Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A world drowning in Objects

Extract from The Guardian :

Deyan Sudjic presents us with a nightmare vision of a world drowning in objects. This is not a new perception. William Morris commented: "I have never been in any rich man's house which would not have looked the better for having a bonfire made outside of it of nine-10ths of all that it held." What is new is the scale on which we waste human resources with our addiction to new, shiny objects. We use design not to supply basic needs but to boost our confidence in a society ruled by fashion and celebrity. We are flattered into thinking that piling up our houses with ostentatious objects will make us better people, more lovable and human. What fools we have become. 

The book is witty, lively, engaging and yes, well-observed.  One really need to think things over after reading it.

Here is the opening paragraph :
Never have most of us had more possessions than we do now, even as we make less and less use of them.  The homes in which we spend so little time are filled with things.  We have a plasma screen in every room, displacing state-of-the-art cathode-ray television sets just five years old.  We have cupboards full of sheets; we have recently discovered an obsessive interest in the term 'thread count'.  We have wardrobes stacked high with shoes.  We have shelves of compact discs, and rooms full of games consoles and computers.  We have gardens stocked with barrows and shears and cutters and movers.  We have rowing machines we never exercise on, dining tables we don't eat at, and triple ovens we don't cook in.  They are our toys: Consolations for the unremitting pressures of acquiring the means to buy them and which infantilize us in our pursuit of them.

How true ?!  May be not 100% for some, yet very close.

Here are some interesting passages that I like to jot down :

Publicity is the life of this culture - in so far as without publicity capitalism could not survive - and at the same time publicly is its dream.
Capitalism survives by forcing the majority, whom it exploits, to define their own interests as narrowly as possible.  This was once achieved by extensive deprivation.  Today in the developed countries it is being achieved by imposing a false standard of what is, and what is not desirable. ~ John Berger in Ways of Seeing

To discard even a useless object that I don't look at from one year to the next is somehow to discard part of a life. But to keep it unused is to experience silent reproach every time you open the cupboard door.  The same reproach is projected by a wall full of unread books.  And once read they ask, quietly at first, but then more and more insistently, will we ever read them again ?

Chapter Three - Luxury

'Luxury,' the architect Rem Koolhaas once claimed, 'is stability'. Picking up speed in his usual declamatory way he went on to deliver himself of a manifesto: 'Luxury is "waste". Luxury is generous. Luxury is intelligent. Luxury is rough. Luxury is attention.' The style may be more suggestive of a copywriter with a fragrance account than of a most respected architectural theorist of his generation, but he concluded, unarguably, that 'Luxury is not "shopping".'

Luxury in our times revolves more and more about the details that persuade consumers to spend money. But another definition of luxury - one that is closer to its original meaning - may prove increasingly pertinent. It see luxury as the way to provide a sense of respite from the relentless tide of possessions that threatens to overwhelm us.

Chapter Five - Art

It is a curious paradox that even the most materialist of us tend to value what might be called the useless above the useful.  Useless not in the sense of being without purpose, but without utility, or at least with not much of it.  Manolo Blalnik makes shoes that are harder t walk in and a lot more expensive than a pair of plimsolls, though they might be rather more helpful as part of a courtship display.  A Ferrari attracts more attention than a Volkswagen, but is hardly a practical means of urban transport. And, at a more fundamental level, while art is useless, design is useful.

It is a pervasive attitude.  In the 1980s, when the Design Museum in London sounded out Alan Bowness, then director of the Tate Gallery and son-in-law of Barbara Hepworth, about the possibility of occupying part of the Tate's Millbank site, he is reported to have dismissed the idea with the remark that 'Lampshades do not thrill me.'  (Ouch!)

No art museum would exhibit a Mondrian poster as a conceivable substitute for a Mondrian painting. But a design museum is less interested in the idea of the original. And in the world of mass production, how can there be such a thing as fake?
Mondrian Art : Composition II in Red, Blue and Yellow, 1930

As much an art director as a politician and a soldier, 
Ataturk abolished the fez, introduced Latin Script,
and built new capital city.
Simply a coincidence.

The thriller The Lost Library I read last week also mentioned Ataturk, the founder of Turkish Republic and modern state, who had taken up residence in Dolmabahce Palace even as he had signed a 1922 edict removing governance of the Turkish people from the hands of hereditary monarchy. Ataturk, who had ousted the Sultans but went on to lead his republican government from the glory of their palaces. Ataturk, who had taken ill, and finally died, here in the palace walls.  More specifically, in the chamber known today as 'Ataturk's Bedroom' at 9.05 am on November 10th, 1938.  All the clocks in the palace had been stopped at the moment of his death and marked the moment of national mourning for decades.  Only more recently, the ban of mourning had been lifted and the palace clocks returned to show the actual time.  All but for one: the small clock that sat on the table in the bedroom where he had died.

The bedroom was where our narrator, Emily found her last clue.

A book-related one :

The machine works away diligently and fills our bookcases with ill-printed volumes, its criterion is cheapness. Yet every cultured individual should feel ashamed of such material abundance. For on the one hand, ease of production leads to a diminished sense of responsibility, while on the other abundance leads to perfunctoriness. How many books do we genuinely make our own? And should one not possess these in the best paper, bound in splendid leather? Have we perhaps forgotten that the love with which a book has been printed, decorated and bound creates a completely different relationship between it and us, and that intercourse with beautiful things makes us beautiful? ~ Werkstätte

Well, these are not all. There are more notable passages in the book, but for you to find out.


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