Reality is the measure of human thinking. It is the means by which we orient ourselves in the Universe. The actuality of time ―the reality of this century― determines what we can grasp and what we cannot yet understand.
And this reality of our century is technology: the invention, construction, and maintenance of machines. To be a user of machines is to be of the spirit of this century. It has replaced the transcendental spiritualism of past eras.
☛ “Constructivism and the proletariat” (“Konstruktivismus und Proletariat”) by László Moholy-Nagy, first published in the Hunagrian magazine MA in May 1922; excerpts from the article were reprinted in the book Experiment in Totality published by his wife Sibyl Moholy-Nagy in 1950, New York: Harper & Brothers, p. 19. Internet Archive: PDF.
László Moholy-Nagy continues:
Everyone is equal before the machine. I can use it, so can you. It can crush me; the same can happen to you. There is no tradition in technology, no class-consciousness. Everybody can be the machine’s master, or its slave.
I cannot agree with this key proposition: “Everyone is equal before the machine.” All are not equal in front of a computer. A pilot and I are not equal in front of a plane’s cockpit (I don’t know how to fly). Furthermore, I would be tempted to argue that there is in fact a “class-consciousness” division between iPhone users and people who don’t have the means to acquire one, to give only this example.
However, far from suggesting that machines will save our souls, Moholy-Nagy makes a compelling argument about just the contrary. He claims that it is not the machines themselves that will guarantee our happiness, but the “spirit of the group”, one capable of animating an “essential community”. The ideal here is still socialism, but a socialism emancipated from technical manufacture (from my perspective, it still reads as an ideology). The proletariat must be made aware of this situation. This task cannot be done with words for “Words are heavy, obscure. Their meaning is evasive to the untrained mind.” For Moholy-Nagy the path is clearly defined: art, and Constructivism in particular is what “the new world of the masses needs”. Because Constructivism is “pure” it cannot deceive. It constitutes the strongest revolutionary road available to us, argues Moholy-Nagy.
László Moholy-Nagy was an Hungarian-born painter and photographer. In the 20’ he also became an influent instructor at the Bauhaus. Learn more about him at the Moholy-Nagy Foundaton (see in particular Biography 1, 2 and 3).
In 1932, László Moholy-Nagy married Sibyl Pietzsch (later known as Sibyl Moholy-Nagy). As an art historian, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy wrote extensively about her husbands art.
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First spotted via Evgeny Morozov. (evgenymorozov). “”To be a user of machines is to be of the spirit of this century” –László Moholy-Nagy, 1922.” Feb. 29, 2012. 4:49 PM. Tweet.
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