Written by Sybrand Veeger and Jonas GuigonnatSybrand: There is something romantic about an etymological voyage, Something utopically revealing – The feeling is akin to tracing back your genealogical roots: Familiarizing yourself with familiarity, Fathoming alternative familiarities: Unearthing roots To imagine trees. Let me share a genealogical log with you: This time Heidegger was my guide, That German Virgil of meaning – We sailed down into the etymological piths of technology, That timeliest of concepts. Currently, he said while descending, Techno means something radically different from its Greek root: Techne signifies something other than Instrumental manipulation, The obsession with means, The encasing and concealment of nature. Techne, rather, is not opposed to nature – The craftsman, artisan, manufacturer, Akin to the poet and the painter, Brings forth a creation, And, like nature’s disclosure of light, The technecrat reveals, un-conceals. From this root, I imagine a tree, I utopize: What would a technecracy look like? Jonas: What would it be? A possibility A rhetoric answer to the didactic – What would hell look like? A travel through the world of words, Might not be worth the bet: Forgotten corners Of human abysses. It is now my turn to share something with you: This time is not different than any other, Chaos shall be our only friend – Time and words are no sea to be sailed on, For near those places there are no grounds to be found. Mistakingly, heading toward nowhere, Techno means the same as any other word: Techne suggests the dream of Human’s manipulation, The creation of means, The enchaining and impairment of nature. Techne, then, becoming an arm of nature – The charlatan, conman, mindreader, Attached to the same fear that drives the righteous one, Brings forth an illusion, And, similar to nature’s inexistent logic, The technecrat steals, Mis-reveals From this abyss, I shall see no tree, I temporize: What could a technocracy look like? Sybrand: Surely, from the hellish wells of history, From the depths of human chaos, At least one meaningful bucket can be drawn, To pour upon ourselves, To awaken us from present drowsiness? To quench our thirst for hope? Techne – that hellenic understanding of technology, Reinvigorates our relationship with Gaia: Re-embedded in the natural, Technological production Mutates into technelogical creation: Re-embedded in the natural, Productivity re-evolves into an essential craftsmanship, Re-embedded in the natural, Power as coercion becomes Power as potential: Common statecraft replaces Distant democratic delegation, Desperately in need of reinterpretation, Let’s unearth the roots of our technological foundation, To give birth to an earthlier sense of future procreation.
Written by Jonas Guigonnat
Believing the (online) news, the changes we are witnessing are unseen in history. The digital revolution created new ways to interact with each other and with society. Some say that this process will bring humanity to a higher level of civilization, while others insist on the dangers, and see the possibility of new dystopian futures arising (as some Pandemic writers did in this issue). Another fear concerns the way politicians are using those technological innovations and putting the world order at risk. Some of its guardians are ringing the alarm. Others have already transformed themselves, and thus the political system itself.
Old World vs New Political Claims
Even in the short period of the past 200 years, the political arena gave birth to many concepts that we nowadays take for granted. Liberalism, socialism, representative democracy, or the idea of national identity itself, for example, are born out of historical earthquakes that touched the old continent in the nineteenth century. At the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, the old European monarchic network tried to reestablish the sphere of influence they had before the French Revolution. Economic instability, famines and new revolutions in the 1840s ended their ambition. Technological developments, industrialization, neo-imperialism and population growth were forcing the hand of all political actors. They were adapting to the circumstances.
In the twentieth century, things changed as radically as a century earlier. At the end of WWII, only two types of political organization survived the ideological battle that began in the 1920s. On one side, the democratic world was represented by one of the real “winners” of the war, the United States. On the other winning side, looking toward the “east,” Russia created the Soviet Union, incorporating countries which it had claimed after the war in Eastern Europe and imposing the communist political regime.
But even in those two political and ideological entities, things continued to change, and the political realm saw many movements rise and fall since the 1960s. Marxist ideas have been ostracized since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, but in the 1960s and 70s, they were often used by feminists and civil rights movements. Representative democracies had to adapt to permanent migration movements from Asian and African countries since the beginning of the decolonization process in the late 1940s. New technological innovations also changed the way populations in the western world saw their life, with most Europeans and North-Americans beginning to experience a welfare unknown thus far in history. Out of those changes, neoliberalism developed itself using the ever-growing mass consumption culture to its advantage.
The technological revolution, which began in the 80s, turned bureaucrats into technocrats. For the last 40 years, this new kind of politics learned not only how to govern and keep its influence, but also how to use welfare and technology as a warranty for its own existence. Neoliberalism seems to be using the tools of the digital age to swallow the possibility of significant democratic changes.
The Technological Spring
At first, it is tempting to see the internet as an objective platform for expression. The only problem is that its algorithms are built by humans, who cannot really be seen as objective beings, to say the least. Google or Facebook, for example, are built with a purpose, and that is simply to keep making profits. It may seem irrelevant in the political realm, but some recent events show that such a simple purpose is able to instigate large-scale political crises.
The most discussed example in the debate about the influence of tech companies on international politics is the Arab Spring in 2010. We know now that Facebook’s algorithm used politically loaded publications from the student movement in Egypt to literally set things on fire. It was automatically sent to groups with radically opposite political opinions. But why? The algorithm didn’t try to create hate on purpose, it was just built with the scientific knowledge that negativity is a powerful vector of communication. In other words, it was the simplest way to reach the goal of the company: create more adhesion to the medium, whatever the cost, to optimize profit.
But we are free to choose. At least that is what we are told continuously, for neoliberalism is based on individual responsibility. Freedom itself needs to be taken into perspective, considering it never really exists on its own. The way we interact with the society in which we live defines the essence of our freedom, to the point that we are allowed to claim it.
Online Freedom, Political Serfdom
Neoliberalism is particularly effective because it changed the way values are communicated. The old top-down type of interaction has been abandoned to such an extent, that the exchange of ideas and claims between power structures and the population now happen from below. It doesn’t mean that politicians are listening directly to “the people” – we would be aware of it – but that they give different communities enough attention to understand their whereabouts. How that flow of information is transmitted, and what happens to it afterward, shows how the freedom we are granted is defined.
Do you have the feeling that politicians really do listen to what you have to say? Considering the underlying assumption of this question (that answers it already), is it possible to believe that politicians are even interested in what interests us? For insofar they need us to legitimate them, they obviously need to know what we want to hear, if they want to be elected at least. Let’s imagine a system, like neoliberalism, within which politicians choose to stimulate the use of new technologies that give them access to a considerable amount of the information they require. Without regulation, for example, private companies would be able to create virtual databanks about the personal life of anyone using one of their products. Let’s imagine again what politicians will be able to accomplish with such insights.
To Consume Or To Be Consumed?
There again a wise mind would say that we are free to be a part of this new reality or not. But there again one may underestimate how well prepared the digital tsunami is. The boys of Palo Alto weren’t only successful because their products eased the way we interact with the world on itself. The advertising industry had, since the 1920s and the beginning of the mass consumption society, developed an expertise in the art of subliminality. Influenced by the entertainment industry, every effect of advertising on the public has been analyzed. From colors, shapes and shadows, to sounds, silences and musical breaks. One of their greatest achievements is to have created desires that seem instinctive and recognizable for most, although it is the results of a century of innovation in advertising techniques. When tech companies made their entrance, this knowledge was just ready to be grasped.
The scale on which the #humanity is expanding shows how successful mass consumption techniques are, particularly when they are used in the digital realm. Without a political leash to control it, we are exposed permanently, every day less able to escape. Our time becomes occupied to such an extent that it seems difficult to take a look at the world around us from a distance. Technology is used again and again to that end, always stimulating the active participation of the consumer. Given a free pass, tech companies were even able to reinforce the traditional way of consuming – using our time and energy to purchase a projection of what we really desire – with a new activity: ourselves being the product and the buyer at the same time. Long live the digital realm!
The Ghosts Of Our Time
And then what? Shouldn’t we just accept that things worked out that way? Aren’t we “lucky” to live in such an insouciance? We are, after all, living in a time where freedom has been expanded more than ever before. The #humanity is seeking peace, so why would we put it into question? Considering that things around us are not naturally themselves, but the result of a human construction, we should be cautious to believe those statements. Yes, life is a lot more livable for most peoples in Europe or in the US than it was even 60 years ago. But at what costs? We are to believe, then, that our society is the result of progress. It is however obvious that, without the period of colonization and both world wars, this civilization of progress would never have existed. Blood and oppression were the price still being paid.
Without entering the debate about the political and economic independence of African and Asiatic states, it is obvious that the oil coming from the Middle-East and minerals from the whole African continents are a crucial piece of the welfare puzzle. Without low-cost workers of many ages, making shoes, clothes or computers in Asia for American and European companies, our material world would be quite different. In their discourse, developed countries affirmed that their aim is a worldwide prosperity. The facts are telling another story and show how the richness of a few is built on the misery of many others. But still, we are free to choose. At least that’s what we are told, still.
Out of this quite pessimistic scenario, the fact that individuals and small groups are still thinking about how to use these new technologies remains, too. Yes, it seems that Big Brother is watching us, and has been for quite a while already, still, not everyone is following the leader blindly. The digital realm is now a fact. Let us take advantage of it then, little by little, influencing the choices that are made. Patiently, with distance, almost stoically, but actively at the same time. If we refuse the world vision as it is presented to us and dare to think out of the screen, neoliberalism might be beaten at its own game and be forced to change and adapt to survive.
Then again, the question of what to believe will be asked and some claims will have more impact than others. Our freedom would be defined quite differently and would open up possibilities that are not understandable for the #humanity. The time of the ?humanity will finally have come.
Written by Jonas Guigonnat
What is this noise? Why is it torturing my ears like a constant beeping from inside my head? The light coming from outside is exacerbating the pain. My eyes are water drops ready to explode under the pressure of the air. My head, oh my head. It doesn’t hurt, it shreds my existence into pieces. Am I sick? Am I going crazy? What time is it? Two in the afternoon already. My day has not begun yet, but my whole being refuses to make something out of it.
The pain I woke up with is disappearing as if it didn’t happen, but my heart is still beating and the sweat hasn’t completely quit my forehead. I need something and it is already clear to my mind what it is. A cigaret, rolling paper, the little bag. Let’s try to forget the body for the rest of the day. As long as the narcotic flows through my mind, pain feels almost like an illusion. It’s this game I have to play with THC in my blood and a blown mind. What time is it by the way? Four already? That’s the problem with doing nothing to forget my own existence – it makes time fly.
Take a shower, then a joint, eat something and get out of this house where the ghosts of my failures keep hanging around. I need the city to feel alive, even if its grey depressing atmosphere may intoxicate my mind even more. And the ghosts are there too. Still, outside seems safer than inside. It is quite cold, but I don’t mind, I even enjoy it. Paris becomes almost respirable when it is freezing.
Walking makes my body exist, but the view of those concrete giants all around me is oppressing my mind. I need space, as much as I can have. I know where I need to go. Why do I always seem to avoid this place already? Oh yes, now I remember. That’s not far from where he lies. Gone for 16 years already but it feels like yesterday still. Am I an orphan if I lost only one parent? What an inappropriate thought. Too stoned already.
My head is burning again. My vision is tortured by the highway on the right, with its interminable flow of immobility, and the railway on the left, where painted letters on the walls are the only things giving a faint semblance of life. The beeping is teasing my ears again and the cold feels very real now. Melancholia reigns my mind, heaviness – my body. Regrets? As far as the eye can see. The nearer I get to the place, the stronger the feeling of emptiness. Not total emptiness. Only the present and the future feel empty. The past is where things have substance, where life means more than a monotonous repetition of nothingness.
But here I am, in the vain reality of the present, trying to endure the idea of a future I don’t trust. My stomach is burning. A growing feeling of weakness is seizing my legs. Now it is the time to smoke the joint I prepared at home. I need an escape route, an alternative for the cage of reality. The trees are appearing on the horizon. No green, but a hypnotic orange-yellow color that my eyes understand. Still walking in the civilized world, but I already belong to the loneliness of that fake piece of urban nature. Lonely I am anyway. Lonely I can only be, that’s the only way.
Almost there, just a few meters and the dream will begin. Not for long, just a few hours. Walking without any goal, just keep forgetting reality. Once tired, I’ll go back to the prison that my body always brings me back to. The place where nothing can be done, where tears cannot be shed anymore. Ghosts of lost pasts and of impossible futures are the worst watchmen you can imagine. They follow you almost everywhere. But wait, is the prison in the physical or in the abstract world? Which one of the body and the mind is the prison? Let’s hope it is not both, but I am afraid it is.
Written by Jonas Guigonnat
Individually, we tend to think of our body as a kind of private property, a part of our chosen identity. We constantly try to control and shape it on what seems to be our own terms, but ultimately the relationship between human beings and their bodies is not only based on individual preference. What others think of our bodies, and how they relate it to “cultural clichés”, is what motivates us to shape our appearances to fit in.
Yet, it is also what dictates our social and cultural identities as part of social groups. The interaction of those groups with each other defines what one’s body means. On a global scale, and throughout time, there are numerous cultural clichés that have been so deeply rooted in humanity that we still hang on to them today. Firstly, because they are easy to understand. Also, because they represent a hierarchy, an order, that seems to be “natural”. As diverse as cultures can be in different parts of the world, some cultural structures often seem to be recurrent, especially when it comes to the place of women in society.
The fact that the word the words “women” and “men” not only define physical characteristics but also a network of social and cultural symbols hits the nail right on the head.
The body as a social and cultural prison
Stereotypes about women are legions and, even can jokes tell us a lot about general assumptions. Jokes about women behind the wheel, or about blondes, are based on generalities that make sense only in our social environment. This environment seems to us natural and based on truths. As the transsexual woman, sociologist, and feminist Raewyn Connell explains in her book Gender in World Perspective, a social order is nothing more than an intellectual construction. This construction is implemented into the structure of society to such an extent, that it seems absurd to doubt it.
Nonetheless, it is anything but a natural state.
What it means to be a woman – or a man for that matter – is defined by criteria of reproductive functioning, what Connell calls the “reproduction arena”. But it doesn’t mean that those criteria are all there is to one’s identity. Newborns are conditioned into their gender role and young children learn what it means to be a girl or a boy through their social experiences. As the godmother of modern feminism, the philosopher Simone de Beauvoir put it: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”
Imprisoned by history
Recounting the entire historical process through which the present position of women was formed is beyond the scope of this article, but some contextualization is still necessary. As far as historical records show us, for the last 5000 years, there was almost no society in which women weren’t considered “inferior” or at least “dangerous”. There are some exceptional women from otherwise repressive societies, such as queens Cleopatra and Sabha, or some legend like the Amazons, but none of those examples really defied the established order. Their bodies still made them weak and corrupt in the eyes of the men around them.
One of the Roman founding myths, the story of the Sabines, is quite symbolic of such mentalities in antiquity. It tells how the Romans, who were desperately looking for women, raped and kidnapped all the wives and daughters of neighboring cities.
Historians point out that this event probably never happened. The first written account about what should have happened around the sixth century BCE comes from the Roman writer Pliny who lived in the first century BCE. “The Rape of the Sabine Women” was part of a propaganda that legitimated the transformation of Rome from a republic to an empire under the first emperor Augustus.
There was thus, to say the least, some pride in disrespecting a woman’s body.
Fear, lies, and distrust
The rise to power of Judeo-Christian and Islamic religions in the early Middle Ages didn’t help the case for women, as the three great monotheistic cults put women in a separate corner from men. They were to be controlled, otherwise, hell would break loose.
Just take the example of Pope Gregory I, who in the sixth century decided that Mary Magdalene was the sinful woman that is referred to in the gospels. This was not the case before he made her officially a woman of little virtue, a prostitute. This ancient “fake news” had been considered the truth until just a few years ago.
Fear seems to play a great role here. Considering that most of those religious men tended to truly believe in the “Kingdom of God”, it is easy to deduce that they were plagued by their own desire for the woman’s body. It imbued them with fear, thus they imprisoned it in every way possible, taking total control over women’s lives by deciding for them what it meant to be a woman.
Slowly but surely
Things have changed, but it took a while. There were some signs of emancipation in the 17th century Netherlands. In Dutch cities every “citizen” had city rights, and this was also true for women, even though there were some nuances. But it didn’t last long and nowhere else in Europe did any society take this model as an example.
Then there was the French Revolution of the late 18th century, and the Revolutionary Wars in Europe that followed. Women are known to have played an important role there. A few months after what is now considered to be the start of the revolution – the Storming of the Bastille on the 14th of July 1789 – in a time of economic depression and famine, the women of Paris decided to go see their king on their own. They formed a cortège that marched the twenty kilometers separating Paris from Versailles and, though they initially set out to merely ensure bread got to their tables, they accomplished what revolutionaries in Paris couldn’t achieve: getting the king and his family to move to Paris so he could take responsibility in front of the parliament.
From that point on, women became some of the most fervent supporters of the revolution. They even hoped to improve their social position, but once again, their claims were ignored when new power structures were put into place.
A few years after the event at Versailles they were back to square one. It would take a century to see real changes occur, at least in Europe. Women everywhere on the continent used socialist ideologies to plea for their causes. The only way to change the course of action was to take things into their own hands and be the authors of their own story.
Finally existing, but how?
It was possible for women to influence the way they were seen and the way society expected them to behave. But first, they had to be recognized as an acting part of society. The right to vote for women everywhere in Europe in the 1920’s was a sign that things could not stay the way they were. After World War II and the rise of the “society of prosperity”, it took just 20 years for the emancipation of women to really become significant, even for men.
But the body was still in the way, and quite rapidly new kinds of behaviors became “normal”. Women who were not respectable “housewives” didn’t deserve respect, so men knew full well that they were free to give in to their animal instincts. Sexual objectification, or seeing the woman as a sexual object, was a new prison for women, for men were still “dominant”.
Finally, this brings us to the present day and its challenges. The sexualization of women has continued as the norm. But for a few years, there has been a direct answer to this neoliberal gender arrangement. Regardless of the impact, the #MeToo movement has had since its commencement, it shows that things still need to change and that women are ready to express themselves in a way that was unthinkable 20 years ago. The scale of sexual harassment is quite striking, but not surprising. Someone as high-ranking as the President of the USA, Donald J. Trump, even talks about being able to “grab them by the pussy” and the reaction of the establishment is almost nonexistent.
That says enough, women seem to really be fed up. In France, women are even more defiant than in other western countries. This is easy to understand if we look at recent affairs with politicians such as Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Nicolas Sarkozy, or François Hollande. One day in Paris is also enough to understand what it really means to be a woman in the capitale de l’amour.
Is it then possible to conclude that women did emancipate from the prison of their body? At least the recent history proves that the possibility exists, but the cost in terms of the social struggle and the manual effort it takes is quite huge.
Freeing the body from the mind is already a challenge when it comes to individuals, but it is far more complex when a whole group is concerned. All of society, our co-citizens, are seeing us by what our appearances mean. However, human beings are potentially capable of emancipating from the present and acting towards an unknown future. The body is surely often a prison, but jailbreaking, with all its consequences, is always an option.
Written By Jonas Guigonnat
The ability of the human mind to be triggered by remembered sensations never stops astonishing me. Memory is often seen as a question of remembering “images” and “thoughts,” but all of our senses are playing a role. Most of the time it is a strong, subconscious activation.
Take the creative process as an example and you’ll realize how much past experiences are often the driver behind your capacity to create. Each sense plays a part, from what you heard, or tasted, to what you saw, or even touched.
Never underestimate the power of your memory. Even great temporal distance doesn’t seem to restrict the influence of the experiences and feelings we remember.
Twenty years ago I discovered graffiti and practiced it earnestly for about 5 years, but from that point onwards the feelings and sensations related to it never left my mind. As every graffiti artist, or “writer”, experiences it, my obsession for graffiti is never very far away, even when it feels like a lifetime ago.
Shapes of the streets
Everything began with what was to be seen: letters, letters, and again letters. They quickly became a source of obsession and modified the way I saw the creative process behind calligraphy. The style calligraffiti fascinated me at once, to the point I was dreaming of it.
I worked for hours trying to create shapes which transmitted the same energy, the same vibration as the pieces I saw on the streets. The feeling of being able to create my “own” letters motivated me to always do better. From that point onwards, every type of letter I saw could slip into my brain and find its way to the next piece of paper, and finally to the next wall.
Nowadays, even though I don’t practice actively, I still look for the perfect letters almost subconsciously. Any piece on the subway, on the street, or on the highway makes me want to take the cans and spray my letters out again.
Sounds of the past
My vision is thus playing a crucial part in this process, but my ears have also their part to play.
The noise of spraying cans still hooks me, the sound of pens scratching paper has never stopped haunting me, and the cacophony of Paris by night calls for me to paint its walls.
The sounds of every season bring me back to a place and time where I was writing something on the streets. Rain on scraps of steel, a subway taking its last ride, the silence of a sunny day or birds singing early in the morning – all of it triggers my will to create, even before my consciousness itself is aware of it.
Tell me what you smell, I’ll tell you what to create
Then there is also a multitude of triggering smells. Particularly the one of ink and of paint from a spray can, which awaken my obsession with the same force.
The same way noises play with my perception of the present, smells can also, out of nowhere, bring me back to a street in Paris in the early 2000s. The smell of wet leaves on a dark November day, of hot asphalt in the summer, or of a dry cold winter. All refer to moments of inspiration or of despair, either way pushing my creativity.
Touch and smell also have an influence, but it is a lot more subtle and difficult to grasp when it comes to the visual arts. Nonetheless, some feelings, like the one of grabbing a can, also push my mind to look for inspiration in the past.
When it comes to graffiti, if there is one bodily feeling above all others that I would choose, it is the adrenaline flowing through my body. Every writer experiences it as an addiction and as an important factor in this specific kind of creativity.
Taking risks is necessary if you want to exist in this environment. Otherwise, you would not be able to understand the essence of writing and will instead practice it like any other visual art.
But what makes graffiti unique in the eyes of thousands for almost 50 years (the discipline as such is said to exist since 1969) is mostly the fact that vandalism cannot be separated from the artistic process itself, once again, giving a feeling never to be forgotten.
The complex network of feelings recorded by my mind allows me to be creative in a very particular way. Not even my own will has as much influence on my capacity to express myself through art.
Without remembering what it feels like to create, there would be no creating, or at least not consistently. It also means that every time there is creation involved, the connections between the remembered sensations allows it to take form, to become real.
We exist through our memory as much as we create through it.