Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Lisa Robertson, Office for Soft Architecture

Office for Soft Architecture
I’ve spent an hour this morning in Vancouver. Wonderful to pick up a book, in this case Lisa Robertson’s Office for Soft Architecture, and be transported to the musings and meanderings of one’s former life, especially when that author gives one new language, a sharper angle. From her meditation on Rubus Armeniacus, to The Fountain Transcript, Robertson catalogues the Vancouverness of Vancouver. I can’t think of more resonant writing about the city of Vancouver than this…various poets come to mind, George Bowering, Daphne Marlatt, Roy Kiyooka, Michael Turner, but I can’t recall a writer who has tapped into my own musings and magnified them the way Robertson does. She glints the surface, but then she penetrates unearthing a whole new structure with which to view the city. The effect is not unlike the first time I read Christopher Dewdney’s The Natural History.
…our city is persistently soft. We see it like a raw encampment at the edge of the rocks, a camp for a navy trying to return to a place that has disappeared. So the camp is a permanent transience, the buildings or shelters like tents--tents of steel, chipboard, stucco, glass, cement, paper and various claddings--tents rising and falling in the glittering rhythm which is null rhythm, which is the flux of modern careers. (15)
Included in the book is an essay titled Pure Surface, regarding the ubiquitous Vancouver Special, that particular box-like structure of (once) affordable Vancouver houses. The website referred to in the last line has an astounding catalogue of these dwellings—a feature of Vancouver that with distance has now become a kind of romantic fixation. In fact, over the summer, I spent quite some time photographing them (I also photographed trees and apartment buildings in the west end, another remarkable architectural aspect of the city). Note the two above, one in the more predicatable treeless state, and another, with a Monkey tree no less.

This book is further indication of the depth Robertson brings to her work. And like Anne Carson, her ability to marry the essay in a poetic form. It also establishes Robertson the philosopher and flanéur. I can’t help but think how lucky Paris is to have her there. But the west coast is not so easy to leave, so perhaps we will have more occasion to see the west coast through her eyes.
For more Vancouver photos click here.

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