network culture

Network Culture at Columbia Fall 2009

I will be teaching my course on Network Culture at Columbia this fall in addition to the studio I am teaching. The syllabus is below.

Description
The purpose of this seminar is to come to an advanced historical understanding of our networked age. We will explore how the network is not merely a technology with social ramifications but rather serves as a cultural dominant connecting changes in society, economy, aesthetics, urbanism, and ideology. As a history of the contemporary, the seminar is organized around a series of topics tracing a genealogy of present-day culture.
 
Requirements
Participation: 20%
Each class will consist of a presentation by the instructor on selected themes, followed by an in-depth discussion in seminar. Students are expected to prepare all readings in order to facilitate a discussion in which all students participate. Active participation by all students in each session is required. 
 
Tumblr: 20%
Each student is expected to maintain a tumblelog on tumblr.com and to post at least twice a week. Beyond mere reblogging of information pertinent to the course, the tumblelog will form a record and commentary upon their research during the semester.
 
Curatorial Project: 60%
The term project will be a curatorial project, exploring a cultural topic related to the subject matter with a written and visual component.  
 
Both design and scholarship are integral to the term project. A carefully curated and designed work will be accompanied a 3,500 word essay on the curated material. Plagiarism of any sort will result in immediate failure
 
Reading
There is one textbook. Kazys Varnelis, ed. Networked Publics (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2008).
 
Other readings will be available separately on-line.



 
01
09.11
Introduction
 
Mizuko Ito, “Introduction,” and Kazys Varnelis, “Conclusion: The Meaning of Network Culture,” Networked Publics, 1-13 and 145-163.
 
02
09.18
Network Theory
Manuel Castells, “Informationalism, Networks, and the Network Society: A Theoretical Blueprint. In Castells, ed. The Network Society: A Cross-cultural Perspective (Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2004), 3-45.
 
Albert-László Barabási, “Six Degrees of Separation,” “Small Worlds,” and “Hubs and Connectors,” Linked: The New Science of Networks (Cambridge, MA: Perseus, 2002), 25-63.
 
Nicholas Carr, “From the Many to the Few” The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google (New York: W. W. Norton, 2008), 127-149.
 
Optional:
 
Mark S. Granovetter, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” American Journal of Sociology 78 (May 1973), 1360-1380.
 
Duncan J. Watts, “The Connected Age,” Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age, (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003), 19-42.
03
09.25
Freedom and Control
Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on Societies of Control ,” October 59 (Winter 1992), 73-77.
 
Michel Foucault, “Docile Bodies,” Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 135-156.
 
Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, “The Californian Ideology,” http://www.hrc.wmin.ac.uk/theory-californianideology-main.html.
 
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, “Capitalist Sovereignty, Or Administering the Global Society of Control,” Empire (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), 325-350.
 
Optional:
 
Alexander R. Galloway, “Physical Media,”Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004), 29-53.
 
04
10.02
Postmodernism and History after the End of History
 
Jean Baudrillard, “The End of the Millennium or the Countdown,” Economy & Society 26 (1997): 447-55.
 
Jean François Lyotard, “Answering the Question: What is Postmodernism?” Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1984), xxiii-xxv.
05
10.09
Postfordism and Postmodernism
 
David Harvey, “Fordism” and “From Fordism to Flexible Accumulation,” in The Condition of Postmodernity, (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1989), 125-172.
 
Fredric Jameson, “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” New Left Review 146 (July/August 1984): 53-92.
 
Optional:
Hal Foster, “Postmodernism: A Preface,” in Hal Foster, ed., The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture (Townsend, Washington: Bay Press, 1983), ix-xvi.
 
06
10.16
Place, I. Non-Place to Networked Place
 
Kazys Varnelis and Anne Friedberg, "Place: The Networking of Public Space," Varnelis, ed. Networked Publics (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008), 15-42.
 
Marc Augé, “Prologue” and “From Places to Non-Places,” in Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, (London; New York: Verso, 1995), 1-6. 75-115.
 
Hans Ibelings, “Supermodernism,” Supermodernism (Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 1998), 55-102.
 
Kazys Varnelis, interview with Hans Ibelings, to be posted online.
 
Ignasi de Sola-Morales Rubió, “Terrain Vague,” Cynthia Davison, ed. Anyplace (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995), 119-123.
 
07
10.16
Place, II. Maps and Things

Kazys Varnelis and Marc Tuters, “Beyond Locative Media: Giving Shape to the Internet of Things,” Leonardo 39, No. 4 (2006): 357–363.

 
Jordan Crandall, “Operational Media,” Ctheory, http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=441.
 
Bruno Latour, “On Actor Network Theory: A Few Clarifications,” Soziale Welt 47 (1998): 360-81,translated version, http://www.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-9801/msg00019.html.
 
08
10.23
Culture, I. Networked Publics and Cultural Work
 
Adrienne Russell, Mizuko Ito, Todd Richmond, and Marc Tuters, “Culture: Media Convergence and Networked Participation,” Networked Publics, 43-76.
 
Yochai Benkler, “Chapter 1. Introduction: A Moment of Opportunity and Challenge” and “Chapter 4. The Economics of Social Production,” The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 1-28 and 91-127.

Geert Lovink, “Blogging: The Nihilist Impulse,” Eurozine (2007), http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2007-01-02-lovink-en.html

Alan Liu, The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), excerpts.
 
09
10.30
Culture, II. Power Laws and Influence
 
Chris Anderson, “The Long Tail,” Wired, October 2004, http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html
 
Clay Shirky, “Power Laws, Weblogs and Inequality,” Clay Shirky’s Writings About the Internet. http://www.shirky.com/writings/powerlaw_weblog.html
 
Bill Wausik, “My Crowd. Or Phase 5: A Report from the Inventor of the Flash Mob,” Harper’s Magazine (March 2006), 56-66.
 
Optional
 
Selections from Michael J. Weiss, The Clustered World: How We Live, What We Buy, and What it All Means About Who We Are (New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 1999).
 
Malcolm Gladwell, “The Coolhunt,” New Yorker (March 17, 1997), 78-88, http://www.gladwell.com/1997/1997_03_17_a_cool.htm
 
Grant McCracken, “Who Killed the Coolhunter?” http://www.cultureby.com/trilogy/2006/06/who_killed_the_.html
 
Duncan J. Watts and Peter Sheridan Dodd, “Influentials, Networks, and Public Formation,” Journal of Consumer Research (December 2007), 441-458.
 
10
11.06
Infrastructure
 
François Bar, Walter Baer, Shahram Ghandeharizadeh, and Fernando Ordonez "Infrastructure: Network Neutrality and Network Futures," in Networked Publics, 109-144.
 
Joseph A .Tainter, “Introduction to Collapse,” The Collapse of Complex Societies, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 1-21.
 
Tom Vanderbilt, “Data Center Overload,” The New York Times (June 8, 2009), http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/14/magazine/14search-t.html

Nicholas Carr, “World Wide Computer” The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google (New York: W. W. Norton, 2008), 107-127.

 
11
11.13
Subjectivity
 
Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?,” Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2008, 56-63.
 
Kenneth J. Gergen, “Social Saturation and the Populated Self,” The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 48-80.
 
Brian Holmes, “The Flexible Personality. For a New Cultural Critique,” Transversal, http://transform.eipcp.net/transversal/1106/holmes/en
 
Warren Neidich, “Resistance is Futile,” Artbrain. Journal of Neuroasthetic Theory 4, http://www.artbrain.org/neuroaesthetics/neidich.html.
 
12
11.20
Politics, Urbanism, and Globalization
 
Saskia Sassen, “On Concentration and Centrality in the Global City,” Paul L. Knox and Peter J. Taylor, eds., World Cities in a World-System (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 63-78.
 
Saskia Sassen, “Electronic space and power,” Journal of Urban Technology 4 (1997): 1-17.
 
Stephen Graham, “Communication Grids: Cities and Infrastructure,” in Saskia Sassen, Global Networks. Linked Cities (London: Routledge, 2002), 71-92.
 
13
12.04
Conclusion
 
 

 

The End of the Music Industry

New York Times Op-Ed columnist Charles M. Blow not only writes for the paper, he produces stunning infographics. This time, he gives us visual proof of the decline of the music industry in the infographic below. Read the article here. The statistics he cites are fascinating, particularly the suggestion that the Long Tail is actually quite short:

A study last year conducted by members of PRS for Music, a nonprofit royalty collection agency, found that of the 13 million songs for sale online last year, 10 million never got a single buyer and 80 percent of all revenue came from about 52,000 songs. That’s less than one percent of the songs.

Again, a chapter of Networked Publics, this time the chapter on culture is worth taking a look at. Here, we surveyed the changes in consumption and production of cultural artifacts in the last decade. The trends in the book that we identified are all still in play, albeit even more so. 

The other day a student was fined $750,000 for downloading music. In theory, this financial death sentence should deter other downloaders, but its too late, as meaningless a gesture as the East German government's assassination of Chris Gueffroy, shot to death crossing the Berlin Wall in January 1989. Blow finishes his piece by mentioning Apple's efforts to bring back the album and concludes "It’s too little too late."

I know that my thesis that network culture is distinct from postmodernism is controversial, but the change in the music industry is an example of how different things are: where under postmodernism, capital colonized culture, and in turn culture colonized capital, today we watch a massive collapse of the culture industry. Instead of culture and its products (which were still physical), capital sought to trade in the next horizon, information and its delivery. In doing so, however, capital ran across the difficulties of capitalizing on that condition and is now faced with a crisis.    

My sense is that there's also more to this than rampant piracy and a shift to legal music downloading. I'd be curious to find out if our consumption of music has shifted to other fields.

One possibility is that our attention has shifted elsewhere. If teenagers spend their time in online forums, on YouTube or surfing for pr0n, that's less time devoted to music.   

Another, more prosaic possibility is that it is far easier to preview music than ever before. Since my tastes are far more esoteric than FM radio, I used to blindly buy albums based on recommendations from stores or previous work by the artists, but now I can decide if I like the music before I buy it. Much of the time I don't. 

Moreover, there's always the dark possibility that given the global continuum that the Internet has brought us, the production of the new has been inhibited. On a personal note, I find very little from the last decade worth listening to. Maybe that's a broader problem? The fact that there are no major new movements to compare with New Wave, Hip-Hop, or Electronica in this decade (surely not Emo?) points in this direction as well. 

Likely, its a combination of these changes. But its clear to me that Network Culture is not the same thing as postmodernism.  

The Immediated Now on Networked: A Networked Book

Networked: A Networked Book on Networked Art is now live.

Produced by Turbulence.org and supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, Networked includes a chapter that I wrote entitled The Immediated Now. Network Culture and the Poetics of Reality.

In this chapter, I suggest that network culture is not limited to digital technology or to the Internet but rather is a broad sociocultural shift. Much more than under postmodernism, which was still transitional, in network culture both art and everyday life take mediation as a given. The result is that life becomes performance. We live in a culture of exposure, seeking affirmation from the net. My chapter explores the resulting poetics of the real from YouTube to the art gallery. To be clear, the new poetics of reality is different from established models of realism, replacing earlier codes with immediacy, self-exposure, performance, and remix.

One distinctive feature of this book is that it is open for comments, revisions, and translations and you may submit a chapter for consideration by the editors. I hope my readers not only read the entire book, but contribute. Many thanks to Jo-Anne Green and Helen Thorington of Turbulence.org for putting up this project. It's been in the works for a while and is sorely needed. 

I'm excited that the research that I did for this chapter is now taking on another form as it feeds my book on Network Culture. I've been writing 1,000 words a day and its moving at a good clip. I hope you enjoy the chapter as a preview, and if you haven't read the introduction yet, you can do so here.   

Finally, I'll also confess to another role in the project, which is that the CommentPress system, developed at the Institute for the Future of the Book came in part out of a discussion that members of the Institute and I had after one of my courses three years back. That said, Wordpress isn't the best system for this. I'm dying for it to be ported to Drupal.

 

On Architectural Photography Today

As my readers know I am writing a book on network culture* this year. In writing about architecture under network culture, it struck me that the role of architectural photography has changed.

During postmodernism it seemed to observers that architecture was being produced more and more for photography. Kenneth Frampton dubbed architectural photography "an insidious filter through which our tactile environment tends to lose its responsiveness" and complained that the actual buildings that looked so seductive in photographs often were poorly detailed. Fredric Jameson suggested that "it is the value of the photographic equipment you consume first and foremost, not its objects." Under network culture, architecture photography becomes freed from architecture.

To be sure, photographers, particularly members of the Frankfurt School such as Andreas Gursky, Laurenz Berges, Thomas Ruff, and Thomas Struth (and with even if he is an exception due to the constructed nature of his environments, Thomas Demand), have given new, sustained focus on architecture as a subject. Architecture, in this sense, becomes not a matter to represent, but rather a way to represent the delirium of globalized space today. As they do so, these photographs also allude nostalgically to the ambitions of modernism—many of these photographers directly invoke the modern past with their subject matter—and to a time in which architecture was our primary spatial experience of the world, grounding us. 

Still, architecture itself seems to have worked free of architectural photography. No new generation has come up to replace the great late modernist architectural photographers: Marvin Rand, Julius Schulman, and Ezra Stoller. The architecture of network culture has a certain hostility to the photograph, generally refusing—even more than modernist works—to allow for a single viewpoint. The well-worn patch of grass at the Villa Savoye, is foreign to structures like Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, FOA's Yokohama Terminal, or OMA's Casa da Musica at Porto. After all, the Bilbao-Effect only works on such structures if they are visited in person whereas many of the icons of postmodernism were private structures and museums had not yet understood the potential of a global tourist draw.

Thus, if the architectural photograph is still necessary so that such works can appear on front page of the New York Times, its less of a self-sufficient sign and more a pointer, an advertisement. This is not to say that the architecture of network culture is not designed on the screen. After all, it but the postmodern role of the fixed architectural photograph as a driver for building design is over.   

  

 

 

 

 

*I am also excited to be teaching a seminar on the topic at Columbia this fall. 

 

Michael Jackson, What Have You Done?

Long overdue… a post on Michael Jackson. 

First, a quote from AUDC's Blue Monday:

Individuals … long to become virtual and escape into ether. It is through this physical apparatus that, Hollywood stars, celebrities, and criminals obtain another body, a media life. Neither sacred or living, this media life is pure image, more consistent and dependable than physical life itself. It is the dream we all share: that we might become objects, or better yet, images. Media life can potentially be preserved for eternity, cleansed of unscripted character flaws and accidents – a guaranteed legacy that defies aging and death by already appearing dead on arrival. The idols of millions via magazines, film, and television are disembodied, lifeless forms without content or meaning.

But the terrifying truth is that, although a media image may be eternal, like Michael Jackson, its host is prone to destruction and degradation. Data itself is not free of physicality. When it is reduplicated or backed up to file and stored via a remote host it suffers the same limitations as the physical world. It can be erased, lost, and compromised. The constant frustration of CDs, DVDs, and hard drives is that they don’t last forever, and all data is lost at once. Up to 20% of the information carefully collected on Jet Propulsion Laboratory computers during NASA’s 1976 Viking mission to Mars has been lost. The average web page lasts only a hundred days, the typical life span of a flea on a dog. Even if data isn’t lost, the ability to read it soon disappears. Photos of the Amazon Basin taken by satellites in the 1970s are critical to understanding long-term trends in deforestation but are trapped forever on indecipherable magnetic tapes. 

As you probably know, Michael Jackson's death caused huge delays on the Internet and even prompted Google to think they were under attack. See here. Jackson's passing from heavily-modified physical form to pure media was a giant ripple in the Net.

Novels and Imperialism

While working on the Network Culture book, I've been thinking about the absorption of identity politics into a globalized idea of art and literature (what Bourriaud labels as "altermodern").
 
On a global scale, this parallels the absorption of dialects into a national language during the early modern state. As this happened, dialects did not just disappear, but rather continued to exist and were even incorporated into literature. 
 
Wlad Gozich and Nicholas Spadaccini have reflected on this with respect to the novel Don Quijote: 
 
“Its famous dialogical structure represents an attempt to inscribe as many discourses as possible within its frame. The only question is who can read them. In a sense, the answer is: the state. Only the state can claim to be the adequate subject for reading a novel like the Quijote. … In practice this means that such a novel serves to provide its readers with an experience of what it is like to look at things from the perspective of the state…” (citation)
 
The ideal reader of Don Quijote takes in the text from the perspectival viewpoint of the omniscient narrator, occupying the position of the state itself to embrace the different dialects within the text (or nation) as one whole. Today’s reader takes in the diversity of global art and literature from the position of our contemporary master reader, Empire. 

So, too, if the novel allowed colonial powers such as the British to create a new shared cultural field that they could share with their subjects in the form of a medium posited as universal, superseding existing structures, the Internet promises a single world order, made possible through technology, undoing the specificity of the local except as it continues to exist for cultural consumption. 

On Facebook Self-Portraits

I am fascinated with the forced exposure that social networking sites create. Via Alex Soojung-Kim Pang's excellent blog The End of Cyberspace, I reached Slate author Brian Braiker's article on how he finds seeing old images of himself uploaded to the net uncomfortable. From there, I found Euan Kerr's piece for Minnesota Public Radio exploring the phenomenon of the Facebook self-portrait. This really piqued my interest since I've been fascinated by this phenomena since I joined the social network site.

The Facebook self-portrait is a product of network culture that reveals how we construct our identities today. It satisfies the version of Andy Warhol's rule as modified by Momus: "In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people," except that it's not the future anymore (in fairness the article is 15 years old) and it's not 15 but rather 150 or 300 people, a typical number in a circle of friends on a social network site.

The Facebook self-portrait makes everyone a superstar, famous for no particular reason, but notable for their embrace of fame. So it is that on Facebook, I see friends who I never thought of as self-conscious take photographs of remarkable humor, intelligence, and wry self-deprecation. The Facebook self-portrait insists upon mastery over one's self-image and the instant feedback of digital photography allows us this. Not happy? Well, try again.   

Long ago, when I was in high school, I read a book on the Bloomsbury group. I remember that the caption underneath a group photograph in the book (whose title now escapes me) pointed out that even in this über-hip clique, only one member was relaxed, only one understood that the right pose for the camera was a calculated non-pose. Our idea of the self can be read through such images: from the stiff formality of the painted portrait to the relaxed pose of the photograph to the calculated self-consciousness of the Facebook digital image. Each time, the self becomes a more cunning manipulator of the media. Each time, the self becomes more conscious of being defined outside itself, in a flow of impulses rather than a notion of inner essence.

So it was that in reading the first article, I felt that the author missed his friend Caroline's point when she told him "You can never be too cool for your past." As your images catch up to you in network culture, you have to become the consummate manipulator of your image, imagery from the past being less an indictment of present flaws and more an indicator of your ability to remake yourself.

The Universal Turing Machine is Here

 path vending machine fail

From the introduction to the Network Culture book. 

In a prosaic sense, the Turing machine is already a reality, but it doesn’t take the form of one machine, it takes the form of many. With minor exceptions, the laptop, smart phone, cable TV set top box, game console, wireless router, iPod, iPhone, and Mars rover are the same device, but they become specific in their interfaces, their mechanisms for input and output, for sensing and acting upon the world. Instead of a universal machine, network culture seeks a universal, converged network, capable of distributing audio, video, Internet, voice, text chat, and any other conceivable networking task efficiently.

And with it, universal modes of failure. 

Unpacking My Library

"I am unpacking my library. Yes, I am." That's how Walter Benjamin begins the essay which, not surprisingly, he calls "Unpacking My Library." Benjamin, whose library has been packed in boxes during two years of instability caused by personal and political troubles, recalls his intellectual development as he pulls books out one by one. Each book reminds him of where he bought it, why he bought it, and his frame of mind at the time. Thinking of himself as a specimen of that twentieth-century type, the collector, Benjamin writes

…ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them. So I have erected one of his dwellings, with books as the building stones, before you, and now he is going to disappear inside, as is only fitting.

The library, Benjamin's passage suggests, is not only a data bank, it is an mnemonic device for an intellectual's life.    

Like many days this year, I find myself in the same situation as Benjamin. When we moved from Los Angeles, I decided to put most of my books in storage, leaving them in boxes in the basement. The official story I told was that we would be moving out of the place we were renting into a permanent home soon and it would be too much of a hassle to unpack all of the books only to repack them a few years later. Moreover, with a toddler around the house, the books would be sitting targets.

But this was only a ruse. I had decided long ago that it was time to rid myself of these things. Moving from Los Angeles only confirmed my feelings. After the movers had gone, I looked at my apartment and thought about the shelves that once lined them, stuffed full with books.

"The modernists had it right all along," I said to myself, "but damn them. They wrote too many books." I resolved to do something about this.

With three of my own books published last fall, my pace slowed from frantic to manic and I had some time in the evenings to unpack my library, but not to lovingly put it back on the shelves as Benjamin did. Instead, I would sell it off mercilessly.

As I unpack a book, I evaluate it. What are the chances that I'll want to read it again? If not (and in most cases I am not going to read a book that has sat in a box for two years anytime in the near future), I enter the book's ISBN code into a Web page on Amazon.com, describe its condition, and assign a price, which according to an unwritten code shared among the more honorable book sellers on Amazon, will be a penny less than the least expensive exemplar of that book already on sale. When an order comes, I have a procedure set up. I print out the packing slip, put the book in an appropriate envelope, weigh it, and then print out a mailing label on a label printer. On average I sell a book or two a day, but as I put more of my library up for sale, the number of books I sell rises. The curious can see what I have for sale here

philip johnson's library 

[not my library but rather Philip Johnson's] 

Into my thirties, this would have been foreign for me. My father is an artist and a book collector although he prefers the term bibliophile. His collections are not insignificant and are on display in Vilnius, Lithuania in a museum dedicated to them (together with his art work) and have been the topic of a dissertation at Vilnius University. Emulating him, I began collecting books as a child, although sadly all of those were discarded over the years by my parents (from a psychoanalytic point of view, I suspect my past and present attitude toward book collecting is related to this loss). From the 1980s through the late 1990s, I built a small library of art, architecture, and theory books, perhaps four or five thousand volumes, along with a reasonable collection of records and CDs. In this, I could empathize with both Benjamin and my father. 

But things are different now. Benjamin was only twenty-five years older than my father and they shared the same world. Book were precious objects, defined by their scarcity. The bookstore, particularly the used bookstore run by a keen-eyed bookseller in a large city, was a shrine for them. 

My moment is quite different. Today virtually any book is available on the Internet for a few dollars and a few days wait. Used book stores are disappearing. London's famed Charing Cross, mecca for the book lovers from around the world, is all but defunct.

 another image of Johnson's library 

 [another image from Johnson's library]

The musty smell of the used bookstore fades from my memory. I can't recall the last time I went into one for pleasure. Perhaps a decade ago in Los Angeles? I remember the bitterness that I felt when I tried to sell a box of art boxes to that bookseller and he offered me twenty dollars. I knew that I had spent dozens of times that amount on the books within and I knew he would retain a substantial margin. Of course he had to eat and he employees and rent to pay, but nevertheless I left in disgust. I was a good customer but I wouldn't return. On Amazon, my books sell for a sizable fraction of their original price. Some books, out of print but still in demand, sell for much more.

Today if I need a book, I can guarantee that it will be here in a matter of days. So why should I hang on to it when I am done with it? It's better to pass it on into the hands of someone else who wants it enough to pay for it.    

superstudio image 

There is no question that I lose memories as I sell off my unwanted books, but there are other considerations. My father is proud of his collection—after all it is part of the Lithuanian National Museum now—but he is also melancholy. The amount of matter to haul around and preserve weighs heavily on the soul. Selling my books allows me to realize, if even partially, Superstudio's greatest dream: life without objects.      

The global continuum of information and product flow that we live in means anything is available to anyone at any time. When that is possible, the need for permanent ownership ceases. Does life become a constant field of variation, our possessions an endlessly reconfigurable but minimal set of objects?     

On Owls, Starchitects, Papers & Growth Machines

When philosophy paints its gray in gray, then has a shape of life grown old. By philosophy's gray in gray it cannot be rejuvenated but only understood. The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.

In perhaps his most eloquent moment, Hegel was referring to the way that philosophy came to an understanding of topics precisely at the moment that they were no longer relevant.

An example of this would be the explosion of visual studies in the 1990s just at the moment when two centuries of the visual being a cultural dominant were being eclipsed by the rise of the non-visual, by the code and procotols of network culture. Nobody talks much about visual studies anymore.

But it isn't just philosophy and theory that operate this way. It's a phenomenon we see in culture over and over. Milton Friedman (and Time Magazine) declared We are all Keynesians now just as the long postwar boom expired.

Or look at how stores like Barnes and Noble appeared, carrying huge amounts of books and magazines just as print began its terminal decline. Or the appearance of the SUV right before peak oil (I have friends who bought those things and used them for everyday driving…crazy!).

So what about Starchitects? There has certainly never been an explosion of interest in Starchitects like there has been today. But when the economy recovers (and I think that will be a long, long time from nunless the government comes up with another unhealthy quick fix), I'm not so sure we'll have starchitects anymore.

The reason is simple: newspapers made starchitects. It's common knowledge that recent construction by major cultural institutions was driven by the desire to make it to the front page of the New York Times. This could only be guaranteed if the architect was Gehry, Herzog and de Meuron, Koolhaas, Hadid, Nouvel, and Foster (some of these names may change a little, a second tier includes Piano, Morphosis, Sejima, Ito, and I'm sure a couple of others that I forgot). I have friends who work with such institutions and they were commonly told that the project had to be on the front page.

This is not surprising. Newspapers are key institutions for the growth machine (see more here). They seek to drive growth, making it seem natural and promoting it, generally regardless of the cost. They are where the growth machine sees itself and celebrates itself.

But now, eviscerated by bad financial models and online publications, newspapers are dying. Certainly blogs have encouraged Starchitecture a bit, but in many cases—such as at Archinect—they did so in part because they are in the business of linking to content from newspapers. In many cases bloggers are more critical of starchitecture than newspaper critics are. Blogs are bottom-up, newspapers are top-down. Thus blogs are snarky, newspapers are proper. Blogs also have comments so when a blogger gets something wrong, a reader can call it out.

As you may read on twitter, the media is dying. As big papers start to shut down or go to online-only formats in the coming years, will starchitects disappear as well? I can't imagine that the heads of major cultural institutions will insist on architects who will ensure their buildings be mentioned on Archinect.

If they do, what will take their place, a Warholian YouTube-style culture of young architects being famous for 15 minutes? Or will architects begin to specialize toward niche audiences, much as blogs do?

Syndicate content