Harrow the house of the dead; look shining at
New styles of architecture, a change of heart.
These, the final lines of W.H. Auden’s “Petition,” appear to speak to the ways in which our exterior and interior worlds correspond—or perhaps, more to the point, demand that we examine the ways in which the various and varied structures of our world affect our selves and our hearts.
Architecture as a term implies both a wholeness and a sort of system organizing the formation of any structure. Thus, one can speak of the architecture of a building, of a system of justice, of a form of communication, and so on.
But these structures, ostensibly assembled to serve us, often structure us in turn. The architecture undergirding the exteriors of our world go a long way towards shaping the interior of our lives.
And what of it?
Simply this. There is a great distance between W.B. Yeats’ longed-for small cabin at Innisfree, “of clay and wattles made,” and the structure of, say, the interior of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City , which, while striving to convey a certain grandeur, still smacks more than a little of the parsimonious standardization of business cost efficiency.
This distance is not just one of design. That one standing in the lobby of the Met and looking at its balustrades could be forgiven for believing for a moment that he was in a mid- to high-end Sheraton is one thing. But there is something more. For think too of the great difference in consciousness between the soul who, though, unhappy, is able to cry:
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
And the one that is continuously subjected to structures which, in J.M. Bernstein’s phrase, “indict the spectator for failing to find gratification where there is none.” The soul, that is, whose unhappiness is accompanied by the stunting of the ability to even imagine or express a longed-for something else because everything else is so much like the structure one wishes to escape.
It is our hope that this issue of The Straddler, comprising parts which together form a sort of architecture of investigation, help to illuminate, however dimly, aspects of the architectures existing in and affecting our own lives.
Like Auden, we read an excerpt from Virginia Woolf’s The Waves as providing both the sharp and dull ends of this hope:
We have made oblongs and stood them upon squares. This is our triumph; this is our consolation.
If we are able to see more clearly the web of forces structuring, to a greater or lesser extent, our lives, we may be able to hoist ourselves atop the oblongs for a few moments—or even longer—and hear more clearly what it actually is that beats in our deep heart’s core.