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.
In the first pages of the Naked Lunch, William Burroughs draws a powerful description of the logic involved in the drug trade. He uses junk as a “generic term for opium and/or derivatives including all synthetics from demerol to palfium” (Burroughs 1959) and defines it as “the ultimate merchandise.” Indeed, the scheme he describes (see below) seems to be an exacerbated illustration of the logic involved in capitalism and the trade of commodities in general. The fact that he uses this term, junk, which also means any kind of object with no particular specificity, expresses his will of blurring the limits between this extreme products, and more banal ones.
I have seen the exact manner in which the junk virus operates through fifteen years of addiction. The pyramid of junk, one level eating the level below (it is no accident that junk higher-ups are always fat and the addict in the street is always thin) right up to the top or tops since there are many junk pyramids feeding on peoples of the world and all built on basic principles of monopoly:
1 Never give anything for nothing
2 Never give more than you have to give (always catch the buyer hungry and always make him wait)
3 Always take everything back if you possibly can.
The Pusher always get it all back. The addict needs more and more junk to maintain a human form…buy off the Monkey.
Junk is the ideal product…the ultimate merchandise. No sales talk necessary. The client will crawl through a sewer and beg to buy… The junk merchant does not sell his product to the consumer, he sells the consumer to his product. He does not improve and simplify his merchandise. He degrades and simplifies the client. He pays his staff in junk.
William Burroughs, The Naked Lunch (1959)
Would Have Been My Last Complaint (2012). See full credits at end of the text
This week’s guest writer is a long time friend of mine, Camille Lacadée, with who I share the taste for living in places far from “home”! Camille is the recent author of a text for LOG 25 entitled (rama)kanabolism: Bangkok’s furious, sensuous hankering which marks its difference with the other essays as it uses words as a graphic, rhythmic and sonorous material rather than as semiotic container of knowledge. Similarly, her guest writer’s text is written as an inventory in a similar form than the one written by French poet Jacques Prevert in 1946. This one describes the recent construction of an architecture in South India by [eIf/bʌt/c] (Institute for Contingent Scenarios that she co-founded with François Roche in 2011) with Ezio Blasetti and Stephan Henrich as well as an international group of students and friends. Would Have Been… declines itself as an architecture, but also as a forthcoming film, some evocative photos like the ones above, and thus as an inventory that hides, beyond its apparent dryness, a multitude of narrative combinations (aka contingent scenarios)
Today’s guest writer’s essay, Open Stacks, is the story of those clandestine informal Cuban libraries that were created as a form of resistance against the governmental censorship of what officially constituted as “ideological diversions”. Liduam Pong, who lived her entire childhood in Havana, gives us a personal approach to describe those libraries at the back of a house, or at the bottom of a bag. In her opinion, these small and informal spaces of knowledge diffusion are more entitled to be called Public Libraries than the official institutions usually carrying this name.
No need for a very strong organized movement here, the “open stacks” are part of micro-networks developing small yet crucial forms of resistance against censorship and its suppression. Censorship is used here as a tool of constraint of the imaginary, a paranoid reaction fearing the choice of the multitude if it was to see other possible worlds. Liduam and I started to talk about the power of books (power emphasized paradoxically by its censorship) after the small presentation I did (see previous article) around this theme. The following text is her investigative work to find the tracks of stories and actors that participated to the micro-strategies of counter-censorship.
Cover of Leper Creativity by Perry Hall: Sound Drawing 07-04 (2007)
Invention is the transposition of one phase state to another, of one resonance on top of another, and it expresses therefore the deep recomposability, indeed deep recomputability, of worldly substance. Catherine Malabou speaks of the world’s plasticity as a condition of its futurity. When or where? Less than deep recomputability causes a genuinely new condition to emerge ‘later in time’ simultaneous to some postponed event, it does so ‘here’ in the recombinancy of an infinite synchronic field of the longest possible ‘now’. This is the absolute contingency of mathematics collapsing into the moratal contingency of stuff. That is, does everything that has ever existed now, in the molecular transformation of geo-programmatic recycling, and also, does everything that will ever exist already do so in another larval, disorganized distribution?
Bratton Benjamin. Root the Earth in Leper Creativity. Brooklyn: Punctum Books, 2012. P46
Jill Stoner‘s new book, Toward a Minor Architecture (MIT Press, 2012.) could constitute an excellent manifesto for The Funambulist as it uses a very important number of common references (Kafka, Borges, Ballard, Guattari, Deleuze, Bataille, Foucault, Robbe Grillet, Torre de David etc.) in order to express the political power of architecture and draw a strategy of resistive architectural processes, that she calls minor architecture. The title of the book, as well as its object, is, of course, a direct homage to Deleuze and Guattari’s book: Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (see previous article).
Minor, in both books, has to be understood in its double meaning that French and English allow. Minor in opposition, of course, but also minor as a discipline that digs within the matter of a dominant order. Kafka is indeed the author to look at to analyze these processes of resistance. Although he was Czech, he was writing in German and thus develops, through the language, what Deleuze and Guattari calls, an exercise of detteritorialization proper to any form of resistance against the dominant power (whichever this power is) over a territory (whichever this territory is). He is also the author of a short story entitled The Burrough, which literalizes the action of undermining; and for Deleuze and Guattari, he indeed writes like a dog digging a hole, a rat digging its burrow.
Kafka is therefore also the starting point of Jill Stoner’s book. In her opinion, the spaces of The Trial are the most expressive example of architecture’s oppression on the bodies. Each room is a prison in which the main character Josef K. can feel a strong claustrophobia increasing his endless delirium.
Arthur Rimbaud by Ernest Pignon-Ernest
This Wednesday (7pm) in New York, will be held a conversation with Ana Méndez de Andés for Sixteen Beaver (thank you Greg). This event, entitled beautifully Swarms, Multitude, and Activism in a Time of Monsters, connected in my mind with the book that I just re-read, The Emergence of Social Space: Rimbaud and the Paris Commune (see previous article) by Kristin Ross. In this book, K. Ross interprets the poems that Arthur Rimbaud wrote during the Paris Commune in 1871 in relation to his extended work as well as its description of space. In a chapter entitled Swarms that Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt referred to in their book Multitude, she introduces (probably inspired by Elias Canetti) three poems by Rimbaud that describes what can be called the collective revolutionary body and its multitude of microsensations.
The use of the word ‘Monsters’ is perfectly appropriate to the comparison of this event with Rimbaud’s poetry. The monsters are not to be assigned to the oppressors here, but rather to us, the multitude, as seen by them. That is how Rimbaud evokes the irreversibility of the crowd, seen not by its body’s particles but by the dominant power which uses the terminology of abjection to describe it. “That Sire, is the Scum. It drools round the walls, it rises, it seethes…” The following text is an excerpt of K.Ross’s book:
Excerpt from Le Processus by Marc-Antoine Mathieu (Delcourt 1993)
Following the three last articles in which I was preparing my reference texts in addition of those that I have been already writing in the past, this following article is an attempt to reconstitute the small presentation I was kindly invited to give by Carla Leitão for her seminar about libraries and archives at Pratt Institute. This talk was trying to elaborate a small theory of the book as a subversive artifact based on six literary authors that have in common a dramatization of their own medium, the book, within their books. The predicate of this essay lies in the fact that books are indeed subversive -and therefore suppressed by authoritarian power- as they reveal the existence of other worlds.
(1) Excerpt from Le Processus by Marc-Antoine Mathieu (Delcourt 1993)
This article is the last one in order to list and archive my references for the talk I gave this morning about the book as an object (see the recent posts about Borges and Bradbury). Once again, the universe(s) invented and drawn by Marc-Antoine Mathieu in his graphic novels fascinate me enough to write another article about them. This time, two stories, La 2,333e dimension (The 2.333th dimension) and Le Processus (The Process) that I will introduce more in detail in this next article. Until then, the following images are few of the beautiful/amazing/amusing/interesting/evocative frames that can be found in those two books. Once again, I feel sorry that only one of them has been translated in English and in German. I translated the ones presented here.
See the other links about Marc-Antoine Mathieu’s graphic novels:
- Mémoire morte (Dead Memory) (Delcourt 2000)
- La Qu… (Delcourt 1991)
- L’Origine (Delcourt 1990)
Note that L’Origine, La Qu…, Le Processus, La 2,333e Dimension as well as Le Debut de la Fin are all part of the series Julius Corentin Acquefacques, prisonnier des rêves (Julius Corentin Acquefacques, prisoner of dreams)
Still from the film Fahrenheit 451 by Francois Truffaut
I resume my short literary series of references texts whose object within the narrative (and therefore within the book) is precisely the book as an object. I will eventually articulate them together in a forthcoming article. After Jorge Luis Borges’ Book of Sand (see previous post), today is the turn of Fahrenheit 451 written by Ray Bradbury in 1953 and then adapted for cinema by Francois Truffaut in 1966. I already dedicated an article about the latter within the context of the series of the heterotopias in cinema. It addressed the end of the narrative when Montag discovers the forest of the human books, each man and woman embodying one book of their choice.
The following text is oppositely the beginning of the story in which Montag is a fireman, i.e. a man who burns books. The latter have been indeed forbidden for their ability to describe another world, and therefore, their invitation to embrace subversive (dis)orders. When Bradbury writes his book in 1953, the Nazi ‘autodafés ‘ (book burning ceremonials) still belong to a close history. In our own very recent history (this last year), the Koran has been burnt twice in a disturbing media coverage (no media, no drama). In Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche’s new historical film, Les Chants de Mandrin (Smugglers’ Songs) set in 18th century France, the police forces burn the contraband manifesto that smugglers attempt to spread around and that was printed clandestinely – as an anecdote, philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy plays the role of the pirate printer !
Books are very poetic objects. By being embodied by paper, they carry their own fragility and constitute their own combustible when a power decides to annihilate them. Books are the medium through which ideas acquires a virtual eternity and for this reason deserve to be passionately salvaged. But this eternity is indeed only virtual as a small sparkle can inflame them and destroy them forever.
Fahrenheit 451 (excerpts)
By Ray Bradbury