Reading Minds

By Guest Writer – Madhuri Rao,

Madhuri teaches at RVCE, Bangaluru.

As a culture in general and being academicians in particular we often pine for students/everyone to read and explore the written word for it has empowered us and many of our likes. We encounter many excuses and mostly credible ones to this resistance. Often it is a lack of time or procrastination, which is chronic – partly in our case as well. At the same time, difficulty in understanding and jargon can also be a buzzkill.

Reading in general and reading the thought/s behind the making of architecture/design/art is integral to our thinking, and has decisively sensitized our responses and lent perspective to our thoughts. This post is a step in that direction, to guide and read in a way to interpret better.

e416261d08fa6c067116621020930640During the course of our post graduate program we were fortunate to have had Prof. Sebastiano Brandolini visit and interact with us over the course of a week for an elective. The premise was to discuss prevalent, valid and contesting ideas with respect to seminal texts that represent them (see poster). However, for us the biggest take away from this interaction was Prof. Brandolini’s methodical understanding on how to read theory books – a framework of 19 questions to understand a book better.

Questions generated by a theory book

  1. Why does a theorist make a book rather than something else?
  2. What was publishes just before or just after or during? What was the cultural milieu?
  3. Which travels were made for the book?
  4. Is it primarily illustrated by photos, drawings, sketches, projects or what else?
  5. Who is the book intended for?
  6. Is it a book to read, look, or leaf through?
  7. What is the relationship between words and images?
  8. Does the book contain a polemic?
  9. What importance does the graphic design have in conveying its meaning?
  10. How would you describe its logic?
  11. Can one identify 5 fundamental clue-words?
  12. What does the cover actually say? How do the different editions vary?
  13. Does the theory also presuppose a design method?
  14. Is it possible to spell the differences between: a theory book, a history book, a monograph, a handbook, a catalogue, an illustrated book, an interactive book?
  15. What does a theory need to convey its message and make itself evident?
  16. Can a theory book be without illustrations?  Can it be a narrative?
  17. Might one suggest good synonyms to the word “theory”?
  18. Would it be possible to transfer a theory into a conceptual diagram?
  19. Does such a thing exist, as an anti-theory book?

We have since applied this method and appropriated it to gain structure, perspective and deconstruct books, movies, art, architecture and similar modes of expression. While doing so it shed light on many aspects that remain hidden in the framework unless applied to some set of ideas/ processes or modes of expression. The questions inadvertently form a framework to understand the expression, that is  true to its maker’s intention. It serves as a domain or a specific lens within which the expressed is to be understood in its original context.

The nature of the questions are probing and help create a hypothetical web of influences that the maker was subject to – acquaintances, biases, tradecraft, audience, research, intentions, propaganda, underlying logic and everything that went into setting the stage for creation/expression.

However, this analytical checklist does not limit other forms of interpretation which may not have dwelled in its original premise. In fact, in the process of delving into the questions, it opens up many subordinate issues/matters/ themes for further understanding of the overall subject or to diversify into new territories.

Alternately this model has helped in the conception, development and manifestation of a single idea by the principle of reverse engineering. Working through each of the questions, layers the idea with more value till it in-turn becomes a construct of considerable depth. Also, maybe not in the same order as the framework, these underlying ideas have the ability to give structure to the construct – from part to whole.

Theory is not prescriptive and evidently, this framework is not a foolproof method. It is rather a guide to understand a theoretical stand – implemented by translation of an idea, through different media and its manifestation as a logical conclusion to the process.

Today, we find ourselves on a sticky wicket and the emergence of social media feeds the system. Like/dislike/follow/share, ratings, instant responses, rule the roost and make or break careers/spirit/passions/goodwill. We believe that an idea cannot be validated nor can a value judgment be passed, without having understood it in the domain it is exercised in and with the internal logic that it operates – whether it is a book, movie, art or a nascent idea.


Image Credit : Baudrillard’s shelves by Olivier Roller