Friday, August 23, 2013

The territory is not the map

Taschen just released a massive slipcased tome, a facsimile of a cosmographic piece of history writing from the late 15th century: Chronicle of the World 1493 (Original title: Weltchronik/Liber Chronicarum), and its accompanying study The Book of Chronicles. Is this old tome relevant today? And if so, what makes it relevant?

Let's just put the sheer beauty of the book aside for a while. And let's focus instead on the grandeur of the ambition that was a part of this specific age in certain sections of society. The renaissance wasn't just an Italian phenomenon but part of a well-to-do mind frame in Europe in general in the 14th to 16th centuries (approx). It was a (re)definition of where leading Europeans were at. A celebration of human ingenuity and intelligence so far, through art, science and commerce. Also one that wanted to break free from a too intolerant religious doctrine.

To be able to see oneself as a contemporary being, one needs to be centered in time as well as in space. The manufacture of history was therefore highly interesting and relevant to the renaissance mind, as was cosmography and map making. The latter being especially relevant, as budding imperialism and colonialism had proven so lucrative in its initial phases. Have map, will not only travel but also control new territories!

A German humanist by the name of Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514) decided to combine a history of the world with portraits of leading people, and with maps and vistas of contemporary and prominent European cities: a chronicle of the world, so to speak. Perhaps it seems like an odd combination to us, but it really isn't, is it?

Consider our own combo gadgets in, for instance, watches (a.k.a. "time pieces") with integrated GPS functions. Or the interactive maps in our phones that make us lose track (or at least sight) of the real terrain. Perhaps nothing much has changed at all? We want to be able to look at something else, a tool or a display, to be able to trust (?) where and when we actually are. A strange psychological trait but one that seems persistent.

Schedel's friends and allies in the learned city of Nürnberg created a masterpiece of a book, one that has been revered for centuries and one that has survived thanks to its staggeringly impressive form and content. The history writing was basically Biblical, dividing known history into sequences and tales of key persons that people were familiar with from Church indoctrination. However, and this is important, Schedel was smart and avoided a collision with the totalitarian Catholic Church by sneaking in pieces of learning and wisdom from other cultures too, mainly Greek. A real renaissance step forward in freeing the human mind from Biblical bondage.

Hartmann Schedel wasn't by any means the sole author of the opus though. He culled, quoted, copied and intersected the pieces with descriptions of his own. Thereby acting as editor of the most useful bits and pieces from both sanctioned and otherwise available sources. That in itself was a tremendous task, given the scope and ambition of this project. Yet his name isn't even clearly stated in the book. There wasn't even a proper title page in the original edition (this was common at the time). The book should speak for itself, simple as that. The age of the author/editor-ego hadn't begun quite yet.

Also, one very probable reason for Schedel's not taking the entire credit for the book in itself was that book making was definitely more of a communal labor than it is now. At the facilities of the book's printer, Anton Koberger, there was room for 18 printing presses, and more than 100 typesetters, printers and assistants worked there. Not forgetting the artists who provided sketches or drawings for the wood cutters. In this particular project, the most well known one today was the least well known back then: Albrecht Dürer, who was an illustrator's apprentice in the production of this book.

Who can read the type today? Or who has the energy? Not many outside the German sphere, I'd say, but that in itself is irrelevant (and a great summary is available in Taschen's companion volume The Book of Chronicles by Stephan Füssel, which is included in the slipcase). But the type is beautiful. All in all, the book is actually overwhelming. When flipping through its pages, what beams out is pure wealth and pure value. What Schedel and his investors were after was not a "quick fix content platform to rake in some immediate positive cash flow", but rather to really sum something substantial up that would have an immediate, yes, but also a lasting value. While at the same time showing off their craftsmanship. They succeeded very well on all levels (and I'm quite sure they actually did make a decent profit while still alive).

This is most likely one of the major differences between then and now: esthetic focus in and of the craft. To make something beautiful and lasting was harder and more expensive then and these people really made an effort. Who can match that today? Consider this a new growth market though: faithful facsimiles of books that simply aren't possible to make today. Taschen's Schedel tome is one example, MAPP's outpouring of digital facsimiles of old sources another. There will be more, I'm sure.

Taschen go full circle in their chronicling of this proto-chronicle. Their ambitious publishing scheme of books containing defining works of art and architecture is more or less the same as Schedel's original ambition: displaying the here and now in the most advanced, beautiful and lasting way possible. The future will undoubtedly be grateful.

Please consider the following: Of the Latin version of Chronicle, 1287 copies remain in library collections today. Of the German edition: 343 copies. They were conceived and made 520 years ago. Isn't that remarkable? Please show me an e-book that has the potential to be able to match that.

So, in essence, Chronicle and similar books won't show us "accuracy" or teach us anything we don't already claim to "know". The books do, however, share an inspiring attitude of curiosity and joy in exploration, and an almost unsurpassed skill in the book making craft. That's what makes them very relevant today. Again, the perspective is staggering. What if... What if we actually peaked in our civilization some 500 years ago?

Chronicle of the World 1493 and The Book of Chronicles, Taschen 2013

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Highbrow Lowlife takes a leap

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge at the time of recording the album Wordship together with Cotton Ferox, Studio Konst & Ramar, Stockholm 2002.

Today the first digital release from Highbrow Lowlife is catapulted into your galaxy – a little love potion squeezed out by Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Cotton Ferox. It's an EP called I Travel which contains the original mix of that track from the album Wordship (2004) and two remixes, called I Travel C-side and I Travel F-side.

The EP is available at the iTunes store, Wimp, via Spotify and all other major digital outlets. Wherever you normally stream or buy, it should be there! Enjoy responsibly!

There are presently two videos, one for C-side and one for F-side, at the Highbrow Lowlife YouTube Channel. To see them in slightly better quality than these embedded versions, please go straight to Highbrow Lowlife's video emporium here!

... And stay tuned for more information by subscribing to this blog and the YouTube channel!
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge recording Wordship, Stockholm 2002.

All material on this blog is copyright © Carl Abrahamsson, unless otherwise stated.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Gods bless Christiania!

The Danish capital of Copenhagen has always been associated with a liberal approach to most things. The Scandinavian city of sin keeps up its tolerant banner, even as the rest of the world succumbs to the sanitized tyranny of globalization. Good for you, Copenhagen!

Ordinary people can probably enjoy drinking beer, choking themselves on artificially colored sausages, or the Little Mermaid or the amusement park Tivoli, but there is one phenomenon, literally a left field area, that remains Copenhagen's most visited attraction, year after year after year: Christiania.

This is very rarely mentioned in the guide books. Why is that?

What began as a loose social experiment in the early 1970s, imbued with alternative mind frames and politically naive agendas, has grown since then to incorporate a lot more tangible and realistic approaches. What was once crusty and run down has been considerably fixed up and taken care of. Christiania: a section of the city that is well ordered and self governed. Now, that's a radical idea!

This is something most people never hear about. Media-wise, for instance in my native Sweden, there's an immediate association between Christiania and Hell (in a criminal, moral, behavioral and every other sense). Why is this? Well, Christiania makes its own rules and one of these dictates that the commerce in and personal use of Cannabis, psychedelic mushrooms and other forms of "light" drugs are absolutely OK.

If Swedish citizens want to get high in this area, the alarm goes off (as it has for many decades now). However, if Swedish citizens want to get plastered drunk on the ferries between the countries or in Copenhagen proper, that's totally OK, despite the related absurd and humiliating behavior, accidents, violence etc. Where is the logic in that? The answer is: there is none.

Yes, there is a small section of Christiania called "Pusher Street", where (for the most part) organic substances are sold to adults who are able to act and use responsibly. But this part is just a tiny section of a great residential area (34 hectares) which could be seen as a magnificent triumph of Lebensreform ideas stretching back to the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, including vegetarianism, ecological architecture, recycling, organic farming and many other things. 

When one is strolling along in these lush and flowering residential environments, Pusher Street fades quickly. That particular stretch is there to provide mature adult human beings with something they prefer to use in their own private leisure processes rather than degrading themselves with alcohol. But, again, as soon as one leaves that area and enters Christiania proper, it is remarkable to notice how this social experiment has become integrated within the city of Copenhagen, like a free spirited and alternative Vatican within the city limits of Rome. 

I'm quite convinced that everything is not always peaceful in Christiania. Wherever there are black markets and uncontrolled economies, there's bound to be trouble and territorial disputes between criminals. However, I'm also quite convinced that everything is not always peaceful in Copenhagen outside of Christiania. Nor in the world we live in in generalBut at least that aspect of human life is not visible on a sunny summer day as one strolls through a lush Lebensreform reality and looks at a multitude of wacky, fanciful houses and a vibrant plant- and animal life.

Also, please ask any police officer with a daily experience of urban streets what causes the most problems in regard to crime and violence: organic substances or alcohol? Everyone knows the answer but strangely enough there's still so much pussyfooting around. Everyone also knows how the problems originating from illegal commerce could be solved basically overnight. It's remarkable how slow the European Union (or, rather, its representatives) is in making the decision that is essentially inevitable. Reality seemingly always moves ahead of the decision makers.

Christiania is a fine example of a social experiment that has grown up from politically naive  leftist theories and rough beginnings to a well ordered dynamic alternative society with an integrated organic and sustainable agenda and a referendum-based "internal" democracy. The key word here seems to be "responsibility".

Whether or not this interesting development had been able to take place without the integrated business of presently illicit organic material is hard to say. Radical ideas have always gone hand in hand with mind expansion and higher states of consciousness. But the challenge is not so much to achieve these states – on the contrary, that is quite easy – but to create a substantial and tangible reality stemming from these visions. The movers and shakers of Christiania have certainly achieved this, at least judging from a mere ocular inspection.

This is not meant to be an avid advocation of the organic substances mentioned in this text nor any kind of  lobbying for "anti-social" developments. On the contrary, it's a sober observation of a section of Copenhagen that has moved from a literal pipe dream to a manifested experimental existence characterized by serenity and holistic ingenuity. Individual liberty is not a shallow catch phrase or a politically correct slogan in Christiania. It is something several generations of people have worked hard to maintain and develop – often at the cost of ridicule and harassment from prejudiced outsiders.

Perhaps each major city should have a free zone like Christiania, in which those daring enough could try out radical concepts for the benefit of the general population: test pilots of communal behavior. This does not need to include the use of light drugs at all, although I'm not excluding the possibility. Free individuals are perfectly able to make up their own minds, and they always will.

The main dictum, in Christiania as well as elsewhere, remains as relevant as ever: Responsibility to the responsible!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Swedish & Swiss Subconscious Sensibilities

An example of Swiss rebellion of the more moderate kind. Altstadt, Basel.
People all over the world usually mistake Sweden for Switzerland and vice versa. Sure, the names are sounding (somewhat) alike but there seems to be a mirage-image in there too: one of neutrality, high standards of living, a conservative kind of liberalism etc. A people slightly reserved at first, but definitely also open-minded, creative, industrious and generous.

Then there's the nature issue. Both countries have a reputation for being very beautiful and well taken care of. And that's true too – Switzerland's alpine paradises and fecund valleys and Sweden's vast forests and refreshing archipelagos make up substantial parts of the nations' (self) image. No wonder then that people mix us up.

But as we scratch the surface we can see there are things that set the Swedish and the Swiss widely apart.

One distinct psychological phenomenon is a strong streak of exhibitionism in the Swiss. As I was leaving for home from Zürich recently after a week in the Basel region, the city was preparing for its annual Street Parade. It's a massive festival that has grown out of similar dance based events in Berlin and other places, often with almost a million people attending.

As I was exiting from the hotel on my way the Bahnhof around mid-day, thousands of people wallowed in the opposite direction. Day-glo bikinis (minimal), extravagant dresses (minimal), satirical frocks, zany wigs, jock straps, body painting (already smudged by sweat), bizarre shoes, etc. Elaborate make ups and styles in violent contrast to the normal and the everyday – a sense of freedom in being able to hide your own flaunting behind other people's flaunting. And the real, booming party was at the time still some four hours away... Meaning: no sound systems had even begun yet.

For some, perhaps a vision of hell (and yes, it was hot out too: 30° C). For some, perhaps a well needed release of pent up frustration. For some, just a great ecstatic event (yes, a chemical pun was indeed intended). Personally, literally going in the other direction, I found it very interesting. The Swiss, who usually flaunt in a reserved manner with elegant luxury goods (no bling, however), here put on a show that was decidedly more sexual and grimy. There was general havoc, unexpected pregnancies and venereal diseases in the air, so to speak.

"Freedom is above Silver and Gold." (the Basel Rathaus) A summing up of a philosophy relevant for Swedes and Swiss alike. However, it has been proven again and again that freedom can indeed become a commodity for neutral countries. There are probably no clearer examples of this than Sweden and Switzerland.

On this specific day, a multitude of young Swiss belongs to a homogeneous mass of heterogeneous expressions. If you belong to a specific minority here and want to flaunt that (as, for instance, in the now frequent Pride parades all over Europe), I'd say don't bother, because most seem to be narcissists anyway. The dress up game is very much about showing to yourself that you can flaunt your own style or kink. However, always in the safety of equally flaunting numbers.

Swedes don't function in that way. The growing Pride phenomenon on the contrary engenders a feeling of safety because it is a politically correct and officially sanctioned event. "It has been decided that..." If that weren't the case, the Swedish sense of temporary ecstatic joviality wouldn't be there at all and the phenomenon would be highly marginal and minimal.

Swedes are obedient and take great pride in that. It's a Lutheran heritage and one that secures efficiency and productivity. The Swiss are naughty (lots of smoking going on – also of tobacco, prostitution, pornography, heroin and related crimes beneath the alpine Private Banking-Heidi-Edelweiss-surface). This dark side of apparent paradise is most likely a result of Catholic dualism and a disproportionate sense of pleasure and indulgence in "sin" (because you can get away with it through "confession" to a supposed authority).

We should keep in mind also that the Swiss are essentially several cultures in one, mainly German and Latin. It would probably be prejudiced to begin characterizing which is which: orderly rational and passionately irrational. But the mix is undoubtedly interesting and has created a nation of great successes and an amazing creativity. The longevity of this being secured by a reserved sense of polite correctness and no compensatory "blinging".
A view from the main Goetheanum building, Dornach. Rudolf Steiner's spirit hovers over the alpine beauty.
The lady at the Gasthaus where I was staying earlier in the week, close to the impressive Rudolf Steiner-Goetheanum complex just outside Basel, spoke of Sweden as a dream-land for many Swiss and Germans. I replied that in Sweden this was mutual: Switzerland has a magical attraction for Swedes, and it doesn't only have to do with discrete bank accounts. There is definitely a sense of resonance in spirit between us and perhaps it's merely the stark difference in topography (geographical as well as emotional) that creates these mutual fantasies?

However, when I returned home to orderly and Lutheran Stockholm and went to sleep, it wasn't of the spiritually refined Goetheanum but of day-glo bikini-clad Catholic Heidis I dreamt. There is a sense of very poetic justice in that. The naughty Swiss won in the end!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Enforcement of natural harmony is a great idea!

The antidotes to the malignant maladies of human post-civilization can all be found in nature. Nature is good. The definition of good being the least possible noise in the solar-chlorophyllic signal response.

Recently I was in Abisko in Swedish Lapland (Laponia) together with my daughter and it struck me after only five minutes and approximately five meters into nature how incredibly energizing this experience is – each time and always.

Abisko is a National Park and perhaps that's one key to the mystery: this vast area of serene and stark nature hasn't been polluted by people. Sure, there are a lot of people there each year but they leave nothing behind. They come, they fill their lungs with clean air, their auras with chlorophyllic saturation, drink clean water, etc, and then leave as happier individuals.

To me it is just a really plain equation: If you respect the area by adhering to just a few simple rules (Allemansrätten, the right of public access) that in itself creates a conscious consensus shared by everyone present that goes way beyond the mere common sense of not littering.

People aren't smiling and saying Hellos and nodding gaily in parks and stressed-out urban areas. But in the area specifically designated as an energy-replenishing reservoir people are very open to politeness and amicability. Is there a lesson to be learned here?

There are many interesting potentialities in this concept: "Enforcement of natural harmony". What would, for instance, be the effect if the present degenerational trend were reversed, i.e. the urban areas would be ruralized and not the other way around? Meaning: Tear down the city centers' hideous architectural monstrosities and set up huge parks and organic farming areas within city limits.

If people are supposed to move to where there is "work" (=receiving a paycheck to facilitate consuming), then it really doesn't matter if they're living one kilometer this way or that way, does it?

If people are just political pawns anyway and they're only supposed to diligently fill shopping quotas, why shouldn't they be allowed to do that in environments that at least make them considerably happier? Traditional economic counter arguments aren't valid anymore. Why? Because tearing down ugly stuff and constructing/building intelligent and organic areas is highly profitable for all involved. Enforcement of natural harmony could become a booming business.

Enough ranting and back to Abisko... Just before we reached Trollsjön (the Magic Lake) in the Kärsavagge valley we passed by a beautiful maze. It's very well constructed, five by five meters, and definitely more than just the result of a whim or some kind of instantaneous labour of love. It's simply too "off" to be something made by trekkers or hikers. So, what is it? Why is it there? Well, taking the name of the lake into consideration and also its majestically weird qualities – it's the world's third clearest lake and it has an ethereal glow which reflects up onto the slopes of the mountains – I suspect there are hocus pocus goings-on there. Either within the local Sami/Sapmi communities or by freestylers.

Amazing Maze!

Considering also that Abisko is the best place to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis), this area around the lake must surely also be a haven for extraterrestrial activities and experiments. The entire Kärsavagge valley is simply so weird and otherworldly, with its massive loose rocks in strange colours that are gently subdued by grey clouds that often embed the ranges' mountain tops like cotton candy.

The scenery reminded me of two other magical hot-spots: Iceland and Tibet. I recall that Lake Manasarovar in Western Tibet also had a similar kind of unearthly glow (in that case caused in part by a high level of sulphur). In those regions near Mount Kailash, there were definitely extraterrestrial activities (and I don't mean Chinese ones only).

Trollsjön, the Magic Lake... A well-fitting name indeed!

Some days later, as we were resting in a pretty steep downhill slope beneath the Aurora Sky Station, an old man passed by. Tall, stately, obviously a local with a nice Norrlandish dialect, he stopped for about 20 seconds to check if we were OK and chit chat about the lovely day. Then he was gone. Shortly thereafter followed a slightly younger man (late 50s) and his dog. They couldn't keep up with the pace of the father who had just passed by. "That's amazing", I said. "What an energy." The man with the dog smiled and replied, "Oh, that's nothing. I mean, he's only 82." And off they went in his father's footsteps.

So maybe there simply is something extra-invigorating in mountain-based regions? Something that generates vitality and encourages a magical apprehension of life? The stark and tough environment creates stark and tough people, regardless if it's in Laponia, Tibet, the Central European alps or Kashmir? Maybe it has nothing to do with UFOs or extraterrestrial experiments at all?

All free-floating speculation aside, nature is good, nature is beautiful and we need more of it. Especially in the urban regions. Therefore I say: Enforce natural harmony now!