Le Corbusier Ville Radieuse (1930)

“Exact Air,” from Le Corbusier’s Radiant City (1930)

Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse (1930)

Exact air? Queens and Brooklyn could probably use it, seeing the tornado that just passed through here. Perhaps it’s too fantastic, pure technological messianism. Still, it’s interesting. Le Corbusier on “exact air”:

But then where is Utopia, where the temperature is 64.4º?…
And why the devil do men insist on living in difficult or dangerous climates? I’ve no idea! But I can observe a worsening situation:
The variety of climates had forged races, cultures, customs, dress, and work methods suited to the obtaining conditions.
Alas, the machine age has, as it were, shuffled the cards — the age-old cards of the world. Since the machine age, the product of progress, has disturbed everything, couldn’t it also give us the means to salvation?
Multiplicity of climates, play of seasons, a break with secular traditions — confusion, disorder, and the martyrdom of man.
I seek the remedy, I seek the constant; I find the human lung. With adaptability and intelligence, let’s give the lung the constant which is the prerequisite of its functioning: exact air.
Let’s manufacture exact air: filters, driers, humidifiers, disinfectors. Machines of childish simplicity.
Send exact air into men’s lungs, at home, at the factory, at the office, at the club and the auditorium: ventilators, machines so often used, but so often used badly!
Let’s give man the solar rays which will penetrate the all-glass facades. But will be too hot in the summer and terribly cold in the winter! Let’s create ‘neutralizing walls.’ (And ‘sun control’).

— Le Corbusier, The Radiant City: Elements of a Doctrine of Urbanism to be Used as the Basis of Our Magine-Age Civilization (1933), pg. 42.

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The Bauhaus architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s 1926 “Monument to Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebkneckt,” later demolished by Hitler

Measuring the Depths

Bauhaus architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s 1926
Monument to Rosa Luxemburg & Karl Liebkneckt,
later demolished by Hitler


As a continuation of my last post, the focus of which was more to specifically spell out the relationship between the revolutionary thought of Lenin and Luxemburg, the present entry is meant to clarify the relevance of looking at the thought of past revolutionary figures in general.  It will begin with a further examination of some statements made by the Luxemburg that were quoted in the last post.  This will help explain my position on a separate but related issue that I have discussed with Reid Cane of The Luxemburgist.  While originally this was included as part of the last post, I have decided to modify it in order to post it as a standalone entry, both for reasons of length and since its content is fairly distinct from that dealt with in the last one.

Returning to the passage cited toward the end of the last entry (beginning with “[e]verything that happens in Russia…”) from The Russian Revolution, we may take note of the language Luxemburg uses to characterize the European proletariat.  Her stress on the “failure” of the international proletariat and its “betrayal” of the Russian revolutionaries, along with the “bankruptcy” of international socialism, highlights another point of contention that has arisen between Reid and myself.  In the comments section to his recent “Note on Popular Right Ideology”, I stated my belief that the glaring deficiencies of Leftist politics in the present day should be of greater concern to the Left than the perennial opportunism of the Right.  Reid correctly noted in his replies that concern for one should not preclude concern for the other, and explained that his interest in the Tea Party movement was not in order to simply discredit it but understand it as a distorted expression of class consciousness.  His explanation shows that I mistook his preoccupation with the Tea Party movement to be the result of a perception that this movement constitutes a great threat. With regard to his prior point, I accordingly clarified that I certainly did not mean that one had to choose whether to worry about the Right or the Left.  I suggested, rather, that Leftist thought and the political project of the Left in general had undergone an extreme regression in the course of the 20th century (Platypus’ “Decline of the Left” thesis), and that this should be the Left’s foremost concern.  To this, Reid responded:

I have to admit, I find your defamatory comments about the existing Left (and those of Platypus more generally) to be extremely discouraging. These people are our allies, and while I may disagree with a lot of what they say and do, the way to make that evident is not through condescension, but by expressing critical solidarity, by joining them and trying to steer them in other directions where appropriate, and where there is too great a divide or too much stubbornness, to demonstrate in practice what is wrong with their approach. I agree that its a shame that we are no longer witness to the sort of working class mobilization of the earlier part of the last century, but I don’t count this fact as either a cause or effect of “regression in Leftist consciousness”. The left hasn’t regressed, we’ve been brutally beaten down, silenced, defamed and overwhelmed for a century, and the disorganized and splintered remnants that persist today, however “backward” their thinking may be at times, are not symptoms of the Left’s decadence and degeneration but the first flares of its rekindling.

Though there is great poetry expressed in this last line, I’m afraid I can’t agree with Reid’s optimism.  Reid is most certainly right to note that the Left has for well over a century often “been brutally beaten down, silenced, defamed and overwhelmed.”  But the failure of the Left is not explainable solely by the strength of its enemies.  In large part, its failure must be traced to its inadequate theorization of historical reality, its misrecognition of objective possibilities, its celebration and support of seemingly progressive political movements that are in fact reactionary, down to its outright betrayal of its own interests.  Repression surely exists, but at some point the Left must hold itself accountable for its failures and work through the history of its defeats.  The refusal to do so means that these mistakes go on unresolved — that their pernicious ramifications remain unexamined.  Revisiting these defeats does not mean that the Left must simply eulogize the great movements of the past or lament the opportunities that they missed.  Rather, a working through of the troubled legacy of the Left is necessary for its reconstitution.

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El Lissitzky,Proposal for a monument to Rosa Luxemburg (1919)

A response to Reid Cane’s “Leninism or Luxemburgism?”

IMAGE: El Lissitzky, Monument
to Rosa Luxemburg (1919)


The following is a response to some critical remarks made by Reid Kane on his blog, The Luxemburgist, in an entry entitled “Leninism or Luxemburgism?”.  Reid was responding in this post to some comments I’d made on a different entry, in which I objected to his opposition of Vladimir Lenin’s articulation of a Marxist politics to that of Rosa Luxemburg.  These are, after all, two organizational models that have frequently been held up as antithetical.  I asserted that their split had been grossly exaggerated by both Stalinists seeking to discredit Luxemburg’s former colleagues and anti-authoritarian/anti-Bolshevik tendencies in the New Left, who exalt Luxemburg as an heroic “alternative” to Lenin.  Reid provides a thoroughgoing, reasoned critique of my objection, maintaining that it is not enough to ignore their differences merely because their disagreements have been blown out of proportion.  In this I cannot but agree.  The differences between Luxemburg and Lenin cannot simply be glossed over.  And so, though this topic has been dealt with countless times by writers on the Left, I feel it is not too much to add my own thoughts on the matter here, in response to Reid’s excellent post.

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Iakov Chernikhov’s Principles of Modern Architecture (1930)

Browsing the Russian search engine Яндекс for information about Iakov Chernikhov, I came across an online copy of his 1930 book, Principles of Modern Architecture (Основы современной архитектуры). It’s free to browse in its entirety.


Dawn and decline: Two eschatological visions in turn-of-the-century Russia

IMAGE: 19th-century Russian
premonitions of a new “Mongolism”


“People who witness the beginning of great and momentous events, who can obtain only very incomplete, inexact, and third-hand information of what is taking place, will not, of course, hazard a definite opinion until a timelier moment comes.  The bourgeois papers, which continue as of old to speak of revolt, rioting, and disturbances, cannot help seeing the truly national, nay, international, significance of these events.  Yet it is this significance which invests events with the character of revolution.  And those who have been writing of the last days of the rioting find themselves involuntarily referring to them as the first days of the revolution.  A turning-point in Russia’s history has been reached.”

Lenin, “What is Happening in Russia?” From Revolutionary Days, January 1905

It has often been noted by historians of the period that a distinctly apocalyptic mood prevailed throughout large sections of the Russian intelligentsia from the last decade of the nineteenth century up through the 1917 Revolution.  Even ideological tendencies that lay in great tension with one another (if not in direct antithesis) found a common outlook in this respect.  This observation certainly finds support in the writings of the major representatives of these movements.  Intellectual currents as far apart as Marxist materialism and religio-philosophical idealism at this time both shared the sense that one age was coming to an end and another was now appearing on the horizon.  This common understanding served as the lens through which the major events of the day were interpreted, events which in turn then helped to modify the structure of these discourses.

In a strange way, many parallels existed between these two major schools of thought, Marxist materialism and religio-philosophical idealism.  These movements, which stood in starker contrast to one another than perhaps any other pair to be found amongst the Russian intelligentsia, possessed a number of similar concerns.  Each struggled to ascertain Russia’s national character, and thus grappled with questions of the country’s unique historical development and its possible role in shaping world history.  Radical political theorists like Lenin and Trotskii and religious philosophers like Vladimir Solov’ev and Sergei Bulgakov were both interested in Russia’s relation to European modernity and to its own barbaric, “Asiatic” past.  Moreover, members from these rival camps each held that Russia was to play an important part in an impending world crisis — either as the savior of European civilization from its own spiritual degeneracy or as a gateway through which revolution would spread to the most advanced industrial nations of the West.

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Review: Orbital, Orbital 2 (Brown Album)

IMAGE: Cover to Orbital’s
Brown Album

Orbital 2 is a sophomore release for the ages. With expectations riding high off of their already revolutionary self-titled LP, Orbital set to work on a sequel in the winter of 1993. The fruit of their labors during these months, Orbital 2 (also known as the Brown Album), constitutes an astounding accomplishment — a timeless masterpiece still virtually unmatched within the genre. On this album, the brothers Hartnoll achieved an almost perfect balance between the ambient sound they had developed on the previous record and a new strain of hyper-futuristic trance. It cemented Orbital’s place as pioneers within trance and ambient techno and prepared the way for artists like Aphex Twin, who toured with them following the album’s release.

The songs on Orbital 2 are constructed methodically, according to a set pattern of mutation that persists more or less throughout the album. This grants the album its uncanny integrity. Each track typically proceeds in a cumulative fashion, establishing a central motif around which successive layers are then added. As new elements enter in, others recede into the background or fade entirely, only to reappear in fresh combinations later in the song. Every part simulates the whole to which it belongs, similar in this way to a fractal. Orbital weave together these constituent parts in a manner that almost approximates a lemniscate infinity — an arching ebb and flow along a laser grid whose contours have been swollen by constant digital effluxion.
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Thomas Jeffrey’s 1762 Map of “Russia, or Muscovy in Europe”

A comparison of Larry Wolff’s Inventing Eastern Europe and Richard Wortman’s Scenarios of Power

IMAGE: Thomas Jeffrey’s 1762 map
of “Russia, or Muscovy in Europe”


Larry Wolff’s Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment and Richard Wortman’s Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy from Peter the Great to the Abdication of Nicholas II can be seen as approaching the same problem from two different angles. The problem is what exactly constitutes Europe, and the position of what came to be known as Eastern Europe in relation to Europe proper. Both studies are concerned with the peculiar case of a political and geographic entity that either appeared to foreigners as “European, but not quite,” or self-consciously conceived of itself that way. In the most general terms, Wolff approaches this problem from the angle of Eastern Europe by showing how it was envisioned (and indeed “invented”) by visitors from the West. Oppositely, Wortman is interested in how Europe was understood and represented by the tsarist regime in Russia. Continue reading

Lenin’s critique of the politics of spontaneity in What is to be Done?

IMAGE: Agitprop poster, 1920s:
“Without revolutionary theory,
there can be no revolutionary movement.”


In preparing my presentation on Lenin’s What is to be Done? this week for the UChicago Platypus reading group, I found myself returning again and again to his description of the so-called “spontaneity” of the masses.  It was on this supposed spontaneity, of course, that the Economists pinned their hopes of social revolution (should there be one at all).  I noticed that in his critique of the notion of the working class’ spontaneity, Lenin employed a number of categories borrowed from classical German philosophy.  All of these categories pertain to consciousness, and constitute an epistemology of sorts.  I found, moreover, that this seemed to provide a theoretical link to Lukács’ later account of reification.  Though this began as little more than a meditation, I brought it up at the reading group and found that it was well received.  Afterward, Sunit encouraged me to elaborate on this notion and submit my thoughts online. Continue reading

A music review of Converge’s 2001 album Jane Doe

Converge’s 2001 record Jane Doe is, more than anything else, a symptom. A symptom, of course, is a surface phenomenon that points to its derivation out of something deeper — something that lies at its root, concealed from view. It is the manifestation of that which remains latent. As such, it is the expression of another thing, distinct from itself, of which it is an unwitting reflex, purely epiphenomenal.

But in its very superficiality, Jane Doe simulates profundity. The illusion that results is, in fact, so perfect as to disguise its origin even from itself, lost in the night of its own paramnesia. Jacob Bannon might be the one singing on the record, but make no mistake: the words are not his own. In truth, they are words written by no one. Words that are the product of a thoroughly impersonal dynamic, generated by a mindless web of relations that inscribes itself into the consciousness of a human vessel — a human vessel which for it is nothing more than a mouthpiece, a means for expression.

In other words, Bannon is the puppet of forces beyond his comprehension. He dances to a tune that was not of his own making. Nor was this tune the making of any other member of Converge. His frenetic flailing during their songs is the enactment of a total powerlessness, the involuntary spasm of a marionette.

Very well, a symptom — but if so, a symptom of what?

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