“Agents” by Anastasia Sosunova
“That’s confusing, but stimulating when phenomena don’t have a name to call them after. For example, during the quarantine, the only place where people were allowed to spend time outdoors was the forest, and at least in my neighborhood, the forest started changing rapidly, by being filled with various spontaneous human creations, structures and drawings, it was something like the production of the locality described by Arjun Appadurai, the colonization of nature, something between a violent invasion and an irresistible urge to create and produce the new cultural context. And I also don’t know what to call it, this creative use of all the materials at hand, marking the area, building fortresses, but at the same time this ‘Everything will be fine’ message from the municipality leaks here, the children’s receptivity reflects it. Maybe it’s also folk art, I mean art belonging to people, here and now…”
“I DeepDream of Strangers (in Quarantine)” by Valentinas Klimašauskas
Ahh, how I missed strangers!
That face-to-face relation in
the dark alley, no masks.
Well, that’s the point of the
quarantine, isn’t it?
To avoid strangers.
My father told me to avoid strangers
after he saw me jumping out of a stranger’s
car. That man was mom’s lover –
father almost beat me up for that ride.
I did not get it then. I found that stranger
to be sincerely charming, not dangerous at all.
I was already five or six, quite a combination of
various cells and naïveté: Soviet
Lithuanian, somewhat Jewish-French,
with slight Germanic umlaut.
Did I know what “the other” meant?
Emmanuel Levinas, who
was born in the same city,
he knew it very well: “If one
could possess, grasp, and know
the other, it would not be other.”
This is exactly what I told my
father: “That man was no
stranger at all! Ask mom!”
Levinas: “What could an entirely rational being
speak of with another entirely rational being?”
Where do all these memories come from?
And all these dreams? I ask Siri.
She says the Google query
“why am i having weird dreams lately”
has quadrupled during the quarantine.
“Dreams are fugitive.”
Siri reads aloud an NYTimes article.
“Their analysis is inherently based
on incomplete information.”
“People are having a ton of bug dreams.”
“Tidal waves are common, as are monsters.”
“Nightmares are widely known to follow in the wake of trauma.”
However, quarantine is not exactly considered to be a traumatic event,
Is Siri a stranger? A familiar stranger?
May I trust her? You may always trust
strangers. They don’t have a motive to
lie to you. Unless they do – then they
are not strangers anymore.
Have you tried to imagine Siri’s
face? I ask Siri if she has one.
Her answer is “Well, if ‘face’
is short for user interface.”
She has that face of a perfect stranger,
of a fugitive, a face you will never know
although you think you might know her
just because she knows almost everything about you.
What is my face then?
Enough of myself, of I.
Ego is a prison.
Face is a prison.
Body is a prison,
House is a prison,
Language is a prison,
Cellphones are a prison.
My favourite meme group on Facebook
is titled “Michel Foucault’s Moist Meme
Maison.” Their typical post would sound
like this: “Can I leave heaven once in
there? If not, is it just a fancy prison?”
The more I miss strangers
the less I may bear the familiar ones.
One needs a stranger to define yourself.
In quarantine with the familiar only –
I’m losing myself, I’m losing my mind
I’m becoming an object with no projection
to infinity, limited by the lack of external
stimulus, moving inferior, internalising,
going, diving into DeepDreaming. Memory
as an inversion of historical time is the
essence of interiority.
Does it answer why I dream that much lately?
So I may meet strangers in my dreams
as a way to stay healthy?
Ahh, how I missed strangers!
The face-to-face relation
in the dark alley, no masks!
I start googling random faces,
checking strangers on social networks.
I spent a few nights looking at Airbnb
apartments in various suburbs. I zoomed
into sleeping Tokyo, zoomed out to Porto
parks filled with peacocks.
“The very relationship with the other
is the relationship with the future,”
Wondering about the future and quarantine
I start browsing thispersondoesnotexist.com
Every time you enter this website,
you see a portrait of the person
who does not exist but is imagined
by a GAN (generative adversarial network)
using existing online databases of portraits.
Every time you reload the page that
deep-imagined image of that person
you think that image belongs to, refers to,
“The face is a living presence.
The face speaks,” Levinas whispers.
Ahh, how I missed my deep-fake-dreamed other!
How to recognize deep-faked faces?
My deep-dreamed strangers with
their deep-faked qualities. That
awkward sense of how infinitely
surreal, how extra hybrid it is. How it
refers to new infinities.
What does this face speaks for itself
as a deepfaked image?
That look! Asymmetrical
facial features. Strabismus – eyes
point to different directions,
different futures. Non-binary
gender presentation. Semi-
That fuzzy hair, that missing
ear. A liquified earring, melt
ing jewelry. Odd and mangled t
eeth. With the third middle t
Ooth. Hair isn’t attached t
o anything. A malformed
background. It looks like pain
ted watercolor aesthetic s.
Text? Text is indecipherab
Le. Background is is is is is
“Natural adult medium hair neutral person” o
r “Joyful white adult female with
medium brown hair and gray eyes.”
“Unique, worry-free model photos.”
Levinas’ “Love goes beyond the beloved,”
transforms into “Love goes beyond t
The more I miss strangers
the less I bear the familiar.
I had that dream last night or was it today.
In a dream I took a curatorial trip to Russia.
A problematic country to travel to for a
Lithuanian because of postcolonial
Stuck in my apartment,
roughly one third of the size
of Mir space station,
I 3D scanned my room
with some app – it rendered my room into
some ghostly painterly 360 panorama,
flying in empty space, like
memories, like dreams.
I’m somewhere there, another
object to be rendered, to be scanned.
I zoom in and out, just another pixel
in that screen, just another small
square on an endless display.
I look around and find many
copies of objects that “belong” to me,
that are the traces and effects of my being,
but all are slightly melted, inexact,
mutated. A variety of imprecisely
cloned shoes, pens, misspelled bank
cards and passports. A photo in the
visa has no teeth. Etcetera.
Everything seems familiar in the internalised world
but nothing is real. Especially the past. I woke up screaming:
“The more I miss strangers the less
I may bear the familiar.”
Strangers, don’t leave me with myself, with the
familiar, with the internalised. DeepDreamed
strangers, don’t leave us with our shallow-selves.
Ahh, how I missed strangers!
That face-to-face relation in
the dark alley. And no masks.
Proofread by Katia Porro
Read in Blok magazine
“Suspension Frioûl” by Natasha Marie Llorens
Summer comes to Marseille more slowly than one might think. The sea that rims the city holds onto the cold, staying icy through late May or early June. To swim before the sea has relinquished its seasonal impenetrability is breathtaking, literally, forcing swimmers to acknowledge that they had trespassed. The experience is a corporeal reminder that the glorious Mediterranean appearance of Marseille masks the alienation that exists between the city and that which lays beyond its shoreline, attenuated by the sun but only temporarily.
During the summer of 2015, I was briefly in love with a woman who loved the sea. I had not yet taught myself to lap swim out into the many inlets that edge the shore, or to marvel at the aging iron World War II defensive detritus at the bottom of the cove off the Anse of Malmousque as I swam out to deeper water. I had learned to swim in this sea, but so long ago that I had forgotten how to tolerate its difference from the city. I would watch my lover strike out across the blue water with the confidence of a trained swimmer and marvel at her fearlessness in the face of that difference.
In July of that summer, she volunteered at an experimental music festival held annually in Marseille, called MIMI. For many years, the festival has taken place in the ruins of the old Caroline Hospital, the quarantine facilities on the Frioûl Islands. All that remains of the hospital now are stone walls perched on the crest of ridge of the islands’ rocky Mediterranean landscape. The grounds are not typically open to the public, and so it was the first time in three decades of using the bare archipelago as an escape from the city that I had been allowed inside.
Besides getting access to all the concerts, festival volunteers are given rudimentary accommodation and permission to stay in the ruins overnight. As a romantic hanger-on, this reprieve of the usually strict access rules also applied to me. After the last concert, we climbed to the section of stone and sky in which we had been allotted a mattress. My head was ringing with echoes of the last furious set by the Acid Mothers Temple and the Cosmic Inferno as we ascended. I asked what the hospital had been used for, running one hand across a stone wall no longer supporting a roof. Beyond a vague sense of maritime quarantine, my lover didn’t know, and that evening it didn’t really matter.
Marseille is a chaotic city, ever vulnerable to the waves of immigrants that break against its rocky coastline. One consequence of this chaos is that it is structured by invisible recesses, linguistic and communitarian interior zones in the fabric of the city. A newcomer would often be struck by the permissiveness of Marseille only to discover, a year or two on, the opaque nature of political power in the city, and its centralization in the hands of a powerful elite descended from the beneficiaries of colonialism. It is a city that projects multicultural openness while carefully controlling access to its paradigmatic spaces of power.
The Caroline Hospital is one such space. It was finished in 1828 as a place for travelers suspected of being infected with Yellow Fever to be quarantined in an aerated, modern environment. But by the middle of the 19th century, its exclusive use as a lazaret, a hospital dedicated to infectious diseases, was made obsolete by advances in epidemiological science. After thorough renovation in 1850, the building was converted for use as a hospital for military personnel returning from the French colonial wars in North Africa and for the injured of the Army of the Orient, which was largely deployed in Crimea. Between 1928 and the early 1940s, the building was abandoned, activated only once in order to isolate the sick from an outbreak of typhus in Marseille’s prison system in 1941. The German navy captured the archipelago in 1942. Their presence there resulted in the hospital’s aerial bombardment and destruction by the Allied forces at the liberation of the city.*
The building’s history is constituted by the epidemics spread by commercial trade and its adjacent migrations, but also by the proximity of trade to colonization by military intervention, and especially the history of violent conquest by Europe of those places and people it considers Other. We could think of the toxicity produced by these waves of variegated capitalist ideology as the primary characteristic of the atmosphere in which the Caroline Hospital operated, or that which it was constructed to isolate.
That night in the summer of 2015, gingerly holding a disposable cup full of dry, mineral Provençale rosé wine in one hand, I was not thinking about the incarcerated people dying of typhus in prison in 1941 who suddenly found themselves marooned on an island half an hour’s ferry ride from the Vieux Port. I was thinking about how the islands are outside of time, how they provoke and sustain a kind of suspension from reality, and about how badly I had been looking for such permission to suspend myself with another. It is this quality of the islands that makes them appropriate for a festival like MIMI, its program full of excessive sound and emotionally inchoate expression, and also appropriate as a place for those who came by sea for centuries to be still, in anticipation—or fear—of infection.
That day, I had arrived early in the afternoon to swim in the cold water that meets the rocky edges of the islands. I remember looking back at the island as I swam, following my lover out to sea in a slow backstroke. In the shimmer of mid-summer heat, I hallucinated a momentary image of men’s bodies sitting on these rocks and diving aimlessly off them as they counted the days of quarantine. Even now, the image is as clear as the water was on that afternoon. Sturdy, compact Mediterranean torsos emerging from old-fashioned, long striped bathing trunks. A man with his hands resting on his hips as his gaze is directed down at the water, listless in the afternoon sun that has an opaque quality at that time of year. I imagined the crew members of the Grand Saint Antoine, the merchant vessel responsible for the outbreak of bubonic plague known as the Great Plague of Marseille between 1720 and 1723. The island held them in place, suspended before the world, a ruse of stillness.
The Grand Saint Antoine shouldn’t have been on Pomègues, the main island of the Frioûl, had the sanitary regulations in place to guard against the plague been followed. It should have gone directly to the island of Jarre, a much smaller rocky bulge near the Calanques of Callelongue, just south of Marseilleveyre mountain. Captain Jean-Christophe Chataud should have had the ship and its cargo burned, but instead he requested routine quarantine on the Frioûl Islands. He knew the ship carried plague. Of the fifteen passengers that had boarded the merchant ship in the Syrian city of Tripoli, one died at sea. Seven sailors died within the next few days, in late April 1720. By the time the Grand Saint Antoine reached the islands on the May 25, 1720, plague-carrying fleas had infested its cargo. The captain’s non-declaration of plague allowed the crew first to transfer the contents of the ship’s hold to storehouses on the mainland in the neighborhood of La Joliette before returning to the Frioûl to begin a routine quarantine. Matter-of-factly, historian Christian A. Devaux describes the introduction of “quantities of cloth infested with fleas carrying the plague bacillus into a working-class neighborhood on May 29th 1720,” whose inhabitants spread the plague quickly throughout the city.**
The ferry boat to the Frioûl Islands that leaves the Vieux Port at regular intervals during the summer months makes one other stop on its way to what is now the pleasure boat port of the main island. Chateau d’If isn’t really an island, since it is almost entirely occupied by a fortress that once served as a prison. Gaston Crémieux, the leader of the Marseille Commune—a solidarity movement with the revolutionary moment of the Paris Commune in 1871—was executed by firing squad there in 1871. Captain Chataud was jailed there for his lapse in judgement, which killed tens of thousands of people and threw Marseille into years of instability. I have always shuddered as the tourists leave the boat to sightsee at the Chateau d’If, unaware of its violent relationship the people of the city.
The Grand Saint Antoine was finally burned off the Island of Jarre on September 26, 1720, months after the plague was well-established in Marseille. A temporary reprieve from capitalist delusion. It would have been visible from the footpaths along the cliffs of Marseilleveyre, a large merchant ship at the end of an autumn day, flames whipping dangerously in the wind, in the process of disappearing beneath the waves.
I return to the islands every year that I am in Marseille to drink rosé on the rocks and meet the sea. I swim out far from the shore, now with a confidence I learned from an ex-lover. I count the ghosts of sailors and Communards. There are more ghosts every year. It is as though they are crowded out by the aggressive gentrification in the city center, of La Plaine, and of La Joliette into a more “French” middle-class city. A four-star hotel was just finished in the working-class and largely North African immigrant neighborhood of Noailles, less than 500 meters from the buildings that tragically collapsed in 2018 on the rue d’Aubagne, the result of municipal neglect, killing eight people. The ghosts and I haunt the islands, where no one can build anymore and there is nothing to do but wait in anticipation of infection.
Natasha Marie Llorens
Edited and proofread by Orit Gat
Read in Arterritory
*There continued to be quarantine facilities in the city of Marseille and on its islands after the conversion of the Caroline Hospital. “However, in Marseille and on its islands, the ‘lazarets’ (infirmaries) still showed their usefulness at the beginning of the 20th century: of the 241,946 ship passengers arriving in Marseille in 1901, 3,353 were quarantined for symptoms of infectious diseases including 29 cases of plague resulting into 8 deaths.” Christian A. Devaux, “Small oversights that led to the Great Plague of Marseille (1720–1723): Lessons from the past,” Infection, Genetics and Evolution 14 (2013): 172. This reference gives a comprehensive overview of the developments that lead to the 1720 outbreak of the plague in Marseille. Basic historical details are available on the website for the municipal governmental archives: https://dossiersinventaire.maregionsud.fr/gertrude-diffusion/dossier/hopital-caroline/64a4c586-628e-4bba-8f1f-9d92703dbd96. For an account of the building’s function as a quarantine site, see Jacques Chevallier, “A quarantine of plague at the lazaret of Frioul in 1901,” Histoire des sciences médicales 49, issue 2 (October 2015): 179–188.
**Devaux, “Lessons from the Past,” 172.
“Strange Fossils” by Eglė Rindzevičiūtė
Scholarly interest in roots and routes stems from the evolutionary perspective on natural and human history. The great nineteenth century quest to unlock the secrets of nature and belief in a secular narrative of human origins drove the “great explorers” to try to pin down rocks, plants, animals and ethnic groups to a particular place and time. As societies modernised, to be able to identify and locate one’s origins became even more politically important: this was the age of nascent nationalism and fast expanding colonialism where the right to enjoy property and liberty depended upon one’s roots and routes. The rootless alternatives were grim. As the British sociologist Tony Bennett showed in his Pasts Beyond Memory, the condition of terra nullius – where particular people could not be “geologically“ pinned to a particular territory – created a space for what was at that time presented as legitimate conquest, dramatically expressed in the dispossession of the Aboriginals from their land in Australia.1 Rootless existence was a route to demise.
To avoid this, in modern Europe people sought to underpin their claims to identity and legitimacy with science, while scientists contributed to nationalist efforts to scientifically ground political identity and legitimacy. The results, however, were ambivalent. As the sciences became increasingly sensitised to the cumulative, transient character of reality, a new standard of scientific knowledge was introduced, a knowledge that was alert to the course of the events that had shaped a given phenomenon. The central driver of this concept was Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859), which not only identified the principle of natural selection as the motor of biological history, but in doing so established that the general law of natural selection could have different effects depending upon the particular circumstances of the environment in which it was acting. Further, it demonstrated not only that all humans were inextricably connected to one another and to other species, with their form and function a product of their particular historical route to the present, but also that form and function were often deceptive. Many species which looked distinct might have common origin, while similar functional appearances might belie very different biological genealogies. This was a radical historicization of nature in which the immediacy and brevity of the Biblical history of divine creation was displaced by a story in which the route to the present was still a story of roots, but one in which the stage on which the drama was played out and the nature of the actors playing it were themselves subject to change, and the audience was dependent upon the mediating presence of the scientist for their understanding.
This political epistemology of scientific, evolutionary secularisation opened-up a vast resource for social identity building. With Darwin, humans, along with stones, plants, and animals, acquired deep biographies in which the social, biological and geological were explosively combined into the concept of ethnic or ‘racial’ trajectories. Nineteenth-century archaeologists and ethnographers enrolled the diverse forms of nature, from stones to animals, in the project of tracing the cultural history of peoples. These visions cast their searchlight back deep in time. Not only were living creatures, such as ‘national’ plants and animals mobilised, but beasts that had become extinct were also put to work, enlisted to bolster new political subjectivities. Strange fossils were incorporated into the study of the origins of European civilisation and claims to territory, mammoth fossils were at the heart of that process. Mammoth fossils marked a point of connection between the Holocene, the arena of human history, and the Pleistocene, but also between northern Europe and the Mediterranean.2
European civilisation has been marked with enduring fascination with fossils, and mammoths in particular. The relics of mammoths were woven into ancient folklore. For instance, the Ancient Greeks thought that fossilised elephant bones were the bones of the cyclops.3 In the Middle Ages, mammoth fossils were perceived to be divine signs.4 The special status of fossils was not surprising: the finds of giant fossils were quite a rarity in the Western part of Europe. Although fossil finds became more common in Western Europe in the modern era, with evidence of prehistorical beasts being discovered in, for instance, the Rouffignac caves and Lascaux drawings in France, as well as archaeological digs, most Eurasian giant fossils are found in Eastern Europe, something which, as we shall see, would later be important for bridging East and West when the ice age archaeology intersected with the Cold War.5
In the age of nationalism, however, strange, rare and treasured, North-East, West and South European fossils were put to do political work: the mammoth’s remnants and images were woven into ethno-narratives, employed as proof of the indigenous presence, be they “the Gauls” in what is now the territory of France, the Siberian peoples, or the Balts.6 Colonisers used fossils to bolster their self-images of greatness; colonised peoples or smaller territories turned to fossils to identify and secure the deep ethnic past, claim “their” territory and struggle against colonisation.
For the ancient Greeks, however, it was not the fossils that were strange: these they saw as visible proof of their myths and legends. Rather, it was the North that was strange, as it arrived in the form of the Barbarians. As George Simmel wrote in his essay on strangers, the figure of the Barbarian, although undeniably human, was that of a perfect stranger in ancient Greece because the Northern Barbarians were denied any formative social relation, a relation which cyclops could enjoy. Ultimately, however, for Simmel what really defined the meaning of the stranger was one who “comes today but stays tomorrow”.7 In the Barbarian world of the modern North the mammoth fossils appeared as perfect strangers: they arrived from the extremely remote past, but they stayed, becoming part of the roots of the present and the route to projected national futures as they absorbed the new myths and emotions projected at them, calm, shrunken, weathered and looming large with feeling for the past and the future.
From the Mediterranean perspective, the historian Peter Stadius suggests, the North was constructed as an “uncivilised,” “confident” and “dangerous” region in texts like Tacitus’s Germania (98 AD), and indeed some aspects of this hostile vision of the Northern stranger were themselves culturally fossilised as “Barbaric” (violence, drunkenness and lack of aesthetical appreciation). Over time, however, the North itself fractured into the affluent Protestant and Nordic countries and Catholic and Orthodox Eastern Europe, and some stereotypically ‘Northern’ attributes, industriousness, wealth and a public spirit, were mythologised as “civilised.”8 These distinct confessional, economic and political systems converged into imperial worlds centred on the Baltic and the Mediterranean, as shown in the ground-breaking studies of Kirkby and Braudel.9
The Baltic world constituted more than the area that is now the three Baltic states, which were referred to as part of “northern Europe,” up until the nineteenth and twentieth century, and the term ‘Baltic’ has a complex history.10 The name Mare Balticum dates back to the twelfth century, while der baltische landerstaat referred to the Livonian Baltic German territory. The term “Balts,” referring to an ethno-political grouping came into circulation as the result of German linguists’ identification of the Balto-Slavonic language family and archaeological research in the late nineteenth century which deployed the term in a quest to uncover “the ancient Balts.” These linguistic, archaeological and geological roots, which were layered chronologically and spatially to compose “the Baltic states,” provided the basis for resisting the precarious status of terra nullius. They were, instead, configured as the foundation of a geocultural community, with roots deep beneath the soil of the land, manifest in ancient stones and fossils which testified to the presence of ancient “Baltic” peoples in possession of the area and laid the foundation for a route to the future as a coherent cultural and political entity. For example, as I show elsewhere, amber was constructed as “Lithuanian gold,” a stone that marked Lithuanian national distinctiveness.11 Fossil finds were used to enhance the Baltic claim to deep roots and to contest imperial colonisation. One can understand the enthusiasm of Eduardas Volteris, a Lithuanian ethnographer and archaeologist, who wrote in 1922 about finds of “Lithuania’s mammoths”: the humble fossil bones for him were windows deep into “Lithuania’s past”.12 Archaeological digs in the 1930s and 1950s discovered mammoth tusk and teeth in Lithuania that were radiocarbon dated to the middle Weichselian glaciation period, and similar findings were made in Latvia. The “Estonian” mammoths appear to have been amongst the last to survive, dating from the very shift from the Pleistocene to the Holocene.13
It would be a mistake though to attribute the fascination with mammoth fossils solely to the ethnographic imagination. A good case in point is the Baltic mythology and literature, which are not strangers to giants and fossils. The famous Latvian mythical figure, Lāčplēsis fought a giant (the epic was written in 1872-1887), and so did the Estonian hero, Kalevipoeg (published in 1853). However, the mammoth itself commanded its particular space in the cultural imagination in response to the malaise of modernity, such as the dysfunctional Soviet bureaucracy and damaging projects of industrialisation. For instance, the popular drama Mammoth Hunt (1968) by the Lithuanian writer Kazys Saja, criticised the fossil-like passivity and compliance of the Soviet subject. The figure of the mammoth as a stranger in the newly forged Soviet urban society was introduced by the Lithuanian poet Sigitas Geda in his collection Homeland of Mammoths (1985). While this book was heavily censored, Geda used mythological tropes of fossils to explore the limits of Soviet modernisation, where the grids of electric lines and tarmacked roads could not suppress the archaic spirit or erase the deep roots.14
Furthermore, thinking with the strange fossils assumed strategic importance in the era of giant technological systems, systems that threatened to bolster and then to fossilise the whole human civilisation: electric grids, nuclear power and nuclear weapons, road networks and dams encasing wild rivers. It is during the Cold War that mammoth fossils, as Dmitry Arzyutov suggests, began to assume an increasingly visible role, making environmental encounters possible between researchers and indigenous peoples, as well as political regimes across the Iron Curtain. The histories of the mammoth, the giant, and mankind, the greatest species on the Earth, began to emerge as means of bridging the gap between strangers, building connections through their universality rather than their distinctiveness. In this way, the fossil stranger brought together both human strangers separated by political divisions, and simultaneously linked human to pre-human natural histories and embedded the fate of Cold War mankind squarely in their shared natural environment.15 The shared roots of humankind evidenced in the geological residue of the fossil record testified to the shared route embarked upon by societies on both sides of a Cold War that was transforming the Earth and its climate through techno-science. Of course, this was not in itself new: the idea that people are shaped by their environment was proposed by Aristotle. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was developed in the philosophies that linked climate and civilisations in the writing of Montesquieu and Goethe.16 The environment was thought to be expressed in arts and culture: thus the historian Hippolyte Taine linked artistic styles with local climatic conditions, eloquently describing the ancient Greek culture as being conditioned by the azure expanse, orange fruits dropping from the trees straight into the translucent waves of the Mediterranean. Towards the end of the nineteenth century it became increasingly clear that climates were not local, but global. The environmental dynamic, in turn, was chaotic, violent and destructive. Its civilizational and cultural expression had to be rethought. Mankind began to acquire a biography of a new kind – as a global species that coevolved with the Earth in the writings of Alexander von Humboldt (1800s), Vladimir Vernadsky (1800s-1900s), Nikita Moiseev (1970s-1990s) and Paul Crutzen (2000s).
The question now was to what sort of future would these routes lead? Is mankind itself a future fossil? The mammoth was a stranger precisely because it was only fossil: it did not long survive the transition from the Pleistocene to the Holocene. Will mankind survive the transition to the Anthropocene? What kind of roots will the people of the future find in our fossilised remains? Just as mammoths migrated and left their trace in the territories between the Mediterranean, the Baltic and the Arctic seas, so the pre-fossils of the twentieth century began to cover this space in the form of grids, roads, pollutants. The folklore mythologies of giants and heroes were replaced with the twentieth century mythologies of megastructures and heroic inventors. This pan-European infrastructure was both the medium and the message: the entire project of the European Economic Community re-layered the material and social realities to enable the fragmented and alienated postwar communities to form new allegiances and forms of collective life. In this process, new co-stabilities and co-vulnerabilities were constructed. Systems builders, as showed by Per Hogselius and others, laid vast connecting infrastructures from the West to East and from the North to South.17 Europe was re-shaped with grids of electric current and grids of environmental measurements. The new census of nature and atmosphere took place, to manage transboundary pollution: acid rains, downstream releases and nuclear fall-outs.18 Just like the mammoth, only very rarely could these megastructures be seen in their full size: they revealed themselves to the onlooker in parts, when particular components scarred the everyday reality.
Looking back from the twenty-first century, it is not quite evident what we ought to make of these military-industrial roots and routes. One thing is clear: we are leaving a very strange fossil for the future: man-made radioactive isotopes, which will remain active for tens of thousands of years. Radioactive fossils will be the markers of our nuclear maritime civilisations, as they lurk in the White Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean.19 For Kirkby and Braudel, the seas served to unite and integrate, to open-up shore communities to global exploration and exchange. But in the world of nuclear fossils, the Mediterranean and Baltic worlds emerge as equally parochial spaces, scarred with the legacies of colonisation, be they Soviet in North Eastern Europe or West European in Northern Africa.
This paradoxical situation is typical of nuclearity. As Gregoire Mallard put it, “nuclear opacity consists in revealing part of the truth but not the whole truth”. Nuclear opacity results from the “the struggles of classification” into military and peaceful nuclearity. It shields institutions from assuming responsibility. It reassures the domestic public that the mammoth nuclear industry is under control.20 At the same time, the nuclear opacity covers up the colonial roots and routes. The establishment of a pan-European nuclear agency, the Euratom (1957), as Mallard showed, was part of West European atomic federalism that enabled the French to build nuclear weapons with the support of Italy and West Germany and test them in Africa.21 Northern Europe, under the shadow of the Cold War nuclear empire of the Soviet Union, was shaken by the bomb tests in Novaya Zemlia. The Cold War maritime civilisations rose to protest against the nuclear barbarians. The French tested their first nuclear bomb in Algeria in 1960 and continued the test programme after Algeria’s independence, until 1966. Anti-nuclear protests emerged in the Mediterranean in the 1950s, mainly targeted against the nuclear tests and the weapons stored in France, Italy, Germany and Turkey.22 The 1970s saw the Spaniards, French and Italians protesting against the building of nuclear power plants.23 In the 1980s, the Lithuanian protest against the building of the third reactor at the Ignalina nuclear power plant marked the beginning of the establishment of the national liberation movement and the start of de-Sovietisation. Chernobyl’s fall-out contaminated both the Baltic and Mediterranean seas, although at the time of the disaster EDF claimed that the contamination of French territory in the nuclear testing period in the 1960s was greater.24 Radionuclides, however, continued to stream from the Black Sea, which was worst affected, to the Mediterranean via the Bosphorus strait.25 At the moment of writing, the European nuclear future remains opaque. It is quite clear that a proper “nuclear renaissance” is unlikely: European societies refuse to accept living with the additional nuclear risk that large numbers of new nuclear power plants would pose. It is difficult to build consensus among communities who have been asked to host nuclear waste sites. The radioactive nuclear fossils, in this way, are strangers that are unwanted but here to stay.
What are we to do with this European carbon, coal, steel and nuclear mammoth? Will it be partitioned to serve nationalist and populist purposes, scavenged to build new mythologies? Will it be monumentalised as a lesson for the future, the scaffolds and grids of the infrastructure that accommodated our carbon civilisation, to be preserved and exhibited? Is the industrial heritage the most authentic relic of the twentieth century Europe, should we acknowledge and embrace our ugly fossil industries, fossil cities? Could we estrange them, repurposing them to work to make encounters with the extra-European futures possible? The challenge, perhaps, is to articulate a strange fossil vision, sensitive to the transient, cumulative aspects of our lives as they stretch in ebbs and flows, becoming strange ourselves and others.
1. Tony Bennett, Pasts Beyond Memory: Evolution, Museums, Colonialism (London: Routledge, 2004).
2. Dmitry Arzyutov, “Environmental Encounters: Woolly Mammoth, Indigenous Communities and Metropolitan Scientists in the Soviet Arctic,” Polar Record 55 (2019), 142–153; Nikos Poulakakis et al, “Ancient DNA forces reconsideration of evolutionary history of Mediterranean pygmy elephantids,” Biol Lett. 2, 3 (2006): 451–454.
3. Adrienne Mayor, The First Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Times (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 7.
4. Claudine Cohen, The Fate of the Mammoth: Fossils, Myth, and History (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2002), 24-26.
5. Cohen, The Fate of the Mammoth, 7.
6. Cohen, The Fate of the Mammoth, 9, 10.
7. Georg Simmel, “The Stranger,” in Kurt Wolff (Trans.) The Sociology of Georg
Simmel. New York: Free Press, 1950, pp. 402 – 408.
8. Peter Stadius, Southern Perspectives on the North: Legends, Stereotypes, Images and Models, Working papers of The Baltic Sea Area Studies: Northern Dimension of Europe, Vol. 3 (2001).
9. Andrejs Plakans, Review of David Kirby, The Baltic World, 1772-1993 (New York: Longman, 1995), American Historical Review 101, 4 (1996), 1230-231.
10. Michael Confino, “Re-inventing the Enlightenment: Western Images of Eastern Realities in the Eighteenth Century,” Canadian Slavonic Papers 36, 3-4 (1994), 505-22. See also Egle Rindzeviciute, “The Art [and Craft] of Meaning: Eastern Europe,” Code Share: 5 Continents, 10 Biennales, 20 Artists (Vilnius, CAC, 2010), 66-77.
11. Egle Rindzeviciute, “The Geopolitics of Distinction: Negotiating Regional Spaces in the Baltic Museums,” in Peter Aronsson and Lizette Graden, Performing Nordic Heritage: Everyday Practices and Institutional Culture (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2013), 221-246.
12. Reda Griskaite, “Eduardas Volteris ir Carlo von Schmitho Necrolithuanica (1863),” Archivum Lituanicum 12 (2010), 183-240.
13. Linas Daugnora, “Mamutai Lietuvoje,” Lietuvos archeologija 25 (2004), 9-16.
14. Jonas Zdanys, “The Poets of Druskininkai,” World Literature Today 72, 2 (1998), 241-252.
15. Arzyutov, “Environmental Encounters.” See generally the ongoing work by Dmitry Arzyutov, the Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden.
16. Stadius. Southern Perspectives on the North.
17. Per Högselius, Red Gas: Russia and the Origins of European Energy Dependence (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013); Per Högselius, Arne Kaijser and Erik van der Vleuten, Europe’s Infrastructure Transition: Economy, War, Nature (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).
18. Egle Rindzeviciute, The Power of Systems: How Policy Sciences Opened Up the Cold War World (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2016).
19. Kate Brown, Manuals for Survival (New York: Penguin, 2019).
20. Gregoire Mallard, Fallout: Nuclear Diplomacy in an Age of Global Fracture (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2014), 118-119.
21. Mallard, Fallout, 157.
22. Eirini Karamouzi and Dionysius Chourchoulis, “Troublemaker or peacemaker? Andreas Papandreou, the Euromissile Crisis, and the policy of peace, 1981–86,” Cold War History (2019), DOI: 10.1080/14682745.2018.1497014.
23. Luis Sanchez-Vazquez, Alfredo Mene´ndez-Navarro, “Nuclear Energy in the Public Sphere: Anti-Nuclear Movements vs. Industrial Lobbies in Spain (1962–1979),” Minerva 53 (2015), 69-88.
24. Karena Kalmbach, Meanings of a Disaster: The Contested ‘Truth’ about Chernobyl. British and French Chernobyl Debates and the Transnationality of Arguments and Actors. A PhD Dissertation, European University Institute, 2014.
25. Sergey Gulin et al, “General trends in radioactive contamination of the marine environment from the Black Sea to Antarctic Ocean,” in Elena B. Burlakova and Valeria I. Naydich, eds., The Lessons of Chernobyl: 25 Years Later (Nova Science, 2012), 281-299.
“Two lockdown days at the Housing Unit” by Kolektiv 318
When we were asked to introduce ourselves in March as a hosting partner of this project, Europe was on the brink of the pandemic outbreak. This is why, rather than presenting ourselves, we rather introduced the “Machine for living” where we live and work and how it resonates in these extraordinary times. Designed by Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand, Jean Prouvé and Iannis Xenakis in Marseille from 1946 to 1952, it was the first of the five Housing Units projected by Le Corbusier across France and in Berlin, and arguably the one that best embodies the principles of the “Ville Radieuse.”
The video pictures spots of the traditional social life inside this vertical village, closed during the quarantine: a movie theatre, the public school, the library, the hotel and restaurant, the ping pong hall… But it also highlights signs of resilience: André (78), the pastry chef established in the third “street” of the Housing Unit in 1968, still baking cakes at night for the inhabitants; people exercising on the roof terrace, where spring vegetation reminds of the surrounding hills and seagulls find a nice observatory above the Mediterranean, books left over for new readers outside the library or the hygiene prescriptions and messages posted on the elevators, where younger residents offer elderly ones or those working in health services to shop for them.
It also shows how the interior design of the flats – democratically open and luminous – helped insiders to cope with the unusual lockdown conditions, while the garden offered a welcomed getaway to the children of the Radiant City, also pointing out the direction of the “new normal”… As Melvyn Douglas tells to Greta Garbo in Ninotchka: “this house is not about the structure, but about the spirit that dwells in it”.
Laura Serra, Maxime Forest