Building lies in our Nature
Benjamin helped us to understand that mimesis is not only reserved to art and the representation of the world. It is fundamental to social conduct, language and writing, even if these mimetic roots are often hidden and unrecognizable in the language and writing of today.
These images (posters on a hoarding, Basel, June 2009) therefore provoke a sort of light bulb moment. Ah, yes, why did I never think of the mouth of a hippo when I saw a power shovel, and why did I never think of a bear’s paw when I saw the teeth of a shovel, and why did I never think of a beetle when I saw a helmet. The only traces still visible, of these mimetic roots of technological inventions lie in the synonym ‘caterpillar’ designating at the same time the tiny animal and the big engine. Mimetic is supposed to be the relationship between the animal world (nature) on the one side and building machines on the other side.
The posters announce: BUILDUNG LIES IN OUR NATURE.
Benjamin could have said the same thing.
But we have to be careful the meaning of nature is manifold. So what is meant to be natural in these images?
A first reading could be: Building is natural because parts of the building engines look like animal parts. This interpretation would suggest a kind of mirror effect between nature and technology that reduces the latter to the first. The poster suggests in this sense: Don’t worry we did not move away from nature. A mythical dimension is introduced, the new gets reduced to the old, to nature, to a mythical circular history that Benjamin denounces.
This first reading shouldn’t let us forget that the posters serve publicity (the name of the company that is advertised by these posters has been cancelled). The nature, which is supposedly rooted in a mythical circularity, is secured through a specific actor, the company. The sentence, building lies in our nature, thus receives a precise subject of enunciation. It is the owner of the means of production who says: Building lies in our nature and who controls the relationship between nature and us.
This relation is, of course, hidden behind the first reading which proposes that the technological products are natural and not due to social relations of production. Benjamin writes: “Der Kapitalismus war eine Naturerscheinung, mit der ein neuer Traumschlaf über Europa kam und in ihm eine Reaktivierung der mythischen Kräfte.” (Passagenwerk, 494)
And advertisement is the ruse with which the dream usurps capitalism. “Die Reklame ist die List mit der der Traum sich der Industrie aufdrängt.” (Passagenwerk, 232)
However Benjamin reminds us as well that the dream urges to wake up. It carries its end in it. And waking-up carries the possibility in it of creating something new and here we approach Benjamin’s understanding of building lies in our nature. Mimesis can lie at the source of something completely new, unrecognizable to its source.