Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Forwards (not Forgetting)

Described in the blurb as "a defence of Modernism against its defenders", i.e. the heritage industry and "the aesthetics of the luxury flat", Owen Hatherley's Militant Modernism is largely a reappraisal of Brutalist architecture (as an alternative to urban gentrification), Constructivism, Wilhelm Reich, the films of Dusan Makavejev, and Brecht's alienation effect - surprising choices, perhaps, but Hatherley argues their case convincingly, for the most part. He doesn't claim to have any solutions to the mess we're in, but reviving interest in these neglected alternatives might be a start.

From an excellent review by Jonathan Meades at the New Statesman:

"Oscar Wilde’s suggestive proposition that “the highest criticism really is the record of one’s soul... the only civilised form of autobiography” could hardly have found a better exemplar than Hatherley. This book is the deflected Bildungsroman of a very clever, velvet-gloved provocateur nostalgic for yesterday’s tomorrow, for a world made before he was born, a distant, preposterously optimistic world which, even though it still exists in scattered fragments, has had its meaning erased, its possibilities defiled. And which has posthumously been wilfully misrepresented." [...]

"...is populism actually popular? Or is it simply sedative patronisation, bread and circuses devised by a cynical caste of free marketeers who presumptuously underestimate the collective intellect? This is what Hatherley believes and reiterates in various contexts. He makes a brilliantly audacious suggestion that will leave the Prince of Wales, Léon Krier and their “new urbanist” acolytes speechless: what if modernism was not imposed on a working class that really yearned for good old back-to-backs and outdoor privies but was welcomed “as part of a specific collective project”? Streets in the sky were paved with hope. Aneurin Bevan envisaged a National Housing Service."

Militant Modernism is published by Zero Books, which has a few intriguing recent and upcoming releases. Hatherley's blog is also well worth a look.

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