Kojin Karatani and Michael Speaks In Architecture as Metaphor, Kojin Karatani detects a recurrent "will to architecture" that he argues is the foundation of all Western thinking, traversing architecture, philosophy, literature, linguistics, city planning, anthropology, political economics, psychoanalysis, and mathematics. His works, of which Origins of Modern Japanese Literature is the only one previously translated into English, are the generic equivalent to what in America is called "theory. In Architecture as Metaphor, Karatani detects a recurrent "will to architecture" that he argues is the foundation of all Western thinking, traversing architecture, philosophy, literature, linguistics, city planning, anthropology, political economics, psychoanalysis, and mathematics. In the three parts of the book, he analyzes the complex bonds between construction and deconstruction, thereby pointing to an alternative model of "secular criticism," but in the domain of philosophy rather than literary or cultural criticism. His subsequent discussions trace a path through the work of Christopher Alexander, Jane Jacobs, Gilles Deleuze, and others. Finally, amidst the drive that motivates all formalization, he confronts an unbridgeable gap, an uncontrollable event encountered in the exchange with the other; thus his speculation turns toward global capital movement.

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But among these six constructs, one thing is missing: thing as other. I have been assigned to thing as idea-something about which I have no idea what to say. But since I can talk here about anything, I would like to talk instead about thing as other.

What do I mean by thing as other? In the Kantian view, what we call an object is actually a phenomenon rather than a thing. Because the object is already constituted by subjective forms and categories, we cannot know it in itself. However, the thing-in-itself is not mystical in this sense, it is not like what Jacque Lacan called the real.

Rather, it is a plain and secular matter. When Kant developed this concept, he in effect was saying that things exist regardless of our subjectivity, yet we cannot fully grasp them.

But in discussing this concept, he specifically addresses a particular thing: others. We recognize the other person through the body, gestures, and language. These, though, are nothing more than phenomena, not the thing in-itself, which is the subjectivity or freedom of others. Incidentally, freedom in this case does not mean a free society, but rather the autonomy of the will; being free from causality. Others remain opaque to us.

This is the otherness of others. What Kant calls thing-in-itself then is precisely such a free subject. He regards it, therefore, not as a theoretical construct but as a practical and moral issue. As a result, he fell into a kind of skepticism.

Wittgenstein subsequently criticized this view with the observation that when someone gets burned, we rush to treat that person. In other words, the pain of others is first and foremost a moral and practical question. The theoretical question of whether or not we can actually know the pain of others is then irrelevant. Wittgenstein, in this way, implicitly inherited a Kantian problematic.

Just like Kant, he was talking about the other as thing-in-itself. In his first Critique, Kant regards the thing-in-itself as a thing or natural object, whereas in the second, it appears as freedom or personhood. Scholars of Kant have long tried in vain to unify this apparent discrepancy. Yet there is really no enigma here. Kant would not have objected to this argument. In fact, Kant does not preclude others from scientific judgment. He argues that universal natural law is not obtained from exhaustive examinations but by induction from limited cases or singular propositions-so a hypothesis can only be true when it is refutable rather than refuted.

Things as objects never refute; it is others who refute with their data about things. This is to suggest that for a natural law to be true, it requires not only the agreement of others but also the agreement of the unpredictable others of the future. Thus when Kant wrote about thing-in-itself, he was, in fact, implying others. In other words, others are a thing-in-itself, so there is no contradiction, then, between the first and second Critiques.

My own criteria for otherness would be with those who do not share our language. We might, in this way, take foreigners and psychotics as examples of others.

A more extreme example of others would be the dead and the unborn. While it is not entirely impossible to come to some kind of understanding with others who are alive, no matter how different their culture or how insane they may be, it is, however, impossible to do so with the dead and the unborn. Let us apply this to environmental problems. If the capitalist market economy continues as it is, we will no doubt face an environmental crisis on a global scale. In such a situation, it will not be easy for advanced countries to reach an agreement on how to handle the situation.

However, it will be even more difficult for advanced countries to forge an agreement with their world countries. Why should the people of the third world sacrifice themselves and cooperate with the people of advanced countries, whose quality of life caused the crisis, and moreover, forced them to pay for it?

Yet we cannot negotiate with the unborn, who will surely be the ultimate victims of environmental contamination. In Kantian thought, such an attitude is in no way ethical. In contrast, what Jurgen Habermas called communicative reason or public consensus is confined to the West, or at best to more advanced countries.

There is no place here for thing-in-itself as the other. Thus, as a theoretical object, the thing-in-itself is unknowable. Yet certain philosophers argue that we can reach this thing-in-itself through aesthetics. For instance, Henri Bergson believed that one could transcend linguistic articulation and intuit the thing-in-itself as duration. For him, things are images. Heidegger offers another example, distinguishing between thing and object, in effect as another version of the Kantian distinction between thing-in-itself and phenomenon.

But for Heidegger, there was no ethical moment in the thing-in-itself—rather, it disclosed itself in poetry or art. Arguing this point, he offers the example of a painting of a shoe, stating that the painting enables us to see the shoe in itself by bracketing our interest in its practical usage.

But does this really take us to the thing-in-itself? There is really nothing new about this idea of bracketing-it was already presented by Kant in his third Critique, seeing art as a way of looking at things by bracketing our interests. But does the thing-in-itself emerge through the bracketing of such divergent interests as use and exchange value? In never does. Instead, what we find are phenomena, for example, the discovery of beauty or the sublime is a result of subjective imaginative activity.

Therefore, it would be wrong to claim that art reveals the thing-in-itself. What Bergson and Heidegger demand is for us to take an aesthetic stance toward the actual world. Ceding to this demand, over the last ten years there has been a tendency to go back from Jacque Derrida to Heidegger, and from Gilles Deleuze to Bergson.

I have witnessed this over the course of the Any conference. Perhaps one reason for it is that Derrida and Deleuze took a more clearly Marxist position after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Those who instead regress to Bergson or Heidegger are doomed from the outset. It should be noted that when these ideas were realized in politics, the inevitable result was fascism—that is, the aesthetic sublimation of actual class conflicts. In art, to be sure, we view things by bracketing our interests.

However, bracketing is not confined only to art. When we confront the world, we have at least three kinds of simultaneous judgment: cognitive judgment of truth or falsity; moral judgment of good or bad; and aesthetic judgment of pleasure or displeasure. In actuality, these judgments are interwoven and difficult to distinguish; aesthetic judgments, for example, bracket questions of both true and false and good and bad.

In the same way, scientists observe things by bracketing moral and aesthetic judgments; only by this act can the objects of cognition come into existence. This, however, is not limited to the natural sciences. For example, political science since Machiavelli has focused on the effect of political action by bracketing it with moral aspects. Moreover, we can also say that works of find art become economic objects when they are considered only in terms of price.

The scientific, aesthetic, political, and economic stances all come about through bracketing. As a result, a thing appears in various aspects. Nonetheless, it is not a thing-in-itself but a phenomenon. This being the case, where does the thing-in-itself emerge? It emerges only in the ethical stance of bracketing all other dimensions because this is to see the other as a free subject. It does not necessarily follow, however, that an ethical stance assumes priority over all other criteria.

What counts here is not simply bracketing but also un-bracketing. For instance, through a scientific lens, others are so-called objects. To do this requires professional training. Needless to say, after surgery they should remove the brackets. As another example, when we see films whose heroes are Mafia or Yakuza gangsters, it is ridiculous to criticize them for their immorality, just as it is absurd to object to science-fiction films on the basis that they are not scientific enough.

Rather, we bracket other interests at the movie theater. Once you leave the theater, you have to un-bracket. The same is also true of the moral stance. If you adhere to moral principles in assessing the cinematic work at eh movie theater, it does not make you ethical, just foolish.

Therefore, we need to learn both bracketing and un-bracketing at the same time. The same is true of architecture. Architecture, like film, exists on a number of different levels. From a historical viewpoint, architecture first and foremost aims to supply habitable places to shelter human beings from the natural environment.

Second, architecture builds monuments to display religious and political power. Since the ancients, architecture has existed between these two extreme poles. With modernity, however, came the vision of architecture as art. This view could only become possible by bracketing other interests—namely, the practical and the political.

This is not to criticize the discipline but to recognize that architecture has its original dimension and its own language. However, we should be able to undo this bracketing at any time. The history of architecture has essentially centered itself around religious and political monuments, but these aspects are bracketed in its articulation as the history of pure form.


Kōjin Karatani



Kojin Karatani



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Thing as Other (2000)


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