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The Infernal Machine


The machine that ate the garden rages on (and on and on). It bulldozes everything every day. We are all ‘landing sites’, and this machine levels everything making sure nothing significant might land there (in us).

Rem Koolhaas has declared architecture dead … I have never listened much to his pronouncements, given that he dumped a load of vacuous rubble into the discourse of architecture anyway. But he is right, insofar as reputation-mongering leads to reputation-mongering leads to reputation-mongering. Everything else is destroyed in the process — every other alternative. The world is destroyed every day by the vast machine rolling relentlessly towards oblivion.

Arundhati Roy has suggested throwing monkey wrenches. But the machine is now so vast, it would require a cosmic monkey wrench … which we may anyway, any day soon get. Something has to land to stop the machine.

The machine is Capitalism writ large, ugly, and in-between … everywhere, every day … It crushes every other idea that comes along — every question mark is shredded along with the self-incriminating documents.

Capitalism survives by endless abstraction. What is needed to counter it is a radical contingent alternative vision … an aesthetics of the sublime, and a sublime aesthetics (Slavoj Zizek and Alain Badiou’s ‘Universal’). Zizek is right to defend the principle of radical individuality … What else is more dangerous to the machine ??? Where else might we find the landing site for Some-thing Else ???

This Some-thing Else (this sublime aesthetics) has been called The Coming Philosophy (Walter Benjamin) … or The Coming Community (Giorgio Agamben) … It is the vast landing site within things (including the human soul) that awaits Some-thing Else.

I know so many people, right now, trying to clear away the rubble and free this landing site. The machine senses their presence and grows more subtle and pernicious. The demi-urgic thing — the Capitalistic beast — colonizes everything everywhere … dreams and nightmares. The Surrealist idea that advertizing colonized the unconscious is just one such insight. That this machine is now attempting to finish off the human soul is an entirely different matter.

The way out is always the same way out … What matters must be sorted out from what doesn’t matter. What matters is the nothing much that the machine can never touch. For everyone, today, this nothing much is everything that matters. It must be sited — again — in the world as a force that can stop the machine. It requires that everyone still aware of this nothing much marshals the strength (the inner and outer resources) that the machine hijacks to clear away that site, to locate it, and to re-write it into the world.

McHouses, McCars, McCorporations, and McPeople … What else ??? What can replace such a titanic withering force ??? The secret, sublime antidote (the way out) is to say ‘No’ to the machine, and to say ‘Yes’ to everything else.

Cities are the crisis point … They are the test tube for new experiments in subjecting people to new forms of colonization. In most cities, the interface has been lost (the landing site paved over repeatedly, buried in rubble and resurfaced again and again). Currently, there is a new vast empty thing called Landscape Urbanism making the rounds of architecture schools and design studios equating urban landscape with infrastructure. The former broken interface is to be replaced by a new, fully synthetical interface where everything once ‘given’ is turned into something ‘taken away’ (but sold back to you). This so-called new idea is quite simply the reification of the broken idea of Nature … It is part and parcel of the logic of the machine to take away things ‘given’ and sell them back to you as the latest, newest thing.

Architecture everywhere is in service to the machine. With few exceptions it services that machine. Massimo Cacciari has asked for buildings that ‘sing’ — when what we almost always get instead is building that further divides and destroys the experience of the world (dividing, sub-dividing, and parceling out space, selling space back to us), while pretending that progress has been made. Such architectures are bankrupt even though they made the capitalist machine whirl. Public space has been systematically colonized these past decades such that it is unrecognizable as such. Public resources have been converted to quasi-public piggy banks for speculators … in the name of productivity and efficiency. Architecture continues to mutate — attempting valiantly at times to get out of its own path — re-generating itself and its role, struggling to free its potential, only to fall again into the grinding maw of the machine that is always-already eating the garden.

This bleak scenario contains a singular silver lining … This silver lining is a golden thread. This golden thread leads out of the labyrinth (Manfredo Tafuri’s labyrinth) to a sphere outside, in the air, in the imagination, in the spirit of every thing ‘useless’ (not yet subjugated, or dying to be reborn out of subjugation). This vast sphere is Idealism Itself … It involves the collapsing of subject-object dichotomies (of Master-Slave dichotomies). It is mocked in the marketplace of ideas every day … It is mocked and it is crucified every day. So what ??? This sphere is the landing site the machine can never touch. Embrace it and bring on a new, better world.

GAVIN KEENEY is a landscape architect in New York and writes on the subject of landscape + architecture + other things, a cultural amalgam always-already forthcoming. He is author of On the Nature of Things (Birkhauser, 2000).

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