woensdag 30 mei 2012

A little bit of Gerrard by my side, a little bit of Winstanley is all I need, a little bit of revolution in the sun, a bit of proto-communism all night long

The special quality of the writing of Gerrard Winstanley (1609-76), the radical English protestant priest often seen as a proto-communist-communard, is that it's easily incorporated by radicals who came after him. To give a recent example, the San Francisco Diggers named themselves after Winstanley's followers and provided free food after their example. In the light of Transition, Dark Mountain, Occupy and bioregionalism Winstanley is again quotable as a forerunner of all back-to-the-land gardeners and farmers. Question: does foraging 'make the earth fruitful?' 
...one sort of children shall not be trained up only to book learning and no other employment, called scholars, as they are in the government of monarchy; for then through idleness and exercised wit therein they spend their time to find out policies to advance themselves to be lords and masters above their labouring brethren, as Simeon and Levi do, which occasions all the trouble in the world. 
The first fountain is the right planting of the earth to make it fruitful, and this is called husbandry. And there are two branches of it: As first, planting, digging, dunging, liming, burning, grubbing and right ordering of land, to make it fit to receive seed, that it may bring forth a plentiful crop. And under this head all millers, maltsters, bakers, harness-makers for ploughs and carts, rope-makers, spinners and weavers of linen and such like, are all but good husbandry.

The second branch of husbandry is gardening, how to plant, graft and set all sort of fruit trees, and how to order the ground for flowers, herbs and roots for pleasure, food or medicinal. And here all physicians, chirurgeons, distillers of all sorts of waters, gatherers of drugs, makers of wines and oil, and preservers of fruits and such like, may learn by observation what is good for all bodies, both man and beasts.

....an idle, lazy contemplation the scholars would call knowledge; but it is no knowledge but a show of knowledge, like a parrot who speaks words but he knows not what he saith. This same show of knowledge rests in reading or contemplating or hearing others speak, and speaks so too, but will not set his hand to work. And from this traditional knowledge and learning rise up both clergy and lawyer, who by their cunning insinuations live merely upon the labour of other men, and teach laws which they themselves will not do, and lays burdens upon others which they themselves will not touch with the least of their fingers. And from hence arises all oppressions, wars and troubles in the world; the one is the son of contention, the other the son of darkness, but both the supporters of bondage, which the creation groans under.

dinsdag 29 mei 2012

Reviewing TheState, Volume 1

The State is a website and magazine based in Dubai. The State's first volume 'voicings/articulations/utterances' appeared about a month ago, it's in A4, black and white with a few pages in full colour, to be read not from left to right but from top to bottom with the binding held horizontal. The writing is of a consistent good quality and all writers aspire to write about what is happening in the world now in a language that is journalistic-academic, serious but without jargon. My favourite pieces are the personal reflections on identity, politics and the prospects of life to come. There is one awful piece which is by myself and deals with some of the finer points of cryptoforestry in a globalized world. From my perspective the best thing about The State is that it offers a collection of voices I would never have come in touch with otherwise: the main connection seems to be between India, the Gulf states and the United States, with people coming from one of those places and living in one of the others. I think that the overall mood of The State is one of insecurity. Most writers are of the student age or just beyond that, and you sense that the economical and political storms (the 2008 financial crash and its consequences, the Arab spring and Occupy) have created an atmosphere in which few people know what to expect other than the conviction that the future might not be as bright as was promised. And that this feeling is felt even stronger by younger people. I hope that the editors will live up to the aim expressed in the foreword and find a way to speak about the present in terms of daily life and easily observable phenomena.  
Amidst austerity measures today, we find ourselves increasingly precarious and pixelated; atomized, alienated, and irreparably glitched. Yet rather than attempt to definitively theorise, analyse, and explicate this contemporary situation, we found ourselves returning to these few questions: How do you speak a place? How do you speak from a place, or non-place? What might the reader expect to see from a certain region, and why? Who speaks, and in whose vernacular?   

Money well wasted is not wasting it [psychogeographer-meets-GPS]

Did you know that Jo and Schuyler worked on Mapping Hacks in my house (maybe 10 minutes in total but still...)? Nearly ten years after the formation of the locative media lab network that plotted the potential of universal GPS-capability in combination with handheld internet-capable devices I have purchased a GPS-device. Off course now that everything such a device does has become available as an extra to everyone with a smartphone the phone option probably gives you better value but I don't have a mobile and I don't want a mobile. Because what would be next? A driver's licence? A Metallica T-shirt? Voting for Wilders? Evil leads to more evil.

I have never felt the need to own a GPS and I am not entirely sure why I bought one now.  I thought that maybe geocaching would be a nice activity to take up but that I have already removed from my to-do list. After looking at caches in the area I was displeased to discover that it has written boyscout humor all over it: with puzzles (yuck) and shit like that. My main reason for wanting a GPS is that, in the light of ongoing Postman Pat Psychogeographix, I want to track my postal rounds to better analyse the experience of place by getting a firmer grip on the objective properties of the job. In the end I will probably spend my time watching at the damn screen at the cost of taking notice of the space around me. Maybe in the back of my mind I bought it on the off-chance that I will ever go foraging with my yet to make yanomami or eskimo friends. The device itself I like for its outdoorsy look, it's built to last, but, you know, fuck consumer fetishism , it's just something you can buy. Most likely the thing will end up where my Ipaq ended up: unused in a box somewhere. 

Al least I have supported the company that pays the salary of Ryder Hesjedal.

Trace of my Garden Village postal rounds

woensdag 23 mei 2012

A world full of rucksack wanderers

See the whole thing is a world full of rucksack wanderers, Dharma Bums refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming, all that crap they didn't really want anyway such as refrigerators, TV sets, cars, and general junk you finally always see a week later in the garbage anyway, all of them imprisoned in a system of work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume, I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy and old girls happier, all of 'em Zen Lunatics who go about writing poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason and also by being kind and also by strange unexpected acts keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody and to all living creatures. - Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums (1958)
[and Europeans too, I don't about Africans, Asians and Micronesians]

zondag 13 mei 2012

OWS Cartography

Six high quality click-to-enlarge maps showing the services provided at Zuccotti Park during its #occupation. The self-regulated division of the camp into an uptown and a downtown (between Brooklyn college hipsters and their middle class library and the ghetto and their crack smoking) is in these maps if you know where to look. This process of social stratification has been called psychographic but that is nonsense; it's just good old fashioned human strife and animosity. The best source on emergent camp urbanism is 'Occupying Wall Street'.

zaterdag 12 mei 2012

After London, Wild England [the Victorian cryptoforest]

Richard Jefferies After London, Wild England was first published in 1880. This is after Butler's Erewon but before Morris' News from Nowhere and it sits in that class of Victorian dystopia's. If you have never heard of it, it's probably because it's not really worth anybodies time, the imagination and plot are sloppy, the telling is poor. Thematically this book has to be mentioned here as it describes England as a gigantic post-purge/post disaster cryptoforest where nature is retaking roads and buildings, where London has turned into a toxic swamp and where a retribalized population without technology tries to survive. Jefferies has some talent for evoking a landscape and I do like the first chapter where in annal style he describes the process of nature's reconquering in a way that I find mostly to be observably accurate, even in light of basic modern ecology. Is there any other book from that period that describes weeds so lovingly? So for future reference here is a long excerpt from the first chapter.

The old men say their fathers told them that soon after the fields were left to themselves a change began to be visible. It became green everywhere in the first spring, after London ended, so that all the country looked alike.

The meadows were green, and so was the rising wheat which had been sown, but which neither had nor would receive any further care. Such arable fields as had not been sown, but where the last stubble had been ploughed up, were overrun with couch-grass, and where the short stubble had not been ploughed, the weeds hid it. So that there was no place which was not more or less green; the footpaths were the greenest of all, for such is the nature of grass where it has once been trodden on, and by-and-by, as the summer came on, the former roads were thinly covered with the grass that had spread out from the margin.

In the autumn, as the meadows were not mown, the grass withered as it stood, falling this way and that, as the wind had blown it; the seeds dropped, and the bennets became a greyish-white, or, where the docks and sorrel were thick, a brownish-red. The wheat, after it had ripened, there being no one to reap it, also remained standing, and was eaten by clouds of sparrows, rooks, and pigeons, which flocked to it and were undisturbed, feasting at their pleasure. As the winter came on, the crops were beaten down by the storms, soaked with rain, and trodden upon by herds of animals.

Next summer the prostrate straw of the preceding year was concealed by the young green wheat and barley that sprang up from the grain sown by dropping from the ears, and by quantities of docks, thistles, oxeye daisies, and similar plants. This matted mass grew up through the bleached straw. Charlock, too, hid the rotting roots in the fields under a blaze of yellow flower. The young spring meadow-grass could scarcely push its way up through the long dead grass and bennets of the year previous, but docks and thistles, sorrel, wild carrots, and nettles, found no such difficulty.

Footpaths were concealed by the second year, but roads could be traced, though as green as the sward, and were still the best for walking, because the tangled wheat and weeds, and, in the meadows, the long grass, caught the feet of those who tried to pass through. Year by year the original crops of wheat, barley, oats, and beans asserted their presence by shooting up, but in gradually diminished force, as nettles and coarser plants, such as the wild parsnips, spread out into the fields from the ditches and choked them.

Aquatic grasses from the furrows and water-carriers extended in the meadows, and, with the rushes, helped to destroy or take the place of the former sweet herbage. Meanwhile, the brambles, which grew very fast, had pushed forward their prickly runners farther and farther from the hedges till they had now reached ten or fifteen yards. The briars had followed, and the hedges had widened to three or four times their first breadth, the fields being equally contracted. Starting from all sides at once, these brambles and briars in the course of about twenty years met in the centre of the largest fields.

Hawthorn bushes sprang up among them, and, protected by the briars and thorns from grazing animals, the suckers of elm-trees rose and flourished. Sapling ashes, oaks, sycamores, and horse-chestnuts, lifted their heads. Of old time the cattle would have eaten off the seed leaves with the grass so soon as they were out of the ground, but now most of the acorns that were dropped by birds, and the keys that were wafted by the wind, twirling as they floated, took root and grew into trees. By this time the brambles and briars had choked up and blocked the former roads, which were as impassable as the fields.

No fields, indeed, remained, for where the ground was dry, the thorns, briars, brambles, and saplings already mentioned filled the space, and these thickets and the young trees had converted most part of the country into an immense forest. Where the ground was naturally moist, and the drains had become choked with willow roots, which, when confined in tubes, grow into a mass like the brush of a fox, sedges and flags and rushes covered it. Thorn bushes were there, too, but not so tall; they were hung with lichen. Besides the flags and reeds, vast quantities of the tallest cow-parsnips or "gicks" rose five or six feet high, and the willow herb with its stout stem, almost as woody as a shrub, filled every approach.

By the thirtieth year there was not one single open place, the hills only excepted, where a man could walk, unless he followed the tracks of wild creatures or cut himself a path. The ditches, of course, had long since become full of leaves and dead branches, so that the water which should have run off down them stagnated, and presently spread out into the hollow places and by the corner of what had once been fields, forming marshes where the horsetails, flags, and sedges hid the water.

As no care was taken with the brooks, the hatches upon them gradually rotted, and the force of the winter rains carried away the weak timbers, flooding the lower grounds, which became swamps of larger size. The dams, too, were drilled by water-rats, and the streams percolating through, slowly increased the size of these tunnels till the structure burst, and the current swept on and added to the floods below. Mill-dams stood longer, but, as the ponds silted up, the current flowed round and even through the mill-houses, which, going by degrees to ruin, were in some cases undermined till they fell.

Everywhere the lower lands adjacent to the streams had become marshes, some of them extending for miles in a winding line, and occasionally spreading out to a mile in breadth. This was particularly the case where brooks and streams of some volume joined the rivers, which were also blocked and obstructed in their turn, and the two, overflowing, covered the country around; for the rivers brought down trees and branches, timbers floated from the shore, and all kinds of similar materials, which grounded in the shallows or caught against snags, and formed huge piles where there had been weirs.

Sometimes, after great rains, these piles swept away the timbers of the weir, driven by the irresistible power of the water, and then in its course the flood, carrying the balks before it like battering rams, cracked and split the bridges of solid stone which the ancients had built. These and the iron bridges likewise were overthrown, and presently quite disappeared, for the very foundations were covered with the sand and gravel silted up.

Thus, too, the sites of many villages and towns that anciently existed along the rivers, or on the lower lands adjoining, were concealed by the water and the mud it brought with it. The sedges and reeds that arose completed the work and left nothing visible, so that the mighty buildings of olden days were by these means utterly buried. And, as has been proved by those who have dug for treasures, in our time the very foundations are deep beneath the earth, and not to be got at for the water that oozes into the shafts that they have tried to sink through the sand and mud banks.

From an elevation, therefore, there was nothing visible but endless forest and marsh. On the level ground and plains the view was limited to a short distance, because of the thickets and the saplings which had now become young trees. The downs only were still partially open, yet it was not convenient to walk upon them except in the tracks of animals, because of the long grass which, being no more regularly grazed upon by sheep, as was once the case, grew thick and tangled. Furze, too, and heath covered the slopes, and in places vast quantities of fern. There had always been copses of fir and beech and nut-tree covers, and these increased and spread, while bramble, briar, and hawthorn extended around them.

By degrees the trees of the vale seemed as it were to invade and march up the hills, and, as we see in our time, in many places the downs are hidden altogether with a stunted kind of forest. But all the above happened in the time of the first generation.

vrijdag 11 mei 2012

Noam Chomsky on Occupy

In the US this collection of three interviews with Noam Chomsky and a transcript of his talk at Occupy Boston was published as a pamphlet by Zuccotti Park Press and that makes perfect sense. My version is a Penguin Special for the international market and it feels as if Penguin is trying to make a few bucks by selling you a bounded copy of things that are already online and that partly overlap. 

Chomsky remains a cryptic figure: on the one hand he is a linguist who turned the discipline into a modern science but who refuses to allow for the idea that language can be social, on the other hand he is one of the fiercest critics of American politics, one who never kowtows to anything or anybody. On Occupy I like him. Of all the famous people endorsing it I find him the most enthusiastic. Where Noami Klein feels the need to offer advice and where the Hegelian harlequin couldn't resist urging OWS to force an allegiance with the tea party, Chomsky doesn't profess to know what 'we' should do and he stays away from condescending advice and smart-ass contrarianism. Instead he gives a clear and concise of picture of the way financial institutions came to own the political institutions and how they purposely marginalized everybody else. Insecurity (about jobs, about debts) keeps people too afraid to protest. He says the importance of Occupy is twofold: 1) it has changed the agenda by making class war a theme, 2) Occupy camps created collective spaces and social networks that enable people to overcome their isolation. In the same way the most important aspect of 1968 was the fact that everybody for the first time started to talk with everybody else

Another thing I like about Chomsky is that he stays away from using the 99%, he refers to it, but he doesn't embrace it. It has become a co-opted term and I think Chomsky believes it to be a useful image but not a truly important as a statistic.

If you are already into Occupy this book will not be earth shattering but if you want to recommend something on it to your teachers, your parents, your children, your students this might be a good introduction.

dinsdag 8 mei 2012

Eating Grass, Crunching Code [Review]

Eating Grass, Crunching Code (6 may 2012, Sloterdijk Amsterdam) was the second instalment of the annual forage psychogeography drift hosted by Theun and Cocky of Boskoi and Desiree Paardepoot of Cryptoforestry. Like last year we executed a .walk program inspired by the famous forage game Pacman (himself inspired by a the shape of a pizza minus a slice) in search of edible plants in unexpected places. We had three recognized experts with us and we asked them to be the centre of a group. I happened to follow Claude Biemans who shared her prodigious knowledge on wild urban plants with us crude & insensitive simpletons. I was ready to learn and I have added a considerable number of species to the plants that I can recognize and name. Claude mailed us this list that showed that we spotted 86 species. Not bad. We didn't walk very far, 500 meters? Here are eight pictures:

This is what Sloterdijk looks like when you exit the main entrance of the train station, There is highrises to the left and more of this to the right. It doesn't look very inviting or promising but walk 300 meters into either direction and the world of weeds awaits you.  

The pacman ghost.walk code after execution
Walking along the rail track took us from one discovery to the next.
Comphrey, right next on the road on the first picture.
Down we went.
Rabbit holes in the slope of the hill of the previous picture, 10 meters away from the Comfrey
According to Claude this is a rabbit-grazed field, creating room and opportunity for all sorts of little herbs: what? a rabbit created landscape?!
After 90 minutes: comparing finds. Like last year I could have gone on for another six hours.   

maandag 7 mei 2012

Snyder in the Jaipur observatory

Picture from the excellent Gary Snyder biography 'Dimensions of a Life', the observatory is also the inspiration behind Rohit Gupta's crystal astronomy, but can't find the relevant txt just now.  

zondag 6 mei 2012

Vegetables of the Amsterdam Pavement

Stoepgroente (pavement vegetables) is a funky little book edited by Claude Biemans on edible plants in Amsterdam. This is not a guide but more something of a urban weed freak show giving 33 pictures of 'real' edible plants (you know: vegetables (and herbs) you can buy at the supermarket) found in Amsterdam. No further information is given but I suppose we are to understand this book as a way of showing how diverse the wild plant urban landscape can be, and also to what extent domesticated plants are still ready to enter the uncultivated grime of the city where no gardener or peasant will water and fertilize. 

zaterdag 5 mei 2012

Khalganchuluk [one-legged, one-armed, one-eyed evil spirit]

The Khalganchuluk is a one-legged, one-armed, one-eyed evil spirit that steals sleeping children. The page linked to discusses a children's game, based on the accompanying pictures the Khalganchuluk is a forest spirit somewhere between the Leshy of the old world and the Curupira of the new.

woensdag 2 mei 2012

Pacman forage psychogeography

Pacman (1980) is a game that deals with the challenges of foraging for food in a meaningless, inhospitable and often random world. 
Pacman designer Toru Iwatani: "Food is part of the basic concept. In my initial design I had put the player in the midst of food all over the screen. As I thought about it, I realized the player wouldn’t know exactly what to do; the purpose of the game would be obscure. So I created a maze and put the food in it. Then whoever played the game would have some structure by moving through the maze."
Pacman displays all the patho-obsessive characteristics that are the special achievement of the first generation peasant. Pacman does not live, he survives. Pacman does not know the freedom and enjoyment of the drift; he is locked in a Malthusian trap without cheat codes, doomed to struggle ad infinitum to overcome his hunger in the knowledge that the next meal will be even harder to acquire. To eat more is to be chased with added vengeance. 

For the ghosts work does not exist, their quest to find Pacman and eat him is purely recreational. Failure is without consequence, the drift is theirs and their collective wandering strategies are an inspiration to every algorithmic psychogeographer. Their scatter-chase-repeat routine is a wonder in itself but their swagger in blue mode, when suddenly they are prey and may be eaten by their dinner, is the unchallenged masterpiece in the arsenal of experimental walking techniques. Again the ghosts do not encounter real harm when devoured, rebirth comes as a guarantee. The ghost in blue mode is in trickster mode, they are urging Pacman to eat the freaky corner fruits out of self-interest but also out of benevolence.  

Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde are not attacking Pacman, evil is not a useful concept in their carefree existence. They are the Magister Ludi's of crazy cookie land, enticing the pupil to work harder and to move further, to new level-environments. It is not necessary to eat, it is necessary to travel.
Toru Iwatani: "The way the ghosts were designed, it’s not something nasty.  It’s an enemy, but still somewhat amicable, lovable.  Even when you eat them, their eyeballs come back.  And also the action of eating itself, it’s not so much eating as destroying, but it’s more like the action of biting to make them go away.  And in fact they do come back.  So this kind of a non-violent character was very important."

dinsdag 1 mei 2012

Villa Plasmodium [Mosquito architecture]

Charles C. Mann's latest book 1493 is as fascinating as his previous book 1491. Early on, after explaining how the US north-south divide was created on top of cultural differences between indigenous people and by Malaria-friendly temperatures he gives us the above image of the Tara Mansion from Gone with the Wind. The sole purpose of Southern plantation mansion design and site-choice is to keep out the malaria carrying mosquitoes: "High on a nearly treeless hill, with tall windows to admit the breeze, it was ideally suited to avoid mosquitoes and the diseases that accompanied them". Mann uses the term Villa Plasmodium. Fascinating.