Patrick Stanigar’s desire for an “own history of architecture” is legitimate. It is naturally conditioned by the problem as formulated by Elizabeth Pigou Dennis in her preliminary contribution, namely the fact that a definition of “our” is not quite so straight forward. But perhaps, it is straightforward precisely because it appears so complex. The word “us” defines a group. Groups are never static. Although groups are always experienced as very real, groups like “us” are confident in about the description of their precise circumference only in the immediate present, the moment when someone utters the word us. To achieve a stability they have to be re-uttered all the time, and so re defined. With this reproductive potential groups have developed a metabolism of their own. This legitimises Jamaica’s Motto: Out of many One people. Groups are an aspect of view.
Even so, the definition of a people -a group of people- is always a normative and therefore a political activity. The metabolism of groups, the process whereby its substance is abosorbed, processed and excreted- is determined not only by the criteria and priorities for inclusion and exclusion but also by the simply contingency of being there. That can be noticed when one begins to feel the use of words like us and we as oppressive and somehow repulsive. Examples of this are rife within the racially, ethnically, religiously and socially complex communities of the world. Definitions are by definition acts of exclusion.
The danger this points to must be clear. Are we politicising our history or, far more likely, are we historicising our politics? The traditional concepts of Science and History have both been exposed as fraudulent automatons driven by little wise hunchbacks aware of their ugliness within the context in which they exercise their power. Both science and history perform useful and necessary operations but by different means than the system is prepared to reveal. In fact, seen together they reveal themselves as an even more complex machine: a sequence of fraudulent automatons which fit into each other like the various beings which together make up a single Russian doll, with theology being the smallest of the sequence, even if we cannot be confident that it is also the last.
My many I’s and me, crushing my identity
The concept of our culture is ultimately a political or theological construct. One which does not exist except as a force pushing in a particular direction defined by desire. Salman Rushdie has recently written beautifully on the Idea of India as it bears meaning for a country as fundamentally heterogeneous and disparate as India is. The interesting thing is that Rushdie, a noted critic of India who is also one of its most involved citizens, justifies The Idea of India with reference to the concept of the integrated self, that peculiar binding of disparate I’s which makes all my different me’s into myself. This has a particular relevance to Jamaica’s famous and compelling motto: Out of many one people, a motto that deserves to become global.
The political or messianic desire for an “own history” is caused partly by the fact that the Caribbean in general and Jamaica in particular has a problem of nationality and identity. Let’s take Jamaica as an example. Not only does it feel itself to be young relative to its colonial history but it also feels itself to be at a low ebb because its attachment to categories like the third world, underdeveloped country, violence, racial and socio-economic segregation etc. The attachment to these words is justified by observation and shackles the country’s perception of itself to the relative performance of others. Such relativism makes it very difficult to define one’s own terms and posits Jamaica as the antithesis to the confident and robust countries of the first world. An own architectural history would help to bind the disparate energies pulling at Jamaica into a collective effort to escape the abyss. It is not for nothing that the urgency of the development of a Caribbean perspective on architectural history has -at this particular time- come from Jamaica. Not that we are dealing with a peculiarly Jamaican problem, far from it. It is simply that the Caribbean School of Architecture was placed in Jamaica in 1988 and so naturally adopted the urgencies and preoccupations of its host country with a special amplification.