A House for Doing Nothing | Political Attitudes from Secluded Places

Slavoj Žižek wrote on his book Violence, First Picador Edition: August 2008:

“A critical analysis of the present global constellation- one which offers no clear solution, no “practical” advice on what to do, and provides no light at the end of the tunnel, since one is well aware that this light might belong to a train crashing towards us-usually meets with reproach: “Do you mean we should do nothing? Just sit and wait?” One should gather the courage to answer: “YES, precisely that!” There are situations when the only truly “practical” thing to do is to resist the temptation to engage immediately and to “wait and see” by means of a patient, critical analysis. Engagement seems to exert its pressure on us from all directions. In a well-known passage from his Existentialism and Humanism, Sartre deployed the dilemma of a young man in France in 1942, torn between the duty to help his lone, ill mother and the duty to enter the Resistance and fight the Germans; Sartre’s point is, of course, that there is no a priori answer to this dilemma. The young man needs to make a decision grounded only in his own abyssal freedom and assume full responsibility for it. An obscene third way out of the dilemma would have been to advise the young man to tell his mother that he will join the Resistance, and to tell his Resistance friends that he will take care of his mother, while, in reality, withdrawing to a secluded place and studying…”.

Based on this text by Slavoj Žižek, the responsible house by Aristide Antonas in collaboration with Katerina Koutsogianni, is a place designed to follow the Slovenian philosopher’s comment about responsibility nowadays. Following Žižek’s remarks, the global condition of nowadays cannot orient towards any concrete political attitude: the most appropriate action in order to undertake a political responsibility would be to do nothing. Doing nothing [far niente] was proposed as one of the most elevated experiences by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his “Rêveries du Promeneur Solitaire” when he describes his isolation in a semi abandoned lake island, saying “I am now alone on earth, no longer having any brother, neighbor, friend or society other than myself.

The current state of the world, maybe The End of History described by Francis Fukuyama, where he remarks the need for distinguishing between what is essential and what is contingent or accidental in world history, is an evidence of this human sense of isolation, while at the same time, we’re all connected. In this context, Žižek’s house was undertaken in order to design an intellectual response and in the same time a shelter for the person that could follow the Žižek’s quotation: withdrawal to a “secluded place” would serve in order to “wait and see” the evolution of today’s condition, performing at the same time a systematic patient critical analysis.

Antonas argues that this is not a pessimistic project but it rather marks an impossibility of the concept of “stepping back” today. It is a structural detail concerning thinking that is in its core. A responsible political understanding of nowadays condition would be the background of a responsible house: a refuge for a hero of the global north challenging himself in concepts of political responsibility. The house itself is supposed to be a responsible device but it may already introduce to a new concept of responsibility while in the same time it gives a perspective towards an idiosyncratic notion of irresponsibility [founded in today’s participation in the social phenomena]: it is a project of self criticism. Antonas adds:

It produces a simple observation tool that is isolated but it can include all information from the exterior world through Internet. If we have to construct a refuge imagined in the particular circumstances of today, our hero would have to be installed in front of a connected computer, which will be the equivalent of pen and paper of the past; in order that he stops this engagement pressure today the hero of withdrawal will need to perform whatever study of his while connected in the Internet.

Following Foucault‘s ideas, we can talk here about the problem of the human site or living space, which according to him, is not simply to know whether there will be enough space for men in the world, but also to know what relations of propinquity, what type of storage, circulation, marking, and classification of human elements should be adopted in a given situation in order to achieve a given end.

Responsible house. Plan of common space

The reference of Rousseau’s islands is clearly represented in the way the house exposes its inhabitant: with no walls, playing with transparence in a continous dialogue with the exterior. Just like Raimund Abraham’s House with Curtains, born from his poem entitled “Elements of the House” written in 1972, where he indicated often opposing sensations and feelings:

“The house is the junction of:
the horizon

As in The House with Curtains, the open grid with blowing curtain walls gives physical form to “movement” and “transparencies”. The physical representation of the house is a metaphor of that kind of shelter which exposes every surface through the Internet, which can mean infinity. As Antonas says, “the residence can construct the most valuable interior while it organizes a public space.” The residence itself can be taken as a particular screen that exposes in public what it shelters. Beatriz Colomina wrote on “Skinless Architecture” that the line between public and private no longer coincides with the outer limit of a building. She points out a new architectural experience: the skinless building, “the building turned inside out to such an extent that it may not be clear it is a building.”

In Žižek’s house, even for the most radical events, even for wars or massive destructions, the view from the shelter would propose the closest perspective [giving interior details for the evolution of the situation or of operations as if we were always already within the evolution of things] and would also transform this new interiority to the most untouchable spectacle.

The apartment is structured as a unified single space divided by mobile elements and curtains. A swimming pool is supposed to give a rhythm of a body’s temporality. Printers and a good connection form the material part of the common world and the invisible public sphere. All services are performed through the existence of a “courrier” system that distributes products to the units on demand.

Can we say that Žižek’s house is a form of heterotopia?

According to Colomina, what this complete loss of the envelope exactly means for architecture is unclear, but in an age in which the public/private distinction is so radically dissolved, an architecture without envelopes may well be upon us. And this unclearness drives us to think on heterotopias, Foucault’s placeless place. On his “fifth principle”, he describes heterotopias as a system of opening and closing that both isolates them and makes them penetrable. Just like this house.

Have you ever realized how we built our mindset? In ancient greek “Thought” [skepsis] meant supervision, contemplation. And it’s the same today: exterior world determine the major part of our thinking structure. We can now realize that maybe after all, Žižek’s house constitutes a common place. As Aristide Antonas explained: even constructed in order to provide the best conditions of intellectual solitude, even performed as an exotic ascetic denial of the common, it is a difficult place for responsibility, the experience of which is already done in the ruined fields of our old “living” cities. But as Andrea Huyssen wrote about this nostalgia for ruins, “nostalgia can be a utopia in reverse.Can we talk about utopia in this context? Antonas explains:

In Greece there are many deserted islands that could host such populations of responsible houses: they would look like exile places, like banal livable internet stations and in the same time like paradise options: all representing a responsible condition for today, this includes an ironic look to Zizek’s approach and the fact that Zizek is describing something existing. A condition of exile, promoted as necessity for balancing a future responsibility and, in the same time, the culmination of a desired condition is linked to an idiosyncratic inaction. The responsible apartment intends to propose a view of a population of such units for doing nothing. Following this rationale the project is supposed to function in a double bind: from the one side it shows a possible condition or a materialization proposed by an exaggeration of Zizek’s remark; from another point of view it could be read as a counter project commenting already Zizek’s argument.

We will end this post with some questions for Aristide Antonas, aiming to expand the conversation and reflections around this project and all the philosophy behind it:

The world in general and particularly the Western world, owes a lot to Greece, although the financial markets and mass media keep on saying us the contrary. With a hint of irony and wisdom, this Greek idea of a “house for doing nothing” is a proposal for us the contemporary human beings, to rethink the way we are developing our existence. Don’t you think, Aristide, that this houses could be considered as a new kind of dispersed and connected agoras, where the human being in his solitude can reflect in this non-sense race of productivity and grow?

- Could it be the perfect place for us to think and discover the new relational skills for a different era, where the first step would be to stop and do nothing?

This post is part of a dialogue or “blogiscussion“, between Léopold Lambert, Aristide Antonas and dpr-barcelona. You can read Léopold’s article on The Funambulist and Antona’s response in a few days on his own blog.

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