12 March, 2010

Transcript of a Jeffrey Kipnis Seminar

Friday morning, 9AM. Jeffrey Kipnis is on time. This is a first. Stan walks in. Can we talk, he says, trying to sound like the Dean. You can start the lecture without me, says Kipnis, as he and Stan walk outside Betts Auditorium. I think it’s because Kipnis did not even show up for the last two seminars. Kipnis knows the school can’t force him to do anything. The main reason he likes to teach here, he has told us, is the school’s unlimited supply of Oreo cookies under the coffee cart.

What is the difference between early romantic modernism and modernity?

Sylvia Lavin. Do you trust her, he asks a Chinese graduate student. No, she says. Okay, what do you propose? He likes picking on people and embarrassing them completely. Finally, she says architecture should have a social aspect. I knew you were going to say that all along, he says, why didn’t you just say it?

Sylvia Lavin makes architecture effective socially but by taking a surprising detour. This is because all the straightforward ways have proved ineffective. Building houses is not an architectural idea, it is a political idea. By treating architecture like a fine art, you can do both.

He goes around the table and tries to memorize names. Pulane means rain. Vaskas? What kind of name is that? I don’t know… it’s a Muslim name. I am mispronouncing it, he says. Yes, I say, but it’s alright.
He talks about Hamlet. In the famous soliloquy, all Shakespeare is trying to do is to advance the plot by having the other characters overhear what Hamlet has to say. There was no deeper psychological element. Do Rembrandt’s self-portraits give his work a deeper psychological meaning? All these ideas have been superimposed on these works based on later thinking by people like Freud.

Our belief in god and our belief in the existence of atoms are both based on a rumor. Einstein “proved” it by finding the solution to the problem of Brownian motion, random collision of particles. But we are still uncertain of what an atom really is. Our “absolute convictions” are historically determined/produced and are open to evolution.

Learning architectural history is bad because it makes you believe that all that is over and you call it a style. Modernism versus modernity. Modernism tried to offer a collective model of certainty, a profound resistance to what was seen as the encroaching plague of modernity. The difference between where we are now and then is that they knew they were right but feared they would be wrong, and we know that we are right and know that we will be wrong.

How can you be certain and absolutely confident that you are right when you are also certain that you will be wrong. Sylvia’s detour is more exciting. They can both be positives. A collaboration. They are not polar opposites. It’s fuzzy.

Enlightenment. Descartes. Two terms from Plato: hypermnesia and anamnesia. The former is less than knowing, it is the ability to repeat a fact. Is the earth the center of the universe? No, you don’t want to be the center of anything. Then you’re the bad guy, like Microsoft. You don’t look “up” at the moon, you look over at it. Imagining it as an object in distance in translation turns it into something more real, a living knowledge. That is anamnesia. It brings knowledge alive so you know it and you feel it.

What’s before the enlightenment? You don’t connect to it. They didn’t know it was the dark ages. They had days with sunshine, and they sang songs. We cast them into darkness. You believe those guys are stupid. You treat your dog like a dumb person. But dogs can speak the human language better than we can speak theirs.

Would you consider yourself a more advanced species than amoeba? Anything that is alive at one point in time is equally advanced in the process of evolution. In your body, for every cell with your DNA, there are 100 cells without it.  All states of being before now are still operative.

Descartes. I think therefore I am. What does he mean? Another student goes through the Kipnis treatment. Did you smile your way into Princeton? He turns to me. What's a baker? Someone who bakes, I say. Great, that was easy. Don't you wish you got the other one right? Yes. You're ambitious that's good. We go through some Descartes. I am so glad I PDF-ed that Philosophy class last semester. Ok, Vaskas, you're a baker and you move into a new town. There are a lot of bakeries but no sandwich shop. What kind of shop will you open? What does he want to hear, I think. Then, with utmost confidence, I say: it looks like the bakers are doing well so I would open another bakery. It's the right answer.

[This was me taking a detour from writing my thesis. I will type the rest of it later.]

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