Empires: Anthony Pagden

hi anthony

thank you very much for speaking with us. there are a great many
things you’ve written about that are of interest to me and the film.
it has been a great pleasure for me to have immersed myself in your
writing, as I have been able to.

one way to approach our dialogue is this idea of the ‘west’s
perceptions of itself”. perhaps you speaking to the topics outlined
below will help us unravel the framework that gives articulation to
how we are speaking to our contemporary moment.

one of the things that interest me is the language we use to describe
and figure our history, our sciences, our politics. this is something
you address in your book, ‘The Languages of Political Theory in
Early-Modern Europe,’ in fact in all your works. i read in one review
this line, ‘Anthony Pagden’s works are dedicated to tracing the
philosophical and theological roots of Western notions of ‘others’.’

this line of yours is key, i think, ‘Yet what the early-modern
imperial experience meant to these cultures is an unignorable
historical question which lies at the heart of the west’s perceptions
of itself, of history, and of human development.’ and this notion from
a review i read, ‘The construction of ‘others’ is, rather, a product
of how certain conceptual issues were handled… the conceptual
difficulties emerged not because the cultures that Europe encountered
were so different, but because they were similar.’

perhaps how we frame the other is how we frame ourselves and it is
this perspective that is ours that i would like to get to by way of
you telling us about certain of your books. what follows is not so
much questions as it is a framework for you to speak with us.

thank you for generously spending time with us.

marc lafia

you can simply scan the outline list (which refers to your books) to
know what i would like you to speak tot. it is admittedly long but
let’s see how far we can get.

if you like we can start with ‘the fall of natural man,’ and ‘european
encounters with the new world’ which may give us a sense of the
european perspective that encountered the new world. but let’s start
with what you project as an historian has been, your methodology. your

The Fall of natural man
-In an earlier study, The Fall of Natural Man (Cambridge, 1986), he
showed how the works of three Spanish thinkers, writing between 1512
and 1724, established a way to understand the American Indians that
was later applied to all other non-Western cultures.
-A few, like Bartolome de Las Casas in the 16th century, were
passionate in their defence of the native peoples of the Americas
against the realities of colonisation, enslavement, disease, war and
the extinction of their cultures: the conduct of the coloniser, they
contended, had called into question the legitimacy of European
civilisation and fatally undermined the contemporary moral case for
-Bartoleme de las Casas debate with Sepulveda,(why did the Spanish put
this on as a public debate? -Aristotle’s doctrine of the natural
slave, Roman Empire as precedent and not precedent. Erasmus asked in
1517, if the Ancients, whose wisdom was the basis of knowledge, had
been ignorant of the New World, what other flaws might not exist in
their legacy?)
– ‘principle of attachment’, the failure to see the native peoples in
their own terms.

European Encounters with the New World
-In European Encounters with the New World he tries to prove that the
writings of Columbus, La Casas, Diderot, Herder and Humboldt have
shaped not only anthropology but our understanding of mankind as a
-Europeans, Pagden suggests, were less concerned with the New World as
it was than with how its existence could be squared with existing
western traditions and political and religious ambitions. They remade
the New World in the image of the Old.
-The Europeans feared the people they met in the New World also
because their culture touched directly upon recognisable areas of
European ethical life.
-Yet what the early-modern imperial experience meant to these cultures
is an unignorable historical question which lies at the heart of the
west’s perceptions of itself, of history, and of human development.
-The Enlightenment gave no hope that alien cultures could ever be
understood on their own terms unless the observer ‘went native’ or the
Other became domesticated. In both cases, the alternative to
incommensurability was absorption.
-The problem of incommensurability was never overcome.

The idea of Europe
-lands of the rising sun lands of the setting sun – europe asia africa
from the beginning intertwined
-Europe as well as an idea, a construction having emerged from and
within asia and africa (libya) europeans needed the great commercial
networks that they built

The Languages of Political Theory in Early-Modern Europe
-political philosophy was like moral philosophy, a form of knowledge,
an episteme. it was concerned with the understanding the
interpretation of the law of nature
-Aristotelianism and the natural law; the language of classical
republicanism; the language of commerce and the commercial society;
and the language of a science of politics.
-As Pagden shows, eighteenth-century theories of language formed part
of the Enlightenment’s larger enterprise of conjectural history, which
charted humanity’s progress from savagism to civility.
-how did we get from classic republicanism to the man whose activities
most benefit society is the luxurious man of otium not the virtuous
man of negotium
-how would describe the language of political theory today

Modern Democracy
-If in the end, however, Fukuyama turns out to be right, then it is
likely to be the institutions of modern democracy that will have to
give way to some newer kind of political organisation capable of
sustaining what the ancients called “the best possible life” in a
world without the nation-state
-As Machivelli noted the power of the roman republic had derived from
the opposition between the senate and the plebians and not from the
exercise of a common will, as so many had supposed.’

Nature, natural state
-can you talk to us how in political thought about the idea of a
nature, how a natural state was thought about and conceived
-the debate whether civilization fulfils, or, indeed, corrupts human nature.)
-perhaps speak to the context in which Rousseau challenged the
classical (Aristotelian) and Renaissance (scholastic or Christian
humanist) assumption that man is only man because he is both rational
and social.
-Three centuries later, the device of the noble savage became a means
of criticising European values: his innocence as against Old World
artifice, his purity as against decadence

Nature today
-is the thought today that there is no more nature as an outside, that
we’ve come to dominate it and now must manage it with our
technologies. with this said maybe you can tell us something about how
man’s conception of nature informed and informs his political and
spiritual sense of himself. the sacred and poetic as against perhaps
the technological and instrumental

Ancient | Modern
-broadly speaking, what changed in man’ conception of himself.

-it seems and perhaps i am not reading this correctly but there is no
empire today. it’s commerce. we spoke with michael hardt and his book
’empire’. is there something useful in he and negri’s conception? i
certainly see china as a nation state holding close to its nationhood
and finding it efficacious.

Non-linear history informed by new understanding of complexity
-does such an approach yield new insights, new ways to think history.

Reading the moment
-The political cosmology that emerged during the 16th and 17th
centuries, when Europe first came across different cultures, is very
much with us today. The modern demographical descriptions may appear
more complex, more sophisticated, more enlightened then their pre-
modern counterparts, but a close reading reveals the complexity and
sophistication to be an illusion. Our concerns today may be different,
but, suggests Pagden, the political cosmology within which we operate
is still the same. The West still thinks in terms of good and bad
-perhaps are mis-recognizing the contemporary moment as much as the
europeans were in their encounter with the new world.
-Western culture does not always respond to, or engage with, the
presence on this planet of so many diverse non-European cultures.
Instead it ‘creates’ them – as though giving birth to new life forms –
by seeing its own self-image in others.
-is it possibly today that we in the west are mis-recognizing, even
unable to see for example china in a sense. even though we have the
languages of sciences, technologies, businesses, is it possible that
these do not give us proper description
– perhaps in the similar way that the ‘europeans’ could not read the
new world or rather could read it from the bible and aristotle trying
to make this new world fit their expectations, imaginations and their
desires we are blind the emerging order of the world today

‘It is the great virtue of Pagden’s courageous and highly original
book that by presenting the historical alternatives so even-handedly,
he can give no easy or uplifting recommendations for our own cultural
predicaments’. from European-New World Encounters, European
Encounters with the New World: From Renaissance to Romanticism by
Anthony Pagden. review by David Armitage in Cambridge Quarterly 1993

Additional Notes

The Languages of Political Theory in Early-Modern Europe
‘The collection brings together a number of essays by a distinguished
group of international scholars, on the four dominant languages in use
in Europe between the end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the
nineteenth century. They are: the language of political
Aristotelianism and the natural law; the language of classical
republicanism; the language of commerce and the commercial society;
and the language of a science of politics.
-from aristotle and aquinas natural jurisprudence
-political sciences were constructed on the basis of a rational
understanding of man’s moral potentialities. political philosophy was
like moral philosophy, a form of knowledge, an episteme. it was
concerned with the understanding the interpretation of the law of
first principles were a consensual knowledge ‘that thing on which all
men are in agreement;’
– it could be made identical with men’s interest on the same
understanding, that is, self-evidently, what god must have intended
for man.
-to live essentially private lives and to defend their common interest
-in order to leave the state of nature they had given up natural
liberty yet they still retained against their leaders natural rights
-given the enormous variety of natural customs the different registers
in which we speak about the political there could be no certain moral
knowledge what was right was what was useful
-the role played by language in a understanding of social and political life.
that ideas can only be studied in their ‘concrete contexts’ their
‘procedures aims and vocabularies.’
from ‘the languages of political theory in modern europe’
-science vs practical understanding in jurisprudence
civic humanism
-only possible to live a truly civil life under a republican government
living and living well – active participation in the affairs of the state
in otiium a pater patrie a single strong and just leader takes upon
himself the burdens of vita activa
in negotium the entire citizen body engages in active political life
utopia is a society in which literally nothing is private
humanist ethic required the eradication of any purely private
existence and the ultimate abolition of property
classical republicanism required active service to the community
contract society (interesting to contrast this with postscript for
control society)
we need a religion whose interest are wholly identified with civil society
a republic hides itself under a monarchy
-The language of political economy
-this fourth stage of commercial society introduces the concept of
unintended consequence where the pursuit of one’s private interest
might bring inadvertent public goods.
-the man whose activities most benefit society is luxurious man of
otium not the virtuous man of negotium

The concept of a political ˜language’
– of a discourse composed of shared vocabularies, idioms and
rhetorical strategies, which has been widely influential on recent
work in the history of political thought. The collection brings
together a number of essays by a distinguished group of international
scholars, on the four dominant languages in use in Europe between the
end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century.
They are: the language of political Aristotelianism and the natural
law; the language of classical republicanism; the language of commerce
and the commercial society; and the language of a science of politics.
Each author has chosen a single aspect of his or her language,
sometimes the work of a single author, in one case the history of a
single team, and shown how it determined the shape and development of
that language, and the extent to which each language was a response to
the challenge of other modes of discourse.’

-So let me begin by saying that an empire is an extensive state in
which one ethnic or tribal group, by one means or another, rules over
several others– roughly what the 21rst-century Roman historian Tacitus
meant when he spoke of the Roman world as an “immense body of empire”
-All empires inevitably involve the exercise of imperium, or sovereign
authority, usually acquired by force. Few empires have survived for
long without suppressing
opposition, and probably all were initially created to supply the
metropolis with goods it could not otherwise acquire.
-War and conquest would have achieved very little if that is all there
had been. To survive for long, all empires have had to win over their
conquered populations. The Romans learned this very early in their
history.5 “An empire,” declared the historian Livy at the end of the
½rst century b.c., “remains powerful so long as its subjects rejoice
in it.”
-The historian Tacitus acidly commented that in adopting baths,
porticos, and banquets, all the unwitting Britons had done was to
describe as “humanity” what was in reality “an aspect of their
-Ultimately, however, Rome’s greatest attraction was citizenship–a
concept that, in its recognizably modern form, the Romans invented and
that, ever since the early days of the Republic, had been the main
ideological prop of the Roman world.
-Yet the idea of empire based upon universal citizenship created a
paradox. If all the inhabitants of the empire were indeed fellow
citizens, then a new kind of society, universal and cosmopolitan,
would have had to come into being to accommodate them.
-But in the eighteenth century, things did not look quite so
harmonious. Instead of one world community, the European overseas
powers had created what the French philosopher and economist the
Marquis de Mirabeau described in 1758 as “a new and monstrous system”
that vainly attempted to combine three distinct types of political
association (or, as he called them, esprits): domination, commerce,
and settlement. The inevitable conflict that had arisen between these
had thrown all the European powers into crisis.
-Summarizing English justifications for colonization Anthony Pagden
concludes: “Confusedly at first and then with religious and invariably
self-righteous zeal, they abandoned the vision of El Dorado and
Spanish-style kingdoms overseas for that of ‘colonies’ and
‘plantations;’ places that is, which would be sources not of human or
mineral but of agricultural and commercial wealth.”10 In this
conception, trade rather than written constitutions or legislative
assemblies would harmonize relations between colony and metropole and
the internal governance of the colonies themselves was a matter of
secondary concern.
-‘The course of civilization, like that of empire and the sun itself,
moves inexorably from east to west.’ – why was that? and are we
going all the way round now back to asia and – if so why is that?
(this is something i pose more as something to think about than to
state as an argument)
-For such a difficult subject, Pagden does a good job of creating a
readable book detailing the rise and fall of European Empires. From
Alexander the Great, and the Roman Empire to the decline of the
British Empire, Pagden details the rise of these empires and why they
fell. In the end, it was the weakness of the colonizers along with the
rise of nationalism which spurred the end of all empires. Pagden also
details that some of the early empires were not racially divided, but
with the rise of science and some of the new European nation states,
racism along with slavery reared its ugly head.

Empire’s new nationalist calculus
-In the new nationalist calculus, the more of this earth you could
take away, the greater you became. By 1899, imperialism had indeed
become, as Curzon remarked, “the faith of a nation.”
-Nationalist imperialism, however, brought to the fore a question that
had remained unanswered for a long time: in the modern world what,
precisely, was the nature of empire? Ever since 1648, the modern
nation-state has been one in which imperium has been regarded as
indivisible. The monarchs of Europe had spent centuries wresting
authority from nobles, bishops, towns, guilds, military orders, and
any number of quasi-independent, quasi-sovereign bodies.
Indivisibility had been one of the shibboleths of prerevolutionary
Europe, and one which the French Revolution had gone on to place at
the center of the conception of the modern state. The modern person is
a rights-bearing individual, but–as the 1791 Déclaration des droits de
l’homme et du citoyen had made clear–he or she is so only by virtue of
being a citizen of a single indivisible state. Such a strong notion of
sovereignty could apply, however, only within Europe. In the world
beyond, things were very different. It had been impossible for any
empire to thrive without sharing power with either local settler
elites or with local inhabitants. As Henry Maine, a renowned jurist,
historian, and legal member of the viceroy’s council in India, had
declared in 1887, “Sovereignty has always been regarded as divisible
in international law.”
-Is then the United States really an empire? I think if we look at the
history of the European empires, the answer must be no. It is often
assumed that because America possesses the military capability to
become an empire, any overseas interest it does have must necessarily
be imperial.20 But if military muscle had been all that was required
to make an empire, neither Rome nor Britain–to name only two–would
have been one. Contrary to the popular image, most empires were, in
fact, for most of their histories, fragile structures, always
dependent on their subject peoples for survival. Universal citizenship
was not created out of generosity. It was created out of need.

Empire America
-Despite allusions to the Pax Americana, twenty first-century America
bears not the slightest resemblance to ancient Rome. Unlike all
previous European empires,
It has no signifcant overseas settler populations in any of its formal
dependencies and no obvious desire to acquire any. It does not
conceive its hegemony
beyond its borders as constituting a form of citizenship. It exercises
no direct rule anywhere outside these areas; and it has always
attempted to extricate itself as swiftly as possible from anything
that looks as if it were about to develop into even indirect rule.

Commerce has finally replaced conquest
-In the end, perhaps, what Smith, Constant, and Schumpeter prophesied
has come to pass: commerce has finally replacedconquest. True, it is
commerce stripped of all its eighteenth-century attributes of
benevolence, but it is commerce nonetheless. The long-term political
objectives of the United States, which have varied little from
administration to administration, have been to sustain and, where
necessary, to create a world of democracies bound inexorably together
by international trade. And the political forms best suited to
international commerce are federations (such as the European Union)
and trading partnerships (the oecd or nafta), not empires.

Empires were not, nor had ever been, merely means to economic ends
-For, in theory at least, commerce created a relationship between
peoples that did not involve dependency of any kind and that, most
importantly, avoided any use of force. In these new commercialized
societies, the various peoples of the world would swap new
technologies and basic scienti½c and cultural skills as readily as
they would swap foodstuffs.
-But this vision never materialized because, as Smith fully
recognized, the European empires were not, nor had ever been, merely
means to economic ends; they were also matters of international
-Hume’s skepticism proved all too accurate. It was in the long run
more profitable, as both the British and the Dutch discovered in Asia,
to exercise direct control over the sources of supply through conquest
than it was to trade with them.

The Fall of Natural Man
This book gives a new interpretation of the reception of the new world
by the old. It is the first in-depth study of the pre-Enlightenment
methods by which Europeans attempted to describe and classify the
American Indian and his society. Between 1512 and 1724 a simple
determinist view of human society was replaced by a more sophisticated
relativist approach. Anthony Pagden uses new methods of technical
analysis, already developed in philosophy and anthropology, to examine
four groups of writers who analysed Indian culture: the
sixteenth-century theologian, Francisco de Vitoria, and his followers;
the ‘champion of the Indians’ Bartolomé de Las Casas; and the Jesuit
historians José de Acosta and Joseph François Lafitau. Dr Pagden
explains the sources for their theories and how these conditioned
their observations. He also examines for the first time the key terms
in each writer’s vocabulary – words such as ‘barbarian’ and ‘civil’ –
and the assumptions that lay beneath them.

Rule of the New World
-The use of the history of the Roman empire in the arguments about the
Spanish conquests in America is the topic of David Lupher’s highly
erudite and original Romans in a New World. Classical Models in
Sixteenth-Century Spanish America. Very persuasively, Lupher maintains
that apart from Aristotle’s doctrine of the natural slave, which has
received significant scholarly attention,3 there was another classical
tradition, the history of ancient Rome, that held the participants in
the debate about the legal and moral justification of the Spanish
empire of the Indies in a tight grip, giving rise to a very rich and
often paradoxical literature.
It was through this manner of comparison that sixteenth-century
Spaniards discussed their polity’s conduct in the Indies. When the
Spanish started to build up their vast empire in Central and South
America, they saw themselves confronted with a series of normative
issues both of a legal and a moral nature. First there was the
question of what kind of rules would govern the distribution among the
expanding European powers of the territories newly discovered or yet
to be discovered. Second there arose the further question about the
rules that governed the relations between the expanding Spanish empire
and the newly acquired territories and peoples— what status did the
autochthonous American population have vis-à-vis the Spanish crown and
how could the acquisition of huge parts of the Americas be justified?
Famously, these questions concerning the justification of Spanish rule
over the Indies provoked an unprecedented controversy in Spain,
culminating in the Spanish crown’s staging of a debate in Valladolid
in 1550– 51 between Bartolomé de las Casas, a Dominican fiercely
critical of Spain’s rule in the Indies, and the apologetic
pro-imperial humanist Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda. Both before and after
Valladolid, the controversy about the justness of the Spanish empire
in the Indies was conducted with reference to classical, chiefly
Roman, history.

Non-linear history
-Does cause and effect what was the basis of natural law – change with
complexity and non-linear thinking – that is when or understanding of
causa changes does our way of conducting scholarship?

-one should look from europe for asia, africa and america are depicted
in their relation to europe. europe is the rubric, the initial code.
*if things are moving east – how are going to re-orient ourselves.
-europe with its commericial society and rule of law not despots was a
high achievement that others would want and need to pass through or
evolve to.

The Idea of Europe
Asia, Asu—”lands of the rising sun.”
They themselves were wealthy—far wealthier than the impoverished
Greeks—and they could be immensely refined. They were also fierce and
savage, formidable opponents on the battlefield, something all Greeks
admired. Yet for all this they were, above all else, slavish and
servile. They lived in awe of their rulers, whom they looked upon not
as mere men like themselves, but as gods.
“lands of the setting sun”
The peoples who inhabited this region were also varied and frequently
divided, but they, too, shared something in common: they loved freedom
above life, and they lived under the rule of laws, not men, much less
The current, conventional division of all of Asia into Near, Middle,
and Far East is a nineteenth-century usage whose focal point was
British India. What was Near or Middle lay between Europe and India,
what was Far lay beyond.1 For the inhabitants of the region, however,
this classification clearly
had no meaning whatsoever. In the eighteenth century, a relatively new
term, “Orient,” came into use to describe everywhere from the shores
of the eastern Mediterranean to the China Sea. This, too, was given,
by many Westerners, a shared if not single identity.
Far from presenting a challenge to the cultural assumptions of the
West, China, and to some degree Japan, were for long believed to share
-Therefore, Karlsson suggests that Greek and Roman civilisations can
best be described as “Mediterranean cultures” because of their centres
in Asia Minor, Africa and the Middle East.
-Europe as well as an idea, a construction having emerged from and
within asia and africa (libya) europeans needed the great commercial
networks that they built)
-Furthermore, it is not sensible to carry the same conviction about
the pre-eminent place of Christianity in European projects into
subsequent centuries. One of the main rationales that drove the
Enlightenment philosophers to the rediscovery of Greco-Roman antiquity
to formulate a new and secular European identity was their opposition
to the dominance of the medieval Christian Church.

European exceptionalism.
-‘i am not endorsing european exceptionalism. all people of the world
are the combination, dispersal and recombination through warfare and
the pursuit of subsistence of myriad diverse groups of people’

‘Modern democracy that will have to give way.’ (from a post of
yours on open democracy)
-The values of the Roman world of the 2nd century were like the values
of the Enlightenment, conceived as universal: the rule of law,
citizenship based upon a common human identity, irrespective of race
or creed. For the historical origins of modern secular liberal
democracy lie not, as Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington suppose, in
Christianity, but in what Christianity borrowed from the ancient
world. And it was because the values and the kind of scientific
inquires they made possible were ancient and secular in origin that it
was, in the end, possible to detach them from Christian theology – and
the church…
-Is there really any such thing as a “genuine political community” in
any modern liberal democracy? Is not, in the end, the whole point of
modern, as opposed to ancient democracy (as the French liberal
Benjamin Constant pointed out at the beginning of the 19th century),
that modern democracies have made it possible for private citizens to
be just that – private? Communities may be necessary for some. But
“political communities” sounds ominously like collective farms,
Calvinist covenants and their like.
-If in the end, however, Fukuyama turns out to be right, then it is
likely to be the institutions of modern democracy that will have to
give way to some newer kind of political organisation capable of
sustaining what the ancients called “the best possible life” in a
world without the nation-state. And History may, in fact, as History
so often does, be about to begin all over again.
Anthony Pagden

An increasingly united world
-The boundaries that once existed between peoples are steadily
dissolving; ancient divisions between tribes and families, villages
and parishes, even between nations, are everywhere disintegrating. The
nation-state, with which most of the peoples of the Western world have
since the seventeenth century, may yet have a long time to live.

-Doña Marina (La Malinche) …Pocahontas …Sacagawea—their names live
on in historical memory because these women bridged the indigenous
American and European worlds, opening the way for the cultural
encounters, collisions, and fusions that shaped the social and even
physical landscape of the modern Americas. But these famous
individuals were only a few of the many thousands of people who,
intentionally or otherwise, served as “go-betweens” as Europeans
explored and colonized the New World.
-In this innovative history, Alida Metcalf thoroughly investigates the
many roles played by go-betweens in the colonization of
sixteenth-century Brazil. She finds that many individuals created
physical links among Europe, Africa, and Brazil—explorers, traders,
settlers, and slaves circulated goods, plants, animals, and diseases.
Intercultural liaisons produced mixed-race children. At the cultural
level, Jesuit priests and African slaves infused native Brazilian
traditions with their own religious practices, while translators
became influential go-betweens, negotiating the terms of trade,
interaction, and exchange. Most powerful of all, as Metcalf shows,
were those go-betweens who interpreted or represented new lands and
peoples through writings, maps, religion, and the oral tradition.
Metcalf’s convincing demonstration that colonization is always
mediated by third parties has relevance far beyond the Brazilian case,
even as it opens a revealing new window on the first century of
Brazilian history.

Civilizing globalization”
-in the context of proposals for reforming the international financial
architecture, focusing in particular on the development of universal
standards for good financial governance.’ from paper

What the New World meant to the Old
-So far there has been no theoretically informed and
historicallygrounded account of what the New World meant to the Old in
the early-modern period. Not, that is, until Anthony Pagden’s European
Encounters with the New World.
-Less easily accommodated were the practices of the native peoples.
They could only be understood if they were redescribed in terms
recognisable to Europeans by what Pagden calls the ‘principle of
attachment’, which at once assimilated them to alien categories and
deprived them of any meaning for their actors. The failure to see the
native peoples in their own terms left them vulnerable to European
assessments of their capacity for civilisation, their cultural
autonomy and even their humanity. When no effort could be made to
overcome alienness, such incommensurability became the excuse for
-After 1492, the ethnography of the humanoid other proved an even more
central fact of life, and the migrations of microbes, plants and
animals, and cultural inventions would transform the history of
disease, food consumption, land use, and production techniques.
-Sigmund Freud’s famous observation that the bitterest of all human
conflicts spring from what he called the “narcissism of small
differences”: we hate and fear those whom we most resemble, far more
than those from whom we are alien and remote.

Reading Columbus
-Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians and Princes, lovers and
promoters of the Holy Christian Faith, and enemies of the false
doctrine of Mahomet and of all idolatries and heresies, you thought of
sending me, Christóbal Colón, to the said regions of India to see the
said princes and the peoples and the lands, and the characteristics of
the lands and of everything, and to see how their conversion to our
Holy Faith might be undertaken. And you commanded that I should not go
to the East by land, by which way it is customary to go, but by the
route to the West, by which route we do not know for certain that
anyone has previously passed.
-Generally, in whatever lands I traveled, they believed and believe
that I, together with these ships and people, came from heaven, and
they greeted me with such veneration. And today, this very day, they
are of the same mind, nor have they strayed from it, despite all the
contact they [the Spaniards at La Navidad] may have had with them. And
then upon arriving at whatever settlement, the men, women, and
children go from house to house calling out,”Come, come and see the
people from heaven!”
-throughout Las Casas’s works, most clearly and profusely in the
Historia de las Indias , his history of the early decades of Spanish
colonization in the New World. Much of Las Casas’s history of the
first decade, devoted to Columbus’s voyages, was composed through the
paraphrase or outright quotation of the Admiral’s writings. Indeed,
his principal “primary” source is the Diario , his own version of
Columbus’s diario of the first voyage; almost the entire Diario is
paraphrased or quoted in the Historia .
– They saw many kinds of trees and plants and fragrant flowers;
they saw birds of many kinds, different from those of Spain, except
partridges and nightingales, which sang, and geese, for of these there
are a great many there. Four-footed beasts they did not see, except
dogs that did not bark. The earth was very fertile and planted with
those mañes and bean varieties very different from ours, and with that
same millet. And they saw a large quantity of cotton collected and
spun and worked; in a single house they had seen more than five
hundred arrobas ; and that one might get there each year four thousand
quintales [of it]. The Admiral says that it seemed to him that they
did not sow it and that it produces fruit [i.e., cotton] all year. It
is very fine and has a large boll. Everything that those people have,
he says, they would give for a very paltry price, and that they would
give a large basket of cotton for the tip of a lacing or anything else
given to them. They are people, says the Admiral, quite lacking in
evil and not warlike; [and] all of them, men and women, [are] naked as
their mothers bore them. It is true that the women wear a thing of
cotton only so big as to cover their genitals and no more. And they
are very respectful and not very black, less so than Canarians. I
truly believe, most Serene Princes, (the Admiral says here), that,
given devout religious persons knowing thoroughly the language that
they use, soon all of them would become Christian. And so I hope in
Our Lord that Your Highnesses, with much diligence, will decide to
send such persons in order to bring to the Church such great nations
and to convert them, just as you have destroyed those that did not
want to confess the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and that
after your days (for all of us are mortal) you will leave your
kingdoms in a tranquil state, free of heresy and evil, and will be
well received before the Eternal Creator, may it please Whom to give
you long life and great increase of your kingdoms and dominions and
the will and disposition to increase the Holy Christian Religion, as
up to now you have done, amen. Today I pulled the ship off the beach
and made ready to leave on Thursday, in the name of God, and to go to
the southeast to seek gold and spices and to explore land. All these
are the Admiral’s words. He intended to leave on Thursday, but because
a contrary wind came up he could not leave until the twelfth of

The Roman and Spanish Empires and Their Discontents
-Yet the comparison with the ancient world, both of words and deeds,
did not just
serve to satisfy the topos of “besting the ancients,” nor the growing
“Creole patriotism”
of men like Díaz or Oviedo; it also served justificatory purposes.
Both Díaz and Oviedo
saw an analogy between the fall of Tenochtitlan in 1521 and the fall
of Jerusalem in 70.
In a way clearly influenced by the Christian Iberian Orosius’
early-fifth-century universal
history, Historiae adversum paganos, which rendered the destruction of Jerusalem
by Titus as a divinely ordained vengeance for the blood of Jesus
Christ (Orosius 7, 3, 8),
the conquistadors recording the destruction of Tenochtitlan were eager
to “don the
shining armor of divine agents,” thereby justifying the conquest by
reference to the obstinate
resistance of both Jews and Mexica to accept Christianity. Lupher shows that
Bernal Díaz even suggested that the Mexican indigenous population was
not only analogous
to, but in fact descended from the Jews expelled in 70 from Jerusalem, something
he inferred from golden objects the Spanish retrieved from Yucatán in
1517 which were
said to be “the work of the Jews whom Titus and Vespasian exiled from
Jerusalem and
had cast forth onto the sea in boats that had come to port in that
land” (40). This allowed
for the conquest of Tenochtitlan to be classified within sacred
history, alongside the conquest
of Jerusalem and the more recent reconquest of Spain; “the Spaniards projected
themselves,” in Lupher’s words (41), “as simultaneously super-Romans
and latter-day Crusaders.”

Ius erat in armis: The Roman and Spanish Empires
and Their Discontents
David Lupher, Romans in a New World. Classical Models in
Sixteenth-Century Spanish America
(Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2003), VI + 440 pp.

archive fever and the cultural imaginary

*outline for a talk for the Shanghai Institute of Art and Fashion this May

when you look at contemporary art, you see that many artists start as collectors of images, news, celebrity, pornography, fashion, documentary, illustrations – i want to talk today about the artist as collector of the image but not just ordinary images, rather the right image.  but let me be clear from the outset, that it is not just the image, but the image under the eye and through the process of the artist that the artist sees. he or she see the in others words, take these examples, richard prince sees not the marlboro man but a western cowboy, gerhard richter sees not the badder manholf gang but the erasure of this painful german period as the erasure of memory and the the photographic image, or cindy sherman, in the images she finds she sees herself in that image, enacting that person which is fact her, or finally take for example zhou teihai when he saw joe camel he saw it as a way to read america, the west, portraiture painting, — each of these artists saw images we all see but saw them in a unique way that allowed them to take possession of them.  but let’s not get ahead or ourselves and let’s start first with the archive and seeing.

before the internet artists would scour magazines, bookshops, libraries, memorabilia stores, museums, pornography shops, advertisements, television, record covers, comic books, police forensic images, medical records – all manner of visual records of all manner of visual instruments. after all each visual instrument produced a particular vantage point, texture, record, recording. think for a moment only of google images and the odd angles and moments that the google camera car produces or even the instagram camera, or any number of filters or apps used now with our phones – this is to say that each recording instrument produces a particular recording. equally each recording event has a social and material context, a form and set of protocols that shape such recordings.

the artist reads these recording and sees in them another. not only that, the artist sees recording as the subject of imaging. (more on that later)

what i would like to do is spend time with you looking at a number of contemporary art works and talk to you about what the artist is seeing – more particularly how and through what lens the artist is constructing the work, that is in a sense, something already seen, but something as writer william burroughs, says produces a surprised recognition. what does he mean by that, he means you have already seen the image, this is why you recognize it, but equally you are surprised because you haven’t.   hence the image archive remade rethought.

how does the image become a painting, the basis for a performance, a theatre, an inspiration for fashion.

*here i go through many examples of works and talk about how these images were made, remade and circulated. how inspiration comes from everywhere.

Jeff Wall
Cindy Sherman
Alexander McQueen
Zhou Teihai
Gerhard Richter
Marc Jacobs
Juicy Couture
Wooster Theatre Group
Select Tumblr Blogs
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Wes Anderson

*I close the talk presenting new works of mine that are about imaging the reading space of the archive, how image becomes the coin of the realm.

In time, each of us creates our own archive of images, of feelings, quotations, thoughts, all now public on the network FB, Flickr, Tumblr, Pinterest. TheFancy

Each of us puts our collections (often we have more than one) in circulation on the network and each of us can have a copy of what the other has – each can pass around and annotate the same work, the same file, a picture, a video, music, a quotation – in these works I want to present an image of this discursive system that puts these collections in play. of course my collection has a particularity in its subject matter that carries concerns about desire, memory, social networks, the archive, language, love.

in the gift giving of image, an exchange, a relay of exchanges and circulations accrue, where images produce social bindings, empathies, (solidarity’s, perhaps)  and abjections. they produce uncensored conversation even if it is most often minimal, we see the likes, the names of users, their statements of likes, and in this longings, aloneness, fear and loathing – .

here there is unguarded emotion, there is no neutrality. here the archive (blogs) is as a compensation in the psychoanalytic sense, a representational form of our unwieldy desires.

how i approach and image the archive – a way to think of this is the bringing back the meta tag of ‘marlboro’ to the cowboy pictures of richard prince.  here rather that strip away to get to the image alone we want to see images in social circulation with all its readers and annotations, with the software system that marks it up and makes it legible – we want to read no so much against this legibility but rather read this legibility.

here we see literally the meta discourse around desire and the social circulation of desire through image as these images, this imaging of the archive put forward the circulation system of the archive itself, the software presentation layer and schema that orchestrate its

in this environment it is the viewfinder of the desktop camera that frames and thereby reads this visual panoply. shift command 4, the desktop camera re-records and revisions the archive making seen all those things that are commonly off screen, outside of sight. yet in the context of the electronic and socially circulated archive it is precisely those things that are now to be seen.

there is of course another level to all of this circulation, this blogging, reblogging, commentating, all of it is data that is somewhere and everywhere gathered and sorted as another image of you, an image that sees you, user 10497, as an archive of appetites to be sold to a backend auction.

who reads who and for what cascades into a fever. while smartbots read you, you long to read or not, the love note that may come your way or masturbate in waiting or go make love to your lover, seeing him or her as images you saw earlier.

performance, depiction, reportage

The workshop will explore and discuss 3 modes of photography asking students to do 1 of the following 3 exercises and then to present and discuss work with the group.

Create an event for recording, an action, create a performance and document it, not depicting an action, not staging the photograph but the performance which is documented here we discuss the aesthetics of improvisation: intermissions, interruptions, and digressions, the setting about of instructions or limits for event to be recorded

Staging a constructed images   the imagined, the artificial and the literary, preparation to take the photo and collaboration with others, here we enact a photograph, we stage recreate or stage an action that we want to see a happen distinct from above where we want to let things happen.

Reportage, documentation, what do we mean by it.  Capture the world for what you see, reportage tradition, this ability to create visual reports as they occur, what came with photography to create these visual reports as they occur. Here we witness, document.

All of these are autobiographical gestures about what artists want to be –  each student will choose one of the 3 approaches, create works and present to the class.  the workshop is about finding the problems that you can connect to as a person and revealing your abilities to yourself.

On some of my films

Excerpt from longer project

When you explode the mirror and let yourself be abandoned to the sea, where are you, without mooring, unteethered. In Exploding love, society, cinema are mirrors and the law and violence construct them. It in this mirror of the image, of our narrative that we vision ourselves. In Confession of an Image the question is what is it to make an image, what is this realm of the image and imaging, What happens when incandescent light becomes electromagnetic light when everything becomes seen and imaged. Confessions is an essay film on cinema made mostly of still images and voice. I would shot the film with my sony digital tape camera and record the voice track with separate cassette tape recorder. Both recordings happening in parallel, each with a life of their own and each reflecting the fact that cinema was as much a technological construct. In the digital and in the network environment of ubiquitous recording, narrative, beginning middle and end, all of this would begin to take on very new meanings and usage. Confessions was my end of cinema as a medium essay.

In making Exploding, there were many delays, money problems, control issues – so finding a way to make films took time to find a way to go forward. I turned my attention to writing again while at the same shooting more and more things with these newer and newer small digital photography cameras that you shoot video with.

Already disenchanted with screen writing the last script I had written I wrote first as a short novella as, Talk Show, my take on Nathaniel West’s Miss Lonelyhearts. I wrote it as a screenplay.

While in NYC teaching a class, acting for camera, I realized the students were eager to not simply to do exercises, but to shot a film. After the first class, I thought, I will bring this script and we’ll start shooting some scenes. As we did, I began to take students to different floors in the run down mid town building and shoot. We were making a film, there was no location prep, clearance and brought the footage together in final cut. I could see a film.

Over the next year I made a series of films (videos), one or more a day called Permutations. I made up a set of constraints or rules to make these films. All material had to be shot that day, they would be played as a series of files or loops, in an all at once sequence.
At the same time I was writing what would be my last form film script, Zanzibar. Of course I sent the script out to 10=12 people, some I had written for including Ed Pressman, David Fincher and others. I then tried to get it to a bankable actor.

Several summers later, I was at a lake house in upstate nyc with my small camera, wife and daughter and there I could see the scenario of Zanzibar in front of me. I was Norman, seeing my wife pregnant with child from my brother. I had my wife put on a wig speak through the part. I imagined my daughter as the young pirate and filmed her. I would read voice over lines over the lake about my relation with my fictitious brother. Here fiction and the real and the immediacy of video recording came together. I could see film was in front of me it was a question putting the reality of fiction inside the living moment.

A month later I started reading actors for the parts, but not just readings, enacting the scenes in my home in Brooklyn. I put the two together in my permutations player. Soon I was looking at both the abstracted narrative of the script and a novel construction of form. Whereas in the Permutation each one was a tableaux unto itself, here I wanted to see if I could make a work that had a forward moving dimensions. Here the tableaux would be a sequence, an all-at-once sequence, a sequence where you would see all the shots at once just like permutations but now you would go to the next sequence.

I then went on to make Love and Art which is hard to say exactly where it started. At this point I was shooting little things all the time, and shooting at many art fairs and galleries. And in this I wanted to know, what is it that the artist does, what is it to make art, what is art? So somewhere between documenting the art world, my self asking people what is art and seeing myself in this world, I worked towards inventing a small fiction, just to the side of the real, of an artist who looks at himself and his wife to ask what is love, what is it to love, so love and art, all shot with a small photography camera with video 640×320 and so smaller.

For this film, for example I would be at the Whitney Museum of American Art at an awards opening and since I knew a number of artists I would ask others to video me with them, give them my camera and instructions such as, ‘follow me as I walk up to so and so and talk to them’. I would also interview people, or follow someone who was officially interviewing people or stand about and film people and art works, and well things would happen as I was directing things towards the direction in which they would have narrative sense for the piece I was filming.

While I was in Palm Springs my wife was having a kind of nervous brake down and we had become so accustom to me filming here that I filmed this and used it as the basis for My Double My Self about both a man and a woman falling apart. Again I would record these living situations and along the way invent a bit of story to give the work a trajectory. I was never filming things to take to the editing room to find a story I was always filming the narrative. Of course there were pictorial things that I had shot to add to the works, but the works were always, dare I say scripted, or shot with intention. At this point having Irena and myself in the scenarios, having the art world and extended family, and my home, I could always invent a new scene or retake restage a scene, I would have Irena shot me, and me shot her at anytime and use the real time situation of our lives to roll into the scenario or adapt the scenario to be reinterpreted by the living moment. Or I could use the feeling of a moment there in front of me and adapt it slightly and have some things said that were part of the scenario.

Documentation, fiction, the real, recording, the immediate, the intimate, the authentic became a way to work and so I wrote a new scenario, Atlas and began casting and reading the piece but soon enough I realized again I could not pull off a film that required very specific locations, controlled environments, permits, demanding days with actors and crew. But I wanted to make this film without myself or Irena in the film, with some else shooting it. And so I thought I could set up the film scenario as an acting group or theatre class that goes to the park for a seminar about fiction and the real. In this context of discussing fiction and the real the class begins to enact this fiction which of course bleeds into the real. The park could be used as something utopic, public and parts of it to show both a pristine nature and what was called the Wonka Camp in the outlands or periphery. For shooting it would all be available light and Prospect Park having a great diversity of landscapes, from rolling meadows, to wooden areas, tropical streams, jungle like groves, fenced in over passes would let us move from location to location while being in the same place. All this was good except for our last shooting day in early October. It was already fall weather and though fortunately we had great sunlight the cold and fall clothing throws us of that mid summer night’s eve feeling we had going in much of the film.

The film was finished and titled Paradise. Through the work I felt very close with the actors and continually adapted the scenario to them and our situation. Whereas Paradise was all shoot in a park I wanted now to shot something in Manhattan, in the city, so after a while I discovered an area I likes, the fashion district, 23 street and broadway. With the new zoning, the car traffic had become very minimal and the diversity of the people in the neighborhood very compelling. Taking it’s cues from Raymond Queneau’s, Exercises in Style I wanted at first to make 1 short scenario 69 ways, Queneau did a 100 but I was in love with the Magnetic Fields 69 Love Stories so 69 was the number.

But doing the same thing in a different style 69 ways takes a good deal of control and exactness and this can not happen with out money, permits, control, etc. So I tried to make it a series of interconnected and overlapping stories told in a sense from the perspective of the neighborhood. At this corner today these things happened and here other things happened. 6 girls went to this wig shop and put on wigs, It was all going to be about repetition and difference. Place. I got a 45 min cut of it, but it felt it was cute so except for one scene I started over.

In one of the auditions I had the women actors read lines about woman power sex. It was spring and so I took the actors outside under the trees along the side of my house. I was filming them as I often do and one of them Raimonda, who I had known for a film, but could not find the right part of her asked me if she could take her shirt off to do the reading. Of course I said. The two actors, Raimonda Skeryte and Tjasa Ferme get up on a stone wall, under a tree and fireworks, and Tjasa says to Raimonda, ‘You’re so beautiful,’ they kiss they connect – I am delighted and then Tjasa has to go. But before she does I ask if the two of them can shoot tomorrow. So of course I have to think of something for them to do.

We meet the next day and have Raimonda cast under a spell by a Satyr boy and then she goes at a perfume store where she becomes enchanted by Tjasa and the movie becomes their movie, And so 69 Love Stories became Revolution of Everyday Life. But I am still not sure what the film is. And some point I sense I will never intimately know either of them, so I ask them and a number of actors to take a flip camera I will give them and to go home and make recordings of them selves.

The cameras come back and everything I need to know about them are in these recordings they make of themselves. They are to me extraordinary. Of course they are performative, acted and enacted. And the two modes of the two girls are radically different. One, lets her self be seen, she is a presence for the camera to see. The other presents her self to the camera, addresses it directly, we never see her so to speak, she talks to us, performs for us.

Now I know who they are. And I have the other recordings. Also interesting. So the film will be the Idiots, a collective that gets together to do private and public recordings and together they will argue about what it is they are doing and why. And of course in all of this the two girls are falling in love. Until that is, they see each other through the group that sees them and through them each recognize the great distance between their views of love, revolt and art.

How do we come to know our selves. How it is we construct an image of our selves. This is the question Hilbert asks himself in Exploding Oedipus. There he obsessively looks at old movies his father use to make. And in one of these home movies he sees the image of himself walking away from his mother’s vanity, where she has him found looking on at her drinking at the mirror. She gets up to hit him when his father comes in shooting his 8m camera and in his hotel room with a projector and a sheet on the wall it is this piece of film that Hilbert keeps looping returns to. So to break this film, he makes his own film, he creates a new narrative, a new image, what he calls a post oedipal spaghetti western. And in this film he shots his father dead dead.

With digital recordings and social media we are always constructing an image of ourselves. We are always already recorded and recording and hence recoding. We change our profile, our picture, our story – is this not the project of any psycho – schizo analysis. Of any self knowing. To create an image that is a double of us, that in fact is the only us, the image. A friend of mine introduced me to a website called free cams. But he introduced me over the phone I liked the image of what I thought he described and I knew I wanted to find out what this was and to make a film about it. I asked Raimonda who was so brilliant in Revolution if she would like to join the site and record herself in the process of becoming a ‘model’. Once we worked out the details of getting the right computer, and a flip camera, we then talked about a scenario to give context to her getting involved in this network and what to record. We would meet and we she would bring me her footage. I would not really look at it, asking her for more and more material until I felt there was enough to work with.

Before I started the edit I thought the whole thing a disaster. Like many of all the above projects, I felt it could fall apart any moment, or just not come together. And this happens and happens. In what became Hi, How are You Guest 10497, the actress is never acting with a person in the room with her, it’s just a voice, a text line and though I wanted at first to see the men, she communicates with, when I see the film now I realize, the fact we do not see them or anyone makes the film so strong. To me it is Jeanne Deilman and The Passion of Joan of Arc and Raimonda is brilliant and genuine. I can’t imagine any other way to have made this film but to have Raimonda record herself. Here we see her in her element.

I presented this film as a diptych at the Minsheng Museum of Art in Shanghai playing on a large screen monitor in an intimate corner of the gallery room. In the same room against a wall was projected Raindrop Ecstasy, a short 8 min film. Raimonda is in both films and both have material of her working at the Standard Hotel on the Highland Park. The two films share content and the same actress and in the context of the museum start at any time. That is, you can enter the works at any point. It is not simply that the works loop but that they inter-relate and that they are distributed in time and space. In this way there are any number of beginnings, middle and endings, or perhaps such notions no longer apply and there are simply a infinite number of simultaneous events and views points, both of recording and playback, so much so that they become now indistinguishable. In Raindrop, the characters begin and end at a Karaoke bar entering into an open microphone, not dissimilar to the open video camera of the world wide karaoke of network culture. The network now is a cinema, a karaoke cinema, where we splice ourselves into both the online real-time recording and the archive.

If we go back to my first film Exploding Oedipus shot in 35m about a young man who brings a film projector into his 1 room living quarters obsessively returning to film clips of his youth and waiting to make a film of his own to remake the film of his past and then think through Hi, How Are You Guest 10497 about a young woman who records herself while video chatting with any possible person around the world from her very small apartment, it is as much to me about cinema and how this pervasive networked event of recording has now absorbed the codes of cinema into a new apparatus of an always on recording.

The cineaste must re-write recording, which is of course is the first part of rewriting montage. Just as video re-wrote cinema, and here I mean video, video art and television, the network and social media put an exponent on this. Certain film historians have termed the first years of cinema as a cinema of attractions. Often cited is Edwin S Porter who went from city to city with reels of film. He will would rent a hall, hire an organist, get word out about his show. At the event he would play his recordings in what for that crowd and that evening felt right to him – so each event of projection was unique – there was not yet a highly codified cinematic grammar of shot reverse shot, the eye-line match, relay of the gaze, etc.. This became common viewing with a remote control in watching television and with the lightweight cheap film stock cameras in the hands of Andy Warhol, it was never the playback that mattered but the event of recording.

These two conditions of an always-on-recording and always-on-playback are a now a constant. As such they constitute a new cultural techno-sphere, already having re-written our printing press, soon our politics – a contemporary cinema must inhabit this condition.


Minsheng Museum Dec.19th 2011-January 25th 2012

Marc Lafia’s Eternal Sunshine transforms the virtual space of online social networks into a large scale interactive installation. This vivacious work involving video, sculptures, and audience participation brings together a number of techno-social concerns that have been central to Marc Lafia’s long career as an artist, filmmaker and information architect — in particular, his interest in how our environments are programmable, how we are all part of an elaborate program that is as real as it is virtual. In Eternal Sunshine, designed for the Minsheng, he presents the network as a condition in which we create new senses of ourselves, of history, time, desire, love and loss.

Eternal Sunshine is constructed around an imaginary swimming pool which helps to set the scene of a warm summer afternoon. Strewn around the pool are lounge areas, a ping pong table, video monitors, an open microphone, electric guitar, and other activity stations including a series of ad hoc questions listed on a blackboard that encourages audience feedback. Surveys ask audience members to list their favorite books, films, vacation spots, and emails. Free refreshments, art and dance classes, karaoke sessions and popular magazines are provided as a way to retain the audience and encourage them to customize the space to fit their own expressions, needs and tastes. While this open recreational space is fun and relaxing, it is also a laboratory, a place to inventory people’s likes and dislikes, their fears, pleasures, intimate longings and desires. In one corner of the room we see signs, ‘more happy music’, ‘more sun’ ‘evacuate’. These signals suggest that this enjoyable place is actually pre-designed, a software program beyond our control. The signs also suggest that the environment is continually being optimized and personalized. In fact museum staff will update any requests of the participants, whether it is to play their favorite songs, change the color of the lighting or add their favorite flavor refreshment, all in effort to streamline the eternal sunshine of utopia. Eternal Sunshine employs art as an event and uses networks, both private and public, to affect a cultural space that produces in the end, what we know as globalization.

The mood changes in the hallway leading to the back room of the exhibition. Here along the two walls are a series of prints of subtitles taken from Chinese, French and Japanese films which explore how subjectivities have changed over time and generations and, more importantly, how globalization constructs a post-national subjective condition. This dialog between film, history, memory, and society is further explored in Double Fantasy, Lafia’s double channel video love letter to China. In this work distinct cultures prior to globalization look at one another via cinematic montage. The juxtapositions lead to a series of productive misrecognitions, phantasms and mirroring. Actor Jia Hongsheng in Beijing believes John Lennon to be his father; Jean Luc Godard argues that Mao’s red book is the way to social change for Paris; the Beatles go to India and seek Maharishi to transform their consciousness; and John and Yoko lay in bed in Amsterdam for seven days to inspire peace. Here each culture is a promise to the other for a better world.

Further in is yet another video by Lafia, Hi How are You Guest 10497, which brings us back into a contemporary moment, where we live inside cinema, inside the network, and where one can reach out across global networks to connect to other ‘private’ spaces. The video portrays the network life of a young woman. In her solitude she remains connected — however ethereally, however precariously — to the world around her. Here we begin to sense that the world has become one global network where identity is always and already expressive, always and already enmeshed in the web of becoming. Another video expresses contemporary society’s continual search for even greater stimulation. Raindrop Ecstasy, a three channel musical video is filmed on a rainy night in New York City. Four young people find themselves quietly in search, against the obvious, for an ultimate experience. As they follow their instincts, like animals on the prey, they are drawn into a Karaoke bar, where under the colored lights they see themselves, as if in a dream, mirrored on a large screen singing The Magnetic Fields kaleidoscopic song ‘Take Ecstasy with Me.’

All of the works Eternal Sunshine critiques to the new cultural order as an ecstatic artifice. In this order, mediated by personal computer networks normative values are reproduced as consumable objects and the individual’s identity is played like a pawn. On the other side we see the community and transcendence that the global network inspires. On the other side we see how yesterday’s dystopic, brave new world looks utopic today and how concepts such as open, transparent, distributed, non-hierarchical, and participatory promise inclusion and empowerment yet have in turn exploited the individual’s desire for the sake of benefit.

Marc Lafia is a New York City based artist, filmmaker and information architect whose work explores the expansive possibilities of the photographic image. His varied online works include, This Battle of Algiers a commissioned work from The Tate Modern and The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Memex Engine, or Lara Croft Striped Bare by her Assassins Even exhibited at The Walker Art Center and Georges Pompidou, Ambient Machines which premiered at the Rotterdam Film Festival and the SFMoMA and Variable Montage exhibited at the Central Academy of Fine Art, Beijing.

In his many feature films including Exploding Oedipus, Love & Art, and Confessions of an Image as well as his numerous computational films, he probes what it is to construct an image, to forge systems of representation, to re-write our viewing benchmarks as we move from analog to digital. Many of these works have been exhibited in seminal exhibitions on Net Art and Future Cinema including Net Condition and Future Cinema at the ZKM, Germany, the ICC Tokyo, Node-L, Canary Islands Biennale for Architecture, 2007, and other international museums, art centers and festivals.

Marc has taught in the graduate schools of Stanford University, the San Francisco Art Institute, Pratt Institute of Design, and Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He is currently teaching at Columbia University, NYC. He has also won numerous awards as an information architect, music video conceptualist.

Empires (voice over)


with the enlightenment and the french revolution a new consideration of the relations of man was put forward, it was the idea that reason and science would produce a new order of men, not based on titles, nor wealth, or lineage, not religion, but on reason and science. there would be liberty, fraternity and equality not for all, yet, but as a lever for now to contest power. Over the next century the enormous energies of these new ideas dismantled the old hierarchies, creating new wealth, new business, new nation states and a very new sense of the public.

With industrialization this larger public had moved away from the land and was now a wage earner living in cities vying for rights and power. seen from one vantage they were a rabble to be feared and contained, from another a mass to be inspired to fight wars and to build a new industrial society. Through scientific management, through the study of nature and machines this new man would be looked at and studied to organize and manage.

in the last century the idea of managing the public has become increasingly fine tuned and in a radically new turn the public would now be done away with and in its place we now had individuals.

individuals who now had no sense of what society they were part of, if any.

this is a film about the idea of the individual, the individual who no longer sees him or herself as part of a public.

in the past, society was a natural order that flowed from the divine king and those in the network of the king who produced the kingdom. From the very beginnings, families and clans were knitted together as they roamed and herded together the land in small units of micro societies. All of this changed with agriculture, with land bound productivity, specialization and accumulation emerged producing great cities, kingdoms and war machines. But in all of these there was an order, a well defined place and role for each man. A role managed and looked over by various elites.

With the idea of the public gone, the society of individuals, individuals who believed they shouldn’t be a part of any social, political and moral norms, who felt, if they were part of those things they’d be controlled and enslaved by them, woke up to see themselves as the 99 percent, as individuals without politics. they had let others manage their politics through representative government and they would now have to learn and create a new sense of political being. the very last thing they wanted to do, as this was supposedly the job of the technocrats, the scientific managers, the elites and experts they thought they had put in place to do these jobs.

the elites they thought they had done away with, long ago, the elities to them were managers in a meritocracy and if they failed they would be replaced, this was a new social contract, so they thought, but the elites had gamed the system – they could not fail because if they did we all did.

the public had not become free in becoming individuals, they simply, naively had lost any levers to power.

how then to find these levers, to create a new politics, a new sense of society.

if the twentieth century put an end to the idea of collective society,
the idea that scientific management and social engineering could
produce a new man, a new civil order, a society owned by all, the 21st
century promised we would flourish in our differences, each with our
own taste. products and solutions would be customized for our unique
needs. in satisfying our own needs we would create a public. a society
of individuals.

the new calculations of accommodating difference would do away with
the nightmares and exclusions that had produced mass society, nations
states, ethnic conflicts. it would be an end to the tyranny of unified
culture, an end to totalitarianisms.

we would now be free atoms, distinct and discreet nodes in a network.

with the new science of chaos theory and complexity, with better
understanding of nature, unlike the brute rationality of early science
we would find live ourselves self organizing in a series of rolling
plateaus, each finding its own order but most importantly each
resulting not from a command outside but from the will of individuals.
we would participate in a consumer culture of one to one, where power
flowed from our choices. the self interest of each of us would produce
a world rightly ordered by our choices in a free market place.

without an outside, a managerial elite or government edict that had
pushed for and succeed in creating a liberal society, we would now let
things find their own order, from the ground up. our desires would be
expressed by a purchasing power, it would be our vote and the market
would continually adjust to accommodate the desires we expressed. we
could all now be winners using the network effects to scale up to
success, a success each of us had agency to produce.

there were no larger structures to trump agency. if you could make i you
would make it.

yet it was precisely this elevation of our differences to the
exclusion of our commonalities that took away our power. we were now a
society of individuals without a society.

we were soft machines controlled by our own on board computers and all
our needs and wants seen through the rich data mines of the hundreds
of traces we entered into networks everyday.

we believed machines neutral and objective and that in indexing these
traces we possessed and produced knowledge. we believed that market
forces and desires would shape a world that had reason unto its
own. there was no power, there were only attractors that formed and
shaped as a result of these monitored transactions.

but this was a trap as we could not see the larger picture. as we had
given up and had no new models to express ourselves collectively.

in 2011 there were revolutions all over the world. it was a coming to terms to the 20 years that had passed since the fall of the berlin wall in 1989.

it was clear that freedom had won. in 2001 with the attacks on the world trade towers it was precisely freedom that had to be defended, and it was this freedom that allowed for assertion of more might more brutality.

it was not just this freedom that asserted itself but the freedom of markets, of the flow of money, of a logic of money, of the conquest of high finance.

as the human being becomes more and more the study of science he becomes the object of science. he sees himself as a system. made up of so many component parts, so many desires.

each if understood and scientifically managed properly could lead to order.

but when order, once understood as equilibrium, was only a manner of dialing it in, adjusting it, order now was conceptualized as disruptive and volatile.

if society were to act like nature, and be chaotic, and disruptive,  business and finance, corporations and nations and people would now have to embrace this new natural law of volatility of self organization, and it would be the basis for a new politics.

from libertarians to anarchist to neo conservatives the law of volatility was welcomed it was only all those in the middle who didn’t like it.

this was the 99 percent.

a society of individuals without society

if the twentieth century put an end to the idea of collective society,
the idea that scientific management and social engineering could
produce a new man, a new civil order, a society owned by all, the 21st
century promised we would flourish in our differences, each with our
own taste. products and solutions would be customized for our unique
needs. in satisfying our own needs we would create a public. a society
of individuals.

the new calculations of accommodating difference would do away with
the nightmares and exclusions that had produced mass society, nations
states, ethnic conflicts. it would be an end to the tyranny of unified
culture, an end to totalitarianisms.

we would now be free atoms, distinct and discreet nodes in a network.

with the new science of chaos theory and complexity, with better
understanding of nature, unlike the brute rationality of early science
we would find live ourselves self organizing in a series of rolling
plateaus, each finding its own order but most importantly each
resulting not from a command outside but from the will of individuals.
we would participate in a consumer culture of one to one, where power
flowed from our choices. the self interest of each of us would produce
a world rightly ordered by our choices in a free market place.

without an outside, a managerial elite or government edict that had
pushed for and succeed in creating a liberal society, we would now let
things find their own order, from the ground up. our desires would be
expressed by a purchasing power, it would be our vote and the market
would continually adjust to accommodate the desires we expressed. we
could all now be winners using the network effects to scale up to
success, a success each of us had agency to produce.

there were no larger structures to trump agency. if you could make you
would make it.

yet it was precisely this elevation of our differences to the
exclusion of our commonalities that took away our power. we were now a
society of individuals without a society.

we were soft machines controlled by our own on board computers and all
our needs and wants seen through the rich data mines of the hundreds
of traces we entered into networks everyday.

we believed machines neutral and objective and that in indexing these
traces we possessed and produced knowledge. we believes that market
forces and desires would shape a world that had reason to be of its
own. there was no power, there were only attractors that formed and
shaped as a result of these monitored transactions.

but this was a trap as we could not see the larger picture. as we had
given up and had no new models to express ourselves collectively.

Art and Instructions

Art and Instructions
MoMA talk 1

Themes of the week

As the French sociologist Pierre Bordieu wrote, one can learn more about the world around us by looking at networks and connections, rather than by simply looking at images.

In our first time together let’s think together about the following.

What and where is the experience of art?

What is to purchase a work of art and see it here in the museum?

What is to do you think collect works of art?

How does a critic talk about a work of art?

Why do we care about art?

Where do we begin? Here we are, not only at MoMA but with ourselves, what we don’t know, what we wish to know.

Welcome As we are here at the MoMA – we should talk a bit about its inception – its raison d’etere – as we know, one of the outstanding issues for the Museum of Modern Art is how to present its collection. How to tell the story of Modern Art. There is no absolute way. No one way through the story.

a concrete assemblage of heterogenous elements
montage nuanced and unpredictable

(What drives all this is the artists. There work. The modern has been driven by intense self-reflection, interrogation, towards an expression of the moment, of life, of living, of form, of shape. At one point, art was synonomous with painting, when one mentioned art there talking about painting.
From the outset MoMA and its founder Alfred Barr had a broader sense of art and thought of the arts as
Painting and Sculpture, Prints and drawings, Film and Media, Photography, Design
A pattern, a rhythm, a gesture that puts on the now.
a new understanding of the universe is required for better use of the environment; gyorgy kepes on ‘art and the public environment’ which called for appreciation of modern industrial man’s need for aesthetic satisfaction in the environment.
They say that a computer does not feel like a toaster or a vacuum cleaner; it feels like a medium that is now taking its place beside other media like printing, film, radio, and television.
Work described includes interactive computer pieces, Web sites, film animation, digital photography, virtual reality pieces, performance, video installations, interactive video installations, and art generated by computers themselves using formulae provided by the artist-programmer.

How might a generation take hold of art and make it their own, to express themselves in it, by it, through it.

Computers 4 defining qualities: procedural, participatory, encyclopedic, and spatial properties
The memex and the potato garden
This, by the way, is an excellent example of the Deleuzean distaste for essentialism: you’ve never going to be able to come up with a set of necessary and sufficient conditions to define “courage”: much better to investigate the morphogenesis of warrior and soldierly bodies and see if there are any common structures to those production processes. How are the warrior and the soldier different actualizations of the virtual multiplicity linking political physiology and geopolitics?
Deleuze shows in great detail how Ideas have a complex internal structure, being composed of series of singularities. The triggering of a bifurcator is called by Deleuze an “Event,” which unleashes an “emission of singularities,” that is, that provides for a new set of attractors or patterns of behavior. The self-differentiating process by which Ideas spread throughout the virtual, is named differentiation by Deleuze, in contrast to differenciation, which names the process of actualization, for example, the “incarnation” of the Idea of “a” society in one particular actually existing society. The series of singularities in an Idea are arranged in “inclusive” disjunctions, so that they are “compossible,” even those that when actualized would be “incompossible,” that would preclude each other. Thus actualization or differenciation is the construction of “exclusive” disjunctions, the selection of a series of singularities whose actualization precludes the simultaneous actualization of others, which would then have the status of the “road not taken.”

The signifier is not the determinant of what is signified, for the significations of the text change with the placement of the text in con-text.

Let us now see how the 1960s Deleuzean terminology can provide the basic concepts for a transcendental geophilosophy. We can see that an actual system might, say, oscillate at one frequency within a certain range of parameters, and at another frequency within another range. The actual behavior of the system, its oscillation at frequency #1 or #2, would be a trait, while oscillation frequencies #1 and #2 would be the actualization of virtual attractors, a selection of a divergent series that actualizes a certain set of virtual singularities, and the transition between #1 and #2 would be an Event, an actualization of a virtual bifurcator, the selection of a different series of singularities.

What makes this
art historical notion of period style – applied to the practice of connoisseurship
a period style is a special form of coherence
style conceived as being generated collectively and unconsciously
Style as defined by Roland Barthes in ‘Painting Degree Zero’
Style as defined by Deleuze in ‘Proust’
What is the relationship between Event – Style – Event is a similar thought as Barthes puts forward as writing –
Barthes here clears the ground for his subsequent research, which would be a history of writing, a history of literary language that is never reduced to the history of language or to the history of styles but instead explores the historicity of the signs of literature
The details of style–word choice, syntax, punctuation–are simply surface manifestations of something already going on at a level hidden within language. Such multiple levels of language, as well as the increasing import of stylistic significance, are exemplified in Barthes’s own style. Whenever Barthes encounters a word with double meanings, says Michels, he retains both meanings in the word, much as Derrida does with deconstruction. Michels sees this, however, n ot as a deconstructive move but as a move toward experiencing reality (which is not behind words so much as hidden by them). It is, says Michels, as though “both meanings were winking at the other” (159). Unlike Derrida, Michels believes Barthes is attempting to get at that meaning; it exists, however, not in the language itself but “in that wink” (159); it is a meaning inexpressible through words. As the term wink implies, we can catch only a momentary glimpse of this multiple meaning. Barthes refers to this transitory moment as a “momentary escape into Being” (160). This escape into Being is what Barthes means when he talks about style–not the unique signature of a specific author, but the “pleasure of the text” that transcends language. “Language experienced at this level,” adds Michels, “produces the ecstasy of an immediate encounter with reality” (156). Language becomes not the reflection of reality, nor, as postmodern theory is often interpreted as claiming, reality itself, but, rather, the ecstatic ex perience of reality. At this juncture, Barthes’s argument–if not his style–has transcended the initial question Kimball and Michels separately address: whether postmodern writing is representational–that is, a mimetic recreation of reality–or simply a self-referential exercise in nihilism. The experience Barthes postulates, the pleasure of the text, is neither that of a reality beyond the text, nor of an abstract discourse, but the reality of the text itself.

M. conditions of possibility
It is composed not of units but of dimensions or rather directions in motion. It has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and overspills. It constitutes linear multiplicities with n dimensions having neither subject or object, which can be laid out on a plane of consistency, and from which the One is always subtracted (n-1) … The rhizome operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots. … the rhizome pertains to a map, that is always detachable, connectable, reversible, modifiable, and has multiple entryways and exits and its own lines of flight.

“complexity theory,” to use the popular name for scientific research into self-organizing material systems.

In analyzing the material formation of dominating bodies in terms of their formation of “territories,” domesticated areas in which stereotyped reactions can be implanted and procedures developed to exploit them, the empirical geo-philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari aims by contrast to summon forth “a new earth,” a new relation to the creative potentials of material systems to form free bodies.

‘While the general context of the art-experience is set by the artist, its evolution in any specific sense is unpredictable and dependent on the total involvement of the spectator.’
Roy Ascott, ‘Behaviorist Art and the Cybernetic Vision’

Setting up patterns of behavior, emotion and thought that are unpredictable.
Modern Art takes a turn to initiate a dialogue

He is searching for new ways of handling ideas, for more flexible and adaptive structures to contain them; he is attempting to generate new carrier waves for the modulations of contemporary experience and he is searching the resources of technology to expand his repertoire of skills. Roy Ascott, ‘Behaviorist Art and the Cybernetic Vision’

Turing helped pioneer the concept of the digital computer. The Turing Machine that he envisioned is essentially the same as today’s multi-purpose computers. He described a machine that would read a series of ones and zeros from a tape. These ones and zeros described the steps that needed to be done to solve a particular problem or perform a certain task. The Turing Machine would read each of the steps and perform them in sequence, resulting in the proper answer.

This concept was revolutionary for the time. Most computers in the 1950’s were designed for a particular purpose or a limited range of purposes. What Turing envisioned was a machine that could do anything, something that we take for granted today. The method of instructing the computer was very important in Turing’s concept. He essentially described a machine which knew a few simple instructions. Making the computer perform a particular task was simply a matter of breaking the job down into a series of these simple instructions. This is identical to the process programmers go through today. He believed that an algorithm could be developed for most any problem. The hard part was determining what the simple steps were and how to break down the larger problems.

For example, interactive media technologies transform the viewer of art into the user of art and allow for new constructions of meaning that Foucault could have never imagined.
Inversely, if an analog artwork, such as a sculpture or a building is planned and designed on a computer before it is crafted, is not the final artwork, even in its analog, physical form, at least partially digital? With the introduction of computers into the production process of art, much artwork becomes a digital/analog hybrid. The act of digitizing an artwork may occur at any point in its production. Digital art is always already a reproduction, thus the appellation (re)production.
From cave paintings to multimedia exhibits, artists have always applied technology to present some meaningful symbolic form. Thus, art and technology have always been in some way entwined.

Heidegger, in his essay, “The question concerning technology,” attempts to uncover the essence of technology, which is not itself technological. In doing so, he discusses the relationship between art and technology. For Heidegger, art and technology are unified in the notion of techne (Heidegger 1977). In techne, technology is a poesis, or a bringing-forth, a way of revealing modes of being. However, in modernity, techne is separated from art, becoming technology. The essence of modern technology is enframing, or calling-forth (challenging), the ordering of the world through technology. We come to see the world as standing-reserve, to be used for technological purposes, i.e., coming to see things in the world, especially nature, as being at the service of some instrumental activity. Thus, challenging-forth is the act of seeing nature as standing-reserve for use by technology. “Enframing means the gathering together of that which sets upon man, i.e., challenges him forth, to reveal thereal, in the mode of ordering, as standing-reserve” (Heidegger 1977, p.20). The result of enframing is realized in the modern application of technology in the separation of art and technology. “Enframing conceals that revealing, which, in the sense of poiesis, lets what presences come forth into appearance” (p.27). In other words, art is removed from means of revealing; i.e., art is disassociated from the process of bringing Truth out of concealment. The ultimate answer, for Heidegger, is to reunite art and technology in techne. The creation of technology then becomes reunited with the creation of art, restoring revealing to a means of discovering Truth. Thus, in essential ways, art and technology are entwined historically. However, as Heidegger notes, this relationship has changed over time, as modern technology has become the dominant means of revealing, through enframing and art is relegated to a secondary position of revealing modes of truth.

The Art “Electronic art conveys a notion of reality, nature, space, and our existence in these which differs absolutely and qualitatively from the tradition” (Claus 1999). Animation was one of the first applications for computers. Huitric and Nahas (1999) outline their personal experiences with the development of computer technologies dedicated to art. Beginning in 1970, the authors became involved in using computers for creating artwork. Early computers had poor resolution. The authors recall using a computer in 1975 whose resolution was 70 x 56 pixels (or 3920 dots) (Huitric and Nahas 1999). By comparison, the computer on which I am currently working has a resolution of 1024 x 768 (or 786,432 dots), which is 200 times the resolution. Aside from technical progress made within the field of computer animation, this medium is qualitatively different from analog forms of moving pictures. Moving pictures work through the rapid sequence of still images, the transition between which the eye cannot perceive. Cartoon animation operates on the same principle. Many stills are drawn and photographed in sequence. Digital animation reduces the frames to the changing color of pixels (dots) on the screen. As stated earlier, a contemporary computer may have 786,432 dots on the screen. Computer animation is thus the rapidly changing the color of each dot. The frame is no longer the entire screen, now the screen contains hundreds of thousands of frames, each one a pixel, so small as to be indiscernible to the human eye. The images are thus deconstructed into myriad tiny frames, which change at speeds indiscernible to the human eye. This alters the way animated features are produced. The image is no longer as important as the motion. As Benjamin (1968), describe photography and film as the fragmentation and reassembly of an image as a new logic of frames, digital images represent a radical extension to that logic: the image is dissected into hundreds of thousands of discreet fragments, reassembled according to the logic of pixels-as-frames.

**“The digital image unites the possibilities of painting (subjectivity, freedom, irreality) and of photography (objectivity, mechanics, reality)” (Weibel 1999).

Conclusion The logic of digital (re)production of art is qualitatively different than the logic of mechanical or manual production of art. Digitization transforms the ontological status of art from analog, physical entities into digital, symbolic representations of art that are virtual. As analog art forms become mechanically reproducible, they begin to lose their “aura.” Digital artworks are replicable, produced to be reproduced ad infinitum, without degradation. The logic of digital (re)production insists that digital and digitized images are interactive and infinitely reproducible and manipulable; they never had an “aura.” The painting exists in space and time; it is a physical entity; matter constitutes it. The new media exhibit exists out of space and time; it is a virtual entity; bits constitute it. Analog art is representation with a referent. As a sequence and algorithm of ones and zeros, digital and digitized art is representation without a referent. The addition of computers into the production process of art has implications for its content as well as its (re)production. While digital technologies applied to the production of art open new doors of creative possibilities, they close others. In adopting computer technologies, the artist transforms the production of art from a skill-based endeavor into a knowledgebased endeavor. Artistic vision becomes enframing.

It’s a matter of highspeed feedback, access to massive databases, interaction with a multiplicity of minds, seeing with a thousand eyes, hearing the earth’s most silent whispers, reaching into the enormity of space, even to the edge of time. Cyberception is the antithesis of tunnel vision or linear thought. It is an all-at-once perception of a multiplicity of view points, an extension in all dimensions of associative thought, a recognition of the transience of all hypotheses, the relativity of all knowledge, the impermanence of all perception. It is cyberception that allows us to interact fully with the flux
and fuzz of life, to read the Book of Changes, to follow the Tao. In this, cyberception is not so much a new faculty as a revived faculty. It is us finding ourselves again, after the human waste and loss of the age of reason, the age of certainty, determinism and absolute values. The age of appearance, the Romanticism of the private, solitary individual – essentially anxious, alienated, paranoid. Indeed paranoia, secrecy and dissimulation seems to have been embedded in all aspects of the industrial age. In our telematic culture, instead of paranoia we celebrate Telenoia: open-ended,inclusive, collaborative, transpersonal networking of minds and imaginations.

From here let’s return to the pleasure of being here, and where art once was.

Seeing Photography

                                                                                      Daniel Boudinet. Polaroid, 1979

As seen on the inside cover of Roland Barthes’ ‘Camera Lucida’.

This photograph was the first photograph, I photographed. It was as if seeing photography. Through reading the book, I read and here photographed photography.  To see  photography is to open an extraordinary  vista.

‘Strangely, the only thing that I tolerate, that I like, that is familiar to me, when I am photographed, is the sound of the camera. For me, the Photographer’s organ is not his eye (which terrifies me) but his finger: what is linked to the trigger of the lens, to the metallic shifting of the plates (when the camera still has such things). I love these mechanical sounds in an almost voluptuous way, as if, in the Photograph, they were the very thing–and the only thing–to which my desire clings, their abrupt click breaking through the mortiferous layer of the Pose. For me the noise of Time is not sad: I love bells, clocks, watches–and I recall that at first photographic implements were related to techniques of cabinetmaking and the machinery of precision: cameras, in short, were clocks for seeing, and perhaps in me someone very old still hears in the photographic mechanism the living sound of the wood.’