The Indicator: The Book by It’s Cover

The Indicator: The Book by It’s Cover

The chin on the typewriter. It’s a typewriter. The college haircut. Before the personal computer, the Internet. No cell phones. Coffee had not yet been fetishized to the degree it is today. I suspect the coffee thing goes along with the technology. Black. Sugar. Cream. I think she likes black. I know I have another one of her books on my shelves. I know almost nothing about her beyond the book, Formless. For a long time I kept this on my desk when I worked at a corporate firm. I was surprised to find this book of collected essays spanning her career as an art critic and historian. I didn’t look inside, just the cover. That was enough.

To be perfectly honest with you, I’m simply too exhausted to write an in-depth piece on the economic outlook for 2011. I did have good intentions. I woke up in the middle of the night with something nearly complete in my head. It was going to be really informative. Let me summarize: if you are working in 2011 you are getting paid less, working longer hours and have less security. If you are running a firm, now is the time to re-envision your vision, identify your identity, and consolidate your consolidatables. I’m in a good mood…and you might be too…so why ruin it with more of this. I’ll write that piece when I’m in a bad mood. And, to be perfectly honest again, it’s just too early in the year to get a grasp on where it is going. So, let us turn to something else that has been on my mind.

More after the break.

Any preface is most likely inadequate so I’ll just say that these are books that have caught my attention of late—some I have been thinking about for months at a time.

At least once a week I find myself needing to kill some time in Santa Monica. I usually do this at Hennessey + Ingalls, a cup of coffee in one hand, i phone in the other. I’m not sure if it’s cool to bring a hot beverage into the store, but they haven’t stopped me yet and I have never spilled or left O’s on any of the merchandise. They are probably more nervous about me stealing the souls of books. Oddly, I do get the sense that I now possess these books, despite not having bought them.

In fact, I used to collect more books before I got my phone. Now I collect images of books and lists of books for future acquisition—the inventory. This has also been my somewhat pathetic and admittedly desperate way of increasing my library since being laid off. How long ago was that? It feels like a past life.

Former critic for The New York Times. I think he died recently, but I’m not sure. To be honest with you (I say this a lot just so you know I’m being honest) I haven’t kept up with him and am not very well versed in his writings, but this book makes me more intrigued—and that is what it was designed to do and it works thus. He’s not mentioned in Kenneth Frampton’s Modern Architecture. Should he be? I’m just searching for his name. There he is, in the index of Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture, Muschamp, Herbert, 374. What does it say? In the section on Aristotle and Nietzsche. Here it is: Buildings and cities both possess and represent a certain ethos, or character; in so doing, they embody (if often only implicitly) a certain ethic. In an early 1988 essay marking the (1987) centenary of the birth of Le Corbusier, New Republic architecture critic Herbert Muschamp noted (correrctly, in my view) the historical affinities of the universalizing rationalism of Modernist architecture with the universalizing rationalism of Enlightenment moral and political philosophy. Thus, Herbert Muschamp passes through New Agenda like the wind. Which brings me to Dialectic of Enlightenment, an interesting little orange book by Horkheimer and Adorno.

I should probably know more about this and this book looks like it would have a few things to teach me about this. The most interesting thing about this to me is the bit about most of his designs being unbuilt. Obviously, he wasn’t working in China. Cellophane wrapping is torture to the book browser. I was tempted to rip it open, but decided to leave the mystery…and the frustration…intact. Damn you, publisher.

Apparently, somebody wrote a book about one of the main reasons I like Basquiat. I had a dream about him once. We were sitting on wood crates in a loft studio. Everything was white…like Heaven, expected. Yes. He was dressed in all white, too, and he was telling me what his method was. I wrote it down somewhere, but it had something to do with making mistakes. “Out getting ribs,” said one of his notes. Warhol liked it. This makes me less embarrassed about the state of my notebooks and my handwriting. This also circles back to the first book by Krauss because of the informal, perpetually unfinished aspect. Palladio was also unfinished. I just realized an unconscious theme running here.

i phone mis-fire. I’ve discovered this happens a lot. I’ve taken many photos like this without even being aware of it. Most seem to be of my feet while walking, sidewalks, pant legs, my shoes. I have many cameras but I never take them out. I have ceased aiming for the calculated shot. I’m more interested in the accidental. Back to Krauss and Basquiat again. What would it be like to see more shots like this in architecture publications? I suppose they would appear to be a form of self-conscious bad photography, ill-suited to communicating architecture. There is a certain uniformity to how architecture is photographed, however. It would be interesting to break from this and see what other potentials exist beyond the wide-angle shot. Architectural photography is too interested in transmitting its subject in relatively unmediated ways. I need to talk to Iwan about this. How does he shoot buildings when he is not working for a client? I suspect there is more of him in the shot. More mediation or more acceptance for the different layers of mediation implicit in the photographic act.

I didn’t have time to look inside, but it says “A Curious Collection” so I think I’ll have to go back and take a look

I was going to write something about this but decided not to. It’s too obvious.

Back in the eighties, I once bought a print of his “Orange and Yellow” in Harvard Square, by the T station where the homeless people urinated and kept warm over the subway vents. I must also confess to purchasing posters of The Smiths, and New Order at the same time. I didn’t know who Rothko was then. I just liked the colors and the seeming audacity of painting colors. Later on, of course, I figured out the whole abstract expressionism thing. Even so, I still like Rothko…even though he killed himself. I generally don’t like people who kill themselves because I think of the ones they left behind. Then again, if I knew the people they left behind maybe I would better understand why they killed themselves. At any rate, this looks like a fascinating read. I had no idea this book even existed. I once thought of reading a very thick biography of him but since I knew the ending…

I have this one sitting on my shelf and I’m supposed to review it. Just haven’t gotten round to it yet. The density of the research has been a little daunting to gear up to. Plus, in all honesty, I’m a little frightened to see how the architecturally-inclined conceive of something so central to humanity’s survival as the cultivation of food. I’m also frightened this is one of those architectural metaphors for other types of, you know, “farming’, wink wink. Maybe both. I need to approach it with new eyes, with a sense of discovery. So I re-discovered it at the bookstore and took a photo of it. Look, I’ve made some progress. I’m just that much closer to writing a review. This helps ease my guilt at having barely glanced at it. I have looked at the illustrations and the index, however. Besides, there have already been a couple reviews published. One by Ethel Baraona Pohl (less a review and more a glowing blow-by-blow recounting to amp the book’s importance) popped up on this very site soon after it came out. Not a critical one by someone who doesn’t care. But, who cares, really? It looks decent enough. Let me be clear, I care, but I also need convincing that I should care. I guess that makes me difficult. I was sort of hoping this would mean I don’t need to contribute my own review, but I can see my services are still needed. I did promise a certain editor…

This is one I’ve had my eye on for a long time. If I had to choose one to own, this would be the one. It’s amazing to see such accumulation of thought in one place. It also shows the vulnerability of work in progress, a life in process, the messy shift to new ideas. There is that messy theme again. But there is no apprehension. Everything is committed to print, the semi-permanence of the book. It’s like reading letters and looking at family photo albums. It’s perversely private. It could be my pre-computer memory kicking in, but I’m not certain this could be duplicated on the web. Certainly, the experience of holding part of a life in your hands could not be…even though it is reproducible, copy after copy. There is also the sense that this book is already rare, that it had a limited run and will soon be out of print, if it isn’t already.

This cover can speak for itself.

The Indicator

The Indicator

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Cite: Guy Horton. "The Indicator: The Book by It’s Cover" 21 Jan 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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