Category Archives: St Petersburg

People ground to dust

Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 15.59.25Dalrymple writes that in the broad, almost deserted boulevards of today’s Pyongyang as much as in the St Petersburg of 1839, a crowd, in the words of Astolphe de Custine,

would be a revolution.

Tyrannies

Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 15.53.44demand immense efforts to bring forth trifles, one of the differences between the tsarist autocracy and the totalitarian dictatorship being the absence of aesthetic judgment and taste of the latter.

Dalrymple points out that the purpose of North Korean ceremonies

is to humiliate, to force people to acknowledge their enslavement with simulated joy. Spontaneity is not the only thing abolished; sincerity follows into the dustbin of history.

Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 15.52.21There was a time when Dalrymple regarded North Korea as

the ne plus ultra of contemporary political deformity. In those days, Islamism was hardly a speck on the horizon.

He should have known better, for as he says,

when it comes to the forms of self-evident stupidity and self-destruction, man’s inventiveness is infinite.

Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 15.54.32

 

Postcards from Brasília

'Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer were both admiring followers of Le Corbusier and communists, hence their inhuman aesthetic. Niemeyer is by all accounts a financially disinterested man, though no one ever suggested that Lenin, Stalin, or even Hitler were in it for the money—they were disinterested monsters. One pronouncement of Niemeyer captures not only this egotism, but encapsulates much of the egotistical sickness of many modern artists and architects: “Whoever goes to Brasilia may like its palaces or not, but he cannot say that he has seen anything like it before.” The same would be true, of course, if Brasilia had been built of refrigerated butter, but the originality of Brasilia is not the question.'

‘Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer were both admiring followers of Le Corbusier and communists, hence their inhuman æsthetic. Niemeyer is by all accounts a financially disinterested man, though no one ever suggested that Lenin, Stalin, or even Hitler were in it for the money—they were disinterested monsters. One pronouncement of Niemeyer captures not only this egotism, but encapsulates much of the egotistical sickness of many modern artists and architects: “Whoever goes to Brasília may like its palaces or not, but he cannot say that he has seen anything like it before.” The same would be true, of course, if Brasília had been built of refrigerated butter, but the originality of Brasília is not the question.’

Lúcio Costa laid out a city according to the conceptions of Le Corbusier: embassies here, hotels there, entertainment facilities yet somewhere else—every quarter functionalised, disconnected by large open spaces, and not one within reach of the others except by motorised transport. Nor was shade provided for such eccentrics as might nevertheless like to walk or cycle: they were to be discouraged by the prospect of sunstroke and heat exhaustion. The few concrete seats available should be such as to give potential loiterers backache within five minutes or sores on the buttocks, and one cannot help but recall Custine’s remark about the open spaces of St Petersburg, that a crowd that gathered in them would be a revolution. Brasilia is a city for coups rather than for revolutions. Perhaps this was one of the underlying reasons for its design. Man in Brasilia is essentially an insect, a kind of ant, or perhaps a noxious bacterium.'

‘Costa laid out a city according to the conceptions of Le Corbusier: embassies here, hotels there, entertainment facilities yet somewhere else—every quarter functionalised, disconnected by large open spaces, and not one within reach of the others except by motorised transport. Nor was shade provided for such eccentrics as might nevertheless like to walk or cycle: they were to be discouraged by the prospect of sunstroke and heat exhaustion. The few concrete seats available should be such as to give potential loiterers backache within five minutes or sores on the buttocks, and one cannot help but recall Custine’s remark about the open spaces of St Petersburg, that a crowd that gathered in them would be a revolution. Brasília is a city for coups rather than for revolutions. Perhaps this was one of the underlying reasons for its design. Man in Brasília is essentially an insect, a kind of ant, or perhaps a noxious bacterium.’

'The sheer incompetence of Lúcio Costa as a city planner, at least from the point of view of all previously existent urbanized humanity, staggers belief. But of course, one’s assessment of a man’s competence depends upon what one believes him to be trying to do. I learned this hard lesson in Tanzania, where the president, Julius Nyerere (currently undergoing preparations for canonisation) had reduced the country by his policies to unprecedented levels of beggary, while speaking continually of the need for economic development. From this, I naïvely concluded that he was grossly incompetent, but once I assumed that his goal was to remain in supreme power for 25 years without much in the way of opposition, the scales fell from my eyes. He was, indeed, supremely competent.'

‘The sheer incompetence of Costa as a city planner, at least from the point of view of all previously existent urbanised humanity, staggers belief. But of course, one’s assessment of a man’s competence depends upon what one believes him to be trying to do. I learned this hard lesson in Tanzania, where the president, Julius Nyerere (currently undergoing preparations for canonisation) had reduced the country by his policies to unprecedented levels of beggary, while speaking continually of the need for economic development. From this, I naïvely concluded that he was grossly incompetent, but once I assumed that his goal was to remain in supreme power for 25 years without much in the way of opposition, the scales fell from my eyes. He was, indeed, supremely competent.’