Sunday, June 15, 2008
I just learned about this monstrosity in Paris, La Grande Arche de La Defense. It is a giant, almost featureless cube. The wikipedia entry says that it was supposed "to be a 20th Century version of the Arc de Triomphe: a monument to humanity and and humanitarian ideals rather than military victories." If that is what it's supposed to be, then please explain to me why the Arc de Triiomphe is a far more magnificent, beautiful work than is this dehumanizing block.
Seriously, look at the Arc de Triomph. This is a work which has meaning. You don't have to know a thing about the French Revolution to gain meaning from it. Meaning is built into the work itself, and can be gained by anyone looking at it. The Grande Arche is a stark, bare, meaningless cube -- unless you are told what the meaning behind it is by an elite cadre of intellectuals who designed it and get to write on it endlessly, of course. And that, of course, is the problem with it. There is a tyranny of meaning in the Grande Arche -- we have to be told what it means to get any meaning from it. We are reliant on others to tell us what it means, and we have to rely on their expertise. With the Arc de Triomph, however, the meaning is inherent to the work itself. There is no tyranny of meaning. Further, it and the Grande Arche are equally impressive, but the latter has the oppressive architecture found in many fascist works of architecture -- designed to make the person feel small and insignificant next to the great power of the state. Is this not, after all, what Mitterand was after in commissioning this piece? If you look at the second picture I posted, you can see what people look like in relation to it. What other purpose could there have been, but to create this dehumanizing effect? This is no monument to humanity and humanitarian ideals -- it's a monument to socialism and other dehumanizing, anti-humanitarian ideals.