"Then There Was War": John Hejduk's Silent Witnesses as Nuclear Criticism

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Drawing on the reflections contained in Roland Barthes' lectures on the "Neutral", this paper reconsiders John Hejduk's Silent Witnesses installation (1976), often thought a peripheral work despite the architect's assertion that it is his most important statement. While discussions of silence normally presume the presence of a listener, I argue that this work concerns the silence – if we can continue to use the word – that endures beyond any possibility of audition. This is the condition emblematized by the final blank grey volume of Hejduk's installation, whose radical erasure of all traces gestures toward the absolute archival destruction – characterized by Jacques Derrida as an "apocalypse without revelation" – presaged by the nuclear age. Developing through a series of close readings of Hejduk's own commentaries on his work, as well as its relations with other texts and practices, the paper explores the linkages between Silent Witnesses and the nuclear epoch.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)227-242
Number of pages16
JournalArchitecture and Culture
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 11 Dec 2018


  • Architectural Theory
  • silence
  • John Hejduk
  • Silent Witnesses
  • nuclear criticism
  • Roland Barthes
  • Jacques Derrida

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