What is wrong with these pictures? Start maybe by looking at them all. The landscapes that they show are beautiful and seem to be almost untouched by humans. The problem is that they are taken where Palestinian villages used to exist before 1948. Five days ago was the 65th anniversary of the Nakba (the catastrophe in Arabic), the day that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had to flee from their land when the State of Israel was established. These photographs are from the website of the association Zochrot that attempts to familiarize Israeli people with the tragic consequences that their country originated, advocate for a Palestinian right to return (see past article about it) and, hope for a bi-national reconciliation. In this regard, Zochrot has established a map (in Hebrew only) giving an inventory of the Palestinian villages that were evacuated and those that have been destroyed after 1948.
Sometimes their destruction led space to the new Israeli towns but as these photographs reveal, it was a much more profound destruction than a “simple” take over. Palestinian villages have been purely annihilated to the very last stone. Such a clear act of negating the presence of a civilization before the existence of Israel is even more shocking and disturbing as it occurred only a few years after the industrialized Nazi death machine against the Jewish people – let us not forget the gypsies, homosexuals, handicapped and communists either. Ruins of these villages would have told a narrative involving the Palestinian existence prior to the state of Israel and would have implied their evacuation from it. This narrative was apparently not part of the newly born State that got rid of it through the violent erasing of this historical tracks. The ruin implies a tragic situation, but the negation to the right to the ruin goes even further: it is an absolute re-writing of history as it attempts to erase a part of it (it is understood here as the factual history, not the interpretation of it, also named history).
The space beyond the walls: Defensive “a-legal” sanctuaries
(originally written for the Wheelwright Prize – failed)
Considered purely in the abstract, the law appears to be a tool which makes strict categorizations of human actions and behaviors as either legal or illegal, just or unjust. Concomitantly, the abstraction of the law corresponds with a similar spatial abstraction in which territories are defined diagrammatically. This is true as far as the sovereignty of states is concerned but also for all architectural plans; they diagrammatically organize space into distinct territories of jurisdiction. In each case, law and diagram are reduced to their abstract lines. Once manifested as physical architecture, however, such strict delineation becomes far more ambiguous. Which law is applied in the space of a wall, the space of a border or the space of a contested zone? These spaces are legal anomalies and may be understood as the architectural manifestation of what Legal Philosophy Professor Hans Lindahl calls a-legality. Such in-between spaces seem at once to underwrite the law as well as to contradict it. In this research project, I propose to investigate specific cases in which the architecture of such “a-legal zones” is strategically used as a space of sanctuary from coercive forces. My argument insists that an “a-legal architecture” is specifically a defensive one as it gives itself the means to preserve such a status.
The immanent domain (see third letter) – Dharavi in Mumbai / Photograph by Léopold Lambert (2009)
FIRST LETTER (New York on July 12th 2012) ///
I read your essay Archiving Burroughs: Interzone, Law, Self-Medication with attention and appreciated, as usual, the way you manage to link narrative, law and space all together. I do think however that we should keep this text for a little bit later in our conversation as its specificity might make us miss the bases of the discussion that we would like to have about law and architecture. In this regard, I would like to ingenuously start by stating some obvious facts which are always good to remember for such a discussion.
Law, understood as a human artifact, constitutes an ensemble of regulations which have been explicitly stated in order to categorize behaviors in two categories: legal and illegal. In order to do so, it expects from every individual subjected to its application a full knowledge of its content in order to moralize and held accountable attitudes that are either respectful or transgressive towards it.
Law is undeniably related to space as it requires a given territory with precise borders to be able to implement itself. Nothing easier to understand this fact than to observe in which space one is allowed to smoke and in which one is not. It also includes within this territory smaller zones of exclusion, from the corner of the class room to the penitentiary, in which another form of the law -supposedly a more restrictive one- is applied for individuals who, through an active refusal of specific parts of it, are to be separated from the rest of society. Those individuals, when captured by law enforcer instances, are brought within those zones of exclusion and are being held in them for a given period of time provisioned by law itself.
Antic Greek Statuette of a Hermaphrodite
I have been evoking the work of Beatriz Preciado a few times in the last year, the most notably reference being the wonderful text she wrote for LOG 25 (see past article), entitled Architecture as a Practice of Biopolitical Disobedience in which she was exposing the theoretical bases for a deep analysis of the society of control that she decided to call (and therefore orient) Pharmaco-pornographic society. The latter is implementing its control by the elaboration of apparatuses that modify and normalize sexuality within the context of biopolitics and capitalist strategies. The contraceptive pill is for her, the paradigmatic (designed) object of this society: a product elaborated by the pharmaceutic industry – which, for her, constitute the climax of capitalism – that is voluntarily ingested by millions of women (often in ignorance of their secondary effects) and that, by modifying their internal biology is able to construct a politics of demographic control as well as a normalization of sexuality by the hegemonic heterosexual imaginary that it implements.
Of course, just like Judith Butler (see recent article about this topic), Beatriz Preciado is not interested in merely bringing two more genders (gay and lesbians) to the level of normalization: there is a strong will to absolutely undo gender by subverting it through its very mechanisms of production. This is the topic of her book, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era (already exists in Spanish and French, soon to be published in English). In it, B. Preciado articulates a theoretical time cartography of the formation of this pharmacopornographic society with autobiographical experiences including the main object of the book: her daily ingestion of doses of testosterone during eight months and the observation of her body getting modified by it. Along the chapters, she insists on the fact that she does not accomplish this experiment in the goal of changing her sex/gender but rather in order to develop a micropolitics of ambiguity, a zone in which she would be neither man nor woman, nor straight, nor gay, nor a lesbian, an unrecognizable body in a society that bases its control on principles of recognition.
The recent manhunt of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Boston was probably quite shocking to many non-Americans – and probably some Americans too -, for the anachronism it constituted. The latter was caused by the ability for a Police to empty an entire city and therefore implements a sort of state of emergency, as well as the “march of the heroes”, the multitude of police officers acclaimed by the crowd after they arrested their prey. There is a profound feudalism in such absoluteness and one has the right to wonder what motivates this disturbing joy.
Let us focus on the urban condition that contextualize this manhunt. I have been repeatedly writing in the past, each house through its impermeability due to the implementation of private property is susceptible to become a prison for the bodies living inside of it in the sudden legal implementation of a quarantine. For an important part of Boston, the quarantine was not implemented stricto sensu but it was highly recommend to each resident to stay inside and the context of fear created by the ubiquitous media made such a recommendation a quasi-order. In the areas of Boston where the police and army was actually deployed, the quarantine was very much effectuated as this article illustrates: Looking through the windows seems to have been prohibited and enforced through the threats of weapons.
While this event was unfolding I was thinking of the descriptions that Michel Foucault makes in his seminar Abnormal (Les Anormaux) at the College de France (1975) of a Medieval/Renaissance city when contaminated by the Plague. Foucault distinguishes two things historically: the negative reaction to cases of leprosy in the same city that consists in the effective exclusion of the sick bodies from it, to the point that they are declared socially dead; and the positive (in the sense that there is an inclusion) reaction to the Plague that provokes a state of emergency and the absolute reorganization of the city according to a quadrillage which has been not so well translated into partitioning. Quadrillage involves indeed a sort of physical or virtual partitioning of a space, but it also implies a detailed, systematic and extensive examination of this same space by a controlling entity. Such an action is thoroughly described by Foucault in his class of January 15th 1975 in this same seminar:
Photograph by Leyland Cecco/Al Jazeera
Two days ago, about 650 runners participated to the Right to Movement Palestine Marathon. This race, open to both genders and both local and international participants, was taking place in Bethlehem (see the map of the race below), along what the city has the most precious in terms of building heritage (the Church of the Nativity) and what it unfortunately has of the most violent (the separation wall). The race was also crossing the two refugee camps of Al Ayda and Ad Dheisheh where many people have been living in poverty since 1949. It is important to recall here that this poverty is both created by the occupation that makes sure to maintain a very high rate of unemployment in the West Bank (it is even worse in Gaza) but also by the strong will of refugee to continuously affirm their situation as being temporary; their families should be able to go back to live in their villages and towns which are now on Israeli territory (see previous article).
The very name of the Marathon clearly expresses the extra-sportive motivations that animate the race. On its official website, we are reminded of what the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights precises in terms of right to movement:
Running is a means of terrestrial locomotion allowing humans and other animals to move rapidly on foot. The Right to movement, means that you have right to move from A to B. Even taking the decision on where you want to be when and why. It is also one of the most basic human rights; Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
Article 13 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights
Aleppo, January 29, 2013. (Reuters/Zain Karam)
As an introduction to this article, I would like to say that I have been hesitant to write the latter as many of the thirty eight photographs posted by The Atlantic on February 20th 2013 (thank you Guilhem) carry enough visual power to bring to them the noxious pictorial fetishism that Western society (at peace mostly) have contributed to develop and exacerbated. Seeing a fighter of the Free Syrian Army piloting an automated machine gun with a playstation controller triggers in us (probably the male part in all of us) a disturbing confusion between game and reality, heroism and survival. That is why an image of this importance should never be shown without a reflective framework to avoid its epidemic (online) reproduction leading inexorably to the domain of the “cool”, this ill-defined realms of things that give us the contentment of an aesthetics without its intellectual “burden”.
Another thing that needs to be said as a preamble is that journalism tends to be more interested in the domain of the spectacular in opposition to the familiar and therefore, we need to see most of this images for what they are: exceptions, accidents, unique manifestations of something larger. In other words, most Syrians, right now, whether they are fully part of the rebellion or simply subjected to the continuous bombing and persecutions of Bashar al-Assad’s government’s army, probably do not have access to weapons having a certain degree of sophistication, if not weapons at all. Reading these photographs in another way would mislead us and draw inaccurate conclusions on the future of warfare and immanent resistance.
We continue today to explore the “cruel designs” that collects each piece of architecture or objects that have been specifically designed to assess a hurtful power upon the body.
Many people know the main characteristics of the Mayan Pyramids as the steepness of their steps. Such a steepness is proper to religious architecture in the symbolical effortful approach to transcendence. However, it also had very “down to earth” killing function in times of peace and war. The sacrificial pyramids’ steps were used as a mean to “finish off” the sacrificed bodies by throwing them from the top of the stair to the bottom of the pyramid. The steepness in that case insured that the body would indeed roll all the way down. In times of war, the stairs could become a veritable defensive apparatus. The Mayans would take refuge on the top of the pyramids and have soldiers, attached to the top by ropes around their bodies, fighting on the stairs pushing the assailants down the steps who were likely to be severely wounded if not killed by the fall.
What I find fascinating in these stories (which would probably deserve to be more detailed by a legitimate expert of the Mayan civilization), is the fact that the killing apparatus invented by the Mayans is nothing else than the stair that we have in almost every building built by humans. The steepness here is merely a way to sharpen the weapon like one sharpen a knife. What does that mean for architecture that an “innocent” stair can become such a violent device? Was the stair even innocent in the first place? Considered abstractly this quasi-inevitable element of the architectural tool set is rather strange. After all, it is nothing else than a series of small pieces of floor that are assembled in such a way that it successively reach a certain height. Many elderlies and disabled persons are very aware of this essential reading of the stairs; they know that it requires a certain degree of energy and fitness to bring a body to go from one of those pieces of floor to another. The stair, in its essence, has already a clear impact on the body.
The panopticon in its totality / assembled photographs by Léopold Lambert
Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the former Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. The building is particular as it was one of the first prisons to implement the panopticon scheme invented by Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. This scheme is not fully applied as what is actually visible from the center of the building are the ten alleys and not the cells themselves; however, the centralization and totalization of surveillance is manifested here and were probably operative to a great extent. The prison was operative between 1829 and 1971 and along the years, some additional branches were even incorporated to the original layout, bringing the amount of visible alleys to twelve (two of them can be watched thanks to mirrors). The small montage above corresponds to a 360-degree view from the center of the building.
I often argues that Michel Foucault, who contributed to made the panopticon well known, paradoxically never thought in terms of architecture (see my essay Foucault and Architecture: The Encounter that never was) as, when he was writing or talking about architecture, what he was really doing was to speak only of diagrams (we could say the architect’s plan). What is true nevertheless, is that such a diagrammatically based architecture definitely tends to reinforce the machinic functioning of this building in the way it absolutely controls the bodies (that is the definition of a prison). If we remain at the diagrammatic level, there is no escape from this systematic operation; if we explore the physicality of architecture however, the means of escapibility correspond to the ability of a body to use the fallibility of architecture in its physicality (there no fallibility at the diagrammatic level). Here is one example: In 1945, two inmates of the Eastern State Penitentiary dug a hundred feet long tunnel and escaped from the prison’s periphery.
Today, I am starting a series of articles about 17th century Portuguese-Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza and thus dedicates to his work a ‘week’ like I did two years ago for Gilles Deleuze and last year for Michel Foucault.
The first article of this week will attempt to examine how Spinoza can supply a terminology, or rather, a conceptology to extend the sharp analysis of capitalism made by Karl Marx in the 19th century to a its neo-liberal version we have been experiencing for the last thirty years. In order to do so, I would use a particular chapter from the book Capitalisme, désir et servitude: Marx et Spinoza (Capitalism, desire and servitude, Marx and Spinoza) written by Frédéric Lordon and published by the always excellent publisher La Fabrique in 2010.
Through this book, F. Lordon depicts, among other things, the two important shifts of paradigms in capitalism that occurred since the publication of Das Kapital, in order for it to survive against the potentiality of a revolution prophetized by Marx when he was observing the continuous production of a discontented working class. The first shift of paradigm, often known as Fordism, occurred in the first part of the 20th century and consisted in a neat amplification of the production rhythm associated with the integration of the working class itself in the mass consumption of their own product. The second shift of paradigm, closer to us, examined how the working class (which also shifted for a big part of it, from the industry to the realms of services) could gain in productivity by integrating it to an ideology of “self-accomplishment” that could apparently relate to the Spinozist idea of joyful affect (for a very basic introduction to his concepts, you can read my text Architectures of Joy from 2010). For Spinoza, the servitude is anyway universal as all our acts are determined by the sum of circumstances that caused it (much more about that in a upcoming article), but we can nevertheless increase our power (potentia in latin, more on that soon too) by acquiring the knowledge of the causes of our behavior. As we know too well, strategies of inducing do not allow the subject to understand the context of his decisions better than an assembly line worker in the beginning of the 20th century and therefore force it to remain within the sad affects.
In the previous article, we were following Franco “Bifo” Berardi in his argument according to which the financialization/semotization of the world should be fought against through the invention of other semio-weapons known as poetry. In the following article, however, I would like to examine what could be another mean of resistance against the reigning abstraction of the capital, what is extremely likely to be the next industrial paradigm: 3D Printing.
I don’t want to write here about what the very mean of 3D printing allow us in terms of new architectural typology. Many people are writing about it and I don’t think to have anything to add to that. What I am interested in is a combination of two things. The first one is the counterpoint of Franco Berardi as I am envisioning a resistance to abstraction through its antipode, matter. 3D printing allows the multitude of emergent technologies promoting the digital realm to concretize its production in the material world. This point is fundamental as every physical modification of this world – let’s insist on the fact that there is only modifications and transformations here, no creation per say – engages us as the body we are. We don’t have a body, we are a body, and each ‘object’ (including architecture) constitute an opportunity to feel and affirm such a truth. This manifesto for a material production is linked to the very essence of 3D printing and therefore constitute an inherent tool of resistance.
Another aspect of this technology can lead us to think that it can potentially politically empower us; however this one is not inherent to it, and therefore requires to be included within a well thought strategy of appropriation in the shift of paradigm. I would like to insist on the right moment to act as the present situation still reserves the use of this technology to the army (as usual in the case of a new powerful technology) and a design (mostly Western) elite. We are therefore far to see the Syrian rebels resisting the massacre with 3D printed weapons – some of them are being highly inventive in this matter however – but we need to envision a future in which a large majority of the new objects produced on the planet would be 3D printed. We then have to wonder which would be those objects. Would they be the embodiment of the new (des)illusions of desires injected in us by the most recent mutation of capitalism, or do we want them to be the creative product of the multitude?
One of the most famous fratricide of the world mythology is the one of Romulus and Remus. Similarly to Cain killing his brother Abel in the Bible/Quran or Seth killing his brother Osiris in the Egyptian mythology, it is written that Antic Rome was founded on a murder between brothers, specifically twins in that case. Romulus and Remus were abandoned by their mothers, fed by a female wolf and raised by a couple of shepherds. They both wanted to found a new city on one of the hills that are now famous as characteristics of Rome. After both interpreted the auguries in their own favor, Romulus starts digging a trench around what will be the new city. Remus, in protest, jump over the trench and get killed by his brother. The new city named after Romulus was born.
This story, many of us know it, but it is interesting to re-read it through the filter of architecture and the law. When Romulus digs a trench around the future city, he circumscribe and appropriate a territory, in other words he proclaims his property. Such thing would not be possible without a modification of the physical environment, that is why he is digging a trench, but he could have just as well build a fence or a wall. Architecture, understood as the voluntary act on the material context – in this regard, a wall or a trench are both as much architecture – is used to implement the law. We can also observe that what we call the law can be unilaterally declared and subjugate each body present on the territory on which the law apply. It is therefore important that architecture delimits the territory as one of the axiom of the law is that anybody who is subject to respect it is supposed to know about it. Just like when Julius Caesar crosses the Rubicon, when Remus jumps the trench, he is full aware of his trespassing, he is so much aware of it that he is accomplishing his act only to disobey the law as a form of protest against it (which is the only reason one is legitimate to disobey the law).
I apologize to those of my readers who would reasonably see this article as a form of self-promotion, this will be the first and only post about this book. Following the research I undertook in 2010 and the architectural project that emerged from it in 2011, My good friends Ethel and Cesar from DPR-Barcelona and I have worked together to come out with a book, Weaponized Architecture: The Impossibility of Innocence that would be available for all. This is now the case and you can find the book on any national franchise of amazon and (preferably!) in some bookstores in various countries. For a presentation of this work, you can see the small lecture I was lucky to be able to do at the school of architecture of Lund (Sweden) in September 2012. One particularity of the book that is also worth noting, was developed by dpr-barcelona is the introduction of a dose of augmented reality through smart phones and tablets that allow a second layer of multimedia information for each chapter.
More information after the break.
Do not let the fancy renderings of the winning entry for the new American Embassy in London mislead you, what you see is nothing else than the contemporaneous version of the Middle Age castle. The project, designed by Kieran Timberlake carries many characteristics of medieval means of defense and thus constitutes the paradigm of the post-2001 American Embassy. As I already pointed out in a previous article about the competition for the US Embassy in Belgrade, this paradigm is defined by the contradiction between the appearance and the essence of the building, the former representing the traditional discourse of openness, “democracy, liberty and America” (quoting the issue of proudly American Metropolis dedicated to US Embassies) while the latter is really about the protection of the building and what it contains.
Just like for the new World Trade Center in New York, the base of the building has to be solid enough to contain a bomb-car attack. In the London case, the building is separated from the city by an earth motte as well as a moat filed with water (see the wired article about those apparatuses). As many people also realize a square-base building ensures to have the least contact surface with the outside. Usually it represents a useful way to control the energy transfers and thus to make the building more ecoLogical, in that case, it ensures to the core of the building to be protected from any exterior attack. The peripheral glass is therefore only a decoy which indicates what truly needs to be protected in an Embassy, not as much people, but documents that are stored in the center of the building. It would be interesting to see the plans but of course, they are kept secret, which brings the attention on the architect’s responsibility once again. The generation of architects currently practicing has been built on the disillusion of the previous one (the moderns), and has therefore accepted the idea that, as simple cogs of the mechanisms, they were not responsible for the political consequences of their products. The very fact that their plans could be kept secret brings attention on the power of the scheme that they participated to conceive.
Photograph of the exhibition The Crystal World by Cyprien Gaillard at PS1
The Crystal World is the first-solo exhibition in New York of French artist Cyprien Gaillard. It is currently displayed at MoMA PS1 and gathers a very interesting collection of films, photographs and artifacts, all of which deserve to spend an important amount of time on. I wanted however to focus on one specific film that occupies the largest room of the exhibit. Entitled Artefacts (2011), this short movie was shot on a phone then transferred to a 35mm film. The cinematographic projector and its mythical sound, placed in the middle of the room, already participate to the composition of a landscape of artifacts both inside and outside the screen. The film itself is a document filmed in occupied Iraq on the tracks of the ancient and the new Babylon. The difference of scale between the gigantic ziggurats and the American soldiers discovering the architectural treasures of the old Babylon is striking. Iraq is somehow anthropomorphizes through its heritage and the occupation soldiers cannot help but to be humbled by its grandeur.
In Artefacts, the ancient ziggurats also dialog with the monumental symbols of Saddam Hussein’s reign. Baghdad looks like the new Babylon and again, brings a scale that is unknown to the spectator of the American militarized spectacle of rockets in the city’s night sky. Similarly C.Gaillard develops a visual correspondance between old Babylonian museum artifacts with a multitude of bulldozers and aggregated broken cars. The repetitive score reinforces the quasi-hypnotic characteristics of the film and adds an ambiguous dimension as the sound is part of the song Babylon by David Gray that U.S. soldiers were using on some Abu Ghraib prisoners as a form of torture.
Photograph by André Adolphe Eugène Disdéri (1871)
On May 16th 1871, at the core of the Paris Commune, a ceremony is organized to demolish the Vendôme Column, symbol of the Napoleonian imperialism (as usual for La Commune, refer to Raspouteam’s website for more information). Although an important amount of buildings were burnt down (for various reasons) during La Commune, the destruction of the Vendôme Column is the most expressive symbol of what I would like to call architecture in negative, or to use an oxymoron, destructive construction. On the contrary of what was affirmed by the Versaillais press and officials, this act was very far from being motivated by a thoughtless barbarian will of destruction. Indeed, the ensemble of buildings being representative -we might say symptomatic- of a given scheme of relationships of power, it is necessary for a new form of governance to subvert or demolish the same ensemble in order to avoid to reproduce the same relationships of domination of one group over another.
In their Basic Program of the Bureau of Unitary Urbanism (Programme Elementaire du Bureau d’Urbanisme Unitaire) in the Internationale Situationniste #6 (Paris, August 1961), the Situationists, through the writings of Attila Kotányi and Raoul Vaneigem, affirms the following:
All space is already occupied by the enemy, which has even reshaped its basic laws, its geometry, to its own purposes. Authentic urbanism will appear when the absence of this occupation is created in certain zones. What we call construction starts there. It can be clarified by the positive void concept developed by modern physics. Materializing freedom means beginning by appropriating a few patches of the surface of a domesticated planet.
This notion of positive void is precisely what the demolition of the Vendôme Column was about: the suppression of the power of a paradigmatic artifact to allow the construction of something new.
The prospects for the section cruel designs continues with, once again, a carceral invention from the 19th century: a treadmill for prisoners as a disciplinary apparatus. JF Ptak Science Books’ website gives us an overlook to this device implemented in the prison of Cold Field Baths in London. The principle is as simple as it sounds, a series of wheels that prisoners have to make a physical effort in order to walk on it and thus perpetuate an immobile movement. We can legitimately doubt that the energy thus produced was not used for anything and can be therefore compared to the traditional penitentiary stone breaking punishment, as useless as physically enduring.
With this example, we can interrogate the design status of the treadmill we are more familiar with, the one that populates our gyms whose vision considered coldly has something of industrial farming. What can be said of the voluntarily participation of all those bodies found in the common yet very much individual will of sweating? What is for sure is that such (expensive) systematization of human effort emptied from anything that would possibly characterizes sport, requires a piece of design that has been thought for such use. We might want to use a cinematographic example that many will know to illustrate the smallness of a difference there is between Cold Field Baths’ prisoners and those happy gym addicts who voluntarily run for miles without actually going anywhere: In Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (2003), we can see (if not, see below) the character played by Bill Murray running on a treadmill (something that probably has another name actually) that gradually accelerates to the point that his body is soon being tortured to be able to follow the rhythm imposed by the machine. The cry “help” is then both comical and tragic, expressing the complete powerlessness of the character when subjected to the cruel design.
Le Cri du Peuple by Jacques Tardi (2001)
As I wrote earlier, the 1871 Paris Commune is the historical reference of this series of articles. Despite an institutional soft form of censorship, there has been many historical interpretation of this event that saw a new form of governance created. One of them, nevertheless, remains one of the sharpest analysis of La Commune despite (or thanks to) its quasi-immediacy. Indeed, in the end of May 1871, only several days after that the Communards got exterminated by the Thiers’ administration, Karl Marx addressed a documented narrative of the past few months in Paris to the Worker International Association.
Entitled The Civil War in France this document is a vindictive text against Thiers and the other responsible for the massacre that ended La Commune in order to save the Bourgeois order in France. It is also a precise testimony of the various actions and laws undertook by La Commune. Precision is important here as the revolution triggered by this event did not only consist in rethinking a territorialization of democracy but also in implementing a sum of very pragmatic and specific measures to empower the working class:
The great social measure of the Commune was its own working existence. Its special measures could but betoken the tendency of a government of the people by the people. Such were the abolition of the nightwork of journeymen bakers; the prohibition, under penalty, of the employers’ practice to reduce wages by levying upon their workpeople fines under manifold pretexts – a process in which the employer combines in his own person the parts of legislator, judge, and executor, and filches the money to boot. Another measure of this class was the surrender to associations of workmen, under reserve of compensation, of all closed workshops and factories, no matter whether the respective capitalists had absconded or preferred to strike work.
La Commune (de Paris, 1871)
by Peter Watkins
(see also an old article
about Punishment Park) filmed in 1999 is the absolute reference for the NY Commune project as it addresses the question of the Paris Commune through a cinematographic work being itself a democratic construction. This film is basing its plot on a historical event and its reconstitution in order to question the contemporaneity of the class struggle. In order to do so, it limits its setting to a warehouse in the North of Paris, films the action through an anachronistic documentary crew and construct itself in very long shots during which the (mostly non-professional) actors express themselves in a contemporary language while improvising for most of it. Using this method, the film, in its totality, almost reaches 6 hours long (see the full version on youtube below).
P. Watkins pushed the democratic process of making a film to the point of hiring actors opposed to the Paris Commune to play the Parisians who flew the capital city or remained hidden during the three months of its existence. It does not forget either the important faults of the Commune, the execution of the clerical hostages, the cowardice of some members of the Central Committee (elected group of decision in all districts of Paris and from every professions), the strong lack of organizations in front of the Versailles Army, the crowd syndromes etc. This antagonism of facts reflects the antagonism in the numerous debates showed on the screen with actors who reach a very high level of passion as they have no problem identifying with their character who has a lot of similitude with their own person. In this regard, the pseudo-documentary crew go as far as asking those same actors if they would also risk their lives today if confronted to the same situation while they act the fight on the barricade (see the 31st chapter on the video).
The film was badly received when it was released on TV, even by its own producer, Arte (probably the only channel that is worth watching in France) as P.Watkins himself explains on his website
. The reasons for that are probably numerous and the first one is of course the institutional form of censorship that never gave to the 1871 Commune the place in history that it deserves. However, another interesting reason for it can be seen in the very means of this film. We could think of an alternate film from a liberal filmmaker who would have the favors of the industry to gather an important budget in order to create a glorious aesthetic film that would narrate an individual (love) story within the history of the Commune (a grotesque example of this form an aesthetics can be seen in the videoclip No Church in the Wild as I wrote about
earlier) . The liberal media would applause this work and through it, self-congratulate for their open-mind.
Following the narrative I created around the question of the New York Commune as an interesting scenario to investigate what would be a contemporary equivalent of the 1871 Paris Commune, I am now starting to prepare a medium length film on this very same story. I will therefore regularly publish articles about useful references on that matter.
The two first ones that has been already published here could be found through the metaphorical map I drew during the last siege on Gaza as well as the short reportage done in post-Sandy powerless Brooklyn. Of course, I am definitely interested in any additional reference my readers would find useful in this exploration.