Other Little Magazines #19 Views from Academia…

Murphy was a bilingual journal of “architectural history and theory,” one of the few that ever came out in Portugal. It was published from 2006 to 2008 at the University of Coimbra Press, the project of architectural historian Paulo Varela Gomes – whose critical writings around the 90s were quite referential for me.

Denoting a chronic local yearning for external recognition, the name of the publication stems from the architectural traveler who, around the end of the 18th century, first reported on Portuguese architecture to its European counterparts.

Murphy’s first editorial aimed high at contradicting a local ad hoc academic situation, which, when it comes to theory, is portrayed here with straightforward accuracy as a kind of anything goes, while the essayistic nature of most writing in the field would only disguise its lack of scientific rigor.

Welcoming its desire to overcome “the obstacles that have caused academic work in Portugal to fall behind” – while I doubted its subservient willingness to emulate the most traditional Anglo-Saxon journals – I immediately asked myself if two fifty-something page essays on regional medieval matters were the best way to start catering for a new readership and create global impact…

This would be the case, if such essays presented overwhelming new methodologies or radical ways of thinking that would profoundly affect the way we understand our building and urban matters today. Unfortunately, these were writings that preached rather exclusively, conventionally and conveniently to the ultra-niche and the already converted.

In Murphy’s opening edition even the more contemporary “approaches” seemed to suggest a middlebrow view of academic production. They might sporadically experiment with a sexier language, or even provide the occasional insight for the analysis of the present, but they also basically procrastinated on how to maintain things as they are.

At the risk of flogging a dead horse I would say that, ultimately, most of Murphy’s first contributions risked being integral to the feeble, but dominant arena in which to be “scientific” is to quote correctly and put together the right references in a permanent, protracted historiographical reconstruction – rather than displaying the capability to introduce the subtlest of paradigm shifts in current knowledge or practice.

Le Journal Spéciale’Z, which I’ve discovered because of my recent visits to ESA, is altogether keener to dwell on those other territories of intellectual exploration where connaissance is faster erected with the intense, unpretentious delight of simultaneous recollection and discovery.

Here – and in the parallel blog –  you may truly discern new interesting voices beyond the usual suspects of contemporary architectural theory – although you might also find an interview with the ever-intense Antoine Picon amidst the well-assorted bunch that rédacteur en chef Sony Devabhaktuni puts together.

Hence, in the inaugural issue of the Spéciale’Z you are bound to hit upon several gems of unexpected reflective sway – either if you want to know more about urban “audio topographies” (Shannon Werle) or you are otherwise interested in how neuroaesthetics is soon bound to enhance your perceptions of public space (Ruzica Bozovic-Stamenovic).

What else would you want of a little scholarly magazine?🙂

Contrary to an obedient reverence of all things past – which may inform, but sometimes also immobilizes the historically-prone practitioner – Le Journal Spéciale’Z is more inclined to joyfully accept that “every generation” declares “the language of the precedent generation to be useless.”

As such, the authors of this particularly liminar suggestion – Johannes Binotto and Andri Gerber – also recall in their excellent Narration/Non-Ville/Description that, “to understand the world, we have first to understand our understanding.”(A great line from German ethnologist Hans-Jürgen Heinrichs.)

At the risk of seeming too obvious (or paradoxical), one would state that the re-foundation of any theory – or historical research – has to operatively gaze at the present moment, rather than only stare at the recognized recognitions of past souls, as bright as they may still shine in the firmament of the undead.

And while we are perfectly able to acknowledge that our understanding is constantly built upon the shoulders of others, we are also allowed – and advised – to use that tiny extra height to look further into new, previously invisible landscapes of possibility. Expectedly, on a clear day you may then see forever.

With the newly acquired insights stemming from both present and past we can certainly again and again defrost the realities that lie apparently petrified behind us. But we should even more preferably not loose sight of the bizarre, unlikely obstacles that lay copiously ahead.

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