When I first went to Chandigarh in 2009, I reasonably visited the main buildings designed by Le Corbusier, troubling the urban grid only by the rather conventional tour of Nek Chand’s rock garden. When I came back last month however, I got the opportunity to explore Burail, one of the few villages of Chandigarh, thanks to my former colleague in Mumbai, Mayank Ojha who dedicated his undergraduate thesis research to it and from whom I owe the following information. Situated in the city’s Sector 45, Before the construction of the capital city of both Indian Punjab and Haryana in the 1950′s following the partition of India and Pakistan — Lahore being the capital of Pakistani Punjab — Burail was a village that could not do much against the eminent domain that expropriate its agricultural land. The farmers managed to organize however to obtain the right to keep the political autonomy on the village’s land itself within the limits of the “red tape.”
With time, the village became an intense place of economic production where people of Chandigarh go for products they do not find in the rest of the city (car mechanical parts, household electrical equipment, fresh vegetables…) and where migrants from outside the city can find shelter. Such an economic activity without urban codification led the village to grow significantly in density to become a built mass where the sky is often framed narrowly by the various vertical extension brought to older buildings. The labyrinthine aspect of the small streets inside Burail contrasts with the square properties of its limits that create a form of inhabited wall as an interface between the inside and the outside.
Madeline Gins with Joke Post at the recent opening of the Biotopological Scale-Juggling Escalator on December 20, 2013 (photo by Momoyo Homma)
This is not an obituary.
Since yesterday morning Madeline Gins is no longer fighting against death; she finally embraced its entropic forces and her body will soon disperse in the “bioscleave,” a word Arakawa and her invented to describe the unfathomable forces at work in the material word. This platform is not an appropriate place for emotions, not even for those felt for a dear friend and inspirational mentor. This is why, I would rather celebrate the joy that was named Madeline Gins by, once again, writing about her work instead. Punctuating death is still to misinterpret it into an event; it was at work all-along, life — and what a life! — was the creativity resisting it.
Before exploring Gins’s writings, and since no poetic text — probably no text for that matter — could not possibly be considered the same way depending on the way it is read, I would like to give you the opportunity to hear her words through her voice directly as I recently recorded her, reading what she calls “the Reversible Destiny Declaration” :
I am very happy to announce that Archipelago (the-archipelago.net) is now an operational podcast platform, functioning in parallel with the Funambulist that got a new design for the occasion. As of today, Archipelago will release two new podcasts every week. The three starting podcasts are conversations that I had with architect David Garcia, gender and women studies professor Mimi Thi Nguyen and legal theorist Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (see below).
All podcasts are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License as a contribution to open-access since Archipelago’s ambition is to propose alternative modes of transmissions of knowledge than the universitarian one.
This ambition authorizes a broad editorial line that could be summarized as the impossibility to find a neutrality in any form of design, whether the latter creates an architecture or a law, a film or a painting.
Once again, a big thank you to all the contributors to the crowdfunding campaign who provided a starting operating budget for the platform.
I wish you an excellent sonic year!
Saartjie Baartman (1789-1815), often known by her colonial nickname, the “Hottentot Venus,” is the tragic figure of the colonized body par excellence. During her short existence, and even after, her body has been the fetish of sadism — one can think of Sade’s Justine — in its spectacular, racist and colonialist aspects. The film Black Venus (2010) by Tunisian French director Abdellatif Kechiche is particularly helpful to explore the tragic chronology of Baartman’s life (after 1810), and I therefore recommend its viewing.
Until 1810, Baartman was a slave in an Afrikaner farm in South Africa. She is then brought to London where she becomes the object of a freak show for the particularity of her body’s morphology. Her hips and buttocks are indeed hypertrophied and her genitals bulging. Kechiche’s film dramatizes the spectacularity of her presentation to the (paying) spectators: she is displayed like a wild and dangerous animal that each is invited to touch as a challenge to his/her fear. She is then moved in Paris where she becomes the subject of scientific paintings insisting on her body’s morphology presented as one of the remain of prehistoric human bodies. Her genitalia being a particular object of attention for scientists, she is repeatedly offered money to display it to an academic audience. She is finally subjected to prostitution in private parties at first, then in a brothel and dies of an unknown disease (perhaps small pox or syphilis) in 1815. The tragic story that objectifies her body is however not over as it is dissected and placed into formalin by a French anatomist and zoologist that uses his research to attempt to demonstrate in front of the French National Academy of Medicine (see the still of Kechiche’s film above) a racist theory of evolution for which black bodies are considered as pre-humans. The mold created on her corpse will be exhibited by the prestigious Musée de l’Homme in Paris until 1974, and it is only in 2002 that the demands from the Khoïkhoï (racistly called “Hottentot” by the Afrikaners), supported by the post-Apartheid South African government, will be met by the French government in order to send back Baartman’s remains to be buried on her native land.
I am happy to open the 2014 series of article by sharing the rich content of the book The Gift of Freedom: War, Debt, and Other Refugee Passages written by Funambulist friend Mimi Thi Nguyen who I quoted many times recently, mostly for her work about the relationship between fashion and politics (listen to the Archipelago podcast we recorded together). This time, however, I would like to insist on the precise reading that Mimi does of the imperialist mechanisms through the invention of a political-philosophical concept, “the gift of freedom.” This gift, ‘offered’ — often through devastating wars — by the imperialist governments of the United States and post-colonialism Europe to nations that are craving for freedom according to the imperialist narrative, is defined by Mimi as “an assemblage of liberal political philosophies, regimes of representation, and structures of enforcement that measure and manufacture freedom and its others” (p12). She further insists on the production of nonrefundable debt that such a gift produces, as well as the manifestation of racial ideologies that are at work in the actions and discourses operating around it.
Race and the Education of Desire (Duke University Press, 1995) by Ann Laura Stoler constitutes an articulation of Michel Foucault‘s 1976-1984 History of Sexuality with the knowledge gathered by post-colonial studies. As Stoler recognizes herself in the book’s epilogue, we always ‘blame’ Foucault for not having make his work exhaustive (see my own past blame!), but it belongs to us to construct works after his own. In the specific case of this book, Stoler starts by considering what Foucault has written and said about colonialism and racism, which is not as prominent in his work as other notions have been (like pasteurism or governmentality).
The essence of Foucault’s work on sexuality is that we tend too often to have a reading of the normative processes at work in sex based on the idea that sexuality is being repressed. This reading can be partially explained by the importance of Sigmund Freud’s work that favors such interpretation. Foucault, on the other hand, sees in sexuality a biopolitical governmentality at work and the expression of various relationships of power as recalls Stoler in the beginning of her book:
We have seen many times how the State of Israel and its army manage to maintain the status quo of the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as the incarceration of the Gaza strip, through the spectacle of sparing the “international” opinion (understand the opinion of countries that could actually do something against these conditions). In order to do so, the I.D.F. provides a simulacrum of submission to the international legislation (see past article “Law as a Colonial Weapon“), which disguise military practices that violate this legislation.
THE POSITIVE HOLES OF REVOLUTIONARY URBANISM ///
(originally written in French for Swiss magazine Tracés as a synthesis of two older articles: “Destruction of Vendôme Column in 1871: Architecture in Negative,” and “The Guillotined Statue of Empress Joséphine in Martinique: The Incarnation of an Anti-Colonial Narrative.“)
On May 16, 1871, the Paris Commune dramatically organized the destruction of the Vendôme Column on top of which was sitting a statue of Napoleon. Many other Parisian buildings were burnt during these three revolutionary months of 1871; nevertheless, the organized destruction of the Vendôme Column – now rebuilt the same way – remains the political paradigm of what I would like to designate through an oxymoron: constructive destruction.
I do not mean to play on words here, but rather to evoke the process that is needed to trigger when there is a profound change of political sovereignty within a given society: the inversion or the subversion of physical or/and symbolical mechanisms of the relationships of power as they used to be effectuated before the concerned revolution. Since no architecture can be said to be neutral vis-à-vis a political regime, whether at the transcendental level of the authority, or at the immanent level of the norm, it is then not surprising that architecture ‘pays the price’ of the construction of new relationships of power.
The seventh volume of The Funambulist Pamphlets that gathers and edits past articles (as well as additional illustrations) of the blog about what I came to call “Cruel Designs,” 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 Arakawa and Madeline Gins. Click here to see the other volumes of The Funambulist Pamphlets.
Thank you to Eileen Joy, Anna Kłosowska, Ed Keller, Jonas Staal and Eduardo McIntosh
Index of the Book
Introduction: What Is Cruel Design?
01/ Violence on the Body: A Manual for the French Police Escorting Illegal Immigrants
02/ The Handcuffs of the Future
03/ The Straightjacket & the Guillotine
04/ The Thanatopolitics of Death Penalty
05/ The Precise Design of Torture in Kafka’s Penal Colony
06/ What Constitutes “the Act of Killing”
07/ The Absolute Power of a Body over Another in Sade
08/ The Corset: “A Body Press,” Paradigm of the Violence of Design on the Body
09/ Carceral Treadmill
10/ To Design a Prison, or Not to Design a Prison: What About a Hippocratic Oath for Architects?
11/ From Student Design to Conservative Policies: Dutch Politician Fleur Agema’s Scheme as Revealed by Jonas Staal
12/ The Open Warehouse as the New Carceral Paradigm
13/ The Eastern State Penitentiary Panopticon: The Materialization of the Diagram and Its Fallibility
14/ The Ordinary Violence of the Colonial Apparatuses in the West Bank
15/ Cruel Bench
16/ Innocent Stairs ? The Killing Steps of the Mayans
17/ Sadian Architecture / An Architectural Narrative by Eduardo McIntosh
The new issue of MAS Context dedicated to Narratives used by graphic novels and comics to question architecture is guest edited by architectural scholar Koldo Lus Arana and architect-cartoonist Klaus. In this regard, I had the double honor to have both my graphic novel Lost in the Line (included in Weaponized Architecture) and a recent interview I conducted with my favorite graphic novelist Marc-Antoine Mathieu published in this issue. I have been writing relatively often about his work, but this following interview (to be preferably read on MAS Context’s website itself) presents a conversation that examines more in detail the way Mathieu invents new world and develop through them a metaphysical wandering. Big thank you to Koldo and Iker Gil for this opportunity:
Marc-Antoine Mathieu is a French graphic novelist who, book after book, explores new ways to integrate the very form of the graphic novel, as an integrative part of the labyrinths of his narratives. His series Julius Corentin Acquefacques, prisonnier des rêves (Julius Corentin Acquefacques, Prisoner of Dreams), which gathers six books from 1990 to 2013, in particular, deconstructs one by one every formal component of the graphic novel (cover, frame, perspective, two-dimensionality, page direction, and flatness) while composing metaphysical considerations of what reality really is. As said in the following conversation, he seeks “for the loss of control, the Borgesian vertigo,” in which he himself as the author would get lost and let the world he instigated acquire a certain autonomy.
Quarantine and Containment: David Garcia’s Vital Ethics ///
Text originally written for DAMno41 Magazine
The following text is inspired by a conversation I had on the 27th of September 2013, with Copenhagen based architect David Garcia, in the context of my podcast-platform project called Archipelago. The topic I had chosen was inspired by the work of David’s office, MAP Architects, which dedicated its second issue of the series of publications Manual of Architectural Possibilities to the question of quarantine and containment. The principle is simple: one side of a folded, map-like document contains an inventory of factual and analytical studies assembled and formalised to meet the needs of the issue, while the reverse side introduces a few architectural projects, this time those specifically designed by David’s office.
montage based on Graphic Standards and Ernst Neufert’s work originally created for Weaponized Architecture: The Impossibility of Innocence (dpr-barcelona, 2012).
TRANSGRESSING THE IDEALIZED NORMATIVE BODY ///
(originally written in French for Swiss magazine Tracés based on two older articles: “A Subversive Approach to the Ideal Normatized Body,” and “The Modernist Ideology of a Normative Body.“)
We all have in mind Leonardo da Vinci’s ink drawing dedicated to Roman architect Vitruvius whose motto “Solidity, Utility, Beauty” is still engraved in the Pritzker prize’s medal nowadays. The Vitruvian Man is thus this drawing introducing the anatomical proportions of a theoretically perfect man, placed in the center of the universe. Since this body is placed in the center of the universe, it seems reasonable to think that the universe was built around it and adapted to it. In the 20th-century, several architects also undertook to elaborate a body around which architecture could be conceived. We can think of Le Corbusier’s Modulor (1945) of course, as well as Ernst Neufert’s bodies (1936) that both still constitute absolute references for architects of multiple countries. We can also refer to Henri Dreyfuss’s characters, Joe and Josephine (1974), who live in a graphic standard world whose dimensions are invading the entire available space. What is the height of the table, the chair, the door? Those are only a few instances of architectural components that, not only seem to be given to us without letting us questioning them, but that also constitute a fundamental problem as far as the standardization of the body as well as their own.
The forty-sixth Funambulist Paper, written by Nandita Biswas Mellamphy, closes this series of nine texts that invoke the philosophy of Gilbert Simondon (three of which were written by guest writers). Entitled “Ghost in the Shell- Game: On the Mètic Mode of Existence, Inception and Innocence,” the following text proposes a reading of two films, Mamoru Oshii’s 2004 Inosensu (Ghost in the Shell 2) and Christopher Nolan’s 2010 Inception, through an anthropomorphized-but-never-humanized approach to machinic consciousness in the first case, and a machinic approach to human consciousness in the second one. Nandita therefore illustrates the blurriness of the limits that are usually set in between these two entities, when in fact neither the human nor the machine can be seen as essences. She goes as far as connecting the concepts mètis (which means crafty manipulation) and métissage (which describes the craft of intermingling and/or fabricating) to talk about the mode of existence of the technical object in relation to the mode of existence of the human being. The mètic, morever, is also the resident alien in ancient Greece, a similar situation for the technical object per Simondon which it convenes us to understand in order to construct new relational modes with/in it.
The Funambulist Papers 45 /// Ghost in the Shell-Game: On the Mètic Mode of Existence, Inception and Innocence
by Nandita Biswas Mellamphy
I begin, then, properly, in and with the proper voice (that of Pierre Ménard). To begin, then, anew: The purpose of this study is to create an awareness of the significance of technical objects. Culture has become a system of defense against technics; now, this defense appears as a defense of man based on the assumption that technical objects contain no human reality. We should like to show that culture fails to take into account that there is a human reality in technical reality and that, if it is to fully play its role, culture must come to incorporate technical entities into its body of knowledge and its sense of values. Recognition of the modes of existence of technical objects should be the result of philosophical thought, which in this respect has to achieve what is analogous to the role it played in the abolition of slavery and in the affirmation of the value of the human person. The opposition established between culture and technology, between man and machine, is false and is not well-founded; what underlies it is mere ignorance or resentment. Behind the mask of a facile humanism it hides a reality that is rich in human efforts and natural forces, a reality that constitutes the world of technical objects, mediators between nature and man.
DISCLAIMER: Before you read any further, please know that if you have not watch Alfonso Cuarón‘s new film, Gravity, and that you intend to watch it, you probably should not read any further. Despite the illustrative quality to my point that some images were providing, I also preferred not to include an evocative one here, so not to spoil the effects that this film will trigger in you. I will assume that whoever read what follows is either someone who already saw the film or someone who do not mind to read an interpretation of this film before actually watching it.
The question of weight and gravity in films has been an interest to me for quite a while, and this following text will take its part in the sequel of five articles written in the past:
- The Weight of the Body Falling (sept 2011)
- Spinozist Collision (sept 2011)
- Gravity Dances (dec 2011)
- The Weight of the Body Dancing by Pina Bausch as filmed by Wim Wenders (jan 2012)
- Applied Spinozism: The Body in Kurosawa’s Cinema (mar 2013)
In these articles, I was insisting on the importance given to material encounters in films and photographs revealing the true weight of things, and thus the weight of the material assemblages that bodies (living and non-living) constitute. I was often making this reading through Spinoza’s philosophy that insists on the relation that these encounters compose.
A few months ago, I presented the work of dancer/philosopher Erin Manning and her book, Relationscape (MIT Press, 2009) through a Bergsonian interpretation of movement. Her most recent book, Always More Than One: Individuation’s Dance (Duke University Press, 2013) indicates twice in its very title its credit to Gilbert Simondon‘s philosophy. This volume continues to construct a philosophy of the dancing body, continuously “taking form” in relation of its environment. Dance is not necessarily on stage and does not necessarily requires music (at least, not music that knows that it is music) in the case of individuation’s dance. “There are techniques for hoeing, for standing at a bus stop, for reading a philosophical text, for taking a seat in a restaurant, for being in line at a grocery store,” says Manning (p33) using the Simondonian terminology.
Interpreting this last passage in terms of normativity would be completely misunderstanding Manning’s dicourse. The techniques she describes do not involve a normalized body on which these techniques would be layered: they are proper to each body’s specificity. In fact, what Simondon brings to the concept of body according to her consists in the refusal of thinking a predetermined form for the body, which brings us back to the first episode of this week in critique of the hylomorphic scheme:
The two last episodes of this “Simondon week” has been familiarizing us with the main concept of Gilbert Simondon‘s work: individuation. In a few words, we can redefine it as the operation in which some pre-individual embraces its becoming and supply a “solution to a problem” to form an individual. An individual is always incomplete and find itself (whatever it might be) always involved in new processes of individuation until its death/obsolescence. Simondon nevertheless does not stop at this concept of individuation developed in L’individu et sa genèse physico-biologique, he later invents the concept of transindividual in his book, L’individuation psychique et collective (Psychical and Collective Individuation, Aubier 1989). Transindividuation constitutes the operation in which a certain amount of individuals (born from successive operations of individuation) construct a relation between themselves that ultimately form a consistent aggregate that Simondon calls transindividual. It is important to understand this concept, not only in social terms as this text will attempt to do, but also in a less anthropocentric manner as I tried to do in a past article entitled “The Body Is not One, It Is Legion.” The idea behind this biblical reference was to insist on the composite characteristics of a body (human/animal or not) that is itself the continuous result of successive operations of transindividuation.
The fifth episode of the “Simondon week” is rather special as it is also the forty-fourth Funambulist Papers that friend Sarah Choukah was kind enough to write for us. Sarah shares her time between being a brilliant scholar and a bio-hacker (as well as a mycologist cook!) that she investigates in the following text in relation to the work of Gilbert Simondon. Her essay is thus an attempt to invent an applied simondonianism to the relatively recent political practice of bio-hacking, a Do It Yourself resistance against the laboratorian/pharmaceutical industries that are deeply entangled within capitalist logic. The fourth episode ended on this notion of associated milieus developed by Simondon; this is where Sarah starts her text.
The Funambulist Papers 44 /// Of Associated Milieus
by Sarah Choukah
Recently as I was strolling through my neighborhood in Montreal, I came across a toy I saw kids play into in the eighties: the Cozy Coupe car with a bright yellow body and a red foot-powered chassis, a popular toy around that time. I remembered how the car’s cockpit allowed interfacing with familiar surroundings while giving a first sense of leg-powered, seated motility outside the house.
Let us continue to think of the concept of life for Gilbert Simondon after Spinoza. In my knowledge, Spinoza never gives a clear definition of life in his Ethics. What we can draw from his philosophy to define life would be related to an intensity of movement of the substance concentrated within a body. Spinoza never seem to think in term of history of the world, and it would be an anachronism to attribute to him a first sketch of the evolution as thought by Charles Darwin two centuries after him; however, his ethics allows to think Darwin’s interpretation of the world since Spinoza thinks of the infinite substance that is the world as continuously in movement and transforming the bodies formed in it. Both of these narratives respect the antic principle according to which “natura non facit saltus” (nature does not make jump); in other words, life emerges gradually and not in thresholds. Simondon who is a thinker of the 20th-century, uses the scientific knowledge of his time in biophysics, electronics and thermodynamic to think of a new definition of life.
Alexandros Tsamis, Surrogate House, MIT 2010.
In the second episode of this “Simondon week,” I was evoking the instance of the wood evoked by Gilbert Simondon to address the question of “implicit forms” within any “raw matter.” That is from where I would like to start this article. In this passage from L’individu et sa genèse physico-biologique (The Individual and its physical-biological genesis), Simondon describes the various technical means that allows a crafts(wo)man to cut a piece of wood in order to make a beam out of it. In a detailed description of these techniques, he contrasts those that involve an accurate knowledge of the matter itself, that is the understanding of what its implicit forms might be, from those that might facilitate the task, or even sometimes allow a form to be more conform to the idealized abstract idea of the form (“a beam must be parallelepiped”), yet ignore the essence of the matter. In this regard, Simondon repeatedly uses the term haecceity (eccéité) to describe the particularity, the individuality, of each material assemblage considered (my translation):
Gilbert Simondon is often approached through his writings about technical objects, in particular, through his 1958 book On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects (translated in English by friends Nandita Biswas Mellamphy, Dan Mellamphy and Ninian Mellamphy). As we will see this week, the technical objects are only one aspect of his work, but I am interested to introduce it here as it can be read as the elaboration of a societal ethics that highly contrasts the capitalist one. Although Simondon has a different vision for this ethics than the Marxist one as we will see further, he regularly refers explicitly or not to Karl Marx when he evokes the alienation of the industrial workers. In this regard, the following passage from Capital is fundamental to understand the Marxian definition of capitalism in the separation of the laborer, the means of production and the commodity itself: