Phenomenal Animisms: Parasols, Phones, and Pokémon

Spyros Papapetros is Associate Professor of architectural history and theory at the School of Architecture, and a member of the executive committees of the Programme in European Cultural Studies as well as the Programme in Media and Modernity at Princeton University. He is the author of On the Animation of the Inorganic: Art, Architecture, and the Extension of Life (2012) and the coeditor of Retracing the Expanded Field: Encounters Between Art and Architecture (2014).

Interviewed by Tamara Jamil (B.Arch.’16) and Siobhan Lee (M.Arch. ’16).
You have attributed to inanimate objects the capability to have intelligence, language, and even souls. In your essay, “Darwin’s Dog and the Parasol: Cultural Reactions to Animism,” you come to the conclusion that the dog is barking not at the wind-blown parasol, but at itself, out of frustration. You write: “Invented as an apparatus of climatic temperance, the parasol serves now as an ideogram of cultural intemperance. It oscillates not only by the breeze, but also by the psychological ambivalence of its users.” What cultivates this psychological ambivalence? Taken from another perspective, what are the characteristics of the inanimate that cause this psychological ambivalence?

First, let me say I appreciate the fact that even if my book On the Animation of the Inorganic addresses the culture of animation, your questions address more closely the issue of the “inanimate,” which, as I state in the book’s preface, was my original departure point. I consider the “inanimate” as analogically parallel to the animate, and not its polar opposite. I was interested in something that resists an easy surrender to the familiar codes of life, as in, say, the “liveliness” of animated cartoons. That is one of the reasons the book starts with a contemporary example from cartoon animation, whose fatal outcomes include in/animation and paralysis. I refer to the mass (chromo) epileptic fits and seizures caused by an episode of the Pokémon cartoon series in Japan in December 1997.

This was a rare moment when animation provoked a simulation of death — a temporary paralysis that lead the living viewer to experience the inanimate condition. Following a contrast with a “beatific” instance of petri cation that occurred 600 years earlier, during the ecstatic encounter of Saint Catherine of Siena with Giotto’s mosaic of the Navicella in the old basilica of Saint Peter’s in Rome, and its pathological reading in the psychiatric literature of the 19th century, I arrive to the example of Darwin’s dog growling and barking at a parasol moving to the breeze.

This is a strikingly different reaction: whereas in the two earlier episodes, humans collapse at the sight of lively images, here an animal appears energized by the swaying of an object. According to Darwin, the dog views the parasol as an “intruder.” My own hypothesis — and I underline the fact that this is a projection (because I am not a neuroscientist and do not profess to know what goes on in a dog’s or any other animal’s brain) — is that the dog moves back a step before any form of (re)cognition occurs, including the personification of the object either as an enemy or a friend. I refer to the moment of unknowability — the state in which an object remains fundamentally enigmatic, and the living being, animal or human, that stands in front of it, yet cannot “figure it out.” I find this moment infinitely productive and I would hate to close it with another interpretation, much less a “final” one. Since my discussion is filtered through Darwin’s account of his dog, my reference to “frustration” aims predominantly at the dog’s owner, Darwin, who, like a host of 19th-century European thinkers, appears bewildered by the revival of animism in contemporary comparative anthropological descriptions, and tries to offer a “reason” supported by this little animal example, which, ultimately provokes more questions than it answers. Underlining the “frustration,” signaling the inconclusiveness of an encounter with an unfathomable object is a way of reopening and stirring things up; this seems to me a better way to “introduce” animation and its origin in the inanimate, part of which at least lies in the startling effect produced by the object’s enigmatic content.

In the same article, you expand on the notion of animism through differing views: Darwin’s interpretation of it as a “momentary suspension of rational faculties,” or Vignoli’s as an “ongoing ‘mythmaking’ impetus which is embedded in the organic memory of the living being.” Both consider it as a sort of disruption of logic. Given that Darwin’s dog is more than a century old and our relationship with technology has changed dramatically since then, do you think our sensitivity toward the inanimate animating itself has lessened or is becoming increasingly muted? Will we become numb to this fear of the irrationally animate, maybe because it is no longer irrational?

When I read the story of the dog and the parasol in Darwin’s The Descent of Man (1871), I felt as if I had read or heard it before, but was not sure where. I then rediscovered it in the writings of Herbert Spencer (1876), whose texts were read by architects such as Louis Sullivan and later Frank Lloyd Wright; the animal psychologist Tito Vignoli (1880); and, finally, in a private memoir by the German cultural historian Aby Warburg (written in 1923, yet recollecting his trip to the American Pueblos in 1895–96, and his reading of Vignoli in his student days around 1890). In each and every of these retellings that span a fifty-year period, Darwin’s episode is reanimated differently. Even if in the end it becomes a distant recollection whose origin is hard to trace, the dog’s growling still creates an echo. My work on or beyond animation is replete with these reverberations in which one textual or iconographic thread leads to another, and where “reanimation” becomes not only the subject, but also the methodological trope of writing. Recalling Freud’s well-known line, “The finding of an object is in fact a refinding of it,” we can say that every animation is essentially a reanimation of something considered dead.

With respect to your question, if we have indeed become increasingly numb to the growing amounts of animated effects we are exposed to in everyday life, there might still be something that can bring these all too vibrant, yet ineffective animations back to life. To give you one example, before commenting on the episode of Darwin’s dog and the parasol, Herbert Spencer describes that birds and cattle browsing in a eld were at first alarmed by the introduction of the railway, but after a while they no longer appeared bothered; after that point, every time the locomotive appeared, they would keep “grazing unruffled.” Spencer argues that living beings, including animals, can quickly figure out the difference between the living and the merely moving object, such as a machine. I am trying to resist this attitude of letting something pass by (while continuing to “graze”) because we stay assured that we have figured it out. I am interested in incidents when the subject loses control and either instinctively “regresses” into an animist logic attributing agency (and not just blame) to objects, or remains fundamentally bewildered about what has just happened. That was the case with the Pokémon “accident,” when the animated explosions that were supposed to remain securely con ned in the virtual space of the television screen spilled over into the physical space of the home interior where the Japanese youngsters were watching their favorite cartoon show while munching on their dinner. Given the undiminished popularity of animated video games, films, and a myriad of other products of the animation industry, the presence of animation is ever growing in spite of the “numbing” effect you describe, and this requires that animators raise the levels of excitation produced by their designs in order for the latter to survive. I can think of an analogy here from the history of architecture in Henry van de Velde’s Essays published in 1910, particularly the one on the “Animation of Materials,” where the architect celebrates the lively environment of the electrified metropolis and argues that the new objects of modern design and their stimulating material treatment can serve as an antidote to the widespread “boredom [Langeweile]” and other psychological ailments of modernity, from which van de Velde himself was suffering. It is obviously a vicious circle (similar to the Greek bailout funds by the European Union, which are very much in my mind while responding to your questions), as evidently the same overstimulation invested in objects eventually causes the gradual loss of excitation in the subjects that interact with them. All that is to say that the powerful prestige of animated objects remains undiminished even if we can now explain how they work. I believe there are still small pockets or niches of irrationality in this exchange that can be vital.

One last question on the same article — it’s just full of great points. You mention that we are sympathetic toward things that are alive, but dread those that are lifeless or inorganic. Western art infuses life into objects, whereas modern art and architecture unleash “the auratic power of death that the artifact carries with it.” Where do you think our inanimate objects stand now, with or without life, as the popular culture currently covers a wide spectrum of interests, ranging from extreme AI advancements to off-the-grid, organic living?

That is a comment I made in relation to Aby Warburg’s psychological exhortation, “You live and do me nothing?,” referring to artworks that, even if they appear to be alive, cannot harm us like real living beings often do. The empathetic enjoyment of art consists in this strangely apotropaic function of objects. But, here I am asking, what happens in the opposite scenario, when artworks or other artifacts, including buildings, do not appear “living,” but inert or dead? Do they still do nothing?

Given that a good part of 20th-century modernisms in art and design, particularly the modern “art industry,” that is, the world of design artifacts, capitalizes on the aesthetics of the inorganic — things that appear inert yet radiate “excitation” and “liveliness” (to return to the language of van de Velde I mentioned previously) — I am convinced that such an inorganic aesthetic can do a lot; in fact, it remains omnipotent in current art and architecture making. It is true that recent technological developments like AI strive to make the distinction between animate/inanimate, organic/inorganic even more unstable, but that was also the motivation of turn-of- the-century monist science more than a century earlier, with the discovery of “liquid crystals” (crystal substances that had animate qualities, could breathe, form skins, and even procreate). I think this shows that the limits between the animate and the inanimate can be constantly renegotiated, not only in science but also in art and architecture. What matters is precisely hybridization — the ability to change, and create new combinations even between the two extremes you just mentioned, that is, “extreme advancements” in AI technology and “off-the-grid organic living.” In the latest iteration of ArchiLab at the FRAC Centre in Orléans, with the title Naturaliser l’architecture (2013), a number of the projects exhibited by groups like ecoLogicStudio and many others, show how advanced technologies can become “reorganicized” and how limits between nature and technology be renegotiated.

The central task throughout my own work is precisely the discovery of hybridities and analogical correspondences in subjects, disciplines, and ideologies considered as polar opposites. From On the Animation of the Inorganic to my new project on Prearchitecture (dealing with the idea of prehistory in modern architecture), I remain deeply committed to this methodological principle.

Smartphones are ubiquitous these days and run our lives. How do you perceive our attachment to these objects? What are your thoughts on the way we’ve made these phones into our life-partners, our better halves? Our tender touch brings them to “life,” and if we do not plug them into their energy source they “die.” But the bigger question is: Who is more dependent, the phone or the user?

I am glad you are asking me about smartphones or gadgets in general. My more recent work examines in close detail the radical change that occurred more than a century and a half ago, apropos of the reclassification of objects into a series of interrelated yet divergent categories from, “equipment,” “tool,” and “device” to “accessory” and “ornament.” All of these object types have a tendency to “slide in the shoes” or assume the form of one another, yet they are separated by different degrees or qualities of function. I think the power of the smartphone lies in its capacity to straddle all of the above categories and become “overdetermined”: it is a mechanical device, yet poses as an accessory that requires its own accessories, such as ornamental “jewel case” covers and other accoutrements. The fact that this now vital piece of equipment has to remain “handheld” is also significant because it takes us back to the very first tools, such as hand axes and other implements, all of which functioned as “extensions” of the body, allowing it to project further. Think of slingshot projectiles, for example — an object I have been working on recently in relation to Gottfried Semper’s treatise on the form of such projectiles and their relation to architecture. The smartphone appears as the ultimate fulfillment of the subject’s primal wish for extension beyond its corporeal periphery. It connects the body with the world (via telephony and the internet), while bringing that world in through “one’s fingertips” or “the palm of one’s hand.” More than the metaphors of life or death and the question of “dependence” that you bring up in your question, what concerns me the most is the issue of control by forces that exceed both the subject and the object by being encrypted inside the device, for example, “location services,” or anything that tracks information about the physical or digital imprint of the subject beyond his or her knowledge. In a way, this is a spatial problem, since the smartphone exposes the very body (and mind) of the subject into domains she or he has no control over, and which debunks the idea of “omnipotence” granted by the “intelligent” device. Further, I think the increasing demand for portability of computer devices, as in laptops and tablets, but also the proximity and attachment to the body as in smartphones and smartwatches, might be something that will radically change how we think about space (including architectural space) and its relation to the body, as they can no longer be thought as two separate “entities,” but as overlap- ping membranes.

Anthony Vidler’s “third typology” is described as a system that is in and of itself — one that is derived from “the nature of the city itself, emptied of specific social content from any particular time and allowed to speak simply of its own formal condition.” The third typology builds on “the continuity of form and history” through the recomposition of “fragments.” Rather than concern itself with a lineage of historical forms or program types, the architecture of the third typology builds on the accumulated space-form experience of the city. Do you think these fragments can now be built upon space-form experience of the virtual, as components of the city becomes more dependent on smart technology? The idea that we are constantly fragmenting our identities, attention, and intelligence through forms of social media and algorithms gives us the impression that we are animating more than just the inanimate, but potentially the entire virtual spectrum. Is this possible?

Tony would have a much better answer to this question, which links, quite brilliantly, animation to architectural theory, but I’ll give it a try. In addition to categories of material objects, I am also deeply interested in different “theoretical” objects, including “type” and “typology,” precisely because they allow us to reconsider objects, and buildings in particular, not as individual entities but as parts or generators of a series. Similar to theories of totemism in turn-of-the-century ethnographic theory, typology allows us to resituate objects within a larger scheme of things, where objects stand for something greater than themselves: either a genealogy of objects, or the social collectivity of generations to which these objects temporarily belong. I am particularly interested in your description of the “third typology,” because it departs from the notion of a linear genealogical sequence; instead, the third typology proposes a “recomposition of fragments,” which is essentially a recombination of the remnants of two or more different building types in an admixture that was previously unknown. In his Style, Semper proposes a series of “composite” objects that are produced by the combination of two different yet interrelated types, for example, lamps and vessels. But also psychoanalysis and particularly Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams suggest that the unconscious constantly performs these “recompositions” in dreams: every figure we see is never an individual one but a “composite” of several figures in the manner of Francis Galton’s composite criminological photographic portraits. I recently gave a lecture at the Freud Museum in Vienna based on a close reading of Dora’s two dreams, in which I tried to probe this form of “recomposition” in the objects that appear in the dream narrative — from drop-form earrings and reticules, to images of cities, such as Vienna, Dresden, and Moreno — and demonstrate that, in dreams, all urban spaces are plastically recomposed based on the psychological processes of condensation and displacement to produce new assemblages that are both virtual and real. The smart technology you describe allows us to represent or implement (consciously or unconsciously) compositional processes that the unconscious had always been using. And yes, you are absolutely right when you say that we are not just animating inanimate things but reanimating the “entire visual realm,” including people, objects, and spaces based on a fragmentation and recomposition of former individual “identities.” I see endless creative possibilities in such recomposition of ruins, remnants, or fragments — either architectural or epistemological ones — which means that, while born in a particular era in the 1970s, the “third typology” can have a long afterlife, including but not limited to the virtual realm.

How did Vidler and his The Architectural Uncanny affect your trajectory in exploring the inanimate and the uncanny? What do you think are the current ghosts of architecture today?

In fact before the books on The Architectural Uncanny and Warped Space (for which I worked as Tony’s research assistant while a doctoral student in an exchange program from UC, Berkeley to UCLA), I was very interested in one of his earlier articles titled “The Building in Pain” (first published in the AA Files and then revised as a chapter in The Architectural Uncanny). I remember writing one of my first graduate papers on this article while a student in the Histories and Theories program of the Architectural Association’s Graduate School. There, Vidler distinguishes between three modes of correspondence between the body and the building. The first is centered on the anthropomorphic model and is based on external morphological similarities, including proportional analogies, the theory and application of which reach their peak in the Renaissance. The second is the empathetic model promoted by 19th-century aesthetic theorists, art historians, and architectural critics, following which, correspondences between the body and the building become internalized as psychological projections. While these first two models are subject-centered, the third model or stage, namely, animism, describes a series of analogies and correspondences that are initiated by the object itself. It was precisely this turn toward the object―along with some passages on the vitality of abstract ornamentation in Wilhelm Worringer’s Abstraction and Empathy, which I read as a first-year doctoral student at Berkeley―that led me to formulate the first ideas about the role of animistic theories in the art and architecture of modernism, fleshed out later in my dissertation on the “Animation of the Inorganic,” coadvised by Vidler and T. J. Clark, which became the basis for the book with of same title. While writing the dissertation, I felt I had to distinguish my work from that of Tony’s in The Architectural Uncanny, even if the research kept bringing me uncannily closer to it. In my study of animism, I wanted to argue that there is another possibility in granting agency to the object, beyond the often calamitous effects of the uncanny, which always presuppose a markedly hostile relationship between subjects and objects (and which Freud considers as a subjective psychological projection based on a negative form of identification). For that reason I distinguished between two forms of animation: a “phobic” one, predicated on anxiety and fear, which is indeed closer to the uncanny; and then another form of animation that I called “extensional,” in which the subject is ecstatically extended and not obliterated by the powers of the object. Examples of the first would be the Pokémon episode and the various animate effects of buildings in my study of “Malicious Houses” [described later in this interview] The instances of “extensional animation” are much rarer, not only in my own work, but also in the world at large: Sergei Eisenstein’s theories of “formal ecstasy” (in his study of Disney) or Leo Bersani’s more recent theories of “the communication of forms” would be two of these rare theoretical examples, which I have also mentioned in my own writings. However, we still live in a “hostile external world,” which we’ve inherited from Darwin and Freud, since the adverse social and economic conditions of the past century have not radically changed. Therefore, instances of the uncanny and phobic animation proliferate, while the reciprocal correspondences of extensional animation remain life-affirming hypotheses. I believe that it is precisely the continuous disavowal of the extensional possibilities of animation that triggers the uncanny to return again and again, each time more destructive.

As we mentioned in the introduction to this issue of the Cornell Journal of Architecture, Colin Rowe wrote (and we paraphrase) that besides the building, there is the spirit of the building. In what ways can we see the spirit of architecture, and interpret it? Are there instances where architecture has become animated and achieved a life of its own?

I assume this is the Cornell question ... I was hoping there would also be one on Colin Rowe’s student at Cornell, Gordon Matta-Clark, whose work I know much better than Rowe’s, since I’ve written on the effects of animation in his films. I am not sure what Colin Rowe might have meant by the term spirit, and in spite of my own given name being Spyridon (often etymologically associated with the Latin spiritus), I tend to shy away from “spirits” and particularly spiritualism, which, along with occultism, were the two issues I consciously tried to dissociate my study of animism from. Nevertheless, I would still defend the relevance of “spirits” in architecture, which I take to be the theme of your journal issue, precisely because of their plurality, their indiscriminate nature, encompassing a host of relative terms, such as ghosts, pneumas, souls, or intoxicating substances, all of these “leftover” agents that become gradually hidden or repressed, finding expression in literature and lm, while being systematically erased from the official histories of architecture. This is the story I tried to tell in my “Malicious Houses” article (and later chapter in On the Animation of the Inorganic), in which I bring “face to face” F. W. Murnau’s lmic reconstruction of the medieval myth of the vampire, updated for the modern age in his Nosferatu and Mies’s Glass Tower model (both unveiled to the public in the spring of 1922). The latest staging of that lecture at the Barcelona Pavilion this past July (2015), when projected images of Nosferatu gesticulating in front of a cinematic glass window were echoed by reflections of Kolbe’s Dawn statue on the “real” glass pane of the pavilion, taught me (and I hope the audience too) so much about the vibrant life that these ethereal spirits enjoy when they unexpectedly meet and start communicating with one another.

This was not only a communication based on stylized human gestures, but also a communication between materials, inorganic and living; social and political events, past and current; as well as a veritable choreography of unfulfilled architectonic possibilities encoded and allegorized by each of these parallel figures and their gestures. You are asking me what the animating “spirits” or (in a previous question) “ghosts” might be in contemporary architecture. Well, the nature of these elusive “spirits” does not fundamentally change with time; what enlivens them and triggers their often spectacular resurgence in the architectural scene is precisely their reservoir of what I earlier described as “unfulfilled architectonic possibilities,” in terms of the alternative social, cultural, and formal potential of architecture. A good part of the history of 20th-century modernism, including Mies’s 1922 Glass Tower model, is about an architecture of “as if,” a hypothetical proposition of what architecture could become versus what it would end up being. Most of my own work, including my study of modern and contemporary artists interested in architecture, from Matta-Clark to the glass artist Josiah McElheny, is precisely about this hypothetical yet animated and ultimately nonvindictively spirited form of architecture.

You taught a class in the fall of 2013 called Animation: Art, Architecture, and History. It dealt with psychological issues such as affect, empathy, agency, and projection occasioned by inanimate objects as they are explored through creative, historical, and social means. How do you teach a concept so ephemeral, emotional, and intangible? Could you elaborate on the successful assignments or projects that have achieved an understanding of such psychological issues?

Before this class offered in the fall of 2013 as an upper-undergraduate seminar sponsored by the Program in European Cultural Studies (one of the oldest and most celebrated interdisciplinary humanities programs at Princeton, founded by Carl Schorske and Tony Vidler in the mid-1970s), I taught a similar class on animation as a graduate seminar three times since I first came to the School of Architecture in the fall of 2003. The animation seminar proved to be a unique test-bed of ideas that bene ted, I hope, not only my personal research but also the research projects of the students who participated. While most of them opted to write papers on an extremely wide variety of topics (some of them compiled into a reader in article form published in the school’s journal), some of them did projects related to the problematics discussed in the class. I particularly remember a project by then-master’s student Leo Henke that involved robotics and aimed to test the idea of “responsive structure” by designing a machine that reacted to human presence, yet with considerable delay and in a somewhat aleatory fashion: the machine never repeated the same movement when a human subject passed by, challenging the anticipation of a regular response, or the “it moves because I move” recognition, which is a somewhat narcissistic expression of subjective control. The machine’s action is still scripted, yet it is programmed to generate effects that frustrate human expectations, coming closer to the idea of animation as an “accident,” which I described earlier. This example may demonstrate that what I try to convey in this or any other seminar I teach is not a particular body of knowledge or a set of practical or intellectual skills, but an alternative mode of thinking about the intersection between tectonic and aesthetic issues. I am glad to have been given the opportunity to teach courses on my own research, however seemingly intangible its topics may be, but also to have a dedicated audience of students, who never questioned the relevance of disciplines, such as plant physiology, crystallography, psychoanalysis, the history of religion, or psychological aesthetics to the study of architecture. This, I believe, is the “spirit” of architecture’s omnivorous interdisciplinarity, which I hope will not abate apropos of the call for disciplinary specialization in the future. The main task of my work is the discovery of analogies between architecture and a wide variety of epistemological disciplines.

You recently convened a symposium on magic. What, to you, is the connection between architecture and magic, and how is it relevant in today’s practice?

This was a one day conference and seminar workshop on Frederick Kiesler’s unpublished book manuscript entitled, Magic Architecture, organized in conjunction with an exhibition on the same subject that was on display at Princeton’s School of Architecture in the spring of 2015. Written immediately after the end of the Second World War, Kiesler’s project is a “story of human housing” from prehistory to the present, and from the caves used by our ancestors and the habitations of insects and animals to the shelters of the postatomic era, including Bucky Fuller’s Dymaxion House and Kiesler’s own Endless House. For Kiesler, there is (or ought to be) no difference between dream and reality, as well as magic and science. Magic architecture is no utopia, but the realization of a visionary form of architecture in the present. The project is significant for the early period of the postwar era when architects, historians, and critics turned to the first manifestations of human and animal creativity to discover alternative solutions to the urgent problems of housing following a period of global devastation. Another prominent example is Sigfried Giedion’s on-site research in the caves of Southern Europe from 1949 to 1957 that led to the first volume of his Eternal Present titled, The Beginnings of Art (1962), followed a couple of years later by The Beginning of Architecture (1964). Both in Giedion’s and Kiesler’s texts there are concrete references to animism based on the works of late-19th- and early-20th-century anthropologists and sociologists from Edward Tylor and James Frazer to Émile Durkheim and Lucien Lévy-Bruhl. I think it becomes clear to both Kiesler and Giedion that there cannot be an alternative form of architecture in prehistory, history, or posthistoire without a corresponding change in epistemological, sociological, as well as larger organizational and tectonic systems. This is where animism and magic come into play, as for example, in Lévy-Bruhl’s pioneering idea of “the law of participation,” in which all members of a social group participate in collective forms of being including those of inanimate objects. There are also specific ties between theories of magic and animism as in James Frazer’s idea of “sympathetic magic,” where “like produces like,” based on the laws of similarity, or in Freud’s discussion of “Animism, Magic, and the Omnipotence of Thought” in the third chapter of his Totem and Taboo, cited by both Kiesler and Giedion. As shown in Kiesler’s study of primeval tools made of human and animal bones, his discussion of magic architecture is informed by controversies surrounding the role of technology in modern architecture and the invention of new technological gadgets designed as prosthetic extensions of the human body. In this sense, more than sixty years after Kiesler’s incomplete manuscript was composed, the discus- sion of magic architecture is certainly current, and I am very happy to help edit and publish this project with the support of the Kiesler Foundation in Vienna. As with the first English edition of Siegfried Ebeling’s 1926 pamphlet Space as Membrane, I consider it a vital part of my work to help give new life to unjustifiably forgotten or little-known texts from architectural literature that deserve a place in its history as well as current practice.

According to Olafur Eliasson, feelings “open up to the other people and our surroundings; the surroundings are thus to a certain extent produced when we feel them, creating an exchange between individual and surroundings that make the two co-relative.” Do you think this correlation still exists between people and surroundings? Or, is the vital essence of the surroundings superseded by our tendency to objectify?

I am glad your final question addresses the issue of “surroundings” and the environment. What I find interesting in Eliasson’s statement is that “people” and “surroundings” appear to be equivalent and coextensive as well as “co-relative.” In the last chapter of On the Animation of the Inorganic, regarding the modern retelling of the ancient myth of Daphne, in which the female figure transforms into not only an individual tree but an entire forest (a natural and in extension urban setting), I describe a state that I characterize as “the landscape effect” — a condition in which people and things appear homogenized within a horizontal eld with no essential difference between causes and effects, figure and background. I think this allows us to entirely rethink the notion of “surroundings” as something not distinct from the self. I think such coextensive relation is projected in Ebeling’s Space as Membrane, where the surroundings become part of the body’s infinitely protracting envelope. Yet we have to realize that between the body and the environment, which can no longer be perceived as an unadulterated nature, there is the world of things — things that we have created and which mediate between the body and its surroundings. Therefore, I take the “objectification” of both the body and its surroundings as a given and not necessarily a bad thing. In my forthcoming book project on adornment titled World Ornament, I describe a series of handmade articles of adornment in tribal cultures made of parts of the subject’s environment, such as tufts of grass, human hair-balls, plant roots, animal teeth, bird claws, seashells, as well as broken fragments of man-made artifacts, such as European tobacco pipes, brought over by the colonizers and then washed ashore in a faraway land. All of these things are hung in equal distances or “eurhythmically,” as Semper would say, around the neck of a human being, as objects equal in value, no matter whether they are human, animal, vegetal, mineral, or artificial specimens. This collection of fragments condenses the subject’s surroundings into a composite object that now fulfills the role of a portable ecology. The object here is the environment, yet it also is a layer of the body. I wonder what form of architecture could achieve a similar effect that would be equally cosmetic and environmental.


1 Available online by the electronic journal e- ux: http://www.e- 80%99s-dog-and-the-parasol-cultural-reactions-to-animism/

2 Spyros Papapetros, On the Animation of the Inorganic: Art, Architecture, and the Extension of Life (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012),

3 For the original episode between Darwin and his dogsee,CharlesDarwin,TheDescentofMan and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871; repr., New York: Appleton & Co. 1873), 1:64 – 65; and “Introduction” in Papapetros, On the Animation of the Inorganic, 9 –15.

4 Herbert Spencer, The Principles of Sociology (1876; repr., New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1897), 1:127.

5 Henry Van de Velde, “Animating the Material as a Principle of Beauty,” English translation of the essay “Die Belebung des Stoffes als Prinzip der Schoenheit” (originally published in van de Velde’s Essays, Leipzig, 1910), translated by Kathryn Schoefert and Spyros Papapetros, Pidgin 2 (Princeton School of Architecture, Spring 2007), pp. 232 – 255.

6 For the exhibition catalog, see: Naturaliser l’architecture / Naturalizing Architecture: Archilab 2013 edited by Marie-Ange Brayer and Frederick Migayrou (Orléans, France: HYX, 2013).

7 “Interiors” symposium at the Sigmund Freud Museum, Vienna, 22 November 2013; for the published version, “Dropform: Freud, Dora, and Dream Space” in Private Utopia: Cultural Setting of the Interior in the 19th and 20th Century edited by August Sarnitz and Inge-Scholz- Strasser (Berlin/Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2015), pp. 58 – 87.

8 Anthony Vidler, ‘The building in pain’ parts I & II in AA Files 1990, no. 19, Spring 1990, pp. 3 –11 (revised as “Architecture Dismembered” in The Architectural Uncanny (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1992) 69 – 82. I discuss the origins of this article with the author in “At Home with Phobia: An Interview with Anthony Vidler,” Pidgin 3 (Princeton School of Architecture, Spring 2007), pp. 188 – 207.

9 See Sergei Eisenstein, Eisenstein on Disney, ed. Jay Leda and trans. A. Upchurch (London: Methuen, 1988; Leo Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit, Caravaggio’s Secrets (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press 1998), as well as Bersani’s conversation with Tim Dean, Hal Foster, and Kaja Silverman in October 82 (Fall 1997), pp.3 – 16.

10 Colin Rowe and Robert Slutzky, in “Transparency: Literal and Phenomenal,” Perspecta 8 (1963), 51

11 “Animation and Projection in the Films of Gordon Matta-Clark,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 67, no. 4 (December 2008), pp. 429 – 433.

12 “Malicious Houses: Animation, Animism and Animosity in German Architecture and Film — From Mies to Murnau,” Grey Room 20 (Fall 2005), pp. 6 – 37 and On the Animation of the Inorganic, 211– 261.

13 “The Architecture of As If: Josiah McElheny’s Sculptural Proposals” in Contemporary Art about Architecture: A Strange Utility Strategies in Contemporary Art, edited by Isabelle Wallace and Nora Wendl (Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013), pp. 191– 205.

14 “The Animation Seminar: A Book of Quotations,” Pidgin 7 (Princeton School of Architecture, September 2009), pp. 114 –129.

15 Lucien, Lévy-Bruhl, How Natives Think (transl. Lilian A. Clare, 3rd edn.), (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), 76 – 7. See also my entry on “Animism” in Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, ed. Michael Kelly (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 91– 6.

16 Space as Membrane by Siegfried Ebeling (1926), edited and with an afterword by Spyros Papapetros, introduction by Walter Scheiffele, translation by Pamela Johnston and Anne-Kathryn Schoefert (London: Architectural Association Publications, 2010).

17 See my “World Ornament: The Legacy of Gottfried Semper’s Essay on Adornment,” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 57/58 (Harvard University Press, 2011), pp. 309 – 329.

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