Utopia’s Ghost: reviewed in Radical Philosophy 164

by ytheory

My review of Reinhold Martin’s Utopia’s Ghost just published in Radical Philosophy no. 164. This issue also includes Owen Hatherley on Walter Benjamin and Architecture, and Howard Feather on David Harvey’s The Enigma of Capital. Extract below:

Reinhold Martin, Utopia’s Ghost: Architecture and Postmodernism Again, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London, 2010. 248 pp., £15.50 pb/£46.50 hb., 978 0 8166 6963 9.

Chronologically and methodologically Utopia’s Ghost follows Martin’s earlier study of architecture and power: The Organizational Complex: Architecture, Media and Corporate Space. There, he had presented an analysis of the corporate architecture of the United States, in the 1950s and 60s, in relation to the dominance of cybernetic models in science and their adoption as organisational paradigms by firms such as IBM and Bell Laboratories. Here, his period is the 1970s and 80s and in it he sees a continuation and development of architecture’s organisational role within the globalisation of capital, as opposed to its reduction merely to a provider of dissimulating surface effects. Further, in The Organizational Complex Martin argues that the corporate reorganisation of space in postwar America constitutes a nascent form of what Gilles Deleuze termed a ‘society of control’; a space, that is, in which the mode of power defined by Foucault as disciplinary is released into an expanded terrain which comes to occupy the entirety of the social field. In Utopia’s Ghost Martin not only attempts to trace the further development of control society and its architectural dimensions through the latter part of the twentieth century, but adopts too Foucault’s own rethinking of contemporary power — complementary to, but preceding by some years that of Deleuze — as the ‘environmental’ management of subjectivity by neoliberal governmentality.

Rethinking the postmodern from these theoretical perspectives involves Martin in a return to the key loci through which its history and interpretation has been staged. Amongst these, inevitably, is the Pruitt-Igoe housing development in St. Louis, a project which, as he notes, had even before its demolition in 1972 ‘become an icon of modern architecture’s presumed failures in the area of social reform.’ Most famously it was Charles Jencks, in his The Language of Postmodern Architecture, who declared, ‘Happily, we can date the death of Modern Architecture to a precise moment in time…Modern Architecture died in St. Louis, Missouri, on July 15, 1972 at 3:32 p.m. (or thereabouts) when the infamous Pruitt-Igoe scheme, or rather several of its slab blocks, were given the final coup de grace by dynamite.’ Following the remarks made by Foucault on neoliberal governmentality (to be found in The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College De France, 1978-79), Martin, however, refigures the demolition of Pruitt-Igoe as symbolic of the point at which the market assumed responsibility for, and over, the social. Any orientation toward a collective and utopian impulse within public housing, as represented, however problematically, by Pruitt-Igoe, is replaced by the neoliberal impetus to produce the subject as a homo œconomicus reflected in the fact that ‘in cities from New York to Mumbai, as a matter of state housing policy, governance has increasingly devolved onto the markets.’