Still from the film Naked Lunch by David Cronenberg (1991)
I am now at the end of my European trip for Archipelago and a few talks and will soon go back to my desk to write articles more regularly. I am now at the University of Sussex near Brighton where I recorded a podcast this morning with friend Lucy Finchett-Maddock (it will be released in January) that articulated a few of the idea that we had explored together in the past in the context of our epistolary exchange about architecture and the law, her contribution to the Funambulist Papers, as well as her contribution to the Disobedience workshop at Birbeck school of law (London) in 2011 that I published here in the past. The latter was about the notion of naughtiness in the literary work of William Burroughs and that is the object of this not-so-synthetic synthesis of our conversation here.
In the epistolary conversation to which I was referring above, Lucy and I had spoken about the collusion in Indian cities of eminent domain that reclaims an important amount of land to accommodate the conditions of life of the new Indian bourgeoisie, and what we then called “immanent” domain in the presence of the numerous informal settlements that claim land for the bare urban survival of the lowest social classes of the country. While the eminent domain constitutes a strategical modification of the legal system in a spirit that we could define as reminiscence of the colonial spirit, the immanent domain unfolds itself through the practice of the city and within an ambiguous interpretation of property within the legal framework. This immanent domain is what brought us back to Burroughs, and through him, the description of the Interzone that he does in Naked Lunch (1959) and Interzone (1989). The Interzone, as we discussed with Lucy, is both an international zone and a zone in which the law has been suspended. It was inspired to Burroughs by his life as a fugitive in Tangiers, as well as his consumption of heroin that has been one of the objects of his literary work. Burroughs’s descriptions of the Interzone reach a visual richness that even David Cronenberg was not fully able to introduce in his cinematographic adaptation of Naked Lunch in 1991 (longer excerpt at the end of this article):
Funambulism, Utopias, Backyards, Open Stacks, Architectures of In/security, Sonic Landscapes, Apian Semantics, Meta-Virtual Solipsism, Transcendent Delusions, Fibrous Assemblages, Circuses, Old Media, Pet Architecture, Persian Folds, DIY Biopolitics, and MORE (Eileen Joy describing The Funambulist Papers)
The Funambulist Papers Volume 1 that gathers thirty four essays of the first series of guest writer essays (plus an essay by Bryan Finoki) is now published, like for the Funambulist Pamphlets, by Punctum Books in association with the Center for Transformative Media at Parsons The New School for Design. I would like to insist on the variety of approaches and background of these authors whether we speak about their disciplines (architecture, law, cinema theory, art, history etc.) or their origins (23 nationalities) in order for this series to bring a fresh discourse in the middle of my articles that can be sometimes (often ?!) redundant. As for the Pamphlets, Punctum Books and I are keen to think of our work as part of an open access strategy and the book can be therefore downloaded for free as pdf. It is also available in its printed version on Punctum Book’s website for $15 (€13.00/£11.00). The book is also part of the “perks” of the crowdfunding campaign for Archipelago!
Thank you to Eileen Joy, Anna Kłosowska, Ed Keller, Peter Hudson, Petal Samuel, Liduam Pong, Mina Rafiee, and to Seher Shah for accepting that I use her painting “City Unknown” for the cover. Thank you very much to all the contributors as well for accepting to write pieces specifically for The Funambulist. This series will continue in the future and there should be a second volume at some point.
The book is organized in two parts, “The Power of the Line,” and “Architectural Narratives” as follows:
Posted in Architectural Theories, Books, Cinema, Essays, Fine Arts, History, Law, Literature, Philosophy, Politics, The Funambulist Papers
Still from the film Coriolanus by Ralph Fiennes (2011)
Before being a historical figure, Caius Marcius Coriolanus is a legendary one. He, as an actual person was a Roman general who lived in the fifth century before Christ. What belongs to history and what belongs to the myth about him remains unclear today. The following text will therefore address his (hi)story without the doubts and precautions that a historian would need to systematically indicate when addressing this same story.
Coriolanus’s story is brought to us by the 1608 play written by William Shakespeare. General Caius Marcius earn his name of Coriolanus by his glorious victory against the Volscian city of Corioli. Strengthen by this success, he is encouraged to run for Consul of Rome. Despite an apparent support from both the Senate and the Plebe, he has to face riots from the latter. He finally publicly expresses his despise of democratic processes and exiled himself when he is condemned as a traitor. Later, he joins his former Volscian enemies and marches towards Rome. He remains insensitive to every request of his formers friends (including his own wife), but finally accepts a peace treatise after being won over by his manipulative mother. Peace is signed between the Romans and the Volscians but Coriolanus is assassinated by the latter for his treason.
Kinkaku-Ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion) / 25th year of the Shōwa Era (1950)
Beauty sometimes reaches level of intensity that can lead to pure pathology. The Jerusalem syndrome, for example, is experienced every year by pilgrims visiting the holy city. Overwhelmed by their emotions when experiencing the old city, their pathology is characterized by hallucinations, paranoia, continuous declamation of holy texts as well as other symptoms. It is interesting to see that there is an inverse syndrome, experienced by a few Japanese people visiting Paris when they discover the extent of the discrepancy between what they were imagining the city to be, and what it really is. The Stendhal Syndrome, on the other hand, comes from the pathology experienced by French author Henri Beyle a.k.a. Stendhal when he was visiting Florence for the first time in 1817. Overwhelmed by the intensity of the works of art he was able to see almost simultaneously, he is said to have almost fainted and had hallucinations. This pathology, since then clinically recognized, kept his name since then.
The novel The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, written by Yukio Mishima in 1956 is a classic of 20th century Japanese literature. Its plot is inspired by events that occurred six years earlier when the 500-year old Golden Pavilion in Kyoto had been burnt down (see photograph above) by a young Buddhist monk. Mishima depicts a similar young monk, Mizoguchi, who develops a fascination for the Golden Pavilion as he is following his religious training. All along the book, Mizoguchi elaborates an interpretation of beauty that considers it as the main existential problem of one’s life:
J.H. Griffin under the heat lamps / Photograph by Don Rutledge (1959)
Sometimes, books find you more than the opposite. This was the case for Black Like Me (1961), a book that I found in a messy fantastic little bookstore of Montreal last week. Its title (Dans la peau d’un Noir in its French translated version) caught my eye and it took me only a few hours to finish this incredible document about the racial segregation in the South of the United States in the late 1950′s. This book, written like a personal journal, recounts the peculiar experiment of its author John Howard Griffin who, for a few weeks in 1959, transformed himself from a white body to a black one to experience the segregation ‘from the inside.’ He indeed undertook a medical treatment to darken his skin and therefore appear in the public as a black man. This transformation of a body into another was necessary as the book illustrates how there cannot be any inter-racial understanding without an actual embodiment of its implications.
It is crucial to understand that Griffin’s transformation cannot be considered like a disguise. Although he might have thought of this experiment this way, he realizes on the first day as a black man:
Power of the Lines – Lines of Power ///
text originally written in French for the 2012 issue of the journal of ETH Zurich, Trans entitled Stance (thank you to Stéphanie Savio). My apologies for the egocentrism of this article.
The graphic novel Lost in the Line (2010) materializes an allegory of my architectural manifesto. The line constitutes the medium used by the architect as a tool and a representation code. Geometrically it does not have any thickness; it is therefore difficult to imagine that one could loss oneself in it! However, when the line is drawn by the architect, it is susceptible to acquire a thickness with heavy consequences when transcribed into reality. A line that becomes a wall does not simply acquire a height, it also includes in its oxymoronic thickness a violence against the territory that it split and against the bodies that it controls irresistibly. Architecture is therefore inherently violent and each attempt to defuse its power on the bodies is useless. Maybe should we, on the contrary, accept this violence and use it in favor of our manifestos.
Lost in the Line is therefore a narrative allegory of such a position. In it, the line is both this geometrical figure traced on a piece of paper and that separates the desert into two parts, but also a fractal component and quasi-molecular that is contained in the dark matter of the graphite dropped on the paper by the pencil. The bodies, in this story, are subjugated to the violence of the lines that split the space all around them; however, they attempt to appropriate the interstices provoked by these lines in order for them to move in all directions, build new forms of dwelling, and ultimately cross the original line that yet constituted an impenetrable border at the macroscopic level.
The third volume of The Funambulist Pamphlets that gathers and edits past articles of the blog about Deleuze, is now officially published by Punctum Books in collaboration with the Center for Transformative Media at Parsons The New School. You can either download the book as a PDF for free or order it online for the price of $7.00 or €6.00. Next volume to be published will be dedicated to Legal Theory. Click here to see the other volumes of The Funambulist Pamphlets
Official page of The Funambulist Pamphlets Volume 03: DELEUZE on Punctum Books’ website.
Index of the Book
Introduction: Becoming Deleuzian
01/ Minor Architects and Funambulists: A Shared Architectural Manifesto
03/ What Is It to Be “From the Left”
04/ The Ritournelle (refrain) as a Territorial Song Invoking the Power of the Cosmos
05/ The Body as a Desiring Machine
06/ Minor Literature
07/ What Remains from Francis Bacon
08/ Transpierce the Mountains: Indian Medieval Art History by Élie Faure
09/ Processes of Smoothing and Striation of Space in Urban Warfare
10/ A Thousand Machines by Gerald Raunig
11/ Foucault and the Society of Control
12/ Control and Becoming: A Conversation Between Negri and Deleuze
13/ “I Leave it to You to Find Your Own Instrument of Combat”: Deleuze Quotes Proust
14/ “A Sunflower Seed Lost in a Wall is Capable of Shattering that Wall”
15/ Deleuze’s Wave: About Spinoza
16/ Power (Potentia) vs. Power (Potestas): The Story of a Joyful Typhoon
17/ The World of Affects or Why Adam Got Poisoned by the Apple
18/ The Spinozist “Scream”: What Can a Body Do?
19/ “Comment disposer mes tribus? Le délire est géographico-politique”
20/ The Hypochondriac Body
21/ A Short Political Reading of Leibniz’s Small Sensations
22/ The Infinite Worlds Folded in the Dresses of Yiqing Yin
23/ The Two Architectures of the Infinite Possible Worlds: Leibniz’s Pyramid & Borges’s Garden of Forking Paths
24/ Lecture by Gilles Deleuze About the Act of Creation (May 1987)
On the Notion of Failure ///
(originally published on Failed Architecture. Thank you to Mark Minkjan for asking me to write this article)
First scene: A bureaucrat is sitting in a closed room surveying the machine that continuously supplies miles of administrative registries in a sort of choreography that seems to have neither start nor end. In the background, the television reiterates its continuous flow of verbal matter. Everything is functioning as it is supposed to be, the system and its cogs are operative. Yet, in this first scene, i.e. when the film really starts, the bureaucrat in charge, bothered by a fly, resolutely kills the latter that then fall into the machine. From there, the corpse of the fly is transformed into a typo on a paper that, we will soon learn it, is a warrant of arrest. The person whose name was accidentally registered by the machine will see his apartment raided through its own walls by some sort of military police, his neighbor will undertake to prove his innocence, she will meet the main character who will ultimately rebel against the administrative system from which he was part of.
Many of you will have recognized Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil that will help me illustrate my argument in this text. This argument is that failure is an essential (it might actually be the only one) generator of narrative. But, first of all, what is failing in narrative? What is this object that is described to us as the subject of an entropy that will make it completely different from the beginning of the story to the end of it? This object is nothing else than the physical, social, emotional or cultural context in which the narrative is embedded into. Whether we are talking about the totalitarian bureaucracy of Brazil, the mental state of Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining or the lives of the inhabitants of One Hundred Years of Solitude, the narrative is always triggered by a form of disaggregation of the conditions in which it is set.
In 1956, Alain Resnais created a 20-minute long film entitled Toute la Mémoire du Monde (All the World’s Memory) that beautifully mixes documentary information with a fictitious style of filming and editing. What I just wrote is however symptomatic of a prejudice according to which documentary should tend towards objectivity in an attempt to capture the “truth” of what they are filming. We know that choosing such an ambition for a film is doomed to failure. On the contrary, when one voluntarily embraces the subjectivity of the documentarian, the chances are that the resulting movie would be much more powerful in communicating the piece of reality it is describing (we will see that soon in Peter Watkins’ movies). Toute la Mémoire du Monde is part of these movies. Through the dramatic journey of a book traveling through the registration and archival process of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (France National Library), Resnais reaches the essence of what is a library – in particular one that aims at the holistic collection of knowledge.
Before going any further in this direction, let us stop for a moment by talking about this France National Library as an architecture. It was designed by Henri Labrouste between 1859 and 1875 and its reading room, filmed by Resnais at the end of the short movie, constitutes one of the most remarkable cast-iron structure buildings in the world. One has to realize that a building like Paris’ Opéra Garnier was built at the same time than the National Library and despite its use for cast iron structure as well, it was conscientiously concealed under the classical architectural pomp of the past centuries. Labrouste’s deliberate choice to affirm the iron structure in its poetical potential (see below) constitutes the true innovation in the history of architecture. In this regard, New York’s Museum of Modern Art currently exhibits Labrouste’s work and its legacy to 19th century architecture.
As I mentioned in one the most recent articles, I was feeling odd never to have dedicated a full article to the fascinating machine invented by Franz Kafka in his short story In the Penal Colony (1919). This machine is probably the most famous torturing apparatus of the history of literature; even Le Marquis de Sade does not seem to have created such an elaborated piece of equipment (see previous article). The plot introduces a character visiting a penal colony in which he is invited to attend an execution of a disobeying soldier. The entire first half of the story involves the executioner officer who presents the dreadful apparatus to the visitor with great enthusiasm for this machine that was invented by his former master. The device is divided into three parts, the bed below, the inscriber above and, in the middle, the harrow. The latter is composed of multiple needles that draw a pattern on the back of the convict’s body. The pattern is specific to the sentence attributed to the condemned person and, for this reason, it needs to be first set-up in the inscriber. Once the machine is operating the pattern is inscribed in the body of the convict for hours. The latter does not know his sentence and has therefore to learn it in his very flesh. When the visitor disapprove of this execution, the officer frees the prisoner and takes his place on the machine, he then dies in horrific pain when the latter dysfunctions.
The following text was written by the recent augmented reality pamphlet Orwellian published by my very good friends Ethel Baraona Pohl and Cesar Reyes of dpr-barcelona and dedicated to the work of George Orwell. The three other authors are also good friends: Daniel Fernández Pascual (Deconcrete), Evangelina Guerra Luján (The Nomad) and Paco González.
See the full book on dpr-barcelona’s website
Too often when we evoke the work of George Orwell, we refer only to his two masterpieces, Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) which are the least autobiographic of his writings. It results from that an over-emphasis on the literal symbols of those two books. People see video-surveillance cameras in the street and they invoke Big Brother like if it miraculously put a spell on them. Those cameras, however, are only the spectacular part of a much broader biopolitical system that administrates and normalizes behaviors and desires.
Orwell’s own life is helpful here to determine potential means of resistance to such processes. Whether his books are simply inspired by his life, like for Burmese Days (1934), Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936) and Coming Up for Air (1939) or frankly autobiographical like in Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) or Homage to Catalonia (1938), his narratives humbly offer us a testimony of uncompromising courage.
The poem that I included at the end of this article was recently found by my friend Martin and constitutes an important document as James Graham Ballard makes explicit in it a form of manifesto – as its title, What I believe, indicates – that can be found in the entirety of his literary work. The repetition of “I believe” at the beginning of each sentence of this poem places the latter indeed in the realms of manifesto; however, the things that J.G. Ballard believes in rather consist in the construction of an aesthetics. It is important to stress the fact that this is in no way a counter-aesthetics that would be composed of all antipodes from the dominant ideal as some people could think. This is not a beauty carved in the negative of another here, but veritably a positive construction for what is fouled, what triggers an ambiguity between disgust and fascination. Such an aesthetic has been so strongly carried within his work that, along with the one of his heroes, Franz Kafka, it gains the adjective neologism status, ballardian, that people like Simon Sellars continue to investigate.
While Andy Warhol deshumanizes an actress by making an icon out of her, James Graham Ballard considers an iconic figure of the United Kingdom 1980′s politics, Margaret Thatcher, and, by bringing her back to what she really is, a body with its genital organs, its postures and its smells, he accomplishes a true political act. What I mean by that is that insisting on her body – along Ronald Reagan’s one as well – and its non-glamorous characteristics should not be considered as a form of political satire, but rather in the demystification of the spectacular (in the “Debordian” sense) myths that built those political personalities.
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).
In the 48th issue (Spring 2012) of the excellent journal Multitudes dedicated to the notion of “political counter-fiction”, Belgium sociologist Frédéric Claisse publishes an article entitled Contr(ôl)efiction: de l’Empire à l’Interzone (Control/Counter Fiction: From the Empire to the Interzone) that I propose to translate some excerpts here. As the title suggests, this article is mostly revolving around William Burroughs. His work is put within a Foucauldian perspective analyzing the society of control (see Deleuze’s text about it in a previous post). The first paragraph of the article introduces perfectly what is as stake within it: the systematic suggestion of desire as an apparatus of control (original French version of the text is at the end of the article, all translations are mine):
« How long does it take a man to learn that he does not, cannot want what he ‘wants’ » (William S. Burroughs, The Western Lands). We have to understand the importance of the suspicion that Burroughs puts in these quotation marks: I am not the author of my desire; this desire is someone else’s fiction. The autonomy that I have been graciously granted, through the means of mass communication systems among others, is nothing else than a “trick” used by a control authority to make me think that my desires are actually mine when, really, they belong to it. Words carried by this authority are words of orders whose action program is simple: contagion and dependency. The experience of addiction gave the author of the Naked Lunch a particular sensitivity to observe those processes that make us accomplice to our own slavery. Drug gives him the general scheme of human relationships in the information era. Language itself is a virus. We are all intoxicated of injunctions that colonize our conscience and use us as vehicle to go from one body to another.
DMZ is a comic book that I discovered in my research for references for the NY Commune Project. It constitutes a quite literal precedent indeed. Written by Brian Wood and drawn by Riccardo Burchielli between 2005 and 2012, it introduces the United States in a second civil war that opposes the “loyalist” states to the “free states” which declared secession from the rest of the country. The particularity of the plot which gives its title to the series can be found in the status of Manhattan within this story: a demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two camps leaving its 400,000 inhabitants to a state of anarchy in which each has to find strategies of survival. The main character of the comic is Matthew Roth, a young journalist who find himself “lost” in this war zone and discovers the cogs of the city’s organization.
The scenario is close from the one developed in John Carpenter’s film Escape from New York which will probably be the subject of a forthcoming article, but at the difference of the latter, it tries to describe episode after episode how such a society, however violent it is, can actually holds together (one of the episode is even built around an election in Manhattan). It also presents the very interesting conditions of a city under siege whose rhythm of ceasefire and heavy attacks authorizes or not a certain form of daily life. One can think of Sarajevo between 1992 and 1995 as a reference for it (Governor Island is called “Sniper Heaven” in a probable reference to “sniper alley”) but also Gaza and its supposedly “surgical” air raids. The checkpoints at each access to the island, tunnels and bridges, help us to think of it that way.
The series is composed of 72 episodes. Such extensive narrative allows its authors to develop a piece of scenario for each district or building with their own each “psychogeography”. See a few excerpts below:
Literature and cinema regularly question the metaphorical -sometimes literal- pact with dark forces that one makes to transcend him(her)self. This scheme is, of course, the one of Faust’s in classic German mythology, famously adapted by Goethe in 1808. Faust is indeed a successful scholar accepting a pact with the devil giving him the access to unlimited knowledge in exchange of his soul. This scheme will be later re-interpreted by Honoré de Balzac in 1831 with his Peau de Chagrin (The Magic Skin in its translation) which grants its owner a certain amount of wishes but deteriorate after each of them at the same time than the health of the owner. More recently, and quite note as literally the cinema of Darren Aronofsky seems to formulate a good affiliation to the Faustian Pact with films like Pi, The Wrestler or Black Swan. The latter introduces (through very unnecessary visual effects unfortunately) a dancer achieving the climax of her art to the detriment of her mental health. One can find a very similar narrative in the life of pianist David Helfgott dramatized in Scott Hieks’ film Shine (1996).
There are probably a multitude of other examples I am forgetting but, for now, I would like to exit Western culture to introduce Hell Screen (Jigokuhen), a short story written by Ryunosuke Akutagawa in 1918, few years after he wrote Rashomon, then magnificently adapted by Akira Kurosawa in cinema in 1950. In Hell Screen, Akutagawa, in his own unique subjective narrative mode, tells a story, originally from the 12th century, in which an old cantankerous renowned painter, Yoshihide in the court of Emperor Horikawa (late 11st century) who is asked by the latter to paint a screen representing hell. Yoshida, whose ambition seems to be only equal to his cruelty, paints what he sees in his nightmares and complement those visions thanks to models forced against themselves in situations he creates. This is how he unchains one of disciples for many hours and makes a bird attack another in order to paint their terrified faces. Such Sadian situations are representative of a man who exercises full power over another to a point that the former considers the later as a mere body (see previous article), in that case for artistic purposes. After a sum of similar event, one only thing is missing to Yoshihide to finish his painting. He thus asks the Emperor to burn a float for him with a woman inside to constitute the main element of this painting.
Playground Proposal by Isamu Noguchi (excerpt from The Book of Games)
First of all, I apologize for this absence, I am hoping to engage with interesting series of article soon but, in order to start the year in a good way, here is a short one about a book I have been very happy to prepare a small contribution for recently.
The Book of Games is the third issue of a series of books edited by Cristian Valenzuela Pinto. The first one was the Book of Towers and the second one, the Book of Mazes. Far from academic volumes, those books are compiling texts that are as short as insightful about the chosen theme. The very titles of these books start to give a clue about the author we can see in filigree of this series, both in its format and in its content: Jorge Luis Borges. Indeed, the Argentinean author’s way of writing about philosophical problems through narrative is found everywhere here, even in the ageless graphic design of those books.
map of the American military apparatuses on and around Manhattan as well as the strike records of the day / Map by Léopold Lambert
Two funerals, two faces of Manhattan. The first a display of strength and defiance, a jostling mass of thousands of conflict-hardened men, many brandishing weapons, pledging readiness to die for their cause over the bloodied corpse of the Commune resistance’s commander Louisa Davis.
The second consisted of a shattered family, incomprehension etched on their faces. A young father clutched the shrouded body of his 11-month-old son, a victim of the violence that is likely to cause more deaths in the days to come.
The thread connecting these two scenes could be found in the vapour trails hanging in the clear skies above Harlem, the black clouds of smoke rising from the ground and the thuds and booms punctuating the unsettling quiet of its usually bustling streets.
Beginning of the transcript…
It all started two weeks before the declaration of the Commune. Thousands of us invaded the incomplete structures of the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan. We took action when most of us were getting evicted from our homes after the rents doubled in the last few years. The occupation started as a form of protest, but quickly evolved towards a real alternative-society model. We set up camps on the hundreds of slabs of the towers and started to live in them in a new form of urban living. Multitudes of hoists were insuring the vertical communication of food, essential goods and reclaimed construction material from the ground.
The first time that the NYPD attempted to take back control of the site, we were disorganized and managed to make them retreat only after having outnumbered them. When they came back a few days later, our defensive strategy was more responsive, and the hundreds of policemen did not even succeed in entering the site. Every day we were gathering in small assemblies to debate and construct the particulars of our small society. Many people were exhausted and discussions could quickly become harsh and long, but only a limited number of people left the movement during the occupation.
One night, after a bit less than two months of common life in the towers, we were suddenly awakened by the loud noise of a flock of helicopters that quickly invaded our space with their powerful spotlights. While Special Forces were landing on the roofs, hundreds of police officers in full riot gear were climbing up the structures, arresting all the people they encountered. The surprise of the attack led to a general panic that reached a dangerous level on some overcrowded floors. It was only after few hours of systematized and serial arrests, when the towers were almost emptied, that the event that would make history occurred. Even today, it remains unclear what really happened. A small number of us were still on the ground, ready to be brought away in the MTA buses requisitioned by the NYPD, when we heard a terrifying scream and made out in the darkness of the dawn the fall of a frail body from one of the highest floors of the main tower. Whether it was a suicide, an accident, or a murder was irrelevant to us. What we knew is that this tragic event would have never occurred without the police’s armed attack. Our rage was growing on the way to Rikers Island, where the thousand of us who had gotten arrested were eventually corralled in the central courtyard.
François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters, La fièvre d’Urbicande, Casterman, 1985.
First of all, I would like to apologize for the lack of consistence in the rhythm of the recent publication of articles. Keeping a regular rhythm is difficult and I am hoping to be back to it in the few coming weeks.
Today’s article is about a classic Belgian graphic novel: La fièvre d’Urbicande (Urbicande’s fever. 1985) by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters. Urbicande is the name of the city in which the story occurs. One day a small cube made out of a mysterious material grows and form a three dimensional grid that the city soon calls “The Network.” The latter soon reaches a size which implements many bridges between the two parts of the city that were segregated from each other. Taking advantage of the megastructure it embodies, urbicande’s citizens appropriate the network and build various architectures that diversifies the urban programs (promenades, agriculture, brothels etc.) and the way they register spatially. The megastructure exists as a relatively neutral object, which can be eventually invested by a variety of architectural languages.
As a small anecdote, François Schuiten told me few years ago that B.Peeters and him heard about the invention of the internet few months after the publication of the graphic novel, and they were stunned of such a striking similitude with the narrative they created.