The tasks of criticism

The Charnel-House

Manfredo Tafuri on
architecture criticism

Image: Still from Marcel L’Herbier’s
silent film classic L’Inhumaine (1924)


This post follows up on the recent series that gave advice to critics and sketched out criticism after utopian politics. Since these were more or less confined to art criticism, and did not cover the peculiar situation of architecture critics and historians, I’m posting Manfredo Tafuri’s excellent 1967 essay “The Tasks of Criticism.”

The tasks of criticism

Manfredo Tafuri

In trying to clarify the function of some instruments of critical and historiographical analysis, we have intentionally avoided the problem of outlining a theory of architectural syntax and grammar. In defining the architectural codes as a bundle of relationships linking a complex series of “systems,” we were attempting to stress something that seems to us typical of architecture as compared with other means of visual communication: the fact, that is, that the typologies, the…

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Stalinism in art and architecture, or, the first postmodern style

The Charnel-House

Book Review:

Boris Groys’ The Total Art of Stalinism

Vladimir Paperny’s Architecture in
the Age of Stalin: Culture Two


Originally published by Situations: Project for the Radical Imagination (Vol. V, No. 1). You can view a free PDF of the document here. Purchase it today!

Last year, the English translations of two major works of art and architectural criticism from the late Soviet period were rereleased with apparently unplanned synchronicity. A fresh printing of
Vladimir Paperny’s Architecture in the Age of Stalin: Culture Two (2002, [Культура Два, 1985]) was made available in June 2011 by Cambridge University Press. Verso Books, having bought the rights to the Princeton University Press translation of Boris Groys Total Art of Stalinism (1993 [Gesamtkunstwerk Stalin, 1988]), republished the work in a new edition. This hit the shelves shortly thereafter, only two months after Paperny’s book was reissued.

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Advice for critics

The Charnel-House

Walter Benjamin, Virginia
Woolf, & Roland Barthes

Image: Raoul Hausmann,
The Art Critic (1919-1920),


Walter Benjamin

“The critic’s technique in thirteen theses” (1928)


I. The critic is the strategist in the literary battle.
II. He who cannot take sides should keep silent.
III. The critic has nothing in common with the interpreter of past cultural epochs.
IV. Criticism must talk the language of artists. For the terms of the cenacle are slogans. And only in slogans is the battle-cry heard.
V. “Objectivity” must always be sacrificed to partisanship, if the cause fought for merits this.
VI. Criticism is a moral question. If Goethe misjudged Hölder­lin and Kleist, Beethoven, and Jean Paul, his morality and not his artistic discernment was at fault. [One can hear echoes of Kant’s Critique of Judgment in this passage].
VII. For the critic his colleagues are the higher authority. Not the public. Still less…

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The architecture of conflict

This gallery contains 16 photos.

The architecture of conflict The Charnel-House Photos by James Rawlings . In his photo series Architecture of Conflict, photographer James Rawlings got a rare chance to photograph the daily life of an eerily active ghost town. England’s county of Kent is home to a collection of faux building fronts and avenues, like something from a film… Read more.