Wiry Ghosts and Informed Decisions
Again, this post takes snippets from a forthcoming article commemorating the 50th year in print of Robin Boyd’s The Australian Ugliness:
Boyd insists, that Featurist things are ‘non-intellectual, non-emotional and entirely optical’1 and that ugliness is class relative: ‘Georgian for high income, numb conservatism for the low, and for the great central majority coloured plastics, paint, and flat black steel welded into hard geometrical shapes.’2 Furthermore, he notes that non-English visitors regard ‘the difference between an English and an Australian accent [as] a class distinction, and that a visiting Englishman cannot really take seriously any intellectual or artistic idea [of Australians]’.3 As though in accordance Boyd feels that ‘in England, unlike America and Australia, there is always something of genuine beauty around the corner, a medieval church or a glimpse of field, hedge and honest stonework, even if it is hemmed in by rival service stations and haunted by the wiry ghosts of electricity and telephones.’4 Comparatively, in Australia he finds ‘diggerdom where all men are equally inferior.’5
L to R: High income, low and the Great Majority. (The ever-desirable Phonia-Colonial style, Wolfgang Sievers’s Housing Commission flats and post-Fordist plastic cells.
But Boyd wasn’t alone in attacking the masses and their decorative misdemeanours. Starched, dyed-in-the-wool modernists Adolf Loos and Le Corbusier alike, were a little more stern. Loos: primitive people ornament. Le Corbusier: everyone else has eyes that do not see.
Whether, as Boyd points out, Featurist decisions and objects are “non-intellectual” or markers of class distinctions is open to doubt. Even people equipped with the minimum of will, voluntarily choose to conform, or fall victim to Kant’s notion of public reason. Immanuel Kant’s thinking contains a notable distinction between public and private reason. The former regards the masses following prescribed knowledge rather than thinking for themselves, and the latter regards the masses taking initiative, working things out for themselves. But to Kant, the majority is always wrong. A liberal market economy defines freedom of choice as key, and uses forces to invite participation. Freedom of choice and participation mixed with Slavoj Žižek labels as a spontaneous unreflective ideology where the masses actively choose stupidity leaves Boyd’s argument that the general public are stupid, conformist or conservative misleading and borderline offensive. Masses, rather, skirt rational decision-making unaided and indeed provoked by a remorseless market.
Wiry ghosts of electricity and telephones.
Add to that Loïc Wacquant, recounting that ‘the culture of everyday life, the production of desire, [is] generally not much interested in the state’6, nor class distinctions or even about making rational and informed decisions. Responsibility to original thought is taken away from the masses. Featurism flourishes amidst an inundation of perplexed, run-of-the-mill choices orchestrated by the market.
Boyd, R., 1963 . The Australian Ugliness. Sydney: Penguin Books Australia.
Wacquant, L., 2009. “The Body, The Ghetto and the Penal State” in Qualitative Sociology, Vol.32 (1). Heidelberg: Springer, pp.101-129.
1Boyd (1963, pp.141)
6Wacquant (2009, pp.114)
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