continual mistakes and reversals
After seeing how the figure captions are inverted with regard to the Ichnographia and the Nolli Plan in the Peter Eisenman section of Autonomy and Ideology, it reminded me of the other mistaken inversions that I have found in other texts on the Ichnographia. For example, the east/west and other mistakes (Equirria and Antoninus Pius) of Fasolo, the mis-characterization in the Ichnographia-Jerusalem essay, the mention of inversion in the Allen essay, and my own mistake about the direction of the Triumphal Way. I find these mistakes to be uncanny, as if the Ichnographia had the power to confuse anyone who studied it (and here I can quote Kreiger).
"Rome's Campus Martius suggests an impossible tension among competing parts, perhaps even anarchy. The engraving itself seems to pulsate and change patterns as one studies it."
The strange thing is that Piranesi seems to make the same kind of (archeological) mistakes.
After an extended independent analysis of the Ichnographia Campus Martius, it becomes evident that Tafuri misreads Piranesi's large plan in most cases. Tafuri's text indicates no research of the plan beyond simply looking at it and subsequently offering a description of what Tafuri thinks he sees. (In fact, a careful reading of both Tafuri's texts and the text of Fasolo from 1956, clearly shows that Fasolo's text greatly influenced Tafuri's observations.) For example, in calling out the various axes of the Campo Marzio, Tafuri notes the axis running through Hadrian's Tomb, but he fails to recognize it's symbolic function as the Axis of Death; nor does he identify the Axis of Life that runs perpendicular to the Axis of Death. Moreover, Tafuri marginally notes the semblance of an axis within the northeast sector of the plan, yet he never mentions that Piranesi labeled this axis the Equiria, place of the annual horse races instituted by Romulus in honor of Mars.
These are just two examples which plainly demonstrate that Piranesi's plan holds significant and coherent symbolic content, however, recognition of Piranesi's "carved in stone" symbolism necessarily negates Tafuri's primary thesis that the Ichnographiam Campi Martii is utterly fragmented and devoid of "language." Ironically, had Tafuri not discounted the presence of language and instead actually translated the hundreds of Latin labels Piranesi applies throughout the plan, he would have concluded with a more accurate, if not also a more honest reading.
It is truly unfortunate that the subsequent 20th century Campo Marzio analyses of Allen, Bloomer, and Eisenman, build upon Tafuri's mistakes rather than correct them.
on the Campo Marzio:
excerpts from Assemblage (December, 1989):
The Campo Marzio, [Piranesi] notes, had always been dedicated to the training of youth and military exercise; but during the empire it was opened to other uses -- pleasure and spectacle. As more and more buildings were erected for such pursuits, "the Campo no longer appeared to be an appendage of Rome, but, more properly, Rome, the sovereign of all cities, an appendage of the Campo, as Strabone has attested." Piranesi has faithfully mirrored this inversion, and gone even further. In his variant, the city itself is absent, a blank space on the drawing.
This marginal status is consistent historically and is reinforced by an examination of the programmatic legends of the building represented in Piranesi's plan. Buildings of military use are evident, as are those devoted to spectacle and to the culture of the body. But the plan is dominated by the immense figures of two funerary monuments to Hadrian and Augustus. Lying outside of the consecrated ground defined by the city walls, the Campo Marzio had traditionally been the. site of funerals and burials. Thus the urban texture of the Campo Marzio is also characterized by marginality, by otherness. It becomes the locus of all that is excluded from the city proper: the armories and military exercise yards; the stadia and gymnasia; the amphitheaters and circuses; the gardens and pleasure fountains; the crypts and tombs. The conventional institutions of the imperial city are absent. Save in the funerary monuments, there is no civic presence; streets are nonexistent, as is the whole domestic fabric of the city.
If the site plan is the result of an inversion, the city having been folded back upon itself, something analogous happens in Piranesi's representation of time.
It is this copresence of the scientific (geometrical and archeological) and the ludic that makes Piranesi's project resonant in this century. The same site that authorizes Piranesi "lawless" combinations also authorizes the cross-historical comparisons that would place Piranesi side by side with Duschamp, Man Ray, or Roussel.
In the Campo Marzio the seamless manner in which the known fragments of the past have been integrated into the whole composition attests to an overriding principle. The internal correspondence of the parts to one another rather than the "truthfulness" of the parts themselves allows these fragments to be inserted at a meaningful point into the larger order of the project. Piranesi has invented a compositional language in order to make sense of the fragment. These fragments disappear into the composition not because their fragmentary nature has been concealed or covered over, but because they have themselves redefined the rules for "fitting in." The whole and the parts submit to the same geometric rules. Piranesi demonstrates that, through the multiplication of the simple, the rationality of geometry, can describe both the indecipherable fragment and the fully realized composition. But the arbitrariness of the combinations suggests that, given those rules, the permutations are endless.
The plan confirms this. The assurance of repeatability contained in the classical principles of regularity is entirely pervaded by contingency. Geometry is understood here for the first time as "instrumental," but this instrumentality undercuts the rational principles that underlie it. The critique of formalism turns back on itself, uncovering the mechanics of an endless chain of combinations that is by itself unable to constrain the combinatory mechanisms. The "useless machines" of the Campo Marzio turn out to be self-perpetuating.
eros et thanatos