Friday, September 20, 2002
I love mystery. In spite of my daily fare of random fact; constant exposure to news media, ramblings through the city, and the odd personal mini-disaster, experiences of the mystic kind are rare.
Using the procedure as mentioned in my post of 12th Sept last, I collected a host of random information in the space of several days. The material gathered was comprised of personal notes, broadcast fragments and radio bites, that I reedited, resulting in my poem.
Inside the venue
Of a low rent
The Game exploits
-Lack of respite
A media carcass
The men are tokens of
As they speak a
Infused with tall
The ‘Countenance of Evil’
And the ‘Fixing of
-Their story is building-
Locals on barricades
-Are now defunct-
The engineers of history
-Are now redundant-
Crush angst ridden
Moral values and
Explore Natural Science as
A New Paradigm
Underneath the cracked
Dove Junction creates
A new sequence
Of soot covered images
Viewed through cameras
Wielded by newcomers
Freaking out on
Will drop out
© Walter van Lotringen 2002
posted by Walter at 9/20/2002
Thursday, September 19, 2002
Truisms – the language of disparity
-‘He that falls in love with himself, will have no rivals’ - Benjamin Franklin -
‘Truism’ became a signage metaphor when Jenny Holzer, American conceptual artist, embarked on a succesful and public art career, starting her Truisms as posters in the early 70ties. Holzer’s work then evolved into L.E.D installations, and commercial display technology such as the Spectracolor boards (1982) above NYC Times Square.
The exhibit however that made her work a public fixture was the Guggenheim Museum show in 1989, where she adorned the Museum’s spiral rotunda with some of the hundreds of Truisms that she wrote from the early 70ties onwards through her studies at the Whitney Independent Study Program where she graduated in 1977.
Using the cheap and ubiquitous Led signs and ticker displays, at the time commonly used to display formal, as well as commercial messages; Holzer confronted and dislodged the inconspicuousness of public messaging. Since then her Truisms have moved across the boundaries of advertising and art, as witnessed by her MTV spots of 1989. Holzer expressed her desire to blend art and public messaging in a Wired interview as follows ‘I think this Guggenheim show is an aberration, I'm trying to get out of the art world and go someplace else.’
Jenny Holzer Truisms are on display at:
A little knowledge can go a long way
A relaxed man is not necessarily a better man
A sense of timing is the mark of genius
Abuse of power comes as no surprise
At times inactivity is preferable to mindless functioning
An elite is inevitable
Automation is deadly
Truisms are not just the exclusive domain of Jenny Holzer and similarly focused artists like Barbara Kruger, but may also be found on sites offering information and advice related to specific subjects, sometimes peppered with irony like i.e.:
If you stay in one spot long enough something will take up residence on you
If you die no one will come looking for you
You are not the top of the food chain
Ants rule the jungle
You can eat anything with Tabasco Sauce
The jungle is neutral only to its inhabitants
Don’t go anywhere without a knife
If you're lacking in patience or sense of humor, don't go to the jungle
Statesmen, thinkers, artists and scientists have spilled prolific innuendo, that can be relegated to the realm of truism, though many taunt the line between vanity and wisdom. The quotes can be referenced at:
‘The graveyards are full of indispensible men’
-Charles de Gaulle-
‘Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work
‘It is impossible to love and to be wise’
‘No one is completely unhappy at the failure of his best friend’
‘You may delay, but time will not’
‘At the core of all well-founded belief, lies belief that is unfounded’
For an interview with Jenny Holzer: http://hotwired.lycos.com/talk/club/special/transcripts/95-05-23.holzer.html
posted by Walter at 9/19/2002
Wednesday, September 18, 2002
‘This man has talent, that man has genius
And here’s the strange and cruel difference:
Talent gives pence and his reward is gold,
Genius gives gold and gets no more than pence.
From ‘The Autobiography of a Super-tramp’ by William Henry Davies (1871 - 1940), first published by Jonathan Cape 1908
Having embarked on an adventurous journey to the US and Canada at the start of the last century, poet W.H. Davies describes his travails under the hardest circumstances as a menial worker and tramp.
‘My impression of Americans from the beginning is of the best, and I have never since had cause to alter my mind.
They are a kind, sympathetic race of people and naturally proud of their country.’
-A cameo appearance by Davies’ mentor and companion ‘Brum’-
‘No doubt detectives were in these places, but they were on the look out for pickpockets, burglars and swindlers; and, seeing that neither the visitors nor the boarding house keepers made any complaint, these detectives did not think it worthwhile to arrest tramps; for there was not promotion to be had by doing so. ‘Ah,’ I said to Brum, as we sat in a shady place, eating a large custard pudding from a boarding house, using for the purpose two self-made spoons of wood-‘Ah, we would not be so pleasantly occupied as tramps in England. We would there receive tickets for soup; soup that could be taken without spoons; no pleasant picking of the teeth after eating; no sign of a pea, onion or carrot; no sign of anything except flies.’ Two-thirds of a large custard-pudding between two of us, and if there was one fault to be found with it, it was it being made with too many eggs. Even Brum was surprised at his success on this occasion. ‘Although,’ he said, ‘she being a fat lady, I expected something unusual.’ Brum had a great admiration for fat women; not so much, I believe, as his particular type of beauty, but for the good natured qualities he claimed corpulence denoted. ‘How can you expect those skinny creatures to sympathize with another when they half starve their own bodies?’ He asked. He often descanted on the excellencies of the fat, to the detriment of the thin, and I never yet heard another beggar disagree with him.’
-A lynching in Paris, Texas-
‘I soon left New Orleans, being possessed with a restless spirit, and, after visiting Galveston, Euston, and many more towns of less importance, I made my way through the heart of Texas to the town of Paris, which lies on the border of Indian territory. It was in a saloon in the main street of this town that I had my attention drawn to a glass case, wherein was seen hanging a cord, at the end of which was something that looked very much like a walnut. On looking closer, I saw a small heap of dust at the bottom. Seeing that this case contained no stuffed animal, nor any model of ingenious mechanism, I began to read the printed matter, curious for an explanation. This small thing dangling at the end of the cord purported to be the heart of a negro, whom the people had sometimes previous burned at the stake.
He had suffered a terrible death: so had his little victim, a mere child of a few years, who had been found in the woods torn limb from limb. This negro had been arrested by the sheriff, and sentenced to a short term adequate to his offence. After he had been released, he had taken his revenge on the sheriff’s child, bearing her off when on her way to school. The sheriff’s wife, being the child’s mother, had with her own hand applied the torch to this monster, and if her hand had failed, any woman in this land of many millions would have willingly done this service.’
In 1907 George Bernard Shaw wrote a preface to the book, showing stern appreciation for Davies’ experience and talents.
‘I do not know whether I should describe our super-tramp as a lucky man or an unlucky one. In making him a poet, Fortune gave him her supremest gift; but such high gifts are hardly personal assets: they are often terrible destinies and crushing burdens. Also he chanced upon an independent income: enough to give him reasonable courage, and not enough to bring him under the hoof of suburban convention, lure him into a premature marriage, or deliver him into the hands of the doctors. Still not quite enough to keep his teeth in proper repair and his feet dry in all weathers.’
Later he adds:
‘Another effect of this book on me is to make me realise what a slave of convention I have been all my life. When I think of the way I worked tamely for my living during all those years when Mr.Davies, a free knight of the highway, lived like a pet bird on titbits I feel that I have been duped out of my natural liberty. Why had I not the luck, at the outset of my career, to meet that tramp who came to Mr.Davies, like Evangelist to Christian, on the first day of his American pilgrim’s progress, and saved him on the very brink of looking for a job, by bidding him to take no thought for the morrow; to ask and it should be given to him; to knock and it should be opened to him; and to free himself from the middle-class assumption that only through taking a ticket can one take a train. Let every youth into whose hands this book falls ponder its lesson well, and, when next his parents and guardians attempt to drive him into some inhuman imprisonment and drudgery under the pretext that he should earn his own living, think of hospitable countrysides of America, with their farmhouses overflowing with milk and honey for the tramp, and their offers of adoption for every day labourer with a dash of poetry in him.’
Source: The (paperback) Autobiography of a Super-tramp, by William Henry Davies, Oxford University Press 1980.
posted by Walter at 9/18/2002
Monday, September 16, 2002
Cool and collected
From different backgrounds and voices I gathered a telltale profile of the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. It’s a compact ‘reader’ that may serve to shape an opinion on a multi-faceted personality who both defies, and confirms common beliefs.
From an interview with Said K.Aburish Journalist and author
What insights can you give us into understanding him?
Well, the first thing to remember is that Saddam Hussein spent twenty years creating a personality, an image for himself. And since the Gulf War, his opponents have done the same--created a completely different personality, of course. So you have to sift through what Saddam created and what his opponents created to reach the real person. The real person has no ideology whatsoever. That is the most important thing to remember about Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein is into realpolitik. He wanted to take Iraq into the twentieth century. But if that meant eliminating fifty per cent of the population of Iraq, he was willing to do it.
And he had to be the one in charge?
Without any doubt. You know during the war with Iran, I remember telling someone Khomeini isn't the only person who talks to god. Saddam Hussein thinks he talks to god. He has a message--he has to lead Iraq, make it a model for the Arab countries and then attract the rest of the Arab countries and become the sole Arab leader of modern times.
Extraordinary will power?
Without any doubt. Considering his humble background, amazing will power, amazing focus. Amazing ability to achieve his dreams. There is no stopping the man. He always has things in focus. He never misses a beat. In terms of what the country's all about, and in terms of where his country fits in the whole world.
One of the re-occurring things in your book is the idea that he's imposed Stalinism on a tribal society. What do you actually mean by that?
Saddam Hussein borrowed from Stalinism. He had his security people trained in Eastern Europe, particularly East Germany. Then he brought them back to Iraq and he taught them how to use the tribal linkage to eliminate people. So whereas they used Stalinist methods to discover people who were opposed to the regime, after that came the tribal factor, when Saddam said 'don't get rid of Abdullah, get rid of his whole family. Because one member of his family might assassinate us.' And that made it a perfect system for Iraq. It is practically fool-proof.
Do we know whether or not Saddam has actually studied Stalin's tactics?
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Saddam studied Stalin. Stalin is his hero. Stalin came from a humble background. Stalin was brought up by a mother. Stalin used thugs. Stalin used the security service. Stalin hated his army. And so does Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein models himself after Stalin more than any other man in history.
He has a full library of books about Stalin. He reads about him, and when he was a young man--even before he attained any measure of power--he used to wander around the offices of the Ba'ath Party telling people 'wait until I take over this country. I will make a Stalin state out of it yet.' People used to laugh him off. They shouldn't have. It was a very serious proposition indeed.
Briefly, what is his background?
He was from a very poor family, in a village called Al Awja, which is next to the town of Tikrit. As a young boy he had to steal so his family could eat. He stole eggs, and he stole chicken, things like that. He was illiterate until the age of ten. He heard that his cousin could read and write and demanded that he be afforded the same opportunity.
From a Top Secret Internal memo issued by the Al Ta’meem Security Directorate 20 Jan 1992
B. The interrogation of party and opposition gang elements is nothing but a science and an art at the same time. It demands that interrogators be experienced, having wide cultural capabilities, powers of observation, memory, and precision, and having had experience abroad. We prefer those who have studied in Yugoslavia, because of their extensive reading about the Communist party's confrontations with its enemies. It crushed their bones, or turned them into lunatics because they could not be in harmony with the party's theory. Thus, they were indefinitely confined to the beds of lunatic asylums. It is a good and unique experience obtained from others by our youth, in preserving security from a reactionary and treasonous group.
C. The selection of competent interrogators for the interrogation of hostile elements, using frightening and terrifying psychological approaches, and methods which contribute to the speedy breakdown of the accused. Threaten him with violation of whatever he considers sacred, such as his honor, or with the killing of a loved one such as his son or his brother, in order to extract whatever we can from the interrogation. It is our job and our duty and our responsibility to the beloved symbolic glorious Leader Saddam Hussain.
D. We have noticed that, in more than one directorate of Security, interrogations are lacking in the methods of combining softness with instilling fear, especially since the rabble and the traitors began to frighten our men by promising them their unavoidable destiny. These directorates used expedient methods in obtaining information from the accused, leading to their release from prison, which is going to cause us trouble in the future.
E. We call upon the interrogator to exercise patience while interrogating arrested elements, to enable us to identify and define our enemies. Those who died as a result of interrogation methods are a loss, not because they are good citizens, but because we lost a link in our investigations which could have led us to their superior and his superiors. In fact, they were more patient than the interrogators even though they were facing death. Maybe it is the belief of those buried ones, that this is their cause in life.
‘It was what the world would come to see as classic Saddam. He tends to commit his crimes in public, cloaking them in patriotism and in effect turning his witnesses into accomplices’
‘The tyrant must steal sleep. He must vary the locations and times. He never sleeps in his palaces. He moves from secret bed to secret bed. Sleep and a fixed routine are among the few luxuries denied him. It is too dangerous to be predictable, and whenever he shuts his eyes, the nation drifts. His iron grip slackens. Plots congeal in the shadows. For those hours he must trust someone, and nothing is more dangerous to the tyrant than trust’
‘He has a bad back, a slipped disk, and swimming helps. It also keeps him trim and fit. This satisfies his vanity, which is epic, but fitness is critical for other reasons. He is now sixty-five, an old man, but because his power is grounded in fear, not affection, he cannot be seen to age. The tyrant cannot afford to become stooped, frail, and gray. Weakness invites challenge, coup d'état. One can imagine Saddam urging himself through a fixed number of laps each morning, pushing to exceed the number he swam the previous year, as if time could be undone by effort and will. Death is an enemy he cannot defeat—only, perhaps, delay. So he works. He also dissembles. He dyes his gray hair black and avoids using his reading glasses in public. When he is to give a speech, his aides print it out in huge letters, just a few lines per page. Because his back problem forces him to walk with a slight limp, he avoids being seen or filmed walking more than a few steps.’
‘Saddam can be charming, and has a sense of humor about himself. "He told a hilarious story on television," says Khidhir Hamza, a scientist who worked on Iraq's nuclear-weapons project before escaping to the West. "He is an excellent storyteller, the kind who acts out the story with gestures and facial expressions. He described how he had once found himself behind enemy lines in the war with Iran. He had been traveling along the front lines, paying surprise visits, when the Iranian line launched an offensive and effectively cut off his position. The Iranians, of course, had no idea that Saddam was there. The way he told the story, it wasn't boastful or self-congratulatory. He didn't claim to have fought his way out. He said he was scared. Of the troops at his position, he said, 'They just left me!' He repeated 'Just left me!' in a way that was humorous. Then he described how he hid with his pistol, watching the action until his own forces retook the position and he was again on safe ground. 'What can a pistol do in the middle of battle?' he asked. It was charming, extremely charming.’
Mark Bowden. excerpts from The Atlantic Monthly http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2002/05/bowden.htm
posted by Walter at 9/16/2002