Reflections on transparency.
Modernity is likened to a magnifying glass.
"Modernity has been haunted... by a myth of transparency" (Vidler: 1994)
‘The Enlightenment Project’ 1668 - 1789
“Enlightenment was defined as the project of dispelling darkness, fear and superstition.” (Spencer: 1998)
"Transparency it was thought, would eradicate the domain of myth, suspicion, tyranny, and above all the irrational..." (Vidler: 1994)
“… an age of classification. Insects, plants, animals and the races of
man were divided into genera, species, and sub-species. It was
commonly supposed that this would lay bare the Divine Order or rational structure beneath the face of nature…” (Honour: 1991)
“The modern man who tattoos himself is a criminal or a
“The evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of
ornament from objects of daily use.”
“Ornament is wasted manpower and therefore wasted health.”
“Ornament can no longer be borne by someone who exists at
our level of culture.”
“The lack of ornament is a sign of intellectual power.”
from Ornament & Crime, Alfred Loos, 1908
‘The International Style’
(“ornament is crime, form follows function, machines for living, truth to materials”)
Ahistorical, irreducible, objective, transparent, universal, definitive, fixed.
One size fits all.
“A method of enquiry which proceeds from the premise that
cultural activity can be approached and analysed
objectively as a science”. (Innes: 1996)
Post Modernity is likened to a mirror.
1) Meaning exists ‘out there’ and is ‘transparent’. Man means Man. Simple.
2) False. If meaning exists ‘out there’ and is ‘transparent’, meaning would
always translate precisely. It doesn’t. (Pinto = horse and ‘small genitals’)
3) Saussure argues that ‘man’ can mean nothing in isolation. Man means man
only because ‘man’ doesn’t mean ‘zebra’. Meaning exists ‘in here’ and is
‘opaque’ with cultural encoding.
4) Saussure concludes meaning is structured from difference.
5) Saussure investigates the system of differentiation (the langue, not the
parole), dismissing the ‘ornament’ of individual use and cultural variety to
get to the ‘real’ or ‘pure’ structure beneath.
6) Levi-Strauss identifies system of difference as functioning through binary
opposites (i.e., man derives its meaning from its opposition to woman).
7) All human interaction – irrespective of time, place and culture - can be
explained by the structure.
8) The structure is transparent.