A follow-up on the global novel based on a thoughtful piece at Design Observer on the future of architectural criticism by Nancy Levinson. As Levinson writes in response to the challenges of reviewing the now infamous economy of global architecture:
How can a critic attain deep experience and comprehensive knowledge of a global field whose perceptual boundaries are ever expanding as the world grows more interconnected and as media channels proliferate like mad and propagate an infinitude of information — and yet whose significant works are ultimately three-dimensional, place-bound artifacts created to satisfy specific conditions and which require actual personal presence to know and understand?
For Levinson, architecture poses unique problems because the works under criticism are so bound by context, something that the tourist-like approach of architecture critics could never understand at anything other than a superficial level.
What struck me about Levinson’s piece was the way it applied to all cultural products today. Literary works are as place bound as works of architecture and their increasingly global circulation means that reviewers will increasing not be able to attend to the time and place (and the language) that helped bring them to life. Levinson suggests that the real key is to erase the model of the global critic, a superstar who can review the superstars to be replaced instead by local informants speaking (possibly) to a world stage. But one could add the equal and opposite approach of foreign reviewers who have knowledge of localities which they translate back to a home audience.
The important point to both approaches is that unlike the globe-trotters speaking globally they rely on a form of translational understanding, of what it means to speak from one place to another. It is not localism that is at stake here, as Levinson suggests, but incubating the values of translation, of translation that does not try to do away with geographic differences, but draw them out in the course of analysis.