A couple of you have mentioned it, so I suppose I should as well. I’ve been meaning to write a longer blog post on Philip Johnson, given the recent publication of the Constancy of Change, edited by Emmanuel Petit, a book certain to have a huge impact on the way we think of Johnson, but I am spending all my free time working on the Network Culture project and putting myself in a Johnson state of mind takes me away from that.
In any event, Franz Schulze has a disappointing review of the Johnson Tapes in the March Architectural Record. Three points in response.
First, Schulze misses the mark. The book is by no means a definitive document of Johnson’s life. We say that throughout. The tapes were incomplete and it took a huge effort to turn them into something publishable. If that’s something that Schulze is not interested in, fine. To spend the review quibbling about details (as if there are no inaccuracies in his biography) is not so much petty as foolish.
Second, the review is sour grapes. Schulze’s voice is the clearest absence from the Constancy of Change. He was not invited to the symposium or to contribute to the book even though many scholars who had far more dimmer opinions of Johnson than Schulze were, myself included. Since the symposium and book were spearheaded by Robert Stern, the pitiful attempt at payback is evident. Although I don’t recall that Bob and I ever discussed why Schulze wasn’t invited, the sentiment of a few of the other speakers was that in his biography, Schulze treated Johnson’s activities on the extreme right in the 1930s and his homosexuality as equivalent. Not only is this a version of the Hitler’s missing testicle fallacy, Schulze’s implicit equation of homosexuality and fascism is patently offensive. I’m afraid that the biography hasn’t aged well and being left on the sidelines during this reassessment of Johnson’s life must have hurt. I thought all this was obvious. I wonder what the editors at Record were thinking.
Third, good reviews (and by this I mean the quality of the review, not its judgment) should shed light on the topic. Later this week I will post my review of Sanford Kwinter’s Far From Equilibrium. My review is far from negative but I took the project seriously, writing with the idea of informing the reader.
Maybe Schulze will have a chance to redeem himself with a more insightful review one day. I’d hope he’d be able to put aside his feelings if he reviews the Constancy of Change. My own work on Johnson slowly gathers steam. It’ll be much later on, to be sure, but I do expect to publish a book on Johnson sometime in the next decade.