— Walter Benjamin, Paris - Capital of the Nineteenth Century
Wedding guests, Kwakiutl people in canoes, British Columbia, ca. 1914. (Library of Congress/Edward S. Curtis)
(Source: The Atlantic)
Left: A Navajo man in ceremonial dress as Nayenezgani, a Navajo deity.
Right: Tobadzischini, Yebichai war god, ca. 1904. (Library of Congress/Edward S. Curtis)
(Source: The Atlantic)
Left: Koskimo person, Kwakiutl, wearing a full-body fur garment, oversized gloves and mask of Hami (“dangerous thing”) during the Numhlim ceremony. ca. 1914.
Right: Hamasilahl, Kwakiutl, ceremonial dancer during the Winter Dance ceremony.
(Source: The Atlantic)
The predicament of the urban poor today requires us to step back from the relatively recent frameworks of public policy and urban studies and to consider poverty from a more fundamental viewpoint. Contemporary understandings of poverty and the poor are closely connected with the emergence of demography, development studies, and 20th-century applications of census techniques; one result is that poverty has come to be seen largely as a result of failed policies, and the poor, especially in cities, have come to be viewed as an impersonal mass, a statistical aberration, a disease of numbers. Thus in the past couple of centuries, the age-old condition of poverty has moved conceptually from the space of ethics to the space of technology and public policy.
Before this great transformation, however, poverty was not understood as a statistical or political fact; in many pre-modern societies, the fact of poverty did not in itself disqualify an individual (or a group) from possessing the moral power to contest those in authority, and to claim charity and generosity from those more fortunate. In the great religious traditions, poverty was often associated with purity and asceticism, with virtue and even power. So we have here a paradox. Before the liberal presumption of equality — the quality of all before the law and the state — the poor may have lacked in political voice and suffered political exploitation. But their humanity was not in question. With the triumph of liberal democratic ideals in the West — and with the spread of the concept of “the people” as a global fact that has united liberal, socialist and fascist polities in the 20th century — poverty has increasingly become an outgrowth of measurement, and the poor have increasingly become what we might call “bare citizens.”
Here I am recalling the work of the contemporary philosopher Giorgio Agamben, who argues for the distinction between bare life (zoe) and political life (bios). Agamben develops this distinction in his discussion of the prisoners now being held by the U.S. military at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base ; the prisoners, or “detainees,” have been placed in a state of exception, reduced to the condition of “bare life.”  And Agamben in turn is building upon an earlier idea; in her 1951 classic The Origins of Totalitarianism , Hannah Arendt articulated the powerful concept of “naked life.” Reflecting upon the experience of prisoners in the Nazi death camps and also upon the status of mid 20th-century political refugees, Arendt argued that both groups had in effect lost all rights in the context of sovereign powers; they had become naked.
I would argue that large masses of the urban poor have been pushed into this state of bare citizenship. They have become to a pathetic extent invisible in the eyes of the law, stripped of rights and privileges — and as such similar in status to refugees , war prisoners and illegal aliens. If this seems an extreme characterization, I would draw your attention to the alarming frequency and scale of slum evictions and demolitions throughout the world. And I would also draw broader attention to a whole range of gross violations of human rights that have largely escaped the notice of activists, politicians, and human rights experts, beyond those who specialize in the problems of the urban poor.
Average home prices in San Francisco jumped 15% to $725,000 last year. Average rent jumped 12.9% to $2,734 per month. Realtors expect that to accelerate this year.
One consequence is the building of pint-sized 220 square foot apartments which rent for $1,300 per month, pricier than Tokyo and Manhattan’s equivalents.
The property scramble spelled trouble for the poor and middle-income earners, said Ted Gullickson, director of the San Francisco Tenants Union, an advocacy group. Landlords were using a state law to override rent control and expel tenants: so-called Ellis Act evictions had tripled in recent months, he said.
The same thing happened during the dotcom bubble, but Gullickson said the current boom’s apparent sturdiness meant the trend may continue indefinitely. “It’s outsiders who come to work for Facebook, Google and Twitter and the like and they’re sucking up the property. We need to restrain the tech companies to mitigate the impact on the existing community.”
Jack Rikess, 56, a poet and magazine writer, and his wife pay about $1,000 in controlled rent per month for a flat in the Haight-Ashbury district they have called home since 1984. The Grateful Dead and the 1967 summer of love blossomed a few blocks away, and a hippie vibe endures to this day. Three months ago the landlord sent Rikess, and his elderly neighbours in two adjacent apartments, letters requesting they leave because he wished to sell the building.
“Google kid” arrivals to the neighbourhood, said Rikess, had driven the market rental rate to over $4,200 and the landlord wished to cash in. “We’re being evicted because we’ve been here too long.” Rikess is fighting the eviction but bracing for exile. “If we lose we’ll have to leave the city, way out, 50 miles.”
The main reason for the critics’ damning verdict on the show, Morphet believes, was what was seen by one as Kitaj’s “pseudo-intellectual bullshit”. Kitaj was an eclectic reader and claimed literary inspiration for much of his work from writers ranging from TS Eliot to Franz Kafka to Walter Benjamin. He self-consciously rooted himself in an outsider’s tradition, of Jewish intellectualism, equally obsessed with language and image. At the suggestion of Nicholas Serota, the Tate director, Kitaj sought to reflect some of this erudition in extended captions to his paintings that explained their inspiration and genesis. To many of the critics, who saw Kitaj invading their space, telling them what to think, this appeared to be fighting talk. Andrew Graham-Dixon in the Independent called him an “inveterate name-dropper… The Wandering Jew, the TS Eliot of painting? Kitaj turns out, instead, to be the Wizard of Oz: a small man with a megaphone held to his lips.”
There was a great deal more in this vein. Protest as they might, critics like nothing more than giving perceived pretension a sound kicking, in the belief that it lends their own somewhat esoteric calling a grounded, street-fighting quality. Kitaj, the subtext went, had been asking for it with his captions, and got what was coming to him.
Morphet was staggered by this personal aggression. “It is ludicrous to suggest that Kitaj was just this arrogant figure. The critics seemed to object to the prominence he gave in his work to his own ideas and personality… as if he were the first artist to foreground himself!” The curator spent a lot of time in the galleries observing the crowds at the show and believed, contrary to critical opinion, “that people were really gripped by it, and went round at a snail’s pace because they were so engaged not only by these extraordinarily sensual paintings, but also by these texts that accompanied them – those captions which caused all the trouble…”
There is, it seems, no mechanism in the mind or the brain for ensuring the truth, or at least the veridical character, of our recollections. We have no direct access to historical truth, and what we feel or assert to be true (as Helen Keller was in a very good position to note) depends as much on our imagination as our senses. There is no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains; they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way, which is different in every individual to begin with, and differently reinterpreted or reexperienced whenever they are recollected. (The neuroscientist Gerald M. Edelman often speaks of perceiving as “creating,” and remembering as “recreating” or “recategorizing.”) Frequently, our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other, and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine. Such subjectivity is built into the very nature of memory, and follows from its basis and mechanisms in the human brain. The wonder is that aberrations of a gross sort are relatively rare, and that, for the most part, our memories are relatively solid and reliable.
We, as human beings, are landed with memory systems that have fallibilities, frailties, and imperfections—but also great flexibility and creativity. Confusion over sources or indifference to them can be a paradoxical strength: if we could tag the sources of all our knowledge, we would be overwhelmed with often irrelevant information.
Indifference to source allows us to assimilate what we read, what we are told, what others say and think and write and paint, as intensely and richly as if they were primary experiences. It allows us to see and hear with other eyes and ears, to enter into other minds, to assimilate the art and science and religion of the whole culture, to enter into and contribute to the common mind, the general commonwealth of knowledge. This sort of sharing and participation, this communion, would not be possible if all our knowledge, our memories, were tagged and identified, seen as private, exclusively ours. Memory is dialogic and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds.
I wish I could leave it at that. But the problem with simply saluting Ai as a political activist is that he insists on pleading his case in the art museums. The Hirshhorn exhibition—which originated at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo in 2009 and will conclude a five-city North American tour at the Brooklyn Museum in 2014—takes its title from a 1964 painting by Jasper Johns, According to What. The Ai Weiwei who admires the conundrums of Jasper Johns, that most beloved of contemporary aesthetes, is very much in evidence at the Hirshhorn in a work such as Surveillance Camera, a white marble simulacrum of one of the tools of the police state (which is also ubiquitous in democratic societies). Whatever the message Ai means to send with Surveillance Camera—and the Chinese autocrats certainly have many cameras trained on Ai—it is notable mostly as an example of made-to-order ironic neoclassicism, and for all intents and purposes it is indistinguishable from the marble rendering of a garbage can by the New York bad boy artist Tom Sachs. (Some may recall that Sachs got the gallerist Mary Boone into trouble a few years ago when he placed live ammunition in a vase in her gallery and invited visitors to take cartridges as souvenirs.) With Ai, one wonders where the political dissent ends and the artsy attitudinizing begins. At least that was what I found myself wondering at the Hirshhorn, where Ai marries his somber subject matter with a slyly luxurious less-is-more aesthetic. I suspect that this synthesis is part of what museumgoers find so satisfying about the show. Some visitors seem awfully pleased with themselves, as if by coming to see Ai Weiwei at the Hirshhorn they are doing the right thing and killing two birds with one stone: acquiring both art cred and political cred.
I do not wish to give the impression that Benjamin used works of art or literature as convenient illustrations to already formulated arguments. The principle that works of art are not for use but only for judgment, that the critic is an impartial go-between between the utilitarian and the ineffable, this principle with all its subtler and still current variations, represents no more than a claim by the privileged that their love of passive pleasure must be considered disinterested! Works of art await use. But their real usefulness lies in what they actually are—which may be quite distinct from what they once were—rather than in what it may be convenient to believe they are. In this sense Benjamin used works of art very realistically. The passage of time which so intrigued him did not end at the exterior surface of the work, it entered into it and there led him into its ‘after-life’. In this after-life, which begins when the work has reached ‘the age of its fame’, the separatedness and isolated identity of the individual work is transcended just as was meant to happen to the soul in the traditional Christian heaven. The work enters the totality of what the present consciously inherits from the past, and in entering that totality it changes it. The after-life of Baudelaire’s poetry is not only coexistent with Jeanne Duval, Edgar Allen Poe and Constantin Guys but also, for example, with Haussmann’s boulevards, the first department stores, Engels’s descriptions of the urban proletariat and the birth of the modern drawing room in the 1830s which Benjamin described as follows:
For the private citizen, for the first time the living-space became distinguished from the place of work. The former constituted itself as the interior. The counting-house was its complement. The private citizen who in the counting-house took reality into account required of the interior that it should maintain him in his illusions. This necessity was all the more pressing since he had no intention of adding social preoccupations to his business ones. In the creation of his private environment he suppressed them both. From this sprang the phantasmagorias of the interior. This represented the universe for the private citizen. In it, he assembled the distant in space and in time. His drawing room was a box in the world theatre.
Perhaps it is now a little clearer why Benjamin was more than a literary critic. But one more point needs to be made. His attitude to works of art was never a mechanically social-historical one. He never tried to seek simple causal relations between the social forces of a period and a given work. He did not want to explain the appearance of the work; he wanted to discover the place that its existence needed to occupy in our knowledge. He did not wish to encourage a love of literature; he wanted the art of the past to realize itself in the choices men make today in deciding their own historical role.
— John Berger, “Walter Benjamin” from Selected Essays pp.186-190
At the heart of the controversy was the impression that the UC System’s new monogram was to replace the traditional seal. This was never the case. The seal and the monogram were always intended to coexist as part of the UC’s overall identity system. The seal was to be used on official university materials such as stationery and diplomas, while the monogram would be used as part of a visual identity system on marketing and promotional materials. The monogram, and the visual language that supported it, were part of a separate, concurrent system designed to augment the existing identity, not supplant it. In fact, the new system had already been in use for a little more than a year when the controversy suddenly erupted, according to Vanessa Correa, the UC creative director who led the rebranding initiative. “It appeared on every campus, in a national advertising campaign, across systemwide human resources materials and on a variety of websites,” she explains. “The new identity was just beginning to create a dynamic and recognizable voice for the system.”
That voice was challenged on December 7, 2012 when Reaz Rahman, a 21-year-old biomedical engineering student at UC Irvine, launched his “Stop the new UC logo” petition on Change.org. A week later, following national media scrutiny and some 54,000-plus signatories to the petition, that voice was, inevitably, silenced. In a press release, Daniel M. Dooley, senior vice president for external relations at the University of California Office of the President announced that the logo would be eliminated from the identity system. Indeed, the system itself has now been tabled.
Considering that University of California has some of the most renowned Artists and thinkers in the world, including Barbara Kruger and Donald Norman of all people, it’s kind of sad that this is what they came up with. “System of Identity” and all.
19th century Qing- Manchu “flower boat” shoes—Manchu’s were forbidden to bind their girl’s feet by imperial edict. To recreate the swaying motion of ladies with bound feet, they created flower boat shoes. Which are still being used in Chinese opera.
Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramenthramaha Mongkut Phra Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua (Thai: พระบาทสมเด็จพระปรเมนทรมหามงกุฎฯ พระจอมเกล้าเจ้าอยู่หัว), or Rama IV, known in foreign countries as King Mongkut (18 October 1804 – 1 October 1868), was the fourth monarch of Siam (Thailand) under the House of Chakri, ruling from 1851-1868. As the king of Siam, Mongkut urged his royal relatives to have “a European-style education.” The missionaries, as teachers, taught modern geography and astronomy, among other subjects. Six years after Mongkut’s death, the first Thai geography book was published in 1874, called Phumanithet by J.W. Van Dyke. However, geography was only taught in some schools, mainly those that were run by American missionaries with English programs for upper secondary students. Thongchai Winichakul argues that Mongkut’s efforts to popularize Western geography helped bring reform to education in Siam.