Lines of Archi­tec­tur­al Potency

Thanos Zartaloudis

I. Life-Lines

For human beings the abil­i­ty to live (liv­ing) and the exer­cise of that abil­i­ty (liv­ing well) are dis­tinct, though inti­mate­ly inter­de­pen­dent. Each time, in the sin­gu­lar for every human being expe­ri­ence of such an exer­cise, more pos­si­bil­i­ties (or, as I shall call them, poten­tial­i­ties) are expe­ri­enced than can be actu­alised. We need to, in a rel­a­tive sense, choose one poten­tial­i­ty each time. Yet this entails risks, giv­en that as a species we are aware that we can choose and could have cho­sen dif­fer­ent­ly than what is or was actu­alised. We become aware of this risk in a myr­i­ad of ways, friv­o­lous ones as well as more seri­ous, prospec­tive­ly as well as ret­ro­spec­tive­ly, rang­ing from our the­o­ret­i­cal con­tem­pla­tion as to what could have been”, to per­ma­nent psy­cho­so­mat­ic con­di­tions and con­se­quences. Human beings are, fur­ther­more, both with­in the poten­tial­i­ty-actu­al­i­ty of liv­ing, in its rel­a­tive sen­si­ble imme­di­a­cy and com­plex­i­ty, and at the same time in a state of con­tem­pla­tive inde­ter­mi­na­cy: our con­tem­pla­tion or intel­lect is not pre­de­ter­mined by the imme­di­a­cy of being alive or liv­ing (at least not in an absolute or com­plete way; and cer­tain­ly not in a ful­ly express­ible or sensed way). Oth­er­wise we would be entire­ly (pre)determined by our mere” liv­ing and we would have noth­ing to con­tem­plate as well as noth­ing to do”. 

The pow­er (in oth­er words, the poten­cy, abil­i­ty) of the intel­lect needs to be first used” by a human being, and thus be medi­at­ed (i.e. made one’s own”); which means that our pow­er of the intellect/​contemplation (as far as it is expressed in lin­guis­tic being) is not only affect­ed by our own liv­ing in its imme­di­a­cy (non-lin­guis­tic being), but gives it a cer­tain form (includ­ing the very sense or illu­sion of choice” in itself). It is pre­cise­ly because our” liv­ing is not imme­di­ate­ly our own” from the start (i.e. it is sub­ject to an appro­pri­a­tion), that liv­ing well remains a ques­tion for us (an objec­tive­ly unan­swer­able ques­tion in any ulti­mate sense) to the point that liv­ing well” can be defined as the gen­er­al hori­zon of pos­si­bil­i­ties. Hence, human beings expe­ri­ence an inevitable scis­sion between the so-called imme­di­a­cy of the real” and its con­tem­pla­tive appropriation/​mediation in lin­guis­tic expres­sion (the sub­ject that says I”). Con­tem­pla­tion is the name for the bat­tle­ground of this scis­sion and the place where it can be indi­cat­ed as such. How this scis­sion is to be thought is, then, the essen­tial ques­tion of phi­los­o­phy and ethics, and I would like to argue here that this is so for archi­tec­ture also when it reflects on what it can do” (its pow­er to plan and order spa­tial con­fig­u­ra­tions). Archi­tec­tur­al the­o­ry is, thus, nei­ther neu­tral and apo­lit­i­cal, nor a mere side-kick to archi­tec­tur­al practice.

This scis­sion, under­stood as a dual state of being, was observed ear­ly on by the Ancient Greeks and it had a num­ber of sig­nif­i­cant con­se­quences in phi­los­o­phy, sci­ence, pol­i­tics, the arts and ethics. Philo­soph­i­cal­ly it marks (as it is marked by) the west­ern under­stand­ing of pow­er and being (and of human being under­stood as an exis­tent being-in-pow­er, a being that has a simul­ta­ne­ous exis­tence as a pow­er, i.e. as its oth­er poten­tial­i­ties). An under­stand­ing that emerges most clear­ly, as we shall see below, through Aristotle’s attempt to deci­pher the sci­ence of nat­ur­al and sen­si­ble being. There is, then, I pro­pose a thin, almost invis­i­ble, crit­i­cal line of dis­tinc­tion that has defined the west­ern par­a­digm of what it means to be and, by exten­sion, to act (which, inter­est­ing­ly, was orig­i­nal­ly sig­ni­fied for the Greeks by the verb to use–chrē­sis, chrēsthai–a pow­er), to cre­ate or trans­form (to become), based on an under­stand­ing of being as pow­er (a poten­tial­i­ty and an actu­al­i­ty of being). 

Aristotle’s phi­los­o­phy estab­lished the dis­tinc­tion between being as poten­tial­i­ty (dynamis) and being as actu­al­iza­tion (energheia, ent­elecheia) (Meta­physics 1009a32–36). This is based on the (onto­log­i­cal) obser­va­tion that sen­si­ble beings are beings of both actu­al­i­ty and poten­tial­i­ty. It should be not­ed that Aristotle’s whole sci­ence (epistēmē) of physics depend­ed on this and the key ques­tion was: how is one to explain the poten­tial­i­ty or capac­i­ty of some­thing in its com­ing-to-be? And this was a key ques­tion since poten­tial­i­ty when not actu­al­ized was thought by some philoso­phers of his time in terms of actu­al­i­ty only. Poten­tial­i­ty or pow­er was seen as exhaust­ed in reality/​realization, and was con­sid­ered as a weak­ness” that could nev­er be shown in its exis­tence as a poten­cy. Realization/​reality once com­plete,” as the Ancients would have it, had no need to think about poten­tial­i­ty in itself, since it sta­bilised being in actuality. 

This may have led also to the unin­tend­ed con­se­quence of the way in which real­i­ty became con­ceived in moder­ni­ty as a modal­i­ty of deter­min­is­tic func­tion­al­ism and effi­cien­cy, and ulti­mate­ly as an iden­ti­ty or rep­re­sen­ta­tion. In addi­tion, it should be not­ed that already in Aris­to­tle the under­stand­able philo­soph­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion (for rea­sons of log­i­cal analy­sis) of the hav­ing” of a pow­er (i.e. the mere pos­ses­sion” of a poten­cy or pow­er) and its actu­al exer­cise or enact­ment (actu­al­i­sa­tion), may be at the heart of the unin­tend­ed (and ulti­mate­ly mis­lead­ing) sep­a­ra­tion in moder­ni­ty between the­o­ry and prax­is (or thought and real­i­ty, form and mate­ri­al­i­ty) that to this day trou­bles the very sense of what con­tem­pla­tion or the­o­ry is in its prac­tice (includ­ing that of archi­tec­tur­al the­o­ry as an activ­i­ty and dis­ci­pline). Instead, think­ing of action/​creation as a con­junc­tion between poten­tial­i­ty and actu­al­i­ty means that both poten­tial­i­ty and actu­al­i­ty are actu­al, exis­tent and that between them is not a rela­tion of with­draw­al or weak­ness, but a con­sti­tu­tive pas­sion of a reality/​realization that is always risky, con­tin­gent and imper­fect. To use an image: to the illu­sion­ary iden­ti­ty and solid­i­ty of the actu­al, the real (and the sup­posed nor­ma­tive dis­junc­tion of real­ly” act­ing, pur­pose­ful­ly” decid­ing, design­ing as pro­duc­ing the true” etc.) poten­tial­i­ty is the air flow that runs through an actu­al­i­ty that is jagged with exits and entries, porous, incom­plete, ren­der­ing all claims to mas­tery, total­i­ty, author­i­ty and so forth as only tem­po­rary fig­u­ra­tions of authen­tic­i­ty. The poten­cy of cre­ativ­i­ty, nei­ther an excess, a weak­ness or lack in being, is ren­dered, in part, vis­i­ble in and to our con­scious and uncon­scious con­tem­pla­tion as the most elu­sive con­sti­tu­tive ele­ment of our being’s exis­tence: the exis­tence of poten­cy, our exis­tence in poten­cy. Ren­der­ing the actu­al­i­ty of poten­cy, mas­ter­less, use­able and spa­tial­ly com­po­si­tion­al is, it seems to me, architecture’s con­tri­bu­tion towards living-well.

My core aim in engag­ing with dynamis or pow­er in the dual sense of (being in) poten­tial­i­ty and (being in) actu­al­i­ty, is to show that poten­tial being par­tic­i­pates in being (and does not lag behind real­i­ty or actu­al­i­ty as the negat­ed oth­er of the cre­at­ed). Which means that poten­tial being, as one of the ways in which we and things exist, is para­dox­i­cal­ly exis­tent along and with­in the actu­alised. Which is anoth­er way of say­ing, more tech­ni­cal­ly, that non-being par­tic­i­pates in being, the unthought par­tic­i­pates in thought, the unde­signed par­tic­i­pates in the designed. How to think of this dual sense of being remains a core task of the­o­ris­ing, of con­tem­plat­ing con­tem­pla­tion” and poten­ti­at­ing it. Par­tic­i­pa­tion marks the very nature of con­tem­pla­tion as an expe­ri­en­tial activ­i­ty when under­stood against the con­ven­tion­al dis­tinc­tion between mat­ter and form (as that of an out­side and an inside).1 In addi­tion, it marks the need of ped­a­gog­i­cal con­tem­pla­tion to be made more wide­ly avail­able to archi­tec­ture stu­dents and archi­tects to engage with the lines of archi­tec­tur­al poten­cy affir­ma­tive­ly and not con­fine and sti­fle its prac­tices to its discipline’s and the built environment’s cur­rent present as the only motor of reality.

II. Act!

It could be said that a dis­ci­plined archi­tec­ture due to its own func­tion­al dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion” (Niklas Luh­mann) in moder­ni­ty enacts its end” through its self-extrac­tion from a wider exis­ten­tial potency—its gen­er­al (by def­i­n­i­tion polit­i­cal) pow­er of creativity—when it replaces this expe­ri­ence of loss by procur­ing an effi­cient, but much more lim­it­ed in descrip­tive and nor­ma­tive scope, self-val­i­da­tion for itself as a techne, as an end in itself. This is, per­haps, even more depress­ing an expe­ri­ence today when archi­tec­ture, for the most part, thinks of itself as near-exclu­sive­ly serv­ing and sus­tain­ing the axis of pro­duc­tion (reac­tu­al­i­sa­tion) and com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion (depo­ten­tial­iza­tion). What bet­ter start­ing point, then, in order to rethink this par­a­digm of pow­er (of archi­tec­tur­al think­ing and prac­tice), oth­er than by re-exam­in­ing its foun­da­tion­al for­mu­la­tion as dynamis and energheia in Aris­to­tle (Meta­physics 1069b19–20). A para­dox­i­cal def­i­n­i­tion of poten­tial­i­ty (dynamis), giv­en that a poten­tial­i­ty, by def­i­n­i­tion, is, to put it in a mod­ern sense, a pos­si­bil­i­ty” that exists; though a poten­tial­i­ty is not to be con­fused with a mere pos­si­bil­i­ty. Such a def­i­n­i­tion of pow­er draws with­in it a line (and hence a rela­tion) between what could be called an exis­tent (and not mere­ly pos­si­ble or prob­a­ble) being of poten­tial­iza­tion. His­tor­i­cal­ly, the pow­er of exis­tence itself (or the real) has been sub­ject to an under­stand­able line of scis­sion between what is actu­al” and what is poten­tial” giv­en that log­i­cal­ly what is poten­tial is always thought in rela­tion to an actu­al­i­ty. Yet, what may be a log­i­cal pri­ma­cy of actu­al­i­ty became in long moder­ni­ty an onto­log­i­cal motor of truth or real­i­ty pro­duc­tion on the basis of the state of things, includ­ing of polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic and archi­tec­tur­al truth pro­duc­tion (of the sta­tus quo and its preser­va­tion), which led to a mis­un­der­stand­ing of poten­tial­i­ty as some­thing that once actu­al­ized belongs to a repro­ducible past, defutured. 

How­ev­er, in the orig­i­nal for­mu­la­tion in Aris­to­tle, read here in a wider sense than he intend­ed, poten­tial­i­ty as a philo­soph­i­cal and eth­i­cal prob­lem is pre­cise­ly that of a poten­tial­i­ty which is co-exis­tent with, rel­a­tive to but not reducible or exhaustible in actuality—and this becomes the ker­nel of his Meta­physics. Aris­to­tle, in oth­er words, dis­cov­ers that there is an inter­nal con­sis­ten­cy and con­ti­nu­ity to the com­ing to be of a pow­er despite its para­dox­i­cal nature, a pow­er that is both pas­sive and active, resis­tant and creative. 

But how are we to think of such a para­dox­i­cal exis­tence of non-being (or of the unthought), that has, through a polit­i­cal­ly con­scious mis­un­der­stand­ing, crip­pled the pub­lic pol­i­tics of cre­ativ­i­ty, includ­ing, that of archi­tec­ture? A cre­ativ­i­ty that wills to pro­duce a near per­ma­nent­ly exploita­tive built envi­ron­ment, estrang­ing build­ings and their users from their poten­cy. In con­trast, a poten­cy or pow­er, that as we will see below with Aris­to­tle, is as much a dynamis (poten­tial­i­ty) as an ady­namia (impo­ten­tial­i­ty). Pow­er con­ceived as dynamis/​adynamia, in Aris­to­tle is gen­uine­ly dynam­ic, in that one can always locate an avail­able way to not act at all, or to act dif­fer­ent­ly. And it seems that the obses­sion with solid­i­fied, repro­ducible action, the exhaus­tion of human as well as objec­tive poten­cy has estranged us first from this nec­es­sar­i­ly risky dynamism of poten­cy. In this light, Gior­gio Agam­ben dis­tress­ing­ly asks: how are we to avoid being impov­er­ished by our estrange­ment from impo­ten­tial­i­ty”2? I would like to pro­pose that we can attempt to do that, as a pre­lim­i­nary the­o­ret­i­cal step, by explor­ing what Aris­to­tle thought of potency/​power, in order to under­stand the dynam­ic exis­tence of/​in creation.

Mar­tin Hei­deg­ger in The Let­ter on Human­ism writes: We must free our­selves from the tech­ni­cal inter­pre­ta­tion of think­ing. The begin­nings of that inter­pre­ta­tion reach back to Pla­to and Aris­to­tle. They take think­ing itself to be a techne, a process of reflec­tion in ser­vice to doing and mak­ing” (1977: p.194). This may be to an extent true and while it may have been much lat­er uti­lized to con­demn the tech­nai as mere instru­men­tal­iza­tions, my inter­est lies in what may be one of the key ele­ments to this tech­ni­cal” or instru­men­tal­ized con­cep­tion of (archi­tec­tur­al) think­ing. And I have in mind the pre­dom­i­nance of an anx­ious ide­ol­o­gy of mas­tery in action. That is, a propen­si­ty to define being in terms of doing/​working in an illu­sion­ary over-deter­mined actu­al­iza­tion. To such an extent, even, that it forms a cer­tain activism” of a kind which sep­a­rates, it is my con­tention, whether con­scious­ly or not, the present from the future (defu­tur­ing it). The par­a­digm of mas­tery-in-action in west­ern thought, in claim­ing to enact the future, can­cels, in the name of a delu­sion­al demi­ur­gic mas­tery, the plurivoc­i­ty of the very nature of the future. 

It should be made clear from the start, with ref­er­ence to Aristotle’s con­cep­tion of poten­cy (dynamis), that the expres­sion exis­tent futures” does not project a nihilis­tic sense of unlim­it­ed futu­ri­ty, or some naive­ly open realm of infi­nite pos­si­bil­i­ty. A neces­si­ty derives, nat­u­ral­ly, from the mat­ter or nature of an object that can be pro­duced” or a sub­ject that can be con­struct­ed”, with a giv­en mate­r­i­al con­di­tion­al­i­ty which is nev­er unlim­it­ed, or infi­nite­ly open to any forms and uses. But here I am think­ing, to be more pre­cise, of poten­tial­i­ty (pow­er, dynamis) with par­tic­u­lar regard not to the poten­cy of things (or mat­ter itself), but that of thought/​theory (includ­ing archi­tec­tur­al thought); a con­tem­pla­tive poten­cy dif­fer­ent in nature to that of an object or mate­r­i­al. In oth­er words, the phrase exis­tent futures” does not invite us to mere­ly say anoth­er world or build­ing is/​was pos­si­ble” (lead­ing us to a spec­trum of ret­ro­spec­tive or pro­jec­tive deci­sion­ism), but rather to locate in the actu­al present”, the here and now, the oth­er side of a dual motor of being that enables think­ing and imag­in­ing anoth­er world or build­ing in the poten­cy of an act, with and despite of its cur­rent actu­al­i­sa­tion. It is to recon­di­tion the future as the enabling con­cept of the present (“what is poten­tial can become actu­al”) and, at the same time, to sus­tain (by design to the extent pos­si­ble) the con­tin­u­ous exis­tence of the future in the actu­al­iza­tion of a present (“what is present can become poten­tial­ized anew, chal­lenged, cri­tiqued, reimag­ined and so forth”).3

It is with this in mind that I turn atten­tion to Aristotle’s attempt to, among else, think in a con­sis­tent man­ner the prob­lem of pow­er (dynamis, poten­cy) in the sense of the way in which nat­ur­al mate­ri­als, as well as, more cru­cial­ly for my pur­pos­es, sen­si­ble beings and thought itself (“rea­son”, learned capac­i­ties”) can under­go change or trans­for­ma­tion (or what in clas­si­cal phi­los­o­phy was called the rela­tion between non-being and being). If Aris­to­tle noticed, in some sense in con­trast to his pre­de­ces­sors, that the use of, for exam­ple, a mate­r­i­al can lead to a range of objects which are present (exis­tent) in poten­tial­i­ty pri­or to their actu­al­iza­tion (as well as para­dox­i­cal­ly after­wards by the fact that poten­cy is still relat­ed to its being ful­filled”), his wider inno­v­a­tive con­tri­bu­tion was as to how to think of such a trans­for­ma­tion, and its for­ma­tive poten­cy, in onto­log­i­cal terms, or in the terms of the being of exis­tent futures.

Lisa Lan­drum in her nice­ly con­ceived review out­line of the ancient Greek ref­er­ences to archi­tects and archi­tec­ture in Pla­to and Aris­to­tle, titled Before Archi­tec­ture: Archai, Archi­tects and Archi­tec­ton­ics in Pla­to and Aris­to­tle”4, offers a reminder of two cru­cial points when con­tem­plat­ing, what I would call, architecture’s tightrope line of thought” between the tech­ni­cal and the polit­i­cal, as this issue invites us to reflect upon. With ref­er­ence to Aristotle’s Pol­i­tics, Lan­drum apt­ly quotes Aris­to­tle stat­ing in book 7: “[the archi­tects (tous architek­tonas), through their think­ing (tais dianoiais), are] most tru­ly said to act” (1325b20–24).5 Here I would like to add empha­sis to the ref­er­ence to archi­tec­tur­al think­ing as an act; and to under­line the impor­tance of this think­ing, in Aristotle’s Physics and Meta­physics, of action (as energheia/​entelecheia and also in the sense of prax­is in his Ethics and Pol­i­tics). This is to remind, being a mere observ­er who hap­pens to have taught in an archi­tec­ture school, of the lines that quite lit­er­al­ly draw and redraw, set and can­cel poten­cy and actu­al­i­sa­tion, between archi­tect­ing as a pub­lic trans­for­ma­tive social good, and archi­tect­ing as a pri­vate cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment of, essen­tial­ly, the mar­ke­ti­za­tion of actu­al­i­ty and its defu­tur­ing of the future. Espe­cial­ly at a time, and for a long time now, when the mar­ket and the good” have merged and are almost inde­ci­pher­able. Yet, I wish to argue, ulti­mate­ly, that the pow­er or poten­cy inher­ent in thinking/​theorising archi­tec­ture is inti­mate­ly asso­ci­at­ed with what in old-fash­ioned philo­soph­i­cal lan­guage was called virtue, in the sense that appre­ci­at­ing and nur­tur­ing the co-exis­tence in action of sus­tain­able and plurivo­cal futures is the sus­te­nance of the good. I will return to this in the final section.

Lan­drum ends her piece with ref­er­ence to Christo­pher Long, quot­ing him as fol­lows: The good is […] at once elu­sive and allur­ing. Its trans­for­ma­tive polit­i­cal pow­er comes not to those who pre­tend to pos­sess it but rather only to those who rec­og­nize that the source of its pow­er lies in the way it requires each new gen­er­a­tion to take it up as a ques­tion and work it out in liv­ing dia­logue togeth­er.”6 What I take from this, apart from a cer­tain serendip­i­ty of thought, is the need to take up pow­er” as a ques­tion and think its sense for a com­ing gen­er­a­tion, or more pre­cise­ly to think of the nature and source” of pow­er (which I will explore below more pre­cise­ly with ref­er­ence to its Aris­totelian names, energheia and dynamis) as gen­er­a­tive and trans­for­ma­tive. There lies I think a key, obvi­ous as it may be, to the fact that architecture’s thought, its poten­cy, is to remain open, meta­mor­phic and ques­tion­able, rather than a quest for an absolute archi­tec­tur­al end, essence or truth. Indeed, as Lan­drum notes, Pla­to and Aris­to­tle, in their time, con­sis­tent­ly present archi­tects as exem­plary civic and intel­lec­tu­al lead­ers act­ing in aware­ness of their own (and oth­ers’) lim­its, with knowl­edge of the most appro­pri­ate archē, and with a view to the most com­pre­hen­sive aims—the com­mon good.” And Lan­drum con­cludes: This dis­clos­es an alter­na­tive and more accu­rate ety­mol­o­gy of archi­tects: not as mas­ter-builders but as lead­ers and mak­ers of begin­nings (archai)”7.

What would it mean for archi­tects and archi­tec­tur­al thought and train­ing to be con­cerned with archai? Reflect­ing on the good of archi­tec­tur­al thought may be today near­ly impos­si­ble as it would require too many para­me­ters to be recon­sid­ered and com­pro­mised, but in this the­o­ret­i­cal attempt I would like to focus on only one. That is the pre­sup­po­si­tion­al nature (or con­di­tion) of the will to act”, which so char­ac­teris­es a cer­tain dom­i­nant (whether pro­gres­sive or con­ser­v­a­tive) atti­tude among archi­tects (as sov­er­eign mas­ters) and archi­tec­tur­al train­ing itself. My aim, in fact, is more mod­est than it may seem: to offer a brief and spec­u­la­tive glimpse from the ancient past, that could in turn trig­ger a glimpse of a future, a genealog­i­cal seg­ment, if you like, of the future present via a future past. 

Before I turn to this in the next sec­tion let me make some final pre­lim­i­nary clar­i­fi­ca­tions. It should be not­ed at the out­set that by con­cen­trat­ing today on the word pow­er (in its Aris­totelian sens­es of energheia and dynamis) I, by no means, sug­gest that we can ignore his­tor­i­cal speci­fici­ty (and thus vast his­tor­i­cal dis­tance), or the con­tem­po­rary inter­nal den­si­ty and dif­fer­ence of the dis­ci­plines of phi­los­o­phy and archi­tec­ture. Rather, it is to offer a demon­stra­tion of a par­a­dig­mat­ic (in both sens­es of the word: a sin­gu­lar-exem­plar key to a wider pic­ture) line of thought, that is defined by the notion of action and a cer­tain dri­ve towards activ­i­ty; and by exten­sion a state of actuality/​actualization (as the end/​telos or ful­fil­ment of a poten­cy). A line of thought as its pow­er that remains elu­sive, because it has been in one sense for­got­ten in the meta­mor­phic den­si­ty of the his­tor­i­cal mate­r­i­al that envelops it through many cen­turies and its many dif­fer­ent, though relat­ed, meta­mor­phoses: from Aristotle’s Physics and Meta­physics to its redis­cov­ery in medieval times by the­olo­gians and canon­ist lawyers who use ele­ments of it in order to define the pow­er of the omnipo­tent God, the pow­er of the Pope and the Sov­er­eign King, to the sense in which Nation-States are defined as sov­er­eign poten­cies (each time for­mal­ized between an absolute capac­i­ty and an ordi­nary action or actu­al­iza­tion).8 I will not be able to delve into these trans­for­ma­tions here in any detail, but they are real­ly quite remark­able and they point to a con­se­quence that is cru­cial: the line of think­ing that defines pow­er as between a poten­cy and an actu­al­i­sa­tion has become an illu­so­ry epis­te­mo­log­i­cal reg­is­ter of the real, a for­mal­iz­ing fil­ter for a sta­t­ic real­i­ty-pro­duc­tion and of what it means to act as such. Instead, pow­er” is to be posed as a prob­lem to the point that it unde­ter­mines not only what it means to act but what it means to transform. 

A prob­lem, to use Man­fre­do Tafuri’s (1987) terms in a dif­fer­ent though per­haps relat­ed con­text, or, rather a project of dom­i­na­tion, the dom­i­na­tion of real­i­ty. This is because activ­i­ty (and the inter­minable dri­ve to activ­i­ty), in gen­er­al, and the archi­tec­tur­al impe­tus towards action/​transformation (of the same) are them­selves now an insti­tu­tion; and there seems to be an almost mys­ti­cal (or blind) belief in action, that inti­mate­ly ties pro­gres­sive and avant-garde move­ments” to the most basic cap­i­tal­ist inten­si­ties of the neolib­er­al tech­niques of gov­er­nance and com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion as gen­er­a­tive of every action and actu­al­iza­tion. To turn this nau­se­at­ing ten­sion into some bet­ter pro­duc­tive mech­a­nism” with­out chal­leng­ing the very motor­iza­tion of action (as the actu­al­iza­tion of the pow­er of the real”) towards the pro­duc­tion of a uni­ver­sal monoc­u­lar real­i­ty, to fol­low once more Tafuri’s reflec­tions on the his­tor­i­cal project”, would defeat the very pur­pose of indi­cat­ing the intan­gi­ble aspects of the prob­lem in the con­cep­tion of the pow­er to act (i.e. that the west­ern par­a­digm of pow­er con­ceives of two modes of being: poten­tial­i­ty and not just activ­i­ty; but a neg­a­tive under­stand­ing of their dynam­ic rela­tion has dom­i­nat­ed their think­ing). To reopen the ques­tion of the source of pow­er” in this mod­el between poten­tial­i­ty and actu­al­i­ty means also to aid the mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of the redis­cov­ery, a con­tin­u­ous redis­cov­ery, in archi­tec­tur­al train­ing, reflec­tion and prac­tice of begin­nings (archai), cuts and bruis­es, meth­ods and acci­dents, con­sis­ten­cy and com­plex­i­ty, towards the very poten­cy of archi­tec­tur­al goods as virtues. The point, how­ev­er, is not to recov­er some long-lost poten­cy or ever more sub­ver­sive prax­is of that poten­cy; for that would repeat the very way in which poten­tial­i­ty is mis­con­ceived as a neg­a­tive reser­voir that remains to be realised and exhaust­ed in the act. 

Pri­mar­i­ly my aim is to indi­cate a prob­lem” in the now insti­tu­tion­alised par­a­digm of action and actu­al­i­sa­tion with a pri­ma­ry eco­nom­ic func­tion in pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and work, and a sec­ondary, tech­ni­cal func­tion span­ning across pol­i­tics, archi­tec­ture and lan­guage itself, in the name of the pri­or­i­ti­za­tion of action and the actu­al­iza­tion of” cog­ni­tion through a sti­fling causal­i­ty, a pseu­do-final­i­ty and a turn­ing of neces­si­ty into an ine­gal­i­tar­i­an, neo-impe­r­i­al and self-defeat­ing modal­i­ty of real­i­ty dom­i­na­tion, to jus­ti­fy the eclipse of the con­tin­gent futures that are the nat­ur­al source of our being.9 This is based on the obser­va­tion of cur­rent par­a­digms of archi­tec­tur­al the­o­ry and prac­tice that are pred­i­cat­ed on the instru­men­tal­i­ty of action, the assump­tions and sta­tus of mas­tery, a self-sat­is­fied real­i­ty and a lin­ear, sup­pos­ed­ly absolv­ing, res­o­lu­tion of poten­tial into act. To do this means inhab­it­ing modernity’s ruins, where equal­ly the anx­i­ety of guilt (for things not actu­alised or over-actu­alised) and the inno­cence of ori­gins or arche­types (that remain to be actu­alised or be eter­nal­ly post­poned) no longer resus­ci­tate any­thing oth­er than their nos­tal­gic dream of a con­ser­v­a­tive or rad­i­cal full­ness. Pow­er in its phys­i­cal and meta­phys­i­cal sense (the den­si­ty of the coex­is­tent poten­tial in the real­i­ty of every act), is not the pow­er with a cap­i­tal P” that one would use to describe its insti­tu­tion­al or sys­temic incar­na­tions, but rather the for­mu­la­tion (and in that sense the form­ing) man­ner or modal­i­ty of the idea of a com­ing to be. Which implies two things. One fears, con­tra Tafu­ri at least in tonal­i­ty, that a geneal­o­gy or a crit­i­cism (to use his term) that con­stant­ly” puts itself into cri­sis by putting into cri­sis the real”10 risks rein­vig­o­rat­ing the pri­ma­ry motor of cri­sis-pro­duc­tion, which is the par­a­digm of pow­er as actu­al­iza­tion or enac­tion” (an exhaus­tion of real­i­ty itself through its rev­o­lu­tion­ary sus­pen­sion); what I would call, with Tafu­ri this time, the incli­na­tion towards a cure that exor­cizes its own pow­er as a sickness”.

The oth­er impli­ca­tion is the com­mon and right­ly crit­i­cized in the mod­ern his­to­ry of phi­los­o­phy (and not only) west­ern bina­rism that dual­izes what is called real­i­ty between a rep­re­sen­ta­tion and a self-iden­ti­ty; only in order to serve the identity’s impo­si­tion as a dis­cur­sive for­ma­tion that forms dis­course, and as the norm of ver­i­fi­ca­tion of itself and any oth­er pos­si­ble dis­course. This is per­haps the par­a­dig­mat­ic west­ern line between polar oppo­sites, a line that wish­es to ren­der itself always-already” invis­i­ble when it deter­mines what can be vis­i­ble. Yet, the line” or rela­tion” between poten­tial­i­ty and actu­al­i­ty (dynamis and ent­elecheia), that defines the ontol­ogy of pow­er in Aris­to­tle is not so much a bina­rism. It becomes such lat­er and most emphat­i­cal­ly so in its meta­mor­pho­sis by Chris­t­ian the­olo­gians and medieval jurists, all the way to, as Agam­ben has shown, becom­ing the par­a­digm of sov­er­eign law in the nation-state (and by def­i­n­i­tion the ker­nel of the state of excep­tion as the per­ma­nent source of pow­er and the rule of normalcy/​actuality, even after the nation-state’s pow­er dissipated). 

The incen­tive to return to Aris­to­tle is, there­fore, that when poten­tial­i­ty and actu­al­i­ty (or pow­er) are thought as a bina­rism and their rela­tion is depict­ed in the image of a ten­sion­al in-between space of exper­i­men­ta­tion and recon­sti­tu­tions (of the same), futu­ri­ty is replaced by fan­ta­sy. Pow­er (dynamis-energheia), in Aris­to­tle, is inher­ent­ly incom­plete, with­out a pre­de­ter­mined total­i­ty. Aris­to­tle, in his own way, con­ceived the real­i­ty” of sen­si­ble beings and things as con­tin­u­ous inten­sive con­tact between pow­ers rather than deter­mined by a bina­ry process between ori­gin and end). We are used to think­ing what is poten­tial in the past tense, once its actu­al­i­sa­tion gives it form. We con­ven­tion­al­ly think of some­thing being in the state of becom­ing or poten­tial­i­ty until it comes and com­pletes” itself, form­ing an iden­ti­ty with itself, self-jus­ti­fy­ing and secur­ing its all-present pow­er. Much of this is owed to a read­ing of Aris­to­tle, but it is a one-sided read­ing. The oth­er side to this is that when noth­ing is left incom­plete, what Aris­to­tle locates in the pres­enc­ing of the actu­al is an irre­ducible dimen­sion of poten­tial­i­ty that is also exis­tent. In my wider read­ing, which I can­not devel­op here in any detail, such an irre­ducible immer­sion of the actu­al or the here and now” in poten­tial­i­ty or futu­ri­ty is Aristotle’s para­dox­i­cal­ly empiri­cist answer to Plato’s chōra as the imag­i­nary recep­ta­cle moth­er of the universe”. 

The inven­tive­ness of archi­tec­tur­al think­ing and design appears to be often exhaust­ed not only by the nec­es­sary lim­i­ta­tions of a pro­fes­sion­al mar­ke­tized con­text and the pri­mar­i­ly prof­it-dri­ven attain­abil­i­ty of what­ev­er may be poten­tial, but also by the onto­log­i­cal mod­el of the under­stand­ing of action or actu­al­i­sa­tion as a process that leads a poten­tial project to its actu­al­iza­tion. Per­haps the most prized aim of good archi­tec­ture is dura­tion, but not just in the sense of longevi­ty of use and enjoy­ment (as well as effi­cien­cy and sus­tain­abil­i­ty). What of the design of an inher­ent futu­ri­ty, a poten­cy that is not exhaust­ed in a ful­ly pre­de­ter­mined orga­ni­za­tion of a spa­tial fig­u­ra­tion, but one that is enabling and con­fig­ured by its uses in its present-futures? While lines are drawn and cut across the present and the future past of the poten­cy of what­ev­er is actu­alised and designed, such a line—with this read­ing of Aristotle—remains dynam­ic, akin to what Jacques Der­ri­da once called spac­ing tem­po­riza­tion”.11 This is what Aris­to­tle helps us observe as the para­dox­i­cal exis­tence of poten­tial­i­ty and I would add, with archi­tec­ture in mind, the exis­tence of spa­tial poten­tial­i­ty, the use and inhab­i­tan­cy (oikeiō­sis) of exis­tent-futures as architecture’s key virtue. 

Aris­to­tle has been thought as the inven­tor of the log­ic of iden­ti­ty and self-con­tain­ment, but what is self-con­tained is a self or a spa­tial real­i­ty with­out a sta­t­ic actu­al­i­ty, or at least with anoth­er equal­ly exis­tent modal­i­ty of being to that of actu­al­i­ty. Poten­tial­i­ty is, in this sense, not a ques­tion of degree of actu­al­iza­tion that is dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed and exhaust­ed; and which could be lat­er per­haps improved but ever ema­nat­ing from the iden­ti­ty of the orig­i­nal same. Rather, poten­tial­i­ty is the abstrac­tion to the sec­ond degree of the real as the being of the future in the very moment of pres­ence or actu­al­i­ty (after all, action or actu­al­i­ty in Aristotle’s invent­ed term ent­elecheia means being with­in its telos”, being with­in, becom­ing towards an end-line or lim­it). Poten­tial­i­ty exists in the dura­tion of a lim­it that con­tin­u­ous­ly con­tracts (some­times it dreams, some­times it stut­ters, to remem­ber Deleuze). Our imag­i­na­tion is accus­tomed to pre­fer to think of the future on the basis of the pre­sent­ed-past, when in fact the future con­tracts with­in the very expres­sion or com­ing-to-be of the actu­al. Poten­tial­i­ty is the name giv­en to the imma­nent exis­tence of the future in the present. It is a form of para­con­sis­ten­cy in being. 

The dom­i­na­tion of actu­al­i­ty, each time a ver­sion of real­i­ty, and of actu­al­iza­tion as a type of process that exhausts or crush­es the poten­tial into the real, is not only a dis­cur­sive strat­e­gy that dom­i­nates as a norm of ver­i­fi­ca­tion (a motor of real­i­ty pro­duc­tion), it is also a fig­ure of epis­te­mol­o­giza­tion that deter­mines what a sci­ence or dis­ci­pline is as a whole. Both a fig­u­ra­tion, a sketch, that cap­tures the imag­i­na­tion (and gives it an archē-tec­tur­al mod­el) and a dis­fig­u­ra­tion of what is poten­tial (which includes but is not iden­ti­cal to the pos­si­ble). In oth­er words, there is attrac­tive­ness in the preva­lent mod­el of actu­al­iza­tion (it breeds action-seek­ing, present-suf­fused, pro­duc­ers of final­i­ty) but also an inter­nal neg­a­tiv­i­ty (the future gets can­celled in the name of a present intel­li­gi­bil­i­ty), one that ren­ders the par­tic­u­lar here and now as a uni­ver­sal neu­tral­iza­tion (a safer invest­ment) of the good to come. Such anaes­thet­ics breed a par­tic­u­lar aes­thet­ics, the neces­si­ty of a dis­in­ter­est­ed aes­thet­ic judge­ment on the present-future, such as the one, for instance, that neces­si­tates the search of the good to become an inter­minable man­age­r­i­al effi­cien­cy or resilience”. This kind of imposed con­for­mi­ty and trained com­pla­cen­cy has its root in the epis­te­mol­o­giza­tion of a par­a­digm of think­ing, where act­ing and design­ing feels con­fi­dent enough to con­ceive and delim­it itself as phal­lo­crat­ic present”, at the cost of only per­ceiv­ing the future through a process between means and ends. 

Such a process acquires the nature of a com­mon-sen­si­cal neces­si­ty, a there is no alter­na­tive” type of dis­fig­u­ra­tion of real­i­ty, that nev­er feels con­fi­dent enough to have its intel­li­gi­bil­i­ty exposed (or what philo­soph­i­cal­ly is called sin­gu­lar­i­ty, the pecu­liar modal­i­ty of the exis­tence of poten­tial­i­ty-in-actu­al­i­ty, that is nei­ther uni­ver­sal, nor sim­ply par­tic­u­lar). Yet this is how an epis­teme and an expe­ri­ence of knowl­edge can actu­al­ly become pos­si­ble. The his­toric­i­ty of an epis­teme, includ­ing the knowl­edge that archi­tec­ture pro­cures, is nei­ther diachrony (some ori­gin that autho­ris­es what is good archi­tec­ture in the present), nor in, one sense, syn­chrony (a present that is in con­stant con­flict with anoth­er present, as with the con­flict of the mere­ly possibles—a nihilist, at its core, expe­ri­ence of a civ­il war of ideas, mar­kets and bod­ies). Rather, the expe­ri­ence of an epis­teme lies in between diachrony and syn­chrony, in a inline cross­ing of the two, ren­der­ing inop­er­a­tive (to use Agamben’s term) the dichoto­my between the past-present and the present-futures. The onto­log­i­cal char­ac­ter of the present, its modal­i­ty, makes no good sense oth­er­wise, since the so-called present is nei­ther just a mate­r­i­al fig­u­ra­tion of what­ev­er is pro­duced or actu­alised each time, nor a mere­ly cog­ni­tive (abstract) rela­tion of a cause to an effect, a means to an end, that meets in the present its end” (in both sens­es of the word). The present, the here and now, has always been, a syn­chron­ic elsewhere. 

III. A Para-Ontology of Action

Aristotle’s ontol­ogy of pow­er is com­plex and mul­ti-faceted and my pur­pose is not to sum­ma­rize or explain it in any ade­quate detail. I am going to briefly focus on just one key aspect of it as expound­ed in Meta­physics, book Theta.12 In book Theta, 3 Aris­to­tle argues against a group of philoso­phers known as the Megar­i­ans (who hold that pow­er exists only in doing or in being done, i.e. in its exer­cise and actu­al­iza­tion) by devel­op­ing a the­o­ry that shows pow­er or poten­tial­i­ty (dynamis-energheia) as exist­ing inde­pen­dent­ly from its exer­cise or actu­al­iza­tion. Poten­tial­i­ty (pow­er) is one way, among oth­ers, in which being is (1017a8–1017b7). Pow­er (dynamis-energheia) draws Aristotle’s atten­tion because it is para­dox­i­cal: in one sense it has the onto­log­i­cal sta­tus of being (in its actu­al­i­sa­tion) and, at the very same time in one sense, of not-being (in its poten­cy). This poten­tial being is how­ev­er with­in being, by the fact that it exists as a pow­er (poten­tial­i­ty). The dis­tinc­tion between poten­tial­i­ty and actu­al­i­ty (the two forms of being of a pow­er) lies with­in being, not as a mere mat­ter of the­o­ret­i­cal con­tem­pla­tion, but as in the very nature (physis) of a (sen­si­ble) being. This may seem like a mere log­i­cal schema­ti­za­tion, but I would like to sug­gest that draw­ing on a read­ing of Aristotle’s inno­v­a­tive for­mu­la­tion we can appre­ci­ate some­thing fur­ther than that. 

To enlarge this sense, and to speak of con­tem­pla­tion, or the being of con­tem­pla­tion, as an exis­tent form of being, we can say sim­i­lar­ly that the pow­er of (archi­tec­tur­al) think­ing exists both in a state of poten­tial­i­ty and in a state of actu­al­i­ty, in a par­tic­u­lar expe­ri­ence of con­tem­pla­tion that equates the being of an active and a poten­tial thought while it also ren­ders them dis­tinct. An active thought in its lin­guis­tic being and the cut that the state­ment I, think …” per­forms, co-exists with the poten­cy of think­ing in its con­tin­u­al com­ing to be with­in an (also) non-lin­guis­tic body. To appre­ci­ate the act of con­tem­pla­tion as expe­ri­en­tial­ly exis­tent in a state of con­tin­u­ous poten­tial­i­ty leads per­haps to an appre­ci­a­tion of its own dual sta­tus and of its exis­ten­tial knot giv­en its actu­al yet unde­ter­mined ethos (way of being). The co-exis­tence of poten­cy and actu­al­i­ty has the effect of a rad­i­cal equal­iza­tion, a cer­tain egal­i­tar­i­an­ism of existence’s present futures, and this becomes most vis­i­ble in the open plateau that is think­ing as an ethos, the con­tem­pla­tive way of being. 

But there is more that we can draw from Aristotle’s the­o­ry of power/​potentiality. A poten­tial thought is still pow­er­ful when its think­ing is actu­al­ly expressed, and what I would define as good thought does noth­ing else than strug­gle to save” that poten­tial­i­ty in its actu­alised expres­sion. This may also explain how cum­ber­some the expe­ri­ence of expres­sion and thought is between poten­cy and actu­al­i­ty. This how­ev­er does not mean that one should exis­ten­tial­ly priv­i­lege one state over the oth­er. Aris­to­tle adds one more lay­er to this, since in book Theta, 8 he aims to show that potentiality’s exis­tence is nev­er inde­pen­dent of actu­al­i­ty. In fact, poten­tial­i­ty, Aris­to­tle will say, is onto­log­i­cal­ly depen­dant on its cor­rel­a­tive actu­al­i­ty; which is to say that with­out actu­al­i­ty, poten­tial­i­ty can­not be. Yet, Aris­to­tle speaks of the pri­ma­cy of actu­al­i­ty, here, in a par­tic­u­lar sense: actu­al­i­ty is pri­ma­ry because it is more prox­i­mate to the telos (the actu­al­ized state) of a being or thing, than poten­tial­i­ty is; and so it is pri­ma­ry in that sense of prox­im­i­ty to an end, and only. 

Focus­ing or ground­ing our con­tem­pla­tion on just one side of being (what is poten­tial or what is actu­al) would miss the point. These two lay­ers com­prise on the one hand a spa­tial” equal­i­ty of exis­tence between poten­tial­i­ty and actu­al­i­ty, and on the oth­er a tem­po­ral” pri­ma­cy of actu­al­i­ty (with regard to the present state of a being or thing). We per­ceive what is poten­tial from either side, while the line of poten­cy will inevitably expe­ri­ence also the cut of expres­sion or present being. Which is to say that at the state of an actu­al­ized thought, being or thing, its poten­cy is not ful­filled in the sense of a dis­si­pa­tion or expen­di­ture, but saved” in a spec­trum of pow­er. Which is anoth­er way of say­ing that our being of con­tem­pla­tion is a sec­ond nature with­in anoth­er, and in this sense our sec­ond chance at a good life. How are we to think of such a poten­cy that sur­vives action or actu­al­iza­tion and why would it mat­ter for archi­tec­tur­al thought and theory? 

Before we go into some of the detail of this for­mu­la­tion of our being in the dual exis­tence of pow­er as poten­cy and actu­al­i­ty or action, it is worth not­ing some of the philo­soph­i­cal con­text to Aristotle’s meta­phys­i­cal treat­ment of pow­er by remind­ing that the vol­umes titled (posthu­mous­ly) as Meta­physics lit­er­al­ly fol­low his books called Physics. In Physics, Aris­to­tle seeks to dis­cov­er the ground­ing or foun­da­tion of real­i­ty (that is real­i­ty under­stood as the total body of mat­ter and form). The ker­nel of his reflec­tion at this point is led to a core char­ac­ter­is­tic or prin­ci­ple (archē, in the sense of a begin­ning) of pow­er: what he calls metabolē, kinē­sis or change/​movement, tak­ing place in dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed ways in terms of ousia (sub­stance), qual­i­ty, quan­ti­ty and place (III.1,200b33–201a16). Real­i­ty, for Aris­to­tle, is a total­i­ty com­pris­ing pow­ers that con­tact each oth­er and such con­tact is con­tin­u­ous. Move­ment (kinē­sis) or change/​transformation (metabolē) is con­tin­u­ous for beings and gen­er­a­tion (gen­e­sis, com­ing-to-be) does not derive at any point from noth­ing (absolute non-being) or from a deter­min­is­tic orig­i­nal cause (absolute being). Each metabolē or move­ment (and hence each con­tact between dynameis or pow­ers) takes place between dynamis and entelekheia (a poten­tial­i­ty or capac­i­ty and an actu­al­i­sa­tion or ful­fil­ment); or to put it in a more con­tem­po­rary sense between a future and a present, a poten­cy and an act. While such metabolē is con­tin­u­ous, it is not unlim­it­ed, in oth­er words it is nev­er mere­ly inde­ter­mi­nate. To ven­ture a dizzy­ing tran­shis­tor­i­cal sketch, move­ment or being, in Aris­to­tle, approx­i­mates what will be under­stood much lat­er by medieval philoso­phers and the­olo­gians as a syn­chron­ic con­tin­gent being: i.e. being is nei­ther mere­ly poten­tial, nor mere­ly actu­al but the total­i­ty of its poten­cy and its actu­alised present power.

Let’s take a few steps back and revis­it Aris­totelian pow­er. Before Aris­to­tle, philo­soph­i­cal ref­er­ence to dynamis can be, for instance, locat­ed in the def­i­n­i­tion of being (on) by Pla­to, in the expres­sion: ouk allo plēn dynamis” (“noth­ing else but dynamis”; Sophist 247e). In Aris­to­tle, how­ev­er, we find an inno­v­a­tive the­o­riza­tion of being/​power, and the first treat­ment of the con­cept is met in Top­i­ca D 4.124a31–34 and 5.126a30–b6. Though there are many mean­ings of dynamis, Aris­to­tle thinks there are ways in which they relate to one anoth­er, and this was prob­a­bly the ini­tial seed for his inves­ti­ga­tion in Physics. At the heart of this intu­ition is the fact that there is a mean­ing of dynamis quite close to the much ear­li­er Home­r­ic use of the term: it is dynamis as an active pow­er”. For dynamis used in this way, Aris­to­tle gives even­tu­al­ly in his Meta­physics the fol­low­ing def­i­n­i­tion: Dyna­mis means a source (archē) of move­ment (kinē­sis) or change (metabolē), which is in some­thing else or in itself as some­thing else.” (Meta­physics, 5.12). The def­i­n­i­tion, ground­ed as it is in the expe­ri­ence of being, leads him to the rela­tion between poten­cy (dynamis) and act (energheia), first, in terms of what dis­tin­guish­es them. The prob­lem being that a poten­tial­i­ty is a pos­si­bil­i­ty (or a future) that exists. How­ev­er, unlike mere pos­si­bil­i­ties which can be con­sid­ered from a pure­ly for­mal stand­point as equal among them­selves, poten­tial­i­ties present them­selves above all as things that exist sin­gu­lar­ly, but that at the same time, do not exist in the same way in which actu­al things exist (i.e. poten­tial­i­ties that have been actu­al­ized). They are present, yet they do not appear in the form or mode of present things. In what way do poten­tial­i­ties appear or are existent?

What is at stake for Aris­to­tle is the mode of exis­tence of poten­tial­i­ty as not reducible to actu­al­i­ty. This is no minor prob­lem, or dis­cov­ery, for Aris­to­tle, since this is a core ele­ment of his Meta­physics with­out which he would not be able to encounter a key way in which the expe­ri­ence of being is to be under­stood. With­out an under­stand­ing of power/​potentiality a core form of real­i­ty would go amiss. This becomes even more acute when one con­sid­ers that being for Aris­to­tle is at stake in every sense of the term dynasthai” (to be able). If what is actu­al­ized appears in our expe­ri­ence as more real” than what remains poten­tial, this is already an indi­ca­tion of the prob­lem in con­tem­plat­ing the expe­ri­ence of being. When Aris­to­tle notes actu­al­i­ty as pri­or (or pri­ma­ry) in being to poten­tial­i­ty, he means that actu­al­i­ty is inde­pen­dent­ly of the poten­tial­i­ty as a dif­fer­ent mode of being, that is, as inti­mate­ly con­nect­ed to a being’s mode of being (as its telos or end). This is why Aris­to­tle says that active pow­er is the core con­cept of dynamis, its kyrios horos (Meta­physics 5.12, 1020a4). As we said already, this can be eas­i­ly mis­un­der­stood as a priv­i­leg­ing of activ­i­ty or actu­al­ized poten­tials. There are, though, two modes of being and they are both rel­a­tive because, as it was not­ed, Aris­to­tle con­ceives of his ontol­ogy as an ontol­ogy of pow­ers that are in con­tin­u­ous con­tact, they come to be in act­ing, rather than in a lin­ear pro­duc­tion line. 

In Aris­to­tle, then, the pri­ma­cy of actu­al­i­ty is a log­i­cal strat­e­gy, not a nor­ma­tive one. This becomes more evi­dent when he moves by anal­o­gy to oth­er types of dynameis (ones that are not dis­po­si­tions of change, but dis­po­si­tions for being some­thing). And it is with those par­tic­u­lar dynameis that I am con­cerned here in order to think of the poten­cy of archi­tec­tur­al thought. Aris­to­tle writes: our mean­ing […] is as that which is build­ing is to that which is capa­ble of build­ing, and the wak­ing to the sleep­ing, and that which is see­ing to that which has its eyes shut but has sight, and that which has been shaped out of the mat­ter to the mat­ter, and that which has been wrought up to the un-wrought. […] some [of these] are as move­ment to dynamis, and the oth­ers as sub­stance to some sort of mat­ter.” (Meta­physics 11.6,1048a35–b9; Ross, 1936). Aristotle’s claim is that, in a way, a sub­stance (a dis­po­si­tion for being some­thing) relates to its mat­ter like a change relates to the respec­tive dynamis. Here, we sense that Aristotle’s the­o­ry of dynameis becomes rel­e­vant to the very heart of his ontol­ogy of being, the hylo­mor­phic composi­tion of substances. 

Fur­ther to this, Aris­to­tle dis­tin­guish­es between two types of poten­tial­i­ty: a gener­ic poten­tial­i­ty (e.g. the poten­tial­i­ty of a child to become a painter) which does not inter­est him specif­i­cal­ly, and a par­tic­u­lar, exist­ing, poten­tial­i­ty (e.g. the archi­tect who has the poten­tial to design, think and build) which dif­fers from the for­mer type in the obvi­ous sense that the archi­tect does not need to suf­fer an alter­ation, but has” (thanks to a hex­is, a hav­ing”) a poten­tial­i­ty to, for instance, build (as well as not built— energhein). It is this pecu­liar hav­ing (echein) of a poten­tial dynamis that is enig­mat­ic, as Agam­ben notes, for the Aris­totelian for­mu­la­tion of power/​potentiality. Sen­si­ble beings are char­ac­ter­ized by a dual mode of being in terms of their pow­er of being (poten­cy and act) and their potency’s being is that of an equal­ly exis­tent pow­er to do or to not do some­thing (i.e. it is sub­ject to contemplation).

Agam­ben has lucid­ly observed, as we will see in the next sec­tion, that it is the nature of the exis­tence of poten­tial­i­ty that forms the secret ker­nel” of Aristotle’s (meta)physics of real (exis­tent) being. In the par­tic­u­lar dis­cus­sion in De Ani­ma, which Agam­ben refers to in order to indi­cate this, deal­ing with why there is no sen­sa­tion of the sens­es them­selves, Aris­to­tle pro­pos­es that poten­tial­i­ty is (also) the under­go­ing of a sterē­sis, not in the sense of a sim­ple pri­va­tion (i.e. non-Being) but rather as indi­cat­ing the exis­tence of non-Being, the pres­ence of an absence”.13 To have a pow­er” means to have a pri­va­tion”, not as a mere log­i­cal hyposta­sis of pow­er but as the mode of exis­tence of this pri­va­tion.”14 Pri­va­tion (sterē­sis) in Meta­physics book Theta has, in fact, two mean­ings: a) the miss­ing” or fail­ing” of some­thing pos­i­tive (i.e., the Form, eidos); b) the sub­strate” from which the pos­i­tive some­thing is miss­ing. In fact, this under­stand­ing of a steretic expe­ri­ence, a suf­fer­ing or pas­sion, is cen­tral to Aristotle’s under­stand­ing of hulē (mat­ter). And mat­ter, in the sense that most con­cerns us, is hulē noētē (intel­lec­tu­al mat­ter or dynamis) defined as pure dynamis. In Physics (193b19–20), Agam­ben notes, pri­va­tion is like a face, a form (eidos), so that when Aris­to­tle under­takes to con­ceive of the mode of exis­tence of dynamis in Meta­physics book Theta, he does so pre­cise­ly in order to assure the con­sis­ten­cy of this form’ or face’”.15 This serves to explain why Aris­to­tle in Meta­physics Theta has to coun­ter­pose, in part, his the­o­ry of dynameis against an alter­na­tive posi­tion put for­ward by a group of philoso­phers called Megarians. 

Aris­to­tle describes their posi­tion as fol­lows: There are some who say, as the Megar­i­ans do, that a thing can act only when it is act­ing, and when it is not act­ing it can­not act, e.g. that he who is not build­ing can­not build, but only he who is build­ing, when he is build­ing […].” (Meta­physics 11.3,1046a29–32). The Megar­i­ans regard the real­iza­tion of some­thing as both nec­es­sary and suf­fi­cient for hav­ing the pow­er to do this/​that. Such an empha­sis, how­ev­er, on the suf­fi­cien­cy of the actu­al­iza­tion of some­thing leads, Aris­to­tle argues, to some pecu­liar con­clu­sions. For exam­ple, an archi­tect would not have any design­ing poten­tial when not design­ing; and there would be no dif­fer­ence between a non-design­ing archi­tect and some­one who is not an archi­tect at all. In addi­tion, and more cru­cial­ly, if only what is actu­al­ized is per­ceiv­able and, thus, exists, then some­thing would only be per­ceiv­able when encoun­tered as a mat­ter of fact. Final­ly, no prin­ci­ple (archē) of change or metabolē could be con­ceived if all that is encoun­tered is actions and their actualisations. 

In oth­er words, pow­er can­not and should not be thought only from the van­tage point of actu­al­i­ty (or mate­ri­al­i­ty in the sense of pres­ence”) as this miss­es a fun­da­men­tal way in which being is. Pow­ers exist whether they are real­ized or not. This dual­i­ty of being ren­ders archi­tec­tur­al thought and design not just a tech­ni­cal mat­ter that is to be acted/​executed irre­spec­tive of its con­tem­pla­tive poten­cy, but a mat­ter (also) of ethics (i.e. as to whether it should be act­ed or exe­cut­ed at all or in anoth­er way). Unre­al­ized, though exis­tent, dynameis show that action or real­iza­tion can no longer be regard­ed as being the nec­es­sary or suf­fi­cient con­di­tion for hav­ing”, or bet­ter, being a pow­er. One does not, in oth­er words, think well (archi­tec­ture) if exclu­sive­ly from the van­tage point of cur­rent actu­al­i­ties or actu­al­iza­tions (and their sup­posed nec­es­sary con­di­tions). If that were so, then archi­tects would mere­ly have to do their duty” accord­ing to the dic­tates of what has been already actu­al­ized in the built envi­ron­ment, or what­ev­er the mar­ket forces” demand. The unty­ing of the ide­o­log­i­cal knot of pow­er as action (ignor­ing its, to put it in anoth­er way, pas­sions), is not to give way instead to a license towards any­thing goes” (or equal­ly noth­ing goes”), as if one could con­tain all poten­tial­i­ties in a sin­gle per­fect actu­al­i­ty or in a state of pure poten­tial­i­ty; nor is it a license to man­age” poten­tial­i­ty in the name of the present state of things and only, i.e. to depoliti­cize poten­tial­i­ties and actu­al­ize only those that are suf­fi­cient or nec­es­sary to the sus­tain­abil­i­ty of the present. 

Let’s out­line then some fur­ther ele­ments to the the­o­ry of pow­er that has quite lit­er­al­ly cap­tured the west­ern imag­i­na­tion, before we can respond more ade­quate­ly to this knot. Aris­to­tle sum­ma­rizes some key char­ac­ter­is­tics to pow­er in the sense that con­cerns us: (a) every pow­er is at the same time the pow­er for the oppo­site (pow­er is two-sided in its very exis­tence); (b) every­thing that is capa­ble of being is not nec­es­sar­i­ly actu­al; © the con­di­tion of actu­al­i­ty is not the action but its pow­er; (d) com­ing-to-being (gen­e­sis) is always out of a rel­a­tive non-being (poten­tial­i­ty) that is a form of being. This lat­ter point is cru­cial and this is how Aris­to­tle describes it in anoth­er work: Now for things which are of a nature to come-to-be, the mate­r­i­al cause con­sti­tutes the pos­si­bil­i­ty of being and not-being”” (De gen­er­a­tione 2.9, 335a32–33.) Archi­tec­tur­al thought is an act that, in this sense, has to be con­tem­plat­ed as con­sti­tut­ed in the simul­ta­ne­ous pos­si­bil­i­ty of being and not-being”. What would that mean for its prac­tice? I will return to this more direct­ly below, but for now let me pose it enig­mat­i­cal­ly: what if what archi­tec­ture main­ly does is active­ly think­ing and express­ing its poten­cy? What if archi­tec­ture is too often over­tak­en by the speed and ten­sion of cre­ativ­i­ty as actu­al­iza­tion, that it miss­es the oth­er equal side of its cre­ative pow­er, the sav­ing of its poten­cy, includ­ing a high­er form of ces­sa­tion or rest, a pas­sion or suf­fer­ing (an impo­ten­tial­i­ty) in the Aris­totelian sense. The actu­al­iza­tion of a poten­cy is, in this sense, the rel­a­tive­ly more prox­i­mate poten­cy in the midst of poten­tial­i­ties which exist (also) as a pri­va­tion which can be filled, a desire which can be sati­at­ed (mē on, not-being) or not. 

Active think­ing” may, thus, mean that archi­tec­tur­al con­tem­pla­tion is nev­er an exer­cise in mere” the­o­ry or abstrac­tion under­stood as the means towards the sat­is­fac­tion or ful­fil­ment of an actu­al­i­sa­tion, but is inti­mate­ly and con­tin­u­ous­ly tied to both con­di­tions nec­es­sary to the expe­ri­ence and being of the good. That pow­er in Aris­to­tle is not under­stood as the expe­ri­ence of a self-iden­ti­ty, or as some­thing that can ever be ful­ly achieved, means that an act of archi­tec­ture is nev­er com­plete on its own. A thing may nev­er be what it is not (i.e. a con­tra­dic­tion), yet the obser­va­tion that a thing can become what it is not (i.e. a con­tra­ri­ety) leads Aris­to­tle to rede­fine the very nature of what it means to have” a pow­er as a mat­ter of being and exer­cise it; plac­ing, hence, human action in the open­ness of eth­i­cal con­tem­pla­tion (not a lin­ear­i­ty of liv­ing, but the con­tin­gent plurivoc­i­ty of liv­ing well). The role of the­o­ry, includ­ing archi­tec­tur­al the­o­ry, is in this way also affect­ed. Phi­los­o­phy (or the­o­ry) itself, for Aris­to­tle, con­cerns this very under­stand­ing, that is, phi­los­o­phy aris­es out of the desire all human beings have for insight (eide­nai), for con­tem­pla­tion, or bet­ter per­haps for encoun­ter­ing their poten­tial. Appear­ances are, char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly, at stake for human beings in a par­tic­u­lar man­ner. Won­der (which gen­er­ates as well as errs, planē) does not cease, because it is not a pos­ses­sion to be had” once and for all, but a nature (physis) to be con­tin­u­ous­ly encoun­tered as it saves its open exis­tence in a poten­tial dura­tion. In oth­er words, when in Meta­physics 11.3 Aris­to­tle for­mu­lates actu­al­i­ty he says that actu­al­i­ty is mal­ista—above all else—movement” (1047a32; Ross 1936), this is to be seen as close­ly linked to the under­stand­ing of energheia (actu­al­i­ty) as a finite or incom­plete motion. Energheia can be under­stood as what Aris­to­tle called that per­fect motion” (not an exhaus­tion upon its real­iza­tion, as the Megar­i­ans pro­posed, but as the syn­chron­ic con­tin­gency of potentiality/​dynamis and impotentiality/​ady­namia).16

Inci­den­tal­ly, for this rea­son the­o­ret­i­cal reflec­tion is not, as some would still have it oppos­ing (neo-)idealisms to (neo-)materialisms and back again, detached from expe­ri­ence or prax­is, but its high­est expres­sion. A power’s poten­tial­i­ty (which is always an impo­ten­tial­i­ty also) is imma­nent in, while dis­tinct from, its action or actu­al­iza­tion. Imma­nence, in this sense, points to a dif­fer­ent mode of con­tem­pla­tion. What some­thing is, expressed by ques­tions of to ti on” are trans­formed in Aris­to­tle to dia ti” ques­tions. As Agam­ben writes: what is clear­ly at work here is the exem­plary prin­ci­ple of Aristotle’s thought, the prin­ci­ple of archē. This prin­ci­ple con­sists in refor­mu­lat­ing all ques­tions that have the form of what is it?” as ques­tions that have the form of through what thing (dia ti) does some­thing belong to some­thing else?”17

On the one hand, the life of con­tem­pla­tion is bound to its present-future. On the oth­er hand, it con­stant­ly remains with the source of move­ment” that it itself is. It is at this point that one could note the ancient Greek mid­dle voice, which as a verb form denotes a tran­si­tive sit­u­a­tion, a going through” or pas­sion, con­cep­tu­al­ized as a sin­gle enti­ty act­ing on itself (both active and pas­sive in a sense). Or, to put it in anoth­er way, where the tran­si­tive and intran­si­tive can no longer be dis­tin­guished. In the mid­dle (voice), the archi­tec­tur­al capac­i­ty to con­tem­pla­tion, in its ever-poten­tial exis­tence in the actu­al, shows itself in its com­ing-to-be-realised as the eth­i­cal expe­ri­ence of project and design. Archi­tec­tur­al think­ing can­not be enclosed in the actu­alised present, since its present is also a state of poten­cy which can­not be pre­de­ter­mined or overde­ter­mined. This places archi­tec­ture with­in an inher­ent chal­lenge but it can also be a bless­ing in that this does not ren­der con­tem­pla­tion as an all-pow­er­ful pres­ence”, but as exposed to the dis­clo­sure of a pri­va­tion or sterē­sis, the pas­sion of what is oth­er than itself in itself, each time, and where a com­ing archi­tec­ture encoun­ters its vir­tu­al ethos.

IV. Agamben’s Critique of Master-Power

It is with this in mind that Agam­ben turns to reread Aristotle’s analy­sis in book Theta of Meta­physics in order to under­stand the eidos (face) of this pri­va­tion which at the same time is also the poten­tial­i­ty for pres­enc­ing, actu­al­is­ing. It is nec­es­sary to engage with Agamben’s read­ing as it is the most incite­ful and influ­en­tial read­ing of our time, sig­nif­i­cant­ly expos­ing the lay­ers that tie this meta­physics of pow­er to its polit­i­cal and juridi­cal man­i­fes­ta­tions. Agam­ben cen­tres his reread­ing on two key relat­ed propo­si­tions of Aristotle’s, which we have met this far only by impli­ca­tion. Briefly: 

  1. The pri­va­tion oth­er to poten­tial­i­ty is impo­ten­tial­i­ty (ady­namia): All poten­tial­i­ty is impo­ten­tial­i­ty of the same and with respect to the same [tou autou kai kata to auto pasa dynamis ady­namia]” (1046e25–32).18 This propo­si­tion means that in its orig­i­nary struc­ture poten­tial­i­ty main­tains itself in rela­tion to its own privation—and this is the ground of an eth­i­cal dis­po­si­tion. To put it more sim­ply, in archi­tec­tur­al con­tem­pla­tive activ­i­ty, as well as in the act of design­ing, the pow­er to think or design some­thing is always also a pow­er to not do so. This can be thought not only in the sense of reac­tive­ly decid­ing to not design or not think in a par­tic­u­lar way, but also in the eth­i­cal dimen­sion of an act act­ing by, para­dox­i­cal­ly, being able to not do some­thing, tak­ing us away from the phal­lo­crat­ic, among else, obses­sion with mas­tery in action.19
  2. Inti­mate­ly relat­ed to the first, the sec­ond propo­si­tion states: What is poten­tial is capa­ble [endechetai] of not being in actu­al­i­ty” (1050b10). This propo­si­tion means that the fig­ure of poten­tial­i­ty (pow­er) is not direct­ly indi­cat­ed in activ­i­ty and enact­ment, but in its being (also) the poten­tial to not be (impo­ten­tial­i­ty); char­ac­ter­ized by a fun­da­men­tal onto­log­i­cal pas­siv­i­ty as Agam­ben puts it: in the sense that poten­tial­i­ty under­goes, suf­fers” its own non-being.20 If Aris­to­tle was struck by the obser­va­tion that poten­tial­i­ty is a dif­fer­ent way in which a being exists, from these two propo­si­tions tak­en togeth­er Agam­ben is struck by the ques­tion of how, if all poten­tial­i­ty (dynamis) is always-already impo­ten­tial­i­ty (ady­namia), can there be poten­tial­i­ty? What in oth­er words is the actu­al­i­ty of impo­ten­tial­i­ty (the pow­er to not do)? Is it nihilis­tic inac­tion, mil­i­tant with­draw­al, solip­sism and self-cen­tred com­pla­cen­cy? This is answered by Aris­to­tle, in Agamben’s read­ing, by a third key proposition:
  3. A thing is said to be poten­tial if, when the act of which it is said to be poten­tial is real­ized, there will be noth­ing impo­ten­tial [esti de dyna­ton touto, hoi ean hyparx­ei hē energeia ou leg­e­tai ekhein tēn dynamēn, ouden estai ady­na­ton]” (Meta­physics 1047a24–26). For Agam­ben, con­trary to the con­ven­tion­al inter­pre­ta­tion of this per­plex­ing propo­si­tion in the man­ner of if there is no impos­si­bil­i­ty, then there is pos­si­bil­i­ty”,21 the ques­tion should be under­stood as: what is the poten­tial­i­ty of which, in the moment of actu­al­i­ty, there will be noth­ing impo­ten­tial?” The answer is: the poten­tial­i­ty to not-be (ady­namia). Or, in a fuller expres­sion: if a poten­tial­i­ty to not-be orig­i­nal­ly belongs to all poten­tial­i­ty, then there is tru­ly poten­tial­i­ty only where the poten­tial­i­ty to not-be does not lag behind actu­al­i­ty but pass­es ful­ly into it as such. This does not mean that it dis­ap­pears in actu­al­i­ty; on the con­trary it pre­serves itself as such in actu­al­i­ty.” Agam­ben adds the con­se­quent for­mu­la: what is tru­ly poten­tial is thus what has exhaust­ed all its impo­ten­tial­i­ty in bring­ing it whol­ly into the act as such.”22 But what does it mean to bring impo­ten­tial­i­ty whol­ly into the act as such? Here­in lies an ethics and a pol­i­tics of con­tem­pla­tion in not con­ceiv­ing of pow­er or poten­tial­i­ty as a reser­voir to which one taps when nec­es­sary in order to pre­serve the mas­tery of one’s author­i­ty, act, idea and so forth, but rather as some­thing that is on an equal par with its impo­ten­tial­i­ty, its inac­tion, which, rad­i­cal­ly, means that no pow­er can claim sov­er­eign­ty or dom­i­na­tion over itself or over any­thing else, but must first be con­struct­ed, exposed in its con­tem­pla­tion not as force, but as passion.

Let’s take a step back. Three pos­si­ble inter­pre­ta­tions present them­selves to Agam­ben as to the lat­ter for­mu­la, but only one is per­ti­nent. The first main­tains for the exhaus­tion of impo­ten­tial­i­ty in actu­al­i­ty (and, in this sense, is akin to the Megar­i­an posi­tion:hotan energe monon dynasthai—poten­tial­i­ty exists only in act; 1046b30). This is the inter­pre­ta­tion that, in one respect at least, is dom­i­nant today and is held by those that con­sid­er real­i­ty as dri­ven by activ­i­ty (whether pro­gres­sive­ly or con­ser­v­a­tive­ly so); and where the motor of real­i­ty is action, an under­stand­ing of action which once estab­lished or actu­al­ized (and usu­al­ly imposed by some or oth­er form of vio­lence) is self-sus­tain­able (a mas­ter) not only as to itself but as to the dom­i­na­tion of the longevi­ty of its poten­cy: i.e. it becomes the self-autho­riz­ing mas­tery prin­ci­ple of any fur­ther action.

Anoth­er pos­si­ble, and relat­ed to the first, inter­pre­ta­tion main­tains for the exhaus­tion of impo­ten­tial­i­ty in actu­al­i­sa­tion, that does not how­ev­er ter­mi­nate poten­tial­i­ty as the Megar­i­ans have it, but main­tains a two-way pas­sage between actu­al­i­ty and poten­tial­i­ty (a poten­tial­i­ty thought as the effec­tive mode or ground of actuality’s exis­tence). This, for Agam­ben, bequeaths the West with three inti­mate­ly relat­ed par­a­digms of pow­er: (a) its par­a­digm of Sov­er­eign Being in phi­los­o­phy (that is a Being that founds itself sov­er­eign­ly as a mas­ter, with­out any­thing pre­ced­ing or pre-deter­min­ing it—supe­ri­orem non recognoscens);23 (b) the medieval the­o­log­i­cal mod­el of the omnipo­tence of God in monothe­ism (whose pow­er is ground­ed in a closed dialec­tic of mas­tery between a poten­tia Dei abso­lu­ta, God’s absolute power—what he could do—and a poten­tia Dei ordi­na­ta God’s ordered power—what he does or has done;24 and © the juridi­co-polit­i­cal par­a­digm of sov­er­eign­ty in its mod­ern form as the deci­sion (action) on/​of a state of excep­tion (as a reser­voir of poten­tial­i­ty).25 Through a long his­to­ry that can­not be sum­ma­rized here and which spans from the 13th cen­tu­ry to today, this for­mu­la of power/​potentiality under­stands poten­tial­i­ty as able to main­tain itself in rela­tion to actu­al­i­ty in the form of its sus­pen­sion, resem­bling the par­a­digm of sov­er­eign excep­tion­al­i­ty across the regions of the­ol­o­gy, law, pol­i­tics and philosophy. 

As Agam­ben notes, in this man­ner through the ever-present through its sus­pen­sion poten­tial­i­ty of a pro­longed or per­ma­nent state of excep­tion sov­er­eign pow­er can also, as such, main­tain itself indef­i­nite­ly, with­out ever pass­ing into actu­al­i­ty.”26 This revers­es the sup­posed exhaus­tion of poten­tial­i­ty in actu­al­i­ty by enabling the exhaus­tion of actu­al­i­ty in a state of sus­pend­ed inac­tiv­i­ty in impuni­ty, an activ­i­ty that effects its pure or absolute poten­tial by being in force with­out act­ing, with­out tak­ing up its respon­si­bil­i­ty. This is the root of Agamben’s cri­tique of the par­a­digm of west­ern potentiality/​power as one that grounds the absolute pow­er­ful­ness of pow­er (its poten­tial­i­ty) at the root of the par­a­dig­mat­ic under­stand­ings of God’s impo­tent (absolute) pow­er in a line that con­nects the Pope’s pow­er, the Emperor’s, the King’s pow­er, and today the pow­er of the free, lib­er­al, sov­er­eign sub­ject who is to freely and con­tin­u­ous­ly mas­ter its acts while in a state of absolute impo­tence (i.e. where­by act­ing means exclu­sive­ly to pro­duce, con­sume, exchange).

In con­trast, a third inter­pre­ta­tion main­tains, in an uncon­ven­tion­al reread­ing of Aris­to­tle, for the exhaus­tion” of poten­tial­i­ty in the sense of car­ry­ing itself in the act as such”, so that each act remains not only account­able (and thus not sov­er­eign or pseu­do-excep­tion­al, or ever claim­ing for a total­i­ty of its being, where­by its being can be con­sid­ered present”), but also save­able, through the preser­va­tion of its exis­tent-oth­er­wise poten­tial­i­ty in actu­al­i­ty. This, for Agam­ben, would not be pre­sup­pos­ing a neg­a­tive rela­tion between poten­tial­i­ty and actu­al­i­ty as in the sec­ond inter­pre­ta­tion. Instead it would sev­er such a rela­tion by ren­der­ing its first prin­ci­ple as not the pri­ma­cy of activ­i­ty and action, but the pri­ma­cy of con­tin­gency (the coher­ent coex­is­tence of poten­tial­i­ty and actu­al­i­ty). The sur­vival of poten­tial­i­ty does not save actuality’s rela­tion to a poten­tial reser­voir of pow­er (to which it can draw pow­er to be had”, or to which it can turn in order to save itself by sus­pend­ing itself, as in a juridi­co-polit­i­cal state of excep­tion), but gives” poten­tial­i­ty to itself ren­der­ing both actu­al­i­ty and poten­tial­i­ty syn­chron­i­cal­ly exposed, con­tin­gent and, hence, inca­pable of absolute mastery. 

The gen­uine for­mu­la of potentiality—to pose the enig­ma anew with Agamben—is not that of the end-means rela­tion between actu­al­i­sa­tion and poten­tial­iza­tion, but that of the poten­tial­iza­tion of poten­tial­i­ty as such: the expo­si­tion of a pas­sion (pathos, suf­fer­ing, sterē­sis) of appear­ance (eidos, form), the inti­ma­tion of Being with­out pred­i­cate,” potentiality’s own ontol­ogy.27 But this is not an easy task at all (it may even be an impos­si­bil­i­ty, if thought only from the per­spec­tive of action/​actualisation). Notably, Agam­ben stress­es how before the abyss of the onto­log­i­cal exis­tence of poten­tial­i­ty, the eth­i­cal (and juridi­co-polit­i­cal) tra­di­tions have often sought to avoid the prob­lem of poten­tial­i­ty by reduc­ing it to the terms of will and neces­si­ty”.28 By ren­der­ing the will to act” as the effec­tive (oper­a­tive) motor of real­i­ty pro­duc­tion, mas­ter­ful actu­al­iza­tion aims to exhaust what­ev­er oth­er poten­tial­i­ty may be avail­able each time by sin­gling out what is willed as enact­ed; as well as ensure that what is actu­al is and must be exclu­sive­ly nec­es­sary (since the will is, ide­o­log­i­cal­ly, imag­ined as free” to neces­si­tate its exis­tence, its auton­o­my and self-mas­tery). Yet power/​potentiality, for Agam­ben, is not will and impo­ten­tial­i­ty is not neces­si­ty: To believe that will has pow­er over poten­tial­i­ty, that the pas­sage of actu­al­i­ty is the result of a deci­sion that puts an end to the ambi­gu­i­ty of poten­tial­i­ty […] this is the per­pet­u­al illu­sion of moral­i­ty.”29 And I would add that it is also the per­pet­u­al illu­sion of the archi­tect as an actor, a mas­ter-cre­ator of fun­da­ments, who wills-to-will archi­tec­tur­al deci­sions (lit­er­al­ly pro-duc­tions: cuts of poten­tial­i­ty) in pur­suit of the dream of an absolute­ly actu­al archi­tec­ture that eras­es or lim­its any ambi­gu­i­ty and inher­ent oth­er­ness” (on one of the most inter­est­ing recent dis­cus­sions of the search for an absolv­ing pol­i­tics of archi­tec­ture, see the posi­tions of Aure­li and Spencer).30

Agamben’s ontol­ogy of poten­tial­i­ty, much as it owes to Aris­to­tle, goes fur­ther (in that it takes away the empha­sis on action which comes nat­ur­al to Aristotle’s time) and is ulti­mate­ly con­ceived as an exper­i­ment (as denot­ed in the word expe­ri­ence”), giv­en that the rad­i­cal con­tin­gency of potentiality/​power means that actu­al­i­ty is each time con­cerned not [with] the actu­al exis­tence or inex­is­tence of a thing, but exclu­sive­ly its poten­tial­i­ty”.31 And in this sense, poten­tial­i­ty in its absolute sense (its reflec­tion on its own poten­tial­i­ty) becomes the prin­ci­ple of an eth­i­cal con­tin­gency as a para-ontol­ogy of pow­er. Eth­i­cal­ly, what is nec­es­sary is not the occur­rence or non-occur­rence, the truth or untruth of a par­tic­u­lar deed or event, but rather the con­tin­gen­tia abso­lu­ta of the no-more-than-not-true (or it will occur no-more-than-not) as a whole, call­ing into ques­tion the irrev­o­ca­bil­i­ty of the past’s futures, or what Agam­ben calls past con­tin­gents.

Yet, con­tin­gen­tia abso­lu­ta, in this sense, con­cerns past con­tin­gents not in order to make the past once more nec­es­sary but, rather, to return it to its poten­tial not to be.”32 To ren­der present futures, means to enable con­tem­pla­tion its pow­er and eth­i­cal sense to reflect on its nature as a con­tin­gency rather than a mas­tery. A resti­tu­tio in inte­grum of poten­tial­i­ty33: a decre­ation (decreazione), as Agam­ben calls it34 echo­ing, per­haps, Aristotle’s term of an immo­bile flight as a dynamis akin­isias, a cer­tain de-action; or what Hei­deg­ger called the qui­et pow­er of the pos­si­ble” (die stille Kraft des Möglichen).35 Decre­ation” (beau­ti­ful­ly thought by Simone Weil from whom Agam­ben is inspired)36 ren­ders inop­er­a­tive, first of all, the par­a­digm of self-ground­ed, and self-jus­ti­fied sov­er­eign action, and acti­vates” a poten­tia inor­di­na­ta (nonor­dained pow­er) that is essen­tial­ly anoth­er name for the pol­i­tics or ethics of inop­er­a­tiv­i­ty: ren­der­ing mas­tery inop­er­a­tive.37

Mean­while, Agamben’s reflec­tion points, also, to the prob­lem of this resti­tu­tion”. For him the prob­lem remains that any resti­tu­tion can be revi­sion­ary in search for its mas­tery, reac­tive, full of its own neg­a­tiv­i­ty and hard­ly any­thing affir­ma­tive, active but with­out much sense or a way of life.38 One must think the exis­tence of poten­tial­i­ty with­out any rela­tion to Being in the form of actuality—not even in the extreme form of the poten­tial­i­ty not to be, and of actu­al­i­ty as the ful­fil­ment and man­i­fes­ta­tion of potentiality—and think the exis­tence of poten­tial­i­ty even with­out any rela­tion to being in the form of let­ting poten­tial­i­ty be in the form of the irre­deemable con­tin­gency of being.”39 For Agam­ben, one needs to resist decid­ing between poten­tial­i­ty and impo­ten­tial­i­ty,40 for that would still be a sov­er­eign deci­sion, a mas­tery willed into action; one must, instead, seek the man­ner in which con­tem­pla­tion and action and an exper­i­men­tal empiri­cism can no longer be dis­tin­guished (as he expands on this in The Use of Bod­ies).

V. The Virtuality of Virtue 

That we need to veer away from the dom­i­nant par­a­digm of mas­tery (across the right and left of its spec­trum) in activ­i­ty (i.e. the acti­va­tion of a reser­voir of pow­er that is to be exclu­sive­ly had” impos­ing the sus­tain­abil­i­ty of the actu­al­iza­tion of always-already exhaust­ed poten­tial­i­ties) appears self-evi­dent today in the cat­a­stroph­ic plan­e­tary sit­u­a­tion in which we find our­selves. The dom­i­nant par­a­digm of action (cen­tred on the mas­tery of the will) is ground­ed on noth­ing but the abstrac­tion of willed-free­dom in its full vacu­ity (where­by free­dom is con­ceived as the pow­er over poten­tial­i­ty, and as the pow­er of the indi­vid­u­al­ized will to act: to pro­duce, to con­sume and exchange). Is it, then, an acci­dent that hard­ly anyone—including architects—genuinely loves or desires what they seem to enact with such mas­tery? Each time, it seems, a mere metaphor of pow­er is enact­ed though one in great demand (an invest­ment towards a self and a mas­tered life that leaves no chance to liv­ing well for the vast major­i­ty of peo­ple). In this instance, metaphors, despite of what their name sug­gests, do not move us to anoth­er bet­ter place”. They just pos­tu­late yet anoth­er place with­out a sub­ject. Veer­ing away from this par­a­digm of action (and the false expec­ta­tions of mas­tery it rel­ish­es) will prob­a­bly involve a recon­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of our social and polit­i­cal ecol­o­gy of act­ing, requir­ing some­thing as chal­leng­ing as ren­der­ing inop­er­a­tive the will to act out of/​a mas­tery (where, by def­i­n­i­tion, every act is always an expro­pri­a­tion of another’s will to appropriate).

I would like to empha­size one side of this, the eth­i­cal side of such a para-ontol­ogy of poten­tial­i­ty where poten­tial­i­ty exists beside (para) actu­al­i­ty. The eth­i­cal focus does not derive from an attempt to reverse the onto­log­i­cal pri­or­i­ty of actu­al­i­ty. It is under­stand­able why poten­tial­i­ty can­not be thought as sep­a­rate from actu­al­i­ty, or to put it more gen­er­al­ly pow­er can­not be thought out­side of the real­i­ty it encoun­ters (as its end/​telos). Aris­to­tle empha­sizes actu­al­ized being or exis­tence as the telos of poten­tial­i­ty, not in the sense of an exhaus­tion or final­i­ty, but in the sense of a ful­fil­ment: for the func­tion­ing (ergon) is the end (telos), and the actu­al­i­ty (energheia) the func­tion­ing (ergon); and that is why the name actu­al­i­ty” (energheia) is employed with respect to the func­tion­ing (ergon) and points towards the ful­fil­ment (ent­elechi­an)” (Meta­physics Theta, 1050a22–24; Makin, 2006). To ren­der this in anoth­er man­ner: if the actu­al­i­ty of some­thing is its end (in the sense of a telos rather than final­i­ty), the actu­al­i­ty of a poten­cy is in the activ­i­ty; and, in this way, the mean­ing of the very term actu­al­i­ty” can only be derived from the joint activ­i­ty” of the com­ing-to-be of a poten­cy in actu­al­i­ty, nev­er arriv­ing to the sense of a com­plete or total reality”. 

It ought to be remem­bered, how­ev­er, that for the Greeks and Aris­to­tle in par­tic­u­lar, the telos or end is not the achieve­ment of what­ev­er end may be willed. For exam­ple, the par­tic­u­lar poten­tial­i­ty of con­tem­plat­ing (of rea­son­ing and the­o­ry), needs to find its way towards the vir­tu­ous telos of con­tem­plat­ing well. This may explain why con­tem­pla­tion as a way of life (ēthos) was revered by the Greeks. This means that con­tem­pla­tion to achieve its end, the con­tem­pla­tion of the good, needs to be ful­ly in use (rather than remain an abstract poten­tial, that is sus­pend­ed or deformed in a melan­cholic com­pro­mise with an actu­al­ized state). This brings us back to our prob­lem, as I hope I have indi­cat­ed: the dom­i­nant par­a­digm of mas­tery in action as an appro­pri­a­tion, rather than a use, is not acci­den­tal in the west­ern imag­i­nary of pow­er. To cri­tique, how­ev­er, the dom­i­nat­ing par­a­digm of sov­er­eign appro­pria­tive action is not to say that human beings are not the ani­mals that are char­ac­ter­ized by the need to act, in the sense of the exercise/​use of their non-pre­de­ter­mined capac­i­ties or poten­tial­i­ties, or that they live any­where but in the realm of possibility. 

We are the species that when self-con­scious and reflec­tive realise that we do not have a des­tiny or pre­de­fined essence/​end. The par­tic­u­lar kind of action” (con­tem­pla­tion or the­o­ry) that I am point­ing to, how­ev­er, as shown in the Nico­machean Ethics of Aristotle’s, and which dif­fer­en­ti­ates this ani­mal from oth­ers, is not lan­guage or any oth­er pre­de­ter­mined char­ac­ter­is­tic, but rea­son” in the sense of non-pre-deter­mined think­ing or self-reflec­tion: Of that which has rea­son, (a) one part has rea­son in the sense that it may obey rea­son, (b) the oth­er part has it in the sense that it pos­sess­es rea­son or in the sense that it is think­ing” (1098a4–7; Apos­tle, 1980). While nat­ur­al pow­ers”, like sen­sa­tions, exist as poten­tial­i­ties and are then used or expe­ri­enced, rea­son as a pow­er or dynamis is first used (prac­ticed) and poten­tial­ized in think­ing. This dif­fer­en­tial line, which marks human beings as much as it is marked by human beings, could be thought as the thresh­old with­in which what we can call our eth­i­cal ker­nel of expe­ri­ence takes its very place as a thresh­old between actu­al­i­ty and poten­cy (and it is this thresh­old that has been dis­placed by the dom­i­nant par­a­digm of the will to act in order to leave poten­cy behind). Could it be that act­ing can be rethought along the lines of com­mon use, rather than the will­ing of a mas­ter­ful act­ing and hav­ing? And could it be that this prac­tice of a cer­tain poten­tial­i­ty (in use)41 is what archi­tec­ture is called to nur­ture and save” in the built environment? 

In this sense, a just” archi­tec­ture, to bor­row a famil­iar phrase in crit­i­cal spa­tial stud­ies, does not exist in any oth­er man­ner than as the com­mon prac­tice of poten­tial­i­ty (it is not a des­tiny that can be infi­nite­ly post­poned in the form of a mere hope, or an out­side” that can­not be expe­ri­enced in the form of anoth­er utopia). Com­mon use or prac­tice of it is the only way to attain it. Not attain­ing it, not prac­tic­ing it, is the pri­ma­ry goal of the dom­i­nant par­a­digm of action that dis­places the act’s poten­cy in the will, and makes of it an abstrac­tion, an expec­ta­tion that can­not meet its gen­uine ful­fil­ment, can­not be lived but be dis­placed in post­pone­ment. The dis­place­ment of the act in the will of its mas­ter is also a dis­place­ment of con­tem­pla­tion, but con­tem­pla­tion can­not ulti­mate­ly be fooled by the expe­ri­ence of the pseu­do-sen­so­r­i­al device of the will. The age-old invest­ment in willed or actu­alised action, in its set­up oppo­si­tion to its expo­sure in con­tem­pla­tion, does not ulti­mate­ly work (and it should be not­ed that energheia has been also trans­lat­ed as work, ergon). It is to a spa­tial regen­er­a­tion of the virtue of con­tem­pla­tion as the phe­nom­e­nal co-exis­tence of poten­tial­i­ty and actu­al­i­ty, that pro­gres­sive social­ly-engaged archi­tec­tur­al prac­tice could turn anew. 

It is now time to note, too, that Aris­to­tle con­ceived of a power’s dual onto­log­i­cal sta­tus (as poten­tial being and actu­al being; in Physics I) in order to resolve the very apo­r­ia of how to think of change or metabolē/​transformation in and as being, which I hope now appears more fit­ting a ref­er­ence to archi­tec­tur­al the­o­ry as a spa­tial prac­tice, than per­haps at the start. The pri­ma­ry con­se­quence of this dis­cov­ery of Aristotle’s is that it ren­ders change (power/​potency) itself a being (i.e. exis­tent, a way of being and a life that can be attained, that is formed and con­tin­ues to be form­ing through use, and not as a mere­ly abstract pos­si­bil­i­ty that could be pre­de­fined or reserved, ful­ly repressed or par­tial­ly erased). Archi­tec­ture can then speak of its con­tem­pla­tion and cre­ations in terms of two forms of equal­ly exis­tent being that are inter­de­pen­dent in the present (and, in this sense, thrown into inter­minable antag­o­nism of sorts between poten­tial­i­ty and actu­al­i­ty).42 How to think this antag­o­nism is not pre­de­ter­mined and that is the task, if that is the right word, of con­tem­pla­tion or the­o­ry in architecture. 

  1. 1

    This very dis­tinc­tion between an out­side and an inside is pre­sup­posed by the dom­i­nant par­a­digm of action in terms of the act of think­ing as such. This is also to say how­ev­er that ren­der­ing this dis­tinc­tion indif­fer­ent to being does not mean that there is no dif­fer­ence between con­tem­pla­tion or the­o­ry as an expe­ri­ence and con­tem­pla­tion in its for­mal expres­sion, for instance, in writ­ing. On the con­trary, the so-called out­side, the mul­ti­plic­i­ty of the real” and its flux” to refer to Eliz­a­beth Grosz’s expres­sion in ref­er­ence to Berg­son (Archi­tec­ture from the out­side – Essays on Vir­tu­al and Real Space, 179), is not out­side all pos­si­ble expe­ri­ence but with­in it. This is also what I indi­cate with the short-hand exis­ten­t/p­re­sent-futures”. In this man­ner, with some dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion from Grosz’s delim­i­ta­tion of the intel­lect,” I will sug­gest that con­tem­pla­tion or thought is entwined with its out­side, co-exis­tent, con­tin­gent­ly so. It can be nei­ther mere­ly cleared-out and dis­sect­ed, nor cap­tured in sus­pen­sion (as an excess), as the dom­i­nant par­a­digm of action pre­sup­pos­es in the form of its oper­a­tive device: the will that acts. It is the appa­ra­tus of the will that, abstract­ed from the body and its poten­cy, actu­al­izes pow­er, wills it into action (as an iden­ti­ty or rep­re­sen­ta­tion) and attempts to cap­ture its present as the con­fine­ment of its future.

  2. 2

    Agam­ben, What is an Appa­ra­tus? and Oth­er Essays, 45.

  3. 3

    Poten­cy in design and archi­tec­ture is par­tic­u­lar­ly enabled to indi­cate this. This is the way I read, for instance, the icon­ic poten­tial­iza­tion and relat­ed tem­po­rari­ness of some of Cedric Price’s projects.

  4. 4

    Lan­drum, Before Architecture.”

  5. 5

    trans. B. Jowett, in Barnes, The Com­plete Works of Aris­to­tle. Lan­drum inserts and notes the miss­ing archi­tects” to Jowett’s trans­la­tion, fol­low­ing Kraut, Aris­to­tle Pol­i­tics.

  6. 6

    Socrat­ic and Pla­ton­ic Polit­i­cal Phi­los­o­phy, 6; as quot­ed in: Lan­drum, Before Archi­tec­ture,” 21.

  7. 7

    Lan­drum, Before Archi­tec­ture,” 20.

  8. 8

    On the under­stand­ings of this (juridi­cal­ized) dis­tinc­tion of pow­ers between a poten­tia abso­lu­ta and a poten­tia ordi­na­ta, which orig­i­nat­ed in the canon­ist lawyers’ treat­ment (for instance, Hostien­sis, 1270) of papal pow­er and the bureau­cra­ti­za­tion of eccle­si­as­ti­cal law, who bor­rowed the terms from the­ol­o­gy, to then see it bor­rowed back by the the­olo­gians and applied to God in the four­teenth cen­tu­ry, and for it to be retrans­lat­ed into juris­tic-polit­i­cal dis­cours­es in the six­teenth cen­tu­ry and beyond, see: Courte­nay, Capac­i­ty and Voli­tion; and his The Dialec­tic of Omnipo­tence.” For crit­i­cism of Courtenay’s inter­pre­ta­tion, see: Oak­ley, Medieval The­o­ries of Nat­ur­al Law”; Oak­ley, Jacobean Polit­i­cal The­ol­o­gy”; and Oak­ley, Omnipo­tence, Covenant and Order. Oth­er crit­i­cal inter­pre­ta­tions include Ran­di, La Vergine e il papa”; Ran­di, A Sco­tis­tic Way of Dis­tin­guish­ing Between God’s Absolute and Ordained Pow­ers”; and Tachau, Robert Hol­cot on Con­tin­gency and Divine Deception.” 

  9. 9

    Agam­ben, The Work of Man.” 

  10. 10

    Tafu­ri, The Sphere and the Labyrinth, 9.

  11. 11

    Der­ri­da, Mar­gins of Phi­los­o­phy, 13.

  12. 12

    See, for a start: Witt, Ways of Being; Charles, Actu­al­i­ty and Poten­tial­i­ty in Meta­physics Θ”; Makin, Meta­physics Book Theta; and Beere, Doing and Being.

  13. 13

    Agam­ben, Poten­tial­i­ties, 179; my emphasis.

  14. 14


  15. 15

    Ibid., 15.

  16. 16

    Syn­chron­ic con­tin­gency” has a com­plex his­to­ry in phi­los­o­phy and its most sig­nif­i­cant pro­po­nent is Duns Sco­tus. Syn­chron­ic poten­tial­i­ty or pos­si­bil­i­ty equates with syn­chron­ic con­tin­gency and the two indi­cate, in Sco­tus, the free­dom (or free­ing) of the will as a ratio­nal poten­cy, i.e. as a recep­tive (of its own imma­nent action) poten­cy (recep­ti­va). For the will as the per­fect, imma­nent, ratio­nal poten­cy, in oth­er words, will­ing this or that and not will­ing this or that are non-essen­tial con­di­tions to the will on their own regard: the essen­tial con­di­tion of the will (its imma­nent prop­er­ty: con­tin­gency) is rather con­tained in the syn­tag­ma: will­ing-this-and-not-will­ing-this” (which sim­i­lar­ly can be rephrased with regard to oppo­site objects). See, for instance: Sco­tus, Lec­tura I. 39, 45–54; and see, fur­ther: Ran­di, A Sco­tis­tic Way of Dis­tin­guish­ing Between God’s Absolute and Ordained Powers.”

  17. 17

    Agam­ben, Poten­tial­i­ties, 231.

  18. 18

    Ibid., 182.

  19. 19

    As Miloš Kosec puts it, recent­ly, in his very well-writ­ten and thought out dis­ser­ta­tion that ought to be pub­lished (Pas­sivism: Activism and Pas­siv­i­ty in Con­tem­po­rary Archi­tec­ture), in an exten­sive engage­ment (Ch.2), the Laca­ton & Vas­sal project in Léon Aucoc square illus­trates prox­i­mate para­me­ters to an active not-doing” as one type of response to the ide­ol­o­gy of action’s mas­tery. Laca­ton and Vas­sal, Kosec writes, claimed true mas­tery” in archi­tec­ture not because of any for­mal per­fec­tion but for their abil­i­ty to con­serve poten­cy and impo­ten­cy in the act in a world that has all but ban­ished all pos­si­bil­i­ties for inop­er­a­tiv­i­ty. Refrain­ing from action in a world of com­pul­so­ry activ­i­ty is sud­den­ly not just a sign of good taste (as the abil­i­ty to restrain from doing) expos­ing its own inac­tiv­i­ty and its own poten­tial­i­ty, but also at the same time an expres­sion of Bartlebian ethics, of pure poten­tial­i­ty that erodes the seem­ing­ly seam­less ties of oper­a­tiv­i­ty of over-pro­lif­er­at­ing gov­ern­ing appa­ra­tus­es. If poet­ry is the con­tem­pla­tion of its own medi­um, of lan­guage and of its poten­tial­i­ties, then archi­tec­ture is con­tem­pla­tion of its own medi­um and its own poten­tial­i­ties.” (85). And Kosec is par­tic­u­lar­ly per­cep­tive in also not­ing that such ges­tures require also the ful­fil­ment of mas­tery” itself (87–88), its author­ship as he puts it, mean­ing its will-to-mas­tery becom­ing inop­er­a­tive in itself. See also Boano (The Ethics of a Poten­tial Urban­ism, 49) for the first, inci­den­tal­ly, book-length engage­ment with Agamben’s thought in rela­tion to archi­tec­ture and a brief ref­er­ence to the project that Kosec analy­ses in detail. On Bartle­by, see Deleuze, Bartle­by; Or, The For­mu­la; Agam­ben, Bartle­by, or On Con­tin­gency.

  20. 20

    Agam­ben, Poten­tial­i­ties, 182.

  21. 21

    Ibid., 183.

  22. 22

    Ibid.; my emphasis.

  23. 23

    Agam­ben, Homo Sac­er.

  24. 24

    On this dis­tinc­tion the lit­er­a­ture is immense, see indica­tive­ly: Rudavsky, Divine Omni­science and Omnipo­tence in Medieval Phi­los­o­phy; Oak­ley, Omnipo­tence, Covenant and Order; Courte­nay, Capac­i­ty and Voli­tion; and Courte­nay, The Dialec­tic of Omnipo­tence.” Also: de Muralt, L’unité de la philoso­phie poli­tique, 115–56.

  25. 25

    See: Agam­ben, State of Excep­tion; for the his­tor­i­cal and juridi­cal con­text, see, indica­tive­ly: Pen­ning­ton, The Prince and the Law; Post, Stud­ies in Medieval Legal Thought.

  26. 26

    Agam­ben, Homo Sac­er, 47.

  27. 27

    Agam­ben, Poten­tial­i­ties, 257.

  28. 28

    Ibid., 254.

  29. 29


  30. 30

    Aure­li, The Pos­si­bil­i­ty of an Absolute Archi­tec­ture; Aure­li, Less is Enough; Spencer, Less than enough.” 

  31. 31

    Agam­ben, Poten­tial­i­ties, 261.

  32. 32

    Ibid., 267.

  33. 33


  34. 34

    Agam­ben, La comu­nità che viene, 92–3.

  35. 35

    Agamben’s read­ing of Aris­to­tle is sig­nif­i­cant­ly influ­enced by Heidegger’s (Aristotle’s Meta­physics).

  36. 36

    On Dé-création, see: Weil, Oeu­vres complètes, 349–350. For a thor­ough engage­ment with Weil’s thought, see: McCul­lough, The Reli­gious Phi­los­o­phy of Simone Weil (chs. 1 and 5, in Par­tic­u­lar). For the rela­tion between Agam­ben and Weil with regard to decre­ation, see: Ric­cia­r­di, From Decre­ation to Bare Life,” 75–93.

  37. 37

    See, as a start­ing point: Agam­ben, L’opera dell’uomo.”

  38. 38

    On neg­a­tiv­i­ty see: Agam­ben, Lan­guage and Death.

  39. 39

    Agam­ben: Homo Sac­er, 47.

  40. 40

    Ibid., 48.

  41. 41

    Aris­tide Antonas and I have tried to express and project var­i­ous exam­ples of plac­ing a rethink­ing of com­mon use” at the heart of archi­tec­tur­al design and the­o­ry. Some of these are described in: Antonas and Zartaloud­is, The Pro­to­cols of Athens, 11–207; and in: Antonas and Zartaloud­is, Pro­to­cols for the Life of the Ordinary.”

  42. 42

    How this antag­o­nism is to be per­ceived and ulti­mate­ly used remains, for me, an open ques­tion. It is plau­si­ble that in part this expe­ri­ence of antag­o­nism (and a cer­tain cre­ativ­i­ty with and against it) can include the man­ner of ideas, coun­ter­val­ues, cul­tur­al styles etc. that Fredric Jame­son describes, in terms of read­ings of Gram­sci, as vir­tu­al or antic­i­pa­to­ry”: in the sense that they cor­re­spond” to a mate­r­i­al, insti­tu­tion­al base that has not yet in real­i­ty” been secured by polit­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion itself” (Archi­tec­ture and the Cri­tique of Ide­ol­o­gy, 69). My sense is that, how­ev­er, this counter-cul­ture rev­o­lu­tion­ary antic­i­pa­tion log­ic falls often enough with­in the very same con­di­tion­al­i­ty of the par­a­digm of mas­tery in action (and its inter­nal neg­a­tive scis­sion between a poten­tial and an actu­al pow­er) that I am argu­ing is part of the prob­lem. With thanks to Alexan­dra Vougia for point­ing me to this con­nec­tion in Jameson.


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