Volume 1DESKS+ Athens—Of Loss and RetrievalBy Yanis Varoufakis, vitalspace.org—Chosen CellsBy Yanis Varoufakis—Solitary SubversivesBy Yanis Varoufakis—Of Masks and ShadowsBy Yanis Varoufakis—Sick PredatorsBy Yanis Varoufakis—The Serpent’s Greek LairBy Yanis Varoufakis—No SignalBy Yanis Varoufakis, vitalspace.org—Birthplace of our Globalizing WallBy Yanis Varoufakis, vitalspace.org—Of Public Phones and Besieged HumansBy Yanis Varoufakis, vitalspace.org+ Beijing—Beijing’s Climate PoliticsBy Ou Ning+ Cairo—Notes on a Dissident, or Founder of the Polish RevolutionBy Yasmine El Rashidi—Letter to a FriendBy Yasmine El Rashidi—What I Think About When I Think of Cairo, On This Date, Twenty-Nine Months After The _______. (Part II)By Yasmine El Rashidi—What I think About When I Think of Cairo, On This Date, Twenty-Nine Months After The ______. (Part I)By Yasmine El Rashidi+ Delhi / Calcutta—Ahmedabad MutationsBy Ruchir Joshi—Post Election Tightrope WalksBy Ruchir Joshi—Outside the MuseumBy Ruchir Joshi—Nuances of ViolationBy Ruchir Joshi—A Parallel CountryBy Ruchir Joshi—Mirrored WindowsBy Ruchir Joshi—The One City No One Was Looking AtBy Ruchir Joshi—The Thorny Crown of CultureBy Ruchir Joshi—May 2013: The Wrong Side of the RiverBy Ruchir Joshi+ Hong Kong—Ten Entrances to an EventBy Adam Bobbette+ Istanbul—Human TrafficBy Alev Scott—Machismo and His DemonsBy Alev Scott—Catherine Robbe-Grillet: An Eighty-four-year-old Dominatrix in IstanbulBy Binnaz Saktanber—Boycotting Big MusicBy Binnaz Saktanber—After the SummerBy Erden Kosova—Here We Are: Look at us Standing, Upright in the SunshineBy Övül Ö. Durmusoglu—Coloured Rays of GeziBy Erden Kosova—On Slippery GroundBy Erden Kosova+ Jerusalem—HeadbangerBy Tirdad Zolghadr—On War and ShitBy Naim Al Khatib—Shades of NoBy Tirdad Zolghadr—Does That Make You Feel Bitter? Relieved? Blasé?By Tirdad Zolghadr—Location, Location, LocationBy Tirdad Zolghadr—This Could Have Been an ExhibitionBy Tirdad Zolghadr+ Moscow—The Russian Revolution in Dreams and RealityBy Ilya Budraitskis—Putin Lives in the World that Huntington BuiltBy Ilya Budraitskis—Cultural and Cold Wars: Notes on Multipolar Ideology and DiplomacyBy Maria Chehonadskih—The TowerBy Alexandra Novozhenova—A Conservative RevolutionBy Alexander Morozov—I Do Not Want to HearBy Ksenia Leonova—Looking for KGBBy Ekaterina Degot+ Nusantara—Where does the Water Touch the Bank?By Adam Bobbette—Fuck your Culture: Nudes in Four LandscapesBy Adam Bobbette—Getting to Know a Few Hundred Degrees: Or, Volcano AestheticsBy Adam Bobbette—Granite & SandstoneBy Adam Bobbette+ Shanghai—China, Crypto-Currency, and the World Order, Part 3By Nick Land—China, Crypto-Currency, and the World Order, Part 2By Nick Land—China, Crypto-Currency, and the World OrderBy Nick LandTHINK+ Drawings—Meet Miko 4By Danna Vajda and Winne T. Frick—Meet Miko 3By Danna Vajda and Winne T. Frick—Meet Miko 2By Danna Vajda and Winne T. Frick—Meet MikoBy Danna Vajda and Winne T. Frick—Ministers of Finance and the Dark Arts VBy Patrick Goddard—Ministers of Finance and the Dark Arts IVBy Patrick Goddard—Ministers of Finance and the Dark ArtsBy Patrick Goddard—DrawingBy Dan Perjovschi—Plumber’s Progress 4: You, Me, and the DevilBy Sarnath Banerjee—DrawingBy Dan Perjovschi—DrawingBy Dan Perjovschi—Plumber’s Progress 3: Hawa MahalBy Sarnath Banerjee—Plumber’s Progress 2: BarbicanBy Sarnath Banerjee—DrawingBy Dan Perjovschi—DrawingBy Dan Perjovschi—Plumber’s ProgressBy Sarnath Banerjee—DrawingBy Dan Perjovschi—DrawingBy Dan Perjovschi—DrawingBy Dan Perjovschi—DrawingBy Dan Perjovschi—DrawingBy Dan Perjovschi—DrawingBy Dan Perjovschi—DrawingBy Dan Perjovschi—DrawingBy Dan Perjovschi—Ministers of Finance and the Dark Arts IIIBy Patrick Goddard—Ministers of Finance and the Dark Arts IIBy Patrick Goddard—Rebranding Mesopotamia: The Inextinguishable FireBy Övül Ö. Durmusoglu—The Little MagazineBy Ben Eastham—Modern TimesBy Theodor Ringborg—On Epistemic Objects, and AroundBy Hans-Jörg Rheinberger—5/5By Sholem Krishtalka—4/5By Sholem Krishtalka—3/5By Sholem Krishtalka—2/5By Sholem Krishtalka—1/5By Sholem Krishtalka—Art and the Articulation of the PublicBy Willem Schinkel—The Invention of the Sacrosanct or ‘Sacred Making’ as an Aesthetic PraxisBy Avinoam Shalem—…And then it drops: On Suspended SensingBy Natasha Ginwala, Vivian ZiherlIMAGE—The Red UndeadBy Ana Teixeira Pinto—Expect the ExpectedBy Sarah Demeuse—Pulp to PulpBy Tyler Coburn—In Cara, a PhantomBy Alena Williams—CarrieBy Matthew Schum—On Seeing Cindy Sherman in the Subway; Or, the Velocity of RepresentationBy Stephen Squibb—As Mud as ClearBy Guy Mannes-Abbott—The Behavioral Sink: On Mice, and MenBy Ana Teixeira Pinto—An Apple a DayBy Jessica Loudis—Army of LoversBy Ingo Niermann—The Unlimited Realm of the Limit: Objectivity and SchizophreniaBy Vincent Normand—Building a House for Modern IdentityBy Tristan Garcia—Tania ScreamsBy Kate Zambreno—Tintoretto’s Ecce HomoBy Bertrand Prevost—Subject: Lavender and Gas or, That Which Is Not Yet a Subject in the WorldBy Quinn Latimer—The View from the Window at Le GrasBy Angie Keefer—The BlobBy Maria BarnasSEDIMENTS+ 1917—1917By Adam Kleinman—The Geopolitics of the Virgin MaryBy Mariana Silva, Pedro Neves Marques+ 1971—1971By Adam Kleinman—The Conquering Worm: Part 1By John Menick—The re-Jetée: 1971, recurringBy Benedict Seymour—Property of a LadyBy Amy Zion
- DESKS+ London—Adding Colors to the ChameleonBy Ben Eastham+ Moscow—The Russian Revolution in Dreams and RealityBy Ilya Budraitskis+ Nusantara—Where does the Water Touch the Bank?By Adam BobbetteTHINK+ Drawings—Meet Miko 5By Danna Vajda and Winne T. Frick—Meet Miko 4By Danna Vajda and Winne T. Frick—Meet Miko 3By Danna Vajda and Winne T. Frick—Meet Miko 2By Danna Vajda and Winne T. Frick—Meet MikoBy Danna Vajda and Winne T. FrickIMAGE—His Own Personal Signed CopyBy Patrick Goddard—The Red UndeadBy Ana Teixeira PintoSEDIMENTS+ Future—FutureBy Orit Gat—Welcome to DrexciyaBy Patrick Langley
Building on its long history of framing and instigating debate, Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art presents WdW Review, an online platform aimed at informing our ever-expanding spheres of action in an age of constant reformations be they aesthetic, geographic, economic, communal, ecological, and even spiritual. This project seeks to foster a new collegium of knowledge partners in a purpose-built infrastructure so as to address how the world is shaped today as a consequence, or in spite of national, international, and other group ideologies.
The structure of WdW Review is organized around four dedicated sections. The first takes the form of reports from several international editorial desks; the second weaves critical and innovative essays with editorial cartoons; the third invites an author to consider a single image through a speculative piece of writing; the last section layers texts commissioned thematically to address the same time and/or place so as to collectively draw a set of discrete volumes on each context in question respectively.
Our call for such an exchange comes at a time in which policies of economic austerity are pressuring the very resources (magazines, universities, public institutions, and so forth) that could propose alternatives to the threat of social and intellectual bottlenecking. To loosen these restrictions, WdW Review intends to establish itself as a premier forum of intelligent and multi-disciplinary discussion on the humanities, and their role at-large, so as to find not a new, but a greater politics.
Defne Ayas, Adam Kleinman
Orit Gat (email)
Ekaterina Degot (Moscow)
Ruchir Joshi (Delhi/Calcutta)
Adam Bobbette (Hong Kong)
Yasmine el Rashidi (Cairo)
Binnaz Saktanber (Istanbul)
Yanis Varoufakis, with vitalspace.org (Athens)
Tirdad Zolghadr (Jerusalem)
Frank van der Stok
Remco van Bladel
De Heren van Design
Ritchy Höhne, Michael Höhne
Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art
Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie
—Current cover image
Bas Princen ‘Valley II (Amman)’ 2009, courtesy of the artist.
—Desk#:LondonAdding Colors to the ChameleonBy Ben EasthamThe incumbent British government has embarked on a mission to reduce, marketize, and ultimately privatize those sectors of society currently administered or subsidized by the state. This is nothing new: for the past forty years, the Conservative Party has been closely aligned to, indeed a driving force behind, a neoliberal consensus in Anglo-American economic affairs, an ideology built upon the dismantlement of the state apparatus in order to make space for the free operation of the market. Having gained an outright majority in the general election of last year standing on this platform, the government has a mandate to realize the policy on the terms outlined in the course of its campaign. Yet recent, popular expressions of anger at the changes wrought upon higher education, welfare, and particularly the NHS (National Health Service) make it clear that the British public’s interpretation of what constitutes the proper sphere of implementation for these actions is not shared by the government it has elected. This gap between the public’s expectation of what it is voting for and what that vote entails has, I would suggest, been engineered by a delicate sleight of hand on the part of the government. This consists of a semantic fudge—a deliberate conflation of what we mean by the economy and what we mean by society—that the Conservative Party has exploited expertly in the course of its modern history. The gradual expansion of the proper realm for the application of free-market economics to include every part of the human community is dependent upon a rhetorical strategy that is now being applied to the provision of funding for the arts, and which deserves our attention because it has as its aim the suppression of dissent. The approach is marked by what seems initially like a remarkable failure of logic, according to which the government relentlessly praises the contribution of the creative industries and humanities to the British economy while systematically undermining them. In 2010, when the Conservatives first came to power as part of a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, Arts Council England—the country’s major funding body—saw its budget cut by 29.6 percent. Earlier that year David Cameron had written an open letter to The Sun in which he made clear his wholehearted support for the arts, arguing that “British culture is second to none.” To drive home his point he cited J. K. Rowling (a single mother who wrote the first of her Harry Potter novels while on benefits, she has been among the most vocal critics of government policy on welfare), “huge BBC exports” (the Conservative Party is notoriously hostile to the BBC), and various tat comedies that served to “remind [him] of one of the best things about our country—we love to laugh at ourselves.” The love bombing continued, without reciprocation (senior BBC news presenters twice on one day suffered “slips of the tongue” that confused the then culture secretary Jeremy Hunt’s surname with a vulgar term for female genitalia). Meanwhile, Conservative members of parliament continued to draw attention to the strength of a cultural sector it seemed determined to diminish. In its manifesto for the 2015 general election, the party stated that: “our museums are second to none. In music, art, fashion, theatre, design, film, television and the performing arts, we have an edge.” Beyond the positive words, the manifesto provided hard evidence for the party’s steadfast commitment to arts and culture: “The creative industries have become our fastest-growing economic sector, contributing nearly £77 billion to the UK economy.” Indeed, while making his first autumn statement after the Conservatives’ election victory, Chancellor George Osborne argued that “one of the best investments we can make as a nation is in our extraordinary arts, museums, heritage, media and sport.” In almost the same breath he announced further cuts of 20 percent to the budget for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. How to square the two positions? Why would the government impose austerity on one of the few sectors of the economy that it maintains is functioning admirably? Vaunting the contribution of the arts and humanities to the country’s gross domestic product is to reduce them to engines of economic growth. This is in part symptomatic of an established pattern in Conservative policy toward national infrastructure, which is to quantify the industry in market terms, then slowly underfund it until it does not work anymore, followed by the announcement of vast and unsustainable losses, in which case privatization looks to everyone like the only available option. The disastrous (by any metric) privatizations of the rail network and the Post Office might be taken as examples. In each case long stretches of inadequate investment were accompanied by a campaign to reframe the discourse around these institutions away from their broader (and admittedly more nebulous) service toward the public good and toward their nickels and dimes contribution to the Treasury. By characterizing the value of social endeavors as quantifiable exclusively by economic indicators—semantic fudge—one creates the conditions for their privatization when it becomes unviable according to those same indicators (easily achieved, of course, by cutting funding). By drawing attention to culture’s substantial contribution to the national purse, the strategy invites a counterattack for which it has already legislated, like a chess move that opens a trap. The temptation is to quote the government’s own statistics back at it as evidence that the arts deserves funding precisely because it represents such a good investment. On the very terms laid out by the government, it seems obvious to point out, it makes no sense to cut support for the arts further. Look at all the money it makes via tax revenue, its employment figures! Look at its investment potential! Look at its capacity to push forth your agenda! It is very hard to resist pointing out the glaring logical inconsistency, even while a part of your brain must recognize that the governmental definition of arts and culture is much wider than that which you are really intent on defending. To do so, of course, is to tacitly accept that culture can and should be tied to a market model. The relentless bombardment of statistics tying ‘the culture industries’ to various economic indicators serves to establish a correspondence between the two that colors every future argument about the viability of the arts and not only the amount of funding that it should receive but what qualifies as a worthy beneficiary of that funding. We risk colluding in the creation of an attitude to arts and culture that judges it exclusively according to the financial returns it offers on investment, and that therefore privileges artistic and cultural activity that delivers those returns over that which does not. In a recent piece for e-flux conversations, Morgan Quaintance makes a compelling argument that the recent award of the Turner Prize to Assembly made precisely this misstep. The imaginative redevelopment of a run-down Toxteth housing estate by a collective of socially responsible young architects and designers is an inarguably Good Thing. So it seems counterintuitive to argue against its recognition by the committee and the attendant publicity it received. Yet the collective do not self-identify as artists, nor do they conceive of their work as art. By categorizing their practice—which is ultimately about the provision of decent housing for the British population—as art, the Turner Prize committee might be seen to be trying to demonstrate art’s usefulness to society, its ability to contribute to the infrastructural and economic health of the nation. By these means it plays into the hands of any argument for the relevance of art that depends upon its ability to achieve results justifiable on the Right’s own terms. What seems like a critical position is in fact a compliant one. Marketization is a remarkably effective and flexible instrument for the suppression of dissent. Margaret Thatcher used the basic principle that markets are inherently self-regulating—and therefore purer and more efficient means of administration than centralized government—as the ideological position to justify the break-up of the industrial unions that opposed her. Now this approach is pressed into action to suppress any activity that might constitute a more diffuse kind of opposition to the government. We need only look to the marketization of higher education in England to see how popular sentimental attachments to the role of an institution can be swept away in the wake of such tacit surrenders to the framework (if not the conclusions) of neoliberal discourse. Staff are employed according to the likelihood that they can bring in research grants; money is redirected to advertising and promotional departments that secure new students (who pay full whack irrespective of whether they complete the year); the employment of administrators vastly outnumbers the uptake in academic staff; professors are overburdened with bureaucracy while corporate-style CEOs take home six-figure salaries. As Arts Emergency—a charity established in 2011 in reaction to the imposition of tuition fees and the consequent crisis in access to third-level education for students from working-class backgrounds—puts it, “people [now] view degrees, as a financial trade off based on perceived employability.” The upshot is that universities are now organized according to the same neoliberal economies of value that the government adheres to. Having accepted marketization by degrees, the higher education system has effectively become an instrument of government policy, focused on delivering ‘value-for-money’ (meaning, money-for-money). Humanities departments bear a disproportionately high brunt of the cuts in funding because it is difficult to demonstrate how its clients can easily integrate into a system for maximizing profit when they leave. It is no coincidence that these faculties, whose mission is to instruct students in ways of thinking other than the dominant one, have traditionally been the drivers of student activism. This combination of factors means that the universities’ capacity for independent thought outside the prevailing market ideology—and by extension dissent—has been neutralized to an astonishing degree. The university as a seat of learning outside the immediate pressures of the market is no more, for all that we would like to believe otherwise. I do not intend here to try and identify a single alternative set of metrics according to which we can measure the contribution of the arts and humanities to our societies. For the purpose of this piece, it is enough simply to show how successful the current British government has been in imposing its own, and how this serves a broader ideological purpose. With the reduction and redirection of central subsidies according to the outlined principles, it will become increasingly difficult to create, exhibit, publish, or otherwise disseminate works of art that are not immediately commercially viable. Self-evidently, the practices least suited to the market economy are precisely those which seek to imagine alternatives to it. It is a beautiful double bind, and one which operates at a rhetorical as much as a financial level. The ultimate aim is to renegotiate the very way we evaluate art’s importance to our society. These are not new dilemmas but they do seem pressing today. The best means of opposing these changes may simply be to keep talking, meeting, making, writing, thinking, reading, challenging, arguing, and gathering; proposing and defending as many different ways that art can be valuable to society while refusing as much as possible to accept a single monolithic interpretation of how to quantify its contribution. As ever, the best way to defend art is to keep making it.
—Desk#:NusantaraWhere does the Water Touch the Bank?By Adam Bobbette“How do things touch?” Arie asked. “And,” she paused, absent mindedly nudging dark orange delta sand with her foot, “where do they touch?” We were walking along the edge of the Ciliwung river in Jakarta. She had been telling me about the recent big-news eviction and demolition of an old neighborhood on the banks. She’d lived there for some time, working in grassroots organizations trying to build networks of mutual-aid between neighborhoods. She’d moved back after finishing graduate school in London. We wandered and caught up. The banks of the river had been, as city bureaucrats say with a straight face, ‘normalized.’ Canals were being concretized and dredged, residents evicted and their housing demolished. Street fights were erupting between residents and police. Arguments were still unfolding in the courts over the legitimacy of evictions and ownership of riverbank land. Opposite us was the old neighborhood, now a field of shrapnel and the jetsam of livelihoods. The roads hum with the pitch of 150cc engines. Men and women don windbreakers, and sometimes gloves and facemasks as protection from the sun and haze. The horns are constant. The roads holey, packed, and always surging. “The river expands and contracts throughout the year,” she went on. “In the rainy season it bulges, carrying water, sediment, trash, and sewage from upstream hills and neighborhoods. The neighborhoods are catchment areas. Like tributaries but of asphalt. Every surface: roofs, cars, the tops of walls, garbage can lids, everything becomes a conduit when it rains. The river widens its territory.” “Does a river have a territory?” she asked. “Does it makes sense to talk like that?” “So when it widens in the rainy season all these houses get flooded. Sometimes for days at a time. People wade around this water. They are no longer on the banks, they are the river. They become sedimentary particles for a few days. When the floods subside they go back to participating in daily life in the ways they normally do. But there is something about this becoming the river then becoming its banks that is really weird. That is, that the people, we’ll, us, living here, oscillate between being the river and its banks. Like we are deposits. Plus, we are also connected and disconnected from people up river. This is a difficult thing to do, to try to make more meaningful connections between neighborhoods here and neighborhoods around the bend. In ways that link us. The river links us. It moves us around, determining how we can operate, how to survive. It’s not we who make that decision. Our fields of action are constantly determined by it. As if it were our unconscious. But it's hard to make up river connections between people." I jumped up onto the new concrete embankment to walk along it. The color of the world was orange as it turned towards late afternoon. Along the side of the road, small hastily constructed restaurants made from wood, metal, and fabric, often with banners for drinks or tobacco used as partitions, shaded inhabitants taking their lunch. “So what happened with the eviction?” I asked. “Well, it’s been a long, tiresome, and frightening process. The city decides it needs to demonstrate that it is competent. To give the impression that it is capable of doing stuff. So the first people it goes for are the poor. They are the easiest to move around. They can’t put up much of a fight. And the sign of a flattened neighborhood is evidence of progress. It’s all a big display, a spectacle of change. A crane, even if it just sits there for years, or an elevated expressway column, standing with the re-bar sticking out, is the sign of progress. It’s all about governance as the emission of signs.” She shook her foot to loosen sand lodged in her flip-flop. “They change the meaning of the river, what belongs to the river and what belongs to them. The banks become the river and so therefore a space of the state, its property. So they can do what they want with it.” I told her about the bank of the Mississippi River in New Orleans. In the mid-nineteenth century there was a dispute when a local rich guy bought a bank of the Mississippi: the batture. It was newly created by the river. Its hydraulic action constantly moves sediment from one bank to the other along its entire course. On the inner banks of a bend water moves with greater intensity, on the outside it slows down in the wide swing. In slowing down it can’t carry the same load and deposits sediments, building land. The bend grows inward pushing against the oncoming energy until the river snaps, straightens and starts to meander again. City bureaucrats normalize, rivers meander. The militarized (and deeply paranoid) colonial fort of New Orleans was set on the outside bank of one of these curves; a high-pressure space with a continent’s worth of sediment bearing down on it. The city grew along the edge of this curve into the swamps, spilling over the natural (and dry) levee of the earliest settlement. With enslaved labor, it drained the swampland. By the mid-nineteenth century the city had developed a dense row of slave plantations along both banks of the river and among the ports’ thriving commodity trade. The muddy, thin piece of land that was the Batture, was built by the deposition of the river. It was dynamic with the seasons. An enterprising lawyer from New York wanted in (my favorite description of him: “Livingston brought with him to New Orleans an American perspective on property rights, a New Yorker’s eye for the value of riparian land, a debtor’s nose for easy money, and one of the keenest legal minds in the nation”). He was promised some section of mud by his friend who owned waterfront property on the condition he took it to court and fought for it to be recognized as private. The opportunities were obvious in the country’s fastest growing city. The court ruled in his favor and he quickly showed up to his new land with laborers and construction material to build a private port. He met a riot. Nothing was built. The pitch battles went on for a Summer. The president was called in and argued in favor of the Batture as public commons. It remained so for years until the legal battle eventually swung in favor of both the lawyer and the public. The batture was built out by both the river and the residents. It turned into commercial areas, neighborhoods, wharves, and dumps. And it was no longer a river. But the problem, of course, is that while it flipped into something else it never stopped also being the river: when the spring came and water levels rose parts of the batture flooded. When hurricanes came the river pushed over the sediment barriers, overtopping its banks. New Orleans and Jakarta are both delta cities made in this strange space between river and land, land becoming river becoming land. They flip back and forth all the time. Sometimes we call that a flood, the wet season, a disaster. But then, we also call it a delta. This process has almost everything pitted against the hopes and aspirations we imbue in the idea of property. That wants to be fixed for land to stay as land, not to become river. It is supposed to be a little piece of constant onto which we get to pile up hopes for prosperity or at in a liquid world. Antagonists are these two, land and property. Bluffs On a Sunday, years ago, we visited the bluffs at the far eastern edge of Toronto. We were on a kind of date, an unspoken one. There’s an affluent neighborhood of Victorian houses on the shores of Lake Ontario, which is so large it reaches the horizon. One of the houses used to belong to a well-known landscape painter Doris McCarthy who in the mid-twentieth century would set up her easel on the edge of the bluff. Today it is some of the most expensive property in the country. The bluffs reach up to sixty-five meters high, are sandy and regularly loose chunks to the lake currents which churn them up and deposit them on an archipelago of nearby islands. Those islands also have very expensive properties and old families with money. People on the bluffs hate the islanders for growing as they shrink. So they started to build walls out in the lake. Then the islands began to shrink and the islanders to hate those on the bluffs. At the end of a quiet street we found a little cottage owned by a television personality who had seen some fame in the 1970s. Chatting with a neighbor we learned he’d recently died and left the ownership of his cottage unspecified. This same neighbor also told us about the last biggest slip of the bluff. He’d been sitting on his porch reading the newspaper. It had been raining on and off for days, nothing too unusual for the fall. Then his large beloved willow tree sank into the ground. He watched it. It took two hours. It disappeared uncomfortably like prey into a snake’s mouth. “Did it make a sound?” I asked, to which he replied, “It was mostly silent but the branches brushed the ground. Then sometimes it would crack.” There was nothing to be done. No reversing it. He just sat and watched. “The lake will eventually take our house,” he said. “We’ve probably got a decade, though. I’d say. We’re old, so by that time we might be ready for a nursing home. Go check out old Ken’s place, his went on the same day as the willow. I heard it from here.” Ken, the old TV star, his small blue clapboard siding cottage from the early 1960s was at the end of a narrow overgrown driveway. As we approached we could see the horizon of the lake through the front of the house. There was no rear wall. The ground had fallen halfway beneath the house. It slumped the structure and forced the wall to pop off. We walked to the new edge of the land. It was jagged like a page torn against the grain. We could see the dinner table still there. Cups and saucers still on the counter. Shredded pink insulation hung out of the poché and shingles draped from the roof. The rest of the debris scattered down the bluff toward the shoreline where the remnants of the willow, now a whitened, denuded log, mixed in with the bits of the house and lake currents. We talked about decay and how things break and Virginia Woolf. She also loved shorelines as a space of unlikely things touching and turning into each other. The spaces on which stability, beauty, and hopes are projected and into which they can’t hold, broken apart by the intervention of unlikely things, eddies, sediment, the rip of waves. One of the shorelines succumbing to the lake is a few kilometres away from Ken’s house in Lyme Regis; it’s named after the town in the UK with an equally volatile shore. Like the rest of British Upper Canada, Scarborough’s place-names were imported from the old country. See also, London, Peterborough, Kent, Kingston, and Waterloo. Lyme Regis, in Scarborough, is peculiar because it actually looks like the Dorset Coast, only less accessible. The British Lyme Regis was also an epicenter of the development of ideas about shorelines because of the wealth of fossils exposed by the fragile Jurassic and Triassic aged cliffs. They too constantly fell into the ocean. One notable event occurred on Christmas Eve 1839. The land began to crack in long wavy fissures, slipping down a few feet. People could hear it as it tore. Later that night a large piece of land including pasture and wheat fields split like an iceberg from a glacier and sunk down hundreds of meters into the ocean. It was so heavy that it compressed the land in front of it into an archipelago of islands and earthen columns. The next day a few geologists visited the site and wrote that the 200-foot cliffs were features of a “beautiful ruin.” Quoting an unnamed poet, the “crags, mounds, and knolls confusedly hurled presents at once a complete picture of the characteristic features of this broken ground.” The shoreline, rifty with “indentations, and often deep troughs, [earth] pipes… [that] often extend far into the subjacent cherty sandstone,” communicates between layers, mixing them. The “undermining effects of water” had riven through the top layer of earth to the “fox mould” (a local term for sand) below and the clayey under-structure, turning it into the texture of peanut butter. The enormous weight pressing upon it slid down to the ocean. Accompanying the geologists’ text were drawings rendered in the style popular before Doris McCarthy’s modernism. One that stood out was of two figures getting intimate with the new shoreline. They were in the foreground, small, in the vastness of the dusky, fragmented landscape. One was standing, the other lying on his front with his hands draped over the edge of the cliff. They stared together as if at an amphitheater. People came from across the country to see the "beauty of the failure." The fields were preserved, still growing wheat, but now in the ocean. Celebratory harvests were held and they sold the products as catastrophe wheat. Word travelled across England. The fissures exposed new fossils of ammonites and fish with feet. People peeled them out of the crevasses and sold them in the fossil shops in town. The catastrophe was linked to the past, as if it were one of a long series. What occurred on Christmas Eve was no exception, it belonged to a depth that was the whole world and all of its past, as if history is a shoreline. Touch Over a year ago I was walking in Jakarta along the Ciliwung watching the machines and people remake the walls of the banks. I stopped in among a crowd who were all watching, and leaned up against a chunk of concrete, beside me a guy sat on a stool smoking. “What’s happening?” I asked. “Normalization.” A hydraulic excavator was set on a floating platform. It gnawed at the banks and the river bend, straightening them. On another platform behind it was a pile of six-meter-long white concrete slabs. Behind on a third platform an excavator picked up the slabs with a metal cable. They’d swing in the air like a pendulum counterbalancing the bobbing of the platform on the water. Sometimes they’d swing so far I imagined the loader toppling into the river and a slab ramming into the wrong thing, like us, the spectators nonchalantly watching. The sound of generators beat against the heat and workers directed the slabs into place with their bodies, slowing the swing’s arc with their weight. Some smoked, sitting down, relaxing, with black caps on and flaps guarding their necks against the sun. I pitied the loader drivers. Their expressions made it look as if working that job was an eternal punishment set on a river that never ended, forever struggling against a buoyant machine. Once the slabs were set in place the bucket of the loader would drive them into place like a hammer. Each slab added a meter to the length of the wall in only a half hour. Fourteen meters a day. No matter the distance, this isn’t about efficiency. It is the spectacle of progress and the building of a new normal, an announcement made in puffs of black generator smoke, the loud pounding of concrete in mud, and fragile bodies. We all watched as the city was inserted between the river and its banks. This space between the river and its banks has a brutal history in Jakarta too. When the Dutch first built their (also paranoid) fortified settlement they brought with them hydrological engineering from home. It was originally a murky entanglement of canals and solid ground. Water carried ships in and out loaded with commodities, and waste and sewage flowed out into the bay. It was located at the meeting point of several rivers that drained the volcanoes and hills to the south. This mixture has always stunk. Some of the earliest travelers’ accounts of the place describe how bad it smelled. It was also a malaria den. As the city grew deeper into the delta the canals expanded with it. By the twentieth century, the bulging city was still using the canals for the same purposes. By the twenty-first century the shipping had largely shifted to industrial ports, the population was pushing thirty million and the old canals, barely modified, had to carry all that extra weight. Throughout the rainy season the city was constantly flooding. The riverbanks maintained a legal uncertainty. Who did they belong to? Migrants would fill the banks with cheap housing as a way to jump-start new lives. Some settlements would flourish into complex, longstanding neighborhoods liable to legal recognition under state settlement rights. What was initially infrastructure became property. Or rather, it operated as both at the same time. In the eyes of some it was infrastructure, for others it was home. For many of the urban poor home was simultaneously infrastructure, as if the factory of industrial times had shifted to the canal. Working on, living in, becoming part of the city infrastructure was the new factory floor. Arie’s two questions: How do things touch? Where do they touch? This is why they’ve stuck: they seem so obvious they must be hiding something profound. The second one is usually where I begin. Is it the whole river or lake that touches the bank? On the Ciliwung, is it the whole of the catchment area, all the way up into the volcanoes in Bandung? Do the volcanoes touch the bank? Are they also the bank? Or is it more discrete. I’m not sure. Does it not depend on the scale at which you look and what it is you hope to find? Where does the whole start and stop? Part to whole relationships are mysterious. How much of our talking about a whole is just a result of our laziness, of not knowing how to actually account for the individual relations between parts. Presumably, relations between parts are not the same as they aggregate up in scale. How do we know that objects don’t supersede their relationships? The Ciliwung has eddies in its corners that act in ways different to the whole, they transcend it and create a new environment. In that eddy a kid might go harvesting plastic, which he will sell for cash. Parts enter relationships that don’t exhaust their parts. When the relationships perish, like when the kid moves on, the parts remain, the eddy continues to eddy. How do things touch? I’ve realized that this question is what I’ve been trying to figure out in Nusantara. I keep coming back, my thinking circling around bodies, rocks and how they touch. Sometimes it’s big rocks; like volcanoes, and how bodies touch them. Sometimes it’s islands, mountains, quarries, and bodies. And all the things that come in between them, that mediate their touching and that transform what bodies can feel and how. This is the problem of intimacy. That’s what happens when a body touches sand, a volcano, sees it through binoculars, or holds a seismograph. Driving a concrete wall between the river and the bank is a form of intimacy. Pitch battles are forms of intimacy. Private property is a form of intimacy. Intimacy is the attempt to make things touch. It’s only through an intimate act that the river is turned into the bank, only intimacy enacts forms of mediation that allow things to touch in certain ways. Only through intimacy do unlikely things touch. Seismologists know all about this. My friend Cordula showed me a film she had made showing the hands of seismologists moving while they describe how earthquakes work: they always shove their hands together, fold them and slowly run one underneath the other. And this is supposed to be the mantle of the earth? But it is through this minute and fragile gesture that we are sent to imagining the scale of the planet. This is the act of intimacy, to translate across scales, to bring the scale of our bodies into contact with bigger scales. That’s the space where something passes. A quantum of sensation that bears in its form and content: contact. Perhaps sense is this contact. Yet the river never reaches the bank and the river is only the bank.
—Desk#:MoscowThe Russian Revolution in Dreams and RealityBy Ilya BudraitskisIn January 2014 the world held its breath and observed the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The spectacular opening ceremony, “Dreams of Russia,” was not simply a technical triumph but also a marvel of national history building. The depicted historical events acquired connections and a certain mutual continuity, building a chain of bright and majestic images told through a vision dreamed by a young girl. It must have been difficult for the modern Russian state to find a better form to invent its own place in history, one cleansed of any contradictions and conflicts, than the reconstruction of a dream. It is precisely in this space, which Freud called “the dream work,” that it is possible to realize the most cherished of repressed desires. The place of authentic history is taken up by an imagined history in which dreams form a “logical connection by approximation in time and space.” Freud compares the energy of dreams with an artist portraying all the poets who, in reality, had never been assembled together, on the summit of Parnassus in a single group. The restless dream state in which slumbering Russian society continues to dwell remains the strongest substance with which the Putinist state connects the disparate and successfully resolves the agonizing issue of its own legitimacy. Indeed, it was precisely according to a Parnassus-like principle that the program of historical exhibitions of recent years have been constructed and organized by the combined forces of church and state, in particular the exhibitions devoted to the Romanov and Rurik Dynasties. Hand in hand, though they belong in different epochs and often find themselves antagonistic toward one another, the knights and tsars, in unison, greet the museumgoers rushing to an appointment with their own history. It is in this harmony, created by the fantasy of the Russian state, that the pre-Soviet, Soviet, and post-Soviet epochs or Nikolai II, Stalin, and Putin all rub shoulders. This imagined unity is bound by one thing only: the displacement of revolution, a historical explosion which must be consigned to oblivion and have an anathema pronounced upon it. Countering the revolutionary threat in Russia is one of the pillars of the present reigning ideology, accompanied by a strategy of repressive work on the past. This work acquires special significance with the approach of the centenary of the second Russian Revolution. At the end of last year, Putin, meeting with historians, spoke of the necessity of “an objective evaluation” of the events of 1917 from which lessons could be learned, by which he means to find a way to ensure there would be no repeat revolution in the future. Shortly after, Vladimir Medinsky, Russia’s odious minister of culture, who lays claim to the role of chief ideologue of the ‘historical policy’ of the current regime, outlined the main theses of these ‘lessons’: recognition of the continuity of historical development from the Russian Empire, through the USSR, to contemporary Russia; recognition of the tragedy of social schism; understanding the error of relying on the help of foreign allies; and condemnation of the ideology of revolutionary terror. The culmination of this government program, according to Medinsky, should be the inauguration of a monument to the “reconciliation in the Civil War” in the Crimea. In Medinsky’s view, “a visible and powerful symbol established there where the Civil War ended will be the best way to demonstrate that it really has ended.” So the main lesson which society, in accordance with this plan, should draw is not only that the revolution was terrible but also that it was superfluous. It turns out that 1917 had no constitutive meaning (even though one pays one’s dues by mourning its unnecessary sacrifices), it was not the end of an old era and the beginning of a new one because fortunately both are united in the logic of the existing state whose monument will be the reconciling ‘Parnassus’ of Crimea. In this way, the ‘objective evaluation’ that Putin expects from historians comes down to proving that the revolution was the result of a foreign conspiracy and the extremist ideology of a bunch of malefactors. It is already clear that the old myth that financial support from the German General Staff was the main reason for the Bolshevik success is once again gaining traction. Among historians, Boris Mironov, a professor from Saint Petersburg University, stands out. In his sweeping work The Standard of Living and Revolutions in Russia 1700–1917, aided by a massive quantity of anthropometric data, he attempts to prove that the weight, height, and quantity of calories consumed by the majority of the population in pre-revolutionary Russia was inexorably rising. According to Mironov, even World War I did not prevent the Russian peasantry from enjoying their abundant diet. Poverty and the exploitation of the peasantry in the Russian Empire is a myth implying that the revolution was nothing other than the result of the active role of ‘Russian radicals’. Mironov constitutes a particularly impressive example of how a vulgar materialist analysis can be successfully combined with an equally vulgar conspiracy theory. The revolution took place only because the conspirers were not rendered harmless in time. So the ‘lesson’ of the revolution is intended, first of all, for the police. Again returning to Freud, one can compare it to the ‘censorship’ function of the dream, a function that includes a repressive crackdown on any unsanctioned interventions in its field. Before us is a new model, striking in its coherence and base nature, of the ‘normalization’ of the revolution with which Russia will greet its centenary. Outside the limits of this model there is nothing but a tinkling of tacit approval. The liberal opposition, for all its hatred of the existing regime, is remarkably ready to accept this version of events: One must liberate oneself from the revolution. Such liberation from the revolutionary legacy is seen by the Russian liberal as a necessary part of the program of ‘de-Sovietization’ (close in spirit to the current Ukrainian reality), which proposes the dismantling of ‘Soviet’ institutions and monuments symbolizing revolutionary violence against citizens. The functionaries of the Russian Communist Party (KPRF), who almost vanished from the public sphere, are also ready to accept the ‘lessons’ of the revolution proposed by Putin and Minister Medinsky. If liberals choose to disavow the revolution along with displaying a willingness to demolish statues then the communists choose to preserve the monuments while renouncing revolution. Buried alive in the monuments and symbols of the Brezhnev era, now entirely devoid of political meaning, the memory of the revolution morphs into an organic, seamless part of the conservative, anti-revolutionary, ruling-class project in Russia. This emerging consensus of consigning anything reminiscent of the revolution to oblivion is connected with the displacement of politics in contemporary Russia. In Echoes of the Marseillaise, Eric Hobsbawm presents a substantial picture of the transformation of interpretations of the French Revolution in the subsequent two centuries. The great revolution of the eighteenth century remained an incomplete project, but its significance and meaning was constantly subject to redefinition while remaining at the center of political discussion and of utmost significance at each new historical turning point. According to Hobsbawm, “in the year of its bi-centenary the French Revolution was no jolly old holiday at which millions of tourists gathered […] for it represented a set of events so powerful and universal in their influence that they had transformed the world in many ways and roused […] forces which continue this work of transformation.” These “roused forces” that revealed new elements of the revolutionary legacy, became manifest in the uprisings of the nineteenth century and the Paris Commune, in the struggles of the Communists in the 1920s, the Resistance during World War II, and the students protests in May 1968. The recognition of the French Revolution during each of these periods was in constant flux but nevertheless remained a territory within which one could continually reevaluate the main protagonists and parties. Yet there was an unchanging appreciation that this was a large-scale event after which nothing could remain as it was before. The revolution remained on its path as memory, preventing society from falling into slumber, time and again marking points of discord and thus creating obstacles to the installation of any post-political consensus. Toward the end of the 1980s, when French intellectuals registered the crisis of mass movements, traditional political parties, and the devaluation of political meaning, “the fidelity to the event” (in the words of Alain Badiou) of universal revolutions—both the French and the Russian—remained a constant horizon of hope that history would continue on its path and that the sacrifices had not been in vain. Today in Russia the sense of ideological deadlock and a deep political crisis is felt more acutely, dramatically, and with greater pessimism than in France on the eve of the bicentenary of its revolution. The desire to bury the revolution by erecting a preposterous monument of ‘reconciliation’ on its tomb is a desire sealed by fear. An attempt is being made to persuade us that violence and terror are the only results when society reawakens and that this fact is the main ‘lesson’ to be learned from the revolution, and we are all obliged to learn it. Yet what happened in 1917 is already impossible to expunge, not only from the past but also from the future. Revolutionary events, anathematized or hidden under lock and key, probably have not yet had the moment when they can be revealed and grasped. Translated by Giuliano Vivaldi
—Image:His Own Personal Signed CopyBy Patrick GoddardSome background for my foreign friends: the guy reading from Mao’s Little Red Book is John McDonnell, Britain’s shadow chancellor of the exchequer, a title that sounds ominously Sith-like but actually just means that he is the guy who would be in charge of Britain’s economy if his party ever got into power. He is basically the second in command to the current ‘far-left’ incarnation of the Labour Party; think an old-school Yanis Varoufakis, but less sexy and with less academic clout. Opposite him sits Gideon Osborne, now called George since he changed his name to sound less posh. George/Gideon is Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer: governing the fifth biggest economy in the world, he has administered one of the largest transfers of public assets into private hands that Britain has ever seen. If his plans go ahead, the 2015–16 tax year will see the biggest wave of state asset privatization ever in Britain, much of this, as you may have guessed from watching the video, being sold off to the Chinese government. To assist comrade Osborne in his dealings with his new found comrades, I have brought along Mao’s Little Red Book… McDonnell quotes from the Little Red Book, tongue firmly in cheek, as a theatrical way of criticizing the Conservatives’ cozy ‘relationshop’ with the Chinese. Besides staging a not particularly funny stunt, McDonnell’s main blunder here is to mistake the nature of contemporary political speech—not simply theater, but spectacle. Political theater, already a jaded imitation of debate, at least incorporates the nuances of context, delivery, significant pauses, veiled hints, impersonated accents, argument, and the subtleties of dialectics. Spectacle, the brattish next generation of political spin, plays to the decontextualized sound bites of newspaper headlines, to the endless troll armies of twitter. Half-truths kept snappy! Political theater impersonates discussion, performing a conversation and balancing the immediacy of an argument while playing to a wider invisible audience. The spectacle is the opposite of dialogue, divorced rather than merely separated, needs no context, is representation detached from its signifier: headline, GIF, JPEG. Punch-line politics, flaccid as a summarized joke: Veteran left-winger quotes murderous Mao. The House of Commons debate was Labour’s chance to respond to the Conservative Party’s dodgy autumn spending review. The full debate saw McDonnell antagonize and question the Conservatives’ zealous everything-must-go! public asset sell-offs, the accounting wizardry that saw an extra £25 billion appear from down the back of the sofa, and the unaffordable ‘affordable’ housing that the Conservatives had championed. The video of McDonnell’s limp joke and Osborne’s response has, however, effectively become the only document of the day. The excerpt quickly became ubiquitous in both the left- and right-wing press. Guy Debord wrote: “The spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.” In the hyper-networked world of supposedly short attention spans, modern political debate can either be caught by or spin the web, vying for that entertainment dollar with image, caption, slogan, tweet: this is Spin 2.0. Oh look! It’s his own personal signed copy! For the politically disillusioned, ‘debate’ is now about the concise manipulation of perspective and perception… or at least that is one way to look at it. Osborne chooses not to engage with the content of his opponent’s argument which he understands full well, but rather to deliberately misconstrue the event, choosing to take the sarcasm at face value: “I can’t believe the shadow chancellor literally stood at the dispatch box and read from Mao’s Little Red Book!” Osborne values and interprets the statement already with tabloid headlines in mind and by deliberately misconstruing the sentiment, condemns McDonnell to the humiliation of having to explain a joke. The ranks of Conservatives cackle loudly from the benches, not only at the naïvety of bringing dialectics to a sloganeering fight, but safe in the knowledge that their laughter itself will cement the events subsequent reportage in their favor. To the right of Osborne’s vampiric grin sits the British prime minister with his face on the cusp of a gleeful explosion. Opposite, McDonnell glows embarrassment red amid the heads-in-hands of his fellow Labour MPs. For their part, many of the Labour back benchers would like to distance themselves from the current left-wing incarnation of their own front bench, praying perhaps for an internal Blairite coup. The chortling Conservatives opposite showing, to their credit, more unity in their mocking celebrations, making sense of the collective noun party of politicians (albeit a sausage-fest with a male to female ratio of around 4:1). Labour’s shadow chancellor responds by approvingly quoting Chairman Mao, the Chinese communist dictator who murdered twenty million people. —The Sun (Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper, Murdoch owned) Dubbed “Apocalypse Mao” by the tabloids, for the right-wing press the Red Book incident became more fodder for increasing vitriol against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity front bench. The press response was hysterical. That is hysterical, as in exaggerated excitement and panic driven. Not unbelievably hilarious. When the bulk of political reportage is engaged in a race for Mao-themed puns any expectation of actual debate is rendered as hopeless as looking for a fart in a Jacuzzi. Political journalism: they think it’s all over… it is Mao. The controversy is not the shit joke, or even the disingenuous rebuttal, but the general media’s willingness for the video at the top of this page to summarize—or rather, overshadow—current debate of a policy that will impact millions of people, and by the looks of things, for generations to come. Of course playing up to fear-mongering publications that both cater to and further stimulate a climate of mass hysteria is an ongoing tactic of the Right, especially the current Conservative Party. Historically they (and their international counterparts) have relied on promoting social anxiety and uncertainty, subsequently selling themselves as cure. Not long ago the prime minister himself took Corbyn deliberately out of context, choosing to quote him as saying “Osama Bin Laden’s death was a tragedy,” failing to clarify that the stated tragedy was the nonexistent attempt to arrest and sentence the man. If all accusations of Labour’s new leadership were to be believed then we would have a pack of communist-jihadist-murdering-pacifists who want to ban football (a combination, I should add, that I would be curious to see). Speeches by international finance ministers are usually exceptionally boring, I suspect deliberately so in an attempt to disinterest the casual listener. Osborne’s speeches, however, stand out for their Machiavellian lyricism. Littered with metaphors and a language of inevitability, his delivery is simultaneously determined and yet non-committal, evocative yet vague: “This time we’re going to fix the roof whilst the sun still shines!” McDonnell’s speech is in response to Osborn’s autumn spending review, a review so bleak that the biggest cheer came from his announcement that the Conservatives were doing nothing by not cutting the police budget. Prior to his bungled Mao skit, McDonnell takes Osborne to task over dubious and rushed public asset sales, his failure to eliminate the country’s deficit despite his intense austerity program, and furthermore accusing him of a general economic illiteracy. Prior to his appointment to the Conservative front bench, Osborne had little experience in finance or economics: studying history at university, later working as a journalist and subsequently as a speechwriter to former Conservative leader William Hague. Playing to these strengths, “Apocalypse Mao” is a perfect example of his ability to wriggle out of debates with the sleazy skill of a buttered gigolo. The art of the quick-thinking comeback honed in the playgrounds of England’s top private schools: deflect, deflate, ridicule. Economic illiteracy perhaps, but veiled by a sophistic fluency. Sophistic fluency? I take that back. I remember a common English schoolyard rebuttal for any insult: “I know you are but what am I?”—an infuriatingly imbecilic refusal to acknowledge: still the debater’s trump card at the forefront of real-time spin. In a strange twist to this ‘controversy’ I recently stumbled across an older article from the staunchly conservative Daily Mail on the life and career of George Osborne. It reads: “As well as a poster of Winston Churchill on his bedroom wall as a child, Osborne also had Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book. His mother Felicity—a fluent Mandarin speaker—brought one back from China when he was a little boy” (3 October 2015). That Osborne himself, despite his accusations, is the one to own a well-thumbed “personal copy” simply reinforces his cynicism of honest political debate and the democratic project overall. A cynicism that will most likely serve him well as either the next prime minister or else as a highly-paid executive heading up some foundation advising a sandy state like Dubai on how to bid for the Winter Olympics.
—Image:The Red UndeadBy Ana Teixeira PintoFor almost two months, from 4 October 2015, Portugal had de facto no government. Until 24 November, President Aníbal Cavaco Silva—who, incidentally, in 1967, under the dictatorship, offered his services to the secret police (PIDE DGS)—refused to appoint a left-wing coalition government even though they secured an absolute majority in the Portuguese parliamentary election. The reason he gave for not respecting democratic process was that neither the Communist Party (traditionally anti-NATO and anti-EU) nor the anti-austerity platforms could be allowed to govern: this would send “false signals to financial institutions, investors and markets.” Hence, the president demanded that all parties comply with “EU rules,” in order to stave off a resurrected “red threat.” Another Syriza moment must be avoided, and Silva has no qualms in propagating economic dogma at the cost of democracy. The “red threat” picture above was published on the cover of Time magazine in August 1975. From right to left, you see the Portuguese president Francisco da Costa Gomes, Premier Vasco dos Santos Gonçalves, and revolutionary leader General Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho. I had forgotten this image until I saw it again recently, when Portuguese theorist Delfim Sardo gave a talk about the SAAL social housing program at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, within the context of the “Housing Question,” an exhibition which tackles the current housing crisis in Europe. The image, he told me, is at once an illustration of the past and a comment on the present. The summer of 1975 became known in Portugal as the “hot summer”(verão quente): the summer in which the country teetered on the brink of a civil war. The revolution, which toppled the dictatorship a year before, on 25 April 1974, has been widely romanticized as a peaceful, bloodless movement. Emulating the flower-power protesters who marched on the Pentagon in 1967, its symbol became the carnation, often placed down the barrel of a rifle. But a bloodless revolution is an oxymoron. Prior to that April, Portugal had experienced forty-eight years of uninterrupted autocratic rule—the longest dictatorship in Western Europe. Unlike Italian fascism, which forged an alliance with modernism, Portuguese fascism was anti-modern, ruralist, and insular. Poverty was a state policy (“honored poverty” was the state’s motto): in the 1970s, about 36 percent of Portuguese households lacked electricity, 53 percent running water, and 42 percent were not equipped with proper plumbing. Child labor was widespread, vast urban areas were occupied by slums, and illiteracy ranged over 30 percent. By the time the regime fell, over two million Portuguese people had emigrated to France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Germany to escape hunger and unemployment. After 1961 Portugal was also fighting a costly war with its African colonies, Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea, and by 1974 this had become unsustainable. Five families alone controlled the extraction industry in the colonies, and their economic activities were key to both Portugal’s isolationist policies and the dictator’s domestic survival, a fact that explains why the regime pitted itself against its increasingly disgruntled military. The carnation revolution of 25 April started off as a military coup whose goal was simply to end the colonial war, which some factions of the army increasingly saw as logistically unsustainable. Overwhelming popular support changed the course of events however, pushing the insurgent military units (MFA) to forge an alliance with the people (Aliança Povo/MFA). In lieu of a peaceful surrender, however, the regime’s premier, Marcelo Caetano, imposed António de Spínola as his successor. Spínola, an army general, had been involved in orchestrating the coup, but was not part of the MFA, nor was he sympathetic to the left-wing leanings of the insurgent officers. His objective was to negotiate a truce with the Portuguese colonies in order to implement a sort of commonwealth federation, not to grant them independence. Spínola spent his short term as president attempting to block the MFA’s revolutionary program and ended up resigning. On 11 March 1975, he engineered a counter-coup after allegedly being informed by Franco’s secret police that the Communists, with the support of the Soviet Union, were preparing a blitz of political assassinations. In 2014, several files belonging to the US State Department were made public (Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1977, volume E-15, part II) which detail that Kissinger stated his support for a right-wing coup, against the opinion of CIA deputy director Frank Carlucci and William Hyland (deputy national security advisor to President Gerald Ford) who thought Spínola was “too dangerous.” It would seem that the false intelligence concerning the Soviet plan was intended to prompt Spínola to act, but it is not clear whether the United States intended him to succeed or, rather, to fail, in order to force his removal. Once the coup was aborted, Spínola fled to Spain, then to Brazil (also a military dictatorship at the time), where he began to organize the ELP (Exército de Libertação de Portugal, the Liberation Army of Portugal), a right-wing paramilitary terrorist group, and its twin organization the MDLP (Movimento Democrático de Libertação de Portugal, Democratic Movement for the Liberation of Portugal), an anti-communist terror network under the leadership of the exiled chief of the secret police, now operating from Spain with the support of Franco’s regime. Together with the Catholic-led Maria da Fonte—a terror cell organized by the Canon of Braga, Eduardo Melo, using the Church’s institutional clout—the three groups, united by a virulent anti-communism, waged a terror campaign against the budding democratic state. In an article published at the time in Harper’s Magazine, Robert Moss reported that beyond the Spanish border the ELP was in the process of recruiting and organizing an army in order to launch an invasion. The CIA knew of these activities, but the American response was divided between those who would support a civil war (Kissinger) and those who believed a political solution was more expedient (Hyland, Carlucci). Either way, anti-communist hysteria peaked after Spínola’s failed coup. The new Portuguese president Francisco Costa Gomes appointed Vasco Gonçalves, who had strong ties with Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, as his prime minister. From Kissinger’s perspective, the whole Portuguese cabinet was now red. To make matters worse, the coup had prompted Gonçalves to escalate the “revolutionary process”: he nationalized the banks, the insurance companies, and the shipping industry, and implemented ambitious social programs such as a minimum wage, land reform, universal education, and social housing (this latter program, SAAL, enjoyed overwhelming public support, though constantly under threat: its offices were bombed and one of its chief architects, Alexandre Alves Costa, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt). Still, Portuguese society remained intensely polarized and the north-south divide became insurmountable, with the north, composed of mostly small-scale merchants and rural landowners, radicalized by anti-communist propaganda spread by the Church’s parochial network. The “hot summer” started on 13 July, when, instigated by the Catholic Church and the militias connected to the deposed fascist regime, a mob attacked a Communist center and the headquarters of the Socialist Front. In the following days and weeks over eighty office buildings used by the Communists, Socialists, labor unions, and several other left-leaning political parties were assailed by mobs. Over fifty more were the targets of bomb attacks or arson. The assaults are most often narrated as a spontaneous expression of popular animosity to the Left’s policies, particularly to land reform. According to the testimonies of the victims however, most were orchestrated by Spínola’s MDLP, and two other terror cells, Maria da Fonte and ELP. The ELP was also responsible for—as well as many other attacks—the murder of a young priest, Padre Max, and a nineteen-year-old female student, with a remote-controlled car bomb. This was a particularly gruesome crime, but although the perpetrators were known (among those indicted was Melo, the Canon of Braga), no one was ever convicted. While these events were ignored, the American press gave extensive coverage to a leftist attack on the Spanish embassy in Lisbon, with CBS repeatedly featuring all available images. At the same time, NATO initiated operation Locked Gate-75, meant to “contain the influence of the Portuguese communist party,” anchoring the supercarrier USS Saratoga and several other vessels in the Tagus river delta, aimed at the presidential palace in Belém. For Kissinger, Pinochet’s 1973 coup was the blueprint for an armed intervention. Frank Carlucci had a different vision however. He saw in the leader of the Socialist Party, Mário Soares, a power-hungry politician, who could be groomed to do NATO’s bidding. Under the strain of unrelenting attacks, the Left grew increasingly divided. The more radical groups called for an armed insurrection and proposed to distribute weapons to the population in order to fight off the imminent invasion. Gonçalves was urged to “step up the revolutionary process.” Fearing a Chile-style bloodbath, the Communist Party took a moderate position. Wedged between the radical Left and mounting external pressure, the interim government fell. On 25 November 1975, one last attempted coup, this time round by leftist elements, brought an end to the “revolutionary process” and sealed the country’s fate. Without the support of the Communist Party, the coup was promptly quashed. Ramalho Eanes, the new commander-in-chief of the army, arrested Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho. The Socialists close ranks with the Right to accuse the Communist Party of supporting the coup and plotting a Soviet takeover. The “revolutionary process” came to a sudden halt, the MFA was dismantled, and radical-left parties were outlawed. In the following years almost all revolutionary actions were rolled back, and the status quo fully restored. Spínola was given the highest state honors and his terror cells morphed into respectable political parties, such as the CDS-PP or the PSD. The SAAL housing program was suspended, and property rights were restored. Carlucci got it right, Mário Soares could be trusted, as, in his own words, ironically speaking as the head of the Socialist Party: It was time to shelf socialism. The red threat was over. Portugal’s structural problems—democratic deficit, nepotism, and corruption—were never solved, but merely masked by the European Union’s social and financial programs. Rather than endless prosperity, the highways the European Union built brought cheaper agricultural produce and low-cost goods. The economy shrunk in inverse proportion to German export growth. The effects of a multi-dimensional accumulation policy are in full sight, but the silent coup Portugal underwent this last month was met with a wall of silence by European media, presumably drowned by the barrage of coverage that followed the Paris attacks. Seemingly unrelated events are all epiphenomena of an imperial order, which only becomes visible when under threat. Just as in 1975, in Paris in 2015 systemic injustice is masked by cultural difference. “They have weapons. […] We have champagne,” we are told, as if it would be possible to generalize the experience of the leisure class. In truth, we do not have champagne; we have zero-hour contracts and increasing precarity. But the easiest way to avert reckoning with the social consequences of financialization and austerity is to instill paranoia, division, and moral panic.
—Sediments: Future—Sediments:FutureBy Orit GatWhen Google announced the formation of a new umbrella company called Alphabet, a friend of mine said, “Alphabet Corporation. Amazing. Apparently we already live in a cyberpunk dystopia.” It’s funny because it’s true. We are so sensitive to futurist tendencies and terminologies because our culture has always been future-obsessed, from the pilgrimage to visit the Oracle of Delphi to futures trading, H.G. Wells to William Gibson. There’s the Internet archive and its “wayback machine,” a typeface called Avenir (designed 1988) and one entitled Futura (from 1927). The future is always present, which explains why the word back in Back to the Future is key: futurism is a phenomenon that we as a society tune in and out of periodically. You can learn a lot about a culture—its past and present—from the way it imagines the future. We have been conditioned to see the future as the making of technology because the scientific race of the past few decades has made futurism ever more palpable. Remember Marty McFly’s self-lacing shoes? Nike is producing them. So many projections of technological advancements in the future assumed an object-specific tech field complete with hoverboards, moving walkways, and unexpected lab-made materials. But it is the advancement of data and information systems that has clearly been the most substantial. Compare Google as a web services company and the Google driverless car, which the company hopes to make available to the public in 2020. As amazing as a self-driving vehicle may be, we are not there yet. Information systems are a little less ripe for a wild sense of imagining the future, though in a way their physicality has given a face to systems of distribution, control, and privilege (consider the photos of the NSA facility in Utah that circulated following Edward Snowden’s leaks or the maps of submarine cables). Technology is our zeitgeist and it dominates many contemporary images of the future. But so do architecture (think Gulf Futurism), environmental concerns (which provided the perfect background for many dystopian narratives), or military-political advancements and threats (when a disastrous future dystopia is not the result of global warming, it is often the aftermath of a world war). And art? Marinetti’s comment in the first Futurist Manifesto that “Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed” can now be replaced by a fascination with circulation. Speed exchanged by spread. What we can—and should—learn from art’s fascination with the future is an examination of the way it is represented. Such an analysis is often a study in bleakness, but also in the weird hopefulness and optimism that the human race cannot seem to shake about itself. “You mean to say that that machine has travelled into the future?” said Filby. “Into the future or the past—I don’t, for certain, know which.” —H.G. Wells, The Time Machine 21 October 2015 was the day Marty McFly, Doc, and Jennifer Parker traveled to the future. Which begs the question: Are we already living in the future? And is it everything we had hoped it would be? This section of Sediments will examine some histories of the future but also ask whether or not there is a need for more futurist thinking, and if there is room for less tech-oriented imaginations of what is still to come.