Some opening thoughts about my journeys to Liverpool

This journey really begun about five years ago, when I got really interested in the actual practices of architecture and not just on the discourses that architects pose as the reality of architecture. This shift encouraged me in a progressive surpassing of what now I recognize as a ‘rhetorical idealism’ –in the hegelian sense– in architectural discourses that has a precise ideological function I would try to unravel in the upcoming posts. As I said, this intellectual and experiential journey begun with an incursion into Social Theory. In searching for answers about the real process of production of architecture in society I became increasingly disenchanted with architectural theory –so narrow and idealistic– and with my previous attempts to answer that question along post-structuralist philosophies that, although they worked for me just fine on my academic years,  they seem to miss the point with respect to concrete struggles, allegedly on their lack of commitment and overarching structure.

Immersion into Social Theory and beyond

So, the more I left behind my enthusiastic academic marriage with postmodern theory the more I became interested in Social Theory, in particular that of Henri Lefebvre. I came across his book The Production of Space in 2007 when I was just starting my Thesis Project at the University. At the time I was reading a lot about Architectural Phenomenology through the books of Juan Borchers (a Chilean architect) and Juhani Pallasmaa. The first thing that struck me about Lefebvre’s theory on the productive process of space was its astonishing similarities with the theory of Borchers, specially its focus on the human body as the ontological and material point of departure for the production of space and architecture.

Becoming-Political through radical theory

Back then, my political views only sprang from my intellectual interests. And I must say that in practice I was just another liberal playing along on the everyday without much trouble. This political views were pretty blurry, disarticulated and instinctive and it had no basis on any kind of political passion, conscious ideological foundations or traumatic life experience. However, in searching for the basis of Lefebvre’s thought I came across with Western Marxism and its history. It was clear to me that to unravel Lefebvre’s method of thinking I would have to tackle Marx’s theory in full, but it seemed a task to difficult to accomplish in such short time. So I started reading a lot about Marx but nothing by himself as an introductory course. Books by Geographers like Edward Soja –who was my introduction to Lefebvre– and David Harvey help me a lot due to their focus on the spatial process of capitalist accumulation.

Learning to critique ideology and the culture of capitalism

In the last stage of my Thesis Project I became interested also in questions about ideology and its relation with the economic structure and everyday life. I encountered a histrionic guy called Slavoj Zizek. His lacanian theory of ideology made a lot of sense when confronted with typical liberal arguments declaring the ‘death of ideology’. I then came across Fredric Jameson, a marxist literary critic, very well known in America but whose work on Postmodernism I haven’t had the opportunity to read in depth.

The final-opening journey: Political Economy as radical theorizing

Finally, and after going through the full online course on Capital Volume I with Professor Harvey and adding a touch with Brendan Cooney’s videos on the subject, I started to read Marx’s Capital. At first a very easy reading but growing in complexity as I got deeper.

I started to develop a Bibliographical File and the question came about with a phrase by Harvey in which he pointed out the main references of Marx in preparing Capital (German Critical Philosophy, French Utopian Socialism, Classical Political Economy) and how he took those references and merged them critically. So I thought: what if I take Architectural Theory, Critical Social Theory and Political Economy and do a similar thing in a broad research project?

… And Liverpool?

Why Liverpool? In a way it could have been anywhere, even Chile –I’m Chilean by the way. With such a clearly stated project, Why bothering with studying abroad, with all the complexities and setbacks that a big journey implies? –also big discoveries though. I guess I wanted to see how a so called ‘developed’ country looks like and also check out if the educational system is so impressive as the mainstream media reports. Sure was a good strategy to avoid the dead-end of wage labour in Chile. I have to say that if I would remained in Chile arguing that I could face this research by myself –without any postgraduate guidance– I wouldn’t have been able to avoid wage labour once more, so I think that it would have been an extremely difficult task.

I don’t know if the above argument justifies my decision and frankly, I don’t care if not. One thing is sure: I fiercely wanted to embark on this project, and I will do it no matter the contingent situation. I can’t conceive any other way to give answers and raise further questions to my knowledge of the world and my sense of ‘what is to be done’. It’s a widely theoretical matter but also practical, it outlines a possible path to my future actions both as an individual and a social being.

And what about the city of Liverpool? Wasn’t this post about it? My thoughts and feelings are quite confusing. Apart from the dazzling first impression about being for the first time in a ‘first world’ capitalist country and city I have to say that Liverpool has been unravelling slowly before my eyes. First, I encountered a very tourist city, a consumer paradise, in short, the appearance of a bourgeois heaven, a city that has it all, full of shops of all kinds, full of clubs and bars that open 24/7 in a ‘wild-on’ type of never-ending party. Also a liberal-democratic and multicultural paradise in which diversity could appropriately be expressed. Then, I looked up to its history so inextricably linked to the history of capitalism that it would be, in that case, also the paradise of any Marxist thinker. Liverpool’s history is a living palimpsest for understanding the foundations of bourgeois society with all its values, institutions, and production system. Its modern wealth is grounded on a long and profitable history of slave-trade, a great example of primitive accumulation.

The Left is dead! so let’s begin with the Left!

There’s a really good blog entitled The Charnel-House by a guy called Ross Wolfe. In one of his posts about the Ocuppy Wall Street demonstrations he stated the claim ‘The Left is dead, long live the Left’ –the statement comes from a very good research group: The Platypus Affiliated Society. In this Research Project I intend to contribute to the long debate about the role that Left thinking and practice should play in the current situation and in the future. If the broad Project of thinking about alternatives to current capitalist irrational domination –and the conformist bourgeois society that has brought into being– is at all feasible is not the big question though. I think it is feasible, but the forces pressuring against it are so strong so interconnected that even just talking clearly about them becomes an issue. What has a discipline like architecture to say about all this? Hasn’t been architecture historically too compromised, like most politicians, with the interests of capital or whatever form of domination that oppressed those deprived from the means of production? Well… Yeah! sure; but No, at the same time. In the upcoming posts I will try to answer these and other complex questions that I ask myself every f**king morning. So, you’re more than welcome, let’s get up on the wrong side of the bed and begin with the left project!


About patriciodestefani

My main focus is on the role of architecture within capitalist society and the search for a radical alternative practice.
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4 Responses to Some opening thoughts about my journeys to Liverpool

  1. Ross Wolfe says:

    Thank you for the link, Patricio. I look forward to reading more from your research. Lefebvre and Harvey are excellent.

    In terms of Marxism and critical theory, I love Georg Lukacs, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and Moishe Postone. I am glad you are interested in the Platypus project, as well. We have a chapter in London, if you ever get the chance to stop by there.

    Have you read any of my writing on architecture, or just OWS?

    I will add you to my blogroll.

  2. Thanks for your comment. Yeah, in fact, your blog was one of the reasons that encouraged me to do this thing. I really enjoyed your ‘Man and Nature’ series and the essay on the transformation of utopia. I’m very interested in the current status of utopia in architecture and elsewhere.
    Now that I have more time I’ll be posting and commenting more.

  3. shubh cheema says:

    quiet interesting..and very well written….i don’t know much about political state of chile….but yes..i quiet agree with the fact that ..i also came here to see…how a developed country is teaching ..and moving forward..though i am really impressed…and as far as left is concerned..the whole meaning of marxist theory changes with change in geography…india is still quiet pro leftist..though i am quiet sure if that helped in its development….though coming here gave a distant viewpoint..towards my country…and that is not all negative….i can see its strength from here..which i missed when i worked there in chaos….anyways…nice blog.

    • thanks Shubh! yeah I know what you mean, that marxist thought cannot failed to take into consideration the particular geographical and socio-political setting, like Chile or India. I always think in what happens when we change from one place to another, means that our undertanding of the world deeply depends from our actual experiences and relations in life.

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