July 01, 2009

It's All Bullshit

"Hey, Mohamed, why don't I ever hear you speak up in class? You're a PhD student. You should blow us all away," I asked today as we trudged up to the Attic (where they banish grad students to) after our architectural theory discussion let out.

"Well, I'm really busy with my dissertation, so I don't always do all the readings, so I don't know what to talk about," he told me in a soft accent as we passed Bruce's desk, the other PhD student who is older than most of the professor's here.

"Aw man, just BS it. Theory is just BS anyway," I told him.

Bruce laughed and chimed in with his deep voice, "With one sentence she just demolished the entire scholastic institution."

"Nah, I didn't demolish it. I just see the truth of it."

Don't get me wrong. I love theory, and philosophy, debate, history, research, and thought. I'm just not in love with theory. (And people have a long history of loving things which aren't necessarily good for them.) I see it for what it is - which is bullshit. It's all just words. I heard a quote once: "Talking about music is like dancing about architecture." Well, talking about architecture is pretty much like dancing about architecture, and maybe less illuminating than that because at least dance has certain visual and spacial qualities to it, just as architecture does.

Bullshit isn't limited to architecture theory though. It permeates everything. Hell, ninety-nine percent of what we call "the dharma" is bullshit - not because it's bad for us or wrong somehow, but just because of the nature of it. The word "chair" is not a chair. The word "enlightenment" is not enlightenment and the word "buddha" is not a buddha and won't get you enlightened no matter how many times you say it. Sure, we need the words, but we can't go around confusing the words of wisdom for wisdom itself. We can't conflate the description of an experience or state of existence for that thing.

What I study in my architecture class isn't architecture. If I wanted to study architecture, I couldn't do it in class. I can read about it, research it, discuss it, theorized about it, criticize it, but if I actually want to study architecture, to experience it, I have to get out and visit it. I don't like to criticize buildings I've never been too, or praise them either. I do, of course. It's usually required at some point, but I don't take anything I say seriously, however worthwhile it may or may not prove to be. It's all bullshit, because until I've actually visited that building, explored every nook, cranny, and closet, watched people use it, seen how the light changes throughout the day and the building systems respond to the difference seasons, only then will I really know that building. And even then, anything I say about it is merely a shallow interpretation of that knowledge into the medium of language of something that is made of infinitely more than black chicken scratched on paper.

So, yeah, the dharma is bullshit. It's a bunch of monkeys swinging in the jungle debating the merits of the Sistine Chapel versus Chartres Cathedral. Maybe one day, they'll swing on over to Italy or France and check it out for themselves, but most of them seem pretty content to hang in the jungle (or the ivory tower). I know I like it here.

Of course, if living in the land of bullshit bothered me, I would have flunked out a long time ago.

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