Oct 31, 2018

Masterplanning for the short run | In search of missing pieces

Is anyone else bothered by the increasingly common phenomena of adding the word ‘luxury’ to new developments or newly renovated architecture: luxury apartments, luxury stores, high-end galleries, etc.? Luxury then becomes a program all on its own, no matter the secondary use it is added to it. Luxury is the program of capital, and if we were to map all the places and spaces that are considered and promoted as such, we would have to think of the city as becoming-luxurious — a luxury to be afforded — thus increasingly unaffordable and inaccessible. Cities are not being diversified at all then, they are just being redeveloped into economic exclusion zones, unified around a sole stimuli, money. As a consequence, the city is increasingly dehumanized. 

Cultural assets have fallen prey to capital. Historical neighborhoods are turning into high-end commercial and financial centers. Private money is surely proving to be a better incentive than the polyphonic wellbeing of public heritage. If we were to ask how much a city is worth, we would have to also ask, how little is its past valued? We’re just starting to see the  quantification of such unfathomable equation (equity/equality) — its value — but it will take a long while to grasp its qualification (quality+fiction) — its weight. How much will it weigh on us? How much will we weigh in it?

As master of a regulatory plan that pretends to decentralize (much of what it takes away), the state-capital system works to internalize the flow of capital — thus normalizing the inequality it is based on and legitimizing the design of a new luxurious class. 

Masterplanning, then, as a blueprint and rendered image of redevelopment, becomes a way to reduce and streamline the city’s public heritage (both, its public + heritage) — abstracting the time and material history of a hundred(s) year old city — into this flow of capital, which in turn emerges as the manifest of (its) “quantification of power”, where “each member profits in his own way.” (1)

As it materializes in the city, capital’s influence is revealed to be greater than the city’s historical, natural, judicial and cultural resources — therein lies its undisputed (yet unchallenged) thus absolute power. Because of this unprecedented acceleration of dominance, capital may in fact be the only (if not truly) autonomous organism (species) of man’s progress.

Masterplanning in the age of capital is a strategy of isolation and restriction, which deepens class segregation by isolating access and opportunity as it takes over and deplets shared assets and resources. The masterplan is capital’s masterpiece. It is how capital metamorphoses in real space — colonizing bodies, spaces, and psyches, a total embodiment by design instituted by self-serving systems of governance, whose political rigidity reduces governing to policing in order to maintain the hegemony of the status-quo — to ensure their dictatorial genealogy lasts; and, whose aesthetic guard-ism manifests an image of uniformity under the “luxury” moniker. 

The masterdesign may promise a one-of-a-kind relationship with capital, though what it actually produces is an endless desire to (over) consume. Meaning: it doesn’t matter how luxurious the relationship with capital may be, it still produces a commodity, which makes capital quite a high-maintenance partner. The more access one is given to “consume” another, the more unrequited and all-consuming this relationship becomes. The masterdesign assures an almost immediate consumption of luxury, thus enabling an addiction that needs to be kept up just so one can function. In the end, this addiction is how the human species consumes itself. It reduces life to a basic existence that requires nonsensical constructs of unprecedented realities that the city (and environment in general) simply cannot capacitate and won’t ever be able to support if it continues to be looted by the intensity of the addiction to capital. Hence, the uniformity of luxury can be understood as a double-headed form of violence: first, as an exponentially multiplying unity (i.e. colonization) of cannibalistic consumption of (it)self as well as the city’s (and all it encompasses); and second, as a guardism (i.e. addiction) that “only reproduces itself when it is reproducing something new”. (2)

Luxury is a product of power. It designates how power is seized, distributed and enforced. It is the incentive to re-categorize what at one time or another, but for a long time, was shared by many publics. It is a remastering of the human, its environment, and the master[ed]pieces it has created (as well as its not yet fulfilled potentialities) in a way that maximizes or mastermizes profit. As evidenced thus far, suc
h remastering or reduction is a total (planetary) redesign toward extinction of life as we perceive it, as we understand it, as we live it. We don’t have to know it anymore, as long as we consume it and as long as it becomes easily digested and digestible.

What’s even more curious is the coupling of the ‘luxury’ program with pedestrian activity and green spaces, such as these areas are the first to have biking and pedestrian lanes, greenery, maybe a water feature or two, street lights, and so on. It is curious because when do we see a rich person walking? In developing countries, and especially in Albania, they tend to drive some of the most luxurious cars, that is, if they’re not chauffeured around. Walking is a practice of the masses; it is how the public processes its independence and individuality in and through the ever-changing city. What, then, does it mean to luxurize the space of walking, if not to transform the individual, the public, the masses into spectral beings? (3) 

Such is the dogma of masterplanning for the short run. Short, implies an extinction — while run, implies a blur. It’s no secret that I am not a fan of the word “masterplan” and what it currently consists of. I would rather ask how a regulatory plan is and can be mastered. What is it to plan and what does it mean to designate? What is it to design and what does it mean to master the self and the other? I would rather mine a masterplan than interpret it, but it is hard to ask questions when so little is made available prior to (the decision of its) execution. 

I read somewhere — can’t exactly remember where at this moment, but it said something to this effect — that, we might’ve sold our souls or even want to do so, but who’s buying?

With everything that’s happening in the world, I wonder how much (and for how long) we would weigh without one; and if our road to extinction would be heavier or lighter as result. I don’t mean soul in a romantic or religious way, but soul as a force of life, essential to its being its essence, or rather what makes human life possible: mind, heart, will, integrity, intelligence, empathy, consciousness, health, language, politics, shared space, etc.

As far as Tirana (or any other such developing city in Albania) is concerned, I cannot imagine what would its architects and urbanists talk about in local or international conferences and seminars on history and preservation. If until now there was a preserved and protected architectural district or building to talk about, from this moment on it would be hypocritical to assert any historical standing. I guess there’s always nostalgia to fall back on.

(1) Deleuze & Guattari, On the Line, 1983, Semiotext(e)
(2) ibid.
(3) Arjun Appadurai, Spectral Housing and Urban Cleansing: Notes on Millennial Mumbai

Oct 20, 2018

Undigested Thoughts | In search of hollow-eve(n)

the metamorphosis of the city center from historic corridor to outdoor commercial mall 

the metamorphosis of the pedestrian from a public ‘escaping boredom’ to a consumer ‘embracing boredom’

boredom is different from loneliness

the metamorphosis of ‘boredom’ from play to affordance 

the metamorphosis of expression from playground to publicity 

the metamorphosis of freedom from discovering one’s own amidst the differences of the many to the many obeying the (often corrupt) privilege of the one

the metamorphosis of the city is the metamorphosis of its society 

the metamorphosis of the environmental landscape is the metamorphosis of mental nature 

the metamorphosis of man to cockroach is a reminder that cockroaches (will) outlive men — it is a return to, an end of, or becoming a being other than human, ancient even

metamorphosis is the human redesigning themselves to a coma, maybe death — to an uncertain afterlife, surely 

metamorphosis may (seems to) be the design of extinction to an original life form, hybridized 

this metamorphosis is an accelerated alienation 

an alienation from oneself?
an alienation toward oneself?
an alienation…

no one will be able to afford 
no one will be able to escape

a (rat) race…

no one will win because no one can see the freedom anticipated by the finish line

no one wants to win because fear catches up

freedom turns into fear

nowadays, public space does not mean freedom but fear

freedom of living turns into fear of dying 

freedom (by death — as the ultimate finish line) turns into fear (of life — living as the ultimate fear; fearing as the ultimate life form)

this metamorphosis seems fierce to oscillate between freedom and fear like that — between life and death

this metamorphosis could be the everyday life or the critique of the everyday life

it certainly is the habit [habitat, (in)habitation, (h)ability] of the everyday life 

metamorphosis makes every day possible 
metamorphosis makes life possible 
thus, metamorphosis is a materialization [in mind + matter] of time

The world finds itself on the brink or eve of yet another fundamental shift, and since it is October or harvest-time, the shapeshifter that is metamorphosis, this uncanny and cunning habit turns into a doubleheader (hint), a double-edged sword, a trick-or-treat, hollow and even. So it might be useless to caution the darkness of the hollow eve or the hollowness of its events.  
It’s definitely better to warn of the abyss of light instead. That’s why we have Hallowe’en — the metamorphosis of (a consumable) remembrance (now lightly consumed).

the hollow eve(n) between time lost and time found, not quite regained — is it fall or is it autumn — i forget

All this to say happy halloween! [As I’m sure I didn’t spook anyone.]

Oct 11, 2018

Gentle Manifest | We’ve Never Been Public

The Paradox of Public (&) Design: Public Space and Nuances of Freedom

In order to reflect on or provide an answer to the question in the photo, let’s consider reframing it by breaking it down further: Does Public imply a liberation of sorts; a freeing from one’s own fascism; a release of it even? Does it promise a community — (of) shared values and struggles? Is it a shared reality? Is there a correlation between the freedom of a society and the one its public space enables? What can the spatiality of a public (space) — its planning and design in the city — tell us about the (nuanced) freedom of its society? Has the public in Albania ever been free to organize and protest — to not just be organized to celebrate something, but to question, to dissent it — without being subjected to various (political, social, economic) repercussions?

Public is a word that defies definition — said differently — any definition it takes on, in one way or another, constricts the freedom it might imply, thus revealing the impossibility of its totality — its absolute materializon. Hence, any effort to outline or plan it is in fact the designer’s own construction of reality, how s/he perceives and imagines the reality s/he shares with others, a constructed — be it constructive or constrictive — commons. There exist forces beyond the designer’s control of course, and that needs to be taken into account — but, as the public (space) becomes a kind of commons that shapes and organizes — and to a certain degree predetermines — a kind of (freedom for the) community, then the responsibilities for its nuanced freedom (or lack thereof) should be shared among those who take on such a difficult task. If designers (whoever they might be: independent and individual members of the public, the state or private enterprises) take on such a (consciously) difficult task, then they take on both the privilege — the right to design a public — as well as the responsibility to ensure the rights of those they design for — their designated freedom — in it. Hence, public space can be thought of as a social contract way before it becomes a spatial one.

Since the freedom implied by the word public is just as elusive, the task of designing a(ny) public space can then be thought of as one of designating freedom, mobilizing it, giving it form. As a middleman of sort, or better yet as a translator that is able to materialize, to mold all those other (faceless or not) forces and idea(l)s into a public (space), the designer is in a position to read between the lines, to leverage one toward the freedom of the other, or for that matter to collude with one’s power against the other. Design can be a genuine or ingenious process of metamorphosis, no doubt. Though, more often than not, unfolding such a becoming — or design as an act of unfolding design as an image of becoming (a process of becoming in itself) — has revealed the latter as a Machiavellian scheme, in which invisible powers take on a public embodiment — hence its integrity — so to normalize their abstraction, hegemony, violence, and to further integrate — or make integral — their yet unforeseen ends. In this case, embodiment is not synonymous with empowerment, because a seemingly proportionate give-take exchange becomes in fact monopolized, a perpetual take(over) masked as a general and generous giving. As such, design becomes a closed loop, a vicious cycle. It doesn’t enable transformation nor a transition, but it assures the rebirth or recolonization of an already established hegemony.

Ethics is truly the substance and privilege of the designer.

Thus when I talk about a public, I am referring not only to the freedom it embodies, but the one it releases — the freedom it empowers. When I ask about the freedom of creativity and discovery, of resisting and becoming, I am not questioning it (them) in the designer, but i am inquiring about the freedom of those he designs for. How does the designer enable and share the same freedom(s) to the designee publics?

If public projects are described as open through the shapes of their form, their uninterrupted circulatory flow, their multi-program flexibility, their material transparency, and their environment sustainability — among others — then I want to know how these attributes enable the public in return. How do they designate bodies to access and discover their own, as well as their shared freedom in such a place? How does form, flow, flexibility, transparency, sustainability extend similar dimensions of tolerance to the public?

I take open here to imply a given degree of freedom. If we think of architecture as a framing of sorts, then the drawing, the plan, the building become both a device, a witness, a documentation — an artifact of the impossibility to capture or enclose all space — and a mechanism of unfolding it, to (both) discover its human(e) dimension(s) and to test its own (aesthetic and ethic) tolerance toward these dimensions. Why, then, in renderings or any visual documentation, public space is shown as a place of enchantment through recreational activities enabled by service-base programs (such as cafés, concerts, vendors, etc.), and not as a place that allows disenchantment too — where it is safe to protest — that accommodates different types of learning — that is bare from imposed propaganda — thus allowing a leisure of a different kind, an immersion in another sensory experience, that of trees, minerals, textures, sounds that are often drowned out by the spectacle of the images and artificial colors of the city? Why can’t I see or envision the flow, flexibility, transparency or sustainability of the public dimension(s) as tolerated by the enchanted image? Why am I not convinced by the community it portrays?

Because I know a few of its people and I am aware of the socio-economic context they inhabit. Their true shared values and struggles cannot be erased by the image — the opportunities to ameliorate should not be dictated by it either. The enchanted image doesn’t capture, distribute, nor encourage the disenchanted public it represents. It is interested in only redesigning its (designer + bigger forces) dimension of reality, because what good is a designer if s/he doesn’t design. It’s what separates them from their public. It is also the wrong way to go about the privilege and the responsibility given to one as a (public) designer. One should not forget nor dismiss the fact that the public, too, can be an ingenious co-designer. It is why every year, when the city shuts down for various mass-celebrations, I ask myself, it wouldn’t be that different to organize mass-resistances instead. Why is it so difficult to do though? This swelling of the public through planned distractions, why can’t it also become a way to somber it up — to lay it, the city and its institutions bare?

It might indeed be a privilege to be bumped up from a designated public to a designer, but a designer mustn’t forget that s/he will always be part of a community that shares a common reality, no matter how constrictive or constructive s/he designs it to be. The designer’s involvement then can be more than just privilege, it can become a choice to extend this freedom to their community — an invitation to design their livelihood together.

The question thus becomes, a two-parter: first, Which power (ethic) does the designer follow? and then, Which power (force or regime) does public form and livelihood follow?

In Albania, public space has always been designed through oppressive means, be they political or economic. Public livelihood has always been designed as a perpetual struggle to ensure continued dependence — not to encourage or allow independent thriving. It has always been a space that has enabled only the freedoms sanctioned by hegemony, as evident by its increasingly repressive public. The nuances of freedom its society has been subjected to for decades, if not centuries, hasn’t varied much, it has only deepened and normalized the shadows of its public. Bottom-up transgressions of these sanctions have always been harshly punished. But, enforced political mass-gatherings and state propaganda activities, which can also be considered (scaled-up) transgressions, are revered as the right to (practice) free-speech, as democracy at work.

So, who does public space and its public belong to, if not all? Has the public been deterritorialized from the impossibility of its enclosure, the openness and freedom inherent in it, only to be reterritorialized as a belonging to someone? And if its openness — to be shared by all without the fear of prosecution, to use it to speak up — has always been such an impossibility, can we (for sure) say that Albania has ever been truly public? Was it ever given the freedom to discover its own nuances of it? Is there such a freedom left anymore?


Sep 23, 2018

Albania's 'Transition' as an 'Accident of the Transfer'? | (re)Thinking with Virilio [Part III]

*The following is the last installment of a three-part series. The link to the others can be found here and here

Time is everything, man is nothing; he is at most the empty carcass of time. 
— Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy


Virilio's work helps us understand the city as part of a larger ecology of power — globalization and technology — which can instruct us to approach the present neoliberal regime in the country not as one of a kind, but as one of the many forms it has taken worldwide — and, when comparing it with the old regime of communism, to be mindful of one’s forceful isolation and the other’s intense openness — an openness stimulated only by what is able to profit from it while still harboring a continued narrow-mindness from previous such oppressions within. The light it promises renders illusory if it doesn’t take on the task of finding lightness within, in order to liberate it. The light(ness) it brings, weighs — it is worth — as much as the remnants of darkness — the burden — it carries within. The war of the present (age) is a war waged on time, where the democratic becomes dromocratic. 

General Note:  Bold text indicates my emphasis. 
The postcards in this post are the latest (4x6) sequence of the ones I started to do about two years ago here on the blog, along with a few other montages I've posted on the Facebook page. All are available and free for all to use under the Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-SA 4.0


The Dromoscopic City

Thus my people will be deported for want of intelligence. — Livre de Malédictions

It’s important to return to the city. To return to the city is to return to politics or to the political people. It’s not by chance that in Greek the city is called the ‘polis’. The city was created in a relationship to territorial space. It is a territorial phenomenon, a phenomenon of territorial concentration. Old villages are spread over a territory which is not a territory but a field, in all senses of the term. There is creation, from the old villages, through what has been called kinesis, of an urban territorial unit – the Greek city-state, to take a well-known reference. Since politics and the city were born together, they were born through a right: the creation of a territory or of an estate by right, being established, the right of autochthonism. There are rights because there is territory. There are rights and therefore duties – he who has land has war, as the people of Verde said. He who has rights in an urban territory has the duty to defend it. The citizen is also a soldier-citizen. I feel this situation survives up to the present; we are experiencing the end of that world. Through the ups and downs of the state, the city-state, the more or less communal state, and finally, the nation-state, we have experienced the development of politics linked to the territory; always down-to-earth. In spite of railroads and telephones, we experienced a relationship to the soil and a relationship to a still coherent right. There was still a connection to territorial identity, even in the phenomenon of nationalistic amplification. Today, as we saw earlier with the end of time-space and the coming of speed-space, the political man and the city are becoming problematic. When you talk about the rights of man on the world scale, they pose a problem which is not yet resolved, for a state of rights is not connected with a state of place, to a clearly determined locality. We can clearly see the weaknesses of the rights of Man. It makes for lots of meetings, but not for much in the way of facts. Just take a look at Eastern European countries or Latin America. It seems to me that speedspace which produces new technologies will bring about a loss, a derealization of the city. The megalopolises now being talked of (Calcutta, or Mexico with 30 million inhabitants) are no longer cities, they are phenomena which go beyond the city and translate the decline of the city as a territorial localization, and also as a place of an assumed right, affirmed by a policy. Here, I’m very pessimistic. I feel we’re ​entering into a society without rights, a ‘non-rights’ society, because we’re entering a society of the non-place, and because the political man was connected to the discrimination of a place. The loss of a place is, alas, generally the loss of rights.

Here, we have a big problem: the political man must be reinvented–a political man connected to speed-space. There, everything remains to be done, nothing’s been accomplished. I’d even say the question hasn’t been considered. [...] We truly have here a political question and an urban question, because at present the cities are undone by technology, undone by television, defeated by automobility (the high speed trains, the Concorde). The phenomena of identification and independence are posed in a completely new way. [...] We have here a phenomenon of distortion of the territorial community that explains the phenomenon of demands of independence. Before, we were together in the same place, and could claim an identity. Today, we are together elsewhere, via high-speed train, or via TV. There is a power of another nature which creates distortions. We are no longer in space, but in speed-space. [...] There’s a logic there, and it’s a logic which poses problems. (via)


I think the chapter on the politics of disappearance, in Virilio’s Negative Horizon book is worth quoting at length below for a comparative understanding of politics in, and of time — pertaining to history and origin; to autochthony, which is a hot button issue amongst Albanians and one that is currently thought through territory, not time; from the agora of the democratic theater to the stadium as form of perpetual movement in search of identity.


The Politics of Disappearance

We must always see ourselves for the last time. — Pascal Jardin

    If in the past the first political act consisted in making the form of the city apparent at the same time as the figure of citizenship, and this was the underlying meaning of the rites of foundation and the rites of autochthony in the ancient civic space, it seems that we are now witnessing the premises of a fundamental reversal: it is no longer a question of forming ‘autochthonous’ (i.e. native) citizens along with foreigners coming from whatever sort of synechism, as was the case in the Athenian city, but rather a process leading to the disappearance of citizenship by transforming the residents into ‘foreigners within’, a new sort of untouchable, in the transpolitical and anational state where the living are nothing more than ‘living dead’ in permanent deferment.
    A degraded form of the ‘political’ in the old sense of the term, ever refusing to decide between place [lieu] and milieu, sociology will engage the persistence of the morphological illusion in omitting time in favour of a reference to, and reverence for, history. Nevertheless, contrary to the process of synoecism, the marshalling of men from the ‘rural demes’ in a single city, autochthony appears as a marshalling of time, of a time that has nothing historical about it, as it involves instead a perpetual recommencement of the origin. Again, as Nicole Loraux explains: ‘In order to have its moment in the history of the democratic city, the myth of autochthony is nonetheless written in a slowed, repetitive, time, which, year after year, repeats the same festivals, the same celebrations, thus marking off the space of the City’. A necessary ‘topos’ of official discourse, Athenian autochthony is therefore, before all else, a mythical ‘Kronos’, a political rhythm, a ceremony leading the panathenaeans up the Acropolis from the cemetery of the Kerameikos, from birth to the public death of these ‘sons of the fatherland’, for whom time is annulled in the irrevocable return from the end to the origin.
    An eternal present inscribed in the time of the ‘polis’, the autochthonous myth stresses the ‘political’ time of the citizen in separating him from his tribal or familial idiorhythms. This process begins with the agrarian origins and proceeds up to the beginnings of the industrial era in which the dromocratic revolution will succeed the democratic revolution in innovating an accelerated time where the energy technologies will progressively eliminate the myth of the territorial rootedness of the state. The ‘cult of the matter’, Earth Mother and Virgin of origins, will be supplanted by the cult of light, where absolute ‘substance’ is worn out and fades away, giving way to a necessary accident of the transfer.
    The Athenian erection, at the chthonian passage from the origins of myth, will be replaced by the cryptic passage from shadow into light. The traditional political enclosure will be succeeded by a great ‘transpolitical’ disorder. An autochthony of time, more than of any particular place, less indigenous than photogenous since time is the cycle of light, the subject that will see the day will be born less mortal than visible; less a topos than a chronos, this subject will be born in the light of the time of a chronotropism of the living where mythical conditioning of the liturgy will give way to technological conditioning of populations exploited in their biorhythms.
    In the face of this trauma, the principle of the geomorphological identity of the citizen tends to be effaced; less a native [originaire] than a member of a society [«sociétare»], there will be no delay in the imperceptible process whereby the citizen becomes nothing more than a stand in [suppléant].
    Privileged residents, those entitled to the ‘rights of the city’ of a democratic state, are superseded by visitors, transitory citizens, tourists, spectators of a dromocratic state where vision [la vue] is life [la vie]. . . . If yesterday, in the unity of the neighbourhood, the other was at once known and recognized through repetition, the ritual of encounters and public events, with the transportation revolution, this ‘neighbour’ will become a spectre that one will see only accidentally. The great disorder will, therefore, do less to perfect exchange than it will serve to give rise to this fleeting presence. This kinetic habituation to the disappearance of the congener will have the character of a social divorce: passing [passant], fleeting [passage], physical presence of the similar will lose its reality to be replaced by its ‘brand image’. The blind spots stretch out to the point where the diffusion of the body increases and the transience of people will surround us progressively with strangers. The discrediting of the notion of the enemy, to be replaced progressively by what is suspect and poses a threat, thus signals less the decline of defence than the absence of allies, the discrediting of civic alliance.
    We will thus see the extensive character of, first, provincial and, then, national definitions of locations succeeded by that of an intense transnational visualization where the long theories of the democratic liturgy will disappear, replaced by the ‘unwinding [défilement] sequences’, an accelerated substitute for the actions of an absent people.
    The art of seeing, of foreseeing, politics does not, therefore, escape the rule according to which ‘Art does not render the visible but rather renders visible.’ In this reconversion of the field of representation, the City ceases to be a ‘theatre’ (agora, forum) in order to become instead a darkened chamber, a cinema where visibility supplants all territoriality, all legitimate location. But let us return to consider the invention of Athens: ‘There is an upper area: the Acropolis, and a lower: the Agora, the Kerameikos. There is also an interior, the Acropolis and the Agora, and an exterior, outside the walls of the City, the Kerameikos where the Athenian democracy buried those who served. In this public cemetery, the common inscriptions were consecrated to an idealistic glory: the polis, the indivisible unity that owes its authority to the effacement of its andres, its soldier-citizens, valorous yet identical and interchangeable’.
    Curiously, in this genre of historical heroization a certain site is missing, namely, the stadium in which the democratic equality of the City comes to an end with the rise of a momentous dromocratic publicity. Here the civic point of view is inversed: there is an upper area, the levels on which the spectators are seated, and a lower area, the track where the actors file out. . . . Within this theatre of mobile performances, those present have the view of the gods, while those who pass through are dominated by the insatiable curiosity of the crowd of voyeurs. We are far from the ideal platitude of the equals of the agora, nothing like that, instead there is only the spectral analysis of a population exposed to the disclosure of an elite of movement.
    If the public place is, therefore, the place of the demos, the track is, by way of analogy, that of the invention of a dromos where the eternal return of political origins is renewed by the revolution of a ‘transpolitical’ spectacle which bears with it in a germinal state the tyrannies of an empire where logistical ideals progressively replace the political ideologies of Athenian democracy. While the agora and the republican forum will have long since disappeared in the enclosure of parliaments, the ‘public place’ will survive by becoming the stadium of military processions, before disappearing in its turn into the traffic of the transportation revolution. Thus after the gymnasium, the amphitheatre and the racetrack will have played their role in anticipation of the airfield and satellites installing in orbit their peripheral rites.
    Site of a morphological overexposure, the sporting arena is, therefore, not only a ‘crater’ for the popular irruption, it is also a type of census. In this inventory, the form is the ground [fond] that rises again to the surface. Surveillance becomes the last quarter of the eclipse of the community, the high-security quarter of the logistical delocalization of power. It is logical, thus, to see the national stadium [...], transformed into a concentration camp, since the enterprise of political appearances gives way to the aesthetic of military disappearance. A reduced model of an abolished civic space, the stadium is without doubt the end of the morphological illusion of the State, the ultimate ‘stadium’ of the city and, therefore, indirectly, of legitimate citizenship. What plays out [...], beyond all reasons of state, is an argument between the ancients and the moderns, a campaign promise of the ‘postpolitical’. [...]
    Their liturgy takes the place of the hearth of the community, of the Athenian cratos; an agonistic ceremony, their perpetual movement is situated beyond the death of the ‘similar’, beyond the political, it poses for us the question of the identity of the living. The ‘public place’ becomes at once the cemetery of the political and a ‘transpolitical’ forum. [...]
    The act of presence replaces the act of birth and autochthony; the opposition to tyranny is no longer one of ideology, it is that of a life, of the enigma of the living body mysteriously present in time. We can do away with civic space or eliminate the political capital, but in abolishing the public cemetery, we simultaneously exterminate all descendents. The funerary foundation of societies is stronger than the erection of the city, the vengeance of presence prohibits the mass grave of the state.


Albania's 'Transition' as an 'Accident of the Transfer'? | (re)Thinking with Virilio [Part II]

*The following is the second installment of a three-part series on Virilio’s work. The link to the others can be found here and here.

A society which rashly privileges the present — real time — 
to the detriment of both the past and the future, also privileges the accident. 
— Paul Virilio, The Museum of Accidents


Virilio's work helps us understand the Albania's Transition to neoliberalism as part of a larger ecology of power, where the city as a layered ground of human reflections and historical recordings becomes a non-place, an acceleration of the present that enables the disappearance of both past and future. The speed of overindulgence is also that of disappearance, that speed-space in which private constructions/developments rush to privatize public land, and corrupt governments push for a quick confirmation of ‘special’ (tailored but illegal) laws. Speed-space, as opposed to space-time, is the space of absolute power the perfect image that enables the perfect crime. The beauty of it, no matter how fleeting (pun intended), consist in getting away with it, not only unscathed but thriving.

The speed-space is one of war, hence new technologies have aided the latest Albanian regime of Rilindje to wage war within, a war on democracy (free speech and will) by campaigning the beautiful — ‘beauty will lead us out of the dark ages and into the light'. The sentiment ‘Let there be light’ (I am thinking of John Huston’s 1980 documentary) takes a profound meaning here, along similar lines of Marie’s Antoinette’s ‘Let them eat cake’ bit, for not only showing the bleak conditions the starving masses (mental or physical), but for revealing the darkness of those enlightened in overindulge. This motto of beauty enables us to (fore)see the deception of light. Hence, Rilindje’s ‘beauty’ breaks away from previous defense/offense mechanisms, such as the fortress or the bunker type — the terror through architectural heaviness in favor of light and architectural lightness. Through smoke and mirrors, it has build swift walls of light instead. This is not a one-off practice — it is a worldwide phenomena, and as such, it champions Albania's inclusion to those being led astray by the ‘gaze of the West’.

The city has always been a site of matter, where idea(l)s, mentalities, materialize. It, thus, provides a well-documented and layered proof of who, what and when has had a hand in design(at)ing it over time. It provides depth which is now being challenged by the confrontation between space-time memories and speed-space intensities in an everything-is-up-for-grabs manner — a (peacetime) war of speed waged on time (thus, territory) for power (absolution). Despite its best efforts to hide its true agenda, R’s ‘beauty through (speed of) light’ campaign, as both an instrument of war and a promise of peace, visibly remains surface-deep, a deception, an optical illusion that in its quest to enlighten souls fails to reach their depth, that darkness it wants to bring to light. So in a way, in its quest to civilize the masses (to bring a western light eastward, globalization itself), R’s regime reveals the darkness within, the darkness that makes all regimes possible, that of absolute control — of means and ends. Its panopticon is constructed in perceived freedom — a coercion of space, of mind, of time. How can it enlighten or civilize (via its aesthetically ‘seductive’ projects) when it takes away public territory; when it continues to oppress freedom — physical and psychological — when it keeps minds in the darks and limits the space of bodies; when it smooths the city into a surface of accelerations and disappearances — when it exhausts its relief and exterminate its historical heritage? An unbearable lightness of being indeed. How much does such lightness weigh on humanity? Just as much as the burden of its psychic darkness perhaps?


The paragraphs below describe the architecture of globalization so well — now fully unleashed in Albania (a top-down legalization of ‘extralegal’ state-private building boom, no different than the ‘informal’ bottom-up, do-it-yourself urban growth of post-‘90s, which it has condemned illegal, and what it hasn’t yet demolished still awaits legalization, for ‘beauty’ related issues no doubt)  — and visibly so as we see it unfold in the historical theater vs. private skyscraper debate in Tirana.

General Note:  Bold text indicates my emphasis.
The postcards in this post are the latest (4x6) sequence of the ones I started to do about two years ago here on the blog, along with a few other montages I've posted on the Facebook page. All are available and free for all to use under the Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.


The accident is an inverted miracle, a secular miracle, a revelation.
When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck. 

— Paul Virilio, Politics of the Very Worst

The Museum of Accidents

I say at the end of the article that television is the actual museum. In the beginning, I say: a museum of accidents is needed, and the reader imagines a building with accidents inside. But at the end, I say: no, this museum already exists, it's television.
This is more than a metaphor: the cinema was certainly an art, but television can't be, because it is the museum of accidents. In other words, its art is to be the site where all accidents happen. But that's its only art.
One exposes the accident in order not to be exposed to the accident. It's an inversion. There is a French expression that says: to be exposed to an accident, to cross a street without looking at the cars means exposing oneself to be run over. This is more than a play with words, it's fundamental. For instance, when a painter exhibits his work, one says: he exposes his work. Similarly, when we cross the street, we expose ourselves to a car accident.
And television exposes the world to the accident. The world is exposed to accidents through television. The editor of the New York Times was recently interviewed in Le Nouvel Observateur, and he said something that I really agree with: television is a media of crisis, which means that television is a media of accidents. [via]


Squared Horizon

What is the ‘portable window’?

I used this term in reference to architecture, because the problem in architecture is first and foremost one of doors and windows. It is not the wall which encloses, since a structure that cannot be entered is not a structure for man.
​ There are three windows. There is the French window (door) which serves to effect an architecture, a place where man lives, be this a city or an apartment. There is the window which renders itself autonomous, the window as a place of light or looking – here we have an extraordinary invention related to a religious problem, the problem of the cult of light, through the claustra, solar calendars, etc. The third window is the television screen… So when I speak of a window, I mean this third window. I am speaking also of another constructed space, that of telecommunications and the new technologies. Another point concerns cutting out: you only have an image if there is cutting, for nothing is ever seen in its entirety. Everything is always perceived through a frame, and it’s certain this frame existed from the moment the first eye opened upon the visible field. This process continued with the framing of paintings, the frame of the photograph, and the frame created by the television camera eye. I believe when you talk of a third window, you are talking about a new frame, a sidereal frame, since with communications satellites and live re-broadcasts, the problem of the window becomes a macrocosmic phenomenon. But, this all stems from the very first window, the porthole drilled in the megalithic tomb. In these tombs there was a tiny hole to let the sun shine in. All this goes back to the beginning of time. That’s why I call it the continuation of as tory, the aftermath of that first sighting.
As a first step we spoke of space; I think here we should speak of time. The contemporary image is a time-image, even a speed-image. The first pictures were space images, and that’s what I refer to when I speak of an aesthetics of disappearing. Images only persist because of the persistence of their medium: stone in the neolithic era or in ancient times, carved wood, painted canvas. … Those are an aesthetics of immersion, of the appearance of an image which becomes permanent. The image is sketched, then painted and coated, and it lasts because its medium persists. With the coming of photography, followed by cinematography and video, we entered the realm of an aesthetics of disappearance: the persistence is now only retinal. Despite the film used in photography and cinema, there is no longer any real ‘support’. The sustaining medium is retinal persistency because there is a persistency of the image in my eye that is this image in motion. Let’s never forget that. So I believe an aesthetics of disappearing is another world, another link to the real. It is a link to the real as fleeting, as uncertain.
I think the old image, the old reality, was a reality that can be presented as a space-time reality. Man lived in a time system of his actual presence: when he wasn’t there, he wasn’t there. Today we are entering a space which is speed-space. [...] I think the present finds us squarely between these two times. We are living in both the extensive time of the cities of stories, of memories, or archives, or writing, and the intensive time of the new technologies. That’s the ‘program of absence’ that’s how we program our definitive absence, because we’ll never be present in that billionth of a second.
[...] Man is present in the average time situated in the long duration of historical phenomena and the short duration of his reflexes, of the ‘twinkling of an eye’.
[...] War produces accidents. It produces an unheard-of accident, which is upsetting the traditional idea of war. Substance is necessary and accident is contingent and relative! That is the traditional story of the return to the accident. In war time the opposite is true. Here accident is necessary and substance relative and contingent. What are war machines? They are machines in reverse – they produce accidents, disappearances, deaths, breakdowns. I think war in this sense conveys something which at present we are experiencing in peace time; the accident has now become something ordinary.

[...] Now, with the new technologies, not only do they make war all the time, in all seasons, but non-stop, day and night. We have a totalizing phenomenon that is also a phenomenon we experience daily with live broadcasts from the four corners of the earth, which allow us to watch a festival or a ballgame. There is therefore a cancellation of the daytime. In the same way that there is a cancellation of timespace, there is a cancellation of daytime as a way of dividing up time. Daytime is no longer the astronomical day, it is the day of techniques. With astronomical daytime, chickens went to sleep when Man did. Today, chickens continue to go to sleep when the sun goes down, but men no longer do. When the sun goes down, electric light and television go on. It’s another time, another day beyond the solar day. (via)


Negative Horizon

What we see arises from what is not apparent. — Paul de Tarse

A sublimation of the hunt, the course imposes a cleared surface; a sublimation of war, the speed record demands a pure surface. Devoid of accidents, of relief, the ground becomes the mirror of acceleration. […] Early on Caeser would assert that ‘the greatest glory of a state is to make its frontiers a vast desert’. A smooth leveled surface — is the desert not the first transfiguration of the states of matter? — such as Herschell indicated in his time: an object illuminated in the light of the sun on the horizon acts like a mirror. . . . The illumination of the horizon serves to transform non-polished surfaces into reflective surfaces, as we see verified with dromoscopic illumination: the accelerated perspective acts like a luminous source, the anamorphosis of the trajectory produces an effect of accentuated depth, followed by an optical rectification similar to that of light on the horizon. […] In reality, most images, whether mobile or immobile, arise from the capture of the visible domain by a process that puts into play the interaction of light with the surfaces of reflection or of recording (natural elements of reflection, photosensitive emulsions…) and according to the same principle as the inversion of the image. The perception of relief and the estimation of distances (space and time) being inseparable from the stereoscopic acuity, binocular visionaries, we only perceive the third dimension when one of our eyes receives an image temporized through its relationship to another (this is what is called the ‘Pultrich effect’). For the object in accelerated movement, this temporization is further reinforced by the polarizing effect of the windows of the vehicle, in other words by the artifice of the horizontal illumination of speed interfering with the nearby or distant surfaces of the environment.
[…] Visible on the level of the surface, speed appears thus like an optical phenomenon of reflection of the ground. A surface effect in constant (advancing) ‘telescopic’ and (accelerated) ‘dromoscopic’ transformation, acceleration is in fact only a form of hallucination.
    ‘I see nothing but becoming’, said Nietzsche. . . . In this optic, we could add, since space is that which prevents everything from being in the same place, the conquest of speed is the pursuit of this ‘parking of deterrence’, of this last ‘place’ where objects and their features would no longer be solely isomorphs but holomorphs, that is, interchangeable at will, rendered homogeneous and dromogenous by the artifice of the instantaneity of ubiquity.
    An apocalyptic land, surface of reflection, the desert receives the image, the optical illusion caused by the overheated atmospheric strata, the image of the mirage.
    [T]he sands of the desert were the materials of a perfect holographic revelation.
    In fact, the hologram is not the sophistication of a false perspective, the realization of a perfect image, but the opposite: the exhaustion of relief, the extermination of all perspective.
    Henceforth, what is ‘false’ is no longer anamorphosis but the depth, the length, the distances of time and space perspective. The attainment of the horizontal ‘escape velocity’ [«vitesse de libération»] liberates us from the alleged reality of the third dimension. In allowing us to escape the time span of the trajectory, speed actually liberates from the ‘volume’ of the object, from places [des lieux] as from the milieu.
    No more delay! No more relief! There is no longer any significant difference between the real and the effect of the real.
    [W]hat is at stake is the abolition of depth, the end of expanses of time. […] Pure speed becomes both height and length, the alpha and omega of absolute power.
    […] The metaphor has become reality: both a means of instantaneous destruction and a means of sophisticated projection, the speed of physical light becomes the absolute weapon and the light of speed produces the perfect image, the hologram of pure power.
[P]ure speed is now the supreme and concentrated effect of a war beyond battles, of a pure war requiring the focal point, the pure surface of the desert.
    While a concurrence is suddenly established between the progressive illumination of the morning horizon and the accelerated perspective, the light of the finish rises to the zenith for the adept of limit-speed; the course becomes a hunt for the sun.
    After having successively sacrificed space to time, and then the distance of time to distance-speed, the vector becomes the last dimension of a world that is now reduced to the desert of the moment.
    Appearing like the effect of a sequencing, the optic of the locomotive illusion is analogous to the cinematographic optical illusion. At the height of desertification, the fascination with the negative horizon amounts to exhausting the last resource of space: the void. The will to power is here, therefore, the will to arbitrarily increase the density of the depth of field, by changing the objective horizon into a ‘wall’ [mur], into a screen, for the inscription of the effects of the light of acceleration. In this architecture, the narrowing of the aim signals the completion of the site; the sound barrier [mur du son], ‘wall’ of heat, thus Sliding Home impatiently built itself up, the refuge of exile for those who covered space with their tombs [tombes], these record-breakers [tombeurs de record] who, not content with the desert of the ground, secretly aspired for opacity, for the desert of the sky.
    The speed cage is excessively reduced, the frame of the windscreen closes on the atmospheric depth. The resistance of the air to the progress of the automobile closes the hardening of the sky, the crenel of the course becomes the rampart of the limit-speed, the wall of light.
    Massive, translucent, the desert thus gives birth to the last figure of the Bunker, a singular reversal takes place here: the void of the ground causes the fullness of the sky, of the sky with a polish that is reflected in the reduced silhouettes of the vehicles.**
    If the world is merely a false semblance the time sweeps aside in a single blow, speed is the air, the wind, of time — a relative wind that instantly sweeps away the desert of bodies.
    ‘Every surface is an interface between two spheres constantly governed by an activity in the form of an exchange between two substances in contact with one another.’
    The screen replaces the mirror.
    [T]he message is the speed of release.