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<nettime> [NMF] Blue Monday Review
Eduardo Navas on Tue, 2 Oct 2007 07:24:35 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> [NMF] Blue Monday Review


TEXT: Sumrell and Varnelis¹s Blue Monday. Book Review by Molly Hankwitz,
co-editor

http://newmediafix.net/daily/?p=1607

Blue Monday: Stories of Absurd Realities and Natural Philosophies
AUDC - Robert Sumrell and Kazys Varnelis
Barcelona: Actar, 2007
175 pages
http://www.audc.org/blue-monday

AUDC¹s book, Blue Monday is a provocative preliminary probe into the fall
out culture of Empire from the perspective of architecture and urbanism.
Today, American cities are suspended in a peculiar moment of variability and
hybridization, and the book looks precisely at this aspect, yet from a
distinctly informed ³outside² perspective. How is architecture impacted by
networked technologies and what is, where is, where are we with respect to
³modernity?²

Geographer Ronald F. Abler, writing for Bell Telephone Magazine in a 1970
essay entitled ³What Makes Cities Important², argues that ³the production,
exchange and distribution of information is critical to [how cities¹]
function [...] cities are communications systems.² (1, Abler in Varelis,
2006) and this very notion, the notion of ³cities as communications systems²
seems to be the overriding thesis of the book. Bracketed thus, Blue Monday
offers us not one city, but urban space as a set of glimpses of urban
economies.

Several vantage points are thus undertaken from which to review and observe
the spectacle of the present. Varelis lays claim to a critical terrain from
which cogent and important observations can be made. His critique also
exudes a faith in the genuine social power of communication, thus raising
the bar on our human potential to make judgments, individually or
collectively, about what is ³good² for us and what will have permanence in
these slippery times.

The chapter, ³Swarm Intelligence: Quartzite, Arizona² best expresses,
perhaps, the peculiarities of the critical problem. It is written through
the lens of an ad hoc city, literally a gathering of retirees in RVs known
as ³Quartzite.² The text includes a curious, brief history of the
development of the RV in relation to the US Camel Corps, and
characteristically urban categories such as ³the multitude² and ³density²
are borrowed from Michel Hardt and Antonio Negri¹s tome ³Multitude: War and
Democracy in the Age of Empire² (NY: Penguin Press, 2004) to help define how
the notion of ³multitude², relates to larger constructs of sociality and
power. The author writes:

    Multitude is the product of a transformation in industrial production
from the fixed structures and hierarchies of Fordism to the flexible
structures and distributed networks of late capitalism. (2, Varelis, 2006)

He continues:

    ?the multitude is composed of individuals who can use technologies to
communicate. To be sure, Hardt and Negri, point out, the multitude is made
possible by contemporary technologies of communications. (Ibid)

Bookending the author¹s central argument about Quartzite, a place he refers
to as ³the capital of the multitude² (Ibid), the idea of the multitude can
be better seen as an optimism; that this human formation desires to be free
from civilization, while at the same time organizing as a place of trade,
community, and cooperation and that this fact somehow possesses an important
architectural truth.

Quartzite is an especially seductive laboratory for the study of strange or
³absurd² economies (some based on the love of rocks; surely based on the
fact that its population is largely retirees) because it lies at the
intersection of the American love affair with mobility and consumption. One
could suppose that Varelis has taken Venturi and Scott Brown¹s seminal 1972
text, Learning from Las Vegas one step further. Finally, he links Quartzite
to the social interaction imagined in the Situationist¹s Hacienda as
architecture. There, ³the concept of productive work is obsolete?In place of
labor; meaningless exchange is maintained as a form of social interaction².
(Ibid)

Blue Monday reminds me of Hal Foster¹s The Anti-aesthetic: Essays in Post
modern Culture (Bay Press, 2003) in which the attempt was made, very
successfully, to articulate the genuinely best critical frameworks from
which to view postmodernity. We are focused in the text on the ³post urban²
and the ³exurban², the dregs of post modern architecture, which have morphed
into a somewhat intangible new era. This urban space is apparently what the
authors are trying to describe, frame, and grapple with.

Are we, as Hardt and Negri suggest, so inside of Empire as to have lost our
critical outside? Are we trapped in ³societies of control²? These are highly
valuable questions, which the book posits in its pursuit and studies of
architectural meaning. One way to answer them is to embrace, much as the
authors¹ suggest, the absurd and implausible as critical elements of
culture, the ³absence of productive capacity² at Quartzite thus, the value
of human community which is found in superpower America.

------

Molly Hankwitz is co-editor of newmediaFIX. She is a writer and media artist
finishing her PhD at the University of Queensland, Australia. She currently
resides in the Bay Area, California.

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