What I’m Reading Now

Posted: March 4, 2019 in Uncategorized

Technics and Civilization first presented its compelling history of the machine and critical study of its effects on civilization in 1934—before television, the personal computer, and the Internet even appeared on our periphery.

Drawing upon art, science, philosophy, and the history of culture, Lewis Mumford explained the origin of the machine age and traced its social results, asserting that the development of modern technology had its roots in the Middle Ages rather than the Industrial Revolution. Mumford sagely argued that it was the moral, economic, and political choices we made, not the machines that we used, that determined our then industrially driven economy.

First published in 1948, Mechanization Takes Command is an examination of mechanization and its effects on everyday life. A monumental figure in the field of architectural history, Sigfried Giedion traces the evolution and resulting philosophical implications of such disparate innovations as the slaughterhouse, the Yale lock, the assembly line, tractors, ovens, and “comfort” as defined by advancements in furniture design. A groundbreaking text when originally published, Giedion’s pioneering work remains an important contribution to architecture, philosophy, and technology studies.

Unlike adherents of the dominant schools of Anglo-American and German art history, Francastel was not obsessed with establishing a quasi-scientific methodology as the basis for his studies. But as art history itself is being reshaped by the culture of technology, his nuanced meditations from the 1950s on the intricate intersection of technology and art gain heightened value. The concrete objects that Francastel examines are for the most part from the architecture and design of the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century. Through them he engages his central problem: the abrupt historical collision between traditional symbol-making activities of human society and the appearance in the nineteenth century of unprecedented technological and industrial capabilities and forms. Francastel’s vision of the indeterminate, shifting relation between the aesthetic and the technological will be of crucial interest to anyone interested in the history of art, architecture, and design.

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