Power and the Architectural Unconscious

author: Mladen Dolar, Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana
published: Oct. 20, 2017,   recorded: September 2017,   views: 1953

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In the beginning of Civilization and its Discontents Freud curiously uses an architectural metaphor to present the workings of the unconscious. Nothing gets lost or obliterated in the unconscious, as the unconscious is timeless, so the image he proposes is that of Rome, ‘the eternal city’, as the saying goes – all the various layers of the past coexist in Rome. Everything coexists, but as a ruin, like an urbanistic unconscious. Yet for the image to work one must presuppose that all the stages had their heyday of full bloom before being reduced to fragmented remains, while with the unconscious one must deal with something that ‘always already’ been a ruin to start with, something fragmented and partial ‘in itself’. But couldn’t one adopt this perspective also in their approach to architecture at large, urbanism as a whole? There is the double aspect of architecture, which displays on the one hand a side of glory, attesting to the power it seeks to promote, and on the other hand the aspect of ruin, a fragment, a lack, an absence, a distortion, a haunting. Maybe the task is how to disentangle the interlacing and the interlocking of these two aspects.

Since the presentation is supposed to relate to a particular example, I would take the strange case of KSEVT, the Cultural Center of European Space Technologies, a most remarkable building erected in a Slovene village by some of the most prestigious Slovene architectural offices, presenting an intersection of culture and cosmos, art and nature, natural sciences and humanities, the local and the global – a building that has been placed, over the last years, at the heart of an iconic power struggle.

Mladen Dolar is a professor and Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Philosophy, University of Ljubljana. His principal areas of research are psychoanalysis, modern French philosophy, German idealism, and art theory. Apart from a dozen books in Slovene and some hundred papers in English published in journals and collected volumes his book publications include most notably A Voice and Nothing More (MIT, 2006, translated into six languages) and Opera’s Second Death (with Slavoj Žižek, Routledge, 2001, also translated into several languages). He is one of the founders of the so-called Ljubljana Lacanian School. His new book The Riskiest Moment is forthcoming with Duke University Press.

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