THIS BOOK WAS DEVELOPED COMPLETELY WITHIN THE REALM OF TECHNOLOGY. WHERE IS THE TECHNOLOGY IN THE BOOK? THE ONLY REFERENCE I COULD FIND IN THE HARD COPY IS THE INCLUSION OF THE FAX MACHINE.
STEVEN CASEY + CHRIS GRIMLEY: Delirium initially appeared on a website a few years ago, with all of the capabilities that the structure of the web allowed. In its transition to hard copy, how was this instability maintained? Was there a real attempt made to structure the novel based on how the technology worked?
DOUGLAS COOPER: I was very aware that setting up a non-linear structure was going to result in serious problems when it came time to stretch it into a straight line for the more conventional novel, and that is part of the reason I did it. I like the deliberate damage that a narrative undergoes when it is forced from one medium into another. I think if you are conscious of that and work with it, that can prove quite interesting. I very much wanted to retain the illusion - I'm not sure that it is finally an illusion; I think in some respects it's real - the feeling that you're within a labyrinth, even though you're negotiating a book from page one to page 225.
SC+CG: ... the constant shifting of the narrator and the constant movement of the storylines...
DOUGLAS COOPER: That's right. I've always been interested in the paradox that Borges talks about in Ficciones - the labyrinth in the form of a straight line, and what that means. All narrative in some respects could be called a labyrinth in the shape of a straight line; the more complex the narrative, the more closely it approximates that ideal. I believe Borges is talking about Zeno's paradox, the infinite subdivision of space. But it's a metaphor that lends itself to contemplation. What makes this an architectural novel is not that it happens to be about an architect - that's almost incidental - but that it takes an architectural structure explicitly as its own structural ordering device. I built this book the way I would have gone about designing a house, or more likely, a maze.
SC+CG: That's another interest of mine. As architects we are taught that structural grounding is derived from an investigation into theory, precedent, discussion and criticism, and that this is somehow manifest in physical form, whether a drawing or model. Did you actually draw any of this book? There is specific reference in the introduction to an installation, as well as your work with Diller and Scofidio, and Peter Eisenman. Ariel Price's prison is the most intangible space in the novel, whereas the Letztesmann Tower is physical manifested in Mies's TD Centre in Toronto.
DOUGLAS COOPER: Yes, parts of this novel were very much drawn in advance. The Eisenman project was the prison cell for Ariel Price, which was what we proposed to build. That is, in fact, what we did build. I'm not entirely pleased with the results of that project. Peter is surprisingly open to others ideas for a man of his stature. He's worked with Derrida; he's worked with some very interesting people. But inevitably he takes their ideas and he turns them into a Peter Eisenman Project. Whether that is a legitimate complaint or not I don't know, that's what makes him a distinctive architect, right? On the other hand, I think that our project would have been much more interesting if he hadn't written off a lot of the initial ideas, which he had initially shown a lot of enthusiasm for. Initially we were going to design a prison cell for Ariel Price [ED: for the Milan Triennale] that would have looked an awful lot like what I had described in the book, and it would have had a found element as well. We were going to use David Rokeby's electronic sculpture Very Nervous System that reads human movement and turns it into digital output. As you moved through the space you would trigger voice loops and hear whispering voices coming out of the walls, there were going to be projections, etc. Ultimately what I did, since Peter didn't build what I wanted him to build - what he made was not a great but a pretty good 'Eisenman Piece' - was incorporate a lot of the methodology and my very thorny relationship with Eisenman into the novel.
SC+CG: This book was developed completely within the realm of technology. Where is the technology in the book? The only reference I could find in the hard copy is the inclusion of the fax machine.
DOUGLAS COOPER: That's very deliberate. I actually spent some time arguing with myself as to whether I should incorporate the fax machine for that reason. I didn't really want any reference to anything approaching digital technology. Of course there is the projected screen of words at the end, but the fax machine was a little too close to modern telephony for my liking, and I definitely did not want this to be a cybernovel.
SC+CG: Is that also an attempt to confuse the time of the novel? References to Mies, when the centre was built, and then present-day Toronto obfuscate the novel's timeframe.
DOUGLAS COOPER: The timeframe of the novel is very distorted. The fax machine comes in at the present tense section of the novel which is set in Israel after Price's return from the Sinai desert: that's fixed in time and it's very much after the building of the Letztesmann tower. I did my best to really figure out where I was in any given point in time; so far I haven't spotted any errors. It was an incredibly complex thing to work that out and it doesn't bother me that it has an hallucinatory shift to it. I haven't noticed any strong anachronism yet. Now mind you I'm not trying to make it accurate to the life of Mies or Johnson, or to the building of the T.D. Centre. What I hope it is, is internally consistent.
SC+CG: ...as a point of reference. In both books the references to Judaism are fairly orthodox: the role of the Bar Mitzvah in Amnesia and the reference to body-as-temple and text-as-monument in Delirium. In the latter you go at the foundation of Christianity, the perception of Mary Magdalene as three persons, and the Crucifixion. People don't usually think of the physical reality of the Crucifixion. Furthermore, the notions of redemption and then the discussions of death and the dead enter the realm of myth; they are not sacred or religious per se. Can you comment on that?
DOUGLAS COOPER: This is interesting: you are taking it into very difficult territory. I'm glad you noticed the tripartite person of Mary Magdalene - I was using Susan Haskins' famous feminist revision of the Mary Magdalene myth. I've always been interested in the paradoxical way in which Graham Greene tells the story of a saint in The Power and the Glory; you simultaneously see the man as a stumbling whisky priest and that same person having gone through the mystification process as a legitimate saint, and he's both. It's like a hologram, each time you look at it, it flips back and forth; you don't know what you're staring at, the sordid and human or the redeemed by retrospection. The same thing happens in my retelling of the Mary Magdalene story. I'm very aware of the Haskins' revisionist argument that she was never a prostitute, never a fallen woman. I'm also aware of the potency of the original story. That was arguably, for a couple hundred years, the most popular motivating source in iconography. The penitent Magdalene was clearly a theme that mattered greatly to entire generations of artists, so you can't just dispense with it, it's part of our collective memory. So it does flip back and forth that way, but this is at the core of Christianity; staring at the Christ figure and wondering if you're staring at a god or a human being is the central paradox of Christianity, isn't it?
SC+CG: It is important to note that the religious tone in your writing moves beyond the orthodox, evidenced through intangible notions of death.
DOUGLAS COOPER: On the one hand I'm interested in religious orthodoxy because that is where the myths come from. I actually studied a reasonable amount of theology, and I think you have to take these stories seriously. You have to look at what the story is really saying, at which point you're free to come up with your wildly unorthodox interpretation or retelling of that story. I've always very much admired Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita which, again, takes off from quite an orthodox reading of the Christ story but goes places you never would have expected. That is also true of Dostoyevsky. In other words, you have to be aware of the tradition and you have to use the tradition, but that doesn't mean you have to ultimately produce a conventional piece of work. And my telling is highly unconventional. I mean, the references to the story, the gospel, and the theological tradition are there, but I think what I finally make of it is highly idiosyncratic, which would accord with my views of religion in general. I have no great allegiance to any one institutional religion.
SC+CG: How does this tie in to notions of redemption? In the ANYplace piece you speak about Augustine mapping the soul and salvation as one of citizenship...
DOUGLAS COOPER: The closest thing I've encountered to religious writing in this century is Samuel Beckett. I'm being quite sincere. This is from Peter Brook, who wrote about Beckett's writing as a form of prayer. Even through it's the bleakest, most atheistic statement in all of modern literature. It's so bleak that it takes you right through to the other side; it's kind of an analogy of negation. And I suppose that if I'm trying to do anything it's in that tradition.
SC+CG: Delirium tackles the idea of the monumental in quite a direct way. In Amnesia, the city is one of the monument. While there doesn't seem to be an opposition established in the two novels, I'm wondering about the relationship between these contrasting notions of the city.
DOUGLAS COOPER: It really is the master plan vs. Jane Jacobs. I don't really see this as a book with a thesis per se, but if anything is the object of prophetic ire, it is the modernist master plan and Ayn Rand's apotheosis of the omnipotent. This is actually quite conventional. In opposition to that you place Jane Jacobs's notion of mixed use or Rem Koolhaas' culture of congestion - although Rem is a little odd in that he has a lot of time for the modernist and the monumental as well. He's very critical of Le Corbusier in terms of city planning yet he doesn't seem to have any trouble with that kind of structure in the landscape. In his thesis regarding bigness it is not entirely clear that Koolhaas is critical of the monumental - he just wants to take the monumental into a kind of delirious and hallucinatory space.
SC+CG: ...to confuse notions of public and private...
DOUGLAS COOPER: Yes, I think the monumental untouched by irony is not acceptable to him and I would agree with that. I'm not sure I have a problem with bigness itself, but the early modern agenda was a kind of bigness that looks more like giantism - grotesque and Stalinist - than Rem Koolhaas suggested. I don't know if that is coherent or not but I don't think I come down one way or another regarding the monumental. It's just that certain approaches to the monument strike me as inhuman. On the other hand, Boullée strikes me as fascinating, as does Piranesi. There's a whole tradition of the unbuilt monumental that is deeply affecting.
SC+CG: In what sense does the written form provide an apt medium to explore these notions of the monument; what space does it create?
DOUGLAS COOPER: I guess I am always working against what the medium requires of me, so perversely I am always trying to make buildings out of words or create texts with space. And that just strikes me as a way of making life interesting. That is the great genre shift in the second half of the twentieth century, and that's why we're doing it, really. Words have a tendency to become banal: like the miniature, realistic, careful short story. Buildings have become banal in the wake of Brutalism. And one way to overcome that circumstance is to reach out into another medium, steal the structural principles and the guiding aesthetic of that medium and apply them to a situation where they are perhaps a little uncomfortable. That's the reasoning behind what I'm doing. I've no interest in television, I've no interest in television writing, but I don't have any particular bias against the cathode ray tube. For instance I quite like Bill Viola. He's occasionally dismissed as a new age artist, but I think that his work is just a little bit more unflinching - this is a man who taped his own mother dying. There's something terrifying in that act. Gary Hill I find really important as well, so it's not the television itself that upsets me as a device, but the quality of writing for television has never impressed me. Film writing doesn't interest me very much, but montage technique certainly does; filmmaking does. That's the long-form narrative of our century and it's of great interest; I use it a fair bit in my novel.
SC+CG: I was thinking of the passages where the scene is set up - the final meeting of Theseus Crouch and Ariel Price, and other instances where the three angels are presented - as though in a play.
DOUGLAS COOPER: There is a strong reason for that being transposed into theatrical structure. The race to the grave was a theme of the medieval miracle play; that story was historically told as a play, and it lent itself to that. I'm trying to think of which medium I don't touch in Delirium - the novel slides into every medium imaginable; it becomes a piece of architecture, it becomes a film script, it becomes a play... I guess there's no poetry except implicitly in the prose. Certainly there is reference to epic poetry, so it's just part of a thwarted completist impulse. We don't live in holistic times, regardless of what the new agers may tell you. We live in highly fragmented times; so any urge towards completism is ultimately going to be tragic, but you still have to try. I think every novelist in the wake of Joyce tries, but that's just something we do; and in some ways, interestingly enough, the degree to which we fail is how we measure our work. The most failed attempt at completism is arguably the best novel in this day and age.