Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Rhythmus Divine

Kino Fist number one was, really somewhat surprisingly, a great success: well-dressed folk came and hung around afterwards and everything. The next one will involve food, (if I have my way) tea, and will start at 3pm. The general line of it will be Constructivism and Cinema, and will feature Pudovkin's Chess Fever, Constructivist animations by Oskar Fischinger and Hans Richter, and Vertov's late masterpiece (and favourite film of none other than H.G Wells), Three Songs about Lenin. If anyone has anything to say about any of these films, e-mail me (top right hand corner...). Some of these films are available for free at Ubuweb (eg: Hans Richter's Rhythmus 21), in case you haven't seen any of them but want to contribute regardless.

Such a Cold Finger...

Isn't it mysterious that flats in Balfron and Trellick Tower (e.g. one advertised for £260,000) change hands for such high prices these days when they come on the market. They must be such terrible flats to live in.

A dissenting voice amid the chorus of guilty broadsheet approval for Lynsey Hanley's Estates: Nigel Warburton, author of the excellent Erno Goldfinger: Life of an Architect and one-time resident of Balfron Tower, takes aim at her decidedly tossed-off dismissal of the irascible Hungarian tower designer.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Politics of Gleeful Destruction

Steven Shaviro brilliant Vera Chytilova's extraordinary Daisies, a film every bit as disruptive of everything you think you know about the avant-garde as it would have been in 1966.

UPDATE: Ellis Sharp chips in...

Kino Pest

Just to echo IT's reminder...
If you fancy watching Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, this is to remind you that we (the film kollektive Kino Fist) are screening it tomorrow night at 7pm, 90 Wallis Road, Hackney Wick. There will also be some B movie type things such as anti-Nazi cartoons and Riefenstahl-related music videos.

For a quid you'll also get a great booklet containing some highly entertaining essays. The cover is above - I'm quite proud of it!

The booklet is really quite something, incidentally: a better pamphlet of kino-kritik you're unlikely to get.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Does Big Brother exist, in the sense that I exist? You do not Exist.

Memory Fever

Jonathan Jones, who though frequently entirely wrong, is one of the very few Guardian writers with any degree of critical intelligence*, is terrific on the perpetual memorialising that has marked the last 25 or so years in Europe and the US. I went to the Peter Eisenman Holocaust memorial in Berlin (a bit of ponderous relational aesthetics which he rightly skewers) last year- although tectonically speaking it was quite fun, a maze of concrete slabs, its utter inadequacy as a statement on the murder of 6 million was nicely encapsulated by the way that it was mainly being used by children playing hide and seek.

* It's a strange fact that of these few, most are called Jonathan; Glancey and Steele being the others...(obviously this doesn't include Gary Younge or Charlie Brooker)

The Radical Ambiguity of Stalinist Architecture

This one is the hotel “Friendship”, build during Soviet era, and it was considered by CIA as some strange military object.

I was sent a link yesterday to a page of quite remarkable buildings from the arse end of the Soviet Union, a bestiary of truly remarkable structures, all united only by an extravagantly SF appearance. Quite what spurred this on is rather mysterious- a response to the identikit housing blocks that made the term 'bloc' so appropriate, an expression of frustration at Brezhnevian stagnancy, technocratic romanticism..? Peculiarly, there seems to have been rather a lot of this in the late Brezhnev era, much of which seems similarly fortress like, futuristic and millenarian- such as this astoundingly brackish theatre in Grodno or this one in Novosibirsk- as if all this were a response to the reheating of the Cold War at the turn of the 80s.

Inexplicably, last year the uninteresting sophisto-lads mag An Other Man featured a lavishly illustrated eulogy to the Soviet Republics' 'local moderns', usually vast complexes built in the likes of Almaty or Tashkent which welded together a recognisably Central Asian form with an unrelentingly futurist bent. The slogan of Stalinist socialist realism was 'National in Form, Socialist in Content': a vague, politically dubious phrase, though a possible explanation in its sheer impossibility for such works. While the postmodernist attempt to fuse a future of financial hegemony and a cap-doffing to the past usually resulted in utter blandness, these places, driven by a smilar impulse, seemed to capture the most wildly despotic forms of both.

It isn't just through these late flourishes that Stalinist architecture differs so radically with that of Fascism and particularly Nazism. Nazi architecture, whether in its urban, neo-Classical version or in its ruralist manifestation, was always determinedly middlebrow. Cottages, follies or buildings of state were sober, based firmly on tradition, faithful to it. Compare this with Stalin's phantasmagorias, with their excresences and eclecticism. The awe-inspiring (for various reasons) film below, New Moscow of 1938 encapsulates this. Made a couple of years after the vanquishing of Constructivism and at the height of the purges, it imagines a future that evokes the lumbering attempts at historical continuity of London's 80s, the visions of a mutant New York in Metropolis, and the neo-classical desolation in de Chirico, and seems to think this is a thing to celebrate.


Although I may be mean about Deptford, I'm strangely proud of the way that the High Street's ATM's seem to have become an area for political discourse. 'HAPPINESS' was markered above the HSBC one a few months ago, and now at the Halifax across the road is 'MAMMON' just above the little slot where the notes come out.

(Blogger currently seems to be in league against me, hence the disappearing pictures and so forth. Hopefully they'll be back up soonish with a little fiddling)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

This must be the Place I waited Years to Leave

Disorganised thoughts on Lynsey Hanley's Estates and 'Classist Jouissance'

(NB- some of this post repeats points made a while ago here.)

Jenny from the Block(s)
The three Moscow council housing blocks above are each emblazoned with words that, when read out in full, declare GLORY TO THE WORKING CLASS. Ignore for a moment the obvious gauche Ostalgie of this and the shabbiness of the context, and imagine a society where the building of social housing was intended to be exactly this: 'an eldorado for the working class', as Berthold Lubetkin once put it. Then consider the place of council housing in the British socio-cultural conjuncture - as Lynsey Hanley points out in Estates: an Intimate History, it's used as a shorthand for general lumpenproletarian venality and violence, something for a celebrity to mention when laying out their rags-to-riches credentials. The intriguing thing is that there are two real survivals in present-day Britain of the brief rush of Bevanite Socialism that followed the war: one, the National Health Service, is considered so sacrosanct that even while dismantling it, New Labour or Tories have had to pay it fulsome tributes. The other is the council blocks that still stand all over Britain's cities, making monolithically their point about its essential failure.

Blocks at Weston Shore, Southampton

The really interesting thing about Lynsey Hanley's book, and which I didn't manage to get across in my review, is how much it chimes in with the notions of 'working class self-hatred' and ambiguity discussed by K-P. The trajectory of child prole to adult columnist necessarily creates a sort of dual nature. While her entire book is a defence of the idea of social housing, her experience of it is marked by a feeling of alienation from her fellow estate inmates. One of the central ideas of the book is that Estates couldn't help but create a single class environment, and that this then turned in on itself, replacing class pride with a doggedly conformist culture of casual violence, deliberate stupidity and determined ignorance. So while in one respect wanting to resurrect the notion of workers' housing, Hanley is in no way dishonest about her feelings of total disconnection from working class culture (the glimpse of an outside coming from her obsession with the Pet Shop Boys, rather cutely, and making middle class friends at 6th form) and general desire to get the hell out as soon as possible. The current model is to get out, then act as if that won't change you, to act up as much as possible to the appropriate stereotype.

Chavism and Chavistas

Library at the Dorset Estate, by Skinner Bailey & Lubetkin

If you don't read books you have been fucked over in a major way. You have been castrated and conned. To read, voluntarily, is the first step to asserting the fact that you know that there is somewhere else.
Julie Burchill

One of the best things Julie Burchill ever wrote is a piece from the mid-80s called 'How I learned to stop worrying and loathe the Proletariat'. This indictment of her class comes only partly from her own evident social mobility, but mainly from a despair at the seemingly unsolveable dichotomy between The Proletariat As Capitalism's Inherent Negation and the working class she was brought up in (this being a few years before her brief flirtation with Thatcherism). She points first to the apathy with which much of the WC met the Miners' Strike, the lack of solidarity strikes and so forth; then on how the Miners were supported by all manner of emanations of bourgeois identity politics- gay rights groups, for instance. And she asks- what if these son of many of the miners came out? The conformism of a mining community would never tolerate it: a notion recycled by films like Billy Eliott, where the dispossessed worker is endlessly implored to get in touch with his feminine side. Her argument is as contradictory as what produced it- but it's curious how she went from this, argued with the terrifying force of the recent apostate, to her current defence of Jade Goody. Mark writes:

Ville Radieuse at Millbrook, Southampton

The comparison between Goody and her defender Julie Burchill tells us a great deal about how class relations and prospects have changed over the last thirty years. Burchill benefited from an earlier version of the ruling class fascination/ repulsion with proletariat; in her case, the progression from self-taught intellectual Marxist firebrand to prole-for-hire ('some of them can even write proper sentences, don't you know') had its tragic dimensions, its disappointments and betrayals. Yet Burchill's presence has always been about working class intelligence, the very possibility of which Jade Goody's success has implicitly denied.

Prole, wi nowt taken out

In another review in this month's Socialist Review, Mike Gonzalez uses the term 'White Trash' in an interesting manner, discussing a book by Subcommandante Marcos: 'The translator has rendered everything in a kind of downhome white trash talk that is about as far away from the Chiapas of communal struggle as it's possible to imagine.' This surely reveals a disavowed dichotomy at the heart of current Leftist politics. There's people who Struggle, usually non-European, who are bravely Resisting Imperialism and then there's our own Working Class (in the UK or the USA) which is so different from that world, as it sits reading its Sun and watching its Reality TV, that they can't even by imagined as linguistic equivalents: the one supposed to Struggle versus the wasted waste products of late capitalism. We're unable to imagine a Chav Chavista. The oft-made destinction between economic and 'ethnic' classhood might be invoked here, although I'd argue that the border between the two is by no means fixed.

Prolier than Thou

The radiant future, Townhill Park, Southampton

I might as well declare myself as speaking from much as contradictory a perspective as most of the people I've just cited, being from a background part working class, part middle, and speaking with as aristocratic a tone as I can simulate. I wasn't 'brought up' on an estate (love how that phrase immediately evokes the emetic), though lived in one in the really very formative years of 12 to 16, which left me perennially screwed up on the subject, not helped by the fact that at the time my Mum, from a family of Communist Party members and schoolteachers, was a dirt poor single mother, and my Dad, an ex-sheet metal worker from impeccably proletarian stock, was doing really quite well for himself. Anyway I'll stop there (despite starting this blog partly to write more personal stuff that seems like an increasingly bad idea, heheh) except to add that the Estate in question was a 'cottage estate', one of those built on the outskirts of cities in the 30s in vaguely vernacular fashion- so it has REAL HOUSES with GARDENS and PITCHED ROOFS, which didn't stop it from being one of the poorest, most violent places in the city, generally a place of which cabbies would tend to say 'not at this time of night, mate'. (Weirdly, other than the delightful chavtowns.co.uk, with its advocating of genocide, the only links that mention it I could find are from Christian groups- make of that what you will) It was very like what's being planned for the Thames Gateway, funnily enough.

Proper Houses, the Flower Estate, Southampton

Like South London sentimentalist Michael Collins, or Wilmott and Young's anthropology, Hanley looks for something to blame for what happened to the working class, and while she is more politically astute than Collins, she goes in for a bashing of a certain kind of middle class paternalism- the Corbusian inheritance of modern architects who wanted to abolish the corridor street, glory in modern materials, build into the sky, create a radiant city rather than a fixed, protected community. While (just to make this point clear...) the majority of 50s and 60s housing projects were awful bureaucratic prefabricated slums, these were actually very seldom architect-designed: usually in fact bought from contractors in a series of readymade models as constricted as the options for a Barratt Home, then stacked without any thought for the actual properties of the structure- the collapse at Ronan Point that ended the march of High Rise (at least for the poor) was because of a system that was intended to go only so high being stacked up regardless by the contractors. And even then, if the prefabriacted parts had been put together properly, or maunfactured by people with an eye to design rather than a quick profit, things could have been very different: the pejorative nature of 'standardised' in these debates indicates their bad faith- like Victorian or Georgian terraces weren't made to a Standard! Nonetheless, blaming business would, even then, be a blindingly obvious, though usually unmade response.

Who Wants to live in a Hovis advert, anyway?

Keeling House (as it is now)

A few years before Keeling House (a 'cluster block' designed by Denys Lasdun to atempt to replicate a sense of community) was sold to developers, residents tried to save the building from the demolition threatened by Tower Hamlets' Council, praising, funnily enough, the 'community' created by the form of the cluster block. The absence of facts like this from Hanley's book in favour of eulogies to brick is what I was getting at by branding it 'parochial': the really quite bizarre belief that because houses were made like that in the 19th century, that is the Correct Method, and it's curious how her ventures outside of empiricism just reinforce this, such as in the citing of the Situationists' notion of the derive. The derive was usually in an area that was labyrinthine, inhabited by society's rejected, full of odd corners, frowned upon by connoisseurs of Haussman's Paris. If one were to derive anywhere in London, surely it would be along the concrete walkways of the 60s rather than the overfamiliar Victoriana that pervades most of the city? Hanley complains that the complex designs of estates made people get lost, then complains that you can't lose yourself in them. If you derived round an estate people would notice. You'd look like a wally. The assumption that Debord didn't look like a wally is the least of the problems there.

Pub in the Dorset Estate, Skinner Bailey and Lubetkin

The fact of council housing being built on such a scale in a consistently Modernist manner made Modernism a single-class style, resented by its inhabitants (private Modernism like the Barbican was comparitively rare) because it instantly defined them as poor, and this, along with the Right to Buy, is what finally finished off British Modernism, in housing at least. It's notable that in any consultative system, where architects go off to talk to the aesthetically unenlightened proles, people usually ask for the same thing- pitched roof, brick, LOOKS LIKE A HOUSE. Yesterday I spent a day at the Architectural Association, where student projects on the Thames Gateway always seem to centre on: what to do with these awful proletarians who wanted to live in these homes? One modest proposal, the only one that even attempted thinking about social housing, went: the government won't pay for social housing, so why not build Logo Houses for the proles? Get Red Bull or Coke to pay for a house emblazoned with their brand! Problem solved!

Carnation Road, Flower Estate

In the face of all this the temptation is strong to just wallow in nostalgia for a class and for an urbanism that doesn't exist, and can't be resuscitated, this being underside of any hauntological critique. Berthold Lubetkin, looking back in the 1980s on his council housing schemes- patterned Modernist baroque, such as Spa Green, Bevin Court and Priory Green in Finsbury, Hallfield in Bayswater, or the Cranbrook and Dorset Estates in Bethnal Green- as obscure as his zoo buildings and Highgate flats are ubiquitous- said that that they looked like they were made for a society that never came into being - for a future that never arrived.

Plakaty 117

Monday, January 22, 2007

Historical Cruelty Corner

Worth a visit if you're in the vicinity of the Embankment is this exhibition of the photographs of Max Penson, documents and aestheticisations of the Soviet Modernisation programme of Uzbekistan in the 20s and 30s: watch strong and dynamic young workers hurling javelins and building dams in the glamorous surrounds of Somerset House. Helpfully, we are told 'The exhibition and catalogue were made possible with the support of Roman Abramovich'. What a gent he is.

The photographs themselves are of course mostly terrific: sharply angled, poignant, stark and optimistic; but theres's something about their setting, up some stairs from a collection of baroque furniture in the bowels of Somerset House that feels really rather peculiar...

Sniffin' Concrete

An excellent site devoted to beautifully and cheaply designed architectural publications of the 1960s. It's a terrible shame that the architectural press is so drably Wallpaper-esque, as this really need not be the case- from the 20s to the 70s this was perhaps the sexiest area of print design. There's a case to be made too that in Archigram magazine architecture had both its psychedelia and its punk at once, with its deliberately shoddy and disposable paper. Ian Abley claims to have once published an architecture zine called Sniffin' Concrete, which makes perfect sense. Link from the great I Like.

Estate of Grace, Estate of Mind, Estate we're In (etc)

My review of Lynsey Hanley's Estates is in this month's Socialist Review: cheapskates can look at it here although it is I assure you well worth holding the rough yet colourful paper in your clammy hands. A fuller dissection of this peculiar book should be up here at some point in the week, urban ennui aficionados should be pleased to note.

Plakaty 116

Friday, January 19, 2007

Kino Fist

My lovingly hand pritt-sticked flyers for Kino Fist, a film season organised by Daniel, IT and myself in Hackney.

Rental Barracks

The Tomb on the relentless rise of the City, and its determined pushing up of rents and pushing out of people all over London. The fascinating, if obviously deeply worrying point is how this is increasingly achieved via sheer physical expansion: a financial district that once genuinely occupied a square mile now stretches itself as far West as Holborn, North all the way up to Angel, while the new Broadgate tower pokes its way East up to Shoreditch- and all while a whole other area in the Isle of Dogs becomes overrun/'redeveloped'. A possible future in which the entirety of London zones 1 and 2 are uninhabitable to anyone on under £50,000 a year clearly awaits...

Plakaty 115

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Defensible Space

The perennial question about any attempt at piecemeal reform- and housing projects under capitalism can never be much more than this- is whether or not it serves to make the system more tolerable and in so doing prolongs its life. This is obviously not a burning question in Britain at the moment: postwar Keynesianism having done its work of alleviating the threat of revolution and being put to bed after outliving its usefulness- the queasy fact that Harold Macmillan would be considered a Left-wing extremist by the current Labour Party - but it is becoming an issue elsewhere, hence the debates that the Left is having within itself over the 'red tide' sweeping Latin America and particularly Venezuela (the only thing that currently seems to have offered any political hope for the last 15 years, whatever one might think about Castro's alleged sainthood): ie, whether or not to make people's lives better in incremental steps and not threaten the greater status quo, or whether to make a decisive leap into the unknown.

For all the bourgeois media's myth-making of him as some sort of semi-literate caudillo, the policies of Hugo Chavez's Venezuela seem to have some historical affinity with the rather ambiguous experiment in 'municipal socialism' made in Vienna between 1918 and 1934, an oasis of Socialism in a desert of Catholicism and Conservatism: however curious it might be curious to imagine Chavez and Austro-Marxists Otto Bauer or Rudolf Hilferding meeting up in a Viennese coffee house. In Victor Serge's peerless Memoirs of a Revolutionary (which I will write about more fully when someone tags me with a 'what are your 5 favourite books' meme) there's some wonderful passages where this professional revolutionary winds up in Red Vienna with fellow Comintern refugees like George Lukacs and Gramsci, enjoying the political largesse in a decidedly comfortable seeming Social Democracy: 'playing for time, building workers' flats and enjoying sweet music in every cafe down to the smallest';

'Austro-Marxism organised and influenced over a million proletarians, it was master of Vienna, where it was evolving a municipal socialism rich in achievement, it could mobilise, im a few hours, 50,000 Schutzbundler on the Ring, uniformed in sports tunics and (everyone knew) tolerably well-armed, it was led by the most able theoreticians in the working class world, and yet through its sobriety, prudence, and bourgeois moderation, it failed its destiny'.

If we use (and we should) the associational fallacy, then the experiments of Red Vienna are perfectly encapsulated by its architectural and urbanist flagship (both visually and politically speaking)- the Karl-Marx-Hof, a continuous wall of public housing running for nearly a mile, placed in the very heart of bourgeois Vienna: and the leaders of Red Vienna certainly thought so, with Karl Seitz claiming on its completion 'after we are gone, these stones will speak for us'. This is generally considered, unlike most state housing projects, an almost unassailable achievement: Lynsey Hanley, in her sometimes brilliant but deeply problematic 'intimate history' of Estates (more on which anon) repeats this view:

'The same pretty pitched roofs as the Boundary St blocks, but in place of the Arts and Crafts flourishes it combines the clear angles of Modernist architecture with the 'Viennese thirst for ornament'....KARL-MARX-HOF it shouts in claret capitals from the highest storey. Its name has never been changed (er, except when it was, from 1934 to 1945), unlike those of so many residual monuments to socialism: there may as well be a subheading that reads 'FOR WORKERS AND DIE-HARD SOCIALIST ROMANTICS ONLY'. It's the kind of model estate that moves architecture critics to compare it to a 'workers' fortress' immune to the destructive influence of the ruling class. That it was beseiged by Fascists in the 1934 putsch doesn't reduce its power to induce a sense of pride and optimism'.

A frequently made criticism of council estates, and of any space that marks itself out as deliberate, separate from the usual run of speculative housing, or where 'ownership' is not considered the sole possible good, is the lack of 'defensible space'- this, as opposed to say, poverty, is the reason for the social breakdown, graffiti and crime apparently rife in the last few edifices of social housing. This has a particularly bitter irony in the case of Karl-Marx-Hof, as only 3 years after it was finished it became an actual fortress in the brief Austrian Civil War- the flurry of violence in February 1934 when when the Catholic, Fascist countryside settled its scores with Vienna. Typically, the Social Democrats waited until the last moment before militarily defending themselves, but Karl-Marx-Hof held out for longest, subjected to bombardment before eventual capture- and renaming. Whether 4 days counts as a particularly impressive resistance is a moot point, but nonetheless it was symbolically, if only partly strategically, the place to defend.

Another layer of irony is laid on by the fact that its fortress-like design was one of the reasons it was mocked by the Functionalist Revolutionaries on the Left of the CIAM. Modernist it might have been, but with some decidedly decadent Viennese statues and decorations, giving more than a hint of the fin de siecle fripperies of the Secession: for Leninist Modernists like Karel Teige, in his manifesto of Socialist housing The Minimum Dwelling, the building epitomised the petit-bourgeois compromises and frivolity of municipal socialism in its every architectural gesture. The critique exhibits a hint of the irrational hostility to Social Democracy of the Communists' absurd 'Third Period' thesis (i.e, that Social Democrats were 'objectively' Fascist), but is worth quoting nonetheless...'the new, gigantic Karl-Marx-Hof Complex with its absurd tunnel gateways and turrets, which looks more like a preposterous medieval fortress than a dwelling place for workers...1,400 dwellings without bathrooms and central heating'- he quotes Stalin's spokesman Kaganovich: ' a fine Marxist house indeed, especially when we know that Marx fought consistently for high technology while here we heat with cast-iron stoves'. And on top of this, according to Teige, the low rents charged in the flats meant that Vienna's less enlightened employers could pay the lowest wages in Western Europe for the time.

Of course the Soviets would in a couple of years begin their own period of architectural-technological obscurantism, and Teige to his credit recognised this early on and linked it to the 'monumental' 'statement' made by the likes of the Karl-Marx-Hof: both were for him about symbolic power, instilling in the workers a sense that they were in control while in reality it was being taken from them: false consciousness via statues, public squares and and a hint of the grandiose, a process finished in Berlin's Karl-Marx-Allee (as the Stalinallee became in 1961), where the semi-Modernist gestures are by now totally absent: though the sheer majestic scale makes it hard not to agree with Philip Johnson, Miesian Modernist and Nazi Sympathiser turned Pomo Pioneer, who called it 'Europe's Last great Street': but for whom?

An very pretty website, the Web Lexicon of Red Vienna (in German, but worth putting through google translator, and not only for the bizarre Deutschlish that ensues) has a schematic logo of Karl-Marx-Hof as its header: a very rare example of an ideology being given total summation in a building. It's far too easy to give a pseudo-Marxist dismissal of the entire endeavour, although it's noticeable how much this is a story of failures. Municipal Socialism, or the graveyard of it scattered around the cities of Europe, is valuable partly because it's so tangible - a piece of the new world, a concrete manifestation of change. One of the first things done by the Militant controlled Labour council in Liverpool in the 80s was to start building houses before the Tory rate-cappers could have the chance to stop them, so that (regardless of their architectural timidity) there would be evidence of their existence and efforts to improve people's lives on the most basic level: and it'll be worth watching to see if Respect do the same thing if they take control of Tower Hamlets. Whether this tangibility is always concomitant with what Serge, on the Red Viennese, called 'the alternatives of hopeless resistance or total impotence' remains to be seen.

Plakaty 114

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Comrades in (each other's) Arms

An interview with Dan Healey, on his very interesting looking book Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia: The Regulation of Sexual and Gender Dissent.

Plakaty 113

It's after the end of the World, don't you know that Yet?

Some quotes on stagnation cultural, political and technical, and the normality of the post-apocalyptic: in the absence of a response to K-Punk, I Cite and as an addenda to my earlier response to Poetix;

Prophesising catastrophe is incredibly banal. The more original move is to assume that it has already occured
Jean Baudrillard, The Gulf War did not Take Place (1991)

After the apothesis of technical culture, the trumpet of the ideology of technical retreat is being sounded. Indeed, we are now witnessing a systematic curtailment of technical civilisation and the curtailment of inventions. All this is taking place at a time when the current economic crisis has narrowed the limits of practical possibilities of capitalist technology and when modern engineers confront not Le Corbusier's dream of 'an era of great works' but only very limited tasks. In 1931 Max Leon Girard approached the Belgian king with a request to prohibit all new inventions. In our country the director of the Vitrovice steelworks calls fro a complete moratorium on all technology. And our own Karel Capek publishes books full of pessimism for our civilisation. Already, for a number of years the development of industry that produces vital necessities for the broad masses has been slowing: and now it is to be shut down altogether
Karel Teige, The Minimum Dwelling (1932)

When one looks at the emptiness of current art, the only question is how such a machine can continue to function in the absence of any new energy, in an atmosphere of critical disillusionment and commercial frenzy, and with all the players compeltely indifferent? If it can continue, how long will this illusionism last? A hundred years, two hundred? This society is like a vessel whose edges move ever wider apart, and in which the water never comes to the boil
Baudrillard, Fragments vol III, (1990-5)

If the natural utilisation of productive reaources is impeded by the property system, the increase in technical devices, in speed, and in the sources of energy will press for an unnatural utilisation, and this is found in war...Mankind, which is in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicising art.
Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of its Technical Reproducibility (1936)

Addenda: picking up on K-Punk's 'Chinese brands' question, of the inability of this advancing power to innovate, invent and seduce in the manner in which the USA or Germany could in their own period of massive accumulation (''half of China's patents come from foreign companies'): there is a school of thought that China is somehow able to arrest the apocalyptic course, which I tend to be totally unconvinced by: it might be able to commission from Arup an entire sustainable city, but it'll be entirely superfluous set against the amount of entirely unsustainable ones built at the same time. K-Punk has said elsewhere that China is a replication of 19th century English conditions on a massive scale, which sounds more likely- its scrambling for Africa being another example of first time as tragedy, second time as farce.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Plakaty 112

A Polish one this time - apologies to the cyrillic massive- for Bergman's incredibly underrated slab of quintessentially 1980 bleakness From the Life of the Marionettes. A film so utterly horrible that during the Bergman season at the NFT a few years ago one of the other people in the cinema said 'I've seen almost every one of these, and this is definitely the worst'. Needless to say I think it's a lost classic: Bergman's least middlebrow, least Woody Allen-friendly film, an epitaph of spent desires and cold barbarism that he would never surpass, as he seemed to realise himself. 'The Closer of cinema' is my glib summation, and I'm sticking to it.

Ruin Value

By far the best thing about maintaining one of these things, making up for their tendency to make one unduly obsessive-compulsive, is when people e-mail you links to interesting stuff. So this morning I was sent a page of Socialist Modernist bus stops in Kazakhstan: truly gorgeous stuff, amalgams of ruralist decoration and jagged concrete brutalism; a link to the palimpsetic Middle Eastern sites of Lumpen Orientalism; and a page of de Chirico dreamscapes.

Oddly enough, they all seem to compliment each other in some way, all records of dead cities and absent urbanism, a commonality of pretty ruins: the sort of thing that Albert Speer probably didn't have in mind when he coined the phrase 'ruin value'- none of this has the kind of imposing quality, of 'look upon my works ye mighty and despair': but the end result is much the same.