B. Mikhailov, Bear in Space: How to fly [Б. Михаилов, Медведь в космос: Как летал], 1970

B. Mikhailov, Bear in Space: How he flew [Б. Михаилов, Медведь в космос: Как летал], (1970)

Image: The book’s cover

Moscow, 1970.

The Soviet Union, having all but dominated space exploration for over a decade — launching the first earth satellite in October 1957, putting the first man (Iurii Gagarin, April 1961) and woman (Valentina Tereshkova, June 1963) in space — now seems to have been eclipsed by the United States in the race to the moon.  Though not an insignificant logistical and engineering feat, this can’t help but feel somewhat lackluster when compared against the more coveted “firsts” the USSR already accomplished.  Moscow all but shrugs its shoulders.

So what is the Soviet response to the USA’s belated boast of rocketry?

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B. Mikhailov, Bear in Space: How to fly [Б. Михаилов, Медведь в космос: Как летал], 1970

Simple: Медведь в космос.

For those who don’t read Russian, it’s Bear in Space, a picture book by Boris Mikhailov for children.  Clearly, Moscow is unimpressed.

Bear with bird, hedgehog, and helpful mice prepare for liftoff

Bear with bird, hedgehog, and helpful mice prepare for liftoff

Besides being bizarre and incredibly cute, this book is semi-instructional.

Thanks to the excellent Dreams of Space blog for posting these images.  Add/follow this blog, immediately.

Self-explanatory

Self-explanatory

Also, a headless mouse.  Enjoy!

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Soviet avant-garde architectural negatives (mid-1920s to early-1930s)

Blueprint abstractions (all blueprints, really, are anticipatory abstractions) of modernist building projects by Soviet architects Ivan Leonidov, Leonid Vesnin, Aleksandr Vesnin, and Nikolai Krasil’nikov.

From Sovremennaia arkhitektura [Modern Architecture], 1930 (no. 5, pgs. 2-3):

In publishing projects for the Palace of Culture to be built on the Simonov Monastery site as discussion material, the editors of SA observe that not one of them provided a generally and entirely satisfactory solution to the problem. The arguments which have developed around these projects in the press, higher education establishments, and in public debates have mainly emphasized the design submitted by I. Leonidov, and as a result have come to assume the character of an undisguised persecution and baiting of the latter.

The editors of SA are perfectly well aware of the shortcomings of certain of I. Leonidov’s projects: ignoring the economic situation today at the same time as indulging in certain elements of aestheticism. All these features are undoubtedly a minus in Leonidov’s work.

Architectural blackprints.

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But the critics of Leonidov’s work totally fail to see what from our standpoint is a great plus in it, which for all these shortcomings makes it in certain respects better and more valuable than the work of his competitors.

…The editors of SA, whilst recognizing that some of the accusations made against him are correct (abstractness, schematicism, etc.) consider that despite this the works of Leonidov are highly valuable as material of an investigative and experimental character, and they most forcefully protest against the groundless persecution of him.

Signed,
The editors of Modern Architecture.

Kazimir Malevich, Black Square (1915)

The many deaths of art

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IMAGE: Kazimir Malevich, The Black Square (1915)

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A moderated panel discussion held by the Platypus Affiliated Society on Sat, 2.23.13 at the New School.

Video from the event

The “death of art” has been a recurring theme within aesthetic and philosophical discourse for over two centuries. At times, this “death” has been proclaimed as an accomplished fact; at others, artists themselves have taken the “death of art” as a goal to be accomplished. So while this widely perceived “death” is lamented by many as a loss, it is celebrated by others as a moment of life renewed. For them, art is all the better for having disburdened itself of the baggage of outmoded modernist ideologies. Insofar as the “death” of longstanding cultural traditions has in the past typically been understood to signal a deeper crisis in society at large, however, the meaning of death necessarily takes on a different aspect today — especially when the tradition in question is modernism, the so-called the “tradition of the new” (Harold Rosenberg). Because the notions of “death” and “crisis” appear to belong to the very edifice of modernity that has just been rejected, these too are are to be jettisoned as part of its conventional yoke. Modernity itself having become passé, even the notion of art’s “death” would seem to have died along with modernism.

We thus ask our panelists not merely whether art is at present “dead,” but also if traditions are even permitted the right to perish in conservative times. If some once held that the persistence of philosophy indicated the persistence of obsolete social conditions, does the persistence of art signal ongoing social conditions that ought to have long ago withered away? If so, what forms of political and artistic practice would be sufficient to realize art, and in what ways would realizing art signal something beyond art? Marx felt that the increasing worldliness of philosophy in his time — heralded by the culmination of philosophy in Hegel — demanded not only the end of philosophy, but also that the world itself become philosophical. If avant-garde movements once declared uncompromising war on art (Aleksei Gan) in order to tear down the barrier between art and life, would the end or overcoming of art not similarly require that the world itself become artistic? Continue reading

Ivan Leonidov, Sketches for City of the Sun

Ivan Leonidov’s late series on Campanella’s City of the Sun (1940s-1950s)

after Tommaso Campanella

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Leonidov’s late work, inspired by Campanella’s famous utopia:

The greater part of the city is built upon a high hill, which rises from an extensive plain, but several of its circles extend for some distance beyond the base of the hill, which is of such a size that the diameter of the city is upward of two miles, so that its circumference becomes about seven. On account of the humped shape of the mountain, however, the diameter of the city is really more than if it were built on a plain.

It is divided into seven rings or huge circles named from the seven planets, and the way from one to the other of these is by four streets and through four gates, that look toward the four points of the compass. Furthermore, it is so built that if the first circle were stormed, it would of necessity entail a double amount of energy to storm the second; still more to storm the third; and in each succeeding case the strength and energy would have to be doubled; so that he who wishes to capture that city must, as it were, storm it seven times. For my own part, however, I think that not even the first wall could be occupied, so thick are the earthworks and so well fortified is it with breastworks, towers, guns, and ditches.

When I had been taken through the northern gate (which is shut with an iron door so wrought that it can be raised and let down, and locked in easily and strongly, its projections running into the grooves of the thick posts by a marvellous device), I saw a level space seventy paces wide between the first and second walls. From hence can be seen large palaces, all joined to the wall of the second circuit in such a manner as to appear all one palace. Arches run on a level with the middle height of the palaces, and are continued round the whole ring. There are galleries for promenading upon these arches, which are supported from beneath by thick and well-shaped columns, enclosing arcades like peristyles, or cloisters of an abbey.

City of the Sun (Civitas Solis, Город солнца)

Continue reading

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NYC panel event: THE MANY DEATHS OF ART

   Julieta Aranda | Gregg Horowitz
Paul Mattick | Yates Mckee

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65 W 11th St.
Wollman Hall (5th fl)
New School

February 23, 2013
6-9pm

Please register on our official event page
Join the event on Facebook

The “death of art” has been a recurring theme within aesthetic and philosophical discourse for over two centuries. At times, this “death” has been proclaimed as an accomplished fact; at others, artists themselves have taken the “death of art” as a goal to be accomplished. So while this widely perceived “death” is lamented by many as a loss, it is celebrated by others as a moment of life renewed. For them, art is all the better for having disburdened itself of the baggage of outmoded modernist ideologies. Insofar as the “death” of longstanding cultural traditions has in the past typically been understood to signal a deeper crisis in society at large, however, the meaning of death necessarily takes on a different aspect today — especially when the tradition in question is modernism, the so-called the “tradition of the new” (Rosenberg). Because the very ideas of “death” and “crisis” appear to belong to the edifice of modernity that has been rejected, these too are are to be jettisoned as part of its conventional yoke. Modernity itself having become passé, even the notion of art’s “death” seems to have died along with modernism.

We thus ask our panelists not merely whether art is at present “dead,” but also if traditions are even permitted the right to perish in conservative times. If some once held that the persistence of philosophy indicated the persistence of obsolete social conditions, does the persistence of art signal ongoing social conditions that ought to have long ago withered away? If so, what forms of political and artistic practice would be sufficient to realize art, and in what ways would realizing art signal something beyond art? Marx felt that the increasing worldliness of philosophy in his time (heralded by the culmination of philosophy in Hegel) demanded not only the end of philosophy, but also that the world itself become philosophical. If avant-garde movements once declared uncompromising war on art in order to tear down the barrier between art and life, would the end or overcoming of art not similarly require that the world itself become artistic?

The Many Deaths of Art event poster

Continue reading

image Nikolai Trotskii, Stachek region 1933

Period photographs of Soviet avant-garde built exteriors, 1926-1934

Hi-resolution images

Untitled.
Image: Nikolai Trotskii,
Stachek region (1933)

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Alesei Shchusev, hotel in Sochi, USSR (1928)

Alesei Shchusev’s hotel in Sochi, USSR (1928)

Just a couple remarks in prefacing these breathtaking photos, nearly all of which have never appeared online.  Even those that have aren’t available on anywhere near the scale or resolution as they are here.  In the past I’ve often posted pictures — sketches, blueprints, proposals, models, etc. — of Soviet modernist structures that were never built, whether they simply could not have been built at the time (given the material, technological, and industrial limitations of the Soviet Union in the 1920s or 1930s) or were abandoned or rejected.  But the focus of this post is on those buildings that were actually built; more specifically, their exterior aspect.  These period photographs should attest to the built legacy of the early architectural avant-garde in the Soviet Union, even if the window during which such pieces of architecture could have been realized was extremely brief. Continue reading

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The relationship between psychoanalysis and emancipatory politics

Amanda Armstrong
Platypus Review, № 2
February 2, 2008

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Castoriadis, Marx, and Freud
on time and emancipation

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On two occasions, Sigmund Freud observed that politics, pedagogy, and psychoanalysis are all impossible professions. Cornelius Castoriadis attempted to make sense of this cryptic observation in a 1994 essay entitled “Psychoanalysis and Politics,” in which he argued that, not only are these three “professions” structurally analogous, they are also entangled with each other such that the “impossible” realization of pedagogical or psychoanalytic aims is ultimately conditional upon an emancipatory political transformation.

The impossibility of psychoanalysis as well as of pedagogy lies in the fact that they both attempt to aid in the creation of autonomy for their subjects by using an autonomy that does not yet exist. This appears to be a logical impossibility…But the impossibility also appears, especially in the case of pedagogy, to lie in the attempt to produce autonomous human beings within a heteronomous society…The solution to this riddle is the “impossible” task of politics — all the more impossible since it must also lean on a not yet existing autonomy in order to bring its own type of autonomy into being. [1]

Castoriadis’s analysis of the “impossible possibility” of emancipatory politics, while deformed by his tendency to treat dynamic social formations as static states of being (i.e. “autonomy”), conveys, in a partially veiled form, certain important dimensions of Marxist politics. First, by analogizing social emancipation to pedagogy and psychoanalysis, Castoriadis squarely positions social emancipation along a temporal axis, indicating that Marxists should strive to bring about a break, in time, between an era characterized by “personal independence founded on objective dependence,”[2] and a subsequent era characterized by a more thoroughgoing form of social freedom. The essentially temporal (rather than spatial) nature of this hoped-for “break” has often been forgotten on the Left — an amnesia that has had disastrous consequences for the project of social emancipation.

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Second, Castoriadis’s paradoxical formulation concerning the (non-)existence of the conditions for social autonomy indicates, albeit in a highly attenuated manner, something significant about the ground upon which a possible socialist future might be built. As Marx argued in the Grundrisse, an emancipatory transition to a post-capitalist society would entail the abolition of the value form of social mediation and the freeing up of the social wealth and human capacities accumulated in alienated form under capitalism.[3] In other words, the social form that currently frustrates social emancipation — namely, capital — would also constitute the ground upon which a socialist society would be built. Thus, in a sense, it is right to say that there is no currently-constituted social basis for emancipation, but that the basis for emancipation can nevertheless be found in contemporary society. Were this not the case, as Marx observed in the Grundrisse, “then all attempts to explode [capitalist society] would be quixotic.”[4] As Moishe Postone argues:

The specificity of capitalism’s dialectical dynamic, as analyzed by Marx, entails a relationship of past, present, and future very different from that implied by any linear notion of historical development….In capitalism, objectified historical time is accumulated in alienated form, reinforcing the present, and, as such, it dominates the living. Yet, it also allows for people’s liberation from the present by undermining its necessary moment, thereby making possible the future — the appropriation of history such that the older relations are reversed and transcended. Instead of a social form structured by the present, by abstract labor time, there can be a social form based upon the full utilization of a history alienated no longer, both for society in general and for the individual. [5]

In a brief footnote attached to this passage, Postone observes:

One could draw a parallel between this understanding of the capitalist social formation’s history and Freud’s notion of individual history, where the past does not appear as such, but, rather, in a veiled, internalized form that dominates the present. The task of psychoanalysis is to unveil the past in such a way that its appropriation becomes possible. The necessary moment of a compulsively repetitive present can thereby be overcome, which allows the individual to move into the future. [6]

With this footnote, we return to the analogy between psychoanalysis and emancipatory politics with which we began. In what follows, I want to try and open up some inroads into thinking through the significance of this analogy — is it merely a coincidence, or can we offer an explanation as to why Freud formulated a theory of individual emancipation that was so strikingly analogous to Marx’s formulation of the relationship between history and emancipation?

sigmund-freud-photographed-by-max-halberstadt-in-1921

One way to make inroads into this comparison of Marx and Freud’s conceptions of time and emancipation is through an examination of Freud’s theorization of the “compulsion to repeat” — a hypothesized compulsion that, in his metapsychological essay “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” Freud finds evidence for in a number of social and psychological phenomena (from a number of developmental phases and historical eras). He goes so far as to suggest that this “compulsion” might properly be understood as an “urge inherent in organic life to restore an earlier state of things which the living entity has been obliged to abandon under the pressure of external disturbing forces.”[7] The paragraph in which this quote is embedded is directly preceded by a discussion of the psychotherapist’s attempt to help their patient overcome a compulsively repeated present, indicating that Freud conceptualized the psychotherapeutic aim of helping a patient move into the future as somehow continuous with, or relevant to, a broader world-historical problem concerning the socially general “death instinct” — a problem that he would explore more extensively in Civilization and Its Discontents.

Freud’s rapid and undertheorized switching of levels of analysis in these paragraphs, as well as at other points throughout his writings, leads me to hypothesize that Freud partially identified his individual patients with society, and that, in developing his psychoanalytic practice, he was — in part — formulating a veiled model for how society might overcome the “compulsion to repeat” imposed by the value form of social mediation and thus realize the possibilities for human emancipation immanent in the present. Assuming that this explanation of the analogy between psychoanalysis and emancipatory politics is plausible, we (as Left historians) can formulate an ambivalent historical evaluation of Freud: on the one hand, he fostered a conception of the temporal dimension of emancipation at a historical moment during which many Left social theorists were shifting into a spatial frame of reference — a shift that still haunts the Left; on the other hand, by partially identifying individuals with society (instead of — like Marx or Adorno — analyzing the manner in which, under capitalism, the individual mediates society), Freud prepared the ground for Herbert Marcuse and other New Left Freudo-Marxists, who replaced social emancipation with a reified “desire” as the desideratum of Left politics.

Notes

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1. Cornelius Castoriadis, World in Fragments: Writings on Politics, Society, Psychoanalysis, and the Imagination. Ed. & Trans., David Ames Curtis. (Stanford University Press. Stanford, CA: 1997). Pg. 131.

2. Karl Marx, Grundrisse, Trans. Martin Nicolaus. (Penguin and New Left Review. London, England: 1973). Pg. 158.
3. Ibid, pgs. 704–712.
4. Ibid, pg. 159.
5. Moishe Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 1993). Pg. 377.
6. Ibid, pg. 377, n. 131.
7. Sigmund Freud, “Beyond the Pleasure Principle.” The Freud Reader, Ed. Peter Gay. (Norton and Co. New York, NY: 1989). Pg. 612. Emphasis added.

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Ivan Leonidov

These are some utopian sketches and plans by Soviet avant-garde architect Ivan Leonidov.  Here’s a defense of Leonidov’s work against some of the criticisms leveled against it by the rationalist Nikolai Dokuchaev, written up by his fellow constructivist, Aleksandr Kuzmin:

Projects may be criticized in various ways.  Amongst the critics of Leonidov’s projects there is a category of architects who, whilst understanding and recognizing the great importance of the projects to the development of a genuinely contemporary architecture, try by all means fair and foul to discredit them.

True, for all who understand this, such manoeuvers appear dismal and trite.  But unfortunately they do not all understand this.  They do not all see clearly that the heart of the problem can all too easily be littered up with scientific rubbish; not everyone sees that there are very few true theorists of architecture on the pages of our magazine, but a lot of reporters who jump from one case to another and are helplessly attacking issues which are beyond their capabilities.  In just this way Professor Dokuchaev writes in the journal Building Moscow (and when not being unduly familiar, he is incoherent), in an attempt to shape public opinion on Leonidov’s work. Continue reading

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Dynamite or détournement?

One year after Pussy Riot’s “punk rock prayer”

Figure 1: Pussy Riot performs in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow (February 21st, 2012)

I. Détournement

When members of the Russian femme-punk outfit Pussy Riot ascended the altar inside the Cathedral of Christ the Savior around this time last year, few seemed to notice the physical space in which their performance was taking place.  This is perhaps understandable, after all, given the spectacle unfolding before their eyes.  Less than a minute into their gig, the band was unceremoniously carted “offstage” by officers of the Moscow militsiia.  It was an absurd scene: the frenetic punching motions of the five musicians, colorfully clad in their trademark balaclavas, clashed sharply with the sterile, Neoplatonic immobility of the gilded iconostasis and paneled Carrara marble chapel behind them.  The sole video documenting the event, which went viral almost immediately thereafter, featured a tiny Orthodox nun herding the crowd of bewildered onlookers away from the nave with far greater success than the burly cop who meanwhile attempted to assail the band.  After eluding his clutches several more times — one member even managed to kneel and cross herself before being arrested — all five were jailed and made to stand trial for “blasphemy” and “hooliganism” (an oldie-but-goodie harkening back to the days of Stalin, and before him, the tsars), of which they were eventually convicted.  A few months later, on August 17th, 2012, they were sentenced to two years in prison.

Outside Russia, news of the verdict was met with widespread uproar and scathing criticisms, roundly condemning the Putin government’s callous disregard for the most basic democratic freedoms.  These were for the most part justified, if a little poorly expressed at times.  Slavoj Žižek’s contention that “the true blasphemy [in the blasphemy allegations] is the state accusation itself” is one of his clumsier dialectical inversions to date — a category mistake, even if it’s a nice sentiment.  The few dissenting voices that warned against lending uncritical support to Pussy Riot’s shenanigans, such as Vadim Nikitin in The New York Times, may have been right in parts (especially about the hypocrisy of Western observers’ puffed-up indignation at the fact that such things “still happen”) but generally had their emphasis all wrong (Nikitin’s shocked moral and aesthetic sensibilities at some of the band’s past stunts).  These complaints were by and large drowned out, and rightly so.  Still, one year on, two of the women from Pussy Riot remain locked up, their sentences increased in both extension and duration, relocated to “far-flung prison colonies” in the Urals with a few extra months tacked onto their terms.  Little, if anything, seems to have changed in the country.  Putin’s judo death-grip on Russian political life has been decisively reasserted.  No major challenges present themselves to his continued administration.

Figure 2: Pussy Riot frontwoman Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, surrounded by police, raises her fist

Figure 2: Pussy Riot frontwoman Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, surrounded by police, raises her fist

Pussy Riot’s sad fate should call into question the prevailing political imagination of the Left, both in Russia and abroad, however.  This may seem an odd claim to make, as the general public still largely considers the band’s defiance of Putin a courageous, if not heroic, act.  As such, their high-profile performances have even been regarded in some circles as a success, despite (although precisely because of) their subsequent imprisonment.  In the final analysis, this is a consequence of decades of impotent protest politics.  For many activists today, the assurance that “action will be taken” is enough to allay any anxieties they may have that nothing can be done.  The experience of mobilization and coordinated demonstrations is a virtue unto itself, and arrest only grants false legitimacy to the idea that such pseudo-activity poses a threat to existing structures of power.  Whether or not an action contributes in a meaningful way toward its purported goal — e.g., if an anti-war march actually helps bring an end to war — the sheer fact of mass participation is (mis)taken as a sign of its success.  The experience of defeat has become so naturalized for the Left that it no longer even recognizes its defeats as such.  The most miserable failures are held up as the most shining triumphs, and no one is better off for it. Continue reading