Yesterday’s tomorrow is not today

Hugh Ferriss’ modernity

Image: Rendering by Hugh Ferriss
of the UN Building proposal (1947)

What’s so fascinating about [Hugh] Ferriss is what makes him so different to his near-contemporary Iakov Chernikhov. While the latter made fantasy cities out of bizarre amalgams of what did exist and what hadn’t yet been invented, Ferriss drawings take the actually constructed and make it look utterly unreal.

Owen Hatherley, “Fairytales and real estate” (2007)

Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many

T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land” (1922)

It’s an odd feeling one gets from time to time, that the future we remember was more futuristic than our own. And yet it’s unmistakable. The moment we inhabit is a peculiar retrogression upon the past; its temporality is all off.

Architectural sketch by Hugh Ferriss, 1917

Architectural sketch by Hugh Ferriss, 1917

Architectural sketch by Iakov Chernikhov, late 1930s

Architectural sketch by Iakov Chernikhov, late 1930s

Hatherley’s observation regarding the perpendicular paths of Ferriss and Chernikhov — paths that converge around the right angle of modernity — extends further than he even imagined. Whether working from unreality to reality or vice versa, the two celebrated draughtsmen charted a collision course from their respective points of origin. This might even be seen to represent a pattern of nonsensuous dissimilarity, inverting the old Benjaminian trope.

Meeting somewhere along the middle in the early 1930s, at least within the realm of ideas, the drawings of Ferriss and Chernikhov thereafter approximate each other visually (in terms of sensuous similarity) the further out one moves diverging from this date. That is to say, Ferriss’ sketches become more pronouncedly gothic the earlier on one looks. A tenebrous crayon rendering from 1917, shown above, amply illustrates this fact. Oppositely, Chernikhov’s sketches began exhibiting numerous gothic features toward the end of the 1930s, becoming progressively gloomier along the way. No one denies the influence of Hugh Ferriss over the comic-book city of Gotham; producers of the new Batman movies just announced would do well to take a look at Chernikhov’s later works for inspiration, especially after their blunder casting Ben Affleck as the dark knight. Continue reading

Notes to “Memories of the Future”

[1] Lukács, Georg.  The Theory of the Novel: A Historico-Philosophical Essay on the Forms of Great Epic Literature.  Translated by Anna Bostock.  (MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 1971).  Pg. 29.

[2] As necessitated by the production of relative surplus-value.  Postone, Moishe.  Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory.  (Cambridge University Press.  New York, NY: 2003).  Pgs. 289-291, 293, 347, 350.

[3] “If it did not come to end in 1989, as conservative critic Francis Fukuyama expected, this is because, in Hegel’s sense, as freedom’s self-realization in time, History had already ceased.  Long before the new geopolitical configurations and institutional forms of the post-Soviet world, a new and unprecedented, though scarcely recognized, political situation had taken shape: The last threads of continuity connecting the present with the long epoch of political emancipation were severed.”  Leonard, Spencer.  “Going it Alone: Christopher Hitchens and the Death of the Left.”  Platypus Review.  (№ 11: March 2009).  Pg. 2.

[4] On the “chain of presents,” Postone, Moishe.  “Deconstruction as Social Critique: A Review of Derrida’s Specters of Marx.”  History and Theory.  (Volume 37, № 3: October 1998).  Pgs. 371, 386.

[5] Berardi, Franco.  After the Future.  Translated by Arianna Bove, Melinda Cooper, Eric Empson, Enrico, Giuseppina Mecchia, and Tiziana Terranova.  (AK Press.  Oakland, CA: 2011).  Pg. 18.

[6] On the dotcom crash: ibid., passim, pgs. 80-82; on September 11th: ibid., passim, pgs. 12-13, 78, 95; on the global economic downturn: ibid., passim, pgs. 71-73, 75, 139-143.

[7] “Progress opened up a future that transcended the…predictable, natural space of time and experience… The future contained in this progress is characterized by two main features: first, the increasing speed with which it approaches us, and second, its unknown quality.”  Koselleck, Reinhart.  “On the Relation of Past and Future in Modern History.”  Translated by Keith Tribe.  Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time.  (Columbia University Press.  New York, NY: 2004).  Pg. 22.

[8] “The idea of the future is central to the ideology and energy of the twentieth century, and in many ways it is mixed with the idea of utopia.”  Berardi, After the Future.  Pg. 17.

[9] “The decisive threshold had been passed when change began to be ascertainable and measurable by the scale of an individual lifespan; when in the course of a single individual life the change was evident enough to demand a drastic adjustment of cognitive and moral standards.  Then it was duly reflected in the new and novel sense of history as an endless chain of irreversible changes, with which the concept of progress — a development which brings change for the better — was not slow to join forces.”  Bauman, Zygmunt.  Socialism: The Active Utopia.  (Routledge.  New York, NY: 2010).  Pgs. 18-19.

[10] Berardi, After the Future.  Pg. 18. Continue reading