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558ES

Michel Houellebecq

Building Shelves

1993

Contemporary architecture therefore implicitly adopts a simple program, which can be summed up as follows: building the shelves of the social hypermarket. It achieves this by, on the one hand, displaying total fidelity to the aesthetics of the shopping rack, and, on the other hand, by giving priority to the use of materials of weak or nonexistent grain size (metal, glass, plastics). What’s more, the use of reflective or transparent surfaces will allow an attractive multiplication of display shelves. In all cases, it is about creating polymorphous, indifferent, and multipurpose spaces (the same process is also at work in interior decorating: furnishing an apartment at the end of this century essentially means knocking down walls to replace them with mobile partitions — which will in fact be rarely moved, because there is no reason to move them, but the essential point is that the possibility of movement exists, that an extra degree of freedom has been created — and eliminate elements of fixed decoration: the walls will be white, the furniture translucent). It is about creating neutral spaces where the informative advertising messages generated by the social machine can freely spread, and which, besides, constitute it. For what do they actually produce, these employees and managers gathered at La Défense? Strictly speaking, nothing; the process of material production has even become totally opaque to them. Digital information on the objects of the world is sent to them. This information is the raw material of statistics and calculations; models are elaborated, decision graphs are produced; at the end of the chain, decisions are taken, and new information is re-injected into the social body. Thus, the flesh of the world is replaced by its digitized image; the being of things is supplanted by the graph of its variations. Polyvalent, neutral, and modular, modern places adapt to the infinity of messages of which they must serve as a support. They cannot allow themselves to offer an autonomous meaning, to evoke a particular atmosphere; they can therefore not have beauty, poetry, nor more generally their own character. Stripped of all individual and permanent character, and on this condition, they will be ready to welcome the indefinite pulse of the transitory.

Mobile, open to transformation, available, modern employees undergo a similar process of depersonalization. The learning to change techniques popularized by “New Age” workshops aims to create indefinitely mutable individuals, rid of all intellectual or emotional rigidity. Freed from the constraints that constituted forms of belonging, fidelities, and rigid codes of behavior, the modern individual is thus ready to take his place in a system of generalized transactions within which it has become possible to accord him, in an unequivocal and unambiguous way, an exchange value.


Posted: February 2019
Category: Essays

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