Common sense aesthetics/ethics

A central theme in my dissertation is that contemporary critical urban theory must grapple with three dimension: political economy, ethics, and aesthetics. I certainly did not embark on my project from that perspective; like many, I was steeped in reading about neoliberalism. However, as I approached my case study from an archaeological perspective — that is, by bracketing out truth and value claims, and letting the case speak for itself — I was able to see these elements.

Now, post-dissertation, and in the middle of a heavy teaching load — it would be considered 1.5 FTE paid at the rate of 0.5 FTE with no benefits if you’re curious about how the University of Washington treats its hired guns — I am trying to find ways to efficiently publish and teach. Translation is fast becoming one of my primary interests and in my search for articles on feminist/queer theory and the built environment, I came across an article by Paul (formerly Beatriz) Preciado entitled, “Mies-conception la maison Farnsworth et le mystère du placard transparent” (“Mi(e)s-conception The Farnsworth House and the Mystery of the Transparent Closet”). I generally stay far from architectural theory, but Preciado has interested me for some time, so I decided to translate the article and assign it to my class next quarter, while also searching for a place to publish it. Luckily for my efficiency, it was originally written in Spanish, which I can still read faster than French.

In tracking down the quotations that Preciado translated in Spanish for the article, I found this gem in a famous article by Elizabeth Gordon — “The Threat to the Next America” — on modernist architecture that I wanted to share, because of the “common sense” linkage between ethical and aesthetic realms.

“What I want to tell you about has never been put into print by us or any other publication, to my knowledge. Your first reactions will be amazement, disbelief, and shock. You will say, “It can’t happen here! But hear me out. You may discover why you strongly dislike some of the so-called modern things you see. You may suddenly understand why you instinctively reject designs that are called ‘modernistic.’ For you are right. It’s your common sense speaking. For these things are bad – bad in more ways than in their lack of beauty alone.”

I’m not ready to offer any specific comments on this yet, but I can say that Preciado’s fascinating article likens Gordon’s analysis to “outing” someone. I just wanted to bookmark it for now. I’ll post a rough translation when it’s done.

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