Ginger NolanJan 18, 2022
Savage Mind to Savage Machine
Racial Science and Twentieth-Century Design
University of Minnesota Press 2021
Attempting to derive aesthetic systems from natural structures of human cognition, designers looked toward the “savage mind”—a way of thinking they associated with a racialized subaltern. In Savage Mind to Savage Machine: Racial Science and Twentieth-Century Design (U Minnesota Press, 2021), Ginger Nolan uncovers an enduring relationship between “the savage” and the development of technology and its wide-ranging impact on society, including in the fields of architecture and urbanism, the industrial arts, and digital design.
Nolan focuses on the relationship between the applied arts and the structuralist social sciences, proposing that the late-nineteenth-century rise of Freudian psychology, ethnology, and structuralist linguistics offered innovations and new opportunities in studying human cognition. She looks at institutions ranging from the Public Industrial Arts School of Philadelphia and the Weimar Bauhaus to the MIT Media Lab and the Centre Mondial Informatique, revealing a persistent theme of twentieth-century design: to supplant language with more subliminal, aesthetic modes of communication, thereby inculcating a deep intimacy between human habit and new technologies of production, communication, and consumption.
This book’s ultimate critique is of the development of the ergonomics of the spirit—the design of the human cognitive apparatus in relation to new aesthetic technologies. Nolan sees these ergonomics as a means of depoliticizing societies through aesthetic technologies intended to seamlessly integrate humans into the programs of capitalist modernity. Revising key modernist design narratives, Savage Mind to Savage Machine provides a deep historical foundation for understanding our contemporary world.
Bryan Toepfer, AIA, NCARB, CAPM is the Principal Architect for TOEPFER Architecture, PLLC, an Architecture firm specializing in Residential Architecture and Virtual Reality. He has authored two books, “Contractors CANNOT Build Your House,” and “Six Months Now, ARCHITECT for Life.” He is an Assistant Professor at Alfred State College and the Director of Education for the AIA Rochester Board of Directors. Always eager to help anyone understand the world of Architecture, he hosts the New Books Network – Architecture podcast, is an NCARB Licensing Advisor and helps coach candidates taking the Architectural Registration Exam.