Dec 28, 2018

that's a wrap | happy new year

Another year nears its end, reminding us that there is much about it to reflect on and a lot more to get ready for in the next one. As many of us take this last week to do (just) so (or pretend to, anyway) -- to recover before we resume -- I leave you with these poems by Wislawa Szymborska, as a way to bridge the remainder of the 'holiday' -- this threshold of time lost and anticipation, the intermingling of memory and future in our search for substance and meaning. 

La CenerentolaFrançois Schuiten

Children Of Our Age

We are children of our age,
it's a political age.

All day long, all through the night,
all affairs--yours, ours, theirs--
are political affairs.

Whether you like it or not,
your genes have a political past,
your skin, a political cast,
your eyes, a political slant.

Whatever you say reverberates,
whatever you don't say speaks for itself.
So either way you're talking politics.

Even when you take to the woods,
you're taking political steps
on political grounds.

Apolitical poems are also political,
and above us shines a moon
no longer purely lunar.
To be or not to be, that is the question.
And though it troubles the digestion
it's a question, as always, of politics.

To acquire a political meaning
you don't even have to be human.
Raw material will do,
or protein feed, or crude oil,

or a conference table whose shape
was quarreled over for months;
Should we arbitrate life and death
at a round table or a square one?

Meanwhile, people perished,
animals died,
houses burned,
and the fields ran wild
just as in times immemorial
and less political.


Une Odeur d'étoile de Mer en Train de Mourir, Enki Bilal (The Hunting Party)

The End And The Beginning

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won’t
straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
can pass.

Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.

Someone has to drag in a girder
to prop up a wall.
Someone has to glaze a window,
rehang a door.

Photogenic it’s not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.

We’ll need the bridges back,
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.

Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
and nods with unsevered head.

But already there are those nearby
starting to mill about
who will find it dull.

From out of the bushes
sometimes someone still unearths
rusted-out arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.

Those who knew
what was going on here
must make way for
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.


Nov 25, 2018

Albania celebrates | The Culture of Independence and the Unmaking (i.e. Redesigning) of Skanderbeg’s legacy

MVRV design proposals in Tirana, screenshots via

A state-run institution whose disposition is composed of half-truths, and whose sensibility and form is in the habit of wearing — thus bearing — only two masks: its own take on (tacky) kitsch, a mannerism not to be confused with vernacular, and its public ‘at work’ image that depicts the same short-sightedness of any social media ad campaign, hence an interfaciality laced with insecurities and conceit — which it then promotes as CULTURE — can be very telling, namely in revealing its agency as the inability to grasp and accept the shared reality it imposes its ‘legitimacy’ on, thus pretending to educate those living in it so to ‘cultivate’ it; when, in fact, it is this legitimacy that gets cultivated to become its main legacy — CULTURE.
The answer to the question What does CULTURE (have to) celebrate, then? is quite simple: self-preservation, namely its ability to suspend a shared reality in favor of a hegemonic one that hangs suspended over it as to cast the deepest shadow with the blindest of lights (i.e. half-truths), so to render people’s perception and consciousness obsolete, namely their bearings of and in any reality.

MVRV design proposals in Tirana, screenshots via

Cultural Hegemony deceives people into ceding their faculties, thus freedom, in favor of a universal reality hinged on this exact cognitive disorientation, which it then proceeds to stabilize — i.e. manipulate into acceptance — through erasure (of their shared past) and abstraction (of its continued imposition on them), thus normalizing specter as a totality where a potent panoptic gaze blinds lives into spectrality. Such a celebration then becomes nothing more than an omnipresent surveillance, better known as CULTURAL NORM.

The survival instinct from the loss of one reality persists as consumption of and over-indulgence in the other, with neither realities being fully grasped. Such a living, at the edge of two unknowns, might as well be resignified as a life in and of unknown unknowns — though the edge itself marks a duration that is persistently historical. Hegemony limits the chances and choices of an intelligible reality by reducing this duration — i.e. mental health — to a coping mechanism. So power becomes the only intelligence able to draw a(ny) distinction — devising the line, the edge, the limit, and even the history of the reality it forcefully offers. A reality that starts as discrimination is then cultivated into a stability, thus becoming the only way of life. As it appears and it is perceived as a ‘stable’ reality, it assumes autonomy, hence responsibility to secure its own duration — i.e. self-preservation and legacy.


As a powerful device (e.g. tool, weapon, mechanism) of enunciation, CULTURE regulated as such works to increase the hegemonic choices of articulation. Hence, the responsibility of CULTURE is indeed to celebrate this stability in order to guard (i.e. surveil) its legacy. In fact, such a celebration seems to be its only agency — i.e. its ethical capability and aesthetic capacity. So, in this year of Skanderbeg, 500 years after his death, it’s not at all shocking, probably even fitting, for the state-run institution of CULTURE to celebrate itself instead.


Nov 18, 2018

Hitchcock's Tower: Windmill of the Mind or Source of Power | Headspace to Cityscape |

Hitchcock's Vertigo takes quite a peek into the ever complex relationship between (wo)man and the city, more specifically the way in which the depths of the mind erupt the self to extend beyond one's imposed limit(ation)s and onto the environment that encircles it, that gives it its liveliness. It shows us a glimpse of how the sensible (memory and imagination among others) is distributed and materialized through the layered city (which is what gives it its layers). We can then understand the tower in the film as an architecture that is as much spatial as it is temporal; as hard of an object as it may be a constructed abstraction (history, too) of the psyche. More than an architecture it is that (mental) character of the everyday we've grown to inhabit quite elusively. A hightened everydayness that is both cyclical and linear — heights that we might describe as oscillations between the windmills of our mind and sources of power — an acrophobic cyclone between headspace and cityscape.
What then becomes (of) the gravity of a(ny) constructed reality? 
In order to start thinking about what this question might mean, or how to go about answering it, let's first take a look at how the complexity of Hitchcock's Vertigo has been attempted — either to graze, grasp or unpack it — by filmmakers, critics, fans and others over 60 years, among whom I'd like to emphasize Chris Marker and focus on his take of H's film as narrated in one of his most notable essay-films Sans SoleilVertigo was one of Marker's favorite films and we see many of its themes present in his work.

And beneath each of these faces a memory. And in place of what we were told had been forged into a collective memory, a thousand memories of men who parade their personal laceration in the great wound of history. Chris Marker, Sans Soleil

Headspace to Cityscape: Perception, Imagination, Memory 

in Hitchcock’s Vertigo as narrated in Marker’s Sans Soleil

[appropriated excerpts]

“I'm writing you all this from another world, a world of appearances. In a way the two worlds communicate with each other. Memory is to one what history is to the other: an impossibility.

“Legends are born out of the need to decipher the indecipherable. Memories must make do with their delirium, with their drift. A moment stopped would burn like a frame of film blocked before the furnace of the projector. Madness protects, as fever does.

“[O]nly one film had been capable of portraying impossible memory—insane memory: Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. In the spiral of the titles he saw time covering a field ever wider as it moved away, a cyclone whose present moment contains motionless the eye.

“It seems to be a question of trailing, of enigma, of murder, but in truth it's a question of power and freedom, of melancholy and dazzlement, so carefully coded within the spiral that you could miss it, and not discover immediately that this vertigo of space in reality stands for the vertigo of time.

“Hitchcock had invented nothing, it was all there.

“From this fake tower—the only thing that Hitchcock had added—he imagined Scotty as time's fool […], finding it impossible to live with memory without falsifying it. Inventing a double for Madeline in another dimension of time, a zone that would belong only to him and from which he could decipher the indecipherable story […] when he had saved her from death before casting her back to death. Or was it the other way around?”


Here then are a few exercises to think through this film and the many complexities it reveals, complexities and contradictions of any design — the necessary consciousness and cognitive abilities and tools — to construct a reality.

Exercise One

Let’s consider a different scenario — where the character of Madeline is both an extension of the city and its protagonist. As in H’s other film, Rear Window, made four years prior in 1954, the city is very much present, an omnipresence that enables and capacitates liveliness (life + love), both as source and height of it. Albeit at a different scale (the neighborhood block in RW and city-wide in V), the city is portrayed as an everyday totality. It is both context and character — a character which contextualizes and a context which characterizes. It is the physical space-time where psychopathologies play out and where phobias and philias (fetishes, even) are heightened and transposed. If in RW, we experience the block through voyeurism (a philia), the city in V disorients elliptically (through acrophobia). Inversely, we could also say that these philias and phobias are experienced or lived in and through the city. Though both psychopathologies emerge from a condition of damage or isolation, the main (and male) character's passive-aggressiveness finds a way to channel his repression through the character of the woman. In both films, she is the one taking risks and for a moment she constructs her own reality (or does she?). By heightening her strength and independence as such, H is actually constructing the imaginary reality of the protagonist, his perceived power, as to anticipate the demolition of both at the end. Reality constructed by one's repressed lines of control (H's too) and punishment becomes one of gaze here — it is the "cyclone whose present moment contains motionless the eye." It consists of falsifying the differences and nuances between perception, imagination, and memory of both man and woman — and more importantly those of the power and freedom between them. The haunt of one's past hunts the reality of the other. Madeline's strength and independence makes her a sacrificial offering. Her reality constructed in such a way puts her in a double-bind.

What then is her gravity here? It is through (per H).

Woman as a sacrificial offering is not new. The Albanian tale of Rozafa, the woman who was walled in order for the castle to stand, can be thought of as another example where a woman was literally holding a heavy load on her shoulders, the height and mass of a tower. Hitchock's tower in Vertigo can be understood as both the context of the city and the character of the imagined or false reality of the protagonist. It can be thought of as an architecture of reality — a tool that heightens a(ny) reality (drawing its limits) and height as a weapon of a(ny) construction to (temporarily or permanently) suspend one's reality, hence the violence of gravity (psychopathology).

Now, let’s go back and reread the above excerpts with this scenario in mind as a way to understand the film through the double-bind reality of Madeline — both the city and the imagined reality (psychopathology) of the protagonist, as (designers of) her reality.

Exercise Two
 "a psyche ... desperately searching for an object on which to concentrate its repressed energy"
For more approaches to Hitchcock's Vertigo — the film and its director; the physical experience and the psychological condition (acrophobia); the elusiveness of the word, figure and image of vertigo in general; as well as how it materializes in the city and how the city itself creates it — let’s repeat Exercise One with other texts (mostly reviews) found here. That way we can grasp gravity as and through a multitude of things, characters, activities and contexts, in order to be able to ask the question and challenge the gaze upon which today's reality is constructed.

Exercise Three

This is more of a reflexive exercise, to sort of step back and see if at some point here you thought: what if there is no other character, other than the protagonist of course, which may be either man or woman, both or neither, and all this has been playing out in the character's (one's) head — that s/he has invented (falsified) a reality in order to confront and capture one's fear of loosing control of one's actual reality — which may or may not be real — but in doing so, one discovers the obsession s/he has accumulated in order to build up one's own real insecurities — which, in a way, may be the true culprit of this whole endeavor. What is the gravity of insecurity? How does one stand up straight? What is it to crawl?

But, I may very well be overthinking it, so let’s move on. On the other hand though, I am specifically pointing towards a protagonist that may or may not be an individual, human, or natural — for example the state, corporations, capital, the public, AI, and so on.

What then is our gravity, our fulcrum? How would we know how high to reach without becoming something else? What else could we become? 

Exercise Four

This last exercise asks the question: What makes some of these recurring themes on or around acrophobia still relevant today; and, how are they played out in the city, your city? How might (spatial + temporal) vertigo shape your reality? Let's think of reality as the everydayness of both our livelihood and liveliness.

How would you describe the acrophobia of your everyday? 
The concept of the everlasting illuminates the past. […] The character of the everyday has always been repetitive and veiled by obsession and fear. In the study of the everyday we discover the great problem of repetition, one of the most difficult problems facing us. The everyday is situated at the intersection of two modes of repetition: the cyclical, which dominates in nature, and the linear, which dominates in processes known as “rational.” The everyday implies on the one hand cycles, nights and days, seasons and harvests, activity and rest, hunger and satisfaction, desire and its fulfillment, life and death, and it implies on the other hand the repetitive gestures of work and consumption. 
In modern life the repetitive gestures tend to mask and to crush the cycles. The everyday imposes its monotony. It is the invariable constant of the variations it envelops. The days follow one after another and resemble one another, and yet–here lies the contradiction at the heart of everdayness–everything changes. But the change is programmed: obsolescence is planned. Production anticipates reproduction; production produces change in such a way as to superimpose the impression of speed onto that of monotony. Some people cry out against the acceleration of time, others cry out against stagnation. They’re both right. Henri Lefebvre, The Everyday and Everydayness
Vertigo as a temporal dimension of constructing a(ny) reality might be as important as its spatial effects in the city and within us. How then are power and freedom negotiated at this dimension, and how do they challenge or accelerate the architecture of our reality as design agents?


Oct 31, 2018

Masterplanning for the short run | In search of missing pieces

Is anyone else bothered by the increasingly common phenomena of adding the word ‘luxury’ to new developments or newly renovated architecture: luxury apartments, luxury stores, high-end galleries, etc.? Luxury then becomes a program all on its own, no matter the secondary use it is added to it. Luxury is the program of capital, and if we were to map all the places and spaces that are considered and promoted as such, we would have to think of the city as becoming-luxurious — a luxury to be afforded — thus increasingly unaffordable and inaccessible. Cities are not being diversified at all then, they are just being redeveloped into economic exclusion zones, unified around a sole stimuli, money. As a consequence, the city is increasingly dehumanized. 

Cultural assets have fallen prey to capital. Historical neighborhoods are turning into high-end commercial and financial centers. Private money is surely proving to be a better incentive than the polyphonic wellbeing of public heritage. If we were to ask how much a city is worth, we would have to also ask, how little is its past valued? We’re just starting to see the  quantification of such unfathomable equation (equity/equality) — its value — but it will take a long while to grasp its qualification (quality+fiction) — its weight. How much will it weigh on us? How much will we weigh in it?

As master of a regulatory plan that pretends to decentralize (much of what it takes away), the state-capital system works to internalize the flow of capital — thus normalizing the inequality it is based on and legitimizing the design of a new luxurious class. 

Masterplanning, then, as a blueprint and rendered image of redevelopment, becomes a way to reduce and streamline the city’s public heritage (both, its public + heritage) — abstracting the time and material history of a hundred(s) year old city — into this flow of capital, which in turn emerges as the manifest of (its) “quantification of power”, where “each member profits in his own way.” (1)

As it materializes in the city, capital’s influence is revealed to be greater than the city’s historical, natural, judicial and cultural resources — therein lies its undisputed (yet unchallenged) thus absolute power. Because of this unprecedented acceleration of dominance, capital may in fact be the only (if not truly) autonomous organism (species) of man’s progress.

Masterplanning in the age of capital is a strategy of isolation and restriction, which deepens class segregation by isolating access and opportunity as it takes over and deplets shared assets and resources. The masterplan is capital’s masterpiece. It is how capital metamorphoses in real space — colonizing bodies, spaces, and psyches, a total embodiment by design instituted by self-serving systems of governance, whose political rigidity reduces governing to policing in order to maintain the hegemony of the status-quo — to ensure their dictatorial genealogy lasts; and, whose aesthetic guard-ism manifests an image of uniformity under the “luxury” moniker. 

The masterdesign may promise a one-of-a-kind relationship with capital, though what it actually produces is an endless desire to (over) consume. Meaning: it doesn’t matter how luxurious the relationship with capital may be, it still produces a commodity, which makes capital quite a high-maintenance partner. The more access one is given to “consume” another, the more unrequited and all-consuming this relationship becomes. The masterdesign assures an almost immediate consumption of luxury, thus enabling an addiction that needs to be kept up just so one can function. In the end, this addiction is how the human species consumes itself. It reduces life to a basic existence that requires nonsensical constructs of unprecedented realities that the city (and environment in general) simply cannot capacitate and won’t ever be able to support if it continues to be looted by the intensity of the addiction to capital. Hence, the uniformity of luxury can be understood as a double-headed form of violence: first, as an exponentially multiplying unity (i.e. colonization) of cannibalistic consumption of (it)self as well as the city’s (and all it encompasses); and second, as a guardism (i.e. addiction) that “only reproduces itself when it is reproducing something new”. (2)

Luxury is a product of power. It designates how power is seized, distributed and enforced. It is the incentive to re-categorize what at one time or another, but for a long time, was shared by many publics. It is a remastering of the human, its environment, and the master[ed]pieces it has created (as well as its not yet fulfilled potentialities) in a way that maximizes or mastermizes profit. As evidenced thus far, suc
h remastering or reduction is a total (planetary) redesign toward extinction of life as we perceive it, as we understand it, as we live it. We don’t have to know it anymore, as long as we consume it and as long as it becomes easily digested and digestible.

What’s even more curious is the coupling of the ‘luxury’ program with pedestrian activity and green spaces, such as these areas are the first to have biking and pedestrian lanes, greenery, maybe a water feature or two, street lights, and so on. It is curious because when do we see a rich person walking? In developing countries, and especially in Albania, they tend to drive some of the most luxurious cars, that is, if they’re not chauffeured around. Walking is a practice of the masses; it is how the public processes its independence and individuality in and through the ever-changing city. What, then, does it mean to luxurize the space of walking, if not to transform the individual, the public, the masses into spectral beings? (3) 

Such is the dogma of masterplanning for the short run. Short, implies an extinction — while run, implies a blur. It’s no secret that I am not a fan of the word “masterplan” and what it currently consists of. I would rather ask how a regulatory plan is and can be mastered. What is it to plan and what does it mean to designate? What is it to design and what does it mean to master the self and the other? I would rather mine a masterplan than interpret it, but it is hard to ask questions when so little is made available prior to (the decision of its) execution. 

I read somewhere — can’t exactly remember where at this moment, but it said something to this effect — that, we might’ve sold our souls or even want to do so, but who’s buying?

With everything that’s happening in the world, I wonder how much (and for how long) we would weigh without one; and if our road to extinction would be heavier or lighter as result. I don’t mean soul in a romantic or religious way, but soul as a force of life, essential to its being its essence, or rather what makes human life possible: mind, heart, will, integrity, intelligence, empathy, consciousness, health, language, politics, shared space, etc.

As far as Tirana (or any other such developing city in Albania) is concerned, I cannot imagine what would its architects and urbanists talk about in local or international conferences and seminars on history and preservation. If until now there was a preserved and protected architectural district or building to talk about, from this moment on it would be hypocritical to assert any historical standing. I guess there’s always nostalgia to fall back on.

(1) Deleuze & Guattari, On the Line, 1983, Semiotext(e)
(2) ibid.
(3) Arjun Appadurai, Spectral Housing and Urban Cleansing: Notes on Millennial Mumbai

Oct 20, 2018

Undigested Thoughts | In search of hollow-eve(n)

the metamorphosis of the city center from historic corridor to outdoor commercial mall 

the metamorphosis of the pedestrian from a public ‘escaping boredom’ to a consumer ‘embracing boredom’

boredom is different from loneliness

the metamorphosis of ‘boredom’ from play to affordance 

the metamorphosis of expression from playground to publicity 

the metamorphosis of freedom from discovering one’s own amidst the differences of the many to the many obeying the (often corrupt) privilege of the one

the metamorphosis of the city is the metamorphosis of its society 

the metamorphosis of the environmental landscape is the metamorphosis of mental nature 

the metamorphosis of man to cockroach is a reminder that cockroaches (will) outlive men — it is a return to, an end of, or becoming a being other than human, ancient even

metamorphosis is the human redesigning themselves to a coma, maybe death — to an uncertain afterlife, surely 

metamorphosis may (seems to) be the design of extinction to an original life form, hybridized 

this metamorphosis is an accelerated alienation 

an alienation from oneself?
an alienation toward oneself?
an alienation…

no one will be able to afford 
no one will be able to escape

a (rat) race…

no one will win because no one can see the freedom anticipated by the finish line

no one wants to win because fear catches up

freedom turns into fear

nowadays, public space does not mean freedom but fear

freedom of living turns into fear of dying 

freedom (by death — as the ultimate finish line) turns into fear (of life — living as the ultimate fear; fearing as the ultimate life form)

this metamorphosis seems fierce to oscillate between freedom and fear like that — between life and death

this metamorphosis could be the everyday life or the critique of the everyday life

it certainly is the habit [habitat, (in)habitation, (h)ability] of the everyday life 

metamorphosis makes every day possible 
metamorphosis makes life possible 
thus, metamorphosis is a materialization [in mind + matter] of time

The world finds itself on the brink or eve of yet another fundamental shift, and since it is October or harvest-time, the shapeshifter that is metamorphosis, this uncanny and cunning habit turns into a doubleheader (hint), a double-edged sword, a trick-or-treat, hollow and even. So it might be useless to caution the darkness of the hollow eve or the hollowness of its events.  
It’s definitely better to warn of the abyss of light instead. That’s why we have Hallowe’en — the metamorphosis of (a consumable) remembrance (now lightly consumed).

the hollow eve(n) between time lost and time found, not quite regained — is it fall or is it autumn — i forget

All this to say happy halloween! [As I’m sure I didn’t spook anyone.]

Oct 11, 2018

Gentle Manifest | We’ve Never Been Public

The Paradox of Public (&) Design: Public Space and Nuances of Freedom

In order to reflect on or provide an answer to the question in the photo, let’s consider reframing it by breaking it down further: Does Public imply a liberation of sorts; a freeing from one’s own fascism; a release of it even? Does it promise a community — (of) shared values and struggles? Is it a shared reality? Is there a correlation between the freedom of a society and the one its public space enables? What can the spatiality of a public (space) — its planning and design in the city — tell us about the (nuanced) freedom of its society? Has the public in Albania ever been free to organize and protest — to not just be organized to celebrate something, but to question, to dissent it — without being subjected to various (political, social, economic) repercussions?

Public is a word that defies definition — said differently — any definition it takes on, in one way or another, constricts the freedom it might imply, thus revealing the impossibility of its totality — its absolute materializon. Hence, any effort to outline or plan it is in fact the designer’s own construction of reality, how s/he perceives and imagines the reality s/he shares with others, a constructed — be it constructive or constrictive — commons. There exist forces beyond the designer’s control of course, and that needs to be taken into account — but, as the public (space) becomes a kind of commons that shapes and organizes — and to a certain degree predetermines — a kind of (freedom for the) community, then the responsibilities for its nuanced freedom (or lack thereof) should be shared among those who take on such a difficult task. If designers (whoever they might be: independent and individual members of the public, the state or private enterprises) take on such a (consciously) difficult task, then they take on both the privilege — the right to design a public — as well as the responsibility to ensure the rights of those they design for — their designated freedom — in it. Hence, public space can be thought of as a social contract way before it becomes a spatial one.

Since the freedom implied by the word public is just as elusive, the task of designing a(ny) public space can then be thought of as one of designating freedom, mobilizing it, giving it form. As a middleman of sort, or better yet as a translator that is able to materialize, to mold all those other (faceless or not) forces and idea(l)s into a public (space), the designer is in a position to read between the lines, to leverage one toward the freedom of the other, or for that matter to collude with one’s power against the other. Design can be a genuine or ingenious process of metamorphosis, no doubt. Though, more often than not, unfolding such a becoming — or design as an act of unfolding design as an image of becoming (a process of becoming in itself) — has revealed the latter as a Machiavellian scheme, in which invisible powers take on a public embodiment — hence its integrity — so to normalize their abstraction, hegemony, violence, and to further integrate — or make integral — their yet unforeseen ends. In this case, embodiment is not synonymous with empowerment, because a seemingly proportionate give-take exchange becomes in fact monopolized, a perpetual take(over) masked as a general and generous giving. As such, design becomes a closed loop, a vicious cycle. It doesn’t enable transformation nor a transition, but it assures the rebirth or recolonization of an already established hegemony.

Ethics is truly the substance and privilege of the designer.

Thus when I talk about a public, I am referring not only to the freedom it embodies, but the one it releases — the freedom it empowers. When I ask about the freedom of creativity and discovery, of resisting and becoming, I am not questioning it (them) in the designer, but i am inquiring about the freedom of those he designs for. How does the designer enable and share the same freedom(s) to the designee publics?

If public projects are described as open through the shapes of their form, their uninterrupted circulatory flow, their multi-program flexibility, their material transparency, and their environment sustainability — among others — then I want to know how these attributes enable the public in return. How do they designate bodies to access and discover their own, as well as their shared freedom in such a place? How does form, flow, flexibility, transparency, sustainability extend similar dimensions of tolerance to the public?

I take open here to imply a given degree of freedom. If we think of architecture as a framing of sorts, then the drawing, the plan, the building become both a device, a witness, a documentation — an artifact of the impossibility to capture or enclose all space — and a mechanism of unfolding it, to (both) discover its human(e) dimension(s) and to test its own (aesthetic and ethic) tolerance toward these dimensions. Why, then, in renderings or any visual documentation, public space is shown as a place of enchantment through recreational activities enabled by service-base programs (such as cafés, concerts, vendors, etc.), and not as a place that allows disenchantment too — where it is safe to protest — that accommodates different types of learning — that is bare from imposed propaganda — thus allowing a leisure of a different kind, an immersion in another sensory experience, that of trees, minerals, textures, sounds that are often drowned out by the spectacle of the images and artificial colors of the city? Why can’t I see or envision the flow, flexibility, transparency or sustainability of the public dimension(s) as tolerated by the enchanted image? Why am I not convinced by the community it portrays?

Because I know a few of its people and I am aware of the socio-economic context they inhabit. Their true shared values and struggles cannot be erased by the image — the opportunities to ameliorate should not be dictated by it either. The enchanted image doesn’t capture, distribute, nor encourage the disenchanted public it represents. It is interested in only redesigning its (designer + bigger forces) dimension of reality, because what good is a designer if s/he doesn’t design. It’s what separates them from their public. It is also the wrong way to go about the privilege and the responsibility given to one as a (public) designer. One should not forget nor dismiss the fact that the public, too, can be an ingenious co-designer. It is why every year, when the city shuts down for various mass-celebrations, I ask myself, it wouldn’t be that different to organize mass-resistances instead. Why is it so difficult to do though? This swelling of the public through planned distractions, why can’t it also become a way to somber it up — to lay it, the city and its institutions bare?

It might indeed be a privilege to be bumped up from a designated public to a designer, but a designer mustn’t forget that s/he will always be part of a community that shares a common reality, no matter how constrictive or constructive s/he designs it to be. The designer’s involvement then can be more than just privilege, it can become a choice to extend this freedom to their community — an invitation to design their livelihood together.

The question thus becomes, a two-parter: first, Which power (ethic) does the designer follow? and then, Which power (force or regime) does public form and livelihood follow?

In Albania, public space has always been designed through oppressive means, be they political or economic. Public livelihood has always been designed as a perpetual struggle to ensure continued dependence — not to encourage or allow independent thriving. It has always been a space that has enabled only the freedoms sanctioned by hegemony, as evident by its increasingly repressive public. The nuances of freedom its society has been subjected to for decades, if not centuries, hasn’t varied much, it has only deepened and normalized the shadows of its public. Bottom-up transgressions of these sanctions have always been harshly punished. But, enforced political mass-gatherings and state propaganda activities, which can also be considered (scaled-up) transgressions, are revered as the right to (practice) free-speech, as democracy at work.

So, who does public space and its public belong to, if not all? Has the public been deterritorialized from the impossibility of its enclosure, the openness and freedom inherent in it, only to be reterritorialized as a belonging to someone? And if its openness — to be shared by all without the fear of prosecution, to use it to speak up — has always been such an impossibility, can we (for sure) say that Albania has ever been truly public? Was it ever given the freedom to discover its own nuances of it? Is there such a freedom left anymore?


Sep 23, 2018

Albania's 'Transition' as an 'Accident of the Transfer'? | (re)Thinking with Virilio [Part III]

*The following is the last installment of a three-part series. The link to the others can be found here and here

Time is everything, man is nothing; he is at most the empty carcass of time. 
— Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy


Virilio's work helps us understand the city as part of a larger ecology of power — globalization and technology — which can instruct us to approach the present neoliberal regime in the country not as one of a kind, but as one of the many forms it has taken worldwide — and, when comparing it with the old regime of communism, to be mindful of one’s forceful isolation and the other’s intense openness — an openness stimulated only by what is able to profit from it while still harboring a continued narrow-mindness from previous such oppressions within. The light it promises renders illusory if it doesn’t take on the task of finding lightness within, in order to liberate it. The light(ness) it brings, weighs — it is worth — as much as the remnants of darkness — the burden — it carries within. The war of the present (age) is a war waged on time, where the democratic becomes dromocratic. 

General Note:  Bold text indicates my emphasis. 
The postcards in this post are the latest (4x6) sequence of the ones I started to do about two years ago here on the blog, along with a few other montages I've posted on the Facebook page. All are available and free for all to use under the Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-SA 4.0


The Dromoscopic City

Thus my people will be deported for want of intelligence. — Livre de Malédictions

It’s important to return to the city. To return to the city is to return to politics or to the political people. It’s not by chance that in Greek the city is called the ‘polis’. The city was created in a relationship to territorial space. It is a territorial phenomenon, a phenomenon of territorial concentration. Old villages are spread over a territory which is not a territory but a field, in all senses of the term. There is creation, from the old villages, through what has been called kinesis, of an urban territorial unit – the Greek city-state, to take a well-known reference. Since politics and the city were born together, they were born through a right: the creation of a territory or of an estate by right, being established, the right of autochthonism. There are rights because there is territory. There are rights and therefore duties – he who has land has war, as the people of Verde said. He who has rights in an urban territory has the duty to defend it. The citizen is also a soldier-citizen. I feel this situation survives up to the present; we are experiencing the end of that world. Through the ups and downs of the state, the city-state, the more or less communal state, and finally, the nation-state, we have experienced the development of politics linked to the territory; always down-to-earth. In spite of railroads and telephones, we experienced a relationship to the soil and a relationship to a still coherent right. There was still a connection to territorial identity, even in the phenomenon of nationalistic amplification. Today, as we saw earlier with the end of time-space and the coming of speed-space, the political man and the city are becoming problematic. When you talk about the rights of man on the world scale, they pose a problem which is not yet resolved, for a state of rights is not connected with a state of place, to a clearly determined locality. We can clearly see the weaknesses of the rights of Man. It makes for lots of meetings, but not for much in the way of facts. Just take a look at Eastern European countries or Latin America. It seems to me that speedspace which produces new technologies will bring about a loss, a derealization of the city. The megalopolises now being talked of (Calcutta, or Mexico with 30 million inhabitants) are no longer cities, they are phenomena which go beyond the city and translate the decline of the city as a territorial localization, and also as a place of an assumed right, affirmed by a policy. Here, I’m very pessimistic. I feel we’re ​entering into a society without rights, a ‘non-rights’ society, because we’re entering a society of the non-place, and because the political man was connected to the discrimination of a place. The loss of a place is, alas, generally the loss of rights.

Here, we have a big problem: the political man must be reinvented–a political man connected to speed-space. There, everything remains to be done, nothing’s been accomplished. I’d even say the question hasn’t been considered. [...] We truly have here a political question and an urban question, because at present the cities are undone by technology, undone by television, defeated by automobility (the high speed trains, the Concorde). The phenomena of identification and independence are posed in a completely new way. [...] We have here a phenomenon of distortion of the territorial community that explains the phenomenon of demands of independence. Before, we were together in the same place, and could claim an identity. Today, we are together elsewhere, via high-speed train, or via TV. There is a power of another nature which creates distortions. We are no longer in space, but in speed-space. [...] There’s a logic there, and it’s a logic which poses problems. (via)


I think the chapter on the politics of disappearance, in Virilio’s Negative Horizon book is worth quoting at length below for a comparative understanding of politics in, and of time — pertaining to history and origin; to autochthony, which is a hot button issue amongst Albanians and one that is currently thought through territory, not time; from the agora of the democratic theater to the stadium as form of perpetual movement in search of identity.


The Politics of Disappearance

We must always see ourselves for the last time. — Pascal Jardin

    If in the past the first political act consisted in making the form of the city apparent at the same time as the figure of citizenship, and this was the underlying meaning of the rites of foundation and the rites of autochthony in the ancient civic space, it seems that we are now witnessing the premises of a fundamental reversal: it is no longer a question of forming ‘autochthonous’ (i.e. native) citizens along with foreigners coming from whatever sort of synechism, as was the case in the Athenian city, but rather a process leading to the disappearance of citizenship by transforming the residents into ‘foreigners within’, a new sort of untouchable, in the transpolitical and anational state where the living are nothing more than ‘living dead’ in permanent deferment.
    A degraded form of the ‘political’ in the old sense of the term, ever refusing to decide between place [lieu] and milieu, sociology will engage the persistence of the morphological illusion in omitting time in favour of a reference to, and reverence for, history. Nevertheless, contrary to the process of synoecism, the marshalling of men from the ‘rural demes’ in a single city, autochthony appears as a marshalling of time, of a time that has nothing historical about it, as it involves instead a perpetual recommencement of the origin. Again, as Nicole Loraux explains: ‘In order to have its moment in the history of the democratic city, the myth of autochthony is nonetheless written in a slowed, repetitive, time, which, year after year, repeats the same festivals, the same celebrations, thus marking off the space of the City’. A necessary ‘topos’ of official discourse, Athenian autochthony is therefore, before all else, a mythical ‘Kronos’, a political rhythm, a ceremony leading the panathenaeans up the Acropolis from the cemetery of the Kerameikos, from birth to the public death of these ‘sons of the fatherland’, for whom time is annulled in the irrevocable return from the end to the origin.
    An eternal present inscribed in the time of the ‘polis’, the autochthonous myth stresses the ‘political’ time of the citizen in separating him from his tribal or familial idiorhythms. This process begins with the agrarian origins and proceeds up to the beginnings of the industrial era in which the dromocratic revolution will succeed the democratic revolution in innovating an accelerated time where the energy technologies will progressively eliminate the myth of the territorial rootedness of the state. The ‘cult of the matter’, Earth Mother and Virgin of origins, will be supplanted by the cult of light, where absolute ‘substance’ is worn out and fades away, giving way to a necessary accident of the transfer.
    The Athenian erection, at the chthonian passage from the origins of myth, will be replaced by the cryptic passage from shadow into light. The traditional political enclosure will be succeeded by a great ‘transpolitical’ disorder. An autochthony of time, more than of any particular place, less indigenous than photogenous since time is the cycle of light, the subject that will see the day will be born less mortal than visible; less a topos than a chronos, this subject will be born in the light of the time of a chronotropism of the living where mythical conditioning of the liturgy will give way to technological conditioning of populations exploited in their biorhythms.
    In the face of this trauma, the principle of the geomorphological identity of the citizen tends to be effaced; less a native [originaire] than a member of a society [«sociétare»], there will be no delay in the imperceptible process whereby the citizen becomes nothing more than a stand in [suppléant].
    Privileged residents, those entitled to the ‘rights of the city’ of a democratic state, are superseded by visitors, transitory citizens, tourists, spectators of a dromocratic state where vision [la vue] is life [la vie]. . . . If yesterday, in the unity of the neighbourhood, the other was at once known and recognized through repetition, the ritual of encounters and public events, with the transportation revolution, this ‘neighbour’ will become a spectre that one will see only accidentally. The great disorder will, therefore, do less to perfect exchange than it will serve to give rise to this fleeting presence. This kinetic habituation to the disappearance of the congener will have the character of a social divorce: passing [passant], fleeting [passage], physical presence of the similar will lose its reality to be replaced by its ‘brand image’. The blind spots stretch out to the point where the diffusion of the body increases and the transience of people will surround us progressively with strangers. The discrediting of the notion of the enemy, to be replaced progressively by what is suspect and poses a threat, thus signals less the decline of defence than the absence of allies, the discrediting of civic alliance.
    We will thus see the extensive character of, first, provincial and, then, national definitions of locations succeeded by that of an intense transnational visualization where the long theories of the democratic liturgy will disappear, replaced by the ‘unwinding [défilement] sequences’, an accelerated substitute for the actions of an absent people.
    The art of seeing, of foreseeing, politics does not, therefore, escape the rule according to which ‘Art does not render the visible but rather renders visible.’ In this reconversion of the field of representation, the City ceases to be a ‘theatre’ (agora, forum) in order to become instead a darkened chamber, a cinema where visibility supplants all territoriality, all legitimate location. But let us return to consider the invention of Athens: ‘There is an upper area: the Acropolis, and a lower: the Agora, the Kerameikos. There is also an interior, the Acropolis and the Agora, and an exterior, outside the walls of the City, the Kerameikos where the Athenian democracy buried those who served. In this public cemetery, the common inscriptions were consecrated to an idealistic glory: the polis, the indivisible unity that owes its authority to the effacement of its andres, its soldier-citizens, valorous yet identical and interchangeable’.
    Curiously, in this genre of historical heroization a certain site is missing, namely, the stadium in which the democratic equality of the City comes to an end with the rise of a momentous dromocratic publicity. Here the civic point of view is inversed: there is an upper area, the levels on which the spectators are seated, and a lower area, the track where the actors file out. . . . Within this theatre of mobile performances, those present have the view of the gods, while those who pass through are dominated by the insatiable curiosity of the crowd of voyeurs. We are far from the ideal platitude of the equals of the agora, nothing like that, instead there is only the spectral analysis of a population exposed to the disclosure of an elite of movement.
    If the public place is, therefore, the place of the demos, the track is, by way of analogy, that of the invention of a dromos where the eternal return of political origins is renewed by the revolution of a ‘transpolitical’ spectacle which bears with it in a germinal state the tyrannies of an empire where logistical ideals progressively replace the political ideologies of Athenian democracy. While the agora and the republican forum will have long since disappeared in the enclosure of parliaments, the ‘public place’ will survive by becoming the stadium of military processions, before disappearing in its turn into the traffic of the transportation revolution. Thus after the gymnasium, the amphitheatre and the racetrack will have played their role in anticipation of the airfield and satellites installing in orbit their peripheral rites.
    Site of a morphological overexposure, the sporting arena is, therefore, not only a ‘crater’ for the popular irruption, it is also a type of census. In this inventory, the form is the ground [fond] that rises again to the surface. Surveillance becomes the last quarter of the eclipse of the community, the high-security quarter of the logistical delocalization of power. It is logical, thus, to see the national stadium [...], transformed into a concentration camp, since the enterprise of political appearances gives way to the aesthetic of military disappearance. A reduced model of an abolished civic space, the stadium is without doubt the end of the morphological illusion of the State, the ultimate ‘stadium’ of the city and, therefore, indirectly, of legitimate citizenship. What plays out [...], beyond all reasons of state, is an argument between the ancients and the moderns, a campaign promise of the ‘postpolitical’. [...]
    Their liturgy takes the place of the hearth of the community, of the Athenian cratos; an agonistic ceremony, their perpetual movement is situated beyond the death of the ‘similar’, beyond the political, it poses for us the question of the identity of the living. The ‘public place’ becomes at once the cemetery of the political and a ‘transpolitical’ forum. [...]
    The act of presence replaces the act of birth and autochthony; the opposition to tyranny is no longer one of ideology, it is that of a life, of the enigma of the living body mysteriously present in time. We can do away with civic space or eliminate the political capital, but in abolishing the public cemetery, we simultaneously exterminate all descendents. The funerary foundation of societies is stronger than the erection of the city, the vengeance of presence prohibits the mass grave of the state.