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Explorations in Space and Society

Explorations in Space and Society

Originally published as “Invisible and Scrutinized Bodies,” in Andrea Pavoni (ed), Lo Squaderno 35 (March 2015)

The following text will attempt to demonstrate that both processes that aim at making bodies either invisible or, on the contrary, hyper-visible operates through the same mechanisms of a productive politics of visibility. The brief of this issue evokes “homeless, illegal workers, gipsy communities, early-morning cleaners, graffiti writers… and let’s not forget urban foxes, cave spiders, mice, contagious germs,” as examples of human and non-human bodies incarnating the “urban invisibles” that gives it its title. These bodies are invisible insofar that they constitute what is perceived as absolute otherness. This argument of a social invisibility is the one dramatically described by Ralph Ellison in his Invisible Man (1952): the protagonist is an African American man writing his autobiography from the depths of a New York basement, describing his invisibility for the White bodies surrounding him. The novel opens with this paragraph:

I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me … When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination – indeed, everything and anything except me.1

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Israeli Settlements - Map by Leopold Lambert
Map of the Israeli settlements cluster between Bethlehem and Hebron / Download it here in high resolution (8.4 MB) (license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)

I came back yesterday from three weeks spent in the Levant (Beirut, Palestine, and Amman) and Egypt (Cairo) both for the purpose of Archipelago and to deepen/complexity my vision of militarized cities/architecture. It should thus result in a series of articles that begins today. This first article allows me both to release one new map, as well as to associate my writings to the conversation I had with Dror Etkes, founder of the organization Kerem Navot, which monitors the Israeli settlements’ activity in the West Bank.

The reference to the biblical character Navot (aka Naboth) in the name of Dror’s NGO is far from innocent. As he explains himself in the podcast, in the Book of Kings, Navot is the owner of a vineyard situated near the Royal Palace of King Ach’av (aka Ahab). The later coverts this land and offers Navot to buy it from him. Navot refuses as he inherited the vineyard from his ancestors. When Queen Jezebel sees the King so upset not to be able to acquire the land, she promises her husband to take the matter in her hands. She then organizes a mock trial where Navot is accused to have cursed God and the King, which result in his execution. The ownership of executed men’s land returning to the King, the latter thus acquire the desired vineyard.

Beyond the essence of the land takeover this story introduces (and that draws a parallel to the situation Dror describes through his work), we have to insist on the legal process engaged by Jezebel to obtain the land. The King does not merely slaughter Navot to steal his vineyard, a legal narrative has to be invented to claim a legitimacy to this takeover. Such a weaponization of law has been continuously at work in the West Bank since its occupation by the Israeli army in 1967, as Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s film, The Law in these Parts (2012) particularly illustrates (see past article about it). For instance, we can evoke the Ottoman Mawat (waste) law that returns the ownership of a given land to the Sultan — in contemporary cases, the Israeli army — when the latter has not been cultivated for three years in areas sufficiently far from a village not to be able to hear its roosters. The reactivation of this law by the Israeli army allowed to expropriate a tremendous amount of hectares from their Palestinian owners, especially because, often, the agriculture of a land is prevented by the means of occupation themselves.

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9-Les Halles de Baltard et le Paris perdu
Les Halles de Baltard et le Paris perdu. Jour
by François Schuiten, 2012 © Schuiten / Casterman

A PALIMPSEST CALLED PARIS: FRANCOIS SCHUITEN AND BENOIT PEETERS’S URBAN FICTIONS

Written for DAMN Magazine 48 (January 2015)

Originally a palimpsest was a parchment scraped numerous times to allow new layers of scriptures to be inscribed into its surface. The erasure was however never total, and archeologists consider such a document for its multiple layers of history gathered into one object. This notion of palimpsest can be perceived at the core of the vision proposed by François Schuiten and Benoit Peeters in their exhibition “Revoir Paris” at the Paris Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine (November 20, 2014 – March 9, 2015). In it, the two graphic novelists mix speculative projects for Paris from the mid-19th century to our era, with their own literary work that proposes visions of an imaginary Paris.

One could think of a classic categorization of these visions from the past of the 19th century to the future of science fiction. The entire exhibition is however conjugated to the future anterior (future antérieur) tense, in other words, visions of the future coming from the past. This is how we can admire many 19thcentury etchings and newspaper articles depicting a delirious future where zeppelins would land on top of medieval buildings such as Notre Dame or the Saint Jacques Tower, where metropolitain trains would circulate on three-story bridges across the city, where entire boulevards would be covered by gigantic cast-iron roof structures, etc. The exhibition also features projects that were, in fact, built, such as the great Hausmannian transformations of the city, as well as the successive World Expos (1855, 1878, 1889, 1900) that took place in it. These projects, ‘despite’ their actualization, can be also considered as speculative in the radicalism they embodied for the time in which they were implemented.

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Frontiere Invisible_0006
“You did not understand me Monsieur Nicolas…since yesterday the cartographic center is under the army’s tutelage, something that should have never stopped in the past.” All illustrations from François Schuiten & Benoit Peeters, La frontière invisible, Paris: Casteman, 2004.

The graphic novel The Invisible Frontier by François Schuiten and Benoit Peeters (2004) introduces a narrative, particularly useful in order to understand the militaristic essence of cartography. The main character, De Cremer, is a young cartographer working in a gigantic dome hosting a large-scale model of the country, Sodrovnia. The idea of a world contained within a dome reminds the one depicted in Peter Weir’s Truman Show (1998) and its suggestion of each world’s self-sufficiency — we never really perceived the limits of the dome from inside throughout the book to one exception that will be described below. More importantly however, the cartographic function of this reduced world seems to envision Lewis Carroll‘s concept of a “mile to a mile” map as he describes in Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893):

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Comic Zombies
Excerpt from Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2012)

I am currently reading To Our Friends (La Fabrique, Semiotext(e), 2014) (by that I mean that I started it yesterday evening and will finish it today!), the ‘sequel’ of The Coming Insurrection (see 2009 article). Even though I was expecting no less from the Invisible Committee, I remain mesmerized by the sharp precision that it uses in its description of today’s political situation; but I will write more about that soon in a forthcoming article. In the meantime, I wanted to dedicate a text about a point spotted in the first chapter of the book. It indicated that, in 2012, the American Federal Health Institute, also known as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — note the precautionary plural of “centers,” already telling in its speculative emergency strategy — released a short comic book foreseeing a ‘zombie virus’ in the United States. Entitled Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic, this comic claims to consider zombies as an entertaining excuse to a generalized prevention program for (all?) the American population. We could ponder a moment on the necessity that Western governments seems to currently have to produce graphic novels in order to distillate their violent policies through an apparently benign medium (see the graphic novel developed by the Australian secretary of immigration to prevent Pakistani migrants to attempt moving into the country), and we could balance them with others, conceived against these very same policies like the one created by friend Tings Chak about Canadian migrant detention centers (see past article).

The argument I would like to make is however different here. As explained in a previous article entitled “The Zombie Is a Human You Have the Right to Kill” (July 2013), I was reflecting upon an article written by friend Gastón Gordillo (December 2012) about the imaginary provided by the film World War Z (Marc Forster, 2013) that was depicting such a ‘zombie pandemic.’ The argument that both Gastón for World War Z and the Invisible Committee for Preparedness 101 are making — and others have made in the past — is that beyond the biological contamination that the zombie carries, what is really at stake in this figure is political contamination, and the revolution that comes with it. In this regard, it cannot be innocent that the zombie is the Haitian creole figure of a dead slave whose soul never went back to Africa; the fear of the insurgent black body is still operative. Similarly, it cannot be innocent that in both World War Z, and Preparedness 101, the protagonists are middle class heteronormative white couples with kids (WWZ) or a dog (P101). By “cannot be innocent,” I do not mean these ‘creative’ decisions were necessarily made consciously, but rather that the imaginary that was used to produce these works is one that corresponds to the dominant normative narrative.

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10- Literature (full cover)

The tenth volume of The Funambulist Pamphlets that gathers and edits past articles of the blog about literature 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 cinema. Click here to see the other volumes of The Funambulist Pamphlets.

Thank you to Eileen Joy, Anna Kłosowska, Ed Keller, Sophia Krimizi, Carla Leitão, Martin Byrne, Lucy Finchett-Maddock, Ethel Baraona Pohl, and Cesar Reyes.

Official page of The Funambulist Pamphlets Volume 10: LITERATURE on Punctum Books’ website.

Index of the Book

Introduction: Architectural Narratives
01/ By Revealing the Existence of Other Worlds, the Book is a Subversive Artifact
02/ Jack Kerouac: The Rooms, the Dioramas, the Maps by Sofia Krimizi
03/ Fernando Pessoa: Heteronyms by Carla Leitão
04/ Fyodor Dostoyevsky: The Tyranny of Logic, the Voice of Blood, and Inner Disharmony by Martin Byrne
05/ Antonin Artaud: Sacred Matter
06/ Van Gogh The Man Suicided by Society by Antonin Artaud
07/ “My Desire is Someone Else’s Fiction”
08/ Short Approach to the Notion of Commodity for William Burroughs and Karl Marx
09/ William Burroughs’s Interzone: The Space of the Suspended Law Contained in the Thickness of the Line
10/ Coriolanus and the State of Exception
11/ Destructive Beauty: The Stendhal/Mizoguchi Syndrome as Seen by Yukio Mishima
12/ The Faustian Pact of the Artist: Hell Screen by Ryunosuku Akutagawa
13/ Desexualizing Sade: Relations of Absolute Power on the Bodies from Sodom to Abu Grhaib
14/ The Precise Design of Torture in Kafka’s Penal Colony
15/ Minor Literature
16/ The Kafkaian Immanent Labyrinth as a Postmortem Dream
17/ Computational Labyrinth or Towards a Borgesian Architecture
18/ The Two Architectures of the Infinite Possible Worlds: Leibniz’s Pyramid & Borges’ Garden of Forking Paths
19/ George Orwell: The Post-Ideological Man
20/ Tower of Joy, Ulan Bator, April 1992

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Bayt (July 2014)
בית-منزل /// A Cartographic Manifesto Against Partitions and Borders
Download a high-quality version of the map here (4.5MB)
(license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)

Before starting this article, I would like to confess that I have been ready to write it for the last three weeks, and that I have been hesitating as the presentation of an imaginative prospect for the future of Palestine carries a part of obscenity when the people of Gaza have been living and continue to live in absolute terror for the last weeks, and when the people of the West Bank cannot demonstrate without fearing for their life. Let it be clear that the present text calls for no judicial forgiveness nor forgetfulness for the crimes that have been committed since 1947. What finally pushed me to write this article is my intuition that such a prospect is more frightening for the authors of these crimes, than it might be inappropriate for their victims. Furthermore, it does not present itself as a “solution” in the messianic sense of the “end of history” (see past article) that the usual rhetoric of one or two state solutions usually convey, it simply means to work in the realms of the imaginaries.

This present text, as well as the map associated to it, is inspired by five visions that have been already introduced on the Funambulist: Raja Shehadeh’s 2037: Le grand bouleversement (Galaade, 2011), Sophia Azeb’s “No-State Solution” (Archipelago, 2014), Sabine Réthoré’s map of a “Méditerranée sans frontières” (Borderless Mediterranean Sea, 2013), Nora Akawi‘s affirmed will of “extraordinary solutions for an extraordinary situation,” as well as the work of various thinkers and activists I met in the recent past, who dedicate all their efforts to fight for statutes and rights for the migrants of the world. I hope not to betray their inspiration with the following:

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09- Science Fiction (full cover)

The ninth volume of The Funambulist Pamphlets that gathers and edits past articles of the blog about Science Fiction 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 literature. Click here to see the other volumes of The Funambulist Pamphlets.

I have to say that science fiction is a domain that I have not address for a relatively long time and when looking at the index, I cannot help but notice the strong influence of a specific type of science fiction written by Western male authors. I will try to diversify this vision in my future writings and, in the meantime, offer the Archipelago conversation I had with Sophia Azeb about the power of imagination — that includes a science fiction literature — for the Palestinian struggle. (see also this list on tor.com)

Thank you to Eileen Joy, Anna Kłosowska, Ed Keller, Martin Byrne, Marc-Antoine Mathieu, Raja Shehadeh, Iker Gil, and Koldo Lus Arana.

Official page of The Funambulist Pamphlets Volume 09: SCIENCE FICTION on Punctum Books’ website.

Index of the Book

Introduction: When James Graham Ballard meets Philip K. Dick, what do they talk about?
01/ Science Fiction as an Inventor of Dilemmas: From Utopia to Apocalypse by Peter Paik
02/ 2037 by Raja Shehadeh
03/ Collision, Sexuality and Resistance
04/ Ballardian Landscapes: Desacralizing Thaumaturgic Modernity
05/ The Fouled Beauty of James Graham Ballard
06/ Letter to James Graham Ballard / April 14th 2009
07/ Psychotropic Houses by James Graham Ballard
08/ The Brutal Art of Enki Bilal
09/ The work of Philip K. Dick: Between Paranoia and Schizophrenia
10/ The Funambulist Papers 03 / Transcendent Delusion or; The Dangerous Free Spaces of Phillip K. Dick by Martin Byrne
11/ Untitled Narrative #002 (Feral Garage) by Martin Byrne
12/ Labyrinths and Other Metaphysical Constructions: Interview with Marc-Antoine Mathieu
13/ Overpopulated Cities / The Concentration City, Billennium, L’Origine & Soylent Green
14/ Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
15/ Never Let Me Go by Mark Romanek
16/ The Declamatory Porcelain Architectures of Serge Brussolo

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kinopoisk.ru

Image extracted from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
The Abu Ghraib photographs are at the end of this article.
Warning: they are highly disturbing and potentially traumatizing.

While driving on the roads of the North American West Coast to continue my Archipelago journey, I had the opportunity to re-listen to the five hours of podcast that Les Nouveaux Chemins de la Connaissance (French radio program) had dedicated to the Marquis de Sade in 2011. Despite the high quality of this program and the great interest I had to follow it, I have to confess that the reading that was being made through it of Sade’s literature appears to me as missing a tremendously important approach to his work for which I would like to argue here. In order to do so, I would like to provocatively expurgate our reading of Sade from sexuality. Of course, by that I do not mean that we should withdraw the descriptions of sexual acts that populate his writings; there would not be much left. What I mean is that, for the sake of this text, we should not follow the example of many commentators who described the taste that Sade had for the scandal and transgression against authority and in particular a religious one — taste for which he spent 25 years of his life in prison — in other words, not to look at sexuality within its rules and norms, but rather, to consider sexuality as a set of relationships between the bodies.

Because of the extreme radicality of the sexual acts that Sade describes in his attempt to shock his readers, we tend to consider at the same level every sexual relations. They are however not the same in Philosophy in the Bedroom (1795) where they constitute an apprenticeship accepted by the student Eugénie or in Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue (1787) where the main character is consistently abused, exploited and raped all along the plot. Desexualizing Sade therefore consists in keeping our epidermic reactions to the examples where a body exercises an absolute power over another like it is often the case in Sade’s narratives. The paramount of such exercise is described inexhaustibly in The 120 Days of Sodom (1785) that was adapted by Pier Paolo Pasolini in Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975).

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image 2
Image: Alan Prohm

The 53rd Funambulist Paper associates the editorial line of the forthcoming second volume centered around the body with an additional contribution to the series of texts about the work of Arakawa and Madeline Gins. The following essay, written by Alan Prohm, friend of the Reversible Destiny Foundation (now lead by Joke Post and Momoyo Homma) and instigator of the The BodyBuilding Project (3-Week residency at the Watermill Center, following 1-year course in procedural architecture and embodiment taught at the University of Art and Design Helsinki, now Aalto University). In this literary/analytic text, Alan examines Arakawa and Gins’ concepts of “landing sites” and the “architectural body”.

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