Repost-A Quick Post On Brasilia

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Oscar Niemeyer, the man behind Brasilia, passed away some years back.

In the video above, Robert Hughes, sometimes fierce critic of modernism, stirs up controversy and I imagine took some pleasure in criticizing the utopian ideal of a city designed from high above, according to Niemeyer’s rational plan, and peopled by bureaucrats. Sometimes he’s a little over the top.

From a previous commenter on this site:

‘Brasilia is a great city, if you like decentralization and lack of culture! The planner based his entire strategy around the use of the car, disconnecting residential areas from commercial and making no allowance for walkability. He also provided no affordable housing, which forced many workers to set up favelas, or slums, outside the city.

The design of the buildings and landscapes is bare and void of the Brazilian history and culture. It lacks color, vibrancy, and community.

And the best part of all is that they clearcut thousands of acres of tropical forest to implement this chunk of sprawling, white-washed concrete!’

As for me, I find myself favorable to criticism of the political philosophy behind such planning and am worried at how many find it amenable nowadays. Yet, clearly there’s beauty in Brasilia’s design and it’s a feat of engineering to have built it in three years immediately after the fall of a military dictatorship. Some people might not mind living there.

Perhaps there are similarities with Buzludzha, at least with respect to political organizing principles, and what’s emerged from some quarters of Europe since the Enlightenment. Buzludzha’s the abandoned communist monument in Bulgaria’s Balkan mountains, which still draws up to 50,000 Bulgarian Socialists for a yearly pilgrimage. Human Planet’s Timothy Allen visited the structure in the snow and took some haunting photos. You will think you’ve stepped into a Bond film and one of Blofeld’s modernist lairs, but with somewhat Eastern Orthodox tile frescos of Lenin and Marx gazing out at you, abandoned to time, the elements and to nature.

One theme of this blog is how many people throughout the liberal Western world, knowingly and unknowingly, can be quite illiberal and quite comfortable with some very illiberal consequences of those ideas in action.

The Atlantic Monthly has more on Brasilia, see: “A Vision In Concrete

Related On This Site: No thanks to living in planned communities upon someone else’s overall vision.: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?Repost-Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’…Cities should be magnets for creativity and culture? –From The Atlantic: Richard Florida On The Decline Of The Blue-Collar ManFrom Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’… some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’

A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public;..where is modernism headed? Via Youtube: Justin, The Horse That Could Paint

Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Monday Poem-Yusuf Komunyakaa

Thanks

Thanks for the tree
between me & a sniper’s bullet.
I don’t know what made the grass
sway seconds before the Viet Cong
raised his soundless rifle.
Some voice always followed,
telling me which foot
to put down first.
Thanks for deflecting the ricochet
against that anarchy of dusk.
I was back in San Francisco
wrapped up in a woman’s wild colors,
causing some dark bird’s love call
to be shattered by daylight
when my hands reached up
& pulled a branch away
from my face. Thanks
for the vague white flower
that pointed to the gleaming metal
reflecting how it is to be broken
like mist over the grass,
as we played some deadly
game for blind gods.
What made me spot the monarch
writhing on a single thread
tied to a farmer’s gate,
holding the day together
like an unfingered guitar string,
is beyond me. Maybe the hills
grew weary & leaned a little in the heat.
Again, thanks for the dud
hand grenade tossed at my feet
outside Chu Lai. I’m still
falling through its silence.
I don’t know why the intrepid
sun touched the bayonet,
but I know that something
stood among those lost trees
& moved only when I moved.

Yusef Komunyakaa

Just One More Brutalist Link Or Two

Via Mick Hartley via the BBC-‘The Brutalist Divide: Concrete Monsters Or Concrete Icons

Earthlings were visited, many times this past century, by beings from the planet Utopia.  Little is known about these curious creatures, but they were advanced, and went about vigorously erecting structures across our planetary surface.

What were they trying to tell us?

Concrete, as a material, was used, presumably because it was so common and functioned as our ‘lingua franca’ (so hard to use well).  Shapes were decided upon that might please and delight us (flowers, blocks, dodecahedrons), but also shapes that could disconsole, consigning some souls to work and live in an eternal present, possible futures winking upon the horizon.

Dear Reader, rumor has it these beings whispered in Esperanto, but only into the ears of those most ready to receive such comprehensive knowledge and advanced understanding; humans beings closer to knowledge of Universal Shapes and Human Destinies.

Personally, I like to think some of these humans being reside at the BBC.


The Architect As Totalitarian:

‘At the exhibition, I fell to talking with two elegantly coiffed ladies of the kind who spend their afternoons in exhibitions. “Marvelous, don’t you think?” one said to me, to which I replied: “Monstrous.” Both opened their eyes wide, as if I had denied Allah’s existence in Mecca. If most architects revered Le Corbusier, who were we laymen, the mere human backdrop to his buildings, who know nothing of the problems of building construction, to criticize him? Warming to my theme, I spoke of the horrors of Le Corbusier’s favorite material, reinforced concrete, which does not age gracefully but instead crumbles, stains, and decays. A single one of his buildings, or one inspired by him, could ruin the harmony of an entire townscape, I insisted. A Corbusian building is incompatible with anything except itself.’

I noticed a mini-brutalist revival there for a minute.

[Readers of this blog will know that the idea there exists comprehensive knowledge of ‘reason’, or the idea that political science will arrive at solutions to all previous political problems, or the idea that modern doctrines can provide ‘systemic’ blueprints for either buildings or political systems are all ideas viewed very skeptically here.]

You’ve got to be careful where you go looking for what’s good, true and beautiful.

As for Boston City Hall, it was built in ’69 and aims to be open, accessible, and [to] connect with Boston’s past:

Confusing inside!

As posted, a podcast on raw concrete in NYC here.

Brutalist architecture flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, having descended from the modernist architectural movement of the early 20th century. The term originates from the French word for “raw”, as Le Corbusier described his choice of material béton brut, meaning raw concrete in French.’

Some buildings mentioned: 375 Pearl Street is being worked on. The ‘Krull‘ Long Lines building is not for use.

Well, at least it isn’t Buzludzha, The Communist Spaceship plopped down as though from a world of Pure Ideology, Nature properly subdued:

Schlock Troops: ‘Steel Isn’t Strong, Boy, Flesh Is Stronger’-Some Links

Via David Thompson-‘The Manhoff Archives

Just one guy taking a look at the world he found himself in and taking some photos and videos along the way:

‘Major Martin Manhoff spent more than two years in the Soviet Union in the early 1950s, serving as assistant army attaché at the U.S. Embassy, which was located just off Red Square at the beginning of his time in Moscow.’

Paul Berman at Tablet:  ‘The Left And The Jews: A Tale Of Three Countries

‘In the early spring of this year, an angry dispute broke out in the United Kingdom between the mainstream Jewish communal organizations and the leader of the radical left, currently head of the Labour Party, who is Jeremy Corbyn; and a couple of days later, a roughly similar dispute broke out in France between the equivalent French Jewish organization and Corbyn’s counterpart on the French left, who is Jean-Luc Mélenchon; and the double outbreak suggested a trend, which raises a question. It is about America and the Democratic Party.’

I suppose we’ll see.

Movements of radical and revolutionary liberation depend upon the removal of injustice, and solidarity around certain ideals.  It seems as more individuals think in terms of group identity and identity politics, ‘the system’ becomes that which unites such identity groups against a common enemy, even if they come to have influence within ‘the system. ‘

Personally, I see ‘the system’ as largely comprised of everyday people engaged in maintaining the laws, traditions and institutions upon which we all depend. Such people often have their own reasons, thoughts and feelings as they go about their duties.  Such activities are best done locally.  Public trust in federal institutions is dangerously low at the moment, for many good reasons.

We could be in for a bad patch, indeed.

It seems more than fair to critique the laws, traditions and institutions which can and have brutally oppressed and excluded some, but how do the ideas and doctrines of radical liberation actually engage the energies and beliefs of the people within them?  What are some consequences of these ideas in practice, shorter and longer-term?  Why is authoritarianism so often claimed in enemies but never within these movements themselves (oh so human a characteristic…but a hallmark here), exacerbating authoritarian tendencies?

At its best, it seems to me the melting pot model engages the reasons people can become nasty, tribal, groupish, and violent towards one another, saying something like:  ‘Follow the laws, become a citizen, learn the language, defend the country and get ahead.  If you can’t get yourself ahead, get your kids ahead.’

There are obvious shortcomings of defending home and hearth, and that which is familiar and loved within such a model.  It doesn’t necessarily scale, and people being what we so often are, can easily resist change and outsiders and new ideas when what’s new might enrich us.  All of us can dwell in the natural ignorance of the head and the nostalgic sentiments of the heart for too long, and sometimes we can just be plain wrong.

Yet, the liberty allowed to pursue one’s own ends in such a fashion and the wisdom of seeing human nature more as it is, seem much more humane and capable of political stability and economic opportunity.

If you’re still with me, forget all the above, Dear Reader.

Clear your mind and focus on a single image.  Allow this image to occupy your thoughts.

Relax as the image becomes a single, ancient eye. Now open this eye, a lizard’s eye, and see the New World.

Join the Snake Cult! (and enjoy some prime Arnie ‘mittel-English’):

From Paul Bowles Allal, found within this collection of short stories.

I recall musical and deeply rhythmic English (Bowles was a composer who lived in Morocco for most of his life), along with a recurrent theme of Western innocence, ignorance and arrogance meeting ancient North African realities and brutalities.

‘Moments passed with no movement but then the snake suddenly made a move towards Allal. It then began to slither across Allal’s body and then rested next to his head. He was very calm at this moment and looked right into the snake’s eyes and felt almost one with the snake. Soon his eyes closed and he fell asleep in this position.’

What have you done with your I/Eye, dear Reader?

Something tells me the kind of fantastical savagery and imaginative schlock of Conan the Barbarian doesn’t quite capture the deeply moral, frighteningly real and lushly imagined Bowlesian world…

Journey To The Center Of The Navel

My discount predictions: The detritus of radical campus politics will continue to settle into newsroom malaise and an increasingly childish search for meaning, identity and the Self in the culture at large.  Folks already committed to particular doctrines will seek solidarity with other Selves largely through identity collectivism, group-belonging while making [elements of] politics, the humanities and the social sciences something like an exclusionary religion (the pathway to a better world).

I’m pretty sure publicly taking even the mildest ‘bourgeois’ stance on marriage, kids,  work etc. will continue to make one an enemy, political and otherwise, to those gathered around such nodes.

The readers of the Boston Evening Transcript
Sway in the wind like a field of ripe corn.


When evening quickens faintly in the street,
Wakening the appetites of life in some
And to others bringing the Boston Evening Transcript,
I mount the steps and ring the bell, turning
Wearily, as one would turn to nod good-bye to Rochefoucauld,
If the street were time and he at the end of the street,
And I say, “Cousin Harriet, here is the Boston Evening Transcript.”

T.S. Eliot

The best kinds of clubs tend to be those whose members aren’t even sure they’re in a club.

The most interesting kinds of people can be free-thinkers, maintaining their humility, kindling a flame of quiet moral courage when called-upon.

Some of these people are quite traditional.

Theodore Dalrymple on Banksy

Banksy’s website here.

Here’s what much of that ‘meta’ commentary on commerce and transgressive street-art might get you. Local thugs charging those Banksy groupies to see his art. Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?:

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Dalrymple:

‘The enormous interest his work arouses, disproportionate to its artistic merit, shows not that there is fashion in art, but that an adolescent sensibility is firmly entrenched in our culture. The New York Times reports that a lawyer, Ilyssa Fuchs, rushed from her desk the moment she heard about Banksy’s latest work and ran more than half a mile to see it. Would she have done so if a delicate fresco by Peiro della Francesca had been discovered in Grand Central Terminal? In the modern world, art and celebrity are one. And we are all Peter Pan now: We don’t want to grow up.’

Well, I certainly hadn’t noticed an adolescent sensibility at the NY Times. Certainly not.

An image of one of those Peiro della Francesca frescoes here.

Perhaps it’s worthwhile to view Banksy as a kind of poor man’s Damien Hirst: A ‘working-class’ British guy with some native talent but not too much in the way of formal training nor arguably lasting artistic achievement (perhaps in the ‘graffiti’ world). Instead of working as a gallery, mixed-media modern installation artist like Hirst, he’s followed the street-graffiti path leaving ‘transgressive’ messages on politics and ethics scrawled across the cityscape in anonymity. For all his irony, and the fact that he’s likely in on the joke, Banksy still finds himself subject to the larger forces at work where art, money, & fame are meeting.

As a girl in Seattle here mentioned to me at a party: ‘His work is a meta-commentary on art, commerce, greed, creativity and all that. His becoming a commodity is the ultimate irony.’

Deep, man, deep.

Yet, as to Dalrymple’s point, I could imagine an adult sneaking off to check out a Michaelangelo fresco with childlike anticipation, and maybe even a little childish or adolescent delight at being the first to arrive. Of course, I think that fresco tends to engender a much deeper and complex response than that of Banksy’s work and ‘social commentary’, but the desire for beauty, hope, and brief bursts of transcendence aren’t going anywhere. This reminds me of Richard Wilbur’s poem: ‘First Snow In Alsace.‘ which evokes the grim realities of war and suffering covered up by a beautiful snowfall.

Here are the last stanzas and line:

…You think: beyond the town a mile
Or two, this snowfall fills the eyes
Of soldiers dead a little while.

Persons and persons in disguise,
Walking the new air white and fine,
Trade glances quick with shared surprise.

At children’s windows, heaped, benign,
As always, winter shines the most,
And frost makes marvelous designs.

The night guard coming from his post,
Ten first-snows back in thought, walks slow
And warms him with a boyish boast:

He was the first to see the snow.

The worst war can bring is juxtaposed against our simple childlike wonder (and possibly childish) delight at that which is beautiful and mysterious in nature. Of course, such desires can help cause the destruction of war, too, but…hey. People love to be the first and the coolest. As Dalrymple argues above, these childish impulses are the ones that should not be so easily encouraged nor celebrated, especially by Banksy nor his reviewers at the NY Times. I pretty much agree.

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Performance artist Marina Ambramovic and Jay-Z are together at last during a 6-hour lip sync performance-art pieceto promote Mr Z’s new album.

Still, it’s probably more engaging than Tilda Swinton in a box.

Maybe Jeff Koons got there first, where marketing, money, and branding met pop art: A Reaction To Jeff Koons-For Commerce Or Contemplation?

***I’d currently argue that in a successful commercial culture such as ours, with such strong tensions between the individual artist and the demos, and such high and low-art available, and where we’re awash in pop culture, music & entertainment, it’s natural to have strong debate going as to what’s ‘cool’ and what’s good art. Clearly, religion and religious duties come into constant tension with both commerce and art. Clearly, that commercial culture has formed a celebrity culture which is also affecting our politics. Clearly, whether or not you’re an art snob, an aesthete, or a secularly or religiously moral person, you can easily see how that culture produces a lot of crap, and can arouse the base desires in people which can be as harmless as a crush, sexual longing, a desire for romantic love and/or the cult-like worship.

Here’s Robert Hughes being especially critical of an Andy Warhol modern art collector, and where money, marketing, art and fame meet:

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Addition: I’ve gotten a few emails suggesting this is too negative. Bah. I like some of Banksy’s work for it’s cleverness and wit, and his experience in doing what he does. Beyond that, not too much and there’s way too much hype.

Another Addition:

Related On This Site:

They designed a city in the heart of Brazil that really doesn’t work for people: Brasilia: A Planned City

No thanks to living in planned communities upon someone else’s overall vision.: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?Repost-Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’From Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’… some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’

A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public;..where is modernism headed? Via Youtube: Justin, The Horse That Could Paint

Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Repost-Looking For Liberals In The Postmodern Wilderness-Jordan Peterson & Stephen Hicks

Alas, the mildly ambitious knowledge, hobby, and vanity project that it is this blog continues (it takes a LOT to listen, watch and paste a link to a Youtube video):

Jordan Peterson and Stephen Hicks. Recommeded:

Mentioned: Immanuel Kant and his transcendental idealism, Noam Chomsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Jacques Derrida, the American Pragmatic tradition and more.

Also from Dr. Hicks:

‘In the shorter term, postmodernism has caused an impoverishment of much of the academic humanities, both in the quality of the work being done and the civility of the debates. The sciences have been less affected and are relatively healthy. The social sciences are mixed.

I am optimistic, though, for a couple of reasons. One is that pomo was able to entrench itself in the second half of the twentieth century in large part because first-rate intellectuals were mostly dismissive of it and focused on their own projects. But over the last ten years, after pomo’s excesses became blatant, there has been a vigorous counter-attack and pomo is now on the defensive. Another reason for optimism is that, as a species of skepticism, pomo is ultimately empty and becomes boring. Eventually intellectually-alert individuals get tired of the same old lines and move on. It is one thing, as the pomo can do well, to critique other theories and tear them down. But that merely clears the field for the next new and intriguing theory and for the next generation of energetic young intellectuals.

So while the postmodernism has had its generation or two, I think we’re ready for the next new thing – a strong, fresh, and positive approach to the big issues, one that of course takes into account the critical weapons the pomo have used well over the last while’

More On Nietzsche’s influence-Part of Bryan Magee’s series:

Nietzsche directed his thought against Christian morality, secular morality (Kantian and utilitarian), was quite anti-democratic, and anti-Socratic Greek (the beginning of the end).

Quote found here at friesian.com (recovering Kantian idealism and moving in a libertarian direction):

‘Oddly enough, it is the intellctual snobbery and elitism of many of the literati that politically correct egalitarianism appeals to; their partiality to literary Marxism is based not on its economic theory but on its hostility to business and the middle class. The character of this anti-bourgeois sentiment therefore has more in common with its origin in aristocratic disdain for the lower orders than with egalitarianism.’

Roger Scruton was cast out of polite society just for trying to provide some context and pushback:

Related: From Darwinian Conservatism: Nietzsche-Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?

A Few Thoughts On The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry: Nietzsche’s Moral And Political Philosophy.

Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom:Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason?: From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.…