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Chris Marker's Gay-Lussac (Paris, May 1968)
Image courtesy Peter Blum, New York.

 

HUO: Is this a war of a new kind, as Page claims? An economic Third World War?

RV: We are at war, yes, but this is not an economic war. It is a world war against the economy. Against the economy that for thousands of years has been based on the exploitation of nature and man. And against a patched-up capitalism that will try to save its skin by investing in natural power and making us pay the high price for that which—once the new means of production are created—will be free as the wind, the sun, and the energy of plants and soil. If we do not exit economic reality and create a human reality in its place, we will once again allow market barbarism to live on.

HUO: In his book Making Globalization Work, Joseph Stiglitz argues for a reorganization of globalization along the lines of greater justice, in order to shrink global imbalances. What do you think of globalization? How does one get rid of profit as motive and pursue well-being instead? How does one escape from the growth imperative?

RV: The moralization of profit is an illusion and a fraud. There must be a decisive break with an economic system that has consistently spread ruin and destruction while pretending, amidst constant destitution, to deliver a most hypothetical well-being. Human relations must supersede and cancel out commercial relations. Civil disobedience means disregarding the decisions of a government that embezzles from its citizens to support the embezzlements of financial capitalism. Why pay taxes to the bankster-state, taxes vainly used to try to plug the sinkhole of corruption, when we could allocate them instead to the self-management of free power networks in every local community? The direct democracy of self-managed councils has every right to ignore the decrees of corrupt parliamentary democracy.

Civil disobedience towards a state that is plundering us is a right. It is up to us to capitalize on this epochal shift to create communities where desire for life overwhelms the tyranny of money and power. We need concern ourselves neither with government debt, which covers up a massive defrauding of the public interest, nor with that contrivance of profit they call “growth.” From now on, the aim of local communities should be to produce for themselves and by themselves all goods of social value, meeting the needs of all—authentic needs, that is, not needs prefabricated by consumerist propaganda.

HUO: Edouard Glissant distinguishes between globality and globalization. Globalization eradicates differences and homogenizes, while globality is a global dialogue that produces differences. What do you think of his notion of globality?

RV: For me, it should mean acting locally and globally through a federation of communities in which our pork-barreling, corrupt parliamentary democracy is made obsolete by direct democracy. Local councils will be set up to take measures in favor of the environment and the daily lives of everyone. The situationists have called this “creating situations that rule out any backtracking.”

HUO: Might the current miscarriages of globalization have the same dangerous effects as the miscarriages of the previous globalization from the ‘30s? You have written that what was already intolerable in ‘68 when the economy was booming is even more intolerable today. Do you think the current economic despair might push the new generations to rebel?

RV: The crisis of the ‘30s was an economic crisis. What we are facing today is an implosion of the economy as a management system. It is the collapse of market civilization and the emergence of human civilization. The current turmoil signals a deep shift: the reference points of the old patriarchal world are vanishing. Percolating instead, still just barely and confusedly, are the early markers of a lifestyle that is genuinely human, an alliance with nature that puts an end to its exploitation, rape, and plundering.

The worst would be the unawareness of life, the absence of sentient intelligence, violence without conscience. Nothing is more profitable to the racketeering mafias than chaos, despair, suicidal rebellion, and the nihilism that is spread by mercenary greed, in which money, even devalued in a panic, remains the only value.



still from if... (1968), directed by Lindsay Anderson.
 

HUO: In his book Utopistics, Immanuel Wallerstein claims that our world system is undergoing a structural crisis. He predicts it will take another twenty to fifty years for a more democratic and egalitarian system to replace it. He believes that the future belongs to “demarketized,” free-of-charge institutions (on the model, say, of public libraries). So we must oppose the marketization of water and air.1 What is your view?

RV: I do not know how long the current transformation will take (hopefully not too long, as I would like to witness it). But I have no doubt that this new alliance with the forces of life and nature will disseminate equality and freeness. We must go beyond our natural indignation at profit’s appropriation of our water, air, soil, environment, plants, animals. We must establish collectives that are capable of managing natural resources for the benefit of human interests, not market interests. This process of reappropriation that I foresee has a name: self-management, an experience attempted many times in hostile historical contexts. At this point, given the implosion of consumer society, it appears to be the only solution from both an individual and social point of view.

HUO: In your writing you have described the work imperative as an inhuman, almost animal condition. Do you consider market society to be a regression?

RV: As I mentioned above, evolution in the Paleolithic age meant the development of creativity—the distinctive trait of the human species as it breaks free from its original animality. But during the Neolithic, the osmotic relationship to nature loosened progressively, as intensive agriculture became based on looting and the exploitation of natural resources.

It was also then that religion surfaced as an institution, society stratified, the reign of patriarchy began, of contempt for women, and of priests and kings with their stream of wars, destitution, and violence. Creation gave way to work, life to survival, jouissance to the animal predation that the appropriation economy confiscates, transcends, and spiritualizes. In this sense market civilization is indeed a regression in which technical progress supersedes human progress.

HUO: For you, what is a life in progress?

RV: Advancing from survival, the struggle for subsistence and predation to a new art of living, by recreating the world for the benefit of all.

HUO: My interviews often focus on the connections between art and architecture/urbanism, or literature and architecture/urbanism. Could you tell me about the Bureau of Unitary Urbanism?

RV: That was an idea more than a project. It was about the urgency of rebuilding our social fabric, so damaged by the stranglehold of the market. Such a rebuilding effort goes hand in hand with the rebuilding by individuals of their own daily existence. That is what psychogeography is really about: a passionate and critical deciphering of what in our environment needs to be destroyed, subjected to détournement, rebuilt.

HUO: In your view there is no such thing as urbanism?

RV: Urbanism is the ideological gridding and control of individuals and society by an economic system that exploits man and Earth and transforms life into a commodity. The danger in the self-built housing movement that is growing today would be to pay more attention to saving money than to the poetry of a new style of life.

HUO: How do you see cities in the year 2009? What kind of unitary urbanism for the third millennium? How do you envision the future of cities? What is your favorite city? You call Oarystis the city of desire. Oarystis takes its inspiration from the world of childhood and femininity. Nothing is static in Oarystis. John Cage once said that, like nature, “one never reaches a point of shapedness or finishedness. The situation is in constant unpredictable change.”2 Do you agree with Cage?

RV: I love wandering through Venice and Prague. I appreciate Mantua, Rome, Bologna, Barcelona, and certain districts of Paris. I care less about architecture than about how much human warmth its beauty has been capable of sustaining. Even Brussels, so devastated by real estate developers and disgraceful architects (remember that in the dialect of Brussels, “architect” is an insult), has held on to some wonderful bistros.

Strolling from one to the next gives Brussels a charm that urbanism has deprived it of altogether. The Oarystis I describe is not an ideal city or a model space (all models are totalitarian). It is a clumsy and naïve rough draft for an experiment I still hope might one day be undertaken—so I agree with John Cage. This is not a diagram, but an experimental proposition that the creation of an environment is one and the same as the creation by individuals of their own future.

HUO: Is Oarystis based on natural power, like the Metabolist cities? Rem Koolhaas and I are working on a book on the Japanese Metabolists. When I read your wonderful text on Oarystis, I was reminded of that movement from the 1960s, especially the floating cities, Kikutake’s water cities. Is Oarystis a Metabolist city?

RV: When Oarystis was published, the architect Philippe Rothier and Diane Hennebert, who ran Brussels’ Architecture Museum at the time, rightly criticized me for ignoring the imaginative projects of a new generation of builders. Now that the old world is collapsing, the fusion of free natural power, self-built housing techniques, and the reinvention of sensual form is going to be decisive.

So it is useful to remember that technical inventiveness must stem from the reinvention of individual and collective life. That is to say, what allows for genuine rupture and ecstatic inventiveness is self-management: the management by individuals and councils of their own lives and environment through direct democracy. Let us entrust the boundless freedoms of the imaginary to childhood and the child within us.

HUO: Several years ago I interviewed Constant on New Babylon. What were your dialogues with Constant and how do you see New Babylon today?

RV: I never met Constant, who if I am not mistaken had been expelled before my own association with the SI. New Babylon’s flaw is that it privileges technology over the formation of an individual and collective way of life—the necessary basis of any architectural concept. An architectural project only interests me if it is about the construction of daily life.

HUO: How can the city of the future contribute to biodiversity?

RV: By drawing inspiration from Alphonse Allais, by encouraging the countryside to infiltrate the city. By creating zones of organic farming, gardens, vegetable plots, and farms inside urban space. After all, there are so many bureaucratic and parasitical buildings that can't wait to give way to fertile, pleasant land that is useful to all. Architects and squatters, build us some hanging gardens where we can go for walks, eat, and live!

HUO: Oarystis is in the form of a maze, but it is also influenced by Venice and its public piazzas. Could you tell us about the form of Oarystis?

RV: Our internal space-time is maze-like. In it, each of us is at once Theseus, Ariadne, and Minotaur. Our dérives would gain in awareness, alertness, harmony, and happiness if only external space-time could offer meanders that could conjure up the possible courses of our futures, as an analogy or echo of sorts—one that favors games of life, and prevents their inversion into games of death.

HUO: Will museums be abolished? Could you discuss the amphitheater of memory? A protestation against oblivion?

RV: The museum suffers from being a closed space in which works waste away. Painting, sculpture, music belong to the street, like the façades that contemplate us and come back to life when we greet them. Like life and love, learning is a continuous flow that enjoys the privilege of irrigating and fertilizing our sentient intelligence. Nothing is more contagious than creation. But the past also carries with it all the dross of our inhumanity. What should we do with it? A museum of horrors, of the barbarism of the past? I attempted to answer the question of the “duty of memory” in Ni pardon, ni talion [Neither Forgiveness Nor Retribution]:

Most of the great men we were brought up to worship were nothing more than cynical or sly murderers. History as taught in schools and peddled by an overflowing and hagiographic literature is a model of falsehood; to borrow a fashionable term, it is negationist. It might not deny the reality of gas chambers, it might no longer erect monuments to the glory of Stalin, Mao or Hitler, but it persists in celebrating the brutish conqueror: Alexander, called the Great—whose mentor was Aristotle, it is proudly intoned—Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Napoleon, the throngs of generals, slaughterers of peoples, petty tyrants of the city or the state, torturer–judges, Javerts of every ilk, conniving diplomats, rapists and killers contracted by religions and ideologies; so much high renown carved from baseness, wickedness, and abjection.
I am not suggesting we should unpave the avenues of official history and pave the side alleys instead. We are not in need of a purged history, but of a knowledge that scoops out into broad daylight facts that have been obscured, generation after generation, by the unceasing stratification of prejudice. I am not calling for a tribunal of the mind to begin condemning a bunch of undesirables who have been bizarrely put up on pedestals and celebrated in the motley pantheons of official memory. I just want to see the list of their crimes, the mention of their victims, the recollection of those who confronted them added to the inventory of their unsavory eulogies.
I am not suggesting that the name of Francisco Ferrer wipe out that of his murderer, Alfonso XIII, but that at the very least everything be known of both. How dare textbooks still cultivate any respect for Bonaparte, responsible for the death of millions, for Louis XIV, slaughterer of peasants and persecutor of Protestants and freethinkers? For Calvin, murderer of Jacques Gruet and Michel Servet and dictator of Geneva, whose citizens, in tribute to Sébastien Castellion, would one day resolve to destroy the emblems and signs of such an unworthy worship? While Spain has now toppled the effigies of Francoism and rescinded the street names imposed by fascism, we somehow tolerate, towering in the sky of Paris, that Sacré-Coeur whose execrable architecture glorifies the crushing of the Commune.
In Belgium there are still avenues and monuments honoring King Leopold II, one of the most cynical criminals of the nineteenth century, whose “red rubber” policy—denounced by Mark Twain, by Roger Casement (who paid for this with his life), by Edward Dene Morel, and more recently by Adam Hochschild—has so far bothered nary a conscience. This is a not a call to blow up his statues or to chisel away the inscriptions that celebrate him. This is a call to Belgian and Congolese citizens to cleanse and disinfect public places of this stain, the stain of one of the worst sponsors of colonial savagery. Paradoxically, I do tend to believe that forgetting can be productive, when it comes to the perpetrators of inhumanity.
A forgetting that does not eradicate remembering, that does not blue-pencil memory, that is not an enforceable judgment, but that proceeds rather from a spontaneous feeling of revulsion, like a last-minute pivot to avoid dog droppings on the sidewalk. Once they have been exposed for their inhumanity, I wish for the instigators of past brutalities to be buried in the shroud of their wrongs. Let the memory of the crime obliterate the memory of the criminal.3

 

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