essence


…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.

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.

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.

… 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.

… the United States give the idea of a colony, not of a mother country; they have no past; their manners and morals are not the fruits of their laws. The citizens of the New World took their rank among nations just at the time when political ideas were entering into their ascendant phase: and this explains why they have changed with such extraordinary rapidity. Any thing like a permanent condition of society seems to have been inpractical amongst them; on the one hand from the extreme ennui of individuals, and on the other from the impossibility of remaining in any fixed place, and the necessity of movement which controls and urges them on; for people can never be stationary when their household gods are continually wandering. Situated on the highways of oceans, and at the head of progressive opinions, as new as his country, the American seems to have received from Columbus rather the mission of discovering new worlds than of creating them.

François-René Chateaubriand. Memoirs of Chateaubriand, From His Birth in 1768, Till His Return to France in 1800. London: H. Colburn, 1849: pp. 304-305.

On the dramatic stage the method of interpreting a theatrical production lies with the actor who expresses the theatrical idea through the creative will of the director and gives it individual form. In cinema, because of its unusually high technological component — the quintessence of the machine and electricity — and because of the surprising significance of montage, the actor takes second place. In view of the fact that cinema must be based on a purely external (i.e. visual) artistic influence on the public the cinema artiste must learn to create the required impression not just by acting with the face but by acting with the whole body; by an expressiveness of lines.

– Kuleshov, Lev. “The Art of Cinema” [1918]. In The Film Factory: Russian and Soviet Cinema in Documents, edited by Richard Taylor, and Ian Christie. London; New York: Routledge, 1994: 46.

Each profession makes progress, but it is progress in its own groove. Now to be mentally in a groove is to live in contemplating a given set of abstractions. The groove prevents straying across country, and the abstraction abstracts from something to which no further attention is paid. But there is no groove of abstractions which is adequate for the comprehension of human life.

… The leading intellects lack balance. They see this set of circumstances, or that set; but not both sets together. The task of coordination is left to those who lack either the force or the character to succeed in some definite career.

… Wisdom is the fruit of a balanced development.

… professional training can only touch one side of education. Its centre of gravity lies in the intellect, and its chief tool is the printed book. The centre of gravity of the other side of training should lie in intuition without an analytical divorce from the total environment. Its object is immediate apprehension with the minimum of eviscerating analysis. The type of generality, which above all is wanted, is the appreciation of a variety of value. I mean aesthetic growth. There is something between the gross specialised values of the mere practical man, and the thin specialised values of the mere scholar. Both types have missed something; and if you add together the two sets of values, you do not obtain the missing elements. What is wanted is an appreciation of the infinite variety of vivid values achieved by an organism in its proper environment. When you understand all about the sun and all about the atmosphere and all about the rotation of the earth  you may still miss the radiance of the sunset. There is no substitute for the direct perception of the concrete achievement of a thing in its actuality. We want concrete fact with a high light thrown on what is relevant to its preciousness.

… But … art concerns more than sunsets. A factory, with its machinery, its community of operatives, its social service to the general population, its dependence upon organising and designing genius, its potentialities as a source of wealth to the holders of its stock is an organism exhibiting a variety of vivid values. What we want to train is the habit of apprehending such an organism in its completeness. It is very arguable that the science of political economy, as studied in its first period after the death of Adam Smith (1790), did more harm than good…. it riveted on men a certain set of abstractions which were disastrous in their influence on modern mentality. It de-humanised industry.

– Alfred North Whitehead. Science and the Modern World. Lowell Lectures, 1925. New York: The Macmillan company, 1925: 282-288.

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.

Description on back of a postcard of “Plaza in China City, Los Angeles” circa 1930: “Interesting shops displaying everything from genuine Chinese art to curios and firecrackers, and numerous restaurants serving delicately flavored Chinese food, attract throngs of visitors to China City, in Los Angeles.” Found in the Hagley Library Postcards of Motels and Roadside Attractions Collection.

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