Dec 27, 2015

Albania 1927-2015 | The paradox of the missing years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Albania 1927. by Joseph Roth

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

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

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

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

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

~ Frankfurter Zeitung, 30 July 1927

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


Dec 14, 2015

Inched Forward | The missing pieces of 2015

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

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

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


Dec 8, 2015

The Destructive Character | In search of missing pieces

Thought I'd leave this here:

The Destructive Character by Walter Benjamin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Dec 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Returning home

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

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

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

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

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


Dec 2, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terri Kirk's Monumental Monstrosity Monstrous Monumentality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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