Architecture and Nihilism: On the Philosophy of Modern Architecture

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Architecture and Nihilism: On the Philosophy of Modern Architecture by Massimo Cacciari, trans. Stephen Sartarelli.

Cacciari Architecture and Nihilism

This volume collects earlier writings by noted critical theorist Massimo Cacciari. A longish introduction by Patrizia Lombardo puts these into an intellectual and political context in the Europe of the 1970s and 1980s. What they demand from the reader, however, is an extensive familiarity with a great deal of Continental text and culture from the beginning of the 20th century. In particular, the history of Vienna and its intellectual luminaries is the basis for much of Cacciari’s discussion. The German sociologist Georg Simmel is a focus of Part I (“The Dialectics of the Negative and the Metropolis”), while Parts II and III are constructed with constant reference to Austrian architect Adolf Loos.

Stephen Sartarelli’s translation from the Italian only gets the anglophone reader just so far, alas. For one thing, Cacciari used prodigious amounts of German for technical purposes in reference to various German thinkers and their ideas. While these terms are usually glossed parenthetically in their first instances, there are so many of them that even I, with quite a few years of German language study to my credit, found them confusing and hard to follow after a while. They are, after all, abstruse rather than quotidian verbiage even in their own language. Beyond this difficulty, there are an assortment of neologisms and coinages that are deployed without explicit definitions. Maybe you already know what “transcrescence” means—if so, you are likely the audience for this book!

Of the three parts, I best liked Part III “Loos and His Angel,” but found it the hardest to follow despite its shorter chapters and closer approach to my own interests and concerns. In Cacciari’s epilogue, I found confirmation that this book did indeed belong in the universe of ideas that I often navigate, with references not just to Nietzsche, but to Derrida, Guenon (!), and Corbin (!!).

I can recommend this book only with the gravest of reservations regarding its intellectual accessibility. [via]

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