wk7 reading response

Situationist City: Simon Sadler

Though attempting to remove itself from academia, the situationists longed for a time when they could pursue open-ended experiments.  A response to a dishonest rationalism, it purported that genuine social progress did not subsume the individual but maximized his or her freedom and potential.  This flew directly in the face of rationalism which fostered social progress through the notion of collective interests taking priority over individual interests.  Through the reading, it becomes hard to identify the nuances that made different situationism from rationalism.  Even though situationism seemed as though it desired a very informal, “natural” emergence of places and events (anti-design), it very much tried to formalize these notions of spontaneity, itself becoming a bit contradictory.  This can be seen in Constant’s “New Babylon”.

Additionally, situationists begin to talk about the notion of “the spectacle”, which is the collapse of reality into streams of images, products, and activities sanctioned by business and bureaucracy.  Here, they say, one can discover the authentic life of the city teeming underneath.  But in the same breath, they insisted that the spectacle was merely a manufactured wonderment, a hype that concealed the real processes of exploitation; the alienating one-way battery of goods from capitalists to consumers.  How then, can this environment be authentic?  Again, it seems as though they contradict themselves.

Sociologists of the time noted the complex structure of the city, divided yet interdependent.  But they also pointed out that rationalism, with its Cartesian precision, reduced the intricacies of the city to fallaciously simplistic levels.  Instead of the sterile environments of the rationalists, the situationists pointed to architects who were humanizing the heart of the city through labyrinthine clarity, such as Aldo van Eyck.  This, they said, allows for freedom of choice and for people to discover how they should use the spaces and places.  Situationists wanted to defend the freedom of ordinary people to make their own choices, to expect artists and designers to behave as consultants and providers rather than dictatorial tastemakers, and to enjoy a material world of change and spontaneity.

Timing is everything.  Interestingly enough, the situationists looked to cybernetics theorists, which had formulated their thoughts around the same time (maybe slightly earlier) to try to begin to discover how new ideas coming out of information theory, such as feedback, can act as ways of narrowing the gap between producers and consumers of culture and artifacts.  Walter Benjamin writes that artistic apparatus “is better the more consumers it is able to turn into producers, that is, readers or spectators into collaborators”.  When will inhabitants begin to define their own environments, and how will this follow or break from the rules set in place by power structures?

If “drifting” signified a state in which humans’ actions were still authentic, and their ability to make choices still existed, then our capitalistic society of today with its inherited power structures must have turned us to a “following” state, with no freedom of choice and no will to question.  This is ironic, because, bar the fact that this is a much more complex situation than I am making it out to be, we originally had the choice (over simply being followers and consumers).

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