Contents of spoon-archives/avant-garde.archive/papers/trocchi.txt

HOW TO SEIZE THE WORLD "And if there is one truly infernal and damned thing left today, it is our artistic dallying with forms, instead of being like those tortured at the stake, signalling through the flames." Antonin Artaud "The Theatre and its Double" 1 Rebellion is unpopular, and it's easy to understand why. Once defined, the appropriate measures are taken to contain it. A prudent man will avoid defining himself as a rebel, as this could be his own death sentence. Besides, it limits him. We don't want to take over the State, as Lenin and Trotsky did, but to take over the world: a transition necessarily more complex and broad, as well as being more gradual and less spectacular. Our methods will vary with the empirical facts perceived here and now, then and there. Political rebellion is and must remain ineffectual, precisely because it tends to act at the normal level of the political process. In the stagnant pools of our civilization it is an anachronism. Since the world is simultaneously on the edge of destruction, we cannot allow ourselves to wait for followers. Nor to fall out with them. The coup du monde must be cultural, in the widest sense. With his thousand technicians Trotsky seized the viaducts, the bridges, the telephone exchanges and energy sources. The police, victims of convention, contributed to his brilliant exterprise by standing guard around the old men in the Kremlin. They lacked the imagination to grasp that their presence at the traditional seat of government was inappropriate to the matter at hand. History had outflanked them. Trotsky had the stations and the generators, and the "government" was effectively locked-out of history by its own police. So the cultural revolt must seize the networks of expression and the generators of thought. Intelligence must become conscious of itself, realise its own power and going beyond its lapsed functions, dare to exercise it. History won't overthrow national governments; it will outflank them. The cultural revolt is the indispensible support, the passionate infrastructure of a new order of things. What must be seized has neither physical dimensions nor any relation with the colours of the seasons. It's not a port, nor a capital, nor an island, it isn't an isthmus visible from the top of a mountain in Darien. In the end, certainly, it's all these things, everything that exists, but only by the way and inevitably. What is to be seized - and I am addressing the million people (say), here and there, capable of perceived just what I'm saying, a million potential "technicians" - what is to be seized is ourselves. What must occur, now, today, tomorrow, in the unequally divided but vital centres of experience, is a revelation. In the present-day, in what is often considered as the mass age, we tend to fall into the habit of regarding history and evolution as implacable forces, totally outwith our control. The individual deeply senses his powerlessness when he considers the immensity of the forces involved. As the creative people in all areas, we must discard this paralysing attitude and seize control of human evolution by assuming control of ourselves. We must reject the conventional fiction of "unchanging human nature". No such permanence exists, not at all. There is only a becoming. This grasp of control of present possibility by an avant-garde is obviously only a skirmish preceding a more general development, and we know that the party of intelligence, as has been formulated at the start of this magazine [Internationale Situationniste] "can realise its project only by suppressing itself... can exist effectively only as a party which supercedes itself." Organisation, control, revolution: each one of this million to whom I speak will be wary of such concepts, finding it almost impossible with a quiet conscience to identify with a group, whatever its name. That is normal. But it's simultaneously the reason for intelligence's permanent impotence in the face of events for which nobody can be held responsible: a rushing torrent of disastrous bloodbaths, the natural outcome of that complex of movements, mostly unconscious and uncontrolled, which has constituted human history. Without concerted organisation, action is impossible, the energy of individuals and limited groups is dissipated into one hundred and one little gestures of incoherent demands... a manifesto here, a hunger strike there. Such protests, moreover, are commonly based on the assumption that social behavior is rational: the trademark of their futility. If change must be carried out deliberately, people must, in one way or another, co-ordinate their actions on the social fabric. And it's our opinion that there already exists a network of people who, if they set themselves gradually and experimentally to this task, are capable of imposing a new and fertile idea. The world waits for them to take it in hand. We have already rejected amy idea of frontal attack. Spirit cannot confront brute force in open battle. The question is rather one of understanding clearly and without prejudice what are the forces at work in the world whose interaction will give rise to the future; and thus, calmly and without indignation, through a sort of spiritual ju jitsu, ours by virtue of intelligence, to modify, correct, endanger, divert, corrupt, erode, turn; to be the inspirers of what we can call the invisible insurrection. For the mass of people it will come, if at all, not as something for which they have voted or officially struggled, but like a seasonal change: they will find themselves within and inspired by the very situation to recreate consciously, starting from such a situation, an interior and exterior history finally their own. It's clear that, in principle, there's no poverty of production in the modern world. The poverty is that of distribution, presently (dis)ordered according to the criteria of the economic system in this or that area. At the global level, this is an administrative problem, and it will not be fully resolved until existing political and economic antagonisms disappear. Nevertheless, it has already become evident that distribution problems would be more rationally managed globally by an international organisation. Such contemporary organisations as the United Nations and UNESCO have already relieved various national governments of certain functions (food, medicine, etc). It takes no great imagination to see in such transference the beginning of the end for the nation state, were these organisations to be composed of people other than these states' diplomats. We must do our best to accelerate this process. Meantime, our anonymous million can focus their attention on the problem of "leisure". A large part of what is pompously called "juvenile delinquency" is the inarticulate response of the young unable to come to terms with their leisure. The violence associated with it is a direct consequence of peoples' alienation from themselves, brought about by the Industrial Revolution. People have forgotten how to play. And, considering the soulless tasks allotted to each in Industry, as well as the fact that education is becoming increasingly technological and, for the ordinary person, no more than a means of preparing for a job, it's hardly surprising. People are lost. They are almost afraid of more leisure. They'd rather work overtime. Hence - and in the capitalist world this is no surprise - their hostility to automation. Their creativity atrophied, they are completely externally oriented. They have to be entertained. The forms dominating their working life are carried over into their leisure, which becomes increasingly mechanised. So they're given machines to cope with the leisure which the machines have given them. And what do we get to compensate for all that, to alleviate the wear and tear and psychic damage of our technological age? In a word, entertainment. When, after the day's work, our "person" comes irritated and tired from the assembly line into what are called, without the least trace of irony, "free time", what confronts them? In the bus home, they read a paper identical to yesterday's in that it rehashes the same elements: four murders, thirteen disasters, two revolutions; and, something like a seduction, itself identical to the paper from the day before that: three murders, nineteen disasters, a counter-revolution and something disgusting. And, apart from exceptional people like our million "potential technicians", the vicarious pleasure which they obtain from paddling in all this violence and disorder blinds them to the fact that there's nothing new in all this "news"; and the daily abuse that it brings leads not to a wider awareness of reality but to a dangerous contraction of that awareness, to a kind of mental process with more in common with the salivations of Pavlov's dogs than with the subtleties of human intelligence. People today expect to be entertained. Their active participation is almost non-existent. Art, whatever it might be, is a subject about which the majority rarely think, a paltly subject towards which it even proudly displays an attitude of sheer ignorance. This deplorable state of affairs is unwittingly supported by the confident, stubborn stupidity of our cultural institutions. Museums have approximately the same opening hours as churches, the same sanctimonious odours and the same hush. And they arrogantly proclaim a snobbism in direct spiritual opposition to the living people whose works are imprisoned there. What have these silent corridors to do with Rembrandt and the "No Smoking" sign with Van Gogh? Beyond the museum, the man in the street is entirely cut off from art's naturally tonic influence by the system of fashionable dealership, which, additionally but through economic demands, has more than is generally admitted to do with the emergence and establishment of supposed "art forms". Art can have no vital signification for a civilization which erects a barrier between life and art and makes collections of artistic products like ancestral bones for veneration. Art must shape perception. We envisage a situation in which life is continually renewed by art, a situation constructed by imagination and the passion to incite each to respond creatively. A creative attitude must be brought to bear on every action. We envisage it. But it is we, now, who must create it. Because it doesn't exist. Nothing could offer a greater contrast to this perspective than current conditions. Art anaesthetises the living. We are within a conditioning where life is continually devitalised by art, where everything is represented under a false light, under traits of the sensational and the commercial, with the purpose of persuading each individual to respond in a passive and traditional manner, the necessity of bringing a banal and automatic consent to every moment whatever. For the average man, dispirited and restless, unable to concentrate, an artistic work is noticable only if it is placed in competition at the level of spectacle. It must contain nothing whatever which breaks with the familiar, is a surprise. The public must be able to identify easily and without reservation with the protagonist, to place itself firmly in the swinging armchair of the emotional roller-coaster and renounce all control. What occurs is possession, to the grossest degree of blindness and renunciation of critical sense. As far as I know, it was Brecht who first drew attention to the danger in the acting-style which strives to induce the state of possession in an audience at the expense of judgement. It was to counter this confused tendency in the modern audience to identify itself that he formulated his theory of alienation in the production and interpretation, a method calculated to inspire a more active and critical kind of participation. Sadly, Brecht's theory has had no impact on mass entertainment. The zombies remain; the spectacle becomes yet more spectacular. Freely adapting an epigram of my friends: "if we don't want to contribute to the spectacle of the world, we must work for the end of the world of the spectacle" 2 The art deserving to be taken seriously today touches mass culture only through fashion, industry and advertising; and therefore has for many years been infected by the triviality associated with those enterprises. As for the rest, literature and art coexist with mechanised mass culture and have little effect on it, except in an occasional film here and there. Only in Jazz, retaining the spontaneity and vitality resulting from the proximity of its birth, can we recognise an art naturally springing from a creative ambiance, and which has some popularity. And yet, alas, the purer it is,the less popular it becomes. Other bastardised forms are taken as the authentic thing. In England, for example, we are confronted by the absurd fad for "Trad": a rehash of what was done in New Orleans at the start of the Twenties, simple, clear, repetitive, and almost entirely overshadowing the living tradition of the era opened by Charlie Parker. For a number of years now, the best artists and thinkers have deplored the chasm created between art and life. These same people have generally been rebels during their youth and have been neutralised by "success" in middle age. The individual lacks power. It's inevitable. And the artists deeply sense their powerlessness. They are shipwrecked, they are accursed. As in Kafka's writings, that terrifying sense of alienation pervades their work. Certainly Dada, at the end of the First World War, launched the most uncompromising attack on conventional culture. But the usual defence mechanisms soon got to work: the turds of "anti-art" were soon framed and hung beside "The Athens School"; Dada underwent castration by card-index and was soon safely entombed in the history books, as just another art movement. The fact is that, while Tristan Tzara et alii could deftly expose the chancre on the political body, could turn the light of satire onto the hypocrisies to be swept away, they put forward no creative solution to the existing social order. What would we do after painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa? Did we really want Genghis Khan to use the Louvre as his horses' stables? And what then? In a recent essay (The Secret Reins 3), Arnold Wesker, concerned with precisely this gulf between art and mass culture and the possibilities of new contacts, referred to the looming strike in 1919 and to a statement by Lloyd George. The strike may have brought down the government. The Prime Minister said: "You will defeat us. But if you do, have you thought of the consequences? The strike challenges the government of the country and, if it is truly successful, will throw us into a constitutional crisis of the first rank. For if a power rises in the State which is stronger than the State itself, then it must be ready to assume the powers of the State. Or else it must shrink back and submit to the authority of the State. Gentlemen, have you considered this and, if you have, are you ready?" As we know, the strikers were not ready. Mr. Wesker comments: "The wind has completely turned, a great number of people have seized their chances outside protest, and somewhere a host of Lloyd Georges are smiling contentedly at the turn in their fortunes... All protest is allowed, it's even smiled upon, because it's known that force - economic and cultural - rests in the same obscure and well-guarded quarters, and that same secret knowledge simultaneously constitutes the real despair of the artist and the intellectual. We are paralysed by this knowledge; we each protest so often that the entire cultural scene - particularly of the Left - 'consists of respectful fear and ineffectuality'. I am persuaded that it is this secret knowledge which largely accounts for the decline of cultural activities in the Thirties. Nobody could come to terms with the philisines. They were all powerful, friendly and seductive. The germ was being carried and passed on by the most unsuspecting; and this same germ will, and is starting, to cause the decline of our new cultural assault, unless... Unless a new system is conceived by which we who are concerned can grasp, one by one, the secret reins."Although I ultimately found Mr. Wesker's essay disappointing, it confirmed for me that in Britain as elsewhere there are groups of people concerned by this problem. As we've seen the politico-economic structure of Western society is such that movements of creative intelligence are captured in power's networks. Not only is this intelligent movement forbidden from fulfilling itself innovatively, but it can also act only at the behest of forces (vested interests) often antipathetic to it on principle. Mr. Wesker's Centre 42 is a practical attempt to change this balance of forces. I should say once and for all that I don't fundamentally disagree with Mr. Wesker. My only criticism of his project (and I admit that, in truth, my knowledge of it is very vague) concerns its limited and national character 4, and this is reflected in the analysis of the historical background. . Mr. Wesker takes the 1956 production of Osborne's Look Back in Anger, for example, as the first landmark in "our new cultural assault".The grave lack of historical perspective and the insularity of his views are traits which, I fear, strengthen a kind of church bazaar philosophy on which the whole project appears to be built. Art shouldn't be expected to pay like manual work. Mr. Wesker wishes to claim a tradition "which won't have to rely on financial success to continue". And so he sought out patronage from Trade Unions and began organising a series of cultural festivals under their auspices. While I have nothing against such festivals, the urgency of Mr. Wesker's original diagnosis had led me to expect proposals for action at a much more basic level. Such a programme certainly won't lead us far towards the seizure of what he so happily calls "the secret reins". I don't think I'd be ridiculously prudent to suggest that something much less trivial than an appeal to the public-spiritedness of this or that group is necessary for the vast upheaval which we have in mind. Nevertheless, at one point in what remains an interesting essay, Mr. Wesker quotes Raymond Williams. Sadly, I am ignorant of who Mr. Williams is and from what work the quotation is taken. I ask only how Mr. Wesker can quote the following phrase and then go and look for sponsors: The question is not to know who will sponsor the Arts, but what forms are possible in which artists themselves will control their means of expression, in ways through which they will have relations with a community rather than a market or a sponsor. "Certainly, it would be dangerous to pretend to understand Mr. Williams on the basis of such a short quotation. I'd just say that for myself and for my associates in Europe and America the key-words in the above phrase are "artists themselves will control their means of expression". When they have attained that control, their "relations with a community" will become a meaningful problem: that is to say, a problem capable of being formulated and resolved at a creative and intelligent level. This is why we must delay no longer in considering the question of deciding how we can grasp from within the social edifice exercising that control. Our first move must be to eliminate the dealers. At the start of these reflections I said that our methods would vary with the empirical facts recognised here and now, there and then. I was alluding to essentially tactical nature of each of our activities in relation to the given conjunction,and also to the international composition of what we can call the new cultural base. Obviously, all our operations must be adapted to the society within which they take place. The methods used effectively in London could be suicide, or just less practical, in Moscow or Beijing. Tactics are always for a given time and place; they are never political in the narrow sense. Again, these reflections themselves must be considered as an action of the new base, a programmatic document which, to the extent that it is mainly concerned with what is yet to come, awaits baptism by fire. How to begin? At a chosen moment, in an empty country house (a mill, an abbey, a church or a castle) not far from London, we shall foment a kind of cultural jam session: from this will develop the prototype for our spontaneous university. The base will be set deep in its own grounds, preferably beside a river. It should be big enough for a pilot-group (of astronauts of inner space) to situate itself within it - orgasm and genius and their instruments and their dream machines, and amazing apparatus and accessories - with outhouses for "workshops", large enough to accomodate light industry; the entire configuration suiting free architecture and an eventual urban development. I emphasise that word because we cannot place too much emphasis on the fact that "the integral art-work, of which so much has been spoken, can be realised only as urbanism" (Debord, Rapport sur la construction des situations) 5. Around 1920, Diaghilev, Picasso, Stravinsky and Nijinsky acted together to produce a ballet. It certainly doesn't exceed credibility if we imagine a wider group of our contemporaries acting together to create a town. We envisage the whole as an experimental laboratory for the creation (and evaluation) of conscious situations. It goes without saying that it isn't merely the environment which is in question, malleable, susceptible to change, but people too. It must be said at once that this quick sketch of our action-university (university of praxis) is no product of a vague daydream. Firstly, there are numerous historical parallels with past situations, fortuitous or controlled, some of whose features are manifestly adaptable to what is precisely our project. Moreover, during the past ten years we have already been through sufficient preparatory experiences: we are ready to act. It is a commonplace to say that the British Empire was won on the playing fields of Eton. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the dominant class was formed exclusively in such institutions; and the carriage which they conferred on a man was a vital link with the growth of England at that time. Unfortunately, the situation at Eton and similar establishments didn't continue to inspire its own progress. Inertia took hold. Those forms which were initially fruitful became sclerotic, until they no longer related to their time. In the age of relativity, we envisage the spontaneous university as filling a vital formative function in our times. The Jewish colonies in Israel changed a desert into a garden, to the general astonishment of the world. In an already-flowering garden, already wholly automated, what could result from the application of a fraction of such determination to human culture? Then there was the experimental college at Black Mountain in North Carolina. This case is of immediate interest to us, for two reasons. In the first place, the entire conception is almost identical to the educative aspect of ours. Secondly, individual Black Mountain staff members, some key members with great experience, are currently associated with us in the present venture. Their collaboration is invaluable. Black Mountain College was well-known throughout the United States. Despite the fact that no degrees were awarded, graduates and non-graduates from all America thought it worthwhile to stay there. It has turned out that an astonishing number of artists and writers, among the best in America, were there at one time or another, lecturing or studying, and the sum of their influence on American Art in the past 15 years has been considerable. Mention of the names of Franz Kline in painting and Robert Creeley in poetry are enough to give an idea of Black Mountain's significance. They are the founding figures of the American avant-garde, their influence is everywhere. Black Mountain could be described as an action university in the sense of the term as applied to the paintings of Kline and others. There were no exams. There were no studies dictated by ulterior aims. Students and teachers participated informally in the creative arts; each teacher was a highly-qualified practitioner - of poetry, music, painting, sculpture, dance, pure mathematics, pure physics, etc. In short, it was a "constructed situation", to provoke the free play of creativity in the individual and the group (without exploring here what transfer of creativity we consider desirable beyond these cultural divisions). Sadly, this college no longer exists. It had to close at the start of the Fifties for economic reasons. It was an association truly owned by by its personnel, depending entirely on fees and donations. In the highly-competative background of the USA, such a flagrantly free and non-utilitarian institution survived only as long as the sustained efforts of its staff allowed. Finally it was too ill-adapted to its mileau to survive. In considering the ways and means to establish our pilot-project, we have never lost sight of the fact that in a capitalist society a successful organisation must be able to sustain itself in capitalist terms. The venture must pay. That's why we have conceived the idea of establishing a general agency to handle, as far as possible, the works of individuals associated with the university. Art, the products of all society's means of expression, their applications in industrial production and commerce: all these are fantastically profitable (see the Musical Corporation of America). But, as in the world of science, it's not the creators who reap most of the benefit. An agency established by the creators themselves, in which highly-paid individuals worked, would occupy an impregnable position. Such an agency, directly guided by artists' critical acumen, could profitably harvest a new cultural talent before purely-professional agencies were aware it existed. Our own experience of the recognition of contemporary talent during the last fifteen years has demonstrated this decisive factor to us. The first years would be the hardest. In time, assuming that the agency functioned efficiently from the point of view of the individual artist represented by it, it would have the first option on all new talent. This would come about not merely because it would recognise this talent before its competitors, but from the very fact of the existence of the university and its reputation. It would be as if an agency could spend 100% of its profits on advertising itself. All things being equal, why shouldn't a young writer, for example, prefer to be handled by an agency controlled by his (better known) peers; an agency which employed any profit from its association with him to extend its audience and influence; an agency, finally, which immediately offered him membership of the experimental university (which governed it), with all that this implied? And, before further elaborating the economics of our project, perhaps it's time to describe briefly just what is implied by this membership. We envisage an international organisation with branch universities in the vicinity of each capital city in the world. This organisation would be autonomous, economically independantand independant of all political parties. Membership of one branch (whether as lecturer or student, it's all the same) would give membership of all others, and visits to other branches would be strongly encouraged. The aim of each branch of the university would be to participate in the cultural life of its respective capital and to "supercharge" this cultural life as the same time as it promoted an international cultural exchange, at the same time as it itself functioned as a non-specialised experimental school and creative workshop. The resident professors would themselves be creators. Intentionally, each university's staff would be international; as would be, as far as possible, the students. Each campus of the experimental university would be the nucleus of an experimental town to which all kinds of people would be attracted, for longer or shorter periods and where, were we successful, they would obtain a renewed and contagious sense of life. We envisage an organisation whose structure and functioning would be infinitely elastic; we see it as a gradual crystallisation of a regenerative cultural force, a perpetual movement of creative intelligence recognising and declaring its own full implications. In the present context, it is impossible to describe the university's day-to-day functioning in precise detail. In the first place, this is impossible for a single individual writing a short introductory study. The pilot-project has no physical existence, and, from the very beginning, life the Israeli kibbutzim, it must be a communal undertaking and the tactics must be decided in situ, depending on just what would be possible at this moment. During the past ten years my associates and myself have been astonished by the possibilities arising from the spontaneous interplay of ideas within a group in constructed (even very partially) situations. It is on the base of such experiences that we have imagined an international experimentation. Secondly, and as a consequence, certain details preconceived by myself would be impediments to the spontaneous generation of the group situation. Nevertheless, it is possible to make a sketch of the economic structure. We are thinking of a limited liability company (International Cultural Enterprises Ltd) whose profits would be invested in expansion and research. Its receipts would come from: 1) Commission earned by the Agency from the sale of original works by the associates. 2) Royalties from secondary applications (industrial and commercial) resulting from "pure studies". Anyone who has spent time in an art workshop will know what I'm talking about. The field is unlimited, ranging from advertising to interior decoration. 3) Retail income. The university will shelter a "living museum", perhaps a good restaurant. An exhibition hall will be rented in the city for retail and as advertising. 4) Such income as originates from cinematographic, theatrical or situationnist productions. 5) Fees. 6) Donations, gifts, etc. which in no way affect the project's autonomy. This action's cultural possibilities are immense, and the time is ripe for it. The world is terribly close to the brink of disaster, and everywhere savants, artists, creative people, professors of good willare in a state of uncertainty. They are waiting. And recalling that it is this class of society which produces the expressive networks, even if it doesn't control them, we should have no difficulty in recognising the spontaneous university as a possible detonator of the invisible insurrection. Alexander TROCCHI 1 Collected Works Vol. 4, page 6 2 Internationale Situationniste, no 3, Editorial Notes 3 Encounter no.102, March 1962 4 I believe international policies have been attempted since this article was written. However my criticism is still relevant. [Note added to the English edition, 1964] 5 At present, town planning is determined by and tends to reinforce conventional functions, conventional attitudes. You sleep here, eat there, work there, die there. A revolutionary architecture will take no account of functions to be transcended. (Cf. Essay No.2) Dodgy (re-)translation of French version in IS no.8 (Jan.63) -- Alastair Dickson, Stirling, Scotland --

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