Monthly Archives: July 2011

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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

The Funambulist Papers 03 /// Transcendent Delusion or; The Dangerous Free Spaces of Phillip K. Dick

by Martin Byrne

(Solo queda / el desierto.)[1]

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Naughtiness

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.

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The second guest writer for this essay series is Nikolas 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.

The Funambulist Papers 02 /// My dear Francis…What kind of a phoenix will arise from these ashes?

by Nikolas 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.” [1]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.

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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.

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