photograph by Julia King
In last February, the NY Times wrote a (bad) article about a very interesting skyscraper in Caracas, the Torre de David, that seems to carry a good analogy with the current Venezuelan situation since Hugo Chavez has been elected since 1999. In fact this 150 meter tall building is currently hosting about 2500 squatters who find in it, a good way to dwell in this housing crisis time. This skyscraper that was originally supposed to become an architectural symbol and an economically operative building of the Financial power never finished its construction because of the national financial crisis in the late 90′s.
This tower reminds of those in Bangkok or in Shanghai whose construction has been stopped and that is now hosting bands of stray dogs but in this situation the symbol is obviously much stronger as inhabited by humans.
Some additional construction work had to be achieved from the squatters themselves in order to create various enclosures and to occupy some space on each slabs to build up dwellings. What used to be one more glazed office tower is now a concrete behemoth which has been immanently appropriated with recovered brick and other found materials. A micro-economy also developed as there is no elevator and each floor has therefore a small supply shop. Imagining this population never coming down to the ground would probably be creating a myth as most people seems to have a job “on the ground”, but this Torre de David most certainly recalls the fantastic High Rise described by James Graham Ballard in his novel.
Where Ballard seems to be off (and so is Robert Silverberg) in his prospective description is to think of the tower as a literal symbol of hierarchy, thinking of the tower as an architecture in which the high and powerful social classes live upstairs while the poors have to remain near the ground. What seems to appear is much more a separation between the towers for the rich or the powerful (look around !) and some others that have been appropriated by the poors like this one (which reminded me of an old vision I had) or Rio de Janeiro’s steep hills.
Several of the articles that describes this vertical slum presents this tower as symptomatic of the deficiency of funds dedicated to housing by a government that has been elected with a socialist program. Most people I have been talking with (outside of Venezuela) seems to agree that those expectations have been not reach their fulfillment. However what appears to me is that on the contrary of the quasi-totality of the Western countries (one might see the exception with some micro-nations), the 2500 squatters have not been evicted which justifies the proletarian appropriation of a part of capitalism’s structure. The fact that the life conditions in this building are regrettable does not change another fact which is that a speculative territory has been reclaimed and obtained “de facto” by the collectivity.
picture: still from The Trial by Orson Welles (adapted from Kafka)
The article Power, Violence, Law, written by Antiphon on Critical Legal Thinking in 2009, establishes the relationships that those three notions maintain between each other. It quotes Walter Benjamin who wrote that violence both founds and preserve the law by respective processes of insurrection -that violates the law but retroactively justify it- and establishment -that implement the law for their own survival. In fact, Antiphon elaborates about those two processes and distinguishes the violence of the suspension of the law when involved in resistive action from the systemic violence that meticulously develop an institutional exercise of the power and uses the law in order to sustain it. In this regard, he introduces a paragraph that introduces something that I could not be more interested into, which is the role of architecture in this strategy of systemic violence: This violence is evident at each level of the judicial act. The architecture of the courtroom and the choreography of the trial process converge to restrain and physically subdue the body of defendant. The regular readers of this blog will probably associate such affirmation with have been the thesis I have been working on for the last couple of years, meaning that architecture is inherently weaponized and that its conception cannot be withdrew from its political purpose and consequences.
More articles on Critical Legal Thinking:
- William Burroughs and Naughtiness by Lucy Finchett-Maddock
- Violence on the Body. A Manual for the French Police escorting illegal immigrants (that I wrote few months ago)
Power, Violence, Law by Antiphon
Over the last two hundred years, the theory of right, now known as normative jurisprudence, has discovered its vocation in a frantic attempt to legitimise the exercise of power. It carries out this task by declaring that law and power are external to each other ontologically, politically, morally, the two are involved in a zero-sum game. In this story, law limits and humanises the exercise of power which finds its true nature when it follows the procedures and respects the values of law. The more rights people have, the less power there is; the more law-abiding power is the more civilised and acceptable its operation. Orthodox jurisprudence sees sovereignty and morality, politics and law, decision and norm as opposite poles of a dialectic the object of which is the relationship between subjects and the sovereign. Their respective weight determines the theoretical direction from Austin to Kelsen and from Schmitt to Dworkin. They all repeat in a different fashion and with different emphasis the belief in the opposition of law and power. These theories are cognitively wrong and morally impoverished. We see both daily. The former in the proliferation of theories of ‘indispensable’ values and ‘fundamental’ norms which remain abstract, vague and malleable to the ideological and aesthetic predilections of politicians and lawyers. The latter in the moral decline of the judicial function which can use the moralistic subterfuges one learns in the Law Schools to justify all types of injustice.
…withdrawn at the author’s request (December 22nd 2011)
Whoever has seen the result of one of the hundreds of urban idea competitions probably noticed the popularity of projects that introduced urban farms that most of the time consist in overlapping fields on floors one by one with at best (or at worst, I guess) a sexy aesthetic (both for the tower and its representation) as a selling strategy. Those projects are clearly in accordance with the elaboration of a new “green” moral enforced by capitalism that is, this way, forgotten to be the cause of what many call the Ecological Crisis. It was not so hard for capitalism to indeed mutate in order to adapt to a new demand from the followers of this new moral.
Nevertheless, some people are smart and honest enough to acknowledge that what makes the “sustainable” quality of a project is not linked to the density of green on the images that represent it. In this spirit, Catrina Stewart develop a City Farmhouse within the frame of the Unit 12 at the Bartlett, tutored by Jonathan Hill, Elizabeth Dow and Matthew Butcher. Her self-sufficient tower consists in an aggregation of mechanical and biological devices that registers in the Bartlett tradition as initiated by Peter Cook when he directed it.
On the contrary of the moralization of ecology I was evoking above, Catrina tackles the problem with great inventiveness and humor and it is a real relief and pleasure to explore all the details of her project. From the toilets that are transformed in machines of human manures for agriculture to the cows whose methane’s farts are being collected directly in an inflatable balloon that they carry on their back via the elevators directly supplied by the power extracted from domesticated eels, the project is full of devices that could appear in a great book by William Heath Robinson (see previous article)
image from BLDG BLOG
I recently ran into a three years old article that Geoff Manaugh wrote for his BLDG BLOG about the peculiar legal status of the town of Baarle-Hertog. In fact, this city embedded into Dutch territory is fragmented into several pieces of land that belong to respectively Belgium or Netherlands. Because those territories are situated in the center of the Schengen space, this fragmented legal status does not imply the same violent consequences that what can be observed in the West Bank between Palestinian towns and Israeli settlements; however, it is peculiar enough to note that some houses are split between the two countries and in that case, new born’s nationality have to be decided depending on the room their mother have been delivering in (that might be a myth but the Financial Times affirms it !).
About a year ago, coming back from Palestine, I drew a map that I entitled The Palestinian Archipelago (it turned out that a few people had a similar idea earlier !) in order to represent the fragmentation of the Palestinian territory that was triggered by the 1993 Oslo Accords. This map of Baarle-Hertog introduces something similar (although, once again the spatial consequences are much lighter) and one could talk about the Belgium archipelago within this Dutch territory with the interesting observation that even on the Belgium “islands”, one can notice Dutch “lakes” that complexify even more the spatial condition.
Geoff Manaugh fairly recently relinked his article in an interview he did of China Miéville and that was tackling the spatial question of his book The City & The City (that I am currently finishing). This novel, that introduce two cities situated in the same geographical location but invisible to each other, was also evoked in an article that Ed Keller was kind enough to send me also comparing this book with the Israel/Palestine conflict (I am not agreeing with everything written in this article but it’s definitely worth reading).
CORUSCANT — Obi-Wan Kenobi, the mastermind of some of the most devastating attacks on the Galactic Empire and the most hunted man in the galaxy, was killed in a firefight with Imperial forces near Alderaan, Darth Vader announced on Sunday.
Those sentences are extracted from an article of the very popular liberal newspaper, the Galactic Empire Times after that Darth Vader announced the death of the enemy number 1, leader of the Rebellion against the Empire, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Many people in Coruscant celebrated this welcomed death, to the point that many other planets have shocked by such inappropriate reaction although they did salute the end of a long hunt that the Empire engaged against the Rebellion leader. Vader precised that the war against the dissidence was yet not over and that the state of emergency that originally transformed the Republic in the first Galactic Empire and brought more power of investigation, surveillance and action to the executive instances, had to remain in order to ensure the security in the Galaxy. The internment camp of Tatooine should remain operative as well, in order for the Empire to prevent any person suspected to have had some contact with the Rebellion to attempt to the security of the Empire citizens. Some intellectuals, symbols of the archaic Republic, presented their personal excuses to Vader himself, after having express some vague doubt about the Empire’s methods to fight against the Rebellion.
Of course this glorious episode of the Empire’s history cannot be alleged to recall any other...
About three weeks ago, The Funambulist and Dpr-Barcelona both released reflections about Aristide Antonas‘ last project, the Zizek Residence, giving their interpretation of this house of seclusion for one to step back from the world in order to work and think. While Ethel Baraona Polh and Cesar Reyes were writing about the notions of heterotopia, networks and envelopes, I was myself questioning the architectural model of the Ivory Tower and evoking the potentiality of a Zarathustrian return to the world after such seclusion. After those interpretation, A. Antonas seems to have secluded indeed himself in order to respond to us in a long answer that provide a new way to envision his house.
This “dialogue à trois” was therefore very prolific and would be very interesting to continue on a regular basis. As Aristide pointed out, he is himself in Athens, Ethel and Cesar are in Barcelona, and I am myself in New York. The four of us are very far from our native land (in the wrong order, Salvador, Cyprus, France and Guatemala) and we all communicate in a foreign language. All those conditions can be also understood as forms of seclusion and the fact that we communicate with each other is not only by chance. As Aristide Antonas puts it: “Stepping back is not exactly the condition that negates the networks. It is the function that the network needs in order to be created.”
Zizek Residence by Aristide Antonas:
- article on Dpr-Barcelona
- article on The Funambulist
- response by Aristide Antonas
It took me a while to decide to publish this article as my appreciation for the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum, Savage Beauty is as great as my inability to write something consistent about it. In fact, the exhibition manages well to maintain this feeling as the fascinating work is counter balanced by some flat quotes from McQueen himself that do not help us to interpret his work in a coherent way – but maybe that is a mistake to want to do so. I will try to embrace this mistake though.
Let’s start with the exhibition title then: Beauty, yes beauty is there fore sure. and it’s hard to remain indifferent in front of this work Savage, on the other hand refers to something a bit more articulated as a form of romanticism that is claimed by A.McQueen all along the show. In fact, there is something fictitious, if not mythological in his work. An important majority of dresses seems to come from an ambiguous time between several periods of the past but developing a vision of the future that envisions the body and its clothing as two things that might hybrid each other to form a sort of nostalgic cyborg. Somehow, one might even compare that to the literature current that has been called as steampunk, a branch of science fiction that mixes the traditional vision of technology – the one of the 19th century Industrial Revolution – with its new paradigm of the end of the 20th century implying the invention of cybernetics. Of course here, it is not so much about the Industrial Revolution than other periods of the past but this feeling of mix of eras is clearly tangible; a sort of uchronia in which Humans are both in perfect control of their technology but also live in a more animal realm. In this regard, this notion of savageness here allow us to think of all those dresses as new skins that compose a camouflage, which is not to be understood as a defense mechanism here but rather as a celebration and narration of their environment, both in time (as I wrote above) and in space.
The fourth chapter of the Guest Writers Essays series is written by Fredrik Hellberg whose amazing projects at the Architectural Association have been published twice here (and one more soon to come). His Manhattan Oneirocritica was bringing to life all the glorious monuments (Gaudi, Rudolph, Superstudio etc.) that have been designed for New York yet have never been built, while his project for a Japanese Embassy in London was drawn directly on the kimono wore by its guardian.
His essay, in a bit of personal way, has to do with Solipsism, this idea (if not syndrome) that only the thinker of this thoughts can be sure to exist (one could probably call that the Cogito Syndrome !). He therefore brings us in a small vertigo that question the notions of reality and dream.
Thoughts on Meta-Virtual Solipsism
by Fredrik Hellberg
INT. LIFE EXTENSION OFFICE – DAY
David Aames and McCabe sit and wait in a warm wood-paneled
office, proposals in hand. A glimpse shows words like Re-
Evolve and Re-Experience, peppered with colorful photos of
simple, life-affirming portraits of everyday life. It’s
well-appointed and well-marketed organization.
McCabe regards David as the victim of a lunatic’s scam.
Injustice fuels McCabe.
First of all, I would like to say that this article is not an indictment against the three “new” episodes (I, II & III) of Star Wars; on the contrary of a lot of people, I think that those films brings something extremely interesting to the saga, which is the retroactive construction of a myth (I still remember my shiver in theater at the end of the Episode III, when we observe the birth of Dark Vador) which managed intelligently to introduce how the Jedi went from faithful servants of a democratic Republic to rebels to the same regime when it turned into a permanent autocratic State of Emergency.
However, one thing that I find incredibly superb in the three first episodes (IV, V & VI) and that makes all the difference between the episode from the 70-80′s and those from the 2000′s: the ground.
In fact, the original Star Wars was shot in several places in the world which gives a very various and rich landscapes to express several planet’s specificity. On the contrary, the new series of films principally used semi or full computer generated landscapes (except for some scenes in Naboo where we can recognize Seville or Como). It is important to precise here that my argument is nothing in favor of “realism” or credibility of the movie. It is almost the opposite actually, George Lucas in the 70′s was not necessarily disposing of the same techniques than he has now, and some shots of the original films are charming by their clumsy attempt to set characters and aircraft in a landscape that is clearly dissociated from them…
What really makes this difference is what I would call gravity but that could maybe be named in another way. What I mean by that is the fact that bodies are attracted to the center of the earth (and presumably in Star Wars to the center of any planet) and therefore have a weight that provoke their contact with the ground. This contact always have a material repercussion, some dust is lifted, some snow is squashed, some branches on the ground crack (in the Episode VI, Han Solo is even betrayed by one of them) etc. The three new episodes also have those noises, of course, but for some reason, the viewer don’t buy it, gravity is not transcribed in the right way. When in the old movies, one can hear the infinitely small noise of a worm or of snow melting in contact with human heat, what one can hear in the new movies, is the simple, precise and cold sound of a noise reproduced in studio.
The very useful tumblr Concrete Rules and Abstract Machines recently chose an excerpt of the course Gilles Deleuze gave about Spinoza in the wonderful University of Vincennes in 1981. I copied this excerpt below and its original version in French. This short text questions the notion of body and outline as interpreted by the Stoics that can be considered as a base for Spinoza’s question What can a body do?. The sentence that both illustrates this question and characterizes Deleuze’s powerful and poetic style here can be “A sunflower seed lost in a wall is capable of blowing out that wall.” One can wonder here, if the millions of sunflower, Ai Wei Wei brought to the Tate Modern would be able to blow out the Great Wall of China. It looks like it is not the case so far, but it is still too early to say…
The other example he gives to distinguish a body and a power (using Spinoza’s terminology) is the one of the forest. Of course the tree itself is a body but the forest is a power, power to make the trees continue up to the moment at which it can no longer do so.
Other articles about Spinoza on The Funambulist (for Deleuze, please consult the recent archive I created with all the articles):
- ARCHITECTURES OF JOY. A spinozist reading of Parent/Virilio and Arakawa/Gins’ architecture
- Deleuze’s wave about Spinoza
- Spinoza par les bêtes by Ariel Suhamy & Alia Daval
- Spinoza by Borges
- What can a body do ? a Spinozist issue.
- The Other Spinoza on French Radio
Does everything have an outline? Bateson, who is a genius, has written a short text that is called “[why] does everything have an outline?” Take the expression “outside the subject,” that is to say “beyond the subject.” Does that mean that the subject has an outline? Perhaps. Otherwise what does “outside the limits” mean? At first sight it has a spatial air. But is it the same space? Do “outside the limits” and “outside the outline” belong to the same space? Does the conversation or my course today have an outline? My reply is yes. One can touch it. Let’s return to the Stoics. Their favorite example is: how far does the action of a seed go? A sunflower seed lost in a wall is capable of blowing out that wall. A thing with so small an outline. How far does the sunflower seed go, does that mean how far does its surface go? No, the surface is where the seed ends. In their theory of the utterance [énoncé], they will say that it states exactly what the seed is not. That is to say where the seed is no longer, but about what the seed is it tells us nothing. They will say of Plato that, with his theory of ideas, he tells us very well what things are not, but he tells us nothing about what things are. The Stoics cry out triumphantly: things are bodies.
picture: The History of Landscape by Huang Yan
The word, Shanshui in Chinese by associating mountain and water signifies landscape. The beautiful book Shanshui: Poetry Without Sound edited by Peter Fischer & the Kunstmuseum Luzern (Switzerland) in collaboration with Ai Wei Wei and published by Hatje Cantz gathers an important amount of Chinese contemporary artists that deals with the notion of landscape at the same time than questioning the subject of the Chinese traditional painting.
In fact many of those artists reinterpret the means of landscape representation like Huang Yan who is using the forms of the human body as a medium for his amazing paintings. On the contrary, some others like the excellent Yang Yongliang (whose work was already published on the Funambulist) who reuses the mist and the mountains of traditional paintings but include in his, the frenetic aggregation of skyscrapers that composes Chinese contemporaneous cities’ skylines.
I am definitely not a specialist in Chinese Contemporary Art but this book appears to me as very interesting for its choice of topic, when an important amount of the Western critics is currently writing (speculating) about several Chinese artists that distinguish themselves by pretending to critic the current politico-economical system in China, when they actually reinforce it. Somehow those artists are more subversive by reinterpreting a tradition of art that has been fought against by the Cultural Revolution; but rather than copying ancient art in a form of nostalgic neo-classicism, they violently subvert its rules. A literal and obvious manifesto of this spirit can be observed when Ai Wei Wei photographs himself breaking a 2000 years old vase. Sometimes politics is expressed not as a subject but rather as a medium…
Nick Learoyd (of Plagiarism is Necessary), was kind enough to bring my attention on a very recent project created within the frame of the Diploma Studio 6 (see previous article) at the Architectural Association tutored by Liam Young (see previous article) and Kate Davies.
This project which allies both an interesting narrative and a beautiful representation has been designed by Oliviu Lugojan-Ghenciu and has been entitled GravityONE. His project, which I invite everybody to explore via the following excellent film, is situated in the remote lands of Australia whose peaceful atmosphere has been disturbed for the last fifty years by nuclear testing, rocket launches and black military technologies. His resistive operation consists in the constitution of a choreographed swarm of autonomous gliders that manage to jam radio transmission and occupy the sky in a sort of silence protest.
In his explanatory text (see below images), Oliviu explains that his role as an architect is not to solve problems through design, but rise awareness about existing cultural and social layers acting as an agitator. Although I could not agree more than the problem solving has been recurrently leading architecture to create more issues than to solve any, I think that his project actually does more than raising awareness. In fact, (and that is why Nick sent it to me in the first place) he created a protocol for what I’ve been calling a weaponized architecture that envisions the implementation of architecture as a political positioning. One could argue that one has the right not to choose any, but my deep belief is that not choosing is actually choosing what has been chosen for oneself by somebody (something) else. In this regard, GravityOne can be determined as one of the manifesto project of The Funambulist.
The third chapter of this guest writers essays series comes from a regular of The Funambulist, Martin Byrne (see previous articles 1, 2, 3 & 4 or see below the essay) whose projects always take their essence from the notions of decay, dirt and human emancipation. In the following essay, he explores the neologisms of kipple and gubble invented by Philip K. Dick in his literary work.
Transcendent Delusion or;
The Dangerous Free Spaces of Phillip K. Dick
by Martin Byrne
(Solo queda / el desierto.)
You find yourself walking through a long dusty corridor in a dank building sometime in the late afternoon. The doors to nearly every room have long since fallen in, letting pale shafts of light mingle with dust and paper; assorted debris whirls about in lazy semi-circles as you pass quietly by. There are no lights apart from the fading sun; there is no sound except for the slow pacing of your own feet, and the idle mixed thoughts that bounce from left to right in your head. The farther you walk down the corridor, the more overwhelming your sense of isolation becomes. Through each doorway you see rooms that have been long forgotten, weeds sprouting from moldy ephemera in the foreground, and a long view out of the broken floor to ceiling windows beyond. Each frame you pass in steady syncopation offers a glimpse of what seems to be an encroaching desert. Shifting piles of dust cover in fits and starts the remains of a world that you never found all that familiar.
How do you feel?
picture: The Void by R&Sie(n) 2005
In 2009, the South African film District 9 popularized a type of cinema that is interesting to question and put in relation with architecture: the docu-fiction. In order to please a broader audience, District 9 unfortunately gave up the technique in the middle of the narrative to come back to a more Hollywood-like type of movie, but the effect remains interesting in what it manages to communicate.
The two masters of this practice are French director Chris Marker (see previous article) and English director Peter Watkins (see two previous articles 1 & 2) who, in the 1960-70′s developed several movies entirely built up as docu-fictions. The War Game (1965) and Punishment Park (1971) by Peter Watkins are particularly illustrative of such a process. When the first one depicts the United Kingdom being under nuclear attack in an uprising of antagonism in the Cold War (three years after the Cuban missiles crisis), the second one introduced a police program that allows illegal dissidents to choose to participate to a Police force exercise in the middle of the desert in exchange of a lighter sentence. Once a policeman get killed, the documentary team films the vengeance of his colleagues who transform this exercise into a murderous human hunt. Both of those films are shot to appear as documentaries; in L’Ambassade (1973), Chris Marker pushes this process even further by pretending that his film has been found in an embassy which is understood to be in Santiago (Chile) after Pinochet’s coup d’etat.
More recently this style has been explored in a pretty well built-up pseudo-documentary by Gabriel Range. Entitled, Death of a President (2006), this film uses the same language and means of American TV documentaries to in fact describes in detail the assassination of Georges Bush when he was still President of the USA.
Of course, none of those movies’ goal is to deceive their spectators by making them rationally believed that what they are seeing on the screen is reality. This is the role of the hoax, not of the docu-fiction. In fact, this type of films manages both to trigger viewers’ imagination to understand what is seen as a potential reality and to allow an association between this fictitious reality with the one they are embedded in. In other words, at the end of Punishment Park, nobody really believed that a group of political activists has been murdered by the Police in the Californian desert; nevertheless, many would understand the dangers of the Police State and might react against it.
Docu-fictions elaborate new norms that are mixed with the one already existing in order for the viewer to react both to the new, and the existing ones. Just like many science fiction narratives, by introducing an elsewhere in time (docu-fiction are somehow similar to what is known as uchronia) or in space, the latter are metaphor for the current situation. That is how, District 9 describes (fairly unsubtly) the conditions of the South African Apartheid by replacing Black people by aliens in order for everybody to understand what “otherness” really is, and how Death of a President drives an fictitious historical (nice oxymoron!) event in order to illustrate how the state of emergency is being implemented as permanent law.
During the 1930′s, the United Kingdom wanted to reinforce its defense system against the growing antagonism that would end up in the Second World War. That is how they invented the RADAR (RAdio Detection And Ranging) but before such achievements, they experimented an architectural system on the Kent coast that would allow an early warning of potential enemy planes and bring an idea of their directions. Those monumental sound mirrors were reflecting sound into a microphone that was able to determine the direction of the enemy aircraft by determining which area has reflected sound the most.
In order to know more about them -which were eventually gave up before the beginning of the Blitz- you can read the article Listening for the Enemy written by Solveig Grothe for German magazine Der Spiegle.
Thank you Carla.
There is always something highly disturbing in the dehumanized interest architects can have in elements of tragedies when the latter does not concern their world. However, what happened to those trees in the province of Sindh in Pakistan during the 2010 flooding that killed about 2 000 people, must have surprised even the inhabitants of this region themselves.
In fact, in order to run away from the water, an amazing amount of spiders climbed up the trees and weaved those fascinating webs all around them. Those photos have been taken by Photographer Russel Watkins for the UK Department for International Development who observed on site that those spiders even brought an important relief after this tragedy as they captured most mosquitoes which usually are carrying Malaria, especially after flooding.
Last May, The School of Law at Birkbeck College (London) organized a Disobedience Workshop to which I would have personally loved to assist ! One of the panel, written by Dr. Lucy Finchett-Maddock has been transcript on the excellent Critical Legal Thinking and Lucy was kind enough to allow me to transcript it here as well. Her text can also be introduced by what might remain as the most famous book about disobedience: Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau (see previous article)
As Nikolaos Patsopoulos illustrated in the last article, William Burroughs was infinitely more political than what his most famous writings would let to think. In the following essay Lucy Finchett-Maddock elaborates about the notion of naughtiness as a form of disobedience in Burroughs’ work.
I also would like to introduce a new (retroactive) chapter in The Funambulist’s archives dedicated to the notion and practice of Law. It goes without saying that all articles about the Palestinian struggle could appear in this category but in order to conserve each chapter’s specificity I only include articles that precisely tackle the problem of Law…
To Dis or not to Dis? Disobedience and the Case of the Naughty in Relation to Law by Lucy Finchett-Maddock
This piece was originally written for and presented at the Disobedience Workshop (20–21 May 2011) at the School of Law, Birkbeck College.
Since putting together my abstract a few months ago, there have been some alterations and additions and analogies that have influenced the writing of this piece. I have been reading, and I have to say, not his entire opus, but some of the early writings of the American Beat novelist and poet, William Burroughs. Whether I have liked it or not, he has mischievously and somewhat mysteriously found his way into this paper, and whether he is applicable or not we shall soon find out too. So the writing has been kidnapped somewhat, by Burroughs, leading to a more sinister appreciation of disobedience and law’s response.
I have decided to focus on naughtiness, as a way of being, a relation to, and product of, the presence of law, or authority. ‘Naughtiness’, is assumed to be considered a form of disobedience, and even represents the very ‘dis’ of disobedience itself. ‘Dis’ means to set apart, to unravel, to deconstruct – ‘dis’secting. ‘dis’respecting’, ‘dis’sonance, ‘dis’ease, ‘dis’senting’, ‘dis’embodying, ‘dis’membering. In the form of naughtiness, it is the manner in which we are not obedient, the way in which authority enters daily life by our proactive denial of its presence. It is a practical and vernacular form of resistance to law.
The second guest writer for this essay series is Nikolaos Patsopoulos, Greek architect and who recently graduated from the post-professional Master in Pratt Institute with his thesis project Parallaxis, that I have been publishing earlier on. In this address to Francis Fukuyama, famous for his thesis that the neo-liberal capitalist system constitutes the “end of history”, Nikolaos mixes descriptions of the European revolts and Arab revolutions with ideas from authors like David Harvey, Antonio Negri or William Burroughs. The latter’s quote included in this text is n fascinating delirium about revolution that needs to be known.
My dear Francis…What kind of a phoenix will arise from these ashes?
by Nikolaos Patsopoulos
“Don’t look at the mud in my feet with disgrace, it only means I am escaping. Don’t look at my ragged clothes they are only sign I am free.” The recent developments from Tahrir Sqr. to the Indignados in Spain and from the London riots to Syntagma Square in Athens have made me think again of this quote. Only it is not mud anymore, in this fully “developed” corner of the world, it is yellowish tear gas dust and the holes in the clothes are rips from excessive police violence.
Someone might ask, why is it any different now? Protests and demonstrations have been occurring non-stop, well after the end of history had been declared in the beginning of the 90’s. Many of them even more violent and oppressive than the ones referred above.
The truth is that, up to this day, there always has been a counterbalance to this game of power; an upper limit existed that set the rules and the extents to what was allowed and what was considered excessive. At the very beginning there were the neighboring city-states and countries. After that, following the concurrent advancement of trade, the balancing fell on to the shoulders of other continents or even newly discovered faraway lands. Then it was time for the political opponent; the Soviet Union to play this role. Eric Hobsbawm has all too well explained all that and the ways that this works.
Donatien de Sade (1740-1814), more famous for his title, Marquis, is the author of one of the most subversive literature work of history. His name even enters the common vocabulary by being associated to a pathological behavior that takes pleasure in one’s suffering: sadist. However, this word has lost a bit of its original inspiration from Sade’s work since then. What the Marquis de Sade describes in his books, is not so much focusing on the pleasure of a dominant person who distribute bad treatments to others but rather in the relationship between two bodies, one of them exercising an absolute power over the other. Her lies the real disturbance in Sade’s literature. His descriptions could not be cruder, but at the difference of another author who also ended up giving its name to a comparable behavior, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch -i.e. masochist- the crudeness of his discourse is not the only disturbing aspect of his narratives. Indeed, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was describing a domination of a body over another that was registered in an explicit contract “signed” between two of them. His sexual descriptions, however crude they might be, are therefore a common construction that managed to create an immanent ethics rather than a transcendental moral.
On the contrary, the violence introduced by Sade, whether it is sexual or other, could not be more transcendental in the absoluteness of the power exercise on a body over another. The quintessential example of such power in Sade’s work might be The 120 days of Sodom that introduces a form of societal embodiment of Sadian behaviors. Written on a twelve meters long paper roll when Sade was imprisoned in La Bastille, this narrative describes four wealthy libertine men who seclude themselves in a remote castle along with 46 young men and women. The latter will suffer all along the story of the worst sexual and physical treatments from those four bodies who embody an absolute transcendence over them. Pier Paolo Pasolini, few decades after having observed the industrialization of such power in the camps created by the Nazis during the Second World War, will adapt this work in a film, entitled Salo (1975) that still remains extremely painful to watch (see stills below as a mere example).
The Marquis de Sade’s work thus allows us to observe this absolute power and this way, includes “true evil” in our imaginary. By forcing us to be spectator of the exercise of this power, he does not give us the choice but to react to it, and to integrate that a form of pact with evilness is offered to everyone of us as a philosopher like Hannah Arendt attempted to show in her lifetime work.