A Lovely Curiousity,
An American Nurse
Tales of the
the West after September 11
a kind of Playfulness
Copenhagen Free University,
Critical Art Ensemble
of the historic Scottish hunger march
...or how the SAC spends
Dear Sir and Madam,
We act for the Scottish Arts
Our client has sought our
legal advice in relation to correspondence which has passed between your
company and our client following the decision of the appeals panel of the
Scottish Arts Council not to uphold your company's appeal against refusal
of an application for a grant from the Scottish Arts Council.
On our client's behalf,
we write to inform you that many of the remarks contained in your e-mail
of 14 January 2002 which was circulated to a third party are defamatory
both of the Scottish Arts Council and of its officer, Sue Pirnie.
On behalf of the Scottish
Arts Council, we reserve all legal rights available to it to take legal
action against your company arising out of this defamation. We also on
behalf of the Council request that you desist from making further such
defamatory remarks to third parties.
The Scottish Arts Council
has a duty to draw the attention of Sue Pirnie to your e-mail. She may
well seek legal advice for herself in relation to the remarks which you
have made about her.
We would point out that
our client has a public duty to make decisions concerning the allocation
of limited financial resources for the promotion of the arts in Scotland.
The Scottish Arts Council, through its committees, seeks to exercise this
function at all times in a fair and objective manner and its policy is
that all applications be considered with reference to one criterion only:
artistic merit.[emphasis added]
The Council has also put
in place an appeals system for applicants whose initial application has
been unsuccessful. Again the Scottish Arts Council seeks ensure that these
appeals be conducted in a fair and objective manner. Such is our client's
concern to maintain this that the procedures which are employed are kept
under constant review.
Although your e-mail of
14 January contains defamatory remarks both of the Scottish Arts Council
and of Sue Pirnie, it occurs to our client that the overall tone of the
e-mail and the reckless and extreme language used in it reflect badly on
your own organisation, undermining its professionalism and damaging its
reputation. Our clients wonder whether the board of your company is aware
of the contents of your e-mail and approves of them. We have also been
informed that an e-mail was received by one of our client's officers from
you Mr Clark on 29 January which started with the phrase "I won't go into
the utter loathing and disgust that I feel in writing to you nor dwell
on certain failings, lies etc". Our client cannot see how you can consider
it to be in the best interests of your company to use such offensive language.
It is totally unacceptable to the Scottish Arts Council for you to write
to one of its officers in these terms. We would also point out that this
may well be legally actionable. If you persist, our client may have to
consider blocking e-mails from you.
You have the assurance of
our client that despite any adverse impression created by the tone and
language of your e-mails and the defamatory and offensive remarks contained
in them, all future applications for grants which your organisation may
make to the Scottish Arts Council will always be considered fairly and
impartially, with reference to one criterion only: artistic merit. [emphasis
In the meantime, please
let us have your assurance that no re-occurrence of these recent defamations
and offensive e-mails will take place.
This letter is written entirely
without prejudice to and under reservation of our client's whole rights
and pleas in law and may not be founded upon in any proceedings.
William 'Reckless &
Extreme' Clark responds:
Yeah mine too...Anyone who
has applied to the SAC knows that this letter twice makes the false assertion
that the SAC make judgements on the sole basis of 'artistic merit'. Even
the director of the SAC knows that's a lie, and this raises quite serious
questions. What utter incompetent gave these false assurances to the SAC's
solicitors? Why was a presumably respectable law firm led into putting
this into writing and then encouraged to threaten Variant with legal action
while we were trying to use the SAC's insane appeals process. What does
this say for the SAC's regard for their own and their Solicitor's professional
When this lie is first made
it is said to be the basis of SAC's fairness and objectivity in relation
to ALL applications. This is an astonishing attempt to deceive everyone.
One possibility is that the solicitors just assumed that's what an Arts
Council does--but it is exactly because they have dispensed with this criterion
that the SAC's role has become intrinsically hypocritical and counter-productive.
When the lie is repeated
it is as the basis of the SAC's ability to give credible assurances: so
it is clear proof that those running the SAC give false assurances; and
we have this courtesy of their solicitors, who will no doubt be writing
to them asking why they were misled.
There are several other
basic factual inaccuracies in this letter. For example, the SAC did not
allow us to actually have an appeal: they had a secret meeting and decided
not to allow this. We then informed them that as a result(according to
their procedure) we would contact the Scottish Parliamentary Ombudsman.
We did, but we cannot really represent our case because the SAC refuse
to provide us with minutes of a meeting which they (on orders from above)
refused to let us record. The appeals procedure is presently being expensively
recomplicated by another team of lawyers...one Scottish MSP described it
as "worse than the police's".
Despite their threats we
did continue to send emails and they have taken no action. These emails
did not defame anyone but actually quoted members of the SAC's Visual Arts
Committee and were sent to several hundred people: we desire openness,
they do not. That was their whole problem: that we'd made this public.
How could one defame the
SAC anyway, the solicitors don't explain. To use this and terms such as
'reckless' and 'extreme language' of criticism is to reveal a paranoid
and secretive organisation unwilling to embrace any form of public accountability.
Michael Russell MSP told us:
"I have now written to the
SAC just saying that I am concerned by the lack of funding, the way the
decision was reached and by the "arrogant and irresponsible" use of public
money on threatening legal action, still less bringing it forward."
To our knowledge he received
We are still disgusted and
expressed this to Gavin Wallace (SAC Literature) because we could not believe
that he agreed with the SAC's 'report' on Variant 13 (which contained the
work of James Kelman, Peter Kravitz and Harold Pinter and was universally
"The consensus of feedback
on the quality of Variant has been that it has been [sic]... that it has
declined...The content is often very biased or inaccurate... we cannot
agree that you meet your stated objectives as a broadly accessible magazine;
the language, editorial stance and quality mitigate against this"
This report, little more
than condemnation, was written by one person, Sue Pirnie before issue 13
had been distributed or anyone could have actually read it. When we asked
about this we got this gibberish back:
"...the comments in it;
whether on content, communication or any other points, 'summarise feedback
from, and received by, SAC'. It would therefore be inaccurate of you to
attribute the points to any specific issue or timeframe."
The report is a poisonous
piece of writing by someone without the ability to make an informed assessment,
to uphold Sue Pirnie's judgement of James Kelman's work is madness.
Wallace didn't actually
turn up to the meeting which refused to fund us, but Pirnie did and was
practically the only person there. We have letters from Wallace saying
we were the 'precedent' for this fund and that we would be funded, but
then were told we were nothing to do with it and we weren't funded because
of 'the competition', which turned out to be non-existent. The minutes
of the meeting inform us that they found the magazine 'unintelligible',
yet they also deliberately ignored the outside opinion they sought because
it was impartially in favour of us.
For the SAC we will be 'self-sufficient'
if we do not receive their funding, but when they withdrew it they informed
other bodies that we were 'financially unviable': that was two issues ago.
People who the SAC consulted have told us that their decisions are 'political,'
but SAC lack the honesty to admit this.
As far as magazines go the
SAC is failing wildly. Magazines have even had to hand back grants because
they cannot conform to the ludicrous criteria imposed upon the money. They
also fund magazines which don't exist.
Issue 13 (which attracted
comment from the Cabinet Office) exposed the think tank Demos as the government's
hired stooges in concocting arts policy. They conceded that we had 'trashed'
their work. It's hard to see all this as anything else than an attempt
to bully and punish us for this.
Leigh 'defamatory' French
While the Scottish Arts Council
may refute it and threaten those who publicly speak out with legal action,
it's common knowledge amongst arts organisations (born of experience) that
SAC Arts Officers have disproportionate and undue influence on its Committees.
At the level of project
funding, Officers control much more than just communication between artists
who apply and a committee which allegedly makes funding decisions. Changes
to the decision making structure, with the removal of all but a few emblematic
artists, have concentrated this imbalance--what was a chronic situation
has been made all the worse. It's totally unacceptable that these tiny,
little committees at a remove from the majority of artists and the diversity
of contemporary practice are let to hold sway. Funding schemes supposedly
established to provide something altogether different, to be run by different
people to address other concerns, have ended up perpetuating entrenched
departmental deficiencies, internal bias and conceit.
The concentration of a few
individuals in positions of regional and national influence across Scotland,
coupled with the centralisation of priorities for the arts, also means
that decisions are ultimately carried through which can negatively influence
other departments, funding bodies, and funding decisions.
Another common view is that
SAC funding decisions and their relations to other organisations are inappropriately
dominated by issues of 'personality'. In Scotland the Arts Council is failing
to support or encourage genuine critical debate. Where there is a lack
of diversity and mass of representation, stereotypes circulate as surrogates
for genuine, informed exchanges. There's an issue of cultural diversity
and of language here, of the assumptions of a managerial class laden with
negative imagery of 'Others'.
(Variant has systematically
had projected onto it a derogatory, animalistic stereotype--we are said
to be reckless, deficient, deviant, unprofessional, extreme, out of control,
It's baneful that Arts Officers
can go unchallenged in simply defining Culture in terms of their own image,
their own tastes, and those who do not match this description are lesser.
Clearly, on a basic level, broader and informed SAC representation is essential
to counter this deficiency which permits abuses of power to occur, whether
knowingly or not.
Fundamental to these 'obstacles'
has been a structural shift from ethereal "qualitative" assessments, to
a supposedly disinterested and technocratic evaluation of how well applications
conform to Cultural Strategy priorities--themselves ill defined and open
to individual interpretation, enforcement and abuse. In essence, bureaucrats
and managers have supplanted what were once artistic positions within the
arts. This is an insidious shift to a 'management' of the arts along unabashed
political tram lines.
The new Director of the
SAC was previously the Head of Finance--for all purposes, an accountant.
The most the papers could say of his re-appointment (after the SAC's most
expensive recruitment drive ever) was he's a 'keen amateur photographer.'
Others noticed that the forced removal and subsequent replacement of the
previous Director, Tessa Jackson, conveniently cleared the way for new
Labour appointed Chairman, James Boyle to go unchallenged as SAC's Cultural
The debates surrounding
Tessa Jackson's sacking are shrouded in mystery as lawyers were brought
in to silence any meaningful public revelations. As such the situation
remains unresolved. So how accountable or representative can the SAC be
when the arguments and power struggles that actually matter within decision
making are not known--when they are actually hidden from public scrutiny?
Raymond Roussel (18771933)
"A formidable poetic apparatus"
"Raymond Roussel belongs
to the most important French literature of the beginning of the century"
"Genius in its pure state"
"Creator of authentic myths
"A great poet"
"The President of the Republic
"The greatest mesmerist
of modern times"
"The plays are among the
strangest and most enchanting in modern literature"
"My fame will outshine that
of Victor Hugo or Napoleon"
Victor who? Go into any book
shop and they'll probably not have anything on or by Raymond Roussel. In
1957 the young Michel Foucault noticed some faded yellow books in José
Corti's famous Parisian book store and tentatively asked the grand old
man "who was Raymond Roussel?" Wearied by Foucault's ignorance, Corti looked
at him with a "generous sort of pity" and feeling a sense of loss sighed:
"But after all, Roussel..." What Corti told him and what he found in the
pages he raced through mesmerised Foucault into paying for an expensive
copy of 'La Vue' and (in two months) he wrote the darkly romantic 'Death
and the Labyrinth' on Roussel's world. 1
When it was translated into
English an anonymous reviewer in The Times Literary Supplement remarked
that the book 'seems addressed to an audience of cognoscenti, which must
be exceedingly small in France and can hardly number more than two or three
here.' However, Foucault's book was noticed by the new novelists in France,
and Alain Robbe-Grillet saw the 'fascinating essay' as one of the signs
of a growing interest in Roussel, albeit not widely spread beyond certain
circles. Roussel's life and work are so unusual that for a long time some
people believed him to be a fictional character. 2
A new biography 'Raymond
Roussel' by Francois Caradec and translated by Ian Monk has recently been
published by Atlas Press--who in a series of Anthologies have enthusiastically
preserved Roussel. This comes fairly soon after Mark Ford's 'Raymond Roussel
and the Republic of Dreams', (Cornell University Press) embalmed him a
bit earlier, and there is some difference of opinion and emphasis in the
His objective of complete
artificiality caused Roussel to state he drew none of his creations from
real life. Caradec just wonders 'who he was trying to kid' and similarly
does not take Roussel's final work, Comment j'ai écrit certains
de mes livres, on face value--few serious commentators do. Colin Raff's
review of Ford's book states Roussel "derived none of his striking creations
from experience, wrote unimpeded by introspection or sentiment, unhampered
by moral reflection or facile realism." For Raff there is nothing 'transcendental'
in Roussel: "The author's creative procedures are the final revelation."
The generalisation inherent
in that is challenged by Caradec who I think is closer to events. One might
as well say that the artists creative intentions were the 'final revelation'.
The writing can only be regarded as an experiment in this direction.
"I call them famous because
they are appreciated by me and some of my friends" Baudelaire
Roussel is on the sharp
point of a whole anti-tradition in French writing which influenced modern
art and modernism at a very fundamental level. Socially he was not part
of the leftist avant-garde tradition which grew out of the suppression
of the Paris Commune in 1871, when the French state turned on its internal
opposition in a besieged city. Fabulously wealthy, Roussel is more associated
with the Aristocratic and the 'Dandy'.
For Baudelaire in "The Painter
of Modern Life" (1859) the dandy was an integral aspect to the character
of the modern artist:
"Contrary to what a lot
of thoughtless people seem to believe, dandyism is not even an excessive
delight in clothes and material elegance. For the perfect dandy, these
things are not more than the symbol of the aristocratic superiority of
his mind....It is, above all the burning desire to create a personal form
of originality, within the external limits of social conventions... dandyism
in certain respects comes close to spirituality and to stoicism, but a
dandy can never be a vulgar man... Dandyism appears especially in those
periods of transition when democracy has not yet become all-powerful, and
when aristocracy is only partially weakened and discredited... Dandyism
is the last flicker of heroism in decadent ages... Dandyism is a setting
sun; like the declining star, it is magnificent, without heat and full
Which is a perfect description
of Roussel: the language is also mirrored by Foucault:
"Things, words, vision and
death, the sun and language make a unique form...Roussel in some way has
defined its geometry."
Dandyism is also seen as
a conscious and elaborate rejection of bourgeois life, accentuating difference
in a society that was moving toward uniformization. 4
In some respects the Dandy had to conjure up a world of artistic credibility,
integrity and high standards from which to react and upon which to perform.
Knowing he would be forgotten Roussel planned his own mythology, part of
which was to posthumously reveal a great secret behind his books.
Like the declining star
This was Roussel's unique
compositional technique which generated a structure for the plots and images
of his writing, in much the same way that meter and rhyme control the arrangement
of words in a sonnet. This synethstesia between music and poetry and prose
"The quotidian is notable
by its absence from his work: this is not a literature with much appeal
for anyone in search of a social conscience. But if one is magnetised by
works of the imagination derived almost solely from linguistics, Roussel
represents some kind of summation. How I Wrote Certain of My Books, the
posthumously published testament in which Roussel delineates many--but by
no means all--of his writing techniques, is, as they say, essential reading.
As a vade mecum it doesn't necessarily make the books easier to penetrate,
but it does provide some clue as to what lies beneath them (though no matter
how knowledgeable these clues make us, as readers, feel, no amount of shouting
"Open Sesame!" at the threshold of the books entices them to reveal all
their secrets). The most obvious examples...can be found early in his career,
before he learnt to cover his tracks...One finds this mixture of the "simple
as ABC with the quintessential" (to quote Michel Leris' memorable definition)
as either childish or brilliantly inventive. A Rousselian finds both attitudes
The process is one of unforeseen
creation due to phonic combinations and is based more on puns than rhymes:
"I chose two similar words.
For example billiards and pilliards (looter). Then I added to it words
similar but taken in two different directions, and I obtained two almost
identical sentences thus. The two found sentences, it was a question of
writing a tale which can start with the first and finish by the second.
Amplifying the process then, I sought new words reporting itself to the
word billiards, always to take them in a different direction than that
which was presented first of all, and that provided me each time a creation
moreover. The process evolved/moved and I was led to take an unspecified
sentence, of which I drew from the images by dislocating it, a little as
if it had been a question of extracting some from the drawings of rebus."
In lavishly published volumes
Roussel's technique develops strongly from La Vue (1903), Impressions d'Afrique
(1909) and then Locus Solus (1914), here summed up by John Ashbery: 7
"A prominent scientist and
inventor, Martial Canterel, has invited a group of colleagues to visit
the park of his country estate, Locus Solus ("Solitary Place"). As the
group tours the estate, Canterel shows them inventions of ever-increasing
complexity and strangeness. Again, exposition is invariably followed by
explanation, the cold hysteria of the former giving way to the innumerable
ramifications of the latter. After an aerial pile driver which is constructing
a mosaic of teeth and a huge glass diamond filled with water in which float
a dancing girl, a hairless cat, and the preserved head of Danton, we come
to the central and longest passage: a description of eight curious tableaux
vivants taking place inside an enormous glass cage. We learn that the actors
are actually dead people whom Canterel has revived with "resurrectine,"
a fluid of his invention which if injected into a fresh corpse causes it
continually to act out the most important incident of its life."
Caradec's biography (revised
in 97 from that published in 72 because of the new finds of Roussel's papers)
establishes that in real life, Roussel on several occasions visited the
astronomer and scientist Camille Flammarion and witnessed his peculiar
experiments and observations of the outer planets, then still in the process
of discovery. It would seem that Roussel's admiration for the Jules Verne-like
scientist Flammarion, was combined in the character, 'Martial Canterel'
with Roussel's own aspirations to be a scientist and explorer. Flammarion
even proposed him (like a scene from a Jules Verne novel) to the French
Astronomical Society. Bringing out the person more than the process, Caradec
tempts us to read Roussel as a blending of Jules Verne's, Flammarion's
and Pierre Loti's influence. 8
Ford too, had access to
many of Roussel's manuscripts, including his early unfinished epic poems:
"In these he found literally
thousands of pages of obsessive description and endless digressions from
the main plots. Ford calls this prolixity "compulsive," and that's not
overstating it: Act II of the 7000-line La Seine contains nearly 400 named
characters, all spewing banal small talk. Ford's book demonstrates that
Roussel developed his techniques as an attempt to somehow control his manic
There's none of that in
Caradec's book, which presents a much more studious and controlled Roussel.
Opinions also seem to differ in Ford's assertion that:
"...none of this could persuade
the bourgeois multitude (whose tastes he shared, and whose adulation he
coveted) of Roussel's gloire. Only the contemporary avant-garde--the surrealists,
whose work he professed not to understand--were enthusiastic..." 10
Nothing interesting ever
persuades the Bourgeois multitude, but he confuses us here with that 'only'
and the suggestion that Roussel had bourgeiois taste. Caradec (and Andrew
Thompson in the Atlas Anthology) establish that Roussel was appreciated
by a range of critics and several other influential writers and reviewers
of his day: some of the earliest were Edmond Rostand (author of Cyrano
de Bergerac), Andre Gide and his fellow Dandy, Robert de Montesquiou who
said of Impressions d'Afrique in 1921:
"The second half of the
work explains everything, not merely with satisfying logic, better than
that, with a mathematical precision. The author says somewhere of one of
his characters, "the sum of his orations presented a great unity." This
judgement could be applied to his narratives. The maddest incoherencies
of the preceding chapters are explained with a geometric exactitude and
with such an equilibrium of corroborating evidence that it almost becomes
monotonous. It seems they must represent the hoc erat in votis of this
particular genre. It ends up giving these combinations, which are above
all else eccentric and bizarre, a bourgeois appearance." 11
Roussel wrote more to vainly
immortalise himself than to please the 'Bourgeois multitude': wealth freed
him from that nightmare. Caradec constantly questions the pure abstraction
others claim for Roussel. With Locus Solus Roussel's 'evolved procedure'
(as Robert de Montesquiou termed it) develops the word demoiselle (meaning
'young girl') to pun into 'pile driver' and 'dragonfly' and then grow into
the ridiculous flying machine mentioned earlier. But demoiselle was also
the name of an early balloon-assisted aeroplane owned by the aviator Santos-Dumont.
These were the days when humans learned to fly and as obsessed with science
as Roussel was, he couldn't help noticing such an event. John Ashberry
suggests that just as the mechanical task of finding a rhyme sometimes
inspires a poet to write a great line, Roussel's "rimes de faits" (rhymes
for events) helped him to utilise his unconscious mind.
As Roussel developed as
a writer his procedure grew to an incredibly complex method:
"We find here, transposed
onto the level of poetry, the technique of the stories with multiple interlocking
episodes (tiroirs) so frequent in Roussel's work, but here the episodes
appear in the sentences themselves, and not in the story, as though Roussel
had decided to use these parentheses to speed the disintegration of language,
in a way comparable to that in which Mallarmé used blanks to produce
those 'prismatic subdivisions of the idea" 12
His master work is perhaps
Nouvelles Impressions d'Afrique 13
which comprises of four long Cantos, each containing a single sentence
which starts out as a simple poetic statement or description. Roussel uses
a series of parentheses which run to a maximum of five brackets-within-brackets,
occasionally a footnote refers to a further poem containing its own 'onion-like'
sets of brackets. Everything is written in rhyming 'Alexandrines' (French
heroic verse of six feet), which is extraordinary given the self-imposed
constraints of Roussel's procedure.
The presence of parentheses
within parentheses produces multiple trains of thought. Not all the parenthetical
rings sit neatly within one another. Canto II, for example, dips in and
out of the fourth parenthesis at irregular intervals, but the poem gradually
focuses into a impressive simplicity, like music. Roussel himself was a
musician and the structuring of these images and ideas resemble musical
form more than conventional poetic form.
If you can't face actually
reading it, Juan-Esteban Fassio, of the College de Pataphysique, has invented
a machine to do it: a kind of card index on a revolving drum with a handle.
As one critic notes Roussel managed to enable himself to read his own books
as if he hadn't written them. In 1950 Michel Butor stated that:
"It is not the juxtaposition
of words which explains the wealth of repetitions and of reproductive apparatus
encountered in these texts. On the contrary, it is this obsession which
makes us realise what an irresistible compulsion, and authentic and deep-seated
instinct, led Roussel to choose these singular methods, and not any others,
for writing these works." 14
One of the most remarkable
peculiarities of Locus Solus and Impressions d'Afrique is that nearly all
the scenes are described twice. First, we witness them as if they were
a ceremony or a theatrical event; and then they are explained to us, by
their history being recounted. This is particularly the case in Impressions;
the author went to the trouble, after publication, of inserting a slip
of green paper on which he suggested that "those readers not initiated
in the art of Raymond Roussel are advised to begin this book at p. 212
and go on to p. 455, and then turn back to p. 1 and read to p. 211." 15
Speak, my darling
Although complex, Roussel's
methodology is one for writing; not for reading, which is performed in
the normal way:
"Lucius Egroizard, who was
driven insane by the sight of drunken brigands trampling his infant daughter
to death: Not only does Egroizard compulsively sculpt lightweight gold
figurines that repeat the brigands' lethal jig in mid-air, but the very
hairs on his nearly bald head periodically detach themselves to mimic the
dance. Egroizard experiments with an array of strange objects, until he
constructs a Goldbergian contraption that produces a sound identical to
his daughter's voice "It's you, my Gillette. They haven't killed you. You're
here next to me Speak, my darling." And between these broken phrases, the
fragment of the word, which he constantly reproduced, returned again and
again, like a response. Speaking in hushed tones, Canterel led us quietly
away, so as to allow this salutary crisis to run its course in peace."
Roussel loved children's
shows and the popular theatre, disdaining the 'theatre of ideas.' One American
critic dismisses Roussel as composing simply "fractured...fairy tales energised
with a Jules Verne-inspired reinterpretation of the physical universe"--yeah
that old thing. The fact that a book may resemble children's stories does
not necessarily imply it was childishly written: as Gulliver's Travels,
Huckleberry Finn, Alice in Wonderland and most of Borges would suggest.
Roussel was greatly interested in children's games and puzzles (as was
Michel Leris says, "Roussel
here discovered one of the most ancient and widely used patterns of the
human mind: the formation of myths starting from words. That is (as though
he had decided to illustrate Max Müller's theory that myths were born
out of a sort of 'disease of language'), transposition of what was at first
a simple fact of language into a dramatic action." Else where he suggest
that these childish devices led Roussel back to a common source of mythology
or collective unconscious."
But it was with Roussel's
plays that the ideas of Impressions of Africa and Locus Solus came to life
and caused chaos in French theatre. Yes--the bourgeois multitude was outraged.
'There is no one who has
not caressed some ambitious dream.' Raymond Roussel
How did Roussel become so
obscure? I hear no one ask. Literary and artistic success are often based
on mass marketing masquerading as artistic achievement; media attention
dictates 'literary establishment.' But Roussel paid for loads of it. Literary
history has a political economy which we are taught to believe (and not
participate) in... or could it just be that reading the work is like wandering
on a complex system of invisible trampolines?
The Second World War erased
just about everything in Paris and the post-war literary climate was dominated
by Sartre and existentialism. But the late 50s saw the emergence of the
Nouveau Roman (Alain Robbe-Grillet, et al.) and the Oulipo (Ouvoir de Litterature
Potentielle--Workshop of Potential Literature founded in Paris in 1960 and
including writers such as Georges Perec and Italo Calvino) a group of 'Rousselian'
enthusiasts who extended his "generative device," where the reader is obscurely
aware of some other ordering principle beneath the surface, as similar
elements keep recurring in unpredictable patterns. Both Caradec and Ian
Monk are members of the Oulipo. As the Atlas website puts it:
"Our aim as publishers has
been to delineate a coherent "anti-tradition" whose roots reach back to
Romanticism, an oppositional literary and artistic manifestation which,
in its various guises, has maintained an obstinate presence within an inimical
host: the literary establishment...We see no necessity to acknowledge any
idea of "progress" in this tradition, although naturally enough, it manifests
itself in new forms at different times and in different places...Likewise,
we do not subscribe to the notion of the end of modernism, of the concept
of an avant-garde, of "experimental" writing, call it what you will. The
writing we are committed to publishing is modern, despite its being from
the last hundred and fifty years..."
Roussel entrusted his literary
fate to a small gang of Parisian Surrealists--as can be seen from Caradec's
examination of his will--which he mis-regarded as his dedicated coterie.
It is because of a few genuine admirers such as Michel Leris that his work
has survived. It is a pity Apollinaire--who coined the term 'surréalisme'
for his own play Les Mamelles de Tirésias, to designate an analogical
way of representing reality beyond realism--did not write about him. But
along with Marcel Duchamp he delightedly attended Roussel's plays and both
were heavily influenced.
Put on at Roussel's own
vast expense, they enjoyed some vogue largely because of the vociferous
reactions by the audience. Here, according to Foucault the Surrealists
tried to 'orchestrate the character of Roussel' with contrived demonstrations.
Andre Breton, Aragon, Picabia, Robert Desnos and Micheal Leris (all on
complementary tickets and probably out of their heads) went to the premieres
and provoked the stunned audience. This ended with the police being called
to assist with something like a rugby scrum between the actors the audience
and (as the ball) the Surrealists. The events are genuinely hysterical;
it is a strange thought that we could have had a sound and film recording
of the events: nothing remains...(?)
Antonin Artaud observed
that the issue is to "rediscover the secret of an objective poetry based
on the humour that theatre renounced, that it abandoned to Vaudeville,
before cinema got hold of it." Someone said that Roussel put an audience
through a worse theatre of cruelty than Artaud dreamed of. 18
It was cripplingly obvious the actors were in it for the money, but this
made the theatre come to life and life all the more theatrical. After a
sober description of the cast Caradec describes the first night of Impressions
d' Afrique with "All hell broke loose". Descriptions of it would have to
range from the Carry On films crossed with Terry Gilliam's animations...and
that was just the stalls...but we should strip away these influences and
imagine it watched by an audience barely acquainted with Chaplin...it was
like nothing else.
A few critics worried that
the plays were the new Ubu Roi or Calagari (sets were variously described
as Dada, Cubist and Expressionist which slightly illustrates how close
these 'styles' are and how Roussel could encompass them). When revues of
Impressions d' Afrique appeared in the popular press Roussel felt that
he had passed 'quite unnoticed'. This is not unsurprising because as a
young man he dreamed of supreme glory:
"...What I wrote was surrounded
by radiance, I closed the curtains, for I was afraid that the slightest
gap might allow the luminous beams that were radiating from my pen to escape
outside, I wanted to tear the screen away suddenly and illuminate the world.
If I left these papers lying about, they would have sent rays of light
as far as China and a bewildered crowd would have burst into the house..."
are no worse than Hollywood producer's love letters to themselves in multi-million
dollar crap. The Surrealists (yet to enter their political phase) did not
fail to notice that he was a walking advertisement for the redistribution
of wealth, and sponged off him, as did practically everyone in the art
world he came into contact with. He had to pay the actors extra money to
go on stage giving them pearls and rare gifts and simply more cash.
'A conspiracy of knavery'
The focus on the method
and the structure has engendered a move away from viewing Roussel in relation
to his times. His very involvement with the disreputable world of theatre
displaced his own position in the upper class and he seems (almost by chance)
to express its social values parodically. One of the characters in Impressions
d' Afrique devises a parody of the stock exchange and we can choose to
see Roussel as the drop-out Dandy son of a stockbroker, mocking the stock
market as the absurd basis of the stability of our society. Perhaps, but
people simply felt that he was having them on, that his work was an elaborate
practical joke, that they were somehow being swindled:
"Apollinaire knew he was
collaborating in an elaborate and sly mystification called modern art.
Manet's public provocations and Toulouse-Lautrec's cabaret posters had
introduced the principle that the studio joke can carry all before it.
What begins as parody and protest ends up as the dominant style [...] it
is possible to claim that the art of the early twentieth century in France
is based on an elaborate hoax--a dare, a conspiracy of knavery on the part
of many artists--and to make the claim without dismissing that art as worthless.
After Jarry and Apollinaire and Duchamp, we have had to deal with several
generations of gifted impostors. They were also dedicated to art." 20
Somehow the ambition of
a rich man is disingenuous compared to that of the bourgeoisie theatre
owners, newspaper critics or actors: because he can purchase their support.
Roussel's theatrical ambitions clearly delineated that any aspect of the
tightly controlled artistic society could be bought: and that notions of
artistic integrity were illusory. That probably made people uneasy too.
From this distance Roussel comes out of it all looking like a hybrid of
an artist and patron and a paragon of charm, wit and elan, unconsciously
exposing an art world blind to its venal aspects and confined within the
boundaries of simplistic rules.
"The actors were selected
with a view to attracting the public. Roussel was open handed and paid
them what they wanted. When observing how hard it would be to make one
of the lines work, which, despite its dullness, Roussel was particularly
keen on keeping, Pierre Frondaie exclaimed in desperation ; " To make that
work we'd need Sarah Bernhardt!" Roussel replied: "Do you think she would
accept? How much would she want?" 21
Yet he seems to have been
devastated by the reviews. Pierre Frondaie (who had been hired to adapt
Locus Solus) had slipped in cutting jibes at the reviewers sitting there
on the first night. Still devastated ten years later Roussel wrote that
afterwards there followed a 'river of fountain pens' from the critics.
Nevertheless, he had an almost clockwork confidence, an indefatigable ability
to persevere, oblivious to the insanity of his plays:
"Thinking that the public's
incomprehension perhaps derived from the fact that I had until then presented
only adaptations of novels, I decided to write something specifically for
Even after the stockmarket
collapse the third play was put on with slightly more modest resources,
here we see Roussel 'composing his audience' as if it were part of the
casting. Although it has something of the Ernie Wise about it, one expects
him to sound like one of Michael Palin's characters: surely a film will
one day be made of Roussel's life. One has been made of the Petomane--with
Leonard Rossiter--and surely Roussel had just as much to say, albeit by
a different procedure.
Writers have left he music
of the plays largely untouched and it is still in the early stages of critical
comprehension. Yet no one can deny that Roussel was proficient musically,
having studied at the Paris Conservatoire. When things got completely out
of hand with the plays he, on occasion, would dive down to the piano and
rattle off a crowd pleaser. At one performance they performed the whole
thing to one guy in the audience and then gave him his money back.
"Was it not from India that
Raymond Roussel sent an electric heater to a friend who has asked for something
rare as a souvenir?" Roger Vitrac (1928)
Roussel's extravagant squandering
of his fabulous wealth (mostly on his writing) and his curious mental state
are the subject of numerous anecdotes of self-indulgence and pretence.
Practically no one bought the books. The first edition of Locus Solus was
not sold out until 22 years later. To make them look like best-sellers
he produced several impressions at a time, printing 'tenth impression'
on the covers of brand-new publications. Roussel was the child of an overbearing
mother: according to Ford after the death of his brother "Madame Roussel
insisted that her surviving son should undergo a medical examination every
day." On their last foreign holiday they went to Ceylon and Madame Roussel
brought along a coffin, so as not to inconvenience the other travellers
in case she passed away. Supposedly Roussel, through a detective agency,
commissioned a commercial artist named Henri Zo to provide 59 illustrations
for one of his last works. Roussel supplied Zo with simple verbal descriptions
for each image and, without ever meeting the artist, accepted the results
that emerged. Roussel also travelled around Europe in a giant plushly furnished
motorised caravan: forty years ahead of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters.
He displayed this in front of the Pope and Mussolini who were suitably
impressed and it appeared in the equivalent of Hello magazine. But, and
its a huge psychological but:
"Daily contact with reality
which to him seemed strewn with pitfalls obliged Roussel to take a number
of precautions. During a certain period of his life when he suffered anguish
whenever he happened to be in a tunnel, and was anxious to know at all
times where he was, he avoided travelling at night; the idea that the act
of eating is harmful to one's "serenity" also led him, during one period,
to fast for days on end, after which he would break his fast by going to
Rumpelmeyer's and devouring a vast quantity of cakes (corresponding to
his taste for childish foods: marshmallows, milk, bread pudding, racahout);
certain places to which he was attached by particularly happy childhood
memories were taboo for him: Aix-les-Bains, Luchon, Saint-Moritz...; also,
afraid of being injured or causing injury in conversations, he used to
say that in order to avoid all dangerous talk with people, he preceded
by asking them questions." 22
'Language is a form of human
reason, which has its internal logic of which man knows nothing.'
Roussel's final How I Wrote
certain of My Books (and the second part of Impressions d'Afrique and the
explanatory narratives of Locus Solus) are central to Foucault because
they are Roussel's attempt to mythologises his life and work: Foucault
is also fascinated by Roussel's suicide, which he glamorises. (what else
"In a way Roussel's attitude
is the reverse of Kafka's, but as difficult to interpret. Kafka had entrusted
his manuscripts to Max Brod to be destroyed after his death--to Max Brod,
who had said he would never destroy them. Around his death Roussel organised
a simple explanatory essay which is made suspect by the text, his other
books, and even the circumstances of his death."
Roussel, in a tragic state
of barbiturate dependency, with all his money gone, surrounded by empty
pill bottles was found on a mattress at the threshold of his pretend mistress'
adjoining bedroom. This for Foucault becomes a metaphor, a rebus-like suicide
"Whatever is understandable
in his language speaks to us from a threshold where access is inseparable
from what constitutes its barrier..."
Roussel wanted to achieve
an aesthetic control of imaginative standards and to create the tools for
an operation dictated by their shape, to achieve the transformation of
his being through writing. As Foucault puts it:
"The identity of words--the
simple , fundamental fact of language, that there are fewer terms of designation
than there are things to designate--is itself a two-sided experience: it
reveals words as the unexpected meeting place of the most distant figures
of reality. (It is distance abolished; at the point of contact, differences
are brought together in a unique form: dual, ambiguous, Minotaur-like.)"
Foucault wrote his book
(which gives an enigmatic insight into his later works) while working on
the history of madness. But Roussel's 'madness' was not the initial concern:
he was intrigued by an escape from the existentialist school and phenomenology
coming from the left and the 'End of History' ideology (then all pervasive
in France thanks to the CIA). Foucault was attracted by Roussel's literary
For Michel Butor (writing
in 1950) all of Roussel's writing, like Proust's, is a search for lost
time, but this recovery of childhood is in no sense a retrogressive movement;
rather it is "a return into the future, for the event rediscovered changes
its level and meaning." Cocteau (who met Roussel in what would now be termed
a rehab clinic) called him 'the Proust of dreams,' in this sense Proust--thought
of as the 'final elaboration of 20th century fiction' in taking the novel
to extremes--is rivalled, yet Foucault offers this disclaimer:
"His was an extremely interesting
experiment; it wasn't only a linguistic experiment, but an experiment with
the nature of language, and it's more than the experimentation of someone
obsessed. He truly created, or, in any case, broke through, embodies, and
created a form of beauty, a lovely curiosity, which is in fact a literary
work. But I wouldn't say that Roussel is comparable to Proust." 23
1. Foucault, Death and the
Labyrinth Athlone Press 1987 p172.
2. C. O'Farrell Foucault:
Historian or Philosopher? Macmillan London 1989.
4. Préciosite and
Dandyism: Ages of Beauty by Iole Apicella. Moliere wrote the play Les Précieuses
based on (and ridiculing) an earlier French form of dandyism termed 'Préciosite'.
5. Trevor Winkfield, Reading
6. Roussel Comment j'ai
écrit certains de mes livres.
7. Introduction to Foucault's
'Death and the Labyrinth.'
8. Pierre Loti (pyer lôte´)
is the pseudonym of Julien Viaud, 1850-1923, French novelist and navy officer.
He achieved popularity with his impressionistic romances of adventure in
exotic lands. Roussel's nickname was Ramuntcho possibly from the 1897 Loti
story of French Basque peasant life. Both on p183 and p271 Caradec repeats
minor details of Loti's wife. On Flammarion Caradec enigmatically states
that: "There are also, perhaps, traces of the astronomer's scientific mysticism
and parapsychic research still to be discovered in Roussel's writings,
despite his materialistic scepticism." (p225).
9. Quoted from Raff.
11. Robert de Montesquiou
(Raymond Roussel Life, Death and work, Atlas). Caradec maintains that Willy
worked out his procedure in 1925. Reviewers also say that Ford's book gave
the impression that Roussel viewed his Nouvelles Impressions d'Afrique
not as an innovation in structure, but as the ingenious equivalent of a
"crossword puzzle," Caradec has an indignant sideswipe at this saying that
crossword puzzles weren't known in France at the time.
12. Atlas Anthology, Ashbury
13. Another connection does
exist between the two titles, namely: impression a fric, that is to say
"a publication at the author's own expense" and so: "a new publication
at the author's own expense."
14. Atlas Anthology.
15. Locus Solus is available
in French at http://wwwusers.imaginet.fr/~werkh/roussel/
There are some similarities
with Flann O'Brien's novels, Michel Leiris, writing in 1954 states that
there is no Rousselian work in which the end and the beginning do not join
each other. At times we seem transported to the world of De Selby. After
pages setting out Roussel's fervent admiration and worship of Pierre Loti,
"But the strangest document
is certainly the portrait of Loti in the uniform of the Academie franccaise
which was found among Roussel's papers: on the photo, somebody has inked
in two large ears, before crossing out the face...the intention could be
either mocking or malevolent, but we do not know who disfigured the photo,
or why Raymond Roussel kept it." p183.
16. Ford's translation.
17. Doug Nufer http://www.litline.org/ABR/Issues/Volume22/Issue6/abr226.html
18. Andre Breton Anthology
of Black Humour. Roussel's writing doesn't quite concur with Breton's ideas
of 'pure psychic automatonism', which permitted no revision. Neither does
it directly concur with his later obsession with the occult. Breton seems
surprised by Roussel's eventual revelation of what lay beneath his work,
writing in 1933: "...during his lifetime few people had clearly sensed
that he owed his prodigious gift of invention to a technique he had himself
discovered, that he was making use, as it were, of a crib for the imagination,
like a crib for memory."
On the inspiration of occult
writing techniques on the early symbolists, such as texts with keys and
hidden meanings, ciphers and encryption see http://www.fiu.edu/~mizrachs/poseur3.html
19. Roussel Comment j'ai
écrit certains de mes livres.
20. Apollinaire on Art ed.
Leroy C. Breunig, from the forward by Roger Shattuck. There was a recent
presentation in the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum of Roussel's writing
and artwork influenced by him. Apollinaire, Duchamp and Picabia were impressed
by the stage adaptation of Impressions d'Afrique which was partly responsible
for Duchamp's ready-mades and directly inspired his enigmatic masterpiece
The Large Glass (begun around about 1913). Picabia later incorporated his
impressions of Roussel's plays into a collection of poems entitled Fille
née sans Mère, copiously illustrated with schematic drawings
of machines. Roussel's meticulous style with its abundance of puns and
double meanings also influenced Salvador Dali's well-known landscape-cum-self-portrait
named after Impressions d'Afrique. One can find slight similarities to
Roussel in some of the more obscure written works (exploring the nature
of language) by Duchamp, particularly 'The' (1915) (p639 The Complete Works
of Marcel Duchamp, Arturo Swartz).
22. Michel Leris 1954, Caradec
follows that quote a little bit too closely.
23. Michel Foucault, Death
and the Labyrinth, from the interview by Charles Ruas.
alternative space--World alternative city
The essay aims at mapping
out the field for artist run spaces and their relevance to the construction
of Asia and Asian identities.
Asia's New Order
Alternative or independent
art spaces are generally considered as the third tier within the institutional
hierarchy, yet tend to question the conventional order and assume a more
provocative position. 'Festival of Vision: Berlin--Hong Kong (2000)', is
one event that exemplifies how an alternative organisation such as Zuni
Icosahedrons (Hong Kong) could engage in a dialogue of cross-cultural politics.
During 2001, 'alternative art spaces' became a key topic for the international
symposia organized by Bamboo Curtain Studio (Taipei), 1aspace, Para/Site
Art Space (Hong Kong), and the touring performances in Asia curated by
Museum of Site (Hong Kong).
Official patronage systems
or local governments subsidies of all the above activities (with the so-called
arms-length policy) has further complicated the current power relationship
between artists, governments, and non-governmental organizations. 1
At the Gwangju Biennale
2002, the parasitical relationships between the alternative spaces and
the museum system are satirical. Such simulacra of cultural politics reflect
the complexity and irony in post-modernism, in particular the concerns
with the reality, fabrication, and creativity in the process of historical
In theory and practice,
an art system is constituted by a conglomerate of alternative spaces, studios,
libraries, art villages, art colleges, museums and galleries, etc.. Pathological
diagnosis of civic and urban issues, as driven by alternative spaces in
the case of Old Ladies House (Macau), Fringe Club, Zuni, MOST, 1aspace
(Hong Kong), Whashang Art District (Taipei), helps sharpen our vision and
justifies necessary courses of action. We can picture this as 'stitching
a button on a cloth, but not making a new skirt'. It is impossible for
one part either to completely displace or replace the others in the art
They are here for now
With a visionary perspective,
alternative spaces bring information, enjoyment and delights to the city.
They justify the production of visual art projects from around the world.
There is now an urgency for alternative spaces to reflect on their existences
and political agencies relative of their local community. For example,
'Be Part of Our Vision', says Plastique Kinetic Worms (Singapore). When
such positive attitude becomes alive, alternative spaces are here for now.
Being part of a community fabric, Alternative spaces gear to particular
problems. Alternative spaces like Bamboo Curtain Studio (Taipei), MOST
(Hong Kong) deliberately work with different communities. Whashang Art
District (Taipei) and Cattle Depot Art Village (Hong Kong) are the fruitful
outcomes of long-term political negotiations. Loop, Insa Art Space (Seoul),
Zuni Cattle College, 1aspace, Para/Site Artspace (Hong Kong), Sly Art or
Shin Leh Yuan, Front, ITPark (Taipei), Dog Pig Art Cafe (Kaoshung), DDM
Warehouse (Shanghai), LOFT (Beijing) and Surrounded by Water (Manila) are
spaces devoted to young and emerging artists. Both Cemeti Art House (Yogyakarta)
and Old Ladies House (Macau) dedicate themselves to woman artists. Amongst
these spaces, their responses are contingent to cultural conditions of
the city that take precedence over art traditions and community history.
They are here for now! 2
The New Asia
Cultural commentators and
critics are now taking the 'Asian ensembles' into a new conceptual ground.
The philosophy behind the new 'Asian' aesthetics is neither a Venetian
nor a Rococo Revival. Instead of dressing itself up as a nostalgic kitsch,
it is deeply seated in the city's dynamicism. The Sai Yeung Choi Street
South (Hong Kong), Art-Gu, Dongdaemun-Gu (Seoul), Dong Mun (Shenzhen),
Lan Kwei Fong (Macau), Sin Tian Di (Shanghai), San Li Tun (Beijing), Si
Mun Ding (the area near West Gate, Taipei), Boat Quay, Robertson Quay,
Clarke Quay (Singapore), the open area around Petronas Twin Towers (Kuala
Lumpur) are new settlements for: shopping arcades, D-I-Y shops, cyber cafes,
karaoke-bar cum discos, ethnic restaurants, teahouses and other places
which have liberated the cities' physical barriers, unfolding options for
all generations. The aesthetics of futuristic cities hinge on openness,
fluidity, density, diversity, dialogue, noise, Do-it-yourself, etc. The
'creative industry', as an integral yet subordinate part of tourism, will
be crucial for a sustainable development of the urban environment. This
topic will be pertinent for discussions in the foreseeable future.
The concept of a novel city's
Alternative spaces are the impetus for transforming cultural productions.
The mobility and diversity of alternative spaces would likely displace
the current establishments. As a consequence of de-colonization, Asian
cities are met with unprecedented challenges under globalization. Operating
as vanguards for alternative discourses, Asia's alternative spaces are
still a local and communitybased entity. It would be interesting to
differentiate the conceptual visions and practices of alternative spaces
and to compare them to various civic museums and galleries. The boomerang
effect of Asia's alternative spaces would expose the speculation for an
alternative model in Asia. Based on the novel city and developmental concept,
it is the cultural differences that presuppose Asia's alternative nature.
Cultural difference and
the Asian globe
In the face of homogenous
'one world culture', two issues confront Asia's cities. On one hand, these
cities are neither analogous nor identical. The unresolved tensions between
local heritage and communities further intensify cultural and social differences.
On the other hand, Asian cities share common problems. Economically, the
Asian financial crisis dating back to 1997 was widely felt in the region.
The recent 9/11 tragedies further exacerbate the situation. The modernization
and renovations of the city bring about cultural development, and subsequently
a new space that accelerates acculturations and synchronizations. As colonialism
draws to a close, Asian cities are now confronting an unprecedented identity
However, the development
of Asian cities and satellite towns are multi-faceted. The Internet surfers
are able to visit virtually the cultural facilities from around the world,
undermining the real visit of museums and libraries, turning them as sites
for 'amusement'. A new art system in Asia is emerging. Like a conglomerate
into greater power and networking, dynamic art villages, districts and
open cultural spaces, art and design shops, alternative galleries, city
green houses, temporal warehouses, renovated industrial plants, multi-purpose
workshops, teahouses, art cafes, 24 hours bookshops, leisure inns, TV art
channels, on-line cyber war spaces, renting-out museums, electronic publications,
artists' colonies on homepages, are now on the move. These phenomenons
demonstrate the power to re-define the generic city. The distinctions between
center and marginal, software and hardware, permanence and ephemerality,
work and leisure are all beginning to break down. The synchronization of
Asian cities thus opens up new spaces and dimensions for everything. 3
History does not seem to
repeat itself under globalization, yet it narrates an incessant story in
a local context. The model of appropriation always operates in line with
modernization. The next beta version of 'World Alternative Cities' in Asia
are 24 hour action-cities in 'non-stop' real time.
The overall characteristic
of a new Asia is its pluralism and eclecticism. The creative power of alternative
spaces is made adaptive to the marketing strategy of enterprises. In turn,
the official art establishment is obliged to form new alliances with artists
and alternative spaces. The top-down approach will be scrutinized, thereby
transforming the overall planning, programming, and budgeting of cultural
policy. By delegating power to the community, creative spaces and strategies
will become a conduit for abandoned values and new orders to bridge. A
new plateau of humanity is in the making.
The "local" affects the
'Think Globally, Act Locally'
is a worldwide strategy that can be applied everywhere on all levels. There
is sample evidence that Asians, by acting locally, might affect the Eurocentric
Hollywood as an icon for
world culture has co-opted the 'alternative look' of Hong Kong cinema in
its eclecticism.4 The acclaimed
Tokyo and Hong Kong International Film Festivals are international attractions.
After the reception of popular Japanese culture over the past twenty years,
recent Korean TV drama brings new hype to Taipei, Hong Kong, and possibly
the world. When it comes to enhancing informational capabilities, Korea
is claimed to be at the forefront, having aggressively pursued development
and rapid technological advancement. According to a recent article from
The New York Times, the penetration of Korea's Internet services now stands
at the highest level in the world and has become an essential part of contemporary
culture. In 2001, China was recognized as the number one nation that has
achieved the greatest economic leap forward. In a recent policy address
by the Chief Executive of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the
goal of Hong Kong is to attain the identity of 'Asia's World City'. While
on the other shore of South China Sea, executive Yuan from the Taipei Cultural
Council pursues his city as the 'Asian Media Center' at the time when there
are very few alternative spaces devoted specifically to new media arts
as in the case of LOFT (Beijing) or Videotage, Video Power (Hong Kong).
With little exception, Singapore's Ministry of Information and the Arts
proclaims itself as 'A Hub City of The World', sidelining the issues of
censorship towards artist-run spaces like Substation, PKW, or Singapore
Art Museum. No matter whether these empty labels for Asian cities are valid
or not, if Asian alternative spaces form a united front, the art world
order might be turned over in one night!
Stemming from the 80's to
the 90's, artists in alternative spaces have been seeking their own identities
through rediscovering their heritage and community. They realize the importance
of belonging by regaining interests in an abandoned place.
As the system and infrastructure
takes shape together with adequate institutional and private support in
place, alternative spaces in Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul, and Singapore would
consolidate their influences.
Modernism: a failure to
commitment and post-modern Asian aesthetics
In contrast to small alternative
art spaces, the developed Asian system is a mere 'Big White Elephant' that
perpetuates Modernism into the corners of Asia. A Modernism, committed
to resolve social and technological problems, fails to meet the mass expectation
and places efficiency over social and other values. Can alternative spaces
still play a productive role in a post-modern age?
The exteriority of Asia's
alternative spaces is too often reflective of the changes of the city:
exotic pluralism and hybridity, in order to accommodate its alternativeness
in an establishment. The theme of 'Pause' would undoubtedly play an active
role in continuing the role of the Gwangju Biennale to 'legitimate the
underground' into a larger system. The situation resembles P.S.1.'s affiliation
with MoMA in New York City.
Asian cities are evolving
to become a diverse and complex cultural field at the expense of local
heritage and cultural identity. Ackbar Abbas's discourse on 'disappearance'
is undoubtedly a common experience celebrated among alternative spaces
in Asia. The Workshop (Hong Kong), Quart Society (Hong Kong), SOCA (Taipei),
Long Tail Elephant (Guangzhou), Surrounded by Water (SBW; Manila), Art
Village (Singapore), Studio Shokudo, Sagacho Exhibit Space, P3 art + environment
(Tokyo), came to a closure with the erasure of many forgotten histories.
However, Asia is rich in its potential for the re-appearances of 'past'
and 'new' histories. 5
How independent are independent
This is a key question.
Can they still be a critical supplement for the establishment of a city?
How can they be instrumental in the development of art and culture? How
can they question our amnesia towards modernity outside of the museum and
gallery system? An assessment of the mission statement of Asia's alternative
spaces may give us an answer in the reconfiguration of a new cultural landscape
and the conceptual mapping of a new utopia.
One rarely finds a social
space outside of the commercial gallery and museum, as in the case of BASH
(Beijing), where artists can find the guiding tenets for actions and sharing.
Alternative spaces provides hope to the asceticism of the establishment,
an opposition to the mal-administration, adverse conditions of exhibition
venues and insufficient resources and facilies that they usually face.
The new tactics for subverting
the art system might be reflected on the art making. To one of these non-profit
alternative spaces such as Sly Art or Shin Leh Yuan (Taipei), the sophistication
in the production of artworks is not a primary concern. Their anti-object
attitude as originated from oriental philosophy is apparent in the strategies
of display and the daily operations of the venue.
The limitations imposed
on Asia's alternative spaces not only reveal the negative sides of modernism
and globalization, but the oppressed existence of alternative spaces also
validates a pluralism that the open city should demonstrate. Life under
the economic boom is supposed to be stable, cheerful, harmonious and substantial.
However, alternative spaces portray a city as a negative spectacle that
is subversive and futile. The complete contemporary urban city is now defined
by its alternative otherness and rival competitiveness. For examples, the
exhibition projects at Whashang Art District, curated by Huang Hai Ming,
hosted at the same time as The Taipei International Biennale 2000, and
the partnership at East Link, DDM Warehouse, BizArt (Shanghai) with The
2000 Shanghai Biennale demonstrated the dynamic and parallel functions
of alternative spaces.
As seen in the larger context
of both regional and global perspectives, the structure of an art system
changes relative to the changing ideology of its surroundings. When the
time comes, the idea of alternative spaces would be consolidated and realized.
No longer a minority or an underground force, the alternative spaces in
Asia will boom with social recognition. A good example is the well-received
video project Port co-organized by BizArt in a park of Shanghai during
2001. Alternative spaces in Asia are working with new sets of codes, ethics,
and working models that will expose the problems and issues of the system.
They will set examples to show how public institutions should become more
receptive to the community. They can also identify issues pertaining to
locality and open up spaces for contemplations. In marked contrast to Rem
Koolhaas' description of Asia's 'Generic City', 'Alternative spaces' in
Asia have thus far shifted the basis for identifying cultural differences.
The campaign for governmental recognition and support by grass-roots organisations
in Whashang Art Village, Singapore Art Village and Oil Street Art Village
have demonstrated a visionary leadership for a different approach towards
to cultural institutions.6
Geurilla war amongst alternative
Some alternative spaces
in Asia are merely extensions for government to fund activities for international
recognition. While some alternative spaces are ornamental--just decorating
the pub with some installations or video works--one would not expect any
provocative work from these galleries.
Some alternative spaces
are well designed and furnished with good ceilings, white walls and wooden
paving. Even for an expert, it is hard to differentiate them from commercial
galleries without paying attention to the differences in their programming.
If alternative spaces were commercially viable, what differences would
it make when comparing to commercial spaces?
For years, there has been
a split of views in Taipei over the issue of Whashang Art District. The
organising of two similar international symposia in the same month is evident
of an acute competition between 1aspace (Cattle Depot Artist Village) and
Para/Site Art Space. The future of Asia depends on the way different cities
and their infrastructure compete.
New City Typology
Villages surrounding the
Government facilitated art
villages, e.g. Taipei Art Village (Taipei), International Art Village (Nantou)
or Sanmien Artist Village (Guangzhou) are the most generic places that
one can imagine. On the contrary, artist-run villages such as Artist Village
(Taidong), Tam-awan (Baguio), Whashang Art District, Tongzhou Artists Community
(Beijing), Singapore Art Village (Singapore), Kobe Art Village Centre (Kobe)
as well as the former Oil Street Art Village (now Cattle Depot Artist Village),
have generated a lot of energies in their respective communities, generating
controversial discussions among the artists. The incentive for their gathering
is not only to attain a stable studio space for long-term development,
but also to compete for more exhibition opportunities and support. In comparison
with the official art villages, they could gradually become institutionalised
and be a part of the city's cultural hub. 7
Café bar cum showroom
Integration with commercial
incentive is a survival strategy for all generations of alternative spaces
in Asia. Current galleries such as Song Ha Gallery in Art Town (Pusan),
Club 64, HOK7 (Hong Kong), big sky mind (Manila), Café Pulilan (Bulacan),
Cup of Art Café Gallery (Bacolod), Blind Tiger Bar (Quezon) are
primal examples for survival nowadays. The presence of bar and restaurant
is a sign for entertainment culture. LOFT, Top Floor Gallery, Courtyard
Gallery in China also take up commercial strategies to support their continued
display of political art. The next generation of alternative space could
be those cyber café-bar cum galleries, i.e. Risiris Internet Pub
(Quezon), which also helps to generate more of the city's new opportunities.
Abandoned warehouse for
Modernisation and industrialisation
has turned architecture into a commodity for consumption. This process
inevitably displaces the original function of a building. Many abandoned
warehouses, failing to comply with the city's aspirations and standards,
have become a site for artists to conduct experimental projects. In Taiwan,
renewed urban spaces, i.e. Whashang Art District and the Rail Storehouse
Reused Scheme. The spaces taken by artists to re-model as new sites, such
as Chiayi Rail Warehouse (Chaiyi) and Taichung 20 Warehouse (Taichung),
are used for exhibitions and workshops. Also in Mainland China, places
like BASH, CAAW (Beijing), DDM Warehouse and Eastlink (Shanghai) are old
warehouses being scrutinized in terms of its politics and artistic activities.
Regardless of their conservative operations and strategies, they, nevertheless,
re-present the forgotten history and narration behind modernisation.
Extensionss of artist
Whenever an artist emerges,
there will be an alternative space. Artists usually use their studio spaces
for experimentation. They open their studios and hold public exhibitions
to elicit inputs and insights. The past or current Third Space Arts Laboratory,
Lupon Art+Design+Lifestyle (Quezon), Kwok Studio, Happening Group Studio
in Shanghai Street Artspace, Desmond Kum Studio, James Wong Studio, Para/Site
Artspace, Workshop (Hong Kong), SOCA, and the Bamboo Curtain Studio (Taipei)
are well known examples for exhibition and workshops. Besides, there are
artists like Carlos Celdrans and Er Dong-keung that employ their homes
for public projects.
centers and disguised spaces
There are some embassy-affiliated
cultural centers such as The Goethe Institute, which play a great role
in promoting contemporary art and international exchanges. After The 2000
Shanghai Biennale, many alternative spaces closed. BizArt, with a sound
administrative back up, remains as the most active and popular in Southern
China. It seems that the strategy to collaborate with embassy-affiliated
institutions can protect the space from censorship and financial deficit.
The Chang Mai Art Museum (Chang Mai) is itself a disguised alternative
space, though it adopts the name of 'Museum'. It showcases students' experimental
work from time to time. Strictly speaking, Galeri Petronas inside The Petronas
Twin Towers (Kuala Lumpur) and Dimension Endowment Of Art (Taipei) are
not alternative spaces. However, their devotion to education, research,
publication and display of experimental art make them an alternative among
other conventional alternative venues.8
With the rise of alternative
spaces in Asia, a new cultural geography is in formation. Asian cities
are now being redefined by alternative spaces with new propositions. The
new inter-regional networking is a worldwide strategy and is not exceptional
to these alternative art spaces. The Asian counterparts are no longer working
alone on the periphery of the cultural arena. In recent years, there is
a trend to build up a network for mutual support and recognition in the
hope of reshaping the global order. On one hand, the institutionalisation
and commercialisation of Asia's alternative spaces could finally defeat
some of their original missions as a counterforce to the establishment.
Thus, some of the alternative spaces would become a newcomer of establishment
or the Third Force? Alternative art spaces, in my view, can retain integrity
by maintaining a smaller scale of operation and closer ties to a local
community. They should be visionary, with a clear idea of what to do and
what not to do.
1. In early 2002, The Japan
Foundation Asia Center published a small booklet Alternative: Contemporary
Art Spaces In Asia, which sheds some light on selected independent art
spaces and museums in Asia.
2. See also Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez,
Alternative Spaces: We're Here for Now in Transit Vol. 1, 10-12. pp. 22-25.
3. See Art Papers Mar/Apr
2001 Sp. Issue on Conceptual Art.
4. The 49th Venice Biennale
saw the erection of a larger-than-scale replica of the famous California
landmark, Maurizio Cattelan's Hollywood in Palermo, Sicily, an official
project outside Venice, witnessing the play and displacement of global
influence. For photo, please refer to Art Forum, September 2001, p.168.
5. Please refer to Hong
Kong and the Culture of Disappearance. An Interview with Ackbar Abbas by
Geert Lovink in Kassel, Documenta X, July 19th, 1997 and Ackbar Abbas,
Hong Kong, Culture and Politics of Disappearance, University of Minnesote
Press, Minnesote, 1997.
6. According to artist Koh
Nguang How, the Singapore Art Village is still active without National
Art Council's support of a permanent location.
7. Steven Pettifor, Northern
Thailand's Artistic Home, Asian Art News, 2001 September-October, pp.62-65.
8. For more information,
please refer to Xiaopin Lin's Bejing: Yin Xiuzhen's The Ruined City, in
Third Text, 1999 Autumn, pp.45-54.
Gareth Williams, who has
died of cancer aged 48, was a founder member of This Heat, a rock trio
whose significance and musicality the historically minded listener would
favourably compare to Cream or the Jimi Hendrix Experience, but whose recalcitrant
experimentalism led them far away from mainstream success.
Williams was born in Cardiff
in 1953. After taking his A-levels, he took up a job as a Drugs Rehabilitation
Counsellor in Newfoundland. By the mid 1970s he was working in retail as
the deputy manager of the Cranbourn Street, Westminster branch of HMV,
a post he held with a madcap degree of irresponsibility. Once, to win a
television set offered as an A&M sales promotion, he purchased for
the shop hundreds of copies of Rick Wakeman's "The Six Wives of Henry VIII".
On receipt of the tv, he returned the records as faulty, having himself
scratched and made unsaleable the entire shipment. Williams was a fanatical
listener and record collector and as such attracted the attention of guitarist
Charles Bullen and drummer Charles Hayward. Hayward was rehearsing with
Bill MacCormick, bass player with Matching Mole, the pair having been persuaded
by an unexpected Top 30 hit to reform Quiet Sun, a band they had formed
at school with Phil Manzanera, then guitarist of Roxy Music. Bullen handled
the guitar parts and Williams was brought in to add a missing spark of
vitality to the group, but his lack of musical training was anathema to
Quiet Sun's formal brand of progressive rock. For Bullen and Hayward, however,
Williams was a revelation, a maniacal performer whose intuitive approach
was urgent and deeply liberating. There had been non-musicians working
in rock before, notably Brian Eno in Roxy Music, but Williams was perhaps
the first to take centre stage rather than being merely adding colour to
familiar forms. The trio set about reinventing rock in a manner reliant
on accident and deliberately devoid of technique.
This Heat played its first
concert on February 13 1976, mere days after it had formed. (As a sign
of their confidence from the outset, they included "Rainforest," recorded
at this gig, on their debut LP). In the early days noisy instrumental improvisations
dominated; but This Heat were also adept at songs and gradually achieved
a balance between the abstract and the formal. In concert, trance-like
ambient soundscapes would typically fade into riotous, even danceable,
anthems before giving way to a heady shower of glorious noise or leery
episodes of half-stoned silence. This Heat attracted an audience of fervent
admirers and enthusiastic critics, for whom Williams became "the musician's
This Heat took to using
tape recordings in concert, with Williams becoming adept at playing cassette
machine as a solo instrument. For them tape was a legitimate element in
its own right, a creative rather than recreative musical source which allowed
them to bring into the mix sounds from another time and place. It provided
This Heat with an other-worldliness which arose directly from their own
lives and previous playing experiences and which lent the band a singular
vibe of vertiginous alienation. They played at extremely loud volume, usually
in pitch darkness. From the start, and with a kind of light-headed arrogance
born of the unexpected discovery of something new, This Heat deliberately
set themselves apart from other groups, an attitude that prefigured the
punk explosion that followed and partially engulfed them a few months later--and
which they in turn influenced as pub rock simplicity gave way to post-punk
experimentation. They issued a spoof manifesto: "This Heat was made out
of the collective desire of its members not to be in any other groups."
They set up their own rehearsal and recording studio in Brixton, Cold Storage.
Here they recorded their first album, "This Heat"(1979), taking over two
years to assemble it. The maxi-single "Health and Efficiency," perhaps
their finest single work, was released in 1980, a deliriously upbeat song
"about the sunshine" which allowed Williams to display his now considerable
skill as a musical bricoleur. This was followed by "Deceit" in 1981, an
LP which put its finger on that fearful era's g-spot, decrying the nuclear
arms race and media disinformation in a sequence of exquisitely executed
but agonised songs. If it voiced a bitter anger at the world in general,
"Deceit" perhaps also articulated the tensions within the band.
By the time it was released,
Williams had quit the group. Having once declared that This Heat was the
music the three of them made together, Bullen and Hayward nevertheless
carried on, now joined by bass player Trefor Goronwy and keyboardist Ian
Hill. The band's final concert took place in London on May 18 1982. By
then Williams was in Kerala, south India, where he studied kathakali dance-drama.
He converted to Hinduism, mainly to gain easier access to temples. On his
return to London, Williams co-authored the first edition of "The Rough
Guide to India" and took a Degree in Indian Religions and Music at the
School of Oriental and African Studies.
In 1985 Williams with Mary
Currie made "Flaming Tunes," a collection of raw yet plaintive songs, domestically
recorded and released more or less surreptitiously in a hand-coloured cassette
package. While This Heat was angrily engaged with social issues, "Flaming
Tunes" found Williams in a calmer, introspective mood, singing suggestively
autobiographical fragments: "My body moves forward. This restless mind
runs back like a banner that flaps in the wind."
In the 1990s he played with
Hayward in the short-lived avant-rock project, Mind The Gap, and was one
of many players featured in Hayward's monthly "Accidents & Emergencies"
improvisation series at the Albany Empire in Deptford. He was also active
as a promoter as well as working occasionally as a DJ and pursuing his
own musical projects, recording obsessively at home, notably with Maritn
Harrison (one of This Heat's pool of engineers) and singer Viv Corringham.
The advent of compact discs had led to a renewed interest in This Heat
and the albums were re-released, along with the archival "Made Available:
John Peel Sessions" and "Repeat". Williams was diagnosed with cancer in
September 2001. Early in December 2001 the three members of This Heat got
together once more and tentatively rehearsed with a view to a live performance
or new recording. Before any resolution to their diverse musical or temperamental
differences could be reached Williams died, on Christmas Eve. He is survived
by his partner, Nick Goodall.
[Gareth John Williams, musician,
born April 23 1953; died December 24 2001]
Cornelius Castoriades was
a tough-minded activist and intellectual who, under pseudonyms like Chalieu
and Pierre Cardan, wrote for the group Socialisme ou Barbarisme which--in
the 50s and 60s--theorised and gave encouragement to revolutionary notions
of workers' self-management, organisation from below. (See Interview in
Variant 15 Volume 1). Like many others he withdrew from active politics
in the changed circumstances, the defeat post-1974, but did not in any
way 'sell out', even as a respected academic on the 'socio-philosophical
In the late eighties what
has variously been called Chaos, Complexity and Emergence theory had come
to be a big player in 'social' as well as natural sciences. Initially it
looks sympathetic, with its emphasis on organisation from the bottom up,
but Castoriades had the bullshit-detector of tough-minded people and wrote
in Done and to be Done (1989) "The hive or herd are not societies", this
when the hive was such an important analogy for Complexity theory. As its
populariser (and Wired magazine editor) Kevin Kelly puts it: "The marvel
of 'hive mind' is that no one is in control, and yet an invisible hand
governs, a hand that emerges from very dumb members." Castoriades' wariness
of such stuff, he having been a populariser of notions of self-management,
was clearly a threat to its ideologues. Thus at a conference of the Complexity
Group at the LSE in June 1997, he was singled out to be patronised by one
Gunther Truebner: "At a global level, the unpredictable dynamics of autopoiesis
argues against the unrealistic view of those like Castoriades who believe
that it is possible to move world society in a desired direction via deliberative
global democratic process."
Castoriades' wariness comes
from a mistrust of the use of natural science analogies in the world of
human relations, analogies which seem always to have the same result and
perhaps, who knows, the same aim, that of making ahistorical assumptions
about human society. In the language of structuralism and post-structuralism,
the signifier is not respected for what it is and so can be used in an
ideological and often far-fetched manner to say something about the signified,
or rather to shape the signified. Exactly the moment to be wary.
I want to argue that analogies
in either direction between the human world and that of natural sciences
are a useless hindrance when used from a humanist progressive viewpoint;
to be fought against when used to justify inequality and realpolitik; mocked
when used as disappointment displacement by 'libertarian' theorists; and
the ahistoricism in all three brought out into the open.
The Sokal affair
On the face of it, this
theme, of dodgy analogies, is similar to the Sokal affair, in which the
New York physicist in tandem with Jean Bricmont wrote a spoof article with
the wonderful title Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative
Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity, which was accepted and published by the
prestigious cultural studies journal Social Text. In fact it is this aspect
of the business, the misuse of analogy, which has disappeared in the furious
argument that has simmered on. Sokal sounds like someone who is very pleased
with himself, and the editors of Social Text like parody patricians of
the left. No humble pie from them: when discovering that what they had
published was a hoax they responded instead: "From the first , we considered
Sokal's article to be a little hokey...His adventures in PostmodernLand were
not really our cup of tea...Sokal's article would have been regarded as somewhat
outdated if it had come from a humanist or social scientist."
The affair then, as a critical
citizenry, is not our business, especially when one sees how much of an
ego 'n budget turf war it is between comfortable academics, despite Social
Text's attempt to garner our sympathy thus: "There is nothing we regret
more than watching the left eat the left, surely one of the sorriest spectacles
of the twentieth century." Its supporters make valid points about the undermining
of objective peer reviews in scientific journals under pressure from corporate
research financing and that in general science does not take place in a
historical or cultural vacuum, which is in part shown up by the back and
forth of misleading analogy. However the journal's leading defender, Stanley
Fish, himself falls back on a dodgy analogy well-used by social reality
philosophers, i.e. that baseball is socially constructed and is also real.
All very well, but if it were decided tomorrow that baseball was pointless
it would cease to be a social construct, but what of the physical world?
The claim of Fish and Social
Text is presumably that examining the social constructs involved in science
is in itself a democratic project; that it puts questions in to beyond-question
natural science. For such a project however, clear popularising of what
scientific work is being done, plus investigations of what scientific developments
are being followed and what not followed, and who is financing and patenting
such work, is much more to the point.
The analogies taken from
science and used in the most racist and inegalitarian manner are clearly
those taken from the Darwinian theory of evolution. That it is his version
that should set the tone and change the world, that and its timing, is
also evidence of the theory as in part a 'social construct', one suited
to the dominant culture of a recently industrialised and colonising Britain.
It doesn't need Social Text or its theorists to tell us. Sinyavsky may
have a spiritual axe to grind but is not far off when saying that:
"the theory of evolution
has a hint of parody about it and arouses the suspicion that it originated
under the influence of the factory, which inspired the basic analogies
and suggested the idea of progress as a world-wide conveyor-belt." (A Voice
from the Chorus).
Neither Darwin nor the geologist
Lyell can fail to have been influenced by the Industrial Revolution in
which small, imperceptible changes had made a revolution, and created markets
in which a failure of flexibility, a failure to adapt were punished by
Analogy then is used both
ways, in undeclared fashion in some scientific theorising, and then back
again into the social world. Neo-liberalism/old lassez faire has never
ceased to use Darwinian analogy: survival of the fittest as smugly articulated
by US Treasury Secretary O'Neill for example at the World Economic Forum
of 2002. Or yet another management guru book this year from Seth Godin
in which he argues that what biology has learned by studying the struggle
for survival 'can inform us as we think about the struggle for products
for market share; firms for talent; countries for tax base; or start-ups
for venture capital'. The firm for political influence and public money
might be closer to the mark! This follows on directly from the Social Darwinist,
Herbert Spencer who coined the 'survival of the fittest' phrase. He was
worried by the domestic British underclass, and in modern neo-liberal fashion
(or Manchester liberalism as it was then called), opposed state intervention
even in the matter of sewage. Using Darwin he could rationalise the extermination
of that underclass if, for example, cholera could be kept to the ghettos.
What is historically perverse,
and remains so, is that the other prop of capitalist economic ideology,
that is neo-classical economics which emerges soon after Darwin, uses a
completely different analogical framework from natural sciences. As Stephen
Toulmin has pointed out, late 19th century economists sought to become
the Newtons of the human sciences and elaborated their neo-classical equilibria
in supposed imitation of his Principa Mathematica. Extraordinary how they
got away with it when the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and the mathematics
of Poincare (these both before Quantum Physics) clearly implied how limited
the Newtonian model was. An anti-temporal model which can stomach neither
just Marx, nor Adam Smith.
Spencer was not interested
in colonies or colonisation but an inhumane and truly repulsive racism
which was present in the Darwinian view of the world attracted others.
It has been used by racists ever since, and is also dependent on two-way
analogy. 18th and 19th century scientific exploration was driven largely
by economic and colonial ambitions with a fundamentalist edge to it, that
is for European men to show their own superiority to themselves, and thus
justify their entitlement to the rest of the world. Prim, uptight people
like Darwin who, when first encountering naked Fuegians on the Beagle voyage
wrote: "I could not have believed how wide was the difference between savage
and civilised man. It is greater than between a wild and domesticated animal."
The analogy between men
and animals, types of men, gave credence to rationalisations of a genocidal
process of plunder. It is said that Alfred Wallace who had also hit on
the idea of natural selection, 'was convinced that the wonderfully intricate
ecosystems of the tropics were not made for man alone and that he loved
their native inhabitants whom he found more graceful, ethical and democratic
than Europeans. It was not however his version of evolution we have come
to know, it is Darwin's who, in 1859 in a letter to Lyell, thought that
the process of natural selection might also occur between the human races,
"the less intellectual races being exterminated." It is said that he was
horrified by first hand experience of racist genocides in Argentina and
Tasmania but it obviously was not enough to deter him from going public
with the thought of the letter in The Descent of Man (1871): "At some future
period not very distant as measured in centuries, the civilised races of
man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace throughout the world,
the savage races." With such a lead it was hardly difficult for monstrous
theorists like Robert Knox to rationalise the genocides that were to happen
on an even greater scale in Africa, and to do it without reference to the
civilising mission of Christianity.
And so it goes on, 'Social
Darwinism, only nowadays it's worse, with the Spencerian and racist strands
tied together. In the face of all the evidence provided by many geneticist
like the scrupulous and tolerant Reith lecturer Dr Steve Jones to the contrary,
people like Charles Murray and his Bell Curve still now have not just credence
but an impact on social policy with theories which invariably claim inherited
differences in intelligence on racial grounds where the so-called underclass
is also racially defined.
Its impact has been on welfare
policies in a period when capital has decided it can no longer afford to
be decent and more specifically been both a pre- and post-event rationalisation
of the truly awesome number of Afro-Americans in prison, and the even greater
number otherwise restrained by the US legal system.
Marx and the Darwinian
In the light of all this,
it is sobering that Marx would have liked to dedicate Capital to Darwin,
and that it was only Darwin's bourgeois fear of being associated with such
a disreputable person which prevented it. One can see the attraction for
Marx; Darwin as the demystifier, the revolutionary with a template of progress,
a scientific template, whereas in fact it meant that time necessarily involving
change could be restricted to the bio-geological sphere. Ironies abound
here because like Sinyavsky a hundred years later, Marx wrote privately
of how Darwinism was Manchester liberalism writ large. History in effect
was allowed in the biological long term, but even then it derived from
the existing conditions of capitalism.
Looked at now, the desire
of Marx to create a scientific socialism, has become a terrible burden,
one which made the rigidities, distortions, stupidities and crimes of Marxism-Leninism
seem like continuity from Marx himself. Looked at now, it is a shame how
notions of historical laws like falling rate of profit, have obscured the
complex description of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and its
countervailing tendencies, one which illuminates much of what is happening
now in the 21st century as does the analysis of equalization of rate of
profit. I suspect that in the case of Marx the need for it to be scientific
socialism is partly because at the time it was de rigeur if one was to
be taken seriously but also to bolster the spirits with the thought that
one day a humanist communism would have to come about.
The increased emphasis on
scientific socialism is normally blamed on Engels and his Dialectics of
Nature but it is not justified, it was a joint project. He has though been
accused by hard-line ecologist Robin Jenkins of deliberately repressing
the significance of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics because he well understood
that this clearly implied limits to the economic growth that would render
capitalist property relations untenable, and limits to the general idea
Certainly the Christian
intellectual Dean Inge welcomed entropy on precisely this score, but at
the same time felt "that the sum of things should end in nothingness is
a painful stultification of our belief in the values of life." Ilya Prigorgine
on the other hand suggests that the irreversibility implied by the 2nd
Law strengthened 'the idea of an historical development of nature', the
very idea that had attracted Marx and Engels to the Darwinian theory of
The 2nd Law which states
that in all transfers of energy, energy is lost, and disorganisation increases
to the point of entropy has been used analogically in the service of many
ideas beyond its scope. I do not believe it should be used at all in relation
to human social relations whether 'progressive' or otherwise. It is this
law which undermines the Newtonian equilibria by asserting the irreversibility
of some processes, and thus the 'arrow of time', but this 'historical'
natural law is still just that, a natural law.
Some forty to fifty years
later Quantum Physics knocks away the props of equilibria some more. It
was, and remains, exciting stuff, but it too produced its analogisers which
are taken apart in a wonderful book of the 1930's, L. Susan Stebbings'
Philosophy and the Physicists. She too is excited, and as a democrat committed
to a well informed and critically intelligent public: sympathetic to popularised
accounts of Quantum Physics she is sharp on analogies which far from clarifying,
confuse or are misleading.
This often took the form
of anthropomorphism (and still does, 'nature does this, and nature does
that') and at other times is used to justify a form of philosophical idealism.
"It is odd," she says, "to find the view that 'all is mysterious' is to
be regarded as a sign of hope. The rejection of the 'billiard-ball view'
of matter (i.e. Newtonian-based false analogies of the atom with astronomy)
does not warrant the leap to any form of Idealism." Aware of this she notes
that Lenin too was worried about the new physics on precisely this score
but is somewhat sceptical as to his understanding it, and his ideological
methodology. Another of those ironies that is bound to arise when leftists
tangle with natural sciences as a source of ideology, is that Anton Pannekoek
in his "Lenin and Philosophy" argued that Lenin himself is philosophically
Stebbings is especially
stringent on two points: an intellectual slither that allows the concepts
of Quantum Physics to be applied to the everyday world; and the way analogy
dressed as argument was being used to assert 'free-will'. Both of these
have re-appeared to lurk in the dodgy analogies of computer age theorising
wherein almost anything that is non-Newtonian, that is 'mysterious', must
be good. On the first point she quotes Ernst Zimmer: "A table, a piece
of paper, no longer possesses that solid reality which they appear to possess;
they are both of them porous and consist of very small electrically charged
particles which are arranged in a particular way." If that is the case,
as she asks, what does solid mean if nothing is solid?
In the matter of free will,
it was true that a previous scientific determinism said it was an illusion,
but to make of quantum physics and especially Heisenberg's Uncertainty
Principle, that cause and effect are out of the window and the electron
'free to choose', and then from this make it a safeguard of human freedom
from science is not sustainable... "Either way," she says of pre-and post-Quantum
Physics, "this use of physical science to countenance a theory of interaction
of humans is unwarranted." When cause and effect are out of the game in
the social world we are on very dangerous ground as we can see for example
in the US attitude to Kyoto.
Given this history, it is
not altogether surprising that it is this physics which Sokal used in his
analogical spoofs: asserting for example that Lacan's psychoanalytic speculations
have been confirmed by recent work in quantum field theory; that Quantum
Physics is consonant with 'postmodernist epistemology'; and then making
a more inclusive pastiche on the same lines held together with words like
nonlinearity, flux and interconnectedness, with Deleuze one of his targets.
These are the buzzwords of the computer age theories of Chaos, Complexity
and Emergence in which the non-localised phenomenon of QP has also been
prominent, and which yet again cannot resist analogies with the world of
The Selfish Dawkins
Other theorising with analogical
overtones have also been given a new lease of life by the computer age.
Here I am thinking especially of Richard Dawkins, his selfish gene and
his memes. Dawkins is an inveterate maker of analogies between natural
sciences and the social-political world. In the 1989 edition of The Selfish
Gene he starts to apologise but cannot help still defending the analogy
of 'the working people of Britain' as individuals not understanding the
need to restrain their greed for the good of the whole group. If it was
wrong it was because '"actually it's best not to burden scientific work
with political asides at all." Why? Because they become dated, a comment
which then allows him to turn this apology into an attack on J.B.S. Haldane.
There is also a kind of
heroic masochism in his insistence on the primacy of the gene and its replication,
with the species (including humans and therefore himself) having the role
merely of its carrier. Replication of code being at the centre of this
model, the computer age provides an analogy-become real, since it is also
inherent to its technology. Thus he now writes of the possibility, that
in his writing slides into likelihood, of the self-evolution of software
code. With a generalisation breathtaking in its pomposity he writes, "Life
is just bytes and bytes and bytes of digital information," just as for
Zimmer it was electrically charged particles. At the same time he takes
the same model into the social world with the notion of memes, 'media viruses',
or as Dawkins puts it, "non-genetic replicators which flourish only in
the environment provided by complex communicating brains." "The apparatus
of inter-individual communication and imitation" is then analogous to the
gene's concern with its replication. But the gene and meme must also have
a phenotypic effect that allows it to survive into the next generation.
On the face of it, this seems to depend on the discredited Lamarckian notion
that acquired characteristics can be passed on to others or genetically
to the next generation, a theory which caused havoc to Soviet farmers following
Lysenko, and has come up again recently in the Motorola-financed research
of Sadie Plant which purports to show that Western teenagers sending text
messages have developed more flexible thumbs, and that this is, or rather
will be, evolutionary.
Allowing Dawkins his meme
for the moment, he tells us that whether it is an idea or a tune, it must
to be popular. "If it is a political or religious idea, it may assist its
own survival if one of its phenotypic effects is to make its bodies violently
intolerant of new and unfamiliar ideas...If the society is already dominated
by Marxist or Nazi memes, any new meme's replicatory success will be influenced
by its compatibility with this existing background." In which case, we
could well do without memes altogether since they would have to be both
conformist and intolerant to successfully replicate. Fortunately we are
doing without them, these analogies-made-real. It also implies, the meme
as idea, a passivity on the part of receptors. It is this characteristic
which it has in common with some of the ways in which Chaos/Complexity/Emergence
theory has been used. "The marvel of the 'hive mind' as Kelly put it, "emerges
from very dumb members."
If Darwinian theory has
the whiff of the factory about it, Complexity theory has not just the whiff,
but has been enabled by the number-crunching capacity of computers and
their networking facility. In one important respect it has also followed
the phenomenon of Quantum Physics that Susan Stebbing did not touch on,
that is the concept of non-locality, what Einstein called "spooky action
at a distance", whereby atomic particles, widely separated, are somehow
in instantaneous contact with each other. Again, it is to be remembered
that this is a world of sub-atomic particles, but one can see how the 'butterfly
effect' of Complexity theory, must have been inspired by it even if it
is not so radical in its implications. Inspired by it and the holistic
'spaceship earth' notion which flourished briefly after the first landings
on the moon, until it reverted to the neo-liberal version of globalization.
With the butterfly effect
there is still a strong element of cause and effect, even if it is the
case that a small cause may have a big effect far away. To be clear here,
I have no intention of dissing theories and phenomenon lumped together
as New Age, like the ideas of Rupert Sheldrake, the energy emissions of
rocks, or those telepathic experiences we have probably all experienced;
nor of a holistic view of the world or ourselves. What does need to be
looked at warily though is the vague assumption that anything which claims
to be non-Newtonian or non-reductionist, de-centralised, or holistic is
good in itself. Not all management gurus are Darwinian, management guru
Richard Pascale has urged a "holistic" approach to management and Tom Peters,
management evangelist entitled one of his recent best-sellers, "Thriving
In the case of the 'butterfly
effect' it's as well to remind its theorists that BIG causes in one part
of the world have even bigger effects in other parts and that these are
located in fixed positions, with the underdeveloped world invariably the
passive receptor of mostly negative effects caused by 57 varieties of self-interest
in the first world. Since they believe that moving "world society in a
desired direction via deliberative democratic process" to be a naïve
illusion, they do not welcome this reminder. It is also not accidental
that Castoriades should be in their line of fire, he as a theorist of workers
self-management, decentralisation of authority and organisation from below,
for on the face of it complexity theory seems to be on the same side so
to speak, holding out the same promise. It is not the case.
Out of Control
It is perhaps unfair to
pick on Kevin Kelly and his book Out of Control, given that he is a magpie
of across the board natural sciences examples used in Chaos/Complexity/Emergence
theory, but in the end he is important because he can't help but give the
game away. He rushes the reader through a series of analogies using as
his connector the phrase, 'very much as in', from hive, to whirlpool, to
the brain, and to a colony of ants. In the chapter 'Machines with Attitude',
we get a tour de force of flim-flam, jumped from quote to idea and back
again. He begins with a quote from the philosopher Daniel Dennett, "The
idea that the brain has a centre is just wrong. Not only that, it is radically
wrong." At this point one is already wondering where this is going, given
that Dennett is also a fanatical supporter of Richard Dawkins and ferocious
attacker of holistic biologists like Richard Lewontein. His being used
by Kelly is an early signal that despite the apparent complete difference
in outlook there may be something similar going on between the 'determinist'
Dawkins and Complexity theory, that is an underlying notion of human passivity.
From Dennett he moves to
saying that the collapse of the USSR is solely ascribable to the instability
of any centrally controlled complexity; to an approving reference to 'the
bureaucracy of the brain'; to the notion that "there is no 'I', for a person,
for a beehive, a corporation'; to the unacknowledged analogy from Quantum
Physics that it is likely that intelligence is a probabilistic or statistical
phenomenon. Suitably softened up from this scatter gun, we are then hit
by Roger Brook's notion (one he is developing technologically) that "You
can build a mind from many little parts, each mindless in itself." This
is just one version of the essence of Complexity/Emergence theory, that
is 'the generation of higher-level behaviour or structures within systems
made up of relatively simple components'. And it is attractive with its
promise of the non-hierarchic, and one can see that the wonderful internet
and its World Wide Web is a realised paradigm. But if it goes further,
and the web itself is the analogical basis for a whole view of the world,
it becomes a rationale for the privileged of the world, when there is no
one for the rest of the world to negotiate with for something better for
Writing of Roger Brook's
use of small robots he says "With no centrally imposed model, no one has
the job of reconciling disputed notions; they simply aren't reconciled.
Instead various signals generate various behaviours. The behaviours are
sorted out (suppressed, delayed, activated) in the web hierarchy of subsumed
control." Then in a brazen piece of reader flattery and final candour he
says, "Astute observers have noticed that Brooks' prescription is an exact
description of a market economy." Brooks? The market economy is also where
Kelly's hive analogies take us. It could equally well be von Hayek and
his capitalist utopia of wholly rational consumers and their preferences;
their simple but rational decisions making an economy that runs itself.
Kelly of course has to ascribe
it to someone else, Roger Brooks, because at the same time he has a self-image
as the rebel, the heroic pioneer. This romanticisation seems to be common
to the users of dodgy analogy. It informs the tone of Richard Dawkins and
those other serial analogisers, Deleuze and Guattari, the first of whom
was outed for dodgy analogising by Sokal, but who would seem to be the
complete antithesis to neo-liberal ideology given that they are 68ers who
would certainly have been sympathetic to Castoriades' ideas in the days
of Socialisme ou Barbarie. In their understandable reaction against the
disaster of Marxism-Leninism, the non-hierarchical becomes an end in itself.
In their understandable desire to celebrate this quality in the World Wide
Web, they have recourse to the rhizome, an analogy taken from plant roots,
and this analogy takes the place of argument. They can't stop there either
but must then make an analogy out of nomads and create a self-image of
the techno-nomad who, ironically is just another variety of elitist vanguard,
the outsider variety who, though not a capitalist, is one of the world's
A report from Ramallah
from an American nurse & humanitarian aid worker
Tuesday April 2
Bloody hell. Just got out
of Ramallah yesterday, managed to catch a ride to the checkpoint with the
Associated Press in their bullet-proof vehicle, then walked across with
a few bullet-proof vested/helmeted journalists, me in my scrubs do not
know how to describe what is happening in Ramallah, but I will try. I must
I am here (Gaza, Bethlehem, Ramallah, then Lebanon) for 6 weeks, working
as a volunteer for the PCRF (Palestine Children's Relief Fund-a non-profit,
non-political, humanitarian relief organization). Teaching NRP/NICU stuff,
bringing donated supplies, and consulting for potential future relief efforts.
I had been in Ramallah since the 23rd March. On 28th, the situation appeared
to get worse, with 150 tanks surrounding Ramallah and closures put into
effects I had been staying at the hospital since Thursday--it was safer
and I was useful there; not really teaching much anymore but instead working
ER, OR, NICU, or wherever needed an extra nurse. The staff that could make
it in was working back to back shifts, walking past tanks to get to and
from work or sleeping at the hospital. Everybody not anaemic donated blood.
All supplies are running low, sometimes there was not enough food. The
ambulances are prevented from transporting the wounded, or any other patients
or staff--they were stopped and arrested, and the ambulances were then used
by the Israelis in house to house searches and executions. The patients
that were able to make it to the hospital in time were gun shot wounds--mostly
to abd. and chest, or head. I saw many corpses with close range wounds/
execution style. The morgue is over-full. The Israelis are lying about
what is happening--i.e. they did enter Ramallah hospital on Sunday, I was
there. The press is censured [sic]--unable to report what is occurring as
they are also prevented/detained, threatened, injured, or escorted out.
I am hearing that the news in the States is very pro-Israeli as usual.
How is this allowed? There are many major human rights issues here.
I feel helpless to do anything.
I wish now that I would have stayed in Ramallah. I am a nurse, and a human
being. It was very hard to leave, but the hospital staff advised me to
go, to get out when I could. They were very afraid about what might happen
(and now is happening). I am safe in Jerusalem now, but feel useless-unable
to do anything except write emails. And today the situation there is so
much worse--the press just told me that now snipers are firing at anyone
leaving the Ramallah hospital. In Bethlehem today the Israelis are targeting
churches, have shot and killed a priest and also shot a nun--and the situation
is the same for the hospital there, no one allowed in or out. They continue
to surround Arafat's compound, cutting off water, food, electricity, and
any contact. They shot Palestinians trying to surrender, in their underwear.
They continue to conduct house to house searches and executions, they are
casting a wide net and arresting many, many people--I saw trucks filled
with blindfolded Palestinians pass by the hospital. There were major bombings
done early this morning, many people must be hurt or dead. I can't think
of anything else to say right now--the situation is unimaginable. I have
no words for this except to plea; "please help stop this". Americans need
to know what is happening, they need to pay attention. They need to be
aware that their news is very biased; they need to search for the truth,
and the causes of symptoms such as suicide bombers. They need to re-evaluate
their definition of terrorism and who the terrorists are, to include politics
that would oppress another people so hard and for so long. All need to
take responsibility for our own government's actions and inactions. Please,
at least, pray for all the people here--esp. in Ramallah and Bethlehem...
am very tired. I'll try to email more later.
Wed. April 3
Here's an update: spoke
with the director of the Ramallah hospital--they are running out of medicines,
supplies, and oxygen. There are still many casualties and dead in the streets
that they are unable to get to. They are worried about diseases that come
with having a morgue full again, and garbage in the streets piled high,
and unable to get to or bury the dead. They were able to bury 29 bodies
yesterday in a mass grave, during a lift of the curfew for a few hours--but
soldiers still shot at people in the streets even during this time, killing
a 10 yr old boy. There is no electricity, no food and now no water at the
hospital. A female doctor was killed in Jenin. In Bethlehem yesterday,
they targeted churches--shot and killed a priest, and injured six nuns.
They are now shooting at priests that have come to the check point to try
to get in to Bethlehem. The hospital and ambulances there are also unable
to get to the injured. The press just arrived back to the hotel, telling
me that the convoy of supplies trying to get into Ramallah will not be
Some of the babies in the
NICU will die without oxygen--of all the indisputable innocents.
Thurs. April 4
I don't even know where
to start anymore--except to say that the situation is even worse. There
are hundreds of calls to the ambulances at Ramallah every day, pleading
for help for the critically sick and injured--but they still are not allowed
to do anything or transport anyone. I spoke with a Finnish researcher who
was allowed out of Ramallah yesterday who says that there are medical persons
detained, along with hundreds of Palestinians. She said that there are
hundreds of injured in the bombed areas of Ramallah that are unable to
get help. As for Bethlehem, I spoke with press who had been able to get
part way in yesterday before being chased out by soldiers, reporting that
"every door has been blow open, riddled with bullets", dead bodies behind
the doors, a missile in a child's bedroom, "water pipes everywhere are
totally destroyed". "This is the most horrible vandalism imaginable--clearly
just for punishment" of the Palestinian people. The Israeli soldiers abide
by no rule--shooting anyone now. They have expanded the militarized zones,
and are not allowing journalists, or anyone in. They do not want anyone
seeing what they are doing--this is the most frightening. Peaceful demonstrations
at the check points are targeted with tear gas, international convoys of
supplies are not allowed in. The situation at the hospitals remains critical--their
supplies, medicines, and oxygen are running out. The Ramallah hospital
was able to get three oxygen cylinders two days ago, but convoys of medical
supplies and food were not allowed in at all yesterday. There is not enough
food, either at the hospital or for the rest of Ramallah. There is still
no water or electricity--I can not imagine how the medical staff is coping,
the nurses in the neonatal unit must be taking turns ventilating the babies
by hand with whatever oxygen they have left. How long can the rest of the
world watch this, doing nothing?
PLEASE AT LEAST LET THE
FOOD, WATER AND MEDICAL SUPPLIES IN!
The Palestinian Centre
for Rapprochement between People, 64 Star Street, P.O. Box 24
The centre is a non-profit
making NGO, started in 1988 during the first Intifada. PCR runs community
service programs, youth empowerment and training programs. PCR is also
very much involved in the non-violent resistance against the Israeli Occupation
of the Great Unwashed
Frank was happy. He'd always
been happy, but he couldn't remember ever feeling as happy as he was now.
He shifted back into fourth
and overtook the log-bearing artic. He didn't often overtake, even on this
dual carriageway, but hated sitting behind these larger vehicles. The sets
of double-wheels were a worry. You never knew where these trucks had been
uplifting or delivering, perhaps on open building sites. Da knew of a friend
of a friend--a truck had picked up a half-brick lodged between the rear
wheels. The friend of the friend had been keeping a safe stopping distance
from the lorry. The lorry increased speed, so did the friend of the friend,
still maintaining a safe distance. The increased speed gave force enough
to the lodged stone, and when it was released from the wheels it followed
a trajectory which brought it across the safe distance, through the windscreen
and into the head of the friend of the friend's nine year old son in the
Frank felt himself smile
as his new two-litre estate surged past the log-bearing truck. Another
little problem sorted.
And that's where the new
estate and the new house and the new life had come from. Sorting out one
problem after another, no matter how small. Directing attention to every
possible source of anguish or upset and dealing with it as and when it
arose. The early days were distant now, and only ever recollected to bolster
the happiness he had found with Francie. The children had been unexpected,
but only ever added joy to their lives. Jamie had only just turned two,
was safely strapped into his seat, and beside him, her head resting on
her brother's shoulder, the older Kelly was already nodding off.
He tightened his right palm
about the cushioned steering wheel and gently dropped his left fingers
onto Francie's thigh. Her fingers covered his and gently pressed them against
the warm denim. He didn't have to look at her to know that she was smiling.
Even this, just a simple weekly shopping trip, was a treat.
He veered onto the exit
just as the carriageway lamp-masts flickered red. A glance at the digital
clock--almost seven o'clock. The clocks would be shifted forward on Sunday,
Summer would be official. There would be ever-lengthening evenings in the
garden, tinkering with sweet-pea netting and twisting custom-length plastic-coated
wire about strategically placed canes; wiping down the brilliant white
plastic furniture in advance of a neighbourly visit ; exotically varied
salad greens tossed and sprinkled with ready-made dressing in the conversation-piece
carved mahogany bowl Francie had picked up at the boot-sale; jokes and
beer and laughter in open-air, with kids safely asleep upstairs as they
drew cardigans and sweat-shirts against the freshening coastal breeze.
And conversation. Relaxed, assured exchange between people who had at last
found their place in the world. Francie wouldn't say much. She never did.
But Frank would speak for both of them, of their happiness, their gratitude,
their sense of completeness.
The short-stay car-park
was full. Not a problem. The long-stay was slightly further from the mall,
but convenient trolley-parks meant that the kids could be transported to
the centre without exertion. Kelly protested at being woken so suddenly
after having found sleep, but Jamie was content to sit in the trolley-seat,
chubby fingers tightly gripping the thin steel bar. Francie had to delve
into her purse for a pound-coin for the other trolley. Kelly refused to
be lowered into the seat--at five she was a big girl and wanted freedom
to browse and wander, just like her mum.
The floodlights scanning
the pyramidal glass mall signalled a wave of drizzle, but Frank saw it
and beckoned Francie hurry to the covered pavement leading to the hypermart.
The first cold heavy drops of the shower did hit them, but with the walk
from the car no more than fifty yards it was little more than a refreshing
surprise, and Frank shook his head, feigning shock to Jamie's smiling face,
and Jamie responded as he did these days, shaking and aping whatever noise
My cup is full. Frank remembered
the words from God only knows where. It meant you couldn't want more. I've
as much as I can handle. It couldn't get any better because there's no
more capacity for happiness, there's no space for additional pleasures.
My cup is full, yours can be too. It had always seemed to induce a sort
of paralysis in the trainees.
Trainees. Apprentices. Proteges.
And wasn't Frank once himself one of them? Hadn't he taken on those roles,
played them to their natural, inevitable conclusion, then moved on? The
others had only to do likewise, to follow that same process. Simple.
The massive stone obelisk
at the entrance to the store was mounted on a brick-built plinth. Frank
almost hit the thing, had to stop the faulty trolley, reverse it a yard
or so before renegotiating his approach to the revolving doors. He stopped
beside the monument, waiting until Francie had got herself, her trolley
and Kelly into the segment of moving door. The erection was new, but looked
impressively worn, the slogan 'We Care' apparently worn by centuries of
weather. Jamie reached out towards the object, curious. Frank knuckle-tapped
it. The dull reverberation throughout the structure amused his son. Frank
struck the fibreglass skin again with open palm. The deep boom made Jamie
shriek delightedly, but a vacant segment of the door was emerging uncontested,
so Frank gripped the bar of the trolley and shifted himself and his son
into the slowly moving space which would take them inside the store.
Frank's trolley was almost
full after half an hour, but a lot of the space was taken up by the huge
box of nappies. Two bumper discount packs of best quality disposables in
the lurid green toy box which came as a free gift. He scanned a triple-pack
of cheese and pineapple family-size pizzas and dropped them atop the toy
box. Using the scanner reminded him of being in the menswear department
so long ago, his very first job, labelling shirts and socks. So many jobs,
so many places, so many people, all still there in his head, names and
events of twenty years ago. Unforgettable.
But tomorrow, the better
life would continue to throw up more surprises, more challenges, more names
and events to add to the stock. And this new intake of trainees were proving
every bit as challenging as any group he'd had in the two years since becoming
section manager. It wasn't as if they confronted him directly, but it seemed
that the bad press being given to call centres had predisposed many of
them to find fault from day one. He had even gone to the trouble of constructing,
after appropriate approval from head office, a small area of contemplation
in the corner nearest the windows, just by the water-dispenser. He had
encouraged those feeling stress to seek a quiet moment there during designated
breaks, but he'd yet to see any of his fifty charges taking advantage of
the four-foot square Japanese-style stone arrangement. The white stone
chips had come from the garden centre, and the grapefruit-sized granite
stone was one he had taken from Glencoe as a souvenir of a long week-end
with Francie in their courting days. The arrangement was a miniature version
of Frank's favourite place in his own garden, a patch which he kept scrupulously
clear of leaves dropping from the overhanging cherry tree, and permanently
sprinkled with cat repellent so that the carefully raked chuckies would
not be disturbed or soiled. Perhaps his people would appreciate the smaller
model if they had the chance to see the original. Last week, early as always
for his shift start, he had entered the office to discover a large plastic
turd carefully placed alongside the gleaming granite. He had disposed of
it before the trainees started, but thought better of raising the subject
at the morning pep-talk.
The crack of the jar was
dulled as the pasta sauce burst a huge red exclamation mark beneath the
trolley. Jamie had palmed it off the shelf and was already reaching for
its neighbour. Frank grabbed his son's hand away and tried to settle the
shifting container, but the clumsiness of his rescue effort dominoed another
off. It landed in the thick crimson green-specked puddle of chunky tomato
and pepper pieces, but did not break. Jamie, mouth open, leaned back, staring
up at the huge banks of fluorescent striplights suspended twenty feet overhead,
and kicked his legs outward, one welly boot connecting with Frank's groin.
Frank closed his eyes, suppressed the cry into a whimper. When he opened
his eyes there was a woman with pail and cleaning cart and a DANGER-WET
FLOOR sign already planted afront the trolley.
I'm sorry hen, I'll pay
for it, Frank said, but the woman smiled and shook her head and told him
he wouldn't believe how much stuff she had to clear up of an evening, it
wasn't worth worrying about. He insisted, but she asked him to move the
trolley and seemed not to want to deal with him further.
The sweat on his neck was
cold. The shirt would be dirty. It had been a long day, but a fresh one
tomorrow. Friday, it would be his lime BHS. The tie would be the one Jamie
got him for his birthday. Francie took care of his wardrobe. Never a problem.
No sign of Francie in the
Bakery aisle. She might be getting the yoghurts. Kelly moved across the
end of the aisle. Francie must have sent her back to look for them. Frank
pushed the trolley faster, had to jerk it straight. He got to the end,
but Kelly had gone back down the Italian aisle. He reversed three steps
to the bakery, hoping to catch her doubling back. Sure enough, there she
was, but again she walked through the distant juncture without glancing
his way. Not a problem. They would meet up eventually.
He made sure the trolley
was sufficiently distant from the neatly racked bags of morning rolls before
removing his overcoat. He was sweating all over. It was always the same
in here. Maybe the air conditioning, or the glaring lights. It never happened
in the work right enough. Always in here. Uncomfortable. Discomfort. Not
a problem. Move to a cooler place. Anyway, he still had to get the meat.
Francie didn't ever get
the meat. She was veggie, always had been. But Frank liked his meat, so
did the kids. Burgers, but only the best. Quarterpounders for Frank, Spaceburgers
for Jamie, pork dinosaurs for Kelly. And maybe a hough. Still cold enough
to justify a pot of soup, and Francie would prepare a full pot of pure
veg while Frank's ham slow-boiled separately on Saturday afternoon. Sunday
dinner, Francie's soup, with customised meat version for the men. A joint
to follow as well maybe ?
A joint. That lad would
have been given his written warning at end of shift this evening. He'd
been moved onto twilight on Frank's recommendation. If he couldn't go out
partying at night then he wouldn't be turning up half-pissed and reeking
for the morning start. Twice he'd been caught away from his station unauthorised,
and both times he'd been found in the toilet with a strong smell of cannabis
about the place. No conclusive evidence, and even a body search by Security
had revealed nothing more incriminating than a packet of very large cigarette
papers. But he was certainly at it, and would know tonight that his coat
was on a shoogly peg. Frank would see him tomorrow at shift-change. Probably
best to say nothing, but an idea to have Security on their toes just in
case. It wouldn't be the first time someone had cracked.
Leaning his torso over the
deep chest freezer, the cold air combed his scalp as he selected a twenty-four
pack of Spaceburgers. Jamie voiced recognition, and Frank let him briefly
brush the frosted box before tossing it into the trolley. Jamie whined
dislike of the unexpected dampness on his fingers, so Frank took the small
hand in his and wiped off the moisture finger by finger.
Then Kelly was beside him,
trying to climb into the trolley. Frank lifted her up, kissed her on the
nose and cuddled her. She laughed and pulled at his ears, but her weight
was making such play ever more difficult, and he had to lower her as Francie
neared, her trolley now full.
Are you alright love ? came
the question, and Frank was smiling, nodding, and Francie's hand was at
his forehead, her face contorted with worry. She looked suddenly old, like
Frank left the trolley beside
Francie's and moved across to the chilled fresh meat. Huge plastic wrapped
gammon joints. Joints. The houghs were usually here. They must have changed
Kelly had started to cry,
Francie was quietly warning her.
Houghs ? Frank leaned over
the chiller, stared down into the chest. A Reduced section, a burst packet
of drumsticks, one had toppled into a corner and was already partially
frozen against the wall along with flecks of what looked like parsley and
a bright orange fragment of paper, perhaps from a waffles box. A sellotaped
bag of oven chips was only twenty pence.
Frank moved left, keeping
both hands on the edge of the unit. They must be here somewhere. Perhaps
above. He looked up. At eye level were long flat trays of stewing steak.
Further along. Francie's hand on his arm, she was saying something. He
turned, saw her mouth moving, but his smile didn't seem to reassure her.
He reached out and picked
up a packet, cool plastic, soft inside, but he didn't know what it was.
He wondered if it was what he had been looking for, if it was needed or
wanted. He fingered the computer-printed label. The small dotted letters
formed words, but even after reading them he still didn't know what it
Kelly had jumped up and
grabbed him from behind. She must want a piggy back. He laughed and groaned
and gripped the unit tighter, and Francie's head was also leaning into
the chiller, trying to see his face. Jamie was laughing. Frank raised his
hands to remove Kelly's, but found only his own shirt, soaked and cold.
He turned around, leaned against the cabinet as he slid down. Kelly was
way over by Jamie, and both children were watching him as he reached the
Faces framed by distant
girders, gently swaying striplights. Eyes closed, Francie's face on his,
cherry blossom petals drifted their way towards the Glencoe stone. Somewhere
behind them, Jamie and Kelly laughed goodbye.
and the West after September 11
Pervez Hoodbhoy is professor
of nuclear and high-energy physics at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.
This article is based on a speech delivered at the Center for Inquiry International
conference in Atlanta, Georgia, 2001.
America has exacted blood
revenge for the Twin Towers. A million Afghans have fled US bombs into
the cold wastelands and face starvation. B-52s have blown the Taliban to
bits and changed Mullah Omar's roar of defiance into a pitiful squeak for
surrender. Usama bin Laden is on the run (he may be dead by the time this
article reaches the reader). But even as the champagne pops in the White
House, America remains fearful--for good reason. Subsequent to September
11th we have all begun to live in a different, more dangerous world. Now
is the time to ask why. Like clinical pathologists, we need to scientifically
examine the sickness of human behaviour that impelled terrorists to fly
airliners filled with passengers into skyscrapers. We also need to understand
why millions celebrated as others died. In the absence of such an understanding
there remains only the medieval therapy of exorcism: for the strong to
literally beat the devil out of the weak. Indeed, the Grand Exorcist, disdainful
of international law and the growing nervousness of even its close allies,
prepares a new hit list of other Muslim countries in need of therapy: Iraq,
Somalia, and Libya. We shall kill at will, is the message.
This will not work. Terrorism
does not have a military solution. Soon--I fear perhaps very soon--there
will be still stronger, more dramatic proof. In the modern age, technological
possibilities to wreak enormous destruction are limitless. Anger, when
intense enough, makes small stateless groups and even individuals extremely
Anger is ubiquitous in the
Islamic world today. Allow me to share a small personal experience. On
September 12th, 2001, I had a seminar scheduled at the department of physics
in my university in Islamabad, part of a weekly seminar for physics students
on topics outside of physics. Though traumatized by events, I could not
cancel the seminar because sixty people had already arrived, so I said,
"We will have our seminar today on a new subject: on yesterday's terrorist
attacks." The response was negative. Some students mindlessly rejoiced
in the attacks. One said, "You can't call this terrorism." Another said,
"Are you only worried because it is Americans who have died?" It took two
hours of sustained, impassioned, argumentation for me to convince my students
that the brutal killing of ordinary people who had nothing to do with the
policies of the United States was an atrocity. I suppose that millions
of Muslim students the world over felt as mine did, but heard no counter-arguments.
If the world is to be spared
what future historians may call the "Century of Terror," we must chart
a perilous course between the Scylla of American imperial arrogance and
the Charybdis of Islamic religious fanaticism. Through these waters we
must steer by a distant star towards a careful, reasoned, democratic, humanistic,
and secular future. Else, shipwreck is certain.
"Why do they hate us?" asked
George W. Bush. This rhetorical question betrays the pathetic ignorance
of most Americans about the world around them. Moreover, its claim to injured
innocence cannot withstand even the most cursory examination of US history.
For almost forty years, this "naiveté and self-righteousness" has
been challenged most determinedly by Noam Chomsky. As early as 1967, he
pointed that the idea that "our" motives are pure and "our" actions benign
is "nothing new in American intellectual history--or, for that matter, in
the general history of imperialist apologia."
Muslim leaders have mirrored
America's claim and have asked the same question of the West. They have
had little to say about September 11 that makes sense to people outside
their communities. Although they speak endlessly on rules of personal hygiene
and "halal" or "haram," they cannot even tell us whether or not the suicide
bombers violated Islamic laws. According to Dr. Taha Jabir Alalwani, chair
of the Virginia-based (and largely Saudi-funded) Fiqh Council, "this kind
of question needs a lot of research and we don't have that in our budget."
Fearful of backlash, most
leaders of Muslim communities in the US, Canada, and Europe have responded
in predictable ways to the Twin Towers atrocity. They have proclaimed first,
that Islam is a religion of peace; and second, that Islam was hijacked
by fanatics on the September 11. They are wrong on both counts.
First, Islam--like Christianity,
Judaism, Hinduism, or any other religion--is not about peace. Nor is it
about war. Every religion is about absolute belief in its own superiority
and its divine right to impose itself upon others. In medieval times, both
the Crusades and the Jihads were soaked in blood. Today, Christian fundamentalists
attack abortion clinics in the US and kill doctors; Muslim fundamentalists
wage their sectarian wars against each other; Jewish settlers holding the
Old Testament in one hand and Uzis in the other burn olive orchards and
drive Palestinians off their ancestral land; Hindus in India demolish ancient
mosques and burn down churches; Sri Lankan Buddhists slaughter Tamil separatists.
The second assertion is
even further off the mark: even if Islam had in some metaphorical sense
been hijacked, that event did not occur on September 11, 2001. It happened
around the 13th century. Indeed, Islam has yet to recover from the trauma
of those times.
A dismal present
Where do Muslims stand today?
Note that I do not ask about Islam; Islam is an abstraction. Moulana Abdus
Sattar Edhi and Mullah Omar are both followers of Islam, but the former
is overdue for a Nobel Peace Prize while the other is a medieval, ignorant,
cruel fiend. Edward Said, among others, has insistently pointed out that
Islam carries very different meanings to different people. It is as heterogeneous
as those who believe and practice it. There is no "true Islam." Therefore
it only makes sense to speak of people who claim that faith.
Today Muslims number one
billion, spread over 48 Muslim countries. None of these nations has yet
evolved a stable democratic political system. In fact, all Muslim countries
are dominated by self-serving corrupt elites who cynically advance their
personal interests and steal resources from their people. No Muslim country
has a viable educational system or a university of international stature.
Reason too has been waylaid.
To take some examples from my own experience: You will seldom encounter
a Muslim name as you flip through scientific journals, and if you do, chances
are that this person lives in the West. There are a few exceptions: Abdus
Salam, together with Steven Weinberg and Sheldon Glashow, won the Nobel
Prize for Physics in 1979 for the unification of the weak and electromagnetic
forces. I got to know Salam reasonably well--we even wrote a book preface
together. He was a remarkable man, terribly in love with his country and
his religion. And yet he died deeply unhappy, scorned by his country and
excommunicated from Islam by an act of the Pakistani parliament in 1974.
Today the Ahmadi sect, to which Salam belonged, is considered heretical
and harshly persecuted. (My next-door neighbour, also an Ahmadi, was shot
in the neck and heart and died in my car as I drove him to the hospital.
His only fault was to have been born in the wrong sect.)
Though genuine scientific
achievement is rare in the contemporary Muslim world, pseudo-science is
in generous supply. A former chairman of my department has calculated the
speed of Heaven: it is receding from the earth at one centimetre per second
less than the speed of light. His ingenious method relies upon a verse
in the Qur'an which says that worship on the night on which the Qur'an
was revealed is worth a thousand nights of ordinary worship. He states
that this amounts to a time-dilation factor of one thousand, which he plugs
into a formula belonging to Einstein's theory of special relativity.
A more public example: one
of two Pakistani nuclear engineers recently arrested on suspicion of passing
nuclear secrets to the Taliban had earlier proposed to solve Pakistan's
energy problems by harnessing the power of genies. The Qur'an says that
God created man from clay, and angels and genies from fire; so this highly
placed engineer proposed to capture the genies and extract their energy.
(The reader may wish to read the rather acrimonious public correspondence
between Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and myself in 1988 on this subject,
reproduced in my book Islam and Science--Religious Orthodoxy And The Battle
For Rationality, published in 1991).
A brilliant past that vanished
Today's sorry situation
contrasts starkly with the Islam of yesteryear. Between the 9th and the
13th centuries - the Golden Age of Islam - the only people doing decent
science, philosophy, or medicine were Muslims. For five straight centuries
they alone kept the light of learning ablaze. Muslims not only preserved
ancient learning, they also made substantial innovations and extensions.
The loss of this tradition has proved tragic for Muslim peoples.
Science flourished in the
Golden Age of Islam because there was within Islam a strong rationalist
tradition, carried on by a group of Muslim thinkers known as the Mutazilites.
This tradition stressed human free will, strongly opposing the predestinarians
who taught that everything was foreordained and that humans have no option
but to surrender everything to Allah. While the Mutazilites held political
power, knowledge grew.
But in the twelfth century
Muslim orthodoxy reawakened, spearheaded by the cleric Imam Al-Ghazali.
Al-Ghazali championed revelation over reason, predestination over free
will. He refuted the possibility of relating cause to effect, teaching
that man cannot know or predict what will happen; God alone can. He damned
mathematics as against Islam, an intoxicant of the mind that weakened faith.
Islam choked in the vicelike
grip of orthodoxy. No longer, as during the reign of the dynamic caliph
Al-Mamum and the great Haroon Al- Rashid, would Muslim, Christian, and
Jewish scholars gather and work together in the royal courts. It was the
end of tolerance, intellect, and science in the Muslim world. The last
great Muslim thinker, Abd- al Rahman ibn Khaldun, belonged to the 14th
Islam under Imperialism
Meanwhile, the rest of the
world moved on. The Renaissance brought an explosion of scientific inquiry
in the West. This owed much to Arab translations and other Muslim contributions,
but that fact would matter little. Mercantile capitalism and technological
progress drove Western countries rapidly to colonize the Muslim world from
Indonesia to Morocco. Always brutal, at times genocidal, it made clear,
at least to a part of the Muslim elites, that they were paying a heavy
price for not possessing the analytical tools of modern science and the
social and political values of modern culture - their colonizers' real
source of power.
Despite widespread resistance
from the orthodox, the logic of modernity found 19th century Muslim adherents.
Modernizers such as Mohammed Abduh and Rashid Rida of Egypt, Sayyed Ahmad
Khan of India, and Jamaluddin Afghani (who belonged everywhere) wished
to adapt Islam to the times, to interpret the Qur'an in ways consistent
with modern science, and to discard the Hadith (the traditions, or ways
of the Prophet) in favour of the Qur'an. Others seized on the modern idea
of the nation-state. It is crucial to note that not a single 20th century
Muslim nationalist leader was a fundamentalist. Turkey's Kemal Ataturk,
Algeria's Ahmed Ben Bella, Indonesia's Sukarno, Pakistan's Muhammad Ali
Jinnah, Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Iran's Mohammed Mosaddeq all sought
to organise their societies on the basis of secular values.
However, like other anti-colonial
nationalist currents across the Third World, Muslim and Arab nationalism
included the desire to control and use national resources for domestic
benefit. Conflict with Western greed was inevitable. Imperial interests
in Britain and later the United States feared independent nationalism.
Anyone willing to collaborate was preferred, even ultraconservative Islamic
regimes like that of Saudi Arabia. In time, as Cold War pressures rose,
nationalism became intolerable. In 1953, Mosaddeq of Iran was overthrown
in a CIA coup and replaced by Reza Shah Pahlavi. Britain targeted Nasser.
Indonesia's Sukarno was replaced by Suharto after a bloody coup that left
a million dead.
Pressed from without, corrupt
and incompetent from within, secular governments proved unable to defend
national interests or to deliver social justice. As they failed they left
a vacuum which Islamic religious movements grew to fill. After the fall
of the Shah, Iran underwent a bloody revolution under Ayatollah Khomeini.
General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq ruled Pakistan for eleven hideous years and
strove to Islamize both state and society. In Sudan, an Islamic state arose
under Jaafar al-Nimeiry; amputation of hands and limbs became common. Decades
ago the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was the most powerful
Palestinian organization, and largely secular; after its defeat in 1982
in Beirut, it was largely eclipsed by Hamas, a fundamentalist Muslim movement.
The lack of scruple and
the pursuit of power by the United States combined fatally with this tide
in the Muslim world in 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.
With Pakistan's Zia-ul-Haq as America's foremost ally, the CIA openly recruited
Islamic holy warriors from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Algeria. Radical
Islam went into overdrive as its superpower ally and mentor funnelled support
to the mujahideen, whom Ronald Reagan feted on the lawn of White House,
lavishly praising them as "brave freedom fighters challenging the Evil
After the Soviet Union collapsed,
the United States walked away from an Afghanistan in shambles, its own
mission accomplished. The Taliban emerged; Usama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda
made Afghanistan their base. Other groups of holy warriors learned from
the Afghan example and took up arms in their own countries.
At least until September
11th, US policy-makers were unrepentant. A few years ago Zbigniew Brzezinski,
Carter's U.S. national security adviser, was asked by the Paris weekly
Nouvel Observateur whether in retrospect, given that "Islamic fundamentalism
represents a world menace today," US policy might have been mistaken. Brzezinski
retorted: "What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban
or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation
of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?"
But Brzezinski's "stirred
up Moslems" wanted to change the world; and in this they were destined
to succeed. With this we conclude our history primer for the 700 years
until September 11, 2001.
Facing the future
What should thoughtful people
infer from this whole narrative? I think the inferences are several--and
different for different protagonists.
For Muslims, it is time
to stop wallowing in self-pity: Muslims are not helpless victims of conspiracies
hatched by an all-powerful, malicious West. The fact is that the decline
of Islamic greatness took place long before the age of mercantile imperialism.
The causes were essentially internal. Therefore Muslims must introspect,
and ask what went wrong.
Muslims must recognise that
their societies are far larger, more diverse and complex than the small
homogenous tribal culture that existed in Arabia 1400 years ago. It is
therefore time to renounce the idea that Islam can survive and prosper
only in an Islamic state run according to Islamic sharia law. Muslims need
a secular and democratic state that respects religious freedom and human
dignity, founded on the principle that power belongs to the people. This
means confronting and rejecting the claim by orthodox Islamic scholars
that in an Islamic state sovereignty does not belong to the people but,
instead, to the vice-regents of Allah (Khilafat-al-Arz) or Islamic jurists
Muslims must not look towards
the likes of bin Laden; such people have no real answer and can offer no
real positive alternative. To glorify their terrorism is a hideous mistake--the
unremitting slaughter of Shias, Christians, and Ahmadis in their places
of worship in Pakistan, and of other minorities in other Muslim countries,
is proof that all terrorism is not about the revolt of the dispossessed.
The United States too must
confront bitter truths. It is a fact that the messages of George W. Bush
and his ally Tony Blair fall flat while those of Usama bin Laden, whether
he lives or dies, resonate strongly across the Muslim world. Bin Laden's
religious extremism turns off many Muslims, but they find his political
message easy to relate to--stop the dispossession of the Palestinians, stop
propping up corrupt and despotic regimes across the world just because
they serve US interests.
Americans will also have
to accept that the United States is past the peak of its imperial power;
the 1950's and 60's are gone for good. U.S. triumphalism and disdain for
international law is creating enemies everywhere, not just among Muslims.
Therefore they must become less arrogant and more like other peoples of
this world. While the U.S. will remain a superpower for some time to come,
inevitably it will become less and less "super." There are compelling economic
and military reasons for this. For example, China's economy is growing
at seven percent per year while the U.S. economy is in recession. India,
too, is coming up very rapidly. In military terms, superiority in the air
or in space is no longer enough to ensure security; in how many countries
can U.S. citizens safely walk the streets today?
Our collective survival
lies in recognising that religion is not the solution; neither is nationalism.
Both are divisive, embedding within us false notions of superiority and
arrogant pride that are difficult to erase. We have but one choice: the
path of secular humanism, based upon the principles of logic and reason.
This alone offers the hope of providing everybody on this globe with the
right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
FORGOT TO PUT YOUR HAIR ON"
The following transcription
of an 'exchange-situation' took place at the Copenhagen Free University
on 18th March, 2002. The participants, or 'conceptual personae', present
were Josephine Berry, Henriette Heise, Jakob Jakobsen and Howard Slater.
JB: We are sitting in the
top floor flat of a building in Copenhagen, we're surrounded by kids toys
and cutlery and crockery and candlesticks and very homely things and yet
this is a university, a free university. Maybe its best just to ask Henriette
and Jakob how this came about, how you came to think of doing this? What
were you reacting to, or, what were you thinking of?
HH: I guess the initial thing
that started it was our desire to create small institutions where we can
work with every kind of presentation of art and whatever. We somehow discovered,
after coming back from London and living here again, that we thought that
self-institutionalising is something that we like to do very much, that
we somehow need very much. Building institutions is where our primary practice
is materialising. It is here we can decide everything for ourselves. We
can work with people and we can learn a lot. So we had this spare room
that is close to the stairwell and has its own door and, more than a year
ago, we came up with the name Copenhagen Free University and we saw it
as a huge challenge somehow. We liked the fact of saying this is a university,
it kind of created all sorts of demands and it drew us into a real big
challenge which we find really interesting.
JB: If you compare it to
the Info Centre that you did in London, which is another space inside a
domestic space, a public/private space if you like, where do you think
the emphasis has shifted in using the name university? Has it called into
being something quite different to what you were doing in London?
JJ: With the Info Centre
we were also working with the idea of self-institution. There were many
discussions about the social relations created around an art project like
the Info Centre. Maybe by changing the emphasis from an 'information centre'
to a 'university' it was more an investigation of what actually went on
in and around those social relations created in these institutions. So
it was maybe that the Info Centre was more of an experiment as to whether
we could produce social relations based around the politics of everyday
life. It worked allright. So the next step was very much about trying to
investigate the nature of those social relations and in a way trying to
work more specifically with the production of social relations within the
framework of this institution. So, that might be the background to the
change from the information centre to the university. At the Copenhagen
Free University there is, of course, more emphasis on the exchange between
people whereas with the Info Centre the information may have been more
specific and non-negotiable than this sort of social situation that is
JB: So it's almost like trying
to change information into knowledge? A shift from the dissemination of
information to the social relations that produce knowledge?
HS: It seems to me like the
shift might be one from a conventional art material of information to a
new kind of material which we can call social relations. Social relations
can be seen as material that you can work with, that can be created.
HH: We learnt from the Info
Centre how much the active production of social relations actually can
create. So, that was maybe an experience that we can use here.
HS: I suppose, in a sense,
that if knowledge is created through the social relations then the proprietorship
of that knowledge alters. So I guess knowledge becomes more a matter of
the general intellect or a communal construction of knowledge through the
social relations rather than specific individuals imparting a pre-formed
JJ: At the CFU we are talking
very much about everyday life and that's of course becoming a fetish in
many respects. But then again we have everyday life experiences so we are
trying to discuss them within the framework of the Free University as well
as we were within the Info Centre. It's the place where we live and we
try in a way to de-alienate information and knowledge in some way. So,
as Henriette says, the university was an idea we put out and it was like
building a hollow shell and from that we would like to see how we can produce
content for that shell. So it was like an experiment in a way, but I think
what we have been discussing is , of course, the relationship between knowledge
and life. And instead of just seeing knowledge as some abstracted generalised
entity or objectified thing, knowledge is, of course, related to the context
and to the social relations in and around it. We are trying to make this
university now, here where we live, in our flat, and we are trying to discuss
[and experiment with] the relationship between knowledge and life. So that
was some of the questions we started out with.
JB: Do you see the Copenhagen
Free University as a prototype? If you can abandon the idea that a prototype
can be perfectly reproduced do you see it more as a catalyst than a space
that can fulfil a lot of those objectives in and of itself? Because what
I'm thinking about is how - with this exploration of a relation
between knowledge and life - can people have a lasting engagement
in the free university? How can they because it's your home? There's this
difficulty... there is a threshold beyond which there is a need for your
own privacy and your own sanity and you're experimenting very much with
this line. But, in a way, how can people engage? How do people come into
this space and what do you think their experiences are with it and how
does knowledge get negotiated within that? That's a lot of questions, but
I'm just wondering about, I hate to use this word, the usability of the
space for visitors and what they encounter?
HH: You can have very many
approaches to the university and I think that just by saying this is the
Copenhagen Free University in our flat in the Northern part of Copenhagen
people already start to visualise and imagine what it could be. So, this
initial step must at least make some people ask themselves what is going
on here? Then we have a very, very engaged version which is friends and
engaged people who actually come here and live here in the room that we
have made for whatever we can call something like exhibitions. You have
been living here and so has Emma Hedditch and Anthony Davies. Really engaged
people staying here and working here with us and presenting and sharing
their knowledge. And then we have the visitors coming around where we present
whatever is going on at the time. It is always us, Jakob and me, or people
who know the material quite well and are very engaged with it, that are
presenting it to the visitors and that creates this situation that almost
every time a visitor has a knowledge of their own they then give back and
it definitely makes sense somehow! I don't see any problems with 'usability'
as such - who defines that anyway?
HS: It's almost like, as
a self-institution, the walls of the Free University are porous because
it's a domestic space as well. So if the university is seen as an investigation
into knowledge and everyday life, then to quote Asger Jorn even... he describes
culture as learning by experience, there's an experiential aspect here
isn't there? People are staying, visiting... they're coming to a different
form of institution where perhaps the experience of learning and discussing
is as valuable as the subject-matter of what is discussed. And I suppose
that experience would be an experience of the social relations that are
being established here in the sense that there are no seminars as such,
there's nothing organised along the lines of an academy. So there's not
only this porosity, a leakage between being in the university and outside
the university, but from that, because experience doesn't stop, an experiential
knowledge becomes possible. We maybe have to play this against the normal
education establishment and see really that the experiences that can be
appreciated here and worked with or taken away, the imaginative expectations
of what people are going to experience here, are different from the normalising
academy where it's perhaps our very experiences that are jettisoned at
the doorway. So the wall there is impervious, you have to almost leave
your desires with your coat in the cloakroom. In that sense the self-institution
of the Copenhagen Free University is also an experiment in a situation
because a situation, in the terms of the Situationist International, is
supposed to enable us to bring all facets of experience into the situation;
there's no hierarchy of valid experiences. So, we've already discussed
how to make ciabatta bread this morning and this exchange between us now
has the tenor of that informing it.
JB: So, also the idea would
be to create new desires, or allow new desires to emerge?
HS: Or make certain desires
that are low in the hierarchy come to an equal footing like making ciabbata
bread. There was a material we were discussing yeast. Why is that any less
interesting than oil paint or videotape. It's a material, everything's
a creative material really.
HH: We were all passionately
engaged with having bread for the morning and one of the central themes
of the university is definitely passion!
HS: And really why hierarchisise
the passions? We've been talking about Charles Fourier recently and it's
the same sort of thing; you cultivate the manias, cultivate the passions
because that, in many ways, is what makes experience valid!
JB: I suppose I see that
as not a contradiction, but a bit of a problem with the free university
in that, how can I put this?: it's easier to share passions between friends,
having jokes that lead to serious things and serious things that turn into
jokes, the kind of freedom that goes with friendship and passionate attachment.
And I was thinking about our conversation about ciabatta this morning,
but then also the conversation we had with the students that came from
the Art Academy in Sweden a few days ago, and how completely shocked two
out of three of them looked and in a sense I suppose they were probably
caught between expectation on the one hand and shyness on the other, and
they were just slightly gobsmacked. I suppose the word is 'disorientated',
and how in a sense desires and the kind of playfulness that is so central
to what we're talking about and to the university and to knowledge and
to experiment and to art, how does that get communicated or released with
people coming as complete strangers?
HH: I am sure the students
from the academy at Malmo had some kind of aesthetic experience. Maybe
they don't see it like that, but I am sure there was something...
HS: The shock might have
been the simplicity. It might be as well to play Josie's comments about
passion and inclusivity back onto the institution the students came from,
and say that that institution was in part responsible for the shock, because
really the shock could have been that we were trying to communicate just
that passion and sometimes that might have an element of performativity
or strength of feeling to it, but it wasn't closed-off, it wasn't taboo.
I think we tried to communicate passion as much as knowledge or we communicated
that knowledge is, in fact, a passion.
HH: I'm sure that we managed
to communicate that passion.
JB: There was no obligation
for anyone to be there. Howard and I were sitting on the sofa and you said
do you want to get involved and we sort of weren't sure and we were hovering
and then somehow we sat down.
JJ: Then again we come back
to the fact that we are trying to set up institutions which aren't just
playing along with the rational understanding of the public sphere as a
neutral and common ground. The idea raised about the council communists
was a discussion coming out of the extra-parliamentarian ways of organising.
And it was 'extra' to the traditional understanding of the public sphere
to organise and make a university like this instead of just playing along
the lines of social life in the bourgeois society. As a point of departure
it might have been a shock to the visiting students but I think it was
very much due to their expectations, because they believed they were going
to an art project in Copenhagen and they came here and it was quite chaotic
because there was all kinds of different interests at play at the same
time. You were here and so on. But I hope we were able to bring it together,
to put the strands together in quite a good way. I learnt something from
the discussion and that's quite important as well. It's a more situation-based
way to gain experience. So instead of just representing knowledge, representing
art, it's very important for us to take part when visitors are here. We
are listening to what people have to say as well as doing the talking and
it is becoming clear to us that that was the most important thing here.
HH: Usually people feel quite
confortable about being here maybe because it is a home where people live.
At some of the meeting we have arranged it seemed like people felt freer
here in the living room compared to officials spaces like auditoriums and
galleries. The discussions went on in an informal way and people were able
to stay with their everyday language when speaking. So I don't see the
informality as a problem, but I see it as a power.
JJ: When people come they
enter through the display room by the stairwell which isn't very domestic,
but is in-between the staircase and the rest of the flat, and that's a
kind of buffer zone between the public space and the private space of our
flat. But, of course, those borders aren't heavily demarcated and sometimes
people end up in our living room and the discussions go on and we make
tea and stuff. I think those encounters with the guests, strangers or not,
have been the most intensive. They've been the situations we've gained
most experience from and in a way gained most knowledge from. Of course
it was meant to be like that from the beginning because people are coming
into our home. But then again we didn't expect those encounters to be the
central activity of the whole thing. On the other hand we are keen not
to make the university into just a talking shop. We are keen on presenting
ideas and presenting research materials and, usually we are presenting
art works as well, because the discussions need a point of reference otherwise
the exchanges are just going to be too individualised. We are quite keen
on having some kind of field of reference as a point of departure. Then
it can go into becoming more generalised or more individualised, that's
not a problem, but we need to establish a situation that is introducing
other knowledges into the equation so that the discussions do not just
become a therapeutic exchange.
HH: We don't like having
structures that have to be followed. So, if people don't want to say anything,
if they don't want to have any discussions, if it doesn't happen somehow,
its fine. You can come here and look at the stuff we have. That's fine.
We don't like those set structures.
HS: In that sense it's quite
close to improvised music. Like there's no set pattern to an improvised
music concert, but there are general unspoken structures that don't impose
themselves and so through improvised music you have an ongoing redefinition
of what is music. I think something similar happens here. We have an ongoing
redefinition of what is a university, a detournement of the meaning of
university and then from that we can explore what knowledge is and can
bring in the whole experiential level which is, again, the same sort of
thing as happens in improvising: the context, the mood, the passion to
play, the lack of passion to play, the collective sound, the micro-communication,
mutual influence, the passion to be loud or the passion to be quiet. This
music is quite fluid and similarly here I think it's quite fluid, but we
don't play musical instruments we play, almost, you could say, the ambience,
a sensitivity to others... which is almost an improvised musical approach,
because you're playing the moment, playing with the social relation.
JJ: You have to remember
that in improvised music one of the most important things is to listen
to the other people who play.
JB: So what passion do you
see attached to the idea of the university in a conventional sense? Because
in a way detournement is about redirecting power to a, usually, oppositional
end. There's a lot of passion invested in conventional educational models
and I wonder if you see any of those passions as detourneable, those passions
attached to a more conventional model of knowledge, a knowledge/power?
HS: I'd say it's not a matter
of taking power as such as becoming acclimatised to being able to create
a sense of power amongst ourselves. Again, that it's something like knowledge,
like university, like institution, that needs to be questioned. It can
be used. So you could say that conventional knowledge/power is detourned
as well. A sense of power can be generated. You can say "fuck you I don't
need your institution, it's not done any good to anybody". And so we can
feel a sense of power, as Jakob and Henriette are saying, just through
naming an institution or establishing an institution, because in some respects,
for me, the self-institution thing is about recreating a public sphere
or it raises the question has there ever been a public sphere? There's
a power in that because there's automatically a conflict or opposition.
All these things get opened-up simply by having a Free University, and
that's power in itself, the power to question which is denied people in
the education system because you can't question if your experience is left
behind at the doorway. From what point can you then question? From what
point can you feel a sense of power if your experience is severed from
the knowledge that's going to be imparted to you? The conventional institution
is very disempowering.
JB: I suppose it's also empowering
to know that when you get together you are a power which is also denied
you in the day-to-day. Like a gathering, a party, there's so much energy.
If you just think of a party situation and what can come out of it and
what people, suddenly in an altered state, can start to say to each other.
The relations at a micro-level can start to shift at just one party. But
that, so often, is about taking the effort to just realise, acknowledge,
that that is a power and then to act on it.
JJ: Our idea of making the
university was in a way based on the fact that the economy is nowadays
very often described as a knowledge economy and we can see knowledge becoming
the order of capitalist production now. And in a way this knowledge that
is being spoken about is productive knowledge within that system and in
a way we thought "ok, if we're living in a knowledge economy we would like
to open a university which could valorise other kinds of knowledge that
wouldn't fit into that system, knowledges that are excluded from that system".
And, of course, that brings us back to the discussion of knowledge and
life. But we can see the knowledge going into knowledge economies has to
be an alienated knowledge, a knowledge detached from a life outside capital.
So that was, again, our question: was it possible to valorise other kinds
of knowledge? We're still negotiating these kinds of discussion, because
it's not clear what kind of knowledge the knowledge economy is actually
chasing after. So, we are trying to discuss knowledge in that landscape,
and you can see how other universities and educational institutions are
very much trying to live up to the demands of the knowledge economy and
producing the right kinds of knowledge-worker ready to enter this kind
of economy. And I find the set of passions on offer in that economy quite
limited. So, it's a playful or polemical statement to say "ok we will make
a university and we would like to valorise knowledge like other universities
do". That's, of course, to enter a struggle about knowledge and life -
in a way we are opening a new discussion and opening new struggles by establishing
HS: I guess that points to
why I brought up the historical example of the workers councils the other
day. It's almost like if knowledge is used as a component of 'labour-power'
then really we've got a parallel problem to the Marxist problem of how
to define 'free labour' or 'living labour' in terms of knowledge. The Soviet,
Workers Council form, could have been an experiment in redefining work
outside of the capitalist economy: what it is necessary to produce, what
is 'living labour', how can labour be socially useful... these sorts of
questions rather than having labour dictated-to by capitalistic needs.
I think similarly there's this interesting parallel, that, in a knowledge
economy, with labour-power more explicitly informed by knowledge, a Free
University becomes almost a revolutionary organisation. That might be to
open a "ski-slope between passion and logic" as Jorn said, but I'm quite
interested in this, because it seems like then there's another means to
rhetoricise around a Free University, that such institutions can be modes
of revolutionary organisation. There doesn't have to be four people around
a table, it could be twenty, thirty or they could open-up to replace the
party political form. It's perhaps useful to use these analogies between
an industrial working class form of organisation and the proletarianisation
of knowledge workers in a knowledge economy. Perhaps a good thing would
be very local free university initiatives to sort of almost sidestep constituted
institutions and yet, in the same movement, reinvigorate the constituting
dynamic of institutions.
JJ: I kind of believe in
'mass'. I believe in lots of those self-institutions being around. In a
way I subscribe to the idea of the 'multitude'. I think those kinds of
institutions can generate a power by being many, and I think if you see
similar institutions to the one you're occupied with around you, it is
possible for you to push the work you are doing a little further, because
then there's a language that is being developed and produced, and a language
which can give form to the passions that you're struggling to find form
for. It's not offered to you. You have to develop these kinds of languages.
So, the ultimate experience of the free university would be for the people
who come here to go home and do it themselves. But Henriette does not agree:
people should liberate themselves.
HH: Maybe I'm more into abstract
structures. I'm fine with self-institutionalisation all over the field,
but I have problems with trying to set up a model for others.
HS: It says it here in the
ABZ of The Copenhagen Free University: "It is our hope that you, instead
of dreaming of the Copenhagen Free University or London Anti-University
or Free University of New York or the Spontaneous University, go where
you live and establish your university drawing upon the knowledges in your
own networks". Do you think that's too much of a command that implies a
HH: Yes, a bit. I'm always
like rearrange your brain somehow!
HS: Picking up on what Jakob
said about giving form to passions. I think, in many respects, that's where
the aesthetics comes in because there's always a struggle with articulation
for many people. I think maybe that artists and writers are amongst the
privileged in the sense that they can work to get access to a means of
expression or articulation. I think an initiative like this gives space
to many forms of articulation and practice because the aesthetic element,
redefined, could help us approach our own desires rather than having the
desires or passions made for us. This is really what occurs in capitalist
society, that the desires, obviously advertising and branding are a key
example of how desires and passions, are actually manufactured for you
and it becomes a kind of vicious loop in the sense that if you're not partaking
in those passions that are circulated for profit, or can be harnessed for
profit, then somehow you're abnormal and the whole issue of anti-psychiatric
institutions comes again into play, overlapping with educative initiatives,
because we've got this kind of barrier to desire in that giving forms to
passion is seen as perversion, not normal, it's like that's a good rallying
cry. Where the aesthetics comes in is in that boost it gives to an articulation
of passion and desire.
JB: But how do we find this
path or means to collectively identify desires without imposing them or
without lapsing into a kind of solipsism of narcissistic desire alone?
HS: In a way that is, for
me, the misnomer of desire under capitalist society' because desire is
kind of stratified with bourgeois individuality and its individualistic
form is rife throughout the whole society, say, in terms of going into
a little room and putting your 'X' on the ballot paper and also in the
coinage that says "I promise to pay the bearer....". It's always an individualistic
relation that is encouraged when really, as it's been said, desire is in
the social structures. It might be negative desire that builds a skyscraper
with rabbit hutches for people to live in, but it's still a desire, there
is still some 'plug-in', and, in a way, capitalist society does create
mass desires. Maybe it's a way to detourne this creation of mass desires
because if we all watch the adverts we all 'plug-in' and that desire is
being created as a collective desire, an individualised collective desire,
the desire for being 'English' or 'Danish', these are collectively manufactured
desires. To me the issue of the aesthetic aspect as sort of being downgraded
into an access to the means of production is a presupposition of an access
to your own desires. For me you explore desires with a material, with a
means of expression that you've got to struggle with. And then I think
from that you begin to enter into a sort of situation of the 'general intellect'
where you come 'through' individuality to a sensation of all these links...
different people coming to things at different times, different paces,
with different vocabularies. And it reveals desire as collective and knowledge
as collectively generated passion. Even if we look at neuroses, a kind
of negative of desire, we see how we tend to keep them to ourselves, see
them as individual problems, and then when we tell them to someone else
we find that they've had the same or a similar problem. Deleuze and Guattari
say something like "the individual gives access to the most general", and
from that it becomes possible to share desire as a motive force. So when
you see someone else is full of desire for their subject and even if that
subject or enthusiasm might not turn you on, you can still at least make
the link, a social glue link in a social relation, and say "that person
is very desirous, very passionate, very honest about what they're saying"
and there you've got a link. So desire can be this sort of societal glue,
it can be this thing if you just step back from the content and always
being hoodwinked by knowledge. There are other factors in an expression
other than the coherence of a statement, its quanta of information, that
enable a link to the emotional side of the expression, an experience of
knowledge, an aesthetics. The more desire there is the more you become
desirous and can articulate, give form, to passions. The perversions just
spiral and there's many points of linkage. That's a 'desiring-machine'
type thing. Perhaps self-institutions can give form to desire so it's not
so much a matter of imposing desires on others as encouraging what Deleuze
& Guattari call 'collective assemblages of enunciation' and being inspired
by the wealth of the passions of others. 'New desires' can be 'desires
that are new to me' and their forms, the differences between self-institutional
initiatives, resist the idea of 'models'. I think the thing about self-institution
is that singularities, the nuances of desire, aren't repressed, but are
used as a material.
JJ: To return to the fact
that the university is going on in our flat and that the activities here
could be seen to be mediated through our personalities, we try to deconstruct
that by saying "we are living in a university" and not that "the university
is in our home". In that way we try to turn the discussion around and look
at it being a question of institutions more than looking at the question
of what are doing. In that way you can see how, as Howard is saying, how
all those social relations and desires are defined socially and maybe get
closer to an understanding of their way of working. I think that institutions
are a kind of hub of different interests in society and they are maintaining
some kind of power externally and maintaining some kind of power hierarchy
internally. Like a cell in nature a level of pressure inside and another
level of pressure outside and then a membrane to control the flows between
the inside and outside. Our method is to try to learn from those discussions
in practice. Because, of course, institutions as such are becoming internalised
in our own psyche. Then again, the psyche is already always social and
so on. So, instead of being anti-institutional we're saying "we are building
an institution" and in this way we aren't maintaining the romantic notion
of an outside of institutions, because institutions are in language and
minds and in desire as well. I think that the DIY strategy of setting up
'grand' institutions, like a university, according to your own passions,
are productive, and we try to engage in this kind of discussion in both
a serious and a playful way.
HH: At the same time as we're
engaged in this institution we're also trying to deflate it a bit. We've
had quite a lot of discussions about not becoming a kind of 'super-subject'.
At the same time as we are this institution called the Copenhagen Free
University we are also individuals working within it, because we are interested
in the vulnerability that the individual has as well. And we want to be
something that it is possible to criticise instead of being too big and
pointless to criticise. We want this feeling of a porous institution.
JB: And that seems to relate
to the fact that you're living in this institution, that institution might
materialise here and now in this flat, but sometimes the institution, as
Jakob was saying, is already within us and is never exhausted in one manifestation
of itself. So, because you're creating this thing in your flat that doesn't
make the university yours, or the institution yours and therefore you have
a kind of freedom to be in and out of it at the same time, and criticise
it and be it at the same time. So you have this kind of internal dialectical
movement of critiquing and being, being outside and inside.
HH: And moving on!
JB: Exactly! One of the things
I wanted to ask was about the sustainability of this kind of a project
and in a sense that kind of answers it. Because if you see it as a sort
of energy, a machinic assemblage, that is operative already, then the sustainability
is within the social relation. It is ongoing... If institutions materialise
and dematerialise then institutions kind of continue, but they can be appropriated
and reformulated by others. But I'm just wondering about sustainability
and the way that the onus is not just on this place necessarily here and
now to sustain something.
JJ: In a way the institution
hasn't got anything to do with this place. It's of course an abstract entity
and it's simply unfolding here most of the time and it's generally open-ended
and people who would like to invest in the discussions are just kind of
a part of the institution. That's the great thing about it: being able
to generate a field of discussion. That is the university: these kinds
of situations and these investments. Instead of just understanding it as
a closed-circuit, it is open-ended and open for other passions being invested
in it. And that's really great. It's actually working quite well with Howard
engaging in the discussion of knowledge and how to define knowledge and
people, such as Jean Sellem, approaching us and asking to become Associate
Researchers. It's kind of mushrooming out of the abstract entity which
is the institution. I think that's in itself another set of social relations
instead of just kind of trying to sit on your own knowledge and promote
it in the most...
HS: ... corporate way.
JB: I think that's important
as well, because if it were to be your and Henriette's production then
that would of course create problems with overpersonalisation and individualisation.
Also, from the other side, it would create problems in the sense of being
a very heavy weight on the two of you, in the sense of requiring too much
of your energy to sustain it. That can become very dangerous. That sense
of being solely responsible for keeping something running. The mere idea
can paralyse you.
JJ: Then again were not shy
about saying the Free University is our perversion. That's a part of the
discussion. That's the whole trap of the ideology of the bourgeois public
sphere as being the platform for free, equal and rational individuals expressing
themselves and making sense. In relation to that we are perverts and, as
far as possible...
HH: ... we try to be proud!
HS: Interestingly that almost
answers the question about self-institutional sustainability. What's the
most sustainable thing we know? Perversions and passions? If perversion
is compulsion then it's almost the same thing to say perversion and sustainability.
Also, on the issue of sustainability there's a means of expression dimension
that Giorgio Agamben has written about: what spurs us to communicate is
what is 'unsayable'. We're all struggling with language here, now, trying
to express ourselves and that's a form of sustainability. Ok, it can degenerate
into a talking shop, but in this instance this has been structured, we've
decided to do it at this time, this day, not go on all day. And that struggle
with the means of expression, again linking back to aesthetics as a way
of getting access to a means of expression, is to give form to the passions
and also to find new areas that are 'unsayable'. The 'unsayable' or the
unknown - what you don't know or what you haven't experienced -
if that's always ahead of you it means you're always struggling, always
trying to get somewhere. It might not be forward it might be back. You
might be struggling to get back, to a memory, to bring a memory of an experience
into articulation. That's a kind of sustainability. The struggle with the
means of expression helps a project become sustainable.
JJ: That's the central struggle
as far as I see it: the struggle with language. The struggle to produce
a space where you can express yourself. That's really a struggle. To come
back to life in the knowledge economy, there are no means for those kinds
of passionate expressions, those kind of perversions. You have to invent
Copenhagen Free University
The Copenhagen Free University
is open by appointment. Phone +45 3537 0447
Henriette Heise and Jakob
3, 4., DK - 2200 København N
+45 35370447 - email@example.com
Info Pool - http://www.infopool.org.uk/
Initiatives in Moscow
Moscow is the only city in
Russia right now that has enough money to support a thriving commercial
art scene. This is not to say that art does not exist elsewhere, but in
most cases there is just not the money circulating to support the familiar
system of public and private galleries and artist-run centres feeding off
each other to create a world-competitive art scene.
Aside from the main private
venues such as the Gallery Marat Guelman, the Regina Gallery and the XL
Gallery, the lifeblood of the arts in Moscow runs through the network of
non-profit and artist-run initiatives that developed during the 1990s.
These organisations are at the forefront in creating and promoting innovative
work and supporting original, cutting-edge artists.
The non-profit TV Gallery
promotes time-based/video art and produces cultural programming about art
for television. TV Gallery maintains an energetic programme of exhibitions,
media production, single-channel and installation video, and vigorously
promotes international exchanges. TV Gallery's director Nina Zaretskaya
"Our original mission was
to connect the world of contemporary art and the artists with mass-media
and new technologies, a task no one had actually done in Russia before.
In the late 80s we began making TV programs about exhibitions and actions
of contemporary art. At the same time there appeared an idea to open a
non-profit centre--and so we used the same name: TV Gallery. Our goal is
to develop new technologies in art, first of all to initiate, organize
and promote video art. "
While funding for projects
comes from various grants and international institutes, TV Gallery's running
expenses are also supported by the private means of the founders, as is
the Zverev Centre for Modern Art. The Zverev Centre is a unique place:
a former greenhouse that has been converted into a gallery in traditional
rustic Russian architectural style, with a large garden used for performances
and installations. The gallery comprises both the Zverev Museum and an
artist-run contemporary art space for exhibitions, happenings and performance.
According to the Zverev
Centre's founder Alexey Sosna,"we consider avant-garde art to be a special
branch of academic art." The Zverev Museum is an academic institution which
preserves, studies, authenticates and promotes the paintings of Anatoly
Zverev (1931-1986), the "Russian Van Gogh." The artist-run space is curated
and staffed by volunteers who programme every kind of contemporary art,
as well as supporting a renowned contemporary poetry society. The Centre
presents a full programme of exhibitions and events throughout the season,
and is particularly interested in presenting performative work.
Under the Soviet system,
modern art was the preserve of a huge network of institutions, the National
Centres for Contemporary Art (NCCA's), which ran everything. During Perestroika
and after, the system began to fall apart, and now, although there is a
comprehensive network of often very fine branches of the NCCA's, the funding
just is not in place to support them. In the early 90's the Soros Centres
for Contemporary Art (SCCAs) and Soros funding programmes were set up by
the financier George Soros. These SCCAs took up the slack from the state,
and allowed "unofficial" art to flourish, financing up to 50% of the actual
realised art projects in Russia. In 2000, however, the SCCA's were closed;
artists are still reeling from the fallout of this decision.
Consequently, the network
of small artist-run spaces run on a shoestring and supported by occasional
grants, donations and gifts, is more crucial than ever to the development
of contemporary art. The Dom Kultury venue hosts concerts of jazz and contemporary
music, and runs a bar, which allows it to give a home to a small but important
artist-run gallery upstairs. In recent years, Spider and Mouse Gallery
and Escape Gallery have become very important institutions in Moscow. Both
have extremely high reputations in the Moscow art world, and are increasingly
becoming known internationally. Spider and Mouse, founded by Marina Perchikhina
and Igor Ioganson, has a strong identity as a video gallery, but also presents
mixed media projects: the curators support what is innovative, seeking
fresh perspectives from across the country. The gallery is also active
in international presentations and collaborations; Perchikhina in particular
works extensively in Armenia, and the gallery has partnerships with artist-run
centres in Stockholm.
Escape Gallery for years
existed as a series of temporary galleries in different domestic apartments.
As an artist-run enterprise, it exists for the artists to experiment, present
and promote their work. It is well-known among the community of artists,
critics and dealers, less so in the popular culture guides. Currently it
has found a home in a tiny flat in a huge apartment block at Nagornaya,
directly to the south of the city centre.
For artists, participation
in exhibitions at any of the artist-run centres affords the opportunity
to expose themselves in a supportive yet critically-demanding environment.
The eventual hoped-for result, aside from sales or commissions, is to be
asked to participate in a large, funded public art event, perhaps sponsored
by Sony or Siemens, perhaps even abroad.
The main centre in Moscow
for major public exhibition was always the Central House of Artists, which
shares a building with the stunning collection of the Tretyakov National
Art Museum's 20th century collection at Krymsky Val. Now most of it is
given over to retail galleries of varying quality, and very conservative,
boring exhibitions. However, in April the place comes to life with the
annual "Art Moscow" art fair, which highlights some of the directions of
contemporary art in Russia.
In yet another direction,
MediaArtLab is also an artist-run centre, but it now exists in virtual
space. It formed as a division of the SCCA to bring together practitioners
in art, culture and media including new technology. Never solely concerned
with art, it evolved, through its hosting of Internet-art projects, conferences
and international multidisciplinary projects, into one of the strongest
media-cultural organisations in Europe. When the Moscow SCCA closed, MediaArtLab
was left without a venue, and chose, at least for the present, to go virtual,
concentrating on building and maintaining networks of practitioners to
facilitate projects conferences and critical dialogues. In 2001 they hosted
MediaForum, part of the Moscow International Film Festival, showing alternative
video and new media. MediaArtLab is deeply concerned with issues surrounding
new technology's impact upon general cultural processes, with issues of
centralisation/decentralisation of culture in Russia, and in cross-dissemination
of Russian and "foreign" ideas and cultural concepts.
The artist-run centres especially
provide opportunities for artists from the provinces, offering them the
opportunity to have their work seen and assessed. Though the art scene
may be small and unfashionable, it takes art seriously. A vernissage for
example, is less an opportunity to see and be seen than it is to argue
and debate the finer points (the experience can be terrifying for the Western
One of the main differences
between the life of the artist in Moscow and in the Western capitals, is
that it is just not at all fashionable to be an artist in Russia. It is
fashionable to be a businessman, a pop star, a sports hero--but not an artist.
No-one goes to art school for fun or to be cool. No-one pursues art unless
they really feel a desperate, burning drive to be an artist--and often not
even then. Although there is rarely any money in art anywhere, this is
even more the case in Russia. There are few rewards except integrity, passion
and belief in the timeless value of making art.
Dom Kultury Arts Centre
Central House of Artists/New
Metro: Oktyabryskaia Sad
Art Media Centre "TV Gallery"
6, Bolshaya Yakimanka Str.,
Metro: Oktyabryskaia Sad
Tel.: (+7 095) 238 0269
Fax: (+7 095) 238 9666
Zverev Center for Modern
095 265 6166
7/7, building 5 Malaya Polianka
Metro Oktyabryskaia Sad
Tel./fax (7- 095) 238-8492
1st Tverskaya-Yamskaya Street,
(between Tverskaya and Teatralnaya
Leningradsky Prospect, 58
(in the yard)
Escape art space
Nagornaya Street 23, korp.2
tel. 095 127 0919
Spider and Mouse gallery
Leningradsky Prospect, 58
(in the yard)
Telephone: +07 095 287 13
on Collective Cultural Action
After reviewing the current
status of the U.S. cultural economy, one would have to conclude that market
demands discourage collective activity to such a degree that such a strategy
is unfeasible. To an extent, this perception has merit. Financial support
certainly favors individuals. In art institutions (museums, galleries,
art schools, alternative spaces, etc.), the Habermas thesis, that Modernity
never died, finds its practical application. In spite of all the critical
fulminations about the death of originality, the artist, and the rest of
the entities named on the tombstones in the Modernist cemetery, these notions
persist, protected by an entrenched cultural bureaucracy geared to resist
rapid change. If anything, a backlash has occurred that has intensified
certain Modernist notions. Of prime importance in this essay is the beloved
notion of the individual artist. The individual's signature is still the
prime collectible, and access to the body associated with the signature
is a commodity that is desired more than ever--so much so that the obsession
with the artist's body has made its way into "progressive" and alternative
art networks. Even "community art" has its stars, its signatures, and its
bodies. This final category may be the most important. Even a community
art star must do a project that includes mingling with the "community"
and with the project's sponsor(s). Mingling bodies is as important in the
progressive scene as it is in the gallery scene. This demand for bodily
commingling is derived from the most traditional notions of the artist
hero, as it signifies an opportunity to mix with history and interact with
The totalizing belief that
social and aesthetic value are encoded in the being of gifted individuals
(rather than emerging from a process of becoming shared by group members)
is cultivated early in cultural education. If one wants to become an "artist,"
there is a bounty of educational opportunities--everything from matchbook
correspondence schools to elite art academies. Yet in spite of this broad
spectrum of possibilities, there is no place where one can prepare for
a collective practice. At best, there are the rare examples where teams
(usually partnerships of two) can apply as one for admission into institutions
of higher learning. But once in the school, from administration to curriculum,
students are forced to accept the ideological imperative that artistic
practice is an individual practice. The numerous mechanisms to ensure that
this occurs are too many to list here, so only a few illustrative examples
will be offered. Consider the spatial model of the art school. Classrooms
are de signed to accommodate aggregates of specialists. Studios are designed
to accommodate a single artist, or like the classrooms, aggregates of students
working individually. Rarely can a classroom be found that has a space
designed for face-to-face group interaction. Nor are spaces provided where
artists of various media can come together to work on project ideas. Then
there is the presentation of faculty (primary role models) as individual
practitioners. The institution rewards individual effort at the faculty
level in a way similar to how students are rewarded for individual efforts
through grades. Woe be to the faculty member who goes to the tenure review
board with only collective efforts to show for he/rself. Obviously, these
reward systems have their effect on the cultural socialization process.
On the public front, the
situation is no better. If artists want grants for reasons other than being
a nonprofit presenter/producer, they better be working as individuals.
Generally speaking, collective practice has no place in the grant system.
Collectives reside in that liminal zone--they are neither an individual,
nor an institution, and there are no other categories. Seemingly there
is no place to turn. Collectives are not wanted in the public sphere, in
the education system, nor in the cultural market (in the limited sense
of the term), so why would CAE be so much in favor of collective cultural
Part of the answer once again
has to do with market demands. Market imperatives are double-edged swords.
There are just as many demands that contradict and are incommensurate with
the ones just mentioned. Three examples immediately spring to mind. First,
the market wants individuals with lots of skills for maximum exploitation--it's
a veritable return to the "renaissance man." An artist must be able to
produce in a given medium, write well enough for publication, be verbally
articulate, have a reasonable amount of knowledge of numerous disciplines
(including art history, aesthetics, critical theory, sociology, psychology,
world literature, media theory, and history, and given the latest trends,
now various sciences), be a capable public speaker, a career administrator,
and possess the proper diplomatic skills to navigate through a variety
of cultural sub-populations. Certainly some rare individuals do have all
of these skills, but the individual members of CAE are not examples of
this category. Consequently, we can only meet this standard by working
Second is the need for opportunity.
Given the overwhelming number of artists trained in academies, colleges,
and universities over the past thirty years, adding to what is already
an excessive population of cultural producers (given the few platforms
for distribution), the opportunity for a public voice has rapidly decreased.
By specializing in a particular medium, one cuts the opportunities even
further. The greater one's breadth of production skills, the more opportunity
there is. Opportunity is also expanded by breadth of knowledge. The more
one knows, the more issues one can address. In a time when content has
resurfaced as an object of artistic value, a broad interdisciplinary knowledge
base is a must. And finally, opportunity can be expanded through the ability
to address a wide variety of cultural spaces. The more cultural spaces
that a person is comfortable working in, the more opportunity s/he has.
If designed with these strategies in mind, collectives can configure themselves
to ad dress any issue or space, and they can use all types of media. The
result is a practice that defies specialization (and hence pigeonholing).
CAE, for example, can be doing a web project one week, a stage performance
at a festival the next, a guerrilla action the next, a museum installation
after that, followed by a book or journal project. Due to collective strength,
CAE is prepared for any cultural opportunity.
Finally, the velocity of
cultural economy is a factor. The market can consume a product faster than
ever before. Just in terms of quantity, collective action offers a tremendous
advantage. By working in a group, CAE members are able to resist the Warhol
syndrome of factory production with underpaid laborers. Through collective
action, product and process integrity can be maintained, while at the same
time keeping abreast of market demand.
These considerations may
sound cynical, and to a degree they are, but they appear to CAE as a reality
which must be negotiated if one is to survive as a cultural producer. On
the other hand, there is something significant about collective action
that is rewarding beyond what can be understood through the utilitarian
filters of economic survival.
Size Matters: Cellular
One problem that seems to
plague collective organization is the catastrophe of the group reaching
critical mass. When this point is reached, the group violently explodes,
and little or nothing is left of the organization. The reasons for hitting
this social wall vary depending on the function and in tention of the group.
CAE's experience has been that larger artists'/activists' groups tend to
hit this wall once membership rises into the hundreds. At that point, a
number of conflicts and contradictions emerge that cause friction in the
group. For one thing, tasks become diversified. Not everyone can participate
fully in each task, so committees are formed to focus on specific tasks.
The group thus moves from a direct process to a representational process.
This step toward bureaucracy conjures feelings of separation and mistrust
that can be deadly to group action, and that are symptomatic of the failure
of overly rationalized democracy. To complicate matters further, different
individuals enter the group with differing levels of access to resources.
Those with the greatest resources tend to have a larger say in group activities.
Consequently, minorities form that feel underrepresented and powerless
to compete with majoritarian views and methods. (Too often, these minorities
reflect the same minoritarian structure found in culture as a whole). Under
such conditions, group splintering is bound to occur, if not group annihilation.
Oddly enough, the worst-case scenario is not group annihilation, but the
formation of a Machiavellian power base that tightens the bureaucratic
rigor in order to purge the group of malcontents, and to stifle difference.
Such problems can also occur
at a smaller group level (between fifteen and fifty members). While these
smaller groups have an easier time avoiding the alienation that comes from
a complex division of labor and impersonal representation, there still
can be problems, such as the perception that not everyone has an equal
voice in group decisions, or that an individual is becoming the signature
voice of the group. Another standard problem is that the level of intimacy
necessary to sustain passionately driven group activity rarely emerges
in a midsize group. The probability is high that someone, for emotional
or idiosyncratic reasons, is not going to be able to work with someone
else on a long-term basis. These divisions cannot be organized or rationalized
away. Much as the large democratic collective (such as WAC) is good for
short-term, limited issue political and cultural action, the midsize group
seems to function best for short-term, specific issue cultural or political
For sustained cultural or
political practice free of bureaucracy or other types of separating factors,
CAE recommends a cellular structure. Thus far the artists' cell that typifies
contemporary collective activity has formed in a manner similar to band
society. Solidarity is based on similarity in terms of skills and political/aesthetic
perceptions. Most of the now classic cellular collectives of the 70s and
80s, such as Ant Farm, General Idea, Group Material, Testing the Limits
(before it splintered), and Gran Fury used such a method with admirable
results. Certainly these collectives' models for group activity are being
emulated by a new generation. However, CAE has made one adjustment in its
collective structure. While size and similarity through political/aesthetic
perspective has replicated itself in the group, members do not share a
similarity based on skill. Each member's set of skills is unique to the
cell. Consequently, in terms of production, solidarity is not based on
similarity, but on difference. The parts are interrelated and interdependent.
Technical expertise is given no chance to collide and conflict, and hence
social friction is greatly reduced. In addition, such structure allows
CAE to use whatever media it chooses, because the group has developed a
broad skill base. Having a broad skill base and interdisciplinary knowledge
also allows the group to work in any kind of space.
Solidarity through difference
also affects the structure of power in the group. Formerly, collective
structure tended to be based on the idea that all members were equals at
all times. Groups had a tremendous fear of hierarchy, because it was considered
a categorical evil that led to domination. This notion was coupled with
a belief in extreme democracy as the best method of avoiding hierarchy.
While CAE does not follow the democratic model, the collective does recognize
its merits; however, CAE follows Foucault's principle that hierarchical
power can be productive (it does not necessarily lead to domination), and
hence uses a floating hierarchy to produce projects. After consensus is
reached on how a project should be produced, the member with the greatest
expertise in the area has authority over the final product. While all members
have a voice in the production process, the project leader makes the final
decisions. This keeps endless discussion over who has the better idea or
design to a minimum, and hence the group can produce at a faster rate.
Projects tend to vary dramatically, so the authority floats among the membership.
At the same time, CAE would not recommend this process for any social constellation
other than the cell (three to eight people). Members must be able to interact
in a direct face-to-face manner, so everyone is sure that they have been
heard as a person (and not as an anonymous or marginalized voice). Second,
the members must trust one another; that is, sustained collective action
requires social intimacy and a belief that the other members have each
individual member's interests at heart. A recognition and understanding
of the non-rational components of collective action is crucial-- without
it, the practice cannot sustain itself.
The collective also has to
consider what is pleasurable for its members. Not all people work at the
same rate. The idea that everyone should do an equal amount of work is
to measure a member's value by quantity instead of quality. As long as
the process is pleasurable and satisfying for everyone, in CAE's opinion,
each member should work at the rate at which they are comfortable. Rigid
equality in this case can be a perverse and destructive type of Fordism
that should be avoided. To reinforce the pleasure of the group, convivial
relationships beyond the production process are necessary. The primary
reason for this need is because the members will intensify bonds of trust
and intimacy that will later be positively reflected in the production
process. To be sure, intimacy produces its own peculiar friction, but the
group has a better chance of surviving the arguments and conflicts that
are bound to arise, as long as in the final analysis each member trusts
and can depend on fellow members. Collective action requires total commitment
to other members, and this is a frightening thought for many individuals.
Certainly, collective practice is not for everyone.
Coalitions, Not Communities
While cellular collective
structure is very useful in solving problems of production, long-term personal
cooperation, and security (for those involved in underground activities),
like all social constellations, it has its limits. It does not solve many
of the problems associated with distribution, nor can it fulfill the functions
of localized cultural and political organizations. Consequently, there
has always been a drive toward finding a social principle that would allow
likeminded people or cells to organize into larger groups. Currently, the
dominant principle is "community." CAE sees this development as very unfortunate.
The idea of community is without doubt the liberal equivalent of the conservative
notion of "family values"-- neither exists in contemporary culture, and
both are grounded in political fantasy. For example, the "gay community"
is a term often used in the media and in various organizations. This term
refers to all people who are gay within a given territory. Even in a localized
context, gay men and women populate all social strata, from the underclass
to the elite, so it is very hard to believe that this aggregate functions
as a community within such a complex society. To complicate matters further,
social variables such as race, ethnicity, gender, education, profession,
and other points of difference are not likely to be lesser points of identification
than the characteristic of being gay. A single shared social characteristic
can in no way constitute a community in any sociological sense. Talking
about a gay community is as silly as talking about a "straight community."
The word community is only meaningful in this case as a euphemism for "minority."
The closest social constellation to a community that does exist is friendship
networks, but those too fall short of being communities in any sociological
CAE is unsure who really
wants community in the first place, as it contradicts the politics of difference.
Solidarity based on similarity through shared ethnicity, and interconnected
familial networks supported by a shared sense of place and history, work
against the possibility of power through diversity by maintaining closed
social systems. This is not to say that there are no longer relatively
closed social subsystems within society. Indeed there are, but they differ
from community in that they are products of rationalized social construction
and completely lack social solidarity. In order to bring people together
from different subsystems who share a similar concern, hybrid groups have
to be intentionally formed. These groups are made up of people who are
focusing their attention on one or two characteristics that they share
in common, and who put potentially conflicting differences aside. This
kind of alliance, created for purposes of large-scale cultural production
and/or for the visible consolidation of economic and political power, is
known as a coalition.
CAE has supported a number
of coalitions in the past, including various ACT UP chapters and PONY (Prostitutes
of New York), and has organized temporary localized ones as well. One of
the problems CAE had with such alliances was in negotiating service to
the coalition while maintaining its collective practice. Coalitions are
often black holes that consume as much energy as a person is willing to
put into them; hence membership burnout is quite common. CAE was no exception.
After a few years of this variety of activism, members were ready to retreat
back into less visible cellular practice. CAE began looking for a model
of coalition different from the singleissue model.
One potential answer has
come by way of CAE's affiliation with Nettime.* Nettime is a loosely knit
coalition of activists, artists, theorists, techies, collectives, and organizations
from all over Europe and North America that have come together for reasons
of generalized support for radical cultural and political causes. It has
approximately seven hundred members, and has existed in various forms for
about six years. Nettime functions as an information, distribution, and
recruitment resource for its members. The core of its existence is virtual:
Member contact is maintained through an online list, various newsgroups,
and an archive. In addition, the coalition holds occasional conferences
(the first two, Metaforum I and II, were held in Budapest in 1995 and 1996;
Beauty and the East was held in Ljubljana in 1997), produces and contributes
to the production of cultural projects (such as Hybrid Workspace at Documenta
X), acts as a resource for various political actions, and produces readers
and books from its archive (the most recent being README: ASCII Culture
and the Revenge of Knowledge).
(*The description of the
Nettime coalition given in this essay is solely from CAE's perspective.
It was not collectively written nor approved by the Nettime membership.)
From CAE's perspective, one
of the elements that makes Nettime a more pleasurable experience is that
unlike most coalitions, it is anarchistic rather than democratic. Nettime
has no voting procedures, committee work, coalition officers, nor any of
the markers of governance through representation. Hierarchy emerges in
accordance with who is willing to do the work. Those who are willing to
run the list have the most say over its construction. At the same time,
the general policy for coalition maintenance is "tools not rules." Those
building the virtual architecture govern by providing space for discussions
that are not of general interest to the entire list. They also direct the
flow of information traffic. Whatever members want to do--from flame wars
to long and detailed discussions--there is a place to do it. For events
in real space, the primary rule of "those who do the work have the biggest
say" still applies. Indeed, there is considerable room for exploitation
in such a system, yet this does not occur with much frequency because members
have sufficient trust in and allegiance to other members; the coalition
as a whole won't tolerate system abuse (such as spamming, or selfaggrandizing
use of the list); and there is a self-destruct failsafe--members would jump
ship at the first sign of ownership and/ or permanent hierarchy.
Perhaps the real indicator
of the congeniality shared by Nettime members is its cultural economy.
Nettime functions as an information gift economy. Articles and information
are distributed free of charge to members by those who have accumulated
large information assets. Nettimers often see significant works on the
intersections of art, politics, and technology long before these works
appear in the publications based on money economy. For real space projects,
this same sense of voluntarism pervades all activities. What is different
here from other cultural economies is that gift economy is only demanding
on those who have too much. No one is expected to volunteer until they
suffer or burn out. The volunteers emerge from among those who have excessive
time, labor power, funding, space, or some combination thereof, and need
to burn it off to return to equilibrium. Consequently, activity waxes and
wanes depending on the situations and motivations of the members.
CAE does not want to romanticize
this form of social organization too much. Problems certainly occur--quarrels
and conflicts break out, enraged members quit the list, and events do not
always go as expected. However, Nettime is still the most congenial large-scale
collective environment in which CAE has ever worked. The reason is that
this loose coalition began with the romantic principle of accepting nonrational
characteristics. It believed that a large collective could exist based
on principles of trust, altruism, and pleasure, rather than based on the
Hobbesian assumption (so typical of democratic coalitions) of the war of
all against all, which in turn leads to a nearly pathological overvaluation
of the organizational principles of accountability and categorical equality.
Nettime functions using just one failsafe system--self-destruction-- and
it thereby skips all the alienating bureaucracy necessary for managing
endless accountability procedures. If Nettime self-destructs, all members
will walk away whole, and will look for new opportunities for collective
action. An alliance with the temporary is one of Nettime's greatest strengths.
Although they are in a secondary
position in terms of cultural organizational possibilities, cells and coalitions
still present a viable alternative to individual cultural practices. Collective
action solves some of the problems of navigating market-driven cultural
economy by allowing the individual to escape the skewed power relationships
between the individual and the institution. More significantly, however,
collective action also helps alleviate the intensity of alienation born
of an overly rationalized and instrumentalized culture by recreating some
of the positive points of friendship networks within a productive environment.
For this reason, CAE believes that artists' research into alternative forms
of social organization is just as important as the traditional research
into materials, processes, and products.
Critical Art Ensemble
(C.A.E.) is a collective of six artists of different specializations committed
to the production of a new genre art that explores the intersections among
critical theory, art and technology.
& Comics review
Apologies for the absence
of this column in the last issue, I was busy doing some wallpapering and
went to Japan in search of strange print creations, there's a bumper crop
of reading material in this issue, hopefully it was worth the wait....
Writing a book about all
the previous books you've written, designed and published sounds like an
ultimate conceit but Leonard Koren's 13 Books (notes on the design,
construction & marketing of my last...) is a satisfying, successful book
in it's own right and manages to avoid the depths of self-indulgence. Koren's
earlier books published over the last 25 years were about baths & bathing
and Japanese fashion, business and aesthetics, each book in turn is examined
anecdotally in terms of: subject matter, inspiration, organising principle,
greatest difficulty, degree of success and enduring lesson, the scheme
is completed with Gary Panter's hand drawn illustrations of the original
books, showing the cover and details from each book, (apart from one book
cover which was enforced on Koren by a publisher, and which he refuses
to include in his own book!) 13 Books should be of interest to anyone
involved in making books, whether or not they are familiar with Koren's
previous books. As a bookmaker, seller, collector and reviewer, admittedly
I'm predisposed to this type of book, I might even revive 'Mark's Little
Book about Mark's Books' which I started in 1989 and never quite got round
to finishing. File next to Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets &
Philosophers, 283 Useful Ideas from Japan and Success Stories--How eleven
of Japan's most interesting businesses came to be, all by Leonard Koren.
It's a book full of dots.
Dot...age by Yasushi Cho. is a delectable full colour handsewn book
of dots, not just any dots, but those lines of full stops...............
found on the contents pages of books................ in telephone directories
and on order forms................ lines of dots to impose order on empty
space and inform the eye where to look next. Is there a proper name for
these incidental dots known only to typographers and dot-spotters? Dot...age
displays a purity of conception which is reminiscent of early Concrete
Poetry. File inside Found Poems, Bern Porter, Something Else Press 1972.
No payment will be made
until balance equals $50.00, a small artists book by Jack Grahl is
a collection of record company royalty statements which inform the recipient;
'We're not going to pay you the money we owe you until we owe you a bit
more'! A decidedly non-glamorous look at the entertainment industry/music
business. Is Jack Grahl an artist or accountant? File next to your overdraft
statements and bounced cheques.
Mascara was Peter Kohler's
dinky little handmade publication that I imagine he carried all the copies
round in his pocket for a couple of weeks before he could bear to part
with them. His latest book came as a surprise, Open is a thick 100
page slab of a book, which I've been working my way through deliberately
slowly, savouring each page of his multiple unlikely comic strips, First
Ladies vs. the Ghost of Papa Doc Duvalier, Vicious Shrimp Man, Old Mad
Witch, Mortal Man, Screaming Ball and the Floating Skull, The Gnome and
the Antidepressants and The Laughing Fruits. File next to Al Ackerman's
'Let Me Eat Massive Pieces of Clay'
HAW! Horrible, horrible
cartoons by Ivan Brunetti. A collection of morally reprehensible, heads
down, no nonsense, mindless yucko-depravo cartoons by Ivan Brunetti. Is
this scathing social critique, or is he just a complete Sick Fuck? I dunno
and after reading it several times I'm ashamed to even get half the references
in there, its the kind of book you would hope they had difficulty finding
a printer to accept! There's not a single cartoon in here I could get away
with describing, well perhaps the one with cute kids hustling heroin to
a recently landed space alien, or maybe the one of grandpa and grandma
in the computer showroom 'Yeah, yeah, yeah... Skip the mumbo-jumbo son...
Just show us how to get pornography on this fuckin' thing.' But the one
with an earnest looking couple at the dinner table with the woman wondering
out loud 'Is sperm Vegan?' is clearly going too far, and we've not even
started on sex, death, drugs and mutilation in imaginative combinations.
HAW! is probably not available in your local comic shop. File in the
Toilet or next to your collection of those naughty eros comics.
SUGAR BOOGER, Kevin
Scalzo, is a beautiful pocket sized candy-coloured comic featuring Sugar
Booger, a big happy bear, who likes nothing better than playing with kids
in the park, unfortunately all the children he meets have been indoctrinated
not to talk to strangers and freak out when he tries to make friends with
them. Sugar Booger wins them over by swallowing an enormous sack full of
candy and using his unique talent to produce copious amounts of sweet snot!
SUGAR BOOGER--a versatile plaything that kids can play with, make
models out of, bounce around on and even eat! Beautiful and bonkers. File
next to Archer Prewitt's Sof'Boy.
I've reviewed World War
3 Illustrated before so they wouldn't normally get another mention,
but World War 3 Illustrated #32, their response to 11/9/2001/NYC
is an extremely powerful and moving issue. Reviewing it seems superfluous,
so here's the editor's introduction in full:
"We published the first
issue of World War 3 Illustrated in 1980. It contained images of New York
City in ruins. Nuclear war seemed imminent. As conditions got worse under
Reagan, war became a metaphor for our daily lives. Today in 2002 we are
experiencing real war on our doorstep here in Manhattan. We see war and
the city with new eyes. This 32nd issue of World War 3 Illustrated contains
the diverse reactions of New York artists, writers and cartoonists to the
disaster. This issue grows out of our personal experience. From seeing,
hearing, smelling and living with this insane event. We are not trying
to prove a point. We are asking questions. Trying to make sense out of
the incomprehensible. Looking for our Humanity in the rubble."
File next to a couple of
other copies of this issue which you'll be lending to friends.
A couple of year ago I used
to flick through While you were sleeping and put it swiftly back
in Tower Records magazine racks when I came to the pages of spray painted
subway trains. Recent issues are much improved, it's put together by a
bunch of twenty-nothing, never-grow-up guys from Maryland, who have mucho
fun picking feuds with the Spam Museum, interviewing hookers (most issues)
and interviewing whichever member of the Wu Tang Clan comes to hand (most
issues). Basic interview technique--ask the most stoopid questions you can
get away with. There's a great 5-finger-discount shoplifting fashion feature,
cacophony society style pranks and Jello reminiscing about Joey (Biafra/Ramone).
There's still a few vandalised trains in there but thankfully outweighed
by more interesting post-graf/billboard modification work from the likes
of Twist, Reas, Espo, Margaret Kilgallen and Shawn Wolfe plus some notable
recent cover artwork from Mitch O'Connell and John "Garbage Pail Kids"
Pound. File where your mum won't find it.
"I love the smell of vandalism
early in the morning" declares UK graffiti artist Banksy. Banging your
head against a brick wall is a collection of recent work which he's
generously stencilled on walls across London--doing his own bit for the
abolition of gallery admission fees. These no frills black & white
spraypainted works are deceptively simple, juxtaposing familiar images;
schoolgirls hugging bombs, surveillance cameras peeping out of dustbins
and Mona Lisa with a rocket launcher. Banksy's virtuoso piece is a 'designated
graffiti area' stencil for use on pristine white walls, illustrated with
photos of graffiti encrusted walls a few days after being 'officially designated'.
Banging your head against a brick wall is splattered with useful
how-to hints, Banksy's paranoid method rants and his it's-only-art-if-you-can-get-arrested-for-doing-it
mantra. There's no vandalised trains in here and no Krylon spraypaint fetishisation
either--'Cheap British paint is fine'. Word on the street is that the police
have collected an impressive portfolio of Banksy's work and would very
much like to see him put somewhere there's lots of walls and no spraypaint,
so it looks like Banksy may be taking an early voluntary retirement.
PUNK PLANET #46 is
a great find, this issue is an Art & Design special issue covering
a broad spectrum of artists whose work is informed and inspired by their
interpretations of the punk/do-it-yourself ethos. PUNK PLANET #46 features
a range of artists from the internationally known: Jamie Hernandez of Love
& Rockets comics, the recently resurfaced Gee Vaucher who did all the
CRASS Artwork and Shepard Fairey of GIANT/Andre the Giant notoriety to
smaller local initiatives & projects; SF's Pond Gallery, Chicago Barrio
Murals and the Mobilivre Bookmobile taking in along the way a host of indy
cartoonists and unclassifiable individuals such as Elliot Earls--typographer/musician.
I'm not sure if having four different 'limited edition' covers is very
PUNK, but then I never felt the need to buy Generation X's King Rocker
7" in all four different colours of vinyl either, so what do I know?
Unsurprisingly I found some
great books in Japan, perfect eye candy for image junkies, never mind the
language barrier! Travel about KAOHAME: 88 best shots by Ijichi
Hiroyuki, is a photographic collection of painted wooden figures with holes
for faces--for you to stand behind and have your photo taken. The Japanese
are photo-crazy, snapping each other wherever they go and these Kaohame
sited in tourist locations and vacation spots provide yet another photo
opportunity. Hiroyuki has travelled across Japan photographing Kaohame
which come in a variety of shapes; historical/folklore characters, fish,
movie stars, statues, and monster sized ice-cream cones! Each Kaohame is
given a star rating and accompanied with a small hand-drawn map of its
location (essential to find anything in Japan) together with train information
and admission charges. It would have been a nice touch to have included
a few shots of the Kaohame actually being used by sightseers and tourists.
DAGASHI is 120 pages
crammed full with colour photos of cheap sweets, chocolates and candy costing
¥20-30 (12-18p) and cheap pocket money toys (¥50-100 / 30-60p)!
There's a multitude of strange sweeties in eye-catching packages, ramshackle
old lady sweet shops, traditional Japanese sweet makers, sweet crispy tonkatsu
pork fillets, candy chopsticks, lucky lottery sweets, rice snacks galore,
street fair foods, snack noodles packaged as cigarettes and things you
can only guess at. Imagine the research for this book, it would be like
giving a couple of pesky seven year olds £100 and saying now off
you go and buy as many different sweets and toys as you can, don't spend
more than 50p on any item and don't come back till you've spent all the
money! Watch out for Pick'n'Mix Challenge on some dodgy digital channel
soon... I don't even want to know why this book was put together or what
the text says, I'm just happy to know it exists. File next to Sugar Booger
and a box of cheap sweets and penny chews big enough to make you sick if
you ate them all at once.
In The Mambonsai 2 Paradise
Yamamoto combines Bonsai, traditional Japanese ornamental shrubs with plastic
railway model figures into a series of precisely arranged tableaux. Look
closely amongst the shrubbery and moss in The Mambonsai 2 and you'll notice
the little people, they're not pixies or elves, but grumpy old men, reluctant
hikers, skinny-dippers and skiving workmen. Yamamoto creates beauty spots
crawling with photographers and a forest which is a popular site for committing
suicide. The book is supplemented with beautiful diagrams, a size chart
comparing Mambonsai with the Tokyo tower and Mt Everest and there's even
a Mambonsai theme song. Thankfully The Mambonsai 2 is bilingual,
with good translations, although later on in the book Yamamoto warns us
"In case you know little about Japanese culture, please consult a professional
before trying to decipher this high-level, intellectual and sophisticated
chart." A truly unique and loopy, book. File next to Kenji Kawakami's 101
Useless Japanese Inventions.
Ultraman is the enormously
popular rubbersuited Japanese superhero who has been battling goofy space
monsters for the last 30 years. In Daddy is Ultraman, a beautiful
children's book by Tatsuya Miyanishi we see the domestic side of his life,
at home with his son and wife, ultramam. When Ultraman comes home after
a hard day fighting evil monsters in a devastated city and sees the wreckage
of his son's toy-strewn room he looses his composure and shouts at his
son. Later on he apologises by making paper masks of his many adversaries
for his son to play with. Its all drawn in a loose Keith Haring-esque style,
with painstakingly handmade colour mis-separations. I hope the idea of
Daddy is Ultraman-type books doesn't catch on over here, can you
imagine the horrors of 'Daddy is a Tellytubby'--unless Ivan Brunetti wrote
and drew it? File in your kids room, or for when you decide to learn Japanese.
Japanese books are unsurprisingly
near-impossible to get hold of outside of Japan, next time you're in Tokyo
(?) check out PROGETTO, ON SUNDAYS, NADIFF, GALLERY 360 and Village Vanguard.
Closer to home is London's
new Bookartbookshop specialising in artists books and small press publications.
Bookartbookshop only opened in February 2002 and has already built up an
impressive stock, successfully filling a gap in London's bookshops and
providing a much needed specialist venue for artists books and small press
publications. They deserve your support, and did I mention that they sell
13 Books, Leonard
Koren, $17.95. www.leonardkoren.com
Dot...age, by Yasushi
Cho, ¥780, firstname.lastname@example.org
no payment will be made
until balance equals $50.00 Jack Grahl, 21 Hampton Rd, Forest Gate,
London E7 OPD
Open, Peter Kohler,
HAW! Horrible, horrible
cartoons by Ivan Brunetti. $8.95 Fantagraphics
SUGAR BOOGER, Kevin
Scalzo, $3.95. www.kevinscalzo.com
World War 3 Illustrated,
$3.50+p&p, World War 3, POBox 20777, Tompkins Square Sta., NY, NY 10009
while you were sleeping
Banging your head against
a brick wall, Banksy, £4 ,www.akuk.
PUNK PLANET, $9.00
inc p+p. www.punkplanet.com
Travel about KAOHAME:
88 best shots. Ijichi Hiroyuki
The MAMBONSAI 2,
Paradise Yamamoto, ¥1700, www.mambonsai.com
DADDY IS ULTRAMAN,(and
6 more books in the series) Tatsuya Miyanishi ¥1170
PROGETTO, 5-5 Maruyamacho,
Shibuya, Tokyo www.progetto.co.jp
ON SUNDAYS, 3-7-6
Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo. www.watarium.co.jp
NADIFF, in Aoyama.
GALLERY 360 in Omotesando
17 Pitfield St, London N1 6HB, Wed-Sat 1-7pm, 020 7608 1333 www.bookartbookshop.com
The story of the historic
Scottish hunger march
in 1933 by the National Unemployed Workers Movement (NUWM) this story relates
events seventy years ago. Massive numbers of people were out of work in
those days, with the attendant poverty and misery.
Readers of Three Days
That Shook Edinburgh will themselves feel angry that so little has been
done by the labour movement to organise and fight back against the ravages
of unemployment in the present situation. The daily growing number of unemployed
are not involved in organising contemporary protest marches to any great
degree, and compared to the efforts, the imagination and the organisation
of the NUWM in the thirties they are puny affairs.
In a situation where
more than ten people are chasing every vacancy; where more than a million
workers have been unemployed for more than a year; when the majority of
school leavers can't find a job, and in many cases are not entitled to
any benefits; and finally, when most men and women over fifty can be taken
off the unemployment register to reduce the total, and they realise that
they may never work again - has the time not come when we must raise the
fundemental question of the very existence of the capitalist system?
Long before labour leaders
became respectable, they discussed and organised on street comers and,
as this pamphlet shows, fought for decent living conditions in the midst
of mass unemployment. The pioneers of the working class unions did have
a dream - it was called Socialism. In a world where what is on offer is
only booms and slumps with the occasional war thrown in, there must be
a better way.
In 1983, when he was
ninety years old, Harry McShane was interviewed by the magazine Socialist
Review, and had this to say:
"Last night on television
Michael Foot was talking about unemployment, that it would be with us for
a long time to come. For the first time he was admitting that unemployment
is a permanent feature under capitalism. He had no solution to offer, and
he said "we can't raise people's hopes". We have to make propaganda and
say clearly there can be no solution to the problem of unemployment under
capitalism. We have to argue that alongside the fight to improve the conditions
of the unemployed we must fight all the time to change the system. That
is the only solution..."
On Friday, 9th June 1938,
along the main roads leading to Edinburgh, columns of men were marching;
men with bands, banners, slogans, everyone equipped with knapsack and blanket,
their field cookers on ahead: an army in miniature, an unemployed army,
the Hunger Marchers.
In the ranks were men of
all political opinions--Labour men, Communists, ILP; there were Trade Unionists
and non-Unionists; there were even sections of women marchers--all marching
four abreast, shoulder to shoulder, keeping step, surging along rhythmically.
Here was the United Front
of the workers, one of the first fronts of the drive for Unity now being
made in all parts of Britain.
An outstanding feature of
the March was the predominant part played in it by the young workers. At
least 50 per cent of the Marchers could be classified as young workers.
Their discipline, courage and determination were of the very highest order
and showed how the Youth can assist to a tremendous degree the fight of
This March, with its strong
Youth representation, is a living refutation of the pessimists who assert
that the young workers are not interested in the struggle. It drives home
the necessity of the most careful and extensive preparations being made
so that in every area and locality the young workers will be drawn into
the general mass activity. It reinforces a thousand times the urgent necessity
of building strong Youth sections of the Unemployed Movement.
Why They Marched
The marchers were going
to Edinburgh, endeavouring to secure an interview with Sir G Collins, Secretary
of State for Scotland. They proposed to lay before him the steadily worsening
conditions of the unemployed masses of Scotland, to demand increased relief
for semi-starving men, women and children, and to put certain carefully
thought out proposals for work schemes which would help to give employment
to tens of thousands of the unemployed army; to demand the ending of the
embargo on Russian goods which was preventing employment for 60,000 Engineering
workers (including many in Scotland) because of stoppage of Soviet orders.
They marched for work, for bread, and for maintenance of all unemployed.
The marching unemployed
were the delegates, the representatives of their four hundred thousand
unemployed comrades at home. Every trade, every industry, was present.
The workers of Scotland stood behind the Marchers, stood behind their demands
for work and maintenance, stood behind their Hunger 'Trek to Edinburgh.
(1) Abolition of the Means
(2) That children of unemployed
be granted 1s 6d per week extra, and that adult unemployed and adult dependants
be granted 3s per week extra. These increases to apply to all unemployed
whether in receipt of statutory or transitional payments or in receipt
of Public Assistance.
(3) That rents be reduced
25 per cent.
(4) That the Social Service
Schemes and all voluntary labour connected with the same be repudiated.
In addition, the lifting of the Embargo on the Soviet Union and conclusion
of a new Trade Agreement.
The Hunger March of June
1933, was a coping stone to a whole series of mass activities which had
swept Scotland. In Glasgow, in Renfrewshire, in Fifeshire, Lanarkshire,
Dumbartonshire, even in far north Aberdeen and Fraserburgh, the mass movement
of the unemployed had developed. Despite sneers, insults, batonings, jailings,
the agitation had developed, thousands of meetings held, incessant delegations
and deputising, huge popular petitions containing the demands of the unemployed
organised, mass demonstrations held. Clashes with the police were frequent
(in Glasgow, due to plain clothes policemen provocation, a fierce fight
took place on Glasgow Green and fourteen policemen were injured). A tremendous
petition, containing the signatures of over 112,000 people was organised,
a concession of 1s 6d per child literally torn out of the Glasgow PAC1
by mass pressure-- only to have the National Government2 step
in, in order to prevent a workers' victory in Glasgow.
In Fife, in Dumbartonshire,
even in Ayrshire, the workers forced concessions.
County Hunger Marches in
Fife, Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, were organised. They were very successful.
More and more workers were being brought into the struggle; hope was being
given to the faint-hearted and the lukewarm. The struggle against the means
Test, the Dole Cuts, the Anomalies Act was intensifying. The stage was
set for an all-Scottish Hunger March to raise the fight to a still greater
height. The famous Hunger March in June was the result.
Not an isolated event, not
a stunt, but the logical development, the coping stone, of the mass local
activities throughout the winter and spring.
The preparations for the
March were more thorough and wide-spread than anything hitherto. Not simply
to organise contingents of marchers, but to organise a mass working-class
support for the March contingents, to bring factory workers, Trade Union
branches, Co-operatives, Trades Councils into the March, to get active
support in popularising the Demands.
Hunger Marchers' Councils
were organised in the areas composed of delegates from as many working-class
organisations as possible; hundreds of March Recruiting Meetings were held;
Trade Union Branches circularised, and in some cases visited; public correspondence
initiated with Sir Godfrey Collins and with Town Councils and Trades Councils
on the main routes to Edinburgh; resolutions passed from a very large number
of Trade Union branches and from meetings, demanding that Collins be present;
Town Councils and Councillors deputised; a regular series of propagandist
and agitational activities which had a tremendous result in focusing attention
on the March and in breaking down the former isolation of the unemployed
from the employed and trade union workers.
All this time the recruiting
for the March contingents was going on, the Field Kitchens were prepared,
money and foodstuffs collected--a significant feature, indicating the progress
made in breaking down isolation, was the very fine response from Trade
Union branches and Co-operatives in sending donations and passing resolutions
demanding that Collins come to Edinburgh. The Recruiting Form, as follows,
enabled the best type of Marchers to be recruited, and prevented our enemies
saying that anyone was mislead.
SCOTTISH HUNGER MARCH
promise that while on
the March 1 will observe strict discipline, as I realise that unless discipline
is observed the greatest dangers will arise for the marchers.
I also undertake to stay
in Edinburgh until the main body of marchers leave. I have been informed
that there are no guarantees about returning on any particular day. I come
on the march with that understanding, and will observe the agreement.
I understand the significance
of this march and fully support the demands to the Government.
NOTE-- No one can be allowed
on the march who has not filled in this form.
The concentration against
Never at any time has there
been such concentration against any March as against this. Capitalist Town
councils, Labour leaders, Trades Union bureaucrats, with the Press, Police
and Sir Godfrey Collins joining in, all united in an unholy alliance denouncing
the March, refusing any assistance, trying to intimidate the workers with
their refusal to grant either recognition, food or accommodation. All along
the routes, at the suggested stopping places--Kilsyth, Bo'ness, Airdrie,
etc.--there was an obstinate refusal to grant accommodation for the Marchers,
a concentrated campaign of opposition and vilification on the part of the
capitalists, the Labour and Trade Union leaders.
The situation was sharpening,
the sides were becoming clearer defined. On the one hand the Unemployed
Workers united with the Trade Union branches and Co-operative Guilds and
factory workers organising the March; on the other the capitalist Press
and Police, plus the capitalist councillors and Labour and Trade Union
leaders mobilising and uniting to prevent and destroy the March.
The March Begins
Word came through on 6th
June that Aberdeen and Dundee contingents had set out to link up with Fife
in Kirkcaldy. The March was on! The Ayrshire contingent linked up with
Lanarkshire and marched via Shotts and East Calder.
Renfrewshire and Dumbartonshire
came to Glasgow and set out via Coatbridge, Airdrie, Bathgate, and Broxburn;
with them marched a women's section.
The Glasgow men set out
via Kilsyth and Falkirk, where they were joined by Stirlingshire, on to
Bo'ness and Corstorphine.
By Friday afternoon all
the contingents were under way. Along the four main highroads to Edinburgh
trumped steadily the Hunger Marchers, bands playing, flags flying, cheery
and determined. Not a single contingent had accommodation guaranteed, not
a single contingent entertained the slightest doubt that it would be secured.
They knew that the pressure of the masses was something that no Town Council
nor bureaucratic Provost could long stand against.
In Glasgow there was a tremendous
send-off; thousands of people gathered at George Square; and as the March
started--headed by Comrades McGovern; Heenan of the ILP; Aitken Ferguson,
Communist Party; Henderson, Glasgow Organiser of the NUWM; and Harry McShane,
Scottish Organiser of the NUWM and the March--there was a great send-off.
All the road out to Bishopbriggs a huge demonstration accompanied the Marchers,
then lined the roadside, and cheered the March contingent as it set off
on its first lap (Kilsyth).
The first barrier surmounted
In this town the Provost
and the Labour Town Council had refused any assistance whatever. "No use
the Marchers coming here"; Notting could be done"; "Nobody wanted them";
etc. But what a reception at Kilsyth! The entire town, almost without exception,
turned out to greet the Marchers. the Town Council meeting scheduled for
that night was hastily abandoned, and the Councillors and Provost disappeared.
Quarters were found for the men in the Salvation Army headquarters; a gigantic
meeting was held in the Park by comrades McGovern, Heenan, McShane, Ferguson;
a unanimous vote of support for the Marchers was given.
The townspeople were ours--no
doubt, hesitation or dubiety about where they stood in relation to the
March. They, like the overwhelming mass of the workers everywhere the March
touched, solidly supported the Hunger Marchers.
This story of Kilsyth is
the experience of every contingent--barriers erected by the enemies, crumbling
before the surge of working-class mass pressure aroused by the very appearance
of the Marchers.
All along the route, in
every town and village, in almost every cottage the workers came out to
welcome the marching unemployed. Coppers, which could ill be spared, clinked
into the boxes; women with tears in their eyes, wishing the men "good luck"
and dropping their contributions into the collecting tins.
No hair-splitting arguments
among the masses, no asking themselves whether the Right Honourable Ceo.
Lansbury MP3 had given the March his pontifical blessing or
not, no question as to whether Mr Citrine4 or the TUC endorsed
or did not endorse the March.
No! The workers realised
instinctively that this was their own people who were marching, their own
class, kith and kin; it was "their side", and anybody who opposed it was
on the other side.
The class character of the
March broke through all the flimsy arguments of the Labour and Trade Union
leaders and showed, as in a lightening flash, where they stood--on the other
side of the barricade.
In this pamphlet there is
not one-tenth of the space required to tell of one-half of the episodes
of this memorable March, of the heroism and determination that kept men
plugging on with feet torn, blistered, bloody, even when their comrades
and leaders wanted them to take a bus into Corstorphine; of comrade Heenan,
whose feet were in a terrible condition and who wrenched his ankle six
miles from Corstorphine, but who obstinately refused even to consider giving
up, and kept tramping doggedly on. How can one tell of the humour, the
healthy, salty humour, that refused even to consider downheartedness even
when tramping along at the end of a twenty-mile march through two hours
of pelting rain? How can one write of the discipline, the comradeship,
the glowing loyalty of the marchers, that would have inspired a dead man!
At 4pm, Sunday, 11th June,
all the contingents reached the Central Meeting Place at Corstorphine.
What a sight it was as each contingent marched in; what a cheer they got
from the rest!
An especial welcome was
given to the women marchers, whose spirit and determination were marvellous.
The staff work at Corstorphine
was splendid. Everything worked on ball bearings. The Marchers' own Field
Kitchens were in full blast, and in an incredibly short time the whole
army was fed.
The whistle goes --Pheep-eep;
the contingents form up; then, headed by their bands, off they go into
Edinburgh--one thousand strong--in military formation and discipline.
The Edinburgh workers sent
out a strong contingent to meet us and march in with us. The streets were
lined all the way into Edinburgh with sympathetic workers, tremendous enthusiasm
The result was that, seeing
what was happening, the Authorities decided on a cautious policy.
We knew beforehand that
we could be allowed peacefully to enter Edinburgh. Before the Glasgow contingent
left, letters were sent to Sir Godfrey Collins, the Ministry of Labour,
the Department of Health and the Education Department, asking them to hear
a deputation on Monday 12th June. Three telegrams were received on the
road--one from each Department--offering to meet a deputation on Monday at
11am at the Ministry of Labour Office, 44 Drumsheugh Gardens. We had no
reply from Sir Godfrey Collins. These telegrams were the first recognition
of the March; it was a break through.
The marchers in Edinburgh
The marchers had now arrived
at their destination, despite opposition and rumours to the effect that
the March would be called off we marched to the Mound, where the formation
was still maintained. About 20,000 people had assembled here. So dense
was the crowd that many could not hear the speeches which were delivered.
Councillor Paton gave a speech of welcome, which was replied to by McGovern,
Heenan, Ferguson and McShane. The Marchers then went to the ILP Hall at
Bonnington Road, where a meal was provided by the Edinburgh Reception Committee.
The first concession by
the Authorities in Edinburgh was when the police agreed to lift the ban
on collections in the streets, after the Marchers had declared their intention
of collecting from everyone who was prepared to assist the March.
While feeding was going
on, a deputation approached the police on the question of accommodation.
They came back with a report to the effect that we could have Waverley
Market. The deputation had raised the question of blankets or boards being
put on the stone floor. This request was refused, and the deputation turned
down the offer of the Waverley Market.
The struggle had now begun!
The Marchers were lined up and marched off. In reply to enquiries as to
where they were going, it was stated that they were going to the police
station. The suggestion was then made that we should sleep on Leith Links.
We said we would sleep where we could be seen.
When the Marchers reached
the Post Office, instead of going to the Police Station, they turned along
Princess Street, picked a place past the Mound, took off their kits and
sat down! Within a few minutes news came along that McGovern and McShane
were wanted by two men in a car. Word was sent back, "We are too tired,
let them come here". They came along and told us they had secured the Oddfellows
Hall, which we decided to accept.
When, however, the hall
was filled up, there was still a considerable number without accommodation.
In order to find accommodation the Assistant Chief Constable and Aitken
Ferguson went to the Melbourne Hall which is owned by the Scottish Socialist
Party. The Assistant Chief Constable appealed for the hall on the grounds
of humanity, and offered to pay for it, but was met with a point blank
refusal. The Marchers that were left ultimately slept in the police muster
rooms. It was two o'clock in the morning before all the Marchers were sheltered.
The marchers go to the
On Monday after breakfast
(which we had at Bonnington Road) we marched to Drumsheugh Gardens where
our deputation was to be heard. The Marchers sat outside while the deputation
was being heard. The deputation was inside the building for two hours.
It was composed of Comrades McGovern, Ross of Lanarkshire, McPherson of
Fife, Harley of Greenock, Kelly of the NUR, and McShane. The deputation
protested at the absence of Sir Godfrey Collins; and after much discussion,
persuaded the officials to telephone through to Collins in London. He persisted
in his refusal to meet the Marchers. The deputation expressed its willingness
to wait in Edinburgh until he came. In the absence of Collins, the deputation
proceeded to put the Marchers' demands before the permanent officials present.
The deputation demanded
the abolition of the Anomalies Act and the Means Test. They stressed the
fact that women should not be compelled to go into domestic service, and
that there should be an end to voluntary labour under the Social Service
Schemes which, they said, was getting people to do work for nothing and
the thin end of the wedge for the introduction of compulsory labour in
return for Unemployment Benefit. They asked for extensive work schemes
such as the construction of the Forth Road bridge and a new arterial road
through Glasgow to be put in hand: all work to be paid at trade-union rates
of wages and conditions. So far as the Department of Health was concerned,
the deputation asked for an extension of benefits under the National Health
Insurance scheme, and pressed for the removal of anomalies in the scales
of relief paid in various localities. A protest was made against the interference
of the Ministry of Health last December when Glasgow Public Assistance
Committee recommended an increase for children of unemployed during Christmas
and New Year weeks.
In regard to education,
the deputation asked for more schools and a supply of better boots and
books for the children of the unemployed.
They raised the question
of the treatment of the Hamilton "squatters" and stated that they should
be properly housed by this time.
They also protested against
the embargo on Soviet Russia, which is aggravating the unemployment problem
in this country.
The deputation was told
that their representations were noted and would be sent to the proper quarter.
This was described by the deputation as very unsatisfactory. After further
discussion, the deputation rejoined the Marchers outside.
In Parliament Square
In the meantime, while we
were engaged in these activities, the cooks (in accordance with a pre-arranged
plan) had removed the cooking utensils to Parliament Square. Just before
two o'clock a large lorry arrived on the scene, laden with camp kitchens,
dixies and canteens, large supplies of pies and other foods and trestles
The three camp-kitchens
were soon belching forth large clouds of smoke. Gallons and gallons of
tea were made, while boxes containing a large amount of food were unloaded.
Some six or eight women assisted the Marchers' own cooks in preparing and
serving the food.
The unusual sight in this
historical Square attracted large crowds of passers-by, and they seemed
inclined to linger to watch the proceedings; but a large body of police
arrived on the scene and kept them in motion.
A striking scene
"A remarkable scene was
presented when the Marchers encamped in the square in orderly lines. Within
a few minutes, with packs off, they lined up in long queues at the kitchens
and received tea, a sausage roll and two slices of bread, and again settled
down in their places to consume their meal. Every corner of the square
was utilised, and quite a number of men sat themselves down on the steps
at the west door of St. Giles Cathedral, while a score or so others, including
a number of women, sat down on the step around the Buccleuch Monument.
After a while, some sought shade in the far corner near the Signet Library.
Some, more active, busied themselves in helping with the further distribution
of tea, whilst from parts of the encampment came snatches of songs. Large
numbers of the public viewed the scene, although they were not encouraged
by the police to loiter. In the bright sunshine the Marchers were a colourful
gathering, with red flavours very much to the fore, while the owners lay
down in ranks, and the appearance of a military bivouac was enhanced when
the 'flying squad' of cyclists arrived and 'stacked' machines."--Edinburgh
After waiting here some
time, it was decided that we go to the Meadows where the men could have
a rest and hear a report of the deputation.
They march through Holyrood
The Marchers' road to the
Edinburgh Meadows lay down that historic thoroughfare, the Royal Mile,
leading to the historic Royal Palace of Holyrood.5
Down go the swinging columns,
down right to the gates of Holyrood. "Turn to the right", says a police
official. The March leaders turn a deaf ear. "Straight On!" "Straight on"
it is, right through the Palace grounds itself. The pompous official in
charge at the Palace almost took an apoplectic fit! His eyes literally
bulged out with mingled astonishment and horror.
In go the columns, a mile
of flaming, flaunting scarlet banners, headed by the Maryhill Band playing
Connolly's Rebel Song as if their lungs would burst. What a sight!!
The proletariat, the indomitable
proletariat in their ragged clothes, have stepped into the most sacred
precincts in all Scotland!
The walls and grounds of
the Royal Palace of Holyrood--that innermost sanctuary of all the Royal
parasites in Scotland's history--echo the tramp of the first legions of
the masses. The walls and ground of Holyrood that heard the music of Rizzio,
and Mary Queen of Scots, hear the song of that murdered Irish leader, "The
Rebel Song", and then the thunderous battle cry of the world's workers,
Never has Holyrood heard
or witnessed anything like this. No wonder the capitallsts are shocked
to the marrow! Is this a herald of the approaching storm which will shatter
their domination for ever? Murdered Connolly lives again; his spirit, his
song, his memory inspires these Hunger Marchers as they swing through the
grounds and then pass through the other gate.
On to the Meadows, where
the men rested, heard a report of the deputation and a statement on the
tasks now to be undertaken by Comrades McShane, McGovern and Ferguson.
It is significant that although
the Marchers were able to smash the Press boycott on all other activities
relating to the March, not a single capitalist Daily mentioned the March
through Holyrood. Only the Daily Worker reported this event. Both during
the preparations for the March, then during the converging of the Marchers
on Corstorphine, and finally over the historic three days and the return,
the Daily Worker featured the March. We believe, however, the Holyrood
Palace incident itself is sufficient commentary on the value of the workers'
That night another desperate
attempt was made to disorganise and disperse the March. Accommodation was
again refused; no hall, nothing could be found; if the Marchers cared,
the Meadows were available to them.
But it didn't demoralise
these Marchers. After an indignant, gigantic Protest Meeting at the Mound,
another deputation returned from meeting the Authorities. "Only the streets
are left to us", they reported. A roar from the Marchers and the workers
of Edinburgh--"All right, we'll sleep in the street; but by God, we'll pick
the streets to sleep in!"
Form up! Off to--where? Direct
to Princes Street directly below the flood-lit Edinburgh Castle, directly
opposite the plutocratic Conservative and Liberal Clubs and the palatial
hotels! The whistle goes, "Packs off! Make yourselves comfortable, boys;
here's your bed for the night!"
Never in all its history
has Edinburgh witnessed anything like what followed. Right along the South
pavement in the most aristocratic street in Britain lay the Hunger Marchers--blankets
and newspapers spread out for mattresses! The wealthy dress-suited plutocracy
as they came from their clubs and banquets, goggled, absolutely goggled!
Here are excerpts from the Edinburgh Press, which showed their amazement:
"At a fairly late hour there
was no sign of them dispersing, but it was a surprise to the large number
of citizens remaining on Princes Street to see them spread out along the
south pavement, set down their equipment, and prepare to stay there.
The spectacle was amazing.
Behind the huddled marchers was the Castle, brilliantly floodlit, while
on the north pavement strong forces of police patrolled and kept the crowds
of bewildered theatre-goers and others on the move. Motorists stopped to
survey the extraordinary scene before they were moved on, and practically
all traffic--quite considerable for a time--had to use the north side of
the street to avoid the equipment of the marchers.
This surprising manoeuvre
suffered no interference from the police. The marchers were orderly, though
several high-spirited sections were occasionally noisy.
Walking until dawn
"With banners stacked against
the railings of the gardens and the last tunes played on the flute bands,
some of the marchers equipped with proper sleeping bags turned in for the
night, with shoes, etc., set on the kerb. Others paraded up and down amongst
the sleeping forms, but after a couple of hours nearly everyone was either
asleep or dozing.
The first hour or so was
passed in proper camp-fire manner with, occasionally, songs and choruses,
whilst remarks such as 'Let's put out the lights and go to sleep', greeted
the extinguishing of the Castle floodlighting system. It was indeed the
'Lights Out', however, and the camp became quiet, patrolled at the distance
of the width of the street by the police"--Edinburgh Dispatch
"Historic Princes Street
has known many unusual sights, but that presented this morning when the
marchers' camp, extending for over two hundred yards, from midway between
Hanover and Frederick Streets to midway between Castle Street, was unique.
It had to be seen to be
believed. Men and women were rising from their hard couches while citizens
were passing to their work by motor car, tram and on foot.
Men shaved with their mirrors
supported on the railings of West Princes Street Gardens, which were kept
closed, and others washed and dried themselves at a fountain in the middle
of the marchers' encampment. Policemen in twos and threes marched up and
One man slept in a bathing
suit, with a newspaper as a mattress and a single blanket as cover. Another
rose this morning and wrote a song, 'For Liberty', which he proudly showed
to his leaders.
It is impossible for passers-by
to walk along the area of footpath occupied by the marchers. Walking along
on the carriageway one heard snatches of conversation:
'How did ye enjoy yer feather
'Did ye feel a draught coming
in during the night?'
A woman drummer
They were a good-natured
crowd, laughing and joking. An early morning urn of steaming tea was brought
to them, and they proceeded to entertain themselves--and passers-by--until
their breakfast arrived. They sang, flutes were played, while a women put
on the big drum and started banging it while another clashed cymbals; there
was an attempt at dancing, and a youth showed how a drum-major's staff
should be swung. Right at the western end of the camp, Mr McGovern MP,
one of the leaders, lay 'abed' cleaning his shoes, when an Evening Dispatch
representative made a tour of the marchers this morning. By his side, Mr
McShane, another of the leaders, lay stretched out."--Edinburgh Dispatch
The marchers' strength
Were they demoralised? Did
the Authorities' plan succeed of intimidating and frightening the Marchers
by forcing them to sleep out on the pavements? No!
It was the Authorities who
were demoralised and panicky. The Marchers--men and women--inspired by their
cause, feeling and knowing they had the support of the working masses everywhere,
were more determined, more united, more militant than ever. Their spirit
of self-imposed discipline had been tested and emerged with flying colours.
So determined were the men
that they beat the police objections to having their meals in Princes Street
and had their breakfast and dinner there. Princes Street--which had been
turned into a dormitory by the actions of the Authorities--was now turned
into an open-air dining place by the Marchers themselves!
By this time the Press,
that tried to ignore the March, was pestering us for interviews. The following
from the Edinburgh Evening News of 13th June is an example, and explains
to some extent the situation on the morning after sleeping on the street:
"Mr John McGovern and Mr
McShane were among the first to rise from their open-air 'bunks', and by
eight o'clock most of the men were recovering some of their spiritedness
which they have displayed, and were sitting against the railings, laughing
and jesting, while supplies of food were rushed from the field-Kitchens
at Simon Square and tea was being served steaming hot from large and well-filled
dixie cans. A number were too much overcome by fatigue to bother about
'The greatest street!
Look at it now!'
Mr Harry Mc Shane and Mr
Aitken Ferguson, another member of the Council in charge of the marchers,
in conversation with an Evening News representative in Princess Street
this morning, said they regarded the action of the authorities in not giving
them accommodation last night as a trumpery evasion, and they thought it
was clear that the authorities were making efforts to drive them out of
the city. They were determined that they would not be driven out in that
way, and even if they had to 'grow into the ground' they would not continue
to make their sleeping quarters in Princes Street. The previous night,
the police had obtained them accommodation within ten minutes. Now the
authorities were prepared to allow nearly 1,000 men and women to remain
exposed to the elements of a night in the open without regard to health.
'Here is the greatest street
in Europe,' added Mr Ferguson; 'just look at it now!'
Mr McShane said he had taken
part in five Hunger Marches altogether, and in not one city had he had
such an experience as to have been compelled to remain in the streets all
Mr Ferguson cynically recalled
that a week or two ago Mr McGovern had been invited to attend the General
Assembly in Edinburgh as the guest of Mr John Buchan. Mr McGovern had now
visited Edinburgh, and was given the hospitality of Princess Street along
with the marchers, instead of Holyrood Palace.
'Here We Are And Here We
'In view of this new situation',
added Mr Mc Shane, 'Mr McGovern had been contemplating remaining in Edinburgh
instead of attending the House of Commons for the unemployment debate tomorrow.
The Marchers' Council had been considering the matter, and were of the
opinion that Mr McGovern should go to London to bring attention to the
plight of the marchers from a national platform.
'So far', said Mr McShane,
'here we are and here we stay until another decision is reached. We can
breakfast, dinner or tea here, and the men require a rest. They can have
that rest in Princes Street. We have decided to give them a long lie in
"bed" this morning' --Edinburgh Evening News
The Town Clerk wants a
It was clear that the March
had stirred Edinburgh to its very depths. Nothing like it had ever occurred
to disturb the repose of Scotland's Capital. The job was now to mobilise
Scotland to organise the sympathy and support which existed to carry on
a fight in every county, town and village for the development of schemes
of work and relief scales.
A deputation on behalf of
the Marchers, consisting of the Rev. Mr Marwick and Capt. JR White6,
interviewed the Authorities on the question of accommodation for the Marchers,
but without success.
Then it was decided that
the March should approach the PAC on this and other questions. A very heated
discussion ensued between the Marchers' deputation and the PAC officer
in Edinburgh, Mr Douglas, a most impudent and self-satisfied individual,
who informed the deputation that the PAC was open day and night for applications.
On the return of the deputation,
they were informed that the Assistant Chief Constable and the Town Clerk
Depute had proposals to make to the March leadership. These proposals were:
(1) That the Authorities
were prepared to pay the Balance (over £80) towards the cost of Transport
of the Marchers returning to their homes;
(2) That this would only
be done provided that a guarantee was given that no more Marches to Edinburgh
would take place.
They were told promptly
and straightly that there would be no such guarantee given.
The PAC bluff called
Immediately they left, the
marchers formed up and set off to the PAC Office. The March was calling
the bluff of Mr Douglas and the PAC. Six hundred Marchers, supported by
Edinburgh workers, lined up in order to make the individual application
for accommodation which Mr Douglas had boasted of being ready to receive--and
the result? Complete and total collapse of the Edinburgh PAC.
A tremendous outburst of
anger from the Marchers at the refusal of the PAC to do anything preceded
a huge mass demonstration of Edinburgh workers who came to join the Marchers.
Back to Princes Street, and then at 11pm, a terrific demonstration through
Edinburgh was out to a man--roused,
militant. The courage and determination of the Marchers had lit a flame
of struggle among the masses of the Edinburgh workers.
Never was there such a turnout
and such enthusiasm. The Marchers and workers were one, fused in a common
struggle against the capitalist governors.
It was a staggering blow
to the authorities--a victory thenceforth was assured. Halls were speedily
secured by the workers and the Marchers were housed that night.
The final day
The next day was the question
of driving home the advantages gained. The following report from the Edinburgh
Evening News of 14th June explains fairly well the situation on the Wednesday
"Mr McGovern MP and Mr McShane
proceeded to the City Chambers in the forenoon for the purpose of making
representations with regard to the position of the marchers in the city.
There was being held at
the time a meeting of the Lord Provost's Committee of the Town Council,
which had been specially called to consider the situation. The meeting
was private, and at the close the Press representatives were informed that
no statement would be made regarding the proceedings.
Mr McGovern and Mr McShane
were not received by the Committee, but after the meeting, consultations
took place between them and Mr Mackinnon, the Depute Chief Constable.
They left the building evidently
dissatisfied with the result of their mission. Their demands were for food
and accommodation for the men, or, alternatively, for free transport for
the marchers to their homes.
Thanks to the citizens
Mr Aitken Ferguson, on behalf
of the Marchers' Council, stated that he would like to convey his appreciation
of the response which the citizens of Edinburgh had given to the appeal
of the marchers, and he mentioned that plans were being considered for
a much bigger march to Edinburgh in the near future.
Chalked on the causeway
in Simon Square, in bold letters, was the message: 'Edinburgh Workers Solidarity
Wins Scottish Hunger Marchers a Bed' --obviously an appreciation of the
local efforts made for the comfort of the marchers last night"--Edinburgh
It should be mentioned,
however, that when negotiations broke down, the deputation gave the Authorities
an hour to provide a meal, failing which -in view of the fact that the
Public Assistance Committee had refused to accept applications for relief--we
would take other steps to secure a meal. 'This had the effect of having
the Authorities telling us to spend the £30 we had earmarked for
the buses. When we said --What about the buses, then? we were told confidentially
that the buses would be all right. Later a meeting of Marchers was held
at which a report was given. An effigy of Sir Godfery Collins was burnt.
A further meal was provided, while a deputation went to the Ministry of
Labour to raise the question of paying benefit to the Marchers for days
they were on the march. No progress was made here. About 5.30 the buses
arrived for the Marchers, without any guarantee being given and without
any payment being made by the Marchers. The working class had broken through!
A smashing victory had been obtained! At the last meeting of the Marchers
in Edinburgh, when the final report was given, telegrams of support came
from all quarters--Notts and Derby, Teeside, London, Glasgow. A telegram
from Calton announcing reinforcements ready to leave drew a storm of cheers.
Where was the guarantee
of no future Hunger March? Dropped like a hot brick in the face of the
Marchers' refusal and the solidarity of the workers!
The marchers come home
And the welcome given to
the returning Marchers! In Glasgow, for example, the streets were black
with people waiting for the buses; meetings lasting until well after midnight
were held in the presence of tremendous, cheering crowds. The very mention
of Unity and the United Front invariably drew tumultuous cheers.
Edinburgh capitalists hope
they have seen the last of the Hunger Marchers. Their hopes are in vain
and doomed to disappointment.
The March has shown the
tremendous militancy and feeling for Unity which exists all over Scotland.
It has demonstrated deafly before the eyes of all, that while the masses
of the workers are steadily coming together, the leadership and the policy
of the Labour Party and Trade Unions in the main supports Capitalism.
1. Public Assistance Committee--PAC's
were appointed by local authorities to administer the granting of relief
for the unemployed.
2. 1931, unable to deal
with the economic crisis Ramsey MacDonald, the then Labour Prime Minister,
dissolved the Labour Government and formed a coalition government with
the Tories and Liberals--the National Government.
3. Leader of the Labour
4. TUC General Secretary.
5. Being a Glaswegian McShane
can be forgiven for confusing Queens Park with The Meadows. Queens Park
is the name of the park beside Holyrood Palace, while The Meadows are on
6. Capt JR White was an
Irish Protestant, republican and socialist. He organised the Irish Citizen
Army defend strikers from attack in the 1913 Dublin lockout. This body
later formed the nucleus of Connolly's Citizen Army. White fought with
the Irish Republican Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, became increasingly
dismayed by the manipulation of the International Brigades by the Communists
and resigned his command and worked for the anarcho-syndicalist CNT.