Studio Reading, Late Reading, Anti-Reading: The Regime of Humbug
I am at a loss as to how to recommend a reading list unless perhaps it is an index of insight and counter-insight. Frankly, I’ve given up thinking “reading lists” operate as they used to, or even that they still stand in for a recommended narrative that can be transferred. Reading is often now inseparable from learning outcomes. A printed pamphlet can be left lying around in classes or studios, unpicked up in favor of believing the same essay can be found online. But is the essay actually noted in order to be retrieved later? My experience tells me less and less. But then again, how did reading lists operate? Were they once grounding for the guidance to a knowledge-in-waiting? Was this part of the agreed transfer of knowledge implied in any pedagogical act, or knowledge worth learning and then re-adjusting? Does a reading list transfer insight caught so glancingly across other readers who see such wisdom waiting to be unearthed?
A reading list for a design studio operates differently from that which one might offer for a seminar or lecture course. A reading list must include what we might term reading, late reading, and anti-reading. It is an open provocative act; it subverts reading at the moment it invites more or less reading. Whenever thinking of offering such a reading list I have to wonder: if I know how to sustain interest in my own reading, what then of the transfer via a reading list to students? Reading offers triggers chance routes, narratives that can be glanced at and then become part of the design studio, working their way from the brief to an informed speculation about post-developer housing, in this case, and the city in the city. In the studio Ottawa: You’re so Vanier, two areas were important: Dirty Realism Housing and Hyperbolic Urbanism. Everything else followed from prompts, probes and provocations.
[Image courtesy Roger Connah.]
I. THE READING LIST
Who knows any longer why we read and how we read this or that? It is quite clear from recent years that reading lists can stand in for knowledge never to be. Many students embedded in pedagogical short cuts already edit in their minds a reading pattern that can conform to grading, time available and interest. Indeed, when indexed, these reading sources look highly impressive and stretch out the tantalizing knowledge that may be waiting to be transformed into urban chatter and architectural experience. We all know however that the books listed are rarely read unless an exam is involved. Threatened grading can remove the shape of anything read. This is neither to be cynical nor provocative. Simply, a reading list is a skeleton on which to hang other skeletons.
Voyage in a Bowler Hat
The curious incident of the dog in the night-time
I Swear I Saw This: Drawings in Fieldwork Notebooks, Namely My Own
University of Chicago Press
Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution
Distrust That Particular Flavor
II. THE LATE READING LIST
In At The Existentialist Café, I came across the glorious phrase, the regime of humbug. As in: “They may have earned this attitude during the regime of humbug that was Occupied France.” I have a friend with a dog called Humbug. Humbug loses a tennis ball in my house. It’s only some days later that when he is again let in the house, he seeks out that tennis ball. Humbug eventually finds it. He seems to know where to go. This is like a late reading list for students. It is that tennis ball; it is the regime of humbug. It is unwanted yet desired reading lying in wait, ready to be taken up. Used or read once more, or read for the first time: this is how we pass on our late reading. Exploring learning outcomes from this activity has always been suspect, not least in education.
Escape Attempts: The Theory and Practice of Resistance to Everyday Life
At The Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails
Chatto & Windus
Zone: The Spatial Softwares of Extrastatecraft
The phenomenal rise of the free zone, an opportunistic urban hybrid that has powered the rise of glittering world cities like Singapore and Dubai.
Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space
How To Fix Absolutely Anything: A Homeowner's Guide
III. THE ANTI-READING LIST
Working with students in the rushed studio environment of production and managed outcome we may expect them to pause and re-bound off some recommended reading. This is futile. Yet in this futility lies such strength. The pace of this immediate existence, the image-making factories that have become our schools, see the rush to complete the incompleted, to cap off the partial with hidden totalities. Thus we recommend readings to read against. Call it the anti-reading soul or school. Reading then becomes a school within a school. Work, design and tuning do emerge from the shreds that can be turned into fascination, and reading of course can still be part of this passion. I therefore take quite another approach to reading for design students or urbanists.
The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things
The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook
The Radical Incrementalist: How to Build Urban Society in 12 Lessons
IV: FURTHER READING, OR, THE ANTI-LIBRARY
Do we suffer in our reading lists what E. P. Thompson called ‘the enormous condescension of posterity’? The books, like the tennis balls left under furniture in abandoned houses, will remain. They are in waiting. We used to know what they were in waiting for. A knowledge up ahead. Now even that is suspect. We can and must go a stage further. Reading offers us the right to be left alone. Reassuringly plausible if at odds with errant shelves, this becomes the anti-library.
Readings from the Anti-Library I
Readings from the Anti-Library II
I Don't Read: An Argument in Favor of the Anti-Library
Marginalia, the Anti-Library, and Other Ways to Master the Lost Art of Reading
Umberto Eco’s Antilibrary: Why Unread Books Are More Valuable to Our Lives than Read Ones