The Deployment of the Geometric
Published in Effects, New York, No. 3, Winter 1986.
The deployment of the geometric dominates the landscape. Space is divided into discrete, isolated cells, explicitly determined as to extent and function. Cells are reached through complex networks of corridors and roadways that must be traveled at prescribed speeds and at prescribed times. The constant increase in the complexity and scale of these geometries continuously transforms the landscape.
Conduits supply various resources to the cells. Electricity, water, gas, communication lines, and, in some cases, even air, are piped in. The conduits are almost always buried underground, away from sight. The great networks of transportation give the illusion of tremendous movement and interaction. But the networks of conduits minimalize the need to leave the cells.
The regimentation of human movement, activity, and perception accompanies the geometric division of space. It is governed by the use of time-keeping devices, the application of standards of normalcy, and the police aparatus. In the factory, human movement is made to conform to rigorous spatial and temporal geometries. At the office, the endless recording of figures and statistics is presided over by clerical workers.
Along with the geometrization of the landscape, there occurs the geometrization of thought. Specific reality is displaced by the primacy of the model. And the model is in turn imposed on the landscape, further displacing reality in a process of ever more complete circularity.
Art, or what remains of art, has also been geometrized. But in art the geometric has been curiously associated with the transcendental. In Mondrian, Newman, even in No/and, the geometric is heralded as the timeless, the heroic, and the religious. Geometry, ironically, is deemed the privileged link to the nature it displaces. In this way, geometric art has been made to justify the deployment of the geometric. It has linked the modern deployment of geometry to the wisdom of the ancients, to the tradition of religious truth, and to the esoteric meditative practices of non-Western cultures. Geometric art has served to hide the fact that the modern deployment of geometry is stranger than the strange myths of traditional societies. Geometric art has sought to convince us, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that the progress of geometry is humanistic, that it is part of the "march of civilization", that it embodies continuity with the past. In this, geometric art has succeeded completely. In so doing, it has helped make possible the second phase of geometrization (that coincides with the post-war period) in which coercion is replaced by fascination.
We are convinced. We volunteer. Today Foucauldian confinement is replaced by Baudrillardian deterrence. The worker need no longer be coerced into the factory. We sign up for body building at the health club. The prisoner need no longer be confined in the jail. We invest in condominiums. The madman need no longer wander the corridors of the asylum. We cruise the Interstates.
We are today enraptured by the very geometries that once representedcoercive discipline. Today children sit for hours fascinated by the day-glo geometric displays of video games. Adolescents are enchanted by the arithmetic mysteries of their computers. As adults, we finally gain "access" to participation in our cybernetic hyperreal, with its charge cards, telephone answering machines, and professional hierarchies. Today we can live in "spectral suburbs" or simulated cities. We can play the corporate game, the entrepreneurial game, the investment game, or even the art game.
Now that we are enraptured by geometry, geometric art has disappeared. There is no need for any more Mardens or Rymans to convince us of the essential beauty of the geometric field embodied in the television set's glowing image. Today we have instead "figurative art" to convince us that the old humanist body hasn't disappeared (though it has). It is only now that geometric art has been discarded that it can begin to describe the deployment of the geometric.
First publication in Effects, New York, n° 3, Winter 1986