Theory/practice. What better formulation have we arrived at to describe the discipline’s divergent academic wings, as well as the sources of its cultural agency: But connoisseurs will have already smelled a rat. Is not this doubling up, this pairing, merely an obvious repetition of those quasi-oppositional premises on which “theory” was reinvented in architecture via the dialectical and deconstructionist traditions two decades or so ago? And by force of sheer historical momentum, if nothing else, has not the unstable double seen better days as an analytical device? Maybe. Or maybe not, since we have yet to come to terms with the fact that ours is a discipline full of holes, one that compulsively attempts to plug its leaks by staging false problems demanding immediate resolution or by elaborating shaky schemas condemned to perpetual suspension in the soothing lullaby of dialectical negation.

Despite their apparent clarity, each of these two terms -”theory” and “practice” — refers to a contested set of practices, in turn, equipped with its own, equally contested theoretical apparatus. Within each (as well as between them) is an abyss across which communication is perilous at best. Our temptation might be, in a middle-of-the-road sort of way, to build bridges across these gaps, on which theoretical practices and practical theories might meet. We might opt for a little of this and a little of that, in step with the over-determined sense of moderation so familiar in exhausted geopolitical “overcomings” of Cold War polarities. To do so, however, would be to forfeit the polemical capacity of all forms of architectural knowledge, which grant the discipline a distinct type of discursive and material agency.

This is the double agency of an ability constantly to switch sides, to open up a leak that runs both ways, at all levels -between “theory” and “practice,” as well as between the discipline of architecture and its “interdisciplinary” outside. As with the structural ambivalence native to the double agent, this function does not come without a price. The double agent is at home nowhere and everywhere, a decidedly untrustworthy figure engaged in the perpetual construction of credibility. Nevertheless, it is here that we find architecture at its most polemically refined — not merely disguising itself in a theoretical wrapper (since there is nothing to disguise), but taking up provisional residence therein as architecture. And here also, we find theory at its most polemically refined — not settling for some spurious “practical” application, but practicing itself as if it were as real (which it is) as the architecture to which it may or may not actually be dedicated as theory.

For the double agent, there can be no question of a “postcritical” (read: “precritical”) anesthesia, numbed to the point of utter docility after having taken refuge in the anodyne reassurances of a longed-for instrumentality. There can only be an ever-sharpened alertness to indeterminacy, to the holes that refuse to seal up. Dogma and propaganda thence become mere institutional protocol — a convenient cover, nothing more. What counts is what happens behind the scenes and what is written between the lines. There, where all futurisms are irrelevant, the future is being negotiated. And there, believe it or not, architecture is at play in all forms imaginable.

Even to attempt to answer the call of the “theory/practice problem” is thus to get caught in the myopic concatenations of a discipline bored by its own crises, ever-narrowing its ambitions in a fantasmatic cascade of vanishing points around which a believable telos can be constructed. It is to submit to the logic of the identity card, in which the scope of one’s agency is determined in advance by a regime anxious, first and foremost, to protect its borders both internally and externally.

Under such conditions, all work, all research in architecture becomes a form of counterintelligence, carried out with a sense of urgency in which its status as theoretical or practical is beside the point. It is a risky business, in which there may or may not be a clear opponent, in which ethicopolitical agendas are defined by a willingness to advance propositions irreducible to some absolute principle, and in which there is always the danger of complicity. Such activity is always strategic, even (or especially) when its polemic is hidden under a dense layer of historical exegesis, or in the vivid actualities of the working drawing. So: forget “theory,” forget “practice.” Think and act operatively, in the sense of the “operative” about whose project we can never be sure, even (or especially) when it seems self-evident.

Double Agency. Por: Martin, Reinhold, Assemblage, 08893012, Apr2000, Fascículo 41