Agostino De Rosa / To Resist: Between Hubris 
and Compassion

To Resist: Between Hubris and Compassion

Editor's Foreword

Agostino De Rosa

Maybe some of you will remem­ber Sous le sable[1] (France 2000), a beau­ti­ful and poignant film by direc­tor François Ozon (1967) from sev­er­al years ago. For those who haven't seen it, the film tells the sto­ry of Marie (played by Char­lotte Ram­pling, 1946) and Jean Drillon (Bruno Cre­mer, 1929–2010), a mid­dle-aged cou­ple who have been mar­ried for many years. He is French and she is Eng­lish; they live in Paris and have no chil­dren. One day, dur­ing a sum­mer vaca­tion, Marie falls asleep on the beach while Jean goes swim­ming. The man, how­ev­er, dis­ap­pears into thin air, per­haps drowned. Hav­ing com­plet­ed the for­mal­i­ties with the local author­i­ties, Marie, returned to Paris, tries to start liv­ing again, while the police con­tin­ue the inves­ti­ga­tion into the dis­ap­pear­ance of her hus­band. How­ev­er, her life devel­ops dai­ly as if Jean had nev­er dis­ap­peared: in fact, she talks to him, makes love with him and aston­ish­ing­ly refers to him, with her friends, if he were present, there with her. And in the film he real­ly is’ with her: we see him undress­ing Marie, eat­ing with her … But the truth, evi­dent to all, is opaque only in her eyes, even when the police of sea­side vil­lage recov­er her husband's body drowned. In the movie’s final scene, Marie returns to the beach that has seen them hap­py togeth­er, for the last time, and sud­den­ly she sees, in the dis­tance, the sil­hou­ette of Jean on the shore, walk­ing away. Marie starts run­ning to reach him: the scene, on which the cred­its fade with the beau­ti­ful score of Philippe Rom­bi (1968), is des­tined to nev­er end. In fact, Marie's race towards Jean's ghost is not con­clud­ed, nor could it ever be. It seems that she approach­es him, but in real­i­ty he remains unreach­able: the image thus con­tin­ues ad infini­tum in a mov­ing loop.

I believe that this scene explains per­fect­ly, bet­ter than a thou­sand arid pro­jec­tive and math­e­mat­i­cal demon­stra­tions, in a poet­ic way, what a 'van­ish­ing point' is: a fake image of some­thing so far away (infi­nite­ly dis­tant) that is nev­er reached. The same phan­tas­mic essence of Jean in the back­ground, nev­er reached by Marie, seals the fail­ure of the human vision in trap­ping (and reach­ing) what is no longer among us and which, per­haps, nev­er was. After all, the per­spec­tive, and the rep­re­sen­ta­tion in gen­er­al, is in some ways pre­cise­ly this: the death of the object, its hypo­sta­ti­za­tion. Yet this dead­ly scene from Ozon's movie also visu­al­ly explains to us what the term 'resis­tance' means: oppos­ing the inevitabil­i­ty of nature, des­tiny, the known and unknown forces that sur­round and con­di­tion us, of our ego and oppose our desire to it, our will and also our unrea­son­able­ness. The scene there­fore seems to allude to a form of resis­tance to the impos­si­bil­i­ty of rep­re­sent­ing the infi­nite, in this spe­cif­ic case, from a mere­ly human posi­tion and there­fore eter­nal­ly con­demned to fail­ure. The ety­mol­o­gy in this case comes to our aid: the term derives from the late Latin resisten­tia, deriv­a­tive of resistere, "resist­ing", to indi­cate the action and the fact of oppos­ing some­thing or some­one, but also the way and the means them­selves with which such actions take place. It has var­i­ous seman­tic nuances, for exam­ple in the mil­i­tary field (defense action against the ene­my or the adver­sary), but also legal (the right to oppose, even by force, any attack or threat affect­ing the fun­da­men­tal and invi­o­lable rights of man by the estab­lished pow­er). But I would like to dwell on its mechan­i­cal mean­ing where the verb 'resist' alludes to any force that oppos­es the motion of the body to which it is applied: this def­i­n­i­tion there­fore seems to fit per­fect­ly, in its dou­ble artic­u­la­tion, to the con­ven­tion­al domains of the archi­tect, that of the rep­re­sen­ta­tion and of build­ing. The first involves a process of objec­ti­fi­ca­tion of the real, through the aid of a mech­a­nism exter­nal to the observ­er, which in the spe­cif­ic case con­sists of a pro­jec­tion. Pro­jec­tion, in the cul­tur­al sta­tus of an archi­tect, is a trans­for­ma­tive action that allows objects belong­ing to domains char­ac­ter­ized by three dimen­sions to be brought back to their flat rep­re­sen­ta­tion with the inevitable loss of one of them: a process there­fore of reduc­tio and trans­la­tio that makes clear a strong mechan­i­cal action de-anthro­po­mor­phiz­ing resistance. 

Any archi­tec­tur­al pro­jec­tion con­sti­tutes a form of pro­found abstrac­tion with respect to real­i­ty and there­fore implies a form of log­i­cal-rhetor­i­cal con­struc­tion that elim­i­nates the object and which, through the pro­jec­tive vehi­cle, trans­forms it into an arche­type, or a mod­el. Descrip­tive Geom­e­try— like all oth­er forms of rep­re­sen­ta­tion, even ethno­graph­i­cal­ly dis­tant from that which dwell in West­ern culture—therefore aris­es from con­struc­tions of thought and from an observ­er-inde­pen­dent pro­jec­tive process, even in its most opti­cal appli­ca­tion, that of the monoc­u­lar per­spec­tive. How­ev­er, today the con­text in which the archi­tect works has vio­lent­ly changed. With the advent of the dig­i­tal, rep­re­sen­ta­tion seems to have lost mem­o­ry of its pro­jec­tive ori­gin: entire uni­vers­es that, in the past, have been nar­rat­ed to us as born from the pro­jec­tive act of bib­li­cal fiat lux or of primeval Om whose acoustic echo reached every­where to orga­nize mat­ter and spir­it, today in the hori­zon of the eido­mat­ics seem to lose more and more sense. On the oth­er hand, the architect's resis­tance is expressed in his or her desire to con­trast the laws of grav­i­ty that dom­i­nate the phe­nom­e­nal world; resis­tances that seem to me to be his­tor­i­cal­ly well-sum­ma­rized in the stereotom­ic con­fig­u­ra­tion pro­ce­dures that today have a nat­ur­al anal­o­gon in the tools of some dig­i­tal mod­el­ing soft­ware, to the point of appear­ing to be cre­at­ed specif­i­cal­ly for this purpose—impression cor­rob­o­rat­ed by the close ties that can be estab­lished, at that place­ment, with rapid pro­to­typ­ing, imag­in­able as a sort of a dig­i­tal Maitre Maçon. The geo­met­ric con­struc­tion thus man­ages to trans­late into the con­struc­tion of phys­i­cal ele­ments through a process of phy­lo­ge­n­e­sis total­ly con­trolled by the archi­tect. Stereoto­my tes­ti­fies how the knowl­edge of geom­e­try, even before Gas­pard Mon­ge (1746–1818), could devel­op all its imag­i­na­tive pow­er by intro­ject­ing in its prac­tices of pro­jec­tions and deter­mi­na­tions of the true forms (or sizes), tec­ton­ic cri­te­ria hand­ed down in the secret of the stone­ma­sons’ guilds, at least up to the act of rup­ture with the silence made in the trea­tis­es, by Philib­ert de L'Orme (c. 1514–1570).

From a his­tor­i­cal point of view, stereoto­my con­sti­tutes a cha­rade that has been baf­fling schol­ars for decades: in fact, when only the prac­tices of man­u­al rough­ing of the stone pre­vailed, the stone­cut­ter already exer­cised in his mind the con­trol of the form through the wise iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the plans of cut­ting and con­tact between the blocks, mod­el­ing sur­faces with dou­ble cur­va­ture with a nat­u­ral­ness dis­guised by years of prac­tice, but nev­er explic­it­ly resort­ing to aux­il­iary graph­ics. Again, one might say, a form of inter­nal resis­tance. The space of rep­re­sen­ta­tion was there­fore entire­ly entop­tic, 'inter­nal', car­ried out in the mind of the oper­a­tor, which, as Charles Howard Hin­ton not­ed in his stud­ies on the fourth dimen­sion[2], became a place of vir­tu­al pre­fig­u­ra­tion where the mod­el­ing action was car­ried out through com­plete­ly abstract sculp­tur­al pro­ce­dures, yet with con­crete effects in the act of mak­ing the work. The six­teenth-cen­tu­ry graph­ics elab­o­rat­ed by de L'Orme, in the illus­tra­tive appa­ra­tus of his trea­tise Le pre­mier tome de l'Architecture (1567), didac­ti­cal­ly show these pas­sages, pre­vi­ous­ly con­fined to the opaque space of the mind, but still did not lin­guis­ti­cal­ly solve the gap that sep­a­rat­ed them from the under­stand­ing shared by the com­mu­ni­ty of oper­a­tors: cryp­tic in form, exact in method­olog­i­cal approach, they need­ed, for their unan­i­mous under­stand­ing, a 'Roset­ta stone' which, in the 18th cen­tu­ry will prove to be clas­si­cal Descrip­tive Geom­e­try. Thanks to it, the meth­ods of siz­ing, mea­sure­ment and the equiv­a­lence of the pro­jec­tion-sec­tion oper­a­tions assumed a dis­played dig­ni­ty and a com­mon Esperan­to that would elim­i­nate the dis­tance between schol­ar and con­struc­tion work site prac­tice. Above all, the equivalence—postulated by Jean Vic­tor Pon­celet[3]—between the oper­a­tion of pro­jec­tion and that of sec­tion, here also assumed in a phys­i­cal sense, appeared to be the key­stone in the under­stand­ing of the com­mon pro­ce­dures for con­fig­ur­ing the form between men­tal imag­i­na­tion and the space of the phe­nom­e­no­log­i­cal expe­ri­ence: the idea that the hype­r­u­ra­ne­ous and ethe­re­al lines, which pile up the tables of the trea­tis­es on descrip­tive and pro­jec­tive geom­e­try, can become the anal­o­gon of phys­i­cal instru­ments that oper­ate in cor­pore vivi on the stone, unrav­els a series of infi­nite pos­si­bil­i­ties and equiv­a­lences between the world of the­o­ry and the world of prac­tice that per­haps Girard Desar­gues (1591–1661) had already guessed when he used botan­i­cal terms or nau­ti­cal jar­gon to define the ele­ments of his geom­e­try. These obser­va­tions appear even more mean­ing­ful when refer­ring to con­tem­po­rary archi­tec­tur­al pro­duc­tion, oscil­lat­ing between two behav­ioral extremes: on the one hand, the increas­ing­ly accel­er­at­ed push towards the use of com­plex forms which, in an attempt to accom­mo­date the designer's ideas, require the devel­op­ment of the­o­ret­i­cal and oper­a­tional approach­es for its engi­neer­ing, often unre­lat­ed to the archi­tect and del­e­gat­ed to oth­er tech­ni­cal-sci­en­tif­ic skills; on the oth­er hand, the cor­rec­tive triv­i­al­iza­tion of the pro­fes­sion that adopts pre-pack­aged solu­tions from indus­try in an uncrit­i­cal man­ner, help­ing to debase the hori­zon of the con­tem­po­rary urban land­scape. Today the new forms of artis­tic expres­sion can give new life to the con­fig­u­ra­tive imag­i­na­tion of the archi­tect, show­ing how even the most com­plex con­struc­tions can be trans­lat­ed into forms that can be expe­ri­enced in the phe­nom­e­nal space of an instal­la­tion, mak­ing the space of geom­e­try no longer an else­where, but a 'here and now.'

  1. 1

    Cfr. François Ozon, Sous le sable (Paris: ‎L'Arche, 2011). More gen­er­al­ly, on Ozon's cin­e­mato­graph­ic work see: Loïc Bour­deau, ed., The Films of François Ozon (Edin­burgh: Edin­burgh Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2021).

  2. 2

    Cfr. Charles Howard Hin­ton, Rac­con­ti sci­en­tifi­ci (Par­ma: Fran­co Maria Ric­ci Edi­tore, 1978).

  3. 3

    Cfr. Jean-Vic­tor Pon­celet, Traité des pro­priétés pro­jec­tives des fig­ures (Paris: Gau­ti­er-Vil­lars, 1822).


Bour­deau, Loic (ed.). The Films of François Ozonedit­ed. Edin­burgh: Edin­burgh Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2021.

Hin­ton, Charles Howard. Rac­con­ti sci­en­tifi­ci. Par­ma: Fran­co Maria Ric­ci Edi­tore, 1978.

Ozon, François, Sous le sable. Paris: ‎L'Arche, 2011. 

Pon­celet, Jean-Vic­tor, Traité des pro­priétés pro­jec­tives des fig­ures. Paris: Gau­ti­er-Vil­lars, 1822.