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dialectics at a standstill: bruce sterling as exemplary public intellectual, circa now

with 4 comments

(Xposted to Long Sunday….)

The current configuration of the fields of journalism, academia, and publishing – plus the advent of the blogsphere – have produced in turn a new configuration of public intellectualism. There’s something of a long tail effect at work – there are probably more PIs listened to by fewer than any time in history. All manner of blogpundits, evangelists, and visionaries abound.

One of these (actually, he’s officially the Visionary in Residence at the Art Center College of Design in California) is Bruce Sterling, who has recently produced his very own youtubed guide to Belgrade:

Let me clip in what I think is the key passage here:

OK. so bear around the corner of the street, and this Tito-era workers housing building with its crumbling substandard concrete, we have what’s basically an ideological declaration here: business, technology, communication. You notice it doesn’t seem to be actually selling much of anything, it’s more like a placard for the 21st century way of life. Just a layer, a thin layer, on top of an older building. But it is this layer, this thin layer, that actually allows me to live within this particular city and earn a living here… via internet. Oh but what kind of person am I? Well, you know, look at my clothing. Look at my possessions. Business, technology, communication. What are these objects, actually attached to my body. This one in particular, wireless communication, completely changes people’s physical relationship to the city grid. In order to assemble my crew here on this street corner, we had to make about 30 different wireless phone calls just this morning and this afternoon. And yet, thanks to wireless communication, this is it. Thanks to the internet, that’s what allows me to be here.

Dear Christ. So, let’s consult the scorecard. The public housing of the old regime sucked, sure, but now there’s, what, a weird placard and Sterling with a fucking cellphone. For a proper celebration to ensue, you’d think we’d catch sight of all the fabulous new housing for the underclasses since the arrival of the free market chez Belgrade. After all, one guesses that there still are, like, people living in the crumbling workers housing building. Just as the failure of the American welfare state doesn’t mean that no one has to live in towering projects, it’s just that the idea of building new residences for the working class has been abandoned.

I suppose it does change “people’s relationship to the city grid” to have a well-paid speculative fiction writer cum freelance consultant strolling the streets of your city, making 30 calls a day on his phone, escorted by a movie crew. The rise of communism. The death of Tito. The fall of the Wall. The arrival of Bruce Sterling in your city. It all makes sense now, no?

More seriously: the illogic of the paragraph I’ve typed in speaks to the strange situation of the nearly-depoliticized public intellectual in 2007. The past, its utopian politics, are recognized and then derided. Guffaw, guffaw. But when the part of the paragraph arrives when you’re meant to explain why you’re smiling and carrying on, the part about the world actually being a better place now that the nasty specter of communism has slinked back into the grave, you simply stare into the face of your cellphone, or flip it out for all to admire. You register the amazingness of the fact that you’re actually here, wherever you are: a post-communist city that still bears the scares of US bombing, or a Pizza Hut in Bangalore, or the Department of Defense media center in the green zone, wherever. Your voice rises, you get excited, but there’s nothing to show but a civic-boosterist information economy poster splayed across the face of a Worker’s Residence, gutted into condos.

In short, the past and its potentialities are everywhere confronted, but only to be at once disowned with a shrug….

Written by adswithoutproducts

March 26, 2007 at 2:30 am

4 Responses

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  1. Wow! As a design critic, it made my day to see this ringing affirmation of crumbling, substandard concrete.

    Bruce Sterling

    March 26, 2007 at 4:27 am

  2. At least you’ve got your cellphone.

    CR

    March 26, 2007 at 8:48 am

  3. I thought my comment was better.

    Matt

    March 26, 2007 at 10:45 pm

  4. Also, Mr. Visionary: Surely “Beyond the Beyond” is satirical, is it not?

    Matt

    March 26, 2007 at 11:15 pm


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