On a screen everything is the same size and the same texture with the same frame. The New York Review Books publication of Soft City is a significant challenge to the saming of culture. It’s 9.7 x 0.9 x 13.6 inches and 3.4 lbs.
It’s a big book, and it took a long time for it to be published in 2008, after Pushwagner finished it in 1975. Chris Ware in the introduction writes that, “The whole seems drawn entirely from the need to realize a consuming vision, a writer ruminating (“Where is the mind when the body is here?”) while his artist half looks on in horror. For Ware, the book falls into neither, “the fine arts [nor] the underground comics” camp, “ultimately its tone feels dire and experimental; it wows visually but gets under one’s skin in an unfamiliar, uncompanionable manner introducing the awkward revelations of 1960s experimental film, writing and poetry to a medium at that point was more popularly associated with superheroes.
Hariton Pushwgner (Terje Brofos) begins with two blank, black pages before the third page, still black has the words “Good morning everybody.” The next page, still mostly black, says, “look…” but the bottom fifth of the page is a white strip with hundreds of small rough squares with what look like TV aerials on top. Then we get closer, and the white strip fills more of the page, “here comes…” and finally the page is white, the building fills most of the page and “the sun” peers above the building. The baby is awake. His is head huge. As you move through the larger spreads, the family leaves the private world of their home and heads to the massive uniform worlds of the father’s workplace and the mother’s shopping day. The word “soft” appears on many of the pages. The father reads the “Soft Times”; he works at “Soft Inc.;” the parents take a “soft pill” when they wake up. When the father steps out of his front door, as far as you can see into the fold of the pages, identical men and one woman step into the corridor, pack into the lift,and rows and rows of mothers and babies wave from the stacked windows of the tower block. The crowd grows as he drives to work into Soft City.
Later we cut to the mother’s day, and “the Boss” watching his workers. In a spread of the boss’ office, the artist tells us “What a funny freedom untouched by human hands.” The boss thinks “Soft love is a 100% bonne affair” and “Atomize is de trix”. His thoughts about the workers: “They are asleep.” Then he tells them, “120! Understand? Oracle filter.” The pictures make a more direct statement of humanity commodified and undifferentiated on a treadmill put in boxes.
This is a magnificent, unsettling work that maybe makes a statement that has been derived from Kafka and developed by Orwell and so many others. And yet, it’s its own work, and an important piece of art in a world where our devices use software to softly steal our attention without us realising it is even gone. Work such as Pushwagner’s wakes us up.