Jan Kenneth Birksted


On his book Le Corbusier and the Occult

Cover Interview of February 19, 2010

A close-up

There are 170 illustrations in Le Corbusier and the Occult.  And they are not just pretty pictures. Some of them tell stories in their right.

One reviewer said that he could not understand the relevance of such a picture as the late nineteenth-century photograph of a Chaux-de-Fonnier boy in a Biedermeier apartment, looking wistfully past the net-curtains at the world outside.  And, yes, the boy in the photograph is not Jeanneret.  But the photo is emblematic of what it would have been like for an ambitious child to grow up in exactly that kind of stifling petty bourgeois milieu in La Chaux-de-Fonds with its drapes, crystal gold-fish bowls, aspidistras and all the associated mental baggage: a domestic etui as described by Walter Benjamin.

Then there are photographs in the book that provide evidence and replace written text: these photographs reveal history. Such are the images of Masonic rituals.

rorotoko.com Interior of the Masonic lodge of La Chaux-de-Fonds, La Loge L’Amitié

Le Corbusier and the Occult is an intensely visual book.  You can flip through it as if through a storyboard and you will get the narrative.  I am deeply grateful to the MIT Press—and in particular to Roger Conover, my commissioning editor.  It is a joint achievement, in fact, that Le Corbusier and the Occult became a “concept” book worth collecting—even if you were not to read all the words.