On my way to Limerick, I’ve paused for a minute to read the new issue of the Economist which carries an article on privacy that is, well, less terrifying (although it should be) than symptomatic of Network Culture. It seems hard to believe that only a couple of decades ago, privacy was still important in culture and that giving up all one’s intimate life details to overseers was the stuff of dystopian nightmares like 1984. What is incredible isn’t that such monitoring is so prevalent, it’s that under Network Culture we don’t seem to care.
I’m reworking part of the Networked Publics book and ran across a post by Mitch Kapor titled "architecture is politics." Compare this with my earlier post about Lawrence Lessig’s use of the term architecture in his book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. Again, as any reader of Mark Wigley’s The Architecture of Deconstruction knows, such references are far from idle.
As readers of this blog now, I’m thoroughly bored by idle speculations in architectural form (as if we still needed that). Kapor’s post is useful in reminding us that architecture has a much more important role to play in society and that its future is tied to how we think of the Net.
It’s a great feeling to have another book down and I’m still basking in the glow a little although I’m moving headlong into editing Networked Publics.
Here’s a view of a section of the book on the wall at Studio-X.
According to the Collected Writings of Robert Smithson, Smithson took his Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey forty years ago today. Without Smithson, of course, there would have been on CLUI, nor would there have been an AUDC.
Now it happens that the Collected Writings reproduced a common error. Smithson’s tour actually took place on September 30 (since that is the day that the New York Times article by John Canady entitled "Art: Themes and the Usual Variations" was published.
But let’s not burst anyone’s bubble. For one, I live in Montclair, a few miles from Passaic and if the tour was not forty years ago to this date, I was born that day.
So, to celebrate my fortieth birthday, my incomparable research assistant at the NetLab Leah Meisterlin and I have finished a draft of the Infrastructural City: Networked Ecologies in Los Angeles for ACTAR. I’m going to be transferring it from my laptop to my home server and then uploading the 2 gigabytes of files to Barcelona overnight.
I’ve gone on about this project, but it really merits going on about. We hope to revolutionize the understanding of the city as much as Reyner Banham’s Los Angeles, The Architecture of Four Ecologies, published thirty-six years ago. Even today, the understanding of the city as a system of systems seems surprisingly primitive. I’ll be highlighting parts of this book for the next few months to give you a glimpse of what I’m talking about.
Curiously some thirty-six years before Banham, Anton Wagner wrote his seminal Los Angeles: The Development, Life, and Form of the Southern California, which revolutionized the understanding of that city as well as others. We’ll see if history validates our lofty ambitions, but it’s been a great summer (which is over on the 22nd!). In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be finalizing Networked Publics and then on for more.
Michael Hardt spoke at Columbia yesterday. His goal, in speaking to a crowd of architects and urban planners, was to suggest the hypothesis that if the factory was the place of industrial production, the metropolis is the place of immaterial production. As such, he suggested that the metropolis would be the training ground for a new form of democracy. It’s safe to say that the school’s collective reaction was to question what he meant by Metropolis. Michael had been so precise with his terms but left this one undefined and it was something we are obviously so obsessed with so it was evident that it was crucial to refine it. One question was whether the network might be a better substitute for the city. You can imagine that this intrigued me greatly! Although Mark Wigley correctly pointed out that networks existed in and around factories (indeed, the modern factory exists because of the telephone and railroad networks…without which it could not have been located outside of the city) and that networks are not, by themselves, good (of course not, as I’ve been saying all along).
Still, hearing Michael’s lecture made me rethink something. Take the last page of Blue Monday:
At the onset of this project, we promised that these stories
wouldn’t add up and, as a collection of extreme conditions, they don’t.
As we suggested in the introduction, each of these investigations
posits a natural philosophy, an autonomous theoretical condition that
sometimes appears to mesh with the others but often doesn’t.
One day, against of all of our stated intentions, we observed a
theme emerging, a common concern with the very problem at the heart of
Empire (as well as of religion, the State and other institutions of
power): our overwhelming desire to acquiesce and give ourselves up.
Invariably, ignoring the admonishments of Nietzsche, designers and
theorists assume that power emanates from the top down, that the
oppressed individual wants to be free, and that action from the
bottom-up is the method for achieving this. But this is precisely the
inverse of what we observe. These stories of humans relentlessly
striving to be different only prove their desire for sameness.
So too, in our relationships with objects, collectively we don’t
so much wish to be free—to escape the world of objects and
attachments—but to immerse ourselves within them.
Do we really want freedom? If we can dare to say “maybe not” for
a moment, then what do our actions betray about our desires? Blue
Monday does not offer solutions, instead it suggests that our mass
drive to give ourselves up is not a passive action. Instead of
condemning this drive (as if we really wanted to or even could) this
book offers a collection of stories that just perhaps, hint at another
possibility, a first step: self-awareness.
As we say at the outset, Blue Monday sets out, from the start, to engage with Hardt and Negri’s Empire and Multitude point blank. As we wrote this, and no doubt as you read this, the obvious reading of this passage is to suggest that there is a problem with the multitude, which is the problem of our desire to submit.
But what if, in classic AUDC fashion (or dialectics, for that matter), we were to turn this on its head? What if submission were an absolute precondition for multitude? What if the temple of ether, the audio architecture of horizonality, and the nomadic capital of the multitude were all forms of training for future life? What then?
It’s time for another highlight from the Infrastructural City: Networked Ecologies in Los Angeles.
Over the years, it has been a privilege to work with Robert Sumrell at AUDC. Robert is one of the most brilliant individuals out there and I count myself immensely lucky that he came to SCI_Arc, became my student and assistant at school and eventually, the other partner at AUDC.
His essay on prop houses in Infrastructural City will be no exception to the high standards he has set at AUDC and will, I suspect, delight those of you who are fans of Blue Monday (well, the whole book will, but this is a particularly good essay).
Here is a brief excerpt:
The shock of new commodities portrayed on television and the deluge of cheap imports flown in from overseas manufacturers underscores consumers’ powerlessness and bewilderment at material goods. This reaction is akin to the wonderment and confusion felt by natives of the pacific rim nations like New Guinea and Melanesia during World War II when foreign armies airdropped war materials onto the islands and set up temporary base camps and occupation zones. At the end of the war, foreign influence disappeared as abruptly as it arrived, ending the cargo drops. The natives, who had no prior exposure to—or understanding of—Western or Japanese culture, assumed that the goods were gifts called down by the foreigners from the gods, and they copied the “ritual activity” and practices that they observed the soldiers making, in order to reinstate the sacred delivery of cargo. Natives wore headphones carved from wood, built control towers, waved landing signals, and constructed runways complete with giant straw airplanes all to no avail. Cargo remained elusive and no amount of imitation seemed to appease the gods. Most of the world’s traditional cargo cults have since vanished as globalization has spread into the islands and incorporated them into the international market economy, or as the natives simply gave up, determining that the gods would never smile upon them. Only a few islanders continue to maintain faith, patiently waiting for cargo.
Unlike New Guinea, cargo never stopped descending upon the Western world. America’s passive consumption, ritualized work practices, and reliance on the construction of environmental contexts strangely [parallels] the practices of cargo cults. Mass media celebrities and television personalities are now transformed into telematic presences, taking on the role of divine spirits presenting the strange cargo that is flown in and dropped from mysterious locations like Japan and China, magically appearing on retail shelves. The inference is that consumers can only draw in the power from these goods if they deserve them and that they will only deserve them if they imitate the rituals as seen on televisions, enacting lifestyles to attract future cargo.
Audiences assembled settings in their own homes to reflect the sets they saw in films and on television in order to make their environments equally worthy of attracting additional goods. It is these contexts and rituals that are essential to cargo cults, whose members understand that such contexts are more important to objects than ownership. Television lamps belong with the television (as do TV trays, recliners, and remote controls) much more than they belong to us. Similarly, a proper bed requires matching bedside tables, a dresser and vanity in order to become a complete bedroom set, even if it is put into a spare room to only rarely or even never be used. Mass-marketed goods suggest the perfect world of media images and department store displays, a world whose artificial, geometric order is ambivalent to human occupation.
One aspect of network culture that I haven’t remarked enough on is the growing preponderance of things demanding that we interact with them as if they’re human. Over the last few days I’ve been spending an infuriating amount of time with Verizon (I have fiber-to-the-home but my Verizon-owned copper wire cables fell outside…apparently there is no way to convince Verizon to come out to fix these…more later if I don’t get them fixed in the next-go-around) and their strangely, slightly sassy voice menu system.
Pigeons that blog? Forget it. We’re already dealing with automata with a distinct attitude. Robert Kuttner, at the Boston Globe, reports.
What’s under New York?
It’s going to next week before this blog are back to normal, but here in “Spook Country,” Leah and I are still engrossed in this monster book on infrastructure. This will be a good one… worth the wait.