Academic journal article Visible Language

AESTHETIC OR ANAESTHETIC: The Competing Symbols of Las Vegas Strip

Academic journal article Visible Language

AESTHETIC OR ANAESTHETIC: The Competing Symbols of Las Vegas Strip

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Postmodern theorists such as Lyotard, Jencks, Foster and Jameson acknowledge Learning from Las Vegas as a seminal text crucial to the development of postmodern aesthetics in architecture. Most commonly, the book is known to have promoted a postmodern laissez-faire approach that embraces historical architectural motifs uncritically. Critics of the book also point to the mindless image making and commercialism that Learning from Las Vegas promotes. In this paper, I draw parallels between Venturi, Scott Brown and Izenour's arguments and Nelson Goodman's theory of symbols in Languages of Art (1968) and argue that the postmodern rhetoric associated with the book limits a closer inspection of the book's methodology, the aim of which was to make architecture more communicable and make architects relearn to see.

The book proposed that architecture should reposition itself from its modernist emphasis on space and structure to a postmodern reading of signs and symbols. By reclaiming its symbolic content, Venturi, Scott Brown and Izenour hoped to turn architecture into a visible language - to make it socially less coercive and aesthetically more vital. More importantly, they claimed that this visibly vital architecture possessed a language that could be analyzed and evaluated. In fact, Venturi, Scott Brown and Izenour's call for "withholding judgment" was to be "used as a tool to make later judgment more sensitive." In a similar vein, Nelson Goodman associates the practice of disinterest with aesthetic cognition and argues that aesthetic experiences are not just limited to works of art, but that they can happen any time. The question we should ask is not "what is art?" but "when is art?" In doing so, Goodman shifts the emphasis to understanding aesthetics as a temporal moment/moments when some sort of deep transformation or cognition happens.

This paper analyzes the competing world of signs on the Strip in Learning from Las Vegas through a Goodmanian route of reference. It identifies Goodmanian symptoms, such as exemplification, complex and indirect reference, relative repleteness, and syntactic and semantic density. As symbol systems, these features are neither necessary nor sufficient for aesthetic functioning, but they are indications that the item is functioning as work of art.

-Learning from Las Vegas, first published in 1972, proposed that architecture should reposition itself from its modernist emphasis on space and structure to a postmodern reading of signs and symbols. This shift would allow architects to relearn to see and as a consequence, make the practice of design socially less coercive and aesthetically more vital. The book introduced suspending judgment as a mechanism to free the imagination and make subsequent judgments more sensitive.1 This process, it was hoped, would increase the architect's capacity to make discriminations and learn from the everyday. Such an approach to aesthetic cognition that emphasizes learning has parallels with Nelson Goodman's arguments in his Languages of Art, first published in 1968, according to which aesthetic experiences distinguish themselves as moments of disinterest, enlightenment and transformation.

For Goodman, aesthetic experiences are not limited to works of art, but can happen any time. He stresses that the question to ask is not "What is art?" but "When is art?" And when art happens, it is the moment of non-judgment and disinterest that allows the subject to expand her horizon of viewing and experience the deep transformative potential of aesthetics. Aesthetic experiences are dynamic rather than static. In fact, Goodman argues that pictures are symbols that refer much the same way as words do. The difference lies in the semantic and syntactic structures that different arts employ. Experiencing aesthetics involves an elusive process of making delicate discriminations, discerning subtle relationships, identifying symbol systems and analyzing what these symbolic systems denote and exemplify. …

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