Dec 27, 2015

Albania 1927-2015 | The paradox of the missing years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Albania 1927. by Joseph Roth

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

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

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

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

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

~ Frankfurter Zeitung, 30 July 1927

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

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Dec 14, 2015

Inched Forward | The missing pieces of 2015



 Writing is born from and deals with the acknowledged doubt of an explicit division, in sum, of the impossibility of one's own place. It articulates an act that is constantly a beginning: the subject is never authorized by a place, it could never install itself in an inalterable cogito, it remains a stranger to itself and forever deprived of an ontological ground, and therefore it always comes up short or is in excess, always the debtor of a death, indebted with respect to the disappearance of a genealogical and territorial “substance,” linked to a name that cannot be owned. ~ Michel de Certeau

As promised at the beginning of the year, this (now sporadic) blog and my (unsystematic) thoughts in it have inched along. Barely a move, really. It is more of a vibration back and forth, not intending to advance farther, but to further include pieces missed - from fundamentals to fundamental questions, critiques, and answers. There has been a lot of looking back in order to come forward, - looking to find one's place in time, space, thought and within self, which it has proven to be quite challenging, exhausting and nearly impossible. And, no, I am not entirely talking about my own relationship (professional and personal) with Albania, but about the country itself, - its deliberate refusal to show up! Since this remains the case, my only task is to continue rehearsing my thoughts out loud. ☺

Delight in blindness. - ‘My thoughts’, said the wanderer to his shadow,
‘should show me where I stand, but they should not betray to me where
I am going. I love ignorance of the future and do not want to perish of
impatience and premature tasting of things promised.’ ~ Nietzsche



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Dec 8, 2015

The Destructive Character | In search of missing pieces

Thought I'd leave this here:



The Destructive Character by Walter Benjamin

It could happen to someone looking back over his life that he realized that almost all the deeper obligations he had endured in its course originated in people who everyone agreed had the traits of a “destructive character.” He would stumble on this fact one day, perhaps by chance, and the heavier the shock dealt to him, the better his chances of representing the destructive character.

The destructive character knows only one watchword: make room. And only one activity: clearing away. His need for fresh air and open space is stronger than any hatred.

The destructive character is young and cheerful. For destroying rejuvenate, because it clears away the traces of our own age; it cheers, because everything cleared away means to the destroyer a complete reduction, indeed a rooting out, out of his own condition. Really, only the insight into how radically the world is simplified when tested for its worthiness for destruction leads to such an Apollonian image of the destroyer. This is the great bond embracing and unifying all that exists. It is a sight that affords the destructive character a spectacle of deepest harmony.

The destructive character is always blithely at work. It is Nature that dictates his tempo, indirectly at least, for he must forestall her. Otherwise she will take over the destruction herself.

The destructive character sees no image hovering before him. He has few needs, and the least of them is to know what will replace what has been destroyed. First of all, for a moment at least, empty space – the place where thing stood or the victim lived. Someone is sure to be found who needs this space without occupying it.

The destructive character does his work; the only work he avoids is creative. Just as the creator seeks solitude, the destroyer must be constantly surrounded by people, witnesses to his efficacy.
The destructive character is a signal. Just a trigonometric sign is exposed on all sides to the wind, so he is exposed to idle talk. To protect him from it is pointless.


The destructive character has no interest in being understood. Attempts in this direction he regards as superficial. Being misunderstood cannot harm him. On the contrary, he provokes it, just as oracles, those destructive institutions of the state, provoked it. The most petty bourgeois of all phenomena, gossip, comes about only because people do not wish to be misunderstood. The destructive character tolerates misunderstanding; he does not promote gossip.

The destructive character is the enemy of the étui-man. The étui-man looks for comfort, and the case is its quintessence. The inside of the case is the velvet-lined trace that he has imprinted on the world. The destructive character obliterates even the traces of destruction.

The destructive character stands in the front line of traditionalists. Some people pass things down to posterity, by making them untouchable and thus conserving them; others pass on situations, by making them practicable and thus liquidating them. The latter are called the destructive.

The destructive character has the consciousness of historical man, whose deepest emotion is an insuperable mistrust of the course of things and a readiness at all times to recognize that everything can go wrong. Therefore, the destructive character is reliability itself.

The destructive character sees nothing permanent. But for this very reason he sees ways everywhere. Where others encounter walls or mountains, there, too, he sees a way. But because he sees a way everywhere, he has to clear things from it everywhere. Not always by brute force; sometimes by the most refined. Because he sees ways everywhere, he always stands at a crossroads. No moment can know what the next will bring. What exists he reduces to rubble – not for the sake of rubble, but for that of the way leading through it.

The destructive character lives from the feeling not that life is worth living, but that suicide is not worth the trouble.


* my emphasis. text via. Original text published n the Frankfurter Zeitung, 1931.


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Dec 4, 2015

Men, Monuments, Monsters, Memory (part 2) | In search of missing pieces

*(sort of a year in review, bits and pieces written on social media in 2015) 

More on what was previously defined as the relationship of Men, Monuments, Monsters, and Memory:

We expect too much of buildings and too little of ourselves. ~ Jane Jacobs



If it doesn't die, how does it age?

After reading quite extensively on heritage in ‪Albania, its ethics, aesthetics, authenticity vs. origins/originality, renovations, etc. I think, no matter the intentions, when it comes to buildings, the conversation on preservation vs. restoration has no real winners. Good enough results maybe, but no winners. Against time, we cannot win. if we restore, we erase a bit of that history, a well intended cleansing yes, but nonetheless a cleansing. there is no such thing as a perfect act of restoration that returns a historical object to its original self, even if it's done just right. that's why it is a historical object. It is supposed to be old and weathered, even wise in its survival. Why force it into youth? The kind of youth that as long as it looks youthful, we don't care if it feels that same way. Its context has evolved, be that surrounding landscape or urban fabric. Its own self has changed as well, renovated or repurposed, used and abused through the years. By restoring it, we impose a utopia, a nostalgic, even idyllic, memory that can now exist or be fetishized only in its renewed state, thus rendering itself irrelevant to the meaning of heritage and what(ever) it stands for. If it can be washed out (cleaned up) even reproduced, then what's its historic value? 
 
On the other hand, preserving it or just letting it run its course will, too, (without forcing back time) fade away its being and erase parts of its history. Weather, material degradation, and structure, will definitely take a toll on its ‘heritage’ standing, but as natural factors of its ecology, they preserve the legacy of its origins. We all know that a building doesn't last forever, and yes, it might turn into blight or might take other dystopian form, but it doesn't mean that its heritage has died. It doesn't mean that it is not authentic. It has simply evolved or mutated into something else. A new kind of heritage dare i say. One that doesn't ‘renew’ time thru aesthetically ‘accurate’ acts or interventions in the name of ‘heritage’ or for heritage's sake, but by simply letting its heritage become (along with rigorous documentation, research, expertise and so forth), whatever it might turn into. That is the beauty and consequent meaning of heritage, to not predetermine it, to not put an expiration on it, to not force its legacy. By restoring it, we renew it, we add something foreign to it, something of another time, another value, another meaning, even if it is aesthetically compatible. and yes, we can call it a mutation as well, but one of a different value and consequence to us, our culture, history and legacy.

So, if the race to find a solution or maintain a ‘sustainable’ (lack of a better word) heritage doesn't get past one-liners, be they about preservation or restoration, then our understanding and acceptance that they both erase a bit of history, will be delayed. we won't know when to use one instead of the other. There isn't much defense against time. All we can really do, is to not be offensive to our heritage. We can start by answering this question: if it doesn't die, then how does it age?

It’s time we stopped talking about our affluent society. We are an impoverished society. It is a poor society indeed that can’t pay for these amenities; that has no money for anything except expressways to rush people out of our dull and deteriorating cities.
~ Ada Louise Huxtable, Architecture: How to Kill a City, 1963


Returning home

Let's think of such objects as victimized ‪bodies‬ subjected to systematic abuse in two parts: violent expulsion, evident by their physical decay, followed by a glorified patronizing of their (now) ghastly abstraction. Making space where none exist, here, could mean reinterpreting then re-staging what we want these bodies to be or do for us, refusing to understand and accept (their independence) what they are, why they are.

The confidence to do arbitrary interventions (victimize) from within (the psyche and body) not to bother anymore with superficial cosmetics (that fall flat by shining too bright) only for public perception, tells the tale of frustration the private persona has with its public leash, and the public figure's overcompensation to show its other self who's in control (with all its meanings: contra, con and troll).

This reinterpretation (art) through abuse until the bodies are abstracted (tortured to erase themselves) becomes a fleeting moment of euphoria right before passing out.

How do we then slowly reintroduce these bodies, their vulnerability to the everyday society and life, without ‘accidentally’ killing them?

The ‘blind spot’ of any culture: the inability to conceive of its own devastation [...] If we could give a name to our shared sense of vulnerability, perhaps we could find better ways to live with it.  
~ Jonathan Lear, Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation, 2008

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Dec 2, 2015

Men, Monuments, Monsters, Memory | In search of missing pieces


An update of my take on the current State of Affairs in Albania, is delivered this time through the words of Terri Kirk's Monumental Monstrosity Monstrous Monumentality* for Perspecta 40. I have chosen a few excerpts that definitely need a more thoughtful consideration and unpacking than just taking them out of their intended context (to a certain degree), but time hasn't been on my side lately, which goes to show that procrastination and deadlines are just the worst combo to have on the plate at any time - more so during the holiday season.

Nonetheless, here are a few excerpts on Men, Monuments, Monsters, Memory - a title I find appropriate because it starts to glimpse at and gesture (provoke even) my ability to see, sometimes miss, and most often project indeterminate pixels of an image that has become Albania. An image constru(ct)ed by its most recent state of affairs. One that never ceases to be still so we can make out its composition, but restlessly polishes its representational scaffold, as if only to hide the ruination of the structure it borrows. An image that, in my opinion, ultimately achieves stillness and (an almost) clarity by way of its young legacy, or the 'selfie' type repetitiveness of its act.

An image that is able to crystallize only at a distance, perhaps? At my distance even? (Such as it continues to be.) An image that up-close might be too tacit and is only discovered or mildly understood, even seen through myopic ways and means. Maybe a distance allows for a more panoramic assurance of its presence, in order to fully see it, be aware of it, and view it more critically. But, just because it has to travel to become obvious (or better yet unravel its monstrosity or monumentality), and this distance is indeed too real, it doesn't mean it survives the temporal algorithm of the digital feed - making its way in the ephemeral abyss of probability, too often left in the mercy of social media mobs with a spasmodic attention span, chewed up and spat out before it is seen, archived, and filed away. Such is the way, and it might be the only way, a few of us see it, and why we sometimes miss it.

The image that is missed differs from the one that is hidden.

In the excerpts below, the author writes that the word monster derives from men, and also memory. He links it to monstrare, which is 'to show' and monstrum to monere - to remind or warn. Monument also derives from monere, to remind, and back to men and memory. One root, a multitude of words and meanings.

Such is the state of the image when it reaches us. The task of seeing it becomes a juggling act of delicate but rigorous, objective but sensible, critical but constructive research and interpretation.

These missing pieces, not quite puzzle-like, an invite to challenge or cherish the carefully-crafted aesthetics (continuously stalling in a state of representation) - make up the moments, territory, and agency where we see the image as a nuanced construct of beings, somewhere in between craft and crafty (metis). We really see and finally experience the image here. The scaffold as blinding armature doesn't fully drape or tightly fit the structure. We take a peak in to explore or exploit the weaknesses or strengths of the image. The image takes a leap into our imagination. A closer and deeper, even slower look. Another juggling act. An image embodied with our fears and anxiety, our desires and inspiration, our demons and vanity, our humanity, our humility, our pride, our narrow and rigid definition of a (national) hero, our wildly fictitious accounts of ordinary men.

Imagination becomes a stitching act, a coping mechanism with the image. Imagination as a craft, a skill and wisdom that, depending on one's disposition and will, can weaken or strengthen the image that has been (cunningly) crafted and shown to us, to remind us, or warn us perhaps, of the same root that ties men, monuments, monsters and memory. An origin that blooms sublime, a bond that grows monstrous.

 *As always the reading and emphasis is mine. I strongly recommend you read the original text in Perspecta 40 to draw your own conclusions.


Terri Kirk's Monumental Monstrosity Monstrous Monumentality

This is a test of aesthetic tolerance. [...] Monsters mark the boundaries of cultural values. As outcasts from our constructed systems of self-definition they fascinate and frighten. [...] How monsters are made is symptomatic of how a culture conceives of collective inquiry to the tolerated limits of its self-awareness.

Architecture comes late to a serious consideration of its monsters, so we must rely upon achievements in the neighboring disciplines of natural sciences and psychology, and more recently literary criticism and cultural anthropology. "Monstrosity" is at present still only a dismissive epithet in architectural criticism. It is usually leveled against anything big, ugly, out of place, or dysfunctional. [...] Reaction to architectural monsters still smacks of a superstitious fear typical of primitive responses to otherness, while our colleagues in other disciplines have "naturalized" their monsters. As Michael Hagner puts it regarding the natural sciences, we too might seek "to integrate, incorporate, and domesticate them in the material and discursive arsenals of enlightened rationality."

Monstrosity in architecture is a matter of reception.
"Monsters have their usefulness," wrote nineteenth-century scientist Etienne-Geoffrey St.-Hilaire. "They are a means of study for our intellects." This essay examines our reaction to the transgression of aesthetic limits that makes monuments monstrous, and perhaps monsters in the end monumental.

Monstrous
Monster comes from men, an Indoiranian root, whence also memory, thought itself. Cicero's Latin links monstrum with monere - to remind or warn, as in a portent or omen. "The noun 'monster,'" Augustine tells us, "evidently comes from monstrare, 'to show,' because they show by signifying something" out of the ordinary. For Aristotle, "anyone who does not take after his parents is really in a way a monstrosity, since in these cases Nature has strayed from the generic type." Monsters are deviant, transgressive, threatening, and therefore horrible, terrifying, and tremendous yet also astonishing, marvelous, and prodigious. [...] "By a monstrosity," Darwin presumed, "is meant some considerable deviation of structures, generally injurious or not useful to the species." Monsters hold some distant but threatening relationship of difference to the norms we construct to order our world.

Monsters proliferate in times of crisis. They are born not of woman but of prevailing apocalyptic mood, usually triggered by political upheaval and threatening loss of control. [M]onsters emerge as concretizations of collective anxieties. The spectator experience of the monster, the curious paying public at a village freak show or a Hollywood monster flick, is essentially a sigh of relief: Schadenfreude. We hoist upon the expurgatory scapegoat our fears the unknown. In capturing, displaying, and killing the monster, we try to vanquish our anxieties.

The most fearful monsters are, then, those birthed of our own perturbed imagination. The imagination is a sense without an organ. It is self-nourishing, untiring, prolific, and the most prodigious of our faculties. Leonardo da Vinci fabricated little monsters out of parts of animals and motorized them with pressurized bladders, causing horror among his unsuspecting subjects, which Vasari relates as a metaphor of creative imagination.

Monsters continue to exert their power because they are ultimately products of culture. They are explicit recognitions of our norms - physical, psychological, and juridical - because they violate these constructed systems. They have what Canguilhem called a negative value and what Foucault specified as our discursive strategy through which cultures make sense of the world and legitimate their conceptions of it. The abnormal challenges the order of things with troubling indeterminacy, violating regulatory cognitive, moral, and aesthetic decorum. They are organisms that not only fail to achieve the ideal but exist in defiance of the ideal. However, this challenging negative value also affirms the norm and helps us define ourselves by resistance to deformation. Monsters reinforce a dynamic polemical concept of normality and inscribe its values.

Imagined monsters continue to fascinate us, repulse our senses, and attract our attention. As repugnant creatures they are horrifying portents; as astonishing curiosities they are marvelous wonders.

Sublime
The evolution of the sublime matches that of the monstrous in the period of its development as well as in its quality of cultural meaning.

Whereas beauty is merely pleasurable, the sublime terrifies, astonishes, and elevates the soul.

Architecture is sublime, Burke specifies, when it "fill[s] the mind with that sort of delightful horror." The work must cause our imagination "to rise to ... [an] idea of infinity." To do so, Burke admits, will involve a certain "generous deceit on the spectators [to] effect the noblest designs by easy means."

The sublime exercises a power over the spectator. It always involves, as Burke notes, "some modification of power." The sublime, especially in architecture, is a strategy of domination by provoking an anxiety-charged response. "Astonishment is that state of mind, in which all its motions are suspended with some degree of horror. In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other, nor by consequence reason on that object." It is an enthralling violence upon the senses.

As a test of tolerance, the sublime is synonymous with notions of the monstrous. Addison had already focused on the spectator's response to monsters - dreadful "hideous Objects" of "frightful Appearance" - in his essays dedicated to the imagination. [...] The sublime object, like the monster, stuns and strains the imagination.

[T]he concept threads through the evolution of modern aesthetics to transform our criteria of reception. [...] The public became active participants, judges, and subjects of the architectural event. Its efficaciousness is measured not against learned criteria of beauty or allegorical references, but according to its success in moving the spectator. The sublime was understood as a universally efficacious language of form, therefore a potential universal instrument of communication. Coupled with emerging consciousness of nationhood, the aesthetic of the sublime endowed architecture with the means to marshal moral communities onto the foundations of modern civil society. The sublime was hence the most effective formal language for national monuments.

Monumental
Monument derives, like monster, from monere, to remind, and back to men, memory, thought. Monuments are constructions that concretize collective memory. Monument connotes the eraction of a sumptuous edifice to keep in mind a notable person, action, or event. It commemorates, and as Shakespeare used the word, it warns: "And wherefore gaze this goodly company | As if they saw some wondrous monument | Some comet, or unusual prodigy." [...] Monuments impose themselves upon our psychic and physical landscape with a dreadful purpose.

Monuments constitute the larges and most prominent architectural production of the nineteenth century. A "monumentomania" swept Europe and America, invading its cities in the crucial gestation of modern nationhood. Monuments served as focal points for moral civil society, legitimizing cumulative self-understanding. Rome's monument to King Vittorio Emanuele II was conceived with a carefully wrought aesthetic as the nation's foremost expression of the political relation between the state and its people.

His commemoration afforded the first opportunity to express the nature of the new state in monumental and permanent form.
The Vittoriano, as it is often referred to, is the epiphany of national consciousness, a setting for the liturgy of the nation-state enshrined in stone and bronze, and renewed in continual ritual. It is the keystone of national symbolism - an instrument that communicates the moral and political messages of the monarchy - meant to forge collective memory and establish a historiography of its players while counterbalancing ecclesiastical tradition.

Everything about the monument has been designed for maximum impact. [...] Central to the monument's function is a modification of power. The senses of the spectator are worked upon with violence to the end of dominating the former papal city, its formerly divided citizens, and all subjects of its imperialist aspirations.

The sublime operates in environments market by collective anxiety. The real magnitude of crisis is in inverse proportion to the force of the sublime employed. Architectural form, like the rhetoric of political speech during national crises, seeks to effect a modification of power. Be it the architecture of monumental cemeteries or the spaces of totalitarian rally grounds, the sublime manipulates mass subjects in a climate of fear to affect "that state of mind," to cite Burke again, "in which all its motions are suspended with some degree of horror." [...] The sublime is an aesthetic of sensory violence. Any concrete realization of it transforms a threat into reality: an architecture of ominous disquiet that oppresses.

The subjective aesthetic faculty worked, as Kant theorized, universally, but by shifting the parameters of reception - or deconstructing their cultural frames - the marvelous and tremendous may quickly become transgressive and terrifying. There is an inherent volatility in the aesthetic of the sublime. When a monument's sublime language is seen in a different light - in the flash of an atomic bomb - its force becomes repugnant. The monument turns into a monster.

The Italian monarchy laid the groundwork for the subsequent Fascist regime; in fact, it guaranteed it. The monument to Vittorio Emanuele II was the stage of the nationalist rituals of Mussolini's rise to power.

The monstrous trauma of nationalist hysteria found the ideal stage for its violence against the individual.

The monument's continuing presence in the Roman landscape makes it unbearably monstrous to anyone with memory of the recent past. Indeed only tourist - by definition viewers without cultural memory - actually like it. It is an enduring reminder of egregious collective transgression that was the paroxysm of Italian nationalism. It remains a frightening monster in our midst, particularly unnerving for a collective conscience that has not seriously confronted in any other way its responsibility in supporting twenty-two years of dictatorship and its crimes against humanity.

This monstrous monument rising in the heart of the nation's capital is an omen of political pathology, a collective scourge. [...] There have been famous attempts to destroy it: architectural competitions for its removal or hurried reduction to a ruin, attacks with paint bombs, and closure for decades on end. These measures of dealing with the monster are fatuous insofar as they are not accompanied by recognition of guilt. The collective political conscience of Italy, unlike Germany's, is deficient in serious self-reflection, so comments on this monument remain naively restricted to dismissal of its formal qualities alone. This monster reveals the disquieting potential of miscreation from within, and therefore is most terrifying.

This monument tests the tolerance of our receptions to prodigious architecture. By design, monuments inhabit the volatile region between tremendous and transgressive, exactly as monsters do. The fascination we feel for such experience reveals the dynamic nature of the architectural aesthetic of the sublime. (fascism vs. fascination)

Examining the monstrousness of monumentality serves as a discursive strategy to make sense of the architectural world in crisis, to legitimate our norms, and to mark our boundaries. Monsters proliferated at the outset of Modernism and at its decline. The sublime was the monstrous face of architecture that filled the anxious space between wonder and warning. In our current cultural atmosphere of crisis, it is not surprising that the language of the sublime has returned. We have witnessed recently the proximity of our understanding of the monstrous, the prodigious, and the monumental.


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Sep 28, 2015

Albanian Architectural Typology Redux | In search of missing pieces

what is the relationship of this and this, this and that, and how do we get from this to that?

I made this triptych (a contextual hypothesis, an inconclusive equation, a pure speculative inquiry - if you'd like) to further push another point, that of architectural typology (vs. design methodology) in Albania.

A typology lost. Caught in the clash of political clans, wandering through temporal worlds (of past and present) and haunting in plain sight its abandoned publics.

A typology lost, not so much in form or representation but in contextual and social meaning, thus value and relevance.

A typology lost. Identified solely by the notorious iconography of the Bunker and Pyramid. A narrow(ing) view that further reduces the complexity of what is considered an iconographic image down to a consumed (consuming) pattern ("shop-window effect") - a mis-en-scene shattered by and for public exploit. Why haven't we allowed it to be more challenging - as a spatial, social, and temporal image that traces, transforms and transcends beyond its frame?* A similar myopic view and arbitrary provocation has been used by many, in the ornament vs. the architecture debate (or lack of its domain apprehension while fully present in participation), failing to grasp the spatial and perceptional role and capacity of the ornament as architecture, and the danger of dismissing it (which, let's be frank, masks a deeper misunderstanding of it) as decoration.

So, let's not make the mistake of, first, reducing the Bunker and Pyramid to an iconic image stripped of its 'ornamental' texture, pattern and typology. When looking at its 'image or/as/vs. 'icon', we ought to be didactic, not reductive. We ought to see it as an analysis, diagram, inquiry into the transformation of an architectural typology, by not romanticizing the aesthetics of its ruins, but further engaging (not just transcribing) that intoxicating attraction to its haunting ghostly presence beyond the architectural typology and into the precedent of collective memory.

And second, let's not reduce the Albanian architectural typology to just these two 'image/objects'. The spectacle of the Bunker and Pyramid redux has been so captivating that, it has incapacitated us to look at other prominent but undermined architectural types.*  Some conspiracy fanatics might say that this might be the intended scope, a diversion and misdirection, but I think it is just the most recent case of misprision. A systematic un/misunderstanding of the concept of misprision or design as a creative misreading.

Misprision of precedents is widely used in architecture (see Corbusier or Venturi), but in the Albanian case of design methodology vs. historic preservation acts of the last decades, it has definitely been a careless, haphazard, and uncritical progress - articulating progress only in the grant application texts, with all the intention of leaving it there. A progress that has yet to be understood as generating new knowledge, not a copy-paste of historical precedents as models for contemporary problem-solving (taken at face value).

How can we, then, employ misprision? Well, by asking, what is the relationship of this and this, this and that, and how do we get from this to that? How do we approach it and build a bias from it, one that aligns with our design philosophy, historical judgement, and creative imagination?

* Now, the image is synonymous with capturing a fleeting moment in order to advertise its happening. It has become a validation. A proof of life that momentarily satisfies human insecurity, while reducing its iconography into a mere tool. An image that has lost its identity, even as a postcard or spatial propaganda. Now, the ("conceptual") blank space allocated for the image is cramped and stitched with as many as can fit, abstracting its iconic real estate, validating (while exploiting) through exposure - ultimately reducing it to bits of its wholesome former iconic self. 
An icon in perception, not recognition. What then becomes the meaning of the territory that stiches these bits together? Now, these gutters frame. 
 
*How about communal housing and turbo architecture? The informal additions and curious demos as spatial gestures of a transitioning and uncertain domesticity.

Here are a few excerpts (chosen to communicate my reading of it, as it might relate to the Albanian context of late) from David Rifkind's text on the subject:

Misprision of Precedent / Design as Creative Misreading

Literary critic Harold Bloom's concept of misprision, although difficult to translate into architectural terms, offers valuable insights into one way that architects critically engage with other designers' works through a process of creative misreading. Bloom stakes out a theory that governs both the influence of one architect on another. The concept's pedagogical value includes a broadened understanding of the roles that precedent studies play in the design studio.

1. PRELUDE
[H]ow do we understand the process that joins the critical appreciation of the former to the design of the latter?
2. ARGUMENT
Architects and historians engage architectural history differently. Yet while historians frequently discuss historiographic methodologies and architects have developed standardized analytical processes that emphasize program, site, and spatial organization, neither fully accounts for the processes of creative misreading through which so many architects have grappled with the work of others in order to generate new knowledge and critically engage precedents. Examining these processes enriches both design criticism and design pedagogy.

The conversation that architecture has with its own heritage is marked by misprision, a mode of critical engagement in which architects interpret the built environment through design as active criticism. Misprision is a creative misreading that generates new knowledge. Bloom introduced poetic misprision in his widely cited 1973 book, The Anxiety of Influence. While chiefly concerned with poetry and intra-poetic relationships, Bloom develops a concept that is important to understanding the ways architects engage the work of their predecessors and peers.

Each new work transforms and completes its precedents through a critical process of interpretation.

Misprision enables the study of historical precedent to escape the trap of treating history as an encyclopedia of solutions to problems defined by programs, sites, cultural contexts, and aesthetic preferences. Misprision approaches history through an open-ended process of interpretation and criticism, in which precedents serve as multivalent sources of knowledge, rather than through the more instrumentalized and constrained process of treating precedents as models of programmatic problem-solving. Misprision recognizes that every creative act is also an act of criticism, and that any sophisticated work of architecture synthesizes knowledges gained from close readings of disparate sources.
3. SWERVE
This transformation is not simply metaphorical. Each act of creative misreading changes its precedents or, as Eliot wrote, "the past [is] altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past."
4. POLITICS
Architecture's ability to operate on multiple levels - to engage the political and to wrestle with contemporary thought while simultaneously speaking diachronically to the heritage of the discipline - demands a multivalent criticism. Misprision adds new dimensions to the historiographic analysis of architecture's roles in affirming or negating power relationships.

[M]isprision enables architecture to operate politically, without reducing the work of architecture to an essay in political accommodation or resistance.
5. LIMITS OF MISPRISION
Bloom's insistence on a genetic model of filial bonds between a predecessor poet and his successor fails to account for the synthetic manner in which architects join and juxtapose disparate source material.

While The Anxiety of Influence profits from a detailed adaptation of Sigmund Freud's theorization of defense mechanisms, which underlie Bloom's six revisionary ratios, Bloom's critics have challenged his insistence on an Oedipal conflict between authors, in which each successor metaphorically slays his predecessor. [...] Yet misprision in architecture reveals more complex webs of analysis, interpretation, and synthesis.

As both a heuristic and hermeneutic stance, misprision must be approached with caveats.  One limitation of this theory is that it treats history as a mine from which to draw forth nuggets useful to the present. This instrumentality creates a form of operative criticism in which examples are sought and analyzed in terms of their utility to contemporary concerns, potentially limiting the range of both subjects and interpretations.

Misprision suggests an intersubjective relationship between architects, or between architect and critic, in which engagement, not detachment, creates knowledge.

Another threat that hangs over misprision is the potential lapse into eclecticism. However, misprision is more than simple borrowing. Reference is not the same as quotation, and transformation should not be confused with transcription.
6. CONCLUSION
Misprision does not account for every relationship between works of architecture, nor does it exclude other historiographic methodologies. However, the concept of misprision holds great potential value for both historians and practitioners of architecture.

Architecture and its history challenge Bloom's theory on numerous grounds. Misprision often offers profound insights into the relationships between works of architecture, yet Bloom's theory does not fully account for the creative misreading that links the work of one designer to another. Architecture, along with the visual and performing arts, calls for revisions to the theorization of misprision relationships.

How do we employ misprision as a design methodology? We cannot; but upon drawings on the examples cited here, we can expand the lenses through which we read precedent. 

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Sep 18, 2015

Future Bunkers of Public Space | In search of missing pieces

**This text was intended to be a quick Facebook post of a photo (referencing Paul Virilio's "Bunker Archeology" book) and a short quote to go with it - on how I feel about the curious construction of a WWII bunker in the middle of Albanian capital of Tirana. I thought I'd be a bit cryptic and vague about such very public acts, but apparently I had a lot to say, and since I don't know much about it yet, take these thoughts however you like, nonetheless, here they are.

 “We are a sign empty of meaning, indifferent and far from home” 
F. Hölderlin, quoted in Virilio's Bunker Archeology, An Aesthetics of Disappearance, p.167

Without knowing much about the intent or scope behind the erection of the bunker in the middle of Tirana, I just wanted to point out how I feel about the insensitivity of such spatial gestures and executions - insensitivity not only towards the bunker, what it stands for and the baggage it comes buried under, but more so as a cleansing ideology thru the act of preservation - deterritorializing history and archeology alike. These gentrification acts have been quite the busy bees, making their way through the city with an almost surgical precision. Some you see, some you don't, lurking in shadows of that much elusive 'metaphorical' light, but only to replace it with its own reflection, turning depths into glares.

Gentrification or urban cleansing is not something new. After living under a communist regime for half a century, we, of all people should be familiar with these acts of exclusion, or maybe they were so common, they became mundane and even expected - destiny, some called it, brainwashing is more like it (another act of cleansing) - that it escapes our ethics and sensibility towards anyone, ourselves included. Ideological cleansing as psychological warfare is not that different from a more physical kind of sterility, the urban one, the everyday life that shapes one's primal instincts and awareness. A cultivation that happens over a lifetime, every day, day in and day out, one that has a past, a fleeting present and a consequential future, timeless as in lasting legacy, not as in time-less, or without time, or at no particular time, or just an illusion - a perceived reflection, a constructed memory. A gloarified depth. It is through this history that we cultivate our sensibilities, the archeology of our human multitude, and the promise of future hope. It is this history that we exploit and sell to tourists. It is our country's painful, open wound that we celebrate with them. We need therapy, not glamor. We should champion ourselves as patients, not celebrities. That's beside the point, I know, but not far from it.

This bunker and a few other very selective, very strategic, ‘projects’ (interventions) of recent times, are reenacting (very theatrically indeed) acts of cleansing on many levels and scales - as if their intent is to hit our primal and cultivated sensibilities all at once, without us realizing that our city has turned into a sideshow and our common life in it has become a puppet-act, where we're both the laughing audience and the puppets. The ones excluding and being excluded. Layers on layers on layers of cleansing, bleached out, trailed by a toxic trace, only to discover that it is missing a territory. We've been deterritorialized. Lingering ruins of what it once was and could become, but never fully realized. It is easier to see and understand at an urban scale and fabric, because it is so material and in plain sight.

That's how I see these selective projects, as insensitive spatial gestures that prolong warfare on CONTEXT - be that urban, architectural, social, historical, and archeological - reducing it to a prop, a marquee, a kitsch over-sized toy, several toys in fact, turning the city into a private playground. Though, not to be mistaken for what we think of play, as in recreational freedom. These objects are marking a territory, otherwise public. A territory made of not only land, but volume, sight and spectacle that is being appropriated in the name of historical, artistic, and social preservation, as proverbial symbols or metaphors, whatever. (I am not against this thesis at all, on the contrary, I would be very interested in looking at it more rigorously since it's part of my research already, but the ideology behind it, is what spurts such strong feelings against it.)

A gentrification on centuries of context (making the hyped nationalism quite ironic, I might add), these acts remind me of Prometheus stealing fire from the Gods and giving it to the masses, the mortals. Only, in this scenario, it is the public that gathers the wood sticks, constructs a pyramid-like stake and offers the lighting fluid and matches to our beloved demigods, our elected officials, watch them pour, light the match and throw it in, creating a spectacle, first of burning heat, then light and warmth, a big applause follows without anyone realizing that they already had the 'gift' of fire, the mechanical ability and all the necessary items to light that match. Why, then, didn't they? An intellectual trick of prestige? Or maybe a lifetime of psychological castration developed into insecurity, complexity, and incapacitated intellect. A sheltered intellect that is indeed present as the fire within, which burns our cognitive dissonance, warms our primal instincts and keeps a light on our cultivated sensibilities.

These objects, as acts of gentrification are in a twisted way those acts of bringing fire to the masses (the instant burn, the resurrecting light, the fading warmth) and I'm afraid the demigods might really believe they're messengers, sent from higher powers (stealing from above might be a more appropriate act of duty) to do just that (tricked by own trick act), but without never arriving to realize that, yes, people have been playing with fire for a very long time, so long indeed that we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for it. That history. That context. Those burning stakes.

Yes, we've had the bunkers. We've even dug up their essence and are still enduring its claustrophobia. What's the point of making it anew and put it on display?! Don't insult my intellectual sensibility or  the public's apprehension of facts! Don't just show me later, tell me now! Let's play! With and around the fire! Throw an animal sacrifice in it. Would that bring us closer, or just bring out the parochial in us?
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May 21, 2015

On Expression | In search of missing pieces

Thoughts on voicing, expressing, and taste of the recent events in Albania (Tirana & Gjirokaster). A summary of not only the events, participants, media coverage, public spending, and the generated online waste, of time, effort, and criticism - but, our cultural heritage, folklore, gender identity and (in)equality, history, the making of history, the present, integrating the present, the future, inspiring a future, and so on - via Derrida's Economimesis.
In his essay Economimesis, Derrida examines the terms of the contract to see if it actually does sustain an economy of expression rather than of representation, taste rather than consumption. As fine art is a form of speech, the aesthetic turn away from bodily consumption towards taste does not leave the mouth, which is the site of both bodily consumption and ideal detachment. For Derrida, the privileging by philosophy of expression disguises an economy of secret consumption, of covert representation governed by desire. Everywhere it carries out its work of consumption behind the disguise of detachment, consuming what it detaches itself from. Detachment is but a disguise entrapment. [1]
If hearing-oneself-speak, in so far as it also passes through a certain mouth, transforms everything into auto-affection, assimilates everything to itself by idealizing it within interiority, masters everything by mourning its passing, refusing to touch it, to digest it naturally, but digests it ideally, consumes what it does not consume and vice versa, produces disinterestedness in the possibility of pronouncing judgments. 

What is excluded from it and what, proceeding from this exclusion, gives if form, limit, and contour? And what about this over-board with respect to what one calls the mouth?

There is no answer to such a question. One cannot say, it is this or that, this or that thing. We will see why.

What this logo-phonocentric system excludes is not even a negative. The negative is its business and its work. What it excludes, what this very work excludes, is what does not allow itself to be digested, or represented, or stated-does not allow itself to be transformed into auto-affection by exemplorality. It is an irreducible heterogeneity which cannot be eaten either sensibly or ideally and which-this is the tautology-by never letting itself be swallowed must therefore cause itself to be vomited
. [2]

[1] Mark Wigley, Postmortem Architecture: The Taste of Derrida, Perspecta 23, p.159.
[2] Jacques Derrida, Economimesis, p.20-21



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May 15, 2015

On Theory | In search of missing pieces

While going through my bookmark list, I came across this article from The Funambulist, one of my favorites and the most insightful blog & podcast, so I thought I'd share a bit of it with you. The quote below is part of a conversation Gilles Deleuze had with Michel Foucault in 1972, in which Deleuze quotes Marcel Proust to illustrate his interpretation of theory and theoretical work. You can read the rest of the piece here.

On Theory:
A theory is exactly like a box of tools. It has nothing to do with the signifier. It must be useful. It must function. And not for itself. If no one uses it, beginning with the theoretician himself (who then ceases to be a theoretician), then the theory is worthless or the moment is inappropriate. We don’t revise a theory, but construct new ones; we have no choice but to make others. It is strange that it was Proust, an author thought to be a pure intellectual, who said it so clearly: treat my book as a pair of glasses directed to the outside; if they don’t suit you, find another pair; I leave it to you to find your own instrument, which is necessarily an investment for combat.  
A theory does not totalise; it is an instrument for multiplication and it also multiplies itself. It is in the nature of power to totalise and it is your position. and one I fully agree with, that theory is by nature opposed to power. As soon as a theory is enmeshed in a particular point, we realise that it will never possess the slightest practical importance unless it can erupt in a totally different area. This is why the notion of reform is so stupid and hypocritical. Either reforms are designed by people who claim to be representative, who make a profession of speaking for others, and they lead to a division of power, to a distribution of this new power which is consequently increased by a double repression; or they arise from the complaints and demands of those concerned. This latter instance is no longer a reform but revolutionary action that questions (expressing the full force of its partiality) the totality of power and the hierarchy that maintains it. This is surely evident in prisons: the smallest and most insignificant of the prisoners’ demands can puncture Pleven’s [French Prime Minister in the 50’s] pseudoreform. If the protests of children were heard in kindergarten, if their questions were attended to, it would be enough to explode the entire educational system. There is no denying that our social system is totally without tolerance; this accounts for its extreme fragility in all its aspects and also its need for a global form of repression. In my opinion, you [Michel Foucault] were the first-in your books and in the practical sphere-to teach us something absolutely fundamental: the indignity of speaking for others. We ridiculed representation and said it was finished, but we failed to draw the consequences of this “theoretical” conversion-to appreciate the theoretical fact that only those directly concerned can speak in a practical way on their own behalf. (emphasis via The Funambulist)

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Apr 23, 2015

Public Realm | Throwback Photos of Tirana in 2012

While cleaning out a few old files, I found these photos I took circa 2012 in Tirana. The city center was under heavy construction at the time. One of the worst public realm projects ever.









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Public Realm | In search of missing pieces




Earlier tonight, I sat in a wonderful lecture by Lisbon-based CVDB Arquitectos at Lawrence Technological University, College of Architecture & Design. Their interest and work encompasses all aspects of public realm (schools, theaters, museums, etc.) which is great of course, but what struck me most, is their intimate and tactile design response to such a broad scale. In order to create successful places of quality and sensibility - where people can gather as well as transform - they draw inspiration, understanding and resources from local cities and own country: its history and heritage, its terrain and changes in topography, its everyday culture and artistry by bringing together local materials, the abundance of natural light, and colorful gestures and forms. They see “color as material” and to understand it and its spatial effects as such, they work closely with color consultants in collaborations that always turn into eye-opening teaching experiences. Fascinating, isn't it?! The science behind the design.


Listening to this process, (while thinking how thoughtful and fantastic it all is) I realize that i haven't even considered to ask (publicly) if there are any color consultants or scientists (not artists) in Albania, and what would be their professional take on its colorful (now fading) capital Tirana. Do we even have any color scientists in Albania? Also, if the entire city has been through the 'painting urbanism' movement, what would a successful public realm architecture be like now (be that a plaza or a building)? Would it refuse color? What is the science that backs up the design?

So many questions I have about the public condition in Albania as a potential (latent or not) catalyst for restoring, re-stitching, or re-directing our identity (or what's left of it) that I can't help but wonder if we've framed the problem correctly before mimicking copy-pasted readymade solutions. As our city changes, our awareness and demands of it change accordingly, so what worked or was forced upon it a decade ago might be (and probably is) obsolete today. A lesson learned, not a round #2. A city changes because we change (ever so slightly). How do we, then, design public space, a cityscape, for our past, present, and future selves? A smart-city (not only tech-savy) that is clever and witty, approachable, resilient and user friendly, intuitive of our past-to-future character (even identity)? What remains, changes, and is created anew? What would a future Albania and Albanians be (known for)?

Tapestry Museum in Arraiolos by cvbd arquitectos

I mention the work of CVDB Arquitectos because from what I saw and heard tonight, I think their design approach and subsequent proposals for public realm projects that include architecture + landscape + urbanism are successful, not only in quality and sensibility, but in transformation and resilience of people, cities and country, using architectural elements and gestures (tectonic and phenomenological) in knowing and choosing what to emphasize, change, and create anew. They understand people, the material resources their country provides, its climate and aesthetics, the values of its artistry and heritage, and how the public(s) (user and object, old and new, city and building, behavior, mentality, complexes, etc.) is made of all of these things and does not appear out of thin air. Although this last one is not improbable, it is a discussion for another time.

Braamcamp Freire Secondary School by cvbd arquitectos

**The photos I have included here are from two of the projects they presented that stayed with me: the Tapestry Museum in Arraiolos and the Braamcamp Freire Secondary School.


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