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The time of monsters

There is a quote from Antonio Gramsci that I have always loved and it comes from the translation of his Prison Notebooks (although I first read it in the novel 'Daniel Martin' by John Fowles in the early 90s).

'The old is dying and the new cannot yet be born, in this interregnum (between two kings) a great variety of morbid symptoms appear'. In his own translation of this passage Slavoj Zizek replaces 'morbid symptoms' with 'this is the time of monsters'.

Gramsci is actually writing in code so his fascist prison censors cannot understand what he saying - but what he probably means is that capitalism is dying and communist hasn't showed up yet and is rather late to the date - and in this gap fascism turns up promising false solutions to real problems. Monsters in fact.

Now, in a new way our old world is dying and the new world hasn't quite turned up - and there are monsters galore out there - a terrorist massacring three gay men in a park in Reading, white supremacists attacking BLM protestors, the use of holocaust imagery by the president of the US.

I've been reflecting, I know we all have, on the old world that is disappearing and indeed I have been half-mourning it and half-cheering its demise. I won't miss the airplanes and the ecological disaster they are part of. I will miss some things. Call Centre has really raised some amazing questions for me and I have found it incredibly exciting - already our conversations are talking about other species, varieties of fungae, clouds, planets, atmospheres, the sound of the world, the languages of birds and so many other things.

As the artists involved develop their set of correspondents we will see some compelling and powerful responses and reflexes to the old world passing and the new one beckoning. We have talked a lot about home and its meanings, about the domestic, about isolation in forests, notions of political trust and the meaning of the microsphere that we find ourselves in. The Cathar heresy in Languedoc used to refer to their homes as the 'domus' - not just the material fabric of buildings, but the culture of the house, the interactions of people around it, and its spiritual basis. Andrew Wilson has referred to this as a kind of cocoon - and what do cocoons produce - well they produce monsters of one sort or another.

Indeed perhaps we can think of these as 'hopeful monsters' and that our homes are producing new evolutionary and untried routes and species. I can't help but be thankful for the death of that old world - and the markings that art inscribe on its material surfaces will be profoundly different as a consequence. We are world-making in new and untested ways.

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1 Comment

Celia Larner
Celia Larner
Jun 24, 2020

Interesting group. Thank you, Alan, for inviting me to join. The lock-down, coupled with lack of funding, has created a very different world for us here in the Lake District - and an improved one in many ways, though I do also miss meeting people. I will write something soon.. probably when the weather isn't quite so mesmerisingly beautiful.

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