Goldwater’s Eyes

Baihrava, Bhairava is the fierce manifestation of Lord Shiva associated with total destruction.

Baihrava, Bhairava is the fierce manifestation of Lord Shiva associated with total destruction.

“The suicide sprawls on the bloody floor of the bed-
room;
It is so — I witnessed the corpse — there the pistol
had fallen.”

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

“…we now know that a rejuvenated CIA has run a full-scale torture program, kidnapped terror suspects off global streets, and still oversees drone assassination campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen. In addition, it continues to resist Congressional oversight of its torture activities. As yet, the Agency, tasked with “vetting” a 6,000-page report on its “interrogation methods” prepared by the Senate Intelligence Committee, has refused to allow the release of any part of the account. Even Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s chair, often considered the “senator from national security,” was moved to offer an extraordinary denunciation on the floor of the Senate of the CIA’s interference with committee computers.
Recently, the Washington Post reported some leaked details from the report the committee has been struggling unsuccessfully to get released, including information on a previously undocumented form of CIA torture: shoving a prisoner’s head into a tub of ice water or pouring that water all over a person’s body. (Immersion in cold water is a torture method I first came across in 1984 when interviewing a Nicaraguan who had been kidnapped and tortured by U.S.-backed and -trained Contra guerrillas.)
We don’t have anything like the full story of the CIA’s involvement in torture, and the CIA is only one agency within a larger complex of agencies, military and civilian. We can’t dismantle what we can’t see.”

Rebecca Gordon

“Dwelling in the proper sense is now impossible. The traditional residences we grew up in have grown intolerable: each trait of comfort in them is paid for with a betrayal of knowledge, each vestige of shelter with the musty pact of family interests. …The sleepless are on call at any hour, unresistingly ready for anything, alert and unconscious at once.”
Adorno

“In 1944 we lived near Tel Aviv market. One morning my wife saw a young man go around talking to all the women selling produce. Some he left alone, but others had paraffin poured on the vegetables and their eggs smashed. My wife, who had just come from South Africa, couldn’t believe it. “What’s going on?” she asked.
It was simple. The man checked if the produce was Hebrew or Arab, and destroyed Arab produce. Now, this behaviour was still on a small scale and some Zionists were still talking like left wingers. Zionist publishers printed Lenin and Trotsky, for example.
But the antagonism to the Arabs remained central. No Arab ever entered the kibbutz movement, the so called “socialist” collective farms. The majority of Jewish-owned land belonged to the Jewish National Fund, whose constitution forbade Arab tenants. This meant in whole areas the original Arab populations were driven out.
When I left Palestine in 1946 Tel Aviv, a city of 300,000, had absolutely no Arab residents. Imagine arriving in Nottingham, a similar sized town to Tel Aviv, and finding no English people.”

Tony Cliff

I was asked this week about culture, at a dinner with my wife and two friends who are violinists. Both teach, naturally enough. Both were talking about the growing lack of seriousness about the arts. In one sense, art must always have moral gravitas to be any good. The vocation of artist, of whatever sort, is a choice that entails moral courage. Now, that sounds sort of like inflated rhetoric, and one can certainly find almost infinite examples of moral corruption in the arts. However, that moral underground currency also still exists. It’s just that such work, any serious work, tends to be marginalized and made invisible if possible. Andrew Levine had a piece at Counterpunch on the “liberal media” (meaning everything that is not FOX News), and in particular NPR (and here it is useful to remember Curtis White’s essay on the ‘middle mind’). Levine writes:

“Nevertheless, on Morning Edition, it was taken for granted that Team Obama is on the side of the angels, and that Putin is a new Hitler. Hillary Clinton said so, after all, and she is always right…But why is there not more outrage? The short answer is that no matter how out of sync with reality the bipartisan party line is, and no matter how dangerous it may be, liberals are still cutting Obama slack — and moving on.This, as much as any structural property of the media system, is what enables corporate media — and NPR, which is corporate in spirit, even if it is technically something else — to do “a heck of a job,” as George W. Bush, said in praise of “Brownie,” Michael D. Brown, the man in charge of “emergency preparedness and response” in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
As a Fourth Estate, NPR and other “quality” outfits plainly are Brownies, one and all. For informing and enlightening, they get a C-plus on a good day – like George Bush at Yale.”

Now, this is all rather obvious, but it is worth looking at in light of one of the bloodiest weeks in recent memory. As Israel continues its use of various illegal weapons (which appear to be variants of DIME, and also of white phosphorus, and its worth noting that Israel has been employing DIME {dense inert metal} since as early as 2004) in densely populated areas. (The extraordinary Dr. Mads Gilbert of Norway who works in Gaza, has written on this several places, including a suggestion there are new versions of tungsten bombs now being used).

In Israel we have a society that can stand on the hillside and watch war crimes as if they were TV has probably reached a nadir of moral failure.

Of course, the U.S. is exactly as morally bankrupt. Detroit is the domestic Gaza in one sense. The vast U.S. prison system is Gaza in another sense. The Zionists on the hill in Sderot, watching war crimes carried out across their horizon, are much like the American public watching water being turned off in the homes of the poor in Detroit. The police choking an unarmed man to death in NYC, on Staten Island, is not a lot different than the IDF soldiers shooting young Arab men. SWAT teams kicking in doors in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Albuquerque, or Philly is much like IDF forces kicking in the doors of Palestinians. And both are like the U.S. Marines carrying out house to house searches in Mosul or Baghdad, after kicking in the doors. And these kicked in doors happen daily, multiple times, across the planet. And in each case the jackboot of authority is Western, and usually from the U.S.

Louise Lawler

Louise Lawler


But the culture of the West today is one that trivializes, and it is, to put it simply, such trivialization which undermines the sense of moral purpose, for compassion, and for the outrage in plain view of inequality. Seriousness scares the new fascist, a fascism anchored, cognitively, on trivial and infantile amusements. It is the U.S. which orchestrated a coup that removed Jose Manuel Zelaya, democratically elected, from the Presidency of Honduras, and replaced him with the thuggish and corrupt Juan Hernandez, and this almost totally unreported story is the obvious cause of a flood of traumatized children fleeing north to the U.S. border, where they are met with holding pens, concrete floors to sleep on, and reams of invective from both parties and the mainstream media. And where Obama hurries plans to send them back home. But it is simply another story, placed alongside an op-ed (The Guardian, July 19 this year) from a member of Pussy Riot decrying the evil that is Vladimir Putin.

During my dinner discussion the other night, the topic of “encouragement’ came up. And I have said this before, the culture of ‘constructive criticism’, of reducing the creative act to self help therapy. What this is, really, is a cultural flat-lining. Whatever you do, you are OK. Well, almost whatever you do. Because seriousness is not OK. Lighten up. Don’t fixate. It’s not healthy. The drive to be an artist means you don’t need encouragement, nor do you need constructive criticism. You simply need criticism, and instruction from those who know more about whatever you are trying to do. The narcissism of art as therapy is, strange as it may sound, perfectly in line with all thinking predicated on self interest. The Ayn Rand culture. Everyone gets a winner’s ribbon, you get a commendation for just ‘trying’, just participating. Because you are taking part in the Spectacle. There will be winners, and losers…and well, a lot more losers, but that’s the natural order of things.

Pedro Calapez

Pedro Calapez


The artist studies his craft, he studies the history of his art form, and he develops a discipline. He or she does not need to be encouraged. The artist is driven in part by an oppositional stance vis a vis the status quo. Creating is, in many ways, in and of itself, a form of protest to the world as it is.

Frederich Engels wrote that today’s society “breeds hostility between the individual man and everyone else.” That was in 1845. I said in the last posting here, that today everyone who is not of the ruling class is an outcast. Must function like an outcast, and as a criminal. The new growth industry that is prison building is a material expression of an inner state, an interior architecture that reinforces the idea of separation, isolation, and containment as part of an equation that starts with security. The trivial, the making everyone the same idea contains, of course, a contradiction. Everyone is the same, except for the winners. The winners are different, but THAT difference is alright. It is alright because it is viewed as a dispensation from God, somehow. Security is linked to a structure of control over (per Loic Wacquant by way of Max Weber) “the elaboration of legislation, the enforcement of public order, the armed defense against external aggression, and the administration of hygienic, educational, social and cultural needs.” This model is taken for granted. All the way down to cultural needs.And it is worth noting the ways in which ideas of morality are connected to the production of and manufacture of culture. And how all of this is linked to a destruction of difference, of creatitivity as an idea.

Abandoned Southwest Florida resort. Mila Bridger photography.

Abandoned Southwest Florida resort. Mila Bridger photography.


Adorno, following upon the quote at the top, said “It is part of morality not to be at home in one’s home”. He was suggesting that consumer goods, so abundant, and so disposable at the same time, creates a paradox, that one must have ‘things’ to survive and not fall into desperate dependency on the system, but at the same this need leads to, as he put it, “a loveless disregard for things which necessarily turns against people, too.” The ethos of disposability has most certainly, in the ensuing half century since Adorno wrote this, turned against people..though especially the working class. People are as trivial as cell phones or a new track suit. In fact, the fetishizing of certain “things”, new cars for example, has pushed the perception of individual human value even further down the scale. Advanced reification.

One of the many factors that mediate memory is the constant production of new technologies. The memories of standing in line to cash a check at the bank, or going to the library and using the Dewey decimal catalogue, are not experiences (along with a thousand other relatively banal experiences) that will passed on to the next generation. Each new technology isolates one generation from the next. When Adorno wrote of the morality of letting go of this false identification with home, with home as the titular site of identity, he was examining the atrophy of the sense of private life, of traditional parameters for the bourgeois individual. And he knew quite acutely the difficulties of finding a way to exist sanely within a society of property relations. But the fact of consumer abundance, the faux choices for shopping, are also now, additionally, eroded by bank ownership of everything you *think* you own. The fact is, when you go to buy a new car, you are not being sold a car, you are being a sold a ‘deal’ for buying a new car. You are buying financing. But that aside, I think the point I’m trying to get to has more to do with the trivializing of human relations.

Kikuji Kawada, photography.

Kikuji Kawada, photography.


The U.S. prioritized military solutions from WW2 onwards. It found enemies wherever needed, from communists in Central America, to Muslim radicals in Afghanistan, or Iraq. It has armed wars, often on both sides, throughout the world. It has its primary sub contractor in Israel. This is extreme alienation quotient in modern Western life. Violence. The loss of memory, the mediation of a reified relation to house and home, to residing anywhere, is shaped by the constant need for violence. The ultimate distraction, the ultimate expression of disposibility. The architecture for many in the West, when viewing the attack of Israel on Gaza, the clearing away rubble with bulldozers, and the clearing away of people, the building of a fence, is that of re-decoration. Time for new drapes, new tables and lamps. Disposible. You can always go buy new Palestinians if you end up not liking the settlers.

Moshe Dayan in Viet Nam, 1965

Moshe Dayan in Viet Nam, 1966

In the U.S., there is a particularly carceral tinge to this cognitive architecture. Loic Wacquant as described the judicial garbage disposible that are the American courts. The penal and medical are linked historically, in their purposing as solutions to social problems. Wacquant calls penalization the “technique for the *invisiblization* of the social problems of the state…” All of this as purely structural mapping is traced back to this bourgeois idea of home and identity. When suburban tract homes seemed to metastasize across the American landscape, it was as nothing more than sort of breeding pens for livestock, who are kept pacified by various commodities, or really, by whatever it is they want to buy. As more and more people were and are unable to buy much of anything, the model has shifted, and the resurgent tropes of disinfecting the landscape and the society take over.

The theatre of repression, as Arline Mathieu described it, is the increasing reliance on medical justifications and explanations for poverty. Poverty is called, or labelled homelessness. The focus is on the mental health of those left homeless, and the implication is their medical condition created their *desire* to be homeless. But again, homosexuality, prostitution, drug addiction, have all at various times, come under the medical umbrella. In this theatre of repression the doctor on-call is the state authority structure. The decorator moving out those tacky so ten minute ago homeless riff raff (or Palestinian, or urban black teen, or latino, or south Asian, etc). Clear out the garbage. Sanitize what is left. Re-purpose the junk (gentrification) as stylish, and the garbage is invisible. On a global stage, we could well get into the mental mapping of other nations and cultures as they exist for the West.

Rachid Koraichi

Rachid Koraichi


Now, this is not to say that large swaths of the populace in the West today are any longer buying their pay-TV subscription. And one of the trends is to make everyone’s life the latest reality TV show. This is the representation, the manufacture of ideological backdrops for daily life, the constant amnesia producing mechanisms of the Spectacle. And still, hundreds of thousands of people are out in the streets protesting. The conclusion is that people both reject, and embrace the illusions of identity. The fact that Israeli war crimes are so obvious is the only reason for the relatively large protests. But in fact, the liberal college student who thinks “Battle of Algiers” is really cool, will support Israel because the media and Hollywood have done their best to invest these monsters with “cool”, and the FLP suddenly is stylistically similar to Irgun or the Stern Gang. A friend who teaches at a liberal arts college in the US had a student, a girl student, squeal…”Netanyahu is a fucking rock star”. The same confusions exist with Rwanda, of course, and certainly the former Yugoslavia. Style matters, not political history. Keith Harmon Snow clarifies African propaganda and plunder : http://libya360.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/keith-harmon-snow-the-plunder-and-depopulation-of-central-africa/

So, the strange Alice through the looking glass world in which Netanyahu and Kagame and Museveni are allies, even cool allies, is the world of historical revisionism, and it is a revisionism that actually has no text. The inscription of support is written on the amnesiac citizen who barely knows his own congressperson. The Serbs are monsters, Milosevic an evil “butcher”, and yet of course there was no evidence of this. What there was in place of evidence was a marketing narrative (operative in TV shows most noticeably). The most common response I get when the topic of Milosevic comes up is something like this; ” well, ok. but he did *something*, it cant all be made up” and so on. The lesson is: if you use propaganda, saturate the market.

Matthias Grunewald, early 1500s.

Matthias Grunewald, early 1500s.


But let me get back to this idea of a cleansing of the poor. Where sixty years ago, black people were still being lynched in the U.S., today they have returned to a place in the cognitive mapping that suggests they can do without water. But the re-decorating of the house includes the idea of subjugation to the authority (which is dressed up in the neo liberal free market tuxedo). Ayn Rand again. Individual as heroically responsible. That word, *responsible* is the ugliest word in English. The disinfecting means taking out of sight. Relegating to TV shows. But it also conjures up certain images that resonate with Christian millennialism, and this is hardly an accident. The cleansing of society is in preparation for the second coming. This was a hugely popular part of Nazi mythology. The Third Reich was after all, to rule for a thousand years. The kitsch Christian symbology at work these days in pop culture seems unlimited. There are of course Jewish and Hindu millennial systems, and even Zoroastrian millennialism. In fact Zarathustra is likely the first to lay out this notion of tribulation, armegeddon, and Rapture. The point is, the ideological class divide is given a sort of pseudo-religious vibe by breaking out a lot of arcane jargon and validating the craziest of Christian extremists as somehow worth taking seriously.
Nahum B. Zenli

Nahum B. Zenli


My own experience in the U.S. the last few years (when I have popped in, because I cant live there anymore) has been that the average white male is now, in a sort of accumulative dissolution of mental faculties and emotional deprivation, a knotted ball of anger and seething resentments. And it seems to extend to the left as well.

During the Viet Nam war there was an effective and vibrant anti war movement. Today, I think there are probably close to as many people who object to U.S. military adventures, to the Imperialist project to dominate, but what seems missing on one level is the cultural expression of it. Of course there is also a far more draconian system of policing, and surveillance. And those two factors are obviously intertwined. The rise of the totalitarian status quo is partly about destroying art and culture. I remember Robert Bly and Ginsburg, Merwin, Stafford, and a dozen other poets doing readings. Bly in his Nixon mask, and I remember the sense of an anti establishment vibe to rock and roll, and I remember radical theatre experiments, often pointedly political, and today I feel none of that. It feels as if in place of the radical artist we have JayZ and his Israeli start up company, or Scarlett Johansson pimping her Israeli soft drink. James Garner died this week, and I remember him taking part (though I was only 12), with Brando, James Baldwin and others on the march on Washington in 1963. Garner once said even when Reagan was head of the Screen Actor’s Guild, he had to be told what to say, like a puppet. Garner was a deceptively good screen actor, effortless and expansive. His death feels somehow another marker for the end of a certain time.

Bread and Puppet Theatre, 1972,  Protest march against Viet Nam war.

Bread and Puppet Theatre, 1972, Protest march against Viet Nam war.

It is in even these partial and rather simplified memories that the effects of a system of control are starkly revealed. The subtle never ending wearing down of small acts of refusal and resistance. The cost has been increased for any dissent, and it’s just much easier to back off, and I don’t blame anyone for that. Bly was interviewed and asked about the Viet Nam protests, and about that era. He said:

“Galway Kinnell and I sometimes joined to do a series of readings. Once in upstate New York we gave three readings in one day, flying from Albany to Syracuse to Buffalo. That night we ended up at a diner. Suddenly a drunk in the diner, not knowing anything about us at all, said, “You want to know what I did during the Korean War?” “Well, what did you do?” “I was a rear gunner. We were coming back from a bombing raid, and the pilot for some reason flew right down the main street of this little Korean town. I had some ammunition left. You know what I did? I lowered my guns and shot every Korean I could see walking on either side of the street. What do you think about that? Why did I do that?”
That’s what that time was like. Old stuff came up.”

Whatever one wants to call it, the collective psyche, or the Zeitgeist, but there is a feeling of a deep hollow starving soul out there today. Old stuff is *not* coming up, its being pushed down further and under necessarily greater pressure. The horror of what Israel is doing this week feels like that demonic monster that rises at times to make the hell realm material and palpable. The crimes of Empire. This stuff drives many mad. The artists I knew when I was young are mostly gone. Either insane, or their souls died. Sometimes perhaps we don’t know we’ve died. Perhaps this is one partial reason for the persistence of Zombie images. The walking dead.

It is a culture in which the authority structure both consciously, and almost de-facto, encourages vigilantism. This is the public shaming, and often the vilification takes more physically abusive forms. The dread and alienation of what passes for middle class life, in the modules of conformity called houses, finds easy outlet in a lynch mob mentality. (County Fairs across the country now feature a sex offender stall where visitors can, while eating cotton candy, browse for registered sex offenders living in their neighborhood. Suffice it to say hundreds of clerical errors have been recorded and mistaken identities are common. Not to mention the fact that a single offense from thirty years ago, often of a minor variety, stamps the convicted for a life of flight). Snitching is now institutionalized, as I wrote last posting. It is within “sex offenses” however that the frayed model for familial unity is most threatened (in the abstract). There is titillation too, of course. But mostly, it is the as the role of symbolic sacrifice that the sex offender most clearly fills. In California there is a proposition under consideration to house sex offenders in a “Sex criminal zone” in the Mojave desert. The allegorical implications make one’s head swim. This is penology as risk management, too. As Loic Wacquant writes; “This new policy toward sex offenders…prioritizes the retribution, incapacitation, and stringent supervision of entire categories of convicts defined statistically through aggregate probabilities of deviant behavior. In this regard Megan’s Laws and kindred measures fuse the instrumentalism of the *new penology* of stochastic management and selective neutralization with the emotion driven ferocity of punitive populism.” Market failures, make them into market successes (private prison construction remains a growth industry). The disposible population is placed out of sight, and yet can be utilized as slave labor and used statistically to fill up beds and therefore create more financing of prison construction projects. Not to mention ever enlarge the bureaucracy of punishment. Additionally, the infusion of Christian apocalyptic imagery. Cast them into the empty desert to wander alone, beneath the furnace like sun, serves to legitimate a populism of vindictive never ending punishment, without even bringing psychiatry into the loop.

Mayakovsky. Photo by Rodchenko.

Mayakovsky. Photo by Rodchenko.

This is Biblical logic. The privileging of victims’s rights is only another artery of this Puritanical repression and regulating of the marginal classes. If Adorno was right, the cheapening of experience connected to the cheapening of commodity life and home would turn against people, there are no better examples, probably, than American penology. And in particular the moral fervour targeting anyone involved in any way with a sexual offense. It is worth adding that the depiction of rape and battery of women in Hollywood film is popular because its an attractive young woman assaulted. Her clothes usually torn. The story lines built around a sexual assault or rape are by far the most popular in cop franchises. This creates an atmosphere of fear, belied by the statistics that suggest released rapists have the lowest specialist reoffense rate of any offender (tied in fact with murderers). But the need for misogynst surrogacy in narrative has created an entire fictional world of constantly re-offending sexual predators. The serial offenders are actually the Hollywood executives that constantly recycle these fictional myths.

The lack of political consciousness, of an avant garde of radical rejection of establishment values would and could create narratives in which someone besides the *victim* of the crime or the cop were the protagonist. The shallowness of this sentimental kitsch reflects the maudlin consciousness of forgetting, and the deification of warrior cop.

Push that material down further. Push it down and keep the lid on. No matter what.

“the hell of America’s unacknowledged, unrepented crimes that I saw in Goldwater’s eyes
now shines from the eyes of the President
in the swollen head of the nation.”

Robert Duncan

“the staff sergeant from North Carolina is dying—you
hold his hand,
he knows the mansions of the dead are empty, he has an
empty place
inside him, created one night when his parents came
home drunk,
he uses half his skin to cover it,
as you try to protect a balloon from sharp objects. . .”

Robert Bly
The Teeth Mother Naked at Last

Do Ho Suh

Do Ho Suh

The Lair of the War Gods

R.H. Quaytman

R.H. Quaytman

“In the 1970s, I met Leni Riefenstahl and asked her about her films that glorified the Nazis. Using revolutionary camera and lighting techniques, she produced a documentary form that mesmerised Germans; it was her Triumph of the Will that reputedly cast Hitler’s spell. I asked her about propaganda in societies that imagined themselves superior. She replied that the “messages” in her films were dependent not on “orders from above” but on a “submissive void” in the German population. “Did that include the liberal, educated bourgeoisie?” I asked. “Everyone,” she replied, “and of course the intelligentsia.”
John Pilger

“If place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which can not be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity will be a non-place.”
Marc Auge

During this week of Israeli ethnic cleansing, its good to be reminded that the those trying to resist occupation, or invasion; those fighting against colonialism and Global Capital are usually portrayed as villains, as malcontents, as terrorists. They are the trying to expel the West, after all.

In 1948 a letter was sent to the New York Times, signed by a number of Jewish intellectuals including Albert Einstein (who is seen as the main creator of the text) and Hannah Arendt.

It begins:

“Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the “Freedom Party” (Tnuat Haherut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties. It was formed out of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine.
The current visit of Menachem Begin, leader of this party, to the United States is obviously calculated to give the impression of American support for his party in the coming Israeli elections, and to cement political ties with conservative Zionist elements in the United States. Several Americans of national repute have lent their names to welcome his visit. It is inconceivable that those who oppose fascism throughout the world, if correctly informed as to Mr. Begin’s political record and perspectives, could add their names and support to the movement he represents.”

Ordensburg Vogelsang. SS training center, built 1930's.

Ordensburg Vogelsang. SS training center, built 1930′s.

Ultra nationalist and violent, the same anti human force that is seen in all displays of fascist thinking and behavior. The squashing of dissent, and the feeling that even near random imprisonment or even extermination of those who are not *us* is acceptable and even, often, necessary. But there is something else lurking, too, and its as if one has to approach these issues from a global systems point of view, or global/historical interconnectedness. For there is a constant refrain now that crosses all methodological and aesthetic and ideological realms, and that is ‘utopian dreaming is a failure, a misguided ideal in architecture, or politics, or social planning’. Just in the last week, for whatever serendipitous reasons, I’ve come across several articles where mention was made of utopian building projects that turned out dystopian, in ruins, in squalor and despair. The subtextual meaning is always, Utopian thinking is naive and unrealistic. One story was the fascinating La Vele de Scampia, a housing project that began building in 1962, in the north corner of Naples. The architect was Francisco Di Salvo, and it was hailed at the time as a radical new solution to slums, disorder and housing shortages. Within a few months there were already problems, lack of state support and encroachment by the Neopolitan mafia (Cammora syndicate). By the earthquake of 1980 the final nail in the coffin that ‘The sails’ had become was hammered home, and soon squatters were taking over damaged apartments, but more, the mafia had taken over whole blocks of buildings. The area became among the more notorious slums in Europe with high incidence of drug sales and violence. Another Utopian dream revealed as illusion. But of course, its not the fault of the dream, its the fault of a world global system of capital, its the fault of a system that breeds ruthless drug crime organizations and valorizes violence (and reproduces capitalism), that breeds and creates inequality and desperation. But the ‘common sense’ response is, oh, those foolhardy naifs who imagine social planning will ever make a difference. What we need is the creation of wealth! Which means, creation of wealth for the few.
La Vele di Scampia, Naples. Tobias Zielony, photography.

La Vele di Scampia, Naples. Tobias Zielony, photography.


Tobias Zielony did a fascinating photographic essay of La Vele de Scampia, and I use two of his remarkable photos in this posting, but the accompanying text, by Shauna Thompson reveals the problematic interpretation of such failures.

“Zielony’s photographic series, Vele, alludes to the legacy of this place: the failure of a utopian architecture that has literally and figuratively crumbled into a dystopian reality that is at once both nightmarish and banal—the hubris of a government that would insist upon an architecture with social goals in a place where social problems were largely unaddressed. A nine-minute photo animation of a combined seven thousand single images offers a shifting, hallucinatory portrait of the place and some of its inhabitants, while a parallel series of photographs depict still moments of the same.”

The failure is not with Utopian architecture, or rather not per se. The failure is very precisely with government failure to address social problems. There is a subtle implication (and I’m being overly harsh with Ms Thompson) that a government with social goals is deluded. Most readers and viewers of this exhibit will come away thinking, oh, another naive Utopian dream doomed. And they will no doubt assume it is more proof that what is needed is a free market, where the poor can become rich and build their own ugly McMansions. Except that never happens. Today there is a tacit cognizance that society is indifferent to your wants. That society is cynical. But it is true that most Utopian model cities have come out of architects themselves not sensitive to historical formations of community.

That said, Zielony’s photographs are quite compelling and haunting.

'Scampia', Naples. Tobias Zielony, photography.

‘Scampia’, Naples. Tobias Zielony, photography.

Here from the catalogue to Zielony’s show in Naples, at Galleria Lia Rumma Naples: “If you’ve seen the movie Gomorrah, you won’t have any difficulty recognizing the location of Tobias Zielony’s photos: Le Vele (The Sails) in Naples. Denatured by modifications to the original plans, obstructed by management failures, excessive housing density and insufficient services facilities, the monumental buildings are to be demolished. Three of them have already been razed to the ground. The remaining four “sails” are in an advanced state of degradation. Only about a hundred families still live in buildings which have now been reduced to ghostlike ruins”
Fritz Stern (and Hobsbawm) saw the early 20th century as period where the past was being re-imagined, and viewed as (in Stern’s phrase) as a “springboard to the future”. History was being invented, posited, as an era bathed in amber light and with Volkish medieval style codes. The final expression of this was National Socialism.

Odd Nerdrum

Odd Nerdrum

There was the focus on progress and the future, but a specific future, seen in Le Corbusier and Van der Rohe, as well as, in another way, in Scandinavian design and architecture (per Barbara Miller Lane), but its important, I think, to see how significant The Bauhaus was, and in exactly what way.

“I begin here not with a French apartment tower but with the Bauhaus, the school that was founded in Weimar, Germany in 1919 by Walter Gropius. The Bauhaus can be looked upon as the fountainhead of the modern movement in Germany and in the Scandinavian countries. I show … the cover of the first Bauhaus Manifesto, from 1919. It is a cathedral. It is actually a Romanesque cathedral. The text that accompanies this image talks about a new architecture, which is going to create new ideas of community. In fact, the cathedral itself was described in Bauhaus publications as the “cathedral of socialism” or the “cathedral of the future” or the “cathedral of freedom.” Here and in other places at the same time Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus, summoned contemporary artists to join in the “cooperative work” of “kleinen fruchtbaren Gemeinschaften, Verschwšrungen, Bruderschaftern . . . . BauhŸtten wie im goldenen Zeitalter der Kathedralen!”, to join, that is to say, in small communities or brotherhoods such as those that built the medieval cathedrals. So the “cathedral of the future” in the Bauhaus Manifesto was a metaphor for a temple to secular regeneration after the war, for the creation of small new communities, led by artists, that would then be the basis for spiritual regeneration.”
Barbara Miller Lane

Now, as I’ve said before, I think LeCorbusier is often misread, or read reductively. Pre WW1 architecture in Germany, and really, in all the arts (though in different ways and to differing degrees) was linked to Protestant symbols borrowed from Medieval building and painting. In Scandinavia, there were various threads from Denmark, Norway, but perhaps most important were the Finnish art nouveau architects like Eliel Saarinen, and painters such as Akseli Gallen-Kallela. There’s was a northern mythology of primitivism and pagan kitsch and this was possibly as influential to German design as anything in German speaking countries at the time. All this is just to say, The Bauhaus and the Russian Constructivists (and the Russian Revolution) radically altered ideas of the relationship between communities and space. What they had rejected so concisely was almost as significant as what they created.

Danish National Bank, Arne Jacobsen architect, 1966

Danish National Bank, Arne Jacobsen architect, 1966

I think that it is worth being careful about the use of the term Utopian. Perhaps that is really my basic point here. Adorno saw authentic or important art making apparent the oppositional tensions of society. They manifest something that is hidden by the ideological appearances and contradictions of daily life. Hence, through their negation of a false essence they posit a possible alternative. The specifics of the alternative matter less than the fact its an alternative. This is partly their Utopian capacity. Now I am being very simplistic in this description, but for the purposes of this post, I think it matters to see that one of the trends in mass culture and political propaganda (and they increasingly overlap) is the erasing of the idea of Utopia. And even further, to erase ideals of any sort. The later Scandinavian architects and designers reclaimed something of a quiet austere sense of simplicity, even in their larger projects. Arne Jacobson is a kind of cliche at this point, in some respects, but revisiting his best architecture you find its suprisingly good. And for all its monumentality, its never authoritarian. To note that distinction is important.

The erasing of Utopia is both cause and effect of the rising authoritarian values and an increasing acceptance of pure fascist politics in the advanced West today. When there is nothing in this imagined future but the false memory of cheap national chauvinist mythology, then the badly educated populations of the West are finding their only consolation to dreary emotionally nullifying wage slavery by dreaming in images of a false memory. The new Albert Speers are cybernetic, and the Spectacle is immaterial, and Hollywood continues to manufacture false memory. Perhaps it does that before all else.

Helsinki Central Railway Station. Eliel Saarinen architect. 1919.

Helsinki Central Railway Station. Eliel Saarinen architect. 1919.

The de facto dream is then the only remaining channel to provide self worth, a sense of the heroic and of power. All the DC and Marvel comics are only latter day versions of the those war god symbols incorporated into Nazi design and building, into the entire narrative of German resurrection and Triumph of the Will. And this is the essentially the same visual grammar used by all late 19th century north European architects and designers, as well as painters and writers.

The real problem with Utopian city planning is that it often, or perhaps usually, neglects the historical and the relations forged in daily life between the populace and things like buying food or clothing, access to health care, etc. The problem is often that Utopia is a-historical. But why is that? Partly, it is the Spectacle itself, the entire vocabulary for architects has been cleansed of alternative thinking. Past a certain point, history is torn down in the same way the slums are cleared away. For the shanty towns and favelas and ghettos of giant global cities are the repositories of history. History and memory live in these places.

Carel Willink

Carel Willink

“If we try to apply these thoughts to the fields of architecture and urban planning, it seems that the speed and spontaneity of our changing societies makes a programmatic determination of spaces practically impossible. Thus we have to fundamentally question the idealised condition that architectural practice takes as its starting point; this neurotic tradition that has been passed on from generation to generation of architects. Instead of reproducing the institution’s spaces of control, we have to face the absence of expectation of programmatic control.
One example: we know already about the demographic transitions taking place in Latin America, where a very significant decline in the nuclear family is generating a need for a much broader diversity with respect to rooming schemes. But architecture just keeps on reproducing (on a large scale) homes and housing for traditional nuclear families. And at an urban level, public policies, governmental structures and developers are continuing to define our production of space.”

Michael Rojkind

In a sense, what Rojkind describes in architecture is true in narrative, in film, in all art. The reproduction of tropes of control, of spaces of control, and the imposing of norms for behavior, and setting of values. The narratives for Hollywood today are simplified to the level of Dick & Jane readers. And the kistch War Gods of Nazi mythology are completely at home in this programming of the people, and in the most basic vernacular. This is the Hollywood template, and the new worship of the military and police is always in service to these Gods. Now, what Marc Augre called “non spaces”, in his view of super modernity, is really most public space today, at least in the U.S. Airports, highways, malls, sports centers, even super markets. In each case, history is absent. The airport, or train station and bus depot are all expressing temporality. You cannot stay past your travel date. Your shelf life is short. Nobody waits at any travel hub for more than 24 hours. You are given a ticket number, a seat number, and a time. And you are watched. In the U.S. the effects of automobile orientation is profound. And the gas station is now an iconic and even romanticized symbol of an ersatz freedom of movement. And indeed, at ground level, the gas station possesses something far less controllable than airports or train stations. I suspect that part of the American pathological love of the car is linked to the very real, albeit small, sense of autonomy that driving provides. Yes, the roads are often just blasted space between check points, but the sense of vision that driving provides is real.

Pat de Groot

Pat de Groot


These non spaces however reflect something inner as well. The interior non-space of the post modern citizen. The gaping maw or hole where the shrinking ‘self’ used to be is compulsively filled with electronic gadgets and activity, and programmed leisure time, and ‘entertainments’ of distraction, repeated at a hyper pace. Only in the inner landscape featuring deep cavities of a black nothingness, can the War Gods come to rule. The non-spaces shorn of history, and where every single wall is filled with advertising, is an ahistorical non-memory. You have nothing to remember, no relational history. Only the possibility to purchase. Buying is conquest. If I can buy that iPad, I can eventually buy a person to run it.

The corporate mainstream media today are like the town criers in their kitsch volkish villages for pagan war gods. The level of depravity that accepts the death of infants and children is hard to calculate. Most Americans defense of Israel is not an expression of love for Jews or Zionists, its a hatred of Arabs and Muslims. This is the culture you get when all that is left of Utopian dreams is Disneyworld and a trip to the Super Bowl, or the belief that maybe one day I can become like Donald Trump. The mind of today’s Israel is shaped by thugs, Avigdor Lieberman, the former Baku radio personality and Moldavan nightclub bouncer, turned racist demagogue leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu, a secular nationalist party, a man who at different times, has suggested bombing the Aswan Dam, Beirut, and Tehran, and asked for the expulsion of all Arabs from the Jewish State. The problem is that Lieberman is actually pretty much dead center on the Israeli political spectrum. Bibi Netanyahu, the also thuggish Prime Minister, a ruthless pitiless and crude man, whose vulgarity is only matched by his arrogance, no longer even pretends to struggle with questions of peace. Israel intends to implement the final act of its ethnic cleansing of Gaza and the West Bank. They care little for International sentiment (I mean as long as the Rolling Stones still perform in Tel Aviv, and Jay Z and his wife fraternize with these fascists http://blog.4ziononline.org/uncategorized/music-mogul-jay-z-invests-in-israel/#.U8U2Hvl_tA0) because they are the sub contracted goons for U.S. power moves in the region. They have immunity from any repercussions. They are much like the New Orleans police department after Katrina, or the Albuquerque PD all the time, or Sheriff Joe in Arizona. The U.S. media, Hollywood, has glamorized Israel for decades now. The very word ‘Mossad” is spoken in hushed tones.

Pilgrimage Church. Neviges Mariendom. Gottfried Bohm architect. 1963

Pilgrimage Church interior. Neviges Mariendom. Gottfried Bohm architect. 1963

Merleau Ponty said “space could be to place as the word is to being spoken”. Meaning real spaces and real places are operating in dialectical relationships of becoming and ceasing. The Western trend toward hygienic and sanitized space, where even leisure takes place in what feel like clinic space, and where fun is only more work, and where this desire for clarity and scientific rationality ends in ethnic cleansing and the incineration of children and women. The sound track for U.S. society today is the crying of children. Israel is the same non-place of post modern fascism. The same violence of U.S. society. The same vast moral nowhere. Israeli violence is simply tricked out in different attire as the Israeli Defense Force, but its identical to U.S. and its invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The destruction of community, at both micro and macro levels leaves the individual in the role of outcast. In the era of global capital, everyone but the ruling elite is a scapegoat. The outcasts wander in search of survival. The culture of surveillance, where everyone must think like a criminal, where the only rewards offered are to be snitch or to shame someone else, has become institutionalized.


http://www.truthandaction.org/ny-dhs-will-pay-500-rat-fellow-citizens-buying-legal-goods/

In a sense the art of today that has value is that which demonstrates an integrity that defies consumerism and commodification. For this quality is the building block of community. It is important to think dialectically about this, however. The problem with almost all confessional art is that it privileges the creator in opposition to the group. The fact that an artwork becomes a commodity is really beside the point. The crucial factor is more in the potential for liberation that art provides, and that means liberation from the prevailing values of the Gods of War, the totalitarian and authoritarian vision that is most immediately traced back to Leni Reifenstahl.

Triumph of the Will. Leni Riefenstahl, dr. 1935

Triumph of the Will. Leni Riefenstahl, dr. 1935

“Spontaneity is a relatively rare phenomenon in our culture” wrote Eric Fromm over fifty years ago. The cultic deification of the artist as seer is the shadow side of creativity. The valorizing of fake Shamans (Abromovic comes to mind, with her endless re-enactment of submission and obedience rituals as natural) and the constant reinforcing of conformist thought, of group-think, is all too prevalent. The best art is one that taps into lost memories, the real archaic traces of what has been forgotten. Again, of course, there is the imitation memory at work. The creation of false memories, where in a sense the entire culture is participating in a recovered memory show trial or 12 step intervention. There is a constant tendency toward breaking apart the group, and replacing it with a unified collective ‘self’, not a collective, but a collective mind of one. And now, with almost no community left, the struggle is to navigate through the resentments and pettiness of the privileged 20%. For as Reifenstahl said, the intelligentsia are the vanguard of conformity. Of adherence to the War Gods. The new Volkish primitivism might be electrified and computerized, but it serves the same purpose it always has. It is the idealization of an imagined primitive purity. It is self help and new age and organic tempeh burgers. It is the ideological means to actually ridding the world of the actual breathing people in those areas of privation and struggle. It is a false memory. How happy are the faces of those poor black village children. They have nothing, but they are so happy. Le Corbusier wanted to purify the eye but build toward equality, while Netanyahu wants to purify his country, period. So does David Duke, and so did Adolf Hitler.

Le Corbusier, Russian peasant house, 1928.

Le Corbusier, Russian peasant house, 1928.


The town center, as Jacques Goff suggested has been re-purposed as the re-ordering of time. This new sense of controlling time is critical to the experience of these non-places. I am reminded of what Adorno said of Kafka: “Only that {Kafka’s oblique perspective} allowed the writer to deal with a monstrousness that would have struck his prose dumb or driven it mad if he had looked it straight in the eye”. The horrors of this weeks assault on Gaza is beyond words, and even the graphic images of dead children is a crime too extreme to allow for conventional processing. In a letter to Benjamin, Adorno said the ‘web of space and time is incompatible with what is expressed in Kafka, and other great artists’. However, it is through them we are able to return to nightmare of fascist war Gods, to retrieve the memory of suffering. Barthes cited Kafka’s own comment in answer to a question about image, in which Kafka said “My stories are a way of shutting my eyes.” This is one of the paradoxes, or the negative dialectics of culture. There are several ways of not seeing. The mass culture that allows a form of numbness, of sleepwalking, and then there is the third eye, the one that sees most deeply when eyes are shut.
Akseli Gallen Kallela

Akseli Gallen Kallela

An Implacable Light

fernando calhau

Fernando Calhau

“Psyche is extended,(but) knows nothing about it.”
Sigmund Freud

“Walking is in fact determined by semantic tropisms; it is attracted and repelled by nominations whose meaning is not clear, whereas the city, for its part, is transformed for many people into a ‘desert’ in which the meaningless, indeed the terrifying, no longer takes the form of shadows but becomes, as in Genet’s plays, an implacable light that produces this urban text without obscurities, which is created by a technocratic power everywhere and which puts the city dweller under control…under the control of what? No one knows.”
Michel de Certeau

“We know that under the image revealed there is another which is truer to reality and under this image still another and yet again still another under this last one, right down to the true image of reality, absolute, mysterious, which no one will ever see or perhaps right down to the decomposition of any image, of any reality.”
Michelangelo Antonioni
from Encountering Directors
by Charles Thomas Samuels

In film, unlike theatre, the sense of ‘place’ is created out of various elements. It is this composite. The very best film often works to convince us of place, before all else. Let me digress a bit first…

There is a marked trend in Hollywood product, both in TV and cinema, that intensifies the scapegoating and demonizing of the underclass, and of immigrants, and the continued manufacture of specific racial and nationalist villains (lately that means Russians and all Arabs and muslims, as well as Chinese) to be vanquished. It is too tedious to really survey recent TV, but a couple examples. The Last Ship, a post apocalyptic sci fi series, about a U.S. Navy destroyer cruising the world looking for a cure to the virus that has killed most of mankind. In episode two, we already have Guantanamo Bay and Arab terrorists (even in a recently ravaged planet where 90% of the population has died within a month, there is still space for Arab terrorists) shooting at our heroes and a Russian ship bearing down on them. There is no sense of space, of horizon, of salt air or ocean currents. There is only the uniform, the servile attention to authority, the shiny metal of the weaponry. The inflexibility of these designations and character cliches speaks to just how firmly entrenched is this material. In the odious Tyrant, produced and developed by Israeli Gideon Raff, the theme seems to be, judging from two episodes, that evil is the only real inheritance of and for Arabs. Arabs just have shitty DNA. The liberal gloss (the would-be tyrant’s son is gay) only serves to reinforce the Imperialist agenda of the show. This is Obama style Imperialism. Its cool to be gay, but not Arab. Well, its even sort of OK to be Arab if you are the sort of Arab who desperately wants to be white and western. Gentrified fascism. But this is the defining element in kitsch Hollywood product, now. And again, no sense of place. But more on that below. There is another sub-text in a lot of narratives from the culture industry, and that is a resurgent Christian symbolism. From Dominion, to Leftovers, to Believe, to Resurrection, the backdrop is corn ball Christianity. The backdrop, increasingly, to science fiction is a Christian symbolism, and Old Testament names. That science fiction should trend toward a reactionary Christian cant really be a surprise (notwithstanding many faux left apologists for Science Fiction). What IS surprising is the extent of this new fascination with Rapture, and Angels, kitsch Devils, exorcism, etc, etc. in current TV and film. In a sense, this is the legacy, to a degree, of the Da Vinci Code, and before that, perhaps, to The Exorcist. It is also just the bankruptcy of imagination, the recycling of tried and true (familiar) symbols and ideas. Most of the writers for this junk, are not Christian zealots, but just poorly educated hacks. Now, that there might be, and probably is, a unified Christian producing entity. The ‘Christian right’ made that choice, to get into films and TV. The result is this growing discourse that traffics in these cliched theological ideas.

In Hollywood TV and film the idea of blue collar worker is blurring with that of criminal. The proletariat, the lumpen proletariat anyway, is almost synonymous with criminal. Notwithstanding the sentimentalizing of the “working class”. For that is also a trend. The noble savage as day labourer. One sees this condescension a lot in Hollywood, in fact. Actors as diverse as Nick Cage, Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Dillon, Ben Affleck, and the list goes on; have all played lumpen under class characters, as sexy hyper masculine and most of all, *authentic*. The style codes are exaggerated, the accents exaggerated, and driving these mannerist affectations is a both envy and hostility.

Ryan Gosling, Place Beyond the Pines, 2013.

Ryan Gosling, Place Beyond the Pines, 2013.

But how do these rather obvious observations intersect with the increased disciplining of the marginalized by the government? This is exactly the point at which *where* becomes an identity marker. The stigmatizing of place of origin (Loic Wacquant sites this at length in his book Urban Outcasts.)
Brad Pitt, Killing Them Softly, 2013.

Brad Pitt, Killing Them Softly, 2013.

There is a clear stigmatizing that comes from being identified as a person from this or that *ghetto*. At the same time, such origins often become style markers, or are fetishized in the process of appropriation by marketers and advertisers.

“Narratives defining self become legible to others only in the concept of larger narratives of group identity.”
Steven Flusty

The first episodes of Tyrant take place in a fictional middle eastern country. The signifiers are there; sand, palm trees, heat, and a palace. There is sexual deviance, sadism, and psychosis. There is a sterotyped military leader, and so on. But there is no sense of place. No real location. There is no feeling of sand, no feeling of heat, no sense of the smells of sandlwood, musk, or bahkoor, or the vast quiet of desert nights. There is no sound of morning prayers or feel of the giant sun that begins to heat the landscape. The visiting Americans seem not to get suntans, not need hydration. Instead we get kitsch melodrama, racist and patronizing. The feeling is of being in an office in Century City or Beverly Hills. The show is filmed as it were a detergent commercial. I suspect that some of the neo colonial ideological backdrop of its creator has seeped into the sense of stasis and pseudo formality in the staging of scenes.

Raphael, Sistine Madonna (detail).

Raphael, Sistine Madonna (detail).


There is no real place in any of these shows. It is interesting to watch, as I did recently, Antonioni’s Blow Up. I was reminded of it because of a Belgian crime film I had seen the day before. Der Berhandling, a Belgian child kidnapping procedural that isn’t really very good, though its of side bar interest that Belgium seems fascinated with their own real crime stories of false imprisonment, torture, and paedophilia. But in this film there are train tracks and deep bushes and shrubs where the killer flees. And its a film with superior cinematography. And I thought immediately, Blow Up. So indelible is that London park, and the search for what isn’t there, or perhaps *is* there. There is a distrust of Antonioni in general, and of Blow Up in particular these days. As an example, it is described (by Asborn Gronstad, in a recent Film Comment) as “In retrospect it is not difficult to read Thomas’s and Blow-Up’s key narrative premise as epitomizing the 1960s art-film conventions of the cinema of ambiguity. What above all defined this “festival film” (of which Antonioni himself was a principal exponent, along with directors like Bergman, Fellini, and Godard) was a peculiar synthesis of the modes of objective realism, expressive subjectivism, and authorial commentary. A sense of indestructible uncertainty thus became the raison d’etre of films like Blow-Up. Much as we may still be able to admire Antonioni’s accomplishment, however, his purposeful orchestration of the ambiguous now seems, if not dated, if not too studied, then at least somewhat routine (as does the plethora of psychoanalytical readings-centering on Thomas’s voyeurism and misogyny-that the film has invited over the years).”

Blow Up, 1966. Michelangelo Antonioni, dr.

Blow Up, 1966. Michelangelo Antonioni, dr.

This is a curious commentary, and not least of the reasons is use of the term “festival film”. It is received ideas, even if astute ones. But such descriptions are rife in Universities everywhere, in film departments everywhere. I am not sure what a synthesis of objective realism and expressive subjectivism might look like. But it wouldn’t look like Blow Up. Antonioni inscribes something of the uncertainty of life in swinging London, in the sense of alienation. Antonioni’s lens is not impassive (as Gronstad has it) but deeply Marxist, really. Antonioni’s camera, like Pasolini in a sense, was more radical and class aware than the director himself. It is the periphery, the background, the landscape only glimpsed, that creates the tensions in his films. Antonioni’s swinging London is always recuperated by the unemployed, the homeless, the lost. David Hemmings growing anxiety is driven by the fear that he is as lost as any of these men he encounters on the streets at dawn. Did a murder take place? Well, if not here, one took place somewhere. The park, the deep lush greens, the image that Hemmings wants to believe will reveal something, that beneath the surface there lurks a truth, behind the hedges, the shrubs, the truth can be found. Antonioni and his north Italian upbringing seared into his imagination the coldness of Industrial lanscapes, the malaise of modern urban life, the alienation. Blow Up is a film whose influence is almost impossible to calculate. If Hemmings character is a composite of David Baily and Terrence Donovan, the real protagonist of the film is the party, the rock stars, the fun.. the swinging…none of which is actually *there*. It was the era suddenly become a marketing campaign. “Swinging London”. It is a film about illusions of confidence, about the desire to be the center, even if the center of something gone missing. It is a film not too distant from La Dolce Vita, though the alienation is more acute in the Antonioni. Hemmings begins to suspect there is something wrong, with him, with his picture of reality (sic). One of the shifts in film since 1960 has been to erase uncertainty. There are films of confusion, but not of uncertainty. The protagonist’s spiritual death is reflected in the mystery at the heart of the film. It is a sort of detective novel without the detective.

” The denial of objective truth by recourse to the subject implies the negation of the latter: no measure remains for the measure of all things, lapsing into contingency, he becomes untruth. But this points back to the real life-process of society. The principle of human domination, in becoming absolute, has turned its point against man as the absolute object, and psychology has collaborated in sharpening that point. The self, its guiding idea and its a priori object, has always, under its scrutiny, been rendered at the same time non-existent.”
Adorno

Astrid Kruse Jensen, photography.

Astrid Kruse Jensen, photography.

Under a system of domination, self help psychology (the adaptation to the status quo) is now a reinforcing of privilege and stigmatizing of the other. That is largely the message of shows like Tyrant. The acceleration of the trashing of Freud runs alongside the valorizing of the self. This is the secret impetus of pop psychology; an acceptance of alienation, and a cataloguing of its symptoms, and as a member of the status quo, the bourgeois white “majority”. The embrace of diagnostic categories helps define the individual as a non individual, but a recognizable one. A sort of faux individual. The titillation of these shows, the sex and violence, are there to be mildly condemned, but also mildly accepted, and even approved. One’s symptoms are one’s identity. In Antonioni, the narrative unravels leaving only the bottom layer of illusion, and hence of terror. And along the way, with these spatial models that equate the body as a core naked truth, the reality of there no being no core, or only a core of other different layers, is erased. And with that erasure comes the loss of dialectical thought. The Freudian spatial model always implied impossible complexity at the center of things, complex and perhaps unknowable.

Adorno pointed out that only those with nothing to sell, outside the sphere of exchange, can create refuge when refuge no longer exists. The self is under constant surveillance, and it is only in the figure of the stigmatized that some notion of freedom exists. This accounts for the envy of the poor, the desperation for Hollywood and its celebrities to participate in the ‘authentic’. And also accounts in part for the symbolic punishment (never mind the actual real) of the poor and marginalized. And again, anyone with a day job is represented as borderline undesirable, and a threat. The various outsiders, sexual, political, biological, are rewarded when they ‘come inside’, adapt, round off the corners of difference. The narrative is full of ‘neurotypical’, or ‘differently able’d’, but in reality it is those willing to submit to a homogeneous ideal that are accepted for their “difference”. Those who dont are ruthlessly stigmatized and shamed.

Anselm Kiefer, photography.

Anselm Kiefer, photography.

This is the paradox, or one of the paradoxes of mass culture today. And here is it worth noting the contradictions of post modern surface, again because it is the delivery vehicle for the ideology of a disposable underclass. Van Doesberg, in the 1920s, wrote “Man does not live within the construction, within the architectural skeleton, but only touches architecture essentially through its ultimate surface.” It is interesting how this primacy of surface was injected with a functionalist ideology at that time. I am reminded here how Le Corbusier, and tellingly, Wittgenstein (in the one house he designed, for his sister) were idealist ventures, and criticized for it. Wittgenstein’s sister said she could not live in this house her brother designed, for it was a house where only Gods could reside.

Today, the elevated aesthetic of an Antonioni is dismissed as dated. As self consciously obscure. The culture industry, and, more, the elite establishment, promote these ideas of revealing something by presenting another layer, which is one that is always reductive but attractive. The surface becomes the excavated core *naked* truth, in which certain decoration has been removed. The removal of the human is done by sleight of hand. The generic core of new age pop psychology is wrapped up in maudlin chintz of sentimentality or dehumanized ‘human-ness’. It pretends to celebrate human individuality, but reduces that individuality to a chimera.

Giorgio de Chirico

Giorgio de Chirico


It worth exploring these ideas a bit more. The absence of the human is not the same as an image without people. The marks left by the human display more, often, than bodies being present. De Chirico’s empty plazas and squares express a tension because of what has been either expelled or lost. Shadows, the monuments, the stark eerie light, all suggest portents and prefigure a quarantine, or curfew, or just abandonment. This idea of depth, a revisionist depth if you will, in which as layers are torn away, the closer one gets to the core, to the truth, also entails the idea that with each layer that is removed things become less complex. Until, finally, at the core, where things are no longer clothed, where we are naked, there is simplicity, there is the reductive and compulsively repeated banality of solipsistic cliches. This is the ideological imprint of this revisionist model of depth. Excavate away the complexity. What is happening in this model of depth is the argument of the fascist. Crude, one dimensional mystification being presented as hard fought truth. And this reduced simplified new age cliche is presented as a metaphysical liberation.

When I taught at the Polish National Film School, the screening of Antonioni was met with indifference, or even hostility. And now as I think on it, only he and Pasolini were quite so disliked. Even Bresson has God, after all. Antonioni does not. When L’Avventura was screened at Cannes it was famously booed. But it soon became clear that this was a seminal film. To my mind Antonioni made three giant films; Red Desert, The Passenger, and L’Avventura. In each, the sense of forgetting is primary. People are forgotten. Antonioni, like Pasolini, was anti sentimental. In his world, the existential search goes on, even as belief in the search dissipates. But there is also the confrontation between the miseries of daily life, and a kind of transcendent beauty and sexuality. Wittgenstein’s house was made as a residence for Gods, so Antonioni made films in which a certain ideal vision and beauty is in constant conversation with suffering. They are films made to be watched by Gods.

L'Avventura, 1960. Michelangelo Antonioni dr.

L’Avventura, 1960. Michelangelo Antonioni dr.

“It also showed—
and this was harder for audiences to grasp—that events in films do not have to be, in an obvious way, meaningful. L’Avventura presents its characters behaving according to motivations unclear to themselves as much as to
the audience.”

Geoffrey Noel-Smith
On L’Avventura

The Passenger, 1975, Michelangelo Antonioni dr.

The Passenger, 1975, Michelangelo Antonioni dr.

Antonioni’s films, or at least the work that began with L’Avventura, are about the camera, about what and how the camera captures. They have always felt to me close to still photography. Its probably no accident that photographs are prominent props for both Blow Up and The Passenger. My point here is not to do an overview of Antonioni, but only to suggest his relative unpopularity should come as no surprise. The Passenger (still probably my favorite Antonioni, and that I accept is perverse) is, first, a remarkable looking film, but it is also a perfect sort of parable for the paralysis of identity. And perhaps that has been Antonioni’s subject all along. The final long take remains one of the most perfect and beautiful and haunting shots in all of cinema. Modern identity had petrified even further between 1960 and 1975. Antonioni was preternaturally sensitive to the times in which he made his films, and the anomie of his mostly bourgeois characters is set against landscapes of dialectical knottiness. Class is never really absent. But Antonioni was not an overtly political director, nor one interested in messages or themes. He was a scientist of the sublime. His characters were not searching for revelation, but Antonioni was.

“Antonioni’s sense of locale is impeccable: the empty town in ‘L’Avventura’, sixties London and the magical park in ‘Blow-Up’, the highways and byways of Europe in ‘The Passenger’. As a child in Ferrara, Antonioni was fascinated by buildings. He would make models and place people inside them, making up stories as to why they were there. This interest in space, and the relationship between people and space, runs through all his work. ‘The Passenger’ is almost exclusively about people moving in, through or between buildings.”
Richard Skinner

Richard Pousette-Dart

Richard Pousette-Dart

There is that white light through the wrought iron window bars, in the penultimate shot in The Passenger, It reminds me a good deal (in terms of the framing here) of a shot in Out of The Past, the Jacques Tourneur noir fromn the 40s. In that film it was Mexico outside, in that white light. In the Antonioni it is Spain. It is the same light, it is Genet’s light, it is Juan Rulfo’s, transfiguring and absolute. And these details, sensory and metaphorical at the same time, are what is gone when you watch The Last Ship or Tyrant. Or the new HBO series The Leftovers (directed by the always turgid Peter Berg), which is more cheap Christian wet dreams about the Rapture. This is an expensive show, well photographed I have to say, but still lacking in that sensitivity to place. The entire project, from performances to photography to writing feels shallow and arid somehow. The best directors have an elusive mise en scene, a difficult to pin down quality, found in each frame, that gives them that ineffable quality of depth. The Leftovers feels familiar and unrealistic at the same time.

Pop culture, the VICE writers, those at all the Murdoch run sites and papers, and Murdoch imitators, have become the sort of intellectual tempworker gatekeepers to defining what is hip and successful. None of these writers are in any way writing criticism. They are reviewing. With a lot of ‘tude. The Google search engine seems to be favoring a lot more of this junk lately, but that might just be my perception of things. Some new pop culture is better than others, AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire is the origin story of Microsoft, and its beautifully photographed (with the suburban nights looking a lot like Rut Blees Luxemburg) and the writing is surprisingly indirect and elliptical. I doubt it will get good “reviews”. The prestige cable product today is less and less about writing and narrative. It is more and more about concept. The overall concept of a project which means, really, is it marketable? But beyond that, Halt and Catch Fire is undoubtedly too oblique. It doesn’t pander to the intended 20%, educated and white, audience. Its criticizing them, in fact. Subtle criticism, to be sure… but the success of a show like Breaking Bad was due to knowing how to flatter the audience. In a sense the network and cable prestige shows today are all origin stories; but the origin in question is the audience. This ever less educated, or ever more badly educated, twenty perecent want their entertainments to function a bit like Tarot readings, or astrology charts. This is who you are and this is where you came from and why. Breaking Bad did that, Mad Men did that. The half decade earlier incarnations were more about a kind of revisionism of movie history. The Sopranos was, finally, about the history of gangster movies.

Mario Sironi

Mario Sironi


One of the ads for the final season of Mad Men read “Before feminism, there was Peggy”. This is the perfect example of the new origin fable. Radical feminism was only Peggy, trying to get promoted. And presto, the entire material history of feminist thought is reduced to a secondary character on an AMC series.

So, the filmic creation of place is, as I said at the very top, a complex of factors. But the reasons for its disappearance are growing, and there is something disturbing in the white baby boomer hipster University educated class now, in the U.S. and U.K anyway, in this visible loss of intellectual agency.

“All the ingenious devices of the amusement industry reproduce over and over again the banal life scenes that are deceptive nevertheless, because the technical exactness of the reproduction veils the falsification of the ideological content or the arbitrariness of the introduction of such content…Thought that does not serve the interests of any established group or is not pertinent to the business of any industry has no place, is considered vain or superflous.”
Max Horkheimer

Philipp Lohofener, photography.

Philipp Lohofener, photography.


The 21st century idea of individuality is now the crypto-conformist, a member of countless transitory groupings, many economic but many more the product of pop psychology, which is to say the manipulations of marketing, of medical or biological designation, created by a mental health mega-industry. This bourgeois individual is constantly fine tuning his persona in response to mass culture (which includes politics). The rise of the city, post industrial revolution gave birth to the early versions of the new conforming individual. And the idea of place, which had for a couple centuries, been linked to a certain kind of denial of immediate gratification in the interests of long term stability for family and group, provided a defining idea of a personal future. But this imagined future has gradually faded and in its place is the ‘dead now’. The imprint of instrumental logic has helped narrow the imagination. This is what alienation really is.

Radiator, Wittgenstein House, Vienna, 1926.

Radiator, Wittgenstein House, Vienna, 1926.

“Not to find one’s way around a city does not mean much. But to lose one’s way in a city, as one loses one’s way in a forest, requires some schooling. Street names must speak to the urban wanderer like the snapping of dry twigs, and little streets in the heart of the city must reflect the times of day, for him, as clearly as a mountain valley. This art I acquired rather late in life; it fulfilled a dream, of which the first traces were labyrinths on the blotting papers in my school notebooks”
Walter Benjamin

That’s a famous quote of Benjamin’s, and it touches on the issues of space, and of place both, and of just how deeply and effectively the state and its propaganda (and mass culture following that lead) have colonized consciousness. The current culture industry products all operate within a deceptively constrained model of reality and behavior. And one that is consistent with the interests of global capital and of control. Universities and even high schools, arts institutions, all cultural bureaucracies operate under increasingly homogenized models of thought. Every official announcement of diversity when examined closely is actually doing the opposite, it is further homogenizing thought and values. Horkheimer wrote “The patterns of thought and action that people accept ready-made from the agencies of mass culture act in their turn to influence mass culture as though they were the ideas of the people themselves.” Nobody is allowed to get lost anymore. Getting lost is the final crime.

The Shallow Deep

Tony Scherman

Tony Scherman

“Concrete structures with walls designed to be rendered white make bad ruins…”
Nikolaus Pevsner
Architectural Review, 1959

“It was the first post-humanist Biennale,” said Aaron Betsky, curator of the 2008 Venice Architecture Biennale, and went on: “If you follow the definition of modernism it is the production of completely rationalised states. Rem shows the elevator, the staircases, everything that moves you around. It creates completely reproducible and optimised space that is the same all over the world. What are eliminated, as Rem said, are not only the architects but also people. If that is where we are, and if that is what we have to build on, it is for me rather frightening but also revealing. How do we build then? And how do we go from there?” “The first thing to think about for the future is to kill the baby boomers. It is to kill David Lynch and his generation of permanent plagiarism to produce their own shamanism value. We just have to stop. Baby Boomers, it‘s time for you to die. You are useless now”, suggested François Roche.”
Uncube Magazine
June 2014

“The terror of the ‘evil eye’ is present in all societies in which a propensity for collective violence continues to ferment, and is manifest as an apparently rational fear of the indiscreet observer, of the prying or penetrating gaze…”
Rene Girard

Mark Wigley has written very cogently about role of ‘white’ in 20th century fashion and architecture. He makes the point that white is always a layer. What this suggests is that the presentation of revealing is not really revealing anything more than a different layer. But it is ‘read’ as naked, unclothed. I’d suggest this is consistent with how a lot of manufactured narrative and corporate cultural product present themselves. The kitsch model for *depth* is usually imagined as undressing, down to your undergarments, and finally, the core naked body. The core body is synonymous with truth, and more, with fact. One reading of 20th century architecture sees the idea of transparency as the driving motif, and clearly transparency has become a metaphor for political honesty over the last forty years. Again, however, the problem is twofold. One, nothing is ever completely transparent, and two, transparency as a spatial model for reading truth and fact, is highly problematic. This excavation idea, an architectural dig, to *unearth* the long forgotten or hidden wisdom brings with it several unfortunate colonial associations. But more than that, such images and metaphors raise questions about how to define the secondary terms involved.

If one thinks of painting, and notions of depth, the spatial model is diluted some. Depth becomes shorthand for complexity, or even for technique. But, its still there. The idea of unlocking something hidden, or captured. Again, there are curious and slightly disturbing echoes at work. In theatre, say, a narrative may have complexity, in theme, in form, and in a sense the idea of depth is mediated further. In film, depth has increasingly, I think, been attributed to work that is manifestly shallow. Or focused on surface gloss. The recent Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer director) is a film that wants to be read as having depth. It parades an entire shopping list of pseudo arty ‘affects’. Pure black cyclorama, pure white cyclorama, and an odd computer noise soundtrack. ‘Verite’ elements, and the frisson of shooting in working class Glasgow. I only mention this film (Armond White has effectively described it already (here: http://www.out.com/entertainment/armond-white/2014/04/17/scarlett-johansson-exterminating-alien-glazer-under-skin-promotes-sexphobia ) because it serves as a model for the artist’s shallow interpretation of the idea of ‘depth’, so to speak. The shallow deep. Now this is a film with an 86% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. What does that say?

Trine Sondergaard, photography.

Trine Sondergaard, photography.

Now, the shedding of clothes, in an effort to get deeper, and closer to the truth, also suggests hygiene. The naked body is de facto a clean body. One might ask why? Well, in one way, the naked, the unhidden, the unclothed, is somehow stripped of representation. But there are several contradictory readings here. Whitewashing something suggests obscuring the truth, suggests cleansing the bad deeds of someone or something. It tacitly implies the putting on of a layer. Mark Wigley points out here that the history of clothing contained paradoxical readings of “white”. He wrote; “The linen garments that were once hidden beneath layers of clothing slowly came to the surface to represent the condition of the body that they no longer even touch.”

It would be interesting to examine the history of bathing, in relation to images of cleanliness. Wigley quotes Georges Vigarello, who says the history of cleanliness “consists in the last analysis, of one dominant theme: the establishment in western society, of a self sufficient physical sphere, its enlargement, and the reinforcement of its frontiers, to the point of excluding the gaze of others.”

What is crucial here is that for Le Corbusier, and other architects of the early 20th century, the building was tacitly equated with a body. The body of the building. This is partly Wigley’s point, that this new white surface liberates the eye. It also creates a new sense of space. It is interesting to follow the use of whitewash from earliest times and its disappearance following industrialization. For Corbusier, there was a primal truth in the crushed stones, diluted with water, and made into lime wash. It was a sign of something civilizing. But I want to go back at this point to the idea of depth, again. For even here, with the use of white, there is nothing neutral or passive. White cleans, purifies, or stamps with moral rightness. The body is now being eliminated in post modern architecture. Patrick Schumacher (director of Hadid’s firm) said architecture is now a form of communication. This is a mystification of what building is, for it hyposthesizes a world of immaterial absoluteness, in which everyone thinks they are outside, looking in, when in fact the opposite is true. Francois Roche suggested an image of goldfish staring out of their glass bowl.

Monroe County Courthouse, Rochester NY, Jim Dow, photography.

Monroe County Courthouse, Rochester NY, Jim Dow, photography.


Le Corbusier saw his new architecture as the emergence of the essential. That the discarding of decoration ends with the purity of the outline and proportion of the structure (i.e. the truth). Now Le Corbusier also used a telling example, the ballerina in a white dress, which he associates with the sleek white lines of an ocean liner. Here we have theatrical space coming to the fore. Ocean liner as symbolic theatre stage. Now Adorno suggested the question of depth was related to essence and appearance. For Adorno, only the positivists rejected this question. Psychoanalysis has as its default setting, a distinction between essence and appearance. We dont know why we do what we do, often, but the material historical world has shaped much of this, and in a sense then, what we do is the appearance of those shaping forces. Forces that can be looked at as essences. This is just the form of thought that philosophy has followed. Hegel used the term “empty depth”. And I think in a sense, this is the state of much post modern thinking. For there is a positivist inclination in certain strands of post modernism (especially in the visual arts). There is also the other variety of corrupted depth (the anti anti-imperialists for example) that invariably results in various kinds of tautology.

But back to the idea of white and Le Corbusier’s assault on the idea of decoration and ornament. One point worth looking at here is that Le Corbusier (as Wigley points out) saw his polemical theories as a corrective against fashion (in women’s clothes). And this was typified by Art Nouveau. I suspect it was a reaction to a certain fad of Art Nouveau which had engendered a lot of amateur decorators. And there was a certain suffocating quality to the worst of that movement. So there is a certain male ethos in play with the white cleansing. How far to take this observation, I’m not sure. But it is worth seeing one stage beyond (deeper) past architectural design as that of engineering, and that was experienced as exclusively male. Now fashion is also, clearly, a mediating force for thought, and expression. It is anxiety producing. Wigley points out that fashion has come to penetrate all aspects of architectural practice; from “…architects appearing in advertisements for clothing designers and stores, the featuring of architects and buildings in fashion magazines, fashion supplements in architectural magazines, …the role of architecture in fashion shows, the actual *look* of the architects…the ongoing transformation of the language of architects and critics,…”. Now, Wigley adds (he wrote this in 1995) that the conservatism of the discipline is its complicity with the economic model in play, as is fashion, especially as expressed in haute couture, and the elite ownership class that participates in any mobilizing of activity. I suspect that since 95, the role of Hollywood has actually increased, and the power of agents and PR firms to embed celebrities from all fields (sports, films, politics etc) into fashion/architecture has increased threefold. Wigley correctly argues that the entire idea of postmodernity is based on “interior values displaced onto seemingly ephemeral exterior surfaces.” And “the fetishistic obsession with surface at the expense of (what was once understood as) a concern for material and economic structure.”

Justin Allen

Justin Allen


I remember when video artists started working with installations in galleries. And it seemed curious to me at the time, since I was working in theatre, that this affect-less blank presentation of self was de rigueur. If *modern* theatre started back with Von Kleist, to Buchner, to Beckett, there was always running throughout an incorporation of music hall comedia, marionette theatre, and clown shows. And of vaudeville. The gallery installations eschewed this history, the better to distance themselves from ‘performance’ per se, but also from the idea of a theatrical artifice at all. There was a sort of weird sexual and emotional cleansing going on. Now, there was also a sharing of something worth examining in both the video and installation artists that came up in the 80s, with those architects who came to prominence in the 80s as post modernists, and to clock the influence of the culture industry and fashion in all this, and then to compare and contrast with the thread of modern theatre, say, from Beckett and Genet to Pinter and Grotowski and Peter Brook. That lineage in theatre has suffered a slow down since the early 70s I think. So, who has come later…the answer would be the rise of Robert Wilson, and performance art, monologue-ists, and the late work of playwrights who started in the mid 70s. Wilson is to theatre what Tschumi and Koolhaas are to architecture. The removal of the human.
Torten Estate today., Dessau, Bauhaus plan and design, 1928

Torten Estate today, Dessau, Bauhaus plan and design, 1928


So, there is a question here, and it has to do with control, and with authority. And both have to do with sexuality. The attacks on fashion, from Loos to Le Corbusier, and certainly to Sigfried Giedion, were partly driven by an insecurity about the encroachment of the feminine. Fashion, and more, decoration, was ‘feminine’. And the white walls that cleansed the eye, also restored masculine order. In fashion itself there was a fear of fecundity and the disorder of sexuality and reproduction. In one sense, the art of many installation and concept artists shifted toward fashion, to elitism, while another branch turned political and propagandistic, and throughout all of this was a new economic interaction with culture. Now there was also, in the best of video installations a necessary purification of “entertainment” and kitsch in mainstream theatre. And throughout art criticism came a deepening fear of this question of ‘essence and appearance’. Julian Stallanbras, as an example, erstwhile leftist art critic, can write of “Freudian and Lacanian models, widely discredited in other fields”. What might that mean? I mean seriously, to be able to write that sentence suggests the performance of one’s own analysis in public. But the point is, there is both a gendered and a sexual set of readings in play. And the flight from Freud dovetailed with the fear of the messy and anarchic sexuality of the music hall, and proletarian folk art forms. There was always a certain narrative investigation of scatology and sexuality, from Rabelais to Pasolini to Genet, that was ‘not’ about purification. It was am embrace of an earthy sensuality. The flip side ran away from the social in the interests of meditative reflection, and satori of some variety. But what happened, within more mainstream currents of artistic expression, during the 1980s, and onward through today, was the inscribing of the fashion industry on the selling of and branding of culture. As Hollywood sunk further down into a Pentagon funded orgy of violence, the flip side of the same coin was the funding of fashion’s style codes and presentation by the same people, really, who make money from Pentagon generated conflicts. Fashion week, and Vogue and the globalized industry of clothing (mostly) women, can be seen to suggest suspended adolescence, and an emaciated child or toy on which one hangs garments. The spectacle of Fashion Week, whether Milan or New York or Paris, is half parody of a slave market, and half coronation pageant. It is the re-enacting of class subjugations and class hierarchies.
Turning Torso Tower,  Malmo, Sweden. Santiago Calatrava, architect. 2005

Turning Torso Tower, Malmo, Sweden. Santiago Calatrava, architect. 2005


The appearance of clothing, as haute couture, is really the unconscious rejection of fertility and Dionysian mysteries. The architectural unconscious, has to have something to reveal, even if only nothing– or emptiness. Meaning, there has to be a mystery within or off stage, or out of frame. I think there is a kind of conflating of principles at work in how a lot of Le Corbusier, and even Gropius’ architecture is read. There are perspectives in which the eye is led around corners, things wrap instead of stopping. The white wall in Le Corbusier is (to quote Wigley again) a moral code, not a fashion statement. Gropius too, had Uptopian dreams. The shift that took place in sensibility from around 1980, was an adjustment to the status quo, to power and hegemony. There was none of the Utopian thinking of Gropius or Loos, or Le Corbusier.
Anselm Reyle

Anselm Reyle


This entire discussion of white in architecture, however, speaks to the emphasis on the optical. And perhaps this takes us back to essence and appearance again, and the discussion of depth. The digging, the excavating, to unearth the treasure. The treasure map has retained amazing durability as a trope in narrative, and for obvious reasons. Depth implies a center, or a bottom. But depth before all else suggests a history. The constant *present* of today’s architectural white is the result of white wall as exterminator; the destroyer of history (as a threat) and the reflective gloss that will tend to reflect back the star architects brand. Depth also implies dreams. But there has been a sort of secondary war on the oneric in art. Dreams need colonizing and occupation. They need to be disciplined. It is interesting to note Walter Benjamin’s distrust of Le Corbusier’s notions of transparency. Also as Bataille wrote: “The storytellers have not imagined Sleeping Beauty would be awakened covered by a thick layer of dust…”. The denial of depth is, finally, a refusal to see the logic of domination at work. The migration of attention to the surface of things serves to help people turn away from the infiltration of their daily lives by surveillance, data gathering, and CCTV. You cannot dream properly under surveillance. This was the paranoia of writers like Philip K.Dick, and it echoes the Hindu myths of ‘the dream dreaming us’. Depth is always linked with mimesis. If artworks, including in a specialized sense architecture, oscillate between reification and reconciliation, and buildings are (per Adorno) crystallizations of history, this is then modified in the post modern period. For the post modern is always mimicking the totalitarian strategies of supervision and containment. The stopping of mimesis. It is Post Modern architecture (and most of what is called post modern art of any kind) that has incorporated the commodity form, and commodity material in a new way, in the acceptance of and fascination with kitsch, and through this an expression of space, imagined, or at least marketed, as global.

“Of all the arts, architecture is the closest constitutively to the economic, with which, in the form of commissions and land values, it has a virtually unmediated relationship. It will therefore not be surprising to find the extraordinary flowering of the new postmodern architecture grounded in the patronage of multinational business, whose expansion and development is strictly contemporaneous with it. Later I will suggest that these two new phenomena have an even deeper dialectical interrelationship than the simple one-to-one financing of this or that individual project. Yet this is the point at which I must remind the reader of the obvious; namely, that this whole global, yet American, postmodern culture is the internal and superstructural expression of a whole new wave of American military and economic domination throughout the world: in this sense, as throughout class history, the underside of culture is blood, torture, death, and terror.”
Fredric Jameson

Dominique Gonzalez Foerster

Dominique Gonzalez Foerster

What Lacan called “the subject supposed to know” is really just that impossible abstract idea of totality that is the by-product of multinational capital, and instrumental thinking. What Jameson calls cognitive mapping today is intimately bound up with the new mega cities of the world, both literally and in the imagination. The psychic trauma of the early cartographic era is realized anew in deterritorialized labor, and the individual’s shrinking sense of identity in a world without place.

“Panopticity is an impossibility, and pyrrhic attempts to attain it inevitably inflict disappearances and injustice…the messiness of the everyday disorders, both theoretically and experientially…and when the order in question is a would-be panoptic one, imposed from on high for the purpose of instrumental control and even gross exploitation, is… disordering a bad thing?”
Steven Flusty

The neo liberal globalization agenda flourishes in what Foucault called ‘impossible space’. The Euro centric tendency toward a Panoptic point of view, from on high, is pronounced in all discourse, and it is embedded in how we interact with space. How we articulate and describe it, and how we experience it. I am often engaged about my tangents, and I think its important to make clear that my tagents, my digressions, are both intentional, and accidental, in a sense. Intentional because one of the coercive tendencies of instrumental thinking is the policing of and enforcing of a narrowness of topic. To keep topics and disciplines from mixing, much like cities keep classes from mixing.

Bruce Jackson, photography. Cummins Unit, Arkansas Prison, 1975

Bruce Jackson, photography. Cummins Unit, Arkansas Prison, 1975


All this brings me back to a kind of lost sense of space. In Hesiod, the implication is that creation takes place in a yawning gulf, where ‘nothing’ is…yet. Modification is about to take place. Chaos is not disorder, but emerging order (as Edward Casey put it). By Genesis, the emphasis is on separation. Earth from sky, or sea from sky. Followed by Night from Day. So, these early creation stories; Hindu, or Jain, or Zoroastrian, or Navajo, all express something of a tension, that between Night Sky, and Earth. The primordial space is always a precondition for genesis. Mirroring and rivalry. The point is, for the purposes of this posting, that a narrative for creation myths finds that narrative taking place in space. In the Mayan Popol Vuh, there is a description of calm water, alone, and “nothing existed”. Except clearly something did, but that doesn’t matter, for *nothing* has to be there, and such acceptance of contradiction seems worth contemplating. The theatre, the stage, is always an echo of these primordial spaces of genesis. The narrative modification, like the spatial modification, implies people. Or a person, anyway. Enter stage left.

This is an important aesthetic consideration. For today, culture is mediated by a globalized Capital and proprietor class whose goal is the disciplining of the masses, the domination of resources and the maximizing of profit for corporations and international financial institutions. And memory of space, those archaic trace elements (Emory School of Medicine, in Atlanta, has done research on rat DNA and the inheriting of phobias…but I digress) that I suspect are part of all creative expression, are a de-facto target of a system devoted to profit. The divisions in society, caused by this desire for accumulation and control by the investor class, is now the essential material used in how society reproduces itself. So, the ways in which one ‘sees’ (or doesn’t) the world one moves through is crucial as a precondition for changing it. And the way we are encouraged to ‘see’ it is as a display case, or a prison yard, or through bureaucratic yellow lines on the floors of our imagination.

Paul Seawright, photography.

Paul Seawright, photography.

This question of depth is significant, for the mediation of daily life goes on unnoticed. Fifty years ago Adorno wrote about leisure time, and the selling of pseudo activities, hobbies, DIY projects, etc. That they mimicked industrial production and how recreational sports activities prepared the participant for the physical abuses of his or her job. Today much of this has transferred to the psychological realm, but still, there is something disturbing about the bourgeois health club, climbing walls, treadmills and the always attendant merchandising of these activities. The false mountain wall. Disneyland. Now, work outs have doubled aspects because, obviously, exercise is important and even perhaps profoundly crucial, but the narrowing of the experience to a Disneyworld environment complete with authoritarian personal trainers, suggests a co-opting is taking place. The personal trainer is like the chef in high end restaurants, watching the halibut en croute get just the right shade of brown. But again, space is being mediated. As society witholds more of actual nature from people, corporations build faux nature for people to purchase.

Sthala Sayana Perumal Temple. Mahabalipuram, Tamal Nad, India.

Sthala Sayana Perumal Temple. Mahabalipuram, Tamal Nad, India.


The limitlessness of open nature is a primordial desire. The security and warmth of certain interiors, in buildings or even nature, are also primordial desires. Today both are mediated. It was Derrida, actually, whose critique of institutional space was suggestive of philosophical categories; spaces of telos and origin. Of course, Derrida’s compromised project with Tschumi and Eisenman probably was to be anticipated. And then the unintended reactionary idea of architecture as an *event*. The deconstructivists were continuing the project of social ordering under guise of new imaginary person doing imaginary things. To quote Tschumi: “a new urban type results, based not on the static composition of building mass and urban axes but on the condition of the momentary and the constantly moving”. When Tschumi won the Parc de la Villete competition in 1983, the brief was to transform the former slaughterhouse and meat packing area, a hundred and thirty some acres, into a public park (for the 21st century, it was to be modern, progressive, and attractive to tourists…this was Mitterand’s Paris). The result is strangely disquieting and vaguely hostile. What Tschumi claimed, a park defined by people, open to interpretation, was in fact a reiteration of social oppression and the anxieties of urban life. Leave the city, come to the park, and experience the city again. Promise freedom but deliver the opposite. This is work (like Hadid and Koolhaas, and more than few others) that renounces human scale. The human is removed from the *event*. When Bachelard once analyed houses and interior space from a perspective of reassurance and the desires of a return to the womb, has under post modern architects become an annihilating dissociative antagonist. The unspoken (or rarely spoken) subtext here is business friendly. *Event* means shopping and business; arcades and places to eat, and t shirt stalls or cineplexes. It means property; buisness, is the center of the architecture, and the human has no ‘place’, and is passing through, stopping only to shop. The treasure map now leads to GAP.

http://www.dezeen.com/2009/03/11/yakisugi-house-by-terunobu-fujimori/
The above link is an article on Terunobu Fujimori, an ecclectic sort of outsider architect. Its a useful talking point because Fujimori is asking an entirely different set of questions, and employing a different visual grammar. Lacaton and Vassal’s social housing project in Mulhouse France is another kind of grammar, pragmatic, economical, and human scale. There are dozens of others that counter the grotesque mega-commissions that Norman Foster has inflicted on London, or OMA, or James Stirling or Michael Graves et al.

Nicolai Howalt

Nicolai Howalt


I started this with some thoughts on the evolution of architectural ideas following on Le Corbusier. And on space, and haute couture. There are parallels in visual arts, which I wanted to just add to. If we live in a landscape of *events*, of kinetic shopping grids, then it makes sense some of the best visual artists today are recuperating the sense of place, and demanding the optical be de-programmed. Artist as anti-Scientology deprogrammer. The cult of starchitect has fallen in line perfectly with economic demands of globalization. I remember being in south India, and wandering into a temple in Mahabalipuram. Its a large temple, and was cool inside and in the courtyard. I stayed in Mahabalipuram for a couple of weeks and probably went to the temple every day, bought incense and chatted with people. There were never not dozens, several dozens of people in there at any given time but it never felt crowded. India, in the big cities always feels crowded. But this is a market town, about fifteen thousand people (this was 1992). I mention this because the spaces were human, there was a refreshing darkness inside, and one understood something of that for which temple life was intended. ‘Sadhus’ sat against walls, old and crippled beggars were there, and people fed them. There are the famous rock cave temples in that town, too, and today I’m told a Radisson resort has been built just outside the town, sadly. These ancient buildings invited, and situated one, allowed one to turn inward, and there were no perspectives in which one looked down.
Trine Sondergaard, photography.

Trine Sondergaard, photography.

I posted two photos of Trine Sondegaard’s series “Dying Birds”. They are photos of birds being hunted, most at the moment of being shot. None of them are close up. All we have are imprecise blurred black specks against a white sky or light grey sky. They are a haunting photographic essay that perhaps says as much about a culture inured to killing as any example of which I can think.

American Mausoleum

Per Bak Jensen, photography.

Per Bak Jensen, photography.

“‘Yugen’ as a concept refers to mystery and depth. ‘Yu’ means dimness, shadow filled, and ‘gen’ means darkness. It comes from a Chinese term ‘you xuan’ which meant something too deep either to comprehend or even to see.”
Donald Richie
A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
Philip K. Dick

“The soberest conclusion that we could make about what has actually been taking place on the planet about three billion years is that it is being turned into a vast pit of fertilizer. But the sun distracts our attention, always baking the blood dry, making things grow over it, and with its warmth giving the hope that comes with the organism’s comfort and expansiveness.”
Ernest Becker

With the rise of Capitalism, the Industrial Revolution, and the Imperialist project that accompanied this, western consciousness took stark turns away from that of the rest of the world, and from its own earlier history. Aesthetically this is most obvious in architecture, or at least the interiors of homes.

Beatriz Colomina has an essay; The Split Wall, Domestic Voyeurism, in which she examines the vastly underappreciated Adolf Loos and his interiors, but also the idea of the home as another expression of this new basic point of view of control. In Loos, the window was always opaque, or situated so furniture, such as a couch, was situated beneath it. The window was to let in light, not to look out. The eye is turned inward in Loos, and really in most Bauhaus interiors as well.

Moholy-Nagy home, Bauhaus, Dessau.

Moholy-Nagy home, Bauhaus, Dessau.

The home is a theatrical space. Benjamin, in describing 19th century interiors had used this metaphor, but as Colomina observes, now the theatre was ‘inside’ the house. The drama took place within the home. There was the encroachment of an idea of control. The entrance to any room is apriori observed. The subject to be controlled, in a sense, is being manufactured now by the internal architecture of the home, the owned home. The drama must be repeated. For the masses, the vast proletariat, the dwelling one sleeps in is barely a home at all. So, what is the drama being enacted in the home of the bourgeoisie?

In a sense, it is the detective novel. It is the re-enacting of crime. It is the originary guilt story. But part of the mystery is the unseen story of domination. The impossibility of escape. Nature was not the primary enemy, but the creeping powers of control by the state. Fascism, in a sense, had begun to the enter the dreams of mankind.

Colomina makes an interesting observation, though one I might contest partly. She writes; “In Loos’ interiors, one is given the impression someone is about to enter, in LeCorbusier’s the impression is that somebody was just there.” So the drama, the theatre narrative has shifted. I think this is true, but I would view it somewhat differently. The detective, the viewer of the interior is now chasing someone, as Colomina observes, but I see this as less as a detective searching for clues as I see the site of societal control exercising security checks. The detective is not exactly a detective. Now Le Corbusier I think is often misread, and I’m not sure that his demand for transparency was driven by what critics usually ascribe to him. For Corbusier the home was the seat of a movie, not a novel.

John Divola

John Divola


The drama is always unsettling, which is partly the missing ingredient here. But Colomina is correct when she points out the inhabitant is more actor now, more film actor. But we are always actors, as Shakespeare well knew, the only change was the kind of play, and the evolution into film. I wonder if, in one way, the work of certain architects today does not become TV more than film. The interior of houses reflect the set up of a 3 camera sit-com. Desi Arnez as architect of domestic dwelling. The rise of the tract home post WW2 was a televised dwelling. It was an ideological architecture of banality, and of propaganda, and it was gendered as well. The house with a garage for the car was calibrated for a world of pre-ordained destinations. If the windows framed an outside world, it was as a TV screen. Additionally there were sliding glass doors, and other prefabrication methods, which seemed to go along with the prefabricated neighbourhoods of post WW2 America. The home was the site of a half hour sit-com, and work space was the site of drama. The office and factory became the defining space for psychological narratives of patriarchy, and the home was a gendered environment that, in a way, had erased, or tried to erase, narrative. This is the Disneyfication of American dreaming. The rise of a kitsch sense of space in which increasingly trivial mental stories are played out. Never mind these are not the actual stories of daily life. Never mind that control was inscribed on all private spaces, as well as public space. The glass doors, the picture windows, implied a view that didn’t really exist.
Deception, 1946, Irving Rapper dr. Anton Grot set design.

Deception, 1946, Irving Rapper dr. Anton Grot set design.

One of the problems in how kitsch culture industry product trivializes narrative and image is domesticating comparisons. To compare, for example, a drone strike in Yeman to a scene out of Independence Day, or Falling Skies, is to render it as just another entertainment. This occurs in intersectional discourse, too, of course. Radical political analysis is sold alongside, on the same shelf, as interviews with Pussy Riot. The comparisons create, or recreate, a sense of family, removing family from critique, at least momentarily, and relational connections of some sort, certainly gender relations are reproduced via the space discourse about these relations. Still, something else is worth noting in how private spaces have become self surveilling security screens. In a good deal of noir film from the 1940s, late 1940s, there is class awareness and distinction given to interior spaces. The rich live in shadow ridden mausoleums, cold, indifferent, and callus. The rich, the powerful, are depicted with the same visual grammar as is totalitarian government space. Even if on the ground floor, the rich look ‘down’ upon the outside world. The narrative mystery in film noir invariably includes class tensions. Mildred Pierce, Gun Crazy, Out of the Past, Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, and the list could go on and on and on. The depiction of interiors reflected a psychoanalytic perspective on sexuality and power, and on personal interior life shaped by guilt and shame and also by a fatalism.
Out of the Past, 1947, Jacques Tourneur dr.

Out of the Past, 1947, Jacques Tourneur dr.

If a character looks out a window, he or she is looking at or for something. Hitchcock also saw windows to look through and see the world somehow. In reality, there is often very little to look at through one’s front window. In narrative, in film, there is an allegorical elsewhere outside. Because in narrative and film (and theatre) the story is always (in intention) an allegory. There is always an allegorical register and a material register. Artworks question the material, to give birth to the allegorical.

The spaces of domestic life in the houses of the West are produced less by architects than by the entire culture industry system of image control. Architects are responding to the same style codes as the people living in the houses. Still, class intersects here. The corporate building industry responded a bit differently than people buying, or certainly renting the post war house. The archaic traces of the monastery one feels in Loos or Bauhaus work is gone by WW2. Suddenly decoration became a defining aspect of class, and of ideology. But there is something else that can be found in narrative, and that is the idea of memory. And memory is linked to our mimetic re-narrating of space. This is what theatre is, and what film is not.

When remarking on the idea of transparancy in architecture, Benjamin said; “Discretion concerning one’s own existence, once an aristocratic virtue, has become more and more an affair of petit bourgeois parvenues.”What was the modern middle class owning exactly when it bought a house? Like the American suburbs in which the working poor move, by economic necessity, there is no community memory and hence the tendency to create faux memories to fill in the empty spaces. The role of transparency, I think, has been talked about in the wrong way. Nothing is really transparent for one thing. Architectural transparency inscribes the opaque, and reflectivity. The post modern urban landscape is not one of just fear and control, but also one of anxiety. The shiny facade reflects back your own image. One is stalking oneself. One may fear the police and CCTV, but the tensions of amorphism and the sense of there being only surface, have created urban spaces that kill off mimetic reading. They are anxious space. The interiors of apartments and houses are narrated by owners or renters along the lines of shopping. I got this last year, and oh, over there is the couch we bought on sale in Delaware, etc.Never has so much useless non essential junk filled up living space.

Kirk Lybecker

Kirk Lybecker


The ideological aspects of architectural transparency immediately bring to mind Freud, and Lacan both. The mirroring effect and our estrangement from ourselves. The inside becomes the outside, and vice versa, according to Freud on the Uncanny, and space then, in these landscapes of anxiety and alienation, transform into depthless surface barriers to inner life. And this in turn brings us back to Adorno on depth. It also touches upon control in another way. Leisure time was accompanied by the buying of recreational commodities. The post war American house is consumed with ‘stuff’. The very idea of clutter, I think, must be American. The tendency to accumulation of junk is a kind of covering over of uncertainty.

“…the sphere of immediacy that we are all concerned with in the first instance, and which we are accordingly tempted to regard as a matter of absolute certainty, is actually the realm of the mediated, the derived, and the merely apparent, and hence of uncertainty.”
Adorno

But this is a necessary illusion in a sense, as Adorno points out, that society produces the contents of our minds, while at the same time ensuring we are blind to the fact of mediation. The post industrial hyper branded landscape is always in the process of covering up, and often covers up by pretending to lay bare.

It is this false simplicity, which in architecture is often brutalist or even minimalist, seems by its nature to parenthesize ‘effects’, in an effort to communicate its own message. This is a culture of ‘effects’, a hallmark of advertising, and the facades of many post modern buildings are like the faces of poorly trained mimes, forever pretending to a generic ‘idea’ of neutrality, but in fact are presenting something closer to the un-rented billboard, a palimpsest of earlier manipulative messages, now forgotten or interrupted.

Sharon Lockhart, photography.

Sharon Lockhart, photography.


It is important to remember, given the state of new age pop psychology, that to simply retreat from the world does not equate to depth, or a deepest knowledge of the foundations of the universe. Adorno repeated this several times in his notes for his lectures on Negative Dialectics. Only by intellectual and aesthetic opposition to the ‘sheer power of the existing state of affairs’ that erect the ‘facades that resist the incursions of our minds’ can we provide a non ideological meaning to our ideas. Philosophy is the search for the right expression (Hegel). And so, in aesthetics, is to be found the expressions of thought that extend beyond what we can systematically grasp. But rigour and expression are not mutually exclusive. No philosopher is not also a great writer. So it is in art. No convincing artwork is without rigour and there is no rigour without, first, the material world. The rigour of expression, in language and in image is the ground zero of mimesis. There are dangers in rigour, too. There is a lurking authoritarian dimension to rigour that is akin to discipline.
Leave it To Beaver, CBS TV, 1957-1963

Leave it To Beaver, CBS TV, 1957-1963


So, to return to the modern house, and today’s fortress city, and to the layers of commodified kitsch bric a brac that occlude an engagement with space, the untruth of surface is part of a psychological fortress. Post WW2 saw a boom in planned suburban communities. There was the representation on TV, in film, in magazines, of younger white couples buying their own (detached stand alone) pre-fab tract homes as part of a manufactured myth of the American dream. It was Norman Rockwell-like, and was reinforced with Boy Scout troops, PTA meetings, and the assorted new necessities of middle class life (lawnmowers, dish washers, etc). These new commodity fixations existed in an architecture of planned banality. But of a specific sort; the sliding glass doors, the picture window, the back yard, and the loss of attics and basements, replaced with the auto-pegged garage. There was a horizontal emphasis. There was also a slightly schizophrenic dimension to notions of private and public. There is a lot written about the rise of plate glass and the intentional blurring of inside and outside. While this may have been the intention, it was, I suspect, subsumed by several other factors. One was the racial red-lining that kept the ‘burbs white. But not just white, for the secondary aim of these communities was to cleanse these new communities of urban dirt, both real, psychological, and ideological. No communists in suburbia (was part of the idea). No crude immigrant dialects, no moral lassitude, no class antagonism. The rise of TV played no small part in this, and the screen as center of private family life became a fixed paradigm. The representation of immigrant city life rarely included TVs, but in the images of suburbia everyone had TVs. And they all had cars. And there was a defined role assigned to each gender. But especially for women. And the culture industry focused enormous energy on creating iconic ‘housewives’ as characters, as well as creating daytime shows targeting female audiences (Queen for a Day, etc). And narrative began to focus on certain structural elements; the episodic quality was usually also folksy in tone, the stuff one chatted about over the back yard fence. Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, Burns & Allen, etc etc. There were certainly contradictions in all this, for I Love Lucy featured a Cuban musician in Desi Arnez, and there was no shortage of Jewish actors, many veterans of vaudeville. But the germane point here is the intentional shaping of narrative to reinforce certain values. The values of patriotism, family, wholesome recreations (this was the time of the selling of the idea of vacation and films relfected it), and marriage. The values that increasingly were, noticeably so, absent in people’s actual daily lives.
Philip Pearlstein

Philip Pearlstein


The rather rapid erosion of pre fab suburbs was one of the first massive contradictions in how life was portrayed by Hollywood. Nobody lived like Father Knows Best. Husbands didn’t wear ties to the dinner table. People drank, cheated on their spouses, and beat their children, children who were living in culturally arid landscapes of almost planned boredom and vacuity. The HUAC hearings, the hysterical drive of government paranoia and the growth of very consciously constructed programs of control for a populace not performing as Ozzie and Harriet did, layered the entire post war decade as one of cognitive dissonance, of white America’s first panic attack. And it was also the decade that gave birth to exponential growth in marketing and advertising. Doris Day and Rock Hudson in Man’s Favorite Sport sort of ecapsulated an idealized white dream, the accumulated signifiers of the earlier decade all wrapped up into one strangely creepy Howard Hawks comedy. Of course there were multiple narrative and marketing lines in all this. The Ozzie and Harriet vision was middle class, at least largely, and others, like Sirk, were commenting on the emotional horror of bourgeois pretension; and this included the Ayn Rand psychotic ideal of callus Darwinian personal superman fascism. Throughout, it is interesting to compare the decades of the second republic in France, in Hausmann’s projects for Paris, and the reinventing of the American suburbs after WW2. A specious comparison for many reasons, except for one point, and that is that the sense of living space, the scale of apartment life, the actual social sensibility of the French builders is antithetical to the coercive distillation of duty to authority, and the psychically divested sense of life in most of planned suburbia. The conformity and repetition. Just compare the French door to the front doors of most mid century American houses. In one, the door is expansive, larger than life size, and possesses something of grandeur, and even a certain sound of warmth. In the other, the door is pinched, and too small for more than one to enter, and yet pitched to evoke nothing so much as an resentful scowl. Architectural neurasthenia. It is here, too, that the role of the automobile enters the discussion. The xenophobic American provincialism one still feels is connected to the constant selling of jingoistic propaganda about foreigners. The car culture fostered, further, a sense of personal isolation. A man and his horse became a man and his Chevy, or Cadillac. Where Hausmann’s wide boulevards allowed for increased height in those neo classical Parisian buildings, and more living space, the wider auto friendly streets of America created more space *between* people. Between people and between classes.
Alexander Apostol photography.

Alexander Apostol photography.


The grid has certainly been written about as a defining characteristic of how urban space is perceived, but I suspect that if one looks today at the DiStijl architects, one is more conscious of the human than the dualistic construct imagined by Rosalind Krauss. My point is that for American builders and city planners, the house was a de facto tomb, and the suburbs a containment encampment. For Lacan (and it precisely here that 2nd generation Lacanians wildly mis read his texts) the schizogrphy was evidence of a disorder, not an imaginary mystical design principle (ala Peter Eisenmen or Coop Himmelblau, or Koolhaas, et al.). The designing of American cities and suburbs has expressed something morbid and psychologically regressive. It has created denuded spaces where only cars can travel, through an open barren terrain, unprotected from sun and rain, and the increase in homeless-hostile design is only, really, an extension of currents already in existence. The drive was from home to market or mall, but really, it was emotionally from checkpoint to checkpoint, and through a no-man’s land. The space, the manufactured space of white america has always felt emotionally inert, frigid and stoic. For this is the real narrative of white america. And you see it in the return of the privileged hipster to the city, to displace again the poor and working poor, minorities and the vulnerable. White flight didnt work out, lets go back to the urban core, which feels increasingly humanized because of the actual life that exists there. The American house, from mid century onward, with some rare exceptions (like Krisel, Frey, Neutra etc) were conformist colorless voids, built on a scale that was experienced as suffocating, and with materials going out to the lowest bidder. My personal memories of childhood, of being very poor and on welfare often was of things not working. Nothing worked. Windows didn’t work, shower heads broke, garden hoses leaked, and floors got mildew. The paint peeled and basements grew fungus. The home as tomb and petri dish. Anthony Vidier points out, the ‘idea’ of home as somehow comforting was actually “At once the refuge of inevitably unfulfulled desire and the potential crypt of living burial, the womb-house offered little solace to daily life”.
Detail, Palace of Music, Barcelona. Lluis DOmenech i Montener

Detail, Palace of Music, Barcelona. Lluis Domenech i Montener architect


This is the haunting of America, in a sense. And it suggests interesting ways to see technology intersecting, going back even to Mary Shelley and Charles Maturin, and onto the computer brain, from automata and marionettes to a model of the human brain as just software of some variety or other. There are dozens of associations one can make vis a vis the house and the human body. The Catalan movement associated with Gaudi, Montenar, and Modernisme Català, or the Glasgow Style, and assorted Jugendstil architects such as Odon Lechner, Karoly Kos, and Gustave Strauven, and within all these threads, some more and some less dialectical, there is a tension that creates that sense of ambiguity to the Industrial Revolution. There was a sensuality that spoke to delirium as well as suffering running throughout. By post WW2, in the U.S., something else had happened. Nothing ever travelled west from the cities of Europe, whether Barcelona, Glasgow, Ghent, or Prague, that wasn’t homogenized somehow when it arrived in the U.S.

A distillation of the same Calvinist punitive mind set that pushed along Manifest Destiny, and participated in the slave trade, was the same psychic structure that would deny darkness ever exists anywhere. The suburban tract home is the very essence of denial.

Finally, the Disney fantasy was not true. Rockewell was not true. The disturbing darkness of Hopper and Ault and Sheeler was far closer to the psychic core of U.S. society.

Walter de Maria

Walter de Maria


And a final note on film:

This last year or two, there have literally been only three films (that I’ve seen, and I see a lot) that I thought deserved mention. One was Blue Caprice, a Dostoyevskian re-telling of the DC sniper story. The criminally neglected second film by Irish husband and wife team Joe Lawlor and Christine Malloy, Mister John, with a brilliant central performance by Aiden Guillen, and now Stranger by the Lake (L’Inconnu du Lac), written and directed by Alain Guiraudie. An eerie mesmerizing study of sexual intoxication, and the fatal implications of today’s addiction to the manufacturing of identity. Critic Michał Oleszczyk wrote:

“Guiraudie’s directorial assurance is stunning: the entire movie is a master class in audiovisual storytelling, as well as an exemplary case of immersing the viewer in an environment.”

The environment is a gay cruising beach at a small French lake. It follows for ten days in summer a small circle of men, one of whom is a killer. It is sexually explicit (very) and there is a great deal of male nudity, but one, in a sense, doesn’t really notice this because there is such an acute and precise sense of character, and in the pared down mystery, which is no mystery at all, really, the subject of the film is a kind of blindness brought on by vanity, and more, by desire. The greatest achievement of this film is the clarity with which sexual lust is presented, and the ways in which sex is fetishized, and linked, for some, to violence. It is a remarkable film. Jonathan Romney, at Film Comment, wrote of Guiraudie and Stranger at the Lake:

“The film, his first to receive a U.S. release, represents a fascinating new development from a very individual figure in French cinema—a professed militant and member of France’s Communist Party, an eclectic cinephile whose influences include Straub-Huillet, Samuel Fuller, and Tintin comics, and a director who, over some 20 years, has created an imaginative universe entirely his own.”

Stranger at the Lake, 2013, Alain Guiraudie dr.

Stranger at the Lake, 2013, Alain Guiraudie dr.

White Blindness & Smiley Faces

Manuel Alvarez Bravo

Manuel Alvarez Bravo

The photo above, from the great Maneul Alvarez Bravo, is one I’ve been looking at a lot this week. I can’t find where it was taken except that, obviously, it was Mexico. It reminds me a bit of Eisenstein’s Que Viva Mexico. And of that famous snapshot of Zapata and the U.S. Council. This is a world increasingly remote from our own. I think that is part of the sadness embedded in the above image.

“Satire? Call it instead a projection of existing givens—trends clear to those not already brainwashed, from escalation of war-making activities, counterrevolutionary in spirit and purpose, to the eradication of privacy of the individual on a global basis, and in-between, the stabilization of a world system of capitalism modeled in all particulars after that of America’s. GM, JPMorganChase, Boeing, Monsanto, these exemplify what the world can expect from corporate guidance in fashioning a well-regulated social order where everyone knows his/her place in a pecking order of Liberal Totalitarianism, the wave of the future! Should the world refuse this invitation to American-style happiness, contentment, and assured superiority, hierarchically arranged, by class, race, nation, then divine retribution would surely follow, God’s instrument being US military-financial-commercial power, poised On High, to vanquish all nonbelievers, via nuclear war in the face of stubbornness or ignorance.”
Norman Pollock

“So when I start to speak about conspiracy here, about propaganda, psyops and intelligence, I hope you will cut me some slack. We have to admit that there is a ruling class, that its purpose on this planet is to accumulate more capital at the expense of the workers. As we have seen, they will do anything to ensure this. … The folks with the tenured positions and six figure book deals have them for a reason, and it sure ain’t because they have a strong line on anti-imperialism.

Manyfesto blog, June 11th 2014

I was tangentially connected to the Left Forum panel of Ethan Hallerman and Molly Klein on Zizek. The attacks directed at this panel from people before even hearing what was said, were surprisingly large and aggressive. They were also from, a lot of them, these people with six figure book deals and a brand. Some were from the followers of those with six figure book deals. Most were white, and most were comfortable financially speaking. Or in some cases, just bitter half demented old white men who DESIRED to have six figure book deals. This is my experience today, when I go on facebook or twitter; a kind of growing hostility to speaking the obvious. The obvious being that the U.S. is working with proxy nations, and with sub contractors, to install a global police state. William Burroughs suggested that decades ago, and was laughed off as a crank. Remember Wilhem Reich was pilloried and denounced and prevented from continuing his research and eventually sent to prison. All of the facts are available, they aren’t secret or even hidden. They don’t have to be. The vast majority of people today in the West have been effectively trained to fear social shaming and stigmatizing. The fear of being laughed at is a gigantic factor in the willfull blindness and ignorance of the populations of the West.

I continue to believe that aesthetics and culture matter in all this. In fact I believe they are ever more important. In this era of the hegemony of corporate owned mass culture, it becomes vitally important to think seriously about how narrative and image and performance are manufactured, and how to approach them hermeneutically. The Obama Presidency has been essentially a movie. The grimacing death’s head sense of moral rictus is becoming more unsettling and I think as this becomes increasingly obvious, even to blinkered followers, there is a doubling down on the movie aspects.

Friederike von Rauch, photography.

Friederike von Rauch, photography.

“The more precisely my patients describe their behavior and experiences in the sexual act, the more firm I became in my clinically substantiated conviction that all patients, without exception, are severely disturbed in their genital function. Most disturbed of all were those men who liked to boast and make a big show of their masculinity, men who possessed or concurred as many women as possible, who could ”˜do it’ again and again in one night. It became quite clear that though they were erectively very potent, such men experienced no or very little pleasure at the moment of ejaculation, or they experienced the exact opposite, disgust and unpleasure.”
Wilhelm Reich

U.S. culture today is so awash in a hyper-masculine expressions of violence that almost everything, from sports to entertainment (sic) to shopping for food, clothing, and shelter, is defined by excessive masculine paranoia. And this interior terror and sexual insecurity clouds the vision of almost all young men in the West. Metaphorically and literally. And its not just the U.S., it is Europe, and probably beyond. Breaking down, deconstructing, this hyper masculine anxiety and often fear, of women mostly, is complicated, but I am more interested here to discuss the ways things are *not* seen because of these fears. And how much of this white male perspective is a form of blindness.

Awoiska Van der Molen

Awoiska Van der Molen


Among the best new photographers I’ve seen is Awoiska Van der Molen, and I’m posting a couple of her photos here. Almost every time I am struck with a photo, one taken in the last thirty years, it is almost always a woman photographer. I think because there is an additional layer of openness that is operative. It seems to happen most naturally in photography, and far less in fiction, say, or even painting. There are, of course, good woman painters today but the point is that something specific is being ‘seen’ in the photos. In Van der Molen there is a primal sense of invisible presence that comes out of the darkness. Most of her shots are taken at night. Sometimes in cloudy or foggy daylight, but most at night. Her work reminds me of George Ault a little bit. Huis Marsaille, the curator at the Museum of Photography in Amsterdam wrote this of her work:
“Her quest has something almost religious about it. For instance, it shares a conviction, along with spiritual, Christian and alchemist beliefs, that there must be a higher plane of ‘being’ to which mankind once had access, but with which contact is all but lost.”
I think this sort of description is going to come to most who really sit and look at her work. One critic wrote, “there is an absent presence”. Yes, exactly. Ghosts. The clarity of ghosts glimpsed, for ghosts are not indifferent, or undefined.
Awoiska Van der Molen

Awoiska Van der Molen

Adorno, in a lecture introducing his class on Negative Dialectics, wrote:
“I believe that what characterizes philosophical thinking is an element of the tentative, experimental and inconclusive, and this is what distinguishes it from the positive sciences.” But then he went on, a bit later, to say; “…the essence of this model of an antagonistic society is that it is not a society *with* contradictions, or *despite* contradictions, but by virtue *of* its contradictions. In other words, a society based on profit necessarily contains this division in society because of the objective existence of the profit motive. This profit motive which divides society and potentially tears it apart is also the factor by means of which society reproduces its own existence.”

The contradiction is not between concepts, but in the concept itself. This is crucial. For this establishes the world-out-there are an antagonist in a sense. In other words, concepts always point to something other, different from itself, and more than itself. Adorno uses the concept “freedom” in this lecture, which is, of course, a rather perfect example. But the point is that this character, a dual character of the concept, dialectically speaking, is connected to mastery. As Adorno writes toward the end of his introduction:
“..the mastery of nature, which spreads its influence, which continues in the mastery of men by other men and which finds its mental reflex in the principle of identity, by which I mean the intrinsic aspiration of all mind to turn every alterity that is introduced to it, or that it encounters, into something like itself and in this way to draw it into its own sphere of influence.”

U.S. Army press photo, appx. early 1950's.

U.S. Army press photo, appx. early 1950′s.

Now, generally speaking (for Adorno is not speaking generally) when we form a concept we extract certain characteristics from various things, and then form a concept that applies to all these various things that share this common characteristic. So in THAT sense, the concept is LESS than what is subsumed under it. For there are many qualities not shared by these various things. The point, however, is this idea of mastery, for that is connected in turn to instrumental thinking, and it this historically created tendency to ignore the subsumption of these unshared qualities, the various wonderous infinite qualities of existence, unless it is within a project of categorizing and measurement and cataloguing. Science, the Enlightenment, reacted against dogma, Church repression, and emotional deformity, but also against the Dionysian mystery and spirit of life. In a sense, my belief in art has to do with, in all great art, a return to the acceptance of contradiction, and an exposure to the un-catalogued.

Adam Magyar

Adam Magyar

The profit motive, which is essentially Capitalism, creates a certain interior landscape. It’s been my experience that those who most resist the encouragements of propaganda, or approval from authority, and the people who will most find themselves excluded. Artists and radicals of all sorts. Those who learn how to integrate submission to authority, who fawn at authority, at power and displays of wealth and influence, are the ones who will become courtiers to the truly powerful. They find success, and this is true certainly in the arts today. But there is another aspect of this. The culture of masculine aggression seemlessly fits into a value system that looks for the concrete and uncomplicated answer. In fact, one that looks for answers in general. This is a mechanical kind of habit of mind. And it is about mastery.

Adorno touches on this when he says (in the same lecture): “Nowadays, in contrast to what Hegel criticized as abstract subjectivity or abstract negativity, what predominates in the general public is an ideal of abstract positivity…My eyes were opened to the dubious nature of this concept of positivity in emigration – where people found themselves under pressure from the society around them and had to adapt to very extreme circumstances. In order to succeed in this process of adaptation, in order to due justice to what they were forced to do, you would hear them say, by way of encouragement – and you could see the effort it cost them to identify with the agressor – ‘Yes, so and so really is so very positive’. And what is this means is that an intelligent and sensitive person is rolling up his sleeves and washing dishes, or whatever other allegedly useful social work is required of him.”

Today less effort, and perhaps no effort, is required to identify with the aggressor. TV and film is almost exclusively about the aggressor. But running alongside this is something that took hold, at least in this form, after WW1, and that is the idea of positive thinking. That positive was positive for its own sake. The bias toward the affirmative. The positive is going to trend toward aggreement. Consensus. This also coincides with that Protestant ethic of sober evaluation of facts. It’s Joe Friday: “just the facts”. It is the kindergarten level notion of constructive criticism. If you cant say anything nice don’t say anything at all. What that also means is, dont say anything NOT nice about authority. This is the creepy side of Nietzsche, the ‘say yes to life’ side! It is also, a kind of failure to examine the outlier, the aberration, the exception, as worth careful study. And this also becomes a value producing system that rewards NOT seeing. Compile data, but focus on the majority finding. Focus, crunch numbers, and do-not-look at the strange and unquantifiable, the anomaly. The patriarchal domination of a society of profit, has resulted in such a deep valorizing of this abstract “positivity”, and for “fact” based thinking, a society of primitive sociological thinking, of polls and data and pie charts. The male aggressor must constantly be re-inventing metaphors of contests, races, ‘winning’. So there is also a regressive nostalgia, a branded nostalgia where hunter gatherer societies all resemble Hollywood film. The primordial past becomes a spectacle.

Don Voisine

Don Voisine


Photographers such as Awoiska Van der Molen, Friederike von Rauch, or Jennifer Garza-Cuen and others, are chronicling something that refuses this false positive. They shun the motifs of mastery. And this is an aspect of aesthetic education that seems seriously lacking. The negation of this ashistorical positive, both philosophically, as positivism, and also as the pop psychology of ‘positive thinking’, and smiley face stickers, has to take place primarily, or at least firstly, in form. For in a sense, the focus on content is itself a by-product of positivist and instrumental thought. Now I have to mention Adorno again here, for he said something in one of these late lectures that I find quite profound. He relates the story of a girl in one of his seminars, that he taught with Paul Tillich, right before the Third Reich took power. And how this girl voiced her opposition to the idea that life had some inherent meaning. Adorno describes the Nazi youth in this class becoming agitated at this, and rather excited and uncomfortable. He writes:

“It raises the question whether thought can bear the idea that a given reality is meaningless and that mind is unable to orientate itself; or whether the intellect has become so enfeebled that it finds itself paralysed by the idea that all is not well with the world.”

This is exactly what has happened in the ensuing fifty years, though no doubt through a somewhat different set of mental migratory patterns. The hegemonic thought of white male positivism, of false optimism, and sort of lubricated by various flood channels for aggression, and today that includes not just The Super Bowl, but white proto Imperialists like Zizek, or Doug Henwood, on the faux left, and Nick Land and Nial Ferguson or whoever, on the right, are the intellectual executors for a surplus unconscious. There is only a sort of vestigial dialectic operative at all in Western society today. For the prevailing positive is imbued with, or maybe just feeds off of, the nasty punitive moralistic residue of Cotton Mather and Jonathen Edwards. Why would leftists, purported leftists, attack any panel at the Left Forum ahead of time? That is the lynch mob. A cyber lynch mob. And it feels very like the specific tone of smallish white men who feel, in spite of themselves, inauthentic and masculine-challenged. For the entire fantasy anthropology of alpha male (the one reiterated by Elliot Rodger, or quoted mistakenly by clowns like Ted Nugent) is a powerful fantasy for white America, even for professors and the (sic) intelligensia.

Jennifer Garza Cuen, photographer.

Jennifer Garza Cuen, photographer.


Criticism itself is seen with distrust. Criticism must be *constructive*. Here intercedes this idea of reasonableness. Tone must be reasonable. So, if one grants this is true, then how does this false positive, this mock critical *constructive* posture, affect culture and artworks. My experience in theatre has been that, on the most crude level, it provides a platform for blindness. A teacher will point to what is good…ignoring what is bad, or encouraging the student to make this bad a little bit better. So the focus is to congratulate the student on what he or she has done well. And not dwell, and often not even mention, what is bad. Now the problem in narrative, and in theatre, is that one cannot really separate the bad from the less bad. It creates a imbalance, and suggests one not examine the organic totality of a work. It also, of course, suggests whatever the invisible forces might be, that its too subjective a topic for class time. Now its not as simple as demanding happy endings. Thats true, but less the point I think. It is this unremarked upon texture, the ineffable and fleeting. The uncanny. It is also the idea of clarifying. The ‘desire’ of young artists is sent through, today, a very odd psychological meat grinder with MFA programs, and before that, undergrad classes, and even back to high school, with how culture is examined. First of all, there is the subtle guilt of even taking part in art making. Guilt that one isn’t doing something more alpha male or serious, and then, well, is the goal going to be profit? For that is quite distinct for artists. The loss of clear categories, of definable meaning (like in the sciences) tends to result in a fetishizing of the remaining concepts, even if they are trivial or by their own definition, insignificant. The MFA environment is a place where ideas, in the arts, tend toward the reductive, for they are linked to specific pieces of art. A book, a play, a painting. There is, I suspect, a tension between the idea, the pursuit of something ecstatic or intuitive, and the demand for a grade, and by extension, a career. The meaning of great art is always so complex and contradictory, that it’s impossible to really ever define it. The prelude to personal growth, as an artist, is the baptism of failure, and of exile — in some way or other, that will allow a return. The growth required for the imagination to conceive grand visions is stunted by facile reassurance.
Magdalena Fernandez

Magdalena Fernandez


Constructive criticism is the most destructive form of engagement with art. It is egotistical and arrogant and made worse when wrapped in tone of friendliness and supportiveness. Art is reduced to a bad 12 step meeting.

Identity, in this context, means ownership. This is what I describe here as the fetishizing of the inessential. If one can own this or that inessential idea, then everything else, every opinion, is anchored in this apriori landscape. I think that this idea of a kind of blindness is evident in a lot of the culture industry products, and in most mass culture. The backdrop to studio and network TV is quite simplistic. It extends to political amnesia, of course, too. But I’d like to argue that in architecture for example, much of the work of starchitects like Zaha Hadid or Rem Koolhaas, is missing something. There is a nagging sense of a needed part gone missing. Perhaps all elitist creation shares this type of absence. It is important to understand the presence of absence in, say, the photos of Van der Molen, and simply missing in a Hadid building. Of course performance art like Marina Abramovic is fetishizing this blindness and then selling it. Abramovic is to performance what Zizek is to theory and what Hadid is to architecture. And psychologically, the appeal of these public figures lies in the appearance of their proximity to power, and the allure of elitist sadism. It is a kind of social dominatrix theatre. The abdication of mastery means letting go of this artificial identity(s). Adorno said that the expectation of absolute certainty resulted in a muzzling of thought. The idea, the concept, cannot ever deliver what it promises. That expectation of certainty is linked, also, to mastery, and to ownership. And finally ownership to identity.Self mutilation is a syndrome that satisfies because of its absoluteness, and the ability to privately own that absolute. In other words, there is a backdrop of material social structures against which ideas appear.

“…it lies in the nature of society to produce the contents of the minds of human beings, just as it is the nature of society to ensure that they are blind to the fact that they mistake what is mediated and determined for actuality or the property of their freedom, and treat them as absolutes.”
Adorno

Ambrose Tezenes

Ambrose Tezenes


Society has been trained to believe the surface is the entirety of life. As Jim Thompson said, ‘there is only one plot; things are not as they seem’. Today, this idea has been incorporated into ideology. The suspicion that things are not what they seem, becomes a flaw in ownership. The blindness of the white male, in a culture of power and profit, is another way of suggesting superficiality. But it is a specific form of superficial. The privileging of optimism does not mean that suffering is somehow more authentic. For of course, the superficially optimistic is a more acute form of suffering, and it is this realization that partly accounts for the increasingly spontaneous violence of 21st century America. Things are not as they seem, is responded to with a shrug, the shrug of the tyrant who will just step on and squash whatever it is that is destroying his perfect image.

Class creates certain psychological uniforms in today’s West. Especially the U.S. The happy face, cheerful, and smiling is the province of courtiers. The chatty world of the obviously unhappy, the defensive character armour of a vast working poor. And it extends of course to the idea of salesmen. The media promotes non-threatening versions of cheerful. Gender divides this, too. Women must be wholesome and cheerful, for the most part, and men must be reticent, and paternal, or avuncular, or simply militaristic. The poor are expected to be grateful. Apparently, that means grateful they aren’t in custody. Class has always had markers for easy identification. These markers are today, in the process of adjustment to electronic media. And in turn to self as brand. The ruling elite tend toward one uniform presentation of paternal authority. To watch TV figures interivew, say, Dick Cheney or Bill Clinton, is akin to watching a tier boss in D block listen to some fish explain why he cant pay his vig. This is the sado masochism of the fascists. And there are so many echoes, so many narrative fragments, lodged within all this. The Uncle who shows up, (Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt), the bluff neighbor and his backyard barbeque, the fellow office workers, etc, and one begins to sense the near infinite permutations of bourgeois family dynamics, and the cliches that each have become in kitsch TV and film. Throughout, however, these surfaces themes, and characters, that express, as top text, the optimistic, are accompanied by the shadow unconscious, which is simultaneously expressed. The white male blindness. The blindness of the embedded Imperialist. In a way, the pathological villains of mainstream film and TV today, if not fiction as well, are outlets for the shadow white man, the blinded white patriarch. They kill and maim women, they steal and cheat, and even if they, in the narrative, are arrested, they remain the focal point. It is a subtle shift, and not just in depth and technique, from Iago to Hannibal Lecter, from Satan in Paradise Lost to The Joker in Batman. From Crime and Punishment to Wolf of Wall Street. In the former the crime is metaphysical, it has social resonance, and in the latter it is actually embraced, and the human casualties are ignored. The villains, the ‘bad guys’, in each episode are put away out of sight, at the end. The are consigned to invisibility.

Theophilus Brown

Theophilus Brown

The more overtly serious the work of art, the more superficial it usually is. Adorno remarked that looking at a Manet is to see the mournfulness that arises from a realm that presents itself as happy, and to sense the tensions, the residues of nature, that technology has invaded. My sense today, of most bourgeois art, certainly most narrative fiction, and most film and theatre, is that this overt faux seriousness is synonymous with a sort of post modern adaptation of new age triviality. There is something of a regressive fascist call for the simple, for just being *moved* (to what, or for what doesnt matter), that has replaced art of critical perspective. And the sensibility of the Tragic. So accustomed are audiences today to the banal and empty that radical voices of discontent are experienced with anger. The empty performance art and indi film world suggest a post modern volkish primitivism of sensibility, even if decorated with trendy image and delivered with great pace. And this acceptance of banality creates an emotional blowback, I believe. For it frustrates, even if only subconsciously. I suspect this is the same for the optical, too. The purifying of the eye desired by Le Corbusier and the Bauhaus both, has not only been exterminated, but replaced, by the surrogate eye of the lens. The architecture of a this white limited blindness is a way to cauterize the wounds of disappointment and sensual anxieties. There is a corresponding force at work on the overall population, and that is the erosion of societal security. As Henry Giroux mentioned in an interview the other day, there is no expectation about privacy anymore, and in fact, the young expect surveillance and data mining and see their own appearance in social media, an image, a crafted persona, is the only place where individuals are visible in a social context. The difference between essence and appearance. The post modern rejection of essence corresponds to growing white blindness, a symbolic macular degeneration, both of literally not seeing, and of moral not looking.

For even if there is a sense in white men that they are missing something, they have absorbed the values of Reagan/Thatcher/Rand and can tell themselves, well, I am the creator of my own life. I must rely on myself, and not let this mob of complaining poor get in my way. I will not let this troublesome union cheat me, etc. And the Reagan values are the values, at their core, of Capitalism. If you are a capitalist, you logically must applaud Reagan and Thatcher and in its essentials you applaud Bush and Obama. The answer to those who threaten your privilege is to stomp them out.

By the way, the Zizek panel can be listened to here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrEJW3INm58#t=5440

Harald Sjeldrup, Wilhelm Reich. 1934

Harald Sjeldrup, Nic Hoel, Wilhelm Reich. 1934

The Color of Nature

Leandro Erlich

Leandro Erlich


“True poetry is a function of awakening. It awakens us, but it must retain the memory of previous dreams.”
Gaston Bachelard

“If you are moved only by the color relationships, then you miss the point.”
Mark Rothko

Almost everything in this culture that purports to be a sign of compassion or respect or care, is in every instance an expression of the exact opposite.

Politically correct terms or labels, programs from the state claiming to assist the poor, reforms designed to protect consumers, etc. Humanitarian interventions, or the war on poverty. This trickles down, as both cause and effect, to the individual and his vocabulary. On an individual level people have begun to speak and communicate in a vocabulary and grammar learned in business schools and marketing focus groups. I ran across *neurotypical* the other day, and my first thought was Aldus Huxley. This false language, in theory designed to avoid stigmatizing, is imbued with anger and aggression. The state and its *disposition matrix* is a cleansing of assasination, an expression of venal self interest and manipulation. Of contempt for others. Jargon and euphemism mesh in this verbal disposition matrix, as it were. This first became truly visible during Viet Nam (Terminate with extreme prejudice). ‘Neurotypical’, or ‘differently-abled’, ‘pivot’, and ‘walk it back’, ‘pre dawn vertical insertion’ was invading Grenada, or the financial Greenspanisms such as ‘accelerated risk premiums’ (which means exactly nothing) and simple ones now just so familiar nobody notices; ‘downsizing’, ‘recession’, or ‘double dip recession’, and ‘for your convenience’ which usually means the opposite, or ‘miscertification’ (which I believe goes back to the Watergate hearings), or a dozen others. The embedding of this nastiness, this intolerance, never mind the peculiar sense of contradiction it encloses, has become the conversational currency of today. And it is a form of intolerance. It is denying certain narratives, certain images, certain ideas. In each case it reduces meaning, metaphor and allegorical potential. One is not erasing abusive bigoted beliefs by changing words. Its a lateral move at best. And the irrational violence to meaning, to language itself, is cloaked in mystification. This is not to suggest words don’t matter. They do matter, but they are organic living things.

Robert Ryman, Pace Gallery

Robert Ryman, Pace Gallery

The point is that the U.S. is today a savagely intolerant and angry nation pulsing and seething with resentment and festering grudges. I want to lead this into the politics of geography and the geography of politics, as Neil Smith put it, and the geography and poetics of space (to borrow from Bachelard). There is a sensitivity in the public today that is the sensitivity of a raw nerve, a toothache. It is not the sensitivity of insight. Say the wrong thing, express yourself the wrong way, and you can count on several factions of intellectual police to swoop down on you. These are brand wars. One cannot make mistakes. The idea of the ‘perfectionist’ is, I think, a very recent idea. At least as a personality attribute (in moral philosophy it goes back to the Greeks, and certainly was reinvestigated by Nietzche and later Ralph Waldo Emerson).It is certainly post Enlightenment, though, as social psychology and probably post Industrial Revolution, and no doubt something that spiked in the last forty years or so in this sense. Today people hear voices, everyone hears voices, but they are the voices of our judges. The conscience feels more adjudicated. The jury looms over the day dreams of most people, I think. A phantom jury. These imaginary friends are often tragically real, of course. The presence of the police is an anxiety marker for almost everyone in the U.S.

I suspect in a way this is an even more painful intellectual star chamber than appearing before Cardinal Wolsey. This raw nerve is tender, and the fear of having this nerve touched drives a lot of this worry about correctness. Of course there is a celebrity left, best exemplified by Zizek, whose role is to grant permission for the pent up angers of frat boys and white upholders of purity to express bigoted racist and homophobic beliefs (and to apologize for Imperialism). Zizek is the ideological clove oil to apply to that aching tooth. One sees white male aggression expressed, often, under cover of common sense. Bill Maher, a nasty vain little man is the poster boy for this tendency. The revanchist white male as heroic figure of pragmatism and realism.

“Buildings, like texts, are inserted into the world of dissimulation to speak of an unattainable order beyond it.”
Mark Wrigley

"Anávyssos House",  Aris Konstantinidis architect, 1962, Greek coast near Athens.

“Anávyssos House”, Aris Konstantinidis architect, 1962, Greek coast near Athens.

The public sees itself in a movie. We look at the world in terms of film, film narrative, and in film space, too. The internet has been sold in kitsch narratives of revolution, with social media as an organizing tool etc. Groups communicate and overthrow a dictator.They all buy a Prius and ban plastic bottles. The selling of Tiananmen Square or Aung San Suu Kyi. That’s a movie. Takes place on location. The non movie part is the parking lot surveillance, the stock market shares, the leveraging and political clout that mounts the assault on net neutrality, buys patents and steals intellectual property, and the NSA. Paying lobbyists, and mergers etc, are not a movie and hence not very thought about. But there is also the purely addictive part, the manipulation, and the creation of new temporal zones of behavior. There are the new spaces, the airport zone of hyper security where time stops. The Casino, where the world tilts toward your addiction, literally.
http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/07/the-machine-zone-this-is-where-you-go-when-you-just-cant-stop-looking-at-pictures-on-facebook/278185/

Gaston Bachelard

Gaston Bachelard

This is the realm of Psych research to determine color schemes that make you hungry, or make you want to *click* again, or make you want to suck down poison foods. Its the research that tries to figure out how to create passivity that recreates mild stimulus rewards. The harvesting of eye time, or attention. But of flawed attention. Deep focused attention is of much less value to marketers.

“…The polemical exhibition of modern buildings in 1927 had a kind of off-white. It takes
a long time to become a white white, like that of a Richard Meier building today which is
completely unlike the white of classic modern architecture. The pioneering buildings had more
like an eggshell colour, so there is a way in which modern architecture whitens over time. One
could argue that it does so as a reaction to the black and white photographs.”

Mark Wigley

So, these forces have intensified, but the effects of photography, of magazines and then cinema — has been to shape aesthetic space, but also to alter our dreams. That sounds obvious enough. Hollywood likes to promote itself as the dream factory, but in fact they are the dream abattoir. Dream killers. A Dream Disposition matrix. Much as curators became like studio executives or like agents, the artists were torn about how find the zone of resistance in both narrative and image.

Now, it is interesting to remember that much Greek statuary was painted, and that early 20th century architecture was not white, but often pastel, or even a dark primary color. This was Van Die Rohe, but also Le Corbusier. Flat roofs and white walls. Except, they werent white. The majority were egg shell or off white. It is worth looking at the stone buildings of antiquity, as well as village structures in North Africa, Greece, Sicily, and even South America and Spain. Flat, and white. White suggested clean because it was, it was white wash. Lime wash. Mark Wigley suggests visual hygiene trumped the bacterial hygiene. Perhaps. And indeed Le Corbusier was interested in purifying the eye. Now, in a sense, all artists are purifying the eye, all visual artists anyway. They just do it in different ways. But in architecture, where space mediates all other concerns, the role of poetics, and allegory loom very large, as does the role of control.

Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore, Andrea Palladio architect, 1592

Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore, Andrea Palladio architect, 1592

The ‘Redentore is 16th century, a white structure that reeks of both hubris and arrogance, but also of the spiritual, and reminds us of the spiritual as a valid subject for architecture. The white is a white of Venetian light. All buildings in Venice are in a relationship to the light. The white of today’s museum walls, or galleries is not the same white. I suspect that public buildings, awash in fluorescent light, a decided NON white that fluctuates anyway, have served to make gallery whites look much whiter. There are a host of lighting plants available, from halogen, to tungsten, to LED. White though, whichever white one uses, is always an invitation and an exclusion. For it is unsoiled. Unmarked. Virginal. But this also raises questions, as I’ve mentioned before, about the ideological background to over illumination. No corner shall ever be dark. The Japanese aesthetic of course demands shadow. Much Mediterranean architecture uses the sea, the blue, and sometimes only the idea of the blue. The potential *blue*. Even if the sea is not there, it’s there, it is a promise built into the structure.
William Gass, years ago, had a sort of wonderful small book on *blue*. And perhaps we all have our favorite talismanic color. Or colors. When I first travelled in Asia I became infatuated with reds. Chinese reds in particular. The point being that the sense of post industrial desires for hygiene came into play with the idea of the doctor’s coat, the white tiled industrial bathroom. In fact the non white bathroom, even when I was a child, suggested a certain wealth and cache. The poor were herded to the white tiles and white smocks. It is interesting that doctor’s coats had earlier been green. Green was a surgical color.
Phillip Lohofener, photographer.

Phillip Lohofener, photographer.

“…processes have left residents of low-income neighbourhoods in a situation where, since they exert little control over either investment capital or their homes, they are facing the ‘choices’ of either continued disinvestment and decline in the quality of the homes they live in, or reinvestment that results in their displacement.”
James DiFillipis

The evolution of ideas of cleanliness is complex. (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jun/07/anti-homeless-studs-london-block-uproar?CMP=fb_gu) Today the poor are no better than bacteria, or at best pigeons. (http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20140523/avondale/new-anti-homeless-structures-have-residents-split-alderman-stymied).

Jubilee Church, Rome. Richard Meier architect.

Jubilee Church, Rome. Richard Meier architect.

The gallery white, the Richard Meier white, is the transformation of the colors of luxury in the 19th century. The industrial colors of confinement are no longer white, they are beige or pale green. The pastels of condescension. Municipal pale green is the equivalent to that smiling insurance salesman explaining why your Mother’s death isn’t actually covered. The aesthetics of elitism have been preserved in an unnatural white, a glossy hermetically sealed white. There are questions of associations with death. The funereal greys of the shroud and of ash. It may be that the role of color changed with Hiroshima. But I think it is impossible to tweeze apart these things separate from the spaces in which they occur. It strikes me that spaces of intimacy have been largely removed in the 21st century. When Bachelard wrote of drawers and chests, and closets, the places where people kept, metaphorically, their secrets, he was suggesting an inner topography. Image and metaphor are not the same. What role electronic media has played in the erosion of intimacy is a huge topic, but for the purposes of this post its possible to at least begin with the idea of surveillance.
Jo Baer, MOMA

Jo Baer, MOMA

How a society houses itself, both as shelter and monument, both private and public, is cause and effect of ideology and psychic make-up. Today the *starchitect* is building giant buildings that, finally, are about killing off the daydreams and allegory of constructed space. Bachelard wrote; “..it is because our memories of former dwelling places are relived as daydreams that these dwelling-places of the past remain in us for all time.” The individual home, the family home, is the place in which most of us grow-up. It is the site of our first integrating of thought and fantasy. It is the site, an originary site, for memories.
Herbert List

Herbert List, photog.


As the site of early memories, I suspect the evolution of private space has reacted to the psychic formation we experience; that closets were not JUST about hanging clothes. Public buildings, the symbols of power, often, were also linked to the role of Gods, and of divination. Architects such as Zaha Hadid, or Rem Koolhaas, and Bernard Tschumi (all of whom sort of lept into public significance at the Deconstructionist Architecture show at MOMA in 1988) are in the business of eliminating the Gods, and creating a kind of exaggerated instability, but an instability (if thats the word) that is about finance, about class interests and about non-integration. Rowen Moore, architecture critic, calls a certain strain of design ‘The True Fake’. The idea is that certain buildings appear to be doing something, but are not. Often in fact are doing the opposite. Hadid is that kind of architect, or rather Dame Zaha Hadid, who at age 61 has only twenty some buildings in her resume. The triumph of appearance and image. (and the triumph of…what Garry Stevens suggests below*). I want to give a partial pass to Frank Gehry, because try as I might to NOT like his work, I often do. But my point here is buildings such as the Galaxy shopping center in Beijing, by Dame Zaha, is a monstrosity. I’m not sure monumental public spaces can get much more ugly (go ahead Google it if you don’t know it). The deconstructionist trend was not really a movement, it was an attitude. And the reason I mention all this is because the return to intimacy and secrets is a screaming need today. Chinese Pritzker winner Wang Shu (who I wrote about before) is one of the exceptions. Jean Nouvel is a mixed bag, but at his best has created a number of exceptional buildings. Then I think Id have to go back to Barragan and Scarpa to really feel the metaphysical and poetic. The point really has to do with how these monumental projects reflect a kind of fear; and it is a fear that fits into the landscape of fear and security that is the modern city. But what does that mean? Landscape of security is obvious in a sense. It is a place of thousands of CCTV cameras, of visible police, and of class segregation. Barriers, anti homeless spiked benches, and overall enclosure of the underclass. The private life is the theatre of intimacy; a topography of secret urges and desires. Today there is a culture in which solitiude is ever more difficult to find, in which privacy has eroded; the rooms we live in, the rooms we grew up in, are either small bunkers, or simply cells. Solitude has become solitary confinment.
Jan Steen, 1650 apprx.

Jan Steen, 1650 apprx.


Intimate spaces are never the spaces of fear. One of the problems with much modern architecture is that it is overly ornamental, but today that visual plumage, that ornament, has taken the form of a fanciful prison that robs us of intimate space. The ornament is now replicating the psychic heavy hand of punishment. A brutalist visual slap across the face. This is the ‘true fake’ idea, again. Presented as monumental or ‘people friendly’, they are uniformly antagonistic to the human. And here is where this the over use of the new ‘white’ becomes relevant. A white that demands it stay white it not liveable. Only the hired help can keep a building white. How does one remember a Richard Meier building? I cant remember them, except as I might remember a dental clinic or discount electronics warehouse. Memory is housed in shadow. Meier creates totalitarian dwellings. Which is perhaps at least a minor improvement over Hadid’s kitsch. In theatre, the empty space is already the start of memory. Childhood contains, almost always, time alone, and those spaces of privacy are where one is educated in dreaming. Today in the West, everyone is an extrovert. Even introverts are extroverts. The reliance in instrumental thinking is on the exterior. Interiors are really exteriors. This is the shopping culture, too, of course. The mall is a faux street, sanitized and controlled. The marks of progress included removal of cellars and attics. And the illumination of shadow. The exteriorizing of space is the new pathology of extroversion.

But here it is important to understand how Capital intersects with all this.

“…spacial fixity also becomes an increasingly vital underpinning to social development.” “…we do not live, act, and work ‘in’ space so much as by living, acting, working, we produce space.”
Neil Smith

Vija Clemins

Vija Clemins


Since Francis Bacon, the idea of nature was shaped by an exteriorized construct. For industry, nature was there to be transformed. For the U.S., the primary image or symbol was a virgin wilderness landscape. A wilderness begging to be changed into productive industry. There was an idealizing of wilderness, of nature, but beneath it pulsed the engine of conquest. For all the romantic narrative attached to the wilderness, the real heart of American capital saw savages and a natural violence. The Puritans were no lovers of nature. They at best sought to co-exist with it. Richard Slotkin’s trilogy on American mythology saw clearly the gunfighter nation, the “redemption” through violence. As Neil Smith rightly points out, the return to nature idea was born in cities, in literary salons. Ladies Home Journal and House and Garden, or the Sierra Club were urban entities. The frontier was seen with fear and disgust by those living there. The ‘idea’ of nature was something that was part of self improvement. Boy Scouts and vacations. The idea of the mastery of Nature runs alongside the aesthetics of mastery in narrative, and poetry. The mastering of a craft. One’s imagination was akin to the wilderness (but not really, the wilderness, just nature, and even Central Park could stand in on occasion). It is easy to underestimate the polite pastoral frame that presented the bourgeoisie with their idea of the frontier. Unfortunately the conquest of nature, its domination, brought with it the domination of man by those who profited most from the subjugation of nature. By those who were actually furthest from the material business of conquest. So, there is an aspect of this spatial organization that is directly linked to Capital, to class division, and to expansion. And the effects of Capitalist expansion, of industry, and the physical plant of Fordist production, helped shape western consciousness about…well, everything. The frontier migrated overseas (and vice versa). Colonial domination was a deeply internalized revulsion. Included in the landscape of foreign wilderness was the native population.

However, by the end of the second World War, I think there had been a continual erosion of a certain romance attached to the wilderness and frontiers. There was an almost, or at least partial, distancing from rural life, a cognitive space created between urban sophistication and rural hardship. This process began, I think, probably at the turn of the 20th century. The city took on its own sense of self generation, its almost anthropomorphic identity. Cities in the U.S. got nicknames. The city of big shoulders, The Big Apple, The Windy City, Bean Town, The Big Easy, City of Brotherly Love, or even in deprecation, or slang; the Mistake by the Lake (Toledo), and my favorite, The Fire Hydrant Capital of the World (Albertville, Alabama), etc. They slowly were being branded in a sense, long before tourist bureaus. The exteriorized consciousness. At the same time there was an evolution of office space that reflects a similar trajectory. Hans Poelzig’s I.G. Farben office building in Frankfurt, of the late 1920s, which was later taken over by the U.S. military, may have been the start of the partitioned cubicle, which became the iconic image of the lonely crowd. The actual template was created in 1964 by Robert Propst, and implemented through Herman Miller’s furniture company in Michigan. This was the now familiar ‘workstation’ idea. The most hated quality of this model is the noise pollution. And that invasive non-stop audial assault is, in a sense, symbolic of the general hostility to low end bureaucratic workers today. Martin Filler’s piece in the NYRBs on the topic of office space ends with an appropriate nod to Jay Nolte’s web comic Zombie Office. In a nation now of temp workers, non unionized and unprotected, the early concerns of architects and designers like Adolph Loos or even Corbusier, seem almost quaint. The image of Zombie seems to have traction today in how the working class and unemployed are viewed. The early 20th century architects such as Neutra and earlier a Gaudi or Charles Rennie MacKintosh were creating space that emphasized a human scale, and something idealist, they concieved at times in white, though usually not, but there was nothing authoritarian in that work; not in scope, or spirit or intent.

Yvonne Jacquette

Yvonne Jacquette

As Beatriz Colomina said, in an interview in Architectural Review:
“AR How does Playboy treat architecture in its pages?
BC Everything that happened in architectural discourse is presented in the magazine but it’s sexualised. They started featuring Mies and Frank Lloyd Wright, and then in the 60s and 70s they started Playboy Pads, a series that reshot existing buildings…”

Its quite possible that in a hundred years, Walt Disney and Hugh Hefner will loom as among the very most significant influences to modern culture in the last half of the 20th century. Space was inscribed with infantile simplicity, and an narrative of titillation.

“The building should be understood in the same terms as drawings, photographs, writing, films, and advertisements; not only because these are the media in which we more often encounter it, but because the building is a mechanism of representation in its own right. The building is, after all, a “construction,” in all senses of the word.”
“Le Corbusier sees the house as constructing pictures, or scenes, as about movement through space as the unfolding of a movie or a narrative. (In fact, he, one of his houses, and his car appeared in a film, L’Architecture d’aujourd’hui, 1929.) For Le Corbusier, houses built spectacles. Houses became mechanisms for seeing, as evidenced by design sketches that begin with postcards pasted to the page (the tourist site/sight) and that figure the human by a large eye.”
Beatriz Colomina

The architect today is creating space that mimics photography, or more, perhaps, mimics the movies. Buildings such as those of Hadid, Libeskind, or Koolhaas are movies. Once in them, the occupier is not aware of his own place in these spaces, for none of it is not pre-occupied.

Miller home, Palm Springs, Richard Neutra architect. 1937

Miller home, Palm Springs, Richard Neutra architect. 1937


Magazine ads, that began in black and white, amplified the tendency toward design white as privilege. Contrast signified privilege. But it is films, the culture industry, in which notions of building take on a more sinister quality. Homes are not designed, now, to turn occupants inward. Rooms prioritize picture windows, even if the view is of an apartment dumpster. The house looks like a screening room for dailies. Bedrooms are based on a fantasy borrowed from soft porn TV, and kitchens are Spartan non-participatory. The interior is presentation, prepared for the eye of the camera. I suspect, if one examined the interiors of mid century architects with those of the 21st century, the interior design would have shifted from still camera, to tracking shot.

The principles of exclusion, the fear of contamination, that pervade the proprietor class, have started to self contaminate. They exclude themselves. For it cannot be otherwise. Perhaps in one sense, all Empire starts to fail when this happens. It is both cause and effect.

'Porto House', Alvaro Leite Siza Vieira, architect. 2010

‘Porto House’, Alvaro Leite Siza Vieira, architect. 2010


How to Become a Super Star Architect (Garry Stevens)
*Have rich grandparents. First-generation wealth is no help. The vulgarity of mere money must be transmuted into a class position, and that takes at least two generations. You must have class! Then your parents will happily indulge you when you ask them to pay for the years (or decades!) of hefty financial support that you need to…
Study at the right hip school, such as the AA, Harvard, or Yale. While there you will…
Refine the exquisite tastes and habits that will mark you forever as one of the culturati. And your parent’s and your school’s connections will enable you to…
Get into the most-talked about practices. You won’t have to design any real-world buildings, of course: just hang around and absorb the vibe, spending your time drinking ginseng tea with your boss on his many international junkets. He can then use his (oh so rarely her!) connections so that you can…
Meet the right critics, who will talk about you, and publish all your drawings for architecture that no one actually wants built. While you are waiting for that to happen, you will…
Return to teach at the hip schools that taught you. There you can earn a living with minimal effort, since your own unbuilt works will be the ready-made basis of all your courses. True, the salary will not be huge; but since most of your income derives from your wealthy parents or trust fund, that really does not matter.

The Anti Orpheus

Triton, moon of Neptune. NASA photo.

Triton, moon of Neptune. NASA photo.

“Violence so permeates society that popular pleasures are organized around an ‘aesthetics of vulgarity’, with the state staging public rituals in which ‘the masses join the madness and clothe themselves in cheap imitations of power to reproduce its epistemology’, and when power, in its own violent quest for grandeur, makes vulgarity and wrongdoing its main mode of existence.”
Achille Mbembe (quoted by Randy Martin in Empire of Indifference)

“Women are not drawn to indicators of evolutionary fitness. If they were, they’d be all over me.”
Elliot Rodger

“(fascism is) the sum total of all the irrational reactions of the natural human character.”
Wilhelm Reich

“What needs to be recognized is that the problem lies in the lack of an authentic self; narcissism is merely a symptom of this condition, not its cause. In order to deal with a deficit in a patient’s feelings, therapists must first realize the person before them is completely incapable of feeling.”
Arno Gruen

I lived for a few months, forty years ago, in Isla Vista, California. The University of California at Santa Barbara is situated there. I snuck in a couple times to hear Hugh Kenner lecture. I wasn’t enrolled. I was hanging with my girlfriend of the time (who wasn’t really enrolled either). She painted. I didn’t do much of anything, but go to the beach and lay around. Its beautiful there on the coast. Once Chumash villages dotted that coast, and later it was land granted by the Mexican government to Nicholas Henry Den. Over fifteen thousand acres in fact. There was a flood in 1862, which destroyed the livestock. Den sold the land. The U.S. military, as its want to do, purchased most of it. A Marine Base was situated there (well, in Goleta) during WW2. Goleta and Isla Vista are adjacent to each other. In the early 70s when I was there, it was a sleepy coastal California town with a newish and minor campus of the U.C. University system. It was the southern cali answer to UC Santa Cruz. There was a Rexall Drug Store, and an independent book store. I spent a lot of time in that book store. There was a small tobacco and pipe shop, and a few typical health food co-op markets. Today all of that is gone. The Redevelopment Agency is gone, too. The RDA could have redirected tax monies for infrastructure improvements. Isla Vista has, over the last three decades, given little thought to organizing the spike in student enrollment. The student body has doubled since I hanging around there. The Magic Lantern theatre is still there, but owned by the University. The Bank of America Riots in 1970 marked a change in administrative thinking, probably. I arrived right after that. But like I say, I wasn’t there long. It was quiet and seemed always sunny, and had remarkable sunsets. It was a place I recall as hedonistic and chill, and you could buy organic Basmati rice back when Ralph’s didn’t carry such things. Today they approach 25 thousand students, 76% of which are white, 23% Latino, and 17% foreign born. Its a white school mostly. Always has been. Nearby Santa Barbara is one of those reactionary enclaves of white wealth that dot the California landscape. Reagan loved Santa Barbara, had his ranch nearby. I think one reason I always loved Cutter’s Way was that it captured something of the languid quality of that city, as well as the nasty pinched white millionaires who run the place. Back then I would go to State Street in Santa Barbara proper, to eat at one of the small Mexican restaurants down by PCH. Those and the migrant workers who ate there and cooked there are all gone now. Its GAP and Burger King, and a few fern bars. This last week the latest mass shooting took place in Isla Vista, by a young man who ‘was’ enrolled at UCSB. Elliot Rodger comes across like a lot of other privileged children I knew from families whose primary work was the Hollywood film and TV industry. Startlingly familiar in fact.

Isla Vista, CA.

Isla Vista, CA.

They attend pricey schools in the Los Angeles area; from pre school through high school, to college. They go to Crossroads, or Harvard-Westlake, or Brentwood. None of them attend Freemont, or go to Dorsey High, or Manuel Arts, or Indio or Van Nuys even or Palmdale, Servite or Long Beach or Carson. Later they go to Ivy league schools if they’re more driven, or they go to UCLA or USC or UCSB – like Rodger. They are privileged, and if my own experience with Hollywood brats is any indicator, they are often highly dysfunctional. They all go to shrinks, they take industrial amounts of anti depressants, and they rarely really do very much. They almost never actually work.
State St., Santa Barbara, CA. 1950s.

State St., Santa Barbara, CA. 1950s.

Of course some do, eventually, its a nepotistic town, and some work in film and TV with jobs to which their pedigree gives them special access. But a good many drift off into vague alienated existences of emotional atrophy. None of that is the issue though. There are a lot of stories over the last twenty years about disaffected youth; from Jesse James Hollywood, to the Bling Ring, to the Menendez brothers, to the Robert Chambers Central Park killing, Michael Douglas’ son and on and on.

A recent mass killing case, that of George Sodini makes for an interesting comparison.

Elliot Rodger made a video. A startlingly narcissistic bit of performance. What first strikes one is that Rodgers pathological make up reflects the pathology of the ruling class over all. Narcissism, projection, lack of empathy, misogyny (obviously), loss of affect and a mirroring of autistic process, and a deeply entrenched raw festering self hatred.

Rodger wanted girls. Sex. Except he didnt have much idea exactly what that meant. Sex was pornography. More important was possession. Status. Power. A BMW needs a trophy girl. Rodger apparently frequented ‘How to pick up girls’ sites, and body building magazines. But this son of great privilege exhibited no curiosity about the world. As my friend Exir pointed out (in the last postings comments section) Rodger could only think in the most generic way about what he desired. He dreamed cliches. And not even, from what we know, very convincing cliches. He obsessed about being an Alpha Male, without quite knowing what this meant. This is the world of an evaporated imagination. Rodger wanted a cyborg girlfriend. He wanted to live in a graphic novel. He thought only terms of accoutrements.

Peter Kayafas, photography.

Peter Kayafas, photography.


“Popular culture is largely colonized by corporations and is increasingly used to reproduce a culture of consumerism, stupidity, and illiteracy. Mainstream popular culture is a distraction and disimagination machine in which mass emotions are channeled towards an attraction for spectacles while suffocating all vestiges of the imagination, promoting the idea that any act of critical thinking is an act of stupidity, and offering up the illusion of agency through gimmicks like voting on American Idol.
… There are a number of registers through which popular culture produces a subject willing to become complicit with their own oppression. Celebrity culture collapses the public into the private and reinforces a certain level of stupidity. It infantilizes as it seduces and promotes a kind of civic death. Surveillance culture undermines notions of privacy and is largely interested into locking people into strangulating orbits of privatization and atomization. A militarized popular culture offers up the spectacle of violence and a hyper-masculine image of agency as both a site of entertainment and as a mediating force through which to solve all problems. Violence now becomes the most important element of power and mediating force in shaping social relationships.”

Henry Giroux

Aesthetic resistance is not simply the awareness of history, but the ability to use history, to inform and grow an awareness of the world around one, and to fashion Utopian futures, and to awaken from the numbness of advanced capital. Culture is meant to stimulate curiosity, for the lack of curiosity today in large numbers of the young is staggering. The architecture of the city today is one of a militarized zone where conflict is to be expected. I cannot think of one, not one, studio film or TV show in which surveillance, for example, is not treated as absolutely positive, as a tool for protecting people. Nobody writes TV drama in which people must be protected from the police. Never once ever have I seen a show or film in which questions of privacy are raised. Where the Orwellian aspects of surveillance are raised (unless one includes the odd sci fi futuristic fantasy, and then it only rarely occurs). So pervasive is the belief in institutional authority and white male power.

“…the extent to which American movies have become a self-reinforcing system driven by white male executives and producers convinced that they know what the audience wants, and also the extent to which they are, in a sense, correct: The audience has been conditioned, over the decades, to expect a certain kind of male-oriented stimulus and spectacle, a cinematic grammar of “violence, sexual conquest and macho swagger,” in Hornaday’s phrase. One could go so far as to say that mainstream cinema is a gendered cultural form, something that Oscar-winning pioneer Kathryn Bigelow, director of the controversial action films “Zero Dark Thirty” and “The Hurt Locker,” understands and has turned to her advantage.”
Andrew O’Hehir

Outskirts Houston. Chris Gielen photog. (Uncube magazine).

Outskirts Houston. Chris Gielen photog. (Uncube magazine).


Complex narrative structure is met with bewilderment, if not hostility. The audience is so deeply trained for passive reception, that the demand for engagement, on any level, is met with derision. The snark culture. The fan is getting to experience their own private mini privilege. A privilege without material reward, but no matter. There is a feeling of control in getting to choose the channel you want to watch. Never mind every channel essentially shows the same thing. All of it is predicated on a model for society that Elliot Rodger lived in, in which his imagination atrophied.
Nandipha Mntambo

Nandipha Mntambo


There are some exceptions in corporate TV that warrant a mention here. Two of them developed by Sundance (sort of surprisingly). Rectify, and The Red Road. Both in different ways provide something of an alternative vision of American society. They examine institutional corruption, and a culture of masculine violence. And both provide a sense of the deep alienation found for many on a daily basis. For that is the real story of Elliot Rodger. Beyond the deep toxic misogyny, Rodger was additionally a child of consumerism and reification. Treat your friends like appliances and your appliances like friends (Russell Jacoby). The rise of militarism coincides, both as cause and effect, with a fear of women. The Christian conservative features writers like David Murrow, who has compared a failure to denounce the effects of the mother to Norman Bates in Psycho. The threat of minorities and women is expressed in a belief that masculine power is required to restabilize society. George Sodini, the killer who walked in a fitness center in Pennsylvania and shot three women dead, and wounded ten, kept a diary that recorded his deep racial resentment and confusion, and a core fear and hatred of women.

“I have slept alone for over 20 years. Last time I slept all night with a girlfriend it was 1982. Proof I am a total malfunction. Girls and women don’t even give me a second look ANYWHERE. There is something BLATANTLY wrong with me that NO goddam person will tell me what it is.”
George Sodini

Also in Sodini’s diary:
“I predict I won’t survive the next layoff. That is when there is no point to continue.”

Reaganomics coincided with a rise in individual shooting sprees. The difference between Sodini and Rodger is firstly class. Sodini was middle class, but also white and had a good enough job. But a job that also included submission and boredom. Sodini also, most interestingly, wrote this:

“While driving I radio surfed to a talk show. The caller was a 30ish black man who was describing the despair in certain black communities. According to him, life is cheap there because you are going to die anyway when you get old. It is the quality of life that is important, he said. If you know the past 40 years were crappy, why live another 30 crappy years then die? His point was they engage in dangerous behavior which tends to shorten the lifespans, to die now and avoid the next 30 crappy years, using my example. The host got sarcastic and ended the call instead of trying understanding his point. Agreement wasn’t necesary. I put music back on. But it was an interesting, and useful point for me to hear.”

Antonio Berni

Antonio Berni


Sodini was in great pain. Rodger seems incapable of great pain. Both felt rage. Both directed that rage at women. But it is also interesting to read reactions in media to these events. The collective lynch mob rage is triggered. Very little effort is spent in understanding these events, beyond the idiotic anti gun sentiments of a liberal class. This is a society that now not only practices torture (well, one could argue has always tortured) but creates entertainment out of it. Torturing “bad guys” (criminals, terrorists, suspected terrorists, etc) is routine in studio film and TV. In fact, its hard to go a day without seeing a show in which someone is tied to a chair and being tortured. Torture is perhaps the purest expression of repressed sexuality. During Jim Crow, black women were raped by white men, and black men were lynched for violating white women (and often for no real reason). There are reasons race and misogyny intersect.

Adorno wrote of the authoritarian personality that they shared a belief in conventionalism of thought, aggression, submission (sado masochism), anti-interpretation, obsession with gender norms, cynicism, fascination with power (and destruction) and sexual repression. The fascist, repressed himself during childhood (almost always) is particularly upset at the idea of ‘others getting away’ with licentious behavior. The fury triggered at the idea of those getting away with something is also projection. And projection is rising as a tendency within western society today. Obama’s West Point Speech might be a textbook example of projection.

Susan Frecon

Susan Frecon


The submission to authority is double sided, of course. While projecting onto those seen as ‘not pulling their own weight’, as being needy and parasitic somehow, the authoritarian represses his own weakness, his own submission to bosses or leaders or institutions. The toleration now, of same sex marriage, is acceptable because the marriage institution is itself so repressive. As long as the institutional authority is validated, the moral uncertainty is accepted, to a degree anyway. After all, society is reinforced through marriage, and not through freedom. Better to let ‘them’ get married, providing at least partial integration in the paternal state power. They can be allowed to mimic traditional marriage and values. Additionally, one can see in most expressions of institutional power, narratives that sink to the most simplistic and sentimental. Same sex marriage is *sold* to the public with kitsch images and sentimental storylines.

There are new levels of disconnect today in the West. Elliot Rodger, in one sense, is a poster boy for this. Rodger’s stunted imagination was self enclosing. What did Elliot Rodger dream? I can’t quite imagine. He lived in the new fortress city (per Mike Davis), and he lived and interacted primarily on-line. Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza exhibited a similar disconnect from the real world. Rodger was, I’ve read, diagnosed as high end Aspergers. But his de-socialization cannot really be explained by this. And it also raises questions about why all those shrinks his parents paid for didn’t think to help him with this social awkwardness. The Aspergers tag is, again, for families like the Rodgers, another accoutrement. Another identity fashion of the bourgeoise class. (And yes, there is no question about real sufferers of Autism, even those high functioning, and this becomes an interesting secondary discussion for if the society as a whole has taken on qualities associated with autistic perceptual processes, then perhaps one needs to find better definitions for all of this.)

“The suppression of the sexual activity of children and teenagers is the basic mechanism which produces the characterial structures adapted to political, ideological, economic control [... ] The repression of natural sexuality in the child, particularly of the genitality, makes the child apprehensive, timid, obeying, apprehensive in front of the authority, ‘nice’, ‘quiet’; it paralyses its rebellious tendencies, because the rebellion is associated with anguish; by inhibiting the sexual curiosity of the child, it causes a general confusion of its critical sense and of its mental faculties.”
Wilhelm Reich

Julie Blackmon

Julie Blackmon

The character armoring Reich described has become something else, to a degree anyway. Elliot Rodger could not give, or perhaps more importantly, receive love. What did he enjoy? His BMW? Doesn’t seem like it. It is probably good to access Klaus Theweleit at this point. His study of the German Freidkorps, fascist militia formed after WW1, is pretty relevant right now. One of Theweleit’s insights was that two things stood out as causes for insecurity and fear among these soldiers. One was the aquatic, and the other was dirt. Threat was described, very often, by resorting to metaphors of liquidity, The fear of losing onself was described as being carried away by a river, or washed away. The second, dirt, was associated with the enemy, the demonized Bolshevik or outsider, and with disease. Women came in two forms; red and white. The White was the nurse, the school marm, the sister. Sexless and chaste and patriotic. The Red was a Commie whore, essentially. And the Red was described in, again, symbolic terms associated with water and fluids. Sexual ecstasy was a whirlpool sucking the militia cadet downward, into sin and moral slime. The fluid was a threat to stability, to personal stability and social stability. Now, this suggests a lot of what is already clear; the fascist must repress his own weaknesses and project them outward. Sex is dangerous. It is stigmatized as unclean and those who enjoy sex are also unclean. Women who have sex with communists, blacks, latinos or Asians are particularly filthy. Most mass killers could be seen to fall into the Freidkorp critique. Elliot Rodger however, strikes me as a more post modern version of this, but still essentially a product of authoritarian thinking. He was so utterly unable to form an ideal, to make his desire take some recognizable shape, that his violence was in the end very immature in his verbal expression of it. He could not grasp why he could not have what he wanted….except he didnt know what he wanted…not quite. In a sense his rage was ‘why dont I feel what I want’? He knew a few generic versions of want, in his photoshopped imagination. But he did not really understand what connection meant, connection to other people. I suspect Rodger feared intimacy, greatly. I cant get what I deserve, for Rodger, was I cant get someone to explain what I want, and then give it to me, and I will feel passion.

Yutaka Sone

Yutaka Sone


Elliot Rodger’s object choice, his feminine ideal, was not even a cinematic fantasy. It was a pre-fantasy. It was a category that his class and upbringing had provided an awareness of, but one that he couldn’t fill. It was a mail slot at the office without any mail. Rodger knew, or suspected strongly, that other people got mail. He didn’t. His empty category of desire was rendered (literally almost, if we use that cooking metaphor) into a vindictive rage against those he guessed, could only guess, were failing to complete his picture of desire. His picture of himself. His class, his racial and economic background meant somehow or other he should have a sexual trophy. He had no idea what emotions are connected to sex. His emotional palette feels limited to petulance and self adoration. Again, though, his self adoration was generalized. What had he done? He had a nice sweater from Neiman Marcus. A nice car. Love me for I shop at Neiman Marcus.

The idea of pleasure becomes a germane question when the crimes of an Elliot Rodger (or Adam Lanza) come to the attention of the public. Elliot Rodger is familiar because we’ve all seen him on TV, in fictional crime drama. Part of his persona feels scripted, by hack writers and his very grammar is that of a cliched TV show. There is a feeling watching Rodger’s video that we’ve seen it before. And we have. Therefore the idea of enjoyment when watching crap recycled TV cops shows is transferred over to watching the new True Crime show, The Elliot Rodger video. And its 24 hour a day news cycle set of reviews.

Friends will be interviewed, parents talked to, and the images….the endless circulating images will finally coalesce into one or two iconic images. Horror becomes irony. Horror becomes entertainment.

Mark Grotjohn

Mark Grotjohn

Leisure time has become labor time. Repression is under advanced Capital, in today’s hyperbranded hyperrealist culture, marketed as freedom. And any assault on this “freedom” is labeled subversive or even terrorist. People will fight and mobilize to protect their enslavement. Freud suggested in a couple places that pleasure, that Eros, contained a built-in governor, that this self limiting mechanism kept pleasure this side of satisfaction. And perhaps, over time, this mechanism has become more acutely harnessed to domination of the self and others. Marcuse suggested something like this as well: “pleasure contains an element of self-determination which is the token of human triumph over blind necessity…”. It may no longer be a triumph at all. Such is the efficiency of social domination on a societal scale. And if one believes at all the idea of instincts, that they naturally return to a state of stasis and quiescence, they are then serving repetition and death. Marcuse cited the automatizing of the super-ego; this is the colonizing of consciousness, and the bureaucratizing of domination, and the depersonalizing of the ego. The ego is frozen.

The cult of shopping, of commodities, justify domination. Look, I have a nice BMW. The depersonalized ego can only relate to a vague collective sense of guilt. There was no person to individualize guilt. Elliot Rodger related only to generic categories of anything. There was no self, no viable ego.

For Elliot Rodger, I suspect, the sexual had been double sublimated; or rather the frozen embalmed ego served only a morality of aggression and domination. There was no play, no fun, only a fractured libidinal tension that erased the body. Elliot Rodger had no body, only a repressive process that produced lack. Killing women served the reproduction of domination. That this power was illusory was irrelevant.

Masolino DaPanicale. early 15th century.

Masolino DaPanicale. early 15th century.

I wanted to end with some very useful bits and pieces. Manyfesto’s excellent piece on nature of Imperialism.
http://manyfesto.org/2014/05/29/on-the-urgent-necessity-of-anti-imperialism/

and then this bit of background on US meddling in Ukraine, on Pussy Riot and US state department.
http://fables-of-faubus.com/