take one child, her blood, a candle, some bread
April 27, 2008, 4:42 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Unbelievably, the nursery rhyme LondonBridge is Falling Down is connected with human child sacrifice. It seems rivers felt transgressed against by bridges and that the spirit of the offered child helped maintain functioning relations between the realm and governance of the city and that of the river. And, it wasn’t only the Thames that had a blood thirst: apparently quite a few European rivers developed refined, and costly, palates.

So, the child is set apart, taken from life, to mediate between human political need and the anger and unpredictability of a water god. I guess it’s the innocence and purity of the child that the river wants, a perfect substitute, or at least something as close to perfection as possible.  And, in theory,  a child fits that requirement well.

It makes me wonder whose family had to suffer, how that particular child was chosen, what was the relationship to society of the child and her parents before the murder, after the murder? One guess is low born, outcast, but just good enough (blonde curls?) to assuage the angry river.  A second could be zealous parents and possibly higher born. In either case, like religious parents who set aside one son for a lonely celebate life in the priesthood.

Except that she doesn’t mention the human sacrifices. It was apparently customary in the long ago and far away to secure a building or bridge through sacrifice to the deities of the area or river. The preferred offering involved children, their blood, or, if possible, the sealing in of a child with a candle and hunk of bread at the foot of the bridge. When the Bridge Gate at Bremen was demolished in the nineteenth century, the skeleton of a child was indeed found implanted in the foundations. Nor are songs about bridges falling down unique to Britain, with examples coming from Italy, France, and Germany. The idea behind the sacrifice was that the spirit of the youngster looked over the bridge using the light and stayed awake by eating the food.

In Romania it was believed that the sacrifice of a person’s shadow to a building or bridge would do the trick. People would be enticed to stand over the foundation and their shadow measured. This written measurement was then buried with the foundation stone. Sadly, it was also believed that the person whose shadow was buried in such a fashion would die within forty days of the building’s completion. So-called “shadow traders” still existed in Eastern Europe until the nineteenth century, and people would shout out warnings to those passing freshly erected buildings to beware in case someone stole their shadow. These are interesting, if gruesome, legends, but there is scant evidence linking London Bridge specifically to such practices.

“Rivers and child sacrifice,” you might scoff. “Dark Ages stuff!” Except that in the twenty-first century such practices still take place. On 21 September 2001, the headless torso of a young boy was found floating near Tower Bridge. He had been used as part of something called a muti ceremony, in which the body parts of a child are used for medicinal purposes or to bring good fortune to a business enterprise. Police throughout Europe believe that there have been perhaps a dozen such cases .

~from Heavy Words Lightly Thrown by Chris Roberts, Gotham Books, a division of Penguin Group (USA).

but down below there are desires
April 24, 2008, 10:20 am
Filed under: unseen world | Tags: , , , , , , ,

This is the egg head version of Dilbert. I feel like I have lived this in every place I have worked in America, both large and small. Deleuze and Guattari describe a two tiered world, a revealed so-called rational one of technique and control, and the other underground, libidinous, oppressed. And there is a link – repressors want to be repressed, the neuroses of the hidden world percolate up.

QUESTION: When you describe capitalism, you say: “There isn’t the slightest operation, the slightest industrial or financial mechanism that does not reveal the dementia of the capitalist machine and the pathological character of its rationality (not at all a false rationality, but a true rationality of *this* pathology, of *this madness*, for the machine does work, be sure of it). There is no danger of this machine going mad, it has been mad from the beginning and that’s where its rationality comes from. Does this mean that after this “abnormal” society, or outside of it, there can be a “normal” society?

GILLES DELEUZE: We do not use the terms “normal” or “abnormal”. All societies are rational and irrational at the same time. They are perforce rational in their mechanisms, their cogs and wheels, their connecting systems, and even by the place they assign to the irrational. Yet all this presupposes codes or axioms which are not the products of chance, but which are not intrinsically rational either. It’s like theology: everything about it is rational if you accept sin, immaculate conception, incarnation. Reason is always a region cut out of the irrational — not sheltered from the irrational at all, but a region traversed by the irrational and defined only by a certain type of relation between irrational factors. Underneath all reason lies delirium, drift. Everything is rational in capitalism, except capital or capitalism itself. The stock market is certainly rational; one can understand it, study it, the capitalists know how to use it, and yet it is completely delirious, it’s mad. It is in this sense that we say: the rational is always the rationality of an irrational. Something that hasn’t been adequately discussed about Marx’s *Capital* is the extent to which he is fascinated by capitalists mechanisms, precisely because the system is demented, yet works very well at the same time. So what is rational in a society? It is — the interests being defined in the framework of this society — the way people pursue those interests, their realisation. But down below, there are desires, investments of desire that cannot be confused with the investments of interest, and on which interests depend in their determination and distribution: an enormous flux, all kinds of libidinal-unconscious flows that make up the delirium of this society. The true story is the history of desire. A capitalist, or today’s technocrat, does not desire in the same way as a slave merchant or official of the ancient Chinese empire would. That people in a society desire repression, both for others and *for themselves*, that there are always people who want to bug others and who have the opportunity to do so, the “right” to do so, it is this that reveals the problem of a deep link between libidinal desire and the social domain. A “disinterested” love for the oppressive machine: Nietzsche said some beautiful things about this permanent triumph of slaves, on how the embittered, the depressed and the weak, impose their mode of life upon us all.

~conversation about their book Capitalism: A Very Special Delirium, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari

the world flattened out
April 23, 2008, 1:58 am
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

(Kureishi | Tolstoy | Chekhov)

Hanif Kureishi is the writer of The Buddha of Suburbia.  In this quotation, he says that we use art to raise the events of our lives out of the realm of insignificance.

He asserts that writing is an opening up, an unraveling, a continual search.  The conclusive and finite, and systems we have blindly come to accept like political thought, are limiting – like flattening out a round earth.  So, life is made sweet and human and dimensional by perpetual asking and questioning and yearning.

The master Chekhov taught that it is in the ordinary, the everyday, the unremarkable – and in the usually unremarked – that the deepest, most extraordinary and affecting events occur. These observations of the ordinary are bound up with everyone else’s experience the universal – and with what it is to be a child, parent, husband, lover. Most of the significant moments of one’s life are ‘insignificant’ to other people. It is showing how and why they are significant and also why they may seem absurd, that is art.

The aged Tolstoy thought he had to solve all the problems of life, Chekhov saw that these problems could only be put, not answered, at least by the part of yourself that was an artist. Perhaps as a man you could be effective in the world; and Chekhov was. As a writer, though, skepticism was preferable to a didacticism or advocacy that seemed to settle everything but which, in reality, closed everything off.  Political or spiritual solutions rendered the world less interesting. Rather than reminding you of its baffling strangeness, they flattened it out.

In the end there is only one subject for an artist, What is the nature of human experience? What is it to be alive, suffer and feel? What is it to love or need another person? To what extent can we know anyone else? Or ourselves? In other words, what it is to be a human being. These are questions that can never be answered satisfactorily but they have to be put again and again by each generation and by each person. The writer trades in dissatisfaction.

~excerpted from Something Given: Reflections on Writing, by Hanif Kureishi

the flock of bridges is bleating this morning

(apollinaire, various iterations | gare saint-lazare | sante)

Luc Sante is the Belgian American writer who wrote Low Life. This is his description of how a poem by Guillaume Apollinaire described perfectly his experience of leaving Belgium. The poem, however, does far more than address his identity as an immigrant: it is a clear revelation, a flash, of his place in the world that lays bare his desire for the clarity of modernity in the face of the confusion of religion. He comes to a point of exhilaration and comfort.

“A la fin tu est las de ce monde ancien.” “In the end you are tired of this old world.” Thus began “Zone,” by Guillaume Apollinaire.

Bergère ô tour Eiffel le troupeau des ponts bêle ce matin “Shepherdess o Eiffel Tower the flock of bridges is bleating this morning.” The poem was speaking directly to me, to me alone, as proven on the second page: Voilà la jeune rue et tu n’es encore qu’un petit enfant / Ta mère ne t’habille que de bleu et de blanc. “Here is the young street and you are but a little child / Your mother only dresses you in blue and white,” which was exactly true of my early childhood; that tu clinched it. Tu regardes les yeux pleins de larmes ces pauvres émigrants / Ils croient en Dieu ils prient les femmes allaitent des enfants / Ils emplissent de leur odeure le hall de la gare Saint-Lazare. “You look with your eyes filled with tears at the poor immigrants / They believe in God they pray the women suckle infants / They fill with their odor the hall of the Saint-Lazare station”—I had been there and seen that! Furthermore, the poem seemed to be about a yearning for modernity in the face of confusion as to the truth of religion, a clairvoyant depiction of my own central inner drama of the time. But there was more: the poem was fluid, rhyming but in an elastic meter like an improvised song, with phrases strung together without punctuation but always clear in their meaning, with an unlabored syntax close to conversational, with capitalized names like cherries in a box of chocolates, with sudden movements in time and space executed with a casual legerdemain, with a flash and whirl and continual surprise that was just what I wanted from the modern world but with a palpable kindness that reassured me as the poem flung me about.

~excerpted from French Without Tears, by Luc Sante

in the land of the timid
April 21, 2008, 12:40 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

(le Corbusier|peasant|more peasants|Rockefeller)

This is from the review of a book about Corbusier’s trip to America in the 1930s – a lecture tour and business trip.  It seems he developed a low opinion of the new world; two examples of its crude character are given here.  He had an affair with an American woman from New York city whom he ultimately decided was peasant-like.  He pursued business with Rockefeller, who was building skyscrapers at the time, and also concluded he was less than civilized. Peasant lovers and land developers. Very cosmopolitan!

Le Corbusier in America is the fascinating but sad story of his master’s attempt to woo the New World in the 1930s, even as he insulted it for timidity. Mardges Bacon has been working on this tome for 20 years and, with its 80 pages of detailed notes, it is a piece of scholarship that will not be superseded. Among her many insights are the ways his American lectures helped establish modern architecture in the academies, how he almost won a series of important commissions (before his caustic comments lost them), the role he played in bringing mass-housing to this country and the design of the UN Headquarters. Also the affair with his American muse, Marguerite Harris, is clarified: a woman he could see as a symbol of the New World and compliment in letters and drawings as ‘the peasant woman of New York’. The fact that most lovers would not take this as praise suggests how complex and sophisticated were his thoughts. He also said that Nelson Rockefeller, who he hotly pursued for commissions, has ‘the iron fist of a peasant’ — though not to his face. Modernism and the primitive were mixed in LC’s mind during the ’30s while Americans, reading his books of the ’20s, were determined to find only the apostle of the machine. This led to continual misunderstanding.

~Charles Jencks book review of Le Corbusier in America: Travels in the Land of the Timid, by Mardges Bacon, London: MIT Press, 2001.

April 19, 2008, 9:04 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , , ,

This is about a fearful place.  Fear makes us protect ourselves, aggress, fight.  It ultimately drives from each other.  In truly fearful places, there is no real intimacy except in the bedroom.

Intimacy is fearless – not timid.  True intimacy is living fearlessly in a fearless place.

Intimacy in principle means not to be timid or “timide”(in French).  But of course In is non. Inconscience, Incontinent. So the meaning of in is non. So its non-timide. And that’s what is intimate. The interesting thing is that we change intimacy to a very small space, a very safe space where you can be intimate, we think. But what we mean with intimate is not “timide”, is open to everything, is borderless, is every protection away, in principle. And it’s not just a small space where you can….

And then of course in history it’s got a very sexual connotation. For me ideal for society would be if we did not use the word intimacy. A society that is not timid. Timid is not a quality. When someone says someone is shy “Oh he or she is so shy”- you have fear, that’s why you are shy. Intimacy is not a quality. Intimacy is a quality but it shouldn’t be called intimacy. It’s just that you are open. In this fearful society where everyone is putting daggers in each others’ back, usurping each other – the neo-capitalist society is like this – in this society intimacy is reduced to the bed, or to the most private space where you dare to be without protection.

So intimacy is the space where you are without the fear that forces you to protect yourself.

-Jan Ritsema, from Sleeping Beauty’s blog, searching for intimacy

hygiene in the quasi kingdom

Have a look at this incredible description of the world.  Gosh, and I thought it was college, a flat, friends and a seasonal trip to here and there. Apparently not!

There are societies that we hardly know about out there, always have been, deliberately held at arms length from proper society for various reasons.  Is it fair to say they’re like the secret second flat where the girlfriend is kept, or if like me you’re not there yet, the place at the bar where you sit to avoid going home?  I think so.

In these often arbitrarily established lands, people have immunity from local law because … they make their own laws.  Merchant groups, military camps, the church, emigrants, Special Enterprise Zones, refugee camp, favela, protected corridors.  Illicit things are done, sometimes there’s chaos that stems from the sheer complexity of environmental realities, attempts are made to foster a home away from home.

In the end, the image is bipolar and rooted in violence:  to live a genteel life at home we will emphasize hygiene and segregation; to accomplish our goals at the office, we will use private armies.  Gandhi defined the roots of violence in the same terms:

“The Roots of Violence: Wealth without work, Pleasure without conscience, Knowledge without character, Commerce without morality, Science without humanity, Worship without sacrifice, Politics without principles.”

Islands were simply exported to the margins of European geography, thus extending its frontiers.  There they appeared as the ‘outposts of civilization’ floating within the sea of yet unordered barbarity.  The colonies, themselves – sometimes under quasi-private sovereignty such as this of the British East India Company, sovereign in India until 1856, but in most cases incorporated into the legal body of the motherland – were laid out on the basis of a politics of hygiene and a geography of segregation.  Extra-territorial Islands of jurisdiction appeared as well at Europe’s encounter with the countries “outside” of the global colonial order – Japan, Ottoman Empire, Persia, Siam and Ethiopia.  Merchants, military personnel, church missioners and new settlers, were not subject to the laws of these quasi kingdoms but lived in enclaves that were legally incorporated into the territorial body of their home nations.”

-The Geography of Extraterritoriality by Anselm Franke and Eyal Weizman

“The historical Islands of extra-territorial refuge and sovereignty have evolved into today’s zones of humanitarian intervention – set in responses to states of emergency or extreme humanitarian crisis; military camps – deployed for the defense of foreign investments, natural resources, international transport or on behalf of nationals abroad; or Special Enterprise Zones – set as manufacturing enclaves for the financial exploitation of advancing nations by advanced ones.  But the international-law principles of “suspended sovereignty” and of “extraterritorial jurisdiction,” on which Islands rely, violate juridical territoriality in a way that sets a clear challenge to the sovereign power of the state in which they exist, and indeed to the Westphalian state system in general.”

“But there exist as well spaces of another type of interiority, shadowing the more visible economical and political network.  These are “lawless” zones in various states of “anarchy, poverty, decay and crime.”  The refugee camp, the favela and the protected corridors in Afghanistan, Central America are for the drug traffickers and arms dealers what Tax Havens and international banking are to the financial market.  Here they are black Islands of disorder floating within the smooth sea of ordered international flows.” Partly retreating, partly forced into isolation, Gray Islands are governed by warlords, private entrepreneurs, clan chiefs, armies for hire, or youth gangs, and are in a state of low intensity, permanent conflict.  Indeed of the 70 recognized political conflicts across the world today, only six manifest themselves as war between two or more sovereign state actors, while at least half are carried out besides any juridical framework of any legitimate power.  These shadow conflicts most often only come into light when they disturb the official flow of goods, capital and resources.”

At the frontiers – when gray Islands meet the space of flow – counter warlords of various types emerge – private security companies and other such mercenaries of various types operating “anywhere, anytime” – offering their form of violence to the service of he middle classes as a ready-made product on the market.”

~From The Geography of Extraterritoriality by Anselm Franke and Eyal Weizman