Mar 29, 2015

Appropriation through Pollution | In search of missing pieces

This is a continuation of the last post Appropriation of Public(s). Since I ended it with a quote from Michel Serres's Malfeasance: Appropriation through Pollution?, I thought it appropriate to use his words (once again) to make my (multitudes of) point(s). 
I started my meditation yesterday by saying that pollution and dirt were taking possession of streets and places, of roads and the sky - in short, of the world and objects. I will end it tomorrow by suddenly discovering strange dirtiness of my soul and the numerous owners of my mind and my language. Now I see that my subjectivity is just as possessed as the collective and the objective. (Serres, p. 59-60)
All text below is from the book, and the excerpts I've chosen (my emphasis) will (hopefully) move the concept and agency of public(s) from the scale of the body to that of the specie(s), from its property to its habitat - the “natural” of the anthropocene.
The public territory stretched as a planetary morass. So, next time you ask about public space - think big!! ☺☻☺☻☺☻☺☻☺☻

How do the living inhabit a place? How do they establish it, recognize it? 2

From tribe to homeland, from the rustic farm to cities, and from these to nations. The latter sometimes revere the tomb of an unknown soldier, not so much to remember the horrors of war, as the inscriptions claim - it would be better to forget those - but to bow before the vile remains that sanction the urban or national appropriation of the soil. [R]omulus built the eternal city on the corpse of his brother.

Millions of young people, whose remains rest in military cemeteries, in the shadow of bronze statues erected for the foul glory of the very people (were they clueless or criminal?) who sacrificed them, marked with their blood, their corpses the nation's property. Born on the soil of their nation, they died on it and for it, and now they sleep in it. 7

With reference to sites that are outside the body, our language says “here lies” for the place where our ancestors rest. The here of the “here lies” did not in fact designate the funeral site; on the contrary, it signaled that there is no place other than the site rooted in those bodies. The site does not indicate death; death indicates the site, and often its limits. This is another inevitable link. 9/10

Exposed to space, our strength emerges from our weaknesses that lie in those places from which they spring forth. The primary need: to live here. To inhabit, to have; how to describe the strength of the link that unites them? He who lacks a “here” where he can lie down does not have the strength to stand up for very long. 11

What happens when this nest, this place, is gone? The person whose pecuniary resources are dwindling is called poor; the famished deprived even of bread are indigent; those who roam without a roof, without a place, are miserable. Human misery marks the limit of possible life. Those who have a place have. Those who have no place have nothing, strictly speaking. Do they still exist? They have fallen below the level of animals.

Necessary for survival, the act of appropriation seems to me to have an animal origin that is ethological, bodily, physiological, organic, vital ... and not to originate in some convention or positive right. I sense there a collection of urine, blood, excretions, rotting corpses ... . Its foundation comes from the body, alive or dead. I see those actions, behaviors, postures as sufficiently vital and common to all living beings to call them natural. Here natural right precedes positive or conventional right. 12

Rousseau is wrong when he writes, “The first who after enclosing a piece of land thought of saying ‘This is mine’ and found people to believe him was the real founder of civil society.” Describing an imaginary act, he proposes a conventional foundation of property right. A few centuries before him, Livy, in the first book of his Roman History, might have said it more concretely: “The first, Romulus, who having enclosed a piece of land by plowing a furrow around Rome, and thought of saying ‘this is mine,’ found no one to believe him, but on the contrary found a twin brother, a rival, a competitor, someone with the same desire ... and opposed him.” [...] Romulus therefore killed Remus, who had turned up so conveniently, and hastened to bury him under the walls of the city, which made him its founder, owner, master, and king. The bloody remains of his crime polluted the earth he thus appropriated, according to what I have just called the natural or living law. Romulus remained faithful to the wolves that reared him. Although from a historical perspective it is just as wrong as Rousseau's tale, the Latin historian's account expresses an anthropological truth that refers to bestial customs described in ethology; these customs are still obvious to the passer-by on streets full of dog piss. 13

Most of the rituals performed in antiquity, throughout what was called, erroneously or out of ignorance, the inhabited world, revered the gods pertaining to the cult of ancestors. [...] Sacred was the name of the Earth that they walked on, haunted, and cultivated; sacred because it contained the historical remains of descendants buried there. The cultivated Earth, the pagus, from the tilled plot of land, owned by the descendants of the ancestors buried there, was the origin of the pagan religion, as the term itself indicates. The domestic altars bring into the household the remnants of the dead and the gods of the pagus [...] On the heels of the first murder come religions14/5

“The first who enclosed a piece of land,” the word lustrare is used specifically; it means to travel all over a place, go around its periphery, circle it, inspect it. The same word for closure also means to clean, to purify. This purification occurs through sacrifice; is this bloodshed used to clean, or to soil? 16

After urine, blood. And after blood, we have ashes. After nature, after the paganism of the pagus, we have polytheism. 17

Here is the first example of a softening. A conversion (to Christianity). There will be nothing sacred, only what is holy. Nothing dirty is left, only what is clean and proper. At the altar as at the hotel? There is no more property?

This Holy Land, no longer sacred but holy, we will no longer tread on, no longer work it either by hand or by plough. We will barely inhabit it because it no longer lies here; it takes place somewhere else, far away.  18

Our very earth has been desecrated, or rather secularized; in other words it has become ordinary, analogous to any other, plunged into a homogeneous and isotropic space. Lying before us passively, the earth has even become objectified ... objectifiable. Hence our sciences will be able someday to study it, observe it, and measure it.

A very few of us will get to know this Holy Land, only after a long pilgrimage. [...] What is more, this so-called Holy Land no longer harbors any remains of the one who was raised from the dead, leaving his tomb empty, containing neither corpse nor mummy; even better, he is the one whose Ascension - or Assumption in the feminine - we celebrate but whose departure leaves nothing behind on earth. [R]eligion based on the life of a person leaving no trace whatsoever that would allow us to infer a history19

Called holy before, this Earth now also loses its sacredness because it contains no more remains [...] no signs of appropriation any more. It is finally cleansed, finally dis-appropriated, de-territorialized. [T]here is no longer any marked place.

The holy land no longer even lies in the Holy Land; it can no longer even be found on earth, henceforth referred to as “here below.” Like a dispossessed traveler, wandering and roaming, a transient pilgrim, a tenant, our being is not there; it does not come from there, does not go there, but only passes through.

Here are the new answers to the four classic questions concerning place: neither ubi, nor quo, nor unde, but qua. We now have a new spatial, religious, or anthropological foundation for tenancy. No longer is there a here or appropriation; we live as transients or tenants, deprived of a fixed abode.

We can call this the first end of property; it is abstract, theoretical, virtual, whatever you want. 20

Proudhon's famous words: Property is theft! 25

We are dealing here with what characterizes both the god and the city. Henceforth, monuments to the dead will celebrate the shame of the massacre of innocent children by unspeakably cruel fathers, which I call the murder of the sons. They will found the property, now definitely public and collective, of a city, and on a larger scale the nation. The increasing volume of trash or excretions - urine, blood, corpses ... - that still are bodily or physiological excretions, marks the extension of appropriated space - nest, farm, city, country - and also the increase in the number of subjects of appropriation - individual, family, nation.

For the rhythm of this increase to stop and then suddenly to change into a vertical spurt engulfing the planer and humanity, it had to go from cemeteries or bodily excretions, subjective or human, to more objective trash: sewage farms, public dumps ... in big cities, industrial waste that is less biodegradable, or world-objects in the world. We have now arrived. 35

These objects we exclude or throw away once they have become useless emanate from us in new ways today to mark our territories. We know how to make waste machines. 38

Nothing in these adventures, though, seems relate to energy questions - in short, to the hard sciences. The main issue appears to concern the behaviors of appropriation of the species in question if they were to multiply. 39

We question our responsibility only when it comes to relations between physical quantities. The question is, What do we really want when we dirty the world? 40

A factory empties its effluents into a nearby river, diffuses them in the atmosphere, or transports them to a remote mangrove swamp; of course nobody sees that this means appropriation of the place. Who doesn't understand that no one can drink the water, breathe the air, or get close to such an area? These spaces are better protected than by walls, locks, or bolts. Those who leave horrifying traces and marks do not appropriate places by haunting them but by excluding everybody else.

Clearly, we have to meditate on the function of the border. Even linear and abstract, in other words infinitely fine, this dividing line strangely consists of three layers. The first is on the inside and protects the inhabitant with its softness; the exterior one threatens possible invaders with its hardness. The layer in the middle is riddled with pores, passages, portals, and porosities through which, often by semiconduction, a living being or a thing enters, is locked in, leaves, transits, attacks, or waits hopelessly. The prepositions in, for, to, from describe the first layer; out of and against the third strip; between and through the intermediary one. To defend, protect, forbid, or let through: this is the three-fold way in which a border functions. 43

This reveals an act of appropriation. 

Pollution grows with the production and consumption of goods, and therefore with the number of rich people with profusely overflowing garbage cans (hard) and overwhelming loudspeakers (soft). The parallel growth of property, money and waste show their commonality; money and waste define one as an owner.

Global statistics show that owners who have acquired or rapidly increased their wealth pollute more than the poor, and the rich pollute more than the destitute, the dominating more than the dominated - in other words, those who own rather than those who have nothing. 45

What is more, the rich readily discharge waste [...] where the very poorest live.

The more wealth a man or a collectivity amasses, the more noise they make, soft but also hard; the louder the noise and the racket, the further their visual and acoustic productions or excrements will spread, the more hard power they have. Their images, smells, and voices reach far. The hard engenders the soft, which engenders the hard. The global invasion has begun. 46/7

Hence there is growth in space. [...] For wealth to pollute, it must spread, but how and by what mechanism and circulation? Through money. Just as some animals mark their nest with their urine, some humans like to spread the image of their face in space. 50

Imperious images and letters force us to read, while the pleading things of the world are begging our senses for meaning. The latter asks; the former command.

Those who no longer see them can dirty them even more. 51

First the landscape then the world. Just as imperiously, a coin is easier to see, read, and decipher than the object it buys. The coin hides the object's view and kills it. The symbol nullifies the thing. Signs express and suppress the world.

Just as the images and vivid colors of billboards prevent us from seeing the landscape, steal and occupy it, seize, repress, and kill it, parasitic noise prevents us from speaking to and hearing our neighbor, thereby monopolizing communication.

Today the noises of appropriation travel beyond any limit because the pole is mobile or virtual and can move all over the world.

Spatial expansion is becoming total. 52

The giant garbage dumps of the cities mark the collectivity's appropriation of the nature surrounding the cities. As we never cease to dirty our surroundings, we (who we?) appropriate them without noticing it. Don't we actually admit as much when we say environment? That which surrounds man makes him into the center. We never stop calling him “owner.” At the limits of growth, pollution is the sign of the world's appropriation by the species53

Described in its rapid rhythm, the very growth of appropriation itself becomes what is properly human. To be sure, animals appropriate their shelter with their dirt, but it is done physiologically and locally. Homo appropriates the global physical world by his hard garbage and, as we shall see, the global human world by soft garbage.

They pollute the here and the there. They are here. They lie here! Silence, a discreet tenant by contrast, is only a momentary lull. 54

All species have vanished and we remain alone in the world, among ourselves. In that global arc, haunted only by our species, some political waste remains - the public in publicity - and nature is perishing under “culture.” 70

[B]y generalizing or globalizing dirt and so erasing the borders where polluting starts or stops, and hence appropriation, the right to property suddenly reaches an intolerable threshold and becomes literally unbearable. We must therefore rethink this right, meaning go beyond its present status where it still resembles animal behaviors. One more step must be taken on the difficult road toward hominization. 71

Kant defined the Beautiful as disinterested. I propose dis-appropriated, relieved of filth. [...] Nothing hides better than the waste generated by property. If I were to remove it, I would unveil the world's beauty. [...] To uncover: to dispossess73

I am inviting you to measure the enormity of the effort needed to uncover, not only to clean up the waste but also to flush out the formats of those fine strategies. [...] What would happen if, in our desperation, we were to remove this immense and dense layer?

What lies underneath? First of all, beauty. 75

That which cannot belong to anyone? The Beautiful, Nothing? The Void? God? 76

We now resemble the historic hero or the man-god as our lives unfold like this. In a new space and along another time span, a new phase of hominization is starting77

The question is. How can we live in today's new world? Hard humans inhabited a hard earth long ago. They wanted to own it in order to inhabit it; their language said this by using the same verb. Soft hominescents now inhabit a space that we will need to render soft enough to survive, subject to the new condition of having to struggle against its appropriation by the invasion of the soft. This is today's leasing task.

It can happen that energy is changed into a sign, the latter combining with it, or vice versa. Appropriation behaviors start, culturally speaking, with a murder - Romulus kills Remus to seize Rome - or at least with a burial; the ancestors of the owners sleep under the earth of the pagus. 78

Pushed to the limit, after exhausting the number of its occurrences, acts of appropriation will inevitably lead to the end of property79

The disappearance of spatial limits announces the end of legal limits.

The fusion of borders marks the end of the war of all against all, that is, of all nations against nations. Another war, one that had no legal standing in the past, is emerging before us and taking an entirely new form.

Here it is, suddenly present, menacing, global, formidable, and more powerful than all our combined forces. Necessary for our survival and that of our children. [...] It is raising the covering. It is rejecting our rejections. It is freeing itself from the chains of maps and networks. It is expelling our properties. [...] Careful: Will it get rid of the species that thought it owned it? 82/3

[T]his struggle against pollution exactly mirrors the hominization process.

We still live - are we still living?  - half animals, half men, like fetishes. 85

This ain't no place for a hero to call home. (The Heavy, Short Change Hero)


Mar 25, 2015

Appropriation of Public(s) | In search of missing pieces

The public is a realm of multitudes. Beings and becomings. Serving and being served, by humans and machines alike. Users and abusers. Polities and technologies. Historic memories and speculative futures. Infrastructures and social networks. Eco-systems and toxic sites. Invasive glare and ambient noise. Hardscape, softscape and software. Systematic edges* and absences. Multitudes that are truly deformed into a polluted totality.

A totality where social and spatial constructs are mobilized by forces of economy, polity, governance, capitalist, communist and everything-in-between ideologies. As conceptually subterranean systems, these forces are rendered invisible by their complexity, which then leads to lack of responsibility. The more complex the system, the harder it is to make sense of it and its reach - and when they do become visible, the problem is one of interpretation. [1]

Hence, the public spatiality where this systemic apparatus materializes is indetermined, unfinished and open to (mis)interpretation. Its original and traditional make as a democratic condition, is now a means for systemic pollution.

Pollution as a systematic disposition?
Active forms are makers of disposition, and disposition is the character of an organization that results from the circulation of these active forms within it. Since these forms are always changing, as is the complexion of disposition, they cannot be catalogued as elemental building blocks or terms in a glossary. Rather, identifying just a few among the many active forms that might be manipulated, redesigned, or rewritten only begins to crack the code, making more palpable the dispositions they inflect and providing some instruments for adjusting political character in infrastructure space. Still, as signs of ongoing processes - like the ripples used for river navigation - the practicality of these forms relies on their indeterminacy. [2] 
Lately, my research has been focused on these otherwise unknown agencies that construct and transform public space - those which make (im)possible today's public(s). I have become interested in identifying and understanding the “systematic absences that make something essential unknown, not understood, hidden, distorted or simply undiscussed.” [3] These ubiquitous forces are manifested and materialized in public space - they shape its (in)visibility by activating forms and behaviors. Their presence is divisive through privatization. Its intent is their interest. Thus, the task of designing public space cannot be approached by default and be reduced as simply architectural. It should be unpacked as a strategy, an all-encompassing matrix of values and logistics that is pushed, pulled, squeezed and overblown by social and spatial conditions within the urban arrangement. It is a process that rejects pre-conceived social and spatial notions. A method that seeks clarity, not in the form of the urban product (i.e. building), but how it searches for content, context and transformation within and outside of itself. How it releases, controls and extends social behavior to reach the common practice of the everyday life and an extraordinary disposition. A pollution disposed? 

Pollution as a paradigm shift?
The practices through which social structure is both expressed and reproduced cannot be divorced from the structuring of space and the use of spatial structures. Previously structured space both constrains and enables the reproduction of social practices and social structure. The social becomes the spatial. The spatial becomes the social. [4]
I am still very much interested in the territorial spatiality of public space, but more so as a critical concept  - an agency - whose capacity and activity is realized by everyday objects, such as: the plastic chair, the folding table, the bench, the curb, the balcony/veranda, the staircase, the placement of the air conditioning units, the clothes hung outside to dry, etc. Informal space, resilient because it is always changing. A shifting paradigm that always disrupts and challenges the predetermined threshold of the building envelope. One that cannot always predict if it is going to thicken or thin the architecture, hence the city. Public(s) as a gestural practice.
“This detailed spatial structure to social life takes time to form and is deformed in time.” [5]
Public space, then, becomes a structural consequence of social practice: an extension of domestic(ated) space and privatization. Public space (per se) doesn't exist. It is a myth. A conception and perception of a seemingly democratic city. So, in order to model it (or versions of it), we need to capture and enclose it, define it first, then investigate how and to what degree it can be open (or impossible to enclose). Open to everyone. But, the only way to model it, is to unpack it as a typology of privatized and domestic(ated) patterns in the city. Patterns of inclusion and exception as a paradigm of participation.
The spatial nature of the society we live in holds more than divisions and continuity, trends and correlations. It is intricately patterned. Social patterns of power, control, deprivation and monotony are all reflected in spatial mosaics: rings of the wealthy, holes of the poor, lines of accessibility, enclaves of distinction. However, none of this would be seen if we did not seek to see it. We must know something of what we are looking for before we can know how to look. [6]
How is the city used? Its everyday. Is it open to everyone? A perception, maybe. Built to exclude? Its architecture as an exclusive and excluded threshold. That's why, when talking about public space, most people immediately think of outside. (The existence of inside public spaces is definitely worth investigating, as well.) People's definition of public space, in this case, says a lot about their participation (or lack thereof) in the city. They see (or perceive) publicness as an outside, a denied access inside, an expulsion from private space. (Let's think about this for a moment.)  Public(s) as an impossibility of enclosure, yes - but as a lack of invitation to participate as well? Exclusion through a gesture of exclusivity - of the same, of homogeneity, of membership. And further maybe, ownership through membership? The exclusion of the other, of diversity, of democracy. Public space as leftover from privatization. A collective cleansing

Pollution as public resonance?

An outside, which is not a dwelling - has been domesticated by the extension of social practice. Not a house, only an extension of the home. Human instincts of (always) wanting to expand the self, one's territory into a cognitive dissonance (of sorts) - constitute a public space that interests me. It encourages (visibility through) engagement, an overlooked public asset that catalyzes potential and consequential spatial forms. The everyday making, occupying and collapsing the public. Through a chair, a table, a door, a window, outdoor appliances, uncovered domestic infrastructures (water tanks, hvac units, electric wires) - people leaning out: talking, yelling, watching, wondering. A different kind of user - a maker and breaker? 

One that doesn't have to leave the apartment to be in public. (Hmm..interesting.) One that doesn't consider designated public space truly public - and designs its own instead. A dérive. Merely a space, more of a drift, an act that disrupts the threshold by contaminating it, by hacking its imminent domain. A public that makes itself visible without pending approval from systemic forces to recognize its presence. One that challenges the public-private (ab)use of the modern city. One that realizes the only public that matters is sovereign, not appropriated through its public space. After all, when people think of public space, they think of a void in the city. A predetermined and already bound open lot. A void, how fitting. A public emptiness. A missing piece of urban context. A void for the masses. Avoid the masses. Masses as content fillers. Contained

I am being way too cynical here, but the point I want to make is that in designing such space - a public space - these things need to be considered and included in the process. Architects and urbanists should be designing a language of visibility, intent, value and resilience for the public user - within the context of a city - competing with forces so complex, that if they don't engage, they will become irrelevant and will end up serving the systemic apparatus instead, making a public only in (as) currency. They will not be worthy of change, of empowerment, of sovereignty - a territory of public(s) that unfolds further than what most people think is public space. It is much more than a park, a playground, a plaza, a recreational activity. (It can definitely be a pyramid!) It is a life. Or rather what makes (sovereign) life possible. And polluted. 

Pollution as public space?

A multifaceted pollution of many forces at play (or at war). Making visible the reach of these political, social, historical, economical, technological, urban, tectonic, and architectural forces thickens my interest and challenge in looking into and dissecting what public space is, really. The what then leads into the how - how it is made, maintained, funded, and used. What are its stakeholders? Private corporations. The state. The community. Foreign Investors. Who profits more from public(s)? Who owns the public? Apparently, ownership does not mean or determine responsibility. Who are these public(s)? Is it the public user, the public object or the public ideology? All of the above. They make up the public realm. It is their exchange; their play and war, their right and privilege, their incapacitated occupancy and membership, their promiscuity - that pollutes

The truly public doesn't exist. Not by a solid (and sovereign) definition or design. It has been taken over by complex systems. It has been expelled. It has been rendered invisible. It has become indetermined. It has been made, remade, rejected, reached and realized unstable. In our streets. In our city. In the routine and banality of the everyday. Drifting. Fleeting. An impossibility to enclose or escape the everyday. A vulnerable spatiality between improvisation and determination. Form and Content. Use and Abuse. An asymmetric existence between warfare and spectacle. Paranoia and Comedy. (‘A paranoid misunderstanding that is played for comedy.’) A defensive architecture made offensive. (Military sites as public spectacle.) An architecture of security fetishized as nihilistic desire to punish. 
[W]hat are the spaces of the expelled? These are invisible to the standard measures of our modern states and economies. But they should be made conceptually visible. [T]he space of the expelled expands and becomes increasingly differentiated. It is not simply a dark hole. It is present. [...] They are many, they are growing, and they are diversifying. They are, potentially, the new spaces for making - making local economies, new histories, and new modes of membership. [7]
It is the most ubiquitous, random objects and actions of the everyday, that can activate public space. Again, the plastic chair, the folding table, the picnic basket,  saying hello from across the street, the voyeur out on the window, the vagabond wondering aimlessly, the children climbing on trees, the leaves falling off trees, the car honking, people jumping to avoid puddles, falling into one, fallowing signs, reading signs, giving directions, etc. It is all in and about the exchange, us as critical capacity (as agency) - the interaction or stillness that we, as public, make possible, participate in and pollute
Let us define two [types of pollution] and clearly distinguish them from one another: first the hard, and second the soft. By the first I mean on the one hand solid residues, liquids, and gases, emitted throughout the atmosphere by big industrial companies or gigantic garbage dumps, the shameful signature of big cities. By the second, tsunamis of writing, signs, images, and logos flooding rural, civic, public, and natural spaces as well as landscapes with their advertising. Even though different in terms of energy, garbage and marks nevertheless result from the same soiling gesture, from the same intention to appropriate, and are of animal origin. To be sure, the pestilential invasion of space by soft signs does not enter into the physical and chemical calculations mentioned above, for instance those concerning climate. But in combination with hard pollution, soft pollution proceeds from the same drive. Here is the result: of course, pollution comes from measurable residues of the work and transformations related to energy, but fundamentally it emanates from our will to appropriate, our desire to conquer and expand the space of our properties. He who creates viscous and poisoned lakes or garish posters is making sure no one will take away the spaces he has occupied, now or after he is gone. [8]
Again, the question for architects and urbanists screams: How do we design (for) a pollution - a public space - that has been so appropriated through privatization, domestication, expulsion and emission, it finds itself devoid of agency (or incapacitated by congestion)?

It starts with an investigation in making sense of it all, in understanding what's at stake, in identifying scope and establishing value, in critically engaging its social and spatial structure, and so on. Naturally, the unpacking of this process is an uphill battle and it requires strong ethics, strategy, consideration, patience and struggle, and maybe at times a fleeting will(power) to surrender, to be bored, biased (let's stay away from conspiracy), and (occasionally) distracted - but it rewards in the polyphony of experiences it challenges, communicates and exhibits, which will hopefully be present in the design. (And, if up for a challenge, why not design its use as appropriated through abuse.)


* As defined by S. Sassen in her book Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy.

[1] Sassen, Saskia, Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy, Harvard University Press, 2014, 215-216.

[2] Easterling, Keller, Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space, Verso 2014, p.73.

[3] Thrift, N.J., On the Determination of Social Action in Space and Time’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, vol. 1,no. 1 (1983), p. 45.

[4] Pred, Allan, Place, practice and structure: social and spatial transformation in Southern Sweden: 1750-1850, 1986, p.198.

[5] Dorling, Danny, The Visualisation of Spatial Social Structure, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. 2012, section 2.7 Adding time.

[6] Dorling, Danny, The Visualisation of Spatial Social Structure, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. 2012, section 2.6 Population space.

[7] Sassen, Saskia, Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy, Harvard University Press, 2014, 222.

[8] Michel Serres, Malfeasance: Appropriation through Pollution? translated by Anne-Marie Feenberg-Dibon, Stanford University Press, 2011, 41-42.


Mar 9, 2015

In search of | missing pieces

Containing multitudes (most of them flawed) ... indeed. 

in Albania

multi-s in search of their tude-s.
me in search of their relevance.

art in search of its authors.
authors in search of their institution.
institution in search of its responsibilities.
responsibilities in search of their exception.
exception in search of its evaluation.
evaluation in search of a narrative.
narrative in search of its language.
language in search of its jargon.
jargon in search of its pixels.
pixels in search of their image.
image in search of its recognition.
recognition in search of its identity.
identity in search of its future.
future in search of its past.
past in search of its territory.
territory in search of its capacity.
capacity in search of its occupancy.
occupancy in search of occupation.
occupation in search of its margins.
margins in search of a defense.
defense in search of justice.
justice in search of its visibility.
visibility in search of its aesthetic.
aesthetic in search of its ethics.
ethics in search of culture.
culture in search of its anthropos.
anthropos in search of their apology.
apology in search of its rhetoric.
rhetoric in search of its discourse.
discourse in search of its publics.
publics in search of their domain.
domain in search of its ownership.
ownership in search of its stake.
stake in search of its market.
market in search of its art.

*definitely forgetting a few, or an infinitude. (warning: might not make sense as a totality to many)


Mar 2, 2015

Coffee and Cigarettes | In search of missing pieces

I'm looking for the joke with a microscope. - Iggy Pop, Repo Man

Are we a coffee and cigarettes culture? Could the Albanian culture (misconstrued as tradition) be seen as a series of vignettes; skits of fragmented encounters (their awkwardness driven by boredom) with only coffee and cigarettes in common? Maybe with a recurring conversational stimulus (a reassuring or instigating line) : “That's not too healthy, is it now?”.
Same setting. Two subjects (maybe a third). Different people. Two objects. Same objects. Coffee and cigarettes. Held together (barely) minimalistically (to not be confused with an actual word: materialistically) by dialog. That necessary linguistic (mostly consumed and abused as the weakest) link.
Maybe an object is what serves as a link between subjects, allowing us to live in society, to be together. But since social relations are always ambiguous, since my thoughts divide as much as unite, and my words unite by what they express and isolate by what they omit since a wide gulf separates my subjective certainty of myself from the objective truth others have of me. (What is an object? 1967)
The chosen analogy (even though far-fetched to unbelieving souls), initially, made sense to me, literally and figuratively, on many levels. ☺☻☺☻☺☻☺☻☺☻☺☻☺☻☺☻☺☻
Obviously you’re not well suited for three-dimensional chess, perhaps three dimensional candyland would be more your speed. [...] It must be humbling to suck on so many different levels. - The Big Bang Theory, The Pancake Batter Anomaly
3D Chess, Star Trek

Such, is the (discontinuous) film Coffee and Cigarettes, or better yet the fragmented series by Jim Jarmusch. My reading(s) of it anyways. There is contrast in setting, but not in titles. Objects are black and white. Subjects are related. Coffee is black. Cigarettes are white. Characters feel incompatible. There is tension in contrast. There is tension in the conversation. Misfits placed in the scene as props. No clear link in dialog. It is the other, the objects of coffee and cigarettes that make possible their exchange. Their interaction. Their seemingly awkward confrontation. Two (in)dividuals that come together. That come out of themselves, only in this instance, when surrounded by dialectical checker patterns, in form and content. Their leap seems short in distance and depth. A hop, perhaps. 

Doubles seem to be a big recurrence in subjects and objects (twins, cousins, tabletops, dices, tea cups, refills, colors, etc.), lines of dialog, even soundtrack.
build[ing] a whole that's much greater than the sum of its parts. (via)
To dialog, both have to be present (minimally, at least). To show up, on all levels. Not remotely. A remote setting marks that which is not at all, an absence (abyss) of distance and depth. A perceived tabula rasa
People who object to the in-jokes should consider that they might be just part of a dialectic with what could be termed the out-jokes—the more populist and obvious bits of humor. (via)
A setting, or culture construed around two addictions, coffee and cigarettes. Jittery and gasping for air, the subjects seem to be more at ease once caffeine and nicotine enters their system. The high that conforms their freedom. Willpower becomes a Machiavellian negotiator. That which they consume, ends up consuming them. They try to control the awkwardness of the conversation by controlling the proximity, access and quantity of these substances (or objects). Back and forth, they alternate. In doing so, their intake becomes a stimuli for dialog, confrontation, a sort of communication. An attempt, really. Or what it really becomes, a controlled mass communication of public energy. The only thing free remains the fall. A free fall. A social void. A substance abuse. A miscommunication.
This paranoid misunderstanding is played for comedy, but the fear of a gaping void remains. (via)
A gaping void. Such is public space in Albania. And yes, the public energy, mentality & complexes it generates are indeed ‘played for comedy.’ Just as the 11 fragments or comic shorts below, the most successful public space in the country, the cafe, is taken out of context. It is abstracted. Removed from the rest of its publics' lives. It has become a misconstrued mise-en-scene, staged, a still life. We see and hear its subjects come and go, but where from / to becomes the unseen other (third) space. A space that seemingly falls out of the margins, into the cracks of the frame. But, we know that space. We live in that space. Everyday. We just can't see it from the cage. The one we've locked ourselves up in and call public, the cafe. The most unproductive public space in Albania.

This [other] space may be all the more menacingly threatening or tantalizingly luring for being unseen. (via) 
It is the impossibility of enclosing the everyday that makes it tantalizingly luring. It is the impossibility of our relationship with it. It is our lack of reach. Our stubbornness and resistance in seeing, understanding, living it. Our myopic vision and blurred capacity to focus the lens. We see the aesthetics (such as they are dangled near us), not the forensics. We see the spectacle in front of it, not the science behind it. We applaud it, not research it. We art (eh) it, not act it. The everyday mundane bores us. So much in fact, that we've constructed, staged the cafe, as our place for the only public that's worth our caliber, or just a second look. A place within a space. A cafe within a building. Doubling the distance, thus the effort to leave it. Doubling our stay, thus consuming our productive time and exponentially exhausting our brain activity - to find an excuse to stay. Dead labor. It's like we've shut the door on our relevance and turned our back to a potential significance. Dismiss it as mundane. The everyday and its labor - our critics, are not us. The cafe releases us. It has plenty of space, coffee and cigarettes - public stimuli- to rationalize the impossibility of enclosing the everyday, the relevance of those who criticize us, and the untapped potential of the mundane. Its publicness makes us someone. We can finally come out of ourselves, be our original self or an alternate(ive), anyone really. Freedom, at last.

We've passed the facade (which has already been painted for us). We are inside the building envelope, inside a 3-dimensional facade - a public threshold (that which we don't think of as public space, but it most certainly is) - seated, surrounded by the comfort of our coffee and cigarettes, incapacitated to stand up to our everyday. We can't hear or see its definition or resolution fully because we're gated in, however, we're still present, even though it has evaporated into a gaping void of a whispered mirage, from which we only can make out a few choice words and offensive gestures (a mistaken defense, perhaps). We don't need the in-between. We can fill in the rest . After all, we have our own public inside, with whom we can put our heads together and continue this distant outside conversation. Multiple (incapacitated) minds at work are better than a single stubborn one. Two imaginations here are better than any presence out there. (Or, it might just be the crowd inside is hearing voices, thinking they're coming from outside. And, yes there is a definition for it: schizophrenia.) A dialectic of in- vs. out-jokes.

Such is our public culture. ‘A paranoid misunderstanding that is played for comedy.’

A subject, an object and their shadow walk into a cafe... to talk about the future. Better yet, to alternate (alternativate - should definitely be a verb) futures. Bored by the everyday mundane, they choose a spot, still, very still (sturdy and secure), still life still; a sizable table for the objects (coffee and cigarettes); chairs and immediate space for the awkward tic (a la mode, perhaps) of the subject; and proceed to mark the threshold of their elusive composition - a frame big enough to cast the entire shadow when it misbehaves egoistically while in dialog about the future. (Sort of premeditating a crime scene, no?) Without the recurrence of this linguistic link, there would be no public, no culture. No information exchanged. It is this communication that holds it together, minimalistically. A critical juxtaposition alternating difference and repetition between publics. (Borrowing Deleuze's ‘the interior is only a selected exterior, and the exterior a projected interior’.)

What, then, are these / our publics?

Public space as a gaping void. Public energy as free fall. Public culture, checkered?

What is our public pattern? That is pattern as juxtaposition of social improvisation and political determination. Literally and figuratively. Forensically and aesthetically. Spatially and culturally. 

Yes, culture is public(s)

That's why a closer look in defining the concept of publics, its depth and distance in name and access, would help us see and extract patterns of (ab)use in expression, exception, exploitation, exit, and extinction. 

How could/should/would we exchange in it, then? 
[T]here's the suggestion that inside every apparent improvisation is an element of determination. (via)

If all we're looking for is an opening or an invitation (an enabling, some would say) to exchange through participation, we have to keep in mind that there's a thin line between improvisation and determination, in form and content, in role and position, in contrast and pattern, in coffee and cigarettes. Otherwise, it becomes an urban warfare with just a simple move (like adding color, see the end). An asymmetric one that distorts the seen and the perceived, the lived and the construed, the protagonists and the antagonists. A free fall of alternates(ives). 

We can also choose to participate through play(My favorite!) After all, the playground is the original public space. In this film, the table top (as pattern and content) fits that description. Those who do not believe the world is flat, may prefer to play 3-dimensionally, hence the composition within the frame, the mise-en-scene, becomes a playground.

The choice and nature of exchange (communication or action) - checkers or chess (as play / fight / bet) - is entirely yours.

Do we, then, play the subject (wo/man), the object (board), or the link (game)? 
The public, the space, or the culture? 
Is the culture check(ered/ed/mated) out?

Nine (of many) invitations to participate:
(ex. Opening, Game, Defense, Counter/Gambit, Variation, System, Counter/Attack, Reversed, Inverted, etc.)

** There are quite a few layers, scales, and readings to the questions and thoughts I've laid out here that I hope most make sense without being too cryptic, thus unclear. (The joke would be on me then, for failing on this many levels.) ☺☻
I have borrowed cinematic work, mainly Jarmusch's series of encounters in Coffee and Cigarettes (along with the in- and mostly out-jokes of each fragment), as an analogy, to illustrate what I've been rambling on so far. The coffee and cigarettes culture of/in Albania. Since, cinema is but a representation, consider this post one as well. A critical speculation of publics: spatial, social, cultural. A proposition of sorts, not a realization.

I perceive culture as a conductor of public resonance. 
(stolen from the film dialogue and adapted as this post's scope)

Strange to meet you.

What did you dream about? 
I can't. I don't have time to tell you this.

Who's the evil twin? That's the way it works, right?

Somewhere in California.
The beauty of quitting is that now that I've quit, I can have one, you know, 'cause... I've quit.

The willpower!

Those things'll kill ya.
- I can't help it. I'm fucking addicted. OK?
- So, coffee and cigarettes? That's your lunch? That ain't healthy, is it?
- So, I'm on a diet. OK? I ain't no fucking quitter.

I wish you woudn't have done that.

No Problem.
- So, are you sure everything is OK with you?
- Yes. Everything is OK. And you?
- Me? Things are OK, not perfect, you know, but pretty much OK, yeah.
- Good. I'm very happy to see you.
- I'm happy to see you, man.
- I guess I'm going to go.
- Really? So soon?
- Yeah. But, listen. If you don't want to talk now, call me anytime. Maybe now it's not the right time for you. That's all.
So I was very happy to see you.
- Yes, me too. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but there's nothing wrong, really.
- That's OK. I understand. Call me.

- It's just... funny, don't yah think, that when you can't afford something, it's like *really expensive* but then when you can afford it, it's like, free? It's kinda backwards, don't yah think?
- Yeah, well... the world is a bit like that, I guess, in a lot of ways.

Jack shows Meg his Tesla coil.
It's an air transformer, with primary and secondary coils that are timed to resonate. It's basically a step up transformer, which converts relatively low voltage high current, to high voltage low current, at high frequencies.

- Without him, we wouldn't have alternating current, radio, television, X-ray technology, induction motors, particle beams, lasers, none of that would even exist if it weren't for him.
- Or, the rock band Tesla.

If we would've paid more attention to his ideas, the world would be a much better place. We'd have free mass communication, free transportation, free energy for everyone. That's why they discredited him in the end...for free energy.

- He perceived the earth as a conductor of acoustical resonance.
- Hmm. What a beautiful idea.

- Damn it. Something went wrong. It wasn't supposed to stop. It was supposed to keep working. I don't know what happened.
- You think, maybe you blew a capacitor?
- No, I didn't blow a capacitor.
- I think, maybe the spark gaps are too far apart on you spark coil vibrator.
- That's it. I didn't check that earlier.

- Likewise. I'm certainly very aware of you.

- And the reviews, ahh..
- They were pretty fucking great.
- I was amazed because, you know, it was... I didn't think many people would kind of get all, the sort of the cultural references..
- You'd be surprised. Yeah!
- But, a lot of people didn't have any kind of reference to mate to it... Let me try and put it in context. I've always had a big passion for history, you know, and peoples' lives, all the little events that you know, how you get from A to B, and all the small details in peoples' lives, and kind of, really, full of, sort of epic qualities, you know... and so, I've been doing all this research, and, um, anyway, I've come up with this.
- What stage is..this green lit? Or, is it just... What stage is it on?
- It's not some.. it's got nothing to do with work. It's not a ‘project.’ What I've discovered was..

[gets interrupted]

- Wow. I've been recognized.

- You a doctor now, or something?
- I've been studying alternative medicine for two years now. I mean, ancient healer techniques, and all that. I happen to know a certain procedure I can perform using a drill gun, an electric drill. But, you know, my hand's nice from being a DJ. 

Caffeine can cause serious delirium.

- You're a real caffeine junkie, aren't you?
- Just keep it down. Just between us.
- You know, before I gave it up, it used to make me dream faster. That's how my dreams were, just whizzin' by.
He specializes in alternative medicine. That is, alternative, to this planet.


- I've lost touch with the world. Where are we?
The Armory. It sounds so heavy and ponderous.
Let's pretend this coffee is champagne.
- Why would we do that?
- Well, to celebrate life. You know, like the rich, elegant people do, the classy people.
- I prefer coffee, simple working man's coffee.
- Oh, you're so provincial. You know what your problem is?
- What?
- You have no joie de vivre.
- I don't?
- No! Besides, this coffee is awful. I propose a toast.
- So what should we toast?

*And now the news..*

(what color is the news?)

Twin Peaks, Beyond Life and Death, Episode 29.