the rigorous m

bits and bobs, quotes and catching up

highmore on modernity

Posted by rigorousm on May 27, 2011


“In Simmel’s writing the material base of modernity is found (as it should be) everywhere: in fashion, in trade exhibitions, and emphatically in urban culture. There is no attempt to ‘tame’ the brutual actuality of representations (money, images or exhibits). It is in the sensual cacophony of the city that the sensorial consciousness is determined but not in any predetermined form. For Simmel, the sensory foundations of the metropolis are likely to fashion a divided set of responses: neurasthenic and agoraphobic on the one hand; cold, calculating, rationalist and blase on the other. Modernity in its base and sensual form offers a challenge: ‘shape up or ship out’; ‘whatever doesn’t kill you will make you strong.’ Modern individuals bombarded on all fronts by intensified stimuli will either become numbed to such stimuli and successfully parry the blows to consciousness (the blase attitude), or they will become over-sensitized, jumping at every car horn, jolted by every ‘shock of the new’ (neurasthenic). The synaesthete (who as well as seeing smells and hearing colours treats representation as actuality) offers a third option. It is a disposition that in opening-up to the sensory attack of modernity radically questions our ability to dodge the moment of impact. If a heterogenous base modernity (photographs, factories, trains, traffic, toxins, telephones, etc.) ambivalently conditions consciousness, then the forms of consciousness that result (the blase semiotician, the hypersensitive neurasthenic, the mad materialist synaesthete, etc.) will offer different negotiations of modernity. Who will ‘safely’ navigate this urban everyday?”

Ben Highmore – “Crashed-Out: Laundry Vans, Photographs and a Question of Consciousness”, p 56 in Crash Cultures: Modernity, Mediation & the Material (2002)


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