The following essay is a collection of ideas developed from a lecture
given at the University of Tasmania in March 2000. The central tenet
of the piece proposes that we are currently living on the horizon of
a new era - that of the super-modernist age. Whilst not sufficiently
fluid yet (as an accepted cultural buoy) to dictate swells of cultural
production, the term super-modernism could be observed as an undertow
economy within disciplines such as architecture, art, critical analysis
and anthropology to name but a few.
The following text sites Marc Auge's book Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology
Of Super-modernity as a contemporary pivotal text in the ongoing spatialisation
of politics and cultural theory (in its widest sense). Incisive and adroit criticisms
of the text's social implications by critics such as Samuel Collins are subsequently
given latitude to re-locate perspectives surrounding the effects of super-modernism
on contemporary culture. These criticisms in turn setting up a platform to observe
how we might utilise theory and an understanding of spatial politics within contemporary
digital and concrete cultures. A counter-mapping (practically negotiated by activists
and self proclaimed 'hacktivists' such as RT M ark and Electronic Disturbance
Theatre) which may enable one to recognize the ideologies of transit and subsequently
detour the current vectors of eternally 'becoming'.
We are now living in a super-modernist era.
This is a contentious statement for many reasons, none more obvious than the
fact that there are thinkers, writers and musicians amongst others who still
think that we live in what could be essentially termed a 'modernist temporality'.
This notion is often backed up by the idea that modernism is an unfinished project.
Thus, until many of the tropes of modernism such as the notion of the avant-garde,
the production line and meta-narratives have conclusively been exhausted as viable
ideas, we will continue to live surrounded by modernist ideals and paradigms.
This type of thinking is in decline however and what follows are three tentative
statements which support the idea of cultural and social shift from classic modernist
[firstly,] A majority of writers, artists, architects and musicians acknowledge
that culture has visibly moved from the stranglehold of meta-narratives of writers
such as Marx to the fractured texts of French post-structuralists such as Deleuze
[secondly] The forms of production and distribution of goods have shifted from
Taylor's vision which gave birth to Fordist production lines to post-NAFTA forms
of latent capitalism which David Harvey called 'flexible accumulation'. A decisive
rift in the production and distribution not only of goods but also of workers,
as now even Japan has had to realise that as culture dictates fashion and as
the wheel of fashion rotates at a greater pace then so to do the modes of production
which results in there no longer being a job for life. Nor is there a profession
which remains untouched, geographically stable or economically relevant by the
changing mandates of technology.
Finally an abaxial flight from the ideal of the essential genius who could distil
the truth into entropic forms of hi art (and thus Minimalism being the paradigmatic
movement within modernism). Currently the sampled and lo-fi collages within music,
writing, art, dance and architecture eschew absolute truths or honouring the
codes of the supposed intelligentsia in favour of airing a litany of truths as
having equal status to the rights and lefts of historical fact and aesthetic
The arguments as to what to call any period at the time when it is still developing
or finishing is always going to be contested according to who writes it and what
political, social, economic or aesthetic agenda they have. Still, writers such
as Alain Delissen concur that modernism and 'its two main pillars, the universal
reason and the visions of the future are indeed being shattered.'
The conveyor belt of 'isms' and movements, sub-movements and splinter groups
turns faster and faster due to the demand of diminishing return which in turn
governs identity politics. (By this I mean the increasingly insatiable market
for images and products that define social difference and group allegiance at
the same time i.e. types of sneakers, trainers or running shoes).
Thus as the street wise soles of product identity speed up, so does the analysis
and naming of perceptive shifts and rifts by cultural commentators. Over the
past decade there has been a palpable sense of desperation in cultural theory
fields to plant the first seed of the new 'ism' . We only need to momentarily
reflect on the attempts to posit tags such as 'hyper-modernism' and the more
ridiculous 'post-post-modernism' to support this notion.
Reverting back to the lineage of architectural styles and theory again, which
has already provided us with the majority of categorical 'isms' for the twentieth
century, we can see the inception of another movement in the shape of super-modernism.
To support this supposition we can look at a range of changes which might indicate
that architecture of the new millennium has and will shed many more theoretical
motifs posited by post-modernism. This is to say that what may be termed as super-modernist
architecture has contingently taken a number of new trajectories regarding aesthetics,
materials, design processes and ideas about site specificity.
For examples of super-modernist architecture we can examine the works of architectural
companies such as OMA, Jean Nouvel, Toyo Ito and Greg Lynn. All who can be seen
to have interests in recent theories and practices which support the surfacing
of 'super-modernism'. (And maybe perversely but somehow expectably) Here resides
the signal of the return to the overarching style and control of the meta-narrative.
A sure fire refutation of all that post-modernism stood for, if it could be said
to stand for anything. This narrative is the most effective, technologically
complicit and dependent that has ever existed not only theoretically but also
economically, culturally and legally. The end of the rainbow story or ultimate
teleological tale delivered to us comes in the form of 'globalisation'.
Globalisation is widely accepted to be occurring across all fields of business,
economics, science, law and culture. Ostensibly this means that post-modernism
is currently being supplanted as a theoretical style or doctrine as well as practical
mandate for producing products, reflected in the development of International
law and divested in the construction of works of art, music, theatre, film and
of course architecture.
It is within architecture that we can see the semantic erosion of one of the
central tenets of post-modernism and deconstructivism - that of the importance
of site which was and still is considered as central to construction by architects
such as Peter Eisenman who digs into the foundations of his building practice
both abstractly and concretely to explore where the boundaries of site specificity
could be stretched.
Super-modernist architects such as Greg Lynn however choose to lay the theoretical
foundations of their buildings, not in the socio-political, racial or sexual
grounding of the urban context. Rather than researching the neighbouring existing
structures with which the future structure will share reflections with, Lynn
chooses to research how digital technologies can produce limitless refractions
of an original vision. You might say that instead of sight specificity Lynn looks
toward software specificity when producing a design overlay and intellectual
support system. In fact he goes as far as to practically negate humanist site
specificity in its affirmative sense of presence when he sites the animation
industry as holding the keys for the future of architecture:
"Although architecture has been understood as static, fixed, ideal and inert,
there is a shift going on from this determinism to directed indeterminacy through
the incorporation of external constraints and environmental forces. Conventional
architectural design software seems not suitable for the development of topological
geometries that are capable of being changed and differentiated. For researching
the possibilities for computer-aided processes and biological models of growth
and transformation, architects should therefore rather discover the use of animation
By this type of manifesto rhetoric we can observe the architect negating the
importance of cultural context and instead treating class, race, sex, gender
and what might be called the 'reality ergonomics' as statistics and digital nodes
within his programmed process. Demographics shaping design. For buildings such
as the Port Authority Building which Lynn designed in New York, USA, numbers
and movements of people were fed into a computer program. A program designed
to release an algorithm through the digits to arrive at variations of human and
traffic flows around the site which would then dictate the digital and concrete
form of the structure.
Architectural form as dictated by movement has its routes in a historical
lineage from the Enlightenment through to the more recent movements of
'Elia's statement that "dynamic sensation is the new architecture")
and now architects such as Lynn. The movement of people through and around
buildings whether fed into a computer or fed up waiting in a cue at the airport
has become a priority for urban planners and architects in super-modernist
times. When the repetitive buildings of McDonalds and 7/11 appear in cities
all over the world, it's virtually a virus made concrete. These types of structures
are blunt allegorical symbols of a movement within global culture to negate
contextualisation or other axioms of post-modernism such as semiotic expressiveness.
The schizophrenic nature of place as rendered through architectural mandate with
its associated economic, temporal and historical concepts changes regularly and
according to its inevitable symbiotic social make up. The challenge is to find
ways in which we can invest our identities and movements within the city. To
somehow redirect the augmented flows of action predicted, designed and regulated
by urban planners, architects and social control mechanisms such as surveillance
camera's and security guards. In this way a door is held ajar through which public
space can be inverted into personal place, challenging the concrete binary of
the city's spatial politics.
Marc Auge has argued that the concept of place in super-modernity differs
from place in modernity. He acknowledges Baudelaire's ideas by stating
place integrated the new and the old so that both become familiar in the same
space. Super-modernity however differs in that it is characterised by its excesses.
Auge goes on to expand on how such excesses in super-modernity proliferate.
In contrast to accounts of post-modernity in which there is a general "collapse
of an idea of progress", in super-modernity there is an "acceleration
of history" that results, not in meaninglessness, but in the excess of meaningful
events. This excess of historical significance, rather than leaving us complacent, "makes
us even more avid for meaning".
Moreover, he states that super-modernity accelerates the transformation of space.
In his book, The Art of the Motor, Virilio argues that the acceleration
of history causes another process to turn over whereby space is transformed
and its boundaries effectively sucked in by what Virilio called the "shrinking
effect". The sucking-in also referring to the fact that more and more information
and foreignness with its associations of the other are drawn into our homes as
a result of "global" satellite TV and of course the Internet.
If we look at Grant Boswell's reading of Auge we can see that he recognises
the similarity between Auge's ideas and those of Virilio's in relation
to the shrinking
effect. Boswell observes Auge arguing that by making remote distances and places
accessible to us by travel or by electronic media, super-modernity compresses
space, changing the scale of things such that the world can fit into one's
vacation or living room. Thus super-modernity works on the principle
overabundance" in which the unfamiliarity and expanse of space is compressed
into the familiarity and knowability of place. This compression results in
excessive possibilities for assimilating spatial overabundance as knowledge
home, one's rhetorical territory, because the home becomes the focal point
into which knowledge from all over the world is funnelled.
Boswell goes on to quote Auge when he states that in super-modernity "the
traveller's space may thus be the archetype of non-place". Thus the traveller
moves through others' notion and understanding of a location as place, but they
do not necessarily interact or understand the site specificity of the locations
traversed. In this sense the traveller becomes the antithesis of Delillo's flâneur
which he termed as "a traveller, the purer form, someone who collects impressions,
dense anatomies of feeling but does not care to record them". Rather,
Auge's motorway/airport traveller is a receptacle of text surrogated for experience.
Here, signs and brochures, billboards and radio adverts provide the information,
history and statistics of a location. Therefore it could be said that in transit
routes we find another paradigm of super-modernism where place becomes a space
to traverse or to get through. A location to watch whilst inside another bounded
space which has a momentum of its own.
Other locations in which Auge observes the individual losing agency and
the power to effect contingency-based decision making is within the super-modern
It is in the super-modern building that we are likely to encounter mass public
texts such as "Take your seat", "Please stay to the right", "Milford
next three exits", "Checks accepted with guarantee card". Auge
argues that individuality is negated here precisely because the texts and orders
take the place of the human, and the humans they speak to are treated as demographics
which requires that all communication is entropically coded. Thus speaking to
no-"one", instead speaking to a mass. One is reminded here of Virilio's
statement that there are no longer populations as such, or societies, rather
we are a "multitude of passersby".
There have been a number of writers who disagree with Auge's notion of the effects
of non-place on the individual. None more salient than Samual Collins' assertion
in his review/essay Head Out on the Highway that what is most interesting
about Auge's work is not so much that "non-place" exists, but that
we would, on some level, "like" it to exist. It always fails our expectations
of non-identity and atomised relations. He goes on to say that "Once we've
paid our ticket, according to Auge, we surrender our 'self' at the gate, so
to speak, becoming, for the duration of our travel, a non-person in the strict,
Maussian sense of the word. Or at least that is how Auge would have it: One
no more than what they do or experiences in the role of passenger, customer
or driver. But this is not really true, as the many Rodney Kings of this world
This socio-political reading of Non Places: Introduction to an Anthropology
of Super-modernity is welcomed and brings up a major criticism of Auge's
kind of analysis - that it is not grounded in socio-political observations
or outcomes and thus negates the gendered, racial or political make-up of spatiality.
Collins goes on to describe the "level playing field" which he feels
Auge proposes as the neutrality of "non-place" is a naive ideal which
reverts is some ways to the problematic scribed dreaming of utopian writing.
Thus the economic realities of class, the frictions of racial inequalities and
the non-acceptance of sexual difference do not miraculously disappear or even
dissipate. The individual keeps "their cultural baggage as they check their
physical baggage" Collins tellingly writes. An adroit criticism from Collins
who delivers his final verdict damning the lack of incite into social relations
when he quips that "the idea that a bigot becomes less so on an airplane
Telling textual analysis and stinging rebukes apart, Auge's book does however
issue an initial search into the nodal ontologies of space and place. He locates
semantic and concrete shifts of spatial differentiation constructed by the meta-narrative
of globalisation (globalisation as the cultural, economic and legal system within
What the book does not do and does not claim in any way to do (being
the antithesis of anthropology as a vocation of "neutral" study)
is to suggest ways in which this system may be questioned, dissonantly
traversed or actively refuted.
For active and practical suggestions as to how contemporary urban space and
its increasingly surveilled areas of cultural contract can be disrupted
a long history of provoking texts. Here I'm thinking about the Cobra and Situationist
groups, including the most renowned text from this movement - Debord's Society
of the Spectacle.
This was and is an elemental book which has fed what are still the most polemical
and influential texts written about the possible strategies for political and
spatial agitation. Within the electronic sphere of the Internet, The Critical
Ensembles - The Electronic Disturbance and within concrete territories of practice,
Hakim Bey's - The Temporary Autonomous Zone still chart as pivotal texts
for any self-declared agent provocateur. For ample support of the proposition
that their strategies are being practiced today, look at R TM arks on-line corporation
that has been formed to help sponsor anti-corporate actions, Electronic Disturbance
Theatres (Richard Dominguez who helped form EDT was also a member of The Critical
Art Ensemble) agit-prop supporting groups such as the CyberZapatistas and Floodnet.
All of the above having recently (successfully) supported Etoy in their legal
and illegal battle against the Etoy on-line children's toy corporation.
The Etoy vs etoy spectacle is a good example of the way in which notions of space
and place within the digital arena of super-modernism converge, delineate and
become legally confused due to a lack of attention and legal statutes to account
for conflicts such as the aforementioned. In the instance of Etoy vs etoy, a
URL or web address became the digital space fought over by a group of multi-media
artists and the third highest grossing company generating income from the World
Wide Web. Here, space (as point of location) was legally challenged in the name
of place, place being the point of expectation and destination.
Etoy Toy Company claimed that their customers were being misled and disappointed
by arriving at the homepage of the arts group rather than the homepage of the
Toy Company. Etoy Company thus took legal action to negate etoy artists having
a URL including the etoy name, even though the multi-media group existed long
before the Toy Company in both concrete and digital landscapes. A similar battle
currently ensues with the magazine Leonardo.
Notions of non-place, space and place are forever in an epistemological flux
depending on which theory, geography, legal system, digital or concrete landscape
they are defined through. And so, theories of how place and space construct,
become fluid and destruct are of relative and practical pertinence. Through Auge's
book, amongst other media works which hold similar observations about contemporary
spatial anthropologies, it can be hoped that telling practical texts, actions
and networks might formulate. Movements, which actively seek to promote or aid
socially and politically, oriented actions within digital and concrete non-place,
space and place.
Converting the spectacle into the practical whilst retaining the playful element
of the SI's writings such as in the case of Etoy vs etoy. The territory of litigation
as the new public square?
Within super-modernist narratives of Mobius mobility, we may utilise
critical reference points observed by Auge to stop and detourner institutionalised
politics. Seizing to flow with the constant "becoming" advocated by
the transitory nature of the non-place to actually "being" in space
and time. In turn the understanding of how and where non-place, space and place
construct can help challenge the governments' and corporations' control of public
and private space and their relative vectors within super-modernism. Replacing
Michel de Certeau's "passengers" who move in accordance to directions
and signs with bodies who invest in potential collision, disruption and cross
communication. These are pursuits undertaken in order to re-establish agency
within banal utopias.
Marc Auge - Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Super-modernity.
Trans. John Howe. New York: Verso, 1995.
Bey, Hakim - The Temporary Autonomous Zone. Autonomedia, 1991.
Boswell, Grant - "Non-Places and the Enfeeblement of Rhetoric in Supermodernity" in Enculturation,
vol. 1, No. 1, Spring 1997.
Collins, Samuel - "Head Out on the Highway - Anthropological Encounters
with the Supermodern" in Postmodern Culture, vol. 7 no. 1, 1996.
The Critical Art Ensemble - The Electronic Disturbance. Brooklyn,
NY: Semiotext(e), 1994.
De Certeau, Michel - The Practice of Everyday Life. Trans. Steven
Rendall. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.
Debord, Guy - La Sociiti du Spectacle (Paris: Buchet-Chastel,
1967; Champ Libre, 1972; Gallimard, 1992). Translated as Society of the Spectacle by
Fredy Perlman and John Supak (city: Black and Red, 1970; revised 1977).
Dellilo, Don - White Noise. New York: Viking, 1985.
Delissen, Alain - "Low Modern vs Post-Modern in the Making of Contemporary
Cities". International Journal of Urban Sciences, no. 1, 1997,
Harvey, David (1991) - The Condition of Postmodernity. Oxford:
Basil Blackwell .
Lynn, Greg - Animate, From The Art of the Accident. Rotterdam: NAI Publishers/V2_Organisatie,
Sant 'Elia, Antonio - Architettura Futurista. Florence: Lacerba,
Virilio, Paul - The Art of the Motor. Trans. Julie Rose. Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1995.
The Electronic Disturbance Theatre - www.thing.net/~rdom/ecd/ecd.html
RT M ark - www.rtmark.com
Etoy - www.etoy.com
DX Raiden is a regular contributor to ETC Magazine (Canada), A N
Monthly (UK) and Sandbox (USA).