Saturday, August 29, 2009

Biographical Berlin part 1

Berlin is my second home. The order and the 'correct' procedural quality of daily life here allows for an enormous amount of radical and experimental culture to thrive. This correctness also extends to the way Berlin deals with it's difficult past. Liebeskind's brilliant Museum of German Jewry and Eisenmann's excellent Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe are two remarkable examples of successful memorial architecture on a grand scale. The Topography of Terror memorial to the victims of the SS and the publicly visitable Stasi archives testify to a studied earnest approach to dealing with difficult memories.

In Germany, find out the proper procedure and follow it exactly, and everything will work very smoothly. Everyone should be 'konsequent' (there is no direct translation, but it means something between considerate (of the consequences of your actions, i.e. do unto others... )and consistent, and everything should be 'gerecht' (fair, just, correct). Yet there is always space for dissent and even anti-sociality and difference.

The city is bankrupt and has been for a long time and is searching in the most efficient way possible to find a raison-d'etre in this world where the action is gradually shifting east and south.
This may be one of the reasons that the streets of Berlin have become such vibrant spaces of autonomous expression.

Anarchism has a strong tradition in Berlin, the current phase of which originated in the 'special status' laws from during the divided Berlin period which attracted thousands of German pacifists to the city in the 70s and 80s (compulsory military service was waived for residents of Berlin).

The 'Coming Insurrectionists' have come to Berlin. They are uncontrobable, they are so uncontrobable the sheer power of the insurrection is like a tidal wave crushing semantic conventions. UNCONTROBABLE! yes that is exactly what you are!

Someone, perhaps the same 'Coming Insurrectionists' launched a big messy splat on the cooly low-res-graphicked exterior of our new 'Temporary Art Hall'. This swinging splash is an exquisitely inarticulate oath. The Temporary Art Hall represents all that is bad and good in Berlin's contemporary art scene. Good, there is relatively a lot of money for new art, and the funding agencies are willing to try new and daring institutional concepts, bad, once the funding has been secured the same old power plays and in-group mentality stymie anything really exciting from taking place. The current show is so inauspicious they have had to drop all admission charges. With the trend towards privatization of all public services, art institutions increasingly have to compete with Reality TV.

Turning around 180 degrees, and what do we see?

an empty field with the TV tower in the distance? What is the name of this place? This is the site of two willful demolitions. In 1950, 5 years after World War II and 1 year after the capital of West Berlin was established at Bonn, the communist authorities tore down the slightly damaged Stadtschloss (City Palace) which for 500 years had been the symbolic of seat power in the region.

In its place they erected the 'Palast der Republik" (Palace of the Republic), one of the the most successful public buildings of the GDR, popular with East Berliners for it's bowling alleys, dance halls, as well as being the location of the parliament and administrative functions such as issuing marriage licenses. The Palast der Republik became a strong symbol of what was positive in the social experiment of East Germany.

The Palace was shut down in 1990 amid claims that asbestos had been found in the construction.
Some groups appeared to lobby for the reconstruction of the City Palace. in 2007, it was decided that the City Palace would be rebuilt in Italian Renaissance style.

On the site, today, awaiting the start of construction, the city has created a veritable tabula rasa. Neat swaths of green with tidy wooden walkways and not the slightest trace of the Palast der Republik. For me, it is ironic that the City which is so concerned with facing and preserving it's past should treat the memories of half of its citizens with such evident antipathy. Berliners are by no means unanimous in their support for the 'City Castle' project, and, due to the current financial strictures, the project seems to be going into storage mode.

This reminds me of the peculiarity in German, retrieved from Nietzsche by Derrida in Specters of Marx (p. 30) between the homonyms gerechte (correct, fair, just (see above)) and gerächte (avenged).

In the GDR, Berlin, city of Hitler, was re-baptised "Berlin Stadt des Friedens" (Berlin, city of peace). The slogan, accompanied with the customary dove, once emblazoned across the socialist capital, is been progressively removed during the 20 years since reunification. Evidently, city leaders would prefer to see the history of East Berlin as an exceptionally forgettable error. Soon, apparently, Berlin will retrieve an earlier identity: symbolic center of imperial Germany.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Gratitude for Technology

Gratitude in etymology (Derrida cautions about this "abuse of etymology that serves as explanation, play on homonyms (he should know about this one), privileging of nomination, autonomization of language, and so forth"- Specters of Marx, p. 167)

gratitude c.1500, from M.L. gratitudo "thankfulness," from L. gratus "thankful, pleasing" (see grace).

grace from L. gratia "pleasing quality, good will, gratitude," from gratus "pleasing, agreeable," from PIE base *gwer- "to praise, welcome" (cf. Skt. grnati "sings, praises, announces," Lith. giriu "to praise, celebrate," Avestan gar- "to praise").

etymology from the amazing etymonline

In this book I wish to create a manifestation of the legacy of human care and effort that coalesces in the contemporary surface. This manifestation, of the intricate webs of human relations intertwining back through history, all the way to the flint knife and before, is proposed to be a media object, a digital media modeling of documentary/historical traces, that should serve as contemplative resonator for gratitude for technology.

Rather than being an object of our contemplation it is a Flusserian project projected from processes inside the apparatus which is modeling the history of human collaboration recorded in the document of the contemporary surface. This work requires an infinite labour:

  1. of research, to compile records towards a comprehensive documentary legacy of the human history of technology,

  2. of mimetics, to re-enact and reembody all the events of this legacy

  3. of modeling, developing categorization and cross-referencing protocols and the algorithms to traverse these, creating recombinant documentary sequences and inter-associations with intuitive subjective sense of perspective and movement..

My friend Steven Augustine has challenged my use of the notion of gratitude as implicitly religious. Seeing as even the secular humanist modernist tradition is redolent of judeo-christian learning, this charge is hard to defuse. Without god, utterly without god, we really only have each other, and we will have to start dealing with that fact with the earnestness it deserves.


Today, while editing, I heard a scratchy squeaky rhythmic something coming from the park beneath my window. There were a few young voices obviously enjoying this racket very much. I finally figured out that it was

“Das Geht ab” (it’s starting) by Frauenartz (Gynecologist) and Manny Mark coming out of a cellphone speaker. I thought about what I was doing, trying to make something sublime, but the cell-phone makers know just what functionality the kids need. Kids today, as back when I was, are desperate for anything that will give them hope that this technological future world will be worth it.

People are grateful for technology which transports them, away from their bodily and existential uncertainty into a fantasy space where everything responds to them, and offers them an intoxicating taste of complete control. We suspend ever longer this technological fantasy through drugs , through media, it seems the future will be one where people will be transported from cradle to grave without ever having a moment unmediated by technology. There will be no slowing down of technology no crisis just an ever surging yearning thrust towards fusion with automated processes.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Hyperbole of Justice (Derrida SOM pt. 1)

Research for my current work "a PEotST" and its upcoming manifestation in Ji Yoon Yang's radical new exhibition project "NOW WHAT" has lead me deep in to Derrida's Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, The Work of Mourning & the New International which, I have found, much to my humbling satisfaction, has not only a beautifully written thesis, but also several direct points of confluence with Gratitude for Technology and "a PEotST". I started here with some ideas about the notion of justice and I hope to follow up in the near future with a post on the notion of the specter.

"The Electronic Revolution has not yet found its Marx" wrote Wolfgang Schirmacher in his prescient article "Net-world from the inside" in 1997, but what Marx could the current 'revolution' possibly require?

At the dawn of the age of Quantum Computing and the exponential acceleration and miniaturization of many of the essential industrial processes on which our daily life is based, it is clear that the social-critical position customarily embodied in the left, seems to have reached an impasse. What is left of the left today but a resistant force to the propulsive force of capitalist progress? Would the death of the Socialist Party in France, as envisaged by Bernard-Henri-Lévy herald the emergence of a radically more effective form of political mobilization for social justice?

Indeed even the viability of the notion of a party, of party politics itself is being held up for re-evaluation. "Now, as one can see foreshadowed, it seems, everywhere in the world today, the structure of the party is becoming not only more and more suspect(and for reasons that are no longer always, necessarily, "reactionary", those of the classical individualist reaction) but also radically unadapted to the new - tele-techno-media - conditions of public space, of political life, of democracy, and of new modes-or representation,( both parliamentary and non-parliamentary) that they call up." Derrida writes in "Specters of Marx", powerfully problematizing the state-party relation which has dominated global politics for the last 200 years.
"...liberal democracies, constitutional Monarchies, Nazi, fascist or Soviet totalitarianisms. Not one of these regimes was possible without what could be called the axiomatics of the Party. "(p.127)

Central to Derrida's meditations in the book is the notion of justice, justice, which he offsets, in his accustomed punny methodology with the notion of justness, justesse correct- or exactness (de justesse means just barely) approaching with the engineer's ruler the infinitesimal convergence-point of truth, to which any application of justice must ascribe.

"Specters of Marx" is a radical text, more radical than Marx alone could be today and too radical for Derrida to imagine writing while the Iron Curtain still divided the world in two. I was startled to see we make a similar call for a thoroughgoing, indiscriminate and nonjudgmental reckoning and acknowledgment of the 'whole truth' of a given political manifestation, integrating illegal, black/grey market and otherwise prohibited-though-persistent sex and drugs, body parts and slave dealing modes of social organization active in every society.

"How can one ignore the growing and undelimitable, that is, worldwide power of those super-efficient and properly capitalist phantom-States that are the mafia and drug cartels on every continent, including the former so-called socialist States of Eastern Europe? These phantom-States have infiltrated and banalized themselves everywhere, to the point that they can no longer be strictly identified. Nor even sometimes clearly dissociated from the processes of democritization (think—for example—of the schema, telegraphically simplified here, that would associate them with the history-of-a-Sicilian-mafia-harrassed-by-the-fascism-of-the-Mussolinian-State-thus-intimately-and-symbiotically-allied-to-the-Allies-in-the-democratic-camp-on-both-sides-of-the-Atlantic-as-well-as-in-the-reconstruction-of-the-Italian-Christian-democratic-State-which-has-today-entered-into-a-new-configuration-of-capital, about which, the least on can say is that we will understand nothing of what is happening if we do not take account of that genealogy). All these infiltrations are going through a "critical" phase, as one says, which is no doubt what allows us to talk about them or to begin their analysis. These phantom-States invade not only the socio-economic fabric, the general circulation of capital, but also statist and inter-statist institutions."
(p.103 my emphasis).

Whereas the politics in  "Gratitude for Technology" is grounded in a material-economic understanding, Derrida's is polemic and prophetic.   In the Communist Manifesto there is always the problem of the persistence of an intellectual elite layer in what should be a completely egalitarian paradigm: that of the Communists who serve the function of the guiding imagination of the proletariat "The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the lines of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement." (C.M. II(2)) Even in Derrida's New International, we must assume a judgmental intellectual hegemony as a moderating and visionary force leading the world toward justness. Since this campaign will not be consummated in the foreseeable future, what we need (to be satisfied with) are (operating) principles.

Only through embracing and understanding the complexities of our current age can we hope to cultivate satisfying activities which will hearten us and engage us as in a world of economic production under just conditions (as opposed to the current regime of "maximum profits (and/)or bust"). The New International hopes to supplant or supplement earlier teachings, rituals, strategies, such as those of the Bible scriptures and church service,  with more prosaic ones which call citizens to actively engage with and question their own reality. The Specters of Marx, thus regularly confronted and encountered, would seem to necessitate an institutionalized scholarly rigour in a mode akin to that of the Chassidim or other orthodox faithful who regurgitate to re-metabolize their scripture at every social juncture.

The prospects seem dim for the cultivation of what would be the requisite appetite of 'learning for society's sake' among the general populations of our contemporary states where education is merely one of the many discouraging processes necessary for the formation of the contemporary political subject, indoctrinating, assimilating and domesticating the pupil, stripping it of its confidence and of its just conviction.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Congo Confluence : a proposal

I just submitted a proposal to do a psychogeographic project for the 01SJ Biennal 2010 in which Kinshasa will be superimposed on San Jose using public projections, both mobile and stationary, performances/rituals and a variety of other mobile media tricks. What follows is some of the text from the concept proposal.

The title of this work "Congo Confluence" is a reference to the Congo Conference of 1884-1885 at which the European powers divided Africa into the nations we know today. This work addresses a core issue not only in Digital Media but also in globalization as a whole. This is a work in which technology is used to open a window of human access to the black box of the economic relations which already intimately connect them across the the world.

This is a work about about the materiality of digital media, the cellphones and other portable devices, laptops, built-ins and wearables. The layer of digital media which is coming to spread over every surface is not news, from media theory to industrial design this has been an exciting topic for at least a decade, however, what is not discussed, is that this information conveying layer is also a physical, material one, and that many of these materials are won from the earth under conditions which would be unacceptable to any contemporary humanist.

My point is that the idealism inspired by increasingly tiny and mobile technology is simple vanity unless it is counterbalanced with an earnest acknowledgement of the material circumstances of the technology's production. Despite all our relative wealth and security, we continue to look at the rest of the world and even each other with fear and trepidation. Increasingly it seems weapons and defence uses dominate technology research. Why? because there is injustice in the materials of our technology. It is hoped that a rapprochement with this fact will bring about more humanizing and valuable use and discussion of the state-of.-the-art technology.

It is a painful fact that the 10-year war in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) is largely the result of various militias and the corrupted DRC army vying with each other for control of Coltan, Cassiterite, Niobium and other minerals vital to producing the very smaller electronic components which make our state-of the-art. By some reports, these 'conflict minerals' have resulted in the deaths, rapes and orphaning of over six million people. Every developed country, their corporations and their "aid" agencies is involved in this sorry state of affairs. The DRC, mineralogically, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, is one of the poorest. Kinshasa, the capital has less than 3 hours of electricity per day.

Nevertheless, just as it does here, life in the DRC goes on. Markets open, and people go to work and try to make a living, a career, a future. Kinshasa, over 1000 miles from the mineral-death-rich Kivu provinces, is a bustling metropolis with a thriving music industry and burgeoning contemporary art scene.

Now I know psychogeography is so y2k, and, in the early days of locative media, everybody started quoting deBord and getting big grant money for projects which largely either flopped or were no more than prototypes for industrial products which arrived on the scene 24 months later. And now that Israeli army is using deBord to blast new trajectories through people's houses in Gaza, its seems his pedigree as a leading light for radical emancipatory digital practise has become almost irredeemable.

But psychogeography can help us understand what it is like to live somewhere else without actually travelling there. Seoul's Flying City's 2003 project, mapping (for Koreans) inaccessible Pyongyang onto Seoul, had a strong resonance. So, too, I believe will the current proposed project of mapping Kinshasa onto San Jose and extending the map eastward to scale so that the eastern frontier of Congo, the aforementioned Kivu provinces so drenched in blood and hardship, the regional capital Goma, will be found right next to Denver CO.

Layering the thriving culture of today's DRC with all its hope intermingled with the reverberations of extreme injustice and pain on the relatively sedate surfaces of today's America should produce some powerful effects and, it is hopes, engender much valuable discussion and long-term exchange between the two places so tied by economic binds, to mitigate the injustice that eats away at our satisfaction with the accomplishments of the technological age.