Myth and Architecture I

I recently came upon something that completely touched and inspired me by it's sheer truth.

In 1988 my late mentor, Lebbeus Woods, gave a lecture in California. He spoke of the lack of a unifying myth within our culture, and that an insatiable desire to consume mass media was destroying us.

While mass media is no longer the primary dish being consumed, we certainly have a veracious appetite that as a culture has yet to be satiated.

Lebbeus' lecture began with a reading from a dead poet-philosopher, from a book written over 100 years ago. Enjoy.

     Whoever wishes to test rigorously to what extent he himself is related to the true aesthetic listener or belongs to the community of the Socratic-critical persons needs only to examine sincerely the feeling with which he accepts miracles represented on the stage: whether he feels his historical sense, which insists on strict psychological causality, insulted by them, whether he makes a benevolent concession and admits the miracle as a phenomenon intelligible to childhood but alien to him, or whether he experiences anything else. For in this way he will be able to determine to what extent he is capable of understanding myth as a concentrated image of the world that as a condensation of phenomena, cannot dispense with miracles. It is probable, however, that almost everyone, upon close examination, finds that the critical-historical spirit of our culture has so affected him that he can only make the former existence of myth credible to himself by means of scholarship, through intermediary abstractions. But without myth every culture loses the healthy natural power of its creativity: only a horizon defined by myths completes and unifies a whole cultural movement. Myth alone saves all the powers of the imagination and of the Apollonian dream from their aimless wanderings. The images of the myth have to be the unnoticed omnipresent demonic guardians, under whose care the young soul grows to maturity and who signs help the man to interpret his life and struggles. Even the state knows no more powerful unwritten laws than the mythical foundation that guarantees its connection with religion and its growth from mythical notions.


         By way of comparison let us now picture the abstract man, untutored by myth; abstract education; abstract morality; abstract law; the abstract state; let us imagine the lawless roving of the artistic imagination, unchecked by any native myth; let us think of a culture that has no fixed and sacred primordial site but is doomed to exhaust all possibilities and to nourish itself wretchedly on all other cultures — there we have the present age, the result of that Socratesism which is bent on the destruction of myth. And now the mythless man stands eternally hungry surrounded by all past ages and digs and grubs for roots, even if he has to dig for them among the remotest antiquities. The tremendous historical need of our unsatisfied modern culture, the assembling around one of countless other cultures, the consuming desire for knowledge — what does all this point to, if not to the loss of myth, the loss of the mythical home, the mythical maternal womb? Let us ask ourselves whether the feverish and uncanny excitement of this culture is anything but the greedy seizing and snatching at food of a hungry man — and who would care to donate anything to a culture that cannot be satisfied no matter how much it devours, and at whose contact the most vigorous and wholesome nourishment is changed into “history and criticism”?


Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, 1872

D.C. Irwin

First Published on LinkedIn on 13 July, 2018

San Francisco, California

D.C. IrwinComment
Myth and Architecture II

It occurs to me that today there is a lack of wonder in our buildings and cities. By traveling, the newness of a place certainly brings a certain amount of, let us say novelty or at best sound-appreciation.

Upon settling-in to a new place; let us say this can be defined as at minimum 3 months time, we can say that we are now living somewhere sans-effervescence. Living in a place and perhaps now at least partially of this place and integrated with our being. This is when we can truly see if we have architecture in a place or simply buildings.

image source  Kellogg-Doolittle House by architect Kendrick Bangs Kellogg

image source Kellogg-Doolittle House by architect Kendrick Bangs Kellogg

How is it that we can recognize the difference? Well, of course it is the feeling in which you get in the pit of your stomach upon entering a space. This can be with your physical body or with your eyes. And I wager this must be measured on the instinctual level twice. Once upon the first chance occurrence and again after living in an area. The reason for the two times is simple. We must see that you have still the mythical, child-like awe that is so easy to loose as an adult.

If after the second time you felt nothing however in the first you were struck with rapture you must review yourself. Have you now seen the true essence of this work? OR Have you simply blocked out the beauty by your sluggish thinking? Only you will know the answer to these questions.

This excitement that one feels– enraptured bliss, is a remarkable experience that transcends normal feelings of space and time. Let it light your way.

D.C. Irwin

11 January, 2019

Joshua Tree, California

D.C. IrwinComment