Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Mausoleum of Modernism


The Bokor Palace, inaugurated in 1925 by the French administrators in Indochina- long abandoned to the jungles; now part of a sprawling mausoleum of modernism across Vietnam. Here the crisp cool lines of Apollonian rationalism succumb to the anarchy of horticultural diversity. Living things run riot. But the dream of Modernism was stillborn anyway, doomed a century before its arrival. If the philosophes tended to their gardens, the Romantics allowed their gardens to grow wild and choke out all evidence of human planning. Vienna similarly ran wild, from the central planning of the liberal democrats, to the irreason of the fin de siecle, to the populist psychopathology of the brown shirts. The Fascists took Dostoevsky's complaint about the inhumanity of 2+2=4 as a political program. The Communists made Nietzsche's slave morality into state policy. We keep repeating the nineteenth century- it's like a bad rerun. Even when we think that we've been severed from the past like a snipped umbilical cord, we're just repeating an argument from that dreadful century. Modernism was born outdated and quaint and because of its optimism seems more futuristic as the years go by.

We keep repeating the same conflict- we want to be a little bit free in a well-ordered universe. But it's not possible. We're already horribly free and can't conceive of it. Kant's argument: The mind orders the chaos of perception into a model of reality- but only a model, and all models are imperfect and prescribed. This is the architectural illustration of that. I live in a city in which the ruins of modernism compete with the ruins of industrialism- all monuments to the dead dream of a well-ordered universe.

4 comments:

jingyang said...

Hi Rufus
It has always seemed rather odd to me this idea that history is a "soft" subject (although try finding a job when you have a BA in History) especially since as you point out, it is now 2007, yet we are still hashing over the ideologies of the 19th century and in the case of Adam Smith, the 18th.

In a bit of a tangent to your post, have you seen www.kunstler.com ?
Every month he posts a photograph of what he calls the "Eyesore of the Month". There are some spectacular modernist disasters among them.

gregvw said...

Thanls for the URL. That's a great site.

Anonymous said...

Modern too. Reminds me of Brasilia.

Thanks for sharing!

Rufus said...

jingyang: I'm often amazed at how we seem to still be repeating arguments from the Enlightenment era. Who could have imagined that we'd be debating the merits of torture so long after Voltaire took up the Calas case.