The Industrial and the Manufactured

Dave Humphrey’s comment on my most recent post gives me an opportunity to make a terminological distinction that I recognized myself last night as I was lying in bed: that is, the distinction between what is industrial and what is manufactured. Dave expressed a concern that the logic of my last post was so extreme as to leave no room for humanity in the natural landscape at all, since I seemed to represent all manufactured landscapes as necessarily deformative and since humanity cannot live within the landscape without altering it to provide food and shelter at the very least. It was not my intent, however, to argue that all human alteration of the landscape is deformative and unnatural, only that a certain industrial alteration functions in this way. I would propose, therefore, though I have not had the opportunity to think through these categories in any detail, to distinguish between a manufactured landscape, which is any landscape that has been altered by humanity, and an industrially manufactured landscape, which is a landscape that industrial humanity has altered according to its own deformative logic.

A manufactured landscape, then, is not necessarily deformed. While it will certainly be an alteration of the landscape, it is possible that it may be a natural alteration, in the same mode as ant hills, beaver dams, and bird nests. While it is will certainly be an alteration of human relations, it is possible that it may be a natural alteration, in the same mode as birds migrating or carnivores marking a new territory. In this sense, a manufactured landscape avoids being deformative to the extent that it does not destroy the natural landscape, and to the extent that it does not destroy natural human relations.

Now, I am all too aware of the problems that beset a distinction that depends upon the highly suspicious idea of what is natural, particularly when this idea is applied to the human. I do not even propose to define or defend this idea, for the simple reason that it is probably beyond definition and defense. Nevertheless, despite these problems, I do not think that we can do without the idea of the natural, not if we want to speak usefully about humanity’s relation to the landscape. Though we may not be able definitively to determine what is in fact humanity’s natural relationship to the landscape, it is certainly possible for us to recognize instances that are not natural, that are, in short, deformative.

An industrial landscape is one form of deformed landscape, one form of landscape that is, or should be, clearly unnatural. TIndustrial landscapes are those that are created by production and consumption on an industrial scale according to an industrial logic, whether this appears as the factory floor or the office cubicle farm or the suburban subdivision or the mega-mall or the parking garage. These landscape forms are not even concerned with humanity’s relation to its landscape. They are concerned only with humanity’s relationship to its commodities. They are deformed by the industrial logic that produces them, and this is why I think Ivan Illich’s phrase is so apt in describing them. They are industrially deformed. They deform our natural landscape and our human relations.

There is no mode of manufactured landscape that is entirely deformative, of course, and there is no mode of manufactured landscape that is entirely natural. As I said earlier, I do not even think that it possible to define what an entirely natural manufactured landscape would be. Even if this mode of landscape was definable, it would remain impossible, at least within the current trajectory of our social systems and institutions. My argument, therefore, is not that we need to somehow displace the industrial logic that deforms or landscapes and our relations. This is now and will remain forever impossible. My argument is that we need to displace the illusion that this industrial logic and the landscape that it produces are normal and natural, so that we can resist their effects on the scale of our own lives. We need to defamiliarize ourselves with our industrially deformed lives so that we can reform them to the extent, however limited, that we are able.

There can be no program for this defamiliarization and no program for the lived resistance that it should effect. Each instance of normalized deformation will require its own intervention of estrangement, and each will require of us a response that is unique to it and to us and to our time and to our place. The goal is not to change the logic of industrial humanity as a whole. This is impossible. The goal is to change ourselves, in relation with ourselves and with our intimate landscapes. This just may be, here and there, in the cracks and the fissures of our lives, perhaps, at one moment or another, within the limits of our social structures, possibly possible.

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