vendredi 29 août 2014

Instant Fragile.

Bruno Fortier, La Bibliothèque Royale, 1989 (via NDLR).

Quand je me suis levé, il était à peine six heures du matin. Il y avait des nuages, mais le soleil commençait à percer. Je savais déjà que nous aurions une de ces belles journées de septembre qui donnent envie d'abandonner son travail et de prolonger les vacances jusqu'à la fin du mois. Tu dormais encore, j'ai pris le vélo pour aller acheter du pain au village. La mer était calme, les bateaux étaient immobiles, accrochés à leur bouée comme des chiens sages. La boulangère m'a dit que nous étions parmi les derniers estivants. Le dimanche, son ne mari ne faisait plus qu'une trentaine de gâteaux.

- Autrement, ils nous restent sur les bras.

Je n'avais pas emporté mon maillot. Je m'en suis passé pour piquer une tête entre les rochers. On aurait pu nettoyer un de ces blockhaus que les vagues inondent les jours de tempête. On y aurait dormi certaines nuits pour oublier le bruit des voitures, comme dans ces cabanes que construisent les enfants et où ils se prennent pour des naufragés. Certaines nuits, celles où nous faisons l'amour. L'amour sauvage, l'amour comme une guerre, dont nous finissons par sortir vainqueurs tous les deux.

- Le naturisme est interdit sur l'île.

Une vieille femme qui me regarde fixement pendant que je me rhabille. Elle me crie des insultes en breton, avant de s'en aller sur ses jambes courtes dont l'une boite et lui donne de loin l'allure d'une grosse danseuse qui expérimenterait un nouveau pas.

- Réveille-toi, je viens de faire le café.

Tu continues à dormir, et quand je te secoue tu restes en position fœtale. J'ai peur que tu sois morte, on peut mourir dans son sommeil quand un vaisseau se fâche dans le cerveau. Mais, tu t'étires, tu bâilles, et en me regardant tu souris. Il me semble qu'on en se disputera pas aujourd'hui, qu'on se laissera glisser en pente douce jusqu'au soir. Depuis quinze ans, nous avons connu l'insouciance et la paix.

- Rarement, c'est vrai.

Nous ne sommes pas de ces goinfres que le bonheur finit par écœurer à force de s'en empiffrer. Nous l'apprécions comme un grand champagne qu'on ne boit pas plus d'une ou deux fois par an. Tu prends ton café en silence. J'éteins la radio. Je me tais.

- Il y a des instants si fragiles, que le moindre mot les déchire. 

Régis Jauffret, Microfictions, Éditions Gallimard, coll. Folio, 2007 (2008), p.357-358.

Merci à M.J.

vendredi 15 août 2014

Humane Scheme.

Jay Springett, Who owns the means of not dying?, 2013.

But instead of being confined to a resentment that destroys life in the act of hurling defiance, we can now act directly on the nature of the machine itself, and create another race of these creatures, more effectively adapted to the environment and to the uses of life. At this point, one must go beyond Sombart's so far excellent analysis. Sombart pointed out, in a long list of contrasting productions and inventions, that the clue to modern technology was the displacement of the organic and the living by the artificial and the mechanical. Within technology itself this process, in many departments, is being reversed: we are returning to the organic: at all events, we no longer regard the mechanical as all-embracing and all-sufficient.

Once the organic image takes the place of the mechanical one, one may confidently predict a slowing down of the tempo of research, the tempo of mechanical invention, and the tempo of social change, since a coherent and integrated advance must take place more slowly than a one-sided unrelated advance. Whereas the earlier mechanical world could be represented by the game of checkers, in which a similar series of moves is carried out by identical pieces, qualitatively similar, the new world must be represented by chess, a game in which each order of pieces has a different status, a different value, and a different function: a slower and more exacting game. By the same token, however, the results in technology and in society will be of a more solid nature than those upon which paleotechnic science congratulated itself: for the truth is that every aspect of the earlier order, from the slums in which it housed its workers and to the towers of abstraction in which it housed its intellectuals, was jerrybuilt - hastily clapped together for the sake of immediate profits, immediate practical success, with no regard to wider consequences and implications. The emphasis in the future must be, not upon speed and immediate practical conquest, but upon exhaustiveness, inter-relationship, and integration. The co-ordination of our technical efforts - such co-ordination and adjustment as is pictured for us in the physiology of the living organism - is more important than extravagant advances along special lines, and equally extravagant retardations along other lines, with a disastrous lack of balance and harmony between the various parts.

The fact is then that, partly thanks to the machine, we have now an insight into a larger world and a more comprehensive intellectual synthesis than that which was originally outlined in our mechanical ideology. We can now see plainly that power, work, regularity, are adequate principles of action only when they cooperate with a humane scheme of living: that any mechanical order we can project must fit into the larger order of life itself. Beyond the necessary intellectual reconstruction, which is already going on in both science and technics, we must build up more organic centers of faith and action in the arts of society and in the discipline of the personality: this implies a re-orientation that will take us far beyond the immediate province of technics itself.

Lewis Mumford, Towards an Organic Ideology in Rethinking Technology, A Reader in Architectural Theory, Routledge, 1934 (2013), p.57.

vendredi 8 août 2014

Courtier & General.

Joseph Koudelka, Le regard d'Ulysse, 1994.

What had changed most definitively for Debord was not the possibility, or the need, for revolution but the fact that the idea of a collective enterprise had collapsed. Other forms of organizing and promulgating subversive activity had therefore to be found. It seemed, in the first instance, that the best way to channel this impulse was through Champ Libre itself, to which Lebovici seemingly offered a free hand to Debord as 'literary director'.

Although he assumed this role, Debord also preferred to keep himself at some distance both from the day-to-day running of the group and the authors themselves. Debord had long since believed in the importance of invisibility and invisible agitation as a key Situationist technique and principle (the terrifying events in Italy, in the wake of the Piazza Fontana bombing, had convincingly borne this theory out) and he saw his position as a way of furthering what Alexander Trocchi, now long disappeared from view, has called 'the invisible insurrection'.

Amongst the books which Debord was reading in Florence and in Paris were Baltasar Gracian and Baldassare Castiglione as well as, inevitably, Machiavelli. The importance of these books was that they offered social, philosophical and political theories which not only sought to provide a model of cultivated behaviour but also, no less importantly, an ideal of action and interaction which formed the basis of the model Renaissance society. Debord found here parallels with his own previous experimental notion of the Situationist International as a micro-society; in these texts he discovered a way of preserving the notion of micro-society which was defined less by its collective decision-making process but rather by forms of individual behaviour. Friendship, honour, and the practical uses of the classical ideals of reason and self-knowledge were now becoming central to Debord's thought, behaviour and ultimately his writings.

In Castiglione, Debord found justification for his emphasis on activity and writing which engaged directly with its time, but also looked beyond, to future readers who had not been born yet but who might find in his texts a constitution of philosophical ideas closely linked to the comple demands of real life. Castiglione's most important work was his book Il libro del Cortigiano ('The Book of the Courtier') written in 1528. This was translated into French in 1850 by Gabriel Chappuis and republished by Champ Libre in 1987 (it was also translated into English by Sir Thomad Holby, and apparently read by Shakespeare, as The Courtier). This book was not only a treatise on how to be a perfect courtier ('known for all men as someone who is excellent,' writes Castiglione) but also a historically accurate and detailed account of life at the court of Urbino, the representation of a perfect city-state. The perfect courtier, according to Castiglione, is one who is able to bring together military and literary skills and use them with equal facility. Most importantly for Debord, Castiglione is concerned with the individual and his action, rather than with society as a collective whole. In this sense Debord's reading of Castiglione marks a decisive shift in his thinking away from social analysis and towards an individualistic theory of behaviour. It was also important for Debord that Castiglione argues against the false idealism of the Christian doctrine, stating that all moral judgements are both subjective and reversible ('Truth it is, many things seeme at the first sight good, which are ill: and many ill, that notwithstanding are good'). Most crucially, the book celebrates a perfect age based on a political philosophy which gives equal importance to the full measured enjoyment of the material aspects of life as well as theory or speculative thought.

Baltasar Gracian, writing a hundred years or so after Castiglione, offers a vision of the world which is slightly darker that that of his predecessor, probably the result of his education at the hands of Castilian Jesuit priests and his early career as a writer of chronicles in Zaragoza and Madrid. For this reason he is often quoted as an influence on Schopenhauer. For Debord, Gracian's most important work was El oraculo manual y arte de prudencia, which was translated into French by Amelot de Houssaie in 1684 (and reissued by Champ Libre in 1972) as L'Homme de Cour, or The Courtier. In this book Gracian presents 300 maxims which aim to instruct in the proper ways of conduct those who live alongside princes and men of power. Gracian emphasises above all the specifically Spanish qualities of desengano and agudeza. The first of these is to be translated as 'disillusion', but to be understood as a refusal to be fooled by the world and its appearance. The second, agudeza, is a term most often used in relation to the conceptista poetry of Gongora and Gracian himself. The term conceptista is generally understoof in Spanish as meaning 'witty, allusive or involved' and conceptista poetry is distinguished by an extreme for of concision, lack of similes and an essentially medieval approach in which the poet established an occult relationship with the universe.

What mattered most for Debord in the writings of Castiglione and Gracian was that they defined rules of moral and political action in a society which had not yet lost the sense of itself as a unified entity and in which the individual could therefore still influence great events. So, although the turn to an individualistic philosophy seemed a retreat, and to this extent was symptomatic of the introspective mood of the post-68 Left in the 1970s, it was also however, at least on Debord's own terms, a way of seeking to clarify present and future strategy in 'the society of the spectacly' in which the individual had been reduced to a mere spectator.


The architecture of the Auvergne reflects both the uncompromising landscape, of extinct volcanoes, inacessible ravines and grassy upland hills, and its political instability. It was not until the eighteenth century that the Auvergne lost its reputation as a land of brigands, insurrectionists, and anti-monarchist agitation. Many houses were constructed as a defense against roaming bands and private armies as well as the elements. The weather changed constantly and almost instantaneously from calm to wild and savage storms. The house of Champot seemed at times under siege from the elements, a factor which made the house feel like a fortress. This provided the perfect metaphor for the way in which Debord, the retired revolutionary general, was now beginning to conceive of himself and his relation to the outside world.


During the long winter days and nights in Le Minour, when there were no guests or they were exhausted from conversation and entertaining, Guy and Alice spent many hours drinking and playing war games. Games of strategy had always fascinated Debord; it was an interest which long preceded his discovery of Johan Huizinga and could indeed be traced back to childhood when, to escape Manou, his mother or his siblings, he would retreat to the back of the house in Cannes and obsessively plan campaigns with his lead soldiers. In 1975, in a second-hand shop in Paris, Debord had come across and old ware game which he had renovated. A brass plate, made by René Viénet, was attached to the side of the game. It read: 'Kriegspiel Clausewitz Debord'.

The rules of the 'game of war' were entirely based on the theories of Clausewitz and on the basis of eighteenth-century warfare, that is to say wars which were fought across territories not yet fully defined by nationhood or empire. Each territory in the game was divided into arsenals, fortresses, a mountain pass and nine mountains, which were untraversable, blocking fire and communications. The aim was the complete destruction of the military potential of the adversary, to be achieved by destroying all combat units or taking all the enemy's arsenals.

In this the game was also faithful to Huizinga's notion, for so long a central part of Situationist strategy, that the essence of war is also the essence of art. As in art, it is the lightning strike of the bold gesture, unpredicted and unpredictable, which is most likely to destroy an enemy's positions and clear the field for new manoeuvres. The war game was also most poignant, as Debord was assuming a new status as a thinker rather than a revolutionary participant in his age, a poetic suspension of the passage of time as in the poetry of Mallarmé or the paintings of Malevitch. 'In the unfolding of this Kriegspiel,' Debord wrote, 'all time is equal: the solstice of war where the climate never varies and night never falls before the invitable conclusion of the conflict'.

Andrew Hussey, The Game of War, Jonathan Cape, 2001 (various excerpts).

vendredi 1 août 2014

Anachronistic Distinctions.

Behind the scenes, Green ninja + hair dye commercial actress, 2014.

An article by Asger Jorn brilliantly attacked a society which accorded 'leisure' its highest social value and thereby, with the nodding complicity of managers, experts and sociologists, 'tried to sneak their way to a fully automated society' in which the individual, exhausted by work and dazed by pleasure, had lost any sense of himself as a unique subject.


This was because modern civilisation, argued all the Situationist writers, was based on a con-trick. Instead of living a life according to the principles of subjective desire, each individual was persuaded or conditioned (there was only a slight negligible difference between these two terms) into accepting the mediocre comforts of modern society. This was the process by which life was turned into an empty vessel, a 'spectacle', and it was the coercive power of this 'spectacle' which had to be opposed and fought in the most urgent terms. Glamour shots of bikini-clad sex kittens, images of commodified desire who were preening themselves or pouting à la Bardot, were placed alongside Situationist writings which were in equal measure imperious, sarcastic, aristocratic and contemptuous.


Back in Paris, Debord loudly claimed that he was not in the slightest bit interested in the activities of high-life international trash. Others detected an asperity in his tone which belied a certain jealousy of Rumney's easy access to high-life finance. More particularly, even at this stage, Debord was clearly interested in the possibility of having his life and work funded by a patron. This apparent dependence could be philosophically justified because, as Debord read it, it was a Renaissance model of artistic activity which placed art, politics and philosophy on a more intimate and human footing and therefore entirely separate from the twentieth-century model that dealt art as commodity. Secondly, it was a well-known commonplace that, as Machiavelli pointed out, contrary to appearance, such a relationship gave ultimate power to the artist, not the patron. The work of the Florentine artists of the early Italian Renaissance, who worked directly under the patronage of the Medicis but whose art was universal and spoke eternal truths, was clear proof of this fact. Debord was already reading at this stage not only Machiavelli's The Prince but also The Discourses, as well as Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier which, along with the Bible and The Prince, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V had famously kept by his bed. These books would accordingly become guiding works for Debord in later years.


Most notably in late May Debord had given a lecture to a research group convened by Henri Lefebvre under the auspices of the prestigious Centre nationale de la recherche scientifique. The title of the lecture, 'Perspectives on conscious modifications in daily life', was pompous and academic enough to please Lefebvre's research students. The content was however an undiluted call to arms in the name of a revolutionary transformation. 'Everything depends,' Debord argued, 'on the extent to which you dare to ask this question: how do you live? How are you satisfied? Not satisfied? This must be asked without for a minute letting yourself be intimidated by the various adverts which are aimed at persuading you that you are happy because of the existence of God, Colgate toothpaste or the CNRS'. 


The book was published in an elegant, plain white jacket, with a small photograph of Debord and the rubric: 'Guy Debord, born in Paris in 1931, is the director of the revue L'Internationale situationniste. He has also made several films which are out of circulation.'

The text itself was divided into 221 theses, rigorously numbered and orderedn each one developing or building upon the previous argument or assertion so that, in the true Hegelian fashion which Debord admired, the theory as a whole contained the sum of its parts. If the first influence was thinkers such as Karl Korsch, Gyorgy Lukacs and Anton Pannekoek, who were considered to be the inheritors of the 'young' or 'true' Marx, the revolutionary theorist of alienation whom Henri Lefebvre had set in contrast to the official Marxism of the French Communist Party. To this extent, it seemed, The Society of the Spectacle could be read as part of the general debate on the French left outside the French Communist Party, a debate which included Edgar Morin, Henri Lefebvre, the Socialisme ou Barbarie group, about the primacy of everyday life in revolutionary theory and practice.


Debord does not simply attack the obvious visual manifestations of modern society - advertising, television and the mass print media. He analyses in a rather more nuanced fashion the way in which the fragmented aspects of modern life are brought together in the images which the spectacular society makes to represent itself. This process is most clearly seen, he says, in the development of the modern cult of celebrity which serves to represent all the qualities - happiness, tragedy, freedom - which are missing in the anonymous lives of spectators.


In recent years, the term 'society of the spectacle' has itself become a cliché, entering the post-modern lexicon to describe any contemporary process, from the playful pursuit of designer consumerism, economic and cultural globalisation, the internet, celebrity worship or the way in which Western democratic political parties occupy interchangeable positions having abandoned the anachronistic distinctions of Left and Right. Having entered the language of contemporary life, the term 'society of the spectacle' is also somehow understood to imply a complicity with its illusory nature.


The Situationist International did not approve of bombs, but it did not approve of hysteria either, especially when emotions swung away from the promise of revolution. On the morning of the 18 December a pamphlet entitled 'Il Reichstag bruccia?' ('Is the Reichstag burning?') could be found scattered around the Piazza Fontana and factories throughout Milan. It was signed by 'Friends of the Internationale' and published in the names of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian anarchists who were condemned to death in Massachussetts in 1921 for alleged armed robberies and whose innocence became a cause célèbre throughout the world. The text had in fact been composed by the Situationist International and it accused the Italian state of having a hand in the Rome and Milan bombs. Terrorism was denounced as most commonly a 'primitive and infantile demonstration of revolutionary violence' and the fruit of 'failed revolution'. These particular massacres, it was argued, were, however, a new, more spectacular form of violence, sanctioned by the state in order to frighten and coerce the populace. This form of terrorism was the brutal exposed reality of the society of the spectacle.

When the Situationists wrote this text, which caused an outcry on the Left as well as the Right, few even on the extreme Left dared to think that this was possible let alone already happening. It would be several years before the role and the activities of the Italian intelligence services known as 'Gladio' and their hand in the bombings would be fully known and revealed in the international press. It was the Situationists who had been the first to unveil the new tactics mounted by the spectacular society in its self-defence, the deliberate provocation and even murder of citizens which would ward off threats from the insurrectionist Left with the so-called 'strategy of tension'. 


The Real Split was not however a mere settling of scores. It also advanced and moved on many of the arguments of The Society of the Spectacle and, in particular, presented a withering analysis of modern conditions of production and consumption in which 'the executive is the epitome of the consumer-spectator'. This is because, unlike the genuine proletariat in the factories, the managerial or executive classes do not fully acknowledge their status as cogs in the machine of production, emphasizing their distance from the proletariat by consuming higher value consumer goods. This is, argued Debord, 'man as a thoroughly dependent creature who feels duty bound to lay claim to freedom itself, idealized in the semi-affluent nature of his activity as a consumer'. It was this man, 'the former student', Debord warned, who was also shaping the physical conditions of the modern world: 'The work and leisure requirements of the executive are what now dictate the transformations currently laying hold of our urban fabric, from office blocks down to the tasteless fare dished up in restaurants where his strident tones leave other diners in no doubt about how much training his voice has received from exposure to airport Tannoys.' The executive, the man who though he owned the world, was, said Debord, no more or less than 'le plouc', an old French slang word still in use, which denoted a gormless rural oaf, completely at odds with his environment. The same term, he went on, should be applied to women in modern society whose idea of liberation was to harbour the same needs and ambitions as the 'executive oaf'. The result of this process, in which 'executives always pretend to have wanted what they have got, and the distress occasioned by their secret dissatisfaction' was described by Debord as a new form of alienation, a 'gilded destitution'.

Andrew Hussey, The Game of War, Jonathan Cape, 2001 (various excerpts).

vendredi 25 juillet 2014

Isolement Ancien.

Angelo Borrego Cubero, The Competition, forthcoming (via arch daily)

La relation entre architecture et politique a fait l'objet, au fil des années, de nombreuses recherches. Le rôle de l'architecte et de l'urbanisme a été analysé comme la projection au sol de l'image des institutions sociales, comme la traduction fidèle en villes ou en bâtiments des structures de la société. Ces analyses soulignent la difficulté qu'a l'architecture à agir comme instrument politique. Convoquant avec nostalgie le cri de ralliement un peu étouffé des "condensateurs sociaux" révolutionnaires dans la Russie des années vingt, certains ont pu prôner l'utilisation de l'espace comme un outil pacifique de transformation sociale, comme un moyen de modifier le rapport entre l'individu et la société en fabriquant de nouveaux modes de vie. Mais les "clubs" et autres bâtiments communautaires qui étaient proposés présupposaient non seulement l'existence d'une société révolutionnaire, mais exigeaient aussi la croyance aveugle en une lecture du béhaviorisme selon laquelle le comportement d'un individu pouvait être influencé par l'organisation de l'espace. Les révolutionnaires de l'architecture, conscients que l'organisation spatiale pouvait certes modifier temporairement le comportement d'un groupe ou d'un individu, mais n'impliquait pas de changement dans la structure socio-économique d'une société réactionnaire, continuèrent de chercher ailleurs de meilleures bases. Leurs tentatives pour trouver à l'architecture un rôle qui soit sinon révolutionnaire, du moins socialement agissant, culminèrent dans les années qui suivirent les événements de Mai 68, avec les bâtiments dits de "guérilla". La valeur symbolique et exemplaire de ces derniers résidait dans leur détournement de l'espace urbain et non dans l'aspect de ce qui était construit. Sur le front culturel, le mouvement "radical" italien concevait le projet d'une destruction des systèmes de valeurs établis, à la manière surréaliste. Ce pré-requis nihiliste du changement économique et social constituait une tentative désespérée d'utiliser les moyens d'expression de l'architecte pour dénoncer les orientations prises par les institutions en les traduisant en termes architecturaux: "vérifier où allait le système", dans une approche pleine d'ironie, en concevant les villes d'un futur sans espoir.

Sans surprise, c'est la question du système de production qui conduisit finalement à des propositions plus réalistes. Visant à une redistribution de la division capitaliste du travail, ces propositions cherchaient à comprendre de manière nouvelle le rôle des techniciens dans la construction, dans le cadre d'un partenariat réfléchi, directement inscrit dans le cycle de production, déplaçant ainsi le concept d'architecture vers l'organisation générale des processus de construction.

C'est pourtant la position bien peu réelle (ou bien peu réaliste) de l'artiste ou de l'architecte qui pourrait constituer leur réalité même. Exception faite de la dernière position évoquée ci-dessus, la plupart des approches politiques pâtissaient de l'isolement des écoles d'architecture qui tentaient d'offrir à la révolution leur connaissance de l'environnement. L'architecture selon Hegel ("le supplément") n'avait pas, semble-t-il, l'étoffe révolutionnaire requise. Où l'avait-elle, après tout? L'architecture recèle-t-elle, dans son isolement si ancien, davantage de pouvoir révolutionnaire que toutes ses transpositions dans les réalités objectives de l'industrie de la construction et de l'habitat social? Est-ce précisément dans l'absence de fonction de l'architecture que se trouve sa fonction sociale? Il se pourrait en définitive que l'architecture n'ait guère d'autre raison d'être.

Bernard Tschumi, Le Paradoxe Architectural in Architecture et Disjonction, Éditions HYX, 1994 (2014), p.39-41.

vendredi 18 juillet 2014

The Everyday.

When people encounter the term critical design for the first time, they often assume it has something to do with critical theory and the Frankfurt School or just plain criticism. But it is neither. We are most interested in critical thinking, that is, not taking things for granted, being skeptical, and by always questioning what is give. All good design is critical. Designers start by identifying shortcomings in the thing they are redesigning and offer a better version. Critical design applies this to larger more complex issues. Critical design is critical thought translated into materiality. It is about thinking through design rather than through words and using the language and structure of design to engage people. It is an expression or manifestation of our skeptical fascination with technology, a way of unpicking the different hopes, fears, promises, delusions, and nightmares of technological development and change, especially how scientific discoveries move from the laboratory into everyday life through the marketplace. The subject can vary. On the most basic level it is about questioning underlying assumptions in design itself, on the next level it is directed at the technology industry and its market-driven limitations, and beyond that, general social theory, politics, and ideology.



Without an intellectual framework it is very difficult to advance the practice of critical design; lots of projects happen but many simply repeat what has been gone before. We need some criteria that make it possible to advance this form of design through reflection and critique or at least get a sense of how the area can be refined. Conventional design's success is measured against how well it sells and how elegantly conflicts among aesthetics, production, usability, and costs are resolved. How is critical design's success measured?

Design as critique can do many things - pose questions, encourage thought, expose assumptions, provoke action, spark debate, raise awareness, offer new perspectives, and inspire. And even to entertain in an intellectual sort of way. But what is excellence in critical design? Is it subtlety, originality in topic, the handling of a question? Or something more functional such as its impact or its power to make people think? Should it even be measured or evaluated? It's not a science after all and does not claim to be the best or most effective way of raising issues.

Critical design might borrow heavily from art's methods and approaches but that is it. We expect art to be shocking and extreme. Critical design needs to be closer to the everyday; that's where its power to disturb lies. A critical design should be demanding, challenging, and if it is going to raise awareness, do so for issues that are not already well known. Safe ideas will not linger in people's minds or challenge prevailing views but if it is too weird, it will be dismissed as art, and if too normal, it will be effortlessly assimilated. If it is labeled as art it is easier to deal with but if it remains design, it is more disturbing; it suggests that the everyday life as we know it could be different, that things could change.

For us, a key feature is how well it simultaneously sits in this world, the here-and-now, while belonging to another yet-to-exist one. It proposes an alternative that through its lack of fit with this world offers a critique by asking, "why not?" If it sits too comfortably in one or the other it fails. That is why for us, critical designs need to be made physical. Their physical presence can locate them in our world whereas their meaning, emboddied values, beliefs, ethics, dreams, hopes, and fears belong somewhere else. This is where the critique of critical design should focus, on crafting its coexistence in the here-and-now and yet-to-exist, and when done successfully, providing what author Martin Amis has called "complicated pleasure".


Using design as a form of critique is just one use for design, as is communication or problem solving. We believe that some design should always question prevailing values and their underlying assumptions and that this activity can sit beside mainstream design rather than replace it. The challenge is to keep evolving techniques that are appropriate to the times and identifying topics that need to be highlighted, reflected on, or challenged.

In Envisioning Real Utopias, Erik Olin Wright describes emancipatory social science "as a theory of a journey from the present to the possible future: the diagnosis and critique of society tells us why we want to leave the world in which we live; the theory of alternatives tells us where we want to go; and the theory of transformation tells us how to get from here to there - how to make viable alternatives achievable".

For us, the fulfillment of this journey is highly unlikely if set out like a blueprint. Instead, we believe to achieve change, it is necessary to unlock people's imaginations and apply it to all areas of life at a microscale. Critical design, by generating alternatives, can help construct compasses rather than maps for navigating new sets of values.


By acting on peoples' imaginations rather than the material world, critical design aims to challenge how people think about everyday life. In doig this, it strives to keep alive other possibilities by providing a counterpoint to the world around us and encouraging us to see that everyday life could be different.

Anthony Dunne & Fiona Raby, Speculative Everything, MIT Press, 2013, p.35, 43-45.

vendredi 11 juillet 2014

Plus Patiente.

Hasui Kawase, Lune à Umagome, 1930.

Ils avaient parlé de l'astrologie qu'on ne pratiquait pas au monastère et qui y était interdite. Narcisse avait expliqué que l'astrologie était un effort pour ordonner en système la variété des milles tempéraments des hommes et aussi leurs sorts et leurs destins. A ce moment Goldmund intervint: "Tu parles toujours de différences - j'ai constaté, à la longue, que c'est là ce qui te caractérise le mieux. Lorsque tu parles de la grande différence qui existe par exemple entre toi et moi, j'ai toujours l'impression que cette différence ne consiste en rien d'autre qu'en ton bizarre acharnement à découvrir partout des différences.

NARCISSE. - Bien sûr tu es dans le vrai. Les distinctions en effet n'ont pas grande importance pour toi; pour moi, elles sont la seule chose qui compte. Je suis, par tout mon être, un savant; mon destin, c'est la science. Et faire de la science, ce n'est, pour parler comme toi, rien d'autre que s'acharner à découvrir des différences. On ne saurait mieux définir son essence. Pour nous, hommes de science, rien de plus important que d'établir des distinctions; la science, c'est l'art des distinctions. Ainsi, découvrir sur chaque homme les caractères qui le distinguent des autres, c'est apprendre à le connaître.

GOLDMUND. - Ah! oui. Celui-ci a des sabots de paysan: c'est un paysan; cet autre une couronne sur la tête: c'est un roi. Ce sont des distinctions bien sûr; mais elles sont à la portée d'un enfant sans qu'il soit besoin de toute votre science.

NARCISSE. - Seulement quand le roi et le paysan ont le même vêtement, l'enfant ne sait plus les distinguer.

GOLDMUND. - La science non plus.

NARCISSE. - Si pourtant, peut-être. La science n'est pas plus sage que l'enfant, il faut en convenir, mais plus patiente. Elle ne se contente pas de noter les caractères les plus frappants.

GOLDMUND. - Un enfant intelligent non plus. Il reconnaîtra le roi à son regard ou à son allure. Bref, vous autres savants, vous êtes orgueilleux; vous nous croyez toujours, nous autres, plus bêtes que vous. On peut être très intelligent sans le secours de la science.

NARCISSE. - Je suis heureux que tu commences à t'en rendre compte. Tu ne tarderas pas beaucoup à t'apercevoir que, quand je parle de la différence entre toi et moi, je ne songe pas à l'intelligence. Je ne dis pas que tu es plus intelligent ou plus bête, meilleure ou plus mauvais: je dis seulement que tu es autre.

GOLDMUND. - C'est facile à comprendre. Mais tu ne parles pas seulement de la différence des caractères, tu fais également allusion à des différences dans la destinée, dans le sort qui nous est réservé. Pourquoi, par exemple, aurais-tu un autre destin que moi? Tu es, comme moi, un chrétien. Tu es, comme moi, résolu à mener la vie monastique. Tu es, comme moi, un fils de notre bon Père céleste. Notre but à tous les deux est le même: la béatitude éternelle. Notre destin est le même: le retour à Dieu.

NARCISSE. - Très bien; dans le catéchisme un homme en vaut un autre, en effet, mais pas dans la vie. Le disciple préféré qui reposait la tête sur la poitrine du Sauveur et l'autre disciple, celui qui le trahit, ils n'ont pas eu tous les deux, ce me semble, le même destin.

GOLDMUND. - Tu es un sophiste, Narcisse. Ce n'est pas par cette voie-là que nous allons nous rapprocher l'un de l'autre.

NARCISSE. - Il n'est pas de voie par laquelle nous puissions nous rapprocher.

GOLDMUND. - Ne dis pas cela!

NARCISSE. - Je le dis comme je le pense. Nous n'avons pas plus à nous rapprocher les uns des autres que le soleil et la lune, la mer et la terre. Nous deux, mon cher ami, nous sommes le soleil et la lune, la mer et la terre. Notre but n'est pas de nous fondre l'un dans l'autre, mais de discerner l'un l'autre ce que nous sommes et d'apprendre chacun à voir et à honorer ce qu'il est vraiment: le contraire et le complément de son ami."

Goldmund resta interdit, la tête basse. La tristesse se lisait sur son visage.

A la fin il déclara: "Est-ce pour cela que, si souvent, tu ne prends pas au sérieux mes idées?"

Narcisse hésita un moment à répondre, puis il dit d'une voix nette et dure: "C'est pour cela. Il faut que tu t'y habitues, cher Goldmund, c'est toi-même seulement que je prends au sérieux. Crois-le bien, je prends au sérieux chaque intonation de ta voix, chacun de tes gestes, chacun de tes sourires. Mais tes idées, je les prends moins au sérieux. Je prends en toi au sérieux ce que je considère comme essentiel et nécessaire. Pourquoi veux-tu que ce soit justement à tes idées que je donne tant de considération, alors que tu as reçu tant d'autres dons?"

Goldmund eu un sourire amer: "Je le disais bien, tu m'as toujours tenu pour un enfant."

Narcisse ne fléchit pas. "Je considère une partie de tes pensées comme enfantines. Nous disions tout à l'heure, souviens-toi, qu'un enfant avec son bon sens n'est nullement plus bête qu'un savant. Mais quand l'enfant veut dire son mot sur la science, le savant ne va pas le prendre au sérieux!"

Goldmund répliqua vivement: "Tu te moques de moi aussi quand nous ne parlons pas de science. Ainsi tu fais toujours comme si toute ma piété, tous mes efforts pour faire des progrès dans l'étude, comme si mon désir de vie monastique n'étaient qu'enfantillages."

Narcisse le considéra d'un air grave. "Je te prends au sérieux quand tu es Goldmund. Mais tu ne l'es pas toujours. Mon vœu le plus cher, c'est que tu sois tout à fait Goldmund. Tu n'es pas un savant, tu n'es pas un moine. Un savant et un moine, ça se fabrique avec du bois de bien peu de prix. Tu t'imagines que tu es pour moi trop peu savant, trop peu logicien, ou que ta piété n'est pas assez ardente. Mais non! Tu es pour moi trop peu toi-même."

Bien que Goldmund se fut retiré après cet entretien, confus et même blessé, il n'en manifesta pas moins lui-même, au bout de quelques jours, le désir de le poursuivre. Cette fois, Narcisse réussit à lui présenter les différences qui les distinguaient, une image telle que Goldmund fut plus à même de l'accepter.

Narcisse s'était échauffé au cours de sa démonstration. Il sentait que Goldmund était aujourd'hui plus ouvert à ses paroles et les accueillait en lui de meilleure grâce. Il se rendit compte qu'il avait prise sur lui. Il se laissa entraîner par le succès à en dire plus qu'il n'avait eu l'intention, il se laissa emporter par ses propres paroles.

"Vois, dit-il, il n'y a qu'un point où j'aie sur toi l'avantage. J'ai les yeux ouverts tandis que tu n'es qu'à demi éveillé ou que parfois tu dors tout à fait. J'appelle un homme en éveil celui qui, de toute sa conscience, de toute sa raison, se connaît lui-même, avec ses forces et ses faiblesses intimes qui échappent à la raison, et sait compter avec elles. Apprendre cela, voilà le sens que peut avoir pour toi notre rencontre. Chez toi Goldmund, la nature et la pensée, le monde conscient et le monde des rêves sont séparés par un abîme. Tu as oublié ton enfance. Des profondeurs de ton âme elle cherche à reprendre possession de toi. Elle te fera bien souffrir jusqu'à ce que tu entendes sont appel. Il suffit là-dessus! Comme je te l'ai dit, je suis en éveil bien plus que toi. En cela je te dépasse de cent coudées et c'est pour cela que je puis te servir. Dans tout le reste, mon cher, tu me dépasses sans conteste. Plutôt tu me dépasseras dès que tu te seras trouvé toi-même."

Goldmund avait écouté avec surprise; mais à la formule "tu as oublié ton enfance", il fit un mouvement convulsif comme touché d'une flêche sans que Narcisse, qui, à son habitude, tenait en parlant les yeux baissés ou fixes devant soi, comme s'il trouvait ainsi mieux ses mots, s'en fût aperçu. Il ne remarqua pas que le visage de Goldmund se convulsait tout à coup et se mettait à pâlir.

"Supérieur à toi! moi!" balbutia-t-il, simplement pour dire quelque chose. Et ses traits se figèrent.

"Bien sûr, poursuivit Narcisse, les natures du genre de la tienne, les hommes doués de sens délicats, ceux qui ont de l'âme, les poètes, ceux pour qui toute la vie est amour nous sont presque toujours supérieurs, à nous, chez qui domine l'intellect. Vous êtes, par votre origine, du côté de la mère. Vous vivez dans la plénitude de l'être. La force de l'amour, la capacité de vivre intensément les choses est votre lot. Nous autres, hommes d'intellect, bien que nous ayons l'air souvent de vous diriger et de vous gouverner, nous ne vivons pas dans l'intégrité de l'être, nous vivons dans les abstractions. A vous la plénitude de la vie, le suc des fruits, à vous le jardin de l'amour, le beau pays de l'art. Vous êtes chez vous sur terre, nous dans le monde des idées. Vous courez le risque de sombrer dans la sensualité, nous d'étouffer dans le vide. Tu es artiste, je suis penseur. Tu dors sur le cœur d'une mère, je veille dans le désert. Moi, c'est le soleil qui m'éclaire, pour toi brillent la lune et les étoiles. Ce sont des jeunes filles qui hantent tes rêves; moi ce sont mes écoliers..."

Hermann Hesse, Narcisse et Goldmund, traduit de l'allemand par Fernand Delmas, Éditions Calmann-Lévy, 1943 (1948), p.52-57.