Jun 26, 2018

The Empty Box | Excerpts on theater

I have decided to share with you a few excerpts from Peter Brook's book, The Empty Space, because I think it is crucial that we not only engage with the current conversations and activist movements surrounding the proposed demolition of the National Theater in Albania, but that we multiply the momentum of their resistance, the energy of this public force, by taking it even further - from performance to knowledge - to expand our understanding of theater, which is one of the 'other' creative disciplines that has been pushed aside during the country's economic and ideological transition in favor of the more marketable contemporary arts. To do so, many questions need to be asked and a rigorous historiography should be researched - if it hasn't been done already. It is high time we stop consuming information and start cultivating knowledge (e.g. situated, open source, etc). 

The text below is taken from two of the four Theaters of the book: Deadly, Holy, Rough, Immediate, which was published in 1968. As it is posted here out of context and 50 years after it was written, I would recommend you read the book yourselves, in order to draw your own conclusions. 

"Karvani vigan i kulturës ecën përpara duke mbartur gjurmët e çdo artisti drejt një grumbulli me mbeturina që sa vjen e rritet. Teatrot, aktorët, kritikët dhe publiku janë ndërthurur në një mekanizëm që kriset, por kurrë nuk ndalet.
Teatri ka nevojë për një revolucion të përhershëm." 

The Deadly Theater

I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theater to be engaged. Yet when we talk about theater this is not quite what we mean. Red curtains, spotlights, blank verse, laughter, darkness, these are all confusedly superimposed in a messy image covered by one all-purpose word.
All through the world theater audiences are dwindling. There are occasional new movements, good new writers and so on, but as a whole, the theater not only fails to elevate or instruct, it hardly even entertains. The theater has often been called a whore, meaning its art impure, but today this is true in another sense - whores take the money and then go short on the pleasure. [...] In fact, were the public ever really to demand the true entertainment it talks about so often, we would almost all be hard put to know where to begin.
Anyone who watches the real successes as they appear each year, will see a very curious phenomenon. We expect the so-called hit to be livelier, faster, brighter than the flop - but this is not always the case. Almost every season in most theater-loving towns, there is one great success that defies these rules; one play that succeeds not despite but because of dullness. After all, one associates culture with a certain sense of duty, historical costumes and long speeches with the sensation of being bored: so, conversely, just the right degree of boringness is a reassuring guarantee of a worthwhile event. Of course, the dosage is so subtle that it is impossible to establish the exact formula - too much and the audience is driven out of their seats, too little and it may find the theme too disagreeably intense. However, mediocre authors seem to feel their way unerringly to the perfect mixture - and they perpetuate the Deadly Theater with dull successes, universally praised. Audiences crave for something in the theater that they can term ‘better’ than life and for this reason are open to confuse culture, or the trappings of culture, with something they do not know, but sense obscurely could exist - so, tragically, in elevating something bad into a success they are only cheating themselves.
Again with Shakespeare we hear or read the same advice - ‘Play what is written’. But what is written? Certain ciphers on paper. Shakespeare’s words are records of the words that he wanted to be spoken, words issuing as sounds from people’s mouths, with pitch, pause, rhythm and gesture as part of their meaning. A word does not start as a word - it is an end product which begins as an impulse, stimulated by attitude and behavior which dictate the need for expression. This process occurs inside the dramatist; it is repeated inside the actor. Both many only be conscious of the words, but both for the author and then for the actor the word is a small visible portion of a gigantic unseen formation.
It is vain to pretend that the words we apply to classical plays like ‘musical’, ‘poetic’, ‘larger than life’, ‘noble’, ‘heroic’, ‘romantic’, have any absolute meaning. They are the reflections of a critical attitude of a particular period, and to attempt to build a performance today to conform to these canons is the most certain road to deadly theater - deadly theater of a respectability that makes it pass as living truth.
The opposing words ‘literary’ and ‘theatrical’ have many meanings, . . ., they all too often describe ways of warding off contact with disturbing themes.
‘Reality’ is a word with many meanings, but here it is understood to be that slice of the real that reflected the people and the problems around the actor, and it coincided with the slices of existence that the writers of the day, Miller, Tennessee Williams, Inge, were trying to define. In much the same way Stanislavsky’s theater drew its strength from the fact that it corresponded to the needs of the best Russian classics, all of which were cast in a naturalistic form. For a number of years in Russia, the school, the public and the play had made a coherent whole. Then Meyerhold challenged Stanislavsky, proposing a different style of playing, in order to capture other elements of ‘reality’.
All this brings us back to the same problem. The word theater has many sloppy meanings. In most of the world, the theater has no exact place in society, no clear purpose, it only exists in fragments: one theater chases money, another chases glory, another chases emotion, another chases politics, another chases fun. The actor is bundled from pillar to post - confused and consumed by conditions outside his control. Actors may sometimes seem jealous or trivial, yet I have never known an actor who did not want to work. This wish to work is his strength. It is what enables professionals everywhere to understand each other. But he cannot reform his profession alone. In a theater with few schools and no aims, he is usually the tool, not the instrument. Yet when the theater does come back to the actor, the problem is still not solved. On the contrary, deadly acting becomes the heart of the crisis.
When we say deadly, we never mean dead: we mean something depressingly active, but for this very reason capable of change. The first step towards this change is facing the simple unattractive fact that most of what is called theater anywhere in the world is a travesty of a word once full of sense. War or peace, the colossal bandwagon of culture trundles on, carrying each artist’s traces to the ever-mounting garbage heap. Theaters, actors, critics and public are interlocked in a machine that creaks, but never stops. There is always a new season in hand and we are too busy to ask the only vital question which measures the whole structure. Why theater at all? What for? Is it an anachronism, a superannuated oddity, surviving like an old monument or a quaint custom? Why do we applaud, and what? Has the stage a real place in our lives? What function can it have? What could it serve? What could it explore? What are its special properties?

The Rough Theater (or Informal)

It is always the popular theater that saves the day. Through the ages it has taken many forms, and there is only one factor that they all have in common - a roughness. Salt, sweat, noise, smell: the theater that’s not in a theater, the theater on carts, on wagons, on trestles, audiences standing, drinking, sitting round tables, audiences joining in, answering back: theater in back rooms, upstairs rooms, barns; the one-night stands, the torn sheet pinned up across the hall, the battered screen to conceal the quick changes - that one generic term, theater, covers all this and the sparkling chandeliers too. I have had many abortive discussions with architects building new theaters - trying vainly to find words with which to communicate my own conviction that it is not a question of good buildings and bad: a beautiful place may never bring about explosion of life; while a haphazard hall may be a tremendous meeting place: this is the mystery of the theater, but in the understanding of this mystery lies the only possibility of ordering it into a science. In other forms of architecture there is a relationship between conscious, articulate design and good functioning: a well-designed hospital may be more efficacious than a higgledy-piggledy one; but as for theaters, the problem of design cannot start logically. It is not a matter of saying analytically what are the requirements, how best they can be organized - this will usually bring into existence a tame, conventional, often cold hall. The science of theater-building must come from studying what it is that brings about the most vivid relationship between people - and is this best served by asymmetry, even by disorder? If so, what can be the rule of this disorder? An architect is better off if he works like a scene designer, moving scraps of cardboard by intuition, than if he builds his model from a plan, prepared with compass and ruler. [...] At the beginning of electronic music, some German studios claimed that they could make every sound that a natural instrument could make - only better. They then discovered that all their sounds were marked by a certain uniform sterility. So they analyzed the sounds made by clarinets, flutes, violins, and found that each note contained a remarkably high proportion of plain noise: actual scraping, or the mixture of heavy breathing with wind on wood: from a purist point of view this was just dirt, but the composers soon found themselves compelled to make synthetic dirt - to ‘humanize’ their compositions. Architects remain blind to this principle - and era after era the most vital theatrical experiences occur outside the legitimate places constructed for the purpose. [...] The Rough Theater is close to the people: it may be a puppet theater, it may - as in Greek villages to this day - be a shadow show: it is usually distinguished by the absence of what is called style. Style needs leisure: putting over something in rough conditions is like a revolution, for anything that comes to hand can be turned into a weapon. The Rough Theater doesn’t pick and choose: if the audience is restive, then it is obviously more important to holler at the troublemakers - or improvise a gag - than to try to preserve the unity of style of the scene. In the luxury of the high-class theater, everything can be all of a piece: in a rough theater a bucket will be banged for a battle, flour used to show faces white with fear. The arsenal is limitless: the aside, the placard, the topical reference, the local jokes, the exploiting of accidents, the songs, the dances, the tempo, the noise, the relying on contrasts, the shorthand of exaggeration, the false noses, the stock types, the stuffed bellies. The popular theater, freed of unity of style, actually speaks a very sophisticated and stylish language: a popular audience usually has no difficulty in accepting inconsistencies of accent and dress, or in darting between mime and dialogue, realism and suggestion. They follow the line of the story, unaware in fact that somewhere there is a set of standards which are being broken.
Of course, it is most of all dirt that gives the roughness its edge; filth and vulgarity are natural, obscenity is joyous: with these the spectacle takes on its socially liberating role, for by nature the popular theater is anti-authoritarian, anti-traditional, anti-pomp, anti-pretense. This is the theater of noise, and the theater of noise is the theater of applause.

Think of those two awful masks that glower at us from so many books on theater - in ancient Greece we are told these masks represented two equal elements, tragedy and comedy. At least, they are always shown as equal partners. Since then, though, the ‘legitimate’ theater has been considered the important one while the Rough Theater has been thought less serious. But every attempt to revitalize the theater has gone back to the popular source. Meyerhold had the highest aims, he sought to present all of life on the stage, his revered master was Stanislavsky, his friend was Chekhov; but in fact it was to the circus and the music hall that he turned. Brecht was rooted in the cabaret: Joan Littlewood longs for a fun-fair: Cocteau, Artaud, Vakhtangov, the most improbable bedfellows, all these highbrows return to the people: and Total Theater is just a mix-up of these ingredients. All the time, experimental theater comes out of the theater buildings and returns to the room or the ring.

The Rough Theater has apparently no style, no conventions, no limitations - in practice, it has all three. Just as in life the wearing of old clothes can start as defiance and turn into a posture, so roughness can become an end in itself. [...] The Rough Theater deals with men’s actions, and because it is down to earth and direct - because it admits wickedness and laughter - the rough and ready seems better than the hollowly holy.

It is impossible to consider this further without stopping to look at the implications of the strongest, most influential and the most radical theater man of our time, Brecht. No one seriously concerned with the theater can bypass Brecht. Brecht is the key figure of our time, and all theater work today at some point starts and returns to his statement and achievement. [...] He began working at a time when most German stages were dominated either by naturalism or by great total-theater onslaughts of an operatic nature designed to sweep up the spectator by his emotions so that he forgot himself completely. Whatever life there was on-stage was offset by the passivity it demanded of the audience.

For Brecht, a necessary theater could never for one moment take its sights off the society it was serving. There was no fourth wall between actors and audience - the actor’s unique aim was to create a precise response in an audience for whom he had total respect.
All this stems from a strict sense of purpose. Brecht believed that, in making an audience take stock of the elements in a situation, the theater was serving the purpose of leading its audience to a juster understanding of the society in which it lived, and so to learning in what ways that society was capable of change.
No actor can play a cipher: however stylized or schematic the writing, the actor must always believe to some degree in the stage life of the odd animal he represents. But nonetheless an actor can play in a thousand ways, and playing a portrait is not the only alternative. What Brecht introduced was the idea of the intelligent actor, capable of judging the value of his contribution. There were and still are many actors who pride themselves on known nothing about politics and who treat the theater as an ivory tower. For Brecht such an actor is not worthy of his place in adult company: an actor in a community that supports a theater must be as much involved in the outside world as in his own craft.
It is not as though the period of necessary debunking were now over. On the contrary, all through the world in order to save the theater almost everything of the theater still has to be swept away. The process has hardly begun, and perhaps can never end. The theater needs its perpetual revolution.

* * *
In everyday life, ‘if’ is a fiction, in the theater ‘if’ is an experiment.
In everyday life, ‘if’ is an evasion, in the theater ‘if’ is the truth.
When we are persuaded to believe in this truth, then the theater and life are one.
This is a high aim. It sounds like hard work.
To play needs much work. But when we experience the work as play, then it is not work any more.
A play is play.


Jun 20, 2018

Undigested Thoughts | In search of missing theater(s)

Lëvizja e aktivistëve për teatrin (#mbroteatrin) duhet kuptuar jo vetëm si mbrojtje e trashëgimisë historike nëpërmjet arkitekturës së një ndërtese, por vetë teatrit si organizëm dhe akt(ivizim) kolektiv, si një arkitekturë (art+tekton) që ushqen, zhvillon dhe shpreh jo vetëm lirinë e fjalës po atë të mendjes së individit (të menduarit), kulturës shoqërore (të sjellurit) dhe ndërgjegjes historike (të kujtesës kolektive), pra një arkitekurë që mundëson jo vetëm publikun por dhe (materializon) hapësirën e tij.

Duke u mbajtur jashtë ndërtesës së teatrit, në oborrin e tij, kjo lëvizje mundëson dhe materializon atë hapësirë publike që e kërkojmë kudo, jo vetëm jashtë në qytet por edhe brenda në institucionet e tij. E zhvendos spektaklin e këtyre institucioneve në rrugë (dhe me këtë veprim nxjerr në pah vetë hierarkinë (jo)publike «teatër-bashki-kryeministri-privat»). Eshtë një aktivizëm që "shfuqizon skenën dhe auditorin duke i zëvendësuar ato me një hapësirë të vetme, pa asnjë lloj ndarje apo pengese, duke u kthyer kështu në një teatër veprimi. Eshtë një akt që rivendos komunikimin e drejtpërdrejtë midis spektatorit dhe spektaklit, aktorit dhe spektatorit, duke e vënë spektatorin, pra publikun, në qendër të vëmendjes, veprimit dhe hapësirës që ta ndjejë fizikisht dhe të preket direkt nga ai”. (Artaud)

Atëherë mund të themi se kjo levizje aktiviste përbën një ‘minor’ arkitekturë, vanguard-izmi i së cilës nuk qëndron tek efekti shokues (sic mund të them psh për disa ‘top-down’ ‘fake-avant-garde’ ‘arte bosh’) por boshti i tij është vetë fakti që vë në dyshim dhe shtron pyetje mbi legjitimitetin e shumë gjërave që bëhen në emër te tij, të publikut. Pra është (dhe duhet të jetë) një përgjigje përtej reaksionit dhe indinjimit fillestar. Edhe pse asimetrike në formë apo fuqi duhet të jetë propocionale në veprim.

Lëvizja mund të kuptohet si një ndërgjegjësi dhe pergjegjësi shoqvrore që edhe pse e di margjinalitetin e saj vazhdon ta mbajë qëndrimin/pozicionin e vet, nuk pretendon për hegjemoni, e kupton domosdoshmërinë e formave të qeveritjes dhe ligjeve demokratike, ashtu si dhe praninë e forcave politike (pluralizmin) – pra, si një praktikë kritike-kreative, ky aktivizëm është (mund, dhe duhet të jetë) ‘creatively parasitic’ dhe ‘insistently oppositional’ që “kërkon (apo të paktën shpreson) të arrijë një sintezë të rigorozit politik (political rigor) dhe lirisë estetike (aesthetic freedom) duke rritur ndërgjegjen historike të publikut pa e intimiduar atë apo duke perdorur thjesht retorikë”. (Barthes/Brecht)

Një ide për #ejanëteatër? Leximi, recitimi, interpretimi i dhe dialogu midis ligjit, projektligjit, dhe procedurave ligjore si vetë karakterë të ketij konflikti, ku publiku i komunikon këto tekste ashtu siç i kupton . . . dmth duke nxjerrë në pah mangësite apo trillimet e tyre, dhe duke i shprehur e materializuar nëpërmjet gjesteve individuale që manifestojne një polifoni qëndrimesh dhe fuqish. Në këtë mënyrë, ai publik që është pothuajse gjithmonë një spektator, të vijë (në skenën publike, ashtu sic e ka të drejtën e tij) dhe të vihet në qendër të spektaklit që e rrethon.

Siç thotë dhe Brecht-i: Ky akt duhet të luhet si një pjesë (copëza) historie, dhe spektatorit ti jepet shansi të vihet në një pozicion ku mund të krahasojë dhe të kritikojë influencat e ndryshme që e bëjnë atë, dhe shoqërinë në të cilin ai jeton, të sillet në një mënyre apo tjetrën. Nga ana astetike, kjo do të thotë se gjesti shoqëror i kujtdo që del në skenë, aktorit apo dhe spektatorit, mbart një rëndësi të veçantë. Artet duhet të fillojnë ti kushtojnë më rëndësi gjestit, gjestit me rëndësi shoqërore, jo atij ilustrues apo ekspresiv. Parimi i gjestit, në këtë rast, zëvëndëson atë të imitimit. [...] Kur përmbajtja e aktit kthehet, teknikisht, në një pjesë (komponent) të pavarur, ndaj së cilës teksti, muzika dhe skena 'përvetësojnë qëndrimet' e tyre; pasi iluzioni që kërkon ti shfaqë publikut sakrifikohet për një diskutim të lirë me të, dhe spektatori, në vend që të përjetojë një eksperiencë ndryshe, detyrohet të marrë pjesë aktive ashtu sikur të ishte tek kutitë e votimit; atëherë mund të themi se ndryshimi ka nisur dhe po ndodh përtej çështjeve formale, dhe për herë të parë po fillon të prek/ndikojë rolin/funksionin shoqëror (social) të teatrit.


Mar 13, 2018

Hidden Cities & Walls of Language (excerpts)

No More Masterpieces - A.Artaud

This may begin to delineate a line of scrimmage between making architectural objects and writing architectonic texts. - J.Bloomer

The problems arising through a misinterpretation of our forms of language have the character of depth. They are deep disquietudes; their roots are as deep in us as the forms of our language and their significance is as great as the importance of our language. - Wittgenstein

Does the visual image destroy the walls of language? The true significance of visual images must be rethought after thoroughly examining the thickness of the walls of language. - Abe Kobo

© PERfACTs "The ACTIVATION of the Traditional Games (Lojëra Popullore)"

** The text below is from William H. Gass's essay Invisible Cities, in his book Tests of Time, p. 37-68. The reading emphasis is mine. I have selected these excerpts (sometimes out of the original context) as a tool to make sense of Tirana now, to question the [in]visible gestures and mediated narratives found in the city. My main concern here is 'the scrimmage' between making and writing architecture (architectural forms / forms of our language) - and how we can 'activate' the line of demarcation between what is intrinsic and extrinsic to one and the other.

(Granted, W.H.Gass has written this book with Calvino's work in mind (and what it might teach us about the modern city), but some of the points he brings up cannot be ignored in today's neoliberal Albania. Thus, my interest in posting it. I recommend you read the original essay to draw your own conclusions.)

© PERfACTs "Theaters quietly unseat themselves and perform their plays outdoors." 

Think of the word polis – “city” – itself: a word which will be young still when every other city is a midden or in unsieved dust. It is the wretchedness of this truth, it is the injustice of any one word’s overweening reality which has made this truth so invisible.

Imprisoned by either walls or words, it is all the more important to try: to dream beyond the bricks; beyond the outer courtyard with its watchtowers, guards, guns; beyond the words which screen us from the world, beyond our own aims, fears, normally trivial aches and pains, which we nevertheless enlarge and objectify as bruises in hillsides, as knocks in walls, as cuts through mountains, as the leveling of plains.

Cities can be cleansed even of themselves when they do not understand the true nature of their inhabitants...

Scheherazade, staving off death with her stories, must borrow or invent...

[T]he camps of catastrophe, cities of sewers and open wounds... scalded by their atmosphere, whose admired autumnal sunsets are caused by clouds of foetid gas; cities where growths of garbage define the parks, and every alley is intestinal; the cities we can only forget, it seems, by repeating them, by reproducing… reinvesting, rebuilding, reinhabiting… by reenacting their several and similar hells, not smoothly and professionally, but stupidly and clumsily...

We have fables Aesop might have managed, not by imagining animals but by imagining cities.

From our journeys, we may return with other wares, but that won’t matter, for what will render them significant will be their placement on the pavement, the flights of influence they suggest, the orders they elicit from the eye … returning, not with these images alone, but with the wonder of their relationships. 

The chessboard is also the grid of every great city. It is only incidentally a set of paths, for these paths are principally corridors of power, influence, force.

What we frequently fail to understand is that the city is not an assemblage of buildings streaked by highways and streets; it is a subtle pattern of powers, like the board.

At times he thought he was on the verge of discovering a coherent, harmonious system underlying the infinite deformities and discords, but no model could stand up to the comparison with the game of chess.
[B]eneath the pieces the board is bare, the stones of all his cities’ buildings dissolve in the lines which bound them, and these run pointlessly – invisibly – off into space… On that slick ivory surface, on the fired clay, in that open square of wood which is at once a piece of playing field and a square of the city, what can one further see? the footprint of a pavement? perhaps a taut and angry fiber? the glaze of a dreaming eye? logs lazily adrift in a slow-moving river? a woman peering from an upstairs window? Every object is itself a cell which would contain us, yet every end has its outlet as well; and as we pass through a cave’s yawn to the hollow of a hollow tree, from that hollow to an open door or window, we cross one threshold to achieve yet another, even more wondrous, wider world.

When the concept of the city, with its concrete streets and concrete towers, has been replaced by that of the game, with its architectural grid and gun range, its system of implicit threats, its irregular spheres of influence; and when that game, furthermore, has been, in its interest, exhausted; then the materials of the contest, its dinky tools, the ivory itself, its fingered skin, the shape of the cross on the king’s crown, are entreated for results. A pillar becomes a tree, a tree a totem.

Let me recapitulate our progress. It is a pattern to be found in all the arts. We begin our pursuit of the city by examining the particular, the things that cities are made of – squares, streets, buildings, bridges, people, parks – allowing the least leaf to be engraved upon our faces as though it has been long pressed there. We endeavor to give to the shallowest saucer great depth, but we do so through the intensity of our attention, by dwelling on the small bob of its basin, the thin rule of gold around its rim, the cup which will squat there when the tea is finally ready. We collect facts. We describe things as we believe they really are. Not only our streets, but our lanes, our halls and closets, are named in this realm of reference, this freeway of denotation. The procedure will give us one sort of city: a city of idle odors and random sounds, a city of character, of what is popularly called “place.” Our city will have a personality, for we shall have rendered the gestures of its spirit, the way in which it resembles a young girl, a lecherous uncle, an old maid. Our city will be a richly human body made of countless bones. Many a corner will strike us like an elbow. Many a path will wear like a hole through our shoe. Many a brick will stiffen at our touch. The light will fall irregularly throughout the city, palely in this place, brightly in another, after the manner of our understanding.

Not content with this, we soon seek – in the playing fountain, the shaded courtyard, the kneeling man, the fan, in the look that leaps like a tree through the stone pavement – a pattern of powers, of influence and agitation; and like the Great Khan we withdraw toward the game, although it is still people we see moving about like pawns, and not yet pawns we see moving about like people. This method will give us still another sort of city, a city in which system is beginning to be born, in which terms are beginning to be replaced by relations, in which roles are beginning to define their representatives, and not the reverse.

The signifier has swallowed the signified, although you may still observe it as a swell in the stomach, like a bulge beneath the bedclothes of a bereaved and sleeping body.

What has really happened to us?

We have begun to listen to the sound of our own words, not merely to their meanings; we have begun to circle their shapes like a walk around a town; we have turned to the representatives of thought for sustenance, not to the thoughts themselves, or to the things those thoughts were presumably about; for just as trees are bark and leaves and light, and the forest is trees and leaflight too, so the city is made of millions of small forms and fine textures, of the very near and the quite far, and like the wilderness may have its own mountains, depending on place and point of views, tiredness and timing.

A city is a wall for words, misunderstood or simply imitated in spray paint; but it is a house for houses too, and so should have its doors and sudden windows, its stairs and stories, its halls and dining rooms and dens. We have explored our chosen city through dreams of its streets and derelict alleys, its suspension bridges and bridle paths. Now we remain with the mute sign itself. The map of the city is the city.

Shortly new words will begin to be heard in the sounds which old words make, as for instance in “swoon,” which I understand, now that I speak it clearly and listen with a pure ear, is not the languid faint I formerly feared, but the casual and quiet glide path of a paper airplane.

Not only are there cities which belong to the past, and are now invisible for that reason; but there are cities of the present whose existence is quite evident to any traveler with eyes alert and curious, but which are hidden to the inhabitants, who no longer need to experience their postboxes, their scented trees, in order to allow their dogs to piss against them on their twice-daily walks. A neighborhood may be missed entirely by a preoccupied visitor. I certainly do not notice now the soles of my feet, my weight, my restless or resentful ears, opposing opinions. … Great stretches of so many cities are indistinguishable, and even when we peer at them, they are simply stretches, highways which have thrown out little asphalt lots along them like oozes of rust on a pipe. Amid so much tastelessness, it takes a pretty tasteless gesture to create a locale.

But when are cities invisible because they have no identity, and when is it because of our indifference, our bemused eye?

Our cities are like seas, and it is not uncommon to see one building seize and swallow another like a shark.

All future cities are invisible as a matter of course.

To illuminate the landing of a stairway, panels of stained glass foresee the development of the city. Which are the true forms and which the false? We can ask this question even when we believe we know which is the solid city and which the reflection.

I live, myself, in a city of defeated expectations, a city of inept lies.

When will shopping centers become warehouses if warehouses are already galleries, ateliers, or rifle museums? Theaters quietly unseat themselves and perform their plays outdoors.

But the falsehoods began when the first earth was moved.

Not every building remarries readily.

There are timeless cities, not because they seem eternal, but because everything about them is the same age, like the nose, ears, chin of a face.

[Invisible Cities is a book about still another book, Dante’s Inferno, composed as nearby to The Travels of Marco Polo. The nine sections of Calvino’s text resemble the nine circles of Hell through which Virgil escorts Dante, although Marco Polo carries the khan with him largely by turns of the wheel of the word. There is a definite, not to say plummetous, descent from the first part, which opens with “Cities and Memory,” to the final one, which begins with “Cities of the Dead,” after which we fall more precipitously toward those cities which are said to be “hidden.” In Calvino though, we meet cities on our journey, not Dante’s miserable men.] 

Below that point we found a painted people,
who moved about with lagging steps, in circles,
weeping, with features tired and defeated.
And they were dressed in cloaks with cowls so low
they fell before their eyes, of that same cut
that’s used to make the clothes for Cluny’s monks.
Outside, these cloaks were gilded and they dazzled;
but inside they were all of lead, so heavy
that Frederick’s capes were straw compared to them.
A tiring mantle for eternity!
[Inferno, canto XXIII, 11, 58-67]
The technique of this magical and fabulous fiction concerns the recognition of the Real, which is its insistent subject. … Reality does not consist of things, their collections, or their shallow denominations. Reality is not a set of simple situations, nor is it one shade of anything. It is not even a single system of relations – invisible as they all are. The experience of the city exceeds our experience of Proust. A great city’s life lies in the details, in the details as they fulfill a whole. Consider what a little grass does to a set of steps, and then multiply… multiply…. Consider what a crack of light does to the dungeon, and multiply for freedom and for sky. Consider the multiplication not only of niceties but of vulgarities as well: signs, poles, wires, trash, broken glass, peeling paint, rotting boards. And multiply… multiply….

Isn’t that what happens to the elements of a successful city: they satisfy our needs, allow our lusts, remind us of our past, inhabit our future, encourage our reveries? What is a text but a community of words?

We have seen cities clothed in colored tiles, courtyards composed of images and ancient scripts and antique statuary, streets lined with streams, lined with inclining tables and dissipated awnings… A single building can sometimes overpower an entire city and, become more than an emblem, more than a feat to be admired: a conscience to be obeyed. [The cities] the text takes us through, including those that disappeared ahead of history and before we reached the title page; governmental cities too, capitals with a capital C, and those which will be paraded by our absent or our sleeping eye as the text turns silently inside itself, thinking like a drill bit does, bringing more aspects to inner view … continuously, invisibly.

“The catalogue of forms is endless: until every shape has found its city, new cities will continue to be born.” Yet cities come to an end when they lose their boundaries, when neighborhoods, districts, regions flow together with the sameness of a flooding river, masses of indistinctly different men covering the country.

[Lastly] the unjust city, a meat grinder… Here, hidden, the just recognize one another by their manner of speech … Here, however, within the very virtues of the just and their secret city, lies the sense of their superiority like the celebrated canker in the rose. To realize that your righteousness deprives you of the pleasure and privileges the unjust enjoy drives you to despise justice and resent your own virtue. By means of this grim dialectic another unjust city, hidden beneath the hidden, begins to grow, a cancer called “just cause.”

In the unjust city – our cultureless world – the just – the cultured – recognize one another as citizens of the same secret city, but their very isolation and the protections of superiority they must adopt to survive encourage a bitter hubris, which costs them the esteem they have fancied was their fitting reward.

Notice how the same lesson lay unlearned in this city...


Mar 10, 2018

myth (un)making | An excerpt on (mis)appropriation of Skanderbeg

Today, I would like to share an excerpt from Ardian Klosi's book Te Kundërcjapi, as a way of reflecting on the events that are being held in honor of Skanderbeg both in Albania and abroad - more specifically to engage those discussions that are celebrating the 500th anniversary of his death - and furthermore, to probe a "disquieting depth", a provocation on the significance and burden of transcendence; from a life lived as a man and fighter, to a (fictitious, but not meaningless) revival as symbol, myth, our national hero. Granted, this post is not meant to unpack all of these hopes - only to scratch an itch, as it were, about the misuse, misinterpretations, and misappropriations that are and have been thrown around for quite some time in regards to the language used (first and foremost), historical facts and cultural heritage, 'revolutionary' criticality (read: (in)action), and so on.

I am making my way through this book a lot slower than I anticipated, but I did choose this specific piece for two reasons: 1) to give you a glimpse of what inspired yesterday's post (and the undigested thoughts behind it); and 2) to put the resistance fighter in a different context - that of the author - that of the dissident. I know this might be quite a reach on my part (or maybe not) because (way too often) Skanderbeg has been appropriated in mythical terms (at least from what I've read), and not as a figure of dissent (such as Klosi), one that critically unravels (in) the shadows of mainstream history. This is a juxtaposition that I'd like to look at further (and am just now beginning to research), or at least be able to start a conversation with those that know more than I do about seeing Skanderbeg in this light, and moreover to acquire a comprehensive knowledge (archive/mapping) of Albanian dissidents. Those of you that would like to share, please do reach out!

The Verso Book of Dissent: Revolutionary Words from Three Millennia of Rebellion and Resistance, an anthology of dissenting voices.

Lastly, I should add that any inquiry into what we might consider role models (in my case the 'anti-spectacle' or the critical specter of the dissident) can be approached simply, with the question of how do we do justice to such people who have struggled against those in power - the dissidents who raised their voices in protest and dedicated their lives (through fighting or writing) to dismantle the normative oppressions that have haunted and persecuted us for so long; still.

**Excerpt in Albanian

Po na e marrin, Te Kundërcjapi, Ardian Klosi

     Po na e marrin Kastriotin. Janë ngritur ca njerëz të ligj, xhelozë, regresivë, antishqiptarë dhe po na e marrin. Po ku do ta shpien? Nuk dihet, a do t'ia çojnë fqinjëve veriorë, jugorë, a kishës katolike, a asaj ortodokse, s'është e sigurt, e sigurt është vetëm që nuk duan të na e lënë. Thonë edhe sikur do t'ua lënë në dorë disa historianëve si Hopf, Hahn, Shuflai, Pall, Babinger, Marinescu, Valentini, Schmitt, njerëz që vetëm arkivat njohin dhe fyejnë ndjenjat e një populli të vogël. Uh uh uh.
     Po na e marrin Skënderbeun. Për herë të dytë, pasi e morën osmanët një herë, ia shqyen varrë, i shpërndanë eshtrat mes tyre dhe s'i lanë gjurmë në këtë vend, tani kanë dalë ca mendjembrapshtë që do t'ia heqin Gjergjjit kurorën nga koka e skeptrin nga dora dhe do të na e lënë historinë e mesjetës pa mbret. Oi oi!
     Duan të thonë se s'ngriti flamurin e kombit në Krujë e në Lezhë, po flamurin e Bizantit dhe të kryqit. Po shpifin se qenkësh nga familje ortodokse, sikur gjoja i ati paska blatuar në mal të Atosit Kullën e Arbrit, sikur i vëllai Reposhi qenkësh dorëzuar kallogjer, po thonë se paska patur nënë sllave, se kishte kunetër, baxhanakë e nuse jo vetëm prej gjaku të pastër shqiptar, por edhe serbë, malazezë, bizantinë. Upupu që një mortje i ngrëntë, e haram u qoftë qumështi shqiptar i nënës! E pasi ia hoqën kurorën, i hoqën dhe Mbretërinë e Shqipërisë, që shtrihej, siç e kemi në librat e shkollave 50 vjet e këtej, nga Përmeti në Vermosh, nga Peja në Karavasta, po duan ta ngushtojnë në Dibër, Mat e Krujë; i hoqën qeverinë, i hoqën ministritë, Kuvendin dhe shërbiment e fshehta, i hoqën Ushtrinë Çlirimtare të Arbërisë dhe e lanë me një kalori të lehtë prej 3000 a 4000 burrash. Nc nc nc! E pasi nuk e lanë sulltan Muratin të vdiste nga marazi poshtë mureve të Krujës, po shumë më vonë në një tavernë të Azisë së vogël, e vunë Kastriotin t'i jepte Alfonsit V të Napolit betimin e vasalit dhe çelësat e Krujës po atë vit, më 1451. Po e bëjnë Skënderbeun me zotër feudalë, me aleatë e mbështetës, po duan të thonë sikur ka marrë rregullisht rroga nga Venediku, ushtarë nga Napoli, dukate me mijëra nga papët, kur ai ishte i vetëm, për 25 vjet mbi kështjellën e tij arbërore, që u ngrit në anë të Adriatikut dhe u bëri ballë gjithë stuhive, nga Lindja dhe nga Perëndimi, njësoj si ajo kështjella tjetër, 500 vjet më vonë...
     Dhe thonë se nuk e paska penguar vërshimin osman mbi Europë, sikur gjoja në të njëjtën kohë Mehmeti II Pushtues paska marrë Konstantinopojën, Bosnjen, Serbinë, Vllahinë, Peloponezin e gjithë Greqinë. Turp, turp, turp!
     Po rrëzojne Historinë e Nolit, që shkriu një jetë për Gjerqin e tij, edhe pse nuk e pa mirë derëziu që po mbështetej mbi një histori kallpe, mbi të ashtuquajturin Antivarinin; e sado i thoshin dijetarë të tjerë se është një prift mashtrues i shekullit 18 e mos i beso, imzoti ynë zemërbardhë s'lëkundej nga e tija, se donte ta mësonin vogëlushët historine siç e donte e mira e kombit e jo siç thoshin dokumentet e armiqve.
     Ububu, ububu! E vunë të zihej me fisnikët e tjerë shqiptarë, njërit t'i merrte tokat, tjetrit kështjellat, të tretin ta ndante nga gruaja, të tjerë t'i hidhte në birucat e Napolit, e lanë të grihej gjithë jetën me Dukagjinët, kur ne e dinim se të gjithë i qenë nënshtruar dhe e njihnin për mbret. Popopo! Po sa shumë tradhtarë, po sa shumë besëqena ngrinin armët kundër tij! Na dilka se e luftonin vazhdimisht shqiptarë, jo po Jakub Muzaka, jo po Izir beu, jo po Ferid beu, jo po Ballaban pasha. Si, ngriheshin komandantë shqiptarë dhe u binin zotërve shqiptarë?!! Luftonin shqiptarë me shqiptarë? Një palë për kryqin e të tjerët për gjysmëhënën?! Si ishin ndarë të gjithë më gjysmë, Muzakat, Balshajt, Aranitët, Dukagjinët, njëra palë me emrat Tanush, Gjergj e Pal, tjetra Jakup, Mehmet e Feriz, ca zinin be për gjakun e Krishtit e ca për mjekrën e Muhametit? Po ne e dinim se populli shqiptar u bashkua si një grusht i vetëm rreth mbretit të tij dhe i bëri ballë rrebeshit pushtues osman për 25 vjet! Si thatë, ishin pushtuar me kohë dhe pastaj bënë kryengritje? Domethënë osmanët e kishin marrë Arbërinë 50 vjet më parë, i kishin ndarë qytetet e kështjellat më të mëdha me Venedikun? Ofshofshofsh.
     I patë si qenë mbledhur ditën e shtunë? Kuvend i baballarëve të kombit! Një masë e murrëtyer, e zymtë, me kostume gri, që ngrinte zërin dhe dënonte. Dënonte armiqtë e shqiptarizmës që me çelësa e dara të zeza kanë zënë të dekonstruktojnë mitologjinë nacionale. Rezil dy herë, rezil tri herë! Ptu, ptu, ptu! Si Plenum ngjante, si mbledhje e Lidhjes së Shkrimtarëve, atëherë kur dënonte devijatorët me orientimet e sapodala të Udhëheqësit. Të gjithë njëzëri.
     Të gjithë ata që e drejtojnë këtë vend tash sa vjet në pikë të hallit u bashkuan të shtunë në një Përlutësore për Kastriotin, kundër armiqve të rinj. Ata që po ia falin fqinjëve Shqipërinë llokma-llokma, me bregdet, me ishuj e me gadishuj. Që po i përdorin trevat e Kastriotit për fabrika çimentosh. Që e kanë bërë Arbërinë kryqëzim trafiqesh droge, skrapi e rruspiesh. Që nënshkruajnë ligje të turpshme për (s)pastrim figurash. Që s'po i lënë vendit një pikë dinjiteti. Të gjithë në hall të madh për Skënderbeun. Po i lëkundin statujat, faqezinjtë, po na e lënë popullin pa Baba!
     Mbylluani gojën këtyre hairsëzëve, sekuestrojuani librat këtyre armiqve. Se po vazhduan kështu na e morën vërtet Skënderbeun, ia morën Akademisë së Shkencave, Lidhjes së Shkrimtarëve dhe Artistëve, Kështjellës shkëmbore buzë Adriatikut. Ia morën dhe e lanë... pa pendët e nacionalizmit... pa izolimin qindvjeçar kombëtar.
     E lanë Skënderbeun me shkëlqimin që e kishte vetë, dikur.


Mar 9, 2018

Undigested Thoughts | In search of missing spectre(s)

500 years after his death, 2018 is being celebrated as The Year of Skanderbeg (and of Albanian national identity) - so I decided to make a quick thing (below) in hopes of more reflection and less celebration. 


Jun 24, 2017

Undigested Thoughts | In search of 'Memoirs Found in a Bathtub'

As the election campaigns make their final bang before whatever whimper they'll feel on Sunday when Albanians go to vote, I'd like to offer you a couple of the many ways I might convey what I think of this rat race and its self-inflicted climatic messages, in what has quite honestly been an overwhelmingly anticlimactic turn of events, online and in real life. New timelines on old promises, past futures aged and preached anew. Same old, some would say, still not being able to distinguish whether these things happen to us or for us.

I don't want to dismiss this dullness (of the 'same old', which takes its cue from the status-quo of the everyday life), far from it, I'd like to isolate and define it as a real and steady instrument of power that materializes as a soft violence on citizenship, one that refrains the citizen's freedom of choice (which is obvious if we just glance at and listen to the choices). Voting, no matter how it has been treated in times past, continues to stand as both, the citizen's voice and weapon of combat, their freedom and responsibility. The question that remains then, is how are these citizens able to proceed when those who speak for them, those who represent them - all of the political parties - practice such soft violence?

So, in light of this still undigested question, the first way of conveying my thoughts about the election is through the blunt dialog of untamed tongues:


And secondly, through another dialog of a more indirect approach (or sermon of sorts), via an excerpt from Stanislaw Lem's Memoirs Found in a Bathtub:

"And here you thought you were a prisoner in a labyrinth of evil, where everything was pregnant with meaning, where even the theft of one's instructions was a ritual, that the Building destroyed only in order to build, to build only in order to destroy the more -- and you took this for the wisdom of evil... Hence your mental somersaults and contortions. You writhed on the hook of your own question mark to solve that equation of horror. But I tell you there is no solution, no equation, no destruction, no instructions, no evil -- there is only the Building -- only -- the Building --""Only the Building?" I echoed, my hair on end."Only the Building," he echoed my echo, shivering."This is not wisdom, this is a blind and all-encompassing perfection, a perfection not of man's making but which arose from man, or rather from the community of man. Human evil, you see, is so petty and frail, while here we have something grand and mighty at work... An ocean of blood and sweat and urine! One thundering death rattle from a million throats! A great monument of feces, the product of countless generations! Here you can drown in people, choke on them, waste away in a vast wilderness of people! Behold: they will stir their coffee as they calmly tear you to shreds, chat and pick their noses as they outrage your corpse, and brew more coffee as it stiffens, and you will be a hairless, worn-out and abandoned doll, a broken rattle, an old rag yellow and forgotten in the corner... That is how perfection operates, not wisdom! Wisdom is you, yourself -- or maybe two people! You and someone else, that intimate flash of honesty from eye to eye..."I watched his deathly pale face and wondered where I'd heard all this before, it sounded familiar. Then I remembered -- that sermon, the sermon about choking, evil and the Devil, the sermon which Brother Persuasion told me was intended as provocation..."How can I believe you?" I groaned. He shuddered."O sinner!!" he screamed in a whisper. "Dost thou still double that what may be a harmless conversation or joke on one level doth constitute, on another, legal action and, on yet another, a battle of wits between Departments? Verily, if thou followest this line of thought, thou shalt end up nowhere, since here anything, hence everything, leadeth everywhere!"..."What are you saying?""You still don't understand? I'm an agent provocateur because I'm a priest. Only as your agent provocateur am I, a priest, allowed to say what I've said here. Of course, we expect you to cooperate..." (170-172) "


Dec 29, 2016

Tirana Masterplan(s) Again | In search of missing mastery

To those who have asked my thoughts on the new plan, as I havent had enough time to study it all in such a short amount of time, all I can say for now, and generally speaking about public design and planning practices in Albania (old and new), is that we're getting very good at the legacy of ripping up(apart) our legacy; borrowing the time of the present to do it, and robbing the future of a cemented foundation (pun intended). Thus, we've never truly or legally been historic, in the sense of sound decision-making based on context, nor have we been quite modern. We've always been a little off- (modernity and historicity), which is not necessarily a bad concept - it is actually good (theoretically and philosophically) but not in the way we've actually done it. As a too-real condition, it has made us schizophrenic (metaphorically and cognitively speaking).

Quick gratification as design and planning practices does not a legacy make, well not the one we want anyways. Instead of racing against time and reason (for the sake of perceived innovation) ; and declaring war on pretty much everything else, including common and professional sense with forms that violate our sensibilities and everyday life of experiencing the city, let's stop to watch and listen to how fundamental forms of life organically (not forced) intermingle in the city: human, social, physical, ecological, etc. Design and planning should be a synthesis that augments without dictating. They ought to focus on the forms of dwelling first, not buildings. They need to mobilize a deep communication with the life in and around (even within) these forms, not just function in order to follow (the) form (of vertically governin).

We crave new forms of agency: of cognition and critique; not shapes and doodles made in boredom. As designers, we are responsible for all we designate. As citizens, we've grown accustomed to the ‘safety’ of the shadows cast, fearing the unhealthy glare of the light. It is darkness that shapes light. It is the past that shapes the possibility for a future. It is our humanity that shapes our design.

With this in mind, I leave you with Victor Hugo's ‘Les  Misérables’, taken out of the context of a heavy (written) volume and placed in this fragment of post-thought still in formation. You can read it narrowly as in architecturally speaking, or broadly as in design and planning practices. After all, both are no small (de)feats and of war-like disposition.

“That form has long been fully illuminated; it did have a certain traditional obscurity through which always veils the truth for a longer or shorter time; but now the history is luminous and complete. 
This light of history is pitiless; it has a strange and divine quality that, all luminous as it is, and precisely because it is luminous, often casts a shadow just where we saw a radiance; out of the same man it makes two different phantoms, and the one attacks and punishes the other, and the darkness of the despot struggles with the splendor of the captain. Hence a truer measure in the final judgment of the nations. Babylon violated lessens Alexander; Rome enslaved lessens Caesar; massacred Jerusalem lessens Titus. Tyranny follows the tyrant. It is woe to a man to leave behind him a shadow which has his form.”


Dec 27, 2016

A year worth(y/less) of posts | In search of missing truths in 2016

Another year bites the dust.

Looking back, we can agree that such a year probably started to dissolve at conception (or concession in Albania). A kind of built-up presence, accumulated since the beginning of millennia, which has finally accelerated enough to materialize, becoming unmistakably visible, just enough to crash. An accident of time, maybe? It is time to re-read Virilio's "Information Bomb" and "Politics of the Very Worst" more closely this year-end:
“There are eyes everywhere. No blind spot left. What shall we dream of when everything becomes visible? We'll dream of being blind.” [IB]
The accident is an inverted miracle, a secular miracle, a revelation. When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck; when you invent the plane you also invent the plane crash; and when you invent electricity, you invent electrocution...Every technology carries its own negativity, which is invented at the same time as [...] progress.” [PVW]
2016 was one for the books and drawing boards -- the perfect storm of invention(s). That is, invention of information, as impact [read: accident(s)]; redrawing lines of narrative and image, pushing for form instead of formation, causing a deep withdrawal into (or advance (out) of) oneself.

As a result, this blog was sporadic in translating (as) this trans-form-ation, and making legible the turmoil of its formation, thus fewer posts were written here and (unfortunately) faster 'truths' got made in social media. It got caught up in one too many reactionary sentiments, making itself more sensible to unproductive energy and vulnerable disposition. In an attempt to fathom the absurd logic and the information craftiness of whatever invention, It got distracted (and mildly co/stu-nned) by the face value of its impact; misreading (hence, mistaking) promise for premise and imaginary for imagined. Although, I feel that the thought-image construed and provided as (a cultural) truth was doing both (and all) simultaneously. It has been quite a 50 week (and counting) ride of inventing the anticipation of uncertain, yet already existing accident.

It is just the beginning though, and one doesn't know how to gear up for what seems like a long f(l)ight ahead. Should we feel sick to our stomach, be(come) somber, read Hannah Arendt, or just be and let the hype direct the flow of (one's) thought, energy, and the myth of democracy? If this year was one of attacks on public space just to see its publics hurt (through suicide bombers or privatization); of wars made just as banal and real as the everyday; of post-truths, alt-right, selfies, and nihilism; then, 2017 can be anticipated as one of mass(ive) PTSD (post-traumatic-stress-disorder), of post-revolutions and freedom-fluidity, of alt-delete and alt-control (with no alt-option), of the displaced self (made possible by the displayed self or the selfie) as a representation of the real distanced by reality. A year of paradoxes where cultural progress (as a human construct) will mean both, the normalization of, and invention as/of the accident. ("We'll dream of being blind.")

A new sort of cultural nihilism has emerged in the accident of the post-, and the post-accident of the progress (invention/accident) paradox, where the human makes way for its inhuman self, in a kind of post-colonization (a de-colonization and re-colonization cycle of) survival. 2016 has provided much evidence of (unreal) human fictions and (real) inhuman influences, be that by advancing AI-s, or human cruelty and imagination. We've witnessed way-too-real historical re-enactments of violence enter as newness, in what now marks the era of post(s) human-centrism, the acceleration/deceleration paradox of human artifice. The camouflage(d) has been abstracted; political health, stealth and wealth have become spectator sports, whose public service operate on the inhuman scale of market value; whose public scrutiny has not been (human-)scaled to citizen prosperity and safety of place

The future will be an anomaly: a normalization of alienation.

an experimental film by Jonas Mekas

Where does this leave/take us? This is the one question on everyone's mind, beyond what I might as well call hope (Einstein's definition of insanity - doing the same thing and expecting different results), and the perversity (branded as innovation/invention) of New World [B]order(s). Well, be it a blessing (some sure do see it as such, sigh) or a curse, one thing is certain; 2016 showed us the paradox of being human, that we're on the verge of fulfilling a very old proverb, albeit its warnings:
1. May you live in interesting times. 
2. May you be recognized by people in high places. 
3. May you get what you wish for.
We are, then, left to figure out the last one:
4. May you find the final blessing/curse.
With this in mind, I feel the new year ought to be one of forensics, in deciphering facts, truths and what's real - just so we're clear on where the line stands and which side of the paradox we're on (if any). This line of f(l)ight is a spatial (and cultural) force associated with violence (most often than not), but it can also be a tool/place for critical thinking. In disseminating and diagnosing the dimensions of the paradox, we open it up as a line of communication, that determines the progress of and in (its) formation, and not as a (form of) commodity of invention.

We should (learn to) be better critics, diligently and sensibly so. 

Lastly, I leave you with Jan Švankmajer's Dimensions of Dialogue and the possibilities of interacting forms.


Oct 2, 2016

Postcards from Tirana | In Search of Missing Messages

Decoding the city through postcards.

I made a few simple postcards with borrowed imagery and text, which I now call Assembly/ies of the Entr-acte \\ The Albanian Public(s). Let me know what you think. ☺

An empty PUBLIC amusement makes a great PARK hide out

Frontier of Enlightened PUBLIC in Extinction

 Six Corpses in Search of a PUBLIC:
- Garden of Excess PARKED in the Abyss of Delight

The Six Corpses are the buildings that edge the main square. The history and character of which has shaped and filled the void of this space for over a century.

 1. National Historical Museum as the corpse of The Persistence of Memory
2. "15 kateshi" / 1st Skyscraper (vertical typology) as the corpse of The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory

3. Et'hem Bey Mosque / Clock Tower as the corpses of Old Age
4. Palace of Culture (Pallati i Kultures) as the corpse of Adolescence
5. City Hall (Bashkia) as the corpse of Infancy

6. Skanderbeg Monument as the corpse of The Artist's Despair Before the Grandeur of Ruins;
and its Park as the corpse of Public Skirmishes


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.


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. 


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.


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.


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.


[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)