— Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture, p. 30.
— Louis Aragon, La Peinture au défi (1930).
Since all order is inevitably the product of cautious intelligence, we must orchestrate images by arranging them with a
maximum of disorder."
— F.T. Marinetti, from “Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature” (1912).
— Peter Nicholls, George Oppen and the Fate of Modernism, p. 10
For many hundreds of years, that’s what the elephant has had to do to please people. But one should say nothing against the circus or the act in the ring. It is no more foreign, no more inappropriate, probably more suitable to the animal than the slave labor for whose sake it entered human history. In the arena, where the elephant looks like the image of eternal wisdom as it confronts the stupidity of the spectators and where, among fools, it makes a few foolish gestures for the sake of peace and quiet, the objective unreason of the compulsory service which serves the rational purpose of the Indian timber market still reveals itself. That men depend on such labor to then be obliged to subject themselves to it as well is ultimately their own disgrace. The enslavement of the animal as the mediation of their existence through work that goes against their own and alien nature has the result that that existence is as external to them as the circus act is to the animal. Rousseau had an intimation of this when he wrote his prize-winning essays. Civilization as stultification."
— Max Horkheimer, from “Dawn and Decline” (1961).
In the Halensee Lunapark a painted New York rises up between the wave-pool and the horse rink. Colorful and vertiginous, the facades of skyscrapers soar upwards into the night sky. In reality these backdrops cover only a modest space. They function as the set for a track which winds its way through them in every direction. On Saturday night - which is morning for the workers - the common people, the employees, the masses that have escaped the city, crowd towards the gates of the metropolitan illusion. A constant squeaking resonates from out of its bowels. Sometimes at a certain spot where one would be least likely to suspect it, a car emerges and disappears again as suddenly as it appeared. In fact, it is not actually the car that one sees, but rather a flying stroke of people. Just as soon as the cars arrive, they fill up once again. They are narrow and long, each row of seats just wide enough for one couple.
The ride begins hesitantly. The fact that it proceeds upwards past upper story windows is hardly disconcerting. Even the subway climbs out of the earth, and when it eases on an incline into the daylight, all the stenotypists can peer into the offices in which they themselves are usually writing. Here, however-and this is wonderful-the car proceeds much higher than any elevated train, as high as the thirtieth story perhaps. The workers, common people and employees who are quashed by the city on weekdays, now surmount by air a New York that towers above Berlin. They are victors, the magically and sloppily drawn places lying at their feet. The car has reached a moorish domed roof. Since when are skyscrapers crowned with domes? A sharp curve and the dome is gone, the luster of the palaces faded. The facades were only facades, simple surrogate segments that cover a huge wood framework behind them. Poles, trusses, beams: the kernel of the marvelous exteriors is a scaffolding. A moment ago the city of wonders was flamboyant and now it reveals itself as a bare skeleton. So this is New York-a painted surface, and behind it nothingness? The small couples are enchanted and disenchanted at the same time. Not that they would dismiss the grandiose city painting as simply humbug; but they see through the illusion and their triumph over the fagades no longer means that much to them. They linger at the place where things show their double face, holding the shrunken skyscrapers in their open hands; they have been liberated from a world whose splendor they nevertheless know. The car begins to zoom. It dashes toward the abyss at speeds that cannot be measured. A single scream pierces the air. Everyone has to scream. Even if one were clenching one’s teeth together, one would be screaming now. Primitive instincts force the scream out. These instincts, usually suffocated by the solid construction of things, are released by the solid confusion of the external, by the entwinement of fagade and wood scaf folding. The insane tempo awakens them completely and now they are playing at insurrection. The car passengers scream out of the fear of be ing smashed to bits, they are horrified at the edge of the world; the pic ture of danger puts them into terror. Their screaming is elementary. But it is also something else. It is also the scream of bliss at being able to drive through a New York whose permanence has been sus pended, that is no longer able to be threatening. It almost seems as if they are all screaming because they fully consider themselves to be redeemed. A shriek of triumph: we are here, we are floating amidst happiness, we are racing further and further along. This racing can mean death; it is also at the same time salvation. The scream continues. The game is brought to a close in an endless giddiness. The secrets of pitch dark tunnels are elucidated with lightning speed; blurred facades rush by. The world has become a wild scribble. These people who witness the plummeting of boulders, the rustle of lines, and the crescendoing din of pieces, are no longer workers, common people, and employees. They are people who exist in the moment, who, like flying lines, extend from one pole to another. From the mountain to the valley, from the heights to the depths and once again back up to the heights. Arrival. It’s over. The trip only lasted a few minutes and went clear across the world. Exhausted, the body gasps for breath. In the stretch that was the cosmos, New York looms unapproachably. In a little pavilion in front of the backdrops there sits a shadowy man who is overseeing the operation. The man is bushed. He does not see the skyscrapers, the moorish domes and the tiny red light that glows in the dark."
— Siegfried Kracauer. Originally published as “Berg- und Talbahn” in the Frankfurter Zeitung (vol. 72, no. 520) on July 14, 1928.