Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Puppet called 'Historical Materialism' Must Always Win



As previously mentioned by Leniency and I.T, it's the annual conference of the fine Historical Materialism journal this weekend, with as ever a very impressive list of speakers and topics, viz:

THEMES COVERED WILL INCLUDE:

APPROACHING PASSIVE REVOLUTIONS * ART AND CAPITALISM * ASPECTS OF IMPERIALISM * BASE AND SUPERSTRUCTURE * BEYOND GLOBAL VALUE CHAIN ANALYSIS IN COMMODITY STUDIES * BOLSHEVISM: YESTERDAY AND TOMORROW * CAPITALISM / KNOWLEDGE CAPITALISM * CAPITALISM AND ARCHITECTURE * CLIMATE CHANGE, SUSTAINABILITY AND SOCIALISM * CONTEMPORARY RADICAL THOUGHT AND MARXISM: AGAMBEN, HOLLOWAY, ZIZEK * EARLY MODERN CAPITALISM * ECOLOGICAL CRISIS AND MARXIST THEORY * EVERYDAY LIFE * FINANCE AND NEO-LIBERALISM * FINANCIALISATION AND CRISIS * FOOD CRISIS * FROM THE GRUNDRISSE TO CAPITAL * FUTURE OF WORLD CAPITALISM * HISTORICAL MATERIALISM AND LATE DEVELOPMENT * HISTORIOGRAPHY IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF MARXISM * INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS * IS TODAY'S CAPITALISM ACTUALLY-EXISTING BARBARISM? * LABOUR-PROCESS AND RESISTANCE * LATIN AMERICAN LEFT TODAY * LEARNING FROM ENEMIES AND RIVALS: SCHMITT, STRAUSS, WEBER * LIFE, POLITICS & CAPITALISM * MANY MARXISMS AND INDIA * MANY MARXISMS: KEY FIGURES * MANY MARXISMS: PROBLEMS AND POLEMICS * MARX AND FETISHISM * MARX ON WORLD ECONOMY AND WORLD POLITICS * MARXISM AND CINEMA: FILM NOIR AND NEO-NOIR * MARXISM AND METROPOLITICS * MARXISM AND PHILOSOPHY * MARXISM AND THE SCIENCES * MARXISM OUTSIDE THE WEST * MARXISM, FEMINISM AND WOMEN’S POLITICS * MARXISMS AND LITERATURE * MARXISMS AND RELIGION * MARXISMS AND SOUTHERN AFRICA * MARXISMS AND VIOLENCES: GENDER AND RACE * MARXIST THEORIES OF PRACTICE * MODES OF FOREIGN RELATIONS * MONETARY POLICY AND BANKING UNDER NEOLIBERALISM * MONEY * NEGATIVITY AND REVOLUTION * NORTH EAST ASIAN MARXISMS AND SOCIALISMS * ON THE CONCEPT OF SURPLUS POPULATIONS * PERSPECTIVES FROM ALTHUSSER * PERSPECTIVES FROM MARX’S ‘JEWISH QUESTION’ * PHILOSOPHIES OF REVOLT AND REVOLUTION * PHILOSOPHY IN THE EARLY MARX * POLITICAL CATEGORIES OF MARXISM * POLITICAL ECONOMY AND ECONOMICS TODAY * POLITICS OF THE PROMOTION OF GLOBAL COMPETITIVENESS * RACISM, CLASS AND POLITICS * RESTRUCTURING, CAPITAL AND LABOUR * REVOLUTIONARY POLITICS IN THE MIDDLE EAST * SEXUAL LIBERATION: HISTORICAL MATERIALIST APPROACHES * SITUATIONISM AT THE LIMITS: MUST WE BURN DEBORD? * SOCIALISM IN SEARCH OF AN ECONOMIC SYSTEM * STATE IN THE BOLIVARIAN REVOLUTION * THEORIES OF CLASS * THEORIES OF IMPERIALISM * TIME, TEMPORALITY, HISTORY * TRANSFORMATIONS IN THE NEOLIBERAL STATE * UNEVEN AND COMBINED DEVELOPMENT: TOWARDS A MARXIST THEORY OF ‘THE INTERNATIONAL’? * US FINANCIAL POWER IN CRISIS * UTOPIANISM * VALUE: POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC DIMENSIONS * ‘WESTERN’ MARXISM AND THE ANTI-COLONIAL WORLD/INTELLECTUALS * WINDOWS ON EMPIRE: PERSPECTIVES FROM HISTORY, CULTURE AND POLITICAL ECONOMY * WORKERISM: A GENERATION LATER *

PARTICIPANTS INCLUDE:

Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi, Gilbert Achcar, Talat Ahmed, Greg Albo, Jamie Allinson, Kevin Anderson, Ricardo Antunes, Giovanni Arrighi, Sam Ashman, Antonio Carmona Báez, Richard Bailey, Metin Bal, Colin Barker, Kate Bayliss, Pınar Bedirhanoğlu, Mike Beggs, Riccardo Bellofiore, Aaron Benanav, Ted Benton, Henry Bernstein, Cyrus Bina, Werner Bonefeld, Mark Bould, Pepijn Brandon, Peter Bratsis, Robert Brenner, Dennis Broe, Dick Bryan, Ergun Bulut, Verity Burgmann, Alex Callinicos, Paul Cammack, Mauro Farnesi Camellone, Al Campbell, Bob Cannon, Gavin Capps, Thomas Carmichael, Emilia Castorina, Maria Elisa Cevasco, Hsiu-Man Chen, Vivek Chibber, Alexander Chryssis, Martin Cobian, Peter Custers, John Darwin, Neil Davidson, Charles Davis, Chuck Davis, Gail Day, Tim Dayton, Roni Demirbag, Radhika Desai, Pat Devine, Paulo dos Santos, Peter Drucker, Jean-Numa Ducange, Gérard Duménil, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Timm Ebner, Bolivar Echeverria, Juliane Edler, Ersin Vedat Elgur, Katsuhiko Endo, Sara R. Farris, Lucy Ferguson, Don Filtzer, Ben Fine, Robert Fine, Bridget Fowler, Carl Freedman, Alan Freeman, Andrea Fumagalli, Cristina Morini, Lindsey German, Melanie Gilligan, Ruth Wilson Gilmour, Saroj Giri, Richard Godden, Maya Gonzalez, Jamie Gough, Peter Gowan, Kevin Gray, Nick Gray, Chris Harman, Barbara Harriss-White, Owen Hatherley, Cristoph Hermann, Andy Higginbottom, Mike Hill, Christian Høgsbjerg, Evren Hosgor, Nik Howard, David Jack, Elinor Jean, Oliver Jelinski, Nicholas Joll, Ismail Karatepe, Ken Kawashima, Paul Kellogg, Geoff Kennedy, Sami Khatib, Aykut Kilic, Donald Kingsbury, Nick Knight, Martijn Konings, Michael Krätke, Rick Kuhn, Ishay Landa, Tim Lang, Spyros Lapatsioras, Paul LeBlanc, Sergio Lessa, Alex Levant, Peter Linebaugh, Alex Loftus, Rob Lucas, Dennis Maeder, Matteo Mandarini, Christian Marazzi, Jonathan Martineau, Paul Mattick, David Mayer, Andrew McGettigan, Philip McMichael, David McNally, James Meadway, John Milios, Owen Miller, Andrew Milner, Dimitris Milonakis, John Molyneux, David Moore, Cristina Morini, Adam Morton, Zwi Negator, Susan Newman, Jörg Nowak, Benjamin Noys, Bertel Nygaard, Bridget O'Laughlin, Keith O’Regan, Sebnem Oguz, Ulrich Oslender, Ceren Özselçuk, Maria Cristina Soares Paniago, Leo Panitch, F. Papadatos, Juan Pablo Painceira Paschoa, Leda Maria Paulani, Simon Pirani, Iain Pirie, Nina Power, Gonzalo Pozo-Martin, Thomas Purcell, Diana Raby, Michael Rafferty, Geert Reuten, Paul Reynolds, Ben Richardson, John Riddell, John Roberts, Bruce Robinson, John Rose, Thomas Sablowski, Spyros Sakellaropoulos, Jorgen Sandemose, Saskia Sassen, Michael Sayeau, Sean Sayers, David Schwartzman, Alan Sears, Lynne Segal, Ben Selwyn, Sanjay Seth, Stuart Shields, Nicola Short, Joe Sim, Rick Simon, Subir Sinha, Panagiotis Sotiris, Dimitris P. Sotiropoulos, Kerstin Stakemeier, Guido Starosta, Marcel Stoetzler, Robert Stolz, Gaspar Miklós Tamás, Bruno Tinel, Peter Thomas, Massimiliano Tomba, Alberto Toscano, Greg Tuck, Mehmet Ufuk Tutan, Kees van der Pijl, Jan Douwe van der Ploeg, Carlo Vercellone, Danga Vileisis, Sherryl Vint, Satnam Virdee, Andriana Vlachou, Elisa Waeyenberge, Jeffery R. Webber, Dominic Wetzel, Adrian Wilding, Evan Calder Williams, Frieder Otto Wolf, Andrew Wright, Steve Wright, Galip Yalman, Iván Zatz

Below is the abstract for my paper, much of which will be an expansion of the arguments in my post on capitalism, the international style and googie into a grandiose attempt to systematise exactly what 'radical' architecture is at the moment, and more to the point, what is so very wrong with it. I reserve the right for it to have little to do with the abstract...

The Becoming Logo of Architecture - iconicity, regeneration and the artistic legitimation of neoliberalism



The idea of 'world cities' and 'cultural capitals' has for the last decade been an alleged solution to the problem of former industrial centres. As a sort of material embodiment of immaterial labour, the spatial representation of this move has often been through iconic, 'signature' buildings, as in the cliche of the 'Bilbao effect' induced by Frank Gehry's single-handed transformation of Bilbao from industrial port to centre for middle-class, 'cultured' tourism. 



In terms of employment, what is actually provided by the 'effect' is typically insecure service industry work not fundamentally different from what might have been provided if a gigantic Mall rather than an art gallery occupied the same space. However this paper will focus in the main on the architectural forms that are created when an area becomes a 'cultural capital'. It will note that a kind of hyper-Modernism (rejecting the 'vernacular' forms of postmodernism, neoliberalism's original architectural representation)  with a quickly grasped 'logo' like effect, is the typical building type. Architects like Gehry, Santiago Calatrava, Norman Foster, Will Alsop and others become their own logos, dropping seemingly random (but immediately comprehensible) structures on cities in order to transfigure them into places of cultural consumption rather than production. 



This paper will begin by examining the possible forbears of this style in advertising - particularly in the architectural strategies of the likes of McDonalds in the 1950s, when roadside structures mimicked company logos in a futuristic spatial form - following on to discuss the ideology of creativity and culture and its effect on architecture, and finally how these frequently deliberately intangible buildings function after they've been placed in the cities in question. It will be argued that the 'iconic', signature building represents a kind of culmination and repudiation of architectural modernism, using a vaguely humanist rhetoric of art and inclusion as it empties it of all genuinely transformative social content. 

16 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Pawn called 'Historical Materialism' Must Always Win"

dadaist chess is it?

7:48 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

I'm all for Dadaist chess, but it's a (mis)quotation of Walter Benjamin's Theses on the Philosophy of History. As any fule kno.

9:13 pm  
Blogger david said...

I think Alsop's OCAD building is a better example of "dropping seemingly random (but immediately comprehensible) structures on cities..."
Just sayin.

12:46 am  
Blogger Murphy said...

I, alas, cannot come along due to poverty, but I hope it goes well.

It sounds like it ought to be very stimulating. I think the discovery of Googie is particularly useful, especially as a way of disconnecting iconic architecture away from its assumed 'high' lineage down from Modernism. But then, for that to work properly, you have to solve the whole 'outsider-architect' (FLW, Lautner, Goff etc...) problem.

Perhaps a future angle is a politico-economic analysis of the transition that leads from '80s 'neo-avant garde' to 21st century 'iconic' architecture; In other words "what the fuck happened to architects in the 1990s?" key date:1997 (oh yes)!
What function has 'critique' played in the branding of architects like Koolhaas, Eisenman etc..? Has that made them more or less attractive to clients compared to non-intellectuals like Hadid, Gehry, etc..? Was architecture 'critical' when it claimed to be, and can it be critical now or in future? In what ways does the aforementioned transition from 'decon' (1988) to 'icon' (1997) map onto the atlantic crossing of modernism into 'international style' in 1932? Has there really been a switch from 'High' to 'Low'?

Also the question of dissemination: where now the common sense view can appreciate the National Theatre but despise Robin Hood Gardens, in a generation will the same distinction be possible?

Anyway, have a good lecture.

5:23 pm  
Blogger Charles Holland said...

I blame oasis for most things that happened in 1997....

More seriously, that's very interesting Owen and I agree that Googie is a good way to draw parallels with a certain kind of structural and formal exhibitionism common to both it and the decon lite of Make etc.

But I tend to think that conversations about the Bilbao effect seems to end up in a bit of a critical dead end. I'm not sure what really links Alsop with Gehry in that sense. Peckham library, it seems to me, is a pretty decent if flamboyant local library isn't it? is it really symbolic of total cultural aridity?

What aspect of the 'bilbao effect' is it part of? Is it just its 'alsopian' quality - i.e. the fact that it is recognisable stylistically? And then what differentiates it from any building in history from a notable architect?

6:03 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

The reason I plonked the Peckham image there as an example of Bilbaoism was more about its use as a 'regeneration' vehicle, although a library is definitely a damn sight more worthwhile a project than one of the Guggenheim's outposts. And Peckham is pretty far from being gentrified, at least excepting the bit that likes to think of itself as 'Bellenden'. Certainly Alsop is a lesser offender when compared with the likes of Make (or Allies and Morrison, or Ian whatsit who did the Beetham Tower and Urbis, or AHMM), although don't get me started on that Supercity bollocks.

Anyway, I'm currently trying to tie it together with the posts on Pseudomodernism from a little while ago. It's basically my little attempt at an all-encompassing total theory of the architectural conjuncture, and as such it is currently riddled with holes.

Oh and well done on the AJ profile this week - you ought to complain that the cover was taken up instead by the face of some businessman despite the Hoogvliet piece being longer - I presume that would be more aesthetically palatable to the AJ's readership than a decorated shed...

6:21 pm  
Anonymous Lang Rabbie said...

similarly (mis)quoting TFIC
...

It can easily be a match for anyone if it enlists the services of the progressive "form follows function" ideology of the Modern Movement, which today, as we know, is wizened and has to keep out of sight.

10:53 pm  
Blogger Murphy said...

riddled with more holes than a blue-foam herzog & de meuron study model! arf arf!

Anyway, I think that pseudomodernism is perhaps the key to the whole iconic problem, in the sense that it is the quotidian wing of the architectural ideology.

In fact, tt's maybe worth looking at the Berlin IBA housing of the '80s for a telling early stab at this sort of thing, before the rules were properly formulated.

10:53 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Lang - that is marvellous.

I'm now arguing that there are really two wings of Pseudomodern, the neo-googie and the developer's scando. I shall put it up on the Measures after the conference...

Re the IBA, the excellent Architecture in Berlin has a series on the subject. I've only seen bits of it - Koolhaas' Checkpoint, Hadid's 'non-canon' block, but a lot of the stuff profiled at AIB looks a lot more interesting, esp as a way of doing social housing without it being either pomo (though there are affinities), the ville radieuse or the megastructure.

10:59 pm  
Anonymous Lang Rabbie said...

The Peckham Library has to be seen in the context of the broader architectural menagerie that was dropped on unsuspecting Peckhamites by Southwwark's former Director of Regeneration.

Back in 2004, I posted in another forum to preserve for posterity, what appears to be either the
"Confessions of the man who designed the Peckham Arch" or an astonishingly good parody of the mindset of the architects involved in "iconic" "regeneration" projects.

[Quote]
On my PC the Peckham Arch stands up to any nuclear blast save a direct hit on Peckham, just as I expected. I am safe in the knowledge that should Yeltsin drink himself to death and Zhirinofski ascend to Reaganesque status; or should Mad Saddam become Maddest Saddam, and London be reduced to a vast un-regenerated docklands; my art will live on. I even allow myself a vision of the future, where Mad Max tribes kneel in their hundreds in front of the Peckham Arch to praise the glories of old.

The design is done. Southwark Council approves the plans, and construction begins at a Luton engineering firm. The frame is built and transported down the M1 with full police escort (much to my delight), where at the junction of Rye Lane, Peckham High Street and Peckham Road it meets the fibreglass sheets. Erection takes a matter of days. I stand below my baby, the largest non-purpose arch to be built in Britain this century, and feel that I am at the beginning, that I have started.

Around me stand local residents - old, young, black, white, everyone - Peckham in it's essence - looking up at this latest addition to their environment. Expressions register nothing, except maybe a hint of confusion. Community liaison was not a part of this project. Gradually they move on, and when I return to admire my creation that afternoon people pass it as if it does't exist. I don't think they care.[/Unquote]

Formerly at:
www.wetfloor.gothic.co.uk/arch.htm
retrived via Google cache on 28 April 2004

11:19 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

That is very plausible. Or it could be Ian Martin...

11:37 pm  
Blogger Kosmograd said...

Alsop's Peckham Library does seem to at least offer considerable benefits to it's local community, unlike say The Public, which appears to have been dropped on West Bromwich with little idea of what it is for, or who will pay to run it, leaving only some vague 'Bilbao effect' hubris.

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