Canon - (Page 1)
BOOKS for converting people to the cause of his new architecture and for the acquisition of clients and other inﬂuential connections. They also provided him with an important forum to work through his ideas. According to his personal mythology, they were highly spontaneous but, as Tim Benton reveals, like most things to do with the architect, they were the product of meticulous preparation. It was an extremely good idea to write this book. Not only does it make manifest a highly neglected aspect of Le Corbusier’s work, namely his lectures on architecture and urbanism, but it also provides much thoughtprovoking material for anyone who has to stand up and get a point across to a sceptical audience. When interviewed on ﬁlm, Le Corbusier’s speech ﬁnishes, as Benton observes, on an upward lilt, as if anticipating the sound like irrefutable truths and his rather spurious use of equations – for example, “consciousness equals life-purpose equals man”. Sometimes attracting an audience of thousands and lasting for as long as four hours, his lectures must have been great events. Standing before a length of blank paper, he would, chalk in hand, expound on a variety of themes, drawing steadily as he went, illustrating key points with slides, displayed as large as possible and sometimes accompanied by ﬁlms. Containing a great deal of previously unpublished illustrative material, The Rhetoric of Modernism focuses, in its latter part, on the series of ten lectures that Le Corbusier delivered in Buenos Aires between 3 and 19 October 1929. While accuracy and precision here take precedence over literary flourishes, this study of the hard public face of Le Corbusier’s rhetoric inadvertently reveals much of the private man behind the words but finishes, intriguingly, without conclusion. Perhaps more than anything else, this book tells of the trade of research, “signiﬁcant difﬁculties” overcome in a sea of uncharted paper, typed transcripts and drawings inadequate to the task of recreating the events themselves. The ﬁrst appendix is a “Technical note” on the identiﬁcation of manuscripts for the lectures of 1924, which is highly instructive for anybody who spends much time in archives. Published initially in France as Le Corbusier conférencier, the book was awarded the 2008 Prix National du Livre (ex aequo) by the Académie d’Architecture in France. I only wish that more Corbusian research made it from French to English or vice versa, as it so often seems, rather inexplicably, to be secreted behind frontiers of language, and with a great deal lost in translation. Flora Samuel is professor of architecture, University of Shefﬁeld. She is the author of Le Corbusier in Detail (2007), Le Corbusier: Architect and Feminist (2004) and (with Sarah Menin) Nature and Space: Aalto and Le Corbusier (2002). THE CANON CHARLES DICKENS By Raphael Samuel Theatres of Memory Volume 1: Past and Present in Contemporary Culture Sometimes attracting an audience of thousands and lasting for as long as four hours, his lectures must have been great events contradiction to come. Poorly endowed with natural gravitas, Le Corbusier used an armoury of rhetorical devices that did not rely on logic alone to get his (often extremely polemical and unpopular) points across. “Was Le Corbusier a good orator?” asks Benton, who compares the architect’s logic with that of classical rhetoric. Le Corbusier’s ploy was to ﬂatter his listeners, to bring them on side (exordium), before making a no-holds-barred critique of their country or buildings (narratio) and then suggesting a solution (proposition) via his own theories, giving concrete examples for things that might seem very abstract (demonstration), usually ﬁnishing with examples of his own work (conclusio). With ruthless astuteness, Benton has drawn my attention to, in the characteristic tropes of Le Corbusier’s argument, something that I never noticed before – so prevalent are such things in the culture of architecture – namely, his fondness for making his opinions First published in 1994, Raphael Samuel’s collection of loosely afﬁliated essays presents a compelling argument about the nature, purpose and value of historical knowledge and investigation. The book outlines the ways in which the past infuses daily life, and how historians (and all manner of scholars) should investigate this in order to understand popular memory and the “resurrectionary enthusiasms” of society. Samuel is particularly interested in “extra-curricular sources of knowledge”, concentrating often on television but digressing through museums, ﬁlm, folk song and architecture; he looks at sources as varied as The Flintstones, Ladybird books and the photos of Bill Brandt. The range and scope of his investigation allows him to make the compelling case that the past infuses contemporary popular culture. His enthusiasm for Dickens, Liverpool Street Station, retro-chic and photography is infectious, and his range all-encompassing. This diverse scope of reference and discussion, from serious discussions of the rise of history as a discipline to analyses of the ironies of retro-ﬁtted shops, signals an attack on high-culture models of value and signiﬁcance, as well as proving repeatedly that the manifestation of history in popular culture is compelling, strange, contradictory and ethereal. Samuel takes on those who dismiss “heritage” culture and suggests that it was not “Thatcherism in period dress” but something more dynamic with a political potentiality that disdainful scholars missed. The book is a bracing assertion of the historian’s role as obfuscator as well as elucidator, and an impish chapter suggests that all history is akin to forgery, or at least creative fabrication. He argues: “History is an allegorical as well as – in intention at least – a mimetic art”, reminding us how legitimacy can be created through representational strategies. A second volume (of a projected trilogy) was published posthumously in 1998 as Island Stories: Unravelling Britain, engaging with questions of nation and identity and further elucidating the dynamic and crucial centrality of history to people’s lives. Samuel’s work pre-empts contemporary historiographic attention paid to space and architecture, music, image, advertising, sexuality and culture. His hybrid approach, interrogating historiography using the tools of cultural theory as much as social history, has inﬂuenced scholars in disciplines across the humanities, from media studies to drama. A lifelong left-wing historian, along with others of his generation including Christopher Hill and E. P . Thompson, he was a co-founder in 1952 of the journal Past and Present and created the History Workshop movement (1967) while at Ruskin College. The latter provided a forum for experimental, personal and innovative history writing and investigation, founded on a commitment to widening educational possibility and history from below. Samuel’s efforts in these various ventures, as in his writing Theatres of Memory, were to make the compelling case for history as a social form of knowledge. At a time when universities are closing continuing education departments, reneging on widening participation agendas and ignoring mature and non-traditional students, Samuel’s ﬁerce intellectual rigour and socialist historiography are needed more than ever. That said, he might well have been suspicious of his book being considered part of any canon, given that his purpose was to interrogate and undermine notions of authority, legitimacy and the power of a single master narrative. Jerome de Groot is lecturer in Renaissance literature and culture, University of Manchester.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Canon