Manfredo Tafuri - Theories and History of Architecture _ Operative Criticism

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Text of Manfredo Tafuri - Theories and History of Architecture _ Operative Criticism

eories and History of Architecture


HARPER & ROW, PUBLISHERSNEW YORK Cambridge Hagerstown Philadelphia San ~raniiscoLondon Mexico City SLo Paulo Sydney


Foreword Note to the second (Italian) edition Note to the fourth (Italian) edition Introduction 1 Modern Architecture and the Eclipse of History




I I179

2 Architecture as 'Indifferent Object' and the Crisis of critical Attention3

Architecture as Metalanguage: the critical Value of the Image 103 Instruments of Criticism Illustrations Index of names

4 Operative Criticism


6 The Tasks of Criticism

Operative Criticism


future. Its verifiability does not require abstractions of principle, it measures itself, each time, against the results obtained, while its theoretical horizon is the pragmatist and instrumentalist tradition. One could add that this type of criticism, by anticipating the ways of

and problems not yet shown (at least, not explicitly so). Its attitude is contesting towards past history, and prophetic towards the future. We cannot pass abstract judgment on operative criticism. We canonly judge it after we have examined its historical origins and measured its effects on contemporary architecture: no other yardstick will do.

In order to find one of the first sources of an operative attitude in modern

142 Theories and History of Architecture

criticism, we will have to go back to Bellori, rather than to pseudoManetti or Vasari. Before Bellori's 'Vite there certainly had been a mmitment by theorists within a group or a movement, in the texts of onimo brunelleschiano and Vasari, for example (as well as in those of omazzo and Serlio); but it had always beenapartialcommitment, often ded and elusive. Vasari himself, although an enemy of the Sangallian circle, felt the need to show some objectivity in the biographyofAntonio il Giovane; in the same way Lomazzo's insults against Serlio are of particular nature, and would disappoint anyone trying to find in them a critical choice in the anti-Mannerist sense. In Bellori's Vite, on the other hand, there is an.apodictical historical hoice. All objectivity is banned and the artistic world is divided into two des: on one side the goodies, Poussin's Classicism and C a r r a c c i ~ ' ~ storicism; on the other the baddies, all the Masters of the Roman aroque, without e ~ c e p t i o nBut . ~ the title of Bellori's volume is Le vile 'pittori, scultori et architetti moderni. Clearly the author does not take history for granted; he does not accept reality as it is and he thinks that critical judgment cannot simply influence the course of history, but must also, and mainly, change it, because its approval or rejection have as much. real value as the work of the artists. What is the difference between Bellori's rejection of Baroque - we should perhaps say rejection of the existence of Baroque - and the strict rejection of the Middle Ages and of Gothic by the theorists ofHumanism and Classicism, as expressed, for example, in the famous letter from Raphael to Leo X?3 The stand of Raphael and the entire culture of Humanist extraction against Gothic serves only to justify rationally the validity and the absoluteness of the classicist code. The partiality and engagement of the artist cannot be called operative, because nothing in them speaks of choices for the future: the letter to Leo % sanctions and theorises a revolution carried out in the previous century, and its value, if any, is as evidence of the continuity of the new tradition founded by Humanism. For Bellori such a generic statement has lost its value. The classicist language, in the mid- 1600s no longer needs justification: what has to be


offers stable values and prospects. The antithesis hidden under the inhibited sixteenth-century debate must explode, become obvious, place the artist at a cross-road, place the critic in the situation of one that,

Operative Criticism


having pointed out the reasons for that antithesis, makes a choice: achoice that is, substantially, a gamble on the future. On one side are Bellori, Poussin, Fklibien, Dubos, and, later, Boileau with his Art poe'tique; on the other Pellegrini with his Belle acutezze, Gracian, Tesauro. Let us put aside, for the moment, any observation on the specific character of the two tendencies, and suspend our judgment as regards their historicity and the general analogies that, in spite of the antithesis, could very well be thereS4 What, besides the theses put forward by Bellori and Tesauro, links these authors, is the coincidence, in their theorising, of what is and what should be, of historical survey and projection of values into the future, of judgment of value and analysis of the phenomena. Their criticism is operative in so far as the system of choices made by them does not presenr: itself as a well founded cognitive process, but rather as a suggested value, or, better, as an aprioridiscriminant between values and non-values. Somehow operative criticism dready contained the seed of anti-historicity in the Baroque Age. At least in this sense: if, like Bellori, in order to make history we start from a well founded and personal order of values, so apodictical as to make superfluous, in the end, any objective survey, we will no doubt, get to an obvious operativity of the critical product, but, at the same time, we will not be able to demonstrate the validity of the proposed choices. Removing Bernini, Borromini and Pietro da Cortona from the historical scene is in fact a self-explanatory gesture of critiquepassionnie. But, having cut any connection with the historicisation of the critical choices, Bellori throws his own choice back into the most absolute relativity; he seems, in fact, to realise unconsciously that any judgment of value has irrationality at its foundation, and, as such, can only shrink fsom fully showing its hand. We have stayed with Bellori not only because his Vile are objectively a formidable historical precedent for modern operative criticism, but also because it is often easier to read objectively the phenomena of the past than to recognise the structures of the phenomena in which we are deeply involved. Nowadays what appears paradoxical in Bellori is, in fact, daily and punctually repeated by the most orthodox operative criticism: ifno one goes so far as to eliminate from his historical treatise figures and happenings of the past, this is certainly not the case with figures and phenomena nearer to us. The result is not all that different from that obtained by Bellori: we know all about the personal choices of contemporary historians, but at the price of introducing serious mythicisations in the corpus of history. And with the gradual demolition'

144 Theories and History of Architecture

of myths, however strongly built - carried out, now, within a few years if not months - one loses the main objective of those histories: operativity, and one generates, at the same time, a symptomatic distrust ofhistoryYs capacity to assume a productive role in the contemporary debate.C

It should not surprise us, then, that the ambiguity between deducl-ive and inductive method is typical of one ofthe most operativetendencies of modern criticism: that of the Illuminist age, at least from Cordernay onwards. It can be shown more clearly by underlining the gap existing between a text like Jacques-Franqois Blondel's Architecture Frangoise (that, although published in 1752is still prescriptive in the Classicalsense and very far from the modern criticism of Diderot's Salons), and Campbell's Vitruvius Britannicus that, with its precocious dates (from 171fonwards), announce the principles of the critique passionnie that found its expression in the theories of Baudelaire.5 Blondel's cautious historicism soon clashed with the new theories of Laugier: Ee livres d9Architecture[Laugier writes in 1765, in controversy with Blondel] exgosent et detaillent les proportions usitees. Els n'en rendent aucune raison capable de satisfaire un esprit sense. L'usage est laseule loi que Ieurs Auteurs ont suivie, et qu'ils nous ont trasmise. E'usage a un empire ~ertain~dans les choses de convention et de fmtaisie; il n'a aucune force dans les choses de goiit et de raisonnement. . . . C'est aux Philosophes 2 porter le flambeau de la raison dans l'obscurit6 des et c'est au principes et des rtgles. E'exkcutionest le propre de 19Artiste, Philosophe qu'appartient la lkgislation. . . . J'entreprends de rendre aux Architectes un service que personne ne leur ;a rendu. Je vais lever un coin du rideau qui leur cache la science des proportions. Si j'ai bien vii les choses, ils en profiteront. Si j'ai ma1 vii, ils me reltveront, la matitre sera discutke et la verit6 se fera jourS6 Not far from Laugier9sposition, Memmo, reports Lodoli9sthought: It is the philosopher that brings the light of reason to the darkness of principles and rules : to him the legislation, to the artist the execution.

Operative Criticism


15. Rochefort, Corinthian order engraved for the Nouveau Traite' de toute 1'Architecture by Cordemoy (1706)

146 Theories and History of Architecture

Poor the artist that is not a philosopher, and even poorer if, not being one himself, from the philosopher he does not take g ~ i d a n c e . ~ The technician of rational analysis and the technician of the form we, then, split into m o different figures: even if 'artist9and 'philosopher'coexist in the same person, the two processes - critical-analytical and configurative - can be isolated and re- joinedonly aposteriori. The critic is the depository of the rationality and of the internal coherenceof language while the alechitect confirms, by his activity, the range of applicability of tha