Monthly Archives: March 2018

Landscapes of Resentment

Recently, in re-reading Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, I came across this disturbing passage that succinctly sums up the current toxic political environment in a growing number of liberal democracies: “In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. … Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”

In addition to thinking about how we got into this mess, can we also visualize the landscape of resentment that has led to the current rise of populism? For example, can the haunting ruins of these two former automobile plants, respectively in Milan, Italy and Detroit, USA, reveal a story of globalization, outsourcing, automation, and neoliberalism? And how do we write a visual history of the origins of the postindustrial populist uprising?

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A Site of Struggles

Zhangjiakou (张家口) has always been a strategic military pass that separates the Mongolian Gobi Desert and the North China Plain. Not surprisingly, dynastic regimes in the past always paid special attention to the sections of the Great Wall passing through the region, rebuilding and upgrading them frequently. Then, during the Sino-Japanese War, the Civil War, and the Cold War, new fortresses and bunkers were added alongside with the ancient war infrastructures.

However, many of these battles were also fought on ideological grounds. There is nothing more illustrative than the Xiwanzi Catholic Church that has been sitting on the fault line of various colliding forces. Towards the end of the 19th century, for example, the church was sieged by the Boxer rebels and defended by the Allied forces. In the final days of the Civi War, the town also changed hand several times in a tug-of-war between the Communists and the Nationalists. Since the community had firmly aligned themselves with the Nationalists, a massacre took place after the Communist victory. The church was ultimately demolished in the Cultural Revolution when a Mao mural was erected nearby.

The struggle has continued since but not without some ironies. Recently, in anticipation of the hosting of the skiing competitions for the 2022 Winter Olympics, the church was rebuilt based on its original form as part of the town’s beautification plan. Meanwhile, the Mao mural, which had long been neglected just like the surrounding communities, was demolished. That really is too bad because another great leader would probably want to have his handsome LED image installed on that wall.

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Dispatches from a Heterotopia

Cuba did not turn into a socialist utopia. But whatever it has become, it is certainly not a time capsule as it has often been suggested. Instead, the Caribbean nation represents an alternative reality, one that is surreally augmented by vivid color hues and the sound of crowing roosters. This is a place where humans can once again be in touch with their inner senses. In this place, the color choices of everyday objects from clothing to cars are not mediated by the aesthetic regimes set by designers and corporations. The use of public spaces, too, is not dictated by automobiles and urban planners. Even dilapidated buildings are being utilized in ways that radical architects could not have imagined. The expression of “Cuba Libre,” hence, takes on a new significance. But, of course, as twenty-first century tourists, we are no longer humans but posthumans. We are therefore having difficulties to make sense of it all.

Meanwhile, with the arrival of global capital, one wonders how long could this last before Cuba “finally” joins the “real world” in the name of creating a utopia of consumption. Viva Cuba Libre!

 

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