I picked the book City Signs and Lights (S. Carr (ed.), Boston, MIT Press 1973) from the Rietveld library. The title immediately brought up associations with Walter Benjamin´s concept of the flaneur, the prototype of the bourgeois consumerist as the socio-cultural product of the earliest department stores in Paris established around 1900. Parallel to this idea is, I believe, the Society of the Spectacle (Debord). The power to attract customers with light commercials like lamps attract bugs, by accepting the existence of Desire within the subject (Deleuze), creates a competition in the city landscape, that alters the landscape into a continuous feed of visual stimuli. This competition for attention in the urban environment leads in its turn to a new set of rules or aestethics for such commercials. This is probably the design part of the fascination: the competition within the city landscape for attention of potential customers that sets the parameters for an aesthetics of a denotation system that functions almost as a parasite on the urban environment.
(The author of City Signs and Lights doesn´t seem to mention a historical context)
The second association I had when I first saw the book, was Wong Kar-Wai´s Happy Together (1998) in which shots of city signs and lights are metaphorical for emptiness and alienation between the two main characters and their environment.
The book in itself does not provide extended written articles, but the title and images provoked associations and ideas about an exhaustive list of topics on the conditions of modern western society, semiotics in general, and the meaning of neon as a material or medium in particular.
cat. nr: 754.5-carr-1