INSTRUCTION AND PROVOCATION, or Relearning from Las Vegas

Article excerpt


Since its initial publication in 1972, Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour's Learning from Las Vegas has been recognized as a seminal statement in the history and theory of architecture and hailed as one of the defining texts of postmodernism. As such it played an exemplary role in early theorizations of the postmodern condition by such figures as Jean Francois Lyotard, Charles Jenks, Ihab Habib Hassan and Frederic Jameson, to name a few. But it seemed to us a contradiction, or better, a tautology, to use the book as exemplary of postmodernism when it was one of the texts supposedly inaugurating that "moment." In fact, Learning from Las Vegas is fraught with contradictions that often put its own theses under pressure, not to mention the canonical readings and receptions of this text.

In 1973 Visible Language published an excerpt from Learning from Las Vegas. Now thirty years later, this special issue of the journal brings together five critical essays that challenge Learning from Las Vegas' canonical reception and, in doing so, opens up rich possibilities for questioning some of the premises underlying the various agendas for which it has been mobilized. Rather than seeing Learning from Las Vegas as delivering a straightforward message of postmodernism-whatever that would be-the essays in this issue attempt to recapture its rich sense of "ambiguity." In order to do so, contributors have often gone back to the text itself.1 The book is the material support from which the essays begin to explore Learning from Las Vegas' internal logic and what it "does," rather than necessarily concentrating on the authors' purported intentions or interpretations generated by subsequent reception. This approach is matched by a careful situation of the book in relation to relevant and productive historical and theoretical constellations.

Ritu Bhatt's essay explores the status of symbolic reference (the "routes of reference") and the function of aesthetics in Learning from Las Vegas through the lens of the philosopher Nelson Goodman. She questions the reception of the text as cleaving apart its aesthetic dimensions from issues of ethics and cognition. Michael Golec focuses on the materiality and meaning of the book qua book in terms of its graphic design and the kinds of visual strategies and arguments it mobilizes in order to envision the Las Vegas strip. …


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