- An Ode to Amekhania
The most economic notion of dwelling that I am aware of was expressed in the most economical fashion in a 1923 aphorism by the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier: “La maison est une machine à demeurer” (The house is a machine for dwelling).1 One year later, in his book Toward an Architecture, Le Corbusier slightly changed the formulation to “La maison est une machine à habiter” (The house is a machine for living in) (ta, 151).
Although the modification seems to be negligible, the difference between demeurer and habiter is quite significant. The former has a tinge of passivity about it, whereas the latter entails an active inhabiting of a place, rendering it familiar and one’s own. We will have a chance to revisit this difference, but for now all we can register is how it has been absorbed without remainder into the determination of the house as a machine. With an eye to efficiency and functionalism, the law of dwelling prescribes a trouble-free production and reproduction of existence. The house must release its product (the worker prepared for a day of work) in the morning and accept raw materials (the worker exhausted aft er a day of work) at night for reprocessing. Neither the passivity of dwelling nor the activity of inhabiting is on the side of the one for whom the house presents itself as a machine. [End Page 151] Rather, the house itself acts upon whoever lives in it, packaging everyday life into mass-produced, industrial forms.
No doubt, the current postindustrial trend of “homeworking”—which once again reconverts the dwelling into a workplace aft er a long history of slave toil, “cottage industries,” and the sexual division of labor—introduces certain changes, such as the production of the worker along with a generally intangible product, into the modernist view articulated by Le Corbusier. Having said that, I believe that his vision still holds, with the modification that the house turns into a machine for dwelling and for working. The addition of work-related activities to its space, which has always demanded labor especially from its female inhabitants, is possible precisely because it is a mechanism efficiently disposing of various aspects of human lives. It is not that work is humanized at home but that the house is further mechanized, rendered versatile, and made utterly indifferent to the dimensions of existence it processes at any given moment. We circle back to the ancient Greek worldview according to which the dwelling (oikos) was absorbed into the economic sphere (oikonoma = the law of the house), except that those working at a master’s house in antiquity were the slaves, whereas today the classical distinction between a vast majority of homeowners—especially, homeworkers—and slaves has all but evaporated: despite the illusion of freedom, “self-employed,” “freelance” professionals cater to the needs of postindustrial capital, while taking out a mortgage to become a homeowner has become a subtle form of debt slavery.
The volatile nature of the economic, or better, the economicist attitude could not be more evident. As soon as modern economy imposes its law-nomos onto a dwelling, the imposition gets out of control, imposing the dwelling in the form of mechanical law onto the dweller. The worker’s activity both at the place of work and at home, which, as I’ve mentioned, increasingly serves as a workplace, is a passive handing over of oneself to the dwelling-machine. In this situation it is somewhat premature to celebrate the divestment of human “agency,” the very value that is particularly dear to the metaphysical mode of thinking. Only the site of activity shift s: before signifying a device (mēkhanē) or an expedient (mêkhos), the Greek mākhanā affirms the ability, or the enabling power, of I may.2 Mechanical repetition [End Page 152] is hardly an antidote to the ideal of spontaneity, just as the biological notion of organism is not quite an improvement on the idea that nonhuman nature is a complex mechanism. The machine determines a priori the seemingly free agency and the obviously programmed recurrences of various operations.
When they treat machinic assemblages...