By Adam Kleinman
Author

Adam Kleinman (New York City) is Chief Editor of Witte de With’s online platform WdW Review. He has worked at Witte de With since the end of 2012. He is a writer and curator and former dOCUMENTA (13) Agent for Public Programming. Kleinman was curator at Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, where he created the interpretative humanities program “Access Restricted.” Kleinman also developed LentSpace, a cultural venue and garden design by Interboro Partners, which repurposed an entire vacant Manhattan block. There, Kleinman curated “Avenue of the Americas” (2010) and “Points & Lines” (2009). Kleinman is a frequent contributor to multiple exhibition catalogues and magazines including AgendaArtforume-flux journalFriezeMousse and Texte zur Kunst.

nixon

It’s 14 August 1971, a Saturday, and Richard Milhous Nixon is scared. The President has good reason for fright, tomorrow he goes on TV—his sweaty and sickly appearance during the Kennedy debate broadcast most probably cost him the election, and this must claw at the back of his mind. His next competitor, though, is the ratings game itself; he must preempt Bonanza, TV’s top show. Not ready for primetime, Nixon would rather give his speech during the day; however, the markets open early Monday morning and will not wait for him. Forced to risk alienating at-home viewers, he interrupts the fictional Cartwright Family to talk about gold, real gold. Nixon it turns out is more scared than we think. Before his address, Fort Knox’s store of the shinny stuff backed the dollar, yet Nixon will claim that international money speculation might drain these reserves and cause a run on the bank. To defend the home ranch from outsiders, the commander in chief not only does away with the gold standard, but also puts an end to the Bretton Woods System, a post-war international regulatory mechanism that tied the currencies of several industrialized nations to the US dollar, and by extension, to its gold. From now on, America will simply print its own money on fiat; its legal tender will have no intrinsic value, and thus its gold will be safe. Long before becoming president, Nixon was a young attorney in the tire-rationing division of the World War II-era Office of Price Administration; according to his own words, the experience taught him to dislike price controls. Fortunately for him, his own hand would ultimately deregulate the global economy for years to come. By strange coincidence, “bonanza,” a term derived from the Latin bonus, is an expression used by miners to signal the find of a huge deposit of ore. And although Nixon ended gold convertibility, this and other reforms generally called “Nixon Shock” by historians, began to divine a new form of financial abundance: Neo-liberal markets. In the spirit of such a foundation, join our inaugural Sediments Section and dig into various 1971 events whose legacies continue to surface today.

—Sediments

The Conquering Worm: Part 1

By John Menick
Author

John Menick makes films and audio works, writes essays and short stories, and occasionally makes prints and drawings. These works are often populated by wandering detectives, duplicitous storytellers, homeless documentarians, mad travelers, and institutionalized cinephiles. His artwork has been shown at dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel; MoMA PS1, New York; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; CCA Wattis, San Francisco; Midway Contemporary Art, Minneapolis; and Artists Space, New York. His writing has appeared in Frieze, Mousse, and Art in America. Menick has received grants from the Jerome Foundation and the New York Foundation for the Arts, and he is a visiting professor of film and video at the Cooper Union in New York. His ideal audience member — possibly you — watches no television, can’t drive or swim, always carries a pen, hates cell phones, names Pale Fire as his or her favorite book, wears glasses, and is afraid of flying. Most of the time he lives in New York City.

This is the older and first PDP-10 model, a KA10 in a large configuration, on which the TENEX was implemented as the new time sharing system. Photo: from a DEC system-10 sales brochure, courtesy of Michael Thompson, Retro-Computing Society of RI.

Ben Reich, proprietor of Monarch Utilities & Resources, Inc. is shopping for an earworm. A common commercial hook won’t do. Mr. Reich needs an industrial-strength jingle, Top 40 vintage. His earworm isn’t meant to climb charts or sell mobile phones; it is part of the businessman’s latest venture, a project no one has engaged in for more than seventy years: plotting a murder. In Reich’s century, the twenty-fourth, telepathy has somehow become commonplace, and murders are impossible. Policemen, marketing gurus, personal assistants, rival businessmen, a whole class of humanity, is an “Esper,” reading conscious and unconscious thoughts alike. An earworm, then, runs perfect cognitive interference for a corner-office sociopath. With a looping melody firmly embedded in Reich’s wetware, the businessman is free to plot an assassination, all the while exuding pop song mania to anyone who cares to eavesdrop.

This is the set-up for Alfred Bester’s 1953 novel, The Demolished Man, an early literary rehearsal of decades of cyberpunk to come. Even on the edge of Eisenhower’s America, former PR-man Bester was captivated by the parasitic intensities of popular music. The word “earworm” appeared later – in 1991, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Earworm: from the German, Ohrwurm, meaning the same as it would come to mean in English, an infectious, viral bit of music holding short-term memory and attention hostage. An effective earworm, like any meme, must also move quickly through populations, transmissible by humming only a few notes. If the virus is the social metaphor for cultural transmission, then the worm is its more complex multicellular adjunct. An earworm proliferates, but it also must burrow, dig in, becoming an unwelcome neurological lodger. Its life is doubled, pleasurable and uninvited.

This double life has echoes elsewhere, namely in the history of distributed computing. It is said that science fiction does not always attempt to predict the future; it amplifies qualities of the present. Bester did not predict the colonizing of mental space by popular culture – it already existed, though with less intensity than it does today. He also did not give his earworms algorithmic form. Instead, Reich relies on the brilliance of a songwriter. It would take the 1975 novel, The Shockwave Rider, by British author John Brunner to imagine a digital worm, not as a marketing ploy or a cover for murder, but as a means of escape. Brunner, transfixed by Alvin Toffler’s futurism, devised perhaps the first hacker anti-hero, Nick Haflinger, who would use a digital “tapeworm” to evade technocratic surveillance. In this case, contrary to the earworm, the tapeworm was used as a vehicle for dissociation and guile, followed by periods of “digging in” under assumed identities:

What I turned loose in the net yesterday was the father and mother of all tapeworms… My newest – my masterpiece – breeds by itself… By now I don’t know exactly what there is in the worm. More bits are being added automatically as it works its way to places I never dared guess existed… And –no, it can’t be killed. It’s indefinitely self-perpetuating so long as the net exists. Even if one segment of it is inactivated, a counterpart of the missing portion will remain in store at some other station and the worm will automatically subdivide and send a duplicate head to collect the spare groups and restore them to their proper place. 1Quoted in Shoch and Hupp, p. 1.

Brunner’s psychedelic sci-fi found a computational embodiment in a likely place: Cambridge Massachusetts’s BBN Technologies. Begun as an acoustics consulting firm after the Second World War, Bolt, Beranek, and Newman (later BBN, and now Raytheon BBN) quickly expanded into computing and artificial intelligence research. Over the following decades, the company, sometimes called Cambridge’s “third university,” invented such crucial Internet technologies as packet switching, Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), and telnet, as well as an early implementation of secure packet transmission.

One other invention is left off most compilations, official and otherwise: BBN produced the first Internet “worm,” Creeper. In 1971, programmer Robert H. (Bob) Thomas, while developing the operating system TENEX, wrote a small program to demonstrate “mobile code.” The program announced itself on the display to a user, began printing a file, then stopped and copied itself to another machine. The ability of the software to replicate and become mobile was limited by the fact that the algorithm deleted the previous version when finished, therefore guaranteeing only one Creeper existed on a given network. According to Thomas’s colleague, Ray Tomlinson, inventor of email, this duplicate-delete-repeat algorithm was meant to investigate how applications might intelligently move across a network in order to best exploit computational resources. He explains: “For example, it might be preferable to move the application to the machine having the data (as opposed to bringing the data to the applications).” 2See reference here.

The unintended consequence of this research was an “arms race” between Creeper and a second program, “Reaper,” a worm created at BBN in order to remove Creeper from the system. Software like Reaper is sometimes referred to as a “nematode” – in agriculture, a round or un-segmented worm sometimes used to kill pests. Unlike typical anti-virus software, a nematode is not welcomed into a system. It uses the same manner of exploitation, entry, and proliferation as a worm, with one difference: it exists to eradicate other worms. To date, the practice of releasing nematodes into the wild is considered unethical, and, more importantly, much contemporary malware does this service anyway – sophisticated malware will often clear systems of competitors in order to increase the probability of smooth survival.

The 1971 Creeper was endemic to ARPANET, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network. This was a Defense Department-funded proto-Internet linking together computers at universities, government agencies, and private companies across the United States. Each organization on the network contained a number of ‘nodes’ – endpoints on the network – and each of these nodes was linked by leased telecommunication lines, or “leased lines.” A twenty-first-century Creeper could burrow worldwide in hours, but because ARPANET was used only among a relatively small number of institutions, Creeper’s existence was slightly more than hearsay. It was only in 1982 that Creeper was pinned with the taxonomic label “worm,” thus becoming known to a slightly wider audience. The taxonomists were John F. Shoch and Jon A. Hupp, computer scientists and admirers of Brunner’s hacker. As they describe in their paper “The ‘Worm’ Programs – Early Experience with a Distributed Computation,” 3See reference here. Shoch and Hupp’s worms flourished in the research offices of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Like BBN, Xerox PARC is a pageant of firsts: the first graphical user interface, the first WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) application, the first laser printer. Another two ‘firsts’ – the Alto, the first individual-scale computer, and the first Ethernet network – provided their worm’s soil. Unlike Creeper, existing on one machine at a time, the Alto worm proliferated across machines, each copy called a “segment.” A segment began on one Alto and then inspected the network for an Alto with free memory. If a machine responded positively, the segment copied a new segment to the second Alto. When complete, the new segment maintained communication with the previous segment, and, by implication, all other segments. The process was then repeated, repeated, repeated again….

These first primitive segments were “null programs” – they did nothing but inspect and machine hop without announcing their arrival on a new host. Silent and epidemic, one early test run at PARC crashed the in-house network overnight, taking down more than a hundred machines. The authors wrote, perhaps delighted: “At this point, one begins to imagine a scene straight out of Brunner’s novel – workers running around the building, fruitlessly trying to chase the worm and stop it before it moves somewhere else.”

Somehow, the press noticed, notably The Christian Science Monitor, all alarms sounding: “If one of these machines were restarted, it would soon be invaded by WORM [sic] again. Every invaded computer on a network must be cleared and reprogrammed to get rid of the menace.” The network needed clearing, yes, but Shoch and Hupp did not mention any “reprogramming” in their paper. More importantly, did Shoch and Hupp intend to create a menace? Probably not. Like Creeper, the PARC worms were not anarchic software. They were the crude first maps of a new territory: distributed computing. The problem for Shoch and Hupp was not how to destroy more machines, but how to keep their worms’ migrations under control. More sophisticated later worms kept infected Altos running, with segments maintaining an updated log of all colonized Altos, in a manner similar to how routing tables are kept in packet switching networks. (ARPANET, for example, used a number of proto-routers, Interface Message Processors, built on similar algorithms.) Tamed, the PARC worm segments expanded their population at night when programmers went home, thus freeing computational resources, and would then reduce their segments in the morning when programmers were back at their desks. Depending on which experiment Shoch and Hupp conducted, resources were farmed out to computers in parallel, thus harnessing the computation power of an entire network at one time. In one experiment, Shoch and Hupp used parallel processing to render graphics across the network, turning each computer into a “worker” processor. (A technique similar to the later SETI@home software that harnesses millions of PCs to search for extraterrestrial radio signals.) Another experiment created a worm-driven alarm clock to wake employees with a telephone courtesy call – a good test of how many machines could keep the state of the whole system in sync at one time. (Has this user been called? At what time? By which machine?) Software would no longer be constrained by one machine, one hardware configuration. It would become a ubiquitous computation.

“Worm” tunneled into history, the invertebrate metaphor of choice. But then there are the metaphors not used, never developed. A PARC colleague of Shoch and Hupp suggested “vampire programs,” Bela Lugosis of the computer lab. Shoch and Hupp, their love for science fiction already proven, instead suggested their creations were like the gelatinous creature from The Blob (1958) – expanding and contracting when needed, filling free space with an electronic plasma. One might hear a murmur from a different source, too: Georges Bataille, who probably never saw a computer; whose preoccupations were more for the occult, who wrote of l’informe, or the “formless,” a countermovement to modernism’s order and proportion. “What it designates has no rights in any sense and gets itself squashed everywhere, like a spider or an earthworm. In fact, for academic men to be happy, the universe would have to take shape […] It is a matter of giving a frock coat to what is, a mathematical frock coat.”

Frock coats or not, Shoch and Hupp had not read of Bataille’s informe. They did better; they created it themselves. Shoch and Hupp showed that computer science is as capable of producing uncanny organisms as those of Surrealism and Hollywood B-movies. Science has always, and perhaps will always, lead this double life. A life in search of the real that often finds a necessary surrogate instead – the horrifying. The worm research of Shoch and Hupp went on to live exactly this double life over the next decades. Distributed computation came to rule Silicon Valley engineering, powering most major corporate and government projects, being sold as a service through Amazon Web Services, Google App Engine, and others. Then it also gave life to criminal botnets and Internet-crippling worms like Conficker, which infected millions of computers in hundreds of countries starting in 2008. Sharing ancestors under PARC’s drop ceilings and dustless computer rooms, worms bifurcated, becoming a rational administrator for capital and a frenzied insurgent for its destruction.

To be continued…

 

—Sediments

All Tomorrow’s Party

By Mohammad Salemy
Author
Parade during celebrations of 2500 year anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire in Persepolis, Iran, in 1971. Copyright: Nik Wheeler / Alamy Stock Photo.

For Thursday’s child is Sunday’s clown

For whom none will go mourning

—Lou Reed

 

Preparations

Shahanshah Aryamehr [king of kings], Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, formally “the light of the Aryans,” never received a proper state funeral in Iran. Deposed and exiled to the United States and later to Egypt, he died of cancer in Cairo on 27 July 1980. Almost none of the heads of state that had enjoyed Pahlavi’s generosity during his reign were present to carry the casket or to put a flower on his fresh grave. Apart from the former United States president Richard Nixon, and President Anvar Sadat of Egypt, the only other foreign dignitary who attended the shah’s funeral was Constantine II, the deposed king of Greece. There were hardly any television cameras around for the event, let alone a live broadcast on Iranian state television. For a monarch who had increasingly relied on both the broadcast media and public spectacle to rapidly transform his nation and maintain his legitimacy, dying powerless and in isolation was especially devastating. It was as if the world had forgotten that Pahlavi had placed Iran and its monarchical history at the center of a global media spectacle roughly ten years before. Set within the architectural remains of the Persian Empire’s ancient capital Persepolis, an archeological site, near the modern-day city of Shiraz, jashnyahe dohezar-o-pansad-sale shahanshahi, or “The 2,500-year celebration of the Iranian Empire,” was the ultimate elite party hosted in a large tent city built for the event. Although the hollow metal tent structures still stand today, the expensive textiles they once supported were all looted or burnt—gone with the winds that blew in the storm known as the 1979 Islamic Revolution of Iran. Could the celebration with its lavish emphasis on monarchy as an inseparable part of Iranian identity have been the spur to set this very revolution in motion?

The international celebration Pahlavi hosted in the fall of 1971 was one of the most significant cultural and political events of the decade. The “party,” as it was referred to by the organizers, gathered sixty-nine heads of state or their representatives from around the world: one emperor, eight kings, five queens, five emirs, seven sheikhs, fifteen presidents, four ruling princes and dukes, three royal princess, two governor generals, two heirs apparent, four junior princes, three vice presidents, four prime ministers, and one wife of a president. Among the guests were: Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, King Frederick IX and Queen Ingrid of Denmark, King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola of the Belgians, King Olav V of Norway, emirs of Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace of Monaco, Prince Juan Carlos and Princess Sofia of Spain, the governor generals of Canada and Australia, presidents of Yoguslavia, and Nicolae Ceauşescu the infamous dictator of Romania, and his wife Deputy Prime Minister Elena. Vice President Spiro Agnew represented the Untied States, while Prince Phillip and Princess Anne attended the ceremonies on behalf of the United Kingdom.

The political purpose of the event slotted into a larger plan that was initiated by Pahlavi’s father, Reza Shah, decades earlier. After seizing power in a coup in 1929, he quickly moved to secularize Persian society. He inaugurated the construction of a revisionist link between the country’s “glorious” ancient history and his own modernization plans so as to circumvent Iran’s Islamic cultural heritage and its economic base, the bazaar. He also changed the country’s name from Persia to Iran, and used state funds to send the brightest students abroad to both study and become familiar with Western culture. In so doing, he constructed a new Western-educated ruling class with its own history and ideology, separate from both the mosque and the bazaar. Sartorially, Reza Shah banned both the Islamic dress code for women and traditional attire for men. The very first narratives about the significance of Iranian ancient history, and its contemporary implications were developed as part of this anti-traditionalist drive—not unlike European neoclassicism, which leaned on appropriated ancient Greek and Roman styles to publicize secular and democratic institutions aimed at replacing Church hegemony. In the case of Iran, modern broadcast media, particularly the newly established Iranian National Radio, played a significant role in shaping Reza Shah’s historical and ideological reorientation of the country.

During World War II, and following an Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran, Reza Shah was forced to abdicate. Within this vacuum, the young Pahlavi returned from his studies in Switzerland and assumed the throne. The following period saw the young king attempt to reconcile his father’s legacy with the more traditionalist segments of Iranian society. The ban on following Islamic dress code was lifted, and clergy were allowed to run for parliament. This openness would be reproached a few decades later as Pahlavi reactivated the ideologies of his father by inaugurating reforms—with the encouragement and support of the Kennedy administration—called the “White Revolution.” Pahlavi’s reforms were an ongoing process that put the country once again through significant socio-political transformations. The Persepolis celebrations were supposed to function as the visible tip of an iceberg of developments, which, in addition to replacing prophet Mohammad and Shia Imams with Cyrus the Great and other Persian kings as the nation’s historical horizon, included the building of roads, bridges, hospitals, airports, schools, and universities. In addition, the celebrations highlighted an increase in the scale of public spectacle compared to the modest coronation ceremonies of 1967 in Tehran. They also extended to the outside world the grandeur and legitimacy of Pahlavi’s rule, which was locally strengthened by the government’s reforms. Thus Pahlavi’s choice of Persepolis for his party sent a strong message to the traditionalist segments of Iranian society as well as to the international community, namely that the emergence of Iran in the global arena would coincide with its implicit divorce from the country’s regional ties to Islamic culture. The road to “The Gates of the Great Civilization,” as Pahlavi used to call Iran’s destiny, was not passing through the country’s more recent Islamic past but via a technological shortcut made between Iran and the so-called civilized world of Europe and the United States, using the country’s pre-Islamic past both as its point of origin and construction material.

Pahlavi’s transformations of Iranian society, which preceded the Persepolis party, included the nationalization of forests and pasturelands, the formation of a health and literacy corps, and, most importantly, woman’s suffrage and the expropriation of agriculture land from feudal landlords and its redistribution among the peasants. Nevertheless, these changes came with a high price for the opposition. Instead of political reform, they witnessed the tightening grip of a CIA-trained security state, which was originally created after the 1953 coup to deal with the forces loyal to the deposed prime minster Mohammad Mossadegh and the Communists. The crackdown expanded later to include Ayatollah Khomeini and his religious followers, who opposed the White Revolution. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the state’s oppressive machinery began to also confront militant Marxists. The resulting suppressions were increasingly scrutinized globally, causing embarrassments for the shah while abroad—a clear example of which was the student protest in Berlin on 2 June 1967. Organized against the German government’s red-carpet treatment of the Iranian monarch, it resulted in the clandestine murder of the student leader Benno Ohnesorg, and accelerated the radicalization of the Left in West Germany. 4For more on Ohnesorg’s murder, see: Catherine Liu, American Idyll: Academic Antielitism as Cultural Critique (Iowa City: University Of Iowa Press, 2011), 133–34.

In particular, the Persepolis extravaganza came only months after a small, but considerably well-publicized and influential militant uprising known as Siahkal’s Black Friday and led by leftist students. Inspired by the Chinese and Cuban Revolutions, a group of soon to be legendary Marxist intellectuals took up arms in the forests along the Caspian Sea, and later occupied a gendarmerie outpost in the village of Siahkal while trying to spring one of their comrades. Their revolt was short-lived as the army quickly suppressed the armed rebellion and sent the fighters who were not killed in the battle to be summarily executed in prison. This is why the Persepolis event and related activities—the opening of the Shahyad monument in Tehran, and the massive light installations in public squares of Tehran, Isfahan, and Shiraz—were aimed at compensating the state’s shortage of political capital and legitimacy in light of the urban middle class’s identification with the Marxist rebels.

Pahlavi’s steady use of public space and the state-owned and operated broadcast media was resented and resisted by leftist Iranians. The pro-Soviet Tudeh Party, which was historically supported by a majority of Iranian leftist intellectuals, published underground newsletters from its headquarters in East Germany and Russia on a regular basis—Pahlavi was constantly criticized and attacked therein. 5The Tudeh Party denounced the Persepolis celebrations through its official newsletter and demanded a full disclosure of its costs. See: “Nameh Mardom” [People’s Letter], Official Organ of the Tudeh Party 6, no. 73 (July–August 1971): 1, 4. Those inside the country who were active on the cultural scene despised the government and criticized it indirectly. These intellectuals frequently used the very same state-owned or supported mass media (cinema, radio, and television) to transmit brief but powerful metaphoric content. Their messages were often drawn from literally works created in support of leftist guerrillas in the form of poems, novels, and theater pieces. Among the shining examples of cultural resistance were: Jan Nesar Sacrificed (1971), a comedy play by Bahman Mofid, Gheysar [Kaiser] (1969), a movie directed by Masoud Kimiai, and the pop song “Friday” (1971), performed by both Farhad and Googoosh, the pop icons of the time. The lyrics of the song included a direct reference to the Siahkal uprising: “On the Friday black clouds cry blood, on Fridays blood pours down instead of rain.” These small but popular acts penetrated the social psyche of the nation’s growing urban middle class more effectively than the powerful propaganda of the monarchy. The public intellectuals’ cultural involvement in this mediagenic political struggle with the state would often impede or neutralize the government’s intended ideological objectives. This is why the reception of Pahlavi’s Persepolis party must be seen both in the context of the struggle for legitimacy following the 1953 CIA-backed coup, and the growth period after the White Revolution.

 

The Party

*Visual ReferenceView of tent city in Persepolis, Iran, during the 2500 year anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire in 1971.View of tent city in Persepolis, Iran, during the 2500 year anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire in 1971.

There is yet to be a comprehensive scholarly report on Pahlavi’s Persepolis party and its aftermath. Aside from official statements about the event from the previous and current governments of Iran, most of what we know about it comes from a single source: Abdolreza Ansari, a close confidant of both the king and his twin sister Ashraf. Ansari has given two interviews about the celebrations, one with Cyrus Kadivar and published online at Iranian.com in 2002, and the second with Hassan Amini for Decadence and Downfall: The Shah of Iran’s Ultimate Party, which was produced for the BBC’s “Storyville” television series in 2016. Almost all of the video footage from the event, which has been available online in fragments, and also used in Amini’s film, are taken from Farrokh Golestan’s 1971 state-sponsored documentary about the event called Flames of Persia, which was narrated by, of all people, Orson Welles—Welles agreed to participate in the project in exchange for funding for his unreleased film The Other Side of the Wind. 6Barbara Leaming, Orson Welles: A Biography (New York: Viking, 1985), 562. In one of the rather superfluous moments in Flames of Persia, the camera scans over a banquet table, while Welles joyously proclaims: “This was no party of the year, it was the celebration of twenty-five centuries!”

A decade prior to the actual celebrations, a senate committee was set up by the king to consider ways in which the monarchy could be strengthened through its 2,500-year celebration. However, the working committee, which undertook the planning and organization of the festivities, only began working less than a year prior to the event. Headed by the minister of the King’s Court, Assadollah Alam, the committee reported directly to Queen Farah—who personally supervised all aspects of the event in detail. Alam and the queen were the right match for this job. The minster was known for his perfectionism and reliance on the most capable professionals in all matters related to Pahlavi’s court. In turn, Queen Farah was an avid supporter and collector of Iranian and Western modern and contemporary art and well versed in all things aesthetic. Aside from her duties at the palace and several non-profit charities, she was the founder and president of the Shiraz Festival of Arts. Likewise, she was personally involved in organizing large-scale performance events in both the city of Shiraz and the Persepolis site since the festival’s inception in 1967. To this date, the festival is considered as the most significant international art, theater, and music event held in Iran. Writing for the catalog of the Iran Modern exhibition at New York’s Asia Society in 2013, Vali Mahlouji asserts that the festival, “represents possibly the most controversial trajectory of cultural attitude, policy, and intercultural contact in modern Iranian history […]. [T]he Festival is recognized as one of the most uniquely transformative inter-cultural experiences.” 7Vali Mahlouji, “Perspectives on the Shiraz Arts Festival: A Radical Third World Rewriting,” in Iran Modern (New York: Asia Society, 2013), 87. One could even claim that the theatrical spirit, which the Shiraz Festival brought to the Persepolis site, had an impact on the scale and the quality of the events planned for the 1971 celebration.

Within weeks of commencing their planning, the committee was able to secure the services of Maxim’s restaurant in Paris for all culinary-related matters. Max Blouet, the general manager of Paris’ Hotel George V was contracted to manage the staff who would provide room service to the tent city guests. Carita and Alexandre, two of Paris’ top hairdressers, were invited to provide their services to the foreign guests. The Lanvin fashion house was hired to manufacture the uniforms, which were modeled on the official uniforms an old tailor in the south of Tehran used to create for the personnel at the king’s palace. The Paris-based interior design company Jensen was chosen to construct the tent city and the two large halls designated for official gatherings and banquets. George Truffaut, the Versailles florist, was hired to quickly put together a garden out of imported rose bushes and tall cypresses. The committee also decided to import 50,000 sparrows from Spain to fly around the trees, but they all died within three days due to the dry, hot climate.

Some of the statistics regarding the event’s scale evoke a range of adjectives from unbelievable to ridiculous:

4,000 kilograms of food imported from Paris together with 18,000 kilograms of local supplies

180 waiters (mostly French nationals)

12,000 bottles of whiskey

25,000 bottles of wine

60,000 troops for security

6,000 costumed soldiers for the parade

250 bullet-poof limousines

100 military cargo planes

40 trucks for shipping food and construction materials from France

The festivities began with the royal family’s homage to Cyrus the Great at his mausoleum on Tuesday 13 October 1971, a day before the queen’s own birthday. The event, which was broadcast on national television, was edited to eliminate some of the key military people present and give prominence to the queen.

The first official event at the tent city was a grand gala dinner on 14 October to celebrate the queen’s birthday. After suffering a sudden sand storm during a lengthy introduction at the gates, the royal families and heads of state gathered at the single large table in the banqueting hall. The official toast was raised with a 1959 Dom Perignon Rosé, which, adjusted for inflation, cost around 300 USD per bottle in 1971. 8Today, the same bottle is sold online for 20,000 USD.

The banquet menu consisted of: quails’ eggs stuffed with golden, Imperial Caspian caviar, mousse of crayfish tails with Nantua sauce, roast saddle of lamb with truffles, fifty roast peacocks—Iran’s ancient national symbol—with restored tail feathers and stuffed with foie gras, decorating the main dish of roast quails, glazed rings of fresh Oporto figs with cream, raspberry champagne sherbet, and port.

In total more than 500 guests dinned over a five-hour period. After dinner, the guests were accompanied to Persepolis to watch a sound and light installation (son et lumière) titled Polytope of Persepolis and designed and composed by Iannis Xenakis. 9The piece was expanded and played again in the same location a week later as part of the Shiraz Festival of Arts.

The next day, guests returned to Persepolis to participate in the “Great Parade of History.” Nearly 2,000 men from the Iranian armed forces passed by the row of carefully seated guests dressed as armies of different Iranian empires, covering two and half millennia. This event was not only broadcast live on the public television network in Iran, but was sent via satellite to stations around the world. In the evening, a less formal buffet-style Persian dinner was served at the banqueting hall as the concluding event at Persepolis. This time the guests were served the Iranian dishes of saffron rice and the pomegranate stew Fesenjoon, as well as chicken and lamb kebab.

Back in Tehran, accompanied by international guests of honor, Pahlavi inaugurated the Shahyad Tower on the final day of the festivities. Designed by the Iranian architect Hossein Amanat, the tower was framed by the media as Tehran’s very own iconic architectural symbol similar to Paris’ Eiffel Tower. The basement of the tower housed the Museum of Persian History, where, for the occasion of the celebrations, the original Cyrus Cylinder, borrowed from the British Museum, went on display for the first time in Iran. 10According to Wikipedia: “The Cyrus Cylinder or Cyrus Charter is an ancient clay cylinder, which contains a declaration in Akkadian cuneiform script in the name of Persia’s Achaemenid king Cyrus the Great. It dates from the 6th century BCE and was discovered in the ruins of Babylon in Mesopotamia in 1879. It is currently in the possession of the British Museum. The text on the Cylinder praises Cyrus, sets out his genealogy and portrays him as a king from a line of kings,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyrus_Cylinder (accessed 4 June 2016). The festivities were concluded with Pahlavi’s visit to his father mausoleum in southern Tehran.

 

The Hangover

To better understand the monarch, the organizers, and the state’s semiotics, we ought to look at the double function of titles used in the event in general, and their poetic function in Farsi. Pahlavi gave the title Shahanshah [king of kings] to himself upon coronation in 1967. As modern Iran did not have any regional kings over which he could lord as emperor, the title was meant instead to place him above all other kings in the history of Iran and Persia. The gathering of the world’s monarchs and heads of state would give Pahlavi an opportunity to activate a second meaning of the term at least temporary: presiding over the ceremonies in the presence of other world leaders would literally make him the king of kings, if only for one day. The poetic ambivalence specific to Farsi and its history would allow the king to do this without really being held responsible for its literal implications; in no way could he even fathom that by attending his lavish party the world’s leaders were accepting him as their emperor. Nevertheless, Pahlavi’s pomp was supposed to elevate his international standing, and in turn strengthen him locally in his double fight with both the leftists and the Islamists.

*Visual ReferenceDouglas Dunn, Carolyn Brown and Merce Cunningham performing at the 6th Festival of Arts of Shiraz, Persepolis, 1972. Photo courtesy of Cunningham Dance Foundation Archive. Douglas Dunn, Carolyn Brown and Merce Cunningham performing at the 6th Festival of Arts of Shiraz, Persepolis, 1972. Photo courtesy of Cunningham Dance Foundation Archive.

Pahlavi’s extravagant celebrations of 2,500 years of monarchy was as much about showcasing Iran’s past and present to the guests as it was about utilizing the latest media and broadcast technologies to double the event’s impact—ostensibly transforming it into a local and global spectacle. The Iranian television industry, which was developed with considerable help from the United States, was already operating as a counteroffer to the Communists’ monopoly over other forms of modern culture in the country. Several high-profile Western journalists including Barbara Walters were sent to cover the event live for American and European television channels. As the first ever color broadcast on the state-owned Iranian television network, the event was a televisual cold war with the predominantly pro-Soviet leftists in Iran. It was meant to showcase the state’s organizational skills in producing spectacular popular culture and disseminating it among the masses.

Aesthetically, the Persepolis festivities, despite being opulent, were different from the usual gaudy style to which most monarchies around the world usually adhered. From the elegant modern design of the residential tents, to the royal red minimalism of the reception hall—almost a spatialized version of Matisse’s Persian-inspired Harmony in Red (1908)—a distinction could be made between the kind of luxurious modernity advocated by Queen Farrah, and the decadence with which the event was identified by the foreign press, but more particularly by the Iranian leftist opposition. The Western journalists, caught up in their stereotypical obsession with Iran as a poor third-world country, totally disregarded the fact that under the rule of Pahlavi, Iran was already transformed into an emerging regional modern state with enough wealth to afford a lavish party. The leftists were totally oblivious to this aesthetics of progress as it was not centered exclusively on the masses. They could not recognize the spirit of Iranian modernity, which, regardless of its monarchical surface, contradicted the overall message of the event and invisibly haunted it. These contradictions reared their heads in the organizers’ inclusion of Xenakis, a significant avant-garde artist exiled from Greece, in the official program, and the provoking seating arrangement for the ceremonies which placed beside the Iranian Royals, not the European royals and American officials, but Haile Selassie, the king of Ethiopia, and the president of the Soviet Union. The leftist opposition in Iran was unable to see these subtle contradictions with one eye blinded by cultural Stalinism and the other by its political position against Pahlavi (as an American ally) in the Cold War. They could not fathom a way to productively reconcile the contradictory nature of a pro-American despotic regime bent on eliminating its opposition while embarking on some of the most progressive political and social reforms experienced in the Middle East. So rather than seeing the Persepolis party as the beginning of the end of monarchy in Iran, one ought to see it as the start of an unholy marriage between the leftists and the Islamists who both opposed the festivities and for the first time began attacking the state from the same populist angle. In line with the anti-monarchic message of the Tudeh Party, Khomeini, in his statement about the event, declared: “Let the world know that these festivities have nothing to do with the noble people of Iran, and that those who organized and participated in them have committed treason against Islam and the people of Iran.” 11Ayatollah Khomeini, Sahifeh Nur: Majmu`eh rahnemudhay-e emam [Book of Light: Collection of the Imam’s Directives] (Tehran: Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, 1980), 1: 158.

The historical costumes, the synthetic beards and wigs, and the chariots, which were based on research conducted on existing archeological artifacts, were the largest mobilization of customs and special effects in the history of Iranian film and television production. The producers even created replicas of three ancient ships from the days of King Xerxes. Not only did the event open a floodgate for the production of costume dramas in Iran, but also awakened a new curiosity about Iranian history at the level of popular culture. By the mid-1970s, the desire for history had nowhere to turn but toward Iran’s Islamic and specifically Shia heritage. The interest in the Achaemenid aesthetics soon gave way to the glorification of Ferdowsi, the Persian poet and the author of the epic of Shahnameh [Book of Kings], followed by a surge of interest in Taazieh, one of the only formalized genres of stage drama in Shia culture in which the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the prophet Mohammad and one of the founders of Shia Islam, is eulogized with prose and poetry. Taazieh started a new modern life under the direct support of cultural institutions close to the queen, particularly the Shiraz Festival. Ironically, the massive participation of Iranians in Tasua and Ahsura, the two-day annual mourning for Imam Hossein, which includes Taazieh as its stage component, provided the opportunity for Khomeini’s followers to seize the highest levels of revolutionary leadership in the decisive last months of monarchy in the winter of 1978. Ironically, the million-strong Tasua and Ashura demonstrations of that year were held at the Shahyad Tower built for the 2,500-year celebration. Subsequent to the demonstrations, the tower was renamed the Freedom Tower.

Even though the political transformations caused by the Islamic revolution radically altered the surface of Iranian society, it should not have been hard to understand the ascent of Khomeini and the institutionalization of his concept of velayate faghih [guardianship of the Islamic jurist] as the continuation of Iranian monarchical rule, albeit in a radically different form. A few weeks after the revolution, Khomeini’s cronies destroyed Reza Shah’s Mausoleum, the site of the closing ceremony of the 2,500-year festivities. Nearly ten years later and upon Khomeini’s death, the Islamic republic built him an even larger shrine in the same area where Reza Shah was once buried.

—Sediments

Property of a Lady

By Amy Zion
Author
The Deepdene Diamond.

9 July 2014

Dear Danielle Steel,

I am an art writer currently working on an article about the Deepdene Diamond. May you confirm that you are still its present owner? If so, I would love to see images of its current setting. If not, may you tell me, who is the present owner?

The article will be published on the online journal for Witte de With, Rotterdam.

Best regards,

Amy Zion

*Visual ReferenceThe Deepdene Diamond (Graff), 1997The Deepdene Diamond (Graff), 1997

Christie’s Geneva: 20 November 1997

Lot 890. AN IMPRESSIVE YELLOW TREATED DIAMOND, CULTURED PEARL AND DIAMOND CHOKER NECKLACE, BY FRIEDRICH

The second time the Deepdene Diamond, a colored stone weighing 104.53 carats, surfaced at Christie’s in Geneva, the famous auction house had the opportunity to publish their version of the gem’s contentious history. As one of the highlights of their 1997 Magnificent Jewels auction, it was allotted more pages in the catalogue than any other item. Although it was the largest jewel on offer that day, the space was necessary to add some descriptive polishing.

As the 1997 catalogue states, on 27 May 1971, Van Cleef & Arpels reportedly bid 1.9 million SFr. (about $2.1 million at today’s conversion rate) for what they thought was a natural “fancy” (intense-colored) yellow diamond. 12Christie’s Geneva. Magnificent Jewels. 20 November, 1997, p. 268.[auction catalog]. The jewelers were rumored to be bidding on behalf of Aristotle Onassis, who wanted it for his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. According to Christie’s, renowned gemologist Dr Eduard Gübelin came forward just before the sale and claimed he had examined the gem previously and was convinced it had received artificial treatment to enhance its yellow color. Nonetheless, Christie’s did not remove the diamond from the auction or amend the listing. Instead, after the sale, they sent the gem to the London Gem Testing Laboratory, where Dr Basil Anderson confirmed the allegation and the sale was rescinded. 13Christie’s, ibid.

*Visual ReferenceThe Deepdene Bracelet. Copyright: Christie's. All rights reserved.The Deepdene Bracelet. Copyright: Christie's. All rights reserved.

The catalogue continues: it was Frankfurt jewelers Friedrich who purchased the stone in 1970 without a certificate and had it tested twice at two separate labs; both claimed the stone was natural. Until the 1980s, mystery ensued as to when the stone was treated and by whom. Christie’swas, however, able to confirm after the 1971 sale that the stone was the same Deepdene Diamond which had been exhibited publicly at the Natural Science Academy in Philadelphia in 1938, before it was treated, when it weighed an extra .35 carats. Christie’s credits this confirmation to Dr Siegfried Rösch, who compared photos of the pre- and post-treatment diamond with a criminal research microscope and found identical, natural slivers of “rough” near its girdle. 14Christie’s, ibid. Over a decade later, another renowned gemologist, American Dr Frederick Pough, heard about the debate over the diamond’s treatment and confirmed that he had treated the diamond back in 1955. 15The Christie’s catalogue does not include a date, this comes from: Overton, Thomas W. and James E. Shigley. “A History of Diamond Treatments,” Gems and Gemology (Spring, 2008), 40.

That second sale estimated the diamond, in its current setting designed by Friedrich, would sell for between $200–500,000—a far cry from the two million it had sold for when listed as a naturally colored stone in 1971, even before factoring in twenty-five years’ inflation. Ultimately, it sold to Graff Diamonds for $715,320. 16Overton and Shigley, op. cit. Graff is quoted saying he paid “about 700,00” in:: Meredith Etherington-Smith, Graff: The Most Fabulous Jewels in the World (London and Easthampton, MA: Cultureshock Media, 2007), 112. On that evening, Christie’s finally sold the diamond as a treated stone and cleared the record about its history and their involvement. But, like the treated diamond, their tale is riddled with small, almost indiscernible fissures; elisions, odd facts, and dates that do not quite add up to an honest mistake.

*Visual ReferenceThe Kimberley Mine, South-Africa, 1890's.The Kimberley Mine, South-Africa, 1890's.

Most experts agree that the Deepdene was likely found in a South African mine around 1890, when yellow diamonds were discovered with more frequency in the Cape Province. 17Emmanuel Fritsch, “The Nature of Color in Diamonds,” in The Nature of Diamonds, ed. George E. Harlow (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 36. It was cut in Amsterdam and sold to New York diamantaire Lazare Kaplan, who sold it to Los Angeles dealer Martin Ehrmann. Its first private owner was gem collector and member of the family that founded Curtis Publications, Cary W. Bok. Bok and his first wife Helena named the stone after their New York property. In 1938, the Boks lent the Deepdene for exhibition at the Philadelphia Academy of Science for one year, at which point its weight was recorded at 104.88 carats.

Christie’s notes that the cyclotron bombardment treatment occurred after the diamond was sold by the Boks in 1954 and next appeared in the possession of a Canadian named Eleanor Loder. At some point, Loder parted with the piece and its next owner sold the stone to Friedrich without certificates. This version of the story leaves several questions unanswered: Who bought the stone from the Boks? Who had arranged the irradiation? How could it be that the expert opinion of Dr Gübelin, who examined the diamond prior to the Christie’s sale, was not factored into its inclusion in the sale as a natural stone? How did it take a decade for Dr Pough to be informed of the situation?

*Visual ReferenceDr. Edward Gubelin.Dr. Edward Gubelin.

There are three parties whose roles require further scrutiny: Rösch, Pough, and one person whose name is missing altogether. Rösch claimed in an article he wrote on the “Deepdene debate” in 1973 that it was Dr Gübelin who had confirmed, on 4 June 1972, that the Deepdene was the same stone exhibited in Philadelphia. Before that, Gübelin held the position that there were two similar stones, and that the Deepdene was still privately held in the US. Rösch was part of the debate over how the diamond’s color changed and who was responsible, but does not seem to take credit for confirming the stone’s identity. He did, however, name the main character missing from Christie’s revision as none other than the famous jeweler Harry Winston.

Today, it is accepted that Winston bought the stone from Bok 18Overton and Shigley, op. cit., 40., but at the time of the scandal, Winston denied that he had owned it. 19Dr Siegfried Rösch, “Die Farben des Deepdene-Brillanten,” reprinted as a leaflet from: Gold + Silber, 1973. Thank you to Jesi Khadivi from Texual Bikini for assistance with the translation. Bok’s second wife, as well as his secretary who arranged the sale and delivery to Winston, confirmed in 1971 and 1972 respectively, that Winston was the successive owner. 20Rösch, ibid. Treating the stone would not only affect its value significantly if disclosed, as the gulf between the 1971 and 1997 sales illustrates, but the lack of disclosure was a breach of Federal Trade Commission rules issued in 1957, two years after the treatment. 21Although the rules had not been formally in place, they were already developed in Europe and understood to be an ethical breach at the time of the irradiation in 1955. See: Thomas W. Overton, “Gem Treatment Disclosure and U.S. Law” Gems and Gemology, Summer 2004, 109. Apparently, the artificial enhancement of gems without disclosure was such an issue in New York State that it became a criminal offense in 1962. 22Overton and Shigley, op. cit., 35. So whether or not Winston hired Pough to treat the stone, one could understand why he and his company would want to distance themselves from the Deepdene during the 1971 scandal.

*Visual ReferenceThe 18-inch cyclotron, with its 30-foot beam pipe in the foreground.The 18-inch cyclotron, with its 30-foot beam pipe in the foreground.

The Deepdene Diamond was treated in 1955 in order to enhance its color, making it a more unique object. There is evidence that, at least since Roman times, colored diamonds were highly valuable 23Fritsch,op. cit., 23., and alongside the history of colored diamonds, there has been a tradition of artificially treating a diamond’s surface in order to increase its value. It was enough of a problem that Pliny referred to it as the most profitable form of fraud. 24Overton (2004), 107. Back then, this meant coating or backing the diamond with oils or other materials. Diamond treatments often involved applying a blue coating to diamonds with a slight natural yellow hue so that it would hide ‘impurities’ and make it appear colorless in addition to coating the surface in order to enhance a colored diamond’s intensity, making it seem more rare and exquisite. 25Although there is around one colored diamond for every ten colorless, at certain points in time, colored diamonds held a lower stature because color marked impurities, specifically the presence of atoms that blocked various color waves in order to produce the appearance of color. The Deepdene, for instance, likely contains nitrogen, which absorbs blue and violet light to produce its yellow color. Colorless diamonds have no such atoms, and therefore the full light spectrum is able to pass through the stone. It was not until the twentieth century that diamond treatment technology would advance past surface treatments. 26Overton and Shigley, op cit., 37.

Etymologically, “diamond” means, literally, “unconquerable” but developments in treatment technology in the last century changed the understanding of the diamond as an impenetrable material. In 1904, Sir William Crookes was the first to expose diamonds to radiation, which breached the surface layer and altered the diamond’s color. 27Ibid. The change was often temporary but Crookes and other scientists who repeated his experiments later discovered that the material could stay radioactive for up to several hundred years. 28Ibid. In the 1940s and 1950s, scientists began to use cyclotrons to expose diamonds to radiation. 29Cyclotrons were machines that used magnetic energy to accelerate atoms instead of radium. See: Overton and Shigley, ibid. These stones only remained radioactive for a short period of time; the color produced by this form of radiation was a result of damage caused by the radiation passing through the stone. Cyclotron radiation went deeper into the stone and as the technology was refined, the color produced was more even and therefore harder to detect even with spectroscopic techniques. 30Rösch, op cit.

A major pioneer and leading authority of this last technique was Dr Pough, who left his job as curator at the Natural History Museum in New York in 1952 to become president of his own company, Gem Irradiation Laboratories. 31Roskin, ibid. Although Dr Pough confirmed in 1981 that he treated the Deepdene, he was largely dismissive of questions concerning his role in the Deepdene ordeal. 32Overton and Shigley, op cit. But in 2004, just two years before his death at age ninety-nine 33Interestingly, Pough collapsed while attending the Rochester Mineralogical Symposium and later died in hospital. He was up to date on the latest gem debates until his last breath., he revealed in a video interview at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) that after Gübelin examined the stone in 1971, he contacted Pough who confirmed that he had treated the Deepdene diamond. He was restricted by a confidentiality agreement not to disclose this publicly. 34Overton and Shigley, op cit. Considering he was a leading figure on the subject and regularly attended conferences in which both he and Gübelin were speakers, it is hard to believe that he could have been ignorant of the situation for so many years, as the 1997 catalogue claims. 35For example, the fall 1970 issue of Gems and Gemology, an academic journal produced by the GIA, summarized a conference in which both Gübelin and Pough were speakers.

*Visual ReferenceDr. Frederick Pough.Dr. Frederick Pough.

It is not clear whether Pough revealed his mystery client in the GIA’s video, which is restricted to staff access only. 36Considering this restriction, my sources here are from an article that GIA published which refers to excerpts of the video. Overton and Shigley. (2008), 36. Winston’s denial of association with the gem in 1954 is highly suspicious but not confirmation that he commissioned the treatment. And, even if he did, this does not mean that he kept the knowledge from the successive owner, as there remains a hole in the provenance between Loder and Jeweler Frederich; this mysterious person may have destroyed documentation of the stone’s treatment in order to pass the treated stone off as natural.

In the same article in which Rösch points a finger at Winston for not coming forward during the Deepdene debates, he notes Gübelin’s first examination of the diamond as 23 November 1970. This means that Friedrich, the jewelers who purchased it that year, should have been aware of or alerted to the fact that a leading authority on diamond treatment claimed it was not natural, although the 1997 Christie’s catalogue states that Friedrich had it tested twice and both results concluded the stone was untreated. Apparently the treatment done to the stone was extremely “artful” and subtle, so it could be that some tests did not yield the same results, but I cannot figure out why Rösch and Christie’s dates are so out sync. If Rösch’s date is correct, it also means that Gübelin may have had Pough’s confirmation of the diamond’s treatment before the auction (but could not disclose it). In the 1973 article, Rösch also mentions that a Dr Crowningshield of the GIA had examined the stone, although the Christie’s catalogue included a reproduction of a letter from Dr Crowningshield of the GIA to Friedrich dated 1983, in which he confirms his belief that the diamond was treated and polished sometime after 1954—but why was the letter dated a decade later? Did Friedrich seek out this document later in 1983 in order to sell the stone to its next owner? Did Christie’s include this piece of evidence to support their version of the story, in which Pough remains ignorant about the debate for a whole decade? Who sold the stone to Frederich without documentation? (And what did Aristotle end up buying for Jackie?)

The most unexpected claim in Rösch’s article is that the Deepdene was not originally a yellow “cape,” but a golden yellow diamond cut in a style that predates the discovery of the South African mines. 37Rösch, op cit. He quotes three distinct sources that examined the stone before 1938 (when irradiation was not yet possible), including the record taken at the Academy of Science when it was on exhibition in 1938, which states that the stone was “golden yellow” and not the color of a cape. 38Rösch, ibid. The other testimonies come from an associate curator of mineralogy from the Academy of Natural Sciences who wrote in a 1939 article that the Deepdene was “golden yellow,” and Bok’s secretary Myrtle Moss who recalled a “deep golden yellow color” and refuted that it was the color of a cape. Irradiation treatment, particularly in those early days of experimentation, could destroy a stone and its value completely, and if the stone’s original color was remarkable, these testimonies to its pre-treatment color are significant because it bares the question: Why was the stone treated at all? 39The treatment, as Christie’s stated, was not significant as it was difficult to discern it from a natural stone and would have only enhanced the color from “golden yellow” to “fancy.”

Some time after 1997, Graff notes that he sold the Deepdene Diamond to author Danielle Steel and although she never responded to my message, I have not found any clues as to further change in ownership. 40Etherington-Smith, op cit. I also combed through some of the public sales of Steel’s jewelry but did not find record that she sold it. Whether or not she still owns it is inconsequential. Perhaps she was attracted by the stone’s literary pedigree (that it was first owned by publishing magnates) or the mystery and drama surrounding its provenance. But provenance, as they say, is pedigree, and although there is no doubt as to why it was so important for Christie’s to dedicate four pages to put forth its own account in advance of the 1997 sale, critical approaches to provenance can provide alternative social histories of objects that tell us as much about how value is created in a given society and how changes in ownership change perspectives through which objects are seen and valued. It would be a shame if auction houses continued to enjoy a monopoly on the practice.

—Sediments

The Ginger Merchant of History (Standing in the shadow of “Giants”)

By Naeem Mohaiemen
Author
Naeem Mohaiemen is author of Prisoners of Shothik Itihash (Kunsthalle Basel, 2014) and director of the series The Young Man Was (on view at Centre de l'image contemporaine Montreal). This essay is expanded from a review published in International Journal of Asian Studies.
At the Dacca Race Course, Gen. Jagjit Singh Aurora (left), Chief of Staff of the Indian Army, and Lt. Gen. Assan Ali Khan Niazi of the Pakistani Army sign the papers that would end the war between the two countries and lead to the creation of Bangladesh.  © Bettmann/ Getty Images.

A photograph of a surrender ceremony encapsulates the dilemma of a particular, linear, preordained war narrative. This is the arc of the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war that has focused primarily on the role of the Bengali guerrilla army in fighting the Pakistan army. The photograph troubles that story, while also containing its own occlusions. The image is of the cease-fire of December 16th, 1971. 41I first wrote about this image for the paper “A Missing General, Indian Jawans, and Submerged Narratives of Bangladesh’s 1971 Liberation War,” presented at the “India in the World” conference at University of Michigan, January 2014. It was later presented at “Peaceworks” at Seagull Foundation, Kolkata, December 2015. Signing for the Pakistan army, humiliatingly defeated after a full-force Indian offensive, is Lieutenant General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi. The signatory for the Indian army is Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Arora.

In a telltale sign of how recent the British partition of India was, both Niazi and Arora had graduated from the British period Indian Military Academy. Both went on to fight on behalf of the British empire in the Burma campaign of World War II, where Niazi was a decorated soldier, earning the nickname “Tiger.” After 1947, the two men found themselves serving the opposed armies of Pakistan (Niazi) and India (Arora). This new “enemy” status led them to be on warring sides during the 1965 India-Pakistan war, and finally in direct conflict in 1971, culminating in this seated surrender ceremony.

Newspaper reports of that time ventured into “house divided” framing during the 1971 war, underlining that the two Generals came from the Punjab province that had been bifurcated in 1947. But there was something much larger (and yet somehow invisible) within this photo’s dominance by two former academy classmates. The surrender ceremony was to ratify the independence of East Pakistan as the new country of Bangladesh. Yet there were no official representatives from the Bangladesh forces at the ceremony. The only small patchwork representation comes from Group Captain A. K. Khandaker, standing in one corner of the crowd behind the table.

*Visual ReferenceIndian General Jagjit Singh Aurora (left) hands a pen to Pakistani General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi, Governor of East Pakistan, to sign the document surrendering his army. City Stadium of Dacca, East Pakistan, December 16, 1971. Copyright: A. Abbas/ Magnum Photos.Indian General Jagjit Singh Aurora (left) hands a pen to Pakistani General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi, Governor of East Pakistan, to sign the document surrendering his army. City Stadium of Dacca, East Pakistan, December 16, 1971. Copyright: A. Abbas/ Magnum Photos.

Khandaker’s presence too seems fluid and unstable; in several photographs of the same ceremony, he is either pushed aside (in his biography 42Khandaker, A.K. 1971: Bhetore Baire [1971: Inside Outside], Prothoma Prokashon, 2014, he writes it was “difficult for guests to stand” [p 211] in the jostling), or cropped out of the final image (for example, in several versions that are on official or private Indian military websites). Twenty five years after Nehru’s “tryst with destiny” speech, this was a second bloody tryst with the main actor absent from the table. In one sign of the Bangladeshi unease with this tableau, Khandaker’s book repeats an anecdote often cited in Bangladeshi memoirs– that Niazi and Arora, in spite of being on opposite sides, “exchanged crude jokes in Punjabi,” (p 208), freezing the Bengalis out of pre-ceremony, sexual banter.

The photograph is a useful starting point to think through how the Bangladesh independence war has almost always been framed as yet another regional struggle between India and Pakistan (often explicitly called “the third India-Pakistan war”), with pivotal (and at times, also helpless) superpower interventions by the United States and the Soviet Union. Two earlier books on the 1971 war, by Gary Bass 43Bass, Gary J. The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide, Knopf, 2013. and Srinath Raghavan 44Raghavan, Srinath. 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh, Harvard Univ. Press, 2013., look at the conflict primarily through these optics of regional and superpower dialectic. A third book by Salil Tripathi 45Tripathi, Salil. The Colonel Who Would Not Repent: The Bangladesh War and Its Unquiet Legacy, Yale, 2016. circles back to the Bangladesh side, but the readers’ own biases and borrowed lenses may cause this book to also tilt toward a top-heavy narrative.

*Visual ReferenceGeneral Jagjit Singh Aurora, commander general of the allied force (right) and General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi, chief of Pakistan's Eastern Command (left) sit with the instrument of surrender at the Dhaka Race Course (now known as Suhrawardi Uddyan) on December 16, 1971. Copyright: Raghu Rai/ Magnum Photos. General Jagjit Singh Aurora, commander general of the allied force (right) and General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi, chief of Pakistan's Eastern Command (left) sit with the instrument of surrender at the Dhaka Race Course (now known as Suhrawardi Uddyan) on December 16, 1971. Copyright: Raghu Rai/ Magnum Photos.

There is a Bengali phrase “adar byapari rakhe na jahajer khobor” (the ginger merchant knows not when the ships arrive), which suggests that the small cogs of human society self-limit themselves into narrow spaces of interest. Since the individual merchants’ load for the day is minuscule, it supposedly concerns him little whether the ship arriving is of British, Russian, or Chinese origin. Something of a similar viewpoint, with a debt to what W.R. Connor calls “commander narratives,” suffuses the scholarship around the 1971 war. This war even had, in its finale, a superpower face-off on the high seas–the US initiative of sending the Seventh Fleet from the Gulf of Tonkin was countered by the Soviet dispatching of a nuclear-armed flotilla from Vladivostok. Therefore, war scholars may feel a strong rationale to focus on the commanders, at the high seas and in oval offices.

Both Bass and Raghavan are committed to this mode of war scholarship– Raghavan in particular is a former Infantry officer in the Indian Army, with a Ph.D. in war studies from King’s College London. Accorsingly, the research parses in exhaustive detail the superpower maneuvering in the White House, and war strategy in the subcontinent. These narratives, and the archives that undergird them, are still the main ones in the academy after four decades of this nation’s existence.

Bass’ book pivots off a famous dissident telegram sent by Archer Blood from the Dhaka Embassy, in defiance of the Nixon administration’s support of Pakistan during the war. Bass secured access to declassified documents from the White House tapes, which present Nixon and Kissinger en flagrante in a manner familiar from the Watergate investigations. Raghavan focused on the Indian archives, detailing the Indian state’s negotiations with, and maneuvering around, the state players needed to form a coalition at the UN. This was essentially a coalition of the “mildly-willing,” offering enough diplomatic cover for a direct war between India and Pakistan on Bangladeshi territory in December 1971.

Both of these books do commendable work sifting through the American and Indian archives and synthesizing them into a coherent narrative. Bass’ storyline plays out as a struggle between the Nixon-Kissinger duo on the one hand, and principled “bravehearts” such as Archer Blood in the Dhaka Embassy and Keating in the Indian Embassy. We are told early on that Blood, a career diplomat, did not join the dissident group of Foreign Service Officers Against the War who wore secret protest buttons inside their jacket. We are perhaps meant to understand that he is not a transformed Nixon-era “peacenik” and, therefore, his horror at the bloodshed in Dhaka is even more principled. Unlike the Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers, or the chastened Vietnam veteran John Kerry in Winter Soldier (dir: Winterfilm Inc., 1972), Blood still believed in the overall mission of Pax Americana even if not this particular enunciation.

Blood’s inverse is Nixon, presented here as pathologically unhinged, bristling at East Coast liberals, abhorring American adoration of Indian objects (from Hare Krishnas, to George Harrison’s sitar playing friend Ravi Shankar), and calling Indira Gandhi “bitch” and “witch” multiple times on White House transcripts. Henry Kissinger on the other hand is given to grandiose comparisons to the Second World War, and eventually locks himself into a depression when his carefully calibrated plans go awry. This particular duo dynamic is familiar to readers of numerous books that have appeared about this intensely documented (and lampooned) period in White House history, starting with the 1974 publication of Jack Anderson’s The Anderson Papers.

*Visual ReferenceIndian subcontinent edition of the book 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh, by Srinath Raghavan. Permanent Black, 2013. This image is used with permission of Permanent Black. Indian subcontinent edition of the book 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh, by Srinath Raghavan. Permanent Black, 2013. This image is used with permission of Permanent Black.

*Visual ReferenceUS edition of the book 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh, by Srinath Raghavan. Harvard University Press, 2013. This image is used with permission of Harvard University Press.US edition of the book 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh, by Srinath Raghavan. Harvard University Press, 2013. This image is used with permission of Harvard University Press.

Raghavan’s new history of 1971 has strong and useful similarities with Richard Sisson and Leo Rose’s 1990 book War and Secession. Sisson and Rose’s book is still the earliest, and most comprehensive, history of the war. In particular, that research was conducted mostly in the 1980s, when many of the primary protagonists in India and Pakistan were still alive (in Bangladesh, many key figures were killed during the three military coups of 1975, and a subsequent coup of 1980). By the time Raghavan begins his work, many other survivors have also died of natural causes; his book therefore mines the archives even more assiduously than the earlier Sisson and Rose work.

In both Bass and Raghavan, we gain a view into the power of “the Kashmiri mafia” within the Indian civil service, the contingency plan of transforming the Bangladesh war into a foray into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, the contradictions of the Indira government’s assistance of the Bengali war against their own brutal policy of suppressing the Naxalites in West Bengal and insurgency movements in Nagaland, and the sprawling negotiations to build up a coalition of states that would support India’s efforts at the UN. We note, with foreboding, the Yugoslav government’s refusal to support the Indian effort, heralded by Marshal Tito’s comment to the Pakistani Ambassador, “Over here in Yugoslavia, we have solved these problems once and for all. There will be no Balkan question ever again in the world.” (179) The feelings provoked by that quote are probably similar to the bemusement readers will feel at the last anecdote in Bass’ book. When discussing the final, feeble UN resolution that recognized the fait accompli of Bangladesh, Kissinger tells the UN Ambassador, one George Bush, “don’t screw it up the way you usually do.” to which Bush senior replies, “I want a transfer when this is over. I want a nice quiet place like Rwanda.” (324)

As with Sisson & Rose’s book, Raghavan focuses on the war from the Indian perspective, and this matches archive logic because the Indian role, both from the Indian archives, and the UN proceedings, is contained in a dense body of documents. As Bass pointed out at his Brooklyn book launch, and as Raghavan also notes, the Pakistan archives of 1971 have remained closed off to date. The Bangladesh archives are generally open (although of inconsistent quality), but they are largely absent from both books. This is a significant omission in both books– Bangladeshi history, without very many Bangladeshi voices. Some of this is linked to considerations of publishing “hooks” and marketing strategies. Equally important are the authors’ current political projects, and how the stories of 1971 can be made to fit that project (whether elegantly or by force). In public talks, Bass has cited UN Ambassador Samantha Power as a reference for how he thinks American diplomacy should be conducted, and the book includes a reference to the “special American responsibility to make amends to the Bangladeshi people.”

The relationship between Power and Bass is close enough that, as Samuel Moyn 46Moyn, Samuel. “Spectacular Wrongs.” The Nation (October 13) (2008): 30-36. points out in a review of Bass’ earlier Freedom’s Battle 47Bass, Gary J. Freedom’s battle: the origins of humanitarian intervention. Vintage, 2008., Bass calls the repression of the Greeks “A problem from Hellas” in a riff on Power’s well-known A Problem from Hell. 48Power, Samantha. A problem from hell: America and the age of genocide. Basic Books, 2002. Bass’s 1971 book’s Manichean duality between an insecure, friendless, and intellectual hating Nixon, and the principled, educated, and selfless Archer Blood sets up a Cain and Abel origin story that fits with an idea of conflicts such as 1971 as only an exception to a more “principled” path for American power. Bass seems to suggest that the problem is not that American overseas power is destined to make spectacularly bad choices, but only that the wrong hands are sometimes at the helm.

Raghavan’s book is an insider look at Indian diplomatic and military maneuvering, and its locus is around when India intervened, and whether it should have intervened sooner. What the Bengali rebel commanders wanted is given less attention, and that reflects the nature of Indian documents related to this period. The war planners inside Indira Gandhi’s government were partially motivated by considerations of Kashmir, Naxalite blowback, and which forces inside the Mukti Bahini (Bengali guerrilla army) were likely to constitute a future friendly neighbor, and the book reflects that reality. What is not present in either book is sufficient insight into the motivation and actions of the Bangladeshi protagonists, whether guerrillas, soldiers, politicians, refugees, or the peasants who were the ultimate cannon fodder.

The imbalance of sources is striking in all these books. In the 1990 book by Sisson & Rose, there were 32 interviewees from Pakistan, 49 from India, 39 from the United States, and 12 from Bangladesh. As I have noted elsewhere, Sarmila Bose’s polemic Dead Reckoning contains an equally unbalanced list. 49Mohaiemen, Naeem. ‘Flying Blind: Waiting for a Real Reckoning on 1971′, Economic & Political Weekly, 46(36), pp. 40-52.In the Bass book, Shahudul Haque is the one Bangladeshi interviewee I was able to trace, although there may be others. In Raghavan’s book, although Liberation War Museum director Akku Chowdhury is thanked, the significant Bangladeshi interviewees appear to be senior lawyers Kamal Hossain and Amirul Islam. However, a laundry list of untapped sources does not automatically suggest a path to future research. A more comprehensive set of Bangladeshi sources, if they privilege the elite experience, will also erase the peasant and working class mobilization within the pre-war and war effort. Salil Tripathi’s recent book on 1971, The Colonel Who Would Not Repent (Aleph, 2014), goes deeper into Bangladeshi sources–but some of his sources are titans of current civil society and therefore the problems of top-down narrative remain in spite of his efforts.

Tripathi’s book is a significant and welcome shift from the earlier books, focusing much more closely on the Bangladeshis’ own experiences of their war. The one other new book that carries a comparable focus on the experience of 1971, as experienced and memorialized inside Bangladesh, is Nayanika Mookherjee’s Spectral Wound. 50Mookherjee, Nayanika. The Spectral Wound: Sexual Violence, Public Memories, and the Bangladesh War of 1971. Duke University Press, 2015. As a longtime journalist, Tripathi brings a focus on oral sources and interviews, and his selection of sources inside Bangladesh takes him through Dhaka, and then to the regional cities of Chittagong, Khulna, Noakhali, Kushtia, Bogura, and Sirajganj. With over sixty five interviewees inside Bangladesh, as well as people in the European diaspora, the book definitively inverts the focus of Bass and Raghavan– away from Washington DC and New Delhi and closer to Dhaka (Dacca in 1971); away also from the war room and toward the civilian experience of violence and resistance.

*Visual ReferenceUS edition of the book The Colonel Who Would Not Repent: The Bangladesh War and its Unquiet Legacy, by Salil Tripathi. Connecticut: Yale, 2016. Photograph shows the dismembered head of an intellectual, killed on 14 December 1971, by local collaborators of the Pakistani army, toward the end of the Liberation War. Rayer Bazaar, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Copyright: Rashid Talukder/ Drik Images.US edition of the book The Colonel Who Would Not Repent: The Bangladesh War and its Unquiet Legacy, by Salil Tripathi. Connecticut: Yale, 2016. Photograph shows the dismembered head of an intellectual, killed on 14 December 1971, by local collaborators of the Pakistani army, toward the end of the Liberation War. Rayer Bazaar, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Copyright: Rashid Talukder/ Drik Images.

*Visual ReferenceIndian subcontinent edition of the book The Colonel Who Would Not Repent: The Bangladesh War and its Unquiet Legacy, by Salil Tripathi. Aleph Book Company, 2016. This image is used with permission of Aleph Book Company.Indian subcontinent edition of the book The Colonel Who Would Not Repent: The Bangladesh War and its Unquiet Legacy, by Salil Tripathi. Aleph Book Company, 2016. This image is used with permission of Aleph Book Company.

When the book was first announced (in first imprint by Aleph / South Asia in 2014, followed by Yale in 2016), I presumed the “Colonel” in the title would be a Marquezian Pakistani officer who did not, even today, regret the brutality of 1971. In that sense, he would be an inversion of sorts of the Pakistani officers interviewed by Yasmin Saikia for her earlier book. 51Saikia, Yasmin. Women, war, and the making of Bangladesh: Remembering 1971. Duke University Press, 2011. In that work, the officers who served in that war talk of their own experience of violence as perpetrators (this fits with recent scholarship about the trauma faced by perpetrators as well as victims). Saikia deployed the concept of insaaniyat (Urdu for humanity) and placing that phrase anywhere near the Pakistan army was one of several controversies that scuttled the book’s republication plans in Dhaka.

I expected Tripathi to venture into similar territory, but the Colonel of his title is actually Colonel Farooq Rahman. Lieutenant Colonel Farooq was the Bangladeshi army officer who was one of the planners of the brutal 1975 coup that murdered the country’s first Prime Minister Sheikh Mujib and his family. As a young reporter, one of Tripathi’s breakthrough assignments was in Dhaka, where he managed to secure an interview with Colonel Farooq. As political alignments shifted, the coup plotters lost their immunity and in 2010 Farooq along with four other accused were hanged. Tripathi’s interview now sits as a testimony in which the Colonel freely admitted to carrying out the murders– he did not, at that time, repent. By beginning the book with Farooq’s confession, and following it with his eventual hanging, the book extends the frame of the 1971 war to take in its’ unraveling– the violent coups of 1975 that wiped out most of the wartime leadership, both civilian and military. Having prevailed against the Pakistan army, Bangladesh’s stability was fatally damaged by the fratricidal killings of the 1970s.

Tripathi follows this opening with a deep dive into the Bangladeshi experience of 1971 and its aftermath. Here he seems to offer a corrective to my issues with the two earlier books, focusing on the experience of many Bangladeshis in rural settings. Yet, there is a way that the inclusion of certain voices will always carry more weight, and this has to do with which ones have been the most frequently interviewed within the writing of 1971. Among Tripathi’s interviewee list, I noticed especially the following members of the civil society elite: Kamal Hossain (framer of the constitution and the country’s first Law Minister), Mahfuz Anam (editor of the largest English newspaper), Meghna Guhathakurta (director of Research Initiatives Bangladesh), Mofidul Hoque and Akku Chowdhury (both trustees of the Liberation War Museum), Abrar Chowdhury (director of a leading migrant rights NGOS), Anisur Rahman (member of the country’s first Planning Commission), Sultana Kamal (director of Ain o Salish Kendro), and Prof. Anisuzzaman (President of Bangla Academy).

Although Tripathi interviews others as well, the above names do stand out and begin to define the tone and focus of the book (whether Tripathi intended to or not). One issue here is that many of the core war leadership was killed during the violence of 1975 and afterward. These remaining eyewitnesses are often the only remaining protagonists who could speak first-hand to what happened in a room. In that sense they are part of what I have called elsewhere “M.R. Akhtar Mukul history” 52MR Akhter Mukul rose to fame as a voice on clandestine radio during the war. Because of his unique close relationship with Prime Minister Mujib, his books often contained eyewitness anecdotes of events prior to the bloodshed of 1975.—a type of oral history of crucial events which are impossible to cross-check, since all protagonists of a remembered exchange are dead. As such, many of the people Tripathi met have been interviewed many times (for magazines, special issues, commemorations). There is a practiced ease to their storytelling–this does not render it inauthentic, but does give it an enhanced citation value.

Moreover, because these individuals were crucial figures in this country’s history, their anecdotes and memories are not commonplace, and certainly not anywhere close to a subaltern experience. Rather the stories are often taking place in the same room as Ministers, Generals, and Presidents, further reifying the achievements and struggles that went on at the very center of events. Kamal Hossain, whom I have interviewed for my own work, is an example of this centrifugal effect. He was, after all, the constitutional expert who was part of Sheikh Mujib’s negotiation team with the Pakistan army (demanding that Mujib be allowed to become Prime Minister of Pakistan as per the landslide election victory of 1970), the man arrested and sent to Pakistan alongside Sheikh Mujib when war broke out, the co-author of the constitution of independent Bangladesh, and the man who began to piece Sheikh Mujib’s Awami League political party back together from exile after 1975. As such, his view was always ringside of the core circle, and his memories, along with several others, have had a dominant effect on Bangladeshi history (they cannot be considered hegemonic because he is no longer a member of the party in power).

Recently, when I met Hossain again, he mentioned in conversation that Stuart Hall had been a student at Oxford at the same time that he began his law studies. Intrigued by the possibility of an undiscovered Afro-Asian linkage at the heart of Bangladesh’s foundational struggle, I asked him at length what he remembered of Hall, and whether they had stayed in communication after Oxford. The answers did not yield what I had hoped for– they had known each other, but had not worked on any extensive campaigns together; nor had they managed to stay in touch after Hossain returned to Pakistan. Kamal Hossain and others have been such a strong presence in the writing of 1971 history, that even a chance encounter in their life may transform in the readers’ (and researchers’) eyes into a momentous occasion. Tripathi has definitely corrected the absence of Bangladeshi voices in these earlier books, but at least some of the voices he has selected are commanding presence at the center, which can continue to occlude voices on the margin.

Both the dense archives available in the United States and India, and the options of oral history, usually throw up these significant, central figures (living and dead). We are therefore now used to scholarship and reportage on the larger-than-life figures occupying the world stage during the war. Richard Nixon as pathological paranoiac, Henry Kissinger as smooth mandarin, Indira Gandhi as shrewd operator, Sheikh Mujib as endgame negotiator, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto as nervy obstructionist, and General Yahya Khan as drunken maverick–these are portrayals that often suffuse narratives of the war. What continues to be underexplored are the Bangladeshi actors, at the granular level, in their own war. Sheikh Mujib’s negotiation strategy, led by his legal advisor Kamal Hossain, was documented in Sisson & Rose and resurfaces in Raghavan (though less so in Bass). But what were the ground events to which these players were responding? To take just one example, Sheikh Mujib’s decision to arrive at one negotiation meeting flying a black flag was considered an insult leading to a “breakdown.” However, what were the forces on the ground that Mujib was responding to, and perhaps even trying to corral and contain? Was he shadowed by the specter of radical student leaders who had already raised the flag of “independent Bangla Desh”–on the university campus? Was he responding to a radicalized Bengali urban population that wanted to go faster than the negotiations allowed?

The fateful negotiations, whose breakdown led to the brutal war of 1971, were always conducted with one eye on the negotiation partners (Yahya, Bhutto) and the other on a roiling urban and rural countryside. Those turbulent street forces are absent even in the Bangladeshi archive that also focuses on grand narrative and brinkmanship negotiations. Simply shifting Raghavan or Bass’ focus to Bangladesh interviewees (as Tripathi has done) would not resolve all the issues of submerged narratives. As Anjali Arondekar 53Arondekar, Anjali. For the record: on sexuality and the colonial archive in India. Duke University Press, 2009. has pointed out, gaping absences in the archive can be used to look at the process of subjectification made possible by building that record. If the radical peasant fighter was left out of official records, what national aspirations and exclusionary fears among the record-keepers guided such a process? History’s “ginger merchant” was far more crucial in the buildup and conduct of this war than is acknowledged, and a next step for researchers can be to begin to read into, and against, the many absences in Bangladesh’s history ledgers.

—Sediments

The re-Jetée: 1971, recurring 

From August 1971 to August 2011, with love

By Benedict Seymour
Author

Benedict Seymour is a writer and former deputy editor of Mute. He has written, and made films, about regeneration and gentrification with The London Particular, and makes music with his bands, Antifamily and Petit Mal. He is currently working on a film about the financial crisis, with the working title 32 Short Films about Bernard Madoff, and holds the position of Lecturer in Fine Art on the MFA at Goldsmiths, London.

*

 

Dead the ends and colour war for now so if you see a brother… SALUT! if you see a fed… SHOOT!

—Anonymous Blackberry message, London riots, 13 August 2011.

The year is 2040. Facing species extinction and environmental collapse, the members of the Central Control Committee (CCC) of the newly established World Commune resolve to deploy their last hope—the time machine.

The CCC’s director breaks it down for his comrades: unknown to most of the population, the machine has been operational since at least 1971. The machine was not planned as such. In fact, they had been trying to construct a kind of huge printer. The idea was to fix the US current account deficit by printing money. Facing profits crisis, the government delinked the dollar from gold. At a stroke, the global currency ceased to be backed by a metallic commodity indexing real value, human labor. Instead the world currency was now built on debt. An endless supply of ‘fictitious capital’—mere paper claims on potential future value—came to life. It worked pretty nicely for several decades, effectively deferring the crisis. But the printer had one unintended side effect—the director pauses to allow the room to fill with silence—the destruction of linear time.

No, he explains, the printer was not just a printer. The powers that be had accidentally created a time machine. It scrambled temporal sequence and unleashed a recombinant, recursive culture as frenetic as it was immune to radical change. Just as labor was growing increasingly superfluous to production, the time machine imposed massive quantities of work on the human population, exponentially increasing stress on the physical infrastructure of the planet.

At first the time machine seemed to stall and reshuffle history like a deck of floating signs. But eventually we began to see that the legend of a synchronic, self-renewing system concealed real social and material retrogression. Not acceleration but cannibalization was the true product of the time machine.

The director is somber. With no way out of a global environmental crisis, he declares, we must turn the machine against itself. We will use it to prevent its own inception, simultaneously unleashing the revolution that it baulked.

But this project would require an agent of an almost extinct breed: a proletarian. The CCC selects a survivor of the world war that preceded the global insurrection in which it came to power. A man tied to the past by his obsession with an image, a powerful childhood memory of tenderness and loss.

The violent scene that marked him happened at Heathrow Airport in London, 2007. The man’s mother had taken him along on a demonstration against climate change. There, in the terminal’s departures hall, among the cops and protestors, he had seen a man get shot and die in the arms of a woman. Had he really seen it or just invented it, a fictitious claim against the madness to come? It was unclear, but if he could conceive or dream of the time before the war, perhaps he could live in it.

The director explains the man’s historic task. The time machine is a vast distributed computer whose ‘hardware’ is constituted of social relations as much as material things. The fashion system and the finance system would each function as core components. They will use the machine to send him back to delete its preconditions, effectively undoing their own tranche of time, saving the species and the world.

 

1. Mission 1: Destroy the Retro-Structure

The man is sent to London in the year 1971. His mission: infiltrate a revolutionary libertarian group and persuade them to blow up a fashion boutique called Biba. The man wins the trust of a young woman in the group and delivers a fierce critique of the decadent new temporal and economic logic of which Biba is a beacon. The new retro culture is just a reworking of the past. “In fashion as in everything else, capitalism can only go backward—they’ve nowhere to go, they’re dead. The future is ours.”

The group dig his analysis, and agree to an assault against Biba’s flagship store in London’s then-swinging Kensington. The mission more or less succeeds, with no serious injuries. Yet their May Day bomb fails to spark the revolt against the new kind of new—the emergent temporal loop of recycling and remixing and empty reflexivity—that the CCC had hoped for. Instead, the bomb confirms the ascendancy of the hip new entrepreneurs, merchants of non-linear time. From here on revolution gives way to involution. Raiding the past, looting the present, foreclosing the future.

During his trip, the CCC’s agent falls in love with the young woman revolutionary. He comes and goes, flitting in and out of her life—she calls him her ghost. After the bomb, the man disappears for good. A short while later the woman realizes she is pregnant with his child. She names the boy after him—John Marker, the name given to the agent by the CCC. At four years of age, the boy falls ill and dies. Yet, as the Central Control Committee discovered back in 2040, the child lived on. Twenty years later, the police had appropriated and recycled his name and birth date to furnish the cover identity, known in the trade as the legend, for an undercover cop infiltrating the UK anti-globalization movement. Even the dead were not safe from the time machine.

 

2. The Future of a Delusion

The CCC sends the man back on a second trip through time—not into the future, but rather to a future that once was, that might have been. Once again he travels back to the spring of 1971, but this time to the TWA Flight Center at New York’s JFK Airport, a space-age marvel. Here the man is to meet and pass a dossier to the young foreign aid economist, Michael Hudson. It explains that the dollar’s convertibility against gold is set to end in August 1971, unleashing an era of epic US monetary super-imperialism. If the dollar is taken off the gold standard, far from collapsing, it will float free. Raising world money to a new power of abstraction will not mark the end of the US as global hegemon. Rather, it will unleash a potentially unlimited regime of extractive accumulation based on the economic tribute the US can claim from the rest of the world via the system of international loans. The US’s decline as a producer and its bankruptcy as the world’s number one debtor will bring about a tendency among its creditors—including the rising new capitalist powers in the East—to recycle their wealth into US treasuries. What else could they do, given that America remains the number one customer for their goods and the dollar the global reserve currency? Effectively, if no one sounded the alarm, the US was about to begin a decades-long ‘free lunch’ at the expense of the world’s rising producers, not to mention the devastation of the planet this looting process will accelerate.

The man, woozy with time sickness and pining for his lost love, fails to locate Hudson in the terminal. However, he does run into the woman. She is en route to the West Coast, fleeing police repression in the UK. He tries to explain where he has been and what he was doing and begins a patchy but animated account of the CCC’s analysis. By a quirk of the Flight Center’s fluid architecture, Hudson finds himself next to them as he waits for his flight to Washington. The economist slowly grasps that the young man talking to the woman opposite him has convincingly identified a way for the US to turn its profits crisis into a mechanism for indefinite economic hegemony. He resolves to follow-up the hypothesis and publish an indictment of the new system before this young radical beats him to it. His book will only sell moderately well but it is bought and read closely by agents of the US government. Its hypothesis is spot on and they decide to make the most of the strategy the state has accidentally hit upon and to implement this new monetary super-imperialism on an expanded scale.

***

Back in the future, the members of the CCC, depressed to find themselves still in existence, quickly realize their plan has failed again. In fact, their very intervention has made the present disaster inevitable. Renouncing their attempts to defeat the time machine with propaganda by the deed or policy changes, they resolve to follow the Marxian hypothesis that deeds are themselves the source of ideas. They will attempt to redirect the anti-capitalist movement the time machine itself gave rise to. The Left have been part of the time machine just as much as finance and culture, and they were seeking to turn the clock back, to challenge ‘consumerism’ and the excesses of “the one percent” rather than tackling capitalism head-on. A moral critique of bankers and parasites and bloated ‘materialism’ easily segued into the rise of racist, anti-Semitic, and quasi-fascist forces as the austerity years drew on. At worst, the Left were one more non-reproduction of old agendas and ideologies, one more recycled set of second-order signs and zombie socialism, with a sacrificial narrative of their own. The man finds the CCC’s arguments prolix but assents to a third trip, optimistic he will meet the woman again. Perhaps this time he will find a way to remain with her.

 

3. Workers Leaving the Factory

True to their renewed materialist principles, the members of the CCC send their agent back to 2008, to the time of the workers’ occupation of the Ford Visteon factory in Enfield, north London. The man urges activists en route to the G20 protests in the City financial district to join the workers’ struggle, but they dismiss him. They are not into cars, one explains, the environment is more important than some doomed old industrial jobs. The man then begs the Visteon workers to maintain their occupation in the face of a Trotskyist group’s advice to declare a victory and give it up. The group’s activists insinuate that he is a cop or an agent of the bosses. One of the activists, who goes by the name John Marker, denounces him and his comrades hound the man out of the occupation.

Outside the factory gates a woman, one of the comrades in the Trotskyist group, runs toward him. She is young, just a supporter. But the man has seen her on the picket line, talking to the man who denounced him. Has he seen her before? Is it her hair, something about her retro style, or do all women now seem to him like citations of the woman of his memory? He isn’t sure, but he listens as she whispers frightened and angry words.

…a member of the CC—the Central Committee…a hotel bedroom…forced…not just once…six months now…I told John…we can’t go to the police, he said…for the party, for the cause…

The man sees there are tears running down her cheeks. Time washes over him like a wave and he is back in the future.

****

Once again the CCC has to reckon with failure. Exhausted and broken, the man is informed that he must make one last journey. By means of a foiled assassination attempt on a cop infiltrator of the anti-capitalist milieu, the CCC will place him at the head of a new movement against austerity. From prison he will expose police and state surveillance of activists and the wider population, building a fully revolutionary struggle. The CCC will keep in continuous contact with the man. Success will take time and there will be no return for the man, but his success will make reformism and its disastrous future as impossible as capitalism.

The man has other ideas. He yearns for the moments without plan or purpose that he spent with the woman. His mind fills with thoughts of her face, her gestures, the time that was briefly theirs.

 

4. Terminal Swerve

Thrown back into the past, the man discovers himself at Heathrow Airport, in the summer of 2007. He realizes that the child he had once been must be there too, watching the planes, on his way to the Climate Camp with his mother. He looked for the woman’s face amid the protestors and police in the departures hall. But when he sees the cop—the infiltrator that the CCC has sent him to kill—he realizes that no one can escape the time machine. This haunted moment, the scene he had witnessed as a child, would be the moment of his own death.

He looks down and sees the pistol the CCC has given him. Watching the woman activist he had already met later, in Enfield in 2008, as she runs toward the cop—the counterfeit activist who has infiltrated her political scene—he doubles down with déjà vu. Her face merges with that of the woman he loves. She calls out the cop-activist’s name—the same name the CCC has given the man himself, the name that, unbeknownst to him, the woman gave their child. He is seized by vertigo.

Where does this name come from? Is he himself not just one more clone of a stolen name, one more replicant identity generated by the time machine? He will rewrite the CCC’s plan and cut through the möbius loop of time, avenging all the betrayals, the betrayal he himself is. He raises and fires the weapon.

As the bullet passes through the forehead of the counterfeit protestor, the man feels time dilate. Some hitch in the cycling of the time machine, or the impact of his act—wasn’t his bullet meant to be a blank? Isn’t his own presence in the moment some kind of temporal knot or recursive loop?—causes a glitch in the temporal sequence.

The man—or one version of him—is flung out of the moment. He begins to slide across time and space, swerving like a stylus knocked out of the groove of an old record (or a new, 180-gram one). Like some errant atom, he flies by, tracing a circuitous vicus of recirculation from South London in 2007, past his future past at the occupied factory in Enfield in 2008, and on to Tottenham, North London, where he reappears at 6:13 p.m. on the evening of the fourth day of August 2011.

 

5. Mission Without End(s)

A few hundred yards from the retail park at Tottenham Hale, a convoy of police cars is chasing a minicab on the highway. In the back of the car sits Mark Duggan, a young black man in his late twenties. He is suspected of planning a crime. His pursuers are about to commit one.

Back in the future, the CCC members scan the timeline, a tangled mess. There’s nothing there, nothing significant in August 2011. Duggan’s name doesn’t show on their screens. Scrolling back a little, images of a failed movement against education cuts and fee increases, then nothing till Occupy, a ripple rapidly decaying into a movement for monetary reform, years of defeat, the rising tide of racism and anti-Semitism, the campaign against the Octopus of the banks, the invasion of immigrants, a rapid slide down the graph of retrogression…

****

The cops force the car to a halt, hemming it in with their vehicles. Hard stop. Duggan jumps out of the car and begins to run, but one of the cops is there with his submachine gun poised to shoot. Duggan freezes, raises his hands above his head. But the cop is wired—young black male possibly armed… he knows whose side the law is on.

Just as he is about to shoot, the man appears in front of the cop. The cop freezes for a moment. It’s totally weird, this unaccountable apparition. And then his training, or his reflexes, it’s impossible to distinguish, kick back in. He squeezes the trigger. But the man is already in motion. The bullet misses him, goes through Duggan’s arm, grazes another cop and buries itself in his police radio.

The members of the CCC huddle over the data screens, rapt as a new sequence of events begins to crystallize in the archive.

The cop twitches and adjusts his aim within a few milliseconds. It won’t be enough just to stop the black man, he has to erase the other, the freak apparition who so unsettles him. He pulls the trigger but again the stranger is too quick for him, more non-linear than cop time itself. He fires the semi-automatic but the bullet goes right past the man and hits Duggan in the chest. A few thousand milliseconds later, the young black male is dead.

The CCC members watch the timeline, scry the fossilized Twitter feeds as their characters scatter into new distributions. The name Duggan flashes up on their screens. The SMS messages from a hitherto absent future begin to proliferate. Something is coming to birth… and suddenly the CCC members are seized by the intuition that this young black man’s death has something to do with their own existence, their realization or abolition…. The databases begin to fill with information just as the CCC’s present moment itself begins to tremble…Mark Duggan…murdered by police…triggering the riots of 2011…first insurrection of the superfluous majority, first intimation of a new global movement…The members of the CCC look up from their screens…

The cop moves to aim his weapon a third time, searching for the man who appeared in his gunsight like a chip of shattered time. But where he had been the cop sees only blank space. The man had vanished—cancelled like an empty sign, written off like a bad debt, gone.

Within a few hours, news of Duggan’s murder trickles out. As the police respond brutally to peaceful protests, the riots begin in Tottenham, rapidly spreading throughout the city and across the UK. The gangs declare a truce between the ends—the poor neighborhoods divided within and against each other by race and gender and geography. The uprising begins.

*****

Everyone from all sides of London meet up at the heart of London (central) OXFORD CIRCUS!!, Bare SHOPS are gonna get smashed up so come get some (free stuff!!!) fuck the feds we will send them back with OUR riot! >:O Dead the ends and colour war for now so if you see a brother… SALUT! if you see a fed… SHOOT!

 

—Anonymous Blackberry message, London riots, 13 August 2011.

END

 

 

A longer version of this text was originally written for the following upcoming publication (2015) and will be included in it in a longer version: The memory of it sometimes comes to you in the bright light of the beach, through the transparency of the rolling waves – Encircling the Image of Trauma, pub. Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève/Archive Books. With contributions by Andrea Bellu, Anca Benera & Arnold Estefan, Pavel Büchler, Aurélien Gamboni, Katja Mater, Wendelien Van Oldenborgh, Georges Perec, Falke Pisano, Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Benedict Seymour, Gitte Villesen, Unica Zürn; ed. Matei Bellu and Emilie Bujès.

 

The author would like to declare a (collateralized) debt to Chris Marker’s La Jetée.