on principle: axial/liminal/configurative

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I have written extensively on the notion of principle in art and poetics.  See, in particular, in the section on art the following (links):

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An Art of Limina: Gary Hill’s works and writings

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prologue

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electronic linguistics

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configuring principle

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Here I will add shorter statements on particular points that supplement the discussions in the above pieces.

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~~~Let me begin by lifting my piece on axiality and architecture from Steven Holl’s blog ( in which he uses my term as rubric for the whole issue), edited with architect Andrew MacNair: 32BNY, #12: AXIALITY

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December 16th, 2010 ·

AXIALITY

LEBBEUS WOODS’ LIGHT PAVILION
CONVERGENCE IN THE WESTON HAVENS HOUSE – MICHAEL BELL
NOTES ON THE TEXAS RANGERS
SHIFT TILT BLUR – ANDREW MACNAIR
HL23 – ANDREW MACNAIR
THREE COMMENTS ON WANG SHU’S HANGZHOU SCHOOL
OFF THE WALL, ONTO THE ROOF – GABRIELLA KARL
LAURIE ANDERSON’S ‘DELUSION’ – STEVEN HOLL
LOUIS I. KAHN: DRAWING TO FIND OUT – STEVEN HOLL
AXIAL STONES – GEORGE QUASHA

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See 32BNY for the above

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axial stones

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on axiality & architecture

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Nothing is anything but itself, measured so.

Charles Olson

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axial stones—two or more stones in unattached gravitational embrace whose axis cannot be visually detected and therefore seem impossible, an unlikely expression of (non)equilibrium—are “found,” unaltered stones brought to the point of most precarious balance. They engage entropy rather fearlessly. Perhaps even sublimely, as a site of inseparable terror and ecstasy. They show “force of nature” as both a lack and a spontaneous something unknown—lack of balance in every balancing; lack of stability in something still enough to perceive as itself; apparent lack of continuance of what is not yet gone—where nature itself can no longer be sure of what it is, because it has barely happened yet.

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William Blake wrote: “There is a point in every day that Satan cannot find.” The axial, a state of happy improbability, occurs in such a moment: a moment intimate with its own limitations and yet taking up infinitesimal residence right there at the breaking point, the final crest of the wave at its point of disappearance, the mathematical (non)point of unrepresentability—an optimal instability. Yet the axial shows, without revealing, what holds close to the heart of limitation, what is fatally bounded by time—what lives the unlimited possible, right there (where there is no there). Satan, according to Blake, is the Limit of Contraction, as small as it gets, your absolute powerlessness. The moment that Satan cannot find is a singularity, what is so indefinably and unshakably itself that it stands outside any (undeniable) limitation.

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The singular is what can be seen and still not be believed, for belief has no place in what actually stands beyond its own impossibility. There’s no room for belief in the axial moment, the “split second” that stands between itself, complete in its two-sidedness, fully alive in its liminality. I suppose this is a basic paradox: Something can be so completely where it is that it stands beyond being there.

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Architecture, or the principle of conscious building of anything, obviously tends to oppose entropy, in its desire to be self-standing and beyond time—Byzantium and its monuments of unaging intellect. What does not age is the atemporal. Yet human architecture (as opposed to Newton’s God’s) is stuck with time-space expansion, making more, and standing against time as decay. Axial stones, in their drama of the impossible possible, call the mind back to the hidden truth of fully participated immediacy: a certain precarious knowing always in danger of falling over its own edge. What this axiality says to the architect is: Look, I’m still standing! but be ready to catch me! Eureka! Moral: never lose contact with your own absolute singularity as source of insight into optimal structure. Powerful architecture, it might be saying, is not transcendence of the temporal but a birth within the meditation of impermanence. A structure can be built at its own inner edge. It would embody the principle of its own nature as event of what is still standing, happily.

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The poet Charles Olson further defined a Taoist principle when he said: That which exists through itself is what is called meaning. Perhaps the architectural non-entropic translation might be: That which exists through itself is what is called structure. The optimal way it holds together at the crest of its own wave—at the still point of the turning world.

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[The axial principle is more fully presented in: Axial Stones: An Art of Precarious Balance (North Atlantic Books: Berkley, 2006) and in An Art of Limina: Gary Hill’s Works and Writings, with Charles Stein, foreword by Lynne Cooke (Ediciones Polígrafa: Barcelona, 2009); see also www.quasha.com.]

George Quasha

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