Monday, December 8, 2014

The alternative - Modernity or Postmodernity - is False

"Modernity appears as an ideology - that is to say, a series of more or less developed representations that concealed a practice. Modernity was promising. What did it promise? Happiness, the satisfaction of all needs. This promesse de bonheur - no longer through beauty, but by technical means - was to be realized in daily life. In fact, the ideology of modernity above all masked daily life as the site of continuity, by floating the illusion of a rupture with the previous epoch. Now that this illusion has been dispelled and modernity dismissed, discussions about its essence and significance have lost some of their interest. What survives of this period is the general slide from a concreteness derived from nature towards the abstract-concrete as the mode of social existence, something that extends to works of art. The predominance of abstraction in art goes together with the extension of the world of commodities and of the commodity as world, as well as the unlimited power of money and capital, which are simultaneously highly abstract and extremely concrete. The art work thus renounces its previous status: proximity to, and even imitation of, nature. It is detached and released from naturalism. This likewise goes together with the short-lived triumph of the most abstract signs - for example, banking and monetary dummy entries - over what remains of concrete reference systems. 
   "The crisis has brought about the separation of modernity and modernism. If the career of modernity as ideology is over, modernism as technological practice is more than ever with us. For the time being, it has taken over from modernism as regards a possible real transformation of daily life. In short, modernity as ideology now appears as an episode in the development and realization of the capitalist mode of production. In contradictory fashion, this ideology provoked its own specific opposition: the heedless promise of novelty - immediately and at any price - has generated a return to the archaeo and the retro, the optimism of modernity becoming tinged with nihilism. From this great confusion emerges modernism: a clear field for the deployment of technology and the proclamation of the end of ideologies (the ideology of the end of ideology), and yet the advent of new myths to which we shall have to return, such as the myth of transparency in society, the state and political action. 
   "How can we avoid the conclusion that the alternative - modernity or postmodernity - is false? Posed in this way, the question avoids the main thing: technological modernism, its import, its capacity for intervention in daily life; and the related problem, which is simultaneously theoretical and political, of controlling technology. Meanwhile, daily life goes on."

—Henri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, v.3 [written 1945-47] (Verso, 2014) p723-724.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Alternative ways of thinking about how social space...still offers positive choices we must learn to make

Qualifying Caveat: "Although Martin Heidegger's essay on 'The Origin of the Work of Art,' written in 1935-6, is mystified, primitivizing, and suspiciously Indo-Eurocentric, it may be usefully adjusted to provide alternative ways of thinking about how social space has been artifactually shaped, thus further to provide a pattern for the beginnings of traditions of artifact- and place-making... [W]e are not simply 'being-there,' we are being-there in determinate embodied ways, in spaces and times shared with others... [D]angerous as the modern world has been and remains... it still offers positive choices we must learn to make in terms of the values rooted in a revised being-in-the-world." 

—David Summers, Real Spaces (NY: Phaidon, 2003) p19.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Knocking off pieces of The Monument to Study and Use in the Making

"They are back, the angry poets. But look! They have come with hammers and little buckets, and they are knocking off pieces of The Monument to study and use in the making of their own small tombs."

—Mark Strand, The Monument, #34 (NYC: Ecco, 1978). 

Posted on learning of the author's death.  In today's NYTimes obituary, it is stated that he studied art at Yale under Josef Albers. Architectural symbolism figures in many of his poems.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Shake Loose Awake and Build the City Again

"...saw this corner with a mesh of rails, shuttling
     people, shunting cars, shaping the junk of
     the earth to a new city.
The hands of men took hold and tugged
And the breaths of men went into the junk
And the junk stood up into skyscrapers and asked:
Who am I? Am I a city? And if I am what is my name?
Early the red men gave a name to a river,
     the place of the skunk,
     the river of the wild onion smell,
Put the city up; tear the city down;
     put it up again; let us find a city...
Every day the people sleep and the city dies;
     everyday the people shake loose awake and
     build the city again.
The city is a tool chest opened every day...
The city is a balloon and a bubble plaything
     shot to the sky every evening, whistled in
     a ragtime jig down the sunset.
The city is made, forgotten, and made again...
Every day the people get up and carry the city...
     lift it and put it down."

—Carl Sandburg, excerpts from The Windy City [ca1922] 

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Door Becomes the Image

"The formula according to which both [separating and connecting] come together in human undertakings ... is something which can guide all our activity. In the immediate as well as the symbolic sense, in the physical as well as the intellectual sense, we are at any moment those who separate the connected or connect the separate. / The people who first built a path between two places performed one of the greatest human achievements... The will to connection had become a shaping of things, a shaping that was available to the will at every repetition ... This achievement reaches its zenith in the construction of a bridge... The bridge gives to the eye the same support for connecting the sides of the landscape as it does to the body for practical reality. ... The bridge confers an ultimate meaning elevated above all sensuousness ... and brings it into a visible form in the same way as a work of art does... when it puts the spiritually gained unity of the merely natural into its island-like ideal enclosedness. / Whereas in the correlation of separateness and unity, the bridge always allows the accent to fall on the latter [unity], ... the door represents in a more decisive manner how separating and connecting are only two sides of precisely the same act. The human being who first erected a hut, like the first road builder, revealed the specifically human capacity over against nature, insofar as he or she cut a portion out of the continuity and infinity of space and arranged this into a particular unity in accordance with a single meaning. [The door] transcends the separation between the inner and the outer. Precisely because it can also be opened, its closure provides the feeling of a stronger isolation... than the mere unstructured wall. The latter is mute, but the door speaks. It is absolutely essential for humanity that it set itself a boundary, but with freedom, that is, in such a way that it can also remove this boundary again, that it can place itself outside it... Thus the door becomes the image of the boundary point at which human beings actually always stand or can stand. ... [I]n the unity [of an occupied threshold], the bounded and the boundaryless adjoint one another, not in the dead geometric form of a mere separating wall, but rather as the possibility of a permanent interchange... Whereas the bridge, as the [walkable] line stretched between two points, prescribes unconditional security and direction, life flows forth out of the door from the limitation of isolated separate existence into the limitlessness of all possible directions."

—Georg Simmel, "Bridge and Door" [1909], in Simmel on Culture, David Frisby & Mike Featherstone, eds. (London: Sage, 1997) p170-173.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Always Dream and Function

"...architecture is always dream and function, expression of a utopia and instrument of a convenience."

—Roland Barthes The Eiffel Tower (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1979) p6.

Communication is Intersubjective

"Human communication is never one-way.  Always, it not only calls for response but is shaped in its very form and content by anticipated response.  ... I have to be somehow inside the mind of the other in advance ...and he or she must be inside my mind. To formulate anything I must have another person or other persons already 'in mind'. This is the paradox of human communication. Communication is intersubjective." 

— Walter J. Ong, "Some Theories" in Orality and Literacy [first 1982] (Routledge 2012) p173.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Fugitive Places

"I see home as constituted of fugitive places; it is through memory that we organize and collate these places into homes."

— Michelle Elrick, from "Salzburg," Part 3 of "Homestead: Venturing into the Poetics of Place"


Thursday, October 30, 2014

In the Deepest Most Serious Sense a Play Ground

"The ordinary division of our lives into work and play makes work the endless pursuit of a donkey's carrot into the future, and play a relaxation from this that reminds us of the carefree days of our childhood. But the genuine human energy of the arts and sciences converges on a world where work and play have become the same thing. A gathering together of such people with such interests, including this one, would be in the deepest and most serious sense a play ground, a common meeting point where all forms of language are interchangeable, all statements of identity, whether metaphors or equations, balance out, and scientists and humanists shake the past and the future out of their bones and join together in a present life."

— Northrop Frye, "The Bridge of Language" [lecture, 1981] in On Education (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1988) p167.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Cézanne was an architect

"Cézanne was an architect."

— Philippe Sollers [Voire écrire, 2003], Writing and Seeing Architecture (Univ. of Minn Press, 2008) p120.  (Sollers' statement was made in conversation with the architect Christian de Portzamparc.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Addicted to deep, usually violet folds of velvet.

"The original form of all dwelling is existence not in the house but in the shell. The shell bears the impression of its occupant. In the most extreme instance, the dwelling becomes a shell. The nineteenth century, like no other century, was addicted to dwelling. It conceived the residence as a receptacle for the person, and it encased him with all his appurtenances so deeply in the dwelling's interior that one might be reminded of the inside of a compass case, where the instrument with all its accessories lies embedded in deep, usually violet folds of velvet. What didn't the nineteenth century invent some sort of casing for! Pocket watches, slippers, egg cups, thermometers, playing cards — and, in lieu of cases, there were jackets, carpets, wrappers and covers."

— Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project (Cambridge: Harvard U Press, 1999), pp.220-221, as cited in Neil Leach Camouflage (MIT Press, 2006) p18.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

luxury, a primitive art

"One of the primitive functions of art is the production of luxury goods for a ruling class"

— Northrop Frye "Design as a Creative Principle in the Arts" [1966], in The Critical Path and Other Writings on Critical Theory 1963-1975 (U. Toronto 2009) p229.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

On the Serious Freedom of Art and Play Penetrating All the Dimensions of Social Life

"Insistence on the opposition between life and art is tied to the experience of an alienated world. And failure to recognize the universal scope and ontological dignity of play is an abstraction that blinds us to the interdependence of both [life and art]. Play is less the opposite of seriousness than the vital ground of spirit as nature, a form of restraint and freedom at one and the same time. It is precisely because what we encounter in the creative forms of art is not merely the freedom of caprice or of the blind superabundance of nature, that their play is capable of penetrating all the dimensions of our social life, through all classes, races, and levels of cultural attainment. For these our forms of play are forms of our freedom."

— Hans-Georg Gadamer "The Play of Art" [1973]
in The Relevance of the Beautiful. p130

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

It needs to be said

" needs to be said that...the intellectual community has not been silent on the problem of war... Never as on this occasion have people felt all the horror and ambiguity of what was happening. Apart from a few lunatics, no one had ideas in black and white. ...What has happened to war is what has happened to crimes of passion or the lex talionis: people still do these things, but the community now considers them to be evil, where it once judged them to be a good thing. ...There is a more radical way of thinking about war: in merely formal terms, in terms of internal consistency... the conclusion being that you cannot make war because the existence of a [modern and global] society...has made war impossible [to win] and irrational [to wage]. War is in contradiction with the very reasons for which it is waged. ... The most likely outcome of war is [further] 'tilt'. ... Modern warfare autophagous our century it is the politics of the postwar period that will always be the continuation (by any means) of the premises established by war. No matter how the war goes, by causing a general redistribution of weights that cannot correspond fully with the will of the contending parties, it will drag on in the form of a dramatic political, economic, and psychological instability for decades to come, something that can lead only to a politics 'waged' as if it were warfare. Have things ever been different?.. To conclude that classic wars produced reasonable results—the final equilibrium—derives from a Hegelian prejudice, according to which history has a positive direction. There is no scientific (or logical) proof that the order of the Mediterranean after the Punic Wars, or that of Europe after the Napoleonic Wars, corresponded perforce with a state of equilibrium. It could have been a state of imbalance that would not have occurred had there been no war. The fact that for tens of thousands of years humanity has used warfare as a solution for states of disequilibrium has no more demonstrable value than the fact that in the same period humanity learned to resolve states of psychological imbalance by using alcohol or other equally devastating substances. ... we have perhaps reached the point in which humanity has become aware of the need to proclaim war a taboo. ... It is therefore compatible with intellectual duty and with common sense to announce the necessity for a taboo... It is an intellectual duty to proclaim the inconceivability of war. Even if there were no alternative solutions. What struck some as the silence of intellectuals about war was perhaps their fear of talking about it in the media in the heat of the moment, and this for the simple reason that the media are a part of war and its paraphernalia, and so it is dangerous to think of the media as neutral territory. ... However, even when [intellectual duty] opts for tactical silence, in the end reflection on war requires that this silence must eventually be articulated. ...our first duty is to say that war today annuls all human initiative, and even its apparent purpose (and someone's apparent victory) cannot stop what has become the autonomous game of weights caught in their own net. War cannot be justified, because—in terms of the rights of the species—it is worse than a crime. It is a waste."

—Umberto Eco, "Reflections on War" (published in 1991, in protest of the Gulf War) in Five Moral Pieces [Cinque Scritti Morali, 1997], Alastair McEwen, transl. (Harcourt, 2001) p5-6, 14-17.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Passionate philosophy and regenerative struggle

"For we said, as I think, that the [psyche] of the Guardians ought to be of a nature at once spirited [passionate] and philosophic in a superlative degree, so that they might be able to treat their friends rightly with leniency and their foes with [regenerative struggle]."
– Socrates (Plato's Timaeus 18a)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

This gives rise to the illusion

"If we are blind to everything but the sequence of steps, then the collecting follows the picking and gleaning, the bringing under shelter follows the collecting, until finally everything is accommodated in bins and storage rooms. This gives rise to the illusion that preservation and safekeeping have nothing to do with gathering."

—Martin Heidegger, "Logos (Heraclitus Fragment B 50)" in Early Greek Thinking [1951] Harper & Row 1975, 1984, p61. (Krell & Capuzzi translators)

A landscape to be invented

"Imprisoned by four walls
(to the North, the crystal of non-knowledge
a landscape to be invented
to the South, reflective memory
to the East, the mirror
to the West, stone and the song of silence)
I wrote messages, but received no reply."

Octavio Paz, from "Envoi" (cited as epigraph to Henri Lefebvre's "The Production of Space").

Here sprang up many faces

"Here sprang up many faces without necks, arms wandered without shoulders, unattached, and eyes strayed alone, in need of foreheads"

—Empedocles (Fragment B 57), 5th C BCE

There is a word in it somewhere...breaking into song

"The Dictionary / Maybe there is a word in it somewhere / to describe the world this morning, / a word for the way the early light / takes delight in chasing the darkness / out of store windows and doorways. // Another word for the way it lingers / over a pair of wire-rimmed glasses / someone let drop on the sidewalk / last night and staggered off blindly / talking to himself or breaking into song."

—Charles Simic, "The Dictionary" in The New Yorker Magazine, July 1 2013 p43.

Questions that once moved like and then: here and many places

"This then is where I am, and as I settle to work I find I have to resolve, step by slow step, experiences and questions that once moved like light.  The life of country and city is moving and present ... through a network of relationships and decisions. 
    A dog is barking – that chained bark – behind the asbestos barn.  It is now and then: here and many places. When there are questions to put, I have to push back my chair, look down at my papers, and feel the change."

—Raymond Williams, "The Country and the City" (1973) p8.

By this means they built the walls

"Don't think it strange if you hear that wild animals and trees followed Orpheus from place to place; and that by their singing both Amphion in Greece and Apollo in Phrygia imbued stones with such lust that they began mounting one another – as many of you here would do if given the opportunity. By this means they built the walls of Thebes [Oedipus slept there] and those of Priam's city [Troy]..."

—Ariosto, preface to 'the Necromancers' [1520]; in 'The Comedies of Ariosto,' Beame and Sbrocchi (transl's.) University of Chicago Press, 1975 p101.

The future is not ominous but a promise; it surrounds the present as a halo

"...the live creature adopts its past; it can make friends with even its stupidities, using them as warnings that increase present wariness... To the being fully alive, the future is not ominous but a promise; it surrounds the present as a halo... Only when the past ceases to trouble and anticipations of the future are not perturbing is a being wholly united with his environment and therefore fully alive. Art celebrates with peculiar intensity the moments in which the past reinforces the present and in which the future is a quickening of what now is."

—John Dewey, "Art as Experience" [1934] Penguin Perigee 2005, p17.

There is nothing more important or fascinating in life than the motives of human behaviour

"Why should I allow this casual encounter with a perfect stranger to become a kind of debate? ...I decided to keep myself under control. The moon was behind us and our shadows lay in our path. They had merged into a single dark patch that crawled ahead of us on the snow and as I looked at them, I felt something begin to grow inside me that, like these shadows, was dark, elusive and, like them, also ahead of me. My companion was silent for a minute, then spoke in the confident tone of a man who is master of his thoughts. ' There is nothing more important or fascinating in life than the motives of human behaviour... Is that so? ' I nodded. ... What a strange person, I thought... My astonishment was growing to the detriment of my self-control. What did this man want of me? ... This crank was certainly interesting, but he annoyed me. I made another impatient move to walk on; he followed me..."

– Maxim Gorky, 'The Reader' (Originally appeared in the journal 'Kosmopolis' 1898); Robert Daglish, translator.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The total body begins to appear

"The magic carpet has already carried me away, and I fly past embankments and beaches. From high above, like a stripe, a thin ribbon of sand. But near at hand the beach. The elements are there: earth, air, the sun's fire, water... Here, the elements meet, but their intersection signals the demise of each in the other. The earth culminates in the sea; the sky dissolves into the earth and the water. This surface of encounters is one of interference: the fine sand, its delicious fluidity. Here, bodies no longer experience water alone or earth alone, or air and sun in isolation... Each element plays a role, receives the others... Where they end, the beach begins. Transition, passages, encounters. A space of enjoyment... The total body begins to appear. Until quite recently, a sense of fear was associated with beaches, which were given over to fishermen, peasants, collectors of kelp to fertilize fields, pillagers of shipwrecks. The modern era discovered them as a space of enjoyment that could be used by everyone, all class distinctions being dissolved in a strip of land near the sea... Unfortunately, beaches can support no constructions other than those that are forgotten. Anything more and the structure would obliterate the space of enjoyment, in the process destroying its most characteristic feature: fluidity, transition. And architecture?

"... Of course, what purpose does it serve to investigate enjoyment and a suitable morphology when we know that between now and the end of the century, millions, tens of millions of homes, the humblest, the simplest shelters, will be needed around the world? Of course! What good is poetry or what is still referred to as art?... Nevertheless, questions need answers: Who will build the architecture of enjoyment, assuming it is possible? For whom and with what means? ... Will it be an apartment building, a public building, a village, a château, a town? A ''folly'... We cannot continue for long to set aside social needs and demands.

".... That there is no architecture or, to put it in simpler terms, that there exists no morphology of enjoyment, that it is barely conceivable and almost unimaginable, is terrifying. Especially given that this is not an isolated finding but connected to other facts. And in this way, the petty and perfidious interrogation of architecture, insignificant in appearance, assumes its full scope."

—Henri Lefebvre, Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment [1973], (University of Minneapolis Press, 2014) p48-49,55, 59.

For my response to a chapter in this book, called architecture, see the experimental archi-poem "Arch of Enjoyment" (for and against Henri Lefebvre).

Sunday, June 22, 2014

This idea of cyclical regularity of change

"For a long time the 'modern' has been seen as the opposite of the 'ancient.' It is a word which for centuries the new and the here-and-now have used in triumphalist self-justification as a means of relegating everything that is not themselves (or that they think is not themselves) to the past. Its magic powers seem inexhaustible. Yet its meaning has changed... In France in the middle ages the elected or co-opted magistrates of the towns with burgomasters...and consulates...were known as 'moderns.' The retiring magistrates were called 'ancients' as distinct from 'moderns.' [The term modern] involved the double idea of renewal and of regularity in renewal; elections were held according to a strict mode [Latin: modus] laid down in the charter, or according to municipal tradition. This idea of cyclical regularity of change, and of change as a norm, did not last long. In the different sectors of social and political life, and above all in culture, the term reappears at various dates, and is always heavy with polemical [i.e., divisively hyperbolic] meanings... Later, the issue loses its polemical edge; it does not vanish completely, but it becomes subsumed in the self-triumphalism of 'modernism' and 'modern' tastes. By the end of the nineteenth century, with the 'modern style', 'modernism' (i.e., the cult of innovation for innovation's sake, innovation as a fetish) is fully fledged."
—Henri Lefebvre, (opening lines of) "What is Modernity" in Introduction to Modernity [1962], John Moore, transl. (Verso, 1995) p168 . [brackets are my clarifying insertions] (parentheses are Lefebvre).

Some designers design discursive forms and publics rather than buildings

"Some designers design discursive forms and publics rather than buildings."—Shannon Mattern

Friday, May 23, 2014

For the Art Students of Glasgow

"Fire in the Architectural Institute

Fire in the Architectural Institute!
through all the rooms and over the blueprints
like an amnesty through the jails...
Fire! Fire!

High on the sleepy facade
shamelessly, mischievously
like a red-assed baboon
a window skitters.

We'd already written our theses,
the time had come for us to defend them.
They're crackling away in a sealed cupboard:
all those bad reports on me!

The drafting paper is wounded,
it's a red fall of leaves;
my drawing boards are burning,
whole cities are burning.

Five summers and five winters shoot up in flames
like a jar of kerosene.
Karen, my pet,
Oi! we're on fire!

Farewell architecture:
it's down to a cinder
for all those cowsheds decorated with cupids
and those rec halls in rococo!

O youth, phoenix, ninny,
your dissertation is hot stuff,
flirting its little red skirt now,
flaunting its little red tongue.

Farewell life in the sticks!
Life is a series of burned-out sites.
Nobody escapes the bonfire:
if you live—you burn.

But tomorrow, out of these ashes,
more poisonous than a bee
your compass point will dart
to sting you in the finger.

Everything's gone up in smoke,
and there's no end of people sighing.
It's the end?
                  It's only the beginning.
Let's go to the movies! 
Andrei Voznesensky (1958); English translation, by Stanley Kunitz
in Antiworlds, (Anchor Books, 1967) p135.

I learned of this poem as a student, years ago, by reading Michael Sorkin's book Exquisite Corpse: Writings on Buildings, in which he says: "The poet Andrei Voznesensky originally intended to become an architect. His plans were interrupted. In 1957, shortly before graduation, The Moscow Architectural Institute burned."  He recalls this story in the context of his own experience of a fire on June 14, 1969, at the Yale Art and Architecture Building (designed by Paul Rudolph).  The essay is entitled "Auto Da Fe" after the novel by Elias Canetti first published in 1935.  The first American edition was called The Tower of Babel, perhaps for fear no one would bother looking up the Latin for the burning of heretics.  The original German title was Die Blendung, or The Blinding. 

As Mackintosh's masterpiece, the Glasgow School of Art, burns, we think also of the fire that ate the Library of Alexandria (again vulnerable), and the fictional fire depicted in Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose.

No one is to blame.  History repeats itself.  And the wisdom of Heraclitus smolders on.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Feelings also have their dance - and playgrounds

“No, life has not disappointed me.  Rather, I find it truer, more desirable and mysterious every year – ever since the day the great liberator overcame me: the thought that life could be an experiment…  And knowledge itself… to me it is a world of dangers and victories in which heroic feelings also have their dance - and playgrounds.”

— Friedrich Nietzsche The Gay Science p181

More arduous than weaving a rope of sand or coining the faceless wind

Borges, on the method of dreams (expanded):

"He wanted to dream a man: he wanted to dream him with minute integrity and insert him into reality… At first, his dreams were chaotic; somewhat later, they were of a dialectical nature. The stranger dreamt that he was in the center of a circular amphitheater... clouds of silent students filled the gradins... He sought a soul which would merit participation in the universe… he comprehended with some bitterness that he could expect nothing of those students who passively accepted his doctrines, but that he could of those who, at times, would venture a reasonable contradiction...  He comprehended that the effort to mold the incoherent and vertiginous matter dreams are made of was the most arduous task a man could undertake, though he might penetrate all the enigmas of the upper and lower orders: much more arduous than weaving a rope of sand or coining the faceless wind… he sought another method…  To take up his task again, he waited until the moon’s disk was perfect.  Then, in the afternoon, he purified himself in the waters of the river, worshiped the planetary gods, uttered the lawful syllable of a powerful name and slept.  Almost immediately, he dreamt of a beating heart.  He dreamt it as active, warm, secret, the size of a closed fist, of garnet color in the penumbra of a human body as yet without face or sex; with minute love he dreamt it, for fourteen lucid nights.  Each night he perceived it with greater clarity…  He perceived it, lived it, from many distances and many angles… ”

— Jorge Luis Borges “The Circular Ruin” in Labyrinths p46-8.

Commons, subtle and intimate to our being, necessary for the emergence of persons

"...commons that are more subtle and more intimate to our being than either grassland or roads - commons that are at least as valuable as silence. Silence, according to western and eastern tradition alike, is necessary for the emergence of persons."

— Ivan Illich, "Silence is a Commons" [from Illich's remarks at the "Asahi Symposium Science and Man - The computer-managed Society," Tokyo, March 21, 1982]

Rhythm upset at a single point yields

"A period that, constructed metrically, afterward has its rhythm upset at a single point yields the finest prose sentence imaginable. In this way a ray of light falls through a chink in the wall of the alchemist's cell, to light up gleaming crystals, spheres, and triangles." 
- Walter Benjamin, "One-Way Street" (1928), in Reflections (1978, p79).

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Huge spiral, ending in a most difficult maze

"There was a certain cave near Thebes in Egypt which resembled a shepherd’s pipe, since as it followed its winding course in the depths of the earth it formed a natural spiral; for it did not take a straight course at the opening and then branch off into straight-running corridors, but winding about under the mountain it made a huge spiral, ending in a most difficult maze. In it was set up an image of a Satyr wrought in marble. He stood on a base in the attitude of one making ready to dance, and lifting the sole of his right foot backward he not only held a flute in his hand but also was being the first to leap up at its sound; though in reality the flute’s note was not reaching the player’s ear, nor yet was the flute endowed with voice, but the physical effect which flute-players experience had been transferred to the stone by the skill of the artist." 

- Callistratus, from "Descriptions" (It seems he began the book with this description of a statue of a satyr), translation by Arthur Fairbanks.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels and skeptics

"True literature can only exist when it is created, not by diligent and reliable officials, but by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels and skeptics." 

— Yevgeny Zamyatin, 'We' [written 1921] 1924.

I love this quote, but I never expected it to become my most popular post here at Ubu Loca. In honor of this surprise, the following excerpts from Zamyatin's "Foreword" to the English edition of We:

"Well, what else do you want? ...for three years I wrote about nothing but ice cutters, steam engines, refillers, and 'The Theoretical Exploration of the Works of Floating Steam Shovels.' I couldn't help myself. I was attached to the chair of Ship Architecture and busied myself with teaching in the shipbuilding faculty... If I mean anything in Russian literature, I owe this completely to the Petrograd Secret Service. In 1911 this service exiled me from Petrograd and I was forced to spend two years in a non-populated place in Lachta. There, in the midst of the white winter silence and the green summer silence, I wrote... 

     After that... in England where, during the war, I spent about two years, building ships and visiting the ruins of ancient castles. I listened to the banging of the German Zeppelin bombs and wrote...  
     Now ... Three new volumes are in the hands of the publisher ...The fourth will be my novel We, the funniest and most earnest thing I have written. However, the most serious and most interesting novels I never wrote. They happened to me in my life."
— Yevgeny Zamiatin
[ca 1921] page xvii-xviii, "Foreword" to We, (as cited by a person named Zilboorg.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Those multiple identities whereby we learn

"The challenge inherent in cultural diversity is not posed simply at the international level (between nation-states) or at the infra-national level (within increasingly multicultural societies); it also concerns us as individuals through those multiple identities whereby we learn to be receptive to difference while remaining ourselves. Thus cultural diversity has important political implications: it prescribes the aim of freeing ourselves of stereotypes and prejudices in order to accept others with their differences and complexities. In this way, it becomes possible to rediscover our common humanity through our very diversity."

source: page 5 of, UNESCO's Report "Investing in Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue" (2009)

[note: The above quote has been posted in protest to the recent (descriminatory) decision by the US Supreme court to allow states to ban affirmative action measures intended to repair racial and socioeconomic inequality in society by increasing the diversity of students admitted to universities. The impetus:]

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A site, which plunges into the furor of its own evaluation

"In the pure vanishing image of its 'elusive foam' the sea is abruptly revealed to be a site, which plunges into the furor of its own evaluation. / This site is an event-site because among its consequences we find that the inexistent (consciousness, life) starts to exist maximally, that the ontologically vanquished becomes the living victor, that where the empty excluded of the place used to be there now stands a body capable of breaking the 'pensive form' of its submission."

– Alain Badiou
(on Valéry's poem, "The graveyard by the Sea") in Logics of Worlds, p459.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ping elsewhere always there but that known not.

In honor of Flight MH370, the last lines of Ping:

"Ping elsewhere always there but that known not. Ping perhaps not alone one second with image same time a little less dim eye black and white half closed long lashes imploring that much memory almost never. Afar flash of time all white all over all of old ping flash white walls shining white no trace eyes holes light blue almost white last colour ping white over. Ping fixed last elsewhere legs joined like sewn heels together right angle hands hanging palms front head taught eyes white invisible fixed front over. Given rose only just one yard invisible bare white all known without within over. White ceiling never seen ping of old only just almost never one second light time white floor never seen ping of old perhaps there. Ping of old only just perhaps a meaning a nature one second almost never blue and white in the wind the much memory henceforth never. White planes no trace shining white one only shining white infinite but that known not. Light heat all known all white heart breath no sound. Head taught eyes white fixed front old ping last murmur one second perhaps not alone eye unlustrous black and white half closed long lashes imploring ping silence ping over."

— Samuel Beckett, (last few lines of) Ping [or Bing, in French 1966], collected in First Love And Other Shorts (New York: Grove, 1974) p71-2.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Thinking area... an unassimilable series that encourages the viewer to think... not fitting, but fits.

"At least one 'thinking area' could offer maximum contradictions for the possibility of abstraction in the visual art of the futurist moment and immediately after. An oasis from whatever overarching narrative the show otherwise provides. This would include works not ordinarily or, better to say, not easily considered abstract but that are exemplary of a counterclaim to abstraction. The criteria for inclusion in this area would not be because something fits but because it doesn’t, an unassimilable series that encourages the viewer to think abstractly. Implausible connections, but not arbitrary ones; a series of contingent possibilities. Not fitting, but fits."

Charles Bernstein "Disfiguring Abstraction" Critical Inquiry v39 n3 (Spring 2013) p493.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Memory as a part of our existence in the environment

"We believe that our relation to up and down or in and out, to front, to back, to boundaries and edges shares space in our memories with more purely visual and conceptual matter. The experience of our bodies, of what we touch and smell, of how well we are 'centered,' as dancers say, is not locked into the immediate present but can be recollected through time. The importance of memory as a part of our existence in the environment has frequently been denied in this century and by some is even now rather embarrassedly characterized as 'nostalgia' and dismissed again. We [however] view it as an extension of experience, certainly not as a negation of it."

– from "Body, Memory, and Architecture" Kent Bloomer & Charles Moore. 1977.

Leaves of Suggestiveness

"The word I myself put primarily for the description of [my 'Leaves of Grass'] as they stand at last, is the word Suggestiveness.  I round and finish little, if anything; and could not, consistently with my scheme.  The reader will always have his or her part to do, just as much as I have had mine.  I seek less to state or display any theme or thought, and more to bring you, reader, into the atmosphere of the theme or thought – there to pursue your own flight." 

– Walt Whitman, from "A Backward Glance O'er Travel'd Roads" (1892), in Leaves of Grass, (Library of America, 1992) p666-7.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Society for the Diffusion of Beautiful Knowledge

"We have heard of a Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. It is said that knowledge is power; and the like. Methinks there is equal need of a Society for the Diffusion of Useful Ignorance, what we will call Beautiful Knowledge, a knowledge useful in a higher sense: for what is most of our boasted so-called knowledge but a conceit that we know something, which robs us of the advantage of our actual ignorance? ... I would say to the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, sometimes, – Go to grass ["like a horse" that "leaves all his harness behind in the stable"]. You have eaten hay [knowledge, facts, etc] long enough. The spring has come with its green crop [of Useful Ignorance]." 
Henry Thoreau, from near the end of an essay called "Walking" 1862. 
[bracketed content is given to help the reader step over gaps in thought]

Monday, March 17, 2014

Nearer and Farther

"All architecture is what you do to it when you look upon it, 
(Did you think it was in the white or gray stone? or the 
     lines of the arches and cornices?) 

All music is what awakes from you when you are reminded 
     by the instruments, 
It is not the violins and the cornets, it is not the oboe nor 
     the beating drums, nor the score of the baritone singer 
     singing his sweet romanza, nor that of the men's 
     chorus, nor that of the women's chorus,
It is nearer and farther than they."

Walt Whitman, A Song for Occupations 4, in Leaves of Grass [ca1891] 
(Vintage, Library of America edition, 1992) , p359.

Weave among Incidents

"The ox-blood from the hands which play
For fire for warmth for hands for growth
Is there room in the room that you room in?
Upon his structured tomb:
Still they mean something. For the dance
And the architecture.
Weave among incidents..." 

— Ted Berrigan, From Sonnet 1 in "The Sonnets"  (1964).  Below is a link to the full poem, which I've excerpted, but the entire book is a classic of collage poetry.

Reversible Destiny

"Even longevity — as but a postponement of the inevitable — is not enough.  The stakes must be changed entirely.  All consciousness involves, for the forming of the world, some degree of mastery over landing-site dispersal, but the seeker of reversible destiny must master the landing-site configuring process itself so that she may initiate alternative employments of landing sites."

— Madeline Gins (1941-2014), Reversible Destiny Foundation, January 25, 2013

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The secret sits in the middle

The Secret Sits

We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows." 

Robert Frost, first published as "Ring Around" in the journal Poetry (April 1936)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Every phantasy has the value of a possibility

"Naturally, it is self-evident that there cannot be nothing. But a mere 'tumult of sensations,' a chaos, which elapses in the pre-empirical procession of time so irrationally that no apprehension of things could be found and maintained, a mere maelstrom of sensations, I say, is indeed not absolute nothingness. It is only nothing that can in itself constitute a world of things. .... Thus we arrive at the possibility of a phenomenological maelstrom... All in all, the world - in its existence and in what it is - is an irrational fact, and its facticity resides uniquely and exclusively in the strictness of the motivational nexuses... Experience is the force which guarantees the existence of the world... in the perceptual nexus every perception is augmented by every other one, corresponding to all the series of fulfillments which interweave into a manifold braid, unitarily and harmoniously... possibilities are not empty possible thoughts but are possibilities grounded in motivation. ...actual perception in a harmonious perceptual nexus refers to these or those possible perceptions that are in accord with the elapsing perceptual nexus... Every phantasy has the value of a possibility... The appearances occurring at any time are appearances under motivating circumstances." 

 — Husserl, Final Considerations, in Thing and Space: Lectures of 1907 (Kluwer, 1973) p249-53.

The talent for transformation

"The talent for transformation which has given man so much power over all other creatures has as yet scarcely been considered or begun to be understood. Though everyone possesses it, uses it and takes it for granted, it is one of the great mysteries and few are aware that to it they owe what is best in themselves. It is extremely difficult to understand the true nature of transformation. The most hopeful course is to approach it from several different angles."

Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power [first 1960] (Penguin, 1984), p389.

The situation constituted by its relation

 "As grass is food in the situation constituted by its relation to the ox and is not food in the situation constituted by the tiger, so the distant object is colored in the perceptual situation constituted by its relation to an individual with our [sensing/acting] apparatus but is not colored over against an angleworm." 

George Herbert Mead, Consciousness and the Unquestioned (Essay 4), in The Philosophy of the Act (Chicago, 1938) p76-77.

The creation of durational spaces

"The creation of durational spaces in a poem – great but empty halls, narrow corridors, closets, enclosed pools, formal picture galleries, off and on ramps, pulleys and trap doors between levels – produces an internal or negative (in the sense of inverted or inner) architecture. – You are entering a building through a dark and musty subbasement; proceeding a few steps, you trip onto an elevator platform and are whisked to what is something like the 23rd floor, where you are stepping out into an abandoned soundstage... sighting a ladder, you climb up a flight onto a floor filled with hundreds of irregularly shaped cubicles populated by women dressed as Matadors..." 

Charles BernsteinThe Book as Architecture (essay), 
in My Way: Speeches and Poems (Chicago, 1999) p56.

The madness of space

"How should you walk in that space and know
Nothing of the madness of space,
Nothing of its jocular procreations?
Throw the lights away. Nothing must stand
Between you and shapes you take
when crust of shape has been destroyed.
You as you are? You are yourself.
The blue guitar surprises you."

— Wallace Stevens (from Blue Guitar)

The event to which one is subjected is visualized in a symbol

"There is a kind of law of the shortest distance to the image, a psychological law by which the event to which one is subjected is visualized in a symbol that represents its swiftest summing up: I was a man who, carrying a pile of plates, had slipped on a waxed floor and let his scaffolding of porcelain crash. ... Horizon? There was no longer a horizon. I was in the wings of a theatre cluttered up with bits of scenery. Vertical, oblique, horizontal, all of plane geometry was a whirl.

                                      ...   There is nothing dramatic in the world, nothing pathetic, except in human relations." 

Antoine de Saint Exupéry, Wind, Sand and Stars (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939) p83, 93.

Poetry is in everything

"Poetry is in everything—in land and in sea, in lake and in riverside.  It is in the city too... it is evident to me here as I sit: there is poetry in this table, in this paper, in this inkstand... in the rattling of cars on the streets, in each minute, common, ridiculous motion of a workman, who the other side of the street is painting the sign of a butcher's shop."

Fernando Pessoa: Always Astonished (San Francisco: City Lights, 1988) p1.

The gesture explains things in a breath

", though largely, is not entirely carried on by literature. We are subject to physical passions and contortions; the voice breaks and changes, and speaks by unconscious and winning inflections; we have legible countenances, like an open book; things that cannot be said look eloquently through the eyes; and the soul, not locked into the body as a dungeon, dwells ever on the threshold with appealing signals. Groans and tears, looks and gestures, a flush or a paleness, are often the most clear reporters of the heart, and speak more directly to the hearts of others. The message flies by these interpreters in the least space of time, and the misunderstanding is averted in the moment of its birth. To explain in words takes time and a just and patient hearing; and in the critical epochs of a close relation, patience and justice are not qualities on which we can rely. But the look or the gesture explains things in a breath; they tell their message without ambiguity; unlike speech, they cannot stumble, by the way, on a reproach or an allusion that should steel your friend against the truth; and then they have a higher authority, for they are the direct expression of the heart, not yet transmitted through the unfaithful and sophisticating brain." 

— Robert Louis Stevenson, "Truth of Intercourse" in Essays: English and American.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Om In a Landscape

"Om In a Landscape may be performed as they see fit by any number of people who have enough good will to listen intently to each other and to everything else they hear while they perform it and to relate with what they hear by speaking or singing or both and observing plenty of silence from time to time. Please don't make your Oms too holy-holy."

Jackson Mac Low, from Instructions [2002] to Om In a Landscape [1961 drawing], in Doings (NYC: Granary, 2005), p64.

Make a place made where they need land

"Make a place made where they need land
It is a curious spot that they are alike
For them to have hold of which in need of plainly
Can be suddenly hot with and without these or either
For themselves they can change no one in any way
They can be often placid as they mean they can force it
Or wilder than without having thought..."


Gertrude Stein, Part I, Stanza VII, Stanzas in Meditation [ca1932]
(LA: Sun & Moon Press, 1994) p23.

re. Sun & Moon press:

Distant objects please

"Distant objects please, because in the first place, they imply an idea of space and magnitude, and because, not being obtruded too close upon the eye, we clothe them with the indistinct and airy colours of fancy.  In looking at the misty mountain-tops that bound the horizon, the mind is as it were conscious of all the conceivable objects and interests that lie between; we imagine all sorts of adventures in the interim; strain our hopes and wishes to reach the air-drawn circle, or to 'descry new lands, rivers, and mountains,' stretching far beyond it: our feelings, carried out of themselves, lose their grossness and their husk, are rarefied, expanded, melt into softness and brighten into beauty, turning to ethereal mould, sky-tinctured. We drink the air before us, and borrow a more refined existence from objects that hover on the brink of nothing. Where the landscape fades from the dull sight, we fill the thin, viewless space with shapes of unknown good, and tinge the hazy prospect with hopes and wishes and more charming fears."

William Hazlitt on Why Distant Objects Please, Essay XXVI in Table-Talk [ca1778-1830] (London: George Bell & Sons, 1902) p356.
see also