believe nothing until it has been officially denied

April 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

believe-nothing-180414

Soergel was a Bauhaus architect and author of a number of works on design and far more ethereal, floating-castle ideas. His most spectacular contribution—incubated in the mid-1920’s and still clinging by its fingertips as an idea among some current thinkers—was to put a dam across the straights of Gibraltar. The dam would generate electricity of course, but most importantly to Soergel, it would also empty an enormous amount of water (lowering the sea by 200 metres)  from the Mediterranean leaving vast new expanses of land to be developed and colonized over generations into the future. The water of course would have to go somewhere, and that somewhere was the Sahara Desert, somehow in its wake creating farmable and productive lands. Soergel was creating a certain, very wide, fantastical future of uncertain monumental prospects.

A “brief outline” of the idea was published in this four-language pamphlet, Lowering the Mediterranean Irrigating the Sahara (Panropa Project), which was published by J.M. Gebhardt in Leipzig in the very bumpy year of 1929. (The Weimar years in Germany were already into deep bumpiness; the rest of the world would follow suit in October of that year.) To be fair, Soergel didn’t plan on emptying the entire Mediterranean, just a bunch of it–at least enough to be able to rename it.

[Here’s a map of the new Mediterranean, or the Mediterranean that would be made to go away. As you can see at this point Sicily and Italy become enormous, and the Greek Islands are combined to form one large land mass–this last bit alone is enough to form total and complete resistance to this idea. Also at this stage perhaps 150 or so miles of new lands have been reclaimed from the sea all along its former borders–more so in Turkey. There is no mention as yet of any new islands that are formed in the sea water’s wake.]  As it turns out Soergel thought that this plan would add at least 660,000 KM2 to the base of the surrounding countries of the Mediterranean, or roughly the equivalent of the combined land masses of Italy and Germany. Having the sea pulled back from hundreds if not thousands of seaside towns and cities would no doubt be a “problem”, for them; but that doesn’t matter to Soergel, as they were inferior thoughts to the grand idea of emerging a new continent.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Juergen Teller

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It is more important to affirm the least sincere; the clouds get enough attention as it is

November 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

Literature cannot meaningfully be treated as data. The problem is essential rather than superficial: literature is not data. Literature is the opposite of data.

Data precedes written literature. The first Sumerian examples of written language are recordings of beer and barley orders. But The Epic of Gilgamesh, the first story, is the story of “the man who saw the deep,” a hero who has contact with the ineffable. The very first work of surviving literature is on the subject of what can’t be processed as information, what transcends data.

The first problem is that literature is terminally incomplete. You can record every baseball statistic. You can record every trade over the course of a year. You can work out the trillions of permutations and combinations available on a chessboard. You can even establish a complete database for all of the legislation and case law in the world. But you cannot know even most of literature, even English literature. Huge swaths of the tradition are absent or in ruins. Among the first Anglo-Saxon poems, from the eighth century, is “The Ruin,” a powerful testament to the brokenness inherent in civilization. Its opening lines:

The masonry is wondrous; fates broke it
The courtyard pavements were smashed; the work of giants is decaying.

The poem comes from the Exeter Book of Anglo-Saxon poetry and several key lines have been destroyed by damp. So, one of the original poems in the English lyric tradition contains, in its very physical existence, a comment on the fragility of the codex as a mode of transmission. The original poem about a ruin is itself a ruin.

Literature is haunted by such oblivion, by incipient decay. The information we have about the past is, in almost every case, fragmentary. There are always masses of data which are simply missing or which cannot be untangled. The most obvious and relevant example is Shakespeare. There are nine different versions of Richard III; there are three versions of Hamlet, each with missing sections or added sections. There are missing plays. Cardenio. Love’s Labour’s Won. They no longer exist. So even the work of Shakespeare, which has been scrupulously attended to by generations of scholars, cannot be completely described. Literature is irredeemably broken and messy.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Nicky Peacock

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