Michael Stanton on the ‘Rise and Fall of American Cities’
Lecture Date: November 11, 2008
Location: Dutch Art Institute, Enschede, Netherlands
By Monika Berenyi
We, the agents of Partizan Publik’s Detroit Unreal Estate Agency are actively engaged in deepening and enlightening our fluency on the richly disturbing and inspiring idiosyncratic nature of Detroit, USA. As a collective Agency, we strive to explore and provoke progressive and revisionist avenues for perceiving our subject matter. We recently absorbed a wealth of primary source material and original discourse from noteworthy American architect and scholar, Michael Stanton.
In an effort to broaden our understanding of Detroit, Stanton took a formulaic approach, unveiling a panorama on greater America’s urban growth and decline, illustrated vis-à-vis macro to micro impressions. Stanton’s delivery on the ‘Rise and Fall of American Cities’ was charged by a vibrant and comprehensive overview of definitive urban contrasts, traits, and most importantly, contradictions. Maximizing a range of tools from the disciplines of history, sociology, geography, economics, and architecture, glazed by an inherent and poetic passion for the subject matter, Stanton illuminated his thoughts on the turbulent nature of American urban centers ex professo.
Stanton’s prefaced his lecture by referring to American cities as the greatest contradiction in the United States, where unresolved contrasts and contradictions have continued to breathe since their forced inception. As carriers of both utopian and socialist Darwinist impulses, puritanical and libertine values, bellicosity and secularism, it is the cities themselves that are emblematic of the greatest culture wars on earth. Stanton argued that it is in these very cities that the greatest collection of human art evokes the triumph and evolution of the human condition, albeit the simultaneous fostering of suffering, anxiety, and turmoil.
Applying fiery historical rhetoric, anecdotes, and photographic resource materials, Stanton presented a cross-section on the evolutionary heritage of the crescendo and decrescendo of the great American urban center. Stanton’s contextualized his findings and conclusions through the humanist lens, emphasizing the growth of social extremities alongside aggressive economic and political agendas. Through careful evaluation of the city’s grid, both past and present, he argued that the American nation’s great contrivance, the concept of nature, is clearly rendered.
In summary, we the Agency, were riveted by Stanton’s material, as we were left with ample stimuli to aid in our treatment of Detroit. I leave you with a lasting thought that our expert so emphatically shared:
“In our day everything is pregnant with its contrary...Even the pure light of science seems unable to shine but on the dark background of ignorance. All our invention and progress seem to result in endowing materials forces with intellectual life, and stultifying human life into materials force.”
Karl Marx, Speech at the Anniversary of the People’s Paper (1856)