Jan 19, 2009

Exclamation Playtime

Filme Playtime, de Jacques Tati, 1967

“The city, as Lewis Mumford used to claim, stands among the greatest technological achievements of humankind. The city to which he referred — leaving aside for a moment the difficult question of whether it is the one that persists with us — arguably remains not only our possibly greatest technical achievement, but is also among our greatest cultural and political ones. Nobody would deny the systematic way in which the rise of the ‘the city’ deformed human existence, how it multiplied and transformed the brutishness and sufering of a daily life previously enguarded from the indifferent and adverse unfoldings of nature, but now ‘protected’ and subsumed by the new, subtler calamity of unfettered economic rationality. The later development may in the end need to be seen as inevitable, as it follows from the city’s undeniable status as a technological object, as a new social assemblage of exquisite and unprecedented complexity, yet one whose engine was never other than the purely and coldly economic. Let us admit, however, once and for all, that analyses of this kind have never told us anything.
The emergence of the city may also be listed among the greatest emancipatory events of the post-Enlightenment era. The sheer social density of the great urban centers — or rather, the almost molecular instability caused by their free and uncontrolled buildup — made possible a thing no less consequential than the political revolution, or at least a type of insurrection never seen before: one both popular in texture and dynamism and also driven by philosophical ideas. This new “alloy”, made up of bourgeois intellectual discourse and proletarian mass deployment, could only have been forged from a crucible in which great concentrations of historical substance had come to exist in unprecedented compression. That crucible, of course, was the early modern city. Such compression accelerated the dynamo of history not only by multiplying the number of connections and interactions of elements (citizens, institutions, and their mutually engendered affects), but by altering the qualities of their interactions too. If historian and theorist drudges have not ceased reminding us of the uniquely economic aspects of the twin emergence of capitalism and the city, are we not now compelled to develop an alternative culture through which the psycho-erotic, the ludic, and the sovereign dimensions of the new subject, its new social space, and all that is both possible and unsanctioned in these, might be made intelligible? How do we formulate this ever-so-subtly new question? Sanford Kwinter in Far From Equilibrium. Essays on Technology and Design Culture