Jun 12, 2016

Timely Meditations | In search of missing pieces

Historical knowledge streams in unceasingly from inexhaustible wells, the strange and incoherent forces its way forward, memory opens its gates and yet is not open wide enough, nature travails in an effort to receive, arrange and honor these strange guests, but they themselves are in conflict with one another and it seems necessary to constrain and control them if one is not oneself to perish in their conflict. Habituation to such a disorderly, stormly and conflict-ridden household gradually becomes a second nature, though this second nature is beyond question much weaker, much more restless, and thoroughly less sound than the first. In the end, modern man drags around with him a huge quantity of indigestible stones of knowledge, which then, as in the fairy tale, can sometimes be heard rumbling about inside him. And in this rumbling there is betrayed the most characteristic quality of modern man: the remarkable antithesis between an interior which fails to correspond to any exterior and an exterior which fails to correspond to any interior - an antithesis unknown to the peoples of earlier time.
I think it is time to take a couple of pages from Nietzsche (esp. the antithesis 'Handbook of inward culture of outward barbarians' written in Untimely Meditation), if indeed the goal is to disseminate Albanian politics and culture -- 'these strange guests' -- in order to understand what 'has perished' in their union and because of it -- the collateral damage otherwise known as art and architecture. Some might say this is a union of the complicated, even the complex kind. I think it is a conflicted one, deranged, prone to premeditated accidents -- acting out their inner Oedipus complex in public, a fetish transferred to the consumption of products as compensation for intimacy (similar to JG Ballard's Crash). Who's the lesser of the two evils: politics or culture? To fathom the 'household' spawn by their union, the collision of both their habits, habitation, and habitats -- first we need to critically assess their combined collateral damage, the ruined bodies of art, architecture and inevitably ourselves. What is the extent of these wounds (past), the prognosis of recovery (future), the time to heal properly (present)? The household, in this case, becomes a mode of displacement, and the collision a place of damage, where metabolic bodies transform into mobile trajectories (see Virilio, Speed and Politics).

Broken places and illegible distances. Bodies and lives leveraging their better selves in and out of such consciousness struggle with distance as and instead of place -- one of deep fragility and resilience within, but quite delusional and romantic of the outer. Such bodies posses a weak disposition that "fails to correspond", thusly creating a distance beyond that of place where familiar things are lost -- and new, still alien, unrecognized things are gained. But what has been gained so far? A cognitive dissonance, I suppose - a growing distance between interiority and exteriority, the self and the public, the real and the represented, the cult and the poly.

We need to recognize that a certain distance is always present (i.e. memory, truth, representation), of consequence or not (real or imagined), one where body and place become transient and interstitial thresholds (see Foucault and Irigaray) -- gaps that ideally we want to bridge or fill (unpack mostly), while in reality it is their metabolic existence that renders visible the household by exposing the strangeness of its guests. Art and architecture, body and place have been badly and extensively damaged in Albania. Their accelerated trajectory has picked up distance. Their presence has been demetabolized by the collision. The knowledge of their existence is swallowed by the household. Their gap unminded. Their speed of displacement is 'without destination in space or time' (Virilio). A cognitive dissonance indeed.

If we would've been able to identify and comprehend this (cognitive and metabolic) dissonance as a tragic loss instead of a gain (in distance), we'd be in mourning already. But we're not quite there yet. We haven't been able to collect and evaluate the truth of this loss -- we've instead lost it in the distance -- swallowed by the household that politics and culture built, with no intention to digest or release it, but to conceal it via an inward displacement. Such a damage has transformed art, architecture, body and place, (to borrow Nietzsche's words) into "indigestible stones of knowledge, which then, as in the fairy tale, can sometimes be heard rumbling about inside." Outside they have been rendered inanimate, heard and felt only in the rumbling, reduced only to a kind of knowledge of their existence -- to a senseless representation. Inside, their lived selves are perishing in the habituation of a union whose indigestion only widens the distance between their form and content -- weakening the context in which they can exist. A weakened context makes for a feeble disposition, an inner rotting of sorts -- a damage induced by misunderstanding indigestion as clean(s)ing. A union arisen as a 'weak personality'. 
Knowledge, consumed for the greater part without hunger for it and even counter to one's needs, now no longer acts as an agent for transforming the outside world but remains concealed within a chaotic inner world which modern man describes with a curious pride as his uniquely characteristic inwardness. It is then said that one possesses content and only form is lacking; but such an antithesis is quite improper when applied to living things. This precisely is why our modern culture is not a living thing: it is incomprehensible without recourse to that antithesis; it is not a real culture at all but only a kind of knowledge of culture; it has an idea of and feeling for culture but no true cultural achievement emerges from them. What actually inspires it and then appears as a visible act, on the other hand, often signifies not much more than an indifferent convention, a pitiful imitation or even a crude caricature. Cultural sensibility then lies quietly within, like a snake that has swallowed rabbits whole and now lies in the sun and avoids all unnecessary movement. The inner process is not the thing itself, is what actually constitutes 'culture'. Anyone observing this has only one wish, that such culture should not perish of indigestion. 
A weak household. Displaced through indigestion. An external representation of form appropriated as an illusion of inner permanence (read: Appadurai's Spectral Housing).

Such a beautiful rot (wash), our modern republic. 

We don't have to follow a specific ideology or be political to witness this (re)public -- a public relations campaign of 'events' (instead of arts) and 'facades' (instead of architecture), public only in its displacement of content, public only in the distance made possible by the specter of its form -- a 'showstopper' -- a long con of bullying propaganda of 'let me show you how to live, beautifully'. This image-clean(s)ing campaign is erasing our everyday life. Its politics is becoming our culture. Cleansing as beautification, even though appealing, is a dangerous protocol to follow through, one of cognitive and metabolic wash. Are we to think of it as a public service? Public service as (brain/body) wash-lite? Although undetectable or unassuming to many, it is callous to not feel its ever pervasive presence, the unidentified pain of its intrusion, the parasitic reach that simultaneously performs in two scales, the inner and the outer, the psychological and the urban - widening the gap between the two, stretching bodies and place in both time and distance. A distorted view of life that undoubtedly leads to a misguided, incapacitated, often unregistered lived image, -- topography and thickness of which becomes imagined, unhistorical, and fantastical. The 'Showstopper' as a successful experiment in addiction, failing better and bigger each time, by failing the self. A republic grown distant and forgetful of its lived self, its body and place, its public. The republic has become a product of consumption without 'a metabolic multitude' (lived content), only the inanimate distance of its 'mobile trajectories' (form).
Imagine, for example, a Greek observing such a culture: he would perceive that for modern man 'educated' and 'historically educated' seem so to belong together as to mean one and the same thing and to differ only verbally. If he then said that one can be very educated and yet at the same time altogether uneducated historically, modern men would think they had failed to hear him aright and would shake their heads. That celebrated little nation of a not so distant past -- I mean these same Greeks -- during the period of their greatest strength kept a tenacious hold on their unhistorical sense; if a present-day man were magically transported back to that world he would probably consider the Greeks very 'uncultured' -- whereby, to be sure, the secret of modern culture, so scrupulously hidden, would be exposed to public ridicule: for we moderns have nothing whatever of our own; only by replenishing and cramming ourselves with the ages, customs, arts, philosophies, religions, discoveries of others do we become anything worthy of notice, that is to say, walking encyclopaedias, which is what an ancient Greek transported into our own time would perhaps take us for. With encyclopaedias, however, all the value lies in what is contained within, in the content, not in what stands without, the binding and cover; so it is that the whole of modern culture is essentially inward: on the outside the bookbinder has printed some such thing as 'Handbook of inward culture of outward barbarians'. This antithesis of inner and outer, indeed, makes the exterior even more barbaric than it would be if a rude nation were only to develop out of itself in accordance with its own uncouth needs.
Who is this public then? Who are we? As evidenced by the distance(s) of connections and estrangement, bridges and barriers rooted in a common history; turbulent transition periods (oddly enough coinciding with puberty, but not always), a present that promotes multiple failures as successes, and a future promised as a forever-lasting commodity by those who live recklessly fast -- we are the metabolic distance between what remains of us and who we hope to be in the future. Fully or indirectly, we may or may not be the extent of this evidence, but we continue to move as if we're racing time toward death. We are the pervasive public and the nuanced individual, metabolic bodies in places of undetermined distances -- struggling to find our place in (or change) the world, within ourselves -- exterior commonalities and inner singularities. A struggle that has resulted in looped cycles of displaced patterns, at times colliding, other times withdrawing and most of the time near missing. We have become collateral damage. Damage/d as a lived (metabolic) condition of being -- swallowed by the republic. Damage/d by a beautiful figure that cleanses instead of digesting. An indigestion/clean(s)ing that breeds silence, deception, fear, self-loathing, fictitious validations, quick fixes, and intentional disregard -- turning lived bodies and places into rumbling stones floating in a bottomless pit filled with unresolved pain. Lost but not disappeared. A temporal displacement. How much time before we mourn this loss in order to begin healing properly? When can we liberate this pain from the rotten nest? When will we have the courage to expose the raw and true vulnerability of our damage?
[...] From this comes a habit of no longer taking real things seriously, from this arises the 'weak personality' by virtue of which the real and existent makes only a slight impression; one becomes ever more negligent of one's outer appearance and, provided the memory is continually stimulated by a stream of new things worth knowing which can be stored tidily away in its coffers, one finally widens the dubious gulf between content and form to the point of complete insensibility to barbarism. The culture of a people as the antithesis to this barbarism was once, and as I think with a certain justice, defined as unity of artistic style in all the expressions of the life of a people; this definition should not be misunderstood in the sense of implying an antithesis between barbarism and fine style; what is meant is that a people to whom one attributes a culture has to be in all reality a single living unity and not fall wretchedly apart into inner and outer, content and form. He who wants to strive for and promote the culture of a people should strive for and promote this higher unity and join in the destruction of modern bogus cultivatedness for the same of a true culture; he should venture to reflect how the health of a people undermined by the study of history may be again restored, how it may rediscover its instincts and there with its honesty.
I know my thoughts and words might not mean a whole lot to a whole lot of people in or outside Albania. I will leave them here anyway, screaming, whispering, as traces of an uphill journey of continuous wander and self-discovery. Yes, a journey as and of displacement. Recognizing the gap, trying to fill it, bridge it, but mostly unpack it. How does my presence and absence, behavior and thoughts, exterior and inner demons, childhood memories and adult rationalization -- find their way, speed and spirit to cross the distance between longing and belonging, of reaching for and resisting freedom? How do I fully grasp for air while holding on tightly? How do I let go, without knowing what to hold onto?

I am that distance -- that multitude.

The migrant as both person and agency, a sole body and a public -- is a curious force, a multitude of simultaneous folds and unfolds, familiar yet uncanny. But, what is more curious, to me anyway, is how common her condition has become. No doubt a result of the extensive damage from the modern world and possibly our own shortsightedness. We have stopped to look beyond our shadow, beyond the immediate presence of ourselves. We've picked up speed in the other direction, and have let whomever and whatever isn't like us drag behind, until the thread has been worn out. A distance looped in displacement. Detached? Yes. Forgotten? Maybe. But not disappeared. The result of a life lived. Quickly. Carelessly. Trajectories of fast memories and half truths -- shaped in representation. A product of consumption. Consuming. A modern life of capital means.

Because of her elusive character, the migrant has become both collateral and commodity. The migrant public has become larger, much more visible. It cannot hide in plain sight anymore. It is a sitting duck now. The possibility that anyone at any time can become a migrant because of circumstance has made those who control these circumstances greedy, and the newly displaced lost in body and place. This is a damage from external forces, legible only in its imminent resolution within the migratory self. In this case, in the metabolic bodies of  both migrant and capitalist. A damage that feeds the appetite of the insecure and fragile disposition. A polycephalous systemic force that is as human as it acts inhumanely. As democratic in the quantity of its heads, as dictatorial on its body. As mythic in its tales, as real and consequential as the air we breathe. It allows great distances (looped, globalized), but not a valued (a lived) worth, only consumed/able signifiers of it (indigestion). Its leash tightly represents public freedom and it hangs above our heads as a specter. An illusion so vivid, nostalgic, romantic, and convincing that deceives us into seeing the chair underneath our feet. A pulverized image of loosely threaded promises. Threads made of mobile trajections that compromise the structural integrity/integration of our metabolic bodies, our freeing abyss. The condition of the migrant is our everyday life. Transient, yet identified. Lost, yet appropriated. A vagabond, yet voyeuristic. A citizen without its -ship. A human, dehumanized. A household of screens. Facades as walls. A domesticity displaced. An antithesis measured in distance -- the threshold where metabolic bodies become mobile trajectories -- this distance as the damage of a life lived. Displaced but not disappeared.


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