sameness


Child with its mother in the panorama. The panorama is presenting the Battle of Sedan. The child finds it all very lovely: ‘Only, it’s too bad the sky is so dreary.’ –’That’s what the weather is like in war,’ answers the mother..

– Walter Benjamin, “D: Boredom, Eternal Return,” in The Arcades Project. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999. p 101.

Every bourgeois is a little playwright, who invents different subjects and who, instead of situating suitable characters on the level of his own intelligence, like chrysalises on chairs, tries to find causes or objects … to give weight to his plot, a talking and self-defining story.

Every spectator is a plotter, if he tries to explain a word (to know!) From his padded refuge of serpentine complications, he allows his instinct to be manipulated…. To be plain: The amusement of redbellies in the mills of empty skulls….

I appreciate an old work for its novelty. It is only contrast that links us to the past….

On the one hand there is a [present] world tottering in its flight, linked to the resounding tinkle of the infernal gamut; on the other hand, there are: the new men. Uncouth, galloping, riding astride on hiccups.

– Tristan Tzara, “Dada Manifesto 1918“.

…Frank Loyd Wright['s] design for Broadacre City … was based both on his wholesome appreciation of the hygienic and domestic values of rural life, and his Jeffersonian contempt for the many-sided corporate and institutional life of the city. In the name of the first, he was ready to shrink the acreage of productive soils and break down the special human values of the rural landscape, with the functional divisions of meadow, pasture, and woodland, of cultivated land and wild land, in order to give every house and family a subsistence garden; and he was no less ready to break down the natural coagulations of life in villages and country towns, in a new fashion that made every social activity call for long distance transportation and therefore the incessant use of the motor car….The high price of such remote lots automatically turns the farmer into a real-estate speculator, and results, as in California, in the slaughter of orchards, vineyards, and market gardens that once gave both health and delight–to say nothing of fresh food–to the nearby urban communities.

… the anti-city combines two contradictory and almost irreconcilable aspects of modern civilization: an expanding economy that calls for the constant employment of the machine (motor car, radio, television, telephone, automated factory, and assembly line) to secure both both full production and a minimal counterfeit of normal social life; and as a necessary offset to these demands, an effort to escape from the over-regulated routines, the impoverished personal choices, the monotonous prospects of this regime by daily withdrawal to a private rural asylum, where bureaucratic compulsions give way to exurban relaxation and permissiveness, in a purely family environment as much unlike the metropolis as possible. Thus the anti-city produces an illusory image of freedom at the very moment all the screws of organization are being tightened….

Because the anti-city is by nature fragmentary, any part can be built by anybody anywhere at any time. This is the ideal formula for promoting total urban disintegration.

Not the least factor in this development, certainly in America, is the persistent residue of the curious pioneer belief in space and mobility as a panacea for the ills of social life…. [which] is the current doctrine of space for space’s sake…. This has become the “space age” with a vengeance: in architecture space has become a substitute for urbane design….

No secondary modes of intercourse, neither the printed page, the telephone, nor television, can take the place of that direct face-to-face intercourse whose occasions the city, when it remains close to the human scale, multiplies. Without an urban container deliberately planned for such intercourse, the dominant economic and technical pressures of our time tend to form a multitude of over-specialized, non-cooperating, and non-communicating enclaves, whose spatial remoteness and social segregation favor the totalitarian automatism of our time….

Though the isolated institutional parts might be as hyper-productive as those computers whose data is already too abundant to be assembled and interpreted, the cultural creativity that fosters further human development is bound to drop, within a generation or two, toward zero.

– Lewis Mumford, “The Megalopolis as Anti-City” [c.1962-3]. In Jeanne M. Davern (ed.). Lewis Mumford. Architecture as a Home for Man: Essays for Architectural Record. New York: Architectural Record Books, 1975, pp. 121-128.

“[In our era] the computer screen [becomes] the ultimate window, but a window [that] not so much allow[s] you to receive data as to view the horizon of globalization, the space of  its accelerated virtualization…”

Paul Virilio, The Information Bomb, trans. Chris Turner (London: Verso, 2000), 16.

Like other modes of exaggeration, microcosmic thinking involves juxtaposition with relation to scale and detail. Exaggeration is not possible without correspondence and relativity. But whereas miniaturization involves the juxtaposition of object and representation, of everyday and extraordinary scale, microcosmic thought is a matter of the establishment of correspondences between seemingly disparate phenomena in order to demonstrate the sameness of all phenomena. Such thought therefore always tends toward theology and the promulgation of a ‘grand design.’ In diversity is unity; all phenomena are miniaturizations of the universe.

– Susan Stewart. On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993, p. 128.

Any cancellation of history, in the sense of real times and real places, is essentially a cancellation of the contemporary world, in which, within limits and under pressures, men act and react, struggle and concede, co-operate, conflict and compete.

Raymond Williams. “Effects of the Technology and Its Uses.” In Television: Technology and Cultural Form. [Middletown, Conn.] Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press University Press of New England, 1992: 129.

Let us … look at that land, where, although not perhaps its birthplace, the cinema found the soil in which to grow to unprecedented and unimagined dimensions.

We know from whence the cinema appeared first as a worldwide phenomenon. We know the inseparable link between the cinema and the industrial development of America. We know how production, art and literature reflect the capitalist breadth and construction of the United States of America. And we also know that American capitalism finds its sharpest and most expressive forms in the American cinema….

[Yet] in the [American] metropolis, … the high-powered automobiles are so jammed together that they can’t move much faster than snails creeping from block to block …. As you make your merely minute progress amidst a tightly packed glacier of other humans, sitting in similarly high-powered and imperceptibly moving machines, you have plenty of time to ponder the duality behind the dynamic face of America, and the profound interdependence of this duality in everybody and everything American…. as your eyes wander over the smooth surfaces of the skyscrapers …. you suddenly realize what “trick” the skyscrapers play on you: although they have many floors, each floor is quite low. Immediately the soaring skyscraper appears to have been built of a number of small-town buildings, piled up on top of each other….

The threads of both Americas are interwoven in the style and personality of [D.W.] Griffith–as in the most fantastic of his own parallel montage sequences.

– Sergei Eisenstein. Film Form: Essays in Film Theory. Translated by Jay Leyda. New York: Harcourt, 1979, pp. 195-198.

What parades as progress in the culture industry, as the incessantly new which it offers up, remains the disguise for an eternal sameness; everywhere the changes mask a skeleton which has changed just as little as the profit motive itself since the time it first gained its predominance over culture.

Theodor W. Adorno. “ Culture Industry Reconsidered” [1967]. New German Critique 6 (1975): 14.