The Ironic Little Nazis

Guillaume Burger (Studio for Manfredo Tafuri).

“As states have hastily emulated measures adopted elsewhere, in particular through the imposition of curfews, nationwide lockdowns and travel bans, and escalation of citizen surveillance, a wave of authoritarian governance has swept the globe with profound, worldwide implications for democracy, the rule of law, and human rights, dignity, and autonomy. Reinforced by threats of criminal sanction, from fines to imprisonment, states have exerted tremendous vertical, paternalist power on citizens, despite serious questions as to the efficacy, sustainability, and proportionality of adopted measures. Day-to-day life was essentially suspended worldwide, with borders closed, social gatherings banned, business operations ceased, sports events canceled, and religious services suspended; no less than 1.5 billion students in 188 countries were globally affected by school closures.”
Stephen Thomson (COVID-19 emergency measures and the impending authoritarian pandemic, Journal of Law and Biosciences, Sept. 2020)

“But we must be completely clear…if nationalism is truly the hallmark of a people in the prime of its youth and energies, how does it happen that under its aegis morality decays, ancient customs die out—that men are uprooted, the steadfast derided, the thoughtful branded, the rivers poisoned, and the forests destroyed? Why, if this is a high watermark of our national life, has our speech been vulgarized in this unprecedented way?”
Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen (Diary of a Man in Despair)

“Ah! Our nice little ego is back again!”
Jacques Lacan (Seminar II)

“When wrong, we mistake for objective verification the selection and solicitation (more or less deliberate) of the evidence, which is forced to confirm the presuppositions (more or less
explicit) of the research itself. The dog thinks it is biting the bone and is
instead biting its own tail.”

Carlo Ginzburg and Adriano Prosperi (A Seminar on the Benefit of Christ, 1975)

I wanted to try to assemble a few random, or somewhat random, thoughts here. Many have written on the Reset and at Aesthetic Resistance ( https://soundcloud.com/aestheticresistance )

we have done several podcasts on this subject, so this time I want to touch on less discussed implications of what is going on globally. Psychological implications, but also psychological precursors. And several things have come to mind. One is contemporary architecture , and the legacy of Philip Johnson. The second is the misreading of Freud and psychoanalysis altogether.

“Indeed, for him ( Lacan) the ego is no less a “historic result,” which is to say, a product of modernity, than it was for Marx. At the beginning of the Seminar on the ego, he warns his students against retrospectively projecting our modern conception of the ego into the past when we attempt, for example, to understand the Greeks{  } ‘It is very difficult for us to imagine that the whole of this psychology isn’t eternal.'”
Joel Whitebook (Perversion and Utopia )

Chidinma Nnoli

Whitebook quotes Lacan again on the formation of ego…“a product of our industrial age { } his relationship to this machine is so very intimate that it is almost as if the two were actually conjoined.” This is a fascinating observation in the context of psychoanalysis. And in terms of later mis-readings of Lacan. And Lacan also notes the intense emotional attachment that people have to machines. For the machine, as he put it, ‘exteriorizes the protective shell of his ego’. The machine is the reflection of the reified self. And this then brings us to Philip Johnson.

Johnson came from a wealthy Cleveland family. He was charming and witty, so accounts have it, and was decidedly a social climber. Today he would be called an influencer.

The Vanity Fair piece on Johnson (Marc Wortman, 2016) notes…” he used his personal funds to establish the new Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Architecture, making it the first major American museum to exhibit contemporary architecture and design. At age 26, he collaborated in curating MoMA’s landmark 1932 show, “The International Style: Architecture Since 1922.” This groundbreaking exhibition introduced Americans to masters of modern European architectural style, such as Walter Gropius and Berlin’s Bauhaus school and the French master Le Corbusier, along with a few American practitioners, including Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra, and Raymond Hood. The exhibition and the accompanying book would set the course of world architecture for the next 40 years.”

Philip Johnson, at his desk in the Seagam’s bldg.

Johnson was to hold an enormous amount of influence on architecture in the U.S. And he was deeply enamoured of the Third Reich and Hitler himself. He recounts the erotic charge of attending a rally in Potsdam in 1932. All those blond boys in black leather. So here we have wealth, privilege, and a mythos of fascism, the same blond Aryan volkish seductiveness that is still be marketed today.

“Sharing the Protestant social elite’s then common disdain for Jews and its fear of organized labor, he had no problem with the Nazis’ scapegoating of Jews or excoriation of Communists. He wrote of a visit to Paris, “Lack of leadership and direction in the [French] state has let the one group get control who always gain power in a nation’s time of weakness—the Jews.” To his bigotry he added a personal snobbery toward mass democratic society. In an age of social collapse, Germany had figured out solutions he thought right for the crisis of democracy. He was sure Fascism could transform America, if perhaps occasioning some temporary dislocations for certain “alien” groups, much as it had in Germany. He felt ready to embark on an effort to import Fascism to America.”
Marc Wortman (Ibid)

Plan for Palace of the Soviets, Boris Iofan, architect.

And racism, anti-semitism. Johnson first looked to Huey Long as an American Hitler, but Long was shot dead. No matter, he moved on the Roman Catholic ‘Radio Priest’ Father Charles Edward Coughlin. And Coughlin was invested deeply in classical antisemitism. It was the usual Jewish banker cabal mixed with anti communism. Johnson was to champion Coughlin and quote him often. Johnson was to eventually, as it became clear the U.S. would enter the war, try to change his image. The FBI followed him and raided his New York apartment (finding books by leading fascists and Nazis, some autographed).

“How did Johnson, virtually alone among his Fascist associates, manage to avoid indictment? The answer may lie in the influence of powerful friends. One man in particular could well have been influential: Washington’s powerful Latin-American intelligence-and-propaganda czar Nelson Rockefeller, who knew Johnson well from his New York days. Rockefeller’s mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, was the force behind the Museum of Modern Art. Rockefeller regarded himself as a connoisseur of art, particularly architecture, and had helped his father develop the monumental Rockefeller Center. He was a leading patron of modern art in America and served as president of the Museum of Modern Art, where he had taken a particular interest in Johnson’s Department of Architecture.”
Marc Wortman (Ibid)

Centro Direzionale e Commerciale Fontivegge. Aldo Rossi, architect.

Ah, Rockefeller. The name is always somewhere close to fascist ideals and American power. But to focus more aesthetics here, Johnson was to become the cheerleader and prime exponent of the ‘International Style’ in architecture. Wortman quotes Robert Hughes’ interview with Albert Speer (which I believe I quoted here in the blog several years ago as I have long hated Johnson’s work):

“Suppose a new Führer were to appear tomorrow. Perhaps he would need a state architect? You, Herr Speer, are too old for the job. Whom would you pick? “Well,” Speer said with a half-smile, “I hope Philip Johnson will not mind if I mention his name. Johnson understands what the small man thinks of as grandeur. The fine materials, the size of the space.”
Albert Speer (Guardian, 2003)

There is a sort of tepid backlash now, finally, against Johnson. Twenty years after his death almost. Its hard, though, to overestimate his influence on architecture in the 20th century. And, it is interesting to see the links to Mies Van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier.

Van der Rohe occupies a curious and conflicted position in this discussion. He was both the anti-Johnson, and an unwitting (I think) accomplice to this sense of architecture as a reified protective shell. Le Corbusier was pretty openly a fascist. And an anti semite. He was also a vastly superior architect to Johnson. And maybe simply a great architect. But therein lies the heart of this discussion in a sense. Was there a quality of the fascistic in Corbusier’s work? I don’t know if I can answer that. I certainly think in his case this becomes a complex question and many leftists I know simply will not look at fascist art. That such a thing as great fascist art is an impossibility. I think its possible, but with qualifications, some of which feel, even to me, as labyrinthine and obtuse. Corbusier was also an opportunist who sought employment in Soviet Russia. He self identified as socialist, only to change that a year later and identify as fascist (well, conservative, but this was amid the rise of European fascism). Le Corbusier’s work is also conflicted in general. I have always rather loved Villa Savoye. Many don’t, and I understand the criticisms of it, but for me, like much of his work, there is something beautiful in all that is not there. Still, it is not hard to imagine his work seeming less impressive in another fifty years. And I admit, from certain perspectives, or angles, the Villa Savoye can resemble a beach front restaurant in Pattaya as much as a cherished architectural masterpiece.

Emily Mason

“In 1943, Le Corbusier created “The Modulor” as a physical (anthropometry) system of measurement based on the height of the average man (183 cm) that he promoted through a book he wrote entitled The Modulor: A Harmonious Measure to the Human Scale, Universally Applicable to Architecture and Mechanics, that was published in 1950. The Nazis would rely on anthropometric measurements to distinguish Aryans from Jews. Like anthropology, Le Corbusier’s theory of proportion was presented as a philosophical, mathematical, and historical truth. It imposed on the world a supposed “universal body”: an inane geometrical standard that, in the words of the architect, “constructed beings.” Yes, “The Modulor” constructed machine bodies for his “machine for living” houses. But living how, one might ask? “
Joseph Nechvatal (Hyperallergic 2015)

In a sense Le Corbusier is the more apt precursor to the AI fantasies and post post modernism of many of today’s *stararchitects* . For he was building not for the human, and rarely at a human scale. It is sort of interesting to compare Villa Savoye with the house Wittgenstein designed for his sister. Which she described as unliveable, a house for a god. Perhaps, but both remain difficult to fully grasp, and maybe that is in part because they were expressions of something anti-human, even if only partly in the case of Wittgenstein. They were also Utopian, in an odd way, and aspirations to something transcendent. They were metaphorical.

I am reminded of a quote I have used before…

“If before the 1970s (roughly speaking) buildings were primarily regarded as (public) expenditure, after the 1970s buildings became mostly a means of revenue – which fact ironically only contributed to further downward pressure on construction budgets. Once discovered as a form of capital, there is no choice for buildings but to operate according to the logic of capital. In that sense there may ultimately be no such thing as Modern or Postmodern architecture, but simply architecture before and after its annexation by capital.”
Rainier de Graaf

550 Madison Ave. Philip Johnson, architect

There are several registers of meaning when examining architecture. And certainly if one wants to dissect the contemporary erasure of citation, because there is the simultaneous erasure of history, one is going to have to dissect the industrial age ego as it has evolved.

“Among the more radical implications of the CCA’s show is its repositioning of Stalinist architecture as a precursor to the architectural postmodernism that emerged in Western Europe and North America several decades later. It would have been inconceivable a decade ago to see an image of the 1934 Boris Iofan–designed Palace of Soviets, a hallmark project of the Stalin era, emblazoned on an architecture museum’s facade. Critics and historians in the West have long dismissed the building as tasteless kitsch, “wedding-cake architecture,” and the conservative expression of a repressive regime. The CCA’s gesture, as well as Cohen’s inclusion of Iofan’s original drawings for the project and his photographs of New York skyscrapers from a 1934 visit, documents the architect’s fondness for the eclecticism of American prewar high-rises and acknowledges the period’s complex mechanisms of citation. Elsewhere in the gallery, a contemporary model of Lev Rudnev’s 1953 building for Moscow State University and original drawings for Vyacheslav Oltarzhevsky’s 1957 Hotel Ukraina building in Moscow underscore the Stalin era’s inventive reconstitution of Italian sources. With their flagrant disregard for the rules of proportion and order that traditionally governed Renaissance architectural ornament, both projects show the affinity for decontextualized historical imagery, the urbanistic organization around grand avenues, and the “decorated shed” fetishization of facade and surface that would later manifest in the work of Aldo Rossi, Robert Venturi, and their postmodern sympathizers. Indeed, Rossi first traveled to the Soviet Union during the ’50s, later writing about his profound experience of Stalinist architecture and his admiration for its scale and ability to communicate in an emotional register. “I am proud that I have always defended the great architecture of the Stalinist period,” reflected Rossi in his 1981 Scientific Autobiography, “which could have been transformed into an important alternative for modern architecture but was abandoned.””
Anna Kats (Missed Connections, Artforum, 2020)

Roadside architecture. California. Date unknown, Photographer unknown.

It is unsurprising that Rossi was an admirer of Soviet design and architecture. Rossi’s work in infused with exactly opposite qualities to that of a Johnson. I have written before about my admiration for the San Cataldo Cemetery in Modena. It is among the greatest architectural works of the last century. And today, more than ever, it feels like the corrective to the architecture of capital. And a corrective or answer to the annexed-by-capital architecture of Johnson, or Hadid, or Meier et al.

A very good photo portrait of the San Caltaldo cemetery here https://www.inessabinenbaum.com/aldo-rossi

I use another quote I have used before from Hilton Kramer..

“In the period that saw Andy Warhol emerge as the very model of the new artist-celebrity, moreover, sheer corniness was no longer looked upon as a failure of sensibility, nor was superficiality—or even vulgarity—regarded as a fault. Bad taste might even be taken as a sign of energy and vitality, and “stupid art”—as its champions cheerfully characterized some of the newer styles that began to flourish in the late Seventies and early Eighties—could be cherished for its happy repudiation of cerebration, profundity, and critical stringency. Try to imagine Arshile Gorky or Mark Rothko or Robert Motherwell countenancing such a turnabout in attitudes and you have a vivid sense of the differences separating the last stages of modernist orthodoxy from the very different moral climate of postmodernist art.”
Hilton Kramer (Postmodern: Art and Culture in the 1980s)

Kim Inbai

Kramer also notes perceptively that ironic camp, while mocked, is never really disparaged. That mocking encloses a good deal of validation and appreciation. And like so much else, this change in cultural taste began in the early 80s. The eighties marked, I suspect anyway, the beginning of the current phase of ironic kitsch conservatism. And the front edges of psychic breakdown. The fascist leaning bourgeois taste for triviality was gaining traction. For what today’s Elon Musks or Jeff Bezos represent are ironic little Nazis, little prancing empty holograms of elitism and white supremacism. But it is mock elitism. And this post modern , or post post modern irony encloses and normalizes Hitler by rendering kitsch ironic Hitlers. Hitler and the Third Reich become ironic style codes. It is interesting that Prince Harry dressed as a Nazi for some costume party is treated with mock approbation, but Harry clearly doesn’t know where the joke begins or ends. And running beneath it is a sadistic eroticism. Or as Philip Johnson wrote a friend after attending the Potsdam rally…breathless in tone….“all those blond boys in black leather”.

I was thinking of Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen’s description of Hitler as a Machiavelli for the chambermaids. And it is worth noting that Reck Malleczewen’s book Diary of a Man in Despair is absolute essential reading today.

“For Lacan, Freud’s “Copernican Revolution” consists in the “subversion” of the “pre-analytical notion of the ego,” which is to say, the centered, self-present, and transparent ego more or less shared by common sense, Cartesian philosophy, and academic psychology.’ This subversion consists, according to Lacan, in the decentering of the ego vis-a-vis the unconscious, that is, the demonstration that the unconscious, or the “subject of the unconscious,” as he calls it, and not the ego, constitutes “the core of our being” [derKern unseres Wesens}.”
Joel Whitebook (Ibid)

Now Lacan saw the idea of human’s premature birth as critical. That homosapiens are born far earlier than other animals in terms of the infant’s helplessness.

Alberto Garcia Alix, phtography.

“During the mirror stage, the child anticipates a future situation in which its helplessness would have been overcome. In contradiction to its actually fragmented and uncoordinated state, in the mirror-or, more precisely, in the mirroring experience-the child perceives a synthesized image of himself or herself as already integrated and no longer helpless…”
Joel Whitebook (Ibid)

The ego is formed with this fictional image of a unified self. This fiction is both alienating and rigid. The ego is always struggling to maintain a fiction. So, for Lacan, the ego is not testing reality but is refusing to address reality in its entirety. Whatever one thinks regards Lacan, this fundamental observation seems relevant today. Certainly volumes have been devoted to tweezing apart all aspects of the mirror phase and its endless implications. But this denial of the de centered self seems hugely important for the Spectacle, for the waning days of Capitalism. Now the Covid lockdowns have created an opportunity for more transference of wealth to the top few billionaires and their friends. It is almost by definition delusional. And I suspect it cannot work as they imagine, for many reasons, some of them to do with the fiction of AI. But, the fact remains that the lockdowns have already thrown millions into destitution and desperation. That anyone can accept the official narrative speaks to this basic fiction in the maturation of the self.

The loss of the unconscious has meant an ever drier and more repressed and repressing Ego. Now its interesting in the Covid discussion that the embrace of the official narrative has played well with the haute bourgeosie, but far less well with the blue collar working class. Perhaps they have had more experience in the betrayal that is embedded in screen manipulation. And it may be that the lumpen classes, having been less directly plugged into the apparatus, simply exist more directly in the material world. But I want to return to this at the end.

The loss of what Adorno called the non-identical is critical to now evaluating the forces that oppress and disorient contemporary thought. The idea of the self is always in a struggle to find something in the constant assault of the Spectacle, of media, which is not in a sense a reflection of him or herself.

Adolph Gottlieb

Now, that the reflection is also an illusion should be evident. But that does negate the suffering of the struggle for a self. The lockdowns are taking a far more destructive quality the longer they go on for it is the accrued losses, however small, however seemingly minimal, that are now coming to haunt people’s emotions.

“Adorno perceives that compulsive identity, the sacrifice of the moment for the future, was necessary at a certain stage of history, in order for human beings to liberate themselves from blind subjugation to nature. To this extent such identity already contains a moment of freedom. Accordingly, the ‘spell of selfhood’ cannot be seen simply as an extension of natural coercion; rather, it is an illusion which could, in principle, be reflectively
broken through by the subject which it generates although the full realization of this process would be inseparable from a transformation of social relations.”

Peter Dews (The Limits of Disenchantment)

Social revolution is the path toward a liberation from suffering. I am often struck by the realization of just how many people are watching images on a screen, the identical images I am watching at that moment. There are vast implications that are rarely addressed.

Santa Maria del Priorato, (1765) Giovanni Piranesi architect.

But then, how does the fascist aesthetic of Philip Johnson intersect here? The answer is that as the unwelcoming reflective front of 550 Madison avenue implies the superiority of those in the penthouse, and denies any dialectical relationship to the people on the street– so does fascist theorizing deny any dialectical relationship. The pure mythos of the fascist leader is one of rejection. It is an ideology of erasure. And so the manufacturing of the world must erase, and this erasure is partly entwined with the narcissism of the golden reflections. The silver, the metal of the coin.

“The absolute void, the silence of the “things by themselves,” the tautological affirmation of the pure sign, turned solely back onto itself:in the Campo Marzio we have already glimpsed the demonstration ad absurdium of this necessary nullification of the signified. In the church of the Priorato that semantic void is no longer hinted at. Now it is finally spoken of as it is, in all its brutal nakedness. The authentic horrid of Piranesi is here, and not in the still ambiguous metaphors of the Carceri. Precisely because Piranesi has to demonstrate that the silence of architecture, the reduction to zero of its symbolic and communicative attributes, is the inevitable consequence of the “constraint” to variation-here once again we have the theme of the Parere–the two faces of the altar cannot be separated. The destruction of the symbolic universe is seen to be closely linked to the last, pathetic triumph of the allegory, which unfolds itself on the side facing the faithful.”
Manfredo Tafuri (The Sphere and the Labyrinth)

Peter Peryer, photography.

Tafuri saw Piranesi as the creator of Ur-theatre. At least for the modern world. As he wrote… “The Carceri are theatres in which are staged the acrobatics performed by an apostate anxious to drag his own spectators into the universe of “virtuous wickedness. ” (Ibid). There is a chapter in The Sphere and The Labyrinth that is crucial to understanding the unconscious of architecture, as it were, of a Piranesi, or a Rossi for that matter. An unconscious that is the only pathway to collectivism and the only way to use the back door to the Johnson skyscraper. And when I say unconscious, I mean the non identical of Adorno (and Lacan), the Dionysian that was rejected and denied by the greek rationalists, and the myth that the Enlightenment attempted to correct. Which they DID correct, only to eventually realize it contained within itself the seeds of its opposite, of that which was corrected.

The chapter though is more about theatre. And there is an interesting quote of Lukacs, one which speaks to a basic confusion about the stage, about both drama and theatre overall.

Statue of Piranesi, by Giuseppe Angelini. (Chuch of the Knights of Malta).

“The fact is that there no longer exists a real mass corresponding to the mass sentiments that determine dramatic form. The true modern theatre can be imposed on the mass public only by arriving at a compromise. It sometimes happens, in fact, that the audience of today accepts even the essential, but only when it is presented to it together with other things: this audience is incapable of accepting the essential by itself. In Elizabethan times-not to mention the tragic age of the Greeks-this distinction did not exist, because then the individual dramas could have varying degrees of success while the essential of their intentions was and remained always the same.”
Grygory Lukacs (Writings on Sociology)

This reminds me of Habermas saying modern art cannot provide moral inspiration. The difference being Habermas is an asshole and Lukacs is not. But Lukacs is wrong that mass sentiment was what drove Greek tragedy or any theatre. First off its impossible to know, or really even guess what the intention of Sophocles was, or John Ford or Christopher Marlowe. Tafuri grasps this in his remarks on Piranesi. The problem has been the text. Artaud and Fuchs both said theatre without words was possible. But its not. Or its not really theatre. But theatre can exist without anything BUT text. And audience. And here one would need a long dissertation on audiences. Still this is a digression. The issue is the Carceri of Piranesi are like the basement storage rooms for Trump tower or any Johnson bulding, or pretty much anyone in the International school. For that was the capitalist dream, or anti dream, ascendent for half a century, and it was a part of the instrumental thought serving as the currency for western consciousness and sense of self.

Capitalism has had an enormous effect on human perception. It is more than just a fascist aesthetics, though it is that, too. It is the incremental accrued strangulation of the non identical, it is the imposition of a policed world vision, the literal reflecting back of not just gold shiny surfaces, anonymous and cold, but increasingly now a sense of digitalization, of the world as if it were itself a screen. The world is increasingly experienced as if it were a screen, and exactly with the loss of dimension, and one that blurs at too close an inspection.

But the viewer does not posit a screen. This is natural for many people, now. The facade of the Santa Maria del Priorato, designed by Piranesi, works oppositionally to 550 Madison Avenue. The church welcomes one in, seduces one in, even for all its severity and austerity.

Tafuri always wrote within the shadow of fascism, Italian and German.

Stefan Banz, installation.

“Italian futurism thus furnishes a list of instruments and of problems, from which emerge the thematic of the grotesque; “the identification with the assassin” characteristic of the worship of the machine; the use of nonsense, of the “language of madness,” placed next to a language of the dreariest banality. We are, here, on the inside of a totally formal perception of the new metropolitan universe. Not the domination of it: if anything, a mimesis, a “wanting to dominate because of not being able to.”
Manfredo Tafuri (Ibid)

His was the architectural critique of the screen, which he anticipated. And the undeniable fascistic quality embedded in screens. He also noted the compulsion to repeat was constitutive of fascism.

“In other words, the exorcism of chaos can reconstruct the theatre as an institution.”
Manfredo Tafuri (Ibid)

The reliance today on selling AI is a defensive one. It smacks of desperation.

“Schlemmer writes: “Everything that is mechanizable becomes mechanized. Result: the recognition of what is not mechanizable.” The theatre thus becomes a search for the unfillable interstices that constitute the cracks in the technological universe. Given the loss of the authentic, “in the name of the ludic and of the marvelous,” the theatre can still occupy the entire domain that “lies between the religious cult and naive popular entertainment,” marking precisely the borders of legitimate meanings.”
Manfredo Tafuri (Ibid)

It is telling that Tafuri quotes Kleist’s essay on Marionettes. For it is in the sublime indifference of the marionette that one finds a divinity. Much Asian theatrical tradition samples this idea as well. Actor as marionette poses the question of what is lost or gained here. Tafuri adds the puppet is the metaphorical figure of dead labour. What (per Tafuri) Hitler called ‘neopathetic’. And connects the disjointed gestures of the marionette to the Benjamin and his descriptions of the assembly line.

But the unmechanized, the undigitalized, or rather the undigitalizable, is seen as subversive.

Juan Munoz

It is worth quoting the concluding paragraph of this chapter…

“In a place that refuses to present itself as space and that is destined to vanish like a circus tent, Mies gives life to a language composed of empty and The Stage as “Virtual City” isolated signifiers, in which things are portrayed as mute events. The sorcery of the theatre of the avant-garde dies out in the wandering without exits of the spectator of Mies’s pavilion, within the forest of pure “data .” The liberating laugh freezes at the perception of a new “duty.” The utopia no longer resides in the city, nor does its spectacular metaphor, except as a game or a productive structure disguised as the imaginary. “
Manfredo Tafuri (Ibid)

And here we return to Van der Rohe. Who Tafuri described as creating metaphoric cathedrals. He also created, within the grammar of Capital, theatre spaces. And the Seagram building, on which Philip Johnson worked also ( he designed the restaurant), remains so loved and loathed. Tafuri speaks of Mies ‘unio mystica’, a kind of sacred solipsism. And throughout there is (especially in the Seagram building) the emptiness of the space. For an office building this is a remarkable quality. But Van der Rohe had sublime taste, firstly. One can look at Stirling or Johnson, or an E.M. Pei and feel the anxious sense of insecurity. Not with Van der Rohe, whose austerity is confident and disturbing. But it is also the expression of western Capital, and it serves that master. But the service is that of a perfect butler, and it is never a complaint.

Friedrichstrasse office building entry, Mies Van der Rohe, 1922.

“…man himself has become, after God and nature, an anthropomorphism”.
Herbert Schnadelbach (The Face in the Sand; Foucault and the Anthropological Slumber)

Somewhere Brecht noted the strong desire in some to proclaim the truth when they do not know what is true. This feels like an intro to social media. Tafuri said Johnson’s style was self satisfied. It is also deeply and troublingly hierarchical. Not all tall buildings are. Johnson’s are. For Johnson (and later, Meier, and Hadid and Piano, and quite a few others) is purposefully keeping the architectural idea safely within the tradition of capitalist optimism. That is to say, they are about progress. So is Walt Disney of course. Rossi and Kahn or even Barragan, are not — progress is in fact excluded. The risk of a kind of nostalgia is always there, but I find none in Rossi or Kahn. Progress, in the case of Johnson is intwined with coercion. It is a false fake purity that Johnson expresses. And hence a dangerous expression.

Meier often (in his obsessive white) feels as if he designing a vernacular architecture for the Jetsons landscape. Or, as someone said about the Getty Center, ‘it looks like dental clinic’. But these are the worlds produced when the ineffable is discarded. There is a note in Tarfuri too, about James Stirling, and information theory. Again, this feels like an anticipation of the era of mass data mining, and of surveillance. That architects for big money projects were beginning to reflect something about mass meaninglessness.

Nicolas Grospierre, photography (ticket booth, Powisle station warsaw, 2004)

Brutalism was the last architectural movement, if that’s what it was, that was made up of working class architects, by and large. Architects from lesser schools. It may account for the durability of its appeal. In fact a half dozen new books are out on Brutalism. It photographs well for one thing, but its more, it is the sense of connection with this de centered Ego. One responds to Brutalism because of its ineffability — its uncanniness often.Without digressing too far into Brutalism, I only mention it because of its class characteristics. The ticket booth above is one familiar to me, as I road that number two line frequently on the way back to Lodz. But there is something unsettling about concrete structures. Owen Hatherley, of all people, noted the influence of Bernd and Hilla Becher, the husband and wife photography team that made black and white de-contextualized portraits of abandoned industrial sites for this renewed interest and appreciation of Brutalism. The lack of context is important. One could also mention the new topographic photographers,perhaps especially the late and great Lewis Baltz. Except that Baltz was commenting on the context he left out. Perhaps the Becher’s were, too, to some degree.

“The architecture of Aldo Rossi { } excludes all justifications from outside. The distinctive features of architecture are inserted into a world of rigorously selected signs, within which the law of exclusion dominates. From the monument of Segrate (1965) to the projects for the cemetery in Modena (1971) and for student housing in Chieti (1976), Rossi elaborates an alphabet of forms that rejects all facile articulation. “
Manfredo Tafuri (Ibid)

Trent Parke, photography.

It is not enough to just leave it out. Exclusion is by itself, often, self conscious. In a sense one needs rigorous removal of that which might be loved. I used to have an exercise for playwrights (well, I still do) to rewrite a scene they were working on by eliminating every other line, regardless of who was speaking. It never failed to improve the scene. Rossi’s genius is to not have to comment on what is left out. In a sense nothing is actually left out.

But exclusion is also recognition.

“Freud’s “official position,” up to the 1920s at least, was that the ego’s primary job was defensive and that the main function of the psychic apparatus was to reduce tension.The ego used repression, isolation, and projection to exclude ,that is to say,“get rid of” excitation arising from inner nature.The ego was considered strong and rational to the extent it maintained its solid boundaries and prevented the stimuli of instinctual-unconscious life from penetrating its domain. Freud’s view of the ego, moreover, was tied up with his conviction that “scientific man,” that is, the rational subject -the individual who has renounced magical thinking and been purified of the subjective distortions (Entsellungen) of fantasy and affect – represented “the most advanced form of human development.”
Joel Whitebook (The Marriage of Marx and Freud, Psychoanalysis and the Frankfurt School)

Hans Loewald suggested that this official position was really a description of the obsessive neurotic. And to suggest it as anything more than pathological would result in confusion. There is truth in this, but not entirely. Kleinian psychoanalysis echoes the Freudian (and Horkheimer and Adorno) version of the ego. And while Loewald was partly correct, there is a danger in not examining the truths of this official position. But the point here is that the role of the excluded was critical for Adorno, and for Lacan. And really, for Marcuse, too. And the excluded, the absent, in artworks (from painting to theatre to even novels and films) is an expression of the non identical in a sense. Uncanniness rubs up against this, too. The removal of context (and this could also mean utilitarian didacticism, and even the moralising of identity prescriptions) does not mean the context is gone, it more means the context is replaced with that illusive scene of primal trauma, with the stage space of existential dread, of the recognition of human suffering. There is a paradox in this, wherein the artist who insists on representing the suffering in fact nearly always negates that suffering, or trivializes it. For the suffering is intimately bound up with the unconscious and with repression. With guilt, denial, and shame. With abjection. And even when such experiences of the (lets call it) excluding artwork are fleeting, or not fully made conscious, they leave a residue. A residue of the truth. And nearly everyone on some level shares this.

Marie-José Jongerius, photography.

“Glamour cannot exist without personal social envy being a common and widespread emotion. The industrial society which has moved towards democracy and then stopped half way is the ideal society for generating such an emotion. The pursuit of individual happiness has been acknowledged as a universal right. Yet the existing social conditions make the individual feel powerless. He lives in the contradiction between what he is and what he would like to be. Either he then becomes fully conscious of the contradiction and its causes, and so joins the political struggle for a full democracy which entails, amongst other things, the overthrow of capitalism; or else he lives, continually subject to an envy which compounded with his sense of powerlessness, dissolves into recurrent day-dreams.”
John Berger (Ways of Seeing)

The entire Covid narrative, as the mainstream media and world governments and health organizations have crafted it is absurd. And yet many huddle in their homes, terrified. Only leaving, mask on face, to buy more toilet paper. However, many people (half approximately given recent polls) reject the narrative. And I think one reason is that the educated classes (institutionally educated) are both more indoctrinated but also more invested in an idea of progress and society that demands repression and domination. It was Marcuse who wanted a regression of progress, a return to imagination and fantasy, to a register of the archaic. I think it is also, now, in the post Fordist world, where the very forms repression took were expressed in more inflexible bodies, more mechanical gestures and facial expressions, the gestures have become imprecise and often soft (or they become caricatures of heavy machinery). The human as a machine, a worker machine, unless you were of the ruling class and then you were not a machine but a divinity. That was the model.

The idea of civilization being predicated upon instinctual repression is a basic Freudian tenant. It is also grossly oversimplified, even in Freud. But certainly the tensions of class struggle will lessen under a system that demands equality. The so called ‘new normal’, which is simply a techno driven solution to market capitalism (a solution where a few hundred people own the planet) will do nothin to lessen tensions, but quite the opposite. This is why one cannot discount the death drive in such discourses, for that dynamic is at the heart of class struggle.

George Tooker (1971)

“The character structure of modern man, who reproduces a six-thousand-year-old patriarchal authoritarian culture is typified by characterological armoring against his inner nature and against the social misery which surrounds him. This characterolgical armoring of the character is the basis of isolation, indigence, craving for authority, fear of responsibility, mystic longing, sexual misery, and neurotically impotent rebelliousness.”
Wilhelm Reich (The Function of the Orgasm)

The conventional idea of progress is complacent, but also narcissistic. It is self congratulatory. And has been shaped for two hundred years by the ruling class. By the propertied class. Progress as an idea is already now being revised by those opinion shapers at mass media. For as the potential for an end to capitalism looms, there needs be a marketed version explaining what comes after.

To donate to this blog, use the paypal button at the top of the page. This goes to the upkeep of Aesthetic Resistance at Soundcloud as well.


  1. After that quote from de Graff about capital and architecture, the Johnson building you posted was absolutely horrifying. Not just ugly on an aesthetic level, but terrifying on a deep level. It looks rendered from of a bad David Fincher movie.

  2. Phil Gibbs says:

    Thank you for that amazing article. The next few years should be interesting indeed/utterly abhorrent…..or even both.

Speak Your Mind


To Verify You\'re Human, Please Solve The Problem: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.