IT WOULD MAKE A DOG THINK.

An interesting passage on language, nationality, and modernism from Terry Eagleton’s LRB review of Long Time, No See by the Irish writer Dermot Healy (which came out in 2007!):

Someone once remarked that Synge wrote in Irish and English simultaneously. The English of this novel is inhabited from the inside by the tones and rhythms of Irish, so that from the viewpoint of Standard English its idiom is as persistently off-key as its realism. Synge almost never uses an Irishism that you might not hear in real life, but nobody in Ireland talks like that all the time, or ever did. His characters speak in poetry, not prose. Joejoe, Mister Psyche, the Blackbird and their colleagues are far from poetical personages, yet their everyday talk is flavoured with the speech habits of a foreign idiom. ‘It would make a dog think,’ ‘you long black bastard’, ‘It’s a grand class of a day,’ ‘He was like a shook fox,’ ‘trying to keep the chat from going dark’, ‘a lock of food’: such phrases are as foreign to English ears as Healy’s writing is remote from the English novel of suburban adultery. ‘She was like the hare, enchanted,’ Joejoe says of a former girlfriend in an unwonted outbreak of emotion. ‘The hare has a lot to answer for. Filling you with the gra then going down to wash her clothes and hair at low tide and leaving you here be yourself. That’s all I can say, it skips through your mind, all men’s mind, so I’ll leave it.’ The sentences are curious partly because the speaker, like most characters in the book, is obeying the laws of private fantasy rather than public logic, but also because of the spectral presence within them of a language other than English.
Being stranded between two tongues in this way is one reason Ireland proved so hospitable to modernism. In fact, it was the only part of what were then the British Isles in which a flourishing native modernism, as opposed to one imported from abroad, actually took root. Modernism tends to thrive in conditions of political turbulence, which was more in evidence in the Ireland of the time than it was in Britain. Ireland achieved partial independence at the point of a gun at just the time Ulysses was published. Modernist art also tends to spring from the collision between tradition and modernity, which was evident enough in the nation of Yeats and Lady Gregory. It is typically the work of literal or internal émigrés, men and women caught on the hop between different cultures and languages. If literary modernism is the point at which language comes to be about language, taking itself as the object of its own inquiry, this vein of verbal self-consciousness was already obvious in a country for which language had long been a political minefield. The members of the Gaelic League did not just speak Irish; they spoke it combatively, self-consciously, which is not quite how E.M. Forster spoke English.

A piquant remark later on in the review: “It is said of some of the Celtic Revivalists that they translated their work so often from Irish to English and back that they sometimes forgot which language they had written in to begin with.”

Comments

  1. I take it Eagleton is a passable English scholar?
    Pity he doesn’t stick to that.

  2. Another book that I think benefits from being between two languages is the memoir Red Azalea, by Anchee Min, who didn’t learn English until well into adulthood. At first reading the style seems simply rough, without graces; but then you realize that English words have been carefully and accurately deployed, without ever using an English cliché. I don’t know any Chinese, so I can’t say what’s Chinese about the shape of the sentences and passages, but there are turns of phrase that surely must be literally translated. The whole thing seems like a difficult and successful attempt to put Chinese-language memories into English (and it’s a really insightful reflection on sex and personal relations in Communist China too).

  3. ^seconded on this reminding me of Red Azalea, great novel.

  4. I don’t buy Terry Eagleton’s half-baked theory. For a start, there wasn’t much flourishing native modernism in Ireland that wasn’t literary. Why would his conditions that “proved so hospitable to modernism” have had no impact on art, music and architecture? Eileen Grey and Francis Bacon who both came from Anglo-Irish backgrounds couldn’t wait to leave for London and Paris; I can’t think of any other non-literary Irish modernists apart from Yeats’s painter brother Jack, and though there must be some they weren’t of the same calibre as Joyce and co. As for the “conditions”: it’s absurd to say there wasn’t political turbulence in Britain during the period that runs from about the time of the foundation of the Labour Party to the General Strike and the Depression: what about the suffragettes? the First World War? Does he think a few more weeks in the trenches would have turned Rupert Brooke into J. M. Synge?
    Modernist art also tends to spring from the collision between tradition and modernity, which was evident enough in the nation of Yeats and Lady Gregory.
    The collision between tradition and modernity was not less evident in the nation of Lutyens and William Golding. What sprang from the collision between tradition and modernity is Postmodernism.

  5. I guess the modernism of Virginia Woolf, Wyndham Lewis, Edith Sitwell, and D.H. Lawrence was imported, according to Eagleton? But from what country exactly? I guess you could argue that Eliot and Pound exported a certain modernism to London, but that certainly doesn’t exhaust British modernism.

  6. Wyndham Lewis certainly imported his modernism (Vorticism) from the pre-war Italy of the Futurists. Of course you could argue that he was Canadian anyway. Virginia Woolf despised Joyce and certainly didn’t rate him, I remember she called him a (something-) “little” man in a typical British upper-middle-class putdown. I don’t think of Eliot’s modernism as imported, it’s connected to England and English places or at least place names. Lawrence seems completely English to me – on a personal level he might not seem quite so creepy and disgusting to me if he’d actually been Irish instead of coming from Nottingham.

  7. Tadhg Dall O hUiginn says:

    Why do people write this kind of stuff about the Irish? J.M. Synge was an English speaking protestant. He was no more “stranded between two languages” or “caught on the hop betweeen different cultures” than the Queen is. His interest in the Irish language was fleeting affectation brought about by a summer holiday in the Aran islands. By the way, the term British Isles still includes Ireland, being a geographical expression and not a political one.

  8. the term British Isles still includes Ireland
    There’s no reason not to change it to Irish Isles, in my opinion.

  9. Jonathan Mayhew says:

    But anyway it is dumb to think of modernism, the quintessentially international movement, is “native” to any place.

  10. I don’t know about that. Constructivist architects rather cleverly reworked a number of features from vernacular Russian architecture that are still singularly Russian. And some of the worst, most boring modern architecture is in the “International Style” – named after Hitchcock & Johnson’s book on early modernism – the buildings of Lincoln Center or the gridded and striped corporate cigarette boxes on Park Avenue, for example. In the words of Auden,

    Due to the Curse of Babel, poetry is the most provincial of the arts, but today, when civilization is becoming monotonously the same all the world over, one feels inclined to regard this as a blessing rather than a curse: in poetry, at least, there cannot be an ‘International Style’.

  11. No doubt, Crown. But what I have never understood is: was it meant to be bad and boring, or is that just the way we see what its creators meant to be splendid and soaring? I should really like to be enlightened on this point.

  12. Bathrobe says:

    ‘Bad and boring’ vs ‘splendid and soaring’. I like that!

  13. That’s a good question, and the short answer is no, I know of no building that is intended to be bad or boring. There is an expression “dumb” (describing a building as “it’s just a dumb box”, for example) that’s used as praise, but nobody using it thinks “dumb” is also “bad”. (Bad is also subjective, I bet there are lots of buildings I like that you don’t and vice versa.)
    Modernism alienated people towards architecture, as it did towards literature. Architects really build to please other architects; a phenomenon that occurs in other art forms too. Those things don’t help, but I’m guessing you’re thinking especially about corporate modernism, Sixth Avenue in the 50s. That began in the US after WW2 (New York got MOMA and a little bit of post-Art Deco modernism at Robert Moses’ World’s Fair during the thirties, but big corporations building in the modernist style only got going after the war). Most of that work was designed by firms of architects that themselves had the structure of a big corporation, so what was anyway a very abstract kind of design (stripes of metal stone and glass) was being executed by an anonymous group of people. That didn’t help.
    But you’re talking about indisputably bad and boring work. Well, there have indeed been some influential and prolific architects whose work was mostly bad: Philip Johnson is the most notorious and that was a story of power and influence rather than a fight over aesthetics. The interesting point about Johnson is that his BEST work was in the Modernist style (he’s credited as co-designer, with Mies, of the Seagram Building), and it’s only later that his work became truly awful. I love his Glass House in Connecticut, that he built as a youngish man under Mies’s influence. Later on, in the 1980s, he made a couple of hideous proposals for Times Square, but my favorite of his really terrible buildings is the PPG Building in Pittsburg, based on Barry’s Houses of Parliament. How he got into a position to build this stuff is a long story. He lived to be 100-ish, and because of his connections and enormous influence few people ever said a bad word against him in public (the reward he gave for this obeisance was steering big commissions towards others).

  14. “Modernism alienated people towards architecture, as it did towards literature. Architects really build to please other architects; a phenomenon that occurs in other art forms too.”
    Much architecture is necessarily inflicted on the general public in a way that, say, death metal or a three-act opera score for comb and accordion isn’t. Only a small minority of the people who see an average building will be architects or likely to share architects’ tastes; to me it’s a failing in an architect to build something that architects will appreciate but no-one else.

  15. To me it’s a failing in an architect to build something that architects will appreciate but no-one else.
    Yes, that’s a good point. To make the case for the other side, some architects don’t think they have to take the role of performing seals providing a service to the consumer. They may prefer, for political or intellectual reasons of their own, to engage the public on their own terms.

  16. from The Best of Myles (A collection of Flann O’Brien’s column in the Irish Times and quoted here only because of weird coincidences in my reading this weekend)
    A lifetime of cogitation has convinced me that in this Anglo Irish literature of ours (which for the most part is neither Anglo, Irish, not literature) nothing in the whole galaxy of fake is compatible with Synge. That comic ghoul with his wakes and mugs of Porter should be destroyed finally and forever by having a drama festival at which all his place could be revived for the benefit of the younger people of today. The younger generation should be shown what their fathers and grand-daddies went through for Ireland, and at a time when it was neither profitable nor popular.
    We in this country had a bad time through the centuries when England did not like us. But words choke in the pen when one comes to describe what happened to us when the English discovered that we were rather interesting people actually, that we were nice, witty, brave, fearfully seltic (sic) and fiery, lovable, strong, lazy, boozy, impulsive, hospitable, decent, and so on till you weaken. From that date the mouth-corners of our smaller intellectuals (of whom we have more per thousand births than any country in the world) began to betray the pale froth of literary epilepsy. Our writers, fascinated by the snakelike eye of London publishers, developed exhibitionism to the sphere of acrobatics… …. Listen in the next time when there is some bought and paid for Paddy broadcasting from the BBC and you will understand me better.
    This trouble probably began with Lever and Lover, but I always think that in Synge we have the virus isolated and recognisable. Here is stuff that anybody who knows the Ireland referred to, simply will not have. It is not that Synge make people less worthy or nasty, or even better than they are, but he bought forward with the utmost solemnity amusing clowns talking a sub language of their own and bade us take them very seriously. There was no harm done there, because we have long had the name of having heads on us. But when the counterfeit bauble began to be admired outside Ireland by reason of its oddity and ‘charm’, it soon became part of the literary credo here that Synge was a poet and a wild Celtic god, a bit of an genius… … (and )we, who knew the whole insides out of it, preferred to accept the ignorant valuations of outsiders on things Irish.

  17. For place read plays

  18. Bathrobe says:

    to engage the public on their own terms
    A marvellous expression. And I suspect untranslatable into many languages. The meaning is also tantalisingly vague. Could it be rephrased as ‘I do what I want and the public can put up with it?’ Or are there other, better ways of putting it?

  19. What I meant was that rather than supplying a public service (providing easily-accepted, nice buildings), they might want to stir things up a bit and question what’s nice. To do that, they have to sort of set their own agenda. A good example of that attitude can be found in the work of Peter Eisenman, someone I worked for when I was young (and whose work I’ve never specially liked – but it IS interesting).

  20. The Best of Myles – I rather hope not. This is pretty dreary stuff, just more of the boring neverending quarrel about what’s really “Irish” and what’s fake, nothing to do with what’s good or bad about Synge. I can understand why O’Brien didn’t like him; and as a real Gaelic speaker (and writer) he had some reason, I suppose, to look on him as a “dilettante.” But Synge was really a poet – that much Eagleton gets right. Think of him as a man steeped in Racine and Moliere, who took a few odd sentence patterns and cadences of Irish English and made them into his own homegrown alexandrine. He was a mythmaker like Yeats, not a purveyor of “local color.”

  21. Graham Asher says:

    Flann O’Brien is writing ironically, at least in part, or perhaps I should say his tongue is well into his cheek. The clue is in the sentence “The younger generation should be shown what their fathers and grand-daddies went through for Ireland, and at a time when it was neither profitable nor popular.” The phrase “when it was neither profitable or popular” is a catch-phrase from his comic and satirical writing.

  22. Yes I can see that a bit, now that I’ve read more than just the excerpt given.

  23. John Cowan says:

    AJP:

    I was reading an LRB review of two books on Mies, and when I saw the Farnsworth House, I immediately thought of the Johnson Connecticut House that you pointed to above. This, I think, epitomizes the architect-as-servant vs. the architect-as-artist debate: these buildings are beautiful, and Mies’s version has been compared, says the article, to a Shinto shrine. But nobody lives in a Shinto shrine. Who on earth would want to live with every detail of their lives exposed to the neighbors or to any random passerby? (Okay, there are blinds, but they are not original.) As I’m also finding out all too personally, houses with overly large windows are devilishly hard and expensive to heat. I thought at first that Farnsworth had sued Mies over these things, but it turns out that he sued her for non-payment of bills that she had already signed off on, even though they overran the cost estimates.

    Wikipedia says that Mies said the house was designed to fit into the natural scene, but it has in fact flooded twice. A house that can’t even keep out the rain isn’t, according to my philistine notions, much of a house. (Secondary moral: never trust 100-year or 500-year flood estimates in the New World, there is by definition insufficient evidence! When I first arrived at college, the campus was covered with mud due to a 100-year flood; in fact, the third 100-year flood in the last 16 years.) Also, flat roofs make no sense in snow country: the roof is likely to cave in one fine day.

  24. By coincidence, I was just reading Rosemary Hill’s LRB review of Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties, by Rachel Cooke, and this passage on Alison Smithson made me think of AJP and discussions like the one in this thread:

    The chapter on Smithson, who with her husband, Peter, achieved a reputation out of all proportion to the number of buildings they put up, is one of Cooke’s best. Born in 1928, Smithson is among the youngest of the women she considers. A contemporary of Margaret Thatcher, Smithson, like Thatcher, made her way in a masculine environment by behaving like a man, only more so. Cooke is careful to avoid special pleading. Her tactful descriptions of Smithson as a woman who ‘did not invite closeness’, and to whom ‘collaboration … did not come naturally’, leave no doubt that she was, in many ways, a nightmare. But she was a nightmare of a kind familiar in architecture, almost a caricature of the megalomaniac male architect as solipsist and ideologue, indifferent to practicalities, clients, anything at all except his own vision.

    The Smithsons won their first project soon after they qualified. The chillingly antiseptic Smithdon High School at Hunstanton in Norfolk was described by Alison as ‘the most truly modern building in Britain’; there had been ‘nothing like it since Inigo Jones’. The great American modernist Philip Johnson praised its ‘distinction’ in the Architectural Review. Local people disliked it, possibly because, as the Smithsons thought, they were unsophisticated but without doubt because the combination of glass façades and inadequate underfloor heating meant that the north side of the building froze while the south was like a hothouse. A difference in temperature of as much as 30ºC from one side to the other not only made it unpleasant to inhabit, it had the effect, as Pevsner pointed out, of warping the structural metal frame.

    Such drawbacks made no difference to the Smithsons’ reputation with their peers. Avant-garde architecture between the wars was largely a literary construct. A physical building was, as Harry Goodhart-Rendel drily remarked, merely ‘an unfortunate but necessary step’ between the architect’s perspective drawing and the ultimate photograph. When it came to photographing the Hunstanton school for the architectural press Smithson removed every trace of children and all the furniture, restoring the building to what one admiring critic called its ‘protean, didactic state’. In 1953 she and her husband published their drawings for an unbuilt scheme, a concrete house with a flat corrugated iron roof and ‘no internal finishes whatsoever’: had they not been thwarted in their attempt to buy the site in Soho, this would, as they put it, have been the first example of the ‘new brutalism’ in Britain. The phrase stuck. With a leading role in an ‘ism’ the Smithsons had the final accoutrement of architectural chic.

    Public taste meanwhile continued to disappoint. The Smithsons went abroad in 1951 to avoid the horrors of the Festival of Britain; their House of the Future at the Ideal Home Exhibition of 1956 attracted mixed notices, with some visitors reduced to helpless laughter by the costumes of the actors who inhabited it: they wore tights with built-in foam rubber shoes. Alison couldn’t think what was funny. For their only major public commission the Smithsons had to wait until the late 1960s, when they built the Robin Hood Gardens estate in Poplar, East London. An attempt to create Corbusian ‘streets in the sky’ and put their social theories into practice by force majeure, it had a certain conceptual dignity but was never a practical success. Soon after it was finished in 1972 the estate was vandalised, the social centre and launderette closed in weeks. After a long battle between Tower Hamlets Council and the Smithsons’ admirers, who include Hadid and Richard Rogers, the estate is currently being demolished.

  25. John Cowan says:

    Alas, we poverty-stricken types only get the first graf.

    Which brings me to the fact that LexisNexis is letting me go as of March 1, and so I am looking for employment. Resume. If any Hattics know of suitable jobs, drop me a line at cowan@ccil.org. Thanks.

  26. Well, hell. Find Cowan a job, people!

  27. Language, thanks very much for that review. There was lots I hadn’t heard. Brutalism, as I thought everyone in Britain knew by now, comes from le Corbusier’s admirers’ admiration of raw concrete, béton brut, and has nothing to do with brutal designers.

    she was a nightmare of a kind familiar in architecture, almost a caricature of the megalomaniac male architect as solipsist and ideologue, indifferent to practicalities, clients, anything at all except his own vision.

    Someone’s been reading Ayn Rand. For all their faults, I’ve never met an architect remotely like that (thank God).

    Robin Hood Gardens estate in Poplar, East London. An attempt to create Corbusian ‘streets in the sky’ and put their social theories into practice by force majeure, it had a certain conceptual dignity but was never a practical success. Soon after it was finished in 1972 the estate was vandalised, the social centre and launderette closed in weeks. After a long battle between Tower Hamlets Council and the Smithsons’ admirers, who include Hadid and Richard Rogers, the estate is currently being demolished

    No, no, no. Robin Hood Gardens is being demolished so that it can be replaced by new luxury high-rise apartments, not because its problems couldn’t be fixed. It might have been “an attempt” at streets in the sky, but it’s far from the first, as she implies, and others worked fine (Park Hill Estate in Sheffield was recently renovated very successfully). Goodness, these clichés about modernist housing have been around since the mid-1970s and if not wholly mistaken they’re become very mixed up by retelling. I don’t know anything about the Smithsons’ “social theories”: Hunstanton copies Mies’s IIT in Chicago, and Mies is well known to be without any social conscience, he’d have worked for anyone. As for le Corbusier’s own Marseille block, l’Unité d’habitation, it’s not only more successful than the Smithsons’ Robin Hood Gardens in the sense of being popular, the social thinking behind it is still interesting (something about monks and bucolic rural courtyards, I can’t remember the details at the moment) – and despite what she & nearly everyone else implies, the dates for “discovering” these faults are way earlier than 1970-ish, more like the mid-fifties according to David Kynaston’s Modernity Britain (some history of the 1940s & 50s that I’ve recently been reading).

    Aaaah! The Smithsons! I hate the buggers. Comparing herself to Inigo Jones – how dare she.

    John, I’ll let you know if I hear anything, though there must be a line of potential employers round the block by now. As well as being a more interesting piece of architecture than Johnson’s own estimable glass house it would be worth dedicating a daytime soap to the Farnsworth house. Dr Farnworth (a she) was Mies’s jilted lover. As a result, the dynamic of who paid the bills when isn’t driven by the usual expectations for client satisfaction.

  28. I was hoping for just such an informed and splenetic reaction; you never disappoint!

  29. Also, flat roofs make no sense in snow country: the roof is likely to cave in one fine day.

    I only just spotted this. John, I was taught it in architecture school by people who liked pitched roofs (Robert A.M. Stern, mostly), but it’s actually wrong. Carrying a snow load on a flat roof requires little more joist depth than it would on a pitched roof, but it has the advantage that the snow doesn’t fall off. Every winter I have to shovel all the ice and compacted wet snow that falls with a huge ‘whoosh’ off my 60-degree pitched roof, obstructing the driveway and narrowly missing (so far) any people or dogs or goats who are walking past when it falls . The snow that remains on flat roofs has the additional benefit of providing insulation.

  30. Trond Engen says:

    My architect father-in-law says that Scandinavian architecture went wrong when it took inspiration from Le Corbusier’s Mediterranean cornices rather than Frank Lloyd Wright’s protruded roofs.

  31. John Cowan says:

    there must be a line of potential employers round the block by now.

    Alas, if it were only so! But I, and even my professional experience, am not describable in a capsule phrase, which seems to be what’s needed. Commoditized jobs and commoditized employees are the word of the day, and even senior ones like myself are expected to have spent the last 15-20 years doing the same damn thing, a particularly silly idea in information technology. An all-rounder (utility infielder) like me has to have a back door into a company simply in order to break the iron wall of Human Resources and its kowtowing to the sacred job description. Indeed, all the jobs I’ve ever gotten in the almost 40 years I’ve been working have been by word of mouth. Nonetheless, I diligently do the resume submission dance: who knows, maybe the horse will learn to sing this time.

    Dr Farnworth (a she) was Mies’s jilted lover. As a result, the dynamic of who paid the bills when isn’t driven by the usual expectations for client satisfaction.

    Well put! I didn’t know that.

    it has the advantage that the snow doesn’t fall off

    That was precisely the disadvantage I have in mind. In places (and times, we now must say, with the onset of global warming) where the snow never melts until spring, but just keeps on piling up, the load-bearing capacity of any non-whooshing roof is eventually reached and exceeded.

    Hat, I’ve applied for an “XML expert” job in the OUP New York office: do you have any contacts there that could help me?

  32. Alas, no; my former OUP contacts are scattered to the winds, and most of my work now comes via their subcontinental subcontractors. Don’t get me started. But of course I’ll be glad to put in a good word for you with anyone you suggest.

    to break the iron wall of Human Resources

    Oh, how I hate HR! When I started at my first proofreading job, hiring was done by the head of proofreading, in consultation with the entire staff; within a few years, HR had executed its usual land grab, and candidates now had to go through them, and they made the final decision. Their choices were not ours. Oh, how I hate HR! (Or “Personnel,” as I like to call them just to be annoying.)

  33. John Cowan says:

    It seems that Étienne-Louis Boullée is thought to be the original megalomaniac architect, but Frank Lloyd Wright, Albert Speer, Narek Sargsyan (the former Chief Architect of Armenia), Santiago Calatrava, Frank Gehry, Rafael Viñoly all seem to have won awards of various sizes for it.

  34. John Cowan says:

    My economics professor said that the term “Human Resources” was evidence of the ongoing transformation of labor into capital belonging to someone else. He was more right than ever he knew. He always used yachts as his stock example of a luxury good, but for whatever reason he called them “yatches”. Native speaker, too. Go figure.

  35. marie-lucie says:

    snow does not fall off

    In mountain areas which experience heavy snowfalls, houses are built with roofs at a fairly sharp angle. In Québec, another region of heavy snows, traditional houses have roofs pitched at a sharp angle, but curving sofly in front into an overhang. I think that this curve has the primary function of preventing snow from falling too rapidly off the roof and on people coming or going.

    Ten years or so ago (just as the Iraq war was starting) I was due to fly from Halifax to Arizona via Toronto and Denver. When I showed up at the airport I was told that no planes were landing in Denver because snow had caused the roof ot the main terminal to collapse. When I actually flew into Denver a few days later I saw the roof in question, which had only partially collapsed and been repaired. This roof was (and probably still is) meant to look like a chain of snowy peaks. The design prevented snow from staying on the tops, but not from sliding down and accumulating in the bottoms, putting pressure on the “seams” which joined the various modular sections.

  36. When I started at my first proofreading job

    When I started at my first reporting job (for a community weekly), I recommended as an extra pair of eyes for Tuesday night proofreading a guy a year behind me in J-school. He was hired for a buck-and-a-quarter an hour; I was making 100 a week. I left after a year; he stayed forty. Except for at least the last thirty he was business manager. Went through a couple of nice yachts he once told me. No doubt retired on a nice pension too. I yet toil in Mammon’s vineyard.

  37. original megalomaniac architect

    Imhotep?

  38. Boullée is thought to be the original megalomaniac architect, but Frank Lloyd Wright, Albert Speer, Narek Sargsyan (the former Chief Architect of Armenia), Santiago Calatrava, Frank Gehry, Rafael Viñoly all seem to have won awards of various sizes for it.

    “Architects ultimately have little power. What they have is the power to suggest. They always rely on others to implement their ideas.” – Reinier de Graaf

    Going back to the original point, I don’t think ‘megalomaniac’ is an accurate description of le Corbusier. A megalomaniac is someone who loves power or is deluded into thinking that they are very powerful. A megalomaniac planner is someone like Robert Moses in New York, who was not a designer but a bureaucrat: he held three key City positions that allowed him to build freeways, bridges, parks and public housing with very little opposition even though they required the demolition of whole neighbourhoods – now that’s megalomania. Le Corbusier never really acquired power to get things done. He wrote about city planning, but he didn’t practise it much. I think his interest was in the city’s and building’s relationship with people and nature: from something as small as a chair or a chaise longue to the huge public buildings at Chandigarh or to a city like Algiers or Paris (you can also see from those images that those three approaches to designing cities are quite different: this is someone who loves generating ideas, he’s not someone who’s interested in power).

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