FAIR OBSERVER DEVIL'S DICTIONARY

The Age of Cosmic Kitsch is Now Dawning

These are strange times for humanity. On one hand, AI, confined within its abstract, immaterial space, is beginning to transform our shared culture into a hyperreal simulacrum of already existing human expression. On the other hand, creative humans are striving to liberate themselves from the material world that has created and sustained life for billions of years. For them, it’s time to begin moving beyond our familiar earthly boundaries.
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Analemma

A imaginative rendition of Analemma Tower. Via Clouds Architecture Office.

January 17, 2024 11:04 EDT
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Elon Musk created SpaceX, not because he was interested in the challenge of engineering space exploration technology, but because he believed that a troubled and fearful humanity, for its own security, needed not so much a Plan B as a Planet B. He knew, that for all its ecological pretentions, Tesla would not succeed in saving the planet from the curse of fossil fuels and their inevitable legacy of global warming. Electric cars might simply offer temporary relief by reducing the level of damage and postponing the apocalypse. Earth was too limited a horizon and too poor a resource to support the full scope of Musk’s Übermensch ambition. Something else was required.

The chosen planet was Mars. Over the years, Musk has clearly expressed his fear that Earth is doomed. That conviction commanded him to assume a position of leadership in the arduous task of ensuring “the survival of humanity as a multi-planetary species.”

Some say he isn’t so much leading as lagging. In 2017, Musk forecast sending humans to Mars by 2024, promising SpaceX would be ready. In 2021, his projected date shifted to 2026, then 2029. His latest estimation, which he calls “optimistic,” is 2033.

The realists, especially scientists who need to be distracted by the optimism of an entrepreneur, are more prone to saying never. Not that they doubt sending men to Mars is possible, but the idea of creating anything even tenuously sustainable qualifies as romantic musing that is also ethically suspect.

Fortunately, there are those whose dreams seem slightly less far-fetched but just as bold, as Britain’s The Independent now informs us. A New York City architecture firm, The Clouds Architecture Office, calls it the Analemma Tower. This New Age skyscraper would not just scrape the surface of the sky; it would take up residence in it, hanging from a tether anchored to an asteroid. It would circle the globe on a daily basis and return to its home position over Manhattan every evening.

More modestly and realistically than Musk’s projected Mars colony, this project would demonstrate that living elsewhere than our planet’s crust is feasible. Once people began living in skyscrapers suspended over American cities rather than being tethered to that slave master Gaia, they might, at least in their imaginations, “take wings” and prepare for the real, truly futuristic mission of colonizing Mars. In such a context, you could think of the tower as the equivalent of learning to ride a bicycle with training wheels.

In contrast with Musk’s planned exile to an uninhabitable and fundamentally hostile planet, the Analemma Tower would function more along the lines of a suspended bedroom hovering over the Earth. Perhaps some would feel so “over the moon” in their new habitat that they might choose never to leave and consequently spend all their waking as well sleeping hours as citizens of the cosmos. But the architects have thought of everything. Transport back to Earth via drone will always be possible. This will prove useful for example if one of the inhabitants got an itch to drop down to catch the latest Broadway hit.

According to the architects’ plan, the tower will be constructed in Dubai, largely, I suppose, by cheap immigrant labor. They would then transport it back to civilization and launch it into the atmosphere over New York. It will profit from Earth’s daily rotation to bring it back every evening, like a disciplined commuter, to the Big Apple.

Musk should find this project comforting, because it draws on his own philosophy, or what we are tempted to call his “otherworldview.” It foresees the liberation of humanity from the slavery that has historically bound it to Earth’s unstable and unpredictably battered surface. “Going back to the earliest known structures,” the Analemma Tower’s promoters explain, “we can see a clear pattern emerging .We are in the process of dislodging ourselves from the planet’s surface.”

Today’s Weekly Devil’s Dictionary definition:

Dislodging:

The latest trend in hypermodern social, technological and scientific theory, diversely applied to Manhattan skyscrapers and the population of Gaza.

Contextual note

The reasoning behind this project is impeccable. It begins with cost-benefit analysis and offers a clear demonstration of the science of exploiting price differentials. “The Analemma Tower would be constructed in Dubai — for one-fifth of the cost of building the structure in New York City — before the company proposes to launch it above Manhattan.” In other words, you could command Manhattan-level prices for real estate that was developed elsewhere at lower cost.

And of course, its selling price would include the added value offered by an unrivaled view as well as the certainty that no future structures will ever be built that might cast an unwanted shadow on it.

The promoters explain the very simple economic logic that justifies this daring project: “the company expects the residential complex will command record prices based off the current trend that sales price per square foot rises with floor elevation.” How could anyone with some spare cash refuse to invest in such a business adventure, even if they themselves were incapable of paying the literally astronomical rent such dwellings would command?

The final sentence in The Independent’s article specifies one other advantage, in this case simply an intangible prestige factor: “Once completed, the structure would be considered the world’s tallest building.” This leaves one wondering whether Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai’s visionary leader, will agree to the construction of a tower that would dethrone Burj Khalifa as the world’s tallest building.

Historical note

It was nearly a century ago that a curious race began in New York. Its official dates covered a two-year period that were curiously contemporary with the notorious Wall Street crash. Between 1929 and 1931, a heated competition among architects played out on the surface of Manhattan. It is remembered as “the race to the sky.” It produced the two exceptional monuments of office architecture that define the New York skyline: the elegant Chrysler building and the Empire State Building.

Those two buildings occupy an extraordinary place in the modern imagination. When working in Dubai, I was surprised to notice several buildings clearly inspired by the Chrysler building, featuring a pastiche of its elegant dome composed of an expanding series of concentric arches. Dubai’s mix of daring to the point of insolent innovation and kitsch has made it the ultimate expression of architectural hyperreality, as much a symbol of the culture of the 21st century as the Manhattan of the 1930s was of 20th century culture.

No sooner was the Empire State Building constructed than Hollywood sealed its symbolic fame by having King Kong climb to its summit to swat at aggressive airplanes whose mission was to defeat the beast of the jungle.

I cannot doubt that if the Analemma Tower is actually built — but who will define the zoning laws that apply to it? — its architects will believe they will be defining the character of the 21st century in the same way the race to the sky between 1929 and 1931 did a century ago. I wouldn’t be surprised that they were aiming to build it precisely between 2029 and 2031, which at least means they will beat Musk’s goal still “optimistically” targeted at 2033.

In that case, Dubai, whose future is threatened, will only have achieved the distinction of being remembered as a special moment in the evolution of Earth-kitsch that would ultimately be superseded and in fact canceled by space-kitsch. The first three decades of the 21st century will be remembered for their literal mundaneness, before the new masters of cosmic kitsch, armed with AI facilitated designs, push our overdeveloped consumer culture into the stratosphere.

Perhaps the real significance of the Analemma Tower project is that it could provide the answer to the conflict in Israel. Why not propose to all the Israeli settlers in the West Bank to live in a collection of  such towers hovering over Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa? Gaza, already turned into a parking lot, could function as the Cape Canaveral from which new towers would be launched. That would enable the Palestinians to return to their land and the Israelis to maintain their feeling of domination. After the promised land, the promised sky!

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of Fair Observer Devil’s Dictionary.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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