FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions / 11


















Why do you publish so much on the Web?

It will be obvious to anyone who has created an electronic text that it has certain advantages over the book. Let me try to explain.

A printed book goes no further, technically, than reproduce, in type, text that was previously created by hand-writing. The advance was in the method of production, not in the way in which the writing was 'consumed' or read. However, this advance meant that much more writing could be reproduced at much cheaper prices. This lead to the creation of a far more extensive literature, and even, it could be argued, an increase in literacy, if not in quality then certainly in diversity.

The electronic text is, arguably, no great advance on the 'means of production'. Although this, also, can be questioned if we extend the argument from 'electronic text' to its dissemination on the Web. It is however, unquestionably an advance in the techniques of consumption.

Every word is connected, through its embedment in the structure of language, to every other word. They are the parts of a whole which has received various names which we can, for the moment, leave un-named so as to retain the sense of its 'wholeness'. Every part of a book has a relation to the whole book. The structuring of this relationship is one of the most difficult parts of of 'book-composition'. How does one begin and end what is, in the Authors understanding, a 'whole'? How does one stretch out, long, thin and only one word deep, to borrow Eliot's image, "upon an operating table" (under the close focus of the surgeon's eye and headlamp) the animate, lively, plump body of the whole, interconnected, living, book?

How, even, does the Author divide his thoughts, which always remain within him, a living presence, that is, because it is animate, a totality, into separate books? Books are the fractured, broken-up, monuments, like the fallen limbs of statues, or the ruined fragments of buildings, to which the whole city, the whole architecture of an author's understanding must be reduced in order for it to be transmitted to his readers in printed pages bound between hard covers. The electronic text, and particularly its form as 'built' on a unitary 'site' is more like a 'textual garden' - the real city of his imagination. One can be sure that the Author wakes up each morning, or goes out after work (or even in the midst of it, so intimate is this territory to his being) to fork it over and attend to any ideas that give evidence of poor health. One can be sure that the Author constantly imagines further vistas, beds, pergolas, terraces, summer houses, walks and so on, that must be created in order to extend, order, and re-order his textual invention. A Website, like a garden, is a living creation. If there are 'ruins' in it, they will be there for a reason, and not because the flowers must be carved in stone to survive for more than a day.

In short what we can be certain of is that the Author's electronic text is always his current 'author-ised version'.

Another perspective on the electronic text can be had from the Introducton to the JOA FAQ, or 'Theory' Section. In this I argue, showing my age (but one must move on), for the preference of what I term the epistomology of Levi-Strauss over that of Popper. By this I mean to shift the focus, like Heidegger, away from 'the' Theory, as such, towards what Heidegger calls 'its workings', or the "working of, or upon, truth". Understanding is not merely to have received 'the right' theory. It is to have worked with it upon the subject of enquiry. Understanding is what remains after the 'theory' has been worked, even worked after the ambition of Popper, to its death and destruction upon the anvil of circumstances. My emphasis is not, as is Popper's, upon the inevitable death of one theory or another, or the futile, Luis Borges-like, search for the ultimate, all-enveloping, Theory of Theories, but upon the wisdom that results from a life spent in hard labour in the workshop of philosophy. Moreover I suggest that because such 'wisdom' is incommunicable, every would-be philosopher is condemned to a lifetime at the forge, to which others can only advantage him by showing him how to make good tools and how to use them.

Seen from this perspective, the electronic text is a 'better tool'.

I can explain this by recounting that Harold Wilson wrote that he stopped reading Das Kapital at the first page because he saw that its footnote was longer than its text. In this he betrayed the attitude of the Oxbridge-trained administrator and man of action, rather than that of the devotee of the vita contemplativa. He might not have abandoned his text so early had it been electronic. For the reality, as I have tried to indicate above, is that in every book, without exception, the 'authors footnote' - that is to say the author's understanding - is always longer than the text which is printed between 'hard covers'. In the printed book, some Authors reveal, in their 'footnotes', the foundations of their assertions. If these lie at the bottom of each page they interrupt the flow of the main argument. If they lie at the back of the chapter, or the whole book, they interrupt it even more.

The electronic book allows the reader to note that a word, or a phrase, is electronically linked to a 'footnote', by merely altering the colour of that fragment of text. This allows the reader to continue with the main text or divert, by the mere flick of a finger, to the elaboration. This can be quickly scanned, or carefully read, either at that moment, or later. It is a huge convenience.

Then there is the vexed question of Illustrations - a subject, perhaps, of no interest to Philosophy in the main - but fundamental to Architectural Philosophy. One does not have to stress the division of the brain into its verbal and visual halves. But the fundamental biological difficulties that we have when we try to work simultaneously in the verbal as well as the visual mode, creating, as has been the human ambition for centuries, a seamless whole, is apparent whenever this is attempted. It is clear that one of these is always tending to supplant the other. If the visual prospers, the verbal, if only temporarily, atrophies. The illustrated book is one of the prime examples of this unsatisfactory state of our mental equipment. Does one accept the division and corral the illustrations in their own pen, either at the end or trapped at intervals convenient to the colour printer? Or does one scatter them throughout the argument, constantly distracting the eye, and fracturing the verbal mind? Does one key them into the text with little numbers, for which one vainly searches, invariably finding that the composition has slipped the illustration over to the next page, or does one write extended captions, repeating what is already better-argued in the text?

Or does one felt them together into an indigestible pulp of images and text in the styleof Bruce Mau and S,M,X,XL - a medium that appears designed for external application - smeared over the body like an instant tanning cream - rather than for intellectual ingestion.

Again the electronic text is a help.

Firstly a Text can be presented without any distracting illustrations at all. Words and phrases that are 'illustrated' are merely highlighted in a certain, consistent, colour. a mere flick of the finger brings forth the illustration, which, like all such (such is the appetite of the mind for images) can be scanned in the blink of an eye, or lingered-over later. Or a text can be presented with very small, 'thumbnail' ilustrations which give a hugely reduced view of the actual picture that are, nevertheless, sufficient to help the Reader decide of he wishes to enlarge them. Should the decision be positive the Reader has to do no more than, once again, merely move one finger, usually just clicking on the 'thumbnail', to enlarge it to full-screen size.

Finally, below this enlarged illustration, a text relating to it alone can be adduced.

This last may seem a simple thing. In fact it is proving to be the most radical of the advantages of the electronic text. For it is in each of these 'textual commentaries' upon the illustrations that one can reveal and demonstrate the actual process of Heidegger's 'working of truth in action'. The photograph of the building is the mere record of the 'action'. But the text is the revelation of the 'working' of the ideas that caused it and, more importantly, the ideas 'caused to come into being in order to effect the work needed to invent the Architecture'.

The explication of such a 'working' often takes more text than is common in 'picture-captions'. This would unbalance the composition of a printed book by ovewhelming the Main Text with examples of its 'workings-out' in practice. In an electronic book the two sit side by side in perfect formal 'ignorance' of each other's existence save for certain small colourations of the Main Text. Yet they are, in reality, intimately attached to each other - physically by a mere 'click' - intellectualy because reading about the'workings' of the idea in the 'truth' of active designing and building immediately leads to that 'true understanding' of mere theory brought about by the workings of it in real 'cases'.

It is a truism in Architectural Philosophy, which will horrify all but Architects and others who exercise their Profession in the visual half of the brain, that Architects buy books not for their text, but for their illustrations. If the Author intends the Text to be read, he is well-advised to write its main ideas, necessarily as 'slogans', into the picture-captions. Then, if the text and pictures can be put on the same page, the 'slogan' can lead the 'looker' to become a 'reader' of at least the paragraph that lies below the 'headline'. All this is a terrible compositional labour far more onerous and time-consuming that either writing the main text, chosing illustrations or writing their captions. The 'compositional process' interferes with all of these legitimate intellectual activities, merely to try to relate them visually, on the page, to each other. Text is compressed, or illustrations expanded, or vice versa, in order to keep them synchronised on the same double-spread of pages.

All of this labour is abolished with an electronic text. The'looker-Architect' can page down the 'thumbnails', expanding them and reading , or not, their captions. He can flip from picture, to diagram, to Main Text, to footnote. he can forage widely or read closely. He can even type a word into the 'search engine' - in effect the electronically-active index. This will give him a 'reading-list' of relevant essays or parts of essays, like a sheaf of flowers picked-out from the 'textual garden' of the whole 'Site'.

What is becoming clear, I hope, to my reader, who may be, as I am, addicted to books, is that the electronic 'text-garden' is something really new, and of potential utility, especially to those working in this difficult terrain of the verbal-visual divide. It is far more like the reality of the author's understanding as it constantly bridges this ancient gap. The ability to lay down 'Authorised' pathways through the garden, that can transport the reader, as if by teleportation, between any point in it and any other point in it, replicates, with an entirely novel accuracy, the Author's own grasp of his own inventions.

This is not 'vanity'. It is a truth that Commentators and Critics may find unpalatable. With an Author's own Website it becomes difficult for anyone else to write the 'Authoritative' Critique of the Work. Such critiques have to take into account the Authors own 'web of interconnections' between his work and his ideas, his pictures, his diagrams and his text. They become secondary critiques which must, if for no other reason than the brevity imposed by ephemeral media, refer to the Practitioner's own Website as a giant, pre-existing, 'footnote' We can say that with the Web, and electronic text, the 'footnote' is, now (as it always really was!) bigger than any Main Text.

With the novel advent of the 'Practitioner's Website' the work of the Critic is demoted from 'Arbiter of Taste' and 'Inventor of Movements' (pace the ludicrous claims of Charles Jencks to have "invented post modernism"), to someone who mediates, in the ephemeral media, between the Public and the Profession. Whatever loss of authority suffered by the Critic may, we may hope, be more than offset by his Utility. For this function of mediation was always the effective, and readable, Critic's skill and remains the only reason for the existence of his Profession.

His, or her, practice should be aided by the Practitioner's website, rather than supplanted by it. For a Critique, instead of having to labour in the foothills of an idea, can immediately scale to its peaks secure in the knowledge that it will be supported by the extensive 'footnotes' already laid down by the Practitioner. The Critiques of the future, even, to use a favourite of Reyner Banham's knockabout style, the 'immediate future', will use "<url's>" as 'in-text 'footnote references'. For these will, in the electronic version of the text that will always be 'on the Web', actually take the reader, in an electronic instant, precisely to the 'other text' to which the Critic is alluding.



Post-script. Some of my literary friends have been 'aghast' at two aspects of this 'text-garden'.

The first is my seeming profligacy in 'publishing' my ideas outside the historical security of a definite book. They feel that they will all be stolen by 'other writers'. While 'being published' would secure for me the 'ownership' of the ideas in my 'garden'. Perhaps, not being Practitioners, my writer-friends do not undestand that there is nothing in this whole Website, no idea at all, that JOA have not already brought into the world as an Architectural device that is built and in existence. For a practitioner, the 'building' of the idea is the event that both dates it, 'proves' it, and denotes its Authorship. The Text always comes after the event. It is a footnote, but clearly an intellectually necessary one, to the Architectural event proper. This applies equally to both Author as well as Reader. Even a Critic must know that - which is why it was so ludicrous of Jenks to appropriate the 'theory' of all the 'Movements' he used to 'launch'. Doing a literate building is far more difficult than merely having a 'practical' idea. One should show some intellectual respect for the mental processes of Practitioners - even, and maybe especially, if they seem 'odd'.

The state of Architectural theory - wonderfully literate yet largely useless to Practitioners - is due to the fact that Practitioners no longer write it. It is all written 'before the event', by ingenious Literati who can not, or will not, learn from the rites of building. How can they hope to 'decipher' somethng of which they, in reality, know nothing?

The second 'aghastitude' is publishing on the Web at all, for it is seen in many circles as generally reserved to illiterates and pornographers. To which one can only reply, "get out and fill it with texts worth reading". After all, if one deducted such texts from the printed press, would not the same criticism apply?


End of FAQ No. 11: "Publishing",

Return to "The List of FAQ's"".


* JOA can be reached by E-Mail at anthony@johnoutram.com , by telephone on +44 (0)207 262 4862 or by fax on +44 (0)207 706 3804. We also have an ISDN number : +44 (0)207 262 6294.




John Outram