The Diffused Fortress II: Diagram


[ Part I ]

The significance of Viollet-le-Duc’s analysis is that he describes the problem of fortification as a morphogenetic flux. The fortress is not an immutable architectural type, but a pattern which forms and then dissipates in a reciprocal relationship with various generative pressures (here primarily the increasing range of artillery and speed of infantry movement). In Viollet-le-Duc’s thinking, things are typically seen to begin from some rudimentary point and develop towards complexity and refinement. In the case of the fortress, however, he encounters a force which tends towards dissipation. In this respect the dispersal of the fortress is an uncharacteristic problem for Viollet-le-Duc, and marks its importance as a schismatic architectural event. According to Viollet-le-Duc, there had been a general unwillingness “to realise exactly the new state of things produced by artillery of long range” (1876: 367).

It is now taken as a commonplace that military strategies based on front lines are obsolete. Paul Virilio, in his Speed and Politics (1977) cites von Metch’s assertion: “In total war, everything is a front!” (Virilio, 2006: 96). Virilio, advances the argument that warfare is no longer a limited engagement between clearly defined armies, but is essentially a logistical conflict. Vauban is not simply a designer of fortresses, according to Virilio, but a logistician who believes “that the basis of war is geo-political and universal, that human geography should depend not on chance but on organisational techniques able to control vast spaces” (Virilio, 2006: 42). Virilio describes Vauban’s approach as the construction of a “topological universe” comprised of mechanisms which receive, transform, and return the shock of attack. This is exactly how Viollet-le-Duc’s account should be understood: the point is not to construct a line of enclosure and defense, but to administer an entire territory, polarising it, activating it as a strategic domain, and mapping it through the careful application of geometry. The efficacy of the fortress relies on the space it projects, rather than the space it contains.

In Deleuze and Guattari’s terms, Viollet-le-Duc is describing a deterritorialisation of the fortress wall. In their seminal account of the smooth space of the war machine, Deleuze and Guattari, drawing heavily on Virilio, write: “one longer goes from one point to another, but rather holds space beginning from any point: instead of striating space, one occupies it with a vector of deterritorialisation in perpetual motion.” (1987: 387). Viollet-le-Duc describes the goal in congruous terms: “The important point is to possess an accurate acquaintance with the ground to be defended…  an army ought to be able to fortify itself everwhere, and take advantage of every position” (1876: 374). The wall of the fortress is distributed into open space, its functions transferred to the territory itself. The true power of Viollet-le-Duc’s observation is, as Deleuze and Guattari observe, not that the army can be fortified anywhere, but that it is fortified everywhere.

One of the symptoms of this transfer is the move from planning individual fortresses to the maintenance of a diagram. It is no accident that Viollet-le-Duc, who is fascinated by tectonic detail and fills his books with sections and engravings of joints, employs the logistical device of the diagram here. The fortress is no longer an edifice, but a set of logistical and geometric relations governed by speed of movement, range of artillery, landform, facility of communication, angles of fire. Virilio notes the alliance between diagrammatic thinking and the problem of the fortress, remarking that one of the earliest flowcharts is Charles de Fourcroy’s ‘Sketch for a poleometric table’ (1782). What counts under this new logistical regime is the ability to maintain the cohesion of a diagram. Benjamin Bratton describes Virilio’s attitude to two of the archetypal spaces of modernity: the bunker and the camp: “Both are hygenic, defensive… both spaces, even as they are often architecturally identical, are in their way zones of pure logistics. They are sites where the only compulsion is the execution of governance on a raw mass, mobilizing it, diagramming it.” (in Virilio, 2006: 19).


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