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CentreCATH Lecture Series 2001-2: Odysseus and Homecoming

Mark Cousins (Director of Critical Studies and Graduate Programmes in Theory and History at the Architectural Association)

Mark Cousins studied at the Warburg Institute with Ernst Gombrich before moving into the field of cultural theory and architecture. In addition, he trained to become an Anna Freudian psychoanalyst and he has brought his vast range of philosophical, psychoanalytical and theoretical knowledges and experience to bear on the fundamental questions of architecture, where architecture itself is viewed as a major site of critical, social and cultural thought.

Poster for Le M├ępris

In his lecture series, Mark Cousins addresses the question of hospitality which is one of the key themes of CongressCATH 2001-2. He considers the theme through the architectural/theoretical question of ‘home’. The ‘homecoming’ of Odysseus as narrated in Homer’s epic has become a cultural trope in western thought, returned to itself repeatedly in literature (Dante and James Joyce) and philosophy. The oddities of a return that is many times delayed and distracted, that is forestalled by Poseidon’s malice and ultimately enacts an extreme violence in the massacre of the guests who have rights to hospitality within the house of Odysseus on Ithaca, these all raise interesting pathways for cultural analysis of the relations of wandering and narrativity, of wandering and thought, of home, economy, and violence.

Starting with the personal reflection on his childhood memories of a life at a boarding school lived in constant anticipation of the return to a home that was both longed-for and ultimately disappointing in its banal familiarity, Mark Cousins examined the Homeric epic of Odysseus’ return to Ithaca in relation to Heidegger’s key paper on Dwelling, Being and Thinking which has been widely taken up within architectural theory. Mark Cousins explored the violence of ordering implicit in the etymology of the word domos, domesticate — drawing out further gendered implications embedded in the related term economy - and he questioned the Heideggerian relations of dwelling building and thinking . By contrast, he looked at other roots of words that linked thinking not merely with building, but with wandering — linking back to the actual structure of Homer’s epic, in which the actual journey home is presented not as a continuous narrative that moves from awayness to homeness, but starts with Telemachus leaving Ithaca to glean stories of Odysseus’s fate. The journey home as a problematic of narrativity, the wandering as a paradigm for thought, the questioning of what home is, led Mark Cousins to propose that home , far from being anterior to the return, is the opposite, produced by it — produced by its absence, its ideation.

Villa Malaparte, Capri

Plotting this through Plato and Christian Neoplatonism ( the idea of thought as a return to interiority) Mark Cousins concluded with a discussion Adorno and Horkheimer’s highly critical reading of Odysseus as the purest specimen of the bourgeois subject ( his journey becomes a kind of labour, which sets aside pleasure for the labour of obligatory responsibility and duty to the eiokonomos). The status and meaning of Odysseus’ journey as the paradigm of the return home throughout western culture was thus swiftly marked out, indicating the vagaries of the story under the impact of Christianity, and the degraded reputation Odysseus gained within it specifically for the violence of his re-entry.

In the next two lectures, Mark Cousins will be looking at Jean Luc Godard’s film about making a film about Odysseus’ homecoming, Le Mépris, itself based on a novel by Alberto Moravia ( starring Bridget Bardot and Michel Piccolini) and he will be looking at the famous Villa Malaparte on Capri that was used as the location of the film, a house with its own political and architectural history. The tropes of homecoming, narrativity and the home/house will be taken up through two related cultural forms.

The themes of home, dwelling and thinking will run throughout these lectures in a deeply Warburgian procedure of tracing persistence and cultural translation.

We look forward to seeing you at the next lecture on Monday 26 November at 18.00 in LG 19. There will be a reception after the third lecture on Monday 3 December in the foyer of the Michael Sadler Building at 7.30.

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AHRB School of Fine Art, History of Art & Cultural Studies University of Leeds