31 January 2006

on progress

READING EMPIRE TONIGHT with Bush's State of the Union address in the background (I swear - not trying to be ironic, it just happens to be what I'm reading now!) got me thinking about the distinction between progress and reaction. At first, it seems simple: progress is going forward, proposing an affirmative agenda that moves on from the present, while a reaction is a step backwards, a negation. But isn't a belief in progress somehow rejecting the current state of affairs, and therefore a reaction to the present? And isn't there also embedded within the reactionary an equal (if perverse) belief that moving backwards will somehow make us all better off?

Not related to architecture, you say. Yet hear me out. In the ongoing disciplinary disputes over the validity of theory in contemporary architectural practice, we can oversimplify by saying there are two sides: those who value the role of criticality as a means of assessing the status quo with the hope of imagining a better future, and those who advocate more "pragmatic" or "projective" practices in which theory takes a back seat to the negotiation of real-world architectural projects. Here, at least in my assessment, the roles are reversed: the old adherents to critical theory remain committed to the greater cause of Progress (or at least maintain some sense of hope that architecture somehow can contribute to that cause), while the newer pragmatists are much more willing to sacrifice long-term vision for short-term success (monetary, fame, whatever). In other words, the post-critics are reacting to the long-term discilpinary hegemony held by the critical theorists, who, perhaps mistakenly, remain wedded to architecture's progressive imperative.

My point in all of this -- and to try to bring it back to tonight's presidential spectacle -- is that maybe the answer (or Answer?) is a hyrid of progress and reaction. Indeed, maybe the two are not mutually exclusive and are instead co-dependent -- or symbiotic, if you will. Maybe it is possible to posit a critical architecture that not only imagines, but projects and even realizes a better future. Maybe it is possible for an opposition party to do the same thing not with architecture, but with politics. Would that be a progressive reaction?

My apologies for talking in circles! It's just that kind of night. More to come, for sure - I'm working on an ongoing bibliography on the whole post-critical issue, so feel free to send links and references my way...

No comments: