Friday, January 18, 2008

Fagus Works and Marinetti

"Fagus Works" (see p. 41 of Harries)

It's a beautiful building. What I remember most from visiting it in 2001 was that it was phenomenally energy inefficient. As you can see, it has no insulation. I recall the docent remarking on the financial drain of the heating bill.


In another class this semester we've been called on to remark upon the similarities between the futuristic rhapsodies of the 1900s-1960s and those of today. Needless to say, the content and the language of the predictions are nearly identical (longevity, cures to everything under the sun, etc.).

Even if I hadn't been primed to notice them, I think it would be difficult not to find parallels between the exuberant futurism of today and that of modernist Futurism's manifestos. The rhapsodies about a future of immortality, efficiency, speed, and unleashed energy would not be out of place in the pages of Wired today. What did strike me as unusual was the mysticizing of the technological, something that's not absent but certainly different today. For example:

“You will undoubtedly have heard the comments that car owners and car workshop managers habitually make: 'Motorcars, they say, are truly mysterious...They have their foibles, they do unexpected things; they seem to have personalities, souls and wills of their own. You have to stroke them, treat them respectfully, never mishandle them nor overtire them. If you follow this advice, the machine made of cast iron and steel, this motor constructed according to precise calculations, will give you not only its due, but double and triple, considerably more and a whole lot better than the calculations of its creator, its father, ever dreamed of!'

Well then, I see in these words a great, important revelation, promising the not-too-distant discovery of the laws of a true sensitivity in machines!” (Critical Writings: “Extended Man and the Kingdom of the Machine,” 86)

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance notwithstanding, this “sensitivity in machines" seems out of place today (people buy Japanese cars because they work, right?), yet I wonder if an underlying current of such occult hope runs in the writing of the devotees of emergence. Surely one finds a passing resemblance with some of the ardent supporters of Wolfram's A New Kind of Science, to cite one example.