quinta-feira, 12 de março de 2009

Martim Avillez

"I started Lusitania out of guilt, a newsletter, mostly for the circle of people around my friend, the intellectual Antonio Alçada Batista, founder of the journal 'O Tempo e o Modo', owner of the Morais bookstore and who just passed away.

My idea was not to report about New York, as if New York, by the end of the 20th Century was some 'rive gauche', a caldron where some new, revolutionary ideas and sensibilities were germinating, as it happened in Paris and Moscow; a century before.

I also didn't know any other Portuguese artists, but soon started to bump into anti-fascists from all over the world. There were Latin-Americans like Leandro Katz, people from Asia like Catherine Liu and Kwang Park, who had read their Freud and Marx......

The production was made possible by grants from the Gulbenkian Foundation, the Luso-Americana Foundation, the New York State Council for the Arts, the Graham Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts.

So Artaud and Bataille already dwelled with living with contradictions, but I am not ready to face the courts of Evora."

Lisbon, 5-01-2009

Martim Avillez

For Instance: the Example of Lusitania

My reading of Lusitania is neither intuitive nor purely anecdotal, but expository. I will try to explain why it is significant that we can meet here in Portugal to discuss Lusitania, without a sense of melancholy, or feeling the need to eulogize given its demise. Founded as A Journal of Reflection & Oceanography in 1986, Lusitania, for many of us who were involved with it, not only served as a nexus of intellectual inquiry, but as a laboratory for the modeling of sense of agency and subjectivity that that embodied the best qualities of post-Modern.
Neither institutional or instrumental, Lusitania kept to no particular production schedule, as evidenced by the fact that 11 volumes were produced over a 16-year period, reciprocally each volume was more elaborate then the former. Both its erratic schedule and evolving format was in part due to the fact that each volume had been given over to a different editor/ curator, who having selected their subject proceeded to assemble substantially different groups of contributors. What remained consistent throughout was that Lusitania was always timely and that its content perceptively sought to by remodeling the present, forestall what appeared to be its inevitable future. If we had not had time on our side perhaps we would have been too prescient and therefore appeared to be even more alien.
Lusitania was founded by Martim Avillez, who having fought in the Portuguese colonial war in Guinea–Bissau used Lusitania to manifest a profoundly patrician love–hate relationship with the land of his birth and its history. It was this that led him to immigrate to New York City in 1970, to study at Cooper Union, and then at the School of Visual Arts. As others will tell you this afternoon, he went on to be a successful and talented illustrator – producing editorial cartoons for many prestigious publications – though on occasion what he liked best was to remind people his first job was doing the cover illustrations for Screw Magazine – a sex tabloid.

Between 1995 and 2004, I worked on four issues of Lusitania; Taste/ Nostalgia, Being on Line: Net Subjectivities, Site and Stations: Provisional Utopias, Beyond Form: Architecture and Art in the Space of Media which was to be Lusitania’s final issue. Parallel to Beyond Form, Martin was working away furiously on the ‘23’ which was to be a volume fully illustrated by him. Accompanying the launch of each volume editor and publisher Avillez would organize events – such as a conference at the drawing center for Vulva-Morphia, or the exhibition Food Matters which was done in conjunction with the launch of Taste/ Nostalgia. Sites and Stations had its launch at the Storefront for Art and Architecture.
Until up to and including vol.7 Ed Ball had been Lusitania’s editor, I was asked to be become associate editor, when announced Ball announced he was leaving because he had received a contract and large advance for his book, Slaves in the Family. At the time, I was teaching in the MFA program at New York University while making the transition from being an artist to being a critic and curator. Consequently, I was curating shows for commercial galleries, publishing in various art magazines and was already the art editor for Bomb, and had just begun editing the book series, Critical Voices: in Art, Theory and Culture, for the Gordon and Breech.
I had not been part of the first wave of early contributors, supporters and collaborators who formed Lusitania’s core – These mainly consisted of faculty and graduate students Martim knew from Columbia University, and artists from the NY art-world. – I knew Martim from the NY art world, but our true affiliation was from the mid 1970s. we had both been active in Artists Meeting for Cultural Change, an organization that represented an attempt by the New York Art World to create a community-based, multi-generational, political organization of center/ left artists, students, and intellectuals. Though this organization took part in numerous protests and demonstrations in the 70s, it primary form and function was as a forum focused alternately on cultural politics and political culture.
Like so many other popular front, “non-sectarian” organizations of that time, it came to fracture not only along sectarian lines ranging from liberal to Maoist, but also conflicts arising from the career positions within the art-world of its various constituencies. Though never truly dissolved, AMCC slowly faded away – and ironically, with it seemingly so did Marxism, and Modernism. It was apparent that a new intellectual orientation was emerging by the early 80s, and subsequently in the name of advancing the cause of self-empowerment and self-realization there was among the “advanced” a paradigmatic shift, toward what would come to be identified as post-Modernism. Ironically, what this meant to left intellectual was that they had to set to work to dismantle the newly manufactured reified, utopian vision of modernism.
Central to this intellectual shift was Semiotext(e), sought to bridge radical French theory and the intellectual and art worlds of New York City. It is now widely credited with having introduced post-Structuralist thought to North America. Begun by the French philosopher Sylvère Lotringer in 1974, Semiotext(e) was distributed by the anarchist publishing collective Autonomedia. The original editorial board consisted of ten people, mostly graduate students at Columbia University who chipped in fifty dollars apiece to start the journal. In 1983, Lotringer began the Foreign Agents book series which published seminal texts by Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, Lyotard, etc. During this period, Lotringer shared a loft with Martim Avillez who in 1988, was to found Lusitania.
The reason for this accounting is that it is important to understand the social, political, cultural and intellectual networks that Lusitania was not only a product of, but also contributed to and was critical of. Lusitania while it represented a rejection of the high-modernism, it also represented a rejection of the Post-Modernist interpretation of post-Structuralist theory that was gaining popularity at the time. Lusitania rejected the notion that the new orthodox of post-Structuralism was a cure all.
As such Lusitania was spawned by Martim’s desire to put into practice the principles and theories associated with post-structuralism’s cultural critique, which other journals only sought to explicate and debate. – This commitment to putting into practice multi-culturalism, the critique of history, the exploration of subjectivity and the valorization of minor discourses meant these concepts must in a significant and critical manner be given material form - Consequently, Lusitania rather than contributing to the new Postmodern hegemony, sought to be a heterotopia – a space of otherness, which would take stances that were neither here, nor there, but physical and intellectually simultaneously give voice to those positions, identities, and views that self-contradictorily sought to point elsewhere and nowhere. Given this commitment to indeterminacy, Lusitania emerged as a laboratory, whose subjects, objectives, collaborators - were ever shifting – Consequently, this assemblage embodied an economy of power – a politic based on asymmetrical exchanges in which equivalency was neither possible, nor thought to be desirable.
Because of the implicit self-determination of its politics, Lusitania recruited to its cause the intellectual refugees and survivors of the culture wars of the 80s, who wished to maintain a critical distance from the emerging orthodoxies and their respective sectarianism. This was not because their was a deep seated desire to keep Lusitania democratic (because it was not that) or independent (which it was because it could not be appropriated) but because it was committed to sustaining an environment that would be conducive to keeping thought and debate alive. Consequently, the diverse positions of artists and intellectuals presented in Lusitania represented its commitment to heterogeneity. This ideology, gave rise to a number of its eccentricities; such as the fact that while it was committed to being bilingual, the second language was never a fixed one –as with the Sarajevo issue the 2nd language Bosnian. For an idealist enterprise such a choice was pragmatic, yet at other times there is no real correspondence between the second language and the volumes thematic content. Likewise, its guest editors represented no particular orientation , they ranged from those who were deeply political to those whose primary concerns were aesthetic – all a project needed to be to appeal to Martim was that it be relevant, critical, and unfashionable.
Lusitania was something akin to a nomad’s encampment, where primitives seeking orgasmic and hedonistic fulfillment, met to have intercourse with sophisticates wanting enlightenment and reason. As such, Lusi was not only a site from which to survey the debris field of Modernism but a location one might momentarily occupy and from which to advance this or that vision, concern or obsession. Its commitment to keeping critical thought and values alive was the recursive core of the cultural discourse that Lusitania sought to nurture. As such Lusitania’s very logic and structure made it a line of escape, a trajectory that laid no claim to authority nor sought to be either an instrument of the insurrectionists, or that of the loyalists. In other words it had an orientation, and an ethic but avoided having a fixed identity. The story of the origin of Lusitania’s logo, perhaps best illustrates the logic that ordered this publication .
To be specific, the sinking ship on the logo is the RMS Lusitania, a British luxury ocean liner owned by the Cunard Line. Christened and launched on Thursday, June 7, 1906, the Lusitania met a disastrous end , off Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland, where she was sunk by the German submarine U-20 on 7 May 1915 and killing 1,198 of the people aboard. The sinking turned public opinion in many countries against Germany, and was a factor in the eventual decision of the United States to join the war in 1917. Ironically, munitions were recently discovered in the wreck, indicating that the Lusitania was a blockade-runner, and thus a legitimate target. The sinking of the Lusitania along with the Titanic may also be associated with the end of the utopian dream of modernism and the industrial age.
The journal Lusitania though was not named for the ship, nor was its name meant to reference the history of its sinking, nor was it meant to be a metaphor for the sinking of Modernism – instead, Lusitania was named after the ancient Roman province, which Initially was part of the Roman province of Hispania Ulterior, before becoming a province of its own. The geographic location of Lusitania corresponds to modern day Portugal whose own colonial empire was brought to an end in by the Colonial War (1961–1974), which led to the Carnation Revolution of April 1974, which brought down the right-wing dictatorship, which had ruled since 1926.
Martim once told me that he was unaware of the RMS Lusitania when he decided to call his journal Lusitania. It was others who came to assume that this was the referent given that they did not know the connection to Portugal. Consequently, Lusitania as a signifier was an attractor. Lusitania and its logo, in actuality succinctly reference all of these referents, associations, histories and subjectivities and others even more esoteric such as Camoes’ epic poem Os Lusitadas accounts the role navigation, exploration, and the decline of empire plays in the creation of Portugal’s national identity. Remember, Lusitania was identified as Journal of Reflection and Oceanography. Likewise it was this aggregate approach in which no potential referent was to be dismissed, that is typical of the editorial course Lusitania tracks as it moves from article to image to theme, from volume to volume.
One therefore finds inscribed upon Lusitania’s pages a drift, as it combines Foucaultian critiques of taxonomies, knowledge and history with Braudrillardian visions of nihilistic virtuality, and hyper-reality. By means of this process, Lusitania gave representation to the theoretical, incidental, aesthetic, and anecdotal positions that in the later part of the 20th century, accrued to, circulated and circumscribed the discourses of knowledge, culture, control, intra-disciplinarity, and identity.
In the process, with an eye ever to its own state and that of its cultural, political and social environment, Lusitania particular structure came to constituted a detourne – for it had hi-jacked academia’s prized possession the journal, which was the site of professional authentication and the space of intellectual exchange. This appropriation was neither a parody academia, nor was it meant to create the type of pastiche that in the 90s passed for criticism. Instead, this appropriation was a probe – the means of an inquiry whose goal was to re-open what seemed to be an increasingly, sectarian intellectual atmosphere, which in its self-proclaimed radicality represented a drift to the right – in the guise of advancing a post-ideological position . Lusitania took the position that it neither needed to guard or defend the vacated one nor be moan there passing instead it imagined itself to be a site where the collision of ideas, insights, and visions whose intersection might produce new possibilities.

Committed to its own marginality and failure, Lusitania self-reflexively explored the potentiality of its own unstable position by revealing itself as a laboratory that heuristically tested products and constructed assemblages whose multiplicity, culpability, potential and barbarism could never form a holistic critique. It was this determination not to occupy a position, or exist as a singularity which made Lusitania a curatorial project, whose rigor laid, as much in its aesthetics as it did in its intellectual criteria - by aesthetics, I do not mean its look but the principles of its rhetorical position and intellectual design – its commitment to the how and what of engaged intellectual pursuit rather than masturbatory academic ones. It is because of this insistence on never being a singularity but in being in a constant state of becoming, that makes Lusitania a formidable archive of transient as well as enduring positions authored by the celebrities, masters, disciplines, amateurs and nonentities that made up the transitory network that Lusitania subscribed to consisted of.

Though Lusitania never had a stated program or political agenda, its editorial orientation was embedded in and explicated in the comic-strip editorials that began to appear with issue two; Melancholia. These graphic editorials, which are obsessed with war, new technologies, discourse, and instrumental thought are also characterized by an excess of information, and fantasy. The discontinuity of the resulting scripts make explicit that Lusitania was always committed to not only a critique of the irrationalism of capitalism’s logic as it permeated every aspect of cultural and intellectual life but in particular its detrimental effect on social imagination. This point is perhaps made most clearly in Sites and Stations where in a discussion concerning the architecture’s utopian vision a character says “What we need is maximalization of free intercourse among the heterogeneous terms of democratic thinking: give me subjectivities, imaginations, perversions, risks and responsibilities” – this view is further elaborated in Being on Line, where the comic strip editorial whose text, which is an appropriation of Pierre Levy’s writings on virtuality, ends with the principle character Cyberella offering up two opposing visions of the virtual: one in which we replicate the spectacle of consumerism in the name of critique and another in which we are called upon to dedicate ourselves to the “remaking of social bonds through; the exchange of knowledge, the recognition and valorization of singularities, more direct and participative democracies, the empowerment of individual lives, and the creation of new forms of open cooperation. “ This soliloquy ends with Cybrella not only telling us to go out and buy a copy of Lusitania, but to read it from cover to cover.
When reading these editorials one has to pay special attention to the fact that they are not textually driven. As with all the artwork that came to be reproduced in Lusitania, images are not merely illustration of some primary texts, but form parallel heterogeneous texts on violence, abjection and eroticism. These often stand in contradistinction to the written texts. Consequently, the text and image randomly conjoin to render up secondary and tertiary lines of inquiry, characterized by contradictions, disparities, and intuitions. This economy of supplementation and de-sublimation – as exploited by Lusitania hinged on generating a surplus of meanings, both symbolic and other. In other words within Lusitania there is no attempt at synthesis or resolution instead what is demonstrated is the impossibility of equivalence – and therefore the impossibility of exchange without lost. In this manner as with the general content of each volume of Lusitania, multiple stories are represented by the same text.
Though poly-vocal and heterotopic, there is encrypted into each issue of Lusitania the view that radical change lies not only in the new but also in the incorporation of the old into a system in which pleasure rather than the fulfillment of desire is its objective, so that depletion and production are the erotic order of existence. This vision is made explicit in the “23”, in which Martim illustrates a phantasmagoric history of the United States, which begins with the arrival in New Amsterdam of a group of Portuguese Jews who in the 17th century fled the inquisition in Brazil. This panoramic visual text, which centers on the failed love affair of its central characters as they appear to be reincarnated time after time, ends with an orgiastic, apocalyptic vision of a near future inhabited by all manner of pop icons and comic book heroes. In this volume which was published as an accordion that folds up and is stored in a slip-case, the comic strip editorial is the volumes principle text, which is supplemented by such scholarly texts as Voyages by Leslie Camhi, New Christians, Rationalism, and The De-Catholization of The New World by Anita Novinsky, From The Natural State to Democracy by José Gil, Kol Nidre for Spinoza–Fragments by Bérènice Reynaud. It is with this carnivalistic spectacle that Lusitania ends.
Yet, it is actually fitting that Lusitania has two ends, because Beyond Form even though its production was begun before the 23, was the last volume to be printed. Beyond Form, was published in 2004, in English and without a comic-strip editorial, yet in that it addresses the increasing destructive effect of the media sphere on all aspects of cultural production, it sustains Lusitania’s commitment to the visual text, and the polyglot as well as its politics of creative nihilism. For Martim and myself, it was a sequel to Sites and Stations’ critique of the flawed politics of PostModernist practices, as well as a consolidation and update of the discourse of virtuality that was opened by Being on Line. This summing up, was meant to allow Lusitania to move on – given that at the time we were already planning the 23, as well as a possible volume on 1962 – A Question of History, and another still another on scale to be edited by the art historian Norman Bryson.
The blurb on the back of Beyond Form announces it to be a user’s guide for a world of instrumental standardization on one side and indeterminacy and formlessness on the other – it indentifies the world as becoming a place where disciplines and objects are no longer prescribed in any a priori manner – and where each thing seeks its own modes and forms of representation. The media world as envisioned by the young architects who edited Beyond Form, no longer adheres to a notion of change and progress premised on an ambition to make real any disruptive mythology. Instead their media world is guided by the logic of dissolution and negation resulting in unfulfilled potentials. Yet, Beyond Form was not a critique of this condition, for it was filtered through Lusitania lens in which the world is a place of accumulation and differentiation in which the new is always already recursive, bringing along with it that part of the old that is still necessary, while holding all else in reserve.
This is made manifest when we compare Beyond Form and the 23. For example Beyond Form included a DVD, while the 23 took the form of a codex. In this pairing, we find an analogy for Lusitania’s implicit vision of culture as constituting a body without organs, in which functions are distributed and redistributed, forming ecologies rather than a hierarchy of reified specializations. The purpose of such a fluid network system is comparable to that of an external hard drive onto which the information may be encoded, stored forming a resource in that it maybe moved about and as such is readily available to be recalled, revised, over-written or printed out. In terms of this analogy, Lusitania as an external hard drive is an exemplary prosthetic unit in that is recorded the promises and potentials of its times.
Saul Ostrow
NYC, Dec. 2008- Lisbon Jan. 2009

segunda-feira, 9 de fevereiro de 2009

“On Lusitania”

I would like first of all to thank our hosts at the University of Evora, and especially Filipe Rocha da Silva, Marta Riera, and Gwenn Thomas for inspiration and their hard work in bringing us together on this occasion to honor Lusitania and the achievement of Martim Avillez. Lusitania has had a great influence on the place I work – the Department of Film and Media Studies at UC Irvine, and the Ph.D. program in Visual Studies there – I hope that this is the just the beginning of a fruitful collaboration between UCI and the University of Evora’s new programs in Visual Studies and Visual Culture. We are all deeply displaced people at UCI – California is a place made up almost entirely of immigrants, exiles, both willing and unwilling, opportunists, upstarts, and illegal aliens. Lusitania as an idea exists in California….It gives us some orientation and invisibly, its influence has worked to make the University of California feel more like home to me –Edward Dimendberg, Peter Krapp and Catherine Benamou, colleagues of mine in the Film and Media Studies and Visual Studies Programs are all Lusitania authors, and they send their greetings to all of you here. In many ways, we can say that UCI the university itself have become a small island where survivors of the shipwreck, not only of Lusitania, but of the dream of a utopic space of the city, a cosmopolitanism that has almost been entirely appropriated by real estate speculation and the financialization of the economy of Manhattan. Loft lifestyles have been sold to a younger generation of new economy workers from sea to shining sea, where lofts that represent the merging of work and play were made unaffordable to artists and intellectuals.
Russell Jacoby’s screed against young academics and his denunciation of the suburbanized of the intellectual turned professional neglects the economic problem, the affordability problem, the economics of urban life as a function of real estate development. I would argue that the university as one of the last refuges of the resistance to profit and market driven logics of neoliberalism, that have proven more powerful than the aesthetics of postmodernism. Martim Avillez, the creator, the publisher, the designer and the impresario of Lusitania enjoyed the benefits of “rent control” in New York – laws passed through the struggle of rent control – a result of Progressive – Era urban activists…and in New York, the efforts of radical Jewish exiles and immigrants. From Wikipedia:
In the United States during World War I, rents were "controlled" through the efforts of local rent anti-profiteering committees and public pressure. Between 1919 and 1924, a number of cities and states adopted rent and eviction control laws. Modern rent controls were first adopted in response to WWII-era shortages, or following Richard Nixon's 1971 wage and price controls.
New York has had the longest experience of rent controls, since 1943…The period has been marked by the lack of an "adequate supply of decent... housing."
So we have gone from rent control to the University, which is in no way an ideal place for the life of artists and intellectuals, but it is one of the last institutions in the United States that provides an economic security zone for refugees the political and economic developments that have turned artists and intellectuals into something called the “creative class.” De-industrialization of the West has produced an officially sanctioned fantasy that “creativity” will solve the problems of economic inequity – in the skeptical spirit of Lusitania, I urge you all to be skeptical of the European Union’s year of “creativity and innovation.” I do not want to be in any way melodramatic of our victimization – but I find Saul Ostrow’s term of “refugees of the culture wars” extremely apt. We should in fact, here renew our solidarity with the refugee of the economic wars against all workers/employees in the latter half of the twentieth century.
What I would like to discuss with you with regard to Lusitania as a journal, a collaborative project, a concept, a trans-Atlantic space today can be divided roughly into two parts, that in my discussion will be interwoven, but it might be good to keep the two ideas discreet, separate and mobile:
1. Lusitania and the anti-institutional, flat, entrepreneurial model of production. Translation and interdisciplinarity were watchwords at Lusitania. This method of production, plus Martim Avillez’s prodigious graphic and illustrating talents allowed for the creation of a journal as an integrated textual and theoretical object
2. Lusitania, New York City, the decline of the urban intellectual: Lusitania emerged at a moment when finance capital’s power in the New York art world ebbed briefly after the collapse of the stock market in 1987. The art world experienced an unprecedented surge of interest in matters theoretical and economic and it seemed possible to forge a truly hybrid space of productivity and improvisation between art and theory. Can we understand this ebullience as a reaction to the temporary retreat and disarray of the stock and real estate markets? Can we account for the marked retreat from critique that characterized the 1990s as a function of the irrational euphoria of the New Economy?

Martim’s gift for collaboration led to a remarkable series of publication. Irregular and unpredictable, Lusitania was if anything the vision of a singular, but responsive person. If the late 1980s and early 1990s were a time when a new flattened model of production appeared in the corporate world, where creative and flexible teams of collaborators produced the marketing and technological breakthroughs that would shape new economy – at least according celebrants of the new order from George Gilder to Robert Reich, Anglophone academia remained quite unmoved and untouched by the forces of globalization and personal computing. The Culture Wars raged on between the canon protectors and the proponents of new methodologies and new interdisciplinarities, and despite the infusion of post-68 “French Theory” freshly translated and disseminated by Sylvere Lotringer’s Semiotexte imprint, Cold War erudites from Eastern and Central Europe commanded authority and power at Columbia University and the New York Review of Books. October represented another kind of intervention: ambitious and pedagogical, with a sense of its own disciplinary importance, the editorial board was directly anti-Establishment, even as it set out its own orthodoxies.
Artists read the Semiotexte translations of Baudrillard and Deleuze and discussions at New York art world dinners could often take on the allure of a seminar on the political economy of the sign. Into this particular mix, emerged Lusitania, the brainchild of a man who was hungry for theory and able to give ideas graphic life. Martim was the Frank Miller of downtown theory, but he was never content to work alone. Lusitania was firmly grounded in an urban situation: its identity shaped by Water Street as much as Front Street. It emerged in that city celebrated by Jane Jacobs, and mourned by Russell Jacoby. Jacoby’s criticism of younger academics – probably like myself – who became suburbanites and retreated from public participation in cultural discussions. Our fates are directly linked is to the destruction and enervation of the cosmopolitanism of the American city that nourished that sense of participation and community. If so many Lusitania authors, like so many artists of the 1980s and 1990s have ended up in the UC system, it is not because we retreated into institutionality and professionalization as a programmatic choice. Along with rent control, there are two words that are the miraculous guarantors of a kind of intellectual and aesthetic and political autonomy of which I had such a giddy, but unrealistic taste in my twenties – Health Insurance. Martim represented that integrated sense of bohemian, intellectual life that he and I sought out in New York City, in Manhattan of that period, and which we found. We were both children of Cold War military dictatorships – his in Portugal, mine in Taiwan: this made us particularly suspicious of all official discourses, be they progressive or reactionary. It made us particularly vulnerable to belief in cultural production as a pathway to a more general emancipation. I say this only out of inference, not because we discussed directly this shared reflexive and some times destructive anti-authoritarianism. The secret link between Taiwan and Portugal has to do with nominalism – in the 16th century Portugese explorers named the island Ilha Formosa – which is a name early modern Europeans used – Formosa to name this island that Portuguese explores were content to name, but not colonize.
The Abject, America came out of a collaborative to disrupt two forms of official intellectual discourse that were rising in power and influence on the Left. They were the discourses of multiculturalism and post-colonialism. Our skepticism about this emerging politics of identity was expressed in humorous, and often purely graphic ways in that issue. Perhaps we should have been more polemical, but we didn’t want to give succor to the Right in its attacks on identity politics. We wanted to expand the performative and theoretical frames in which we might think about America as an object of fantasy, and abject sort of America, the one that we share as a symptom, a nightmare and a dream. The Abject, translated into an American thing, spanning many languages, an ocean, many nations, called to us – at a time when Julia Kristeva was theorizing this and Jacques Lacan’s objet petit a was also capturing the imagination – we wondered, how do we illustrate the breadth and width of a transcontinental fantasy of redemption and harmony, now offered to us in the discourses of immigrants, and various races, reclaiming their rightful heritage, calling up the traditions of the people – to provide a new kind of crazy quilt image of inter-racial, inter-ethnic harmony. Of course the homogeneity of the elites had to be broken down, but would proportional representation be enough to create the kinds of freedom and creativity that we hoped or? Could we not imagine, did we not have to imagine utterly new forms of solidarity and mobilization? This was before the rise of Web 2.0, Facebook and other forms of life on line that Lusitania would explore in subsequent issues. The concern of the Abject, America, for me was to explore the libidinal economy of solidarity. This call to be diverse was also being carried forth at a time when new forms of economic consolidation, new forms of corporate sovereignty were in fact being strengthened. America, as a site of “discovery” – as a site of the visual mystery and as a new site of pageantry as diversity were evoked in Lusitania’s pages – What was being discovered by theorists like Fredric Jameson during that precise era, was that if nineteenth century capital could be allegorized through massive narrativization, as in the novels of Balzac, Flaubert or Zola, we had the visual experience of the Hotel Bonaventure in Los Angeles with its forbidding exterior, its vertigo inducing interior balconies as the crystallization of “postmodernism” or the fragmentation of spatial and temporal experience – as the logic of late capitalism. Lusitania and its authors avoided those terms, and the celebration of the mixing of high and low went into the practices of visual and illustrative saturation rather than into an explicit program that had become the intellectual consensus of New York during this period – where everyone from downtown to uptown was caught celebrating the hybridization of high and low culture.
By the end of 1980s, forward looking theorists and thinkers all affirmed that a salutory destruction of divisions between high and low culture had been realized by the new conditions of postmodernism. The hybrid and the impure embodied a kind of aggressive transgression that was almost universally irresistible in its pure power of innovation: when Anna Wintour took on the editorship of American Vogue in 1988, she seemed to be on the same page as the theorists of the postmodern. Her first cover featured a three quarter length portrait of a smiling, pre-Raphaelite model sporting a $10,000 necklace, Christian Lacroix jacket, and ripped blue jeans. Another Wintour commissioned cover from that period featured a group of sylph-like models posed artfully on Harley Davidsons sporting Chanel skirts paired with leather jackets and caps. This mixture of high and low, of the hand made and the industrially manufactured, the opulent and the everyday continues to distinguish the seductive powers of “modern fashion.” It was the same mixing that was championed by cultural and academic populists. At the Museum of Modern Art, Kirk Varnedoe and Adam Gopnik found that modern art and artists had always drawn upon irresistible energy of popular culture.
If we found ourselves in a new cultural field defined by a ludic post-modernism that had demolished historical orders, it was no accident that the divisions between high and low culture were broken down so that all culture could be liberated from the burdens of history. To express a critical view of “high” modernism was de rigeur. In the postmodern objects surrounding us, the present had overcome the historical and conceptual mistakes of the past, because Jameson identified in them
the effacement in them of the older (essentially high modernist) frontier between high culture and so-called mass or commercial culture, and the emergence of new kinds of texts infused with the forms, categories and contents of that very Culture Industry so passionately denounced by all the ideologues of the modern, from Leavis and the American New Criticism all the way to Adorno and the Frankfurt School.
The great divide between “high” and “low” culture as a geological and spatial divide that made of modernism’s progress a natural history of the aesthetic. The gulf separating high and low culture rather than being the overdetermined symptom or the condensed result of a great struggle for symbolic legitimization of domination is apprehended instead as a geological scar, a great rift in the cultural topos that is somehow miraculously healed by the appearances of “texts” infused with “contents” from both sides of the gap.
The overcoming of the great divide overturns the privilege of “bourgeois high art.” Huyssen imagines that a sufficient reform of modernism would occur as inclusion of women artists, avant-garde practices and popular culture in an account of the aesthetic. In the modern /postmodern divide that Huyssen draws upon, the masculine/feminine dyad is reversed in order of privilege and the feminism and femininity of postmodernism and its practices represents the postmodern overcoming of its patriarchal, modernist past. In the end, he too renounces critical analysis of instrumental rationality for the benefits of postmodern self-reflexivity, or “growing awareness.” This is what characterized the weakness of Andreas Huyssen’s recourse to feminist artworks as the actualization of postmodernism’s historical innovation. For Huyssen, the postmodern names a political crisis of “capitalist modernization and of the deeply patriarchal structures that support it.” But what exactly was the nature of this crisis? More than anything, it appeared to be dominated by the demise of the patriarchal order, which lead to a sexual and cultural revolution: because of the depth of such a disruption, the postmodern moment seemed to offer genuine and more far-reaching changes than “traditional” revolutions were unable to imagine. If there were “economic and social dislocations” to be dealt with, artists and more specifically feminist artistic production will offer a road map towards a new and more liberated way of being.
The creation of the difference between highbrow and lowbrow cultures in American history is intimately related to an administrative solution to the problem of hegemony. But, as Lawrence Levine reminded us in his intervention in the culture wars, culture was not always divided so neatly into high and low. In 1849, popular outrage against William Charles Macready’s performances of Shakespeare’s Macbeth produced popular protests that ended in bloody violence of the Astor Place Riots; in morgue and police records, it is easily proven that the protestors were working class New Yorkers. Levine offers many accounts of the unruly nature of the mid-nineteenth century audience: empowered to pass judgment on performances of all kinds, undisciplined, impolite and highly opinionated, it is hard to imagine that touring artists feared the American audience not because of its philistinism, but because of its irreverent sense of authority in matters of taste and culture. Audiences felt entitled to loud expressions of pleasure and displeasure: this was the kind of “participation” that today’s concert hall and museum education departments supposedly want to inspire, but control. In 1873, Frederick Law Olmsted’s Central Park was designed with the explicit intention of disciplining New York City’s unruly masses: Olmsted’s goals were explicitly geared toward creating an urban pastoral that would designed with the aim of “harmonizing” and “refining” the “most lawless classes” of New York City. The intense efforts of a reform-minded elite focused on policing behaviors in spaces such as theaters and parks and the public galleries of new museums. Levine demonstrates that in New York City, the working classes of 1849 felt that they were in full possession of the space of the theater. It was after the Astor Place riots that restrained reverence and politely admiring applause would become the enforce forms of correct response to performances of Shakespeare. The urban working classes had to be taught the properly reverential and docile attitude toward the cultural treasures. The intensive re-ordering of culture would play a vital role in the solidification of a hierarchy of value in the waning years of 19th century America. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s admissions policies were vigorously debated by political and cultural elites because trustees felt that the galleries might be used inappropriately by the working classes as places of rest and unregulated leisure. Would the popular classes benefit from being exposed to great art, or would they sully the newly sanctified spaces of American wealth’s new passion for great collections? These questions had become moot at the end of the 20th century, and the beginning of the 21st, when museums vied with each other to produce the most popular and populist programs to spark the appetites of a jaded and indifferent mass audience.
Would identitarian cultural politics, or a playful postmodernism be powerful enough to counter the logics of neoliberalism that according to David Harvey were gathering strength in reshaping precisely the spaces and places of Lusitania into sites of spectacle and real estate speculation. In fact, neoliberalism would come to play a greater role in urbanism than any of us could have realized at the time: finance capital would engineer more freedoms for itself to increase its powers and art objects and lofts would become some of its favorite objects of speculation. In fact, as Harvey has shown, the financial collapse of New York City during the 1970s and its subsequent rescue would pave the way for its “regeneration” during the following decades.
Martim gave me the opportunity to do something extraordinary with him while I was very young – he trusted me to be able to pull something off and I will be forever grateful to him for this. Lusitania represented a way I could temporarily evade the hierarchical, punishing logic of academic professionalism – and it gave me the confidence to be improvise and create with some one who was really truly inspired. Subsequently, I would argue with Martim that he should give up a little autonomy for regularity – I have always had to repress my pragmatic streak with him, but little by little, it came out. He resisted, evaded. I thought that the journal, if left to pure idiosyncrasy could be construed as a kind of vanity press affair – I thought that there was something to be said for if not peer review, then at least more editorial discussion. I have to say, that even though I mentioned the anti-authoritarianism we shared, we were neither of us very good at democratic process either – Martim would often make sudden decisions that caught me completely off guard. He could be a dictator when necessary and it was infuriating to me, but I understood it. As I have gotten older, and more worn down by bureaucracy, I see the ways in which there is room for improvisation and creativity within processes that are more sticky and more institutional. I have also come to accept that intellectual life and the spirit of critique and innovation is going to have to find a way to sustain itself in large, cumbersome institutions like the university. I am not particularly hopeful that it can survive in these places, but that is not reason enough to renounce our efforts to promote stealth forms of creativity and experimentation. I have nostalgia for the urban, organic sense of adventure and danger and I mourn its loss, but I think that we have to fight to keep a space in the University open for work that is truly alive. Unlike Jacoby, who deplores the whole generation of academics who he says have abandoned the discomfort of public engagement for the emollients of professional existence, I think that the Internet and other forms of access and association that it has facilitated may be providing us a great challenge and opportunity to expand our notion of participation and innovation. This isn’t to say that we can transform the punishing and often repressive and unjust system by which academia vets its insiders – the tenure system – overnight, or that we can make academics into public intellectuals and restore intellectuals to a bohemian freedom made possible by rent control and urban density…We can’t, but Lusitania’s very legacy may be the sustenance of that kind of existence as a possibility – for the sustenance of intellectual productivity, in the spaces where it is still possible.
Lusitania may actually have a responsibility to go on, and to assess its historical importance in the brief convergence of art and theory that occurred in New York City. Can it exist elsewhere, preserving always that organic relationship to the web of connections that bound us all to a small piece of a small island. Can we re-invoke the chance encounter? The late night discussion, the para-institutional mischief that Martim was especially fond of? The final issue of Lusitania is a masterpiece and it touches in its illustration of the little known history of Portuguese Jews, on the issues of exile and persecution, displacement and destruction that have preoccupied Martim – but he is able to deal with a piece of painful history without sentimentality, but with a gorgeous kind of compassion – that is finally able to produce the kind of tiger’s leap into the past that Walter Benjamin described as being critical to the best kinds of historical materialism.
If Lusitania can have a future, and I think it can, perhaps it can have a more institutional and regular existence, so we are all older now and financial and process-based concerns I think do have to be taken into account without compromising Martim’s vision. As it was, one of Lusitania’s best qualities should never be changed – its bilingualism. Transnational before it became chic to speak of such things, this journal really was about cutting out a space of intellectual and visual experimentation that cut across disciplines, national boundaries, languages and continents, that identified with global flows even as it tried to interrupt them with its dynamic commitment to more than one language. Lusitania was always about making Ocean crossings, which we have all done to be here. I remember Martim’s delight when he finished the logo of the sinking Lusitania – the sinking ship, the transatlantic vessel, the object of international contention in a long, and exhausting war….

Catherine Liu

domingo, 1 de fevereiro de 2009

The Good Ship Lusitania - Reflections on Reflections & Oceanography

[Two small toy sailing boats each about six centimeters long painted different colors accompany the speaker on stage. To one side of the speaker and facing the audience is a crudely drawn logo of the Lusitania magazine in red, black, and white, This shows the elegant liner sinking into the ocean bow first at an acute angle, the stern way up in the air. The sky seems lit by red flames.]

I have to admit it is hard for me to get past the title and its logo. There is the good ship Lusitania, the fastest passenger liner of the day smashing the trans-Atlantic speed record but sunk by the German Navy U-boat U-20 on the 7th of May 1915 a few miles off the coast of Ireland, bringing the USA into WW 1. Of the 1,959 people on board there were only 761survivors.

It is a rakish good looking ship, that’s for sure, alarmingly so when it is pictured with its stern in the air, the four huge funnels blowing smoke like crazy as it plunges nose first to its doom.

I recall this very same image as an immaculate sculpture on the desk-table that seemed to stretch the full length of Martim’s studio with its incredibly high ceilings and windows overlooking Reade street where for a few years we had great parties at the end of the year. Ah yes! The Good Ship Lusitania, arse-up in the air, midships and bow covered by the cruel ocean headed for Davy Jone’s locker. And all that black smoke filling the red sky!

This is the logo that appears as a half page picture on the first two numbers of the magazine and thereafter as a small compact semi-circle in red and black—good anarchist colors—thereafter.

Martim was Portuguese, the language of the first number was Portuguese in its entirety, and the two languages of the bi-lingual second number were Portuguese and English. No wonder that unthinkingly I assumed the ship, too, was Portguese. What a shock therefore to later find out it was built in Scotland at Clydebank and belonged to the Cunard company famous for the two Queen Mary’s and of course for that great character, artist, muse, and patron of the avant garde, Nancy Clara Cunard. The keel of the Lusitania was christened, as they say, on the slips up there in Scotland by Mary, Lady of Inverclyde. So in a sense there are really two names here, separated either by time or by a relation of part to whole, the keel to the ship as a whole, or both. The keel—Mary, Lady of Inverclyde, is like the backbone, the essence of the ship. While the ship as a whole, called Lusitania, is the mythic being, the mighty personage redolent with the mystery of its strange name and breaking all manner of speed records.

Surely this is in a nutshell what Lusitania the magazine stood for, not merely with its hybridinal historical and cultural forms, but with the gamut of questions such hybridinal forms provoke?

How can you explain, for instance, how you get from Mary, Lady of Inverclyde, a strong and honest keel, to the name of Lusitania? How on earth did that come about? Other famous Cunard liners were named after Queens, queens of England, Mary and Elizabeth, while the sister ships to Lusitania went all Roman—as with the Mauretania and the Aquitania.

Why name a British ship after an ancient Roman province that occupied what is today most of Portugal bordering on Galicia with which at times it overlapped, the name Luso generally signifying something Portuguese when you want to sound fancy like wearing a medieval cloak or eating peasant bread, something with cobwebs and smears of dried blood on the corners.

One thread here in this name and logo is the impulse of modernity to sink back into prehistory and construct what has been called a “dialectical image.” Did I say “sink”?

In vain did Walter Benjamin try to explain what he meant by such an image that as in a montage contained the past with the present at what he called a moment of danger, his understanding being that such an image flared up briefly at just such a moment and, if not grasped in that instant, would disappear. As did The Lusitania. But then with the founding of the magazine Lusitania in February 1988, Lusitania: A Journal of Reflection and Oceanography, something of that dialectical image is grasped half in and half out of the water readying for the big plunge.

In that first number which was monolingual Portuguese only and a skimpy thirty four pages long, printed in a in a dull green on a slightly creamy background, there was apart from the logo only one reference to what I would call oceanography and the dialectical image.

Tucked away towards the end was short piece called “Body” by Peter Fend under the heading “Ocean Earth Construction & Development Corporation.” It described one of the world’s largest construction projects of our time involving the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The two page satellite map looked uncannily like a human body, all the more because of the words Fertile Body scratched into it between the two mighty river systems between Iraq and Iran.

The rest as they say is history.

Countless dead in the Iraq-Iran war. Then the Gulf War in 1990, two years after Lusitania, the magazine, first came out, and then the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 based on the deception by the heads of state as to the existence of weapons of mass destruction.

The name and the logo can be thought of as exactly that, the proverbial ship of state, the Good Ship Lusitania. For it appears that this passenger ship was perforce involved in the war and was carrying concealed arms, breaking the blockade by virtue of its character as a mere passenger vessel. Advertisements were published in New York by the German government advising passengers not to sail in the ship on what turned out to be its fatal voyage back to England, and five hundred bronze medals were struck in Munich by a private individual after the vessel went down, one side saying “Keine Banneware”(No Contraband), the other Geschaft uber alles” (Business above all). Seeing a business opportunity the famous store of Selfridges in London made a large number of iron copies of this medal for sale—some say 250,000—as counter propaganda.

In this connection, two other anarchist ships, or counter ships of state, come to mind. One is the transformation of the logo in the sixth number of the magazine Lusitania called Vulvamorphia, guest edited by Lillian Lennox .

The color has gone. Now we have black on grey. A beautiful three-masted sailing vessel of the 16th century maybe like what Magellan sailed is tossing on the sea. From the stormy surface of sea surfaces a giant squid or octopus with large eyes and tentacles lifting up into the very rigging of the ship and hauling it down, same as what happened to the Lusitania. Now the ship of state meets its nemesis in the arms of an untamed sea-monster whose home and very being is the liquid element on which the ship of state depends for its buoyancy.

And Oh! Yes! There is even an Editorial, but it’s a little back to front. First of all it’s at the very end, not the beginning of the magazine. Second, in the spirit of Martim Avillez, it is a comic created by the guest-editor. Third it too ends in the ocean. And fourth it not only sets forth the ideas behind this issue, but gives climactic place to Baubo, the ancient Greek demon or witch who made Demeter laugh by lifting her skirts and exposing herself and who, according to Oxford Classical Dictionary is a personification of the female genitals. “Perhaps,” wrote Nietzsche in his Second Preface to The Gay Science, ‘Perhaps truth is a woman who has grounds for not showing her grounds? Perhaps her name is—to speak Greek—Baubo?

Perhaps she is an octopus as well, says the main character in this comic editorial, taking us back to the logo displacing the original Lusitania.

The second ship I have in mind, thanks to the short movie made by Anxo Rabinal of Santiago de Compostela, is the Santa Maria built in 1952 with a displacement of 27,000 tons and maximum speed of twenty five knots, making it the fastest boat on the South American run. It belonged to the Portguese shipping firm, La Compania Colonial de Navegacion. In those days two dictators ruled over the Iberian peninsula, Salazar and Franco.

The Santa Maria left the port of La Guaira 20th January 1961 with a crew of 350 and 650 passengers.

Mid Atlantic at midnight a commando of the Directorio Revolucionario Iberico de Liberacion took control of the ship. In the gunfight one officer was killed. In the morning a new flag was flying and the name of the ship was changed to Santa Liberdade.

This kidnapping of an Atlantic liner was the dream of a poet, Xose Velo Mosquera, aided principally by two military officers, Jorge Soutomaior, captain of the Spanish Republican navy, and Enrique Galvao, cavalry captain in the Portuguese army. Their plan was to sail the ship to the island of Fernando Po—from where so many slaves had been gathered prior to their shipment of the New World—and take over the garrison there, free the political prisoners, and thereby initiate a revolutionary movement to free the Iberian peninsula as well as the African colonies.

The ship became what Hakim Bey has called a “temporary autonomous zone.” The revolutionaries came from different parts of the Americas and experience in Africa. They had been long festering their grievances since the Spanish Civil War, including for Soutomaior a spell in Auschwitz. One commentator describes the revolutionaries as so many don Quijotes, animated by the spirit of poetry and piracy. Velo the poet had made a new coin he called the Ibero to function throughout a liberated Iberian peninsula. Great efforts were made to reduce the hierarchy among the crew and also among the passengers, fifty of whom joined the rebels along with part of the crew. Anti-government pamphlets were distributed and forty seven verses of the anti-fascist Galician poet Rafael Dieste were read over the loudspeaker system. The new flag had four bands of color, black, red, white, and yellow, symbolic of racial solidarity. Much banqueting and dancing was held as well.

Eighteen US Air force planes from Puerto Rico, five US naval vessels plus a nuclear submarine, the Sea Wolf, as well as naval frigates from the UK combed the Atlantic searching for the kidnapped ship. Eventually it was found. News agencies were drawn to the spectacle and a daring photographer named Gil Delamare parachuted to the deck of the Santa Liberdade.

The rebels had to abandon their plans for Africa and settled for Recife, Brazil, where they were treated as heroes.

“Brilliantly conceived, more or less adequately carried out, badly accompanies, and sadly terminated,” was the summing up of the poet, Pepe Velo.

And of course there is still another Baubo boat to consider alongside our ship of state, Lusitania, and out anti- ship of state, Lusitania the magazine, and that is the pirate vessel as fantasized by the Neo-Zapatistas in Chiapas, as pictured in one of the many postscripts of the letters of the sub-comandante referring to the democratic convention held in the Lacandon forest in what they called Aguascalientes in August 1994

Although it is actually written before the convention, it is written as if after all the guests and delegates have left and it reads:

When they are alone, the Sup makes a sign . . .Everyone, including the Sup tears off their ski masks and their faces. A multitude of fierce-looking sailors appears, the Sup has a patch on his right eye and begins to limp ostentatiously on his wooden leg . . . The awing [of the convention in the jungle] is in reality a sail, the benches oars, , the hill a hull of a might vessel, while the stage becomes the bridge . . . Aguascalientes unveils itself—se devela y se revela—a pirate ship, solitary and magnificent, it begins its voyage into the night until the day following , skull and crossbones fluttering.

And he signs off;

Pirate without bearings
Professional of hope
Transgressor of justice
Robber of sighs
Owner of the night
Lord of the mountain
Man without face and with no tomorrow

As I said right at the beginning, I have to admit it is hard for me to get past the title and the logo, the Good Ship Lusitania, suspended mid air, or at least mid-ocean, arse up, nose down, now more than ever calling all hands on deck as we think back on those wonderful magazines that Martim Avillez with his editor and artist and writer friends created in the turbulence of the 1990s world downtown in Reade Street New York City

Thank you

Mick Taussig
January 5, 2009

segunda-feira, 5 de janeiro de 2009

Where was LUSITANIA?


I would like to begin what is ostensibly being positioned as a re-reading of LUSITANIA today with what may first appear, at cursory glance, as two rather incidental and seemingly irrelevant lapses of editing or translation. I hesitate to call such orthographic or typographical errors “mistakes”, since they are neither obtuse enough to distract the reader, and moreover, as a type of acte manqué, they in fact constitute precisely the discursive horizon that determines my reading. In fact, these two lapses also situate—the locative metaphor seems to me an apt one—what turns out to be an explicit if nostalgic relationship to the magazine to which I am now asked to be respondent, but which, in a kind of classic analytical irony, I had already but was unbeknownst to me. Perhaps in what Schiller called the “naïve of surprise,” the lapses may, as with the detective in Robbe-Grillet’s Les Gommes (1953), have been put there for me later to discover them—perhaps placed there as purloined letters. Those lapses, as most do, function as constitutive, whose lack of unequivocal significance—perhaps by virtue of being so meaningless—come to structure a reading nonetheless. So to begin:

1) On the cover of issue #3 entitled “Kultura Control”, the graphic emblem of the magazine bears the descriptive motto—latter abandoned—of “A Journal of Reflection and Oceanography.” On the inside front matter, however, the colophon text reads “a Journal of Reflexion and Oceanography.” So that this homophonic difference is not lost on the listener, the first is reflection spelled with “ct,” the second with “xi”. Reflection (both the state of being reflected and thoughtful consideration and its resulting ideation) is somewhat distinct from “reflexion” which bares the trace of reflex and is the British variant. The variant spelling is suggested as due to a kind of semantic containment from correction, which is ironic but which hopefully makes my point somewhat less tedious and justified.

2) In that same issue—it is rather suffused with small errors, excused by the sheer density and thematic richness of the text—before that colophon, there is a collage of New York Times articles from a variety of decades, including one which bares the front page story of the sinking of the eponymous ocean liner that gives the magazine its name. Below it, in a block of text, there is an unaccredited “editorial” which provides a brief exegetical discursus, seemingly the only, on the choice of the publication’s name and its transcultural connotations. The only typographical indicative of any difference between proper nouns—the ocean liner, the magazine—necessary, and here I side with William Empson, to distinguish between the two, is one case of capitalization. This text is translated into English—of course it could be the other way around—with the exception of that one word, also capitalized, and which is conflated at each turn for an object, a proper name, and a floating signifier: “o nome Lusitania” translated, as “the Lusitania,” for instance.

It is rather obvious that such trivial inconsistencies or lapses can be ascribed to either Sod’s Law, or simply working within a bilingual context and the resulting orthographic confusion. I cannot help though, in my invited reading, to see these rather as symptoms that invite “reflection,” and as such, are related to a structure that determines their interpretation. This is to delineate, as I aim to do, what in Heideggerian-Gadamerian terms can be called the “hermeneutic horizon” of LUSITANIA and its link to a historical condition of ideological and cultural critique to which it serves, for a new generation negotiating the territory between criticality and complicity, as testament.

We know, of course, that the unconscious of the subject manifests itself through a repertoire of tropes: ellipsis, periphrasis, catachresis etc. In analytic discourse, it is of course not really the surface utterance that tells; is rather the function of metaphor and metonymy within the utterance, the syntactic logic of the signifier, which rhetorically speaks. Freud’s first mention of such phenomena of ‘lapsus’ in speech, writing, or action, what he called ‘Fehlleistung’ or ‘faulty action’ and which we have come to know as ‘parapraxes,’ or the Freudian slip, is in a letter to his friend and colleague Wilhelm Fleiss in 1898. The fascination is much earlier, at least as far back as Goethe, in the recognition that there is a different reading to what is enunciated than what this signifies, such that what is actually said is always something more than what the words mean or denotate.. It is thus a case of knowing how to read.

Lacan, for example, asks us to “consider the flight of a bee:”

A bee goes from flower to flower to gather nectar. What you discover is that, at the tip of its feet, the bee transports pollen from one flower onto the pistil of another flower. That is what you read in the flight of the bee. Does the bee read that it serves a function in the reproduction of phanerogamic plants? Does the bird read the portent of fortune, as people used to say---in other words, the tempest? That is the whole question. It cannot be ruled out, after all, that a swallow reads the tempest, but it is not terribly certain either.

This ambiguity of reading is in fact the strict meaning of ‘appearance’ in phenomenological terms: that which announces itself, but does not itself appear or show itself, but is announced through something that does appear, as say the symptoms of a disease. Thus the acte manqué can act as a literal pointing towards, but towards a presence that is found precisely in its absence.

What the two typographical ‘symptoms’ propose then, as a reading, is reflection that announces itself, overdetermines them as meaningful. In fact, they double themselves, since the exegetical discursus turns self-reflective, describing LUSITANIA precisely as untranslatable, or rather, lost in the “contingency of translation”, and the “culture of transient meanings.” But it is not so much a matter of translation but of differing semantic fields, of proposed units of transmitted or intended meaning. The specificity is not lost in translation, but rather escapes it, since the terms are themselves within a discursive field which both negates and affirms them; LUSITANIA is neither “Portuguese” nor “American”, but is written in both Portuguese and English most of the time—a fact I cannot remember ever being justified—yet not explicitly about either Lusophonic or Anglophonic thematics. Its territory is situated elsewhere therefore, and here lies the Greek origin of metaphor: meaning to transport, or transfer, as in the transfer of the meaning of a word to another, the two semantically linked by a logic of resemblance. True to poetic resonance, in Modern Greek, mass transit vehicles are called metaphorai—in what Merleau-Ponty deemed the “underground trading of the metaphor” one takes a ‘metaphor’ to get someplace---and an ocean liner will do nicely.


Nostalgia, as an ersatz construction coined in 1688 by Swiss physician Johannes Hofer, replaces the rather less urbane term of mal du pays. Comprised of nostos (or ‘returning home’) and algos (or ‘pain’), nostalgia covers a kind of ‘homesickness’, yet as its modern cobbling of Greek attests, a longing for a home that in fact never truly existed and thus can never be reclaimed. It is, in short, the abiding melancholy of the immigrant and of diasporic experience, blurring history with memory.

The Portuguese have the even more precise, and like LUSITANIA, ‘untranslatable,’ term of ‘saudade,’ for the sentiment of nostalgic, fatalistic longing for something lost. Yet both imply a trajectory of possible return and reconciliation, rather than the possibility of being between two worlds as a “double stranger,” (and thus with no home, in the sense of an original place one longs to return to, nor home, in the sense of a place where one sets root). That is, neither assimilated into the culture to which one is an emigrant nor ‘belonging’ to the culture into which one was born. Both tropes are thus too locative—perhaps LUSITANIA as a provisional site situated between discourses, and to which my reading returns, will do for now?

When my family emigrated from Portugal to the United States in 1989, my father went to work at a small printing firm in Newark, New Jersey called Trade Thermotype—in fact the same firm which typeset the “Kultura Control” issue that following year, in which the typographical ‘reflections’ that constitute this reading appear. I was neither proficient enough in English at the time to understand the right hand column of black text, nor old enough (I was 11) to fully understand the complexity of the blue Portuguese text on the left. They both would have been in a foreign language to me—in a semantic and discursive field of unintelligibility, and so my reading is thus what Nabokov deemed as the transition from one tongue to another: “the slow journey at night from one village to the next with only a candle for illumination”.

In The Function of the Little Magazine (1946) Lionel Trilling writes of the Arnoldian function of small publications as the “impulse to insist that the activity of politics be united with the imagination.” In this necessary link between politics and culture (for instance, the Kantian premise of the fictive as an agent of moral imagination), there is an implicit lack of tolerance for what is deemed the ‘lesser’, meaning less difficult or ‘serious’ discourse, and for the opening up of a space for critique which denounces the facility of spectacle, what Tocqueville called the “hypocrisy of luxury,” and the Culture Industry, and for the concomitant assertion that “politics is imagination and mind. “ Both politics and culture provide, in Trilling’s understanding of liberal tradition, an expansion of the conception of the possible, and as such, an affirmed role in the formation of a social imaginary. This is, in fact, Adorno’s claim for the radicality of dodecaphonic music, in that it shatters the apparent self-evidence that sustains the “canon of synthetically produced modes of behavior,” breaking through the ideological patterns of normalized or naturalized social forms, and revealing them as such.

Politics without imagination is thus merely an atrophied politics; but imagination is also the ameliorative of the political, not its negation, a lesson altogether lost on Diderot, Madame Bovary, contemporary forms of placating liberalism, and mutantis mutandis, as permissiveness and pluralism, in the rabidity of the so-called “culture wars”, the dawn of which in fact coincides with the birth of LUSITANIA.


After Nietzsche, Mallarme, Joyce, Bakhtin, Blanchot, Derrida, De Man, New Criticism et al, can we even conceive of a text as being reducible to a finite meaning or set of meanings, but rather, are we not forced to accept the paranoiac possibility that the text is merely a set of allegorical procedures, the loci of an interpretative act, in which meaning is itself dispersed by the very act of reading? Every reading thus presupposes a ‘hermeneutical horizon”, a kind of totality of what can be realized or interpreted at a given time and within a particular culture. It is difficult, for instance, not to read LUSITANIA as a document of the historically effected consciousness of the “culture wars” of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and as an associative confrontation with precisely what Slavoj Zizek calls its “phantasmic support.” Thus, The Abject, America, and the new motto in that issue now via Bataille: “fin-de-siecle non-productive expenditure.”

As I was becoming a teenager in the 1990s, it seemed that American society, as quickly as I discovered it, was spiraling into a decadent conspiracy divesting it of everything it once held proper and dear. Within this mephitic, violent assault on so-called moral values—in controversies over abortion, religion, race, ethnicity, art, entertainment, sexuality, public-school curriculums, immigration, language, etc—these were being replaced with the ‘abject’ that had been repressed by those values. The phantasmic enemy created by the culture wars—take the AIDS spreading homosexual pervert—was all the more insidious for not being real: in extremis it allowed, through a nostalgia for a wholesome past that never was, for the real decay of even the most centrist liberal tendencies in American culture.

This is because played out along with the moral aspect was the contested symbolic economy of cultural relativism, from the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano, to the establishment of cultural, and gay and lesbian studies programs, and of course, the spread of poststructuralist thought in American literature and philosophy university departments. A kind of ‘phantasmatic support’ underlies this aspect on both sides, as for the conservative element, culture becomes a battleground to ‘prove’ the inherent immorality of liberals and therefore dismiss their political values (“See what they call art!”), while for the left, it provides libidinal investment in something as usually innocuous as culture—proving that the symbolic does matter, which the left sometimes seems to anxiously suspect is not true.

It was Grasmci, after all, who argued in the 1920s that cultural hegemony was to blame for the failure of class-consciousness to germinate into a widespread proletarian revolution throughout Europe. Gramsci therefore argued precisely for a culture “war of position” to reject the normative systems of domination, and with it, the practices of the ruling class, and through which anti-capitalist culture might claim mass media. As a form of ideology critique, this would destabilize the way in which prevailing cultural norms come to be viewed as naturalized. In the culture wars, this entailed an emphasis on the representation of identity and social life, pitting the “capitalist imaginary and the creative imaginary” against each other, to use Cornelius Castoriadis’ terms, and attempting to assert, however naively, the structural oppositional rhetorical between transgression and social cohesion, between the avant-garde and society. Trilling called this somewhat dialectical process the “legitimization of the subversive.”


Cultural critique, whatever its historical condition, must always, and always struggles, to determine its object. From the 19th century philological sense, to critical debates on whether the function of cultural critique is exegesis or polemic, descriptive or demonstrative, theorizing about meaning or evaluating quality, it is within a historical and interpretative horizon, a frame, that it does so, say as with the idea of normative teleology and ‘quality’ in the 1950s, a focus on phenomenology and material formalism in the 1960s, critical theory and social history in the 1970s, and identity politics and poststructuralism in the late 1980s and 1990s. The latter entrained a pluralistic notion of value and meaning which precisely derailed—at least according to its critics—the very notion of an understanding of history with which to frame or position cultural critique. Such a fragmentation and dispersal of master historical narratives, not to say a de-centering of the notion of the subject, was positioned as being conflated with pluralism in a social sense, that is, as a democratic tendency. Rather, it allowed for the center to swallow the periphery and create a curious paradoxically double-bind: asserting its own ‘democratic’ impulse, the ‘center’ also negated the ‘marginality’ that gave the periphery precisely its efficacy.

There emerged in the 1990s a new set of artistic practices that implicitly negated the received assumptions of a polarity between the anomic function of culture and the society to which it directed its antagonism. The critical suppositions of these new practices—neither concerned with transgression nor resistance in any conventional sense—effectively called for a new set of critical apparatuses through which to frame them. For instance, rather than assert a radical negativity, a critique of spectacle or commodification, or the autonomy of the work of art—the fetish object of modernism—these new practices instead maintained a position of skepticism towards the socially transformative power of art or its agency in political resistance. This is in keeping with Adorno’s claim in Negative Dialectics (1966) that, “no theory escapes the market anymore: each one is offered as a possibility among competing opinions, all are made available, all snapped up.”

These practices choose instead to foreground the imminent value and relationship of symbolic discourse to late capitalism itself. This is to assert that culture reifies, sustains, and positions ideology, and the institutions and orders of knowledge and power that support it, precisely by being positioned outside of it. This notion is in stark contrast to the foundational assumption of the modernist avant-garde, itself negating many of the assumptions of 19th century art, in suggesting that rather than the public critiquing the artwork—therefore calling on the faculty of judgment and on notions of ‘taste’—it was the artwork that was in effect, critiquing society.

Yet as Zizek points out in The Plague of Fantasies (1997), this ‘inherent transgression’ is in fact the support of ideology: “there is no ideology without a trans-ideological ‘authentic’ kernel,” but rather “it is only the reference to such a trans-ideological kernel which makes an ideology workable.” Thus what is positioned as outside ideology, as say the myth of individuality that sustains the modernist notion of the artwork, becomes itself primary to the operations of capitalist ideology, providing for an inherent ‘negation’ that it easily sustains.

And so we have, developing in the early 1990s, an articulated focus, as a kind of determinate negation, in these new practices, on sociability, communication, symbolic exchange, spectacle, labor, circulation, and the commodification of creativity---all principal aspects of late capitalist political economy.

The locus of critique thus becomes the social imaginary significations that sustain them, say on the level of the subject, desire, or the institutional apparatuses that enact them. It is on this level that LUSITANIA positions itself —and as it can re-read today---as the intersection of discourses that frame or support the operations of cultural phenomena, or the phantasmic screen that supports the symbolic side of late capitalism. In the words of Stan Allen, writing in the introduction to LUSITANIA issue #7—whose colophon beards no motto and which is not translated into Portuguese---this acts as a “relentless refusal of totalizing explanation, an ‘interminable analysis’ dedicated to laying bare the hidden ruptures in the smooth fabric of received opinion. “

As such a site of intersection, (“sites and stations”, “Taste/Nostalgia”, “The abject, America”) LUSITANIA floats through and takes up a reading of that ideological support which structures the symbolic—what Saul Ostrow describes in #11 (Beyond Form) as “late capitalisms ideological ability to transform the flow of goods, services and events into cultural spectacle while dismantling the rationalizing structures that once formed the cultural real.” Such a reading points towards critical discourse as a reflexive and reflective determinate negation, a complicity of ideological identification, and for us today, a reminder of the tension between what can be conceived as possible and what merely supports the real.

João Ribas

Micro-introduction/overview of Lusitania, which Martim Avillez wrote and produced. 2004

"Lusitania produces anthologies of original material, drawing on the work of emerging and established writers, theorists, artists and cultural critics.
Each book brings a critical perspective to issues within contemporary cultural discourse.
The play between textual and visual content engages Lusitania's readership with provocative forays into our ever-changing cultural field."

#11 Beyond Form. Architecture in the Space of Media
In this age of new media, what is the role of the architect? No longer bound by the historical limitations of form, architecture has shifted from real to virtual space. Beyond Form explores what lies beyond the current iconography of digitally produced architecture. Presented in two formats, this issue will contain contributions both in print and on DVD-ROM. In English

#10 The 23
When twenty-three Sephardic Jews arrived on the Island of Manhattan in 1654, they comprised the first Jewish community in North America. Their history told as a 42-page, full-colour comic strip, is printed on a continuous 23-foot-long accordion spread that folds into a hardcover slipcase. On the reverse of the comic pages are four essays which relate to the Sephardic experience, written by Lesli Camhi, Anita Novinsky, Jose Gil, and Berenice Reynaud. Printed in two editions: in English and Portuguese.

#9 Taste, Nostalgia
From the margins of gastronomy to the depths of taste, Taste, Nostalgia is a compendium of culinary delights and anguish. Food for body and soul, with rare recipes, lost histories, perfect dishes, childhood nostalgia, limits of taste, historical origins, improbable ecstasies, unusual authors and provocative illustrations.
Edited by Allen S. Weiss.

#8 Being On Line, Net Subjectivity
Since the early 1960s a revolution in human communication has occurred. Electronic media and the personal computer have produced new virtual geographies and communities. Being On Line, Net Subjectivity examines the Internet from two interrelated perspectives: the effects of cyberspace on philosophy, and the psychology of being on-line.
Edited by Alan Sondheim
In English and Korean

#7 Sites & Stations: Provisional Utopias
From the perspective of practices outside of the mainstream this volume records with irony, pleasure and paradox the attempt to recuperate the utopian dimension of architecture - from the fantasy of Las Vegas to the real politics of
urban planning.
Edited by Stan Allen and Kyong Park.
In English and Korean

#6 Vulvamorphia
(Vulva=wrapper; morphia=form) is a fluid system of relationships that perpetually erode the dominant order through
the wave forms of a feminine libidinal economy. To this end, the Vulvamorphia edition of Lusitania is a collection of essays, fiction, and images that endeavour to echo-locate and decipher the play of these critical, artistic, and political flows.
Edited by Lillian Lennox
In English and French

#4 The Abject, America
Explores the cultural effect of the Nazi's love of Disney, Artaud's sojourn in Mexico, the structuring principles of anti-Semitism, the fall of Fatty Arbuckle, the rise of Jacques Lacan and kitsch, and much, much more.
Edited by Catherine Liu.
In English and Portuguese