Lewis Mumford

Lewis
Mumford
1895
1990

American Writer, Philosopher, Historian, Teacher, Sociologist and Literary Critic

Author Quotes

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.

I'm a pessimist about probabilities; I'm an optimist about possibilities.

Nothing endures except life: the capacity for birth, growth, and renewal.

The last step in parental love involves the release of the beloved; the willing cutting of the cord that would otherwise keep the child in a state of emotional dependence.

Today, the notion of progress in a single line without goal or limit seems perhaps the most parochial notion of a very parochial century.

Because of their origin and purpose, the meanings of art are of a different order from the operational meanings of science and technics: they relate, not to external means and consequences, but to internal transformations, and unless it produce these internal transformations the work of art is either perfunctory or dead.

In general, the traditionalists are backward-looking, conservative; pessimists about the future and optimists about the past.

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.

The mind reproduces itself by transmitting its symbols to other intermediaries, human and mechanical, than the particular brain that first assembled them.

Trend is not destiny.

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.

In its revolt against congestion and disorder, a space-hungry generation has, I fear, developed eyes that are bigger than its stomach.

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.

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...

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 built-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.

But what would become of mass production and its system of financial expansion if technical perfection, durability, social efficiency, and human satisfaction were the guiding aims. The very conditions 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.

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 commendation 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.

On one side is the gigantic printing press, a miracle of fine articulation, which turns out the tabloid newspaper: on the other side are the contents of the tabloid itself, symbolically recording the most crude and elementary states of emotion.

The processes are doubly ruinous: they impoverish the earth by hastily removing, for the benefit of a few generations, the common resources which, once expended and dissipated, can never be restored; and second, in its technique, its habits, its processes, the paleotechnic period is equally inimical to the earth considered as a human habitat, by its destruction of the beauty of the landscape, its ruining of streams, its pollution of drinking water, its filling the air with a finely divided carboniferous deposit, which chokes both life and vegetation.

Virtue is not a chemical product, as [Hippolyte] 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.

By fashion and built-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.

In the city, time becomes visible.

One of the marks of maturity is the need for solitude: a city should not merely draw men together in many varied activities, but should permit each person to find, near at hand, moments of seclusion and peace.

The recoil from the absolute of mechanism was into an equally sterile absolute of the organic: the raw primitive. The organic processes, reduced to shadows by the machine, made a violent effort to retrieve their position. The machine, which acerbically denied the flesh, was offset by the flesh, which denied the rational, the intelligent, the orderly processes of behavior that have entered into all man?s cultural developments?even those developments that most closely derive from the organic. The spurious notion that mechanism had naught to learn from life was supplanted by the equally false notion that life had nothing to learn from mechanism.

War is the supreme drama of a completely mechanized society.

Author Picture
First Name
Lewis
Last Name
Mumford
Birth Date
1895
Death Date
1990
Bio

American Writer, Philosopher, Historian, Teacher, Sociologist and Literary Critic