Krauss versus Latour on the singularity of objects.


Peter Eisenman on the “autonomy” of architecture:

[Rosalind] Krauss has said that to preserve the singularity of objects we must cut them off from their previous modes of legitimation. This idea will be seen to be important to any project of autonomy (p. 90).

This is completely counter to Bruno Latour’s description of objects (he calls them “actants” to remove the connotation of passivity), which is that they become progressively more singular as they increase their attachments. Harman describes Latour’s position:

Actants are always completely deployed in their relations with the world, and the more they are cut off from these relations, the less real they become (p. 19).

Krauss’s statement (and Eisenman’s use of it) seem naïve to me. Overcoming oppressive modes of legitimation and authority is great, but to extend this to the general claim that objects are more themselves by being more cut off is essentialism.


2 thoughts on “Krauss versus Latour on the singularity of objects.

  1. Latour’s position is very interesting to consider socially as well. I don’t study architecture, but can pieces be considered to have internal lives? For instance, it is clear that a person “becoming” or evolving identity is reliant on his or her interaction with others, but this is clearly a mufti-faceted and reflexive on-going process that includes the internal dialogs and temporal events of the individual and the people and objects he are she interacts with. So, while the person is physically most singular in isolation, the singularity is only known in consummation. Could the same be said of objects?

  2. Hi Jeff. The idea of an internal life is counter to how I read Latour. He emphasises the externality of relations, and the flatness of relations. Objects, he suggests are like ‘black boxes’ that can be opened to reveal more objects. My phone can be taken as an object — it operates as a unit with capabilities and properties of its own; but it can also be opened up to expose the circuits, antennas, casings, switches, etc. In the classic sense of parts and wholes, these are parts that only take their significance from being elements of a ‘greater’ whole. But the being of the LCD screen in my phone is not exhausted by the strong relationship it has to the phone as a whole — its manufacture had environmental effects, effects on the person who sits at the LCD-fitting station of the factory, and it could be removed and used for an infinite number of other things. The LCD panel is not less than the phone as a whole. Latour repudiates the whole theory of parts and wholes. No object (phone, building or person) is more partial or more whole than any other object, only more or less connected.

    So for me, it’s not a matter of pieces having internal lives, but external lives.


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