Philosophy in art and architecture schools: Odos and methodos

"I have no rule for all that; there will be no sacred text for that architecture."
Jacques Derrida, "Maintenant l’architecture" (1985)

1An art or architecture school education should be the ideal context for carrying out the constant exchanges between percepts, affects and concepts that are the subject of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s book What Is Philosophy? [1] Indeed, these places offer teachers an invaluable opportunity to talk with young artists, designers and architects every day, and to furnish conceptual references to the artistic, urban and architectural projects in becoming. Nevertheless, we know that the situation the students experience on a daily basis is a long way from this ideal and idealized model. Too often in schools, philosophy risks becoming a "touch of soul," a superficial intellectual alibi for approaches that don’t even incorporate an inkling of a concept. These approaches are buried in art schools under a surface aesthetic of institutional or "gallery" art encouraged by many artist-professors; swamped in design schools with the omnipresence of demands from industrial "partners" who direct the research of students from the start; approaches that, finally, are stifled in architecture schools by a growing fascination for the supposed scientific rigor of engineering schools. In a general context of hostility to thought in all its forms (the vast neoliberal market doesn’t need thinkers, it needs docile enablers), this teaching is constantly under threat, called into question and probably destined to disappear in the years to come, despite the constant and widespread interest students have for these courses and seminars, which allow them to establish some distance from the frenetic rhythm imposed on them. This rhythm is marked by the "deliverables," the "projects," faithfully mirroring the frenzied search for short-term efficiency that already drives the business world (and so "project-based work" becomes more and more prevalent, from high schools to universities to art and design schools, leaving no leeway for the extended time for reflection that thought, art, science, creation and action have always needed and will always need).

2Since I have passed through all of these places of learning (art, design, and architecture schools) over the past ten years, I am therefore torn every day (like many of my colleagues) between a profound pessimism and tremendous enthusiasm about the experiences one can have every day. The pessimism is rooted in the acknowledgment of the power of a "systemic stupidity" [2] that is hostile to any form of thought, and even more so to any requirement of philosophical thought that does not merely consist of the search for second-rate "wisdom" or "personal development." The enthusiasm arises from the admiration for students who are still ready to embark on a period of long and difficult study that does not guarantee any "employability" upon graduation, unlike study in the engineering or business schools that are put forward to them as examples – schools for elites and the "decision-makers" of the "new world."

3From the perspective of teaching philosophy (or what’s left of it), the schools of art, design or architecture still offer, in the best cases, the possibility of daily experimentation with the resources of what Félix Guattari called "transversality." [3] The requirement for transversality is very different from the façade of transdisciplinarity or interdisciplinarity now required by countless performance evaluations for teachers, schools, or researchers, an assessment activity exhausting resources that could be used more effectively elsewhere: teaching and research, for example. Transversality, a kind of constitutive intuition that took various forms throughout Guattari’s intellectual journey during and after his partnership with Gilles Deleuze, is a requirement that was present from the start of his career as an activist-psychoanalyst-thinker. Over the course of his collaboration with Deleuze, it metamorphosed into various conceptual figures connected with the latter (deterritorialization, production of subjectivity, collective assemblages, micropolitics…). In the perspective of a requirement for transversality, the compartmentalization of disciplines, as it manifests itself in universities and institutions, belongs to the past. Instituted disciplines and practices should only serve as a starting point for the opening of new theoretical territories that involve new practices focusing in the most concrete terms on changing individual and collective "forms of life." In the largest sense of the term, we could define transversality as a relational principle between diverse elements. This always involves traversing domains, levels and dimensions that at first glance have no points in common (desire and politics, nature and machine, individual and group, gestures, affects, percepts, concepts, and language) and allowing these realms to coexist: it means moving between them or operating a constant deterritorialization between several territories and several forms of existence. Transversality must not remain an abstract concept: it must become a tool of self-production for groups and subjects. In my opinion, it is an invaluable tool for the self-production of the group comprising the teachers and students in a school, or for the researchers in a laboratory (when this laboratory is not merely an instrument of control wielded by the "authorities" who continue to proliferate within the French system of higher education).

4In 1991, the question of defining the respective "planes" of science, the arts (including architecture), and philosophy became the subject of Deleuze and Guattari’s reflections in What Is Philosophy? According to the two authors, philosophy has two complementary aspects: it creates concepts and composes a plane like a cross section of chaos. In line with Nietzsche’s lesson, chaos is never interpreted as a state of formlessness, or a jumbled, inert mixture, but rather as the site of a plastic, dynamic becoming: "The problem of philosophy is to acquire a consistency without losing the infinite into which thought plunges […]. To give consistency without losing anything of the infinite […]." [4] Philosophy, science and art "cast planes over the chaos": from it, the philosopher brings back infinite conceptual variations, the scientist brings back variables, and the artist brings back varieties of affects and percepts: "In short, chaos has three daughters, depending on the plane that cuts through it: these are the Chaoids – art, science, and philosophy – as forms of thought or creation." [5] The book’s conclusion sketches out a typology of possible interferences between the "plane of immanence of philosophy, [the] plane of composition of art, [and the] plane of reference or coordination of science" [6] that are irreducible to each other. A first type of interference is one where a philosopher creates "the concept of a sensation" (in the domain of the arts) or the concept of a function (in the domain of science), where an artist works in the domain of the concept, or where a scientist works out a theory of color or sound: "In all these cases the rule is that the interfering discipline must proceed with its own methods." [7] In concrete terms, this means that when we refer to the "beauty" of a geometric figure or a mathematical formula in the context of scientific reasoning, we use criteria such as proportion, symmetry, asymmetry, etc.: in order to enter the domain of aesthetics we have to know how to extract a compound of percepts and affects from the function, a compound that would thus involve the plane of composition of art. Therefore, this concerns what Deleuze and Guattari call "extrinsic interferences," interrelationships where each discipline continues to operate on its own plane, using its own tools.

5More complex, mixed figures emerge when concepts and conceptual personae (tools of philosophy) "slip in among the functions and partial observers" (tools of science) or "among the sensations and aesthetic figures" (of the domain of art). Other combinations are of course possible, and Deleuze and Guattari mention the examples of Igitur in Mallarmé’s poetry (a literary character who occasionally takes on the features of a conceptual persona) and Nietzsche’s Zarathustra (a conceptual persona who imperceptibly becomes a poetic character). Similarly, one can introduce sensory figures into the sciences that are close to aesthetic figures (in particular when this involves the comprehension of space and time, the "a priori forms of sensibility" in Kant’s "Transcendental Aesthetic").

6But there are also "interferences that cannot be localized" between each plane and each discipline, because from Deleuze and Guattari’s perspective, each discipline is in relation with its "outside," on which it feeds (if it wishes to avoid losing all its meaning and dying within the sterile hierarchies of disciplines, subdisciplines and fields of university study…). In my opinion, teaching philosophy to future artists, designers, and architects can only feed on these "interferences that cannot be localized," which must be invented and reinvented every day. In order for art to learn how to feel, for philosophy to learn how to conceive, and for science to learn how to know, each of these disciplines must first be "in an essential relationship with the No that concerns it" [8] (a nonscience, a nonart, a nonphilosophy). This controlled chaos is what enables authentic encounters between philosophy, art, and science:


It is here that concepts, sensations, and functions become undecidable, at the same time as philosophy, art, and science become indiscernible, as if they shared the same shadow that extends itself across their different nature and constantly accompanies them. [9]

8This is why it is out of the question for philosophy and philosophy teachers to "serve the project" (a phrase still heard far too often in art and architecture schools) and unimaginable that course material is still artificially divided into "theory" and "practice."

9In a 1984 interview with Eva Meyer titled "Labyrinthe et archi/texture," [10] Jacques Derrida goes into some detail on the "interferences that cannot be localized" between architecture and philosophy and declares: "We aren’t speaking as architects, instead we are raising a question about the thinking that is intrinsic to architecture: architectural thinking, if you will." [11] This statement could easily become a brief manifesto for teaching philosophy in architecture, art, and design schools: "we" (philosophers or philosophy teachers) are not architects (or designers, painters, filmmakers or video artists), but we wish to raise the question of a mode of thought that would inhere to architecture, design, and each of the arts (a gesture comparable to Deleuze’s explorations of a "cinema-thought"). [12] This means hard work: to come to a successful conclusion, this task presupposes sharing ideas and collaborating with multidisciplinary teams made up of philosophers, architects, artists, and designers, and not working in isolation, giving lectures (under the deceptively prestigious name of "theory") while artificially separated from the collective ebullience of the workshops. Of course, teaching philosophy in an architecture school does not mean "conceiv[ing] architecture as a technique separate from thought and therefore possibly suitable to represent […] in space […]." [13] Instead, declares Derrida, the point is to consider architecture as "a possibility of thought," without reducing it to the status of a representation or metaphor of thought, as philosophy has often done over the years (we could add: while categorically refusing an ancillary function for itself as desired by those who would wish to have philosophy – and, more generally, thought in all its forms – "serve the project").

10The rift between theory and practice (which still prevails in the organization of courses) is at the heart of the problem, insofar as it involves an extremely dangerous and ambiguous "division of labor." Distinguishing theory from practice, Derrida continues, has always been the fundamental gesture of philosophy, dissociating the theorem from the "pratem" and making architecture (but also the arts or design) a simple technique that thereby detaches itself from thought, "whereas there may be an undiscovered way of thinking belonging to the architectural moment, to desire, to creation." [14] Thus language (as used in philosophy, but also language in general) and architecture share, above all, an insistence on "spatialization" and "habitability," blazing trails in a sense, a "production of paths" and routes, which is familiar territory for architecture. Like architecture, philosophy is an affair of paths, thresholds, doors and bridges, corridors, steps, streets and passageways. In keeping with Heidegger’s propositions in On the Way to Language, Derrida recalls the essential distinction between "way" and "method": a method is a technique that focuses on making the way passable, that tries to lower the number of curves and rough spots through the use of straight lines. As Heidegger put it, odos (the way) does not merely consist of methodos (and yet methodos is an etymological derivative of odos). Method has appropriated the pathways of thought thanks to modern philosophy, which – from Descartes to Leibniz to Hegel – has caused odos and its complexity to be forgotten. Thought is a pathway, made of labyrinthine turns and detours that cannot be reduced to straight lines or "rules," just as the habitability of the world with which architecture is concerned cannot be reduced to the straight lines of freeways, high-rises, and monuments serving as the seats of power, without risking disaster.

11The schools of art or architecture offer philosophy and philosophers the opportunity, the chance, to try and construct, with the students and colleagues who wish to join them, a pedagogy that refuses all "methods," if by "method" we mean the straight line intended for the transmission of preestablished knowledge from the teacher to the student (i.e. the unproductive "method" of the academic paper, the "method" of the art, design, or architecture project, a method following tried and true formulas that can supposedly be handed down from one year to the next, one group of students to the next, one workshop to the next, one project class to the next…).

12The questions related to space and spatialization, to method, to the distinction between theory and practice and to aesthetics in general are, by necessity, political questions: as a result, teaching philosophy in art and architecture schools is, by necessity, a political gesture. Among the many questions of a political nature that could be raised in the context of reflection on "architectural thinking," Derrida mentions one at the end of the interview relating to technique, which could easily be transposed from the domain of architecture to that of the arts:


How is it possible, for instance, to develop a new inventive faculty that would allow the architect to use the possibilities of the new technology without aspiring to uniformity, without developing models for the whole world? An inventive faculty of the architectural difference which would bring out a new type of diversity with different limitations, other heterogeneities than the existing ones and which would not be reduced to the technique of planning? [15]

14Teaching philosophy could thus help defend the need for an "inventive faculty of the architectural difference," but also of artistic difference or difference in design, in the face of a use of new technologies that only serves the purposes of automation and the market: the "smart city" concept or BIM (building information modeling) in architecture; the proliferation of service interfaces in design; for the arts, the visual effects in multimedia installations.

15The end of the interview also refers to the Collège international de philosophie, which at the time was hosting a seminar conceived as a shared workspace between architects and philosophers, "because it became evident that the planning of the ‘Collège’ also has to be an architectural venture." [16] In Derrida’s view, the Collège had to become a "habitable place" for thought and for all the forms of mixed figures and "interferences that cannot be localized" between disciplines, between theory and practice. Instead of a monument, constructed and institutional, conforming to the modern type of university as established around 1810 in Berlin, the Collège was destined to become, in the eyes of its founders, an open, nomadizing institution, a set of broken paths, a Tower of Babel designed for research in thought. Without a defined architecture, its open and improvised structure ("You take a room here, a hall there") [17] should have invented a place capable of accommodating "a formless desire for another form" of thought, another way to both live and think: "The Collège is an architectural promise, and I don’t know if it will be kept." [18] It is hard to say, thirty-five years later, if this promise has been kept or betrayed, if this atypical institution (still without a definite location) has retained its uniqueness, or if it has become a mere annex of the university, from which it borrows its methods, its "straight lines," its syllabi, its grading criteria. In any event, it does not seem to have given much space to "mixed figures" or "interferences that cannot be localized" between philosophy and the arts, philosophy and architecture, and more generally between philosophy and its "No" or its outside. Perhaps this is still its task to come.

16In contemporary thought, this Derridean attempt to simultaneously consider the philosophical, aesthetic, political and educational dimensions of a "new architectural thinking" – one that accepts technological transformations without going as far as to minimize, once and for all, the dimension of drawing, of marking, of writing present in the architectural gesture in order to dissolve it in an artificial, normalized language – finds an echo in the current research of the British anthropologist Tim Ingold. For several years now, Ingold has been committed to a "comparative anthropology of the line" [19] and to reflection on forms of "non-linear lines" that then allow him to attempt to overcome the dichotomies that are deeply embedded in modern thinking between art and technology, writing and drawing, language and music, theory and practice, odos and methodos. This project of "linealogy" is firmly anchored in his activities as a teacher, where he works with artists, architects and archeologists (in addition to anthropologists). Ingold translates the question of pedagogy in terms of lines, paths and – again – the figure of the labyrinth, on the basis of two different senses and modes of the term "education," which are in turn derived from two different etymologies for the verb "to educate." In one (from the Latin educare), the verb references the act of giving learners instruction both in approved knowledge and on an approved model of conduct. In the other (from the verb educere, comprising the prefix ex-, "out," and the verb ducere, to lead) education’s purpose is to ex-ducere them, to lead them to the outside world. The first model (the most widespread one today) consists in grounding learners in the models of knowledge and behavior that dominate in the given cultural context; the second consists in putting them in contact with the outside world and helping them to find their bearings in the experience that stems from that. In this second model, education literally occurs "through exposure," by walking in the labyrinth of the world, the same labyrinth that Derrida mentioned in the interview cited earlier, one where neither the starting point nor the final destination are predefined, "for every place is already on the way to somewhere else." [20]

17This double sense of "education" goes hand in hand with the evolution of the term "school," which comes from the Greek schole, a term that was translated in Latin as otium and contrasted with neg-otium. The time of the schole or the otium is the time a free person can dedicate to a halt, to rest, to leisure, and ultimately to study, education, learning, and philosophy, and contrasts with the acceleration and saturation of the "useful" time of utilitarian and market-driven action. The schole or the otium presuppose a rigorous discipline, a demanding path, but they have nothing to do with the "rule," the "method" and their straight lines, which neglect the sinuous lines of paths and labyrinths. There is therefore almost nothing left of the model of the schole in the school as we know it today, just as the two meanings of the word "education" are quite distant from each other. One involves instilling knowledge and behavior that have already been mapped out; the other involves providing enough time for the mind to forge its own path. The time devoted to philosophy in schools should thus make it possible to rediscover and safeguard this suspended time of the schole, of an unrestricted activity that takes an unknown path. The invention of such a path cannot be an individual journey: it presupposes a sharing within a community comprising "mixed" teams of teachers and students, as mixed as the figures of affect, percept and concept that are to be constructed (and even, in the most concrete terms, "manufactured") in the workshops of an art or architecture school. This community, however, must be able to protect the uniqueness of each person’s path: this requires open places of teaching, research, and creation that combine theory and practice during the long period of otium and schole, not over the short-term, impoverished and overloaded period of the "project," the "deliverable" and the useless, sterile, and unread "research reports" that pile up in the dusty offices of government bureaucrats.

figure im1

18In conclusion, teaching philosophy in architecture schools should take a transversal approach, capable of creating the conditions of a reciprocal deterritorialization between concepts, affects and percepts, making the most of all the potentialities of the "interferences that cannot be localized" between several domains, and positioning itself within a long-term perspective, in the intermittent, suspended time of the schole and the otium instead of the overloaded, accelerated time of the school and the negotium: no sacred text for this architecture, no rules for this requirement, no methodos for this odos, no order for this chaos, no straight line for these sinuous flights of the witch.


  • [1]
    Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie? (Paris: Minuit, 1991) [What Is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994)].
  • [2]
    For more on this concept, see Bernard Stiegler, La Société automatique (Paris: Fayard, 2015) [Automatic Society, Vol. 1: The Future of Work, trans. Daniel Ross (Cambridge UK / Malden MA: Polity Press, 2016)].
  • [3]
    See Guattari, Psychanalyse et transversalité: Essai d’analyse institutionnelle [1974] (Paris: La Découverte, 2003) [Psychoanalysis and Transversality: Texts and Interviews 1955-1971, trans. Ames Hodges (South Pasadena CA: Semiotext(e), 2015)].
  • [4]
    Deleuze and Guattari, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie?, 45 [What Is Philosophy?, 42].
  • [5]
    Deleuze and Guattari, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie?, 196 [What Is Philosophy?, 208]. On this topic, I refer the reader to my article "Chaoïde," in Les Cahiers de Noesis 3 (Le Vocabulaire de Deleuze), ed. Robert Sasso and Arnaud Villani (Spring 2003): 55-56.
  • [6]
    Deleuze and Guattari, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie?, 204 [What Is Philosophy?, 216].
  • [7]
    Deleuze and Guattari, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie?, 204 [What Is Philosophy?, 217].
  • [8]
    Deleuze and Guattari, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie?, 205 [What Is Philosophy?, 218].
  • [9]
    Deleuze and Guattari, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie?, 206 [What Is Philosophy?, 218].
  • [10]
    "Labyrinthe et archi/texture. Entretien avec Eva Meyer" [1984], in Jacques Derrida, Les Arts de l’espace (Paris: La Différence, 2015), 25-46 [An abridged English version of this interview, "Architecture Where the Desire May Live," can be found in Rethinking Architecture: A Reader in Cultural Theory, ed. Neil Leach (London / New York: Routledge, 1997), 301-305 – translator’s note].
  • [11]
    Derrida, "Labyrinthe et archi/texture," 27.
  • [12]
    See Deleuze, Cinéma 1: L’image-mouvement [Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986)] and Cinéma 2: L’image-temps (Paris: Minuit, 1985) [Cinema 2: The Time-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989)].
  • [13]
    Derrida, "Labyrinthe et archi/texture," 27 ["Architecture Where the Desire May Live," 301].
  • [14]
    Derrida, "Labyrinthe et archi/texture," 28 ["Architecture Where the Desire May Live," 301].
  • [15]
    Derrida, "Labyrinthe et archi/texture," 45 ["Architecture Where the Desire May Live," 305].
  • [16]
    Derrida, "Labyrinthe et archi/texture," 45 ["Architecture Where the Desire May Live," 305].
  • [17]
    Derrida, "Labyrinthe et archi/texture," 45 ["Architecture Where the Desire May Live," 305].
  • [18]
    Derrida, "Labyrinthe et archi/texture," 46.
  • [19]
    See Tim Ingold, Lines: A Brief History (London / New York: Routledge, 2007).
  • [20]
    Ingold, The Life of Lines (Oxford: Routledge, 2015), 135.