Mass. identity. architecture. architecture writings of Jean Baudrillard

Mass. identity. architecture. architecture writings of Jean Baudrillard

Colin Davies

Edited by Francesco Proto. London: Wiley-Academy, 2004. [pounds sterling]39.99

Architecture is a big disappointment to the philosopher Jean Baudrillard. It ought to be the last bastion of resistance to the banality of consumer culture–the mindlessness of advertising, the ruthlessness of the market, the emptiness of technology. It ought to be the provider, as he puts it, of ‘the immanent and irrevocable object’. But when he explores the cultural territory labelled ‘Architecture’ all he finds are monsters ‘like spacecraft fallen to earth from some dark catastrophe’, reducing the surrounding city to ‘remnants and waste products’. Beaubourg is his favourite example (even in this rather brief digest of his relevant writings it crops up with tedious regularity). He sees Beaubourg not as a friendly machine bringing culture to the masses but as an ‘incinerator absorbing all the cultural energy and devouring it’. The masses come not to participate in culture but to watch it burn. Other favourite monsters are La Defense, Disneyland, The Bilbao Guggenheim, the city of New York and, above all, the twin towers of the World Trade Center, whose symbolic significance was evident to Baudrillard long before 9/11. Already back in 1983, he was describing the duality of the twin towers–each the clone of the other–as ‘the visible sign of the closure of the system in a vertigo of duplication’.

Baudrillard’s writing style is breathless verging on hysterical. It can be wearing but occasionally it manages verbal stokes that hit the nail on the head. (‘America is the original version of modernity. We are the dubbed or subtitled version.’) Unfortunately, Francesco Proto’s two introductory chapters have all the pretentiousness of their hero without any of his humour, and the two interviews, conducted by Proto and by Jean Nouvel, are presented in the question and answer format favoured by lazy editors. The discussion with Nouvel about Duchamp is interesting, but otherwise these merely recycle the already rather overstretched and repetitive material in the main chapters.

COPYRIGHT 2004 EMAP Architecture

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