totalities


… I am certain that the greatest evils we know are not due to him who has to face himself again and whose curse is that he cannot forget. The greatest evildoers are those who don’t remember because they have never given thought to the matter, and, without remembrance, nothing can hold them back. For human beings, thinking of past matters means moving in the dimension of depth, striking roots and thus stabilizing themselves, so as not to be swept away by whatever may occur—the Zeitgeist or History or simple temptation. The greatest evil is not radical, it has no roots, and because it has no roots it has no limitations, it can go to unthinkable extremes and sweep over the whole world.

– Hannah Arendt. Responsibility and Judgment. Jerome Kohn, ed. New York: Random House, 2003.

…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.

“But  while architectural changes in the window were coincident with changes in perspective in modern painting early in the twentieth century, the media of film and television retained  a perspectival frame through the “modern” period. The moving image offered  multiple perspectives through the sequential shifts of montage and editing; yet, aside from a few historical anomalies, it has only been with the advent of digital imaging technologies  and new technologies of display in the 1990s that the media “window” began  to include multiple perspectives within a single frame.

Now, a variety of screens — long and wide and square, large and small, composed of grains, composed of pixels — compete for our attention without any (convincing) arguments  about hegemony.”

Anne Friedberg, “The Virtual Window” in Rethinking Media Change: The Aesthetics of Transition, ed. David Thorburn and Henry Jenkins. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, Kindle Edition, 2003), 4710-4714. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, Hardcover Edition, 2004), pp. 347-348.

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.

If the effect of the medium is the same, whoever controls or uses it, and whatever apparent content he may try to insert, then we can forget ordinary political and cultural argument and let the technology run itself. It is hardly surprising that this conclusion has been welcomed by the ‘media-men’ of the existing institutions. It gives the gloss of avant-garde theory to the crudest versions of their existing interests and practices, and assigns all their critics to pre-electronic irrelevance. Thus what began as pure formalism, and as speculation on human essence, ends as operative social theory and practice, in the heartland of the most dominative and aggressive communications institutions in the world.

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: 128.

… the Nazis … mass-distributed images of [Albert] Speer’s models in the form of postcards. The monumental effect of architecture could just as easily, perhaps even better, be achieved, say, by a high-angle, totalizing image of architecture. No need to even build the real thing. For years after the war, many Germans mistakenly believed that Speer’s Berlin projects had actually been built and then destroyed in the last stages of the war.

Thus fifty and some years later, our own monumental seduction may be no longer tied up with real built space at all, certainly not with the mammoth shopping malls in the middle of nowhere, nor with international airports and their mass circulation of people and commodities, both of which are physically uncoupled from the traditional site of public space: the living city. No wonder, then, that some will look for the new public space on the Internet, our very own monumental seduction that holds the promise of conquering both time and space and that gives new meaning to McLuhan’s phantasm of an electronically unified global culture. Monumentality today may all be in cyberspace and the information highway. The Germans, at any rate, in seamless and oblivious continuity with another monumental Nazi project – the building of the Autobahn – call it Infobahn, and Deutsche Telekom, in a recent ad in the New York Times, has described without hesitation as the ‘fast lane to the future’. Monumentality is alive and well. We may in fact have to consider a monumentality of miniaturization, for the world wide web is in principle the most gigantic undertaking of our age, as promising to some and threatening to others as any monumentalism has ever been.

– Andreas Huyssen. “Monumental Seduction: Christo in Berlin.” In Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2003: 47-48.

… in fascism, power had to express itself visually ….  the fascist aesthetic itself reflected the needs and hopes of contemporary society, …  the so-called superstructure was in reality the means through which most people grasped the fascist message, transforming politics into a civic religion.

… The ideal of beauty was central to this aesthetic, whether that of the human body or of the political liturgy. The longing for a set standard of beauty was deeply ingrained in the European middle classes, and the definition of the beautiful as the ‘good, the true, and the holy’ was an important background to the fascist cult.

… what seemed at first glance to have no possible connection to politics became politically charged through the connection between art, beauty and truth which lay readily at hand to be used by modern political movements.

… a certain public standard of beauty reigned all over Europe, one which fascism was to annex as its own. The rediscovery of classical antiquity in the eighteenth century set a standard of beauty which never lost its attraction for the educated [in many European countries in the interwar period who] saw it as their own particular heritage. They valued classical beauty of form whether of the human body or, to a lesser extent, of official architecture, as close to the sublime.

… it was the strength of fascism in general that it realized, as other political movements and parties did not, that with the nineteenth century Europe had entered a visual age, the age of political symbols, such as the national flag…. The populism of fascism helped the movement to arrive at this insight; the need to integrate the masses into a so-called spiritual revolution which represented itself through a largely traditional aesthetic.

… this aesthetic formed a bridge between the public and the private sphere…. The creation of modern stereotypes as standardized mental pictures which encompassed the whole human being, body and soul, was something new at the beginning of the nineteenth century…. Aesthetics played a determining role in stereotyping: every man must aspire to a classical standard of beauty, and as he built and sculptured his body (and we must remember the part played by physical exercise in the aesthetics of fascism), his mind would come to encompass all the manly virtues which the fascists prized so highly.

… significantly, such a body was not merely a fascist symbol, but one which had already been adopted by society at large. Here we are at the intersection between traditional, normative society, and fascist aesthetics; here the social and the aesthetic were not strictly separate one from another. The beautiful male body … projected both self-control in its posture and virility in the play of its muscles; it symbolized both the dynamic and the discipline which society wanted and needed. Here, order and progress, often in conflict, were reconciled through the symbolism of the male body …

Through stereotypes, fascism worked not only with abstract symbols but with living human symbols as well. The true fascist man must through his looks, body, and comportment, project the ideal of male beauty. Men of flesh and blood were given a symbolic dimension, a fact which added to the fascist appeal. Here was an aesthetic which was not confined to the public realm, but one which penetrated daily life.

… Aesthetics shaped the fascist view of man, of his surroundings and of politics. It was a cement which held fascism together.

George L. Mosse. “Fascist Aesthetics and Society: Some Considerations.” Journal of Contemporary History 31, no. 2 (1996): 245-52.

Heightening the oral-aural element in a culture does much more than merely de-emphasize vision. It subtly heightens the personalist element in a culture. For the plenary development of sound, the human voice, is a manifestation of the person. Even more than it is a manifestation of an understanding of objects, speech is a calling of one person to another, of an interior to an interior. Sight presents always surfaces, presents even depth as a lamination of surfaces, whereas sound presents always interiors, for sound is impossible without some resonance.

– Walter J. Ong. “Wired for Sound: Teaching, Communications, and Technological Culture.” College English 21, no. 5 (1960): 248.

It may be important that in [fascist] visual culture, images of power, particularly when manifest in the person of the leader, were uncoupled from the constraint of their natural dimensions. Hitler could be enormous on a cinema screen and then shrink down to the size of a poster or postcard. This elasticity of scale was an essential element in the quality of his calculated, superhuman stature.

– Paul Gilroy. “Hitler Wore Khakis: Icons, Propaganda, and Aesthetic Politics.” In Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line, 150. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2000.

Next Page »