piranesi represents the plan of the Campo Marzio -
historical comparisons that would place Piranesi side by
as a rough stone tablet, clamped to the wall with heavy
side with Duchamp, Man Ray, or Roussel.
brackets, worn and cracked at the edges. The figures of the
plan show no respect for the edges of the tablet. They are On the other hand, by locating Piranesi's innovations in
cut arbitrarily, not framed. The dedication is rendered as precise historical terms, Tafuri has shown that this "equi-
another tablet casually covering a portion of the plan. The librium of opposites" has a political dimension as well. To
entire image has an aroma of the archaic, a simulated dissolve the opposition of reason and subjectivity consti-
antiquity. Like the glass surface of Duchamp's Large Glass tutes an appropriation of power through the consolidation
in the photograph by Man Ray entitled Dust Breeding, it is of technical control. This gives innovation itself an ideo-
a neutral screen that collects the deposits of age. 12 As in logical role: "The 'power' will be that of the new tech-
this work signed by Duchamp and Man Ray, time is given niques - unnamed but lying underneath like repressed
an autonomous value. It both obscures form, through demands - capable of controlling the forces that elude the
accumulation and deterioration, and creates new formal eighteenth-century philosophe. "15
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assemblage 10

III Jill OPEC


(Con)Text
A text is not a text unless it hides from the first comer, from the
first glance, the law of its composition and the rules of its game.
A text remains, moreover, forever imperceptible. Its law and its
rules are not, however, harbored in the inaccessibility of a secret;
it is simply that they can never be booked, in the present, into
anything that could rigorously be called a perception.
Jacques Derrida, "Plato's Pharmacy," in Dissemination, 1968

In Piranesi, context must be read as text. We have already


seen how everything that might be called context is either
excluded or fictionalized. The parallels between Piranesi's
project and poststructuralist theory need not be ennumer-
ated in depth: a return to origins that calls into question
411"M a 17
the value of the origin; the idea of a critique from within;
the notion of architecture's rationality being turned against
itself, a critique of the instrumentality of classical reason,
V.4 of geometry, of "foundations"; the elevation of the mar-
AN
Elf ginal and fragmentary to a constitutive position; the ambi-
MR,
guity of frame and subject, of structure and ornament. But
45 what are the consequences of understanding an architec-
tural project as text? And where, precisely, does this insight
VI
leave us? How is it possible to enter into this text; what are
the terms proper to its analysis?
w NAA

Tafuri has outlined the profound ambiguity with which the


question of language is treated in Piranesi's work. "The
problem turns out to be one of language," he begins; but
this may simply be a mask for Piranesi's refusal to inter-
vene in the world: "This makes even more significant the
fact that the Carceri and the Campo Marzio unequivocably
7. Piranesi, system of
attack 'language insofar as it is a mode of acting upon the
connecting segments. Plate
world.' All of which means, conversely, to claim an abso-
from the Campo Marzio.
lute autonomy for that language. But, at the same time, it
also means to cover over a disconcerting suspicion regard-
ing the unfeasibility of such an autonomy.'"'6 It is, perhaps,
worth pointing out that Tafuri's text (published in Italian
in 1971) is itself marked by an intellectual climate in
which it was understood that problems of form and mean-
ing could legitimately be reduced to problems of language.
But not all language constitutes itself as text. Derrida
would argue against the possibility of even a dialectical res-
olution, denying both the transparency of (discursive) lan-
guage and the "residual margins of a positive presence."

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Allen

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8. Analyticalstuyo agn
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assemblage 10

, I 0
j 1-10

9. Piranesi, plate from Parere


su I'architettura, 1765

Yet, paradoxically, it could


terms. What conceptual framework is also
accommodate
call to our attention the
such dissimilar productions as the ornamental obje
plates of the
examine its shape, its
Parere su l'architettura (Opinions surfac
on architecture) or
contours.
Diverse maniere d'adornare i cammini (Various ways of
decorating chimneypieces) alongside of the structural anal-
My strategy will be to approach the problem from inside, ysis of the Ponte Fabrizio in the Antichita romane or the
to address one of the many internal contradictions inmethodical studies of hydraulic techniques at the Lago
Piranesi's work. It is clear that Piranesi has violated tradi- Albano? How to reconcile (or at least situate in some logi-
tional notions of the internal consistency of an oeuvre. The cal way) the willful eclecticism of the image with the
question posed is one of "stylistic" inconsistency, but one rigorous planimetric geometry that seems to inform the
that cannot be resolved in conventional art historical structure?

80

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Allen

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VJ-

oi wo NO

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10. Piranesi, analytical study of


the Ponte Fabrizio. Plate from
Le antichita romane, 1756.

The place of ornament and its relation to structure is fun-emphasis of the building is usually laid, is degraded by him to a
decorative detail; ornamental frames become structural features;
damental to approaching this question. Piranesi's disconti-
nuities and disjunctions cause uneasiness in the viewer lessS. . columns in the same row are fluted differently and stand on
framed panels instead of bases; even vegetable ornament which
by the exaggerated nature of the parts than by the way in
should grow upward is turned upside down.'7
which they contravene the rules of their placement. As
early as 1938 Rudolf Wittkower called attention to these
Wittkower describes Piranesi's anticlassical operations in
inversions. Referring to the plates of the Parere, he
observed that Piranesi terms of an attack on the propriety of structure: the pedi-
ment is "degraded" to a decorative detail. The ornamental
(i.e., inessential) frame occupies the position reserved for
reverses the traditional meaning of architectural structure in gen-
the structure. The effect of these transgressions is anxiety
eral and of the single parts. A pediment, on which the structural

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assemblage 10

11. Tiber and monumental 12. Reinstated wall, external


figures, external and internal border
borders

r I

13. Diagram of the Via


Triumphalis, internal border

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Allen

variety he is able; but let it be always so that it may appear an


and uncertainty - as well as a greater difficulty in "locat-
ing" the resulting assemblage. human body and not a block covered with drapery.21

Wittkower, however, minimizes the radicality of these Ornament, like drapery, is considered additive, inessential.
operations. On the one hand, he understands the text of Further, it must be subject to control to preserve the
the Parere as a process whereby Piranesi begins to disman-
"proper character" of that to which it is added. Ornament
tle his own rules to bring his written discourse in line with
proceeds not from necessity but from "caprices" or the
his practical production: "Piranesi's Parere is an act of pleasure
lib- of the artist. Its position is described with preci-
eration from traditional fetters, and from the ideas with
sion - it is placed on or over a preexisting armature. The
which the artist had grown up. His theoretical standpoint body below the drapery, the structure beneath the orna-
now conforms with his artistic purpose."'is On the other ment remains untouched. And in the case of the chimney-
hand, he dismisses the novelty of the plates, preferringpiece, it is the frame that mediates between architecture
instead to see them as a return to strategies of transgression
and ornament, preserving the support from the uncontrol-
already tested within the classical canon: "In short we are
lable present in ornament.
faced with the principle of an earlier style, in which origi-
nality and individuality replace an objective doctrine - Derrida discusses at length this curious in-between status of
the frame in his essay of 1974 "The Parergon," which
that of sixteenth-century Mannerism."19 Finally, he points
organizes itself around a reading of Kant's third Critique.
out the continuity between theory and practice in the work
Here the supplemental character of the frame acquires the-
that follows. In discussing the polemical text of the Cam-
mini of 1769, Wittkower notes that Piranesi "asks for a matic importance. The third Critique, Derrida proposes,
proper framing of all ornament." As Wittkower concludes, makes evident a lack, a shortcoming in its own arguments.
"This is a classicistic demand which in his own work he But this gap is not to be filled up; within the economy of
the supplement, reconciliation can only structure itself as
never fails to satisfy, however fantastic the result."20 The
anticipation.22 The desire for grounded structure, which is
ability of the frame to establish limits and control the vio-
lence of the ornamental is thus identified as essential to fundamental
an to Kant's project, elicits an architectural anal-
ogy: "Here philosophy . . . represents itself as a part of its
architecture that would maintain itself within the classical
tradition. part, as an art of architecture. It re-presents itself, detaches
itself, dispatches an emissary, one part of itself outside itself
Wittkower refers to a specific passage in this text (the to bind the whole, to fill up or to heal the whole which
only one where "framing" is discussed), which is perhaps has suffered detachment."23 This process, in turn, begs
worth examining in detail. In the first part of the passage,
another question: how to distinguish with certainty be-
Piranesi discusses the tendency toward eclecticism in tween intrinsic and extrinsic. "It presupposes a discourse
ornament.
on the limit between the inside and the outside of the art
object, in this case a discourse on the frame. Where do we
Let them have their will, for no curb ought to be put on the
caprices of men, but then let them be executed accordingfind
to it?"24
the
rules of art. Let Tritons and fish be placed on chimneys, if it be
Kant's text supplies this through recourse to a traditional
so required, but let them not so cover the frame as entirely to
term of philosophical discourse that will be reread by
hide it, or take away its character. Let the architect be as extrava-
gant as he pleases, so he destroy not architecture, but give Derrida
to in its more literal (i.e., physical) terms: "Even
every member its proper character. what is called ornamentation (parerga), i.e., what is only
an adjunct, and not an intrinsic constituent in the com-
Immediately afterward, he proposes an analogy to the pleteplas-
representation of an object, in augmenting the
tic arts. delight of taste does so solely by means of its form. Thus it
Let the artist be free to drape a statue, or figure in painting, as he is with the frames of pictures or the drapery on statues, or
likes best, let him adjust the folds and garments with the greatest the colonnades of palaces. "25 Derrida cites this passage

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assemblage 10

14. Collage of borders and


frames

041

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.... .... .. ... ..... ...-"..... ..........-..-


8

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Allen

..

15. "The Fictional Present,"


detail view of model showing
collage of borders and frames

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assemblage 10

710A i!iii!

A 1 4:

16. "The Fictional Present,"


detail of model

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Allen

from the third Critique, which presents itself as a kind ofifa the columns or the pilasters are holding it up, then what
key, but a key that only creates new dilemmas: "A parergon exactly is the function of the wall? Please choose, Protopiro, what
is against, beside, and above and beyond the ergon, the do you want me to knock down, the walls or the pilasters? You
do not answer? Well, then, I will destroy everything. Cast it
work accomplished, the accomplishment of the work. But
aside. Please note, then, buildings without walls, columns, pilas-
it is not incidental; it is connected to and cooperates in its
ters, friezes, or cornices; without vaults; without roofs; space,
operation from inside."26 Thus the parergon supplements a
empty space; bare countryside; tabula rasa.30
lack in the work itself. It makes the work possible but is
not itself part of the work. It is something secondary, for-
This empty prospect corresponds negatively to what lies
eign to the work (hors d'oeuvre).27 Yet it collaborates in the
realization of the work. It would seem to thematize itself hidden in the purist position: the arbitrary and institutional
nature of "natural" law.
around Kant's first example, the frames on pictures, but
the others are problematic as well. This would also confirm Derrida's intuition that it is in the
realm of the architectural that "detachment" is most vio-
Referring to the case of the drapery on statues, Derrida
asks, if the parergon is that which is added to compensate lent: "But in the architectural work the representation is
for a lack within the system it augments, "what deficiency not structurally representational - or it is, but according
in the representation of the body does drapery supple- to a detour so complicated that it would undoubtedly dis-
ment?"28 This leads to the entire problematic of inscription concert anyone who wanted to distinguish, in a critical
in a milieu, the difficulty of distinguishing a work from its manner, the inside from the outside, the integral from the
ground, and it underscores the futility of detaching the detachable."' Therefore not only is it - as represented by
frame, of separating out the detachable from the integral: Piranesi - an impossible choice, but, by pressing the
"The parergon is distinguished from both the ergon (the issue, a kind of internal economy is revealed whereby any
work) and the milieu; it is distinguished as a figure against removal threatens to destabilize the entire system. Given
a ground. But it is not distinguished in the same way as the fundamental role that the architectural metaphor plays
the work, which is also distinguished from a ground. The in philosophy, this seems a serious, not to say structural,
flaw.
parergonal frame is distinguished from two grounds, but in
relation to each of these, it disappears into the other."29 Considered in this light, the ambivalence of the plates
The frame has depth and thickness, but its incomprehensi- that accompany the text of the Parere is symptomatic.
bility emerges with the attempt to detach it. This creates Wittkower goes so far as to say that they represent bad
certain difficulties.
examples, excesses to be avoided.32 What Piranesi has
done, it seems to me, is to make the frame thematic -
The dialogue of Piranesi's Parere turns precisely on the
question of the detachable. If ornament is that which can having fully comprehended its ambiguous status between
be detached without affecting the structure, what is left structure and ornament. The frame moves from a periph-
after the inessential has been taken away? This is the thrust eral to a central position in Piranesi's work, and it takes on
of the argument of Didascolo (generally understood to rep- a complexity that undermines its status as a stopgap against
resent Piranesi's voice). By ironically taking the demand of the excesses of ornament. Frames are superimposed on
other frames and structure is understood as one more
his adversary to its logical end, he subverts the purist argu-
ment; he demonstrates that it is based on a premise that frame. The compositional rules are absent or contravened;
there exist some intrinsic criteriA' that would rigorously dis- the only constant rule is the presence of the frame itself.

tinguish between the ornamental and the structural. But these are not Piranesi's most radical images, nor his
Let us now observe the inside and outside walls of the building. oddest, nor most eclectic. Their displacements occur in
S. . Now I ask you, what holds up the roof of the building? If two dimensions only. The combinations of the Campo
the wall is supporting it, then there is no need for the architrave; Marzio are more scandalous; the spatial complexities of the

87

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assemblage 10

T . . .....

i ~

17. Le Corbusier, Villa Schwob,


La Chaux-de-Fonds, 1916, main
facade

Carceri d'invenzion
warping and twisting the frame, releasing a measure of the
lenging. violence inherent in the act of framing.impo
Their
thematic that is to underlie the rest of the work. The
"apparent absurdities" of Piranesi's ornamental excesses in
these "marginal" plates turn out to have a constituent This insight might be extended. The marking of a bound-
role." Under a thematics of the frame, the "stylistic" ary, the establishment of a frame appears to be a preoccu-
inconsistencies are dissolved. The framework that might pation specific to architecture. Territory, precinct, and
link the eclectic plates of the Parere to the typological enclosure are fundamental terms in architectural specula-
delirium of the Campo Marzio or to the meticulous tech- tion. The "architectural" is continually displaced to the
nical reconstructions of the Ponte Fabrizio is contained periphery and the empty frame marks out the space of use
within the contours of the project itself. The insistent and allows participation. Piranesi's particular insight is to
demand that the work be framed and situated is revealed as have discovered a latent tension between the figural and
a paradigmatical instance of the means of classical rational- the frame. The complexity, the incompleteness, and finally
ity turned back upon itself. This is recorded in the convo- the emptiness of his frames would seem to confirm this.
luted profiles of the plates of the Parere as much as in the Nor is it insignificant that one hundred fifty years later the
elaborate play of borders in the Campo Marzio. The diver- empty frame would take on iconographic significance for
sity of these manifestations only reflects an internal tension the modernist project.

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Allen

All

FRI

XXSI

WON,

J&

I. Men I

W?

ja"

Ot
MON.,
;J

`wM., W

'S
FF. ki M

If
3u

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IMF

All Or
WM,

ON t

18. Piranesi, Egyptian


chimneypiece. Plate from
Diverse maniere d'adornare i
cammini, 1769.

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assemblage 10

Program: Montage of Attractions


The madness consists only in the piling up, in the juxtapositions
which explode the very foundation of the objects' customary 'pos-
sibility,' a madness which groups objects into a system of arches
which 'go out of themselves' in sequence, ejecting new arches
from their bowels; a system of staircases exploding in a flight of
new passages of staircases; a system of vaults which continue their
leaps from each other into eternity.
Sergei Eisenstein, "Piranesi, or the Fluidity of Forms," 1947

Eisenstein enters Piranesi's work by means of a comparison


in sequence. He begins by describing the first image:

It is a Piranesi etching.
19. Piranesi, Carcere oscura
It is part of the series Opere varie di Architettura. (Dark prison). Plate from Prima
And it is called Carcere oscura . . . parte di architetture e
prospettive, 1743.
I am now looking at this etching on my wall.14

His reading will result in the uncovering of a latent formal


tension, an "explosion," an "ecstatic transfiguration." Con-
firmation is found in a second image, plate XIV of the
Carceri: "The scheme which we devised - turns out to
actually exist . .. Piranesi's second etching is actually the
first one exploding in ecstatic flight.""

This collapse of the dissimilar into the similar has been


achieved through precise formal and critical analysis.
Eisenstein systematically locates the dynamic potential
embedded in the fixed architecture of the earlier image.
The disembodied memory of the first etching persists in
the second like an afterimage. Here as elsewhere, he plays
upon the literal meaning of the Greek root of ecstasy:
"going out of oneself." In fact, the topological uncertainty
of this phrase is to mark the terms of the analysis itself.
Disjunction is found inside of the image, to be set in
motion, "dissolved" from within, in order to disrupt the
stasis: "these arches can undergo an 'explosion' within their
own form."36 All elements of the transformation are present
in the initial image; they are transposed and reconfigured,
but nothing is imposed from without. Piranesi's formal
language of fragments and disjunctive adjacencies is situ-20. Sergei M. Eisenstein,
ated in a dialectical relation to the principles of classical diagram of Piranesi's Carere
solidity. oscura, ca. 1947

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Allen

... ....... -Ilk


mill

e.2-

.. ..... .

NX , , ,

Ail

?ag

Al

M,

Ad

3o lp

AIR,

21. Piranesi, Carcere, second


state, ca. 1760. Plate XIV from
Carceri d'invenzione, 1760-66.

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assemblage 10

22. Eisenstein rehearsing


Gas-Masks in the Moscow Gas
Factory, 1924

To underline the cinematic nature of these operations the dismantling of these conventions is not to be accom-
would be tautological. Eisenstein applies to Piranesi's plished within the limits of this work (this despite a careful
images the terms of his own discipline, and more than analysis of certain perspectival distortions - a telescopic
that, his own practice. Eisenstein sees Piranesi in termseffect
of that collapses depth and foreground, creating pro-
found dimensional ambiguity). Here as elsewhere, Piranesi
montage. He sees the entire series of the Carceri as "dis-
continuous fragments of a single sequence."" Montage upholds
has convention in order to contravene or subvert it,
a highly specific meaning for Eisenstein: "Montage isbut thenot to overthrow it. The disintegration of realist con-
stage of explosion of the movie frame. . . . When thevention into its autonomous geometrical components
tension within a movie frame reaches a climax and cannot remains "a leap beyond the limits of this opus.'"42
increase any further, then the frame itself explodes, frag-
Tafuri has pointed out that this attempt to reconcile realist
menting itself into two pieces of montage."'s The parallel
and avant-garde practice corresponds precisely to Eisen-
to his analytical method is clear: formal tension within the
stein's own position, especially if understood in its particu-
frame, the explosion of the frame, the multiplication of
lar political context.4 It is unsurprising therefore that the
the formal possibilities in the fracturing of the frame. In
analysis should produce this parallel. Eisenstein's critique
this way, the explosion of forms in both the film language
has become operative in the work itself. It is careful not to
and in Piranesi's Carceri is made to seem an inevitable
transgress its own limits. The representational structure
result of internal tensions and contradictions.
accommodates the newly discovered formal dynamism in
But there is a limit point, an impasse in the system of order to preserve its own intrinsic structure.
formal transformations: "One stone may have 'moved off' Tafuri assigns to this operation of legitimation a reactionary
another stone, but it has retained its represented 'stony' status. In its "anxious search for historical antecedents
concreteness."19 The first stage of the transformation - capable of justifying the theoretical compromise between
from the Carcere oscura of 1743 to the plate from the Car- representation and autonomy of formal structure," the
ceri of 1760 - concerned itself primarily with structural avant-garde, "deprived of its utopian potential and of its
displacements within the framework of the space repre- ideology . . . can only fall back upon itself; it can only
sented. Eisenstein asks, "Is it possible, after a relatively explore the stages of its own development. At best, it may
short first stage with its dissolution of forms, to foresee and recognize the ambiguity of its own origins. "4 Piranesi's
discover through the second stage - which is already "subjectivity" - along with the (negative) utopian impulse
exploding the very objects of depiction - . . . one more - has been jettisoned. Tafuri criticizes Eisenstein for not
'leap,' one more 'explosion,' one more 'spurt' beyond the advancing the terms of the critique beyond those set by the
limits and dimensions and thus, apparently, the 'norm Russian formalists. He points out the incongruity of Eisen-
which in the last variant of the Carceri exploded com- stein's comparison of Piranesi with Picasso and Cezanne,
pletely?"40 Eisenstein asks, in effect, for an exploration of characterizing it as a desperate search to situate his own
the new formal possibilities opened by this analytical
work within an unfolding history of the avant-garde. The
construct.
very self-consciousness of this move makes it suspect, a
The next stage would have to explode the means of repre-knowing cooption of "history" by the avant-garde. And it
compromises the terms of the analysis itself: only a critique
sentation itself: "What is left to explode - is concreteness.
that
A stone is no longer a stone, but a system of intersecting
goes beyond the formal, Tafuri argues, would be cap-
angles and planes in whose play the geometrical basis of its radicalizing and multiplying the ambiguities of
able of
Piranesi's production.
forms explodes.7"'4 Eisenstein's careful use of language
reflects his awareness of the mediation of representational
I would suggest two provisional strategies for mobilizing
some of the contradictions of Piranesi's work. In this con-
conventions. He does not confuse the thing with its repre-
sentation. But, following on this awareness, he notes that
text, the rewriting of "program" centers around a proposal

92

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assemblage 10

. 'Em"
?AGQA /A

bu kill ki',M is(o i i T-ilui m v

24. City fragment, the


23. City fragment, gymnasium
and stadia mechanical garden

to reread the classical: not as a seamless, closed, and inter-lectual milieu. The story of origins that Piranesi recounts,
nally consistent text, already ended, but a system in which in response to Le Roy, Winckelmann, or Laugier is well
the apparent order conceals the arbitrariness of its founda- known: The Egyptians invented a massive, stereotomic
tions and rules - fictions of order that can be reread and architecture that was passed on to the Etruscans and
reordered. Piranesi's equivocal relationship to classical brought to perfection by the Romans. The Greek contribu-
authority is taken as a privileged starting point. tion is minimized, relegated to the margins. Yet, like a
repressed memory, the marginal returns obsessively. In the
The first strategy would embrace the problem of origins, Parere, Didascolo is made to say, "A purist rebuked the
linking it back to Piranesi's own speculations. No problem Romans for having corrupted the architecture of the
is more typical of Enlightenment thought, and Piranesi's Greeks; Piranesi had to make them see that the Romans,
position clarifies his ambivalent relationship to this intel- on the contrary, being unable to heal the scars of an archi-

94

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Allen

AN
46.- ..

25. Model showing theater


and cemetery

95

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assemblage 10

tecture infec
tried to miti
contaminated
Ali
no other con
ner is futile.
undermines t
F ? Id
foundations
14*

then there is
return to the
contains within it an additional mandate: "To build on
POW

?R,
those precarious bases, 'infected at the roots,' is a tragic
duty."46
81

4-
A

wo, To recuperate and redeploy the "negative": out of the crisis


11,4 of form emerges both the loss of freedom and the clarifica-
J tion of new possibilities. If the play of opposites will never
dissolve into similarity (as Tafuri has shown), then what
remains for criticism is to sharpen and exaggerate those
differences. "Art is fundamentally ironic and destructive,"
Viktor Shklovsky has written, "It revitalizes the world. Its
function is to create inequalities, which it does by means
f

Sk NOW
of contrasts."'4 Shklovsky's coupling of destruction and
revitalization underlines the paradox of the modernist cri-
tique of formal categories. Only by dismantling the struc-
'l-W
Oil -0 OV
ture can that structure hope to survive. "Estrangement"
reconstructs the perception of the world. Shklovsky contin-
ues, "New forms in art are created by the canonization of
, 44' A peripheral forms." This might be compared to Eisenstein
in his essay on theater "Montage of Attractions." "The
weapons for this purpose are to be found in the leftover
apparatus of the theater.'"48 But today, a "countermemory
26. Piranesi, of fragments
the modern would have to include that which has been of
Severan marble plan of Ro
Plate from
made peripheralCampo
the
by the institutionalization of the Mar
modern;
therefore this project proposes, instead of an outright rejec-
tion of classicism, a subversive reuse of its discredited strat-
egies. This "illegitimate" use of exhausted principles
attempts to bypass the closure of the modern. The absence
of a margin - the privileged ground of the modernist cri-
tique - is thus acknowledged. This "unconscious" use of
the modern next to the classical operates in full awareness
of their mutual loss of meaning. The negative will have to
be deployed simultaneously from within and without. To
appropriate the words of Blanchot, "Certain people have

96

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Allen

discovered something beyond this: [architecture] is not only tion. "The ancients," he writes, "transgressed the strict
illegitimate, it is also null; and as long as this nullity is rules of architecture just as much as the moderns."54 The
isolated in a state of purity it may constitute an extraordi- variation of the parts is inconsequential.
nary force, a marvelous force."49
Piranesi has incorporated contingency - in the form of
the baroque principle of variety - into the working fabric
The second strategy takes the problem of origins and turns
of the classical idea. This explains his assertion that there
it inside out. For Piranesi, the question of the origin is
is "one and only one style of architecture that we follow.
already historical. It is thematized around the figure of the
How much longer will we refrain from admitting that to
ruin and the fragment. The "speaking ruins" both collapse
vary the ornament is not the same thing as creating a new
and accentuate historical distance. They provide the only
order?""55 But Piranesi's refusal fully to recognize these con-
possible access to the past; at the same time, they are the
tradictions is telling as well. If his discourse is internally
sign of its absence and the measure of its incomprehensi-
disjunctive by design, "order" is displaced and evaluated in
bility. Georges Teyssot has pointed out that repetition and
abstract terms. It can no longer hold together the perfect
synecdoche are fundamental to the idea of classicism. 5 transparency and repeatability of the classical.
Alberti's well-known phrase may be taken as axiomatic:
"Beauty is that reasoned harmony of all parts within a In the Campo Marzio the seamless manner in which the
body, so that nothing may be added, taken away, or known fragments of the past have been integrated into the
altered, but for the worse.""51 This idealized internal coher- whole composition attests to an overriding principle. The
ence promotes a kind of theoretical reversibility. If the internal correspondence of the parts to one another -
smallest detail is known, the entire composition can also rather than the "truthfulness" of the parts themselves -
be known. Synecdoche "authorizes the part to represent allows these fragments to be inserted at a meaningful point
the whole.""52 But to uphold this consistency, the classical into the larger order of the project.56 Piranesi has invented
language must not only maintain a perfect transparency a compositional language in order to make sense of the
but also remove itself from historical contingency: classi- fragment. These fragments disappear into the composition
cism's "eternal beginning." And just as the process assumes not because their fragmentary nature has been concealed
reversibility, it also assumes repeatability. But this kind of or covered over, but because they have themselves rede-
"scientific" confirmation is precisely what Piranesi's prac- fined the rules for "fitting in." The whole and the parts
tice calls into question. submit to the same geometric rules. Piranesi demonstrates
that, through the multiplication of the simple, the ration-
ality of geometry can describe both the indecipherable
Piranesi asserts that from a single stone he can reconstruct
fragment and the fully realized composition. But the arbi-
the entire edifice. He must assume as his starting point the
trariness of the combinations suggests that, given those
theoretical axioms of synecdoche and repeatability. With-
rules, the permutations are endless.
out this basic confidence in the regularity of classical prin-
ciples he would be paralyzed. But the machine cannot be The plan confirms this. The assurance of repeatability con-
depended upon to run smoothly. Doubts and imprecision tained in the classical principles of regularity is entirely
compromise its workings. How, for example, can this pervaded by contingency. Geometry is understood here for
assuredness be reconciled with the statement in the Parere the first time as "instrumental," but this instrumentality
that "there is no building, among the ancient ones, whose undercuts the rational principles that underlie it. The cri-
proportions are the same as another's and there are also no tique of formalism turns back on itself, uncovering the
old buildings that have the same columns, intercolumna- mechanics of an endless chain of combinations that is by
tions, arches, etc."" Here as elsewhere, opposed principles itself unable to constrain the combinatory mechanisms.
coexist in Piranesi's practice. The discrepancies found in The "useless machines" of the Campo Marzio turn out to
the ideal model are made to participate in its reconstruc- be self-perpetuating.

97

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assemblage 10

IJil

27. "System
model showi
the Piranesi

98

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Allen

28. "System of the Labyrinth,"


detail of model

99

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29. Piranesi, the grande pianta,


site plan of the Campo Marzio.
Plate from the Campo Marzio.
30. "The Apparatus of the
Frame," superposition of the
Nolli plan of Rome and the
Campo Marzio

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assemblage 10

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31. Sequential montage of

elements of the program

32. "The Fictional Present,"


view of model showing collage
,,W, 7- - .....: !of borders and frames
- - -5CO-

S"33. "Theater of Production II,"


v omoI ,.gcview of model

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assemblage 10

34. "Theater of Production II,"


detail of model

35. Axonometric projections of


a series of monumental figures
from the zone outside the
walls

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Allen

36. "System of the Labyrinth,"


view of model

105

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assemblage 10

Notes Campo Marzio is published is border, but becomes an internal landscape from a bird's-eye view.
incident in the plan; it occupies, as There was dust on the work and
1. Joseph Rykwert, The First Mod- something of a mixed bag. Piranesi
apparently began the large site plan, far as that is possible, the center. bits of tissue and cotton wadding
erns: The Architects of the Eigh-
the grande pianta, in 1757. John that had been used to clean up the
teenth Century (Cambridge, Mass.: 9. Plate XLIII, for example, is a
Wilton-Ely suggests that the Campo finished parts, adding to the mys-
MIT Press, 1980), Anthony Vidler, view of the Tomb of Hadrian (later
Marzio should be understood as the tery. This, I thought, was indeed
The Writing of the Walls (Prince- the Castel Sant'Angelo), depicted as
ton: Princeton Architectural Press, final (fifth) volume of Le antichita' the domain of Duchamp ...
though it had fallen into ruin and
romane (Rome, 1756), and should Since it was to be a long exposure,
1987), or Manfredo Tafuri, The no further building had taken place.
thus be seen in continuity with the I opened the shutter and we went
Sphere and the Labyrinth: Avant-
earlier archaeological investigations 10. For example, Piranesi has out to eat something, returning
Gardes and Architecture from Pira-
(Wilton-Ely, The Mind and Art of accurately reproduced the Septa about an hour later, when I closed
nesi to the 1970s, trans. Pellegrino
Giovanni Battista Piranesi [London: Julia from the fragment of the Sev- the shutter. I hurried back to my
d'Acierno and Robert Connolly
Thames and Hudson, 1978], 73). eran marble plan (the forma urbis), basement and developed the plate
(Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press,
Like the earlier volumes, the but has relocated it to a site adja- - I always did my developing at
1987), are only the most obvious cent to the Servian wall. He has
Campo Marzio contains historical night, not having a darkroom. The
examples, to which might easily be
texts, reconstructed plans, and views translated the figure of the septa to negative was perfect" (Man Ray,
added the writings of Georges Teys-
of the "raw material" - the ruins, a site along the Via Lata and then Self-Portrait [New York: Little
sot. Foucault, especially the Fou-
accommodated the site to the idio- Brown, 1963]; cited in Man Ray:
cault of The Order of Things, would often with later accretions stripped
away. But the detail and elaboration syncracies of the figure represented The Photographic Image, ed. Janus
seem to be behind much of this
of the site plan, the perspective in the marble plan. Other transpo- and trans. Murtha Baca [Wood-
work. Tafuri's chapter on Piranesi
reconstructions consistent with the sitions and departures are noted in bury, N.Y.: Barron's, 1980], 180).
in The Sphere and the Labyrinth,
plans, as well as the sequential the commentaries on the Campo
"'The Wicked Architect': G. B. Pi- 13. Peter Buirger has noted this
maps of the historical development Marzio in G. B. Piranesi: Drawings
ranesi, Heterotopia, and the Voy- convergence of seemingly opposed
of this zone are all unique to this and Etchings at Columbia Univer-
age," as well as the passages in his principles in twentieth-century
volume. Therefore, in this case, it sity, exhibition catalogue, ed. D.
Architecture and Utopia: Design avant-garde work, citing Adorno
makes sense to speak of the "proj- Nyberg (New York: Avery Architec-
and Capitalist Development, trans. (Aesthetic Theory) to the effect that
ect" for the Campo Marzio. tural Library, 1972); Michael
Barbara Luiga La Penta (Cam- "the progress of art as making is
McCarthy, in "The Theoretical
bridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1976), 7. Piranesi, Dedicatory letter to accompanied by the tendency
Imagination in Piranesi's Shaping of
have been fundamental in the for- toward total arbitrariness. . . . The
Robert Adam, Campo Marzio. Architectural Reality," Impulse 13,
mulation of my approach to this convergence of the technically inte-
8. Note, for example, the wall that no. 1 (1986-87), charts in detail
project. gral, wholly made work of art with
forms the lower border of the large Piranesi's "misreadings" of the
one that is absolute chance has
2. Rykwert, The First Moderns, archaeological record in the case of
site plan. This corresponds more or been noted with good reason."
370. the Tomb of Cecilia Metella.
less accurately to the course of the (Buirger, Theory of the Avant-Garde,
Servian wall erected in the sixth
3. The phrase is Rykwert's, ibid. 11. Tafuri, Architecture and Uto- trans. Michael Shaw [Minneapolis:
century B.C. and rebuilt in the pia, 16. University of Minnesota Press,
4. Tafuri, Architecture and Utopia,
15. fourth century B.c. The historic 1984]).
center of the city, the Forum, the 12. Man Ray has described this
Palatine (site of the legendary foun- photograph as follows: "In the far 14. Michel Foucault, The Order of
5. Alain Robbe-Grillet, "From
dation of Rome), all lie within the corner near a window stood a pair Things: An Archaeology of the
Realism to Reality" (1955), in For a
walls, to the south of the Campo of trestles on which lay a large Human Sciences (New York: Pan-
New Novel: Essays on Fiction,
Marzio, and outside of Piranesi's piece of heavy glass covered with theon, 1973), xvii. Foucault refers
trans. Richard Howard (New York:
drawing. This zone is rendered as a intricate patterns laid out in fine here to Raymond Roussel: in a
Grove Press, 1965), 165.
blank on his plan. But, further, lead wires. It was Duchamp's major work such as Roussel's Locus Solus,
6. C. B. Piranesi, Campus Martius during the first and second centu- opus: The Bride Stripped Bare by the neutral (narrative) field supports
antiquae Urbis (Rome, 1762); ries A.D., the city expanded beyond her Bachelors, Even. . . . I sug- a series of episodic fragments of
reprinted, with an introduction by the Servian wall, encompassing gested to Duchamp that I pick up intense individuality, each one
Franco Borsi, as Il Campo Marzio much of the area of the Campo my camera, which I had never drawn and described in minute
dell'antica Roma (Florence: Co- Marzio. In 271 a wall, known as taken out of my place and photo- detail, barely held together by the
lombo Ristampe, 1972), chap. 1, p. the Aurelian wall, was erected. This graph his glass. . . . Looking down ground they share. A further com-
3. It should be noted that the vol- wall also appears in Piranesi's plan. on the work as I focused the cam- parison is suggested by Leo Stein-
ume in which the project for the It does not, however, function as a era, it appeared like some strange berg's use of the term "flatbed

106

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Allen

picture plane" to describe a change anathematized their influence on the faculty of judgment (the third lemmatically to the realm of the
in the conception of the picture humanity as slavery, until the ideal Critique) from the critique of pure visual and the physical would be,
plane in American art of the 1950s. form of the subject was no more reason. This is a provisional move then, to lose the fluidity, the ana-
He notes that the picture plane no than unique, unrestricted, though for Kant, because in a perfect meta- logical character of the writing, in a
longer refers to a window openingvacuous authority" (Horkheimer physics the separation would be simple illustration. On the other
out onto the world but rather to an and Adorno, Dialectic of Enlighten- unnecessary. But, as Derrida notes, hand, within the terms that Derrida
all-purpose surface, a screen, upon ment, trans. John Cumming [1944; "it is not yet possible. There is as has established, there is a need to
which may be depositied any man- New York: Herder & Herder, yet no possible program outside the point out the parallelism and to
ner of material of the world - 1987], 89-90). critique" (p. 6). That is to say, there interrogate its suspect affinity. This
actual or representational: "The is no possible program of pure phi- kind of work seems necessary if
16. Tafuri, The Sphere and the
flatbed picture plane makes its sym-Labyrinth, 34. See also p. 38: losophy, outside of its individual we assume, as Wigley does, that
bolic allusion to hard surfaces such parts, capable of subsuming all of deconstruction problematizes archi-
"Inasmuch as it is - despite every-
as tabletops, studio floors, charts, the separate members in an affirma- tecture as much as philosophy.
thing - an affirmation of a world
bulletin boards - any receptor sur- of forms, the Campo Marzio, pre- tive system. Therefore: anticipation,
23. Derrida, "The Parergon," 7.
face on which objects are scattered, cisely because of the absurdity of its "detachment," provisional separa-
on which data is entered, on which tion. The reading of "The Parer- 24. Ibid., 12.
horror vacui, becomes a demand for
information may be received, gon" is structured around these 25. Immanuel Kant, The Critique
language, a paradoxical revelation
printed, impressed - whether separations as well as strategies to of Judgment, trans. James Creed
of its absence." On the other hand,
coherently or in confusion." By rejoin the parts. "The abyss elicits Meredith (Oxford: Oxford Univer-
Maurice Blanchot has written,
referring to the flatbed printing analogy - the active recourse of sity Press, 1952), 85; cited in Der-
"Trust in language is the opposite
press, Steinberg signals that it is the - distrust of language - situated the entire Critique - but analogy rida, "The Parergon," 18.
horizontality of this surface that is succumbs to the abyss as soon as a
within language. Confidence in 26. Derrida, "The Parergon," 20.
crucial: "no longer an analogue of a language is language itself distrust- certain artfulness is required for the
world perceived from an upright analogical description of the play of 27. Hors d'oeuvre is often cited as

position, but a matrix of informa-


ing - defying - language .. analogy" (p. 4). This shuttling back the most literal French translation
All this is justified on the condition
tion conveniently placed in a verti- that it (recourse and refusal) be and forth, the construction and for parergon. It might also be noted
cal situation" (Steinberg, "Other deconstruction (and reconstruction) that the criticism leveled by Pierre-
employed at once, at the same
Criteria," in Other Criteria: Con- of analogy will characterize the Jean Mariette against the work of
time, without belief in any of it,
frontations with Twentieth-Century and without cease" (Blanchot, The reading developed here. Piranesi is stated in similar lan-

Art [Oxford: Oxford University guage: "There is no composition


Writing of the Disaster, trans. Ann
Press, 1972], 82ff.). Mark Wigley has warned of the that is not full of superfluous orna-
Smock [Lincoln, Neb.: University
danger inherent in a too-easy trans- ment, and absolutely hors d'oeuvre
of Nebraska Press, 1986], 38).
15. Tafuri, The Sphere and the lation of the terms of deconstruc- (Mariette, "Letter ... " Gazette de
Labyrinth, 30. Tafuri's remark, and 17. Rudolf Wittkower, "Piranesi's tion to architecture. "It is a reading l'Europe [4 November 1794]; cited
his broader project of characterizing Parere su l'architettura," Warburg that seems at once obvious and sus- in the introduction to C. B. Pira-
Piranesi's relationship to Enlighten- Journal 2 (October 1938): 156. pect. Suspect in its very obvious- nesi, "Thoughts on Architecture,"
ment thought under the notion of 18. Ibid., 157. ness. Deconstruction is understood trans. M. Nonis and M. Epstein,
"negative utopia" (including his to be unproblematically architec- Oppositions 26 [1984]: 5).
19. Ibid., 156.
ambivalent relationship to the tural" (Wigley, "The Translation of
28. Derrida, "The Parergon," 22.
"authority" of classical architecture), 20. Ibid., 157; see also Rykwert, Architecture, The Production of
might be contextualized by compar- The First Moderns, 280. Babel," Assemblage 8 [February 29. Ibid., 24.
ing it to the following passage from 1989]: 7). My reading owes some- 30. Piranesi, "Thoughts on Archi-
21. C. B. Piranesi, Diverse maniere
Max Horkheimer and Theodor thing to Wigley's ideas and is devel-
d'adornare i cammini (1769), in C. tecture," 11.
Adorno: "For subjectivity, reason is oped with a full awareness of the
B. Piranesi: The Polemical Works,
the chemical agent which absorbs traps that exist in such a com- 31. Derrida, "The Parergon," 22.
ed. John Wilton-Ely (Farnborough:
the individual substance of things parison. For example, Derrida This theme of the supplemental
Gregg, 1972), 2-3 (Piranesi's character of ornament is a constant
and volatilizes them in the mere foregrounds the architectural meta-
pagination).
autonomy of reason. In order to phors, playing upon their physical- in the theory of classical architec-
escape the superstitious fear of 22. Jacques Derrida, "The Parer- ity as a way of dismantling the ture. Alberti, for example, writes,
nature, it wholly transformed objec- gon," trans. Craig Owens, October abstraction of philosophical dis- "Ornament may be defined as an
tive entities and forms into the 9 (1979): 3-40. Kant, Derrida course. To return these terms - auxiliary light and complement to
mere veils of a chaotic matter, and points out, has artificially separated the frame, the parergon - unprob- beauty. From this it follows, I

107

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assemblage 10

believe, that beauty is some inher- is an unmistakable sexual undercur- orators and friends - is well docu- 50. Georges Teyssot, "The Anxiety
ent property . . . whereas orna- rent to Eisenstein's descriptive lan- mented. Frederic Jameson has of Origin: Notes on Architectural
ment, rather than being inherent, guage (already suggested by the pointed out some of the shared the- Program," Perspecta 23 (1987): 94.
has the character of something insistent repetition of the word oretical concerns in The Prison-
51. Alberti, Ten Books, 156.
attached or additional" (Alberti, On "ecstasy"): "I ponder what would House of Language (Princeton:
the Art of Building in Ten Books, happen to this etching if it were Princeton University Press, 1972), 52. Teyssot, "The Anxiety of Ori-
trans. Joseph Rykwert, Neil Leach, brought to a state of ecstasy, if it 61. Regarding the hidden "modern- gin," 94.
and Robert Tavernor [Cambridge, were brought out of itself." This is ity" of traditional works, he writes:
53. Piranesi, "Thoughts on Archi-
Mass.: MIT Press, 1988], 156; also present in his films as well (cf. the "Are we to assume that all forms of
tecture," 15.
see the discussion in the "glossary" cream separator in The General art exist only to 'bare their own
on "Beauty and Ornament," 420). Line), but escapes comment by devices,' only to give us the spec- 54. Piranesi, Dedicatory letter,
Tafuri. tacle of the creation of art itself, the Campo Marzio.
32. Wittkower, "Piranesi's Parere su
transformation of objects into art,
I'architettura," 148. 41. Eisenstein, "Piranesi," 94. 55. Piranesi, "Thoughts on Archi-
their being made art? (But in that
tecture," 18.
33. Richard Rorty has remarked, 42. Ibid., 95. Eisenstein's careful case, only so-called modern art has
following T. S. Kuhn, that "when maintenance of "limits" might be any value, or rather even traditional 56. The close parallel between the
reading the works of an important contrasted to Dziga Vertov's (earlier) art is really secretly modern for method of the archaeologist and the
thinker, look first for the apparent manifesto: "Seen by me and by Shklovsky in its essence)" (p. 83). psychoanalyst (pointed out by
absurdities in the text and ask your- every child's eye: / Insides falling The search for historical anteced- Freud, and elaborated by Carl
self how a sensible person could out. / Intestines of experience / Out ents in eighteenth-century work, on Schorske in "Freud and the Psycho-
have written them. When you find of the belly of cinematography / the other hand, has a close parallel Archeology of Civilizations," Sky-
an answer, . .. when these passages slashed / By the reef of revolution, / in Shklovsky's reading of Laurence line [December 1981]: 28-30) could
make sense, then you may find that there they drag / leaving a bloody Sterne's novel of 1760: "Tristam be extended here. The patient pre-
more central passages, ones you trace on the ground, shuddering Shandy thus takes its place, for the sents to the analyst a picture of the
previously thought you understood, from terror and / repulsion. / All is Formalists, as a predecessor of past characterized by incomplete-
have changed their meaning" ended" (Vertov, "From the Mani- modern or avant-garde literature inness: memory traces, fragments of
(Kuhn, The Essential Tension [Chi- festo of the Beginning of 1922," in general: of that 'literature without dreams, all mixed up with the ob-
cago: Chicago University Press, Kino-eye: The Writings of Dziga subject matter'" (p. 70). This aspect sessions of present-day life. The
1977] xii; cited in Rorty, Philosophy Vertov, ed. Annette Michelson and of Eisenstein's affinity with Shklov- interpretive task of the analyst is
and the Mirror of Nature [Prince- trans. Kevin O'Brien [Berkeley: sky would tend to undercut Tafuri's reconstructive. From these frag-
ton: Princeton University Press, University of California Press, assertion that Eisenstein's appropria- ments a complete picture is to be
1979], 323. 1984]). tion of Piranesi as predecesor repre- constructed: a whole in which every
34. Sergei M. Eisenstein, "Pira- 43. Tafuri, "Dialectics of the sents a retrogressive attempt to dream fragment is revealed as "a
reconcile realism with the avant- psychical structure which has a
nesi, or the Fluidity of Forms," Avant-garde," 79. Although never
Oppositions 11 (1977): 85. explicitly stated, Tafuri implies that garde. Is not the "defamiliarization" meaning and which can be inserted
of the traditional in itself a more at an assignable point in the mental
35. Ibid., 91. Eisenstein's analysis, written in the
late 1940s, is the result of compro- radical project than the careful activities of the waking life" (Sig-
36. Ibid., 88. mises with Stalinism and social delimitation of a closed precinct of mund Freud, The Interpretation of
realism. the "modern" or the avant-garde? Dreams, trans. James Strachey
37. Manfredo Tafuri, "The Dialec-
[New York: Avon, 1965], 35). But
tics of the Avant-garde: Piranesi and 44. Ibid. 48. Sergei M. Eisenstein, The Film
the rules for this reconstruction,
Eisenstein," Oppositions 11 (1977): Sense, ed. and trans. Jay Leyda
74. 45. Piranesi, "Thoughts on Archi- while having as their outcome a
(New York: Harcourt Brace Jova-
tecture," 11. complete explanation, are in them-
novich, 1975), 230.
38. Vladamir Nizhny, Lessons with selves characterized by ambiguity.
Eisenstein, ed. and trans. Ivor 46. Tafuri, The Sphere and the
49. Maurice Blanchot, "Literature As Freud wrote in his essay of 1910
Labyrinth, 42.
Montagu and Jay Leyda (New York: and the Right to Death" (1949), in "The Antithetical Sense of Primal
Hill & Wang, 1962), 124; cited in 47. Viktor Shklovsky, A Sentimen- The Gaze of Orpheus and Other Words," "Dreams show a special
Tafuri, "Dialectics of the Avant- tal Journey: Memoirs 1917-1922, Literary Essays, trans. Lydia Davis, tendency to reduce two opposites to
garde," 74. trans. Richard Sheldon (Ithaca: (Barrytown, NY: Station Hill Press, a unity or to represent them as one
39. Eisenstein, "Piranesi," 94. Cornell University Press, 1970), 1981), 22. It should be no surprise thing. Dreams even take the liberty,
232-33. The parallel between that Blanchot refers here to moreover, of representing any ele-
40. Ibid. Here, as elsewhere, there Shklovsky and Eisenstein - collab- surrealism. ment what-ever by the opposite

108

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Allen

wish." The ambivalence of the Figure Credits


dream thoughts, the difficulty of 1, 5, 7, 26, 29. C. B. Piranesi,
disentangling latent content from Campus Martius antiquae urbis
manifest content all point to a (Rome, 1762); reprinted as Campo
broad interpretive license. The Marzio dell'antica Roma, with an
uncertainty of this has led Wittgen- introduction by Franco Borsi (Flor-
stein to remark, "He wants to say ence: Colombo Ristampe, 1972).
that whatever happens in a dream
2-4, 8, 11-16, 23-25, 27, 28, 30-
will be found to be connected with
36. Drawings and constructions by
some wish which analysis brings to
Stanley Allen.
light. But this procedure of free
association and so on is queer, 6. Man Ray, Self-Portrait (New
because Freud never shows how we York: Little Brown, 1988).
know where to stop - where is the 9. C. B. Piranesi, Parere su l'archi-
right solution" (Wittgenstein, Lec- tettura (Rome, 1765); reprinted in
tures and Conversations [Berkeley: C. B. Piranesi: The Polemic Works,
University of California Press, ed. John Wilton-Ely (Farnborough:
1967], 42). Setting aside the literary Gregg, 1972).
interpretation that has connected
Piranesi's imagery with dreams (De
10. C. B. Piranesi, Le antichita
Quincey and so on), there can be romane, 4 vols. (Rome, 1756).
found, in Piranesi and in Freud, a 17. Le Corbusier and Pierre Jean-
process of reconstruction from frag- neret, Oeuvre compete 1910-1965
ments, artificially constructing a (Zurich: Editions Girsberger, 1967).
framework within which the frag-
18. C. B. Piranesi, Diverse maniere
ments make sense, while at the
d'adornare i cammini (1769);
same time admitting a fundamental
reprinted in C. B. Piranesi: The
uncertainty in the terms of the pro-
Polemic Works, ed. John Wilton-
cess itself. Freud's methodological
Ely (Farnborough: Gregg, 1972).
caution would seem to apply as well
to Piranesi: "Our first step in the 19. C. B. Piranesi, Prima parte di
employment of this procedure architetture e prospettive (Rome,
teaches us that what we must take 1743); plate reproduced in Ian Jon-
as the object of our attention is not athan Scott, Piranesi (London:
the dream as a whole but the sepa- Academy Editions, 1975).
rate portions of its content" (The 20. Sergei M. Eisenstein, "Piranesi,
Interpretation of Dreams, 136). or the Fluidity of Forms," in Man-
fredo Tafuri, The Sphere and the
Labyrinth: Avant-Gardes and
Architecture from Piranesi to the
1970s (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT
Press, 1987).
21. C. B. Piranesi, Carceri d'inven-
zione (Rome, 1760-66); reprinted
in John Wilton-Ely, The Mind and
Art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi
(London: Thames and Hudson,
1978).

22. Jay Leda and Zina Voynow,


Eisenstein at Work (New York: Pan-
theon, 1982).

109

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