At the beginning of the new millennium, L’adversaire(2000), a novel written by Emmanuel Carrère, and inspired by a true story, was published. The title underlines the double life of a mild-mannered, well-established provincial doctor built on falsehoods and on responses to the expectations of others: the adversary is ‘inside’, not an enemy at the door. In 2002 the story was transposed into the homonymous film, directed by Nicole Garcia; the masterful interpretation by Daniel Auteuil gives no quarter: there are no obvious other characters lurking inside the protagonist, it is not a question of dual personality disorder. The reasons for the adversary’s emergence are not revealed, the tragic ending does not offer any catharsis: the protagonist opts, as in the true story on which the novel is based, for the brutal cancellation of those closest to him who have witnessed his simulations, his deceptions.
To oppose is to turn against someone or something (in a fight, in a game, in a discussion, in a trial…), but it is also to distance oneself from a position, from a theory as well as from a practice. The etymology of the adversary therefore implies a logic of confrontation: being turned against, however, paradoxically discloses the constitutive bond of the interaction between antagonists. This ‘crossing of gazes’ makes conflictual interaction a privileged place for the production of masking, camouflage, but also parades, ostentation, threats, intimidation. Again, the relationship with the adversary is not only a relationship of actual exercise of power, but also and above all, as Louis Marin points out, ‘the reserve of force in signs’.
The adversary takes shape both by relentlessly pursuing Eden projects, and by allowing immense miseries and shortcomings to thrive, shelving them in an elsewhere, which then returns. It is the (adversative) measure of the difficult search for a balance.
The term recurs in countless biographies in the history of architecture, of the arts, of thought, of science, of politics; even though sometimes we see inversions: some well-known opponents then became followers and vice versa.
What happens when there is no reciprocity in aversion? This was the Salieri case who elected Mozart as his bitter rival. But Mozart was unaware of Salieri’s rivalry: his talent could not be rivalled. Miloš Forman’s decision in his film Amadeus (1984) to have Salieri narrate the life of the Austrian composer himself is significant: the genius is not able to tell his own story, but his rival can do it without him knowing it.
Unlike genius, aversion, rivalry, enmity, are once again, always relational. This is attested by that languages in which friendship and enmity often almost literally refer to each other: in Latin with hostis (enemy) and hospes(guest); in German with Feind and Freund. One concept does not exclude the other, friendship is not a denial of enmity and vice versa. Rather, according to Carl Schmitt, friendship needs enmity to define itself: in conditions of war, it is the determination of a common enemy that creates identity (if history has consolidated the figure of the ‘absolute enemy’ it is more difficult to find the figure of the ‘absolute friend’). In contrast, the Greek philia, a bond of ‘friendship’ typical of non-kinship relationships and between strangers, elides the possibility of enmity by presupposing it. In fact, the adversary in sports competitions or in market negotiations falls within philia, as it is a neutralization of war, of ‘political enmity’.
Remaining in Greece, the competition between Sparta and Athens is loaded with meanings: to oppose is to confirm, verify, strengthen one’s identity, become a standard-bearer for a position. The contrast between urban realities spans the centuries, affects multiple geographies, invests all continents. But again, opposition can be an inner movement: according to mythology, Rome was born from a fraternal battle between the two Lupa sons; in reality, there is opposition between the banlieue and centres of gravity in cities. In 1970 Wolf Vostell in his work Paris en béton concretes over Paris, urging the suburbs to go it alone, to give themselves an identity through the loss of the centre. The great celebration over the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) is a mere memory, yet more walls are being built perhaps now more ‘simply’ to divide rich and ever less numerous societies from hordes of opportunity-seeking populations. To enforce their separation, not only walls arise, but, when measures permit, enclaves too, duplicates of cities such as the second Samarkand now under construction. The copy, called the Eternal City, re-proposes, over 17 hectares of land, what travellers along the Silk Road want to visit avoiding the real urban environment.
In 2019 Basil Rogger, Jonas Voegeli, Ruedi Widmer, Zurich University of the Arts, Museum für Gestaltung Zürich publish the book Protest. The Aesthetics of Resistance, and in 2021 Wolfgang Scheppe writes Taxonomy of the Barricade. Image Acts of Political Authority in May 1968: protest spreads both on paper – in contemporary studies and retrospectives – and in cities asking for ‘due’ rights but also reaffirming irreconcilable opposing positions. Based on the principle of decorum, there is an actual line of urban design research that develops projects and models against the homeless: it is an architecture hostile to any form of evident poverty.
The field of the arts has often exhibited the tension that animates the act of being in front of the other, for example in the arrow ready to shoot from the stretched bow between Abramović and Ulay and even the transformation of the spectator into a potential executioner. It is not so much the iconography of the conflict that is at stake here, but the way in which the arts conceive the strategies and devices for the construction of the internal, external, phantasmatic adversary: the logics of surveillance and threat, of concealment and resistance. Umberto Eco dedicates an essay to the theme of Inventing the Enemy, published in 2009, where he reflects on the reasons and mechanisms of building an adversary.
Borromini versus Bernini, the debate published in journals between Ernesto Nathan Rogers and Reyner Banham, Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie facing Hans Scharoun’s Philharmonie in Berlin, the mere name of the journal “Opposition” bear witness to just some of the many ways and the contrasting terrains that mark the history of architecture.
Countless projects arise from contrasts, the latter can even lead to getting lost in an obsessive clash, as well as being useful in clarifying not only positions but also possibilities, sometimes to assert new habitability of spaces one needs to change direction, to change the way. On the occasion of the conferment of the honorary citizenship of Urbino in 1989, Giancarlo De Carlo declared ‘I am jealous of this city’, emphasizing his aversion to anyone else proposing projects for the small city in the Marche region. During the same public speech, the architect evokes his own challenge, always played out on Urbino territory, to Francesco di Giorgio Martini; a challenge based on a profound esteem, on a centuries-old debate, upheld through works united by an evident desire to modernise the city.
The adversary can lurk in the client, more or less enlightened. Even if sometimes there is unquestionable complicity between agent and architect precisely in the case of adversarial projects, as witnessed, for example, in the research for The Evidence Room (2016) by Anne Bordeleau and Robert Jan Van Pelt. The evidence, emphasized in the title, refers to the concrete characteristics of the Auschwitz concentration camp project. Their research shows that door closing mechanisms and shower pipes are evidence that dispels any possible doubt: the architecture was designed against those who had to live there, until annihilation.
Furthermore, the salvation of cities and their monuments from the ravages of time also leads to the creation of barriers with an adverse tone. A project must face natural disasters, corrosion caused by pollution, but also often materials such as plastic or asbestos. These adversaries coincide with connotations specific to the contexts, but also with changes in conditions which are consequences dictated by ideas of modernity, by ways of living, thinking and producing (first embraced, then opposed).
The most evident and shared of the adversaries remains time, the consumer of places and stories; despite being a prevailing antagonist, many works, many ideas continue, undamaged, to challenge it.
Vesper welcomes different types of contributions, the call for abstracts and the call for papers are organized according to the different sections. Contributions in their final form will be subject to a Double-Blind Peer Review process.
Sections: Project, Essay, Journey, Archive, Tutorial, Translation, Fundamentals
Abstracts must be submitted by March 1, 2023
Abstracts acceptance notification by March 10, 2023
Papers submission by May 5, 2023
Papers acceptance notification by May 20, 2023
Papers submission by March 1, 2023
Papers acceptance notification by March 10, 2023
Publication of Vesper No. 9, November 2023
More information can be found in the full call for papers here.