Aug 21, 2016

Excerpts | In search of missing pieces

An excerpt on Architecture, Gender, Philosophy by Ann Bergren:

Meanwhile, back in Chicago (to imitate the constructive practice of the Timaeus), of Derrida's reaction to the architectural process, Eisenman claimed:
He wants architecture to stand still and be what he assumes it appropriately should be in order that philosophy can be free to move and speculate. In other words, that architecture is real, is grounded, is solid, doesn't move around - is precisely what Jacques wants. And so when I made the first crack at a project we were doing together - which was a public garden in Paris - he said things to me that filled me with horror like, 'How can it be a garden without plants? or 'Where are the trees? or 'Where are the benches for people to sit on?' This is what you philosophers want, you want to know where the benches are... [T]he minute architecture begins to move away from its traditional role as the symbolization of use, is where philosophy starts to shake. Because it starts to question its philosophical underpinnings and starts to move it around and suggest that what is under philosophy may be architecture and something that isn't so nice. In other words, it's not so solid, it's not so firm, it's not so constructed.
According to Eisenman, philosophy needs for its own stability and freedom to move, an architecture that does not move, an architecture that stays put and symbolizes nothing other than its use. 
 At the same conference, Catherine Ingraham presented a paper exploring the 'rage' of architecture at the prospect of domination by language. She concluded:
It seems to me that the plan of domination supposedly exercised by language over architecture is actually resonating architecture's own plan of domination. I have no proposals for the horror of architecture for philosophy. [But] it could be that philosophy recognizes in architecture its own most frightening realization, which is that in some way architecture is the aestheticization of the pornography of power.
These two remarks, Eisenman's and Ingraham's, seemed to me to be related in reflecting a 'female' status of architecture vis-a-vis philosophy. I commented:
Apropos 'architecture as aestheticization of the pornography of power' I asked myself whether power is or could be a pornê (probably you all know that a pornê is a prostitute). And that reminded me of a thought I had in the morning when Peter was talking about the resistance of Derrida to the fact that your architecture won't stay put, once it is placed - that you want to move the idea of a garden. It reminds me of the whole problem of the female in general - that she must be mobile, she must be exchangeable in order for family and children and homes to take place. But the problem about her is that she is not a 'proper' wife for sure. Because by virtue of her movability, she also could move herself and she could be like a pornê. A pornê is the opposite of the proper wife - a pornê wouldn't stay put, once exchanged - this is Greek thinking about females. So the ambiguity with which architecture is treated is perhaps an essential and necessary one. Because you must be movable. Yet that is just what nobody can allow you - once you're placed, you have to stay put. I think it's the deconstructive activity that permits this kind of perception. So in a way deconstruction has made a contribution to you and you're perhaps the best example of it in that you show that architecture is a writing of power as a pornê - as a necessary, productive medium that must be mobile. And yet once put in place, the other can't allow the mobility. Plus, then, it also goes in the other direction. You seemed slightly angry at deconstruction for not providing a model and a foundation for you. So that there was a way in which you needed deconstruction and language to be a woman for you also.
After this comment in which I had, I thought, said something positive about Eisenman's dislocating architecture and about architecture as a graphê - which means both 'writing' and 'drawing' in Greek - a graphê of the power of the pornê, I was later complimented by an eminent architect present on having 'wiped up the floor' with Eisenman. This interpretation of the female as a category of blame coheres with a second impulse toward exploring the relation between architecture and gender and philosophy.
 There has been relatively little treatment of gender in the theoretical discourse - the 'philosophy' - of architecture. In architecture, gender has been studies mainly in the domains of history and form: what women have designed and built, and what formal characteristics may be designated as intrinsically female. But architectural theory does not appear conscious of this issue as essential to its self-understanding - and thus germane to male or female, practitioner or theorist as well. This relative absence of theoretical reflection finds a practical counterpart in the male dominance - both ethical and statistical - among the stars of the profession. This practical presence and theoretical ignorance of the power of gender in architecture, together with the implication of gender in the remarks of Eisenman and Ingraham about architecture and philosophy, incite the present investigation. I begin by looking at gender in the mode of the symbolic, where it is constructed.
 Psychoanalysis and anthropology have analyzed gender as the constellation of characteristics and values, the powers and the powerlessness, attached by a given social group to sexual difference. As the sexes are different, the meaning of gender is differential. Gender is thus a machine for thinking the meaning of sexual difference. And, as if sexual difference were the very meaning of difference itself, gender functions universally as a machine for differentiation as such - the totem par excellence.
 Equally universal (so far) is the fact that gender difference is subjective in both senses of the terms, and thereby rhetorical and political. The difference gender makes may be seen in a linguistic phenomenon of which gender is a chief example, if not the primary model and motivation. This is the phenomenon of marked versus unmarked categories.

-- Ann Bergren, Architecture Gender Philosophy, Strategies in Architectural Thinking, p. 11-12.


Aug 5, 2016

False Gods | In search of missing pieces

Reading Aaron Betsky's Violated Perfection: Architecture and the Fragmentation of the Modern, especially The Project of the Modern essay, I find many similarities to the Project of Rilindje in Albania. There are many fundamental differences of course, but it seems like their architectural model of control - concealed in the image and ‘perpetuated in physical form’ is shaped along same lines of reconstruction and reform. But, what is the order of the Albanian project, I wonder. The methodology of its operations, its logic of abstraction through reduction, the incomprehensible (some might say promiscuous) measure of judgment, the false public scale, its imprisonment (through manipulation) of values, meanings, consequences, and humanism. What is the point to all this?

I am trying to understand such project - its form, the promise of its trans-formation as a mere re-form, not even a formation. If Rilindje means re-birth, then I question not its new life, but its departure from the previous one. Its displacement. Its difference. The rejection of its form-er self. What does its resurrection means to its (new and old, continuous and fragmented) existence? What does it mean to (for) us?

What has architecture done these past three years that it didn't do in the previous twenty, and vice-versa?

This is my question. I understand that starting anew, in terms of transformation not rebirth, one goes through a puberty of sorts, questioning one's existence, lack of faith, drowning in self-loathing and pity, but at the same time there is a surge of fearlessness, stupidity yes, but learning as well, especially if one has been sheltered for so long. There's a bolder way of being, seeing the world and a curious courage of acting upon it, of living. A way of life that is quickly outed, denounced when there is a self-proclamation of being re-born. As if this rebirth or another chance of living comes automatically with a maturity entitlement. As if being considered mature (at this point only in image) validates actions, abstractions, distractions and redactions; as if it makes for a better and worthy life.

Alas, I digress. But the question remains: what has this (self-entitled) new era of architecture done that the previous one, or the one before that have accomplished or not?- other than a negation of prior self(s) of course, and nihilism of context (the contextual everyday life), cowardly branded as 'rebirth' - a market-loving, tax-evading, bureaucratic boilerplate. It is not a movement, a call to action, not even a haphazard ideology - it is a brand, not an identity.

What then becomes the critical investigation of such Project?

The architecture(s) of Albania is not an Exquisite Corpse but a Corpse of Excess. Think about it. It continuously imposes death on itself (in order to be reborn), it hoards or accumulates so much excess to cover and extend its missing body / identity, and ultimately it has been dehumanized thus it wants to dehumanize its public of people and environment alike. Maybe to start unpacking the architecture of Rilindje and its rebirth(ed) castration, we need to first read Reza Negarestani's The Corpse Bride, The Labor of the Inhuman, Frontiers of Manipulation, and some of his other texts on chimerization.

Then, and I really hope to do so in the future (if I'm able to of course), the critical investigation of Rilindje, becomes not one of rebirth but of the living dead.

This is an unexplored abyss for now, and it will remain as such for a while longer I suspect, or at least until we've learned to ask the right questions or think about the futurity we can expect, at least hope from its current existence and maturity. And, in case such obscure thoughts (of the living dead) persist and we're caught reading Brassier's Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction or other such confusing texts, then we might feel ready to dive in to the abyss. For now though, let's make sense of the Architectural Project of Rilindje through the clear words of Aaron Betsky and the Modern Project.

The Soundtrack of Our Lives - Second Life Replay

** These are only a few excerpts from his aforementioned book - what actually started my spiral undigested thoughts and provocations that it might be time to look at Rilindje not as a rebirth but as a forced death, as sparked by the text below when questioning the relevance of architecture as a profession. Also, what I mean to include in the Project is the strange dichotomy of the Albanian architecture: historical preservation and new construction, - both with devastating consequences of enlightenment and extinction (to borrow from Brassier). Both, with an unbearable nihilistic sensibility of being. As always, this is my reading of the Project and the text below has been taken out of its original context. To draw your own conclusions, I encourage you to read the book.
In economic terms, as Manfredo Tafuri has pointed out, architecture is losing its relevance as a profession. From client's perspective, the sole aim of architecture is to further the efficiency of industrial processes and their derivatives. For this architecture is no longer necessary; space planning, engineering and codification will do. Subsequently the whole profession is run by these considerations. The traditional role of architecture as an integrated and condensed representation of society, or a single human being, has similarly been taken over by mass media. 
What we are increasingly left with is an anti-monumental architecture, an architecture that diffuses into space planning, flexible arrangements (which can this not be easily composed), and facades that reflect this central instability. 
It is architects who "push" architecture's disappearance into mass production and engineering that manage to recreate an architecture out of the representation of its own absence. The unrealizable architecture of utopia is the last refuge of the representational and significant composition of physical resources. 
Architecture realizes itself in its own death. 
Over the last twenty-five years, numerous solutions to this problem have been proposed, countered by Tafuri's dictum that “No 'salvation' is any longer to be found within [modern architecture]: neither wandering restlessly in labyrinths of images so multivalent they end in muteness, nor enclosed in the stubborn silence of geometry content with its own perfection.” Neither the image-laden pastiches of the post-modernists, nor the self-consciously monumental reductions of the modernists can avoid the fact that their devices produce unnecessary artifacts and meaningless pieces of escapism, with one important exception: they sell the buildings. 
Its stylistic manipulations resurrect another world, removed in time and place from that of our modernized one. It creates a theatrical scene in which we can play roles more attractive than those to which we have been assigned. Architecture, in other words, sells our world to us. Architecture is an extension of advertising, but then every aspect of culture as industry has, in the end, no other function except to sell, whether specific products or their generalized context, "a way of life," a "lifestyle." 
We then find ourselves in cities where moments of order or reference are pasted onto otherwise non-significant interiors. Each of these gestures is of necessity incomplete. None of them really tells you about the building inside, or about the context: they do not condense and make visible what they are, how they are made, or what our relationship might be to them. 
At this point architecture is in retreat. Despite nostalgic attempts to reintroduce a former era in which human activity, the imposition of outside order, and built forms had a three-way relationship, we do not have an architecture in our urban environments (nor, increasingly outside of the urban/suburban configuration, either). Nostalgic objects or urban experiences only reinforce the sense of architecture as a mask, a piece of physical advertising to be used to sell a particular set of services such as food or souvenirs.


Jul 20, 2016

Pokemon Go, as an Approach to Tourism and Politics in Albania | In search of missing pieces

Granted I don't play, but the more I read and learn about PokemonGo the more I find it curiously similar to many state-centric campaigns in Albania, especially when it comes to tourism and politics - how these campaigns are run, consequently won and ultimately deemed successful. Actually, the same can be said of any other major decision-making (reforms and rulings) event that has to do with a public audience/participant, place, and resources. 

It is curious indeed that they all propose an 'alternat(e/ive)' reality while leaving the existing one in a much worse condition that they found it. To most skeptics, this is a temporary perverse fantasy, but we've come to find out it isn't going anywhere. To the players and enthusiasts, it is a game of obsession, an addiction that has willingly made them both victim and perpetrator. To the enablers on the other hand, it is a global toolbox, a mass-marketing automation that marks progress, even though not necessarily equality or justice. In short, a brave new world, an augmented reality that promises to infuse the actual with the virtual, the real and the unreal, in a life and mind-blowing existence of continuous interaction. A holistic presence that vows to enhance the quality of life as we know it. A campaign built on trust or better yet stolen trust - whatever is promised in the ether, will be materialized in the physical realm. A public augmented to publicity. Hear, hear, for a better, fuller and happier life - lived.

Unfortunately, as we continue to bear witness to what is happening every single day, we have become quicker to react to (and forget) moments that shock - a chaotic recurrence of senseless acts, speeches and allegiances that buildup and blowup tirelessly on both social media feeds and our urban streets. What are the human ramifications of such augmentation then? They're not only seen anymore, they're felt. The world has become simultaneously better connected while its privacy better invaded. We are fuller of dis, mis, in and form-ation. Fuller of expression and hate. Fuller of all sorts of freedoms. Fuller of diversity and division. Fuller of blatant knowledge and harassing ignorance. Fuller of (market) makers, breakers, and shakers. Fuller of things to do and time wasted. How much happier though? Well, the promise of the fantastic (of the fantastically fabricated) - that better reality - is cashing in, to the fullest. It is colonizing the real world (if it hasn't already). It has made it a commodity. To live has become a commodity. 

The public has become (imho, not even properly) incentivized to catch imaginary monsters, landmarks and natural sites, thus having willingly and quite excitedly relinquish their physical awareness of actually identifying and hunting the real-life monsters. Since this is a thing now, as evasive as it is pervasive (even if not entirely and not always, but still way too often) then we're way off base calling it an 'augmented' anything, on the contrary, it is a redacted something, our reality made invisible or hypervisible (always blurred) for reasons above our ask grade - only to reappear virtually, changed, reconfigured, for the same classified reasons. If until recently we considered the image to represent or interpret the actual thing, now we're in it, experiencing it in real-time. I don't know if experiencing it virtually/digitally is better or worse, or even similar to imagining or dreaming it, but soon we'll feel nostalgic about those dream-ful/less nights when we were glad to wake up and find out that whatever we weren't able to remember anymore didn't actually happen and our bodies were in a a still position, asleep in bed or on the couch in front of the TV - distanced from an unconsciousness we could hid well, escape from and that we couldn't completely understand. This distance between the real and the unreal, at least physically speaking, made us aware of our bearings, alert of how far to reach and how close to guard our presence. Scale and sensibility. What once was a reality imagined, it has now metamorphosed into an image realized.
(videodrome, cronenberg) via GIPHY

Re-cognition patterns of understanding, behavior, language, meaning, memory and belonging are being re-shuffled, re-prioritized, re-valued - colonized and commodified. We are now swallowed in by the screen, voluntarily no less. Instead of using technology to augment our presence, awareness and sense of place - we've rendered our-selves as avatars, in pixels instead of cells, a specter of dematerialization and rematerialization between place and interface, presence and metadata, this and that. Bodies in space feel isolated, excluded the more they are connected - unable to interact seamlessly and prone to accidents, our deduction abilities stalling, cryptic, wasted. The promised 'enhancement' is being felt in the incompatibilities of the two realities, and not in their collaboration. We've got a long way to go. We are being exploited, voluntarily. 

The fear of not measuring up to real-life humanity, the banality of (what we actually dread just as much) the everyday life, has made this game, these campaigns and all their cohorts (including media) result to an 'alternat(e/ive)' reality, that is not just an image or propaganda, but a lived slogan. A promise is a promise is a promise is a promise is a ... lie is a life. It hasn't quite augmented the goods, only the bads. It has only enhanced the real by providing a brief escape into the virtual, only to bring us right back to the terrors, trials, and trivial gravity of this world. 

The question then, is not just what are the physical ramifications of such an alternate everyday, but how do we deal with them? What are the consequences of designing everything without taking into account the human factor: spatial behavior and mental state, cognition and hormones, and everything else that overly-designed environments tend to kill?

So, when you decide to play Pokemon, like or react to a campaign image or video on social media, think about these things. What we ought to believe and what we do indeed believe in are constellations apart. Yes, the truth is out there, but so are the stars and so is the abyss. Plenty of room to get lost. Again, scale and sensibility. 

Lastly, I'd like to leave you and end these scattered thoughts with this quote from The Shining: "Sometimes human places, create inhuman monsters." Plenty to think about.


Jul 2, 2016

A new aesthetic of enjoyment | In search of missing pieces

Summertime! The perfect season to revisit Lefevbre's beach, Lippard's beaten track, and Huizinga's play while drawing conclusions on the new Albanian aesthetic of the park, the playground and the beach. All, spaces of leisure and enjoyment -- of differences -- departures dominated by the aesthetics of tourism, contaminated by the consumption of nature, and cultured in the spectacle of bodies.

Conclusions drawn. Literally!

Following Lefebvre's The Production of Space (excerpts below), how does this departure from the everyday reality produce the illusion of spaces for leisure and enjoyment in Albania?

A moment comes when people in general leave the space of consumption, which coincides with the historical locations of capital accumulation, with the space of production, and with the space that is produced; this is the space of the market, the space through which flows follow their paths, the space which the state controls - a space, therefore, that is strictly quantified. When people leave this space, they move towards the consumption of space (an unproductive form of consumption). This moment is the moment of departure — the moment of people's holidays, formerly a contingent but now a necessary moment. When this moment arrives, 'people' demand a qualitative space. The qualities they seek have names: sun, snow, sea. Whether these are natural or simulated matters little. Neither spectacle nor mere signs are acceptable. What is wanted is materiality and naturalness as such, rediscovered in their (apparent or real) immediacy. Ancient names, and eternal - and allegedly natural — qualities. Thus the quality and the use of space retrieve their ascendancy — but only up to a point. In empirical terms, what this means is that neocapitalism and neo-imperialism share hegemony over a subordinated space split into two kinds of regions: regions exploited for the purpose of and by means of production (of consumer goods), and regions exploited for the purpose of and by means of the consumption of space. Tourism and leisure become major areas of investment and profitability, adding their weight to the construction sector, to property speculation, to generalized urbanization (not to mention the integration into capitalism of agriculture, food production, etc.). No sooner does the Mediterranean coast become a space offering leisure activities to industrial Europe than industry arrives there; but nostalgia for towns dedicated to leisure, spread out in the sunshine, continues to haunt the urbanite of the super-industrialized regions. Thus the contradictions become more acute — and the urbanites continue to clamour for a certain 'quality of space'. 

In the areas set aside for leisure, the body regains a certain right to use, a right which is half imaginary and half real, and which does not go beyond an illusory 'culture of the body', an imitation of natural life. Nevertheless, even a reinstatement of the body's rights that remains unfulfilled effectively calls for a corresponding restoration of desire and pleasure. The fact is that consumption satisfies needs, and that leisure and desire, even if they are united only in a representation of space (in which everyday life is put in brackets and temporarily replaced by a different, richer, simpler and more normal life), are indeed brought into conjunction; consequently, needs and desires come into opposition with each other. Specific needs have specific objects. Desire, on the other hand, has no particular object, except for a space where it has full play: a beach, a place of festivity, the space of the dream. (353) 
Typically, the identification of sex and sexuality, of pleasure and physical gratification, with 'leisure' occurs in places specially designated for the purpose — in holiday resorts or villages, on ski slopes or sundrenched beaches. Such leisure spaces become eroticized, as in the case of city neighbourhoods given over to nightlife, to the illusion of festivity. Like play, Eros is at once consumer and consumed. Is this done by means of signs? Yes. By means of spectacles? Certainly. Abstract space is doubly castrating: it isolates the phallus, projecting it into a realm outside the body, then fixes it in space (verticality) and brings it under the surveillance of the eye. The visual and the discursive are buttressed (or contextualized) in the world of signs. Is this because of what Schelsky calls 'the iron law of commercial terrorism'? Undoubtedly — but it is also, and most of all, because of the process of localization, because of the fragmentation and specialization of space within a form that is nevertheless homogeneous overall. The final stage of the body's abstraction is its (functional) fragmentation and localization.

The oddness of this space, then, is that it is at once homogeneous and compartmentalized. It is also simultaneously limpid and deceptive; in short, it is fraudulent. Falsely true — 'sincere', so to speak; not the object of a false consciousness, but rather the locus and medium of the generation (or production) of false consciousness. Appropriation, which in any case, even if it is concrete and effective, ought to be symbolizable - ought, that is, to give rise to symbols that present it, that render it present - finds itself signified in this space, and hence rendered illusory. (310) 

The dialectical link (meaning the contradiction within a unity) between need and desire thus generates fresh contradictions — notably that between liberation and repression. Even though it is true that these dialectical processes have the middle classes as their only foundation, their only vehicle, and that these middle classes offer models of consumption to the so-called lower classes, in this case such mimesis may, under the pressure of the contradiction in question, be an effective stimulus. A passionate struggle takes place in art, and within artists themselves, the essential character of which the protagonists fail to recognize (it is in fact class struggle!): the struggle between body and non-body, between signs of the body and signs of non-body.

Mental space - the space of reductions, of force and repression, of manipulation and co-optation, the destroyer of nature and of the body - is quite unable to neutralize the enemy within its gates. Far from it: it actually encourages that enemy, actually helps to revive it. Which takes us far further than the often-mentioned contradictions between aesthetics and rationalism. (353-4)
Such spaces appear on first inspection to have escaped the control of the established order, and thus, inasmuch as they are spaces of play, to constitute a vast 'counter-space'. This is a complete illusion. The case against leisure is quite simply closed - and the verdict is irreversible: leisure is as alienated and alienating as labour; as much an agent of co-optation as it is itself co-opted; and both an assimilative and an assimilated part of the 'system' (mode of production). Once a conquest of the working class, in the shape of paid days' off, holidays, weekends, and so on, leisure has been transformed into an industry, into a victory of neocapitalism and an extension of bourgeois hegemony to the whole of space.

As an extension of dominated space, leisure spaces are arranged at once functionally and hierarchically. They serve the reproduction of production relations. Space thus controlled and managed constrains in specific ways, imposing its own rituals and gestures (such as tanning), discursive forms (what should be said or not said), and even models and modulations in space (hotels, chalets — the emphasis being on private life, on the genital order of the family). Hence this space too is made up of 'boxes for living in', of identical 'plans' piled one on top of another or jammed next to one another in rows. Yet, at the same time, the body takes its revenge - or at least calls for revenge. It seeks to make itself known — to gain recognition - as generative. (Of what? Of practice, of use, hence of space — and, by extension, of the human species.) A positivity, then, negated by its own consequences — and later restored. The beach is the only place of enjoyment that the human species has discovered in nature. Thanks to its sensory organs, from the sense of smell and from sexuality to sight (without any special emphasis being placed on the visual sphere), the body tends to behave as a differential field. It behaves, in other words, as a total body, breaking out of the temporal and spatial shell developed in response to labour, to the division of labour, to the localizing of work and the specialization of places. In its tendency, the body asserts itself more (and better) as 'subject' and as 'object' than as 'subjectivity' (in the classical philosophical sense) and as 'objectivity' (fragmented in every way, distorted by the visual, by images, etc.).

In and through the space of leisure, a pedagogy of space and time is beginning to take shape. As yet, admittedly, this is no more than a virtuality, and one which is denied and rejected, but it nevertheless indicates a trend (or rather a counter-trend). Time, meanwhile, retrieves its use value. And the critique of the space of labour, whether implicit or explicit, leads in turn to a critique of fractured (specialized) gestures, of silence, of discomfort and malaise.

Despite its anachronistic aspect, the return to immediacy, to the organic (and hence to nature), gives rise to startling differences. Through music — indecisively, clumsily, yet effectively — rhythms reclaim their rights. They can no longer be forgotten, even though simulation and mimesis have replaced any true appropriation of being and of natural space: and even though the appeal to the body is ever liable to turn into its opposite — total passivity on the beach, mere contemplation of the spectacle of sea and sun.

The space of leisure tends — but it is no more than a tendency, a tension, a transgression of 'users' in search of a way forward — to surmount divisions: the division between social and mental, the division between sensory and intellectual, and also the division between the everyday and the out-of-the-ordinary (festival).

This space further reveals where the vulnerable areas and potential breaking-points are: everyday life, the urban sphere, the body, and the differences that emerge within the body from repetitions (from gestures, rhythms or cycles). The space of leisure bridges the gap between traditional spaces with their monumentality and their localizations based on work and its demands, and potential spaces of enjoyment and joy; in consequence this space is the very epitome of contradictory space. This is where the existing mode of production produces both its worst and its best — parasitic outgrowths on the one hand and exuberant new branches on the other — as prodigal of monstrosities as of promises (that it cannot keep). (383-5)


Jun 12, 2016

Timely Meditations | In search of missing pieces

Historical knowledge streams in unceasingly from inexhaustible wells, the strange and incoherent forces its way forward, memory opens its gates and yet is not open wide enough, nature travails in an effort to receive, arrange and honor these strange guests, but they themselves are in conflict with one another and it seems necessary to constrain and control them if one is not oneself to perish in their conflict. Habituation to such a disorderly, stormly and conflict-ridden household gradually becomes a second nature, though this second nature is beyond question much weaker, much more restless, and thoroughly less sound than the first. In the end, modern man drags around with him a huge quantity of indigestible stones of knowledge, which then, as in the fairy tale, can sometimes be heard rumbling about inside him. And in this rumbling there is betrayed the most characteristic quality of modern man: the remarkable antithesis between an interior which fails to correspond to any exterior and an exterior which fails to correspond to any interior - an antithesis unknown to the peoples of earlier time.
I think it is time to take a couple of pages from Nietzsche (esp. the antithesis 'Handbook of inward culture of outward barbarians' written in Untimely Meditation), if indeed the goal is to disseminate Albanian politics and culture -- 'these strange guests' -- in order to understand what 'has perished' in their union and because of it -- the collateral damage otherwise known as art and architecture. Some might say this is a union of the complicated, even the complex kind. I think it is a conflicted one, deranged, prone to premeditated accidents -- acting out their inner Oedipus complex in public, a fetish transferred to the consumption of products as compensation for intimacy (similar to JG Ballard's Crash). Who's the lesser of the two evils: politics or culture? To fathom the 'household' spawn by their union, the collision of both their habits, habitation, and habitats -- first we need to critically assess their combined collateral damage, the ruined bodies of art, architecture and inevitably ourselves. What is the extent of these wounds (past), the prognosis of recovery (future), the time to heal properly (present)? The household, in this case, becomes a mode of displacement, and the collision a place of damage, where metabolic bodies transform into mobile trajectories (see Virilio, Speed and Politics).

Broken places and illegible distances. Bodies and lives leveraging their better selves in and out of such consciousness struggle with distance as and instead of place -- one of deep fragility and resilience within, but quite delusional and romantic of the outer. Such bodies posses a weak disposition that "fails to correspond", thusly creating a distance beyond that of place where familiar things are lost -- and new, still alien, unrecognized things are gained. But what has been gained so far? A cognitive dissonance, I suppose - a growing distance between interiority and exteriority, the self and the public, the real and the represented, the cult and the poly.

We need to recognize that a certain distance is always present (i.e. memory, truth, representation), of consequence or not (real or imagined), one where body and place become transient and interstitial thresholds (see Foucault and Irigaray) -- gaps that ideally we want to bridge or fill (unpack mostly), while in reality it is their metabolic existence that renders visible the household by exposing the strangeness of its guests. Art and architecture, body and place have been badly and extensively damaged in Albania. Their accelerated trajectory has picked up distance. Their presence has been demetabolized by the collision. The knowledge of their existence is swallowed by the household. Their gap unminded. Their speed of displacement is 'without destination in space or time' (Virilio). A cognitive dissonance indeed.

If we would've been able to identify and comprehend this (cognitive and metabolic) dissonance as a tragic loss instead of a gain (in distance), we'd be in mourning already. But we're not quite there yet. We haven't been able to collect and evaluate the truth of this loss -- we've instead lost it in the distance -- swallowed by the household that politics and culture built, with no intention to digest or release it, but to conceal it via an inward displacement. Such a damage has transformed art, architecture, body and place, (to borrow Nietzsche's words) into "indigestible stones of knowledge, which then, as in the fairy tale, can sometimes be heard rumbling about inside." Outside they have been rendered inanimate, heard and felt only in the rumbling, reduced only to a kind of knowledge of their existence -- to a senseless representation. Inside, their lived selves are perishing in the habituation of a union whose indigestion only widens the distance between their form and content -- weakening the context in which they can exist. A weakened context makes for a feeble disposition, an inner rotting of sorts -- a damage induced by misunderstanding indigestion as clean(s)ing. A union arisen as a 'weak personality'. 
Knowledge, consumed for the greater part without hunger for it and even counter to one's needs, now no longer acts as an agent for transforming the outside world but remains concealed within a chaotic inner world which modern man describes with a curious pride as his uniquely characteristic inwardness. It is then said that one possesses content and only form is lacking; but such an antithesis is quite improper when applied to living things. This precisely is why our modern culture is not a living thing: it is incomprehensible without recourse to that antithesis; it is not a real culture at all but only a kind of knowledge of culture; it has an idea of and feeling for culture but no true cultural achievement emerges from them. What actually inspires it and then appears as a visible act, on the other hand, often signifies not much more than an indifferent convention, a pitiful imitation or even a crude caricature. Cultural sensibility then lies quietly within, like a snake that has swallowed rabbits whole and now lies in the sun and avoids all unnecessary movement. The inner process is not the thing itself, is what actually constitutes 'culture'. Anyone observing this has only one wish, that such culture should not perish of indigestion. 
A weak household. Displaced through indigestion. An external representation of form appropriated as an illusion of inner permanence (read: Appadurai's Spectral Housing).

Such a beautiful rot (wash), our modern republic. 

We don't have to follow a specific ideology or be political to witness this (re)public -- a public relations campaign of 'events' (instead of arts) and 'facades' (instead of architecture), public only in its displacement of content, public only in the distance made possible by the specter of its form -- a 'showstopper' -- a long con of bullying propaganda of 'let me show you how to live, beautifully'. This image-clean(s)ing campaign is erasing our everyday life. Its politics is becoming our culture. Cleansing as beautification, even though appealing, is a dangerous protocol to follow through, one of cognitive and metabolic wash. Are we to think of it as a public service? Public service as (brain/body) wash-lite? Although undetectable or unassuming to many, it is callous to not feel its ever pervasive presence, the unidentified pain of its intrusion, the parasitic reach that simultaneously performs in two scales, the inner and the outer, the psychological and the urban - widening the gap between the two, stretching bodies and place in both time and distance. A distorted view of life that undoubtedly leads to a misguided, incapacitated, often unregistered lived image, -- topography and thickness of which becomes imagined, unhistorical, and fantastical. The 'Showstopper' as a successful experiment in addiction, failing better and bigger each time, by failing the self. A republic grown distant and forgetful of its lived self, its body and place, its public. The republic has become a product of consumption without 'a metabolic multitude' (lived content), only the inanimate distance of its 'mobile trajectories' (form).
Imagine, for example, a Greek observing such a culture: he would perceive that for modern man 'educated' and 'historically educated' seem so to belong together as to mean one and the same thing and to differ only verbally. If he then said that one can be very educated and yet at the same time altogether uneducated historically, modern men would think they had failed to hear him aright and would shake their heads. That celebrated little nation of a not so distant past -- I mean these same Greeks -- during the period of their greatest strength kept a tenacious hold on their unhistorical sense; if a present-day man were magically transported back to that world he would probably consider the Greeks very 'uncultured' -- whereby, to be sure, the secret of modern culture, so scrupulously hidden, would be exposed to public ridicule: for we moderns have nothing whatever of our own; only by replenishing and cramming ourselves with the ages, customs, arts, philosophies, religions, discoveries of others do we become anything worthy of notice, that is to say, walking encyclopaedias, which is what an ancient Greek transported into our own time would perhaps take us for. With encyclopaedias, however, all the value lies in what is contained within, in the content, not in what stands without, the binding and cover; so it is that the whole of modern culture is essentially inward: on the outside the bookbinder has printed some such thing as 'Handbook of inward culture of outward barbarians'. This antithesis of inner and outer, indeed, makes the exterior even more barbaric than it would be if a rude nation were only to develop out of itself in accordance with its own uncouth needs.
Who is this public then? Who are we? As evidenced by the distance(s) of connections and estrangement, bridges and barriers rooted in a common history; turbulent transition periods (oddly enough coinciding with puberty, but not always), a present that promotes multiple failures as successes, and a future promised as a forever-lasting commodity by those who live recklessly fast -- we are the metabolic distance between what remains of us and who we hope to be in the future. Fully or indirectly, we may or may not be the extent of this evidence, but we continue to move as if we're racing time toward death. We are the pervasive public and the nuanced individual, metabolic bodies in places of undetermined distances -- struggling to find our place in (or change) the world, within ourselves -- exterior commonalities and inner singularities. A struggle that has resulted in looped cycles of displaced patterns, at times colliding, other times withdrawing and most of the time near missing. We have become collateral damage. Damage/d as a lived (metabolic) condition of being -- swallowed by the republic. Damage/d by a beautiful figure that cleanses instead of digesting. An indigestion/clean(s)ing that breeds silence, deception, fear, self-loathing, fictitious validations, quick fixes, and intentional disregard -- turning lived bodies and places into rumbling stones floating in a bottomless pit filled with unresolved pain. Lost but not disappeared. A temporal displacement. How much time before we mourn this loss in order to begin healing properly? When can we liberate this pain from the rotten nest? When will we have the courage to expose the raw and true vulnerability of our damage?
[...] From this comes a habit of no longer taking real things seriously, from this arises the 'weak personality' by virtue of which the real and existent makes only a slight impression; one becomes ever more negligent of one's outer appearance and, provided the memory is continually stimulated by a stream of new things worth knowing which can be stored tidily away in its coffers, one finally widens the dubious gulf between content and form to the point of complete insensibility to barbarism. The culture of a people as the antithesis to this barbarism was once, and as I think with a certain justice, defined as unity of artistic style in all the expressions of the life of a people; this definition should not be misunderstood in the sense of implying an antithesis between barbarism and fine style; what is meant is that a people to whom one attributes a culture has to be in all reality a single living unity and not fall wretchedly apart into inner and outer, content and form. He who wants to strive for and promote the culture of a people should strive for and promote this higher unity and join in the destruction of modern bogus cultivatedness for the same of a true culture; he should venture to reflect how the health of a people undermined by the study of history may be again restored, how it may rediscover its instincts and there with its honesty.
I know my thoughts and words might not mean a whole lot to a whole lot of people in or outside Albania. I will leave them here anyway, screaming, whispering, as traces of an uphill journey of continuous wander and self-discovery. Yes, a journey as and of displacement. Recognizing the gap, trying to fill it, bridge it, but mostly unpack it. How does my presence and absence, behavior and thoughts, exterior and inner demons, childhood memories and adult rationalization -- find their way, speed and spirit to cross the distance between longing and belonging, of reaching for and resisting freedom? How do I fully grasp for air while holding on tightly? How do I let go, without knowing what to hold onto?

I am that distance -- that multitude.

The migrant as both person and agency, a sole body and a public -- is a curious force, a multitude of simultaneous folds and unfolds, familiar yet uncanny. But, what is more curious, to me anyway, is how common her condition has become. No doubt a result of the extensive damage from the modern world and possibly our own shortsightedness. We have stopped to look beyond our shadow, beyond the immediate presence of ourselves. We've picked up speed in the other direction, and have let whomever and whatever isn't like us drag behind, until the thread has been worn out. A distance looped in displacement. Detached? Yes. Forgotten? Maybe. But not disappeared. The result of a life lived. Quickly. Carelessly. Trajectories of fast memories and half truths -- shaped in representation. A product of consumption. Consuming. A modern life of capital means.

Because of her elusive character, the migrant has become both collateral and commodity. The migrant public has become larger, much more visible. It cannot hide in plain sight anymore. It is a sitting duck now. The possibility that anyone at any time can become a migrant because of circumstance has made those who control these circumstances greedy, and the newly displaced lost in body and place. This is a damage from external forces, legible only in its imminent resolution within the migratory self. In this case, in the metabolic bodies of  both migrant and capitalist. A damage that feeds the appetite of the insecure and fragile disposition. A polycephalous systemic force that is as human as it acts inhumanely. As democratic in the quantity of its heads, as dictatorial on its body. As mythic in its tales, as real and consequential as the air we breathe. It allows great distances (looped, globalized), but not a valued (a lived) worth, only consumed/able signifiers of it (indigestion). Its leash tightly represents public freedom and it hangs above our heads as a specter. An illusion so vivid, nostalgic, romantic, and convincing that deceives us into seeing the chair underneath our feet. A pulverized image of loosely threaded promises. Threads made of mobile trajections that compromise the structural integrity/integration of our metabolic bodies, our freeing abyss. The condition of the migrant is our everyday life. Transient, yet identified. Lost, yet appropriated. A vagabond, yet voyeuristic. A citizen without its -ship. A human, dehumanized. A household of screens. Facades as walls. A domesticity displaced. An antithesis measured in distance -- the threshold where metabolic bodies become mobile trajectories -- this distance as the damage of a life lived. Displaced but not disappeared.


May 22, 2016

What is Happening? | In search of missing pieces

The text below could've easily been written for the neoliberalism (aka latent fascism) of present day, especially in Albania. It so clearly articulates a few cloudy sentiments I've been carrying around these past few days. This growing sensitivity has been more of a persistent bad taste in the mouth, one that usually becomes unbearably pungent after scrolling through social media newsfeed and the many (nauseating) reactions it provokes. The more it consumes my time with emptiness and distractions, the more it discourages me about any positive change I'd like to think about or even be a part of. The chances of it happening seem slim and insignificant, at least from my discouraged perspective. It is not self-doubt or pity for the efforts done by many until now, myself included, it is just the cynic announcing herself - optimistically staring at the abyss, the very shallow grave we've dug up. The very same whole (inhabitable cave?) we call future.

We have been made out to be monsters of progress. Whose progress?! As if our insistence for critical thought and public discourse were the real culprit of 'their' failure. Their schemes have set up their own failures. The forces that be. Or maybe they were meant to fail, and all along our criticism has been used as a diversion 'noise', while they've continued to do whatever's necessary 'to progress.' Does that make us accomplices? Naive, yes. Sitting ducks, maybe. But not quite accomplices, or as I'd like to define it piggybacking onto their 'accomplishments'. No, we're not parasites. Our polemic continues to be expelled and displaced, which means there is a (mis)represented distance (Bergson would be all over it) that keeps shifting and changing the paradigm (enough rope, i guess) without knowing towards which direction we're moving (migrating) at which speeds (the significant distance (in time and territory) between exit and escape). Or, as John Coltrane is famous of saying: "I start in the middle.. and go both directions at once."

I guess what I'm trying to say is that no matter the cloudiness and discomfort I feel about the many things that are happening (esp. in Albania) - which in my opinion are eventful only in their chosen documentation methods of (aka aesthetic capture through) PR photography and tagged praises/likes/comments - there is a strong feeling (a ghostly voice/specter) that my critical (thought and effort) is not without value and meaning. It is driven by a willingness (even though cynic at times) and curiosity of wanting to understand and articulate - to make legible why so many (seemingly) well-intended schemes for improvement or 'progress' are stalling or have gone so 'tragically awry'. And more importantly, what part might I and others play to undo it, while unfortunately (maybe not completely) aware that their potential disentanglement might be an act of continued unravelment in and of consequences. 

Lastly, yes, my feelings might have become jaded lately as a result of mixed signals / messages /emoticons sent (or received) from the newsfeed and other online conversations, but the more I read 'experts' talk and write nonsense about the art, architecture, and urbanism in Albania, the more I want to scream: Who are you? What is happening? Where does your expertise come from and do you see/feel/get the reality you live in? I mean come on. Start with common sense and work your way up the chain of thought. I don't mean to be mean, but I have the right to voice my opinion. On what I know. On what I study. On what I teach. I have a right to be critical and question someone's expertise if I feel they don't know what they're talking about. When they have it completely wrong. I am not against them. I could care less about who they are as people, I care about what they tell others that don't understand this expertise. I care when they're ethics are as wishy-washy as the knowledge they claim to impart. How else can anyone be capable enough to critically and constructively participate in the design and use of their own built environment? At the moment, I would trust landscape architects (are they any landscape architects in Albania?), farmers and/or local artisans to have a better grasp of the Albanian build environment social and ecological health and consequences than artists or architects. Until the latter have their act together, and get off the political ride (aka malfeasance). Many are misunderstanding the statement "Everything is political." Think about it. 
As I've said it before about the Albanian State and its politicians: "Edi Rama is as much an artist as Sali Berisha is a doctor." The same goes for many others. Let's call upon all the 'experts' to think about it for a hot second too, while the rest of us is introduced to certain failed schemes below. Happy hunting reading!

Owen: What is happening?
Yolland: I'm not sure. But I’m concerned about my part in it. It’s an eviction of sorts.
Owen: We’re making a six-inch map of the country. Is there something sinister in that?
Yolland: Not in...
Owen: And we’re taking place names that are riddled with confusion and . . .
Yolland: Who’s confused? Are the people confused?
Owen: And we’re standardising those names as accurately and as sen­sitively as we can.
Yolland: Something is being eroded.
Brian Friel, Translations 2.1 (quoted in James C. Scott's Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed

An excerpt from James C. Scott's Introduction of Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed:
It is not so difficult, alas, to understand why so many human lives have been destroyed by mobilized violence between ethnic groups, religious sects, or linguistic communities. But it is harder to grasp why so many well-intended schemes to improve the human condition have gone so tragically awry. I aim, in what follows, to provide a convincing account of the logic behind the failure of some of the great utopian social engineering schemes of the twentieth century.
I shall argue that the most tragic episodes of state-initiated social engineering originate in a pernicious combination of four elements. All four are necessary for a full-fledged disaster. The first element is the administrative ordering of nature and society—the transformative state simplifications described above. By themselves, they are the unremarkable tools of modern statecraft; they are as vital to the mainte­nance of our welfare and freedom as they are to the designs of a would-be modern despot. They undergird the concept of citizenship and the provision of social welfare just as they might undergird a policy of rounding up undesirable minorities.
The second element is what I call a high-modernist ideology. It is best conceived as a strong, one might even say muscle-bound, version of the self-confidence about scientific and technical progress, the expansion of production, the growing satisfaction of human needs, the mastery of nature (including human nature), and, above all, the rational design of social order commensurate with the scientific understanding of natural laws. It originated, of course, in the West, as a by-product of unprecedented progress in science and industry.
High modernism must not be confused with scientific practice. It was fundamentally, as the term "ideology" implies, a faith that borrowed as it were, the legitimacy of science and technology. It was, accordingly uncritical, unskeptical, and thus unscientifically optimistic about the possibilities for the comprehensive planning of human settlement and production. The carriers of high modernism tended to see rational order in remarkably visual aesthetic terms. For them, an efficient, rationally organized city, village, or farm was a city that looked regimented and orderly in a geometrical sense. The carriers of high modernism, once their plans miscarried or were thwarted, tended to retreat to what I call miniaturization ; the creation of a more easily controlled micro-order in model cities, model villages, and model farms.
High modernism was about "interests” as well as faith. Its carriers, even when they were capitalist entrepreneurs, required state action to realize their plans. In most cases, they were powerful officials and heads of state. They tended to prefer certain forms of planning and social organization (such as huge dams, centralized communication and transportation hubs, large factories and farms, and grid cities), because these forms fit snugly into a high-modernist view and also answered their political interests as state officials. There was, to put it mildly, an elective affinity between high modernism and the interests of many state officials.
Like any ideology, high modernism had a particular temporal and social context. The feats of national economic mobilization of the belligerents (especially Germany) in World War I seem to mark its high tide. Not surprisingly, its most fertile social soil was to be found among planners, engineers, architects, scientists, and technicians whose skills and status it celebrated as the designers of the new order. High-modernist faith was no respecter of traditional political boundaries; it could be found across the political spectrum from left to right but particularly among those who wanted to use state power to bring about huge, utopian changes in people's work habits, living patterns, moral conduct, and worldview. Nor was this utopian vision dangerous in and of itself. Where it animated plans in liberal parliamentary societies and where the planners therefore had to negotiate with organized citizens, it could spur reform. Only when these first two elements are joined to a third does the combination become potentially lethal. The third element is an authoritarian state that is willing and able to use the full weight of its coercive power to bring these high-modernist designs into being. The most fertile soil for this element has typically been times of war, revolution, depression, and struggle for national liberation. In such situations, emergency conditions foster the seizure of emergency powers and frequently delegitimize the previous regime. They also tend to give rise to elites who repudiate the past and who have revolutionary designs for their people.
A fourth element is closely linked to the third: a prostrate civil society that lacks the capacity to resist these plans. War, revolution, and economic collapse often radically weaken civil society as well as make the populace more receptive to a new dispensation. Late colonial rule, with its social engineering aspirations and ability to run roughshod over popular opposition, occasionally met this last condition.
In sum, the legibility of a society provides the capacity for large-scale social engineering, high-modernist ideology provides the desire, the authoritarian state provides the determination to act on that desire, and an incapacitated civil society provides the leveled social terrain on which to build.
I have not yet explained, the reader will have noted, why such high-modernist plans, backed by authoritarian power, actually failed. Accounting for their failure is my second purpose here.
­Designed or planned social order is necessarily schematic; it always ignores essential features of any real, functioning social order. This truth is best illustrated in a work-to-rule strike, which turns on the fact that any production process depends on a host of informal practices and improvisations that could never be codified. By merely following the rules meticulously, the workforce can virtually halt production. In the same fashion, the simplified rules animating plans for, say, a city, a village, or a collective farm were inadequate as a set of instructions for creating a functioning social order. The formal scheme was parasitic on informal processes that, alone, it could not create or maintain. To the degree that the formal scheme made no allowance for these processes or actually suppressed them, it failed both its intended beneficiaries and ultimately its designers as well. 

May 6, 2016

Quick Thoughts | In search of missing pieces

Overdesing (bad or good) kills public space. Form(ality) that doesn't take into account the behavior and psyche, instincts, habits, etc. of people - produces 'dead' zones. Skenderbeg square. Piramida steps. University district. Maybe planners and designers in #Albania ought to accept and further  study the growth and sustainability of informal neighborhoods. The intimacy of urban pockets, streetscapes, haphazard neighborhood hangouts, etc. Among other things, they have in common one thing: human scale. Monumentality of formal urban public space ought to not tread lightly on intent/scope. Is it for the people (stressing the public) or its immortality (stressing the monumental). Or we can accept or reject a design's worth (value/meaning) by purely subjective preferences, which would render all this conversation useless. It's like it never happened. All these years, all these proposals, all these public hearings, all these social media statements - they never happened. Uselessness makes things obsolete, most of the time that is - unless one knows what to do with it (recycle it somehow). But, I digress.
For all of you that have asked my opinion on the new 'privately-owned public projects' happening all over Albania, mainly in Tirana though - I say, there is no opinion (at the moment of this rant) because they never happened. I don't mean the project as a shell object, but its shelf-life. There is none because it was conceived as such. No backbone to hold it in place. No fundamentals to build up its complexity, its discourse, its polemic and... all the foundations. What are its consequences then? Well, spatially or humanisticly no more or less than the rest already built. The consequences to worry about right now are economic (with all that this entails). But just as the physical object, its financials are a shell, of a shell, of a shell, of a shell.... found along the beautiful sands in a remote island.  So, yes, this never happened. I wish these random thoughts could self destruct after reading too, but they will probably remain here, empty, until the next round of these discussions. They will be forgotten after being read by each one of you though, so in a way, they'll be destroyed over and over. An overkill for each overly-designed project and public conversation I guess.

Mar 15, 2016

Scattered Thoughts | In search of missing pieces

On ghostlike creatures in search of their (any) author. 
(Mice look for food not Mother. - Diogenes) 

*read at own risk. sense the tone. make your own sense of it. more missing pieces here. this post is about architectural visions and leftover masterplans.

It is quite sad to see decades worth of visions and large project proposals transcend (or better yet, dissolve) to dust. An appropriation through pollution, if you will, but of a different kind. Polluted plots of narratives birthed on quick sand. Creatures that dematerialize without even dreaming of material. Bodies without organs, let alone souls. But, we should not be so quick to judge. Well, after a decade or so, I don't think insufficient time is the real culprit. Maybe we ought to look into that quick sand instead, birthing these creatures with the sole intention of suffocating them soon after. If we really stretch it though, our imagination that is, maybe we really are talking about an hourglass.

So, it might be temporal after all. A cyclical immortality. A metrics of time - between past and future, a fleeting expiration from birth to death. Creatures born for the sole purpose of dematerializing on time. And, it looks like setting this time has been our only due diligence. Flipping that hourglass to start anew is our only work. Hence, work has become a representation of our imagination. A snooze and reset button of this imagination. A re-birth of sorts. (We are after all stretching..)

Work as a re-birth of imagination and its creatures. It wants to materialize them, knowing very well their existence is only possible because of their impossibility to do just that. But, it tries anyhow. Work is plastic because it fears elasticity would break them. It is solid and heavy because porosity doesn't make monuments. It then finishes smooth and shiny, because it wants these creatures to roar like fireworks, to bounce off of it, as far as possible, covering as much height and territory. A suave finish for a happy ending: dematerializing immaterial things to materialize physical land, air and ground grabs. A power play, of a different kind. Because it fears its own labor, work resists announcing itself unpolished and raw, dreading the public and the publicity of real exposure. Ah, the suspecting horror of capacitating absorption, of absorbing and being absorbed, when it can just continue to bounce, to exhume, to reveal (all similar but not the same, different really) those unpredictable, and yet surgical ricocheting reflections of light, color and warmth refracting from and to somewhere else no doubt, the clouds most likely, grasping for air. But as the saying goes, one person’s cloudy day is another person’s carpet of fluffy clouds. Sometimes only a (re/de) fraction is enough. And apparently a fraction of work can constitute a rebirth. An immaterial spark of dematerialized creatures - be they visions, narratives or plots - fleeting to find a footing in all directions, but not before they have a chance to vanish into thin air, the same way they came into existence (if one is adamant of calling it that). Let's be careful of their (in)existence though, because sometimes, well who am I kidding, all the time, a lot is said and made out of nothing. And, just because these creatures dissolve as soon as they spark, it doesn't necessarily mean they are nothing. A promise doesn't make a premise, but a ghost surely haunts. Meaning that, as constructs of visions, these creatures might take on a life of their own, grabbing on to another lifeless host perhaps, the uncanniness that lurks in the city.

So, no, we are not quick to judge. We are slow to consider the ramifications of their birth, even in their ghostly presence. We are slow to accept and practice judging as a healthy critique and not pure prejudice. We are slow to differentiate factual research from instinctual assumptions. We are slow to ask out loud: to understand, to be a part of the process, to see the actual work. And because of our slowness, we have been irresponsible in materializing the fundamental being of these creatures, thus ineffective in giving them life. A re-birth it is not, because there is no re-birth without birth and death. If we refuse to consider what has died, then how would we know what to bring back or let go?

These thoughts might not make sense to some of you, and they definitely need some serious unpacking, but I don't want to do that just yet. I'd rather leave them undone for now. I'd like to end though, with a few notes and aphorisms from Thomas Ligotti's essay "We Can Hide from Horror only in the Heart of Horror," only because I happen to read it around the same time the above thoughts were brewing. (my emphasis)
Abstract madness: protagonist who senses that he's insane yet cannot discover the exact nature of his insanity.
Conflict between the fear of death and the nightmare of immortality. Link to 'abstract madness' plot.
Story in which the fantastic element is treated in an ambiguous way that seems neither to negate nor affirm the fantastic.
Conflict in modern supernatural fiction is not between good and evil in the traditional sense, but between sanity and insanity in both the personal and metaphysical realms.
The horror of forms merging.
Much of fantastic literature is an exhibition that consists of kaleidoscopically manipulating concepts into patterns which are new and perhaps a little strange, yet which lack any particular emotional or visionary foundation. True strangeness is a perspective, not a sequence of events.
Eternal cosmic vertigo.
Madness as a place, a time, a dimension.

Narrator who is reliable because he is mad.
Short horror tale as an invasion of a reader's mind and an undermining of his normal categories of expectation, leaving him in a state of shock and wonder at his own comprehension of something so bizarre.
Some readers do not have much disbelief that they need to 'willingly suspend', easily comprehending from the experience of their lives the most strange and regrettable possibilities.
In my fiction I would most like to convey what it's like to live in a reality without the possibility of an ultimate salvation, a place where horror and evil are the backdrop and principal players.

The fascination, the potent mystery, of the second-rate, half-baked, run-down, dirty little back-room world.
Story of an anthropologist who looks to his own culture to find that sense of magic in the world which primitive peoples seem to possess. He discovers only horror and spiritual sterility. Man with an extremely cultured voice who thinks, or seems to think (perhaps trying to induce himself to think), like a savage.

To hear the mocking laughter of your future self.


Dec 27, 2015

Albania 1927-2015 | The paradox of the missing years

I am currently reading Joseph Roth's The Hotel Years, a small collection of feuilletons from his extensive travels in Europe between the two wars. A wanderer but not lost, he is a journalist that doesn't investigate, and a novelist that doesn't romanticize. He considers himself a “hotel citizen” and describes his writings as “saying true things on half a page.” Such are his daily dispatches from Albania in 1927.

I mention this, because as we approach the end of yet another year, full of hope in wishing, even anticipating a better one ahead, Roth's portrayal of Albania in the verge of unknowingly becoming a monarchy a year later, reminds me of the phrase: “The more it changes, the more it stays the same.”

Now, I don't want to be the ever nagging critic, nor the bitter cynic, and there's plenty of proof that the country has been through many a change (monarchy, war, 50 years of communism, democracy, capitalism..), but there is a certain paradoxical quality inherent lingering in the Albanian identity. Something that has always bothered me and one that I couldn't quite put my finger on before - that uncertain progress from “national culture” to “autonomous republic.” A transition I find quite problematic and increasingly complicated. A transformation that hasn't fully happened yet, just reduced to a stalling paradox. A contradiction often dismissed or judged as a complexity, which we have grown proud of, and fanatically preserve.

As Roth recalls, the country feels “like a locked courtyard, ringed by the walls of a natural prison,” - its mountains. Everything and everyone “should be judged with an unprejudiced eye as an expression” of this surrounding. A land so peaceful that one “refuses to credit its reputation for murder.” “Freedom is a relative concept,” he states, and we seem to have cast its definition and practice in stone. “Stone buildings in stone courtyards in stone grounds have the monumentality of death and at the same time its idyllic grief.” Although, the architecture of stone and its painful history of human sacrifice in Albania is not the point here (only my projection), it identifies another paradox of hospitality vs. vendetta, which is definitely worth pursuing further.

Roth's observations start with the most powerful Albanian of the time, president Ahmed Zogu. Interesting enough, similar things can be said of any public servant and/or man of influence succeeding him. Another observation, which I find especially curious, probably because of my own projection again, is the high visibility of the exercising soldiers in the army as compared to that of the musicians in the band, both deeply ritualized in the Albanian identity. (Another paradoxical relationship to be further explored/exploited for sure.) The author then ends the series (at least in this book) by giving us a wider glimpse of the country written on a hot day, a glimpse that looks a lot like an identity struggle between the Oriental state (primitivism), Western capitalism (fascism), national patriotism and democratic freedom (true independence).

Thusly, the more we have changed, the more we remain the same. I come to this conclusion as a wanderer myself, one that doesn't have an agenda other than an immediate, even a far-fetched wonder that is curiously expressed here. It seems that all roads lead to the puzzle that makes up Albania. What is Albania? Who is Albanian? Has Albania ever been Albanian? What has remained? From time to time, this blog has taken on a personal and (semi) professional quest to better understand my Albanian identity through the small details of its paradoxical be(com)ing. What started as a shot in the dark, has turned out to be and feel more Quixotian than anything else I've done, but it has clarified many things for me and it continues to do so, even though I increasingly feel the weariness of taking on such a complex black hole. I guess the challenge consists in figuring it out by removing myself from it, geographically (through physical absence/virtual presence) and temporally (by studying historical patterns of presence/absence of place, events in it) in order to better understand myself as a product of it, a wandering one at that. The more we change, the more it can change, right?! Here's to finding out and failing in the new year!

 *As always the reading and emphasis is mine. I strongly recommend you read the book to draw your own conclusions.

Albania 1927. by Joseph Roth

A meeting with president Ahmed Zogu
I had no particular questions from him - I could answer them all for myself. Interviews are an alibi for a journalist's lack of ideas.
Ahmed Zogu looks harmless enough, tall, as representative as he needs to be, and oddly, blond. The blondness overlies the Oriental features like a mistake. The posture he adopts when giving audiences is more the result of caution than any personal confidence. The sparseness of his speech, the slowness of his tongue, the empty politeness of his questions, all are the expression of an insufficiently practised and therefore all the more rigidly adhered-to diplomacy. He strives - for no good reason - for a crown-prince-like banality. 
His military abilities are said to be small. [...] He is said to be a ruthless dictator. But in Albania, where every warlord has aspirations to be a dictator, every landowner his vassal, and anyone who can read and write his secretary, there is probably no other dictatorship going than the ruthless kind. Ahmed seems if anything less dictatorial than the people around him, who are more experienced, clever, and ruthless than he is, and many of whom have undergone a thorough education in these qualities under the Turks. [...] Ahmed has "conquered" Albania with the help of South Slav bands before shortly afterwards concluding the familiar pact with Italy. But for more than 800 years most of the influential men in the Balkans have not refused money, especially when offered by two opposing sides - and why should Ahmed be the exception here? [...]
But, even if I (rightly) question the selfless patriotism of Ahmed, in many points the selfish ambition of the president tallies with the true needs of his country, which, faced with the choice between putting itself in the care of a more cultivated country or one still fighting with its unresolved internal difficulties, chooses the former.
Another paradoxical quality we can't seem to shake off still.
In any case, it is impossible to judge the circumstances of an Oriental state, whose history is oppression, whose ethics are corruption, and whose culture is a mixture of native bucolic and archaic-romantic naivete and the recent importation of intrigue, by the criteria of a Western democracy. If one suddenly found oneself back in the Middle Ages, it would be similarly fatuous to be exercised about the burning of witches.
One should try to judge Ahmed with an unprejudiced eye  as an expression of his surroundings. One should bear in mind that he is the scion of an Albanian noble family that was in power in the seventeenth century and before - and presumably not with democratic methods then. One should bear in mind that a parliament in Albania can only be convoked in one way, the way that it is presently convoked. It will be a "parliament in name only" for at least another twenty years.

Today even his ties to Italy make him nervous. He is no longer able to play off Italy and the South Slavs against each other.
[O]ne doesn't take exception to the loss of life he is said to have been responsible for, so much as the sums of money he has obtained. Tomorrow may see Ahmed Zogu still in power, and the day after gone, and someone else in his place, who would be almost indistinguishable from him. 
 ~ Frankfurter Zeitung, 29 May 1927 

Tirana, the Capital City
A section of the populace has devoted itself to brass instruments. Brass players - horns for the fatherland - have been recruited into the Albanian army. The soldiers' days begin with reveille and end with taps. Music keeps the swing in their stride.
The president has his very own personal band.
At seven in the morning, just as the soldiers are tooting and parping away, the musicians get up like so many larks, and rehearse passages of marches and overtures in the middle of the high street. The local inhabitants have petitioned the courts on six separate occasions to have the practice moved to a meadow outside the city. But on six separate occasions they have forgotten to attach arguments to their petition. Nothing works without arguments. 
An interesting observation, where music and band musicians are strongly connected and compared to the soldiers in the army. Both, highly disciplined rituals, visible and loud, practiced in the middle of a city otherwise tranquil. A very public gesture. A marking of territory. One that reminds me of today's policed state. By being so visible and occupying such public presence, these two paradoxical categories seem to have been accepted into the Albanian identity. Otherwise, why put them front and center? Furthermore, the author places the mild mandolin players in a separate group, off-center from such a public sight. Neither soldiers, nor musicians, these men consist of a different public, the emigrants, those who left then longed for their country, and that have now returned and long for the world they've seen. A public, whose existence is rooted in longing, without quite belonging, now reduced to and profited by only their wares. A group whose identity still needs to be proven. Their belongings mark and make up their only territory. A materialistic third. One that lacks a place. A place-less consumerism. A capitalist democracy. A progress from the ‘national culture’ that the army and the band dictate to an ‘autonomous republic’ of the consuming kind.
But barracks are erected in the interests of progress.
Not for an instant is one safe from a vendetta. 
The veiled women, the hundreds of ownerless dogs led on the wind's leash, the fezzes on fat heads and turbans on bearded faces, the colour-postcard vendetta-artists with revolvers for bellies, and rifles for umbrellas - all these money-earning, business-conducting, official-bribing exotic philistines are in the majority and beyond time. There is nothing so arid as an ethnicity that has been dissected in the mausoleums of ethnology and in books and seminar rooms for thirty years, but is still paraded, as though it were in any sense alive.
This passage sums up the “transition from so-called ‘national culture’ to the demand for an ‘autonomous republic,’” a paradox that is felt even today, one that continues to baffle and bother me in equal amounts, because I'm afraid it is deeply rooted in the Albanian identity, remaining unresolved, unstable, and at the root of all our contradictions and unproductive attempts at change.

~ Frankfurter Zeitung, 15 June 1927
The Albanian Army
The Albanian army exercises from five to twelve in the morning and from three to seven in the afternoon. It exercises during its lunch-break. It exercises before bedtime, and at night, when the soldiers are asleep, many hundreds of trumpets may be heard blowing in the mosques (in which the army likes to camp). From this I conclude that the Albanian army surely exercises in its sleep. I am forced to wonder, is there any time when the Albanian army is not exercising?
Nor do I know why it exercises. [...]
Further, to what end do Albanian soldiers exercise?
Now the Albanian army has Austrian rifles and Italian ammunition, bullets that jam, magazines that can't be clicked in, British knapsacks that can't be secured with Italian straps, covers for field-shovels and no field-shovels with which to dig trenches, Italian officers who don't know commands in Albanian, Austrian officers who are blackballed by their Italian comrades, White Russian officers who don't exercise at all, but have only come so as to be able to stay in uniform while they wait for Soviet Russia to collapse, British officers who know neither Albanian nor Italian nor German nor Russian, and like to walk around with their swizzle sticks just so that Britain is represented too. It's the oddest army in the world. 
This passage might read as a joke, but I am not laughing. I find this strategy, crippling and with tragic consequences. One that clearly shows an identity struggle between peoples freedom (true independence) and patriotism, the primitive Oriental culture from centuries of ottoman occupation and exploitative Western promises of democracy. Definitely set up to fail. A move that promotes patriotism through military exercising, while the country is at the mercy of the highest bidder. I say crippling, because this misguided practice doesn't guarantee protection, and ultimately renders the peoples republic a spectacle. In a similar move, Enver Hoxha kept the army exercising for an enemy that never came. A deception rooted in paranoia (among other things) which in turn made for a spectacle of fear and terror.
As I mentioned before, the public visibility of a military exercise is meant to be a fear tactic. One that makes people think they are living in war, no matter if they can't see the enemy. Keep in mind that these are all internal acts happening at vulnerable and unstable times of transition before or after a war, or significant event. This is not about gaining independence from a foreign force. We already did that in 1912. This ‘joke’ is what Albanians are doing to Albanians. It is Zogu who okay-ed military contracts, economic negotiations, diplomatic agreement, etc. What then becomes of the Albanian identity if Albanians don't have the Albanian best interest at heart and practice? It falls into an existential crisis, a constant state of transitioning to nowhere, without quite making the jump from ‘national culture’ to ‘autonomous republic.’
It has no coherent rule book or command structure, all it has is martial music, trumpet signals, drums, and a devotion to drill. 
For whom do they exercise? Surely not for their country? Because half the country is unhappy with their government - for reasons of idealism. Half the rest has been bought by the Serbs, and the remainder is on the payroll of the Italians. And in the middle of it, the soldiers are exercising. Perhaps they are exercising for Ahmed Zogu, their president? He has his personal bodyguard, which if required to, will shoot at the regular soldiers, who, for all their exercising, are thought not to be reliable, and who are deliberately issued with bad ammunition and heavy boots, to keep them from undertaking anything against the president.
~ Frankfurter Zeitung, 29 June 1927

Article about Albania (Written on a Hot Day)
Albania is a beautiful, unhappy, and for all its current topicality, boring. Its mountains are sometimes of an uncertain clear substance, so that you might take them for shards of glass painted green. [...] They have become more massive, implacable, and the whole country feels like a locked courtyard, ringed by the walls of a natural prison. Freedom is a relative concept. [...]
Under such circumstances, I am less receptive to the beauties of nature than those born optimists called tourists. [...]
A few houses, windowless, fortress-like, deaf and blind cubes of stone, coarse, enigmatic and tragic, redolent of destiny and secret curses. On each of these buildings that are so arranged as to offer rest to a murderer, refuge to a pursued man, security to a whole clan, lies the so-called charm of eeriness, which I would sooner not get too close to. Without the permission of the master of the house, one may not set foot in the meanest hut. But with his permission, the hospitality is life-threatening. Hospitality is a fine custom, among the noblest proofs of humanity. But there is every justification for it too in the selfish thought that among people who have instituted blood revenge for justice, a man needs to rest up somewhere, because sooner or later everyone will end up as a fugitive. 
The paradox of carrying on the tradition of vendetta while being proud of one's hospitality. Being a fugitive, yet opening one's home to strangers, is a perplexing and much too real a contradiction that still echoes in lost, abandoned and isolated parts of Albania. Another stone in the transition between 'national culture' and 'autonomous republic.'
May Albanians and others forgive me that I am not sufficiently gifted to admire unproductive conservatism in the way it should be admired. Unfortunately, alongside other habits that I revere, the Albanians have one that I merely understand: they are utterly intent on preserving old habits, not only stressing their Albanianism at the expense of their humanity, but also cultivating their tribalism at the expense of their nation. [...]
I understand that most "national traits" are the consequence of an unhappy history, in this case centuries of bitter struggle against the Turks, But there were also thousands of Albanians who went voluntarily to serve the Turks, were Turkish favorites, generals, officials, helped oppress their country and  - and yet remained Albanians. Such are the whims of national culture. An Albanian major said to me: "It's as well that the Turks oppressed us, and kept us away from their civilization. But for that, the Albanian language might have disappeared without trace." [...] It's a crime to oppress a nation, we both agree about that. But to praise the negative outcome of this oppression, the chance survival of a technically interesting language is false and childish national pride. But as I say, I bit my tongue. 
These comments would probably make most Albanians mad, rightfully so I don't know, maybe, but pride aside, let's for a moment think about the truth of this observation. If we list all occupying forces that have entered our territory, and compare the evolution of the language at these times, can we really say that we came out winners? What are the chances of a language disappearing? I'd like to ask the experts about the ways a language does indeed disappear (by not using it, adding foreign influences, developing into something else, a hybrid of sorts, etc..)? Which one would be the most dangerous? How does disappearance differ from development, and what are the consequences of a static language? What, then, are the consequences of a static identity?
Urban Albanians are strikingly timid. It takes less courage to shoot here than the speak. An Albanian would rather shoot than say what he thinks. He is afraid of the walls' ears. He senses a spy in everyone, and he's half-right. [...] These people's love of intrigue is as great as their fear of expressing an opinion. Over time, they do so little that they seem to have given up all their own opinions, and only listen to those of others. Why have an opinion merely to suppress it? In place of political convictions there is political partisanship, instead of struggle conspiracy, instead of a word a hint, instead of caution fear. In this land no ruler is safe, and no subject either. A publicly expressed view is an impossibility - even if it were allowed. Over the centuries the Albanians have lost all pleasure in the right to an opinion. Even unambiguous circumstances become secret mysteries in their hands. They have no taste for the absence of danger. [...] Their most dangerous quality: love of money. 
The continuous and ever-evolving struggle between free-speech and corruption has been an ongoing war in Albania (and else, for that matter) - one that we now call business, the entertaining business. If one doesn't have or is afraid to have and express an opinion, how does s/he identify? With whom? For whom? To what end?

~ Frankfurter Zeitung, 30 July 1927

Lastly, let's keep in mind another historical fact in play then and now - fascism. We may have just come full circle (without fully realizing it), but our Albanian identity has remained static, stalling, and still a paradoxical struggle between the Oriental state (primitivism), Western capitalism (fascism), national patriotism and democratic freedom (true independence). What gives?