Tonight we will be discussing projects from the journal Scapegoat: Architecture, Landscape, Political Economy, where both Dr Turpin and I are founding editorial members and contributors. Scapegoat is an independent, not-for-profit, bi-annual journal designed to create a context for research and development regarding design practice, historical investigation, and theoretical inquiry. Our editorial board is made up of seven members distributed internationally. While the magazine is at the core of our efforts, we also take part in exhibitions, symposia, organize dance parties, dinners, and goat roasts. It is important to note here that while we are speaking about projects featured in Scapegoat, we don’t speak for other editors who are not here tonight – our description of the project is not necessarily shared by all members of the editorial board.
We should begin with the name: Scapegoat. As a mytheme, the figure of the scapegoat carries the burden of the city and its sins. Walking in exile, the scapegoat was once freed from the constraints of civilization. Today, with no land left unmapped, and with the processes of urbanization central to political economic struggles, the scapegoat is exiled within the reality of global capital. The journal examines the relationship between capitalism and the built environment, confronting the coercive and violent organization of space, the exploitation of labour and resources, and the unequal distribution of environmental risks. Throughout our investigation of design and its promises, we return to the politics of making, as a politics to be constructed.
Scapegoat: Architecture/Landscape/Political Economy event posters. Courtesy of Chris Lee and Adam Bobbette
As a project that consistently tries to understand what it means to intervene in the contemporary context of making, we find a historical resonance with the work of Walter Benjamin, the early 20th century German philosopher and critic. In 1928, Benjamin published One-Way Street, where he broke dramatically from the conventions of academic criticism and literary journalism. He positioned himself in the avant-garde by adopting a form of writing that interfered with popular capitalist modes of expression such as the newspaper and street side advertisement. Benjamin begins his text by announcing the intentions of the book as follows: “The construction of life is at present in the power of far more facts than of convictions, and of such facts as have scarcely ever become the basis of convictions. Under these circumstances . . . significant literary effectiveness, can come into being only in a strict alteration between action and writing; it must nurture the inconspicuous forms that fit its influence in active communities better than does the pretentious, universal gesture of the book – in leaflets, brochures, articles, and placards. Only this prompt language shows itself actively equal to the moment. Convictions are to the vast apparatus of social existence what oil is to machines: one does not go up to a turbine and pour machine oil all over it; one applies it a little to hidden spindles and joints that one has to know”.
Benjamin captures the necessity for formal invention, experimentation, and the specificity of commentary for social criticism to be effective. Scapegoat is printed on cheap paper, in matte black and white, in layouts that come off in turn as real estate advertisements, posters, and academic essays. The design shifts page orientations and creates atypical rhythms. If there is a complex repetition (we will come back to this) of Benjamin’s insistence on formal inventiveness in order to circulate within “an active community”, we are also driven by the necessity to apply conviction to those little spindles and joints that we have to know.
Form & Type
In the Summer 1978 issue of Oppositions: A Journal for Ideas and Criticism in Architecture, the publishing organ of the New York based Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, Rafael Moneo, a practicing architect, theorist and historian, published an essay on the two-hundred-year history of the concept of type in architecture. His purpose is explicit, to recuperate a theory of type for the present. Without a coherent theory of type, he warns, architecture is under threat of both a historicism and formalism without content, a ceaseless production of meaningless new forms. A recuperated theory of type will produce, on the contrary, a method of design that allows the architect to meaningfully position the architectural object in relation to the city and its history. “Architecture”, he states, “is not only described by types, it is also produced through them.” The architect, he continues, “is initially trapped by the type because it is the way he [or she] knows. Later he [or she] can act on it; he [or she] can destroy it, transform it, respect it. But he [or she] starts ultimately from the type.”
The concept of type describes a generic set of structural regularities repeated across time and space. Moneo provides a simple example ‒ the hallway. The hallway is a consistent type whether it is in a courthouse, an apartment or a house. The plaza too appears in New York’s Upper West Side, Lower East Side, Venice or Hong Kong. While the type is defined by its repeatability, it never repeats in the same way. A type can only be actualized through mutation. Therefore, there is no such thing as a pure type, whenever a type touches the ground, so to speak, it is deformed.
But how do we characterize this deformation? Aldo Rossi, the interlocutor to whom Moneo is responding in the text I just quoted, had already advanced a theory of type and its modification in his book The Architecture of the City (1966). For him, what generates typological mutation is the “locus”, that is, the singularity of place and of practice. It is the source of the messy stuff that complicates any simple repetition of the type. The locus, he says, is the “singular artefact determined by its space and time, by its topographical dimensions and its form, by its being the seat of a succession of ancient and recent events, and by its memory.” For Rossi, architecture is the physical mark of practices. Practices singularize and specify the type. The built object is activated, modified, and inflected by practice. It is only through practices that architecture becomes locally meaningful.
Forms Of Life
We were asked to recommend a reading and one of the connections that we made both through the journal and through our own research is coming through Aldo Rossi and other Italian radicals in the sixties and seventies and that line reading through the autonomy all the way to contemporary practice and relationship to Tiqqun and other French activists. So I will say a bit about Tiqqun before we discuss projects from Scapegoat.
In the Introduction to Civil War, Tiqqun, which is both a French journal – part of which is translated under this title but many other texts exist as well as an anonymous collective, which publish the journal, and the historical process to which these texts bear witness (CW 7). Tiqqun call on us to take sides, to make decisions, and to uphold our convictions not unlike Walter Benjamin. Tiqqun also refers to someone who “triggers or pursues the process of ethical polarization, the differential assumption of forms of life”. And so what we are doing is trying to bring a relationship of Rossi’s sense of the locus and locally meaningful specificity into a relation with the context of forms of life.
One key to understanding Tiqqun’s ethic of polarization is the need to replace the generalized hostilities conjured by the desire to annihilate Empire with the clear decisions of friendship and enmity. This may be the subtlest dimension of the book, and certainly it is one of the most important: the ethic of civil war is not one of annihilation or destruction, but of political composition. This is important to Tiqqun because “Empire does not confront us like a subject, facing us directly, but like an environment that is hostile to us”. From such a position, the foundations of any representational politics are pragmatically suspect.
Tiqqun have indeed been criticized for their strict refusal of identity politics, but the provocation cannot, despite its rhetorical style and intellectual polemics, be simply dismissed. What is most important to recognize is that the text operates according to a strategy of intervention – literally, a coming between. It attempts to come between us, where a plurality of forms of life are connoted by the term “us.” The most consequential of these connotations for architects and for artists is the denial of any position of neutrality between us. Tiqqun’s virulent denial of neutrality at issue in both the analysis and diagnosis is as emphatic as the hope for neutrality is naïve. Tiqqun’s Introduction to Civil War is indeed remarkable in its ability to dispel, at every turn, any assumption that there is a space or position of neutrality that might administer, judge, or decide among competing forms-of-life according to some universal criteria of acceptability.
The ethic of polarization that Tiqqun, following Walter Benjamin, poses as a problem is a clear one: how do we find each other? This is a lesson that architects and designers might consider more closely in their work to contest the gentrification (i.e. destruction) of our cities, the quotidian forms of urban planning violence, and within the larger campaigns against the neoliberal agenda of capitalism. It is, in fact, what comes between us and what might help embolden the formation of new communities of solidarity, new ways of constructing and composing and building together, to survive the hostility of this collapsing Empire. Let us be very clear on this point: the ethic of civil war is an ethic of relation to build new relationships among allies working in different fields outside of the register of representational politics, it does not need to wait for governments to fail, banks to go bankrupt or new agreements to be signed.
In fact, in her interview with Scapegoat, the French philosopher of science Isabelle Stengers describes her own concept of pragmatism of practices as “exactly like Tiqqun’s concept of ‘forms of life.’” However, she is quick to stress, “no form of life is exemplary. The interstice [the in-between] is not associated with anything exemplarity, and has nothing messianic about it. Rather, its mode of existence is problematic.” That is, for Stengers, each form-of-life can be taken as certain ‘problem fields’ within which our form of life can flourish, change, adapt, and invent itself again.
In what follows, we develop six typologies of practice, or architectural forms-of-life NOT to describe them as messianic promises or a ‘selection of the chosen.’ Instead, our goal is to advance a typology of practice that, as Stengers suggests, “are concrete situations which become political precisely because of the way in which they are lived and from the type of force that they require.” So I’m going to talk about a few of the first types in relation to projects published in the last several years.
Typologies Of Practice
01 Graphic Appropriation
Scapegoat does not recognize the usual distinctions between graphic design, architecture, landscape, and political economy. We try to feature practices that appropriate the graphic to construct narratives that cross the borders between these disciplines. Issue 02 features a piece by Société Realiste, a French practice which in their words “works with political design, experimental economy, territorial ergonomy and social engineering consulting. [As a] polytechnic, it develops its production schemes through exhibitions, publications and conferences.” This work is exemplary for the practice type we will call GRAPHIC APPROPRIATION.
This project appropriates the 1949 film The Fountainhead, by King Vidor and based on Ayn Rand’s 1943 novel of the same name. The central hero of The Fountainhead, as you may know, is an architect, Howard Roark, which Rand uses as a type through which to speculate on the virtues of individualism as a personal ethic. In one of the final scenes of the film Roark is on trial for dynamiting one of his own buildings, a social housing project in the International Style and situated by implication in New York City. The residents had modified the building by adding balconies to suit their comfort, against the initial design of the architect. In front of a jury, Roark defends his actions thus: “No work is ever done collectively, by a majority decision. Every creative job is achieved under the guidance of a single individual thought. An architect requires a great many men to erect his building but he does not ask them to vote on his design. They work together by free agreement and each is free in his proper function. An architect uses steel, glass, concrete, produced by others but the materials remain just so much steel, glass and concrete until he touches them. What he does with them is his individual product and his individual property. This is the only pattern for proper co-operation among men.” (The Fountainhead)
Continuing in the same vein, he later claims that, “I am an architect, I know what is to come by the principle on which it is built.” Keeping this in mind, this is how Société Realiste describe their own project: “From the original studio movie telling the story of a Promethean modernist architect . . . Société Réaliste has removed the sound and deleted every human presence to reduce the film to its decorum, its ideological architecture. As an echo of the disappearance of the topic of the film, Société Réaliste has recently designed Commonscript, a series of 48 panels . . . melding emptied videograms extracted from The Fountainhead, showing various views of the central location in the original film, in “Prime City” (read New York), with inscriptions extracted from the original script of the 1949 film. These sentences are ideological statements made by the hero of the film, but in this work, Société Réaliste has systematically replaced the possessive with the plural. Turning an autonomous discourse into a generalized one, undermining the description of a world deprived of its actors. So where you see “they” it reads “I” in the original film”.
‘Common Script’, Scapegoat: Architecture, Landscape, Political Economy 01: Materialism (2011). Image courtesy of Société Réaliste
02 Mutual Aid
We decided that our inaugural issue should examine the centrality of the problem of property because it is the literal foundation for all spatial design practices. This buried foundation must be exhumed. Architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design each begin with a space that is already drawn, organized, and formed by the concrete abstraction of property lines. From our perspective, property stands as the most fundamental, yet underestimated, point of intersection between architecture, landscape architecture, and political economy. What is a “site” except a piece of property? What are architecture and landscape architecture but subtle and consistent attempts to express determined property relations as open aesthetic possibilities? And, decisively, how can these practices facilitate other kinds of relation?
Mutual aid is rarely discussed amongst architects, much less placed as the base and goal of their practice, nevertheless MUTUAL AID is the second practice type we will discuss tonight. Usina, a Sao Paolo-based group of architects, does exactly this. Upsetting the typical client – architect or producer-consumer hierarchy, Usina’s mandate is to make city-making a horizontal process, as they make explicit, all forms of building are conditioned by the type of organization that bring it into existence. They write that: “In Brazil, mutirao gestinario, the housing policy of self-managed participatory mutual aid, was institutionalized during the first Labour Party administration in Sao Paulo. Usina was born at the same time to provide support and multi-disciplinary expertise to community-led initiatives and housing cooperatives. This approach aims to encourage collectively organized communities through the construction of public housing and related programs. “We are seeking a different format for city-making.”
A Workers Collective in Collaboration with Popular Movements, Scapegoat: Architecture, Landscape, Political Economy 01: Service (2011). Image courtesy of USINA
Usina works with public housing recipients from the beginning of the construction process. Through non-hierarchical forms of consultation they work with participants to develop a plan and layout of a house or apartment, while managing the difficult constraints of building. Participants choose materials and building techniques “not based on financial return but on their quality and workability.” “Command over the whole process has a very clear political-economic effect: the concrete experience of self-management.” While Usina provides architectural expertise, their other role is organizing self-managed workers cooperatives. They argue that their process dramatically transforms the following characteristics of architecture:
1) Hierarchy: By including non-specialists and end users in the construction process destabilizes the traditionally rigid hierarchies of construction. As they state, “each agent may contribute and all workers are, and feel, necessary.”
2) Denaturalization of Process: Any issues which emerge during the construction process are managed on site through the principles of self-management. This approach makes all aspects of the construction of buildings visible and open to all members.
3) The right to final product: “When a worker uses what they make” states Usina “there is a greater sense of responsibility for the final product. This is unlike capitalist relations of production where the worker is violently alienated from what he makes.”
The third practice type I’m going to talk about comes from the work of Andrew Herscher who was formerly the UNESCO war crimes investigator in Kosovo and has recently moved to Michigan where we are the colleagues at the University of Michigan. He started the project called The Unreal Estate guide to Detroit which we’ve published in the first issue. You can get the first issue online on the website as a single pdf file for free. I think this in particular is a very important piece of work.
‘The Unreal Estate Guide to Detroit: Properties in/of/for Crisis’, Scapegoat: Architecture, Landscape, Political Economy 00: Property (2010). Image courtesy of Andrew Herscher
Under the concepts ‘unvalue’ I’d like to just unpack this project. I’m not sure how familiar any of you are with Detroit. It’s a city of approximately 60 percent vacancy at this point and quite a peculiar urban condition. What Andrew has tried to bring out is that rather than thinking of this as capital having flood the city, we can actually think of it as a set of values which have changed over in the concept of Detroit. And so the question he asks is, “what if what has also been lost in Detroit is the capacity to understand new urban conditions, conditions in which value is no longer structured economically, in the terms of free-market capitalism, but in wholly other terms? What if Detroit has not only fallen apart, emptied out, disappeared and/or shrunk, but has also transformed, becoming a novel urban formation that only appears depleted, voided or abjected through the lens of conventional urbanism? What if property in Detroit has not only lost one sort of value but has also gained other sorts of values, values whose economic salience is absent or even negative?” From this perspective certain values that could not be seen by the investment and the real estate speculation context of the city of Detroit are in fact unreal or undoubted.
According to Herscher’s analysis “Unreal estate” is a conceptual framework for exploring new, 'unreal' propositions, and thereby reconsidering the cultural agency for both artists and architects in the moments of urban crisis. For Herscher the values of unreal estate are unreal from the perspective of the market economy ‒ they are liabilities, or UNVALUES that hinder property’s circulation through that market. But it is precisely as property is rendered valueless according to the dominant regime of value that it becomes available for other forms of thought, activity and occupation ‒ in short, for other value regimes. Thus, the extraction of capital from Detroit has not only yielded a massive devaluation of real estate but also, concurrently, an explosive production of unreal estate, of “valueless” urban property serving as a site of, and instrument for, the imagination and practice of alternative urbanisms.” And so in the piece in Scapegoat he goes through the number of projects that have added up to the unreal estate agency and brings together such projects that are a series of at least four square blocks of houses that have been occupied by giant art installations. But there’s a point which is really important for us. One of the reasons why we’ve been working with Andrew is that he made the claim that Scapegoat is one of the few architectural publications that doesn’t talk about politics. According to Herscher, when he hears someone talking about politics it means that they are going to say something absolutely banal.
I just wanted to mention that the reason why we bring up this question about political economy is primarily related to the work of Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler, who are two political economists working on issues related to Israel but have also written a number of articles more related to what they call the power theory of capitalism. For them production is always a societal activity and this is the really important place where architecture comes in and it helps to frame the other project as well. They draw on the work of the city theorist Lewis Mumford, who says that in fact “capital could be likened to a ‘mega-machine”. Nitzan and Bichler agree with Mumford in the sense of that: (and this is regarding the project of architecture. I think it is a really consequential passage for thinking about what does the architect do to create value), quote: “Tracing the long historical link between technology and power, Mumford argued that early machines were made not of physical matter, but of humans. In the great deltas of Egypt, Mesopotamia, China and India, the first feats of mechanization were achieved through the formation of giant social organizations. The visible output of those early mega-machines was massive public works, such as palaces, citadels, canals, and pyramids. These, though, were largely the means to an end. Indeed, according to Mumford, the true purpose of the ruling king and priests was the very assembly, operation, and control of the mega-machine itself.”
So if we were to extend this concept and a reading of history to the contemporary context and were to say how we relate this concept to the contemporary business world, Nitzan and Bichler would argue that “the earlier elite association of kingship and priesthood has now been replaced by a coalition of capitalists and state officials, overseeing a new mega-machine named capital. The visible ‘output’ of this new mega-machine is profit, but that is merely a codeword of power. What is being accumulated is neither future utility nor dead labour, but abstract power claims on the entire process of social reproduction.” The point here could not be more important for our work and what we are researching and the kinds of projects we are bringing out but it is the one misunderstood by people who are trying to do political work and economic analysis: “the power that is accumulated is not indexical to dead labour or to machines, but is instead related to the relative degree of control to shape the social field itself.”
04 Historical Appropriation
The next is a fourth type of work we have been trying to promote in our practice and is related to decolonization. Here a particular Canadian context comes out where the number of our colleagues in the geography faculty of the University in Toronto have been involved in this project, such as the Toronto-based geographer Shiri Pasternak, whose text “Property in Three Registers,” appears in the first issue of Scapegoat and tries to deal with the question of the conception of property that would not be derived from the Western European model. For her, what’s absolutely fundamental in the research in the solidarity work among the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, who live on unceded Alogonquin territory located approximately three hours north of Ottawa ‒ Canada’s Capital, is that the assumptions we make about property in which they form the land use can be dramatically tempered by reading of an Aboriginal title and the sense of property use. For her position, comparing property to a form of expropriation in the terms of land use or a form of capitalist alienation, she looks to the concept of property as a kind of taking care that represents a set of practices “that govern peoples’ relationship to the land through forms of entitlement based on taking care of the land for future generations.” So the future intergenerational responsibility is something that can be easily overlooked in the context of the Western model of inheritance in relationship to a broader set of concerns.
‘Property in Three Registers’, Scapegoat: Architecture, Landscape, Political Economy 00: Property (2010). Image courtesy of Shiri Pasternak
This is something particularly important that we have found in the interview with Gediminas Urbonas. Historical Appropriation. To examine the practice type we are calling historical appropriation, we turn to the main character of “Pro-testo Laboratorija Lietuva” by Gediminas and Nomeda Urbonas: the Cinema Lietuva. As you all may know, the Cinema is at the centre of a controversy in the city. Both its future and past are uncertain. Cinema Lietuva now sits in a state of suspension, in graffiti covered disrepair and legal limbo. Gediminas and Nomeda Urbonas have been working with others both local and international on the Cinema “case”, turning it into a charged and complex site to negotiate the fraught histories of Soviet Lithuania and its supposed post-Soviet, neo-liberal future. They write: “Since independence in 1991, Lithuania has been caught in an insane period of privatization, property development and demolition. Like a Wild West land-grab or a gold rush, speculators and real estate tycoons have joined forces with corrupt municipal bureaucrats to redevelop the country at a mad pace. Profit has been their only motive. Public space, landmark buildings, cultural life and public opinion have been the principal victims. Their method is simple: tell the population that economic development is good for everyone. Convince them that Capital is King. Remind the public that making Lithuania look like a pale shade of a Western European city is the best way to scrub the Soviet past.” Through a series of workshops, events, objects, exhibitions, texts and legal cases, Pro-testo Laboratorija has turned the cinema into a vehicle to make public the contradictory social forces vying for possession of the built environment. Rather than expediting the process of change, Pro-testo lab slows it down, using the theatre as a device to place contradictory and competitive forces at the heart of the social. The lab exposes the theatre as a contested memorial where the writing of history is not a completed process but one of contestation.
‘Pro-Testo Laboratorija, Lietuva’ Scapegoat: Architecture, Landscape, Political Economy 01: Service (2011). Image courtesy of Gediminas Urbonas and Nomeda Urbonas
In The Architecture of the City Aldo Rossi makes two seemingly contradictory claims about the city: he argues, first, that it is the materialization of collective memory, while he also states that “in a certain sense, there is no such thing as buildings that are politically ‘opposed,’ since the ones that are realized are always those of the dominant class.” If this is true, then how can the city express collective history if this will only ever be the history of rulers? Is the city then only ever built by the winners? Pro-testo Laboratorija resolves this contradiction by refusing the resolution of the built environment into a finished history. Instead the city is activated in and through unresolved contestation.
‘Pro-Testo Laboratorija, Lietuva’ Scapegoat: Architecture, Landscape, Political Economy 01: Service (2011). Image courtesy of Gediminas Urbonas and Nomeda Urbonas
Scapegoat asked Gediminas: “Has Pro-testo Laboratorija been to disseminate a different public image or reinterpretation of the cinema and its role in culture?” His reply is suggestive of how one can activate the city: “Absolutely. But you see, from a neoliberal perspective any type of project that tries to renegotiate history is not profitable. It puts the dominant scenario into question. Our idea was to think more dialectically and critically about this history and to put into question the nationalist project, neoliberalism, and nostalgia. The past is not resolved, it must be re-negotiated.”
05 Material Inquiry
And so the last practice type that I’m going to talk about is particularly related to the work of Catie Newell form Alibi Studio, who was interviewed by us in the forthcoming issue of materialism for December of this year. The work of renegotiation in the city happens in number of scales. In Detroit it has happened in a particularly strange way as well, given, as I mentioned earlier, the vacancy of 60 percent and also the capacity of completely and totally illegal actions on scales that you may not be familiar with, which is probably for the better.
‘Agitating Architecture’ Scapegoat: Architecture, Landscape, Political Economy 01: Materialism (2011). Image courtesy of Catie Newell of *Alibi Studio Materialism
Trained as an architect, Newell’s recent work in Detroit, Flint, and Chicago deals with a ubiquitous new material that has emerge in the United States, which is empty vacant houses and which she refers to as ‘Once Residences’. For those of you who are really interested in working at the scale of the house without having to build entirely new ones to make into interesting object both architecturally and sculpturally ‒ you should consider going to the Midwest… She explains that because no one is living in them and there is no remaining program, but they maintain the semantic features of the domestic house, there’s actually an incredible capacity for activating these spaces in new ways. So I’m just going to mention two projects. The first one has the title weatherizing, which was the sealing of the house with the removal of its windows and then the re-distribution of those windows by tapered flanged glass tubes to recreate the sense of occupation which is entirely different from what was previously available. The point of this work, according to Alibi studio and Catie in particular, is to try to attenuate and attack the envelope of domesticity as a way of making people really think about what is the occupation of these neglected houses and ask the compelling question of what is really going on in Detroit.
‘Agitating Architecture’ Scapegoat: Architecture, Landscape, Political Economy 01: Materialism (2011). Image courtesy of Catie Newell of *Alibi Studio Materialism
The second piece is called Salvaged Landscape. In Salvaged Landscape there is a burnt house in Detroit (not sure if you know this that people tend to burn their own houses that no one lives in and it’s quite a terrible problem). For this piece she took a part of the burnt house, cut all up and then rebuilt the house out of the burnt scrap, as the way of both dealing with the explosion of these forms of non-occupancy but then also tracing out on the interior with actual gas spill. So when you enter the house the back side is just a series of exploded pieces of charred wood. There’s a way in which the movement from the house traces the actual burnt patterns of the gas leak. One of the reasons that I found this work a really important aspect of Scapegoat, although it is slightly oblique to the other projects, is that she explains it as a process of agitating architecture. And so, as a way of conclusion, this question of not only through MATERIAL INQUIRY but how agitation can happen in relationship with architecture through these different typologies of practice could be something posing two further questions: first, how does this agitation of architecture alleviate the resentments of repetition? As in why we think that repetition is not an entirely negative form. Secondly, how can typologies of practice avoid the pitfalls of illusory progress, promoting instead an aberrant architecture?
The French political activist and theorist of revolution, Louis Auguste Blanqui, who lived in the 19th century, offered a decidedly less optimistic view of repetition and type. With an equally poetic image of the cosmos, Blanqui writes: “What we call ‘progress’ is confined to each particular world, and vanishes with it. Always and everywhere in the terrestrial arena, the same drama, the same setting, on the same narrow stage - a noisy humanity infatuated with its own grandeur, believing itself to be the universe and living in its prison as though in some immense realm, only to founder at an early date along with its globe, which has borne with deepest disdain the burden of human arrogance.”
I thought we would end on a happy conclusion, but then I found out that Walter Benjamin explained why this is a great theory of type. Benjamin in his reading of Blanqui says that “this resignation, this feeling of hopelessness of one of the world’s greatest revolutionists was the result of the century incapable of responding to new technological possibility with the new social order.” The way we might say it today is that it’s easier for us to imagine the end of our planet or our eco-systems than it is to imagine the end of capitalist order. For Blanqui this was very depressing. He views novelty not as a positive attribute of progress but as a sentence of damnation that leads him to hell. This novelty repeats the same over and over and the type here creates the sort of hellish repetition. For Walter Benjamin, to escape this repetition would not be through formal novelty but through practices that that could actually change the social conditions in such a way that could change alongside new technological possibilities.
Convictions could allow us to navigate the present through consideration of type and practice in relation to design commitments or, to end where we started with Walter Benjamin, “Convictions are to the vast apparatus of the social existence what oil is to machines: one does not go up to a turbine and pour machine oil all over it; one applies it a little to hidden spindles and joints that one has to know.” Hopefully some of these spindles and joints are the projects that you’ve got to know in the certain sense and that we’re trying to promote in the magazine. Thank you very much.
Untitled, Scapegoat: Architecture, Landscape, Political Economy 01: Service (2011). Image courtesy of Olia Mishchenko