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BETWEEN CATEGORIES:  SULLIVAN’S PARALLELISM

in The Cornell Journal of Architecture; Spirits, Vol. 10. Actar, 2016. 



It may here be interjected that imagination is the greatest of man’s single working powers—and the trickiest; as intellect is the frailest, the most subject to derangement, the most given to cowardice and betrayal, unless it be held steady and sane by the power of instinct.    
              The power of Intellect is valid beyond a doubt. But folly comes when it is allowed to usurp dominion over Instinct.    
              The chief exhibit of Intellect is called Logic; but the processes of Instinct involve a logic infinitely more subtle, much more powerful—because primordial.    
        Louis Sullivan1


The very foundations of computational operation/protocol (and by extension their representational legacies) are on the brink of being transformed, from that of logic to one of instinct. Heeding Louis Sullivan’s pedagogical argument in the present context, one may find this transition as a welcome return to a time before reductionist thinking took hold as the filter through which to comprehend and dominate the world. And while some of the greatest accomplishments of our civilization rely on this legacy, countless other threats have been fostered by and sought solution through a misguided belief that rational scientific progress will ultimately provide solutions to the problems it created—a logical Rapture. Our present problems will not be solved through logic alone; rather, they will be dissolved through the aid of the imaginary. 

While at once “the greatest of man’s single working powers,” imagination finds itself constrained by a limited ability to articulate while on a quest to interpret and represent the world.  At some point these limited articulations become manifest in predisposition and preference, blocking our ability to conceive of alternate realities. Simultaneously, these predispositions become political as we strive to reenact the world that never was. We are a product of these narrow representational capabilities and their limits on the imagination. What is at stake now is precisely the thing that stands between us and our modes of representation, and whether we welcome it or not will amount to nothing short of an obliteration of the registration plane; between a construction and its semblance. We will no longer operate between these categories, for the categories will no longer be intact. Similarly, a distinction between the real and the virtual will be indistinguishable, as will the technical and the biological, in a truly “mobile equilibrium.”


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1.   Excerpt from Louis Sullivan, “Interlude, A Doctrine of Parallelism,” in A System of Architectural Ornament According with a Philosophy of Man’s Powers (Washington, DC: American Institute of Architects, 1924).