The order of the urban: “Metropolis: A film”

Universal history was born in cities, and it reached maturity with the city’s decisive victory over the country. For Marx, one of the greatest revolutionary merits of the bourgeoisie was the fact that it “subjected the country to the city,” whose “very air is liberating.” But if the history of the city is a history of freedom, it is also a history of tyranny — a history of state administrations controlling not only the countryside but the cities themselves. The city has been the historical battleground of the struggle for freedom, but it has yet to host its victory. The city is the focal point of history because it embodies both a concentration of social power, which is what makes historical enterprises possible, and a consciousness of the past. The current destruction of the city is thus merely one more reflection of humanity’s failure, thus far, to subordinate the economy to historical consciousness; of society’s failure to unify itself by reappropriating the powers that have been alienated from it.

Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle


The city as a space of freedom, always precarious, has given way to an open tyranny of ordered, normative spaces and times; the city as a space of encounter, contingency, has been pushed aside by omnipresent and layered apparatuses of surveillance and control; the city as a place of counter-cultures, dandyism, of dérives and détournements, is crushed by and reproduced in relations of discipline and normality.  The cities of our time, the metropolises, or the hyper-spectacular urban nodes of global capitalism, are increasingly little more than concentrated and obligatory points of passage of contemporary value and power: pillaged nature (“natural resources”), alienated human energy and creativity (“labour” and “consumption”, “human capital”, “the knowledge/immaterial economy”, “entrepreneurship”), corrupted and commodified mutual aid (“cooperation”, “collaboration”, “team work”), pleasure domes of frustrated joy (“entertainment”, “pornography”, “social media”, “pharmaceuticals”)  and control (“security”, “anti-terrorism”), and the like.  This is the substance of our urban condition.  And though of course not fully realised (resistance is everywhere!), the goal is announced and made effective.

The metropolis is civilised order, born of the chaos of the wild, dependent upon it, and yet also in a permanent war against it.  The battle ground is life itself, and our fate as a species, as creatures capable of freely and collectively creating, depends on whether the metropolis or the “wild” triumphs.

From the the Tides of flame collective (2012), a visual essay-intervention in our metropolises …

An anti-commercial, a negative production, a showcase of the shadow that exists underneath the green grid of the metropolis of Seattle. (Kickstarter)

(For a brief film review, click here).


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