dinsdag 29 november 2011

King Mob Echo

In 'The King Mob Echo' Tom Vague (earlier) has brought together a collection of newsletters and magazines originally published between 1966 and 1970 by King Mob. King Mob was a London Based group whose members were at some point members of the Situationist International (Christopher Gray, excluded in December 1967 and Charles Radcliffe, resigned in November 1967, also see this). Gray is best known as the editor of the Situationist anthology 'Leaving the 20th Century'. There is no foreword and no explanation, I think Vague has typed it all out and published it in the same lay-out style he always uses. There are a few reprints of texts from the Situationists, the Provo's, the Motherfuckers and the Dadaists but most of the material here was written by Gray and Radcliffe. I have this book for three weeks now and I pick it up, look at it, look through it, reads bits from it, recognize it as a wonderful archival artefact, but I can't push myself to really read it: apart from the eyewitness accounts of Provo Amsterdam by Radcliffe it is all righteous hardline political posture, revolutionary purism and Dada-Leninist missionary zeal. 


dinsdag 22 november 2011

How energy makes the world [chemical evolution]

The following quote from Paul M. Churchland’s 'Matter and Consciousness' is a long favourite because while it talks about chemical evolution driving a chaotic marginal world into an ordered microcosm, I find it to be a great methaphor for all sorts of things: creativity, bottom-up democracy, etc.

Consider a glass box, full of water with a constant heat source at one end, and a constant heat sink (something to absorb heat energy) at the other. Dissolved in the water is some nitrogen and some carbon dioxide. One end of the box will grow quite hot, but as fast as the fire pours energy into this end of the system, it is conducted away toward the cooler end and out again. The average temperature inside the box is therefore a constant.

Consider the effect this will have on the thin soup inside the box. At the hot end of the box, the high-energy end, the molecules and atoms absorb this extra energy and are raised to excited states. As they drift around the system, these energized parts are free to form high-energy chemical bonds with each other, bonds that would have been statically impossible with the system in global equilibrium. A variety of complex compounds is therefore likely to form and to collect toward the cool end of the system, compounds of greater variety and greater complexity than could have been formed without the constant flux of heat energy. Collectively, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen are capable of literally millions of different chemical combinations. With the heat flux turned on, this partially open or semiclosed system starts vigorously to explore these combinatorial possibilities.

It is easy so see that some kind of competition is taking place inside the box. Some types of molecule are not very stable, and will tend to fall apart soon after formation. Other types are made of sterner stuff, and will hang around for awhile. Other types, though very unstable, may be formed very frequently, and so there will be quite a few of them in the system at any given time. Some types catalyze the formation of their own building blocks, thus enhancing further formation. Other types engage in mutually beneficial catalytic cycles, and form a symbiotic pair of prosperous types. In these ways and others, the various types of molecule compete for dominance of the liquid environment. Those types with high stability and/or high formation rates will form the largest populations.

The typical result of such a process is that the system soon displays a great many instances of a fairly small variety of distinct types of complex, energy-storing molecules. (Which types, from the millions of types possible, actually come to dominate the system is dependent on and highly sensitive to the initial make-up of the soup, and to the flux level.) The system displays an order, and a complexity, and an unbalanced energy distribution that would be unthinkable without the flux of energy through the system. The flux pumps the system. It forces the system away from its initial chaos, and towards the many forms of order and complexity of which it is capable. What was improbable has become inevitable.

dinsdag 15 november 2011

donderdag 10 november 2011

The expulsion of a triumphantly grim place

"Jack the Ripper is psychogeographic in love." - Guy Debord
David Seabrook, after the publication of his novel 'All the devils are here' (2002), was called a 'seaside situationist' by one reviewer. But calling him a 'seaside Sinclair' makes much more sense because the spirit of Iain Sinclair is all over Seabrook's obsessive account of the dark history of Kent's seaside towns. There must be a relation between the two because Seabrook thanks Sinclair in the book and Sinclair reviewed the book for the LRB. Most of Sinclair's piece is behind the paywall but in the bit that is available he gives a few clues about Seabrook that are not in the book, for instance that Seabrook was inspired by the bioregionalism of Carl Sauer. I find this a fascinating nudge towards interpreting the book. Seabrook is not a clone of Sinclair though, his writing is less lyrical,  less autobiographical, more experimental and more obsessive in the way it creates meaning through association. This book is a collage and the way the fragments are glued together show a jawdropping technical skill. This is dark nostalgia at its best and I look forward to rereading it on the long winter evenings to come. What is intriguing is that Seabrook was a 'true crime writer' and I am unable to say if this true crime writing at its most creative or if this is creative writing that points towards the inability of that genre to come near the real truth behind lust, murder and perversion. 

Also: Stewart Home announcing the death of Seabrook wrote that nobody liked him.   

zondag 6 november 2011

#Occupy in #Utrecht

It was purely by chance that I cycled passed the Ganzemarkt in front of city hall last Monday and learned, not a little surprised, that Utrecht has its own Occupy camp! It looked a bit paltry, but most things do on a Monday morning.

Although people are claiming it already only time will tell if Occupy really is the most important political movement of the last thirty years. It is easy to criticize #occupy and it is even easier to be nuanced and non-committal but the silk footed preciousness of intellectuals who offer bemused sympathy but no support (as done in magazines and newspaper columns and TV reports) shows a worrying refusal to reveal true colour.

The cardinal rule is that a culture in decline will need to look outside itself to freshen itself up. The Occupy movement is a good example of this. The idea for setting up tent camps comes from Tharir Square, the general assembly model is inspired by Quaker public worship (for the Indignadas) and ethnographic fieldwork done in Madagascar (for #ows) and this is one of the reasons, for me, that it is such an interesting phenomena.

Occupy is an experiment and like all experiments it is undertaken in the realization that failure is a real possibility. It adds to the excitement and the willingness to take risks itself speaks of the desire for change.
This Saturday (Nov. 5th) I went back to the camp to have a proper look and it was a good day to do it because there was a festival going on with music and poetry (!, remember the call for #occupoetry) and a discussion. The discussion was in full swing when I arrived and I enjoyed the sight. I was in a hurry and I didn't listen but I could see that the inner circle (campers, and I even saw the proverbial mongrel dog) were joined by an outer circle (a bit older, a bit more respectably dressed) who looked like people randomly passing unable to withstand the temptation of curiosity to join in to listen and maybe to speak. It was a busy Saturday afternoon and many people passed the camp. I heard some people sigh ("ohhh the silliness has arrived here too") but I was under the impression that the majority of people took notice with a certain degree of approval. It will be great to see how this develops.

I now realize that the purpose of an Occupy camp in Utrecht is not to be immensely big and busy, it is to remind us that Utrecht is not a citadel that the world ignores. What is happening in the news is happening here too. Occupy Utrecht is a conversation piece.

Guy Fawkes day is not a feast in NL, but I enjoyed seeing the mask.What does it mean for a movement to have a mask as a logo? 

zaterdag 5 november 2011

Postman Pat psychogeographix [month three]

Know your city: how far can you see? (borrowed from Petr). In the distance are the god-ugly new Rabobank towers. It's quite amazing to see them here because they feel to belong to a different planet: distance 3.1+ kilometres.
The ten streets of Garden Village that I call mine have refused to reveal their secrets for yet another month. Maybe there aren't any? It is not that I can't cite a lack of particularities and vortexes of dark energy but that amidst the monotone streets they fail to connect. I am beginning to suspect that the care and detail that went into the original design of Garden Village is a red herring.

For instance: each house at the end of a block is a bit higher with a differently shaped roof, creating the idea of a medieval castle with corner towers on each end. But when a house in the middle of a block faces the street that runs away at a T-junction, like so (* for house, = for street):

* = *

* = *

* = *  *  * 

* =  =  = 

* = *  *  *

* = *

* = *

that house will also sport a 'tower'. It's a prime example of the consideration to detail that went into the design that I can't imagine happening in today's atomized modern-day property development projects (that are, as we all know, run by criminals). The rationality of the street planning returns in the naming of the streets: they are named after early 20th century scientists. The point is: I tend to look at such details as significant, but they aren't: they do not fill the void, they only bend it.

Postal recall. Sometimes it happens that I find between bundles of mail that need to be delivered a letter addressed to a house in a street where I already did my deliveries. As most postal rounds are designed to bring you back to your starting point I proceed to make a mental calculation of the exact location of this address in order to know if and how close I return there. As the weeks pass I find that I am getting better at visualizing randomly selected houses. I begin this process by semi-randomly choosing addresses that I know for sure, mostly corner houses, and then I will hone in. When I am there, the details come rushing in: what kind of mailbox they have, the way the garden looks, the people who live there, the sort of mail they receive. It really feels like my little minds are jogging through a database, finding information through association and deduction, using this information to search deeper or elsewhere. It really 'feels', and it feels quite pleasant, as if thousands of starving neurons are shouting hurrah as glucose rich blood flows their way in order to release their sordid, otherwise junk, imagery.

Here is a Virgina Woolf question: what am I thinking about when I am working? Where does the stream of conciousness flow to? The answer is not easy to give. I find it hard to say what I am thinking about. Afterwards I never feel to have thought anything but on the job I think of zillions of things but all are fragmented and in Batman language: PoW!, ZaP! The job gives plenty of opportunity for contemplation, musing and daydreaming, there is a lot of trajectory between mail boxes. However, I also need to pay attention to what I am doing: the post needs secure delivery because people will complain. That's how they are. This prevents any form of sustained pondering. The job itself offers its own 'zone', but, in the distances between streets, my mind wanders too. It is telling that I never suffer from earwurms. So in what state do I return home? With tired feet and a lot of decayed half-thoughts in my memory, slightly confused.

Most of my colleagues listen to music on their work and of course the job is perfect for it. But I never do it because I think it would turn me in a complete schizophrenic wreck, not because I am such a precious, tender and fragile soul but because they use music to separate themselves from their environment while I want to immerse myself in it.

The task for next month: find a new suspect.

A 1943 airshot, it shows Garden Village as a village, that long shadow in the centre is the watertower that is now part of Overvecht.

donderdag 3 november 2011

In the UK 'psychogeography' is a fancy word for 'nostalgia'

Bloggers in Aberdeen & Leeds point to a paper by Aleister Bonnett (editor of Transgressions magazine, see earlier) titled 'The Dilemmas of Radical Nostalgia in British Psychogeography' (2009, pdf). Having read it a few times I am at a loss what to make of it: it is such a high-tower writing-desk approach that to me it completely overshoots it's aim: Bonnett is someone who spends all his money on an elaborate birdcage but forgets to feed the birds. After the death of ideology psychogeographers in the UK (from the LPA to Sinclair) lost their interest in drawing up blueprints of future cities and replaced forward looking utopianism with an apparent retreat in lyrical but inane nostalgia that is not really inane but .... but what?? complicated! its is complicated!! sigh.
In what I have called „revolutionary psychogeography‟ we also find the simultaneous evocation and refusal of modernity. However, in this tradition this tension is organized around themes of communism, occultism and preservationism. The development of „magico-Marxism‟ encapsulates the novelty, but also the folk-radical inclinations, of the most startling (and selfconsciously baffling) aspects of this work. Magico-Marxism glories in its own scurrilous obscurity. Its principal thesis – that class power relies on and can be disrupted through occultism and ritualism – is offered as a kind of creative game of disorientation. Yet the end result mocks and ironizes proletarian identity as much as it mocks and ironizes ruling-class power. Magico-Marxism pursues and explores the most outrageous reaches of radical nostalgia. Yet it also has a rather desperate quality: it wants to be communist but it no longer believes; it wants to articulate the sense of loss that sustains it, but it does not know how. However, we can also identify a preservationist tendency within revolutionary psychogeography capable of offering a confident articulation of the politics of loss. This tendency will appear to many as more culturally conservative, more attuned to the concerns of the old than the iconoclastic energies of the young, and more querulous about the point and possibility of industrial civilization. These concerns are all well founded. Yet they also reflect a political paradigm that, although dominant, no longer inspires the automatic loyalty of creative radicals. With the collapse of communism and the widespread questioning of the sustainability of industrial modernity, the radical imagination has been profoundly challenged. Old assumptions and prejudices can be overturned. And not the least of these concern the role of past in the politics of the present.