Peter Eisenman: Manifesto #20

Against spectacle

“The spectacle is the sun that never sets on the empire of modern passivity.”
Guy Debord

Today, across cultural practices, the distracted viewing of the surface has replaced the reading of depth. This is abetted by media, which stages the appearance of reality as a spectacle. The spectacular is linked to the contemporary inundation of information, which proselytises the new and demands the continual production of new imagery for consumption. The images sought by media are circulated instantaneously, virtually and seamlessly. Media’s search for fantastic imagery, as well as the precedent set for architecture by the “Bilbao effect”, perpetuates an increasing need for the spectacular in the form of ever more precious forms of novelty. These shapes – mutations of their own mediation – are the spectacles of today. Seductive renderings of impossible buildings are their own graphic reality, fuelled by a voracious need for publicity. These images are the narcissistic death rattle of a discipline lost in the tidal wave of image-dependent media. In staging the appearance of reality as spectacle, media induces passivity. The more passive the audience, the more necessary spectacular imagery becomes. It is a vicious cycle in which architecture today is more than ever implicated. In such a context, today’s subject, now rendered passive, is truly in danger of losing the capacity for close reading.

Where is architecture’s critical resistance to this process of loss? The crisis of the spectacular demands a call for a new subjectivity, for a subject removed from the passivity induced by the image and engaged by form in close reading.

Originally published in ICON magazine
Issue 404 | 2007

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