The Johnson Tapes Again

A couple of you have mentioned it, so I suppose I should as well. I’ve been meaning to write a longer blog post on Philip Johnson, given the recent publication of the Constancy of Change, edited by Emmanuel Petit, a book certain to have a huge impact on the way we think of Johnson, but I am spending all my free time working on the Network Culture project and putting myself in a Johnson state of mind takes me away from that.

In any event, Franz Schulze has a disappointing review of the Johnson Tapes in the March Architectural Record. Three points in response.

First, Schulze misses the mark. The book is by no means a definitive document of Johnson’s life. We say that throughout. The tapes were incomplete and it took a huge effort to turn them into something publishable. If that’s something that Schulze is not interested in, fine. To spend the review quibbling about details (as if there are no inaccuracies in his biography) is not so much petty as foolish.

Second, the review is sour grapes. Schulze’s voice is the clearest absence from the Constancy of Change. He was not invited to the symposium or to contribute to the book even though many scholars who had far more dimmer opinions of Johnson than Schulze were, myself included. Since the symposium and book were spearheaded by Robert Stern, the pitiful attempt at payback is evident. Although I don’t recall that Bob and I ever discussed why Schulze wasn’t invited, the sentiment of a few of the other speakers was that in his biography, Schulze treated Johnson’s activities on the extreme right in the 1930s and his homosexuality as equivalent. Not only is this a version of the Hitler’s missing testicle fallacy, Schulze’s implicit equation of homosexuality and fascism is patently offensive. I’m afraid that the biography hasn’t aged well and being left on the sidelines during this reassessment of Johnson’s life must have hurt. I thought all this was obvious. I wonder what the editors at Record were thinking. 

Third, good reviews (and by this I mean the quality of the review, not its judgment) should shed light on the topic. Later this week I will post my review of Sanford Kwinter’s Far From Equilibrium. My review is far from negative but I took the project seriously, writing with the idea of informing the reader. 

Maybe Schulze will have a chance to redeem himself with a more insightful review one day. I’d hope he’d be able to put aside his feelings if he reviews the Constancy of Change. My own work on Johnson slowly gathers steam. It’ll be much later on, to be sure, but I do expect to publish a book on Johnson sometime in the next decade.     


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whence and wither

I got back from teaching in Limerick yesterday and am slowly plotting my next steps. Certain things are in play. I continue to do new work with Robert at AUDC. The Netlab is going to launch a large project or two during the next year. But the foremost question in my mind now is: "what’s my next book?"

Fate conspired to make three years of edited books come out this fall. That’s not ideal, but we take what we can get, I suppose. Part of the fall will go to the inevitably necessity of promoting these books, but my clever strategy of having projects published in neat succession was undone by one slow publisher, one collaborator who wanted his project out by this Christmas, and one project that came out on on time. So a barrage of books will be followed by a gap as I gear up to the next project.

Originally, I had planned to write my network culture book, but now as the economy is tanking, I’m wondering how such a book will be received and where it would fit into such a rapidly degenerating condition. So another strategy may be to finally put together my work on Philip Johnson, add some more research, and publish that.

Now, as anyone reading this blog knows, I have been predicting the implosion of the markets for years. In any sensible world the market would have had a correction years ago so of course this one is much worse than expected. Well, I told you so. If anything surprises me about the world economy’s current plight it’s that anybody professes surprise. The signs of the collapse have been around us for a long time and, this will come as unwelcome news to many, but things are worse even than they might appear. My current bedside reading is Kevin Phillips’s Bad Money. Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Failure of American Capitalism, a harrowing account of how this collapse happened, written in 2007 (!). See the Bill Moyers interview with Phillips here. If the book is written in 2007 and the interview is from September of this year, they both anticipate and explain the current collapse.

Since the collapse is a key moment in network culture, once I can get a handle on its consequences, it would only make sense to continue that project. This strain of thought argues toward network culture as the next book and that’s likely to happen. There’ll be a lot of thinking aloud,  wondering, and asking you, my reader for advice along the way no matter where all this winds up.


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