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Living in the Margins May 6, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in creativity, marginalization.
Tags: , ,

Today many people – not only architects – are feeling marginalized and when the word appears of late in the press it is often negative in connotation: “I was made marginal by my boss;” “the marginalization of newspapers;” and the like. To be marginalized is to be denied power, and – for many groups – this powerlessness can result in deprivation and even extermination. So marginalization is a serious concern. But as we learned from the Dodo, the marginalized in nature as well as in society often have no one to blame for their self-extermination but themselves.

If architects these days are feeling particularly marginalized – sidestepped, overlooked, underappreciated – it may well be because when architects meet to talk they talk to themselves in a language that only they can understand. And when they present their ideas they too often do so with drawings that only they can read. They flee from risk whether on the construction site or by “fleeing up” to the heady heights of design where they don’t have to be accountable to anything as mundane as gravity.

Marginalia (plurale tantum) is the term normally used for notes, scribbles, and enthusiastic editorial comments (“How true!!!”) made in the margin of a book. Book margins are where we write some of our most inspired thoughts, relate to authors, co-write and co-opt authorship, our way to participate in the creative process of reading by writing – a form of analog hyperlink to the self. As in this from Billy Collin’s poem, Marginalia

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive –
“Nonsense.” “Please!” “HA!!” –
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Like Endora  (Agnes Moorehead) in Bewitched, perched indelicately atop the raised panel kitchen cabinetry, observing from the perimeters, remaining without, looking in, architects – like all artists – try to keep one foot in the midst of things while standing on the sidelines, stationary and scot-free. We can’t make up our minds whether we’re masters of the Big Picture or Keepers of the Godlike Details – so we’re accomplished at both. Architects are not constructors but rather observers of construction. We are indeed arcontours, living in the outskirts, like the proverbial dog in repose stretched across the threshold of the open door: in or out? Living marginally – how many architects these days are just getting by? We’re at heart outliers, in search of a way in. Benched on the sidelines, as much by our own volition as by circumstances, we so badly want in. (“Let me in!!”)

For many of us we’re living marginal lives in marginal times and, you know, we really ought to be enjoying it more. I’m of the mind that if architects have gradually lived on the margins they must be doing so for a reason. We must be getting something out of it – otherwise, why bother? So what then is the payoff?

I believe our payoff is this: it is here, on the margins, that our best ideas are found. It is here, away from the pressure of commerce, where we think best, and in doing so, live perhaps a little more deeply. It is here on the outskirts of business that we enjoy the panoramic views of life stretched out from a distance before us. To me at least margins represent places of opportunity, where we can allow ourselves to unfold. It is no coincidence that a book as great as The Great Gatsby was written, in edit, largely in the margins. Our thoughts, ideas and ideals are indeed overflowing and where else – but in the margins – can they overflow? If paragraphs are cities then margins are like greenbelts – inhibiting sprawl yet at the same time in themselves contain – effluvious, fertile – worlds within. Just like ourselves.



1. lefarchitect - May 7, 2009

Regarding, “Living in the Margins:” We should embrace this time as a much-needed rest for our minds (conscious and subconscious) after assuming the multiple roles of pragmatist, therapist, and fire extinguisher for so long. Only then can we allow ourselves the luxury of observing and savoring the simple beauty around us (which ultimately feeds our creativity), and be the dreamers we had originally intended to be.

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