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  • Goethe’s Architectonic Bildung and Buildings in Classical Weimar
  • Susan Bernstein

1. Architectonic

In the penultimate section of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant presents the term “architectonic” as follows: “By an architectonic I understand the art of systems.” 1 Architectonic unity, he explains, is characterized by rational necessity and is distinguished from technical unity, or those general structures produced through aggregation or empirical accumulation. In the rhapsodies of accumulation, history can be gathered up and reshaped, refigured and re-presented in a necessary and systematic form:

It is unfortunate that only after we have spent much time rhapsodically collecting all sorts of stray bits of knowledge as building materials [Bauzeug], at the suggestion of an idea lying hidden in our minds, and after we have, indeed, over a long period assembled the materials in a merely technical manner, does it first become possible for us to discern the idea in a clearer light, and to devise a whole architectonically in accordance with the ends of reason.


This architectonic projection or design does away with the haphazard quality of the Bauzeug or construction materials. The recasting of knowledge according to a single idea picks up historical material; Kant remarks that this project should not be so hard, considering that much knowledge has already amassed itself and thus makes possible “an architectonic of all human knowledge . . . in view of the great [End Page 1014] amount of material that has been collected . . . or which can be picked up from the ruins of old collapsed buildings” (655/2:698).

Architectonics, then, marks a fold between induction and deduction, between the technical or rhapsodic gathering of the historical and its recasting as a necessary system of relations. One might say that the word “architectonic” is the transcendental correlate to the field of architecture; it enfolds and presents the rules of the buildings, ruins, and materials that architecture deploys. Architecture provides the constitutive elements of the articulation of architectonics; at the same time, it is put aside as extraneous matter that is merely empirical. While Kant suggests that a correspondence between architectonics and architecture might be possible, this is not the object of his interest: “We shall content ourselves here with the completion of our task, namely, merely to sketch the architectonic of all knowledge arising from pure reason; and in doing so we shall begin from the point at which the common root of our faculty of knowledge divides and throws out two stems, one of which is reason” (655/2:698). The cleavage between buildings and system splits the very root of knowledge, leaving two fields each supported by beams. The technology of architecture shapes the organic image of the root, carving it into the two denaturalized regions of architecture and architectonics. 2

The euphony of the title of this article invites the suggestion that a similar cleavage and interdependence obtains between the unifying structure of Bildung, an organic model of self-formation and education, and buildings. Housing provides a space that allows subjectivity to inscribe itself and externalize itself in its residence; by the same token, it also produces merely empirical sites, hollow containers that cannot be included in the mirroring relation of inside and outside that allows a building to become meaningful. This architectural dialectic also structures the concept of Bildung articulated in the eighteenth century. While the resonance between Bildung and building may be specious, the connection between construction and (self) formation can also be heard in the term “edification,” from the Latin (aedes, temple or house, + ficare, to make). Bildung installs a certain architectonic of selfhood according to which a narrative unfolds, progressing through various stages of conflict and resolution that allow an interior to be distinguished from an exterior. The wall, the architectural boundary, between the two, marks the blind spot or gap that divides the subjectivity that Bildung is supposed to render whole.

Bildung is generally understood to signify a process of self-production and reproduction that is supposed to integrate the individual [End Page 1015] into a social totality. Several studies have attended to the connection between the narrative of Bildung and what has come to be called “aesthetic ideology.” 3 The terms...

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