Tag Archives: London Biennale

01. Orbis Tertius | 4. Cold wind, tide moves in | d. A certain tincture of Socialism ii.

ii. Writing in the Commonweal in 1889, in response to the recently published Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, William Morris declared that “the only safe way of reading a utopia is to consider it as the expression of the temperament of its author.”

[Bellamy’s] temperament may be called the unmixed modern one, unhistoric and unartistic; it makes its owner (if a Socialist) perfectly satisfied with modern civilisation, if only the injustice, misery, and waste of class society could be got rid of; which half-change seems possible to him. The only ideal of life which such a man can see is that of the industrious professional middle-class man of to-day purified from their crime of complicity with the monopolist class, and become independent instead of being, as they now are, parasitical.¹


¹ The full essay can be found on the Marxists Internet Archive.


CIRCLE 2: The beautifullest place on earth.

On a sodden late-August bank holiday we took the train from London Bridge to Bexleyheath to visit William Morris’ Red House. The story of the house, as we came to understand it, is of a sort of sanctuary from that brutish, industrial modernity Morris railed so vehemently against: an utopian project on the friends-and-family scale. Here a microcosm society of artists and freethinkers would sequester itself in window seats or collaborate on painting the walls with pre-Raphaelite visions of what the world outside might be, if only it could be what it never had been: a depopulated Arthurian arcadia of turreted wishing wells and pasty maidens. The idyll — a condition I’m presumptuously (romantically) superimposing over the gabled roofs — was not to last. The Morris family had five years at the Red House before the costs involved in maintaining their medieval manor, and the strains of the daily commute, obliged them to vacate. Morris said he would never return, the memories of halcyon days being too much to confront. In the years to come the Firm would grow in popularity, Morris — adding yet another string to his bow — would come to be recognised as an important poet and travel to Iceland on a research trip, leaving Janey Morris and Rossetti — as we learned from National Trust docents speaking in morose yet tantalised tones — to continue their affair at the family home in Kelmscott.

It is knowing the end that clouds the chapter: the honeymooning couple, the newborns, the parties, the painted smiley-face concealed in the rafters. And the sunlight flooding William’s study, where, as thousands of miles away, the New World tears itself apart, he perhaps sits reading the latest from German émigré, Karl Marx, reflecting on the role design and craftsmanship might play in realising the visions of a fairer, better future society forming all around him.

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01. Orbis Tertius | 4. Cold wind, tide moves in | d. A certain tincture of Socialism i.

i. We walked back to Rye and up to the 900 year old parish church of Saint Mary. The north aisle of the church features a stained glass window by Morris & Co. from 1897. It is in the “sentimental style.”¹


¹ Ian Nairn and Nikolaus Pevsner, Sussex (The Buildings of England), 1965.

01. Orbis Tertius | 4. Cold wind, tide moves in | c. Rise up iii.

iii. Zion City, Illinois, was established in 1902 as a Christian utopia by Scottish clergyman John Alexander Dowie, who planned the entire city before building commenced, basing it on the Union Jack. In 1987, the Illinois chapter of American Atheists filed suit against the city as its seal, featuring a cross, a dove and the phrase “God Reigns”, was unconstitutional.

01. Orbis Tertius | 4. Cold wind, tide moves in | c. Rise up ii.

ii. Almost 160 years after Frederick Marley was born in Rye, his great-grandson, Robert Nesta Marley, would sing of a vampiric “Babylon system”. Babylon in Rastafarian thought is the embodiment of corrupt, oppressive western society, the antidote to which is the utopian ideal of Zion (where heaven is a place on earth).

01. Orbis Tertius | 4. Cold wind, tide moves in | c. Rise up i.

i. Hill towns are rare in England. In Sussex Lewes is one, Winchelsea another, but Rye, its sandstone rock rising out of the total flat of the fen, makes its statement yet more unmistakably.¹


¹ Ian Nairn and Nikolaus Pevsner, Sussex (The Buildings of England), 1965.

01. Orbis Tertius | 4. Cold wind, tide moves in | a. The ferocity of tides ii.

ii. Hidden in the colophon of my copy of The Rings of Saturn is this quote from Brokhaus Encyclopedia:

The rings of Saturn consist of ice crystals and probably meteorite particles describing circular orbits around the planet’s equator. In all likelihood these are fragments of a former moon that was too close to the planet and was destroyed by its tidal effect (→ Roche limit).


CIRCLE 2: Making this work, I felt a certain reluctance to return again and again to ‘The Rings of Saturn’ for it is well trodden territory by now. But many years ago, when I first encountered the book, it proved remarkably formative and a need — an honesty of sorts — to signpost its location (indeed, multiple locations) on this map superseded any faux embarrassment. There are reasons for the formation of desire lines.

01. Orbis Tertius | 4. Cold wind, tide moves in | a. The ferocity of tides i.

i. …hlör u fang axaxaxas mlö … upward behind the onstreaming it mooned.


CIRCLE 2: In ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’, Borges describes the peculiarities of the languages of the northern and southern hemispheres of the planet, each consistent with the other in their pervading Berkeleyan idealism and absence of nouns (of which, paradoxically, there are therefore an infinite number):

The popular magazines, with pardonable excess, have spread news of the zoology and topography of Tlön; I think its transparent tiger and towers of blood perhaps do not merit the continued attention of all men. I shall venture to request a few minutes to expound its concept of the universe.

Hume noted for all time that Berkeley’s arguments did not admit the slightest refutation nor did they cause the slightest conviction. This dictum is entirely correct in its application to the earth, but entirely false in Tlön. The nations of this planet are congenitally idealist. Their language and the derivations of their language – religion, letters, metaphysics – all presuppose idealism. The world for them is not a concourse of objects in space; it is a heterogeneous series of independent acts. It is successive and temporal, not spatial. There are no nouns in Tlön’s conjectural Ursprache, from which the “present” languages and the dialects are derived: there are impersonal verbs, modified by monosyllabic suffixes (or prefixes) with an adverbial value. For example: there is no word corresponding to the word “moon,”, but there is a verb which in English would be “to moon” or “to moonate.” “The moon rose above the river” is hlor u fang axaxaxas mlo, or literally: “upward behind the onstreaming it mooned.”

The preceding applies to the languages of the southern hemisphere. In those of the northern hemisphere (on whose Ursprache there is very little data in the Eleventh Volume) the prime unit is not the verb, but the monosyllabic adjective. The noun is formed by an accumulation of adjectives. They do not say “moon,” but rather “round airy-light on dark” or “pale-orange-of-the-sky” or any other such combination. In the example selected the mass of adjectives refers to a real object, but this is purely fortuitous. The literature of this hemisphere (like Meinong’s subsistent world) abounds in ideal objects, which are convoked and dissolved in a moment, according to poetic needs. At times they are determined by mere simultaneity. There are objects composed of two terms, one of visual and another of auditory character: the color of the rising sun and the faraway cry of a bird. There are objects of many terms: the sun and the water on a swimmer’s chest, the vague tremulous rose color we see with our eyes closed, the sensation of being carried along by a river and also by sleep. These second-degree objects can be combined with others; through the use of certain abbreviations, the process is practically infinite. There are famous poems made up of one enormous word. This word forms a poetic object created by the author. The fact that no one believes in the reality of nouns paradoxically causes their number to be unending. The languages of Tlön’s northern hemisphere contain all the nouns of the Indo-European languages – and many others as well.

A project: create parallel texts in the Ursprache of both hemispheres, perhaps one word poems.

A mode of production: “successive and temporal, not spatial”