April 14, 2012


In Moe's I pick up "Sustainism", a book that styles itself "a cultural manifesto for the Sustainist era", but that comes across more as a collection of slogans and buzzwords presented in a riot of short attention span typefaces and colorful icon-laden layouts. The style's deeply reminiscent of the late 1990's or early 2000's, a look that so often feels like the tech-savvy equivalent of scrawled crayon kids drawings; on first reading I can't tell if it's parody or an earnest excess of hard-to-read generalities and empty banalities (it could be both, I guess).

It starts with the slogan: "Sustainism in the twenty-first century will be what Modernism was in the last." But what comes to mind when I think of "Modernism" is brutalist concrete dystopias, totalizing narratives, totalitarianisms, Fascism, Communism, Futurism, excessive consumption, stained concrete tower blocks and housing estates, the notion of unlimited and unstoppable Progress, mandatory utopias… a great way to start. The future's so bright….

The book seems to have a fetish for the word "digital" — this or that will be digital — as if that meant anything much beyond a certain way of quantifying and representing things. I guess it reflects the unrelentingly optimistic tech focus in slogans like "technologies acknowledged as social designs" or "Sustanism is the new ecology of our networked world" that just roll off the page… and thud on the floor.

It makes great play of transforming Mies's old "less is more" into "do more with less", which is fair enough, but Mies's slogan wasn't (as they'd have it) a statement of Modernism's intent, but a Modernist style that most Modernists rejected (where would those four horsemen of Modernism — capitalism, communism, fascism, and futurism — have been without excess?).

I just can't finish it: at every point I end up reacting to the bright zero-G slogans by mentally saying "If you say so…". Which is a shame, given the "sustainism" would be a pretty good one-word summary of an essential future.

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