May 20, 2023

Ethnogenesis shocks and disturbs with new cultural forms, until it reaches maturity, and becomes the accepted standard forever after

Before moving on to the review of Brutalism's place in the history of definitive American architecture, I'm going to take a detour through European history in order to address a major issue about new styles being shocking, abandoning their roots, etc.

By the time America is flourishing, the European architectural expression of ethnogenesis had already run its course, reaching its last stage with Art Nouveau (whatever it was called in various countries) in the early 20th C. This was an attempt to reinvigorate their culture with a bold new modern approach, but it still fell back into styles pioneered in the Early Modern period, when these nations were truly beginning to construct new collective identities. The lightness of mass, thin wispy lines, curvilinear, employing natural motifs (vegetable, human, and animal), elaborately ornamented, playful and romantic -- none of that would have been out of place in Rococo.

That's not to denigrate the style on an aesthetic level, just to establish that it was not revolutionary, as it was back in the late Medieval and Early Modern period, as European empires began defining themselves as post-Frankish politically, and therefore post-Romanesque architecturally. No more huge hulking slabs of mass, no more clean exteriors with simple lines, no more imposing windowless fortress facades, no more dark intimate cave-like interiors, no more haphazard grouping of differently shaped volumes, no more sober and quietly reflective mood, where the energy was potential rather than kinetic, no more restraint on the libido.

The first of these developments -- Gothic -- came from the ascendant French Empire in the late 12th C., just as it was concluding its integrative civil war -- the conquest of western and southern France by the northeast, pitting the House of Capet in Paris (especially under Philip Augustus) against the House of Anjou / Plantagenet in the west. Although the French Empire was founded circa 1000 by Hugh Capet, in its early stages it was still culturally very Frankish, and held onto the Romanesque style of architecture of that earlier empire.

That was just like the Romans still borrowing heavily from Greek architecture until the end of the 1st century BC, after their integrative civil war, when they revolutionized their new style through the use of concrete, arches, vaults, and domes, amphitheaters, triumphal arches, and so on and so forth.

Or in the same way that architecture in America before the late 1800s (wrapping up our Civil War & Reconstruction period) was still mostly a local copy of styles from the British and French empires (including the vogue in those Euro empires for Neoclassical and Roman styles).

Or in the same way that early Ottoman architecture (1300s and early 1400s) still resembles Seljuk styles, where they had come from before invading Anatolia. Their integrative civil war lasted for the first half of the 15th C., and pitted the Ottomans proper, centered in the northwest of Anatolia, against the elites of other Turkic principalities (beyliks) in the south and east. Only after that civil war was concluded did they revolutionize an entirely new style for themselves. They began borrowing (not copying) from Byzantine styles, rather than recreate Seljuk styles, just as Americans began borrowing (not copying) New World influences, rather than recreate the styles of our Euro imperial ancestors or peers, after our Civil War & Reconstruction were over.

This serves as a reminder that intense bouts of ethnogenesis, accompanying the rise of new empires, always lead to radically new cultures, and the shedding of past identities. They have been forged into a new people, by having to combat their meta-ethnic nemesis, lying on the other side of a meta-ethnic frontier. This banding together for self-defense, and then expansion in their own right, makes them feel like they're no longer who they used to be. Then it's only a matter of which We will define the new identity, and that is determined in the integrative civil war -- the side closest to the original meta-ethnic frontier, not those safely removed from it.

These radically new styles always strike a certain share of the population as disturbing, shocking, too much too fast, betrayal of their roots and traditions, and so on and so forth. From the kaleidoscope of light stimulation created by stained-glass windows, to the orgiastic chorus of polyphony in church chanting, to the thin wispy flying buttresses set off by harsh diagonals, the new French identity expressed by the Gothic zeitgeist was anything but a familiar comforting evolution of traditional styles.

But once the process had been going for long enough, it became second nature, taken for granted that the people of France were no longer Frankish, that Gothic -- not Romanesque -- was their defining style, and that they wouldn't have it any other way. So some trads were shocked early on -- big deal. As the French empire starts to cohere, its people wouldn't even regard those earlier trads as truly French anyway, but as people LARP-ing as Franks (or Romans, or Gauls, or whoever else), even as the earlier polity and culture was being thoroughly replaced by that of Capetian France.

This is not a futuristic, progressivist, airy-fairy speculative concept, to embrace a new identity just cuz it's wild and new. It is to acknowledge the cold hard material reality that We are no longer Franks, who were defined by their meta-ethnic nemesis of the Roman Empire, whereas We French have been defined by our meta-ethnic nemesis of the Vikings (and later the English). We are fundamentally defined by our relations with others, and the French of circa 1000 had no historical or current contact with the Roman Empire, but they did with the Vikings.

Likewise, Americans had no historical or current antagonism with the French, as the British did way back when their ethnogenesis began. We were shaped by relations with the Indians (and later the Mexicans). That intense and enduring exposure to a new meta-ethnic Other changed who We were, and the natural outcome is a new culture to express this new reality.

If it's shocking at first, it's shocking at first. Over time future generations will come to accept it as the standard, taken for granted. And contra the feverish delusions of libtards and conservatards, this process is not a never-ending ratchet that repeatedly replaces the old with the new and becomes accepted as a new standard.

Rather, the initial revolution becomes fossilized and canonized, hardening into place, unable to be altered afterward, similar to the brain development of an individual as they grow up. A person imprints on what is going on during a sensitive developmental window, and then that's it for the rest of their days. The sensitive window for an entire culture is the aftermath of its integrative civil war.

The inhabitants of Italy during the Renaissance still recognized the culture of their 1st and 2nd-century ancestors as the Roman standard, not whatever was created during and after the Crisis of the Third Century. Likewise we still recognize Block Symphony as our architectural standard, not the glass & steel fishbowl flexspace that the iconoclasts have tried to replace it with for 40 years now -- nor any other attempt at Euro LARP-ing (since the Silicon Valley style is just a variation on Bauhaus).

At any rate, the growing pains phase of our cultural development is over -- we went through metamorphosis during the early 20th C. We are now a mature culture that cannot be artificially sent back through puberty in order to imprint on a different environment while still plastic, and develop into something else in a would-be second adulthood. There is only one adulthood, and we've already gotten there.

Americans are who we changed into during our 20th-century heyday, whether you like it or not. At this point, further development is marginal or non-existent, so rather than innovation, we move into a period of conservation and canonization, which has been under way for several decades now.


  1. Romanesque and Brutalist parallels, not just on the outside.

    Interior, Senanque Abbey (mid-12th C):

    Conversation pit, Crosley Tower at U. Cincinnati (1969):,h_364,al_c,q_80,usm_0.66_1.00_0.01,enc_auto/783975_ca0f21b754c24c7983edd42be7f72800~mv2.jpg

  2. What are your views on Soviet-style architecture?:

  3. Most writing in the West on Soviet architecture and design is just anti-Russian propaganda, from the Americans during the Cold War, as well as the collapsed Early Modern Euro empires.

    As I detailed earlier, the three big cultural regions that were not part of the collapse of empires during/after WWI, all had similar styles to signal that they were in a new era. American Empire, Russian Empire (under Soviet branding), and Scandinavia (never part of Euro empires, nor spawning an empire of their own).

    Stalinist architecture is the Russian counterpart to American Art Deco. Like America, Russia / USSR did not take part in the tail-end of Late Medieval / Early Modern imperial culture, such as Art Nouveau, nor did they take part in the dying gasp of those cultures under Bauhaus.

    Soviet interior design during the '50s and '60s looks exactly like Midcentury Modern in America / Danish Modern in Scandinavia.

    I'm less clear on their counterpart of Brutalism, though. It seems like away from the core of the empire (Moscow), there were local adaptations to make Soviet Brutalism more friendly to Bauhaus -- sterile, utilitarian, puritanical, not very imposing or striking or exciting, boxes with no variety of scales. Especially within the domain of the collapsed Austrian Empire (Czechoslovakia) and German Empire (East Germany), which were huge fans of Bauhaus.

    But less so in Russia proper, and the regions closest to their meta-ethnic frontier against the Steppe peoples (including Ukraine, Crimea, and the Caucausus). That's where Russian ethnogenesis, and Russian influence, has always been strongest. And conversely, where Euro influence was weakest -- including Bauhaus.

    In the Russian imperial core, Brutalism looks very much like the American style -- monumental, sculptural, futuristic / sci-fi, sublime, etc. See this quick round-up:

    American Brutalism looks nothing like Euro Brutalism. I sympathize with Euros who complain about Brutalism, because their version is just Bauhaus with some American touches on the surface -- basically, Bauhaus in beton brut.

    Not sure what it looks like in Scandinavia, but I'll bet more on the American / Russian side than the Euro / Bauhaus side.

  4. Yugoslavian Brutalism is also more like its Russian and American counterparts, and unlike its Euro counterparts (including those of the Warsaw Pact, where German / Austrian imperial influence, including Bauhaus, was still strong).

    But I haven't seen too much of that, so it's possible there's the same split as in the USSR -- more Bauhaus influence in the parts that belonged to the collapsed Austrian Empire (like Slovenia), less Bauhaus where it belonged to the Ottomans (like Serbia).

    That impression seems to be true from this round-up:

  5. what's the American equivalent of Art Nouveau for Europeans - the attempt to revitalize and update American architecture for a more modern era?

  6. I don't think we've reached that phase yet, we're still doing the consolidating / reviving / canonizing stuff, like Gothic revival during the 19th C in Europe.

  7. Faunya coming back tonight! Any chance Moom will visit? Not on her own channel, just popping in, perhaps using Minecraft texting instead of the VC if her voice still hort. And not necessarily for the whole time, maybe after Faunya and the saplings catch up on her vacay and other goings-on.

    Minecraft is such a social game, and it would make for a nice warm reception for the kirin to get silly with the owl who she missed so much during break. ^_^

  8. If “Americanism” has already been formed through this during the late 19th and early 20th centuries how will the ethnic changes in the country affect that? Millions of “Americans” have no connection to this period having come here after, and there seems little cultural impetus toward integrating them into a second melting pot. With minoritarianism the opposite usually is true. Even late period Romans had religious and cultural norms that they felt were in common.

  9. Most of the late-comers to America won't have any descendants in a few hundred years. I know, a long time to wait and see, but that's how it works.

    First, as America collapses, there will be no motive for new would-be immigrants to come here. Why board a sinking ship? Might as well stay home, or leave for some place other than America.

    Second, each generation, the descendants of non-Americans who are residing in America, will have fewer and fewer kids than their parents / grandparents / etc. So the growth rate of non-Americans will taper off, slow down, and then crash.

    They're just adapting to the reality -- the first generation of immigrants enjoyed a much more wide-open niche with ample opportunities. Each later generation has fewer and fewer slots to fit into. Also, the tastes and ambitions rise with each later generation, so they put off having kids until 30 instead of 20, until they make $50K a year instead of $25K a year, etc.

    Having shallow roots in this country, they have minimal support networks for when the shit really starts hitting the fan -- and it is already doing that as American collapse gets started. Americans have extended family, neighbors, life-long friends, communities, etc. to support them when times get tough. Immigrants have none of that. They're supported by the state alone, which has begun fracturing, losing legitimacy, and now losing money to prop up immigrants.

    You'd better believe that when the budget is being made, American descendants of slaves will get more goodies and support from the state than new immigrants. African-Americans have those extended families, life-long friends, communities, etc., as well. But immigrants don't.

    This will be no different from Roman collapse -- you can dig up graves from Rome in the 2nd century, and there's lots of DNA from the Eastern Med. Centuries later, after the empire is dead -- no Eastern Med DNA. They weren't suicidal, why board the sinking Roman ship? Might as well stay put in Syria, or move somewhere else, like the Byzantine Empire. Anywhere but Rome, during/after the Crisis of the 3rd Century.


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