Sep 16, 2016

Calvino's Memos for the Millennials & Albanian Education | In search of missing pieces

I recently stumbled upon Italo Calvino's unfinished manuscript, a series of 'memos' he wrote for the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures he was due to give at Harvard University in 1986, but unfortunately passed away in Italy before leaving for Cambridge. These memos make up certain values dear to the author, qualities he thought should be carried on to the new millennium. The work is titled Six Memos for the Next Millennium but only includes five: Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility, Multiplicity -- leaving Consistency unfinished.

The reason I am sharing a few excerpts on here, is because of everything that is happening with education reform, pedagogy and student rallies happening in Albania. Yes, it is about legitimacy, learning standards and legacy of the university (education system) -- but first and foremost, it is about language -- language as communication, cognition, learning, imagination, etc, etc, -- language of and as access. After all, it is the next millennium already, and providing free and open access to a decent if not great education is an absolute must, a no-brainer (pardon the pun). Therefore, this, is for the students -- to find the courage to continue their quest for knowledge, meaning and value  -- to be brave and assemble (access) all modes of their language in order to be heard.

photo credit: PERfACT, Tirana, AL 2011.


Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium (excerpts)

**As always these pieces are taken out of the original context to make the point stated above. To draw your own conclusions, I encourage you to read the book.

I'm not here to talk of futurology, but of literature. The millennium about to end has seen the birth and development of the modern languages of the West, and of the literatures that have explored the expressive, cognitive, and imaginative possibilities of these languages. It has also been the millennium of the book, in that it has seen the object we call a book take on the form now familiar to us. Perhaps it is a sign of our millennium's end that we frequently wonder what will happen to literature and books in the so-called postindustrial era of technology. I don't much feel like indulging in this sort of speculation. My confidence in the future of literature consists in the knowledge that there are things that only literature can give us, by means specific to it. I would therefore like to devote these lectures to certain values, qualities, or peculiarities of literature that are very close to my heart, trying to situate them within the perspective of the new millennium.

Lightness

In this talk I shall try to explain - both to myself and to you - why I have come to consider lightness a value rather than a defect; to indicate the works of the past in which I recognize my ideal of lightness; and to show where I situate this value in the present and how I project it into the future.

It is hard for a novelist to give examples of his idea of lightness from the events of everyday life, without making them the unattainable object of an endless quête. This is what Milan Kundera has done with great clarity and immediacy. His novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being is in reality a bitter confirmation of the Ineluctable Weight of Living, not only in the situation of desperate and all-pervading oppression that has been the fate of his hapless country, but in a human condition common to us all, however infinitely more fortunate we may be. For Kundera the weight of living consists chiefly in constriction, in the dense net of public and private constrictions that enfolds us more and more closely. His novel shows us how everything we choose and value in life for its lightness soon reveals its true, unbearable weight. Perhaps only the liveliness and mobility of the intelligence escape this sentence - the very qualities with which this novel is written, and which belong to a world quite different from the one we live in.

Whenever humanity seems condemned to heaviness, I think I should fly like Perseus into a different space. I don't mean escaping into dreams or into the irrational. I mean that I have to change my approach, look at the world from a different perspective, with a different logic and with fresh methods of cognition and verification. The images of lightness that I seek should not fade away like dreams dissolved by the realities of present and future . . . . .

[T]here is such a thing as a lightness of thoughtfulness, just as we all know that there is a lightness of frivolity. In fact, thoughtful lightness can make frivolity seem dull and heavy. 

At this point we should remember that the idea of the world as composed of weightless atoms is striking just because we know the weight of things so well. So, too, we would be unable to appreciate the lightness of language if we could not appreciate language that has some weight to it.

We might say that throughout the centuries two opposite tendencies have competed in literature: one tries to make language into a weightless element that hovers above things like a cloud or better, perhaps, the finest dust or, better still, a field of magnetic impulses. The other tries to give language the weight, density, and concreteness of things, bodies, and sensations.

 Even Galileo saw the alphabet as the model for all combinations of minimal units . . . . . And then Leibniz . . . . .

Should I continue along this road? Won't the conclusions awaiting me seem all too obvious? Writing as a model for every process of reality . . . . . indeed the only reality we can know, indeed the only reality tout court . . . . . No, I will not travel such roads as these, for they would carry me too far from the use of words as I understand it - that is, words as a perpetual pursuit of things, as a perpetual adjustment to their infinite variety.

There remains one thread, the one I first started to unwind: that of literature as an existential function, the search for lightness as a reaction to the weight of living.

[W]e shall face the new millennium, without hoping to find anything more in it than what we ourselves are able to bring to it. Lightness, for example, whose virtues I have tried to illustrate here. 

Quickness

The very first characteristic of a folktale is economy of expression. The most outlandish adventures are recounted with an eye fixed on the bare essentials. There is always a battle against time, against the obstacles that prevent or delay the fulfillment of a desire or the repossession of something cherished but lost.

The relativity of time is the subject of a folktale known almost everywhere: a journey to another world is made by someone who thinks it has lasted only a few hours, though when he returns, his village is unrecognizable because years and years have gone by.

This motif can also be interpreted as an allegory of narrative time and the way in which it cannot be measured against real time. And the same significance can be seen in the reverse operation, in the expanding of time by the internal proliferations from one story to another, which is a feature of oriental story-telling.

The motif that interests us here is not physical speed, but the relationship between physical speed and speed of mind.
Speed and consciousness of style please us because they present the mind with a rush of ideas that are simultaneous, or that follow each other so quickly they seem simultaneous, and set the mind afloat on such an abundance of thoughts or images or spiritual feelings that either it cannot embrace them all, each one fully, or it has no time to be idle and empty of feelings.
"Discoursing," or "discourse," for Galileo means reasoning, and very often deductive reasoning. "Discoursing is like coursing": style as a method of thought and as literary taste. For him, good thinking means quickness, agility in reasoning, economy in argument, but also the use of imaginative examples.

In an age when other fantastically speedy, widespread media are triumphing, and running the risk of flattening all communication onto a single, homogeneous surface, the function of literature is communication between things that are different simply because they are different, not blunting but even sharpening the differences between them, following the true bent of written language.

The motor age has forced speed on us as a measurable quantity, the records of which are milestones in the history of the progress of both men and machines. But mental speed cannot be measured and does not allow comparisons or competitions; nor can it display its results in a historical perspective. Mental speed is valuable for its own sake, for the pleasure it gives to anyone who is sensitive to such a thing, and not for the practical use that can be made of it. A swift piece of reasoning is not necessarily better than a long-pondered one. Far from it. but it communicates something special that is derived simply from its very swiftness.

[T]his apologia for quickness does not presume to deny the pleasures of lingering. Literature has worked out various techniques for slowing down the course of time. 
 In practical life, time is a form of wealth with which we are stingy, In literature, time is a form of wealth to be spent at leisure and with detachment. Quickness of style and thought means above all agility, mobility, and ease, all qualities that go with writing where it is natural to digress, to jump from one subject to another, to lose the thread a hundred times and find it again after a hundred more twists and turns.

A writer's work has to take account of many rhythms. But it is also the rhythm of time that passes with no other aim than to let feelings and thoughts settle down, mature, and shed all impatience or ephemeral contingency.

Exactitude

For the ancient Egyptians, exactitude was symbolized by a feather that served as a weight on scales used for the weighing of souls. This light feather was called Maat, goddess of the scales. The hieroglyph for Maat also stood for a unit of length - the 33 centimeters of the standard brick - and for the fundamental note of the flute.

 To my mind exactitude means three things above all:
1) a well-defined and well-calculated plan for the work in question;
2) an evocation of clear, incisive, memorable visual images; 
3) a language as precise as possible both in choice of words and in expression of the subtleties of thought and imagination.

It seems to me that language is always used in random, approximate, careless manner, and this distresses me unbearable.

It sometimes seems to me that a pestilence has struck the human race in its most distinctive faculty - that is, the use of words. it is a plague afflicting language, revealing itself as a loss of cognition and immediacy, an automatism that tends to level out all expression into the most generic, anonymous, and abstract formulas, to dilute meaning, to blunt the edge of expressiveness, extinguishing the spark that shoots our from the collision of words and new circumstances.
 At this point, I don't wish to dwell on the possible sources of this epidemic, whether they are to be sought in politics, ideology, bureaucratic uniformity, the monotony of the mass media, or the way the schools dispense the culture of the mediocre. What interests me are the possibilities of health. Literature, and perhaps literature alone, can create the antibodies to fight this plague in language.
 I would like to add that it is not just language that seems to have been struck by this pestilence. Consider visual images, for example. We live in an unending rainfall of images. The most powerful media transform the world into images and multiply it by means of the phantasmagoric play of mirrors. These are images stripped of the inner inevitability that ought to mark every image as form and as meaning, as a claim on the attention and as a source of possible meanings. Much of this cloud of visual images fades at once, like the dreams that leave no trace in the memory, but what does not fade is a feeling of alienation and discomfort.
 But maybe this lack of substance is not to be found in images or in language alone, but in the world itself. This plague strikes also at the lives of people and the history of nations. It makes all histories formless, random, confused, with neither beginning nor end. My discomfort arises from the loss of form that I notice in life, which I try to oppose with the only weapon I can think of - an idea of literature.

I think we are always searching for something hidden or merely potential or hypothetical, following its traces whenever they appear on the surface. I think our basic mental processes have come down to us through every period of history, ever since the times of our Paleolithic forefathers, who were hunters and gatherers. The word connects the visible trace with the invisible thing, the absent thing, the thing that is desired or feared, like a frail emergency bride flung over an abyss.
 For this reason, the proper use of language, for me personally, is one that enables us to approach things (present or absent) with discretion, attention, and caution, with respect for what things (present or absent) communicate without words.

Visibility

There is a line in Dante (Purgatorio XVII.25) that reads: "Poi piovve dentro a l'alta fantasia" (Then rained down into the high fantasy . . .). I will start out ... with an assertion: fantasy is a place where it rains.

 Let us look at the context in which we find this line of the Purgatorio. We are in the circle of the Wrathful, and Dante is meditating on images that form directly in his mind, depicting classical and biblical examples of wrath chastised. He realizes that these images rain down from the heavens - that is, God sends them to him.
 In the various circles of Purgatory, besides the details of the landscape and the vault of the heavens, and in addition to his encounters with the souls of repentant sinners and with super-natural beings, Dante is presented with scenes that act as quotations or representations of examples of sins and virtues, at first as bas-reliefs that appear to move and to speak, then as visions projected before his eyes, then as voices reaching his ear, and finally as purely mental images. In a word, these visions turn progressively more inward, as if Dante realized that it is useless at every circle to invent a new form of metarepresentation, and that it is better to place the visions directly in the mind without making them pass through the senses.

It goes without saying that we are here concerned with "high fantasy": that is, with the loftier part of the imagination as distinct from the corporeal imagination, such as is revealed in the chaos of dreams.

Let us ... ask ourselves about the genesis of the imaginary at a time when literature no longer refers back to an authority or a tradition as its origin or goal, but aims at novelty, originality, and invention. It seems to me that in this situation the question of the priority of the visual image or verbal expression (which is rather like the problem of the chicken and the egg) tends definitely to lean toward the side of the visual imagination.
 Where do they come from, these images that rain down into the fantasy?

In short, it is a question of process...

In which of the two tendencies outlined by Starobinski would I place my own idea of the imagination (thought): [i]magination as an instrument of knowledge or as identification with the world soul?

I have yet to explain what part the indirect imaginary has in this gulf of the fantastic, by which I mean the images supplied by culture, whether this be mass culture or any other kind of tradition. This leads to another question: What will be the future of the individual imagination in what is usually called the "civilization of the image"? Will the power of evoking images of things that are not there continue to develop in a human race increasingly inundated by a flood of prefabricated images? At one time the visual memory of an individual was limited to the heritage of his direct experiences and to a restricted repertory of images reflected in culture. The possibility of giving form to personal myths arose form the way in which the fragments of this memory came together in unexpected and evocative combinations. We are bombarded today by such a quantity of images that we can no longer distinguish direct experience from what we have seen for a few seconds on television. The memory is littered with bits and pieces of images, like a rubbish dump, and it is more and more unlikely that any one form among so many will succeed in standing out.

If I have included visibility in my list of values to be saved, it is to give warning of the danger we run in losing a basic human faculty: the power of bringing visions into focus with our eyes shut, of bringing forth forms and colors from the lines of black letters on a white page, and in fact of thinking in terms of images. 

Will the literature of the fantastic be possible in the twenty-first century, with the growing inflation of prefabricated images? Two paths seem to be open from now on. (1) We could recycle used images in a new context that changes their meaning. Post-modernism may be seen as the tendency to make ironic use of the stock images of the mass media, or to inject the taste for the marvelous inherited from literary tradition into narrative mechanisms that accentuate its alienation. (2) We could wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. Samuel Beckett has obtained the most extraordinary results by reducing visual and linguistic elements to a minimum, as if in a world after the end of the world.

Still, all "realities" and "fantasies" can take on form only by means of writing, in which outwardness and innerness, the world and I, experience and fantasy, appear composed of the same verbal material. The polymorphic visions of the eyes and the spirit are contained in uniform lines of small or capital letters, periods, commas, parentheses - pages of signs, packed as closely together as grains of sand, representing the many-colored spectacle of the world on a surface that is always the same and always different, like dunes shifted by the desert wind.

Multiplicity

[H]uman knowledge accumulated over the centuries are the very qualities that were destined to be claimed for their own by the greatest writers of the twentieth century. But theirs I would tend to call an active skepticism, a kind of gambling and betting in a tireless effort to establish relationships between discourse, methods, and levels of meaning. Knowledge as multiplicity is the thread that binds together the major works both of what is called modernism and of what goes by the name of the postmodern, a thread - over and above all the labels attached to it - that I hope will continue into the next millennium.

Someone might object that the more the work tends toward the multiplication of possibilities, the further it departs from that unicum which is the self of the writer, his inner sincerity and the discovery of his own truth. But I would answer: Who are we, who is each one of us, if not a combinatoria of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined? Each life is an encyclopedia, a library, an inventory of objects, a series of styles, and everything can be constantly shuffled and reordered in every way conceivable.
 But perhaps the answer that stands closest to my heart is something else: Think what it would be to have a work conceived from outside the self, a work that would let us escape the limited perspective of the individual ego, not only to enter into selves like our own but to give speech to that which has no language, to the bird perching on the edge of the gutter, to the tree in spring and the tree in fall, to stone, to cement, to plastic . . . . .

-- Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium (excerpts)



 **************************************************************

Sep 3, 2016

On the dissidence of Leonhard Lapin (Tallinn Ten) | In search of missing pieces

The excerpts below are taken from the book Architecture and the Paradox of Dissidence, edited by Ines Weizman. They represent two types of architecture (if you will): 1) the mass-social housing and the public space/square/playground that surrounds it, and 2) the increasingly tall skyline of a city that aspires to become a consumer-centric metropolis for markets and tourists alike. The reason I'm posting both works (displayed at the Architectural Exhibition of 1978 in Tallinn) is because I find many similarities with the architectural discipline (well, undisciplined architecture) in Albania. I leave these works and words here, not for a comparison - but as a way to open up conversations about the state of architecture (or architecture of state), the socialist and post-socialist public structures, constructs, and the politics and aesthetics of power and powerlessness - and how they reside in and materialize through architecture and lived space.

Part 1. Dissidence through Architecture

The turning point in 1978. Architects of the Tallinn School and their late socialist public.
by Andres Kurg.

 Leonhard Lapin, “The City of the Living-The City of the Dead”, 1978.  

Lapin’s ‘The City of the Living-The City of the Dead’, ironically commented on the monofunctional housing districts where public areas were usually left unfinished after the apartment blocks had been put up. The project placed a cemetery in one of these empty public courtyards of the micro-districts of panel houses, which usually served as car parks or areas for dog-walking. Here, however, garages became tombs, and bodies were buried in cars. The area was also meant to function as a children’s playground - in this way, as one exhibition review mockingly put it, people would take better care of the area and parents would not allow their children to vandalise its equipment (Unt,1978). The drawing, which was inspired by suprematist aesthetics and based on a view from a window in Lapin’s own home, included several direct and indirect allusions to representatives of the architectural elite … who had been in charge of all three of Tallinn’s mass-housing projects. There was also a common grave for for the Architects’ Union, and a constructivist gravestone that marked the ‘future’ resting places of Lapin himself and his then-wife, the artist Sirje Runge.

Leonhard Lapin, “New Skyline of Tallinn”, 1978.

Lapin’s other work in the exhibition was a simultaneously ironic but perhaps also utopian proposal for a ‘New Skyline of Tallinn’, which staged the city as the ‘New York of Estonia’, with several inserted skyscrapers that recalled Malevich’s ‘architektons’. What, from today’s viewpoint resembles a prophecy of the city’s future (following the collapse of the Soviet Union, new high rises of hotels and banks were constructed all across Tallinn, some of them designed by the former members of the Tallinn School) was, for the period, an ironic remark on the growing fascination with consumer products and the practice of staging the city for tourists. At the same time it demonstrated a desire for further city growth - a future Tallinn similar to the large metropolitan centres with structures for international commerce and leisure rather than a province dependent on the directives received from Moscow.

*******************************************************
 

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. 
*********************************************