maandag 29 augustus 2011

Dark Mountain: book two

The Dark Mountain project, founded by Dougald Hine and Paul Kingsnorth in 2010, challenges both the lethargic state of current day environmentalism and the lacklustre political conservatism of contemporary literature with one sweeping trumpet call to arms. It analyses the greening of capitalism, the rise of sustainability as just another buzz-word, as a doomed attempt by a doomed system to save itself with half-measures. It calls on literature to come up with new stories of who we are and where we need to go as the first important step to find a way out of the deadlock where technology, politics and storytelling come together to uphold a system that has environmental destruction as its inevitable product. Dark Mountain describes alternatives scenarios to a political and economic system which has almost reached the point where there is no more room for the problem to be pushed forward into the future.

Dark Mountain started as a manifesto, led to a festival and a book in 2010 and consolidated itself in 2011 with another festival and another book. The crowdfunded Dark Mountain book two is a proper hardback and contains almost 50 pieces by about 40 writers covering a gamut of forms: short stories, essays, non-fiction pieces, interviews with literary heroes of Hine and Kingsnorth, and poetry. The quality is consistently high, even the poetry is good and somehow the principles of Dark Mountain and its call for 'uncivilization' managed to bring together a ragbag of a few recognizable names, a selection of urban bloggers, academics and literati, and completely obscure back-to-the-land types that together make up for a consolidated and well-rounded overview of a world view and a way of life based on experiment and observation rather than ideology and power-mongering. A sizeable number of the articles are from people trying to live as farmers, gardeners and foraging, writing about them with self-critical perspective. The writing is solid and grounded in place, uninterested in being spectacular or flashy, there are no attempts to write experimentally (and rightly so as this mostly means copying Gertrude Stein or William Burroughs) but there are a few openings where style and content are realised in novel ways. A good example of this is Thomas Keyes' recipe that also tells the the story of the sourcing of the (foraged) ingredients, the tasting, and the reason for living like he does while his children prefer to go to Burger King and he sometimes goes with them. A number of writers choose to write about the place where they live and work, about themselves as part of that place, about their personal history, the things that made them what they are today in that mode of soliptic musing that usually is a revolting mixture of quasi-poetic melodrama and sentimental self-justification but here it works: that is how good the writing is. 

Dark Mountain gets dismissed as a hippie revival wherever an internet site discussing it offers a discussion forum and it is not hard to see why that is. Dark Mountain is the first cultural movement since the hippies that is seriously thinking about food and where it comes and especially where it is going to come from when society will fail. The key concepts for Dark Mountain are survival, bioregionalism, hunter-gatherers, urban foraging. The concepts that defined the critical cultural movements of the last 40 years, from punk to brat-pack are absent: boredom, alienation, apathy. Dark Mountain is the first counter-cultural movement in 250 years that defines itself through work rather than through clothing styles, drugs or music. Are we really that fucked?
Seriously: Dark Mountain Book two is a landmark publication with only one weakness and that is the piece that I wrote, but surely you have it in you to ignore those 6 pages out of 300.

zondag 28 augustus 2011

Constant's New Babylon Nord improved

Constant's maps for cluster cities and labyrinthine towns (collectively known as New Babylon) are visually wonderful, but, as the above plan for 'New Babylon Nord' clearly shows they would practically be worse than the grandest schemes ever concocted by fascistects like Le Corbusier. Imagine the social and environmentally disastrous effects of a never ending cluster city too big to circumnavigate and wilfully too undifferentiated to humanize. Constant also obviously never heard of desire paths because all those gently curving paths take you a great distance away from where you want to go before closing in on them again. In the city of eternal play getting around is hard work. Perhaps that is what meant with social realism: straight paths. Constant's plan here cries out for the flowering of a million desire lines and in the above I have taken the liberty to ink some of them in.

vrijdag 26 augustus 2011

The graph where psychogeography and the drift do not meet

In the New Theater of Operations within Culture (1958) the "construction of situations" is done through "experimental behaviour" (of which is "drift" is one) and "unitary urbanism". Unitary urbanism is enacted through "psychogeography", "situationist architecture" and "détournement of prefabricated elements". Experimental behaviour, psychogeography and détournement of prefabricated elements will bring about "permanent play".

Note: architecture (situationist or not) will never get you near permanent play.

Note: unitary urbanism nowhere implies entails experimental behaviour.
Note: psychogeography and the drift, though presented on the same line as sibling disciplines together situationist architecture, do not meet.

Reproduced for Simon Sadler's The Situationist City.

dinsdag 23 augustus 2011

Urban land use as a dart board [permaculture edit]

Johann Heinrich von Thünen's (1783-1850) urban land use model goes like this: In the middle is a black dot that represents a city and which is surrounded by zones: 1 (white) dairy and market gardening; 2 (green) forest for fuel; 3 (yellow) grains and field crops; 4 (red) ranching; the outer, dark green area represents wilderness "where agriculture is not profitable". Globalization has rendered this model (idealized as it was) less obvious but you can see where it is coming from and it is also where permaculture wants to go back to; 0: the home, 1: the home garden; 2: the home orchard; 3: the farm, 4: the managed forest; 5: the wilderness. The above model has four zones plus wilderness (5 together) while the permacultural zoning plan below has six zones including the wilderness but the distinction between home garden and home orchard perhaps complicates things needlessly.

Both models visualize land as a dartboard (or a mandala) but personally I prefer the first land use model because it explicitly puts no end to the wilderness; it's what civilization is attached to. I like to be on the oche and throw my darts at the wall rather than at the board.

maandag 22 augustus 2011

Picturing the forest with Loic Thisse

I have long believed that a talent for photography is similar to the talent for having excessive toenail growth. Recent experience has made me revise this and I regret to say that yes! photography is indeed a skill that some people have developed to admirable heights. On this blog I attempt to keep a record of the cryptoforests that I find and I try to use the simple pocket camera that I borrow from my partner to capture the scenes that strike me most, but the images never come out right

Personal failure explains my new found appreciation of someone like French photographer Loic Thisse who does know how to photograph a forest. My response when I first saw them was: these could be my pictures if I knew how to do it like this. Thisse's pictures often show untended landscapes that are not wild but in waiting for the human hand to change them, they speak of silence and gloom, but with a contention that this are good landscapes. 

What's more: his twitter feed is a good source of forest photography all round: like this.

zondag 21 augustus 2011

Under what name? [Red Valerian]

Just returned from a brief visit to the botanical garden of the Utrecht University and spotted, I think, a plant that is also a colourful local weed. Do you now it's name?

Yes you do! This weed is Red Valerian, a plant Wikipedia describes as a popular garden plant originating from the Mediterranean but which has gone feral across the world, like hollyhock.

Is it palatable or only merely edible (as in non-poisonous)? "Both leaves and roots can be eaten, the leaves either fresh in salads or lightly boiled, the roots boiled in soups. Opinions differ as to whether either make very good eating, however. Although it is sometimes reported to have medicinal properties, there is no basis for this view, which is almost certainly due to confusion with true Valerian." 

donderdag 18 augustus 2011

A Kalapalo Monster

Ellen Basso translates the Kalapalo term 'Itseke', a category of beings/phenomena that includes freak animals (monstrously large fish) and cosmological events (extremely bright moons), as monsters. The Kalapalo (a reticent people from the Xingu) believe that If you see a lot of Itseke in a short time it is probably an omen to say that your days are numbered. The image is from 'The Kalapalo Indians of Central Brazil' (1972) by Ellen basso, no further information about the artist of the circumstances is given. Also see.   

zondag 14 augustus 2011

Fight the Google Jugend

Fight the Google Jugend
is my Guide to Kulchur, my ABC of Reading, my attempt to create a vision of the future as one where progress equals anything that lead to an increase of cultural diversity and reforested high urbanism. Elliot Weinberger writes: "many of the golden ages of a national literature have been, not at all coincidentally, periods of active and prolific translation." This is probably why literature is stone death. Modern day translation culture is a mirror palace that reinforces the values of a global free market culture in your own language: Ezra Pound arrived at Chinese culture as a vast and untapped resource of an independent high culture, we, on the other hand turn to China to find a despotic government hostile to freedom of speech: not a model but a bucket of vomit where even Idols is too dangerous to be left to the televote. Fuck Marx, Fuck Deleuze, Fuck Foucault, Fuck all those unreadable university bullshitters with their baby wrinkled hands, tell me about the man and woman who discovered the way to prepare manioc.

Fight the Google Jugend
is an endless montage of voices, there are more footnotes than text, this entire blog (especially these posts) is a series of footnotes to this text, this text is a footnote to this blog. For a note on previous publication.

London Psychogeography with Tom Vague

The cheap thrills of Ebay!

Tom Vague's 'Rachman Riots and Rillington Place', an episodic treatment of certain key moment in the recent history of Nothing Hill, is a real page turner even though I had never heard of most of the people discussed (Christie Evans, Rachman, Michael X). They are probably household names to the average Londoner.

On the face of it Vague's treatment of history is conventional to the point of barbaric idiocy: his use of a timeline to structure the narrative can hardly be called sophisticated and his refusal to interpret events or people psychologically or sociologically would be below most hystoriographers. 

Almost all history is written by dinosaurs but Vague is of the 1-2-3-GO! school and the result, raw and elementary, creates a lot of space for your own associations, relevant knowledge and mental garbage to fill the gaps. In the context of psychogeography Vague is moving in the opposite direction of most psychogeo writers. Instead of writing about a spatial entity from the perspective of the individual (place and space presented as malformed after a rollercoaster ride through the maelstrom of the personal madness and deep emotions of a very special person (as, you are aware, all writers (boring fucks) are)). If you read carefully - the last page gives the biggest clue - Vague presents this almost as the autobiography of Nothing Hill with him as the inspired mouthpiece, his own biography mixed with that of the subject. He is the place. 

donderdag 11 augustus 2011

The marginal is central [Andean Farming]

Andean potato harvest
The best chapter in Wendell Berry's 'The Unsettling of America', an agro-isolationist tract well worth your time, is the one where he discusses farming in the Andes. The Andes has the steepest mountains in the world and farms in Uchucmarca in North Peru cover 4 different climatic zones (tropical, middle,high and higher mountain zones). The risk of Erosion is always looming if it weren't for the deep knowledge of the farmer and the diversity of his crops. Berry bases the chapter on an unnamed paper by Stephen Brush that I haven't been able to find but do read this (PDF) if you are interested. Here is the key segment and it deal with the nature, use and understanding of marginal lands:   
The sophistication and durability of Andean agriculture,"he writes, is not fully appreciated until one has understood the way it utilizes -- indeed, depends upon -- its margins. The fifty potato varieties used in Uchucmarca are not a stable quantity, but rather a sort of genetic vocabulary in a state of continues revision. Professor Brush says that ‘new varieties are constantly being created through crosspollination between cultivated, wild and semidomesticated (weedy) species. . . . These wild and semidomesticated species thrive in the hedgerow around fields, and birds and insects living there assist cross-pollination.' Thus, if an Andean farmer loses a crop because of an extremity of the weather or an infestation of insects or disease, he may find a plant of a new variety that has survived the calamity and produced in spite of it. If he finds such a plant, he may add it to his collection of domesticated varieties or substitute it for the one that has failed.

This Andean agriculture, then, does not push its margins back to land unsuitable for farming, as ours does, but incorporates them into the very structure of the farm. The hedgerows are marginal areas, little thoroughfares of wilderness closely crisscrossing the farmland, and in them agriculture is constantly renewing itself in direct response to what threatens it. This network of wilderness treading through the fields serves the Andean farmer as a college of agriculture and experiment station. And at least in one respect it serves him better: whatever is discovered there has already been tested in the circumstances of the farm itself, and its worth or worthlessness proven. 

This integration of Andean farming with its margins may serve us in another way. It offers an example of a sort of reconciliation by which we might escape the endless swinging between center and margins, rigidity and revolt, that has dominated our culture for so long. The remedy is to accommodate the margin within the form, to allow the wilderness or nature to thrive in domesticity, to accommodate diversity within unity.

woensdag 10 augustus 2011

Weed fields for ever... [the Little Eden of Overvecht]

If it wasn't for a sense of (duh...) professional obligation I would have left this overgrown Overvecht field, hidden by trees and apathy, to its own devices (it's a not a forest!) but I am glad I didn't. Boredom is a figment of the imagination, a marketing ploy to make you purchase its antidote:  being the first to leave a trail and to be the apparent only one to discover variety and diversity where monocultural hooligan greens are at first sight wielding their weaponry and genitalia in your legs and face is one of the greatest joys of life. Maybe there was a towerblock here first but now it's overgrown to nipple height with what seemed a three-plant-tyranny of nettles, thistles and yarrow but as I criss-crossed through the vegetation I soon found an amazing patterning with edge effects where giant hogweeds and witchy clusters of willows grew happy, but also a subfields with reeds and ordinary grasses clearly demarcated and patches of other colour amidst the dominant plants. WOW!

This is not a weed field but a 'little eden'; a hotspot for urban edibles, a foraging commons, an example of transition dada agriculture.       

dinsdag 9 augustus 2011

Aboriginal water map

The above image is a Bindibu/Pintupi map of desert waterholes carved on a spear thrower. It's reproduced by I.A.E. Bayly in "Review of how indigenous people managed for water in desert regions of Australia" (1999, PDF-link). Despite what the title might suggest this is a Mouth Watering account in the Ray Mears Galore category of non-technological intelligence and endurance. The map is a sneak peek into the impressive combination of skill, knowledge, tradition and adaptation that allowed the Pintupi to live in the harshest desert of Oz.
 The ability of Australian indigenous people to survive in the desert regions where rainfall is low (3,000 mm pa), has long excited the popular imagination. Most of the early European explorers expressed awe and wonder at the extraordinary ability of Aborigines to survive in what they regarded as hostile if not “impossible” regions. So great was the respect of early explorers for the water-locating ability of Aborigines that several of them felt obliged to adopt the extreme and ethically-repugnant measure of depriving Aborigines of their liberty and forcing them to find water. After being deserted by some Aborigines in the Gibson Desert in 1897, Wells (1899) wrote “I then regretted not having chained one of the tribe [a practice adopted by him in December 1896], in spite of my promise to the contrary, for without a [Black] guide in such country one is almost powerless”. Reading today about incidents such as this serves as a timely reminder that there has been a strong and unfortunate tendency not to give proper recognition to the key importance of Aboriginal knowledge in the exploration and development of Australia. 
Thomson (1962), in a narrative of the Bindibu Expedition of 1957, described how he spent several weeks with Aborigines in what is probably the most formidable of all the Australian deserts - the Great Sandy Desert, Western Australia. Just before parting company with these people he was given a very generous gift; a tutorial about their desert waters and a priceless “map” to assist their location. It is worthwhile reproducing Thomson’s account of this episode as follows:
“Just before we left, the old men recited to me the names of more than fifty waters - wells, rockholes and claypans - including those that I have described in this narrative; this, in an area that the early explorers believed to be almost waterless, and where all but a few were, in 1957, still unknown to the white man. And on the eve of our going, Tjappanongo produced spear-throwers, on the backs of which were designs deeply incised, more or less geometric in form. Sometimes with a stick, or with his finger, he would point to each well or rock hole in turn and recite its name, waiting for me to repeat it after him. Each time, the group of old men listened intently and grunted in approval “Eh!” - or repeated the name again and listened once more. This process continued with the name of each water until they were satisfied with my pronunciation, when they would pass on to the next. I realized that here was the most important discovery of the expedition - that what Tjappanongo and the old men had shown me was really a map, highly conventionalized, like the works on a “message” or “letter” stick of the Aborigines, of the waters of the vast terrain over which the Bindibu hunted.”

Foraging in Central Park [guide included]

The latest episode in the debate surrounding the sustainability of urban foraging is that NYC will put a total ban on foraging in Central Park to put an end to the overgrazing of Manhattan's most iconic green space. Rebecca Lerner writes about it here. This reminded me of the four-page edible plant guide for Central Park compiled by Norman Collin and Charles Kennedy and included in Marie Winn's 'Red Tails in Love' (earlier). Click to Enlarge.

dinsdag 2 augustus 2011

The cryptoforest with the strange hut

In the first chapter of his 1968 best selling book 'Desert Solitaire' Edward Abbey's describes the first time he woke up in the Utah desert: "this monstrous and inhuman spectacle of rock and cloud and sky and space, I feel a ridiculous greed and possessiveness come over me. I want to know it all, possess it all, embrace the entire scene intimately, deeply, totally, as a man desires a beautiful woman. An insane wish? Perhaps not-at least there’s nothing else, no one human, to dispute possession with me.” 

This strikes me because it is completely different from the way I experience my own feral forested pockets of crypto-wilderness. The cryptoforest does not inspire any grandiose feelings. Never did I feel the need or the desire to possess the forest, platonic or otherwise. I am seeking for inhuman spectacles but what attracts me to these places is the way the human influence asserts itself even at places that most normal choose to ignore. Cryptoforests are mysterious places but not always in a good way: the lack of humans itself is reason enough to be used by people who prefer to remain anonymous. At least two murder victims have been at the kind of places I visit in the last year alone. I stumble across tents that are in use and waste that is new. I have never met the people who lived in those tents but they may not be friendly. It doesn't scare me but I am aware of the full spectrum of possibilities. Small town blues: my biggest fear is that while I am hidden from view someone steals my bike.

Last weekend I explored a forest that lines the outer elbow of double barrelled traffic system regulating the flow of traffic in and out of the North-East of Utrecht. It's a pool of open space against its crowded outlying surroundings. From whatever you direction you enter it you find that your horizon is suddenly shifting into the distance and for this reason I had wanted to look at it with a bit more patience for years. Inside this oval shaped space, bordered by a bicycle and foot paths, rail tracks and the backside pond of an allotment garden stands a forest of mature trees (poplars?) densely clustered and with bushes preventing a good view from the outside to the inside of the forest. I dare not estimate the size of it but it did seem larger from the inside than from the outside: an ever recurring visual phenomena that informs the differences between the psychogeography of the forest and of the plains. 

The pictures I took all came out badly and this indicates the uncertainty I felt about how to understand what I was seeing and my inability to find a way to relating to it. It wasn't monstrous, it was more anthropomorphic than that, it was like being trapped at a party where you fail to understand the social norms while your clothing is revealing you as a uninteresting outsider. I was an intruder and one without a good reason or story to tell when asked for credentials. This is a feeling I encounter often but never as strongly as here. The pattern escaped me, the trees just seemed to grow tall and the underbrush proliferated, a lone fern had spread like an umbrella and they all had turned their back on me at the moment I walked in. There was no question of me wanting to embrace it, instead it was embracing me, without love, just matter of factly like a disinterested nurse washing a patient. I found a shallow ditch that I couldn't explain at first but which was maybe carved out by excess water of the pond at the back when it rains. I saw frogs, a rabbit hole, heard crows... but no sense and no order, not even chaos. No sign of "Memory and desire, stirring" (after TS Elliot), just a void that wanted to be closed.     

The thing that really spelled out the implied message of this cryptoforest was a human artefact that I don't know how to explain and which turned out unobliging towards my attempts to make pictures of it. I was trying to record it in its environment but the trees prevented a good view. Instead I only have details. What it is? A deep hole filled with water and infested with mosquitoes, a wooden structure with a plastic sheeting and chicken wire fallen into it, and above it tree trunks interlocked as if to create a roof. All this surrounded by nettles and sapling trees, indicators of disturbed soil. As if someone illegally kept chickens here. But why would you?

This cryptoforest with the strange hut refused to speak to me but I know it has a story to tell. I will go back and coax it out. 

maandag 1 augustus 2011

We grub the first fern shoots

From the SAS Survival Guide to the contemporary art practise of Urbanibalism foraging is at least in part considered as a source of famine food, a practise reinvented as the last resort when all other avenues of acquiring food have broken down. Surely every enduring culture must have produced songs, poem and stories that laments the sorrows of hunger and remembers the kind of grasses and weeds that sustained the people through the ordeal. I welcome suggestions to more because the only example I can think of that uses foraging (picking young fern shoots) both as an indication of bad fortune and as an indicator of time passing (grubbing old fern shoots) is the poem that opens Ezra Pound's Cathay (1915), his legendary collection of 'translations from the Chinese'. Song of the Bowman of Shu was written in the 11th century by Bunno, the Japanese name of Wen-Wang, the King Wen of the I Ching. Here is some additional stuff about the edibility of ferns.

Here we are, picking the first fern-shoots
And saying: When shall we get back to our country?
Here we are because we have the Ken-nin for our foemen,
We have no comfort because of these Mongols.
We grub the soft fern-shoots,
When anyone says "Return," the others are full of sorrow.
Sorrowful minds, sorrow is strong, we are hungry and thirsty.
Our defence is not yet made sure, no one can let his friend return.
We grub the old fern-stalks.
We say: Will we be let to go back in October?
There is no ease in royal affairs, we have no comfort.
Our sorrow is bitter, but we would not return to our country.
What flower has come into blossom?
Whose chariot? The General's.
Horses, his horses even, are tired. They were strong.
We have no rest, three battles a month.
By heaven, his horses are tired.
The generals are on them, the soldiers are by them.
The horses are well trained, the generals have ivory arrows and
quivers ornamented with fish-skin.
The enemy is swift, we must be careful.
When we set out, the willows were drooping with spring,
We come back in the snow,
We go slowly, we are hungry and thirsty,
Our mind is full of sorrow, who will know of our grief?