Tuesday 23, Fribourg and St Imier
Professor Giordano, professor social anthropology in Fribourg, explained to us the difference between status and power. In that light could one say it makes sense that when the state is loosing legitimisation, or prestige, it is likely it will compensate by using power? Is this what we see happening in the Netherlands for instance? More control, budget cuts on education, care and culture, and then the proposal (by the same guy that did the cuts a year ago when he was state secretary of culture) to reserve more money for the military? Like in the airports now, where authorities treat travelers as all being possible criminals.
In ‘two cheers for anarchism’ anthropologist James C. Scott argues, much like David Graeber, that major social change rarely happened from head on confrontations, but rather from evasion, civil dissobediance, footdragging and desertion. If more and more people dissagree, they will slowly start to turn to sabotage, being non-cooperative, take what they think is their right to have, desert and so on. He sees this as the main trigger and start of social change, and a force which more or less forces states to do the right thing now and then. I like the book, it’s personal, anecdotal and well-written, but I read a (also quite interesting) critique in which he’s accused of being some kind kind of neo-lib in anarchist disguise. (Malcolm Harris in Los Angeles Review of Books; http://lareviewofbooks.org/article.php?type=&id=1154&fulltext=1&media=#article-text-cutpoint)
Monday 22 April, Genève
We would have been in the plain back from Brussels now, instead Rob just made bread, and we spend the weekend working; planning the last two weeks here in Geneva, writing and reading. We still have only 2 weeks. It would take 2 weeks only to look at all the video material from the last two month. Again we didn’t manage to go back home with everything processed. It is not realistic. I guess what we did here will be in the end part of a larger project, to be continued in the Netherlands, for a start, with a dive into the biggest archive on anarchism, in the institute for social history in Amsterdam.
Wikipedia date-search for 'April 22':
1864 April 22 – The U.S. Congress passes the Coinage Act of 1864 that mandates that the inscription ‘In God We Trust’ be placed on all coins minted as United States currency.
1889 April 22 – At high noon, thousands rush to claim land in the Land Run of 1889. Within hours the cities of Oklahoma City and Guthrie are formed with populations of at least 10,000.
This way of selling land reminds me of a man called Dennis Hope, who in 1980 started to sell land plots on the moon:
“Since 1980, Hope has raked in over $9 million selling acres of lunar real estate for $19.99 a pop. So far, 4.25 million people have purchased a piece of the moon, including celebrities like Barbara Walters, George Lucas, Ronald Reagan, and even the first President Bush. Hope says he exploited a loophole in the 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treaty, which prohibits nations from owning the moon.” (http://discovermagazine.com/2007/jul/location-location-location#.Ud_B5ByRP-E
Sunday 21 April, Genève
A blog is like a pile of things, the most recent is on top. It starts at the end, in a way. Just the other way around from a book or a film, where you start at the beginning and continue from there. I wish a new reader of this blog would start at the bottom, day 1, but that’s not up to me. In real life you also start with ‘now’. If you meet someone new for instance, or if you deal with an idea. We are, I have the feeling, following some tracks, backward, as if the present is some mark you can observe, and you need to track back the histories that caused the present to be as it is. But I should talk for myself, here. Some people don’t care a bit for the history and background of the thing in front of them. They start with the now, and take it right into the future.
What to do; read the anarchism classics from the 1870s when it was a huge new movement (which leads to reading general historcal overviews on that period to be able to understand the context), read overviews on anarchism, specialise and stick to reading on anarchism and art? Go out in the streets now we’re still in Switzerland, visit anarchist experiments, or try find anarchist and self-organisation cooperative spirit in art initiatives and ecological experiments? Then there is the Swiss confederational history to look in to; can one find that back in today’s structures? Or focus on ‘the other side’, the extreme centralised global institutions that have their seats in Geneva, like the UN, about which David Graeber states:
‘(…)a great, emerging global bureaucracy-the first genuinely global administrative system in human history, enshrined not only in the United Nations, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization, but also the endless host of economic unions and trade organizations and non-governmental organizations that work in tandem with them—created largely under U.S. patronage.’(Dept, p. 368)
Theory or practice? History or anthropology? Concepts or Anecdotes?
Today I started reading Allen Antliff’s Anarchy and Art, from the Paris Commune to the Fall of the Berlin Wall. He writes on the Proudhon-Zola debate, who were— although both in admiration—fighting about the work of the anarchist painter Gustave Courbet.
On page 27 he quotes from Proudhon’s public defense of Courbet Du principe de l’art: “The task of art, I say, is to warn us, to praise us, to teach us, to make us blush by confronting us with a mirror of our own conscience.”
Zola answered in a lengthy book review that Proudhon’s defense resulted in an ‘empoverished definition of art’. (p.29) ‘For Zola on the other hand, the locus of freedom was the autonomous individual, independent of all rules and all social obligations.’
‘Zola defined a work of art as "a fragment of creation seen through a temperament" (Zola's emphasis) For him, the "fragment" was secondary to "temperament" and the index of temperament was style. Equating the exercise of temperament with freedom, Zola turned stylistic originality into an anarchist act. Here, the politics of art imploded into the art object as the artist strove to assert personal freedom through stylistic innovation. The contrast with Proudhon's artist, who could not approach a condition of freedom except through social critique, seemed unequivocal.’
Three pages later (p. 34, we are now in the middle of the Paris Commune and reading about Courbet’s close involvement in it): The Federation of Artists had been formed on April 13 at Courbet's instigation. Its first act was to issue a manifesto declaring complete freedom of expression, an end to government interference in the arts, and equality amongst the membership. Complete freedom of expression: for Courbet, there was no conflict between Zola's advocacy of freedom through style and Proudhon's advocacy of freedom through critique—an anarchist future could accommodate both.
Friday 19 April, Genève
A terrible thing: after 3 hours on the airport, between hermes shawls and yves saint laurent stuff, and after reading 'No place like Home’ by Andrea Fraser, we decided to not go to the art fair in Brussels.
Tuesday 16 April, St Imier
Early drive to St Imier. They are having their Monday-seances in L’Espace Noir, which sounds exotic for non-french, but it’s just the weekly meeting. Twenty people together organise the programm for the bookshop, the cinema, concerts, meetings, exhibitions. They kindly offer us a room for the night. On the door a photocopied drawing of the bard from Asterix, and: ‘sleeping artists’. In the room we can choose from 10 matrasses. We have a pizza, walk around in St Imier, check the info plates that are all around town telling short histories of the watch makers industry, the Anti-authoritarian International Workingmen's Association or Anti-authoritarian International, the arrival of Kropotkin in town. The same line I copy-pasted from his autobiography is on a turist-information text:
“The very organization of the watch trade, which permits men to know one another thoroughly and to work in their own houses, where they are free to talk, explains why the level of intellectual development in this population is higher than that of workers who spend all their life from early childhood in the factories. There is more independence and more originality among the petty trades’ workers. But the absence of a division between the leaders and the masses in the Jura Federation was also the reason why there was not a question upon which every member of the federation would not strive to form his own independent opinion. Here I saw that the workers were not a mass that was being led and made subservient to the political ends of a few men; their leaders were simply their more active comrades, — initiators rather than leaders. The clearness of insight, the soundness of judgment, the capacity for disentangling complex social questions, which I noticed amongst these workers, especially the middle-aged ones, deeply impressed me; and I am firmly persuaded that if the Jura Federation has played a prominent part in the development of socialism, it is not only on account of the importance of the no-government and federalist ideas of which it was the champion, but also on account of the expression which was given to these ideas by the good sense of the Jura watchmakers. Without their aid, these conceptions might have remained mere attractions for a long time. The theoretical aspects of anarchism, as they were then beginning to be expressed in the Jura Federation, especially by Bakúnin; the criticisms of state socialism — the fear of an economic despotism, far more dangerous than the merely political despotism — which I heard formulated there; and the revolutionary character of the agitation, appealed strongly to my mind. But the egalitarian relations which I found in the Jura Mountains, the independence of thought and expression which I saw developing in the workers, and their unlimited devotion to the cause appealed far more strongly to my feelings; and when I came away from the mountains, after a week’s stay with the watchmakers, my views upon socialism were settled. I was an anarchist.”
Spend the night in our ‘sleeping artists’-room, preparing for the talk with Michel Nemitz tomorrow morning.
Sunday 7 April, train Rotterdam—Genève
In a train following more or less the same route as the non-authoritarian socialists who left the meeting in the Hague and traveled to Switzerland for the meeting in St Imier, 141 years later, I’m on my way to Geneva. Next to me a young and smartly dressed Russian woman, reading this book:
It is written by Lev Luria, historian, and it is, she tells, with about strong women around the Tsar and the monarchy at the end of the 19th century. ‘Female preditors’, she calls them, and they were complicit in the assasination of the Tsar. Things didn’t turn for the better she says; she prefers evolution over revolution. I get the impression everywhere I look people are rethinking the late 19th century.
Tuesday 2 April, Rotterdam
For anyone who thinks the bureaucracy in the Netherlands is disturbing, this mail I got from an American university:
I do know that Purchasing has approved the Non-conforming order and it was turned over to Payables for payment. I also sent in a Special Payment form so that the check can come to me and then I can send it by Fed Ex over to Nienke. I will let you know when I receive the check.
Sunday 31 March, Arnhem
At 9 in the morning I discover there is no tram before ten at Sunday. I walk/run to the station, but just when I realise I’ll never make it I see some taxis and a police car. The situation is tense and strange. The driver says I cannot get in, but a few meters further he stops again and asks where I need to go. There are two totally spaced out drunk people in the car. That’s why. The morning shift meets the night shift. I get a free ride to the station.
ILater that day, with my family, we talk about some initiatives going on in the Netherlands that sound a lot like anarchist ways of doing things. People start organising stuff for themselves and for each other. There is the Broodfonds, a collective insurance for and by free lancers; people who take over libraries in villages and neighbourhoods that are shut down because of government budget cuts. Energy companies start to obstruct green power decentralisation initiatives by charging more for using the net, less for the energy itself. Is that a sign this kind of ‘engaged retreat’ from the big companies is becoming a serious factor?
Saturday 30 March, Rotterdam
I really have to make better notes. Was it Propotkin who said ‘there’s no king of the jungle’? And where did I read this nice summery of concepts which in science were thought of as operating by ‘central controle’ for a long while and now conceived of as networks, decentralised systems? There were interesting items in the list, like the body centraly controled by the head, and even the solar system turning around the sun is an image that’s been challenged now. The smallest particles turn out to be of infinite importance because they’re infinite in number. Chaos theory is interesting as well, for sure. Gaia hypothesis, daisy world. The imagery choice in science is not so objective either.
Back in the Netherlands for a few days, I bought the newspaper: de Volkskrant. No text on the frontpage, only images. Lots of fashion and lifestyle, and the news-news which you also get online. In Dresden the lady of a local newspaper we tried to convince publishing a page of FGA once said to us: ‘you have to understand: the editorial content is an envelope for the advertisements.’
I scanned for centralisation-decentralisation news, enjoyed reading a new ‘news photo with comment’ by Hans Aarsman about the effect of the layout of the chairs in the house of parliament on the way of discussing, and was touched by the column of Remco Campert, a voice I know since I can read the newspaper. They were the only two things in this edition I might miss when I would quit reading paper-newspapers.
Friday 29 March, Haut-Savoie
This is 20 minutes outside Geneva, 900 metres high. We tried to find the village where John Berger lives. Just to see if it’s really an isolated mountain village, or maybe it turned into an expensive expat suburb kind of place over the years. If we were on the right track, an unpaved little road that is closed untill the snow melts leads to the hamlet. We walked under dripping pine trees on melting snowdunes uptill a meter high. A wonderfull accoustics: a forest in the snow. After sinking into the snow knee-deep a few times, we decided one needs different gear to walk the 2 km and the night started to fall, so we went back. It seems pretty remote, and specially for a place so close to the city.
Someone told us the countryside just around Geneva is way more expensive then the city. On one hand there are rural areas inhabited by rich city dwellers now, gentrified villa parcs (like in the last chapter of Houllebec’s The Map and the Territory), and on the other hand (and that other hand is not in Switzerland) there are huge deserted rural areas from which people continue to move away and to the cities, just because they can’t survive there any longer. I have to check this out for the Countryside Issues. Perhaps first wait for OMA’s research on the countryside. I heard about this big project, in which also the Swiss village where Rem Koolhaas has a holiday house is being analysed, but cannot find too much online. In Architectsjournal.co.uk he’s quoted to say: ‘‘Millions have moved to cities from the countryside. They have left behind a weird territory for genetic experimentation, intermittent immigration [and] vast property transactions. It’s truly amazing when you look closely.’’ Well, yes. Sounds dangerous. What are his plans?
Wednesday 27 March, Lausanne
I’m sitting in the Centre International de Recherches sur l’Anarchisme, CIRA, between the many books. Where to start? Upstairs there are the documents, newspapers, flyers, manifesto’s, zines, posters and booklets. Downstairs the books, of which three meters are in English. The archiving system is simple. For example, the first book I took out—Anarchism and environmental survival, by Graham Purchase—is coded BA388. B is for the height of the book—so no shelf space is wasted—A is for the language Anglais, 388 is about the order of acquisition. So on the top shelf at the far left is the first book of the collection, then it goes on chronological for each language, for each size. The first books in the English department that catch my eye are the ones I heard of, writers I heard of in relation to anarchism, or contrary, of whom I didn’t know they are related to anarchism, and books with subjects in the title that trigger my imagination in combination with anarchism.
Colin Ward—Talking Houses, The child in the city, Voices of Creative dissent, New town, Home town; a biography about Richard Reid; many titles by Naom Chomsky—Radical Priorities, Language and Politics, The culture of Terrorism; William Godwin (Mary Kelly ‘Frankenstein’s father), Bertrand Russel, Eric From, John Berger. I'm a member now, so I chose some to bring to the Embassy. Demanding the Impossible, a history of Anarchism, by Peter Marshall, and some books related to art and anarchism.
After an hour or two I go upstairs where someone is busy digitalising the posters, using big photo lamps that make the room look like a film set. I start looking at newspapers from the start of the 20th century. I find something wonderfull; on the cover of one paper there’s a typography experiment that is based on an image of a pamphlet that was reproduced on the last page of the issue before. A text in red with big arrows, overprinted over the ordinary text page. The way the layers mix looks kind of random, brutal. It wasn’t so easy in those days to print big diagonals I think. They must have had fun doing this. Were there many type setters in anarchism, or did the editors and writers learn to type set and print?
Tuesday 26 March, Geneva, UN
We went to the United Nations (UN) building for the 4pm tourist tour, were present at the gate mentioned on the website at 3.50pm (see photo), and found a note saying we should go to another gate, where we arrived at 4pm sharp. Too late. Well, ok, next time.
Monday 25 March, Geneva
Started to transcribe last week’s recorded talks. It is a lot of work, but I like it, listening back a conversation and hearing so much more than the first time. The moment you walk out the door, you’ve rephrased things, adjusted what you heard to your own way of thinking, filtered and edited without intending to. Transcribing a tape, word by word, makes you realise that often what you remember consists for a great part of things that you already knew, or at least the things you can easily place within what you already know or believe. It is just difficult to hear something that forces you to rethink part of the ground you stand on.
On the other hand; sometimes I remember something exactly because it is such a mystery to me, because it irritates and contradicts what I think I know. Sometimes such an itch starts attracting other remarks or observations that don’t seem to fit, somehow. After a while there’s a pile of these misfits, growing, tilting and then sliding, till you have to start investigating a whole wide net of believes and prejudices that seemed the simplest truths just before. Where did they come from, what are they connected to, how would one see the world without them?
Sunday 24 March, Geneva
Maison Baron had it’s first Barbaron today, with drinks and snacks and a talk by Merel, Rob and me. We were going to talk about academic and non-academic research, based on the many talks we had here in Maison Baron over the last weeks, but once we got going things took their own cours, as usual. Difficult. We started off with the exposé of the wonderfull documentary “De werkelijkheid van Karel Appel” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=-24YvCbSoAE), ‘staging the artist’ as a Malschwein, a barbarian in barbarian times, as Karel Appel himself states, while turning to the camera with a tube of paint in one hand and a knife in the other. A classic. Then some video fragments from Italian conversations—Art in the Age of Berlusconi. About 35 people attended on this cold wet sunday, and allthough we didn’t talk much about the new research on anarchism, that was was people mostly chose to react on afterwards, bringing more interesting new links and stories.
Saturday 23 March, Geneva
(Rember to check out William Goldwin)
Friday 22 March, Geneva
Reminded once again: the ordinary daily & social & financial reality in which we work has a big effect on what is been made, and how (and if) it can be shared. We visited Richard Le Quellec in his studio, which he shares with Severin. It is one of many large studio’s in a subterranean passage under a modernist building with apartements and small shops. They share the passage with some car repair workshops. It smells nice.
Richard and Severin tell us briefly about the 150 squats Geneva had, the social life and the action around it, and how most of them were evicted in a very short time, leaving the city empty and the art scene scattered. There’s not so much a lack of studio’s, but of the mix of activities that created the dynamics in the big squats like Artamis. They made a nice video featuring a map of the city with little models of the buildings on it, a colour code for the different functions. We hear the same story over and over, but with different details and different emphasis. Geneva was an exciting city for contemporary art, but since all the squats were closed it is kind of finished.
Next time more about how the Rassemblement des Artistes et Acteurs Culturels managed to change the status of art in the law of the state of Geneva.
Les Anarchistes, scenes et portraits presentés et commentés par Alain Sergent. A book from Richard's parents' bookshelves. Caption of this image—showing a wide range of anarchist newspapers of the time: La Presse Libertaire. Other images in the book depict grim looking anarchists plotting revolution in messy rooms.
Thursday 21 March, Geneva
Spring started today. The gardener came and found all seeds in the shed eaten by mice. He's a nice guy from Texas, who came along one day and asked Madeleine and Richard if he could do the garden and grow some vegetables (I understood, but got to ask again). He told in the US the number of farmers is increasing for the first time since long, and most of them are kind of amateurs; well educated city-mice who often try to bring back some life into deserted village centres.
My head was too full. Too much input. Lets' recap; how do we find back the feeling of 'studio-time', studio-hours. A Way Out. Countryside Issues. Standing on the river bank, look at the water. Refuge. Out of what? Out of the mind-loops and preconceived images that structure our thoughts. Why? Anarchism, decentralisation. Hundred years of centralisation. We looked at self-organisation in art for years, and only realised recently, that that is anarchist practice.
Richard pointed at an advertisement at the side of the road: "Tired? Do a Turbo-siesta". I don't want to have a turbo-siesta. Some things don't improve by making them more effective.
In the annex of Maison Baron all rooms are occupied this week: two African musicians/actors who play in a piece called 'Chaque homme est une race', the light and sound technician of the dance performance 'Encore', and a couple in a silver hummer with a Harley Davidson sticker on the back.
Meeting with Merel over dinner, preparing for our Barbaron-presentation, which will be something like a mutual interview between us three about simularities and difference in our approaches?
Finished Dept, the first 500 years, by David Graeber. It was a real, great adventure reading this book. The end wasn't really a surprise obviously, but still faster then anticipated, because of the 140 pages of notes at the end. It's a history of Dept from an anthropologists' perspective, which means, in Graebers own words: 'When one carries out an ethnography, one observes what people do, and then tries to tease out the hidden symbolic, moral, or pragmatic logics that underlie their actions; one tries to get at the way people's habits and actions makes sense in ways that they are not themselves completely aware of. One obvious role for a radical intellectual is to do precisely that: to look at those who are creating viable alternatives, try to figure out what might be the larger implications of what they are (already) doing, and then offer those ideas back, not as prescriptions, but as contributions, possibilities –– as gifts'. (from: Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology)
Wednesday 20 March, Zurich –> Geneva
Visited Georg at edition fink, as always a pleasure. Talking about books, about the changing logic of publishing and distribution. I think he is always looking for new interesting problems and possibilities within the ever changing rules of the game, mixing and combining the use of internet and printed matter, for instance. (The archive, website and publication fink is making with artist H.R. Fricker is inspiring: www.erobertdiewohnzimmer.net)
I also see a paralel with Wenzel and Soren; all interested in the underlying rules under the surface, acknowledging them, investigating them and making them visible through some kind of meaningfull play.
Drove back to Geneve, went straight to Mamco, where Charles Esche lectured a full two hours for a full house.
Tuesday March, 19, Zürich
Breakfast with our friend Sören, at his house, nearby where we stay. He is immobilised by a knee injury. Like Rob he started to bake sourdough bread, but more ambitious as a baker, he is now supplying a restaurant once a week. Sören is a good one for curiously approaching personal misfortune as potentially interesting material for new work. Now he’s turning a courtcase against the Zurich police into a performance series.
Visited the Löwenbrau, which we didn’t see since it re-opened. They have an oxygen problem inside; the spaces are too hermetic. And what happened to the once so exciting bookshop Kunstgriff? In the evening a video lecture in Shedhalle. Kontinuitäten rechter Ästhetik: Syberbergs Wagner/Hitler-Komplex. Eight visitors in the house. Was the opera audience not invited?
Saturday March 16, Geneva
In Geneva there are many kiosks, and they all sell—next to the national Swiss newspapers in three languages and the local newspapers of different cities (Tribune de Genève, NZZ-Neu Züricher Zeitung, Basler Zeitung etc)— French newspapers, German, some Italian, a Spanish, the International Herald Tribune, Financial Times Weekly and so on. Even the French satirical paper Le Canard Enchainé is for sale at a kiosk in ‘our’ neighbourhood, which is a normal 'kitz' with some residential buildings, some banks, art galleries, and some small industry and shops, neither really central, nor very rich.
The kiosk close to our house in Rotterdam used to have the Gazetta dello Sport, Times, Guardian, Turkish, Belgian and a Chinese newspaper. I realise over the last 2 years many Tabac shops closed down there, their services taken over by supermarkets, and they only sell Dutch newspapers, which more and more look alike in respect of their content and position—and by the way, are mostly owned by one owner and residing in one city, now that NRC Handelsblad moved it’s editorial offices from the periphery of Rotterdam to the centre of Amsterdam. A choice of international newspapers one can only find at one bookshop and at the central station now, I think.
With the internet we're not exactly deprived of choice and news obviously, and we can watch Al Jazeera English now, which is great, but the kiosks' display of the ‘real newspapers’ with today’s news, all of them together, not only your favourite one, the visual and physical directness of all these parallel front pages, headlines, languages, juxtaposed, that's another experience. Analogue newspapers mirror that experience within them as well, because, as a practical implication of a broadsheet layout, many stories come together on a page. I love what that triggers in your brain, there's always some kind of context, random or not, noticed consciously or not—always something to think about.
Now that I start comparing; also the radio broadcasts here are much more divers. There is experimental music on the radio here! And World music! And classical music with a range that I didn't hear for years in the Netherlands. Our introduction of this blog, the escape, the asylum, it is irony—sure—we're luxury escapists, but I realise now that I feel truly liberated from the Dutch media terror. It's great to be away from it for a while. It’s not necessarily better here, but it is more divers and more internationally oriented.
Don't ask a fish to describe the water he is swimming in. I remember what the artist Alberto Garutti said in the conversation we had with him in Milan in his studio for our research on Italian contemporary art: "I think artists should have an oblique gaze, betraying the centrality of the system". It's a mysterious sentence to me, something may have been lost in transcription/translation, and I don't think I really understand, but somehow this sentence seems right to me, and it keeps popping up in my mind, opening some doors rather than closing one.
On my way home, with the International Herald tribune under my arm (4 CHF) I see a group of about twenty people waiting in front of a church. I ask one of them what's happening. "Manger gratuit Madame; free food. There are no jobs for us." Back home reading the paper, I realise all advertisements are for extremely expensive jewels, handbags, travels and specially lots of watches.
ps (23 March) a new paper is starting up in the Netherlands, called The Correspondent. No ads, only online.
Wednesday March 13, Geneva
Why can't they find a Pope that hasn’t been somehow involved in a facsist dictature?
Tuesday March 12, Fribourg
Today we talked with Florian Eitel at the University of Fribourg. He studies the history of late 19th century Anarchism in Switzerland, and Federalism as a transnational history. The street where the university resides has the same name as the Hotel where Empress Sissi died after an attack by Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni, one of the events that gave anarchism such a bad name.
Florian tells about 'his time', 1860—1880), which he sees as the beginning of globalisation. The anarchists used all the new technical possibities of their time—trains, mail, rotation press, steno—to connect all over europe, and to distribute their ideas. A real progressive, inventive network culture. Many stories, a two-and a half hour recording we’ll transcribe, and a reading list. More later. We agree to meet again in Geneva in April, where Florian is doing research in the University library.
Sunday March 10, Geneva
First correction of the book I'm doing the layout of. Meanwhile I've got at least 5 Wikipedia pages open. Wikipedia seems close to an anarchist university; at least it is "a collaborative effort of concentrating on a specific topic, trying to find out what we can know for sure, what we can speculate on, what we can agree on to be common knowledge." It still amazes me, the miracle machine that answers almost every question instantly, and links to infinite sources. When was time centralised? (1847 in Great Britain, 1909 in the Netherlands, when the whole country re-set their local time to the local time of the Westertoren in Amsterdam) What is mutualism? (Mutualism [in biology] is the way two organisms of different species exist in a relationship in which each individual benefits. Similar interactions within a species are known as co-operation. Mutualism can be contrasted with interspecific competition, in which each species experiences reduced fitness, and exploitation, or parasitism, in which one species benefits at the expense of the other. Mutualism is a type of symbiosis. Symbiosis is a broad category, defined to include relationships that are mutualistic, parasitic, or commensal.) Who was the anarchist who wrote about the evolutionary background of cooperation to which primatologist Frans de Waal refers? (Kropotkin: In the animal world we have seen that the vast majority of species live in societies, and that they find in association the best arms for the struggle for life: understood, of course, in its wide Darwinian sense – not as a struggle for the sheer means of existence, but as a struggle against all natural conditions unfavourable to the species. The animal species, in which individual struggle has been reduced to its narrowest limits, and the practice of mutual aid has attained the greatest development, are invariably the most numerous, the most prosperous, and the most open to further progress. The mutual protection which is obtained in this case, the possibility of attaining old age and of accumulating experience, the higher intellectual development, and the further growth of sociable habits, secure the maintenance of the species, its extension, and its further progressive evolution. The unsociable species, on the contrary, are doomed to decay. — Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902), Conclusion.) Who was the surprising Nobel prize for Economy winner of 2012, the woman who studied succesfull examples of people taking care of commons? (Elinor Ostrom) Was Buñuel an anarchist? (Yes)
Suddenly I see one of these Wikipedia warnings: ‘This section does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (June 2011)’ ‘This section is written like a personal reflection or opinion essay rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. Please help improve it by rewriting it in an encyclopedic style. (June 2011)’
A site-specific grafitti:
Today we attended the disertation defence of our flat mate in the University of Geneva. Very exciting few hours theatre; specialist's questions, additions and remarks, displays of erudition, leading to a glorious 'Mention: très honorable avec félicitations du jury'.
I know most anarchists would probably be against this institute, the university, with it's hierarchies, specialisations and devisions, but this afternoon seemed to me like an interesting, highly formalised game to organise feedback by peers. It would be nice in the arts to have rituals for such a collaborative effort of concentrating on a specific topic, trying to find out what we can know for sure, what we can speculate on, what we can agree on to be common knowledge, and what can be interesting future subjects of study.
So a student finishes a big research, and then is free to propose a comittee of different specialists, from either the same or neighbouring disciplines, and from anywhere in the world. These people, if they are interested and accept the invitation, will thoroughly read the findings and the proposal, and on the day of the defence they will each have about half an hour in which they formulate their reaction to the thesis in general, how they think the thesis adds to the field in general, to their specialisation in particular, ask question and suggest improvements.
They are of course on stage, speaking in front of an interested lay audience as well as for highly estimated colleagues, another game format that adds extra challenge I'm sure. So the centre of all this attention, the writer of the thesis, and the casting director at the same time, is sitting in the front row of the lecture hall, all alone, litterally between the seats for the students and the place designated to the lecturer. But she's not all alone; the audience is all behind her, in support, so to say, when she replies to the experts. The experts not only face the student, they face all of us, and we all look at the slightest signs on their faces when they talk, as well as when they just listen. The candidate meanwhile is protected from our gaze.
Friday March 8, Genève
An e-mail saying the book I ordered at the English bookshop still didn't arrive and won't before next Thursday.
Wednesday March 6, 2013, Geneva
We talk on the phone with Gisele, one of the people behind l'Espace Noir, the anarchist cultural centre in St. Imier's we will visit tomorrow. St-Imier is a little town in the Jura that hosted the 2012 International Anarchist gathering last summer. It was the 140 year celebration of the 1872 Anarchist International of St Imier, just after the split between the Marxists and the Anarchists:
This followed the 'expulsions' of Mikhail Bakunin and James Guillaume from the First International at the Hague Congress (1872). It attracted the great majority of affiliates of the First International, repudiated the Hague resolutions, and adopted a Bakunist programme, and lasted until 1877 – a year longer than the smaller Marxist wing headquartered in New York.
The St. Imier International was created when the Swiss Jura Federation, the most important anarchist section of the old International, sent a proposal to the other sections, several of which then assembled at St. Imier to create a new anti-authoritarian organization. The organization was made up of various national federations of workers' societies, mainly the Italian, Spanish, Belgian, American, French and French-speaking Swiss federations, together with other individual organizations which all opposed Karl Marx's control of the General Council and favoured the autonomy of national sections from centralized control.
At the St. Imier Congress, held on 15–16 September 1872, the delegates proclaimed '[t]hat the aspirations of the proletariat can have no other aim than the creation of an absolutely free economic organisation and federation based upon work and equality and wholly independent of any political government, and that such an organisation or federation can only come into being through the spontaneous action of the proletariat itself, through its trade societies, and through self-governing communes.'" (Wikipedia)
Tuesday March 5, Genève
This weekend there was a referendum in Switserland: an initiative on executive pay, banning golden hellos for new employees and golden parachutes for departing staff. It also would introduce binding shareholder votes on salary levels. There was another one too, about spatial planning limiting the selling of land for development purposes. A Dutch friend spend a lot of time explaining the Dutch democratic system to Swiss friends, because the Swiss friends couldn't believe our voting rights are limited to the general elections once every four year. (they took place much more often lately, by the way) They kept asking questions because how could the Netherlands be a democracy that way?
In today's newsletter of Dutch newspaper NRC I read that the owner of a big Dutch hospital, a real estate entrepreneur, died some time ago, and his heirs now want a 26 million loan back from the hospital, directly endangering the existence of the hospital. What? I had no idea. I would think a hospital is something that is just there, something public. Very naive perhaps, but I never heard before that a hospital went bankrupt. So if it goes bankrupt, will the state buy it, like they bought bankrupt banks? And what's 'they' exactly? Is it 'we', outsourced to some structure called 'state', 'government'?
I realise I have no idea what a state actualy is. In Italy it's clearly something people experience as something powerfull, messy and malevolent, outside them. I have to admit I always had a vague notion of it being the organisation of the commons, the 'cause public', something just opposite 'the market'.
There is no academic consensus on the most appropriate definition of the state. The term "state" refers to a set of different, but interrelated and often overlapping, theories about a certain range of political phenomena.The act of defining the term can be seen as part of an ideological conflict, because different definitions lead to different theories of state function, and as a result validate different political strategies.
The most commonly used definition is Max Weber's, which describes the state as a compulsory political organization with a centralized government that maintains a monopoly of the legitimate use of force within a certain territory.
General categories of state institutions include administrative bureaucracies, legal systems, and military or religious organizations.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a state is "a an organized political community under one government; a commonwealth; a nation. b such a community forming part of a federal republic, esp the United States of America".'
David Graeber, in Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology (p.65):
'States have a peculiar dual character. They are at the same time forms of institutionalized raiding or extortion, and utopian projects. The first certainly reflects the way states are actually experienced, by any communities that retain some degree of autonomy; the second however is how they tend to appear in the written record.
In one sense states are the “imaginary totality” par excellence, and much of the confusion entailed in theories of the state historically lies in an inability or unwillingness to recognize this. For the most part, states were ideas, ways of imagining social order as something one could get a grip on, models of control. This is why the first known works of social theory, whether from Persia, or China, or ancient Greece, were always framed as theories of statecraft. This has had two disastrous effects. One is to give utopianism a bad name. (The word “utopia” first calls to mind the image of an ideal city, usually, with perfect geometry—the image seems to harken back originally to the royal military camp: a geometrical space which is entirely the emanation of a single, individual will, a fantasy of total control.) All this has had dire political consequences, to say the least. The second is that we tend to assume that states, and social order, even societies, largely correspond.'
And on p. 66 he proposes: 'So that’s one project: to reanalyze the state as a relation between a utopian imaginary, and a messy reality involving strategies of flight and evasion, predatory elites, and a mechanics of regulation and control.
All this highlights the pressing need for another project: one which will ask, If many political entities we are used to seeing as states, at least in any Weberian sense, are not, then what are they? And what does that imply about political possibilities?'
Friday 1 March, Genève
And finally time to read. Off to the English bookshop 'Off the Shelve' to order a book I found on the internet: David Weir's Anarchy and Culture. Offcourse we could order it here at Amazon or something, but let's check out the local bookshop, instead of staying inside and spend time on creating yet another login account.
Here a discription of Anarchy and Culture from Google Books:
Anarchism is generally understood as a failed ideology, a political philosophy that once may have had many followers but today attracts only cranks and eccentrics. This book argues that the decline of political anarchism is only half the story; the other half is a tale of widespread cultural success.
David Weir develops this thesis in several ways. He begins by considering the place of culture in the political thought of the classical anarchist thinkers William Godwin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin, and Peter Kropotkin. He then shows how the perceived "anarchy" of nineteenth-century society induced writers such as Matthew Arnold, Henry James, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky to turn away from politics and seek unity in the idea of a common culture.
Yet as other late nineteenth-century writers and artists began to sympathize with anarchism, the prospect of a common culture became increasingly remote. In Weir's view, the affinity for anarchism that developed among members of the artistic avant-garde lies behind much of fin de siecle culture. Indeed, the emergence of modernism itself can be understood as the aesthetic realization of anarchist politics. In support of this contention, Weir shows that anarchism is the key aesthetic principle informing the work of a broad range of modernist figures, from Henrik Ibsen and James Joyce to dadaist Hugo Ball and surrealist Luis Buñuel.
Weir concludes by reevaluating the phenomenon of postmodernism as only the most recent case of the migration of politics into aesthetics, and by suggesting that anarchism is still very much with us as a cultural condition.
(Afterthought; it will cost me more than 10 CHF extra, this loyalty to the local shopkeeper. I don't know if I'll do that again)
Wednesday 27 february, Genève
We're tired and we watch two reportages online: Do-it-yourself' and 'Glocalisation', both from the series 'tegenlicht' reportages (www.tegenlicht.vpro.nl) about (as sociologist Manuel Castells calls it, we learn) a newly emerging culture of self-organisation. From energy, to health- and disability insurances for freelancers or social care. In about 50 minutes we see all kinds of succesfull local, social initiatives by people who don't trust the old political structures any longer and don't have the patience to wait till one of the few big competing companies who offer the service needed, improve their offer, and so they organise their own alternatives. Green networked energy coops for instance, like Samsø, the Danish island that is now self-sufficient, combining different kinds of green power, generating more electricity than they use themselves.
By now liberal and neo-liberal governments have put so much emphasis on 'big society', own responsability and so on, just to cover up for the decline of the public institutes and the budget cuts on everything social, critical, and cultural, redistributing responsabilities but not the according budgets, it contaminated words like self-organisation, private initiative and responsability.
It seems like time for a re-invention and reclaimation of public institutions, and perhaps that's what these kind of initiatives show; small scale re-formulations of what could and should be commons. The word is never mentioned in the reportage, but all these examples are anarchistic initiatives, direct action, practical self-organisation outside of the state and outside of market-logic. Perhaps better without the word. No problem.
Saturday 9 February, Genève
In a cafe we saw an older man, well dressed and wearing gold-rimmed pilot model glasses. In a blue notebook he wrote down the precise amount he had spend on his coffee. When I asked him about it he answered that he wanted to proof he didn't spend much. He worked for the city his whole life, till he had a burn-out. Now his tax bill — I'm cutting short because my french wasn't sufficient - is much too high, so he's making a case by proving his sober life-style to his former employer and the tax authorities. He started to explain that the city and the state are badly governed, the political parties are like sekts to him, and the Swiss work hard, but are way too obedient. We were surprised and brought in mind the international reputation of the Swiss direct democraty, the quality of the public services and public space. But he had no doubts. When I asked: 'mais alors monsieur, sa veut-dire maintenant, vous êtes anarchist?', he laughed and bend forward a bit. He lowered his voice and started to explain us about anarchism, said he studied the principles a bit. He admitted, he said, to have a great sympathy for an anarchism 'de droit', a right-wing anarchism. He fears left-wing anarchists want to destroy everything. Personally he likes order, he explained, so he'ld like the police, the army and the church, the traditions and the law to stay; not in defence of political ideals, but in defence of 'le peuple', freedom of thought, and 'l'humanism'.
Hm... Scary idea; anarchism with police and army. Who will they obey? Would there be existing situations that are more or less like that? Pessoa's Anarchist Banker? And why do the left-wing anarchists have such a bad reputation? They have a much friendlier worldview I guess.
Still: we had our first unexpected meeting with an unexpected, self-declared Swiss anarchist – former public servant.
Friday 8 February, Genève
Today the Anararchietage in Winterthur started. Would be good to go there on Sunday 10, when there is a lecture of Adi Feller, who will speak about the banishment of anarchists from Switzerland in the late 19th century. How to combine this with the work that needs to be done, and with the Fasnachtmontag trip we planned to Lötschental and Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday) in Evolène? Vernacular performance. I've been looking forward to that, and we're so close now. Winterthur is in the far North-East corner of the country, and Evolèle just South-East of Geneva.
Thursday 7 February, Genève
Serious delay: I am doing the design and layout for a book, and now suddenly, between page 68 and 69 there is a 'black hole'. All text- and image boxes dissappear in it, and while I was trying to fix it, without further notice the software generated 300 new pages, in which the lost content poppes up at seemingly random places. One day lost solving it.
Also some very good news: we can make an appointment to talk with Florian Eitel, a Swiss student of the University of Fribourg who is writing his thesis on anarchism. He is considered the specialist of the university in the matter.
Wednesday 6 February, Genève
Cleaning discussion in the house. Shall we make a scedule? Shall we hire someone?
Tuesday 5 February, Genève
So now we live in Villa Baron, Embassy of Foreign Artists, together with Emile and Merel. In the day also Madeleine, Angela and Richard are here to work, and every day different people came along for this or that. We all share the kitchen, the bathroom, the wintergarten — everything except our small private rooms with bed and desk. I allready learned where to buy food and in which categories to divide the garbage, I know the shower takes 5 minutes to get warm in the morning, we have our own shelve in the fridge and the kitchen cupboard, and I start to get an idea how the wintergarden, the most beautifull place in the house, is politely timeshared. I know that if you want to go to the toilet at night you need to be dressed, because the balcony you cross on the way has very bright lights that are activated by a movement sensor. I would like to see that from the point of view of a passer-by.
The villa is a countryhouse, mid 19th century, and the city has been growing all the way up to the walls of the garden. It's an enclave, the garden is surrounded by small industry ('50s till '70s I think) mega-shops (new) and private banks (inbetween). We're here to find out about anarchism, about the early Russian anarchists who were in exile in this part of Switzerland––a quiet place to prepare the revolution.
Can art be that kind of place were one gets space and time to figure out new concepts? I see enclaves everywhere now. Switzerland the tax haven in Europe (as the Netherlands are too), this house a little island in the bussiness area, the field of art as an enclave in the logic of the time. Hopefully. It's difficult to see the water you swim in so you need to be able to get out and look at it.