The poetry of scientific management, or, Taylor on waste


‘We can see our forests vanishing, our water-powers going to waste, our soil being carried by floods into the sea; and the end of our coal and our iron is in sight. But our larger wastes of human effort, which go on every day through such of our acts as are blundering, ill-directed; or inefficient, and which Mr. Roosevelt refers to as a lack of “national efficiency,” are less visible, less tangible, and are but vaguely appreciated.

We can see and feel the waste of material things. Awkward, inefficient, or ill-directed movements of men, however, leave nothing visible or tangible behind them. Their appreciation calls for an act of memory, an effort of the imagination. And for this reason, even though our daily loss from this source is greater than from our waste of material things, the one has stirred us deeply, while the other has moved us but little.’

(Frederick Winslow Taylor, Principles of Scientific Management, 1911)

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Ernst[Section VI of Henri Lefebvre's De l'État, vol. 1, 1976]

“The least that can be said today is that in the ‘system of states’, the presumed rationality of each member is reversed into its opposite. Some would refer to this ‘international system’ as a contradictory structure. Perhaps this formulation simply signifies a moving and relatively unstructured hierarchy of contradictions. In fact, once it has any force, contradiction opposes itself to structure and makes it explode. Whatever its theoretical definition may be, this system threatens the planet with death. Deicide, parricide, matricide, regicide, genocide and ethnocide are followed, in this escalation of crimes, by a crime of unprecedented amplitude. To proclaimed ends and innumerable murders we can now add terricide (thus named by J.-C. Lambert in the journal Opus International, issue 50).

Like a gigantic Easter Island, planetary space is limned with colossal forms, monstrous and fascinating statues, which contrast with the smallness of those who erected them. What spectacle for those galactic travellers whose landing has aroused so many imaginings!

Should we be shocked, morally indignant? A liberal and moral contestation, that of the ‘citizen against power’ (the title of a book by the philosopher Alain), may regard itself as profound, but it represents only the protestantism of the State. No. The first task is knowledge: to take as our object, not only the State, but also and especially the world system of States – to the extent that there is a system.

The planet only comes into existence when it is put into question: the terrestrial only becomes world when it is menaced, through uncertainty and the absence of a prefabricated fate. The philosopher will say that the planet, to deserve its name – which means wandering [errance] – must run the risk of destruction, and that man, to affirm himself, traverses his self-negation, his auto-destruction. So that the possible is only attained through this ordeal, and the world revolution and planetary death rub shoulders in the game of the world (K. Axelos). Death spreads its kingdom to the stars and the galaxies: and the will to live can only unfold on this background, by refusing the will to death.”



The coldest of all invisible monsters


“The modern State cannot be grasped as a reality, substance, objectivity (an inert or organic object). The State is not seen. No more than the Law. They do not pertain to the sensible. You can photograph rulers. Not the State. What does the spectator see, from the outside, or the member, from the inside? He does not see the Law, only the policeman. We only see the theatrical appearance of the State, the ceremonial garments. The State is not seen, it is conceived: this allows Hegel and Hegelians to claim that the State is (nothing but) an idea.” (Henri Lefebvre, De l’État, vol. 1, 1976, pp. 42-3)

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Photogenic Melancholia


A striking collage from a pretty remarkable exhibition, finishing in Madrid today, of the Valencian artist Josep Renau’s The American Way of Life – an at times bracingly unsubtle series of collages castigating US imperialism, commodity culture, racism, militarism and hypocrisy (some of these were also printed in the press of the DDR, where Renau moved to in 1958 and where he finally collected these images in 1977 in a book called Fata Morgana USA). This short-circuit of melancholia and Yankee avaritia is one of the best images. More images and background on the work Renau produced in his Mexican and German exiles can be found here.

PS. In 1939-40 Renau also collaborated with David Alfaro Siqueiros in the mural Portrait of the Bourgeoisie commissioned for the stairwell of the headquarters of the Mexican Union of Electricians. Going by such documents, there are evidently periods when the question of representing capitalism poses itself in less circuitous registers:


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“The Gamming”


A brilliant research blog by Laleh Khalili on ships, containers, logistics and sundry forgotten spaces real, symbolic and imaginary – voracious generosity and militant insight amply and characteristically on show, alongside countless gems from Conrad, Jahnn, Izzo, Traven and other chroniclers of maritime struggle.

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Metaphysics, Metamorphosis, Monetisation: The Power of False Revolutions

[a talk delivered at the conference Sophistry: The Powers of the False organised by the superlative Nathan Brown and Petar Milat at MaMa in Zagreb]

Text below. Continue reading

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An English Landscape


An installation by Trevor Paglen, currently on show at Gloucester Road tube station. See also his recent talk ‘Six Landscapes’ (we discuss Trevor’s work at some length in Cartographies).

“Although the organizing logic of our nation’s surveillance apparatus is invisibility and secrecy, its operations occupy the physical world. Digital surveillance programs require concrete data centers; intelligence agencies are based in real buildings; surveillance systems ultimately consist of technologies, people, and the vast network of material resources that supports them.”


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