Finding Rifts – A Slow Dance


Reading the Room

Volume 7, Issue 07
April 7, 2022

Someone once said: writing about music is like dancing about architecture.

Fortunately, others rejected the naïve irony.1 Writing about music is as significant as dancing (1) about (2) architecture (3).

Reading the sentence backward adds an easy, playful twist: architecture about dancing (3, 2, 1) is as significant as music about writing.

But to find a rift—the fissure in meaning from which the new flows—we should misread the sentence altogether. When we observe its rifts carefully and break them up a little more, we can unveil at least one silent object (X) hidden in the making: music writes about us like architecture dances about us (3, 1, 2, X). Both do it all the time, in a shimmering ground state and pulsating on a different frequency.

The sentence above is only one example, but everything is broken. There is a rift, an open fissure, in every being, room, and building. The unknown X constantly shifts our reality through a thick layer of ambiguity. Gödel’s incompleteness theorem shows how a system needs to malfunction somewhere to function at all.2 The Turing machine, a blueprint for digital computers, proved him right.3 And what accounts for mathematics and computer science is true for language, too: systems fail to prove themselves as consistent. So misreading is our primary tool to hint at the malfunctions required for things to exist in the first place.4 It cracks the static and brittle ideologies structuring past modes of reading. A countering, flimsy feeling of the future follows.

The vibratory energy of language also translates to the material level (or vice versa): quantum theory tells us that everything consists of energy waves.5 Our bodies are in a vibrating, quantum-mechanical ground state preceding any particular figuration, which Julia Kristeva calls the “chora,” the pre-lingual chaos of feelings and perceptions—our state of purest materiality—or the dance of being alive.6 Before any thought, our bodies feel the room, resonating and flickering. One of our own malfunctions emerges from this dance. We call it anxiety.

Yet the room around you, too, has that humming ground state.7 Architecture emerges from rhythm and rhyme in material like poetry from prose, and you can observe it: sequences, arrangements, or pauses. Of course, we could actually perform a dance to fuse our bodies with the room into a single agent.8 But the point is that pulsation exists before architecture: it acts on you before you can even think about it. That room around you, seemingly solid and steady, is really a shimmering dance of liquid energy, constantly rematerializing from the sticky sap of relationships and the forcefield of ideas—just like your body, but at a different frequency. Although the two often get confused, time is more than its measurement, and likewise, vibratory rhythms pulsate before their measurement. Forever trying to close the gap, the room translates us through a slow dance: an intimate, mutual translation that can be painful all the same. When the dance is not a choice, space becomes coercive.9 But the future haunts the misread hiding somewhere off meaning’s edge. Like oppressive principles structuring the past, the future is with us in the dance and shimmers through its ever-crumbling layers. We find rifts because sentences, rooms, buildings, and spaces are never static, but continually opening up to new dancing partners.10 If you look away, they dance about you anyways—about anything, in fact. Music wrote about it.

Robin V Hueppe is an urban designer (MSc) in the Present Future program (’22) at Rice Architecture.

  1. “The line on ‘dancing about architecture’ is often quoted to suggest that writing about music is silly; to me, it is a way of saying that writing about music is a form of writing, … it is an activity that we should, and must, pursue.” See Vance Maverick and Brian Belet, “Dancing about Architecture?,” Computer Music Journal 17, no. 1 (1993): 4–5, esp. 4. ↩︎
  2. The incompleteness theorem shows that any consistent system has at least one true but unprovable value or statement. See Kurt Gödel, “Über formal unentscheidbare Sätze der Principia Mathematica und verwandter Systeme I,” Monatshefte für Mathematik und Physik (1931): 173–198, esp. 175. ↩︎
  3. Alan Turing’s halting problem proved that computer science is similarly flawed, which still has implications for computer-based problems today. Within the algorithmic system of Turing machines, certain programs cannot exist. See Alan M. Turing, “On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem,” Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society, Series 2 (1937): 230–265, esp. 259. ↩︎
  4. One of the recurring arguments of Derridean deconstruction is that all readings are misreadings. Some are simply more established than others. Without an “outside-text,” or any metaprogram explaining the program, misreadings are the grounds on which we build meaning. See Jacques Derrida and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Of Grammatology, Corrected Edition (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998). ↩︎
  5. The binary of the moving and the fixed can no longer be sustained. Tiny objects at their lowest energy level still vibrate without mechanical causation. See Peter Rodgers, “Nanomechanics: Welcome to the quantum ground state,” Nature Nanotechnology 5 (2010): 245. ↩︎
  6. Julia Kristeva, “Revolution in Poetic Language,” in The Kristeva Reader, ed. Toril Moi (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), 89–136. ↩︎
  7. Architecture precipitates as crystals from the solution between lifeforms. See Timothy Morton, “Dancing About Architecture,” Kerb Journal 28 (2020): 48–51. ↩︎
  8. Ivan L. Munuera, “An Organism of Hedonistic Pleasures: The Palladium,” Log 102–112 (2017): 105. ↩︎
  9. “Where he goes the space follows him.” Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Minnesota: Graywolf Press, 2014), 116. ↩︎
  10. For just one out of many examples, see Esra Akcan, Open Architecture. Migration, Citizenship and the Urban Renewal of Berlin-Kreuzberg by IBA 1984/87 (Basel: Birkhäuser, 2018). ↩︎

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Volume 7, Issue 07
April 7, 2022