Space After Spectacle: Infrastructure, Indifference and the Phantasmagoria of Transit
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Andreotti and Lahiji’s The Architecture of Phantasmagoria presents an incisive critique of the discourse of spectacle in architecture. ‘Spectacle’, they note, has become the ‘tired mantra’ of a supposedly critical posture lazily reiterating its complaints against architecture as image and missing the critical thrust of Debord’s writing. Without wanting to abandon what remains for them still pertinent in Debord’s thought they suggest, in response, phantasmagoria as a model more adequate to grasping the machinations of contemporary architecture as an apparatus of power and subjectivation than that of spectacle. This paper builds upon and extends Andreotti and Lahiji’s critique. The discourse of spectacle, I will argue, rests upon the assumption of a cinematic mode of reception in which subjects are distracted from everyday realities under the spell-like influence of star architects and their iconic productions. This mode of reception is, though, exceptional rather than typical. As such, it is itself a distraction from the more everyday experience of the built environment and the analysis of its subjectifying powers. This subjectifying power, I will argue, operates through forms of attention that are very much divided rather than undivided; the fleeting glance rather than the focused gaze, the habitual as opposed to the extraordinary. In order to explore these more habitual and habituating forms of attention - exemplified here in the spaces of contemporary transit and their sobrely dressed interiors - I draw methodologically upon Benjamin and Kracauer’s concern with the everyday experience of the city as a ubiquitous environmental condition and, reaching further back still, to Simmel’s account of the metropolis as, in its economic and experiential essence, a ‘sphere of indifference’.