John Harwood


On his book The Interface: IBM and the Transformation of Corporate Design, 1945-1976

Cover Interview of April 11, 2012


I have several hopes for this book, but the most dear is that it will contribute to a growing and increasingly sophisticated interdisciplinary discourse on the significance of technics in contemporary life.  Art and architectural history have much to contribute to this discourse, since their fundamental sphere of inquiry—the visual and the spatial realms—are wholly constitutive of the mass media society in which we live.

I also hope that this book succeeds in another area, which is to prompt readers to think about the single most dominant form of social organization today—the corporation—in a nuanced way.

The corporation is a phenomenon that has long eluded serious thought.  Art history can provide a concrete history of the otherwise abstract corporation by revealing and critiquing the real and material effects of the corporation in the world, and help us to avoid the vicious circular reasoning that so often appears as soon as one slips into abstraction.

As I write in the conclusion, “Virtual Paradoxes”: “It is my hope that an expanding critical art history of the computerization of art, design, and architecture—one that is the product of multiple historians and theorists in dialogue, one that sheds light on the ideologies inherent to the vague metaphorics of systems, networks, and interfaces even as it seeks to describe these phenomena—may help to avoid our being held hostage in the whimsical oxymoron and epistemological trap of ‘virtual reality.’”