NON-IMMEDIACY  -  Wednesday August 12th, 2009


The star-forming region LH 95 in the Large Magellanic Cloud, via Hubble (also, hi-res 2mb)

No one really supposed that light had speed, but we now know it takes 8 minutes to reach us from the sun, and two and a half years from the nearest star. When we look up at the stars we are seeing a live show taking place 30,000 years ago. An aggregate of non-simultaneous and only partially overlapping events. Change is normal. The physical universe is forever changing.

This is Buckminster Fuller talking about Einstein’s theories, from a video playing at the Barbican’s new one (I’ll write again on the exhibit itself). The video is called “Modeling Universe”, and its a 1976 doco on Buckminster Fuller, by Jamie Snyder. The reason I labouriously copied down this passage was because of that one line : an aggregate of non-simultaneous and only partially overlapping events.

Baudrillard writes a lot about our obsession with real time, our desire for information to be instantaneous. He says there is no point in trying to identify the world as it happens, because it is already out of date and distorted (through the lag of the eye to brain, or some other instrument of perception like a mirror). He says, in the Perfect Crime:

Thus all things offer themselves up without a hope of being anything other than illusions of themselves. Fortunately, nothing appears to us in real time, any more than do the stars in the night sky. If the speed of light were infinite, all the stars would be there simultaneously and the celestial vault would be an unbearable incandescence. Fortunately, nothing takes place in real time. Otherwise we would be subjected, where information is concerned, to the light of all events, and the present would be an unbearable incandescence. Fortunately, we live on the basis of a vital illusion, on the basis of an absence, an unreality, a non-immediacy of things.

Of course, if you suggest that there is a value to temporal setback you may as well tattoo the term Luddite to your forehead and be done with it. It seems a commonplace in contemporary architecture to try to portray the temporary, the fluid and flux – to design an architecture that is maleable and adaptable. But isn’t that really a cop-out, a sidestep of the issue. By refusing to impose will into the formal (or other) structure of a project, and claiming that it will define itself, the architect avoids the responsibility to produce a formal response to a given situation.

An aggregate of non-simultaneous and only partially overlapping events… What would an architecture be like that, rather than responding quickly to the ephemeral conditions of the present, attempted to (re)present the past (as a statement that the present is only the temporal offset of history): a modern stadium designed to host gladiatorial battles, a condo highrise with stables and slaves? Given how long it actually takes to construct a building, what is the maximum acceptable offset (no one, after all, complains about Sagrada Familia being out of date)?

Well. Gees, let’s lighten things up a bit with a Roman joke (via Mary Beard, who is the authority on all ancient humour): A man meets a friend of his in the street and says “that’s funny, I was told you were dead”. The friend replies “well, you can see perfectly that I am still alive”. The first man furrows his brow and says “I have to dispute that, the man who told me you were dead is much more reliable than you.” Its not that bad really, when you consider that I (like many) don’t get Punch at all, and that it was conceived by a whole different kind of Millennium People.

I promise tomorrow’s post will be less cerebral.

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