Paul Citroen Metropolis Belgium, 1923a

On the antithesis between town and country today

An introduction to the problem
from a Marxist perspective

The first part of a planned series on the separation of city and countryside has been posted on Ian Abley’s Audacity website. It’s a fascinating subject in my opinion, neglected for some time now, so Ian from got in touch with me about writing a reappraisal of the problem today. Looking forward to continuing it. Here’s an excerpt from the first post:

This [series] will hopefully serve to clarify an issue that for too long now has gone neglected by theory, despite once having been thought crucial to its integrity. Do the categories of Marxism adequately describe existing social relations? While terms like urban and rural are widely accepted, to contend that this separation constitutes an “antithesis” to be abolished is a good deal more controversial. If such a contention is today deemed untenable or outdated, can it be casually written off as unessential to the coherence of Marx’s thought? Or would this cast doubt on the legitimacy of his other claims? At stake here is the very competence of Marxism, given its standard arsenal of concepts, to conduct an accurate analysis of the present. Can the framework it provides grasp contemporary reality?

Whether or not a study of this sort has any purchase beyond circles with an interest in Marxist theoretical debate largely depends on whether Marxism is able to reassert itself as an effective political force in society. Though the odds of this happening seem exceedingly low at the moment, it can never be completely ruled out as a possibility. Until such a time, an inquiry into the Marxist theory of town and countryside is destined to remain a fairly parochial concern. Its relevance is bound up with the general irrelevance of Marxism as a whole. Otherwise, the question is purely academic. Better to dispel such illusions at the outset, however, than to proceed filled with a false sense of purpose, only to discover the true triviality of one’s endeavor later on.

You can read the rest of the article over at Audacity. And thanks again to Ian for setting me this task.


Architecture and social structure

Originally published as part of MAS Context‘s “In Context” section. You can read the full piece over at Iker Gil’s elegantly designed website for the journal, including some pieces I curated from its back issues along new narrative lines.

Architecture today is, first and foremost, a social product. Not just in the sense that it’s constructed by means of a complex, global division of labor (though this also), but at an even more basic level — it both embodies and envisions certain relations between men, as well. Make no mistake of it, however. In no way should this be taken to imply that architecture is produced for the sake of society. Quite the opposite. Like any other commodity, a building comes about socially, through the productive agency of groups and individuals working together. But this work is directed toward ends fundamentally alien to itself; its purpose is not to benefit society or edify mankind but rather serve as a site for the accumulation of capital. Either that, or the built object merely rematerializes that which already floated up from the base, ideological figments and fragments that have outlived the historical conditions from which they arose. These now nestle into mortar, stone, and brick. All that melted into air is made solid once more.

Of course, none of this is to say that great architecture can’t be produced under capitalism. Hardly anything could be further from the truth. The architectural legacy of the modern age is at least as impressive as that which preceded it — whether one begins, as Kaufmann did, with the French revolutionary architects of the eighteenth century, or reaches further back, like Tafuri, to the city-states of the Italian Renaissance. Modernism itself was nothing but the self-conscious attempt to take hold of the forms and forces unleashed by modernity, as the spirit of the times comprehended in concrete. Continue reading