Architectural Contestation

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This dissertation addresses the reductive reading of Georges Bataille's work done within the field of architectural criticism and theory which tends to set aside the fundamental ‘broken’ totality of Bataille's oeuvre and also to narrowly interpret it as a mere critique of architectural form, consequently presenting it either as the negation of all form of architecture or as the critique of 'classical' architectural forms. Against this ‘appropriation’, i.e. this reductive reading and the subsequent misconstruction it initiates, which violently abridges the relevance and pertinence of Bataille's oeuvre to architectural theory and criticism (and which similarly betrays a very weak definition of architecture as principally occupied with the generation of form), this dissertation argues that Bataille's oeuvre forms a 'whole' or 'totality' which, although disrupting and disrupted, should be considered in its entirety in order to reveal the peculiar function of expenditure, it contends, architecture and architectural criticism are – if carried out non-hypocritically – sharing. Commencing from a deep analysis of the different attempts made to ‘appropriate’ Bataille’s thinking within the discipline, the dissertation seeks, inversely, to ‘release’ (in the sense of issuing it into the open as well as freeing it) Bataille’s ‘use value’, while arguing for an insurgent comprehension of architecture and a radical enactment of its correlative assessment as non-hypocritical expenditures that pervade Bataille’s ‘take’ on the subject. To these ends, it contextualises Bataille's oeuvre in the wider context of pre and post-War intellectual history, by discussing its author’s influences, groups, reviews, polemics and legacy. It considers the manner in which Bataille, acknowledges his personal experience of the excess, evidences his reading of Hegel, Nietzsche, Mauss, and Sade, consciously engages with notable intellectual figures of his time such as Andre Breton and Jean Paul Sartre, and influences several major post-War thinkers. While this dissertation does attempt the recovery of Bataille’s relationship with those philosophers and intellectuals, it also looks to his published and unpublished books, novels, and articles to grasp how his ‘writing’ is paradoxically a theorizing of expenditure as well as a practice of the excess (hence an expenditure in itself). Subsequently, it proposes to read Bataille's ‘take’ on architecture from within the 'context' of this 'paradoxical philosophy'. From this scholarly angle of investigation, it demonstrates that Bataille's texts on architecture appear to be not just a critique of architectural forms but rather a contentious elucidation of the political, social and economic function of architecture: a means of 'exchange' or ‘communication’ between what Bataille sketches as the heterogeneous and homogeneous realms. To put it differently, Bataille, the dissertation reveals, perceives architecture as a device allowing a leaking of the sacred back into the profane. Before these findings – hence following Bataille – this dissertation advances a thesis of architecture as an expenditure – either real or symbolic, either productive or in pure loss – functioning on a dual mode. On the one hand, architecture is imperative: it serves the hegemony of the 'high' heterogeneous elements while it structures and preserves the homogeneous realm and its order. On the other hand it is 'impure': it allows a leaking of the 'low' impure heterogeneous elements back into the profane (homogeneous realm), disturbing as such its order. This function of expenditure, the dissertation concludes, logically appears to be not limited to the architectural object. Indeed, as Bataille suggests it, the very function of the architectural assessment seems also to be expenditure. A ‘project’ having no further ends than to be a radical squandering in and of itself. Bataille’s ‘take’ on architecture is not a mere renewing of architectural criticism but a radical architectural contestation.