Abolish restaurants, statues, bars, mirrors and painting -the lot? The bourgeois desire to be served is inescapable in our urban contexts which consolidated in the 19th century city – the ideological hothouse of capitalist modernity. Hussein Mitha reflects on the glut of materials crowding the urban consumer.
In the convulsions of the commodity economy, we begin to recognise the monuments of the bourgeoisie as ruins even before they have crumbled.
— Walter Benjamin
Photographs taken in the USA in June 2020 (see below), in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, reveal something that is both inconspicuous and flagrant: Black and Asian hospitality workers wearing protective equipment serving white people at outdoor restaurants. The white customers are not wearing face-masks, although in one of the photographs, a customer’s mask is tantalisingly displaced as they stare at their smartphone, seemingly to avoid looking at the worker serving them. In both pictures, the rich customers come across as miserable, apathetic yet belligerent, spooked by their new adjustments to the restaurant’s changing ambience, whilst also stubbornly and assertively present. Something is odd about how the photographs resemble stock photos or archetypal images, or themselves seem the product of a racial regime of representation — they seem almost staged but also candid. Taken as restaurants opened for the first time after USA lockdowns, the photographs were captioned on Twitter, ‘The American desire to be served—at any cost—is revolting, and enduring’, pointing to a national bourgeois psychopathology at the basis of the restaurant form. The inevitability of the dynamic between masked worker/unmasked diner in covid-era hospitality makes visually explicit the increased precarity, health risks and exploitation of hospitality workers as a result of the virus, and draws attention to the class conflict already embodied in the inconspicuous form of the (pre-covid) restaurant. What we may have registered in previous times as an innocuous and ubiquitous scene of urban leisure, we can now see an overt image of racialised class struggle, and scene of flagrant class domination.
As with the police force, or the imperialist monuments that stand in our cities, or the offices which instantiate a division between workplace and the domestic interior, or the shopping centres that act as enchanted shrines for commodities, the restaurant is a form codified in the imperialist centres of the nineteenth century, now a basic part of the continuous texture of the urban experience under global capitalism. In the last few weeks and months we have been witnessing these originally nineteenth-century forms disappear, empty like never before, positing a moment where the interlinked totality of forms that constitute the western urban metropolis conceptualised in the nineteenth century is no longer straightforwardly viable, or able to continue unaltered. In the UK, where the economy is reliant on the services sector (accounting for nearly 80% of the total economic output, with the restaurant industry alone accounting for 5%) the government’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ restaurant subsidy scheme evokes a sense of crisis to be overcome by stoic confidence and confident visibility. The slogan converts a quotidien act of bourgeois leisure into a zealous, nationalistic gesture, redolent with notions of ‘our way of life.’ As one spokesperson for the hospitality sector said: ‘The hospitality sector is more than just an ‘industry’; it is part of our culture.’ The ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ logo, coloured red, blue and white, combines the visual lexicon of the First World War ‘YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU’ recruitment poster, with the cursive script of the ubiquitous contemporary chain restaurant.
It is in the light of this exaggerated permutation that it becomes possible to read earlier calls for the abolition of the restaurant (along with the totality of urban nineteenth century forms) with a sense of renewed urgency. An illustrated zine titled ‘Abolish Restaurants: A worker’s critique of the food service industry’, first published in 2006, demands an emancipation from the restaurant form, imagining the abolition of the restaurant as part of a total abolition of the capitalist economy: ‘The struggle of restaurant workers is ultimately for a world without restaurants or workers.’ The zine, aiming to denaturalise the concept of the restaurant brings its origins into view:
Today it’s hard to imagine a world without restaurants. The conditions that create restaurants are everywhere and seem almost natural…But restaurants are an invention of the modern capitalist world […] The first restaurants began to appear in Paris in the 1760s and even as late as the 1850s the majority of all the restaurants in the world were located in Paris.
The restaurant, like so many other forms of the contemporary western urban environment, stems from the Paris of the nineteenth century, as the newly ascendent bourgeoisie asserted total domination over the city. The elaborate dining practices of the deposed aristocracy were transported into a capitalist bourgeois framework as former cooks from aristocratic or royal households became restaurateurs. Antoine Bauvilliers, who had worked as a chef in the royal household of the future Louis XVIII, founded one of the earliest restaurants, La Grande Taverne de Londres in the Palais-Royal, and was credited by a contemporary gastronomic chronochler with the codification of the restaurant aesthetic: ‘the first to combine the four essentials of an elegant room, smart waiters, a choice cellar, and superior cooking.’The restaurant was a new space in which patrons could sit at their own tables at any time the restaurant was open and select their food from a menu of dishes, surrounded by the accoutrements and trappings of the old aristocratic world whose spoils they could now relish in. By 1800 there were around 500 restaurants in Paris, and by the 1820s there were around 3000. The redevelopment of Paris in the 1850s, under the plans of Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, was geared towards the rapid circulation of capital, goods and labour, for which the ongoing proliferation of restaurants and cafés served perfectly as nodal points, generating surplus value and facilitating capital circulation, while furnishing the city with a ubiquitous aesthetic of carefree bourgeois leisure. The confident domination of the bourgeoisie was further bolstered from the failure of the proletarian revolutions of the mid-nineteenth century in France, and it was with the confidence of a total victory (over the aristocracy and the proletariat) that the bourgeoisie was able to rebuild the city in its own image. Waiters, of course, were made to appear in bourgeois costume, asserting the cultural hegemony and narcissism of the ruling class, and precluding any space for proletarian subjectivity to figure. The tendency towards mirrors and reflections in Paris, especially within the new loci of public dining, was noted by Walter Benjamin in The Arcades Project:
Paris is the city of mirrors. The asphalt of its roadways smooth as glass, and at the entrance to all bistros glass partitions. A profusion of window panes and mirrors in cafes.
The bourgeois subject was seen, was reflected, and was seen by itself reflected everywhere. The proliferation of mirrors in restaurants and cafés as noted by Benjamin demonstrates the auto-implicatory logic of this bourgeois visibility, as well as demonstrating its desire to dominate every inch of the city, visually repeating itself ad infinitum, as well as using mirrors so as to blur the divide between the street and the interior, as if to make the whole city homely. Benjamin also notes ‘the custom of inserting mirrors, instead of canvases, into the expensive carved frames of old paintings,’ as if the mirror takes the place of the pictorial. Edouard Manet’s late painting, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882), turns the mirror itself into the final subject of the artwork, displacing the ostensible subject of the painting — a working class woman — as the interpretation of the artwork becomes preoccupied with the marginal perspective of the bourgeois male patron represented in the mirror’s reflection at the right hand side of the painting. The proletarian subject is depicted by Manet within the bourgeois mirror. The perspectival impossibility of this painterly representation has been much commented on; the angles of the mirror and the perspective means the figure of the man shouldn’t be visible. Yet, almost to indicate the excessive surfeit of presence within the city, there he is. The mirror doubles as the backdrop of the bar scene and simultaneously the ideological plane of the painting, the condition on which figuration or visibility is possible within bourgeois culture. Manet’s sketchy brushstrokes, depicting the dirtiness, gleam and shimmering blindspots of mirrors, convey what Émile Zola described in Manet’s style as ‘the abruptness of nature.’ This abruptness of nature gives the sense of the world existing too soon, or too close, an assertive presence — that of the bourgeoisie, of capital, a trembling modernity. A fragment from the ‘Mirror’ file in Benjamin’s Arcades Project similarly evokes the trembling, violent appearance of the world of nineteenth century Paris, as well as its possible dissolution, in which the materiality of mirrors becomes perceivable, as in Manet:
And while these things are petrified, the masonry of the walls above has become brittle. Brittle, too, are ‘Mirrors’ 
Benjamin’s Arcades Project is a materialist study of the relationship between culture and economy of the nineteenth century, seen through the prism of Paris, and in particular its shopping arcades — iron-and-glass connective buildings, described by Benjamin as ‘primal forms of modernity’. Developed in the era just prior to Haussmannisation, alongside the rise of the restaurant, it is the intermediate and transitory nature of the arcade form that strikes Benjamin: they are at once a vanguard form — an early foray into iron construction, a precursor to the department store and the shopping mall — but are also a form that fell rapidly into obsolescence, with many demolished as part of Haussmann’s city-wide redevelopment. As such, the trajectory of the arcade reflects the vicissitudes of commodities themselves under capitalist modernity. Both modern and outmoded, the arcade occupies the space between monument and ruin. Benjamin writes ‘to become obsolete means: to grow strange.’ And The Arcades Project, as a study of obsolescence, makes strange the familiar, denaturalising the world of capitalist modernity, situating its forms as contingent rather than eternal as if to awaken from the collective dream of the nineteenth century.
Housed in the enchanted world of these arcades were displayed the alluring products of the capitalist world economy, exoticised objects concealing the colonial plunder and exploited labour that produced them, cloaked within the ‘metaphorical subtleties and theological niceties’ which Karl Marx identified in relation to commodity fetishism. The arcades provided a ‘phantasmagoric,’ dreamlike world for the urban consumer. They are, for Benjamin ‘cities in miniature’, allowing for a synecdochal reading of the entire logic of the city, and by extension capitalist modernity as a whole, through the convertibility of one of its constituent parts. If the arcade is a space of phantasmagoria, a feeling of distraction and interiority, Benjamin also remarks that the same becomes true for the entirety of Paris under Haussmannisation:
Haussmann’s ideal in city planning consisted of long straight streets opening onto broad perspectives. This ideal corresponds to the tendency — common in the nineteenth century — to ennoble technological necessities through spurious artistic ends. The temples of the bourgeoisie’s spiritual and secular power were to find their apotheosis within the framework of these long streets. The perspectives, prior to their inauguration, were screened with canvas draperies and unveiled like monuments; the view would then disclose a church, a train station, an equestrian statue, or some other symbol of civilization. With the Haussmannization of Paris, the phantasmagoria was rendered in stone. Though intended to endure in quasi-perpetuity, it also reveals its brittleness.
Paradoxically, for Benjamin, it is by giving architectural form to the phantasmagoria of the nineteenth century, that the city reveals itself as brittle and contingent in the image of its crumbling stonework. The boulevard, unveiled, as noted by Benjamin, as if it were itself a monument, also links monuments together through the perspectives it produces. Instead of an old, obstructive city, with its blockages, its working class quartiers, with their habits of revolutionary insurrection, the new city rose from the negative spaces that cut through it – boulevards and avenues – straight lines to embody the direct authoritarian power of the French state under Napoleon III and his prefect Haussmann. Boulevards constructed in such a way as to preclude and render obsolete the barricade warfare which had been used by revolutionary classes to defend urban space against incursions from the military or the police. By the time of the final iteration of possible working class revolution — the Paris Commune in 1871 — the barricade was proven to be obsolete, and the commune was crushed. The boulevard can be seen as a perfect symbol of the sheer pervasive invisibility of bourgeois ideology, and the history of violent oppression that bourgeois culture conceals under the guise of leisure; its negative space. Haussmann’s construction of the city began with a dream of negative space within the city, liberating the blockages, creating uniformity out of heterogeneity, facilitating the passage of state vehicles, commerce and capital. Boulevards became temples of the bourgeoisie, built by an administrator with an awareness of his double purpose, his dealings with negative space in the city, referring to himself candidly as a demolition artist (‘artiste démolisseur’).
Monuments are flagrant motifs of domination, but they are also hidden within plain sight. The nineteenth century cult of making and positioning neoclassical statues and monuments within cities points to a nervous surplus: a surplus of white, male identification, a glut of bourgeois victory, the surplus of capital. The underbelly of these statues, these symbols of capital accumulation is a highly organised programme of expropriation. As Liz Stanley notes, an ‘unseen’ or ‘invisible’ aspect is pervasive: ‘Their presence mainly in urban settings is no accident, for that is where they can be both unseen and can mark the cityscape in ways that become part of the fabric of how things are. They come to shape flows of people and vehicles, demarcate public space, and also marks how a city or town is seen and understood.’ The late nineteenth century saw in Algeria a colonial version of the statuemania that was transforming public spaces across Europe. A decolonial subjectivity reveals the true threat and warning these statues proclaim, which is not hidden. As Frantz Fanon writes in The Wretched of the Earth: ‘Every statue, whether of Faidherbe or of Lyautey, of Bugeaud or of Sargeant Blandan — all these conquistadors perched on colonial soil do not cease from proclaiming one and the same thing: ‘We are here by the force of bayonets…’” And Achille Mbembe notes that colonial sovereignty is reliant on what he terms a founding violence, a type of space-making violence that presupposes its own existence. This violence, according to Mbembe ‘gave the natives a clear notion of themselves in proportion to the power they had lost.’ The colonial public monument dramatises this relation, and it is worth noting the etymology of word ‘monument’ is the Latin monere, to warn. The frozen prehistoric nature of this warning embodied in the grotesque homogeneity of statues is something Benjamin conceived of in Paris as a petrified phantasmagoria; Fanon describes a similarly frozen landscape among the colonial architecture of Algeria:
A world compartmentalized, Manichaean and petrified, a world of statues: the statue of the general who led the conquest, the statue of the engineer who built the bridge. A world cocksure of itself, crushing with its stoniness the backbones of those scarred by the whip: this is the colonial world.
The statues at once show a world petrified in the nineteenth century, and they petrify us now, fixing us against straying from their world. But this petrification, this turning-to-stone, is also subject to both internal, nervous disruption as well as an anticipation of its own dissolution from the outside. Fanon notes, for example, despite the confidence of the colonialist, ‘that inwardly the settler can only achieve a pseudo-petrification as disorderly rebellion never ceases from breaking out.’ And Benjamin hones in on the ‘brittleness’ immediately noticeable as part-and-parcel of the after-shock of petrification. The scene of our cities is, to use Benjamin’s phrase, one of ‘petrified unrest’ in which an allegorical mode of destruction might emerge from within the faux-transcendental architecture of myth. It may even appear in this light that the statues are themselves being revenged.
The wave of iconoclasmic statue-toppling in the imperialist centres of the west in wake of the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter uprisings, and the ongoing brutalisation of black people, has been to expose the real meanings behind the ubiquitous white suprematict motifs of our urban environments, to make suddenly visible and contingent the basis of the world we live in as well as how brittle or fragile it might be, and how much agency we really do have to tear it down, abolish it. In the words of Assata Shakur, writing while incarcerated: ‘And if I know anything at all,/It’s that a wall is just a wall/ and nothing more at all./ It can be broken down.’ And in a telling metaphor, Sarah Beetham notes the fragility of many Confederate monuments in the USA which have been torn down by protestors in recent times: ‘the statues themselves are actually very fragile and so people are realising that its a little easier to tug them down than they thought before.’ The same might apply to the entirety of the conceptual apparatus and architecture of the western nineteenth century.
 @henry (2020, June, 15) The American desire to be served—at any cost—is revolting, and enduring [Tweet]. Retrieved from. https://twitter.com/henry/status/1272612511376986112
 [R1, 3], Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project (Harvard, 1999) p. 537
 From ‘Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century: Exposé of 1935’ in Walter Benjamin, Arcades Project, p. 11
 Liz Stanley (2020) ‘Remaking memory: on statues and memorials’, www.whiteswritingwhiteness.ed.ac.uk/Reading-Lists/memory-statues/ 1.5
 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (Penguin, 1990), p.
 Achille Mbembe, On the Postcolony, p. 25
 Ibid p. 40