Ouro em Mumford (1938)

Within the general medieval pattern, deep changes in feeling took place. Radically different life experiences separate the confident sobriety of the great Romanesque buildings, as solid as a fortress, from the humanism of the magnificent Lady Churches that defied the dogma of the wall with the heresy of the fragile window and the flying buttress; or again, from the sickly, over-ripe estheticism of the fifteenth century, which embroidered its buildings because it lacked the patience and the honesty and the courage to put its soul into the weaving of the fabric. But through all these changes, the setting itself possessed vitality: it incorporated these successive moments of the spirit without losing form. The towers of the churches raised the eyes to heaven: their masses rose, in hierarchic rank, over all the lesser symbols of earthly wealth and power: through their stained glass windows the light burst in aureoles of splendid color. From almost any part of the city, the admonitory fingers of the spires, archangelic swords, tipped with gold, were visible: if hidden for a moment, they would suddenly appear as the roofs parted, with the force of a blast of trumpets. (Mumford 1938:62)

The change from a life economy to a money economy greatly widened the resources of the state. The monopoly of rent, the booty from piracy and brigandage, the loot of conquest, the monopoly of special privileges in production and sale through patents granted by the state, the application of this last system to technical inventions – all these resources swelled the coffers of the sovereign. To increase the boundaries of the state was to increase the taxable population: to increase the population of the capital city was to increase the rent of land. Both forms of increase could be translated ultimately into terms of money pouring into the central exchequer. Not merely did the royal governments become capitalistic in their workings, founding industries of their own, in arms, porcelain, tapestry: but they sought, under the notion of a “favorable balance of trade,” to create a system of exploitation in which every sovereign state would receive more in exchange, in measure of gold, than what it had given. (Mumford 1938:90)

This demand for unlimited funds infected every rank in society; and it was the key to the economic policies of the absolute state. When taxation did not supply sufficient means for the prince and his favorites, he resorted to pillage: distant kingdoms in the case of Philip of Spain, or nearer monasteries for Henry VIII: when these did not suffice, he robbed the poor man of his pennies in order to bestow gold on those already rich. Hence the whole policy of licenses and patents: one needed a special permission, to be obtained at a price, even to build a house. (Mumford 1938:107)

On one hand, a more pedantic study of the Five Orders and a more faithful effort to geometrize life: the street vista was lengthened and the house type standardized on the fac;ade. On the other hand, more defiant caprice in dealing with this mass of organized pedantry: the classic forms were used merely as the skeleton for more voluptuous corporeal members: the columns of the churches writhed like the body of an African dancer, and the interiors of the churches might be transformed into ballrooms by the mere expedient of removing the altar. The broken pediment and the spiral symbolize this new phase. Ornament became more profuse and the interiors were strewn with life and the representations of life: sea shells of glittering gold and cornucopias and garlands of flowers and flying cherubs and the warm fragrant bodies of men and women in love, as conceived by a Fragonard, a Watteau, a Greuze. The strong solemn reds and blues of the old rose windows of the cathedrals became the frivolous blues and pinks and whites of the new baroque interior: in the rococo churches, heaven became visible in gilt and plaster: a materialization of the vulgar dream of St. John of Patmos. (Mumford 1938:130)

The sirens sound. School-children, factory hands, housewives, office workers, one and all don their gas masks. Whirring planes overhead lay down a blanket of protective smoke. Cellars open to receive their refugees. Red Cross stations to succor the stricken and the wounded are opened at improvised shelters: underground vaults yawn to receive the gold and securities of the banks: masked men in asbestos suits attempt to gather up the fallen incendiary bombs. Presently the anti-aircraft guns sputter. Fear vomits: poison crawls through the pores, Whether the attack is arranged or real, it produces similar psychological effects. Plainly, terrors more devastating and demoralizing than any known in the ancient jungle or cave have been reintroduced into modern urban existence. Panting, choking, spluttering, cringing, hating, the dweller in Megalopolis dies, by anticipation, a thousand deaths. Fear is thus fixed into routine: the constant anxiety over war produces by itself a collective psychosis comparable to that which active warfare might develop. Waves of fear and hatred rise in the metropolis and spread by means of the newspaper and the newsreel and the radio program to the most distant provinces. (Mumford 1938:275)

Sixth and Final Stage: Nekropolis. War and famine and disease rack both city and countryside. The physical towns become mere [292] shells. Those who remain in them are unable to carry on the old municipal services or maintain the old civic life: what remains of that life is at best a clumsy caricature. The names persist; the reality vanishes. The monuments and books no longer convey meaning; the old routine of life involves too much effort to carry on: the streets fall into disrepair and grass grows in the cracks of the pavement: the viaducts break down, the water mains become empty; the rich shops, once looted, remain empty of goods by reason of the failure of trade or production. Relapse into the more primitive rural occupations. The historic culture survives, if at all, in the provinces and the remote villages, which share the collapse but are not completely carried down by it or submerged in the debris. First the megalopolis becomes a lair: then its occupants are either hunted out by some warrior band, seeking the last remnants of conquest in gold or women or random luxuries, or they gradually fall away of their own accord. The living forms of the ancient city become a tomb for dying: sand sweeps over the ruins: so Babylon, Nineveh, Rome. In short, Nekropolis, the city of the dead: flesh turned to ashes: life turned into a meaningless pillar of salt. (Mumford 1938:291-2)

MUMFORD, Lewis. 1938. The Culture of Cities. San Diego: Harvest/HBJ.