THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE, #19–Wrestling with Modernity: 1900–1940, Architectural and Artistic Trends.
By Robert Hanna
This book, THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE: Uniscience and the Modern World, by Robert Hanna, presents and defends a critical philosophy of science and digital technology, and a new and prescient philosophy of nature and human thinking.
It is being made available here in serial format, but you can also download and read or share a .pdf of the complete text–including the BIBLIOGRAPHY–of THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE HERE.
This nineteenth installment contains sub-section 2.1.3, which was originally co-authored with Otto Paans.
We know the truth not only through our reason but also through our heart. It is through the latter that we know first principles, and reason, which has nothing to do with it, tries in vain to refute them. (Pascal, 1995: #110, p. 28)
If there is any science humankind really needs, it is the one I teach, of how to occupy properly that place in [the world] that is assigned to humankind, and how to learn from it what one must be in order to be human. (Rem 20: 45)
Natural science will one day incorporate the science of humankind, just as the science of humankind will incorporate natural science; there will be a single science. (Marx, 1964: p. 70, translation modified slightly)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A NOTE ON REFERENCES TO KANT’S WORKS
2.1.3 Architectural and Artistic Trends
Chapter 3. Thought-Shapers
Chapter 4. How To Complete Physics
Chapter 5. Digital Technology Only Within The Limits of Human Dignity
00. Conclusion: The Point Is To Shape The World
Appendix 1: A Note on The Löwenheim-Skolem Theorem, “Skolem’s Paradox,” and Neo-Organicism
Appendix 2: A Neo-Organicist Approach to The Nature of Motion
Appendix 3: Sensible Set Theory
Appendix 4: Neo-Organicism and The Rubber Sheet Cosmos
2.1.3 Architectural and Artistic Trends
In architecture and other applied or fine arts, the same modernist tendencies were visible in a different form. The emerging modernist movement departed from the traditional standards set by Neoclassical designs by architects like Étienne-Louis Boullée and Claude Nicolas Ledoux. And while Ledoux had been impressed by the Arcadian, pastoral world vision of for instance Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Boullée had a far more grandiose vision that he imparted to the next generation. His student Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand attempted to translate Ledoux’s insights into a universal building methodology that would be affordable yet impressive– a theme that would play an crucial role in 20th century modernism.[i] Simultaneously, the Arts-and-Crafts movement perceived the ongoing industrialization as a threat to traditional crafts and aesthetics. In particular, William Morris noted that mechanization itself was not the threat, but that the dullness and monotony of the labor process had alienating and ultimately debilitating effects on the laborers. Not coincidentally, Morris was highly active in the emerging socialist movement in England (Marsh, 2010: pp. 16–17). In the meantime, engineering marvels like Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace, the Eiffel Tower by Gustave Eiffel, the Galerie des Machines by Victor Contamin, and the invention of a standardized system for joining reinforced concrete elements by François Hennebique in 1892, formed a cultural counterforce (Frampton, 2006: pp. 42–48). While the traditionalists were in favor of retaining the old arts and handicrafts, as well as decentralized labor, the avant-garde of architects and engineers captivated the public eye with feats of engineering and centralized production that were hitherto impossible.
In turn, these two strands of thinking gave rise to a Utopian tradition of city design in which various aspects of both traditions merged. The most striking examples in this tradition are John Claudius Loudon’s 1829 Plan for London, Ebenezer Howard’s 1898 Garden Cities, Tony Garnier’s 1917 Cité Industrielle, Bruno Taut’s 1919 Die Stadtkrone, Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1932 Broadacre City,and Le Corbusier 1935 Ville Radieuse and Plan Voisin. Despite their differences, all these planners imagined a radical overhaul of the 19th-century culture and in particular the shortcomings of the 19th-century metropolis. How they sought to accomplish this was another matter. Wright’s Broadacre City was heavily influenced by Morris’s ideas on the decentralization of labor, and what Wright called “the harmony of the human being” (Fishman, 1982). The idea was simply that the 19th-century city (and Wright attacked its shortcomings with unmatched vitriol) was an alienating, toxic, and damaging environment. By sharp contrast, although urban planners like Ludwig Hilberseimer, Norman Bel Geddes, and Le Corbusier agreed with Wright about the shortcomings of the 19th-century city, they responded by envisioning high modernist “cities of speed” (Le Corbusier, 1987: p. 179). For example, according to Le Corbusier, the individual needs a space that is scaled to the needs of the civilized human animal (now conceived as a biological machine), but embedded in a thoroughly rational structure. Whereas for Wright the segmentation of everyday life was an evil, for Le Corbusier it represented a solution. An orderly day would be clearly segmented and structured, and the city would reflect and support this order. In both strands of thinking there was a Utopian undercurrent. The modernist thinker opted for largely technocratic solutions, while the traditionalist thinker distrusted the ongoing process of mechanization, or rather, the use of technology as universal problem solver. Simultaneously, the two strands of thinking fused to some degree in a style called “constructive rationalism,” a rejection of French Neoclassicism by architectural theorist Eugene Viollet-le-Duc Frampton, 2006: pp. 181–182). Rejecting the idea of an “eternal order” that could be represented in architecture, this response merged with the emerging national identities in Europe. In an aesthetic and technological cross-over between traditional brickwork and the newfound art of steel/cast iron constructions, architects like Victor Horta and Hector Guimard could envision a new type of architecture that derived its formal language from nature itself, influenced by graphic work of, among others, Jan Toorop (Frampton, 2006: p. 86). Nevertheless, the fascination with nature was not restricted to these influences: the influence of thinkers like John Ruskin and Arthur Schopenhauer was still keenly felt.[ii] The rise of the science-driven and technocratic strand of modernism, high modernism, is nicely exemplified and expressed by the so-called L’Esprit Nouveau that promised a brave new world essentially similar to the one described in The Vienna Circle’s manifesto, “The Scientific Conception of the World” (Janik and Toulmin, 1973; Vienna Circle, 1996; Scott, 1998; Galison, 1990; Reisch, 2005; Isaac, 2013). If the formal and natural sciences were to describe the structure of the universe, then architecture could physically represent it, and robust engineering and technology would make it possible:
The goal [of the scientific conception of the world] is unified science. (…) From this aim follows the emphasis on collective efforts, and also the emphasis on what can be grasped intersubjectively; from this springs the search for a neutral system of formulae, for a symbolism freed from the slag of historical languages; and also the search for a total system of concepts. (Vienna Circle, 1996)
We want … to affirm forcefully that the constructive spirit is as necessary to create a picture or a poem as it is to build a bridge. Better yet, we affirm the necessity of an aesthetic system for creators. Art, like science or philosophy is an order created by man in his representations. (Ozenfant and Jeanneret, 2008)
Moreover, in so doing, engineering and technology were seen as the necessary means that would bring the new Utopian future about with a flawless combination of rational planning and “cool, detached reason,” derived from the necessity of highways, construction beams, ocean liners, and telephone lines (Paans, 2019). Even so, an ideological countercurrent that resisted high modernism was also unfolding, and Swedish architects like Sven Backström and Ralph Erskine, as well as the Finnish Alvar Aalto, subverted the universal, rootless, and methodical strand of high modernism by referring back to local and regional building traditions and their attachment to the genius loci.
In the art world, the shift from impressionism to modern art ran roughly via expressionist movements in the West, and Russian constructivism and Suprematism in the East. Artists like Paul Delvaux and Piet Mondrian started out with largely impressionist or figurative paintings, only to embrace the emerging high modernist and “objective” style of practicing the arts, as per this icon of modernism, Mondrian’s 1920 “Composition A” —
The figurative tradition was retained by artists like Gustav Vigeland, Pablo Picasso, René Magritte, and Salvador Dali, although in a variety of different idioms, each of which expresses essentially the same existential and sociocultural anxiety as Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” (Paans, 2020b).
[i] These insights were in turn imparted to a further generation of students, because Durand was the first Professor of Architecture at the École Polytechnique.
[ii] John Ruskin’s The Seven Lamps of Architecture was published in 1849, followed by the three-volume The Stones of Venice in 1851–1853. Ruskin drew broad conclusions from the aesthetic of the Gothic style, and applied them to modern challenges in building technology, meaning, the organization of society, and the value of handicrafts. In Ruskin’s work, nature itself is a source of inspiration and the basic point of reference for defining moral, societal, political, aesthetic, and practical concepts. Likewise, Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation was published in 1819, with a revised and expanded edition in 1844, and a final expanded edition in 1859. For Schopenhauer, the Will objectifies itself in Nature, and correspondingly The World as Will and Representation is filled with references to natural phenomena and organisms. In his 1836 work, On Will in Nature, Schopenhauer reiterates this thought, emphasizing the fundamentally organic character of the world. The same approach is used in his Lectures on Philosophy, in particular part 2 (Metaphysics of Nature) and part 3 (Metaphysics of the Beautiful).
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