phantasmagoria


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.

it is happy lifestyle and me
it is happy ideas and me
it is transparent pleasures and me
it is transparent manners and me
it is fresh appetite and me
it is fresh love and me

memories of blue past
all dumped in ink bottle

From Kitasono Katue’s poem, “Semiotic Theory” (1929). Translated by John Solt. In oceans beyond monotonous space: selected poems of Kitasono Katue. Hollywood, CA: Highmoonoon Books. 2007, p. 22.

Moving pictures are evanescent by nature; in Nigeria, they have a particularly lurching, fragile existence. Nollywood films have little supporting material culture around them, and so when the electricity goes off, there is not much to look at. Still they shape the national imagination, building their empire in people’s heads.

Jonathan Haynes. “Nollywood in Lagos, Lagos in Nollywood Films.” Africa Today 54, no. 2 (2007): 131-50.

Cheap tape recorders, old televisions, blurred videos that are the copy of a copy of a copy—these are the material distortions endemic to the reproduction of media goods in situations of poverty and illegality, and they shape the ways these media take on cultural value and act on individuals and groups. The dialectic of technological breakdown and repair imposes its own cultural experience of modernity, an alternative speeding up and stasis, and a world where gaps in space and time are continually annihilated and reinforced.

Brian Larkin. “Degraded Images, Distorted Sounds: Nigerian Video and the Infrastructure of Piracy.” Public Culture 16, no. 2 (2004): 310.

… 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.

… consuming is no joke, well-wishing and helpful, the whole of society is with you, and considerate into the bargain, for it thinks of you, personally, it prepares for you specially pesonalized items; or better still, these items are delivered to your personalizing free will to be used at your leisure: this armchair, these assembled elements, this bed-linen, this underwear; this and not that. We had misjudged society; all of us; it is maternal and fraternal; our visible family is duplicated by this invisible one, better and especially more efficient, the society of consumption that showers its consideration and protective charms on everybody. Who can be ungrateful enough to be uneasy?

The swivels turn at ground level. Consuming of displays, displays of consuming, consuming of displays of consuming, consuming of signs and signs of consuming; each sub-system, as it tries to close the circuit, gives another self-destructive twist, at the level of everyday life.

– Henri Lefebvre. Everyday Life in the Modern World. New York: Harper & Row, 1971: 108-109.

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