Perfection eludes us with mockery, as if disdainful of our overarching pursuits to reach it. Take for example Borge’s Circular Ruins, in which one magician strives to metamorphose surrealistic dreams of man into his interpretation of the idealistic mortal, to exist as the facsimile of perfection. This man, near flawless from countless nights of vision and revision from the wizard, is defective only in the chance of his realization that he is not corporeal, existing as merely the illusory phantom of the wizard’s dreams. The wizard, fearing for the seed of his thought, yearns to relieve his brainchild from the humiliation of his phantasmal nature, only to comprehend that he is also an apparition of another’s thoughts. In an attempt to achieve the nirvana of perfection, the wizard has imprisoned himself to an eternity of affliction, the perpetual reminder of his own flaw as a figment of another’s imagination.
Immediately after digesting the themes involved in Circular Ruins, I find myself scrutinizing a painting by Salvador Dali known as The Persistence of Memory. Honestly, I could not even attempt to explain why thoughts of this painting were stirred from within my subconscious, but upon carefully examination, the parallels between Borge’s narration and Dali’s painting appear so explicitly pronounced in my mind that the two seem purposed for one another.
The fantasy world fabricated from the text of Circular Ruins is as surreal as the context of Dali’s painting, as they both seem to be derived from interpretations of the fantastic, dream-like in their inception. In The Persistence of Memory, the imagery of melting clocks, which deviate from their natural solid and hard forms, are limp and lifeless, as if alluding to how time and space seems to fade within the dreamscape, although relatively, both time and space eternal. Similar in Borge’s story, the wizard becomes conscious as an immortal apparition of another’s dream, to last for eternity with this knowledge weighing upon his consciousness. Also, the wizard in the story spends years in order to formulate an interpretation of perfection, and in doing so, dooms himself to an eternity of realizing his own flaws. In this way, the creature in Persistence of Memory relates to Borge’s writings. The creature is disfigured, unable to take any recognizable form, faded as if an expression from a haphazard dream. The wizard tries, as hard as he may, to dream of the ideal, but always present will be the flaw of his creation as never truly mortal, as just a dream.
Surrealism does not attempt to depict any sort of true perfection, but tries to depict conscious and subconscious, similar to Borge’s story where the creative subconscious of the wizard can never truly reach perfection, no matter how much time he spends on his ideal creation.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” is an idiom of Greek origins which sums the way we regard a space; we perceive the atmosphere of a place based upon our individual sensibilities by first digesting the quantitative nature of the space. This quantitative nature is completely fixed and cannot be altered; quantitative properties can be exampled by the proportions and dimensions of a space, the orientation, and materials all used to create the cohesive space. And although these quantitative elements cannot be altered, they also contribute to form the qualitative nature of the space as well, the atmosphere. The materials of a piece of architecture cohesively create the body of the architecture, according to Peter Zumthor, where they function like organs sustaining a body to define the individuality of the architecture generally as a whole. However, each individual material contains certain nuances that are, themselves, of great significance. Individual materials, in creating atmosphere, should be able to contribute to the space of architecture in a way that allows the specialized qualities and functions of each material to compliment one another. Like in the body, every part is integral in making the entire place work as a whole. Each individual piece of material in a space should play off the others, where a balance of similarity and contrast creates an entire character of the space, perhaps as into an individual. Materials used in architecture are like the individual elements used to create compounds in chemistry. The ways that materials react to each other are unique and create the quality of the space the materials form, which is similar to how a combination of specific elements in a chemical reaction forms a compound that exhibits entirely new and singular properties. These properties from compounds together create the character of that compound, akin to how the compound of materials in a building or space is distinguished by the ambiance it emits. For atmosphere of a space to be defined by its uniqueness, many individual parts must contribute to the space. The materials, the sounds, the smells, the people, and an endless number of other characteristics must work into a cohesive whole to identify the space as a singularity. However, most important is how the individual perceives atmosphere, for the atmosphere is only delineated by how one is moved by the place.
Throughout the evolution of man and intellectual thought, a hierarchy of perceptual dominance has been ordered onto a ladder based upon the importance of a specific sense. The philosophical writings of the Greeks are “abounded with ocular metaphors to the point that knowledge has become analogous with clear vision and light is regarded as the metaphor for truth,” according to Pallasmaa. Presently, there is an equal emphasis of importance placed upon the sense of sight, perhaps because it is the core means for people to connect, with one another and with their surroundings as well.
Ocular centrism throughout time has also been criticized as well in the past because of the neglect of other senses that philosophers deem equally as important to the perception of man. French 20th century philosophers emphasized the “simultaneity and interaction of the senses.” These philosophers wanted to perceive from a whole, as a total being in order to speak to all their senses as one.
The belief of Pallasmaa that the narcissistic and nihilistic eye has become dominate of the architectural world of the past twenty years is disadvantageous to the viewer of the piece of architecture, as the narcissistic eye begins to disengage and isolate the other senses, while the narcissistic eye tries to objectify the entire piece of architecture as a piece of expressive imagery. The piece of architecture needs to begin to engage the viewer through the multiple senses, to allow the inhabitant to completely lose him or herself within the space.
In many ways, the acts of writing poetry and creating architecture are very much alike. Both can be highly regarded as acts of self-expression. Where a poet generates a distinctive style through the many conventions of writing, such as tone and diction to name a few, an architect uses the language of design and construction materials as a means of idiosyncratic expression. But what is particularly special about the arts of architecture and poetry is that they can formulate constructed environments for others to experience.
While poetry and architecture are congruent in many to one another in many respects, they each also possess distinctive qualities that distinguish one school of expression from the other. While it is true that architecture and poetry both construct experiences for others, the means by which they create these environments are converse. The poet creates a plot and setting through only his or her ability to manipulate diction and remains limited in that he or she relies on the reader to be able to interpret their piece of poetry the way it was intended to be. But perhaps the true beauty of poetry is that a work can vary through one’s interpretation. This also holds true for a design constructed from the mind of an architect. It is up to the person occupying the built space to try and interpret the concepts the architect was trying to convey. That is also the main difference between architecture and poetry: literal and implied occupation of an idea. The architect is not limited to only the use of words to try and create space, but is able to construct conceptualizations before a viewer.
That poetry and architecture must remain antonymous is not true. The ability to dictate one’s architectural concepts in a clear and concise manner is one of monumental importance for the profession. The writings of the poet architect John Hejduk, however, takes the idea of descriptive architecture creates plot-like scenarios from paintings, film stills, and sculptures. Into these stationary scenarios, Hejduk replicates a sense of vitality through his utilization of characters and their environment, which mostly deal with architectural settings. Hejduk shows us that architecture does not have to be limited by a purely visual understanding, but he is able to create a sense of expression by letting the reader imagine the ideas he tries to imply.