Saturday, September 10, 2016

It's not plagiarism, it's intertextuality

After the publication of ‘Architecture and Transgression,’ a reader complained that Tschumi had failed to cite Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, although he had, without any doubt, almost integrally copied a passage from it. A comparison of the paragraphs revealed that Tschumi had simply replaced the word “science” from the original text with the word “architecture” in his own. He had then slightly transformed Kuhn’s prose to make it fit into his own article. Through this operation, Tschumi’s text acquired an immediate depth. Without the quotation marks, the idea developed by Kuhn in the field of science was integrated in architecture and could be seen as an original theoretical concept. Once the appropriation was discovered, Tschumi’s text remained autonomous, although it could also be read as an invocation of Kuhn’s authority.

A verification of his sources reveals that Tschumi made extensive use of this procedure in the construction of his texts. That he did so consciously may be seen in another example, taken this time from ‘Questions of Space.’ Here, Tschumi introduced his solution to the “paradox of architecture” as a proposition perhaps unbearable for scientists, philosophers, and artists alike. This description, however, employed the exact words that Philippe Sollers used to characterise the work of Bataille. With full awareness, Tschumi was trying to transpose into the realm of architecture the effects sought by Bataille in literature.

Although Tschumi publicly apologised for the “oversight” after he was discovered, these articles may be read as the site of a systematic operation inspired by another prominent element of Tel Quel’s theory of the text: the concept of intertextuality. In his article for the Encyclopedia Universalis, Barthes, responding to the question ‘What is a Text?’ summarised the theory. For him, the notion of “text” emerged after the critique of the sign, when the sign entered into crisis. He attributed to Julia Kristeva the epistemological definition of the text, which incorporated several theoretical concepts including that of the intertext. Barthes explained that all texts are made of fragments of other texts and are thus necessarily intertextual. The production of the texts is a permutative operation of “deconstruction-reconstruction” of former texts. But the intertext is that which, in the text, is given, without quotation marks, as anonymous, unconscious or automatic formulae. Barthes argued that the intertext gives to the text a productivity that is not mere reproduction, because the intertext cannot be conceived as a voluntary imitation or a visible filiation.

After his reading of Bathes, Genette and Kristeva, Tschumi conceived his texts as collages, palimpsests, composed through the intentional juxtaposition and superimposition of fragments of other texts that were often reduced to mere objets trouvés whose origins and contexts of emergence were blurred. Together with Tschumi’s technique of substituting one word with another - the title of ‘Architecture and its Double’ directly referenced Antonin Artaud’s Theatre and its Double - this operation was an extreme and provocative use of the concept of intertextuality.

Louis Martin. “Interdisciplinary Transpositions: 
Bernard Tschumi’s Architectural Theory,” 
in The Anxiety of Interdisciplinarity.
ed. Alex Coles and Alexia Defert
(London: BACKless Books, 1998), 75.

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