1. Post-Modern Perspectives


Did architecture later retain this central role in the functioning of transparent discipline? The further rise of Modernity comprised two distinct versions: transparency of behaviour and transparency of the inner Self.


Transparency of behaviour was induced through intense surveillance of workers and pupils, often sustained by Panopticon like architecture. ‘Inner transparency’, on the other hand, did result from ideological (self)monitoring in strictly organized groups with sectarian traits, often supported by a special kind of atmospheric architecture.


Both the ‘clockwork regularity’ [26] of Bentham’s transparent buildings and the occult transparency of Steiner’s cult houses involved an authoritarian drive for complete truth and total light. Western Modernity used these separate principles to construct a personality with two contrasting aspects, that of the citizen and that of the counter-citizen – the Jekyll and Hyde of Modern Man.


Bentham explicitly claimed that his system of surveillance did not reach into the secret recesses of the heart. The Panopticon Principle, however, when combined with disciplinary training practically did model students, workers, prisoners to become a special kind of person, one who thrives for perfection while competing with himself. In this manner 19th– and 20th-century schools, barracks, factories and hospitals produced the new, open-minded Modern citizen.


On the other hand, that same Modernity of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century also saw the rise of closed as well as close-knit private gatherings of like-minded people, trying to screen themselves from the larger society. These sect-like groupings produced guilt feelings, disciplining on an ideological level the irrational ‘recesses of the mind’ by way of intense confessional communication and trained ritual patterns of behaviour. Thus, in sect-like religious organizations and political clubs the counter citizen aspect was taken care off.


Then, from the 70’s of the 20th century on, a new social system transformed a yet inner-directed Modern Guilt Culture into an other-directed Shame Culture. This consists of the pervasive influence of audio-visual media plus the breakdown of the last vestige of loyalty, the ‘nuclear family’, plus an ever speeding up of ‘life’ by an overload of imponderable choices. One is always already too late and in the wrong place, with the wrong things bought and with the wrong people attached to.


People have become permanent overseers of one another’s, the other’s situational attention functioning as prime guarantor of the precarious stability of an ambivalent organism without a character, without a conscience and without a well ordered Self.


More and more, social roles come to be enacted only when under the inspecting eye of significant others. Not all citizens are significant, as had been were in Modernity. Post-Modern significance is situationally defined. Deviance from rules does not primarily produce guilt feelings, but rather shame – this only when Ego’s behaviour is observed by such Relevant Others. Bentham’s ‘eye-servant’, on his analysis confined to panoptical situations, has become an everyday phenomenon. Away from the surveillance by relevant others, one may do as one likes, do anything to anybody. Nothing more shameful that a Shame Culture!


This new condition of transparency is called Post-Modernity. While Modernity still thrived on the engagement of the subject in an objective political, historical and institutional social order – Existentialism being its prime ideological expression – the subject retained an inner reserve of privacy and a guidance by a conscience. Post-Modern awareness, on the other hand, hinges on situational normalcy. What is normal in one situation is not normal in an other one. The various norms do not have a common bench mark any longer, the meta level of a parasol of values – once shading all norms – has eroded. This results in a poverty of the political and in a standardization of the subjective. The delicate screen between public and private is rent.


The Modern dialectic between ‘dark and light space’ [27] – once the condition for such reserves of privacy – comes to an end. Their old-fashioned trait d’union of ambiguous chiaroscuro has evaporated into an all encompassing and everlasting light, in which all is transparent and all is seen and all is known. One may think of Isolations Folter being normalized.


Post-Modernity is the electrification of panoptical consciousness, the surveillance of sheer exterior by sheer eye, where no secret recesses of the mind are left untouched. Email, cell phone, webcam and the like thoroughly and continuously ‘panoptize’ our attentiveness. At our workplace we will scan our children in their schoolroom. ‘Free’ criminals will be tagged by microchips.


Thus, Post-Modern narcissism is the paradox of desired paranoia – a self-willed transparency which makes people feel safe. To be alone and not to communicate has become unbearable. Why didn’t you answer – I phoned you ten minutes ago! – Where are you?! [28]


Old-fashioned sectarianism, exemplified in this essay by Steiner’s weird cult of Anthroposophy, was indeed an anti-Modern phenomenon, an example of the counter citizen. Post-Modern clubbism, on the other hand, has been generalizing and ‘profaning’ this sectarianism – thus, in society at large, gaining primacy over forced Panopticon situations which defined Modernity.


Post-Modern man will be a joiner, a member of some such temporary ‘club’ – yet, only for a while. Then he will change ‘sect’, first fanatically following diet-Guru A, then after a while diet-Guru B. One ‘belongs’ oh so seriously, however each attachment is in transit, a mere phase. Were Modern engagement was long term and in the future, Postmodern engagement is in the now and in some ‘movement’ that soon evaporates – with that commitment.


While Nature does not exist any longer, the cult of Nature prospers; while Live becomes spurious, the cult of Bio-Bio is very vital; while the Self is extinct, empathic cults of The Other Out There To Be Saved flourish – Indians, Hedge Hogs, Gypsies, The Wales, Outcasts whatever.


People will continuously open their souls to one another, yet only when they consider these others as ‘very special’. ‘Contact’ is becoming more virtual, behavioural ritual is more and more replaced by the ritualistic repetition of stereotyped phrases on chat sites and by the solitary viewing of, or listening to prepared material from a myriad of spiritual leaders. Over time, Post-Modernity will only intensify its tendency of authoritarianism and ceremonialism, following the pattern of traditional shame cultures like Japan.


Thus the two distinct Modern types of discipline did indeed change their functioning. In many respects they have fused into one general culture of celebration of the lost Self. As in a shame culture Self is nonexistent,  emptied out, soul-searching sours, now dominated by the new electronic media. People are constantly looking for a ‘public’ in order to act out a Self which only ‘exists’ in the acting. I let you blabla to me, if you let me blabla to you, both of us knowing that we are not really listening. Only the blabla counts, constituting a temporary fake self.


Virtual supervision will be always and everywhere, resulting in the mental habit of an all-pervasive, interiorized surveillance of a spurious Self. There is, then, no more need for a special, panoptical architecture that forces inspection on people.


Cult-houses for clubbism, however, are still needed: Lounge rooms, Grand Cafés, fitness centres, meditation rooms – Post-Modern versions of the Modern salon, with each their own clientele of those who temporarily ‘belong’. Its architecture will become more sculptural, more pictorial and, why not, more sublime, primarily designed to achieve ‘atmosphere’ and ambiance.


Sierksma, Haarlem 2007


[This essay is one of the appendices added to my unpublished critical analysis of the architecture of Steiner and Corbusier: Authoritarian Architecture – A critical analysis of sectarianism and expressionism.]




26 His own phrase in Bentham, Postscript I, p.79.


27 Analyzed by Athony Vidler, in The Architectural Uncanny (Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press, 1992), chapter III.


28 Man, the extension of media – my version of ‘media as extensions of man’. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media (New York: Penguin Books USA, 1964).




Author: rjsiersk

Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats.

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