On the Animation of the Inorganic
Art, Architecture, and the Extension of Life
Throughout human history, people have imagined inanimate objects to have intelligence, language, and even souls. In our secular societies today, we still willingly believe that nonliving objects have lives of their own as we find ourselves interacting with computers and other equipment. In On the Animation of the Inorganic, Spyros Papapetros examines ideas about simulated movement and inorganic life during and after the turn of the twentieth century—a period of great technical innovation whose effects continue to reverberate today.
Exploring key works of art historians such as Aby Warburg, Wilhelm Worringer, and Alois Riegl, as well as architects and artists like Fernand Léger, Mies van der Rohe, and Salvador Dalí, Papapetros tracks the evolution of the problem of animation from the fin de siècle through the twentieth century. He argues that empathy—the ability to identify with objects of the external world—was repressed by twentieth-century modernist culture, but it returned, projected onto inorganic objects such as machines, automobiles, and crystalline skyscrapers. These modern artifacts, he demonstrates, vibrated with energy, life, and desire of their own and had profound effects on people. Subtle and insightful, this book will change how we view modernist art, architecture, and their histories.
“Spyros Papapetros is a most attentive reader and subtle interpreter, alert to nuance and innuendo, but equally weary of snap judgments and free of ideological blinkers. On the Animation of the Inorganic not only raises issues of enduring importance but also brings out many implications of their presumed significance, which leads to illuminating reconsiderations of the writings of Alois Riegl and Wilhelm Worringer and opens up new perspectives from familiar ideas expressed by Aby Warburg and Walter Benjamin. There are many nuggets of insight and numerous felicitous formulations in this book that will help secure a place for it in current debates.”
“Things are not what they used to be, and perhaps they never were. The boundaries between inanimate objects and living organisms, so fundamental to norms of positive science and common sense, shimmer and shatter in this elegant history of animation in modernist art and architecture. You will never look at those annoying appliances and perverse pillars in quite the same way after reading this marvelous book, which should, by all rights, turn its own pages.”
“On the Animation of the Inorganic is a major contribution to cultural studies, a lucidly written work of dazzling scholarship and theoretical brilliance. For Spyros Papapetros, the vicissitudes in the history of animation from the mid-nineteenth century to the present are exciting chapters in the history of the mind’s incessant efforts to formulate the analogies and correspondences between the human subject and the spaces and objects of the world it inhabits. This ground-breaking study will be of great interest to students and specialists of several disciplines, including art history, architecture, psychoanalysis, and aesthetic theory.”