Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Promise of Happiness

The Promise of Happiness, 2011
40 x 22 x 15 cm
rock, wood, acrylic, spray


Yuki-onna (雪女, the snow woman) from the Hyakkai-Zukan (百怪図巻), 1737

In a village of Musashi Province (portions of contemporary Tokyo and Saitama), there lived two woodcutters: Mosaku and Minokichi. At the time of which I am speaking, Mosaku was an old man; and Minokichi, his apprentice, was a lad of eighteen years. Every day they went together to a forest situated about five miles from their village. On the way to that forest there is a wide river to cross; and there is a ferry-boat. Several times a bridge was built where the ferry is; but the bridge was each time carried away by a flood. No common bridge can resist the current there when the river rises.

Mosaku and Minokichi were on their way home, one very cold evening, when a great snowstorm overtook them. They reached the ferry; and they found that the boatman had gone away, leaving his boat on the other side of the river. It was no day for swimming; and the woodcutters took shelter in the ferryman's hut, -- thinking themselves lucky to find any shelter at all. There was no brazier in the hut, nor any place in which to make a fire: it was only a two-tatami hut, with a single door, but no window. Mosaku and Minokichi fastened the door, and lay down to rest, with their straw rain-coats over them. At first they did not feel very cold; and they thought that the storm would soon be over.

The old man almost immediately fell asleep; but the boy, Minokichi, lay awake a long time, listening to the awful wind, and the continual slashing of the snow against the door. The river was roaring; and the hut swayed and creaked like a junk at sea. It was a terrible storm; and the air was every moment becoming colder; and Minokichi shivered under his rain-coat. But at last, in spite of the cold, he too fell asleep.

He was awakened by a showering of snow in his face. The door of the hut had been forced open; and, by the snow-light (yuki-akari), he saw a woman in the room, -- a woman all in white. She was bending above Mosaku, and blowing her breath upon him;-- and her breath was like a bright white smoke. Almost in the same moment she turned to Minokichi, and stooped over him. He tried to cry out, but found that he could not utter any sound. The white woman bent down over him, lower and lower, until her face almost touched him; and he saw that she was very beautiful, -- though her eyes made him afraid. For a little time she continued to look at him;-- then she smiled, and she whispered:-- "I intended to treat you like the other man. But I cannot help feeling some pity for you, -- because you are so young... You are a pretty boy, Minokichi; and I will not hurt you now. But, if you ever tell anybody -- even your own mother -- about what you have seen this night, I shall know it; and then I will kill you... Remember what I say!"

With these words, she turned from him, and passed through the doorway. Then he found himself able to move; and he sprang up, and looked out. But the woman was nowhere to be seen; and the snow was driving furiously into the hut. Minokichi closed the door, and secured it by fixing several billets of wood against it. He wondered if the wind had blown it open;-- he thought that he might have been only dreaming, and might have mistaken the gleam of the snow-light in the doorway for the figure of a white woman: but he could not be sure. He called to Mosaku, and was frightened because the old man did not answer. He put out his hand in the dark, and touched Mosaku's face, and found that it was ice! Mosaku was stark and dead...

By dawn the storm was over; and when the ferryman returned to his station, a little after sunrise, he found Minokichi lying senseless beside the frozen body of Mosaku. Minokichi was promptly cared for, and soon came to himself; but he remained a long time ill from the effects of the cold of that terrible night. He had been greatly frightened also by the old man's death; but he said nothing about the vision of the woman in white. As soon as he got well again, he returned to his calling,-- going alone every morning to the forest, and coming back at nightfall with his bundles of wood, which his mother helped him to sell.

One evening, in the winter of the following year, as he was on his way home, he overtook a girl who happened to be traveling by the same road. She was a tall, slim girl, very good-looking; and she answered Minokichi's greeting in a voice as pleasant to the ear as the voice of a song-bird. Then he walked beside her; and they began to talk. The girl said that her name was O-Yuki; that she had lately lost both of her parents; and that she was going to Yedo (Tokyo), where she happened to have some poor relations, who might help her to find a situation as a servant. Minokichi soon felt charmed by this strange girl; and the more that he looked at her, the handsomer she appeared to be. He asked her whether she was yet betrothed; and she answered, laughingly, that she was free. Then, in her turn, she asked Minokichi whether he was married, or pledge to marry; and he told her that, although he had only a widowed mother to support, the question of an "honorable daughter-in-law" had not yet been considered, as he was very young... After these confidences, they walked on for a long while without speaking; but, as the proverb declares, Ki ga areba, me mo kuchi hodo ni mono wo iu: "When the wish is there, the eyes can say as much as the mouth." By the time they reached the village, they had become very much pleased with each other; and then Minokichi asked O-Yuki to rest awhile at his house. After some shy hesitation, she went there with him; and his mother made her welcome, and prepared a warm meal for her. O-Yuki behaved so nicely that Minokichi's mother took a sudden fancy to her, and persuaded her to delay her journey to Yedo. And the natural end of the matter was that Yuki never went to Yedo at all. She remained in the house, as an "honorable daughter-in-law."

O-Yuki proved a very good daughter-in-law. When Minokichi's mother came to die,-- some five years later,-- her last words were words of affection and praise for the wife of her son. And O-Yuki bore Minokichi ten children, boys and girls,-- handsome children all of them, and very fair of skin.

The country-folk thought O-Yuki a wonderful person, by nature different from themselves. Most of the peasant-women age early; but O-Yuki, even after having become the mother of ten children, looked as young and fresh as on the day when she had first come to the village.

One night, after the children had gone to sleep, O-Yuki was sewing by the light of a paper lamp; and Minokichi, watching her, said:--

"To see you sewing there, with the light on your face, makes me think of a strange thing that happened when I was a lad of eighteen. I then saw somebody as beautiful and white as you are now -- indeed, she was very like you."...

Without lifting her eyes from her work, O-Yuki responded:--

"Tell me about her... Where did you see her?

Then Minokichi told her about the terrible night in the ferryman's hut,-- and about the White Woman that had stooped above him, smiling and whispering,-- and about the silent death of old Mosaku. And he said:--

"Asleep or awake, that was the only time that I saw a being as beautiful as you. Of course, she was not a human being; and I was afraid of her,-- very much afraid,-- but she was so white!... Indeed, I have never been sure whether it was a dream that I saw, or the Woman of the Snow."...

O-Yuki flung down her sewing, and arose, and bowed above Minokichi where he sat, and shrieked into his face:--

"It was I -- I -- I! Yuki it was! And I told you then that I would kill you if you ever said one work about it!... But for those children asleep there, I would kill you this moment! And now you had better take very, very good care of them; for if ever they have reason to complain of you, I will treat you as you deserve!"...

Even as she screamed, her voice became thin, like a crying of wind;-- then she melted into a bright white mist that spired to the roof-beams, and shuddered away through the smoke-hold... Never again was she seen.

From Lafcadio Hearn's Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things).

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Common View

Common View, the National’s dialogue with the visual arts, continues for a forth year, exploring the arena where theatre and other art forms meet. Through this initiative, the National aims to bring theatregoers into contact with contemporary works that share some kind of ‘common view’ with its productions. It is hoped that in this way, the success of similar events at theatres and museums abroad can be emulated and that audiences will gain from the critical enjoyment of non-theatrical works.
To coincide with the National’s production of Cyrano de Bergerac and Platonov, the foyers of the Central Stage and the New Stage in the Ziller Building are hosting works by two contemporary artists who use different media to examine various aspects of the theatre: Angelos Papadimitriou and Kostis Velonis.

Curated by Eleni Koukou and Katerina Tselou

Opening: 23 March, 19:30 - 20:30- 16 April
National Theater-Ziller Building, Athens

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What the Luddites Really Fought Against

In an essay in 1984—at the dawn of the personal computer era—the novelist Thomas Pynchon wondered if it was “O.K. to be a Luddite,” meaning someone who opposes technological progress. A better question today is whether it’s even possible. Technology is everywhere, and a recent headline at an Internet hu-mor site perfectly captured how difficult it is to resist: “Luddite invents machine to destroy technology quicker.”
Like all good satire, the mock headline comes perilously close to the truth. Modern Luddites do indeed invent “machines”—in the form of computer viruses, cyberworms and other malware—to disrupt the technologies that trouble them. (Recent targets of suspected sabotage include the London Stock Exchange and a nuclear power plant in Iran.) Even off-the-grid extremists find technology irresistible. The Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, attacked what he called the “industrial-technological system” with increasingly sophisticated mail bombs. Likewise, the cave-dwelling terrorist sometimes derided as “Osama bin Luddite” hijacked aviation technology to bring down skyscrapers.

The Luddites, shown here hammering away in a textile mill in 1812, were not the first protesters to smash technology. And many were skilled at using machines.
Tom Morgan / Mary Evans Picture Library

For the rest of us, our uneasy protests against technology almost inevitably take technological form. We worry about whether violent computer games are warping our children, then decry them by tweet, text or Facebook post. We try to simplify our lives by shopping at the local farmers market—then haul our organic arugula home in a Prius. College students take out their earbuds to discuss how technology dominates their lives. But when a class ends, Loyola University of Chicago professor Steven E. Jones notes, their cellphones all come to life, screens glowing in front of their faces, “and they migrate across the lawns like giant schools of cyborg jellyfish.”

That’s when he turns on his phone, too.

The word “Luddite,” handed down from a British industrial protest that began 200 years ago this month, turns up in our daily language in ways that suggest we’re confused not just about technology, but also about who the original Luddites were and what being a modern one actually means.

Blogger Amanda Cobra, for instance, worries about being “a drinking Luddite” because she hasn’t yet mastered “infused” drinks. (Sorry, Amanda, real Luddites were clueless when it came to steeping vanilla beans in vodka. They drank—and sang about—“good ale that’s brown.”) And on Twitter, Wolfwhistle Amy thinks she’s a Luddite because she “cannot deal with heel heights” given in centimeters instead of inches. (Hmm. Some of the original Luddites were cross-dressers—more about that later—so maybe they would empathize.) People use the word now even to describe someone who is merely clumsy or forgetful about technology. (A British woman locked outside her house tweets her husband: “You stupid Luddite, turn on your bloody phone, i can’t get in!”)

The word “Luddite” is simultaneously a declaration of ineptitude and a badge of honor. So you can hurl Luddite curses at your cellphone or your spouse, but you can also sip a wine named Luddite (which has its own Web site: You can buy a guitar named the Super Luddite, which is electric and costs $7,400. Meanwhile, back at Twitter, SupermanHotMale Tim is understandably puzzled; he grunts to ninatypewriter, “What is Luddite?”

Almost certainly not what you think, Tim.

Despite their modern reputation, the original Luddites were neither opposed to technology nor inept at using it. Many were highly skilled machine operators in the textile industry. Nor was the technology they attacked particularly new. Moreover, the idea of smashing machines as a form of industrial protest did not begin or end with them. In truth, the secret of their enduring reputation depends less on what they did than on the name under which they did it. You could say they were good at branding The Luddite disturbances started in circumstances at least superficially similar to our own. British working families at the start of the 19th century were enduring economic upheaval and widespread unemployment. A seemingly endless war against Napoleon’s France had brought “the hard pinch of poverty,” wrote Yorkshire historian Frank Peel, to homes “where it had hitherto been a stranger.” Food was scarce and rapidly becoming more costly. Then, on March 11, 1811, in Nottingham, a textile manufacturing center, British troops broke up a crowd of protesters demanding more work and better wages.

That night, angry workers smashed textile machinery in a nearby village. Similar attacks occurred nightly at first, then sporadically, and then in waves, eventually spreading across a 70-mile swath of northern England from Loughborough in the south to Wakefield in the north. Fearing a national movement, the government soon positioned thousands of soldiers to defend factories. Parliament passed a measure to make machine-breaking a capital offense.

But the Luddites were neither as organized nor as dangerous as authorities believed. They set some factories on fire, but mainly they confined themselves to breaking machines. In truth, they inflicted less violence than they encountered. In one of the bloodiest incidents, in April 1812, some 2,000 protesters mobbed a mill near Manchester. The owner ordered his men to fire into the crowd, killing at least 3 and wounding 18. Soldiers killed at least 5 more the next day.

Earlier that month, a crowd of about 150 protesters had exchanged gunfire with the defenders of a mill in Yorkshire, and two Luddites died. Soon, Luddites there retaliated by killing a mill owner, who in the thick of the protests had supposedly boasted that he would ride up to his britches in Luddite blood. Three Luddites were hanged for the murder; other courts, often under political pressure, sent many more to the gallows or to exile in Australia before the last such disturbance, in 1816.

One technology the Luddites commonly attacked was the stocking frame, a knitting machine first developed more than 200 years earlier by an Englishman named William Lee. Right from the start, concern that it would displace traditional hand-knitters had led Queen Elizabeth I to deny Lee a patent. Lee’s invention, with gradual improvements, helped the textile industry grow—and created many new jobs. But labor disputes caused sporadic outbreaks of violent resistance. Episodes of machine-breaking occurred in Britain from the 1760s onward, and in France during the 1789 revolution.

As the Industrial Revolution began, workers naturally worried about being displaced by increasingly efficient machines. But the Luddites themselves “were totally fine with machines,” says Kevin Binfield, editor of the 2004 collection Writings of the Luddites. They confined their attacks to manufacturers who used machines in what they called “a fraudulent and deceitful manner” to get around standard labor practices. “They just wanted machines that made high-quality goods,” says Binfield, “and they wanted these machines to be run by workers who had gone through an apprenticeship and got paid decent wages. Those were their only concerns.”

Ludd, drawn here in 1812, was the fictitious leader of numerous real protests.Granger Collection, New York

So if the Luddites weren’t attacking the technological foundations of industry, what made them so frightening to manufacturers? And what makes them so memorable even now? Credit on both counts goes largely to a phantom.

Ned Ludd, also known as Captain, General or even King Ludd, first turned up as part of a Nottingham protest in November 1811, and was soon on the move from one industrial center to the next. This elusive leader clearly inspired the protesters. And his apparent command of unseen armies, drilling by night, also spooked the forces of law and order. Government agents made finding him a consuming goal. In one case, a militiaman reported spotting the dreaded general with “a pike in his hand, like a serjeant’s halbert,” and a face that was a ghostly unnatural white.

In fact, no such person existed. Ludd was a fiction concocted from an incident that supposedly had taken place 22 years earlier in the city of Leicester. According to the story, a young apprentice named Ludd or Ludham was working at a stocking frame when a superior admonished him for knitting too loosely. Ordered to “square his needles,” the enraged apprentice instead grabbed a hammer and flattened the entire mechanism. The story eventually made its way to Nottingham, where protesters turned Ned Ludd into their symbolic leader.

The Luddites, as they soon became known, were dead serious about their protests. But they were also making fun, dispatching officious-sounding letters that began, “Whereas by the Charter”...and ended “Ned Lud’s Office, Sherwood Forest.” Invoking the sly banditry of Nottinghamshire’s own Robin Hood suited their sense of social justice. The taunting, world-turned-upside-down character of their protests also led them to march in women’s clothes as “General Ludd’s wives.”

They did not invent a machine to destroy technology, but they knew how to use one. In Yorkshire, they attacked frames with massive sledgehammers they called “Great Enoch,” after a local blacksmith who had manufactured both the hammers and many of the machines they intended to destroy. “Enoch made them,” they declared, “Enoch shall break them.”

This knack for expressing anger with style and even swagger gave their cause a personality. Luddism stuck in the collective memory because it seemed larger than life. And their timing was right, coming at the start of what the Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle later called “a mechanical age.”

People of the time recognized all the astonishing new benefits the Industrial Revolution conferred, but they also worried, as Carlyle put it in 1829, that technology was causing a “mighty change” in their “modes of thought and feeling. Men are grown mechanical in head and in heart, as well as in hand.” Over time, worry about that kind of change led people to transform the original Luddites into the heroic defenders of a pretechnological way of life. “The indignation of nineteenth-century producers,” the historian Edward Tenner has written, “has yielded to “the irritation of late-twentieth-century consumers.”

Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, shown here in a 1994 FBI sketch, reflected latter-day Luddism when he targeted the "industrial-technological system" for his attacks.
FBI / AP Images

The original Luddites lived in an era of “reassuringly clear-cut targets—machines one could still destroy with a sledgehammer,” Loyola’s Jones writes in his 2006 book Against Technology, making them easy to romanticize. By contrast, our technology is as nebulous as “the cloud,” that Web-based limbo where our digital thoughts increasingly go to spend eternity. It’s as liquid as the chemical contaminants our infants suck down with their mothers’ milk and as ubiquitous as the genetically modified crops in our gas tanks and on our dinner plates. Technology is everywhere, knows all our thoughts and, in the words of the technology utopian Kevin Kelly, is even “a divine phenomenon that is a reflection of God.” Who are we to resist?

The original Luddites would answer that we are human. Getting past the myth and seeing their protest more clearly is a reminder that it’s possible to live well with technology—but only if we continually question the ways it shapes our lives. It’s about small things, like now and then cutting the cord, shutting down the smartphone and going out for a walk. But it needs to be about big things, too, like standing up against technologies that put money or convenience above other human values. If we don’t want to become, as Carlyle warned, “mechanical in head and in heart,” it may help, every now and then, to ask which of our modern machines General and Eliza Ludd would choose to break. And which they would use to break them.

Text by Richard Conniff, a frequent contributor to Smithsonian, is the author, most recently, of The Species Seekers.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Passages from Why I Became an Architect by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky

Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (1897–2000) studied architecture from 1915 to 1919 at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna under Oskar Strnad, a pioneer of social housing design. In 1921 she began working for the municipal housing department of the Commune of Vienna alongside Adolf Loos. In January 1926 she was called to Frankfurt to join Ernst May’s team in the municipal building department (Hochbauamt) implementing the comprehensive program of renovation and social housing known under the generic title Das neue Frankfurt. Her most famous work was the so-called Frankfurt Kitchen, an integrated and prefabricated kitchen designed along rational-space and labor-saving principles which was installed in around 10,000 new homes. Each kitchen came complete with a swivel stool, a gas stove, built-in storage, a fold-down ironing board, an adjustable ceiling light, and a removable garbage drawer. Labeled aluminum storage bins provided tidy organization for staples like sugar and rice as well as easy pouring. Careful thought was given to materials for specific functions, such as oak flour containers (to repel mealworms) and beech cutting surfaces (to resist staining and knife marks).

Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (Austrian, 1897–2000). Frankfurt Kitchen as illustrated in Das neue Frankfurt 5/1926–1927.

In addition to the kitchens, Schütte-Lihotzky was also engaged in designing schools, kindergartens, and student accommodation as part of the city’s wider civic development program. In October 1930 she and her husband Wilhelm Schütte, a fellow architect in the department, joined May’s “Brigade” and embarked for the Soviet Union to work on new industrial cities as part of Stalin’sfirst Five Year Plan (1928–32). May left the Soviet Union in 1933 but Schütte-Lihotzky remained there until 1937 when Stalin’s purges made life intolerable for foreigners. After a brief spell in Paris and London, she moved to Istanbul in August 1938 to teach in the Academy of Fine Arts alongside Bruno Taut. In Istanbul she further developed her interest in the design of schools and nurseries. In 1940 she joined the Austrian Communist Party in exile, and in December returned to Austria to work with the underground resistance. Soon after her arrival, on 22 January 1941, the Gestapo arrested her and, although her accomplices were executed, she was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Liberated by American troops at the end of April 1945, she resumed her career as an architect, first in Sofia, Bulgaria, and from 1947 in Austria. Her political views—which had hardened because of her war experiences—were an obstacle to receiving major government or civic commissions but she continued to work on small-scale projects and regularly traveled to countries in the Communist bloc where she was engaged as a consultant. As scholars rediscovered her achievements, her reputation began to grow. In 1980 she was awarded the Architecture Prize of the city of Vienna, the first of many awards. In 1985 she published Erinnerungen aus dem Widerstand (Memories of the Resistance), a memoir of her political activities.1 In 1990 she advised the Museum für angewandte Kunst in Vienna on the creation of two replicas of the Frankfurt Kitchen, one of which went on permanent display. Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky died on 18 January 2000, age 103.
—Juliet Kinchin

Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (Austrian, 1897–2000). Frankfurt Kitchen from the Ginnheim- Höhenblick Housing Estate, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, 1926–27. Installation view of Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, September 15, 2010–March 14, 2011. 8'9" x 12'10" x 6'10" (266.7 x 391.2 x 208.3 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Joan R. Brewster in memory of her husband George W. W. Brewster, by exchange and the Architecture & Design Purchase Fund, 2009. Photograph by Jonathan Muzikar.

Selections from Why I Became an Architect

From pages 105–61. kitchen_1.png
One day, possibly spring 1922 or 1923, the phone rang in the building office of the housing association. Hans Kampffmeyer, head of the Vienna housing department at that time, was on the line.2 Apparently there was an architect from Breslau [now Wrocław, Poland] named May who wanted to see the Vienna settlements.3 Loos did not have time to take him round, and so this was how I ended up taking him to my private studio. . .4 In my romantic little workroom high up above the trees of the castle gardens I had a huge pile of theoretical texts and drawings on the rationalization of housework. May immediately seized upon these and asked if I would write an article for the magazine Das schlesische Heim.5 This was the first article I ever wrote. At that point the Viennese settlements were closely bound up with ideas and discussions about labor-saving in the home, and all the principles were already in place that would be developed five years later in Frankfurt.
[Impressed by the work on the Vienna "gypsy" settlements, and by the functional clarity of Schütte-Lihotzky's designs, May approached her in 1926 to join his team in Frankfurt.]
From pages 113–14
As soon as I arrived I hurried along to see May in the Frankfurt City Hall. The first thing that caught my eye in his office were the large red letters on the wall behind his desk. There it was: "Keep It Short." I was stunned. But in an instant, May—a lean figure with lively Roman features—hurried toward me and shook my hand warmly. He immediately invited me to his home for a meal the following Sunday, a gesture that struck me as the complete antithesis of the writing on his wall. The next Sunday I asked the very sensible Mrs. May what I should make of the writing. We both agreed it gave the wrong impression. But May vigorously defended his "Keep It Short," and the large red letters stayed on his wall until we left Frankfurt together nearly five years later.
From pages 127–30
The central task facing us was house building. At the very first meeting in the main building office, May suggested to me that I focus on standardizing floor plans keeping in mind the rationalization of housework. He introduced me to Eugen Kaufmann, leader of the "T" (for Type forms) section in which all the city housing projects were based.6 Since we wanted to keep housework to a minimum, before we did a stroke on the designs—before we even made any decisions about the basic questions of where to live, where to eat, or where to cook—it all came down to the question of either the "living kitchen" (living room cum kitchen), or the cooking cupboard. Basically, were kitchens for working in, or eating in?
In all the Frankfurt housing—whether low-rise housing estates or apartment blocks—there was gas supplied for cooking. This negated any fuel savings made by cooking and living in one and the same space when using wood and coal, which meant turning away from the "living kitchen." Also, the cooking recess that opened directly onto the living room struck us in Frankfurt as too primitive, on account of the off-putting cooking smells. It was a long time before most people had electric extraction hoods. The eating kitchen that was popular in Sweden in the thirties (I was very taken with them at the time) added at least seven or eight square meters to the living area around the table. We couldn't afford those additional eight square meters without pushing up the cost of the rents even further. We decided therefore to split off the living room leaving the work-only kitchen with the following stipulations:
1. The distance from the stove, countertop, and sink to the eating area was to be no more than 2.75–3 meters.
2. The floor plan was to be organized in such a way that the housewife and mother could keep an eye on children in the living room while she was occupied in the kitchen. This meant that the door opening between kitchen and living room had to be at least ninety centimeters wide, and could be closed off with a sliding door.
3. The kitchen must have direct access to the hall.
4.Lighting during the day was to come through an external window. Artificial lighting was to be positioned so that no shadows fell upon the work areas (stove, preparation surface, sink).
5. Cooking vapors were to be extracted through a hood and ventilation pipe to the roof.
6. The work-only kitchen was to be small enough to make the greatest possible economies of steps and handling, yet big enough so that two people could work alongside one another without getting in each other's way.
7. The kitchens could only make a significant labor-saving impact on housework if they were fitted with all the necessary equipment. These were made ready for people at the same time as the houses. This system had two great advantages. First, constructing kitchens with fittings already built in took up less space. Second, with the money saved it was possible to hand over the homes to tenants with a complete kitchen fitted and arranged according to all the principles of labor-saving housework.
8. When kitchens were included in the building costs, they were financed from public funds. The rental costs in Frankfurt were calculated according to the building costs. The addition of a kitchen raised the rents by one deutsche mark a month, but this was offset by savings made on space, so that ultimately the inhabitants did not have to bear any increase in rent.

Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (Austrian, 1897–2000). Frankfurt Kitchen from the Ginnheim- Höhenblick Housing Estate, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, 1926–27. Installation view of Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, September 15, 2010–March 14, 2011. 8'9" x 12'10" x 6'10" (266.7 x 391.2 x 208.3 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Joan R. Brewster in memory of her husband George W. W. Brewster, by exchange and the Architecture & Design Purchase Fund, 2009. Photograph by Jonathan Muzikar.

These then were the basic considerations that led to the "Frankfurt Kitchen." After much research it was revealed that the most advantageous format for the kitchen was an area 1.9 meters wide by 3.4 meters long—that is, nearly 6.5 square meters—with a 90-centimeter-wide door to the corridor and exterior windows 1.4 meters wide. This conception of the basic kitchen unit was the blueprint for all the other kitchens that were built, regardless of whether they were installed in apartments or row houses. Besides the design for the floor plans, there were a lot of other planning issues concerning the standard kitchen equipment and its installation. . . .
Unfortunately, the construction of many of the apartments was not supervised by the Building Department but by the housing association, who did not oversee the builders and the materials properly, giving the Frankfurt Kitchen a bad name, which still survives to this day. For example, the broad doorway between the kitchen and the living room was often omitted, destroying the essential unity of the kitchen–living room; this was part of the original design of the Frankfurt Kitchen. Small causes but big effects. The mother could no longer supervise the children playing in the living room while working in the kitchen because the distance from the stove, kitchen table, and sink to the dining table had grown from three meters to six meters! Also, in this arrangement two doors had to be opened. And third, the kitchen working space had been reduced to a miserable, confining corridor in which no one could feel at home. As an architect, I would be embarrassed to have designed something like that. Unfortunately, in West Berlin today this is the type of kitchen that is being built, and after fifty years, this nonsense is justified in the name of the Frankfurt Kitchen and its creator!
From pages 145–51
It is completely misleading to suggest that one person in the 1920s thought up the "idea" of the live-in kitchen, which was then followed by everyone else. The form of a dwelling is never achieved through the idea of a single individual . . . So long as burning wood or coal in a stove or oven was the only means of heating a room, a practice that to this day has not completely died out among mountain dwellers in Austria, people were going to eat and live in the space where the single fireplace was to be found. . . .
Austrian city dwellers in the 1920s did not have room for separate eating and living spaces. A single large table set with stools or a corner bench doubled as the living area. In Germany, however, where the workers' standard of living was slightly better than in Austria, the two functions of eating and living began to be separated in small dwellings. The so-called Best Room, where one ate, was located next to the kitchen in working-class housing. It was only heated on special occasions and developed in the direction of "frigid formality," as a showroom for visitors, a cluttered copy of the homes of the rich. . . .
We progressive architects naturally fought this cold formality. . . . The influence of British domestic culture led to the idea that sitting down to eat was something quite different from sitting down to rest during one's free time. Loos gave whole lectures on this topic. He promoted British patterns of living and, in his interior currently on display in the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna, he naturally had both an eating and a living area: the eating area with a corner bench, the living area with armchairs in which one could sit around the fireplace and stretch out one's legs in comfort. . . .
For housing projects, it struck me as important to distinguish clearly the development and relationship of the three functions of cooking, eating, and living. . . . At that time we resisted the combination of living, cooking, and eating in one space as unsanitary and unacceptably squalid. So in Frankfurt we opted for work-only kitchens. . . . Nowadays—in very different labor-saving, technological, and hygienic conditions—the most desirable form for the majority of people has become a dining-kitchen with a separate living room. But I want to set the record straight at the outset: the Frankfurt Kitchen represented a great step forward at the time. The 10,000 examples that were produced made many people's lives easier and undoubtedly contributed to more women being able to take up a career, to become financially independent from their husbands, and to spend more time on their personal development as well as on their families and the upbringing of their children. Nevertheless, the Frankfurt Kitchen was not developed for current times. It would be a sad comment on life if a design that marked a step forward in the past were still being promoted as progressive today. . . . There are new and urgent problems that need to be addressed in the present. . . .
From all that I have said previously, I should point out that "Frankfurt Kitchen" is a misleading term since it does not just refer to the design of a kitchen with more or less practical arrangements and facilities. As far as I can remember, it was May who came up with the term and used it for promotional purposes. In everything he did and said he repeatedly mentioned the fact that it was no coincidence the Frankfurt Kitchen was designed by a woman for women. This stemmed from the prevalent petit bourgeois perception that women were, by their very nature, meant to work at the domestic stove. It seemed to follow therefore that a woman architect would know best what was important for kitchens. That was good propaganda. But the truth of the matter was that I had never run a household before designing the Frankfurt Kitchen. I had never cooked, and had no idea about cooking. On the other hand, looking back on my life I would say that I have been systematic in every aspect of my professional life, and that it came naturally to me to approach every project systematically. . . .
What were the theoretical foundations and ideals that lay behind the Frankfurt Kitchen that led to its being reproduced in the thousands? For me there were two motives that led to the creation of the Frankfurt Kitchen. The first was the recognition that in the foreseeable future women would have proper paid employment, and would not solely be expected to be on hand to wait upon their husbands. I was convinced that women's struggle for economic independence and personal development meant that the rationalization of housework was an absolute necessity. Foremost in my mind when working on housing projects was the idea that the design and, above all, the layout could save work. . . . Second, I felt the Frankfurt Kitchen—a design so connected to the architectural fabric and to the planning and built-in features of rooms—was only the very first step toward developing a new way of living and at the same time a new kind of housing construction.

• 1 Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, Erinnerungen aus dem Widerstand, 1938–1945 (Berlin: Verlag Volk und Welt, 1985).
• 2 Inspired by the “Garden City Movement,” the artist Hans Kampffmeyer (1876–1932) took up town planning and became an advisor on housing to the ducal government of Baden at Karlsruhe. In 1921 he became director of the housing department in Vienna and in 1925 he moved to Frankfurt, where, with Ernst May, he led a pioneering program of house building for the regional government.
• 3 Ernst May (1886–1970) was a modernist architect and city planner whose left-wing politics and experience of the English garden city movement inspired his work in mass housing. As city architect in Frankfurt-am-Main between 1925 and 1930 he implemented one of the most radical and successful civic housing programs of the period. As well as Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, May’s department in Frankfurt included Wolfgang Bangert, Herbert Boehm, Anton Brenner, Max Cetto, Martin Elsässer, Max Frühauf, Eugen Kauffman, Walter Körte, Ferdinand Kramer, Hans Leistikow, Albert Löcher, Rudolph Lodders, Adolf Meyer, C. H. Rudloff, Werner Hebebrand, Wilhelm Schütte (who became Margarete’s husband), Walter Schultz, Walter Schwangenscheidt, Karl Weber, and briefly, Mart Stam. In 1930 he led a group of his staff to the USSR, the so-called May Brigade, where they were engaged in planning new industrial towns in the Moscow region.
• 4 Adolf Loos (1870–1933) was an Austrian architect, designer, and polemicist who made his reputation with a series of bold modernist buildings, interiors, and essays in the period before World War I. Appointed chief architect of the Vienna municipal housing department in 1921, he embarked on a campaign of low-cost, flexible housing designs. Finding himself out of sympathy with the prevailing policy of mass housing in the Vienna council, he resigned in 1924 although he continued to design projects in the city.
• 5 Das schlesische Heim was a Breslau-based journal founded in 1920 and edited by Ernst May for the Schlesische Bund für Heimatschutz (Silesian Federation of Homeland Conservation).
• 6 Eugen Kaufmann (1892–1984) was a German architect engaged by Ernst May in 1925 to work in the municipal housing department at Frankfurt, where he was responsible for several schemes including the workers housing estate at Praunheim, 1927. In 1929 he organized the exhibition Die wohnung für das Existenzminimum (The Minimal Existence Home) in Frankfurt. He followed May to the Soviet Union in 1931, after which he settled in Britain, changing his name to Eugene Kent.

Selected and Translated by Juliet Kinchin
West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture, February 9, 2011

This translation is taken with permission from Margarete SchütteLihotzky, Warum ich Architektin wurde (ed. Karin Zogmayer), © 2004 by Residenz Verlag im Niederösterreichischen Pressehaus, Druck- u. Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, St. Pölten–Salzburg.The manuscript is held in the estate of Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, now deposited in the archives of the Universität für angewandte Kunst in Vienna. Selection and clarification of the manuscripts for the published text in German were undertaken by the editor, Karin Zogmayer.

Supplementary Literature:

Bullock, Nicholas. “First the Kitchen—Then the Façade.” Journal of Design History 1, no. 3/4 (1988): 177–92.
Dreysse, D. W. Ernst May Housing Estates: Architectural Guide to Eight New Frankfort Estates, 1926–1930. Frankfurt: Fricke Verlag, 1988.
Henderson, Susan. “A Revolution in the Woman’s Sphere: Grete Lihotzky and the Frankfurt Kitchen,” in Architecture and Feminism, edited by Debra Coleman, Elizabeth Danze, and Carol Henderson, 221–48. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996.
Noever, Peter, ed. Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky. Soziale Architektur—Zeitzeugin eines Jahrhunderts. Vienna: Böhlau, 1996.
Introduction to Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky

Keep Calm and Carry on

Dimitrios Antonitsis, "Keep Calm and Carry on"
Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Center
February 3- March 2011

Monday, March 7, 2011

On the Road

Though this land is not my own
I will never forget it,
or the waters of its ocean,
fresh and delicately icy.

Sand on the bottom is whiter than chalk,
and the air drunk, like wine.
Late sun lays bare
the rosy limbs of the pine trees.

And the sun goes down in waves of ether
in such a way that I can't tell
if the day is ending, or the world,
or if the secret of secrets is within me again.

Anna Akhmatova, 1964
translated from Russian by Jane Kenyon

Witches' Ladder: the hidden history

1911.32.7 Witches ladder found in Wellington, Somerset

When a string of feathers was found in a Somerset attic alongside four brooms, suspicions of witchcraft began to fly. This hint of rural magic and superstition captured the imagination of the Victorian folk-lore community, however not everyone was convinced.

Hanging in the "Magic and Witchcraft" case in the court of the Pitt Rivers Museum is a strange object from Wellington in Somerset. [Pitt Rivers Museum number: 1911.32.7] It is a one and a half meter long string with a loop at one end through which feathers have been inserted along its length. The label declares it to be a:

"Witches ladder made with cock's feathers. Said to have been used for getting away the milk from neighbour's cows and for causing people's deaths. From an attic in the house of an old woman (a witch?) who died in Wellington."

This information is based on a note sent to the museum with the object in 1911 when it was donated by Anna Tylor, the wife of the famous anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor. This stated:

"The "witches' ladder" came from here (Wellington). An old woman, said to be a witch, died, this was found in an attic, & sent to my Husband. It was described as made of "stag's" (cock's) feathers, & was thought to be used for getting away the milk from the neighbours' cows - nothing was said about flying or climbing up. There is a novel called "The Witch Ladder" by E. Tyler in which the ladder is coiled up in the roof to cause some one's death."

This brief explanation is a highly summarized, and largely inaccurate version of the sequence of events that surround the discovery of this curious object. Even based on this description however, the label has embroidered the facts by suggesting that the ladder may have been used for causing deaths, when Anna Tylor's note only suggests that the plot of novel used it in this way. The history of this object seems to point to the ways in which the stories about an object may grow, allowing folk-lore itself to become folk-lorised.

Front page of "A Witches' Ladder" Dr Abraham Colles

Publication in the Folk-Lore Journal

Twenty four years earlier, in 1887, an article appeared in The Folk-Lore Journal with the title "A Witches' Ladder." Down the right-hand side of the page a hand-drawn illustration marks a change to the blocks of text that usually make up this journal, normally devoted largely to subjects such as folk-tales, myths and superstitions. The author of the article is Dr Abraham Colles, but a corrected draft that exists in the Pitt Rivers Museum, suggests that the article may have been submitted and corrected by Edward Burnett Tylor, then a Reader in Anthropology in Oxford and Keeper of the University Museum.

The article records how during a home visit, Colles had come to hear about the object. This had been found in the roof space of an old house demolished nearly ten years earlier, in 1878-9, alongside six brooms and an old chair. According to Colles, the workmen who made the discovery stated that the chair was for witches to rest in, the brooms to ride on, and the rope to act as a ladder to enable them to cross the roof. He states that he was not able to discover the grounds on which they based their assertions but that they had no hesitation in "at first sight designating the rope and feathers "A witches' ladder.""

Further enquiries revealed little about the possible function of the object, except some old ladies in Somerset mentioned the "rope with feathers" when asked about witchcraft and spells. Future issues of the Folk-Lore Journal saw a number of correspondents making contributions, including J.G. Frazer who made the suggestion about getting milk away from neighbours cows, based on traditions from Scotland and Germany. Charles Leland wrote from Tuscany, about a tradition of causing death with a feathered ghirlanda or garland.

Drawing of Tylor presenting at the British Association for the Advancement of Science. From The Graphic, Saturday September 10

Presentation at the British Association for the Advancement of Science

When Tylor presented the item to a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Manchester on Friday 2nd September 1887, two members of the audience stood up and told him that in their opinion, the object was a sewel , and would have been held in the hand to turn back deer when hunting. Tylor said that he would try to get one of these to compare it, but there is no record of whether he was successful. Interestingly though, a second "witches' ladder" was donated to the museum by the Tylors in 1911 and this has much newer looking feathers. [1911.32.8] Could this be a sewel and not a witch's ladder?

The International Folk-Lore Congress

Following his embarrassing experience at the meeting in 1887, Tylor seems to have been very reluctant to exhibit the object at the 2nd International Congress of Folk-Lore when it was held in London in 1891. In the report on his talk he states that it was suggested that he bring the ladder to show it, "but I did not do so, because from that day to this I have never found the necessary corroboration of the statement that such a thing was really used for magic." However in the catalogue of exhibits for this conference it is recorded that Tylor did show the object, probably because he was persuaded to do so. Also recorded is the fact that Mr Gomme exhibited a small photograph of Dr Tylor's Witch's Ladder, perhaps in case Tylor could not be persuaded to show the original himself.

The First Fictionalisation

In 1893, the Devon-based folk-lorist Sabine Baring-Gould published a novel, Mrs Curgenven, in which a witch-ladder featured. The object discovered is a line of black wool entwined with white and brown thread, hanging by a fireplace into which cock's and pheasant's feathers were looped alternately every few inches. In Baring-Gould's witches ladder "There be every kind o' pains and aches in they knots and they feathers;" and the when finished the ladder would have a stone tied at one end and would then be sunk in Dogmare Pool and "ivery ill wish ull find a way, one after the other, to the j'ints and bones, and head and limbs, o' Lawyer Physic." In this version the water would unloose and rot the ties releasing the ill wishes, which appear in the pool as bubbles. Was this new independent evidence to support the magical interpretation of the witch's ladder?

1911.32.8 Possible sewel donated by Tylor, and recorded as a Witches Ladder

Tylor's Investigations

Tylor evidently wrote to Baring-Gould to ask him about his source for the information in his fictional story. He received a letter back in 1893 in which Baring Gould said "I wish I could give you any thing certain about witch ladders." He states "What I put into "Mrs Curgenven" about sinking the ladder in Dogmare Pool so that as it rotted, the ill wishes might escape was pure invention of my own. I felt they must be got out somehow & so created a fashion for liberating them." Baring-Gould then enquired for Tylor with Marianne Voader, a women locally reputed to be a witch and she "professed to know nothing about such a thing and thought what you got at Wellington was nothing but a string set with feathers to frighten birds from a line of peas."

Tylor, it seems never found the evidence he was looking for. By 1911, when he had retired from Oxford and the object was donated to the Pitt Rivers Museum, the Witches ladder had itself become an item of Folk-Lore. It was re-used as a plot device of a second novel in 1911, which took its title from the object. In 1891, Tylor had suggested that "The popular opinion" was that the object had been used for magic, "but unsupported opinion does not suffice, and therefore the rope had better remain until something turns up to show one way or the other whether it is a member of the family of sorcery instruments." Whether or not the original Witches' ladder was ever used for magic, today witches ladders definitely are.
The Second Life of the Witches' Ladder

Since Tylor's day Witches' Ladders have become an item in the practice of Wicca or contemporary witchcraft, into which positive wishes may be bound. However, this tradition has drawn strongly on the works of Gerald Gardner, Margaret Murray and Charles Leland, all prominent members of the Folk-Lore Society, and therefore likely to have known of Tylor's discovery. As no other example of an old Witches' Ladder has ever been recorded, it is quite possible that much of the contemporary tradition of using the Witches' Ladder in witchcraft might derive from this single discovery in the attic of an old house in Somerset in 1878-9.

Text by Chris Wingfield

A longer article by Chris Wingfield will appear in Autumn 2010, Journal of Material Culture 15 (3) "A case reopened: the science and folklore of a 'witch's ladder'."

The Folk-Lore Journal:
* Colles, A. (1887). "A Witches' Ladder." The Folk-Lore Journal 5 (1): pp. 1-5. [Image 1]
* Folklore Journal Vol. 5, No. 2. (1887), pp. 81-83 J.G. Frazer letter
* Folklore Journal Vol. 5, No. 2. (1887), pp. 83-84 W.H. Ashby letter
* Folklore Journal Vol. 5 No. 3 (1887) pp. 257-259 Charles Leland letter
* Folklore Journal Vol. 5 No. 4 (1887) pp. 354-356
Gould, S. B. (1893). Mrs. Curgenven of Curgenven . Lond.
Tylee, E. S. (1911). The witch ladder . Lond.
Jacobs, J. and A. Nutt, Eds. (1892). The International Folklore Congress 1891: Papers and Transactions. London, David Nutt.
The Graphic, Saturday September 10, 1887, Issue 928. [Image 2]
Modern Wicca

English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Τι είναι το παραπάνω; Τι είναι οι δυνατότητες;

Σίντυ: Δεν υπάρχει κάτι που θα ήθελες να κάνεις; Ντιν: Σαν τι; Σίντυ: Είσαι καλός σε πολλά, θα μπορούσες να κάνεις κάτι... Ντιν: Σαν τι; Να είμαι άντρας σου, να είμαι πατέρας της Φράνκι; Τι; Πώς με φαντάζεσαι; Σίντυ: Δεν ξέρω... Είσαι καλός σε τόσα πράγματα... Εχεις μεγάλη ικανότητα... Ντιν: Σε τι; Σίντυ: Ζωγραφίζεις, τραγουδάς, χορεύεις... Ντιν: Ποτέ δεν ήθελα να είμαι σύζυγος ή πατέρας ενός παιδιού... Αλλά τώρα είναι το μόνο που θέλω να κάνω. Δεν θέλω τίποτε άλλο. Αυτό θέλω. Σίντυ: Θα ήθελα να 'χεις μια δουλειά, που δεν θα ξεκινά από τις οκτώ το πρωί για να πιεις. Ντιν: Οχι, έχω μια δουλειά που μου επιτρέπει να πίνω από τις οκτώ το πρωί... Είναι πολυτέλεια. Ξυπνάω, πίνω μια μπίρα, πάω στη δουλειά, βάφω ένα σπίτι, τους αρέσει η δουλειά μου, γυρνάω σπίτι και είμαι μαζί σας. Αυτό είναι όνειρο! Σίντυ: Και δεν νιώθεις ποτέ απογοητευμένος; Ντιν: Γιατί να νιώσω έτσι; Σίντυ: Που έχεις τόσες δυνατότητες και... Ντιν: Και λοιπόν; Κάνω αυτό που θέλω. Γιατί πρέπει δηλαδή να βγάζω λεφτά απ' τις δυνατότητές μου; Σίντυ: Μα δεν σου λείπει; Ντιν: Μα τι εννοείς με τις δυνατότητες; Τι σημαίνει δυνατότητες; Δυνατότητες για τι; Να τις κάνω τι;
Ο Ντιν και η Σίντυ, το ζευγάρι της ταινίας Blue Valentine, είναι σχεδόν τελειωμένοι, στα τριάντα τους. O Nτιν, με αρχή φαλάκρας, φανελάκι και τατουάζ, είναι ένας νεοπρολετάριος με αισθητική indie και συμπεριφορά Μάρλον Μπράντο στο «Λιμάνι της Αγωνίας» και στο «Λεωφορείον ο Πόθος». Ενας άντρας που τον στοιχειώνει η οικογένεια που δεν είχε. Και κουβαλάει την έλλειψη φιλοδοξίας, στα μάτια της συντρόφου του τουλάχιστον. Η Σίντυ είναι η νεοπρολετάρια που πήγε στο κολέγιο και έχει φιλοδοξίες, πιστεύει ακόμη στο όνειρο της ανόδου, της καριέρας.
Ο έρωτας τους ένωσε και τους λαμπάδιασε για μια στιγμή, υπέροχα, μελοδραματικά, cool, χίπικα, σαν διαφήμιση της Apple. Αλλά τώρα, μερικά χρόνια αργότερα, ο έρωτας έχει σβήσει, και η αγάπη δεν πρόλαβε να τους δέσει• η ζωή, η ανάγκη, τα στερεότυπα, οι αποκλίνοντες χαρακτήρες, διαλύουν το εύθραυστο υποστύλωμα του νεανικού έρωτα των παιδιών της εργατικής τάξης.
Μόνοι τους, ο καθείς με τους δαίμονές τους, με τον έρωτα σβησμένο, με την αγάπη λιγοστή, βλέπουν στον άλλο ένα εμπόδιο.
Και οι δύο διψούν για αυτοπραγμάτωση. Και οι δύο ζουν μόνοι μεταξύ ενός πλήθους μόνων. Η Σίντυ βλέπει την αυτοπραγμάτωση μέσα από την πρόοδο, την προκοπή, την άνοδο, την εκμετάλλευση των δυνατοτήτων• είχε ξεκινήσει σπουδές, πλησίασε το επόμενο σκαλί, προσπαθεί να το ξαναφτάσει• ο γκρίζος προλεταριακός βίος την καταθλίβει. Προσπαθεί να επανεκκινήσει, πριν να είναι αργά, οδηγημένη από ένστικτο επιβιωτή.
O Ντιν βλέπει την αυτοπραγμάτωση μέσα από την αποδοχή μιας κατάστασης, την οποία δεν την επέλεξε καν: να είναι πατέρας ενός παιδιού που δεν του ανήκει, να κάνει δουλειές του ποδαριού, να χουζουρεύει σπίτι, να παίζει διαρκώς με το παιδί, σαν παιδί.
Ο λαμπερός νέος με το γιουκαλίλι που φλερτάρει τη νύφη ερμηνεύοντας συνταρακτικά το ποπ στάνταρ «You Only Hurt the Ones You Love» (Πληγώνεις μόνο όσους αγαπάς), είναι ένας φθαρμένος γόης, που παίζει, μεθάει και θυμώνει. Η αποδοχή συνορεύει με την παραίτηση.
Βλέποντας την ταινία του Derek Gianfrance δεν έβλεπα μόνο τον πικρό ρεαλισμό μιας σχέσης. Εβλεπα τη βαθιά ψυχή της Αμερικής, της εργατικής της τάξης, με τα μικρά όνειρα, την αμεσότητα των αισθημάτων, την απλότητα των σχέσεων, την αδυναμία του ξεμοναχιασμένου ατόμου, το βάρος του American Dream.
Ο αμόρφωτος Ντιν, με τα ακατέργαστα ταλέντα, θέτει το θεμελιώδες ερώτημα: Κάνω αυτό που θέλω• γιατί πρέπει να βγάζω λεφτά απ' τις δυνατότητές μου;
Το ερώτημά του είναι μια σπαρακτική αμφισβήτηση του American Dream, του Δυτικού Ονείρου, του υλιστικού μοντέλου ζωής, του πνιγηρού ντετερμινισμού της διαρκούς προόδου. Γιατί να μην είμαι απλώς αυτό που είμαι; Γιατί να είμαι κάτι παραπάνω, κάτι άλλο;
Τελειώνοντας την κασαβετική αυτή ταινία, με ανθρώπους τρυφερούς και τσαλακωμένους, αντιλήφθηκα ότι στο δράμα τους δεν έβλεπα μόνο εικόνες από την βαθιά Αμερική, αλλά κάτι πιο κοντινό: έβλεπα εικόνες της Ελλάδας σήμερα. Οι indies Ελληνες 20-30ρηδες που μπουσουλάνε στο άνυδρο παρόν έρχονται διαρκώς αντιμέτωποι με τέτοια ερωτήματα, μαχαίρια: Τι ζωή αξίζει να παλέψω; Να αποδεχτώ αυτό που είμαι ή να ματώσω για κάτι παραπάνω; Και τι είναι το παραπάνω; Τι είναι οι δυνατότητες;

Tου Nικου Γ. Ξυδακη
Πηγή: Καθημερινή, 13-03-11

Camels vs. Google: Revolutions Recreate the Center of the World

When Google enabled access to Twitter services through landlines in Egypt, the American administration erred on the side of caution. Google is the crown jewel of the American empire, but whereas the American administration manages ideas, Google deals in instruments and communication interfaces. During the revolution in Egypt, such tools proved their ability to animate the global public, while politics reasoned by ideas remains, as of yet, incapable of responding to chronic problems. We may then say that this revolution was led by Google and its rivals—there is no doubt America has dominated this new century since the beginning.

The American administration reads a political situation in a particular country through an assessment of its active political and social structures. The protesters in Tunisia and Egypt did not register on the agenda of American diplomacy. Nor did they register on the official agendas of Tunisia or Egypt. CNN, one of the most involved networks, broadcast a talk show labeling events in Egypt a “revolution without leadership,” yet the absence of leadership did not prevent it from leading the headlines. Presumably journalistic instinct allowed CNN to infer that the revolution in Egypt would soon alter the course of history.

The Egyptian regime came to this conclusion as well. They knew from the beginning that they would have to come up with new techniques to halt the revolution. Someone ingeniously thought to invent a touristic form of repression: camels and horses running over the bodies of protesters equipped with the latest communication technology. The obscenity was beyond expectations; barbarians trying to trample over modernity—camels vs. Google. What an astonishing difference between the apple of Adam and that of Macintosh!

This revolution was instrumented in ways that rendered it impossible to disarm. Protesters came from a privileged social class: young, educated, multilingual—and they were peaceful. How could one expect even the most repressive regime to succeed in stopping them? A great deal of praise has been invested in technological progress and modernization, even from the most radical and authoritarian regimes. Now the users of these technologies have begun to revolt. It appears the authorities did not have enough time to shelve their previous discourse and build a new one condemning technology and constricting its use. Somewhat regrettably for the Egyptian authorities, they only realized this at their moment of reckoning. They tried to sever the communication networks, but it was already too late.

Protesters at Tahrir Square after rigging a lamppost to charge cellphones.

Who Are the Rebels of Today?

There is general agreement that the organizers of today’s revolutions and the group that articulates their demands are primarily young and from the middle classes of their societies. They possess the most effective tools of communication and generally share a number of ideals: democracy, gender equality, racial equality, gay rights, the rejection of domestic violence, and so forth.

Perhaps more importantly, they show a remarkable enthusiasm for discussing their views and sharing experiences and knowledge with each other. We may say that they exhibit their existence through Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets that compel people to constantly express themselves. A person in this world dies when he or she stops speaking. Hence, they always have something to say, a clear example being the inducing call to comment on Facebook’s status bar, “What’s on your mind?” The urgency to make statements or comment on images, now more closely linked to political events, is in some respect endeavoring to acquire what Hannah Arendt termed opinionated citizenship.1 However, the obligation to self-expression does not itself imply a well-structured political discourse. Despite the fact that social media and political discussions urge people to think, adequate solutions to chronic problems are yet to be put forward. A diversity of opinions does not reflect a revolutionary spirit but rather a tendency towards peace and tolerance. And we could argue here that it was the peaceful and tolerant nature of the protesters that made the Egyptian and Tunisian authorities as confused as ever. For bare violence is inexpedient, or at least ineffective, when it comes to repressing a peaceful movement.

What could be concluded in due course is that when the finer layers of society revolt, authority has to respond to their demands, even those that may have seemed unrealistic the day before. Otherwise, what would compel these revolutions to ask for nothing less than the head of the king? In traditional political struggles, one side would never demand the departure of the leader of the opponent side. For example, in a political struggle between Al Wafd Party and the ruling National Democratic Party, the former having rallied a significant part of the Egyptian society, they would never ask Mubarak to step down during negotiations. It is precisely Mubarak who could give them the concessions they would be asking for. The protesters demanded the president’s resignation and the opposition parties conformed to their demand. Still, no one knows for sure whether the protesters are fond of the current leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The demand for Mubarak to step down was not political in its nature as much as it was symbolic; the protesters wanted to ascertain their power in the new social order they were about to create, therefore making what sounded like an unreasonable demand. On the grounds that the president unconstitutionally renewed his mandate, the protesters’ own unconstitutional demand was not a cautious move, from the point of view of those who wish to abide by the rule of law. Accusing a small group, even if it is the president and his inner circle, of being responsible for all the country’s problems is not fair. Yet this transgression was necessary to make it clear to both authority and opposition that the last word from now on would not be theirs. Anyhow, the opposition’s hesitance in declaring its own demands, and the subsequent attempts to catch up with the spontaneous demands of the protesters, was both ridiculous and comic. Any future coalition government in Egypt or Tunisia will know very well where the real power lies.

Neither the revolution’s demands nor its symbolic transgressions were complete madness. From the beginning, the rebels in Tunisia and Egypt chose to be on the side of the army and against the regime, its police, and its corrupt business class. Accordingly, it is possible to come to the following conclusion: using common sense and sound political intuition, the protesters chose to preserve the coherence of the system. Instead of a confident step into the unknown, there was a critical adjustment to the balance of power, a natural and legitimate consequence of a prior change on the social level. The revolution has established a discourse defined by the notion that the legitimacy of authority is no longer acquired through the ruling group but rather through the group demonstrating the best organizational skill and the most indispensible resources. In this sense, the call for the president to step down in Tunisia and Egypt was reasonable. These revolutions made it clear that when the time comes to choose between the peaceful group leading the revolution and a president who responds with violence, the local and international community will unequivocally support the former. From the outset, Google implicitly favored one side. Yet it took the American administration some time to admit that there were no other options.

Why Egypt?

A revolution is an exception in terms of social pattern, in the course of which societies are armed with hope for change. However, every group in these societies has its own specific issues and priorities. What usually makes up the general picture of revolutions is the sum of disparate demands and claims, most of which are unrealistic or unachievable. Nonetheless, all groups converge around their disapproval of the existing authority hoping that change will bring about what they aspire for. Revolutions are equally generators of hope and frustration, and one witnessed in Egypt was not the first of its kind. We may recall four previous instances: Lebanon in 2005, the United States in 2008, Iran in 2010, and Tunisia in early 2011.

Let’s start with the outsider: Obama’s revolution in the United States. Naturally, no one called it a revolution. Even in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Iran, or Lebanon, many were hesitant to give these various forms of civil unrest the same label. Yet all they share what we can regard as the most important element of revolution as defined by Arendt: all gave birth to local councils, where ideas are formulated and debated in the process of protesting and contesting others.2

The Americans did not conduct their revolution in the streets, nor did it come without warning. To be precise, the revolution’s leader belonged to the traditional political structure. And, as with earlier and later revolutions, it paid special attention to symbolism. Barack Obama and his electoral team invested a great deal of effort in mobilizing the social media networks that supported him; this in turn revolutionized the industry of public opinion–making. When journalist Fareed Zakaria published an article in the New York Times, he received thousands of comments from those who wished to express an opinion. Arguably, Zakaria has more readers than commentators. Yet, the fact that there were thousands of people actively participating indicates that many were looking for a venue for their views. In other words, they wanted to transform personal opinions into public opinions.

Obama’s electoral campaign outlined a substantial framework in which online chatting was reshaped into public debate by turning cybernetic forums into local councils. Any revolution in the course of its formation is founded upon such councils formed by locals. As forums of discussion established on the level of a neighborhood, factory, or town, where people debate matters of concern, form opinions, and defend them, the councils activated by Obama’s campaign are still operational at this very moment. If we follow Arendt’s argument to its logical conclusion, we would infer that unless these local councils are dismantled, the revolutions would not wither away to be replaced by authoritarian regimes, as happened with Robespierre and Saint-Just, and later with Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. The cybernetic councils of the American revolution are still flourishing, which is to say that they could at any moment recreate the tour de force of the 2008 elections and urge future candidates to conform to conditions that were not previously part of the electoral game. It has become extremely difficult, almost impossible, to bring down local councils, which remain independent, self-governed, and boast an established web presence using social media groups and other online resources. With the total absence of tools with which to halt their profusion or limit their repercussions, authorities have fallen short of demonstrating the means to silence these revolutionary councils, which have now become established social institutions.

Online forums in Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Iran preceded and outlasted the revolutions. In Lebanon, the emphasis was placed on text messaging and effective coordination with broadcasters. In Iran, smartphones exhibited their full potential. In Tunisia, despite the restrictions on social media, the youth communicated through chat forums and text messages. The authorities in Egypt saw what happened and decided to cut off the air these groups breathe: they shut down the cellular phone networks, harassed reporters and broadcasters, and blocked access to the internet. But it was already too late. Some of these revolutions were more successful than others, but none have fallen prey to a Saint-Just or Robespierre that would turn their councils into ruins; in cyberspace, the councils prevailed, fueled by the intensity of the protesters’ hope and the ardency. These were facets that the American revolution shared with the other four. Yet, what was achieved by the former was not possible in the latter cases without street demonstrations. This is because the emerging, socially-networked political groups in Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Iran were not fully articulated—unlike their counterparts in the United States. In other words, the number of internet users and bloggers in Egypt does not by itself indicate anything, and will not help us make predictions or jump to conclusions about the future.

The situation in Egypt, and the Middle East in general, is more complicated than that of the United States for several reasons. Let’s begin with the technical reason. As described by Tocqueville, and by Arendt in her account of the American Revolution, the US is a society of immigrants.3 It is among the world’s most socially, naturally, and economically adaptable populations. Americans see their industrial and commercial institutions as beings that are born, grow old, and die. Every decade or two, a crucial economic sector crumbles under the weight of foreign competition, but Americans press for the development of a new sector and invest heavily in it. Before long, this sector becomes the main contributor to the economic and cultural image of the US. We do not need to dwell on the fervor with which America builds its economy and image, but we can nevertheless say that, in a society that evolves according to a secular and modern rhythm, the prevailing industry, its clients and consumers, occupy a vital and central share in the country’s public image. And the manufacturer of this image nowadays is communication—from Google to the iPhone. This can only be expected from a society obsessed with displacing its own agora from the public square to cyberspace.

In Egypt and Lebanon, the digital crowd urgently needed to provide a physical presence in the street. If it had remained in virtual space, neither the authorities nor the rest of society would have noticed. It needed to go out looking for the attention of CNN. Societies in this part of the world still read their present and future from the screens of CNN and ABC. This explains why the claims were similar in all four revolutions. The young protester wanted to see his or her image on screen in real time to prove to be the victim of an oppressive regime, and simultaneously the hero and redeemer of his or her own destiny. But in reality, all these roles are hypothetical. The authorities cannot suppress the group that is the most privileged and peaceful, as they do with the working class or other small communities—craftsmen, ethnic or religious minorities, and so forth. Nor is the protester a typical victim of a repressive authority. The protestor’s appearance on television does not automatically imply victimhood, but rather a state of being halfway between two conditions: the protestor is the victor announcing a failure of the authority, while declaring at the same time that he or she is the victim of an irrevocable act of repression.

The practice of American sovereignty in this century is quite different from that of the second half of the past century, when the country was focused on resisting communist expansion. While Marxism’s failure as a practice and way of governing is commonly considered to have been an American achievement, I contend that the main factor leading to the fall of socialist societies under the grip of the Americans since the 1960s is still under-acknowledged. In the 60s, America saw the pillars of its capitalist economy begin to crumble, with heavy competition from Europe and Japan. But America had added a third element to Adam Smith’s equation (later reiterated by Marx) that an economy is built on two foundations: the means of production and productive forces. These two foundations guide every aspect of life—individual taste, self-expression, and the image we choose to promote. The American economy took these two elements, and with the opening of the American market to the consumption of products, the American citizen, as a productive force, gained a second attribute: that of the consumer. Before long, and around the world, the consumer claimed authority. And the socialist system was not equipped to deal with precisely this consumer culture; for while it is fathomable that a taxi driver needs to wear jeans and sneakers given the nature of his job, the socialist system could not comprehend this worker or taxi driver’s insistence upon wearing Adidas shoes or Levi’s jeans in particular. More confusing still was that an engineer or bank manager would want to wear one specific brand of shoes and not the other.

Following the fall of the Soviet Union, the consumer became the world citizen. No longer exclusively American, the consumer now lives among Saudis, Russians, Indians, and Japanese. And, yet again, America found itself incapable of competing in the sphere of inventing human needs. Then came the communication revolution—a revolution led by America to invent the need for the consumable communication around the world, with the internet as a pressing demand linking the world around its services. A new social group was thus formed to inherit and exceed the role of the consumer, echoing the historic birth of the working class. This group could be referred to as the “users.” Being highly proficient in communication technologies, the issue for the group is not whether one carries an iPhone or a BlackBerry, but how one uses its features and services. The specific brand is no longer an issue, as the difference between owning an HP or a Toshiba laptop matters little. What matters is to have a Google email account linked to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, connecting one to the expanding world of bloggers. As a social group, the users comprise a global industry, yet this industry emerged and flourished under American sponsorship. The search engines are still based there, as they have always been. The phenomenon that produced Google transformed us from consumers to users, and it is precisely these users that organized the new revolutions in America and elsewhere.

Protests at Tahrir Square.

The Fragility of Democracy

Perhaps the greatest paradox has been that in the era of the hegemony and overabundance of images, we found ourselves once again at the mercy of words. The revolutions in Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Iran happened before the lenses of cameras broadcasting live around the world, turning the image into an actual event—stripping it of its qualities as image. The excess of words used to describe these revolutions became a foil for the very limited number of images available. Televisions endlessly looped what few images of the violence were available, which is not to say that other images were hard to find. Yet the images depicting the Egyptian revolution were scarce in comparison to the comments, speeches, and conferences by officials around the world. Drawing a quick comparison with past televised events, the 2006 war in Lebanon or the Gaza war in 2008, saw images of death multiplying relentlessly for weeks. The political discourse from both sides of the war was like the monotonous sound of weeping: generalized death and blood flowing like rivers, the repetitive rhetoric of hate and contempt. On the other hand, the four revolutions in question, and especially the Egyptian one, were not as generous in images as they were in words. The amount of bloodshed in these revolutions was less than the discourse, and bare violence was less harsh than the language of its denunciation. A lot has changed since the first Gulf War; today one can say that these revolutions happened precisely because we saw them on TV, not the other way around. These images that cannot lie, as CNN likes to put it, can no longer recur without making us turn our eyes away. It used to take a small number of victims to trigger our sympathy, but we now find ourselves overwhelmed with countless deaths, barely remembering how to weep or compose elegies.

Since the Gulf War, the image that cannot lie has become irrefutable evidence. We can no longer produce images erratically, because the image is no longer an immortalization of a transient event as much as it is event in and of itself. In other words, the repression in Egypt was nothing like what used to happen in the times of Stalin or Hitler, or what happened in the Syrian city of Hama during the early 80s when Hafez el Assad bombarded it with heavy artillery. Even today, we don’t have an approximate number of victims claimed by El Assad’s army, though the most conservative estimates figure it to be no less than ten thousand. Today, such actions could not be without consequences. This has to do with politics, but also with the fact that the image is no longer a mere commentary. Every image, no matter how bad, is broadcast repeatedly. The protester no longer goes out on the street without making sure to document each event with his mobile phone or digital camera to then send it to the world to watch. We can say that the number of images available was so few because the events themselves were negligible in comparison with their consequences.

That is why words once again had to serve the function of commenting on the events. The assumption is that words, which are said to be in black and white, outweighed the full color image—and this by itself is a significant event. On one hand, speech, in spite of the platitudes of political discourse in each of the revolutions, was much more abundant than the images. And on the other hand, partiality was obvious at all times. No one would question whether the demand to overthrow Bin Ali and chase him and his relatives from the country was a just and fair demand considering the nature of the crimes committed. In the Lebanese case, the matter was even clearer: the Lebanese took over the streets and demanded a change of authority, a demand that sounded reasonable and legitimate given that a foreign army and security force had installed that authority. However, what followed was no more than the total collapse of the system and the rise of religious groups to the forefront of the political scene. What remained following the collapse of the pro-Syrian regime were the structures that predate the logic of the state and of modernity altogether. In Egypt, Tunisia, and Iran, the protesters demanded the overthrow of a specific group within the established regime. From the outset, they decided to favor one side of the regime and fight the other. They were defeated in Iran but were successful in Egypt and Tunisia. Yet neither one attempted a radical change in the system, and thus the risk of falling into the quagmire of Lebanese uncertainties was avoided.

The assumption is that these revolutions’ hesitance in demanding radical change was due to the scarcity of the ideas that motivated them. They aspired to shift the status quo to a more dynamic state but failed to reach beyond this formal demand to a deeper and more meaningful one. What does it really mean to want free elections in Egypt while asserting the army’s role in maintaining order and determining the country’s future? It is most likely an attempt to provoke a political and social dynamic on the surface of a stagnant sociopolitical order that maintains army’s hold over security. These changes can be looked at from the perspective of two givens: First is the fragility of democracy and its limited ability to deal with unforeseeable crises, which led these revolutions to ferociously invoke the American model of a democracy. The second given has to do with the weight and nature of the questions facing the region in view of the hegemony of modernity as the unique credible model.

In the first given, we can note that the American democracy is the only one in the world capable of defending itself with real force, and is often assigned the responsibility of defending other democracies in Europe and the rest of the world. Perhaps the reason is that the American democracy is built on two levels: one level that represents all American citizens living in quasi-independent states, without a real voice regarding defense, foreign policy, or the general economy, and another level that represents the employees of the federal government and national and multinational corporations. The democracies of California, Virginia, or New Jersey resemble those of France, Germany, or Spain. The federal government, however, has little in common with European democracies. Becoming a part of the federal government necessitates fulfilling certain qualification requirements, which includes a list of negating conditions regarding criminal, political, and ideological history. The US federal government doesn’t look after a population the way modern governments typically do. This is the responsibility of quasi-independent states. Accordingly, we have the federal government on one side and its people and employees on the other. Furthermore, the federal government builds its institutions on rented property. The only city owned by the government is Washington, a city where most of the population changes with the various administrations. In other words, only a fraction of the population lives there under conditions of permanence. With respect to military bases, army camps, and intelligence centers, they are all built in the middle of the ocean or on land owned either by the American states or a foreign country. It is almost impossible to oppose, much less defeat, a country with no definite borders, or for that matter a country without citizens, whose subjects are employees with job contracts instead of the rights associated with citizenship. Finally, the national and transnational companies are entities in perpetual motion. The United States is a nation on wheels that can’t be dealt a lethal blow in any single spot. Copying its democracy in Egypt would mean separating a group of the society from their rights to citizenship and pushing them to play the vital role of defending the nation’s borders from both the inside and outside, which is precisely the role of armies.

Egypt, Tunisia, Iran, and Lebanon are states that fell prey to the charms of Western modernities towards the end of the nineteenth century. In these counties, the national dress was replaced with Western dress—something that did not happen in India, Pakistan, or the Gulf States, for example. Accordingly, the elites in these countries saw their ideal in European democracy, but over the last century these democracies proved their inability to protect their achievements. The conclusion of this model as weak and unfit was inevitable, and thus it came to be replaced, in the period between the 1950s and the 1970s, by the Soviet model and Marxist thinking. Later, the American model became the bridge between this troubled world and modernity.

The second given has to do with the urgency of the questions posed by these societies and the difficulty of finding answers for them. And this is, very probably, the real reason why these modern revolutions are taking place in this part of the world. Western modernities were founded on absolute and flat homogeneity. European democracies left no place whatsoever for differences in religion or ethnicity. All their revolutions took place in response to the Catholic Church, either in favor or in opposition to it. The relation to the Church left them unequipped to deal with the issues of minorities, which later resulted in the emigration, both politically and legally, of European Jews to Israel. The result was an exportation of conflicts to the Middle East, which has been the garbage dump of Western modernity since its inception.

Nowadays, Western democracies border on countless problems of different types and origins, with the major one being unquestionably located in the Middle East. There, the social elites are expected to come up with democratic solutions to protect religious, ethnic, and cultural diversity. The development or aggravation of problems threatens to send the whole region back to the Dark Ages. Does it not sound like Bin Laden when he said that resisting American hegemony begins with Muslims returning to the caves and leaving modernity once and for all? There is no doubt that New York’s Chinatown is indicative of the inability of American democracy to integrate its immigrants, and the same could be said of Algerians in Paris, Indians in London, or Iranians in Los Angeles. But these problems do not pose serious threats to the city. The real threats are elsewhere in the world.

This is why revolutions happen in this part of the world. And it is why these revolutions find themselves without ideas. It is an extremely heavy burden to bear on the shoulders of the group that now holds the tools to allow it to lead. Abstract ideas are worthless in this regard.

Young Lebanese gathered on the same street because they wanted a chance to learn about each other after a civil war had separated them. And in Egypt, the revolution began just after the incident of the Alexandria church bombing, which looked to be the beginning of another round of violence between Copts and Muslims. And it was an obvious decision—despite the claims and wishes of Iran’s Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei—for the rebels in Egypt to not attack the Israeli embassy or assault foreigners. Wasn’t it the Iranian revolution that held up the slogan, “Stop the support of Hezbollah in Lebanon”?

Text by Jon Rich

1Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958).
2Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (New York: Viking Press, 1963).
Translated from the Arabic by Ali Shams Eddine. Thanks to Bechara Malkoun and Rebecca Lazar for their editing.

Source: e-flux Journal, #23, 03/2011.