lewis mumford Quotes

Lewis Mumford Quotes

Birth Date: 1895-10-19 (Saturday, October 19th, 1895)
Date of Death: 1990-01-26 (Friday, January 26th, 1990)

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Quotes

    • The settlement of America had its origins in the unsettlement of Europe. America came into existence when the European was already so distant from the ancient ideas and ways of his birthplace that the whole span of the Atlantic did not widen the gulf.
    • The vast material displacements the machine has made in our physical environment are perhaps in the long run less important than its spiritual contributions to our culture.
    • Every generation revolts against its fathers and makes friends with its grandfathers.
    • If we are to create balanced human beings, capable of entering into world-wide co-operation with all other men of good will - and that is the supreme task of our generation, and the foundation of all its other potential achievements - we must give as much weight to the arousal of the emotions and to the expression of moral and esthetic values as we now give to science, to invention, to practical organization. One without the other is impotent. And values do not come ready-made: they are achieved by a resolute attempt to square the facts of one's own experience with the historic patterns formed in the past by those who devoted their whole lives to achieving and expressing values. If we are to express the love in our own hearts, we must also understand what love meant to Socrates and Saint Francis, to Dante and Shakespeare, to Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti, to the explorer Shackleton and to the intrepid physicians who deliberately exposed themselves to yellow fever. These historic manifestations of love are not recorded in the day's newspaper or the current radio program: they are hidden to people who possess only fashionable minds.
    • Virtue is not a chemical product, as Taine once described it: it is a historic product, like language and literature; and this means that if we cease to care about it, cease to cultivate it, cease to transmit its funded values, a large part of it will become meaningless, like a dead language to which we have lost the key. That, I submit, is what has happened in our own lifetime.
    • I'm a pessimist about probabilities; I'm an optimist about possibilities.
    • I would die happy if I knew that on my tombstone could be written these words, 'This man was an absolute fool. None of the disastrous things that he reluctantly predicted ever came to pass!'
    • Traditionalists are pessimists about the future and optimists about the past.
    • Here was my city, immense, overpowering, flooded with energy and light... The world, at that moment , opened before me, challenging me, beckoning me, demanding something of me that it would take more than a lifetime to give, but raising all my energies by its own vivid promise to a higher pitch.
    • The clock, not the steam-engine, is the key-machine of the modern industrial age.
    • War is the supreme drama of a completely mechanized society.
    • Sport in the sense of a mass-spectacle, with death to add to the underlying excitement, comes into existence when a population has been drilled and regimented and depressed to such an extent that it needs at least a vicarious participation in difficult feats of strength or skill or heroism in order to sustain its waning life-sense.
    • Today, the notion of progress in a single line without goal or limit seems perhaps the most parochial notion of a very parochial century.
    • However far modern science and technics have fallen short of their inherent possibilities, they have taught mankind at least one lesson: Nothing is impossible.
    • The city is a fact in nature, like a cave, a run of mackerel or an ant-heap. But it is also a conscious work of art, and it holds within its communal framework many simpler and more personal forms of art. Mind takes form in the city; and in turn, urban forms condition mind.
    • Today our world faces a crisis: a crisis which, if its consequences are as grave as now seems, may not fully be resolved for another century. If the destructive forces in civilization gain ascendancy, our new urban culture will be stricken in every part. Our cities, blasted and deserted, will be cemeteries for the dead: cold lairs given over to less destructive beasts than man. But we may avert that fate: perhaps only in facing such a desperate challenge can the necessary creative forces be effectually welded together. Instead of clinging to the sardonic funeral towers of metropolitan finance, our to march out to newly plowed fields, to create fresh patterns of political action, to alter for human purposes the perverse mechanisms or our economic regime, to conceive and to germinate fresh forms of human culture. Instead of accepting the stale cult of death that the Fascists have erected, as the proper crown for the servility and brutality that are the pillars of their states, we must erect a cult of life: life in action, as the farmer or mechanic nows it: life in expression, as the artist knows it: life as the lover feels it and the parent practices it: life as it is known to men of good will who meditate in the cloister, experiment in the laboratory, or plan intelligently in the factory or the government office.
    • Nothing is permanent: certainly not the frozen images of barbarous power with which fascism now confronts us. Those images may easily be smashed by an external shock, cracked as ignominiously as the fallen Dagon, the massive idol of the heathen; or they may be melted, eventually, by the internal warmth of normal men and women. Nothing endures except life: the capacity for birth, growth, and renewal. As life becomes insurgent once more in our civilization, conquering the reckless thrust of barbarism, the culture of cities will be both instrument and goal.
    • Today, the degradation of the inner life is symbolized by the fact that the only place sacred from interruption is the private toilet.
    • The cycle of the machine is now coming to an end. Man has learned much in the hard discipline and the shrewd, unflinching grasp of practical possibilities that the machine has provided in the last three centuries: but we can no more continue to live in the world of the machine than we could live successfully on the barren surface of the moon.
    • Unable to create a meaningful life for itself, the personality takes its own revenge: from the lower depths comes a regressive form of spontaneity: raw animality forms a counterpoise to the meaningless stimuli and the vicarious life to which the ordinary man is conditioned. Getting spiritual nourishment from this chaos of events, sensations, and devious interpretations is the equivalent of trying to pick through a garbage pile for food.
    • Now life is the only art that we are required to practice without preparation, and without being allowed the preliminary trials, the failures and botches, that are essential for the training of a mere beginner. In life, we must begin to give a public performance before we have acquired even a novice's skill; and often our moments of seeming mastery are upset by new demands, for which we have acquired no preparatory facility. Life is a score that we play at sight, not merely before we have divined the intentions of the composer, but even before we have mastered our instruments; even worse, a large part of the score has been only roughly indicated, and we must improvise the music for our particular instrument, over long passages. On these terms, the whole operation seems one of endless difficulty and frustration; and indeed, were it not for the fact that some of the passages have been played so often by our predecessors that, when we come to them, we seem to recall some of the score and can anticipate the natural sequence of the notes, we might often give up in sheer despair. The wonder is not that so much cacophony appears in our actual individual lives, but that there is any appearance of harmony and progression.
    • By his very success in inventing labor-saving devices, modern man has manufactured an abyss of boredom that only the privileged classes in earlier civilizations have ever fathomed.
    • We have created an industrial order geared to automatism, where feeble-mindedness, native or acquired, is necessary for docile productivity in the factory; and where a pervasive neurosis is the final gift of the meaningless life that issues forth at the other end.
    • Nothing is unthinkable, nothing impossible to the balanced person, provided it comes out of the needs of life and is dedicated to life's further development.
    • Every new baby is a blind desperate vote for survival: people who find themselves unable to register an effective political protest against extermination do so by a biological act.
    • The chief function of the city is to convert power into form, energy into culture, dead matter into the living symbols of art, biological reproduction into social creativity.
    • Failing to divide its social chromosomes and split up into new cells, each bearing some portion of the original inheritance, the city continues to grow inorganically, indeed cancerously, by a continuous breaking down of old tissues, and an overgrowth of formless new tissue. Here the city has absorbed villages and little towns, reducing them to place names, like Manhattanville and Harlem in New York; there it has, more happily, left the organs of local government and the vestiges of an independent life, even assisted their revival, as in Chelsea and Kensington in London; but it has nevertheless enveloped those areas in its physical organization and built up the open land that once served to ensure their identity and integrity.
    • Unfortunately, once an economy is geared to expansion, the means rapidly turn into an end and 'the going becomes the goal.' Even more unfortunately, the industries that are favored by such expansion must, to maintain their output, be devoted to goods that are readily consumable either by their nature, or because they are so shoddily fabricated that they must soon be replaced. By fashion and build-in obsolescence the economies of machine production, instead of producing leisure and durable wealth, are duly cancelled out by the mandatory consumption on an even larger scale.
    • If, as many anthropologists still hold, the making and using of tools as one of the chief sources of primitive man's intellectual development, is it not time that we asked ourselves what will happen to man if he departs as completely as he now threatens to do from his primal polytechnic occupations? Since they can no longer be pursued at a profit, perhaps they will have to be restored as modes of sport and recreation, even more as helpful - increasingly essential - forms of personal service and mutual aid.
    • In the elemental emotions of fear and rage associated with the most primitive parts of the brain, this swift response without conscious intervention or direction is a condition of survival: but something more than survival comes forth from it; for this very automatism freed the growing brain and ramifying nervous system for more important services, detached from the immediate pressure for survival, performed by the new brain. Here by his conscious symbolic activities man created a second realm that conforms more closely to his higher personal and social needs.
    • The physical lot of surviving workers had notably improved, with unemployment insurance, social security, and the new health services, while their children's school education was assured by the government-operated schools: in addition, they had, for intellectual or emotional stimulus and diversion, the radio and the television. But the work itself was no longer as various, as interesting, or as sustaining to the personality...
    • In my own household, for example, an electric refrigerator has been in service for nineteen years, with only a single minor repair: an admirable job. Both automatic refrigerators for daily use and deepfreeze preservation are inventions of permanent value. Though one cannot bestow any such unqualified upon the design of the contemporary motor car, one can hardly doubt that if biotechnic criteria were heeded, rather than those of market analysts and fashion experts, an equally good product might come forth from Detroit, with an equally long prospect of continued use.
    • But what would become of mass production and its system of financial expansion if technical perfection, durability, social efficiency, and human satisfaction. The very condition for current financial success - constantly expanding production and replacement - works against these ends. To ensure the rapid absorption of its immense productivity, megatechnics resorts to a score of different devices: consumer credit, installment buying, multiple packaging, non-functional designs, meretricious novelties, shoddy materials, defective workmanship, built-in fragility, or forced obsolescence through frequent arbitrary changes of fashion. Without constant enticement and inveiglement by advertising, production would slow down and level off to normal replacement demand. Otherwise many products could reach a plateau of efficient design which would call for only minimal changes from year to year.
    • If we are to prevent megatechnics from further controlling and deforming every aspect of human culture, we shall be able to do so only with the aid of a radically different model derived directly, not from machines, but from living organisms and organic complexes (ecosystems). What can be known about life only through the process of living - and so is part of even the humbles organisms - must be added to all the other aspects that can be observed, abstracted, measured. ... Once an organic world picture is in the ascendant, the working aim of an economy of plenitude will be not to feed more human functions into the machine, but to develop further man's incalculable potentialities for self-actualization and self-transendence, taking back into himself deliberately many of the activities he has too supinely surrendered into the mechanical system.
    • As opposed to [megatechnics], an organic system directs itself to qualitative richness, amplitude, spaciousness, free from quantitative pressure and crowding, since self-regulation, self-correction, and self-propulsion are as much an integral property of organisms as nutrition, reproduction, growth, and repair. Balance, wholeness, completeness, continuous interplay between inner and outer, the subjective and the objective aspects of existence are identifying characteristics of the organic model; and the general name for an economy based on such a model is an economy of plenitude.
    • Whereas Freud was for the most part concerned with the morbid effects of unconscious repression, Jung was more interested in the manifestations of unconscious expression, first in the dream and eventually in all the more orderly products of religion and art and morals.
    • The relation between psyche and soma, mind and brain, are peculiarly intimate; but, as in marriage, the partners are not inseparable: indeed their divorce was one of the conditions for the mind's independent history and its cumulative achievements. But the human mind possesses a special advantage over the brain: for once it has created impressive symbols and has stored significant memories, it can transfer its characteristic activities to materials like to stone and paper that outlast the original brain's brief life-span. When the organism dies, the brain dies, too, with all its lifetime accumulations. But the mind reproduces itself by transmitting its symbols to other intermediaries, human and mechanical, than the particular brain that first assembled them.
    • Each religion is a brave guess at the authorship of Hamlet. Yet, as far as the play goes does it make any difference whether Shakespeare or Bacon wrote it? Would it make any difference to the actors if their parts happened out of nothingness, if they found themselves acting on the stage because of some gross and unpardonable accident? Would it make any difference if the playwright gave them the lines or whether they composed them themselves, so long as the lines were properly spoken? Would it make any difference to the characters if A Midsummer Night's Dream was really a dream?
    • There is no necessary connection between the important events of a life and the records of it that have been preserved in memory, in documents, in memorials, or in living testimony. The biographer must compose his life of what he has, just as the archeologist must restore his temple or his statue with such fragments as thieving time and careless men have left him; but fate often ironically leaves him a well-preserved leg and a dismembered torso, while the head, which would supply the main clue to the body, is missing. Hence, in addition to the purposive selection exercised by the subject himself and by the biographer in making use of such materials as are left, there exists a purely external selection dominated by chance, which cuts across the evidence in an arbitrary fashion. To correct for such distortions the biographer must be an anatomist of character: he must be able to restore the missing nose in plaster, even if he does not find the original marble.
    • Forget the damned motor car and build the cities for lovers and friends.
    • New York is the perfect model of a city, not the model of a perfect city.
    • Western society has accepted as unquestionable a technological imperative that is quite as arbitrary as the most primitive taboo: not merely the duty to foster invention and constantly to create technological novelties, but equally the duty to surrender to these novelties unconditionally, just because they are offered, without respect to their human consequences.
    • A certain amount of opposition is a great help to a man. Kites rise against, not with, the wind. Even a head wind is better than none. No man ever worked his passage anywhere in a dead calm.
    • lewis mumford

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