I am very happy today to present a new episode of the second series of Funambulist Papers dedicated to the question of the body. This series will be running until the summer and should be very exciting for the extreme quality of its guest writers. Today’s guest is Dan Mellamphy, Lecturer at Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism (Western University) and close friend of the Center for Transformative Media whose publication series includes the Funambulist pamphlets and papers. In this text, mysteriously entitled “AV (Anthropocosmogonic Vastupurushamanism),” Dan plays with the idea often developed here that the lines traced by architects (and any other transcendental actors of architecture) impose a violence on the bodies that they subjugate. He considers these lines (which bind bodies to create volumes in which these bodies have no choice but to fit) in a fantastic iconographic inventory including Hans Bellmer, Francis Bacon, the Vastu Shastra and the Pharaonic temple-builders. In these examples, the question is no longer what is in the thickness of these lines, but rather what is in the “inframince” (infrathin as invented by Marcel Duchamp) that separates bodies from their architecture: what lies in the quasi-non- space in which ᵂrests the violence of the encounter?
Have you bottled her?
Samuel Beckett, Endgame.
New York: Grove Press 1958, 10+24.
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He sat naked in his rocking-chair
of undressed teak.
The corner in which he sat
was curtained off from the sun.
Seven scarves held him in position.
Only the most local movements were possible.
Samuel Beckett, Murphy.
London: George Routledge & Sons 1938, 1+2.
‡‡ ‡‡ ‡‡ ‡‡ “The first volume of The Funambulist Papers is almost published, and I was coming back to you to know if your text for the second one will still be ready to be published around December as we originally talked about,” wrote Léopold Lambert in an October E-mail. “Taking the risk of being a bit redundant,” he continued, “I’d like to insist on the importance of addressing the question of the body, […] as the essays will come from very different people and it would therefore be great to have [one] object of investigation with so many different approaches” (Léopold Lambert, 2013). Also sprach der Seiltänzer: thus spoke the tightrope-walker, and in this way — ambulatorily, via agchibasien — was the funis (‘thread’) furnished for the present foray (this very brief essay).
Let us begin, then, by binding the body with a tightrope, the better to parse its particular parts and inspect its peculiar prospects, as if submitting the latter to the hands of Hans Bellmer, perverse belle-mère of this essaie qua petit papier (this petit traité akin in some ways to Bellmer‘s Petit Traité and Petite Anatomie de L’Inconscient Physique). The binding of the body in the works of both Bellmer and Bacon—Francis Bacon—is like that (the binding) of a butcher, or more frightening still of a murderer (‘sacred’ or ‘profane’, sacrificial or straight-out homicidal). Writing explicitly of this webbing, constricting or binding in the work of Bellmer, Peter Webb wove-together the following concrete and conceptual coordinates of these cases/encasements (Hans Bellmer, London: Quartet Books 1985, 232):
“In Paris in 1946 [Bellmer] had made studies of women in relation to his [Donatien Alphonse] Sade and [Georges Albert] Bataille projects. Soon after that he had taken photographs of […] Unica Zürn naked on a bed and in a chair, tied up with string which creates extraordinary folds and shapes in her flesh. The inspiration for these images comes from the photograph of a murder-victim described in [his Petite Anatomie de L’Inconscient Physique]: ‘A man, in order to transform his victim, had tightly bound her thighs, shoulders and chest with tight metal wire, criss-crossing in all directions, causing blisters, irregular spherical triangles running along the folds of the flesh, unsavoury lips, creating multiple breasts in unspeakable settings’.”
Switching for a moment from this Peter Webb excerpt to an excerpt from a study by Peter Kollar (Symbolism in Hindu Architecture, New Delhi: Aryan Books 2001, 7), one could note here that this binding is the bindu (बिंदु.), the point, of architecture—or more precisely the architectural gesture: its pointing (in this case its pointing toward—to ward and precinct—‘man’). “Architecture ‘takes hold’ of man, whereas other forms of art have to be ‘taken hold of’ by him,” writes Kollar, condensing in one line a whole thread from the Vastu-Shastra (see for instance Dvijendra Nath Shukla’s translation, The Hindu Science of Architecture, Lucknow: Vastu Vanmaya Prakashanshala 1958, 454-465). A binding or building-like ‘hold’ that at first glance might appear more loose and à-l’aise than the bindings of Bellmer—but that is in fact just as rigorous (nevermind rigorously mortal), as Gilles Deleuze amongst others has shown—“the ‘cage motif’ which [Francis] Bacon employs in the form of a glass box or podium, as a shrine [or contemplative temple], as bedposts or simply as cordoned-off space” (“motifs such as ropes, cages, podiums, glass boxes, curtains or rondelles”) is and are used both “to isolate” a body “loaded with emotionality, pain, existential fear and psychological depth [that would otherwise overwhelm—indeed destroy—the work]” and to conduct all “attention”—indeed transduce all tension[s]—“with regard to the essential figure” being figured
(Barbara Steffen, ‘The Cage Motif’ in Francis Bacon and the Tradition of Arts, eds. Wilfried Seipel, Barbara Steffen and Christoph Vitali, New York: Saint Martin’s Press 2003, 176). “It is a very simple technique,” states Deleuze (“—elementary, my dear Watson,” as Holmes-sweet-Holmes ne’er did say): “putting the Figure inside a cube, or rather, inside a parallelepipèd of glass or of ice; sticking it onto a rail […] as if on the magnetic arc of an infinite circle; or combining all these means—the round area, the cube and the bar—as in Bacon’s strangely flared and curved armchairs” (Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, trans. Dan Smith, London: Continuum Books 2003, 1-2).
This architectural technique, the yantra (“literally the ‘vessel of yoking’, […] [the] device, sacred diagram, […] [that is] the foundation of the temple” according to the Vastu-Shastra), “do[es] not consign the Figure to immobility but, on the contrary, render[s] sensible a kind of progression, an exploration of the Figure within the place or upon itself” (ibid. 2). Deleuze’s use of an uppercase F in ‘Figure’ (and here, in addition, scare-quotes) serves to distinguish it from normative figuration[s]: an important distinction, since the ‘Figure’ in this case is, as Gilbert Simondon—formative influence (speaking of forms and formation) on monsieur Gilles Deleuze—put it in his treatise On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects, “the [F]igure of a [G]round” as opposed to a figure distinct and distinguished from ground (hence we have here a “distinction” by way of indistinction, or again a “clarification” by blurring).
The ‘Figure’ here is, in its figuration of the ground or ground-figuration, an indistinct “quidam quelconque” (lifting this phrase from Samuel Beckett’s Comment C’est, Paris: Éditions de Minuit 1961, 12; How it Is, New York: Grove Press 1964, 9): “[a] quidam, [an] ‘unknown’,” which might be described “a vast pre-individual field, an omnipresent yet essentially amorphous figure […] that, like the [in]famous ‘compound ghost’ of T.S. Eliot’s fourth and final Quartet, is both ‘intimate and unidentifiable’. Identities emerge from this field ‘only in specific contexts’,” with and in the specific confines of ropes, cages, podiums, glass boxes, curtains or rondelles (as above, so below), each one “but a fragment, a particular façade, of the larval being” qua quidam quelconque “hovering vastly over the[ir] shoulders” (the author, ‘Alchemical Endgame’ in Alchemical Traditions from Antiquity to the Avant-Garde, ed. Aaron Cheak, Melbourne: Numen Books 2013, 636). In the Vastu-Shastra this ‘Figure’ is the Vastupurushamandala, the subject of the present essay and of Stella Kramrisch’s landmark treatise The Hindu Temple (Calcutta: University of Calcutta Press 1946; René Schwaller provides the Greek translation and explores the Egyptian manifestation of this Vedic conception in his equally monumental study, The Temple of Man, cf. chapter viii—‘Du Temple Hindou’—in Le Temple de L’Homme: Apet du Sud à Louqsor, Paris: Éditions Caractères, 1957, 726-734).
“The Vastupurusha is the Anthropocosmos [qua Pharaonic pr-aA]” wrote Schwaller in The Temple of Man (1957, 728). Although anthropoid, this ‘Figure’ (the Vastupurusha qua pr-aA or Anthropocosmos) is not human—hence Schwaller’s observation that it “is anthropomorphized but never humanized” (1957, 27; emphasis in the original); Kollar calls it “superhuman” (2001, ix), and indeed it is in many respects Übermenschlich. “This is the raison-d’être of [architectural] symbolism in traditional civilizations, where the main preoccupations are directed toward […] the knowledge and the attainment of certain states which are ‘superhuman’: symbolism is used to communicate, as far as this is possible, the nature of the states in question” (ibid.). “In civilizations where the tradition is no longer effective or has become largely unrecognizable, symbolism is lost,” argues Kollar, “or what is worse, is subverted, since the chief preoccupation of the people shifts to the strictly human, even to the base-material or ‘subhuman’ level; traditional symbolism hence becomes ‘superfluous’ since all that is ‘worth’ communicating can be communicated in human terms” (ibid.).
The Übermenschlich Anthropocosmos qua pr-aAVastupurusha is according to the Vastu-Shastra a primal, primeval and pre-individual unity (what Simondon would call a “primitive magical unity”). “According to the many myths of Hindu tradition, the fall from unified being into separate existence” — or to wax Levinasian, from existence to existents— “has something frightening, asuric and undetermined in its nature. ‘Once there was some existing thing not defined by name, unknown in its proper form in blocked heaven and earth; seeing that, the Devas seized it of a sudden and laid it on the earth face-downward. In the same position as they were when they seized it, the Devas stayed on it where it lay. Brahma made it full of gods and called it Vastupurusha’. […] Only after this can ‘the existing thing undefined by name, unknown in its proper form’ receive its name, Vastupurusha, and its proper form, the square, [fourfold, or quadrature]” (ibid. 49-50).
Here we have a mythic recounting or accounting of “the fundamental procedure from unity to quadrature,” from formless (i.e. unformed) chaos to a formal, four[fold]-element cosmos (ibid. 52). The diagrammatic form (/mandala) of the existent (/vastu) entity (/purusha) reflects the quaternity of its elemental existential composition qua deposition—being fourfold like the four chymoi, stoïcheia, purusharthas (humours, elements, “[anthropological] ends”) et cetera—but in a ‘man’ner distinct from the later post-Pythagorean/post-‘Pitha-guru’ and more importantly post-Purushan—hence human-all-too-human—models/mandalas such as those of Aristotle, the Stoïcs, and the whole Patristic Tradition that followed in the[ir] aftermath (Re: the latter, cf. Joseph Rykwert, The Dancing Column: On Order in Architecture, Cambridge: The M.I.T. Press 1996, 69).
Whereas figures such as those outlined by Marcus Vitruvius Pollio in De Architecura (his Ten Books on Architecture, circa 15 BC—specifically section 1:2-3 of Book Three, the book on temples and architectural orders), made famous after its revival in the Renaissance by Leonardo’s mandala (viz. ‘Vitruvian Man’ by Leonardo da Vinci, circa 1490), are based on a body with outstretched arms and legs, limbs extended to their maximum range (e.g. “the so-called ‘metrological relief’ in the Ashmolean Museum” which “shows the top-half of a man’s body with his arms stretched-out full”; 1996, 99), the V² or Vedic Vision by contrast is compact, compacted, confined by (rather than configuring) the mandala as such—unextended, in other words, rather than in a state of extension. Extension in the Vedic Vision (the V² Vastupurusha mandala) gives rise to the building that is based on, and grows out from, the basic mandala—a building that stands, according to Schwaller, as an extensive “symbol” of the latter; the mandala itself remains purely intensive (hence its association in this essay with the bound figures of Bacon and Bellmer, not to mention Beckett).
Extension in the Vedic Vision takes the form of a dismemberment moreover, following Book Ten of the Rig Veda: as Rykwert explains, “the ninetieth hymn of the Rig Veda suggests the creation of the cosmos and of society through a sacrificial dismembering of Purusha, the first man” (1996, 72-73; or, quoting Kramrisch, “the Purusha sacrifices itself into existence”: “it spends itself in an ever renewed, ever proceeding sacrifice by which the universe [and its existents] subsist[s]”; 1946, 68). The creation of the cosmos and of society is in other words (in the words of T.S. Eliot, author of The Waste Land, during the composition of that poem, in an essay for The Egoist) “a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction” of Purusha—Avast!—into a Vastu: an existent form, an existent formulation. Purusha as such is a pre-existent, pre-individuated “impersonality”: an “impersonality […] surrendering [indeed sacrificing] itself wholly to the work to be done” (The Egoist 6.4, September 1919, 54-55). A Vastu, then, is its “objective correlative” (here hearkening to another essay published by Eliot, this time in The Athenæum, September 1919, 940-941), “in other words, a set of objects, a situation [or] a chain of events which shall be the formula for [its] particular [manifestation]” (emphasis in the original) and its manifested Grundstimmung: its ultimate architectural effect qua affect.
Following the diagrammatics of the Vastupurushamandala, the particular manifestation and particular architectural affect effected by the individualization of objective correlativization “[is] such that” when all of the facts (“which must terminate in sensory experience”) “are given,” the latter affect and manifested effect “strike us” as if they were the inevitable outcome[s] of the initial gesture (the initiating diagram-mandala). Eliot likens this to the trajectory of all great tragedies (as did Nietzsche, in a way, throughout his Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks: his Philosophie im Tragischen Zeitalter der Griechen of the late 1870s); for example in the “most successful tragedies” of William Shakespeare “you will find [for instance] that the state of mind of Lady Macbeth walking in her sleep has been communicated to you by a skillful accumulation of sensory impressions; [and] the words of Macbeth on hearing of his wife’s death strike us as if, given the sequence of events, these words were automatically released by the last event in the series” (The Athenæum, September 1919, 940-941). The difference in the case of the Vastupurushamandala is that the evoked “state” or ground-mood (Grundstimmung/“mood”/“mode”/“state [of mind]”) correlates not with an initial human impulse, impetus or catalyst, but rather with a gesture that—although “anthropomorphized”—is ultimately “never humanized” (Schwaller 1957, 27) and that accords instead with what Kollar calls the “superhuman” (2001, ix), with the Übermenschlich Anthropocosmos qua pr-aAVastupurusha. This is the conundrum of Hamm in Beckett’s Endgame and of Hamlet in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: the correlations in these cases are beyond the bounds of the human-all-too-human, “in excess of the facts as they appear [to the latter]” and a matter instead of architectural gesture—architectural gesture, gestation and suggestion.
Each [architectural] structure, as the outcome of an [architectural] gesture, is according to Schwaller (1957, 44) “an analyzed moment of the synthesis [or associated milieu]”: one that arises as a ‘Figure’—in the Deleuzo-Simondonian sense, hence the uppercase F—from what Kramrisch calls “the Germ of the temple” (using an uppercase G in the original; 1946, 10). The ‘Figure’ in some respects “hooks” and “catches” the background, bringing [an aspect or aspects of] this background “blackground” to light as this b[l]ackground (“Ground”) in a sense flings it forth. Architect and theorist Paul Virilio touched on these ideas in his Architecture Principe and Aube Crépusculaire when he spoke of the concordant discordance and conjunctive disjunction of the hook and the whip, of brake-pedals/decelerators and the gear[s] of whip-lashed/far-flung acceleration (see for instance page 65 of Crepuscular Dawn, trans. Mike Taormina, New York: Semiotexte/M.I.T. Press 2002, where these are likened to the Pharaonic coffin/afterlife-raft complete with crossed arms bearing both whip and hook). The fact that Virilio, in discussions with Deleuze, found the crossing of flinging/flailing whip and harnessing hook in the ‘Figure’ of Pharaonic metempsychosis (which Virilio then extended to Papal and Pontifical avatars) accords rather remarkably with the statements in Schwaller’s architectural study.
“Ten years ago I did this big exhibit on speed at the Cartier Foundation in Jouy-en-Josace,” Virilio explained to Sylvère Lotinger in Crepuscular Dawn; “and what image did I use at first? The Pharaoh. Why? Deleuze and I discussed it quite a bit” (ibid.); it is a matter of allowing—indeed fostering, promoting, propelling—given gestures, given movements, while also engaging—hence harnessing or capturing—them by hook or by crook, flailing and cracking the whip. Simply harnessing or simply fostering, simply catching-hold-of (be-getting) or simply letting-go-of (letting-be) would “be” ([be-]get/let[-be]) of no avail: nothing new would come of it. The Pharaoh with “the two hands crossed on his chest […] holding on the one side a hook, and on the other a whip” (ibid.) is in this sense, like “the Pope [with his] hook or the Bishop [with his] cross” (ibid.) and like “Innocent X”—speaking of Popes—‘X’ed or crossed by curtain-like lines, hooked by rope-rails, caught-up as was Beckett’s Murphy in the Μορφή (“Figure”) of a chair (http://translate.google.com/#fr/en/chair) in Bacon’s ‘Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X’, what Deleuze describes as the “non-representative, non-illustrative, non-narrative” there is (il y a là, ici) of a [matter-of-] ‘fact’ [qua quidam quelconque] (2003, 100, 2): here (ici) there is (il y a) a ‘Figure’ flung from the ‘Ground’ as well as a ‘Ground’ flung forth and held there—hooked there, given place there—as a ‘Figure’.
“The relation of the Figure to its isolating place defines a ‘fact’: ‘the fact is…’, ‘what takes place is…’,” writes Deleuze (ibid. 2). In a sense, this is what makes Bacon’s Figures (not to mention those of Bellmer and/or Beckett) akin to Egyptian sculpture and/or architecture: “[indeed] there are many things that make Francis Bacon Egyptian” [and we might add here, Hindu, mightn’t we? oui, bien sûr!], states Deleuze (ibid. 123); Bacon himself, notes the latter (ibid.), publicly declared “his love for Egyptian sculpture” (and perhaps privately also that of the Hindus) what’s more. “A painting by Bacon has an Egyptian look to it”—all the more so because its anthropoid forms are inhuman: or rather, because their relation to “humankind is an accident” rather than an “essence” (ibid. 135). The essential is not the human-all-too-human: the latter is an after-effect—albeit an after-effect that brings into being the “analyzed moment” and its analytical monument. What gives rise to this moment and this monument is that “magical diagram” or “yantra” described at length in The Hindu Temple for instance (i.e. Kramrisch 1946), and The Temple of Man (i.e. Schwaller 1957), while only very briefly touched-upon in the present essay, as the yantra of the Vedic Vastupurushamandala and Pharaonic pr-aA qua inhuman (pre-/post-human) Anthropocosmos.
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