The Built Environment

Claude Lorrain, “Landscape with Aeneas at Delos” (1672)

Blueprint for the English garden: meandering routes plotted in ‘nature,’ interspersed with freestanding ‘ruins,’ occasions for a little voyage de la mémoire. Here, a scene extracted from classical epic is made familiar and livable through incorporation into the genre of landscape. So effectively that decades later, gentlemen of means did want to inhabit it, and to the best of their capacity, did. A new kind of professional was born: the landscape architect.

William Wylde, “View of Manchester from Kersal Moor” (1852)

Behold “Cottonopolis” as Manchester became popularly known, after its principle export. Seen today, landscape’s encounter with a realism of disruption and trauma bears more than a subtle resemblance to stock images from science fiction. Whereas the landscape garden opened up to refined sensation figures from refined history, Wylde’s painting locates the viewer on a preserved historical site (the moor, a city park, was heavily associated with Rome) at once surrounded by and comfortably distanced from its present and future. Among the first examples of a place’s complete redefinition according to its function within an integrated national production regime, it also came to be understood as the site where that regime’s excesses were the most visible, striking, ‘sublime.’ Contrast with London, locus of another kind of economic ‘function,’ another brand of ‘excess.’

Joseph Michael Gandy, “A Birds-Eye View of the Bank of England,” aka “The Bank of England in Ruins” (1830)
John Soane’s response to early criticism of his eccentric design for the Bank of England was to display it in cutaway as a ruin. Of course his work was destroyed, but only to have it ‘modernized’ by the late imperial architect Herbert Baker. Pugin used Soane as one of his key polemical examples of the urgent need for a Gothic renaissance which would last well into the 20th century. Soane had taken the contradictory dictates of Enlightenment aesthetics too seriously: the individual freedom (and even the responsibility) to master classical form, unearthing its ‘natural’ core and adapting its timeless laws to modern interests. So seriously that he knew that his work had to persist in time, and thus had to be imbued with a sense of itself as an eventual antique. And this made him a Romantic.

9 Responses to “The Built Environment”

  1. Footnotes:

    “This was the taste of the ancients in their gardens, as we may discover from the descriptions extant of them. The two most celebrated wits of the world have each of them left us a particular picture of a garden; wherein those great masters, being wholly unconfined, and painting at pleasure, may be thought to have given a full idea of what they esteemed most excellent in this way. These (one may observe) consist intirely of the useful part of horticulture, fruit-trees, herbs, water, &c. The pieces I am speaking of are Virgil’s account of the garden of the old Corycian, and Homer’s that of Alcinous. The first of these is already known to the English reader, by the excellent versions of Mr. Dryden and Mr. Addison. The other having never been attempted in our language with any elegance, and being the most beautiful plan of this sort that can be imagined, I shall here present the reader with a translation of it.

    The garden of Alcinous, from Homer’s Odyssey, Bk.7:

    Close to the gates a spacious garden lies,
    From storms defended and inclement skies.
    Four acres was the allotted space of ground,
    Fenced with a green enclosure all around.
    Tall thriving trees confess’d the fruitful mould:
    The reddening apple ripens here to gold.
    Here the blue fig with luscious juice o’erflows,
    With deeper red the full pomegranate glows;
    The branch here bends beneath the weighty pear,
    And verdant olives flourish round the year,
    The balmy spirit of the western gale
    Eternal breathes on fruits, unthought to fail:
    Each dropping pear a following pear supplies,
    On apples apples, figs on figs arise:
    The same mild season gives the blooms to blow,
    The buds to harden, and the fruits to grow.

    Here order’d vines in equal ranks appear,
    With all the united labours of the year;
    Some to unload the fertile branches run,
    Some dry the blackening clusters in the sun,
    Others to tread the liquid harvest join:
    The groaning presses foam with floods of wine
    Here are the vines in early flower descried,
    Here grapes discolour’d on the sunnyside,
    And there in autumn’s richest purple dyed,

    Beds of all various herbs, for ever green,
    In beauteous order terminate the scene.

    Two plenteous fountains the whole prospect crown’d
    This through the gardens leads its streams around
    Visits each plant, and waters all the ground;
    While that in pipes beneath the palace flows,
    And thence its current on the town bestows:
    To various use their various streams they bring,
    The people one, and one supplies the king.”

    – Alexander Pope, Guardian no. 173 (1713)

  2. “Such is the Old Town of Manchester, and on re-reading my description, I am forced to admit that instead of being exaggerated, it is far from black enough to convey a true impression of the filth, ruin, and uninhabitableness, the defiance of all considerations of cleanliness, ventilation, and health which characterise the construction of this single district, containing at least twenty to thirty thousand inhabitants. And such a district exists in the heart of the second city of England, the first manufacturing city of the world. If any one wishes to see in how little space a human being can move, how little air – and such air! – he can breathe, how little of civilisation he may share and yet live, it is only necessary to travel hither. True, this is the Old Town, and the people of Manchester emphasise the fact whenever any one mentions to them the frightful condition of this Hell upon Earth; but what does that prove? Everything which here arouses horror and indignation is of recent origin, belongs to the industrial epoch.”

    Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working-Class in England in (1844)

  3. Quantity of Butchness Says:

    What a predictable pleasure to reread the Garden of Alcinous. You know, when I went to Manchester in 1987, thence by train to Liverpool, I thought I would get to see very ROMANTICALLY HORRIBLE industrial slums from the REAL Industrial Revolution! And friends here said, oh, what you see in Newark and all the way down to Trenton is surely halcyon by comparison…only to find that it’s barely a theme park of Old Industry, I could see nothing poisonous-lookiing on any horizon between Manchester and Liverpool, it was the oddest, most unexpected sensation. In 2002 in Pittsburgh, it’s exactly the same (though not yet for New Jersey, which still has real filth): I read a guidebook, but it’s nearly impossible to find a real still mill, or maybe it even was impossible, you could just go see one turned into a museum. Owen Hatherley knows the details and history of all this kind of thing, my interest is limited, but still that shock of surprise at the peaceful train ride through what I had expected to be grim ruins of lives all made miserable and dispensable, in the world’s first such experiement…

    Just skimmed your piece on Latour and Harman, et alia. That is very pleasant, you know, since I am very narrow-minded when it comes to this sort of thing, and like a nice synopsis. Mr. Canavan’s literal synopsis equally gratifying. Since this isn’t the post, would you say something about Latour’s ‘novelistic’ and ‘particularistic’ way of writing–that sounded something like what I do, except that what I do will never be read by the academic community, and is already considered outmoded and outdated even before publication, because the only thing it purportedly concentrates on is internet misuse (that’s just one of the symptoms of metropolitan decay, but I haven’t seen anybody else talking about it that much, at least not in terms of how to operate it so that the destructive potential is not so easily realized–at least some people can do it; the old Virilio and Baudrillard and Zizek texts just talked about it as an obvious ‘loss’, and the Kurzweilians talk about it as an exciting new…*life-style*… so what happens? I read your piece and it has the pleasant effect of reducing the noise that has been going on since 2007 (I learned that too), and this noise is reduced to a slender wirelike thing. That is exactly what I needed with this sort of thing. Okay, this is an unexpected little bit of something, but I wrote this much here because this seems an innocuous post (of course, I may have no idea what it’s about), and I almost forgot to read it in my feverish excitement about continued unhappinesses. So, if you deign to make explicit the ‘novelistic’ and ‘particularistic’ aspect of Latour, I’d be much obliged, massa–either here or on the journal thread. Sorry it took so long to get to, but it had an immediate sensation of ‘weight reduction’–just like blocking CPC’s email did. btw, I have no idea who the ‘wedge’ being is, nor give a shit, but you probably do know, but I still don’t care who it is. Because, theoretically speaking, I expect my own work to spill out like balloon’s contents and just be empty in some ways too, because it’s not very user-friendly. However, I’m heartened you’ll know how to deal with it from this review you’ve written. OF COURSE you don’t know what I’ve said! It’s not just about how the internet is like television, although they are both admittedly quite harsh, I’ll give them that.

    Thank you.

  4. Quantity of Butchness Says:

    For whatever reason, Harman has started writing some good posts on his bleug. He obviously is smart, but some of these are clever even if you’re not personally involved with his movements: The ‘correction’ of the Urbanomic paragraph was good, as were more recent ones about perfectionism and momentum, and also marketing of theory and philosophy just as with a talk show. In this, he comes across as a typical American culture representative, much the same as young directors in TV and film in the U.S., and his talk about making a great subway system instead of ‘being a monk’ (or something like this) was very nicely dashed and persuasive despite being total bullshit! He writes a lot of bullshit, insofar as it could come from anybody who is good in some field and takes a parental ‘guidance’ role to ‘young people’, as with his inquiry from someone about ‘how to become a good scholar’, and building up momentum over time–of course, not one whit different from the plain good horsesense that Martha Stewart herself gives out, albeit a little more up my own alley…

  5. Another footnote:

    Soane imagining the discovery of his own work from the perspective of a future Antiquary:

    “He is also recorded to have been so enthusiastically attached to his profession and so anxious to promote the knowledge of what he conceived to be its true principles that he omitted no opportunity of expressing his opinion on the works of all ages, not because he thought highly of his own discernment and acquired knowledge (for he was humble & modest, at the same time said to be of lively fancy) but in order to call forth the better & more useful observations of others, & thereby to provoke discussion on his favourite Art — but the man was a mere child in the World — he was indiscreet where policy is wont to impress restraint: – he had only one impression and that was what arose out of the thing spoken of — he never gave himself a moments time to reflect on who was the author of the work he criticised, he only considered whether it differed from what he conceived the laws of nature & the practice of antiquity justified & whether if the work passed without notice it might be quoted as an example & prove detrimental to what he thought good taste required & calculated to operate against improvements in Architecture…he declared open war against such practices he considered the novelties so styled of modern work or cloaks for ignorance & whenever such examples fell in his way, however protected or sheltered by high nay even Royal Patronage, he seldom gave it much quarter — so that wherever any work was spoken of — he never considered who was the author — what his situation — or who his patrons — nor how far he had power to hurt him hereafter — he did not consider his friends — his family — his kindred — his allies and the many recruits that would enlist under him from a sense of common danger — but he went on from a pure love to promote the interests of Art, until at last he had raised a nest of wasps about him sufficient to sting the strongest man to death.”

    John Soane, “Crude Hints towards an History of my House in Lincoln’s Inn Fields” (1812)

  6. thank YOU, mr. butchness,

    i’ve taken note of your request, and will hopefully get to it…in the meantime you might try reading/skimming Aramis, or the Love of Technology, which about as novelistic as Latour has ever been — a process novel of sorts about a transit system that never got built. i find his style too grating to really recommend it, but you can find a pdf on http:// aaaaarg dot org.

    “how to operate it” is exactly what no theorist ever tells you about anything (except maybe machiavelli), so you’re hardly outdated in terms of the ‘real world.’ i hope you do make a blog for the book.

  7. Quantity of Butchness Says:

    i hope you do make a blog for the book.

    I expect to make a bleug, but with no comments, of course. I’ll leave my email and trolls can bother me that way, since I’ll put excerpts. I’ll be giving you and John and Dominic copies, so you can all link me, that should be enough. I gave out way too many free copies of the last one, so they can just buy one, get two free, etc., I’m not like you with ‘Don’t worry, I’m not making any money’ business. I won’t make much advertising and promoting on the bleug, but it’s certainly the only reason I’d MAKE a bleug. You think I want to know what most of these people’s opinion of MY writing is? Gawd, to think I even sent copies to a couple of theologians, now making it big in print themselves. To think that the first chapter alone has already produced so much radioactive fallout, but there are going to be NO MORE allowances for such bitches, including the women–they can ALL pay! And since most won’t, they must be punished by being allowed only the occasional sneak peak. I think I’m going to predicate posting an excerpt on getting a new sale. But no public discussion, because that would just be the trolls, and now that I’ve mastered the art of email-blocking, everything should be just fine, since everyone knows I want only adulation, flattery and worship–and that I;’m determined to get it!

    “Thought is oriented towards some object in which it seeks transcendence… ”

    Just found this in Dominic’s twitter, I swear you twitterers are depressing me…anyway, it reminded of the Adorno I got all seizured about: “A thought is sometimes beyond the thing that it binds itself to in the course of resisting it, and that is its freedom.” I can’t tell from Twitter very much, but I think most of those had to do with Marcuse, but I don’t know where that one was. It seemed like the way I wanted to reverse the Adorno.

    Thanks for the Latour link, which I’ve not gotten to yet, but will. I can tell, of course, already that since ‘novelistic’ and ‘particularistic’ are themselves such general terms, that you are implying that that was not something that would be like what I do. I just hadn’t thought of theorists being described that way before, but it does sound as though I should look at it, since if you observed that one doing it, it might tell me something.

    btw, I’m lifting the ‘J.K. Rowling’ poem and using it at the end of the first chapter. This whole odyssey has been interesting, because now they all met with ‘mysterious Martin’ possibly even absent (interesting that the only current link about the mysterious meeting was by Harman, although he more or less says ‘no comment…’), and so all of my crucifixion has been based on the single chapter that a couple of people have seen. Not that I think they’ll actually like the others either, but at least they haven’t been able to comment on it no matter what! Probably think it’s going to be more recipes on how to eat your cereal in a symmetrical way or something.

    Sorry to talk about myself so much, but you’re, as usual, beastly about answering email. Surely you’ll be up again sometime during the winter? I hope so. For the first time ever, summer was 100% over at the beginning of Sept., and it’s a bit too melancholy at the mo.

    Will also be re-reading your piece more closely, but was very impressed the first time.

    Yes, the theorists don’t tell you how to operate it. It’s interesting that Dominic’s interest in Badiou has somehow opened Badiou to me–and he does it in such a way that I can see the specific things Badiou says without trying to assimilate ‘the philosopher’, the whole enchilada. And that was quite a nice service of Dominic, even though he didn’t mean that way, obviously admiring Badiou–well, he couldn’t have, because I don’t like what I see! I HATE his These on Art, they assume ideological supremacy, which may or may not be subordinate to metaphysics, but definitely they know how to ‘do art’, and how it must be done. Worse than that, Badiou assumes that you already are a Communist, and that that is taken for granted. Well, I BEG his pardon. That’s why he’s talking about ‘doing nothing instead of adding imagery to the ideological already secure’, and blah and blah and blah, it is even fucking worse than the goddam Adorno! Well, the invisible can make it’s way, but everybody had to ‘go out and audition’ and ‘peddle their asses’, everybody! And there was another one in the twitter, something about ‘not life itself’ but the ‘truth in a life’, well, you know, that doesn’t sound anywhere near Communist enough, it sounds like the ungifted non-truth-finders shouldn’t get socialized medicine! And even I am in favour of that, even if Roger is generally right that rich people may not like to have to stand in line (and they don’t anyway, they go to private things, I know the feeling though, and lots of varmints seem to just be too lazy to move, whether in the street or what-have-you).

  8. Quantity of Butchness Says:

    You can find the link at Harman’s, so since this is off-topic, I’ll just put this much, which I found very funny. I believe this was Ray Brassier speaking at this point. I just read the ‘returns just in’ a little more closely:

    “Here’s the problem: Intensity is equivocal (Kantian appearance/Bergsonian qualitative difference in experience). You experience intensity (vitalism). However, Land is not interested in subjective experience, faciality and identity, and instead requires destratification.”

    Quite true, he both does and doesn’t. Jesus, somebody wrote on that ‘bleug’ “yes to the art of the impossible!’ or something like that–and that was just about some old thing about Badiou and Zizek. I guess it’s a living, as mysterious Martin would say. You end up having to write fucking guidebooks, and trying to derail me from writing about metropolises…yes…I cannn…feeleet, as Isabella Rossellini said in ‘Blue Velvet’.

    “Matter as primary production, as death, is not translateable into intensity (i.e. thought) since death cannot be experienced.”

    That’s pretty funny too.

    “The imperative to affirm through mapping demolishes the transcendental exteriority of the world. [long pause]. It is the subsitiution of sublimated eschatology for all teleology.”

    I just included that for continuity, it’s of no interest except for the ‘long pause’. I wouldn’t be surprised if he weren’t questioning what he’d gotten into.

    “So why intensify/destratify if we always have this surplus of strata? There is still the problem of the organising dualism once thinking is subordinated to intensification (or acceleration).”

    Don’t you think it’s funny? Having found that ‘there is no use for you’, you then find that ‘there is even less use for you than before’, as a result of losing faciality, subjectivity and blah and blah and blah. No wonder he ended up accusing death as betrayor of necrophilia.

    “However, isn’t there a transcendental speed limit? Particularly since cosmic schizophrenia equals death.”

    You know, traxus, I don’t think there is, and I don’t think even writing City Guides and letting the missus post baby pics will make you obscure enough. It’s all so fucking adolescent and pimply I can’t even believe it. There’s also a hilarious moment or two with k-punk in even these ‘early returns from the EVENT OF THE SEASON’, in which he brings up Zizek’s ‘remorselessness’ about something. Just this excerpt does produce a very amusing sense of people being quite bewildered by such an extreme of masochism. What surprised me most was how funny I thought k-punk was, he especially didn’t seem to have any idea why he was there, Mr. Brassier was ‘having a hard time’ too. I think you will enjoy it. Maybe part of the plethora of strata was that ‘not a creature was stirring at the LemonadePisser, not even Melissa’, but doesn’t such death-by-cosmic-schizophrenia involve an absence of entertainment and humour except for the onlookers?

    You know, traxus, I’m not being silly and spiteful, this has disturbed me, and now that I know what it is, it doesn’t seem especially threatening, but for it to really BE, it ought to, shouldn’t it? I think I can remember the ‘desire for the impossible’, but it was always in mild form. When they start talking about the left, in THESE terms, it seems to come out of nowhere. k-punk’s talk about capitalism is totally incomprehensible to me, I haven’t the slightest idea what he’s talking about.

    Then there’s this:

    “Land supplants Bergsonianism with unconscious thanotropism (nothing is given/everything is produced). There’s a philosophical difficulty here with regard to the primacy of matter. [see the rhizome chapter in Thousand Plateaus; the praxis of tracing, the positive feedback between thinking and conceptual practice, tracing movements and tendencies in material, a machinic practice that is schizo-analytic]. In this process there’s a dyad between intensification and delay producing an imperative to intensify/accelerate and demolish anything that inhibits”

    I’m so glad the disciples are telling us the secrets, esp. their origin as ‘old Scottish habits’.

    I think this exchange one of the strangest things I ever read:

    RB: It’s to do with the status of critique and critical theory. Nick Land accepts post-Hegelian Marxist critique. He turns the Marxist critique of philosophy against theory itself, asking ‘what are you doing?’ However, Land’s practicism is as impotent as theory itself.

    MF: Nick Land didn’t feed back into capitalism (it didn’t need him). It’s like waving a flag for a juggernaut that is speeding past you.

    RB: Personally, I’d like to keep the theory/practice distinction as a useful distinction. However, what is interesting in Land is this signifying regime using numbers (an anti- logos that is purely a numerical/digital signifying practice).

    MF: The whole point is to be adopt Zizek’s sovereign decision and to be remorseless back. To be the Terminator in return.

  9. Quantity of Butchness Says:

    I decided to at least post this link, because this piece is really good, the best thing I’ve ever read by him. It stops just short of being fiction, strangely the names of the few real philosophers in it let you breathe, even though the piece is designed to suffocate. The opacity is stunning. But that he’s a greater writer than philosopher is made clear by the new assessments at Nick Srinicek’s links, etc., or they think so, and yet the nature of what he wants to ‘be profound about’ IS the philosophy, so he’s no interest in someone who just thinks the writing is good. On the other hand, if he lets it out in his own name, there’s little he can do about that, and Brassier’s thing about ‘not interested in faciality, subjectivity and identity’ is still not something he can ‘close over’, nor does he want to, that’s the fake part. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be so thrilled that Collapse is publishing his complete works. You know, he could have always made them pretend it was ‘dictated by Christ’ or ‘by the devil’, just like other Gnostic types have done (and gotten away with too.) Sad days, this kind of thing.

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