Preface: What Is Modern?
In the end this book defines modernity as the drawing of a line. It began
as a study of Descartes accessory
to
an ongoing project on the relation-
ship between writing and architectonics in philosophical and literary texts,
starting with the theoretical role of architectural form in
Kant
and Hegel,
and then extending chronologically from Racine, Goethe, Holderlin, and
Baudelaire to Proust, Benjamin, and Broch. What linked these texts across
different disciplines, genres, styles, and periods was a relationship with
building that could not be adequately described as figural. The subjects of
architecture and architectural form did not arise in them as a metaphor for
the formations of poiesis, whether in the guise of a particular construction,
a house, or a temple, or of a complete refiguring of the face of the earth
or sky. Nor did they signifY an originary form of writing or "archetext," a
prefigural ground upon which philosophical conceptualizations rest.
The persistence of architectural metaphors in philosophy and literature
is indeed significant, both for what they enable organizationally, in the
cause of description as well as abstraction, and for what they reveal, viewed
from a critical remove, about the desires and limitations of discursive
work. But attempts to underscore the presence of metaphoric identifica-
tions of writing with architectonics tend to repeat the gesture they indi-
cate, further concealing the vital difference upon which those metaphors
depend. Recent discussions of the presence of architectural figures and ob-
jects in discourse have focused primarily on what the architectonic, in its
individual linguistic appearances, represents: realism in the qovel, the sys-
tematic structure of ideology, the ambition of the philosopher, and the ori-
gin-both as foundation and as problem-of philosophy.! While Jacques
I.
See Philippe Hamon, Expositiom: Litterature et architecture au Xl){eme sieck (Paris:
Jose Corti,
1989);
Denis Hollier, La prise de fa Concorde: Essais sur Georges Ba-
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