This study re- and deconstructs discourses that understand architecture as writing, and also illuminates the opposite side of this intermedial metaphor, namely the notion of architecture as an image. With a steady focus on this triangular relationship, it is possible to identify paradoxes in the historical use of metaphors in architectural theory and philosophy from the so-called saddle period (ca. 1750–1850). After all, architecture has often been regarded as the most fundamental and elementary, and even the “most literal”, of the arts since the 18th century. Within emerging philosophical aesthetics, for example, it is now being given the status of a ‘foundation’. Its material weight plays a primary role, but so does its (seemingly) pre-iconographic or pre-linguistic character, which often pushes the attribution of semantics to its limits. At the same time, architecture is now frequently not only categorized in terms of imagery, but is also understood to be linguistic or even script-like.
Both aspects, that of the fundamental as well as that of the written equivalent, are covered by the notion of the literal. On the one hand, this is traditionally contrasted with the metaphorical as supposedly direct, while, on the other, the figure of the literal itself is metaphorical: describing architecture as ‘literal’ uses a metaphor of intermediality. This study is the first to systematically reconstruct their use in the architectural discourse of the early modern period in order to make visible flaws in art-theoretical and aesthetic ‘system building‘.
The presentation takes place in the context of our annual topic “Architecture as Metaphor”.
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