Tuesday, September 27, 2011

American Progress

John Gast, "American Progress," 1872.

This painting shows "Manifest Destiny" (the religious belief that the United States should expand from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean in the name of God). In 1872 artist John Gast painted a popular scene of people moving west that captured the view of Americans at the time. Called "Spirit of the Frontier" and widely distributed as an engraving portrayed settlers moving west, guided and protected by a goddess-like figure of Columbia and aided by technology (railways, telegraphs), driving Native Americans and bison into obscurity. It is also important to note that angel is bringing the "light" as witnessed on the eastern side of the painting as she travels towards the "darkened" west.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Rock and a Hard Place

The 3rd Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art, under the general title "Old Intersections-Make it New", is focused on the Mediterranean region, the culture and its people, viewed through a contemporary visual outlook. This year's Biennale comprises a main and a parallel programme including exhibitions, an international young artists' workshop, a performance festival, a symposium and a variety of artistic events, building up in every part of the city. Director: Katerina Koskina, SMCA President

This Biennale is the first joint venture of the "5 Museums' Movement in Thessaloniki"(5M) consisted of the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, the Museum of Byzantine Culture, the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, the Teloglion Foundation of Art AUTh and the leader of the project, the State Museum of Contemporary Art-Costakis Collection. It is also part of the "Thessaloniki: Cultural Crossroads" programme of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism, focussing this year on the Middle East, and running under the City of Thessaloniki, Department of Culture, Education and Tourism, 9th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities, and other cultural and educational partners jointly.

Ilya Chashnik, Suprematist Cross, 1923

"A Rock and a Hard Place"

The programme derives its inspiration from the city, as a metaphor of the powerful multicultural character of its past history. Each and every one of the biennale venues (5 historical monuments and 5 museums) constitutes an episode of the all-embracing narrative. These episodes are inspired both by the former and the current use of these buildings, by the past and contemporary contribution to the social life and political game of the city, and the artists and the works hosted have been chosen within this particular framework.

Venues: Alatza Imaret, Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, Bey Hamam, Museum of Byzantine Culture, Casa Bianca, Contemporary Art Centre of Thessaloniki, Eptapyrgio, Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, State Museum of Contemporary Art, Teloglion Foundation of Art-AUTh.
Artists: 98 Weeks, Mounira Al Solh, Archive (Francesca Boenzi, Paolo Caffoni, Chiara Figone, Ignas Petronis), Francis Alÿs, Arab Image Foundation, Rasheed Araeen, Athanasios Argianas, Katerina Athanasopoulou, Alexandra Bachzetsis, Manfredi Beninati, Christoph Büchel, Pierpaolo Campanini, Vlassis Caniaris, Spartacus Chetwynd, Cinemathèque de Tanger, Keren Cytter, Christina Dimitriadis, Thomas Dworzak, Yasmine Eid-Sabbagh (in collaboration with Arab Image Foundation), e-flux projects (Julieta Aranda & Anton Vidokle), Andreas Embirikos, Mounir Fatmi, Emmanuel Finkiel, Penelope Georgiou, Yannoulis Halepas, Steven C.Harvey, IKONOTV, Mahmoud Kaabour, Dionisis Kavallieratos, Ali Kazma, William Kentridge, Alexander Kluge, Panos Koutroubousis, Nikolaj B.S. Larsen, Solon Lekkas, Sifis Likakis, Katariina Lillqvist, Zeina Maasri, Margherita Manzelli, Irini Miga, Moataz Nasr, Bruce Nauman, Olaf Nikolai, Pavlos Nikolakopoulos, Jockum Nordström, Pantelis Pantelopoulos, Alessandro Pessoli, Michail Pirgelis, Angelo Plessas, PRISM TV (Nikos Katsaounis & Nina Paschalidou), Imran Qureshi, Jean-Marc Rochette, Marwan Sahmarani, Yiorgos Sapountzis, Hrair Sarkissian, Yehudit Sasportas, Alberto Savinio, Tayfun Serttas, Ahlam Shibli, Slavs and Tatars, Socratis Socratous, Christiana Soulou, Naoko Takahashi, Ryan Trecartin, Kostas Tsioukas, Andreas Vais, Nanos Valaoritis, Kostis Velonis, Pae White, Constantinos Xenakis.
The archive of George Lykidis and selected archives of "The Hellenic Literary and Historical Archive" will also be shown.

Old Intersections-Make it New
3rd Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art
Thessaloniki, Greece
18 September–18 December 2011

Curators: Paolo Colombo, Mahita El Bacha Urieta, Marina Fokidis
Architect: Andreas Angelidakis

State Museum of Contemporary Art

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

On Theatre and Democracy

Recently, my friend (and amazing playwright/actor) Ellen McLaughlin sent me the commencement address she'd written for the students at A.R.T. This address came out of their collaboration on Ajax In Iraq, a harrowing play about the trauma of the Iraq war mirrored through the story of Ajax.The address itself looks at the twin births of theatre and democracy in Athens, and how the gift of empathy from the former enabled the creation of the latter. For me, it further articulates some of the ideas living here, and continues the difficult work of talking about value begun here. It is an eloquent, moving call for theatre makers to consider our essential responsibility to civic life.The address is 15 pages in total - it begins with words specific to the occasion, and ends with contextualizing the central ideas within the opportunities of our current political climate. I have excerpted (with her permission) pages 4-11, which constitute the heart of this particular agon. Please read and respond with your own thoughts!"Don’t forget that when you’re feeling flattened and thinking why oh why did I choose this ridiculous, humiliating profession? Remember what you’re really part of when you’re engaged in a life in the theater. Times like that, you might find it heartening to think about the Greeks, because they basically came up with the profession you’re entering into, and while they were at it they came up with, well, Western civilization. And they did it at about the same time, in the same city and with the same hammer and nails. Theater seems to have come first, but not by all that much. The city of Athens birthed two extraordinary local creations: democracy and theater. And essentially she gave birth to them as twins. Coincidence? Probably not, as anyone who has ever worked in the theater can attest. Theater, like democracy, by definition can only be done in collaboration. Both must be responsive to the needs of the moment, and they happen in the present tense. Both are done on the breath, in public; both are dependent on speech and the mysterious human grace of empathy. They must happen right now, in front of us, and we all share the same air.The Greeks didn’t come up with the rudiments of theater: ritual and storytelling. Remnants of early Greek civilizations show us what we see everywhere in the beginnings of human societies: people dancing and singing, often in groups, telling stories and talking about gods and heroes. The innovation happened when one particular singer or speaker--tradition has named him Thespis--became what we must call the first theater artist when he turned from the people watching him and spoke to another person on the stage, who could then respond in kind. Something momentous and essential to theater was created in that moment: dialogue. Greeks called that splitting of voice in dialogue or debate the agon, and once they’d invented it,they fell head over heels in love with it. Ultimately, they would use the agon for everything and everywhere, from classrooms to courtrooms to halls of government, but its first home was the theater, and there it defined the form. Without agon or dialogue, what’s happening on the stage may be many things, but it’s not theater. It’s ritual, it’s storytelling, it’s one voice speaking one authoritative truth to a passive audience. It’s a useful form, and we need it. (I need it right now.) But it ain’t theater. Because when dialogue enters the world, something profound changes in the dynamic with the audience. I like to think that when Thespis broke all the rules and spoke to another actor, everyone watching sat forward for the first time, and they’ve been sitting forward ever since. Because suddenly they had a job to do. Much would be asked of them. Theater, like democracy, makes demands. We, as an audience, have to do more than show up and get our orders. Theater turns an audience into citizens instead of just spectators. With the advent of dialogue, the truth no longer belongs to any single speaker. The truth must be found in the exchange. An audience has to follow the agon, the debate, enter into a sympathetic understanding with one speaker and then another, try out each position in order to discover what’s really going on. It’s confusing. There are times when everyone seems to be right, just as there are times when no one in the forest of voices is saying what needs to be said and it’s everything we the audience can do not to warn the actors on the stage or comfort them or just yell at them for being so blind to the truth that would be apparent to them if they were only sitting outside it as we are, listening to the agon and watching the mess onstage.This is what theater looks like, but it’s also what democracy looks like. The theater teaches us that the validity of ethical principles, beliefs, and laws must be debated in full view of everyone concerned, in the open air of the public space. Theater teaches us that the struggle to make sense of things is what we are here to do. And we must do it together if we are to do it well. It is our work. And we do it in public.There is a kind of brilliance to the light in Greece that you don’t find elsewhere. Something about the angle of the sun. Things are simply more visible there than they are anywhere else. So it’s not surprising that Greek thought is filled with notions of visibility and hiddenness.Ajax himself, not exactly an introvert, has a speech about how it is inevitable that all things will come to light eventually. For the Greeks this was not just an unavoidable truth, it was something of an injunction. “Know thyself” was the singular command and warning of the Delphic oracle, after all. Whether we will or not, the truth insists itself. It wants to be known.Our natures are mysterious and terrifying. We all know this. There is a personal darkness we are familiar with inside us, even if we have never had to stare it in the face. We can shut it deep within us, but we’ve heard it thumping around in there on quiet nights when we are alone with the worst of ourselves. We all need help with that. The Greeks had this rather outlandish notion that if we could see ourselves from the length of an auditorium, look at ourselves outside ourselves, as played by actors, doing the awful things that we, human beings, know we are capable of doing, and suffering the worst that we can imagine, we might be purged of our own darkness by the terror and pity such experiences in the theater provoke in us. It’s not surprising that theater festivals were frankly religious events for the Greeks. That ancient notion that there is a spiritual component to what happens in theaters won’t strike this crowd as odd, I trust; there’s a reason so many here have chosen this profession. We’ve all felt it, onstage and off, that transformative thing that can happen as we watch actors, those intimate, necessary strangers, acting for us and as us out there in the merciless light.What are actors after all? You are the spelunkers. The rest of us are standing in the open air above the ground, trying to guess at what’s beneath our feet—all that scary unfathomed darkness and intricacy and danger. Playwrights come up with maps of what we can make out of the hidden terrain beneath, but we give them over to the actors because actors are the ones who will strap on the headlights and throw the coiled ropes over their shoulders and go down into the deeps for us and thread their way through that blackness to find out what’s really there. We call them actors because they act for us. They venture into other selves and show us what they find. There are bumper stickers that say something like, “Got freedom? Thank a soldier.” I would suggest we campaign for a bumper sticker that says, “Got self-knowledge? Thank an actor.”Of all the things the Greeks teach us, perhaps the most essential for our purposes today is that there are worse things than failure. If I could give you only one piece of advice today it would be to live by their example and risk failure. Just look at those plays. Look at the size of what they are grappling with—they’re sounding the depths of what it is to be human; time and again, the dilemmas they pose just seem impossible to contend with, yet they take them on. These are plays of astonishing ambition and they never cease to humble me and inspire me to reach farther and risk more as an artist. Why not try to address the hardest things? The alternative is to make nice, neat plays that offend no one and do nothing much because they don’t attempt anything much. Why not risk failure and try to make, well, art? What is stake other than the size of my soul?Finally, I want to talk about empathy. The Greeks didn’t invent it, but with the creation of dialogue, they came up with a form that demands it and makes a home for it. With the invention of dialogue, an audience can move freely from one mind to another on the stage, entering different perspectives and judging their validity by holding them one by one against our own hearts. We must empathize in order to make sense. I have to put myself in her shoes, then his, then hers, and through that radical spiritual exercise I arrive at a new understanding of the world that I simply can’t reach when such demands are never put upon me. And the Greeks don’t make it easy for you. Often the characters who at first glance seem to be obviously in the right, or out of it, become figures of ambiguity or disturbing familiarity and pathos when we bring the force of empathy to bear upon them. Hundreds of years of use and scholarly analysis of these plays and still they defy reduction. They work an audience hard and wrack our hearts as we feel through them, searching for ethical balance as we struggle to find it in our own lives.But that’s what civilization asks of people. It asks them to work. Civilization doesn’t let us get away with waiting passively to be told what to think. We have to engage with dialogue and connect with one embodied truth and then another and another. With the invention of dialogue, I realize that your pain is my pain because I am free at last to feel it. And as a participant in the world, as a citizen in this civilization, it is my right and my duty to feel it.It is the act of empathy that teaches us how to be civilized. It is the act of empathy, which the invention of theater taught the people of ancient Greece, that makes civilization possible because it makes democracy possible. If you can learn, through the theater, what it is to leap empathetically out of the tiny circle of your own needs and concerns and enter into the souls of those apparently different from you, then you realize that the sufferings and desires of others are like your own. In theaters, we feel through the human dilemma together, in collaboration and breathing the same air. Here and now, we learn to make it up as we go along with this new knowledge of the connection between us.It’s a strange profession you’ve chosen and no mistake, this alchemical business of what happens when one actor on a stage turns to another. So remember that when you engage in making theater, you are engaging in the business that began it all.You are making civilization."

Ellen McLaughlin, excerpted from her 2009 Commencement Address to the students A.R.T.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Building the Stage

Staging the people (Hotel Grande Bretagne, Athens-Syntagma,1972)
“Building the Stage”Omikron Gallery, 14 Sept-October Nicosia, Cyprus

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Beaker Depicting Lamb of God

Beaker Depicting Lamb of God,1598
Glass, enamel
Germany (Bohemen)
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

About the Pool

The pool was imaginary. The pool came and went away, according to the girl’s moods. It served as the focal point for all her fantasies. She spent whole summers there, languishing in a demure bikini, leafing through fashion magazines and dog-eared coming of age novels. The girl tasted her first beer at the pool; it’s where she practiced losing her virginity. It’s where she sat on early autumn nights, dangling her feet, tracking the moonlight as it moved beneath the water. The pool had a lot to recommend it. It required minimum maintenance. It remained serenely blue in every season, even when the girl forgot its existence. The pool could accommodate any number of guests, any combination of events, but on most days, it held only the girl, and her thoughts, and the slight weight of her desires. The pool bore all these things gracefully. They swirled along its surface, swimming alongside the dead leaves and jaunty flotation devices.

Gillian Devereux


Tassos Vrettos pictures from the Eleusys archaeological site during the collective performance of the Klas Eriksson and the performance by Fatos Ustek and Per Huttner.

"Worlds have a longer life than deeds". Pyndaros

Ouunpo is a three days symposium that will take place in various locations across and around the city of Athens through conventional and non-conventional investigations. The symposium, dedicated to the “oral tradition”, will include performance, round-table discussions, lectures, screenings, visits and walks to various selected sites.

Greece is a country where myths, art, epic and lyrical songs originated from oral tradition and kept alive by travelling poets. This country is also in the limelight due to the current political and economical crisis.
Our visit will be an occasion to investigate the tradition of storytelling and myth as a form of sharing knowledge and performing history, which often stand in opposition to the methodology of institutions. We will try to re-evoke the oral memory of events in contemporary (art) world, with a specific approach to the rituality and the improvisation that are always connected to oral narratives. Performance and initiation to a secret knowledge will be also the objects of our conversations with members of the esoteric milieu and of the masonic lodge.
Inspired by the great religious, theatrical, democratic and artistic traditions of Greece, and in dialogue with local artists, musicians, composers, art historians and curators,we will observe the present moment, and reflect about how a genuine revolutionary movement needs to brake with literal repetition of the past.

Loukia Alavanou, Episodio 3, 2011

To perform something means to interpret it, to betray it, to distort it. Boris Groys affirms that “the opposition between living spirit and dead letter informs the whole traditional Western discourse on religion”, but also on art itself, as embodiment of the creative spirit of change.

The program of the Ouunpo symposium is proposed by Vanessa Theodoropoulou in collaboration with Nadja Argyropoulou.

Members of Ouunpo are : Jacopo Miliani, Meris Angioletti, Raimundas Malasauskas, Marco Pasi, Paola Anziche’, Per Huttner, Alessandra Sandrolini, Yane Calovski, Klas Eriksson, Fatos Ustek, Elena Nemkova, Natasha Rosling, Stephen Whitmarsh.
Invitees of the Symposium are : Georgia Spiropoulos (composer), Sasha Chaitov (MA western esotericism and director of Phoenix Rising Academy) with Iordanis Poulkouras (…), Saprofyta, Marios Chatziprokopiou (artist), Kostantinos Dagritzikos (curator, Six Dogs), Stefanos Rozanis (writer and philosopher), Yianna Tsokou (Professor of Theatrology at the University of Thessaloniki), Chiara Fumai (artist), Nanos Valaoritis (poet and writer).

29th Sept.
Visit to the island of Aegina and to the temple of “Aphaea”.
30 Sept.
Athens, DESTE foundation: Meeting with the poet Nanos Valaoritis and with Stefanos Rozanis, writer and philosopher. Presentation of the project “Saprofyta” by Nadja Argyropoulou (curator of “Hotel Paradies”, Athens Biennial 2009) Yorgos Tzirtzilakis, Malvina Panagiotidi.

Eleusys : Visit to the archaeological site. Collective performance directed by artist Klas Eriksson. Performance by Fatos Ustek and Per Huttner. Artist Marios Chatziprokopiou presents the screening of the film by "Agelatos Petra" by Filippou Koutsaftis. Visit of the temporary exhibitions of Stephen Antonakos and Loukia Alavanou, screening of the work of artists Panagiotis Loukas and Panos Tsagaris.

1rst of Oct.
Athens : Visit to the Greek Masonic Lodge and to its temple. Presentation by Iordanis Poulkouras and Sasha Chaitov, Director of Phoenix Rising Accademy, about "The Eleusinian mysteries through the ages. Initiatory practices in the Western esoteric tradition and their role in modern art and theather".

Panos Tsagaris, 2011.

17.50 Athens, Six Dogs space, in collaboration with curator Kostantinos Dagritzikos: Composer Georgia Spiropoulos will present her work focusing on the relationship between written and oral tradition, on improvisation and composition. She will also introduce us to Yianna Tsokou, Professor of Theatrology at the University of Thessaloniki, with whom she will talk about the ancient Anastenaria rituals. Presentation, discussion and concert.

29 September – 2 October 2011

Holy Mountain (The White Geometry of Winter)

Model for the Holy Mountain (The White Geometry of Winter) 2011
156 x 105 x 33 cm
wood, acrylic

The Last Word

Daniel BellDaniel Bell reflects on Friends, Foes, Influences, Ideologies, the State of the Novel, the State of the Union, and the Old Neighborhood.
This interview was conducted on September 21, 2010, a few months before Daniel Bell’s death, at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I. Adversaries

Who was your adversary when you were writing The End of Ideology and The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism?

I’m not sure there’s a single person. It was more against a whole current of writers, against whole ideological ways of thinking.

It goes very far back, to a crucial personal episode which defined my life when I was in City College. I had joined the Young People’s Socialist League at the age of 13. It’s crazy, but there it is. And I did so for very basic reasons: my father died when I was an infant; my mother raised me; she worked in a factory. There were two seasons in the year — busy and slack. When it was slack, my mother would be home to take care of me. In the busy season, I was in an orphanage. The orphanage was supported by the Jewish community. There were these personal ties that were important.

I grew up on the Lower East Side, which juts out into the river. Before the highways came, there were these long piers. They still remain on the West Side, these long piers. And they had these so-called “Hoovervilles” on the piers, which were tin shacks, and people living there. Everything was in the open. You could see people fornicating, fighting, everything. There were big garbage scowls which turned up, and we’d jump on the top of these to see if there were bits of food. At 11 o’clock at night we’d go to the West Side markets and we’d break open crates, and run away.

Everything was marked out by turf and ethnicity. The Italians were here, the Ukrainian kids were there, the Polish kids were there, the Jewish kids here. And there was “turf.” Before E.O. Wilson, it was about “turf.” We really believed in biological determinism, with every group having its place. There’d be fights. And — this was particularly true of the Polish kids — they’d take potatoes, and put in the potatoes these double-edged razor blades, and throw them at you. A hail of potatoes with razor blades being thrown at you! What you’d do then is you took the top of the garbage cans, and those were our shields. And then our brave socialist women would go on top of the building and throw down hot water to get the kids scattered. And that was life, life on the Lower East Side.

People talk about “rent checks” and such now. About how poor people are because they don’t have enough to get their rent check. In those days, you didn’t have anything like a rent check! We lived in backyard tenements.

So I looked around, and I said to myself: what’s going on here? Twenty percent of the country was unemployed. At that time, there was no social security, there was no government aid of any kind. No unemployment insurance, no old age pensions, nothing. As a kid of thirteen, I figured capitalism was doomed. And so, through a couple of friends, we all became socialists.

Like a number of my young comrades, we in the Young People’s Socialist League were moving towards the Trotskyists. But I had some anarchist cousins who lived in the Mohegan colony which was near Peekskill, and there was a man named Rudolf Rocker, an anarchist. Even though he was gentile, he learned Yiddish. He was the editor of a magazine called the Freie Arbeiter Stimme, the Free Voice of Labor, and my cousin took me to see him. Rocker said to me: “Look, whatever you do, don’t join the Trotskyists.” I said: “Why?” He gave me a book by Alexander Berkman, called The Bolshevik Myth.

Berkman had been deported during the Palmer raids, during World War I. Anarchists went to Russia eagerly because, as they saw it, the anarchists had made the revolution. This wasn’t completely true, but at that time the country was still being led by the Soviets, or workers’ councils. And this is what the anarchists had always wanted: spontaneous movements by workers and peasants. So they went with great expectations.

But by 1921 sailors at Kronstadt were saying: “Look, you promised us free elections. What’s going on here?” And Trotsky said: “This is mutiny.” And that’s that. The sailors said: “We’re the ones who made the revolution in Kronstadt.” And he said: “Stop. I’ll shoot you down.” And Berkman tells this story, day by day.

He was in Kronstadt. He wrote about how he heard shouting, how he heard shots firing. “Trotsky has shot down the Kronstadt sailors! Thousands of bodies, thousands lie in the streets.” The very next day, Trotsky gave a lecture celebrating the Paris Commune. So I could never become a Trotskyist.

And yet I find myself being labeled at the end of my life as an “ex-Trotskyist.” But I was never an ex-Trotskyist — because I was never a Trotskyist!

But when you talked to Irving Howe, or people who were Trotskyites, were you unable to convince them?

We debated. We debated!

There was a group called the Shachtmanites, in City College. It was underground. The Shermanites were a group of radicals besides Irving Howe: [they] included Philip Selznick, the Berkeley academic who died just recently; there was also Irving Kristol. Marty Lipset was there — he took the name Mark Eden. And there was Marty Diamond. He was an extraordinary man who died young, who became a leading Straussian, probably the leading Straussian in American thought. And there was a man named Peter Rossi, and he took a Jewish name, Rosenthal.

There were these debates. I had read a book before the others had, by Robert Michels, called Political Parties. Michels had been a student of Weber and he wrote a famous book which Lipset used in his book on Union Democracy, about the bureaucratic tendency in every organization. That no organization is immune to the bureaucratic tendency. And it targeted the Social Democratic leadership. The Iron Law of Oligarchy. So I would debate Irving Howe, I would say — we would adopt this tone — “And you think, Comrade Sherman, that James P. Cannon is immune to the Iron Law of Oligarchy?” These were my rhetorical smashes against Howe.

Howe was a Commissar at that time. A real Commissar. His real name was Horenstein. My name was Belotsky, originally. And Howe took as his Party name Hugh Ivan. Hugh for the gentleman that he wanted to be … and Ivan for the Muzhik that he was. (Laughs.) Then when he married Arien Mack, he became humanized. Unfortunately, he was later cuckholded and that almost destroyed him.

II. A Liberal Utopian

Are you a utopian?

In a way, I consider myself a utopian. There’s a book I’ve started to write — I’m not sure I’m ever going to finish it — about the historical tension between messianism and utopianism. And it is an attack on messianism. Because I would argue that too many problems of the last two thousand years or so are due to messianism. A messiah has a great vision, usually of redemption. Messianism requires following a leader. It requires pulling everybody into the scheme of a leader. Whereas utopianism basically consists in co-opting people to build things together. There is no overall, overarching scheme.

But the historical difficulty of utopianism is precisely that it doesn’t have a messiah, or a similarly overarching, emotionally powerful actor. So that the tension between utopianism and messianism is frequently to the unfair advantage of the messianic. I believe more and more that if we can have utopian movements we’ll do better than if we have messianic movements.

Is there a place for utopianism in a liberal society?

I think utopianism is a necessary framework. People want some ideals. And that’s why in the book I’m planning the only antagonist to utopianism is messianism. Take the example of what I suspect would be one of the worst examples of messianism — the Jonestown episode, where 700 people simply drank a drug that killed them, at the command of Mr. Jones. The point about messianism is that it always leads to a system of command: you have to follow the messiah. Utopianism has no such system of command. It has only a cooperative imperative: to build.

The problem with utopianism, historically, is that it has a tinge of going back to some presumed ideal. There’s a source of utopianism which is somewhat beautiful in its way, but pulls it back — back to arcadia. Historically, the tension has been between utopianism and arcadia. What I want to do is to say: I don’t want to go from arcadia against messianism. I’d rather have utopianism. So there’s a triangulation there.

But the nineteenth-century utopians — men like Fourier — were not backward-oriented utopians. Were they somehow different?

It depends. Fourier was a madman. A real madman. A brilliant genius of a madman.

The best utopian was Saint-Simon. He had these schemes, these triangular schemes. You know how they Saint-Simonians would get dressed? They dressed with the buttons on the back of their suits. That way, you couldn’t dress yourself. You needed someone to help you. So that’s a wonderful situation, where you are creating communities because you can’t get dressed without them.

What did you take from the Saint-Simonians?

Theories of development. If you look at the theories of development, there are two streams which have never been worked out completely. One is the idea of capitalism, which comes from Marx. The other is industrialism.

The whole stream of “industrial society” begins with Saint-Simon, and from there you have Auguste Comte; then you have the positivism which develops from that, and then in modern times you have Raymond Aron, and finally someone like myself, following from Aron. Instead of capitalism, which in its own way is based upon notions of exploitation, and industrialism, which is based on the idea of technology, one can think of the development of society; of a positive scheme. It is only in the last 50 years or so that the theme of “industrialism” has come forward, and it is largely through the efforts of Aron.

I’m curious to hear you say this, because I don’t see you fitting in with this French line. There’s a deep Weberian pessimism in your work, and a sense of history that seems to owe more to Vico than to these enthusiastic Frenchmen.

That’s completely true. I think you are right that Weber is the lynchpin of my ideas. But no ideas are ever simply lineal. You always have a variety of influences. In a way, the other sort of pole is Durkheim, because Durkheim at bottom had a religious foundation.

III Literature and Politics

We haven’t talked about literature.

Well, I haven’t really kept up with contemporary novels.

But there’s a bunch in your office upstairs.

No one writes today about the larger element of society. Not Paul Auster, not any of the others. Everything is a falling away from the whole emphasis of social realism. But this is a pulling away.

Take this new book of Franzen’s. At the most it is about the family, and the hidden tensions within a family.

It is interesting that with the collapse of the psychological movement you get more emphasis on psychology. But no one talks about society anymore. Instead they talk about human rights. Because human rights then covers everything. The problem with human rights is that it doesn’t have boundaries.

Isn’t that Hannah Arendt’s criticism?

Hannah is a more complicated element. I knew her very well, particularly during the year I spent at Chicago. But I would say that Hannah’s book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, was wrong. Very few societies have ever been totalitarian, at least for long. You can’t simply smash everything. There’s always something left. No society can ever live that way.

The one thing the theory of totalitarianism never confronted is the family. People live by the family, and there’s no mention of families in The Origins of Totalitarianism. So that the idea that you smash a society… — but she changed her mind, interestingly enough, during the Hungarian Revolution. If you look at the introduction to the reissue of the book, you’ll see she changed her mind.

You speak very affectionately about communities and families, in particular of the ones you grew up in. Were you ever attracted to the communitarians?

Well, not in the way communitarians have developed. When I think of communitarianism, I think of two people. I think of Amitai Etzioni and Michael Sandel. As I used to say to Michael: “The trouble with your view is that I’m a Jew. And your communitarianism never mentions the right of Jews to be Jews.”

We’re a community, and yet the communitarian movement exists with respect to a national polity. And by existing in relation to a national polity, it tends to put aside the particularity of real communities, like the Jewish community. So communitarianism to me has always seemed an abstract option. And to the extent that it is a doctrine, it is related to a national polity, so that… — to some extent this reflects my anarchist background, that I want to diminish the national polity. Abolish it as a polity, not as an economy. I’ve written, as you probably know, that I’m a socialist in economics, a liberal in politics, and a conservative in culture.

And you’ve never had any trouble reconciling those?

Not in the least! I’m against the idea of totality, which is a whole Marxist concept. I believe there are different logics in the different realms. The economy is, more or less, a system in which interdependence is established through the different variables of supply and demand. The polity is not a system, it is an order, held together by coercion and consent. Culture has two dimensions. One is the dimension of forms that exist, and the other is the dimension of meanings.

Two things broke me away from Marxism. One is the fact that if you look at the great historic religions, going back to what Jaspers called the Axial Age, the cores are still recognizable today — Judaism, Christianity, Confucianism. Economies have disappeared, political empires have crumbled, yet the greatest religions remain. The question is: how can this be, if the mode of production determines the superstructure? How come they remain? So to me, the very nature of these great historic religions is a repudiation of Marxism.

The second is the idea of substructure and superstructure — the idea that the substructure determines the superstructure. Well, that’s silly. Look at Germany from the eighteenth century to the present. You have a Wilhelmine Empire, a Federal Republic, you have a Nazi period, you have the new Federal Republic — yet the substructure is basically still capitalist. Now how can that be? How, on a Marxist view, can you have a single substructure and yet such a variety of superstructures?

Ok, so the realms may be autonomous. But do you not think they are intimately related? In Cultural Contradictions, you write of how America’s crumbling cultural values threaten the economic realm.

Let me go back for a minute because this is crucial. If there’s no single dimension that runs across these different realms, then what is so special about them? I’m a socialist in economics because I believe that every human being has a right — if you want to put it that way — to a decent living standard. It goes back to Aristotle. If a man is not a member of the polity, he is either a beast or a God. So that there ought to be a “right” to give everybody a decent standard of living. Being a member of the society gives rise to a claim on the economy.

I’m a liberal in politics because I believe in merit. And I therefore believe that one’s position in society ought to be determined on the basis of merit.

In culture, I’m a conservative because I believe in judgment, forms, and meanings.

So that’s why I can assume a certain logical coherence to the idea of being a socialist in economics, a liberal in politics, and a conservative in culture.

But in Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism you precisely describe a contradiction between an economy that requires people to work and to save, and a cultural ethic that tells people to enjoy leisure, and to consume.

Well, here there is a contradiction between production and consumption. Go back to the original theories of Weber. Capitalism requires delayed gratification, savings, not going into debt, saving up for tomorrow. Whereas a modern society is a consumer society.

The beginning of the story of capitalism in the last century is a story of the 1920s. It was invented by a man named Paul Mazer. It is called the installment plan. Instead of saving up for it, you can get it now and pay later. This is an invitation to expand the market.

So there are always these little contradictions. Nothing is ever seamless. That’s one of the problems with the Catholic Church — it believes everything is seamless.

Do you think that in some ways the present financial crisis has vindicated your theory? Public and private debt in the United States are now three times GDP …

The financial crisis violates the most fundamental theorem of Weber: the only time that you go into debt is if you buy land in order to buy a house. But you can’t go into debt for other things. So that this tension of savings versus debt has always been there.

In this country, for the last 10-15 years or more, there’s been almost no savings. You go into debt. The debt was leveraged, because the notion was that house prices would always go up. One of the problems with the foreclosure thing today is that no one knows how many people speculated and flipped. If 10 per cent of people bought a house on speculation, with the idea of flipping it, they are stuck. And that’s a typical thing, if you try to deal with the issue of foreclosures: these people were buying just to flip it. So why the hell should you save them? No one had the courage to say: “Let’s see how many people bought extra houses to flip them.”

But the real question is: how can people, very smart people at Goldman Sachs and others, go on with the idea that you can leverage a whole society? They are living by leverage, and not realizing that there is a simple law in statistics: that we have a growth pattern that is an S curve. It goes up, and then you reach a midpoint, when it begins to come down. All these people are mathematical. So they’d have to say: “Hey, how can this thing keep going up?”

The answer, I suspect, is that enough people behind the scenes are saying: “That’s how I’ll make my money, at their expense. I’ll get out in time!” But they themselves then got trapped.

I have a former father-in-law, through a previous marriage, who wanted me to come into the family business. His name is Benjamin Graham. Benjamin Graham, you probably know, was the founder of value analysis. He said: “I have a bright young man here, named Warren Buffett. I’ll pair you with Warren Buffett!” And I said, Ben, the problem is, I have no stomach for the “timing,” and that’s crucial in this business. Well, anyhow, I worked for Ben, and I made some money with it. I do understand the markets.

IV. Past and Future

You used to serve on the Commission on the Year 2000. Some of that work came through in The Coming of Post-Industrial Society, which was really futurology: looking forward and trying to predict where society will be in 20 or 30 years.

There’s a misunderstanding to some extent, which is probably my fault. The Commission on the Year 2000, when I was involved in organizing it, was never really interested in the future. There is something called the Encyclopedia of the Future, which came out of a group in Washington, for which I wrote a long essay, attacking the idea of the future.

You mean attacking futurology?

Attacking futurology, yes, and in particular attacking Alvin Toffler, and what I called “future shlock.” (Laughs.)

There are two problems with futurology. One is that no one can do prediction. Why? Because predictions are point events, and you never know the internal dynamics. I think of my erstwhile colleague Zbigniew Brzezinski, with whom I taught at Columbia. During a debate on television he was asked: “Professor Brzezinski, are you a Kremlinologist?” And he said: “Well, if you like, though it is an ugly word.” “So you are someone who studies the Soviet Union? If so, Professor Brzezinski, how come you failed to predict the ouster of Khrushchev?” And Zbig said: “Tell me: if Khrushchev couldn’t predict his own ouster, how do you expect me to do it?!”

So you can’t predict. What you can do is deal with structural change. If you move from an agricultural to an industrial economy then there are obvious changes you have to make in the educational system, and various other places. That’s why I make a distinction between prediction and forecasting.

The other problem is that we weren’t interested in the future, per se. We were interested in the fact that once you make a decision it becomes binding and lays out the lines for the next time period. If you build a city, and build it on a grid pattern, then it becomes a constraint on how you build in the future. Whether you build in a circular pattern or a grid pattern affects the lives of people in the future. So we’re not only interested in forecasting the future, but in saying: let’s pay attention to how we make decisions now, because they are going to affect our legacy in the future.

What do you make of the confrontation between rival forms of capitalism, between state—directed capitalism in China, and whatever it is we have in the West?

Well, the story of the West begins in 1453.

The fall of Constantinople?

Yes, the fall of Constantinople. Good for you. (Laughter.)

What the fall of Constantinople meant was a shift to the Atlantic littoral. Holland, England, Spain, and Portugal became the main actors.

Now, there are certain kinds of large-scale, cyclical elements. In the nineteenth century, to the extent that there is any single indicator, and it is a difficult one, it would be steel. England based its industrial revolution on steel, and on the availability of coal. Eventually the United States overtook Britain on steel, and we became dominant. And then Japan, and Korea, who were able to undercut us on price. The only way you can avoid that, the way the Italians avoided some of it, is to move to specialized and niche production, as opposed to mass production. The Italians lost out on textiles, but then they began to specialize in a niche market, as did Benetton and others.

When the Russians managed to increase their productivity it was for the same reason the Chinese are now increasing their productivity: the movement of people off the land and into cities. The urbanization process. The Chinese have these huge internal migrant populations. Now, of course, the Chinese are beginning to get worried about countries like Vietnam undercutting them in turn.

So these large-scale shifts are taking place, and we’ve lost out almost completely. What we have to do is either go into niche production, or find new areas. I think in the next 20-30 years, maybe longer, space will be a major area, undersea resources, biology, some elements of basic research.

I think the U.S. is in a difficult position. The recent recession is a blip. It is a consequence of overleveraging, speculation and so on — but it doesn’t really have anything to do with the fundamental structural problems confronting this society.

The recession was a blip?

It might not have been a blip. The financial system is responsible for shifting money into resources. It overdid that, and failed. The question is whether you can really recreate a viable financial system. But all of that is secondary.

The real issue for leadership is that very few people pay attention to fundamental structural changes. We can identify fundamental structural changes, and that is the only defense we have against cyclical changes.

But in this country now, unfortunately, nobody really looks at trying to find out what the historic precedents and trends might tell us. There is no sense of history in these matters.

Daniel Bell was a sociologist and Professor Emeritus at Harvard University. He served as managing editor of The New Leader (1941–1945), labor editor of Fortune (1948–1958) and later co-editor (with Irving Kristol) of The Public Interest (1965–1973). Among his best-known books are The End of Ideology (1960), The Coming of a Post-Industrial Society (1973), and The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (1976). His book, The Reforming of General Education: The Columbia Experience in Its National Setting, has recently been republished by Transaction with a new introduction.
Roberto Foa is a PhD Candidate at Harvard University.
Thomas Meaney is an editor of The Utopian

Source: www.the-utopian.org, February 10th, 2011.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Space Makes a Dark Glow

the night hawk tears air

wings a star wing crescent

horizon's breath

a body dreams sky in

aperture of mind

retina of stars inhaled air

a subtle voice of wind exhaled

ascension into

silence birdsong

cadence pulse a flickering

I wrap my voice behind

stars beam in shapes I cannot

name ways in I cannot say

sun arcs round

rest stone breathes

measured breaths

half shapes around reeds

shadow a stream braids

currents form light into seams

I read your shadow by those stems

a stream braids

reflections of stars

fade round stones

moment of moment

filled memory with ink

poured the universe

in other eyes

Rico Moore