troubles with materiality

“Troubles with materiality have a long pedigree in architecture. Few large-scale building projects before the industrial era had detailed working drawings of the precise sort CAD can produce today; Pope Sixtus V remade the Piazza del Popolo in Rome at the end of the sixteenth century by describing in conversation the buildings and public space he envisioned, a verbal instruction that left much room for the mason, glazier, and engineer to work freely and adaptively on the ground. Blueprints – inked designs in which erasure is possible but messy – acquired legal force by the late nineteenth century, making these images on paper equivalent to a lawyer’s contrat. The blueprint signaled, moreover, one decisive disconnection between head and hand in design: the idea of a thing made complete in conception before it is constructed.”

(Richard Sennett, The Craftsman, pp. 41–42.)

volume

“But the course of this century has revealed a strange equation: state power goodwill = state power. The reason is simple: at the level of the state the ties of affection through which the will becomes good can no longer be felt. We touched on this when speaking of gifts as anarchist property. There are definite limits to the size of the feeling community. Gift exchange, as an economy of feeling life, is also the economy of the small group. When the commonwealth is too large to be based on emotional ties, the gift feeling must be abandoned as a structuring element. For gift-feeling is not impartial. It will always seek to suppress its opposite. Small groups can absorb such antagonism because they can also support affection, but the antagonism of large groups is organized and cold. All commonwealths are way of the stranger, but the huge ones – especially when threatened – put him to death.”

(Lewis Hyde, The Gift, pp. 349–350.)

february 21–february 24

Books

  • John Ashbery, Rivers and Mountains
  • Hannah B. Higgins, The Grid Book

Exhibits

  • “Stanley William Hayter in America: Paintings, Drawings and Prints 1940–1950”, Francis M. Nauman Fine Arts
  • Michaela Melián, 38 Ludlow

Films

  • Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in), directed by Tomas Alfredson
  • The Third Generation (Die dritte Generation), dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder
  • Boom, dir. Joseph Losey

the mythology of the rich

“The mythology of the rich in the overproducing nations that the poor are in on some secret about satisfaction – black ‘soul,’ gypsy duende, the noble savage, the simple farmer, the virile game keeper – obscures the harshness of modern capitalist poverty, but it does have a basis, for people who live in voluntary poverty or who are not capital-intensive do have more ready access to erotic forms of exchange that are neither exhausting nor exhaustible and whose use assures their plenty.”

(Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, p. 29.)

like bread made with chemicals to keep it from perishing

“I must add one more word on what it is to consume because the Western industrial world is famous for its ‘consumer goods’ and they are not at all what I mean. Again, the difference is in the form of the exchange, a thing we can feel most concretely in the form of the goods themselves. I remember the time I went to my first rare-book fair and saw how the first editions of Thoreau and Whitman and Crane had been carefully packaged in heat-shrunk plastic with the price tags on the inside. Somehow the simple addition of air-tight plastic bags had transformed the books from vehicles of liveliness into commodities, like bread made with chemicals to keep it from perishing. In commodity exchange it’s as if the buyer and the seller where both in plastic bags; there’s none of the contact of a gift exchange. There is neither motion nor emotion because the whole point is to keep the balance, to make sure the exchange itself doesn’t consume anything or involve one person with another. Consumer goods are consumed by their owners, not by their exchange.

The desire to consume is a kind of lust. We long to have the world flow through us like air or food. We are thirsty and hungry for something that can only be carried inside bodies. But consumer goods merely bait this lust, they do not satisfy it. The consumer of commodities is invited to a meal without passion, a consumption that leads to neither satiation nor fire. He is a stranger seduced into feeding on the drippings of someone else’s capital without benefit of its inner nourishment, and he is hungry at the end of the meal, depressed and weary as we all feel when lust has dragged us from the house and led us to nothing.”

(Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, pp. 11–12. Cf. Duchamp’s eau et gaz.)

alcove

Is it possible that spring could be
once more approaching? We forget each time
what a mindless business it is, porous like sleep,
adrift on the horizon, refusing to take sides, ‘mugwump
of the final hour’, lest an agenda – horrors! – be imputed to it,
and the whole point of its being spring collapse
like a hole dug in sand. It’s breathy, though,
you have to say that for it.

And should further seasons coagulate
into years, like spilled, dried paint, why,
who’s to say we weren’t provident? We indeed
looked out for others as though they mattered, and they,
catching the spirit, came home with us, spent the night
in an alcove from which their breathing could be heard clearly.
But it’s not over yet. Terrible incidents happen
daily. That’s how we get around obstacles.

(John Ashbery, p. 33 in the 20 November 2008 London Review of Books.)

that spiritual condition

“ ‘Purgatory is not a place, sweetheart. Purgatory is that spiritual condition of restless yearning in which the dead, having in the moment of death caught as it were a first-last instantaneous glimpse of the face of God, are denied a second look – which will distinguish them – so long as a single living soul remembers them – as they actually were, that is to say, not as represented in—”

(James McCourt, Now Voyagers: The Night Sea Journey, p. 512.)

all animals are expert

“All animals are expert, yet we use them merely as help. If only we knew how to get the best out of them – each in its special capacity – we would be infinitely more successful at holding off the machines that threaten us with creeping destruction.”

(Malcolm de Chazal, Sens-Plastique, trans. Irving Weiss, p. 173)