Came across an interesting piece by Sven-Olov Wallenstein: ‘Foucault and the Genealogy of Modern Architecture’ in a collection of his essays and lectures (2007). The extract below discusses Franco Rella’s interpretation of heterotopia which can be found in Il dispositivo Foucault (1977) along with other critical essays concerning Foucault’s notion of power.
Sven-Olov Wallenstein’s whole essay can be found on academia.edu.
In the collective volume Il dispositivo Foucault (1977, with contributions from Franco Rella, Manfredo Tafuri, Georges Teyssot, and Massimo Cacciari) Foucault’s conception of power was scrutinized in a highly critical but as we will see ultimately misleading fashion. In this sense the polemic is instructive, since it provides a negative relief against which Foucault’s conception becomes clearer, but also because it articulates parts of its polemic in terms of architectural issues.
In the introduction Franco Rella proposes an almost mystical interpretation, where Foucault’s rejection of the “juridical” (prohibitive, negative) and unitary concept of power leads to the idea that power would be nothing but a plurality of dispositifs that attempt to “suture an empty center,” something wholly “other,” a blank or a void in being. In Rella’s interpretation power becomes a non-place, a “mysterious noumenon,”32 and it transforms all concrete spatial arrangement, even space itself, into a heterotopia: “Space is always ‘other,’ always heterotopic” (12). For Rella this also means that the concept of ideology, and with it any distinction between appearance and reality, the false and the true, tend to become useless: “Transparence is absolute. Thus there is nothing to dissolve. Nothing to analyze.” (13) Power, he says, is for Foucault a “non-place” that can only be grasped through its “infinite heterotopic localizations” (ibid). For Rella, Foucault can never reach any determinate contradictions, and his concept of power in the end becomes useless and counterproductive. In the subsequent essay in the book, “The political economy of the body,” he draws the even sharper conclusion that Foucault’s discourse “in the end becomes not a critical discourse on power, but the discourse of power itself” (55, my italics), a kind of demystifying veil draped over reality so as to hide its true contradictions.
Wallenstein, S. (2007) ‘Foucault and the Genealogy of Modern Architecture’ in Essays, Lectures. Stockholm: Axl Books, 362-404.
Cacciari, M., Rella, F., Tafuri and M. Teyssot, G. (1977) Il dispositivo Foucault. Venice: Cluva.
Defert, D. (1997) ‘Foucault, Space, and the Architects’ in Politics/Poetics: Documenta X – The Book, Ostfildern-Ruit: Cantz Verlag, 274-283.
Tafuri, M. (1987) The Sphere and the Labyrinth, London: MIT Press.
Teyssot, G. (1998) ‘Heterotopias and the History of Spaces’ in M. Hays (ed.), Architecture Theory since 1968, London: MIT Press, 298- 310.
11 June 2015