Wednesday, August 3, 2011


It is a little book that sits on the shelf like a rough opal exposed amongst the dirt, stones, rocks and boulders. It is modest and unimpressive until it is opened. It was discovered on a discard table, much reduced; such is its presence that obviously did not match its original price of about twenty dollars. But could any book by the author of Death Sentence be left behind? It was the name, Don Watson, that caught the eye, as well as the rich sky blue cover and the price. Without bothering about the content of this miniature publication, I paid for it, pocketed it and paced off. The book is Don Watson’s on indignation published by Melbourne University Press in 2008 as part of the ‘Little Books on Big Themes’ series.

Although small, it was not until some weeks later that I bothered to pick it up and read it. The strange thing was that this tiny tome took a couple of weeks to read. There seemed to be a desire to let the flavour of a few pages’ thought linger rather than take the text all in one dose. There was no competition to worry about, or any reputation to lose as one enjoyed the ponderings on indignation that, one discovers, is indeed a marvellous subject as well as a subtle, but powerful emotion – ‘It is never reasonable,’ p.82.

The importance of this subject can be seen in the piece on Orwell, p.58:
‘When I sit down to write a book,’ Orwell declared, ‘I do not say to myself “I am going to produce a work of art.” I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.’ His ‘starting point,’ he said, was ‘always a feeling of partisanship’. Orwell was one of a rare species; a political creature with his sense of indignation so well-governed it actually helped his writing.

What do architects think and feel when they sit down to design a building? Are they indignant? Should they be? What do they want to ‘expose’, ‘draw attention to’, get heard – get seen: if anything? Maybe indignation has a role in architectural debate - at the end rather than the beginning? Is it just too tough, too hard, to be indignant? After all - ‘Indignation is such a tiring emotion. It excites the mind and impoverishes it at the same time. It is never reasonable. Yet everything moves this way.’ - p.82. There is an enigmatic quality of irrational discord that aims at reason.

We need to be much more aware of indignation if we are going to use it appropriately. It may not have any role in deisgn, but it does have a place in discussion. Sadly, it is an emotion that is slowly being excised from architectural debate that is becoming more ‘reasonable’ every day – more rational and rationed; more hagiographical; more promotionally agreeable, managed by mates and preconceptions that cut, divide and exclude. Be indignant! ‘Gods who are not indignant may as well be lumps of stone – or melancholy. It is the same with us, naturally.’ - p.83.

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