The City of Blind Windows

Part 2

November 16, 2022

This is the second installment of a two-part piece on the rationalization of New York City. The first part is available here.

Making Machines, Making People

“Production not only creates an object for the subject,” Marx noted, “but a subject for the object.”1Karl Marx, Grundrisse, trans. Martin Nicolaus (New York: Penguin, 1993 [1973]), 92. The new infrastructure—in other words, the spatial form assumed by the intersection of the basic logic of capital accumulation with the terms of the capital-labor relation and the particular historical-geographical circumstances of the postwar United States—created new kinds of people. The objects were the automobile and the detached, single-family suburban home, along with the cavalcade of infrastructure ginned up to support them. While the material feminists had imagined that the population density and socialization of infrastructure engendered by the industrial city would unfold into a collectivist future, and urged that women seize control of these trends to liberate themselves from unpaid domestic work and redesign the built environment to do it, the suburban counterrevolution reestablished the Victorian ideal of the single-family home and the isolated housewife. Postwar mass consumption, subsidized for whites by the federal government, extended these privileges to greater swathes of the population, albeit in pettier fashion—the “patriarch as wage slave,” one historian called it.2Stuart Ewen, Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture (New York: Basic, 1976), 151–7. In this way, capitalism detached itself from those tendencies that had been thought to coincide with the preconditions for its overcoming, reaching back in time to a moral order thought to be outmoded. The passage of historical time was no longer a reliable ally of social progress.

Devices also made people. Labor-saving technologies—kitchen appliances, washing machines—that promised to bring the same economies of scale to domestic work that capitalists had brought to manufacturing were now miniaturized, repackaged as single servings so that they could be sold into the spatial arrangements required by suburbanization’s dual imperative of individualized consumption and political isolation.3Hayden, The Grand Domestic Revolution, 25. “Pay them more, sell them more, prosper more,” crowed Christine Frederick in Selling Mrs. Consumer, published in 1929. Frederick urged housewives to Taylorize their daily lives, an injunction that didn’t work because suburbanization had scuttled Taylorism’s premise—specialization rooted in the division of labor, an operation made impossible by the isolation of housewives working alone in disconnected boxes—but one that served as a suitable peg for manufacturers of household appliances.

Commodification begets commodification. The legions of obsessive-compulsives forged by an alienated image of perfection proved fertile ground for other manufacturers—by 1978, doctors were writing nearly fifty million prescriptions for Valium each year. Frederick’s counterpart, Lillian Gilbreth, the wife of Taylor acolyte Frank Gilbreth, worked with her husband to scientifically manage their own home for maximum throughput. Their avant-garde lifestyle, a hideous mirror-image of bohemianism, an experiment in how far one might go in turning every gesture, every relationship, into work, was dramatized in Cheaper By the Dozen, a film its producers pitched as a lighthearted romp, even when Frank’s neuroticism stops his heart and drops him dead in a railway station phone booth. In a scene that has played in my mind for fifteen years, Frank has Lillian time him as he races to button his shirt from top to bottom, bottom to top, to see which is marginally faster. More than any other, the film stands as a testament to the ways in which family comedies are always also horror movies. Like Frederick, who had dedicated Selling Mrs. Consumer to Herbert Hoover, Lillian Gilbreth nourished a connection to the businessman-president, sitting on the planning committee for The President’s Conference on Home Building and Home Ownership. The symbiotic relationship between home-building and automobile manufacture was embodied by her colleague on the planning committee—Mrs. Henry Ford.4Ibid., 285–6.

Ford was the name of the man and the organization whose efforts, as much as anyone’s, fashioned the irreplaceable counterpart to the subsidized mortgage and the home appliance in forging the suburban subject. The automobile—a mechanical midwife to the millions of petty kingdoms sprayed across the landscape, progressively overwrote what had once been vegetable gardens, orchards, forests. “In this society where the thing is more important than the man, there is a king object, a pilot object: the automobile,” wrote Henri Lefebvre.5Henri Lefebvre, Vers le Cybernanthrope (Paris: Denoël/Gontheir, 1971), 14. No device enabled and embodied the suburban dispensation like the car, a machine that transformed body and spirit in service of isolated consumption and the hatred of one’s fellows.

Behind the wheel is where you live the compromise between capitalism and settler democracy in its twentieth-century incarnation as mass consumption. As it directs your hands, feet, and brain, you become object and agent of its social consequences. Witnessing the traffic in Paris, where the advent of the car and its mores swept down with a suddenness that made their effects appear as if in relief, André Gorz reported the reaction of an East German companion—“you’ll never have socialism with people like this.”6André Gorz, “The Social Ideology of the Motorcar” (1973), https://unevenearth.org/2018/08/the-social-ideology-of-the-motorcar.

Armored personal space carried everywhere, from the drywall castle to the wheeled steel box. Like guns, cars represent the relative democratization of the power to dominate and kill, affording minor access to the pleasures of the sovereign, which double as the pleasures of the sadist. Car culture is the synthetic result of technology linked to accumulation and class domination, where the parceling of a false, pathetic sovereignty is offered in exchange for a re-tightening of domination, a life where one’s relationship with a mortgage lender half a continent away is more significant, more real, than a relationship with those breathing thirty feet away.

Behind the wheel is where you live the compromise between capitalism and settler democracy in its twentieth-century incarnation as mass consumption.

Car culture also marked another step in the rejection of the limits of the human body and of the infinitely rich social life of the street, trading the not-yet fully explored powers of human sociability for the hollow rewards of a disembodied petty domination. While mass transit had also encouraged the violation of these limits, car culture erased the space of encounter that remains in the subway car, substituting for it the isolation and domination, the taking of space, inherent in the automobile as a technology. Auto—the prefix itself signaled the ongoing shift in values, the way that the perspective of an isolated self, its desires realized not in concert with others but against them, would vanquish the possibility for an infinitely richer intersubjective experience. Individualism, Lefebvre wrote, “is not simply a theory, but also a fact and a class weapon.”7Henri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, Volume I: Introduction, trans. John Moore (London: Verso, 1991), 151.

 

The Right to the City

Can we get the city back, which would also mean getting it for the first time? If capital produces places and people in its own image, can we produce them in ours? What principles might guide dissident imaginations? What acts might realize them?

The “right to the city,” as Lefebvre coined the term, was not the right merely to exist at a given point in space. Nor was it a bounded right, granted in sufferance by a weary state, temporary, contingent, fleeting, its grip perpetually slipping until the next crisis exhausts and cancels it. In the context of the city’s recovery from its mid-1970s brush with bankruptcy—less a recovery than a restructuring that left the city more dependent than ever on a perpetual juicing of land values—partial decommodifications of housing that seemed like rights turned out to be customs. The history of rent control, granted pragmatically in the midst of a world war, preserved in the face of a postwar housing crisis that threatened to destabilize the city, and battered ever since, is instructive. Without a consistent, independent social force to defend them, rent control and policies like it fell victim to the gradual recapture of the state by capital.8On conceptualizing the right to the city, see Neil Gray, “Beyond the Right to the City: Territorial Autogestion and the Take over the City Movement in 1970s Italy,” Antipode 50, no. 2 (March 2018), 319–339.

But the true right to the city is something other than and beyond even a well-defended set of rent controls. Lefebvre spoke of it as the right to the oeuvre, to collective authorship of a great work. The notion of the work describes an overall project, a total, disalienated practice where technical and spiritual progress walk hand-in-hand. It recalls the mindset of the alchemist, of science in its expansive, pre-modern guise, before the dialectic of a capitalist enlightenment tightened around it, narrowing reason and yoking knowledge to domination, inaugurating what now looks like a centuries-long death spiral culminating in the elimination of the basic conditions for life on the planet. The right to the city, for Lefebvre, was less a guarantee than a practice, immeasurably broader than this or that constitutional right. It incorporated the right to participate—to deploy one’s powers in a collective process of shaping the world—and to appropriate—to enjoy the use of that world, not in the hollow fashion of private property, a way of using that excludes and impoverishes others, but a social appropriation where the process of shaping the world is at once the process of shaping oneself in concert with others. “The important thing is not that I should become the owner of a little plot of land in the mountains,” wrote Lefebvre, “but that the mountains be open to me.”9Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, Volume I, 158. To use the world without destroying it or the people in it—this is the dream of the right to the city.

Once we grasp what the right to the city means, it becomes clear that this freedom could not be granted in any thorough or meaningful way without significant damage to private property, exploitation, capital accumulation, and their management by the state. The right to the city becomes an active one, realized through jagged experimentation in struggles against capital and the state. It becomes less a right in the ordinary, liberal sense of the term than a principle, a limit point, a horizon against which our acts in the present can be measured. It becomes a revolutionary demand.

We need these speculative abstractions, this intuition of the whole, to orient our practice and guard against the magnetic force of opportunism, pulling us into that rut that Lefebvre called “reformism without reforms,” enjoying rights granted precisely because they do not call into question the principles on which the system rests. For this reason, the right to the city acquires, by definition, an insurrectionary dimension. When the bar slips too low, or when the horizon of struggle becomes purely defensive, one has already lost.

Struggling for what seems impossible in the moment, on the other hand, makes for good strategy on three counts. First, it enlarges our collective imagination, allowing us to see other worlds, making the limit point of our struggles concrete, convincing us that there is another way. Second, it can leave us in a stronger position when struggles fall short, as they tend to do, of a wholesale transformation of social relationships. Finally, this act of imagination, this struggle to enact the future, educates, steels, and potentiates us for the next struggle.

These buildings gesture towards the dream of a proletarian community that transcends the narrow realm of the workplace while providing an alternative to the phantom autonomy of the suburbs, that material expression of the pact with capital that denies its proper names of heteronormativity, patriarchy, and the one it disavows the most: the whiteness that crushes the soul and the world.

What are we struggling for? What principles set the bar against which we measure whether this or that tactic draws us closer to the right to the city in its full meaning? In 1864, hoping to purchase a bit of ennoblement for their new Wool Exchange, the industrialists of Bradford hired the critic and polemicist John Ruskin to advise them on how the building might be designed to leave a suitable impression. In his speech to the assembled notables, Ruskin withheld his blessing, informing the audience bluntly that “I do not care about this Exchange—because you don’t.”10John Ruskin, “Traffic,” in The Genius of John Ruskin: Selections from His Writings, ed. John D. Rosenberg (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1988), 273. It was ridiculous, Ruskin said, to imagine that solemnity and magnificence could be grasped by sprinkling cash on this or that fashionable architect while devoting the other nine-tenths of one’s energies to what he proclaimed was the country’s true religion—“Britannia of the Market,” the “Goddess of Getting-on.” The occasional ornate structure in an otherwise brutal landscape only served as a grotesque reminder that it was this religion, these values that were expressed in the country’s actually existing architecture. This explained the curious dissonance of styles one observed in the new English industrial cities—the borrowed glory of desiccated idioms for a meaningless minority of symbolic structures and a sordid, profit-driven utilitarianism for the rest. If the magnates of Bradford had their way, Ruskin observed, the entire island would be stuffed from coast to coast with mills, hammered into a total industrial environment, denuded of all color, of any gesture towards the nonhuman world. For the sake of profit maximization, such a landscape should be traversable only through elevated highways and tunnels. Ruskin’s vision was a sort of hellish imaginary precursor of the Manhattan Moses actually attempted to create, with office buildings as a replacement for the factories.11John Ruskin, “Modern Manufacture and Design,” in The Genius of John Ruskin, 223–28. As for the Wool Exchange, a sincere approach, Ruskin suggested, would be simply to plaster it with sculptures of banknotes.

Today, architecture is still the material expression of the social relationships that produced it. I sit typing on the balcony of a cooperative apartment house built in 1965. This semi-private outdoor space is a structuring feature of my everyday life, unthinkable in the private market for someone without unearned wealth or a socially toxic wage bargain. Such little defiances of the market are the product of a particular, historically situated social imagination, rooted in the intersection of the city’s reform tradition, itself rooted in the power of the workers’ movement, with the vortex created by the postwar housing crisis and the imperative to rehabilitate the midcentury city in the face of its gathering evacuation. These buildings, with their relentlessly quotidian design, twenty-three floors of rectangular concrete pancakes shot through with aquamarine hallways that make one feel like an extra in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, embody the application of the low-cost, high-volume principle of the assembly line to the design and construction of housing, an idea that had impelled the enlightened department-store tycoon turned housing reformer Edward Filene to implore the country’s builders to “make houses like Fords.”12Quoted in Rosalyn Baxandall and Elizabeth Ewen, Picture Windows: How the Suburbs Happened (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 39. In 1955, New York State’s Limited Profit Housing Companies Law, which arranged mortgage loans and tax abatements for developers who agreed to a ceiling on resident incomes and profits keyed to operating costs rather than the speculative market, lent this strange blend of alienated labor and mildly disalienated lifestyles the provisional blessing of the state. The program became popularly known as Mitchell-Lama, after its legislative sponsors.

Look at a map that depicts race and income data by census tract and the effects of Mitchell-Lama emerge in stark colors.13See http://www.justicemap.org. In the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, this section of north-central Brooklyn was a Black city, socially, politically, and culturally. Its inhabitants tasted the triumphs and contradictions of demographic concentration and political possibility in the context of a collapsing industrial economy and the associated political and spatial mutations of white supremacy. In the decades since then, the blocks around these towers have whitened as the city recalibrated its mores around the principles of the market, which was the same thing as catering to the whims of the white and wealthy. The wave of market-mediated displacement swelled first in the west, in the zones closest to Manhattan, and washed to the south and east. Redevelopment was both physical and social.

The blocks on which these towers and the New York City Housing Authority buildings next door sit appear on the map as an stubborn obstruction to this process—a seawall, a peninsula of black jutting into an encroaching ocean of white. Median household income for these blocks trails the adjoining tracts of apartments and brownstones by at least a third. Our neighbors are teachers, subway track maintainers, retired civil servants. Few of us could stay around here were we tossed into the riptide of the housing market.

The arrangement undermines market rationality in other ways. Where conventional homeownership ties one’s well-being to the swells of the housing market, the low-cost, low-profit, and secure arrangements engendered by Mitchell-Lama allow residents save, or the ability to take one foot off the hamster wheel of unrewarding work, or both. By reducing residents’ exposure to a violent and alienating economy, these are buildings that make it possible for one to go to graduate school, work as an artist, devote more than evenings and weekends to social transformation, or at least not hurt anyone. In doing so, they form a bulwark against the complete subsumption of our lives to the logic of capital while representing the possibility of composing a political constituency indifferent or hostile to the inhuman demands of the market. They gesture towards the dream of a proletarian community that transcends the narrow realm of the workplace while providing an alternative to the phantom autonomy of the suburbs, that material expression of the pact with capital that denies its proper names of heteronormativity, patriarchy, and the one it disavows the most: the whiteness that crushes the soul and the world.

What are the main obstacles to developing a Gothic approach to the city?

Mitchell-Lama was battered by the swells of postwar housing politics almost as soon as it was enacted. In 1959, Governor Nelson Rockefeller, hoping to lure private developers who would build rental housing rather than the union-sponsored co-ops that had dominated the program in its early days, inserted the poison pill of a “buyout” provision that allowed landlords and co-op residents to take their buildings private after twenty years. In doing so, they might realize a great windfall for themselves while denying their good fortune to others and depleting the city’s affordable housing stock. Twenty-two years later, when the Reagan Administration axed the federal subsidy that kept the program afloat in an era of rising costs, the era of Mitchell-Lama construction was over.14Thomas J. Waters and Victor Bach, “Reinventing the Mitchell-Lama Housing Program” (New York: Community Service Society, 2015), https://www.cssny.org/publications/entry/reinventing-the-mitchell-lama-housing-program. Today, only half of the 135,000 apartments created under the program remain, their allotment governed by a lottery system with waiting lists that are the stuff of legend.

 

Towards the Gothic City

In one of his most celebrated writings, Ruskin outlined what he called “The Nature of Gothic.” For Ruskin, the purely stylistic features of Gothic architecture—its arches, vaults, buttresses, gargoyles—were of less consequence than the spirit in which he conceived them to have been built. Gothic, for Ruskin, was less a set of aesthetic signposts than an overarching philosophy. What distinguished it from rival styles, he believed, was its attention to process, the way it reflected the active, searching, experimental mind in its connection with the body and with the world. This principle was reflected not only in the work of the architect, that toiler of mental constructions, but in the activity of workers themselves, whose autonomy, even at the cost of imperfection, is reflected in the vibrant imperfection of the structure itself, through which it shapes the lived experience of its users. Unlike classical styles, whose rigid dedication to order and symmetry embodied the “servile” relationship of worker to designer and the severing of brain from hand, the Gothic, with its “wildness of thought, and roughness of work,” embodied a rejection of hierarchy and its mutilation of human powers.15John Ruskin, “The Nature of Gothic,” in The Genius of John Ruskin, 175. It was an organic architecture, one that must and does “grow,” as Ruskin’s disciple William Morris put it.16William Morris, “Gothic Architecture,” in News from Nowhere and Other Writings, ed. Clive Wilmer (New York, Penguin, 1993), 335. In other words, the Gothic is not reducible to the geometry of arches. It is a process, a method, a way of life.

The resonances mean that we can speak of Lefebvre’s right to the city as a right to the Gothic city. What does a Gothic city look like? It is one that makes explicit and thus contestable the boundaries, visible and invisible, that structure our everyday lives. It is one where political action is simultaneously an act of disalienation and a building of collective capacity. It is one where we celebrate imperfection and failure because we know that it represents an active searching, a process of experimentation, the strengthening of our theories, the erection of a framework for what Ruskin called “perpetual novelty.”17Ruskin, “The Nature of Gothic,” 187. It is one where we reject the ersatz perfection of the city of blind windows—its cheap smoothness, its ever-escalating productivity (of what?), a city where the gleaming facade conceals its rotten reverse. It is one where we work with the limit point always in mind, and revise our notion of that limit in concert with what we discover through acting in the here and now. It is one where we rediscover places in their specificity and act in concert with their contours, physical and social. And it is one where we locate power where it ultimately resides, in alienated relationships that get reproduced every day, outside of “politics” narrowly construed—and attack it there.18Raniero Panzieri, “The Capitalist Use of Machinery” (1961), https://libcom.org/library/capalist-use-machinery-raniero-panzieri; Sergio Bologna, “The Tribe of Moles,” in Autonomia: Post-Political Politics, ed. Sylvère Lotringer and Christian Marazzi, 2nd ed. (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2007), 36–61. The politics are everywhere.

What are the main obstacles to developing a Gothic approach to the city? In the absence of an acute social collapse that compels improvisation, the challenge has always been to locate some propitious crack, some terrain of subjectivity or social life as-yet unclaimed by capital where autonomous lives might develop along alternative principles, possibly avoiding strangulation long enough to acquire a critical mass and become a social force. For Ruskin and Morris, it meant a rejection of the capitalist work process, which mutilated worker and consumer alike in a seemingly inexorable dynamic. In a return to craft, an amalgam of skill, experience, autonomy, investment, and beauty, Morris sought a way of making objects whose qualities would be governed by some other principle than cost-cutting, flooding the market, and the organized slaughter of one’s competitors.

The problem is that capitalism is not just a series of decisions made by individuals, but a social system in which compulsion is broadly distributed, resulting in a situation where one cannot simply reject, except through individualized cunning, the consequences of a regime of value rooted in abstract labor time.19This point has been most forcefully developed by Moishe Postone in Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993). The discipline of the market, itself a reflection of the basic capitalist social relation, makes it very difficult to generalize ruptures in the law of value. And so Morris’s project foundered on these contradictions—he could not cover the costs accrued in his devotion to quality materials, careful construction, and attention to beauty without limiting himself to a moneyed clientele, ignoring the working masses to whom he had hoped to offer a glimpse of what was possible. When a wealthy customer inquired one day what was disturbing him, Morris hissed: “it is only that I spend my life in ministering to the swinish luxury of the rich.”20Charles-François Mathis, “Ruskin’s Heirs: Art, Nature and Socialism,” E-Rea 13.2 (2016), https://journals.openedition.org/erea/5106.

Any substantial effort to transcend capitalism requires that we locate some kind of outside, one that is both imaginary, in the sense that it is not yet achieved, and real, in the sense that it must exist in some plausible embryo beneath the disfiguring yoke of the present. Sometimes, movements have located this outside in some stubborn vestige, real or imaginary, of a precapitalist past. Some seek it in a less distant past, one that is both widely shared and irrevocably individual—the kingdom of childhood. Some retreat into the illusory outside of the nuclear family or the dubious safety of whiteness. Some feel they can glimpse it in the suspension of ordinary time accomplished through ritual or revolt.

Does the history of subsumption—Marx’s term for the colonization of social relationships and subjectivity itself by capitalism, which hammers into its own shape our concepts, mores, activities, assumptions—suggested above as a framework for understanding what has happened to New York, imply that the real, graspable terrain of this outside is dwindling?21For an overview of the concept see “The History of Subsumption,” Endnotes 2 (2010), https://endnotes.org.uk/articles/the-history-of-subsumption. Is there any longer an “outside” from which to draw sustenance, save utopian speculation that risks detaching itself from any plausible trajectory rooted in the present?

All political solutions, even reforms, depend on this independent social force. What actions meet this bar? What actions potentiate us?

It is difficult to avoid the hypothesis that the last two-and-a-half years, in which we have endured the accelerating colonization of physical and mental space by technologies of digital mediation designed and deployed for value extraction, have pushed us across some new threshold of alienation, marking a considerable setback for any project that depends on the nurturing of a shared, autonomous consciousness through an embodied experimental practice of opposition to capital and the state.

For a brief moment in 2020, when the wealthy fled the city, a panicked government suspended the compulsion to work for large swaths of the population, and angry masses swarmed the precincts, the normal seemed to have been punctured. For several days, partisans of a new way of living rejected the atomization of the pandemic. In this eruption of collective militancy, they came to embody Lefebvre’s hypothesis of the street as a place of encounter and the revolution as a festival—a moment when “something rends asunder the opaque veils of customary social life, rises from the deep, cuts through the accumulated layers of the inert and the obscure, comes to light and opens up. What was it? A basic will to change the world and life as it is, and things as they are, a spontaneity conveying the highest thought, a total revolutionary project.”22Henri Lefebvre, “The Style of the Commune,” in Henri Lefebvre: Key Writings, ed. Stuart Elden, Elizabeth Lebas, and Eleonore Kofman (London: Continuum, 2003), 189 (translation amended). On what outside, what subterranean momentum were we drawing then? Can we find it again?

I don’t think anyone can pretend to answer these questions with the sanguine assurance we sometimes feel compelled to perform, a certainty achieved by freezing past struggles into a tidy model that makes them seem easier and clearer than they probably were. In each moment, we have to reconcile the broad imperative of what we must do with the immediate problem of what we can do.

In this moment of general proletarian disorganization, what we must do is experiment; what we can do is root those experiments in a theory of how capitalism perpetually renovates itself and where we, as proletarians, might in some way stall, confound, or damage that process of reproduction while at the same time composing ourselves into a broader, collective subject that can exercise real social force. All political solutions, even reforms, depend on this independent social force. What actions meet this bar? What actions potentiate us?

Where is the Gothic city? It isn’t here, in the present, in this place or any place. Maybe it exists in snatches, fragments, moments seized and recovered, experiences where consciousness drains itself of time and money, competition and domination—in unhurried conversations, in gestures, in eye contact, in those moments when everyday life becomes a “work of art,” an act that, according to Lefebvre, that lubricates “the transition from the possible to the real.”23Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, Volume 1, 199; Henri Lefebvre, Introduction to Modernity: Twelve Preludes, September 1959-May 1961, trans. John Moore (London: Verso, 1995), 326. If we live at a moment of accelerated, relentless subsumption, the Gothic city is by definition an untimely one, one whose denizens are deliberately out of step with the present, immersed in it only with an eye towards those seeds of potential transformation. Finding it, living in it when we can, and growing it means recreating some features of the past city for new generations, new situations—rejecting the abstract, draining space of the digital for the embodied life of the street, for instance.

Above all, locating the Gothic city means using the existing city wrongly. There is a structuring contradiction at the heart of capitalist society, one that presents a choice between doing things for their own sake—because they nourish us, because they increase our joint powers, because they are pleasurable—and doing things in order to accumulate imaginary units of something called capital, which can be deployed to dominate others, to bend the world to the will of the isolated individual. We live this contradiction each minute, wincing as it shapes or splits our personalities, making us act in ways we would not have or still don’t want to.

Cities too are split—shaped by capitalism, gouged by it, transformed by it, but never fully identical with it, never wholly absorbed. The outside lives in the city, in our efforts to make it a “refuge of use value.”24Henri Lefebvre, The Right to the City, in Writings on Cities, trans. and ed. Eleonore Kofman and Elizabeth Lebas (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), 68. To do this, we have to take what capitalism has created and use it wrongly. What does using the street wrongly look like? The subway? All the infrastructure that has until now been used against us? What would it look like to use it for us—for everyone? In asking these questions, and acting out our theories of what might answer them, we begin to puncture the city of blind windows—hellish, abstract, opaque, without quality, and endlessly repeating—and enter the realm where “the development and intensification of life” becomes “an end in itself.”25Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, Volume 1, 199. We enter history.

[1] Karl Marx, Grundrisse, trans. Martin Nicolaus (New York: Penguin, 1993 [1973]), 92.

[2] Stuart Ewen, Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture (New York: Basic, 1976), 151–7.

[3] Hayden, The Grand Domestic Revolution, 25.

[4] Ibid., 26.

[5] Ibid., 285–6.

[6] Henri Lefebvre, Vers le Cybernanthrope (Paris: Denoël/Gontheir, 1971), 14.

[7] André Gorz, “The Social Ideology of the Motorcar” (1973), https://unevenearth.org/2018/08/the-social-ideology-of-the-motorcar.

[8] Henri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, Volume I: Introduction, trans. John Moore (London: Verso, 1991), 151.

[9] On conceptualizing the right to the city, see Neil Gray, “Beyond the Right to the City: Territorial Autogestion and the Take Over the City Movement in 1970s Italy,” Antipode 50, no. 2 (March 2018), 319–339.

[10] Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, Volume I, 158.

[11] John Ruskin, “Traffic,” in The Genius of John Ruskin: Selections from His Writings, ed. John D. Rosenberg (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1988), 273.

[12] John Ruskin, “Modern Manufacture and Design,” in The Genius of John Ruskin, 223–28.

[13] Quoted in Rosalyn Baxandall and Elizabeth Ewen, Picture Windows: How the Suburbs Happened (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 39.

[14] See http://www.justicemap.org.

[15] Thomas J. Waters and Victor Bach, “Reinventing the Mitchell-Lama Housing Program” (New York: Community Service Society, 2015), https://www.cssny.org/publications/entry/reinventing-the-mitchell-lama-housing-program.

[16] John Ruskin, “The Nature of Gothic,” in The Genius of John Ruskin, 175.

[17] William Morris, “Gothic Architecture,” in News from Nowhere and Other Writings, ed. Clive Wilmer (New York, Penguin, 1993), 335.

[18] Ruskin, “The Nature of Gothic,” 187.

[19] Raniero Panzieri, “The Capitalist Use of Machinery” (1961), https://libcom.org/library/capalist-use-machinery-raniero-panzieri; Sergio Bologna, “The Tribe of Moles,” in Autonomia: Post-Political Politics, ed. Sylvère Lotringer and Christian Marazzi, 2nd ed. (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2007), 36–61.

[20] This point has been most forcefully developed by Moishe Postone in Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

[21] Charles-François Mathis, “Ruskin’s Heirs: Art, Nature and Socialism,” E-Rea 13.2 (2016), https://journals.openedition.org/erea/5106.

[22] For an overview of the concept see “The History of Subsumption,” Endnotes 2 (2010), https://endnotes.org.uk/articles/the-history-of-subsumption.

[23] Henri Lefebvre, “The Style of the Commune,” in Henri Lefebvre: Key Writings, ed. Stuart Elden, Elizabeth Lebas, and Eleonore Kofman (London: Continuum, 2003), 189 (translation amended).

[24] Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, Volume 1, 199; Henri Lefebvre, Introduction to Modernity: Twelve Preludes, September 1959-May 1961, trans. John Moore (London: Verso, 1995), 326.

[25] Henri Lefebvre, The Right to the City, in Writings on Cities, trans. and ed. Eleonore Kofman and Elizabeth Lebas (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), 68.

[26] Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, Volume 1, 199.

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