The first line of this couplet is often misquoted as "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing". The phrase " fools rush in where angels fear to tread " from Part III has become part of the popular lexicon, and has been used for and in various works.
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Namespaces Article Talk. Views Read Edit View history. But his replacement of the treatise with the argumentative essay also marks an important turn in the discursive construction of the field that we call architecture. If buildings are indeed the stuff of architectural history, essays illuminate our changing understanding of those buildings.
The history of architectural ideas is a history of essays as much as a history of artifacts.
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But all essays are necessarily partial, and this one will turn instead to a moment when the political potential of the essay form gained a newfound importance, as industrialization and social change were effecting radical transformations on the modern metropolis. One might even argue the inverse, that the genre of the essay—in its structural aspects and its intellectual lineage—in some sense demanded the rise of critical theory, being a form of thought uniquely suited to a certain form of writing.
Instead of achieving something scientifically, or creating something artistically, the effort of the essay reflects a childlike freedom that catches fire, without scruple, on what others have already done. Interrogating those conceptual structures that are most taken for granted, for Benjamin as for his compatriots, was the critical form of production opened up by the essay form.
To write is, in its modest but ever necessary way, to participate.
Every age brings its own conventional distinctions, and the essay form remains an important tool for illuminating and even sometimes undoing them. We are at a moment in architecture when the specialization of intellectual labor has created its own conventions—in particular a dissociation between architectural production and architectural critique.
This is a rift that has gone by many names, and has produced an outsized atmosphere of anxiety, but has also found palpable shape in a discipline that increasingly sees its critical apparatus, if you will, existing to the side of architectural pedagogy and practice. Depending on your vantage point, you might link this to any number of causes, each of which is too simplistic on its own. This institutional transformation has another side effect, by which architects, knowing that these writerly cadres are receiving this training, slip into a comfortable sense that someone else is out there to do the critical work.
For practitioners, especially those of an academic stripe, the idea of research in the form of iterative experiment and serial information gathering has seen a remarkable expansion in the past decade, often quite productively—but this focus has also displaced critique and informed dialogue in favor of apparently nonjudgmental research practices.
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And for all of the common language that passes across the divisions that define different forms of professional participation in the world of architecture, there remain few common platforms for discussion. But look again—there is fantastic critical work happening across the discipline, with an always expanding horizon of what constitutes the field of architecture.
Schools are producing increasingly skilled cohorts of thinkers and writers. If our most ubiquitous sites of architectural media sometimes add critical features and editorials, that work, even when excellent, has the effect of a compensatory pocket of thoughtful discussion that legitimates the larger promotional enterprise.