italo calvino – the distance of the moon (1965)

‘Like many a critical humanist before him, from Michel de Montaigne to Jonathan Swift, Calvino seems to wonder if our best intellectual efforts, even the sciences, fall subject to “the foibles and fancies of humans,” and to the askew narrative logic of folklore.’  I found this wonderful thing via Open Culture. I had to go and find the story on which the animation is based, and when I did, I had to share it with you, at new moon.

The Distance of the Moon

At one time, according to Sir George H. Darwin, the Moon was very close to the Earth. Then the tides gradually pushed her far away: the tides that the Moon herself causes in the Earth’s waters, where the Earth slowly loses energy.

How well I know! — old Qfwfq cried,– the rest of you can’t remember, but I can. We had her on top of us all the time, that enormous Moon: when she was full — nights as bright as day, but with a butter-colored light — it looked as if she were going to crush us; when she was new, she rolled around the sky like a black umbrella blown by the wind; and when she was waxing, she came forward with her horns so low she seemed about to stick into the peak of a promontory and get caught there. But the whole business of the Moon’s phases worked in a different way then: because the distances from the Sun were different, and the orbits, and the angle of something or other, I forget what; as for eclipses, with Earth and Moon stuck together the way they were, why, we had eclipses every minute: naturally, those two big monsters managed to put each other in the shade constantly, first one, then the other.

Orbit? Oh, elliptical, of course: for a while it would huddle against us and then it would take flight for a while. The tides, when the Moon swung closer, rose so high nobody could hold them back. There were nights when the Moon was full and very, very low, and the tide was so high that the Moon missed a ducking in the sea by a hair’s breadth; well, let’s say a few yards anyway. Climb up on the Moon? Of course we did. All you had to do was row out to it in a boat and, when you were underneath, prop a ladder against her and scramble up.

The spot where the Moon was lowest, as she went by, was off the Zinc Cliffs. We used to go out with those little rowboats they had in those days, round and flat, made of cork. They held quite a few of us: me, Captain Vhd Vhd, his wife, my deaf cousin, and sometimes little Xlthlx — she was twelve or so at that time. On those nights the water was very calm, so silvery it looked like mercury, and the fish in it, violet-colored, unable to resist the Moon’s attraction, rose to the surface, all of them, and so did the octopuses and the saffron medusas. There was always a flight of tiny creatures — little crabs, squid, and even some weeds, light and filmy, and coral plants — that broke from the sea and ended up on the Moon, hanging down from that lime-white ceiling, or else they stayed in midair, a phosphorescent swarm we had to drive off, waving banana leaves at them.

This is how we did the job: in the boat we had a ladder: one of us held it, another climbed to the top, and a third, at the oars, rowed until we were right under the Moon; that’s why there had to be so many of us (I only mentioned the main ones). The man at the top of the ladder, as the boat approached the Moon, would become scared and start shouting: “Stop! Stop! I’m going to bang my head!” That was the impression you had, seeing her on top of you, immense, and all rough with sharp spikes and jagged, saw-tooth edges. It may be different now, but then the Moon, or rather the bottom, the underbelly of the Moon, the part that passed closest to the Earth and almost scraped it, was covered with a crust of sharp scales. It had come to resemble the belly of a fish, and the smell too, as I recall, if not downright fishy, was faintly similar, like smoked salmon.

In reality, from the top of the ladder, standing erect on the last rung, you could just touch the Moon if you held your arms up. We had taken the measurements carefully (we didn’t yet suspect that she was moving away from us); the only thing you had to be very careful about was where you put your hands. I always chose a scale that seemed fast (we climbed up in groups of five or six at a time), then I would cling first with one hand, then with both, and immediately I would feel ladder and boat drifting away from below me, and the motion of the Moon would tear me from the Earth’s attraction. Yes, the Moon was so strong that she pulled you up; you realized this the moment you passed from one to the other: you had to swing up abruptly, with a kind of somersault, grabbing the scales, throwing your legs over your head, until your feet were on the Moon’s surface. Seen from the Earth, you looked as if you were hanging there with your head down, but for you, it was the normal position, and the only odd thing was that when you raised your eyes you saw the sea above you, glistening, with the boat and the others upside down, hanging like a bunch of grapes from the vine.

My cousin, the Deaf One, showed a special talent for making those leaps. His clumsy hands, as soon as they touched the lunar surface (he was always the first to jump up from the ladder), suddenly became deft and sensitive. They found immediately the spot where he could hoist himself up; in fact just the pressure of his palms seemed enough to make him stick to the satellite’s crust. Once I even thought I saw the Moon come toward him, as he held out his hands.

He was just as dextrous in coming back down to Earth, an operation still more difficult. For us, it consisted in jumping, as high as we could, our arms upraised (seen from the Moon, that is, because seen from the Earth it looked more like a dive, or like swimming downwards, arms at our sides), like jumping up from the Earth in other words, only now we were without the ladder, because there was nothing to prop it against on the Moon. But instead of jumping with his arms out, my cousin bent toward the Moon’s surface, his head down as if for a somersault, then made a leap, pushing with his hands. From the boat we watched him, erect in the air as if he were supporting the Moon’s enormous ball and were tossing it, striking it with his palms; then, when his legs came within reach, we managed to grab his ankles and pull him down on board.

Now, you will ask me what in the world we went up on the Moon for; I’ll explain it to you. We went to collect the milk, with a big spoon and a bucket. Moon-milk was very thick, like a kind of cream cheese. It formed in the crevices between one scale and the next, through the fermentation of various bodies and substances of terrestrial origin which had flown up from the prairies and forests and lakes, as the Moon sailed over them. It was composed chiefly of vegetal juices, tadpoles, bitumen, lentils, honey, starch crystals, sturgeon eggs, molds, pollens, gelatinous matter, worms, resins, pepper, mineral salts, combustion residue. You had only to dip the spoon under the scales that covered the Moon’s scabby terrain, and you brought it out filled with that precious muck. Not in the pure state, obviously; there was a lot of refuse. In the fermentation (which took place as the Moon passed over the expanses of hot air above the deserts) not all the bodies melted; some remained stuck in it: fingernails and cartilage, bolts, sea horses, nuts and peduncles, shards of crockery, fishhooks, at times even a comb. So this paste, after it was collected, had to be refined, filtered. But that wasn’t the difficulty: the hard part was transporting it down to the Earth. This is how we did it: we hurled each spoonful into the air with both hands, using the spoon as a catapult. The cheese flew, and if we had thrown it hard enough, it stuck to the ceiling, I mean the surface of the sea. Once there, it floated, and it was easy enough to pull it into the boat. In this operation, too, my deaf cousin displayed a special gift; he had strength and a good aim; with a single, sharp throw, he could send the cheese straight into a bucket we held up to him from the boat. As for me, I occasionally misfired; the contents of the spoon would fail to overcome the Moon’s attraction and they would fall back into my eye.

I still haven’t told you everything, about the things my cousin was good at. That job of extracting lunar milk from the Moon’s scales was child’s play to him: instead of the spoon, at times he had only to thrust his bare hand under the scales, or even one finger. He didn’t proceed in any orderly way, but went to isolated places, jumping from one to the other, as if he were playing tricks on the Moon, surprising her, or perhaps tickling her. And wherever he put his hand, the milk spurted out as if from a nanny goat’s teats. So the rest of us had only to follow him and collect with our spoons the substance that he was pressing out, first here, then there, but always as if by chance, since the Deaf One’s movements seemed to have no clear, practical sense.

There were places, for example, that he touched merely for the fun of touching them: gaps between two scales, naked and tender folds of lunar flesh. At times my cousin pressed not only his fingers but — in a carefully gauged leap — his big toe (he climbed onto the Moon barefoot) and this seemed to be the height of amusement for him, if we could judge by the chirping sounds that came from his throat as he went on leaping. The soil of the Moon was not uniformly scaly, but revealed irregular bare patches of pale, slippery clay.

These soft areas inspired the Deaf One to turn somersaults or to fly almost like a bird, as if he wanted to impress his whole body into the Moon’s pulp. As he ventured farther in this way, we lost sight of him at one point. On the Moon there were vast areas we had never had any reason or curiosity to explore, and that was where my cousin vanished; I had suspected that all those somersaults and nudges he indulged in before our eyes were only a preparation, a prelude to something secret meant to take place in the hidden zones.

We fell into a special mood on those nights off the Zinc Cliffs: gay, but with a touch of suspense, as if inside our skulls, instead of the brain, we felt a fish, floating, attracted by the Moon. And so we navigated, playing and singing. The Captain’s wife played the harp; she had very long arms, silvery as eels on those nights, and armpits as dark and mysterious as sea urchins; and the sound of the harp was sweet and piercing, so sweet and piercing it was almost unbearable, and we were forced to let out long cries, not so much to accompany the music as to protect our hearing from it. Continue reading

walter benjamin on reading, telepathy, magic


Max Ernst (1924).

Near the end of his 1929 essay on surrealism, Walter Benjamin suggests a connection between investigations into reading and into telepathic phenomena, a theme he returns to again, in the context of reading and more ancient traditions of magic, in his 1933 essay “Doctrine of the Similar.”  This connection he suggests between reading practices and the occult is a profound one, both historically and for Benjamin’s own time and work, and not just in terms of telepathy. Some of the earliest practices of reading were not of letters, words, or books, but of stars, entrails, and birds, and these practices had a significant impact on the way reading was understood in the ancient world. And the relations between such ancient magic and reading were still (or again) of crucial importance to the modernists of the early twentieth century, including Benjamin and his sustained interest in what he called ‘das magische Lesen.’

What I will present here is part of a larger project devoted to tracing out the more salient connections in both the ancient and modern worlds between the practices of reading and of magic, and particularly those of magic most closely aligned with practices of divination. I choose to concentrate on those aspects of magic most associated with divination because these seem historically most associated with the reading of both literature and the world, and because I believe that tracing out the often ignored genealogy of this future or fortune-telling aspect of reading reveals one of the most fascinating chapters in the modern reception of antiquity.

Read the whole paper: Eric Downing – Divining Benjamin – Reading Fate, Graphology, Gambling



belinda carlisle – la luna

Lunar eclipse with a blood moon tonight…

I remember this song and video came out at the end of my Standard 4 year – the first year I had ever been to a proper teenage “disco” (how scary and thrilling). I remember thinking her thrashing around for the whole song in that bunched-up sheet was silly… And that she was in love with that poncy Amadeus guy was silly too. Lunatics. And yet the chorus would be going round and round in my head for months, entwined with an interminable summer holiday yearning for I-didn’t-quite-know-what. This and the Bangles’ Eternal Flame.

orphan drift this thursday at bolo’bolo

What do you get if you mix equal parts cutting edge continental philosophy, voodoo, psychedelics, underground dance music, cybernetics and multimedia experimentation? The notorious Orphan Drift!

Happening this Thursday, 25 July, from 20h00, Bolo’bolo Anarchist Info Shop and Vegan Cafe are delighted to announce an evening of Orphan Drift, featuring several short films from founding member Mer Roberts as well as a talk by UWC cyberculture theorist Delphi Carstens, followed by an almost certainly lively open discussion.

Orphan_Drift_540x300Here’s a taste of what you can expect on Thursday evening:

In the mid-90s, the legendary Cyber Culture Research Unit at the prestigious Warwick University was formed: their university-funded activities included producing collaged texts of Deleuze and Guattari, William Burroughs and binary code, theorising the occult underpinnings of markets, composing abrasive electronic music and, ostensibly, consuming inhuman doses of psychedelics as often as possible, much of this via the ORPHAN DRIFT collaborative artist project. A few years later, the CCRU was no more; founding member Nick Land – a genius philosopher and agent provocateur – had achieved full meltdown / deterritorialization and Sadie Plant, author of the well-known Writing On Drugs, had disappeared from sight.

The legacy of the CCRU is very much alive today though, a subterranean influence for the very latest movements in philosophy.

Mer co-created the collaborative artist and hive mind 0rphan Drift in London in 1994. Although it was predominantly made up of visual artists, it also involved sound designers, concept engineers and media activists.

As an artistic entity, 0rphan Drift is known for immersive and visually complex works which use the sample and the remix extensively, treating information as matter and the image as a unit of contagion. The art produced is science fictional and immersive. It complicates the distinctions between material and immaterial phenomena and dimensions, both in content and media. Much of its work explored mimetic patterns of desire, production and consumption- particularly in relation to the rapid technological changes happening at the time- drawing heavily on cyberpunk fiction, polyrhythmic electronica and the underpinnings of African religious systems. This was the social context in which its shifting layers of frightening, disturbing, abject, schizophrenic, beautiful, deconstructive, poetic and fragmented frequencies were able to take affect.

0rphan Drift is cross-contextual and made extensive contributions from 1994 – 2004 in the social arenas around contemporary art, underground music and cyber-feminism/post-structural philosophy. 0D has participated internationally in over a decade of exhibitions, screenings and performance, exhibiting extensively in the UK, Europe, Canada and the States, including at the Cabinet Gallery and Tate Modern in London; writing the Scifi-theory text ‘Cyberpositive’, and featuring in DJ Spooky’s ‘Sound Unbound’ in the ‘Renegade Academics’ chapter. It contributed cybervisuals to the set of Stephen Speilberg’s ‘AI’ and ‘Minority Report’ features and Leftfield and NIN world tours, worked frequently with Kode 9 and participated in 10 years of international Video art and AV Electronica art events in Norway, Germany, Canada, UK, South Africa and USA.

We now collaborate between Cape Town and San Francisco and continue to make science fictional work which is guided by a neo-futurist sensibility and clearly a progression from our earlier work. Our new video work ‘Wilderness of Elsewheres, Colony 1’, which maps contemporary global concerns with survival, insecurity and the unknown, has been shown in Santiago and San Francisco and we subsequently produced a series of Post Apocalyptic postcards for Shadowshop; Stephanie Syjuco’s parasitic shop at SFMOMA. Recently we made video for Delphi Carsten’s Capetown Tedx Talk, ‘Hyperstition’, and were commissioned make ‘You Its Eyes 94-13’ for screening at CTM13, Berlin.


1: You Its Eyes. 1994-2013, 30 minute video remixing 0D’s earlier work
0D employs different frequencies and overlapping rhythmic patterns to activate submerged regions of the brain and create intimacy and proximity through video-sonic signal. The goal of 0D, writes Simon Reynolds (1996), is “the liberation of texture from its environment, of energy-flux from contoured form with the goal to recreate the intensity of being lost”. 0D describes the individual ‘self’ haunted by a sensory cross-talk of signals from realms beyond the physical. Voices from imagined futures haunt the contemporary technological landscape. Feedback from the machines evolves into an unfamiliarity of speed and complexity, coding the textual body and imagination as tools for change. The invisible, fantastical, and anarchic called upon here are what Deleuze and Guattari define as the essence of virtuality. These intensities carry the sorcerous forces that technology and science unleash as they delve further into the quantum, the chaotic and the abstract.

“Surrounding the human self and its island of experience lies a raging sea of intensities” (D&G). All journeys into this space involve a succession of becomings autistic, mimetic, contagious and machinic.

2: Hyperstition – A talk by Delphi Carstens
Delphi is a lecturer at UWC, as well as half of the duo which makes up Groovy Troopers Productions – creators of temporary autonomous zones in the form of art & trance festivals. Delphi is currently completing a doctorate thesis, and will present on: “hyperstition” — a neologism coined by Nick Land that combines the words ‘superstition’ and ‘hype’ to describe how fictions become fact and how our narratives (stories) shape our world. It also describes, particularly, the narrative of capitalism, which is driven by hype and speculation and, which more importantly, turns fictions into facts. One very important fiction that Delphi will be discussing is the fiction of the apocalypse. Focusing on the current secular meaning of apocalypse as well as how popular culture views our current global crisis and the importance of imagining ourselves differently. Hyperstition also describes the nexus where myth or magic and science meet. Delphi explores the world of hyperstition to describe the manner by which hype and speculation become facts in contemporary society. The future is looking uncertain and how we imagine this future may be more important than we realise. This talk will be both an intellectual and a felt experience.

3: A Wilderness Of Elsewheres. 2009, 10 minutes
A two-screen installation in which dark abstract video spaces flow into bright photographic landscapes (the raw desolate tundras of southern Africa), populated and de-populated by animated collages of architecture and fashion, cut and scanned from contemporary print publications. A deliberate rhythmic awkwardness creates an alien time frame. The screens share a soundscape, made from a wide variety of samples including glaciers melting and rocket launches, composed into a sonic ‘event’. The work is imbued with post-apocalyptic sensibility, urges to the neo-romantic and the science fictional blending of first and third world materiality. At once immersive and deconstructive, the work is collision, co-habitation, evolutionary fever-dream.

Join us in mapping the outer edges — and do come earlyish if you want to sit down while doing so ;) !

“imagination has turned into hallucination”

The following are excerpts from Vilém Flusser’s Towards a Philosophy of Photography (London: Reaktion Books, 2000).

The Image
Images are mediations between the world and human beings. Human beings ‘ex-ist’, i.e. the world is not immediately accessible to them and therefore images are needed to make it comprehensible. However, as soon as this happens, images come between the world and human beings. They are supposed to be maps but they turn into screens: Instead of representing the world, they obscure it until human beings’ lives finally become a function of the images they create. Human beings cease to decode the images and instead project them, still encoded, into the world ‘out there’, which meanwhile itself becomes like an image – a context of scenes, of state of things. This reversal of function of the image can be called ‘idolatry’; we can observe the process at work in the present day: The technical images currently all around us are in the process of magically reconstructing our ‘reality’ and turning it into a ‘global image scenario’. Essentially this is a question of ‘amnesia’. Human beings forget they created the images in order to orient themselves in the world. Since they are no longer able to decode them, their lives become a function of their own images: Imagination has turned into hallucination. (pp 9-10)

22hr38min [photo: Niklas Zimmer]C-type print 120x99,4cm (Ed.3) and 60x49,7cm (Ed.7)

22hr38min [photo: Niklas Zimmer]
C-type print 120×99,4cm (Ed.3) and 60×49,7cm (Ed.7)

The struggle of writing against the image – historical consciousness against magic – runs throughout history. With writing, a new ability was born called ‘conceptual thinking’ which consisted of abstracting lines from surfaces, i.e. producing and decoding them. Conceptual thought is more abstract than imaginative thought as all dimensions are abstract from phenomena – with the exception of straight lines. Thus with the invention of writing, human beings took one step further back from the world. Texts do not signify the world; they signify the images they tear up. Hence, to decode texts means to discover the images signified by them. The intention of texts is to explain images, while that of concepts is to make ideas comprehensible. In this way, texts are a metacode of images.

This raises the question of the relationship between texts and images – a crucial question for history. In the medieval period, there appears to have been a struggle on the part of Christianity, faithful to the text, against idolaters or pagans; in modern times, a struggle on the part of textual science against image-bound ideologies. The struggle is a dialectical one. To the extent that Christianity struggled against paganism, it absorbed images and itself became pagan; to the extent that science struggled against ideologies, it absorbed ideas and itself became ideological. The explanation for this is as follows: Texts admittedly explain images in order to explain them away, but images also illuminate texts in order to make them comprehensible. Conceptual thinking admittedly analyze magical thought in order to clear it out of the way, but magical thought creeps into conceptual thought so as to bestow significance on it. In the course of this dialectical process, conceptual and imaginative thought mutually reinforce one another. In other words, images become more and more conceptual, texts more and more imaginative. Nowadays, the greatest conceptual abstraction is to be found in conceptual images (in computer images, for example); the greatest imagination is to be found in scientific texts. Thus, behind one’s back, the hierarchy of codes is overturned. Texts, originally a metacode of images, can themselves have images as a metacode.

That is not all, however. Writing itself is a mediation – just like images – and is subject to the same internal dialectic. In this way, it is not only externally in conflict with images but is also torn apart by an internal conflict. If it is the intention of writing to mediate between human beings and their images, it can also obscure images instead of representing them and insinuate itself between human beings and their images. If this happens, human beings become unable to decode their texts and reconstruct the images signified in them. If the texts, however, become incomprehensible as images, human beings’ lives become a function of their texts. There arises a state of ‘textolatry’ that is no less hallucinatory than idolatry. Examples of textolatry, of ‘faithfulness to the text’, are Christianity and Marxism. Texts are then projected into the world out there, and the world is experienced, known and evaluated as a function of these texts. A particularly impressive example of the incomprehensible nature of texts it provided nowadays by scientific discourse. Any ideas we may have of the scientific universe (signified by these texts) are unsound: If we do form ideas about scientific discourse, we have decoded it ‘wrongly’: anyone who tries to imagine anything, for example, using the equation of the theory of relativity, has not understood it. But as, in the end, all concepts signify ideas, the scientific, incomprehensible universe is an ’empty’ universe.

Textolatry reached a critical level in the nineteenth century. To be exact, with it history came to an end. History, in the precise meaning of the world, is a progressive transcoding of images into concepts, a progressive elucidation of ideas, a progressive disenchantment (taking the magic out of things), a progressive process of comprehension. If texts become incomprehensible, however, there is nothing left to explain, and history has come to an end. During this crisis of texts, technical images were invented: in order to make texts comprehensible again, to put them under a magic spell – to overcome the crisis of history. (pp 11 – 13)


To summarize: Photographs are received as objects without value that everyone can produce and that everyone can do what they like with. In fact, however, we are manipulated by photographs and programmed to act in a ritual fashion in the service of a feedback mechanism for the benefit of cameras. Photographs suppress our critical awareness in order to make us forget the mindless absurdity of the process of functionality, and it is only thanks to this suppression that functionality is possible at all. Thus photographs form a magic circle around us in the shape of the photographic universe. What we need is to break this circle. (pg 64)


Why a Philosophy of Photography is Necessary
With one exception: so-called experimental photographers – those photographers in the sense of the word intended here. They are conscious that image, apparatus, program and information are the basic problems that they have to come to terms with. They are in fact consciously attempting to create unpredictable information, i.e. to release themselves from the camera, and to place within the image something that is not in its program. They know they are playing against the camera. Yet even they are not conscious of the consequence of their practice: They are not aware that they are attempting to address the question of freedom in the context of apparatus in general.  (pg 81)

A philosophy of photography is necessary for raising photographic practice to the level of consciousness, and this is again because this practice gives rise to a model of freedom in the post-industrial context in general. A philosophy of photography must reveal the fact that there is no place for human freedom within the area of automated, programmed and programming apparatuses, in order finally to show a way in which it is nevertheless possible to open up a space for freedom. The task of a philosophy of photography is to reflect upon this possibility of freedom  – and thus its significance – in a world dominated by apparatuses; to reflect upon the ways in which, despite everything, it is possible for human beings to give significance to their lives in face of the chance necessity of death. Such a philosophy is necessary because it is the only form of revolution left open to us. (pp 81-82)

Read more excerpts from Flusser’s text HERE.