Nieland, Justus. Happiness by Design: Modernism and Media in the Eames Era. U of Minnesota P, 2020.
“modernism at midcentury” (1): “the midcentury has often been viewed as the moment of modernism’s institutionalization and the domestication of its utopian demands on the senses.” (1-2) against this view, this book offers a “midcentury modernism that used film and moving-image technologies as the defining media of postwar happiness. For the designers at the heart of this book—experts in the stuff and style of the postwar ‘good life’—happiness was both a technical and an ideological problem central to the future of liberal democracy. Being happy demanded new things, but also vanguard approaches to work and play…namely, communication, as a crucial Cold War shibboleth. Happiness, in short, required technique and fueled designers’ media experiemtnation. Assuming public roles worldwide as the face of the American Century’s exuberant material culture, Cold War designers increasingly engaged in creative activity that spanned disciplines…. An era that understood multimedia communication…as the very lifeblood of happiness.” (2)
this is a good book to read alongside sara danius's senses of modernism.
Eames era (2): “the postwar paradigms and institutional sites that remade modernism’s sensory politics and its designs on happiness at midcentury” (2). “human-scale modernism” (2). A pedagogy of “how to be happy in media and disciplining the sensorium, preparing it for life in the culture of informatic abundance” (2).
“for [eames and fuller and kenner] 1943 marked a decisive moment in a broader shift from wartime production to the anticipation of the postwar good life” (3). Note about the war as the “engine of … design innovation” then wielded to this good life production (5). Kenner and the imbrication of modernist studies with design theory (5).
A revision to the account of “the consolidation of a modernist doctrine of medium specificity at midcentury” (6). Instead, “a media environment defined by flows of information” required new “technologies of theories of communication” (7). The punchline is that “Beginning in the late 1930s, escalating through the war with the rise of state- and foundation-funded communications research . . . designers’ film and media practice was one of the period’s most powerful manifestations of a modernism remade through a sweeping communications paradigm. … a familiar modernism of formal difficulty and communicative intransigence was challenge and reconfigured by a program of communicative clarity and transparency, information processing” (8). “the simultaneous postwar institutionalization of modernist aesthetics and communication studies” (8).
!!! “Organized in the late 1930s . . . the Rockefeller Foundation-funded ‘Communications Groups,’ whose aims and key personnel also intersected, fitfully at times, with the Frankfurt School, then in exile from the United States. … the Communications Group’s explorations of the problems of ‘mass influence,’ the dynamics of fascist propaganda … joined humanists, critical theorists, and social scientists” (9).
“the communication boom” (9)
“everyday living” in Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man. In context Nieland is paraphrasing Marcuse’s argument as a “death-by-communication” (11) argument from which he departs.
“as modernism confronted, and often abetted, the communicative capacities of the postwar corporation, it repositioned the designer as a manager of epochal change, a culture administrator, and an experimental media practitioner across familiar forms and tidy disciplinary boundaries” (11). Pamela Lee: “Cold War semiosphere” (qtd 12). Douglas Mao paraphrase on 15 is amazing (modernism’s solid object/”respite from the violence of instrumental reason” as “neither a Good nor a God” 15.) The object is pressured at midcentury from every angle, including the circulation of images and changes in production and ideals of communication information new sciences etc, and thus possibility retreats to “enthusiastic functionalism, an insistence on usefulness and service, and a seriousness of purpose regarding the range of human problems that might be solved by good design.” (15) To Eames and the midcentury modernists, “happiness requires relentless making, and making in media. It is both a media effect and a way of being at home in mediation” (15). Eames’s “sensory pedagogy” (19).
Dutch philosophy book Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens (1938) translated into English 1949.
“freedom to play” / the “ludic impulse” (24) (sounds like Schiller’s play drive)
“blurred boundaries between work, play, and knowledge work” (25)
“the ludic-productivist happy” (25)
keyword of “adjustment” (26): a problem answered by “techniques of happiness” (26)
“1948 formation of the World Federation for Mental Health” (27)
- lmao UNESCO conference on psychic problems that lead to war
“a lifeworld in which the constitutive antagonism of the political has been subsumed into consumption, personalization, and the commodification of lifestyles, which we display and perform through the circulation of messages in a nonstop data stream.” (37)
“the fragile fiction of everyday life as ‘unadministered life’ [Crary] would begin to collapse” (37).
The “postindustrial reorganization of work and leisure” (37).
Little reading list of modernism / design / communication studies
- Justus Nieland, Happiness by Design
- Mark Goble, Mediated Circuits
- John Durham Peters, Speaking Into the Air
- Kate Marshall, Julian Murphet, et al