Xi yao chen

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The Primitive Hut —

An Incomplete Log of the Lost Conversations between the Peasant Poet and the Metropolitan Gypsy

Xi Yao Chen

HTS Submission: Caroline Rabourdin — Essay as Form




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‘The universe is an object of thought at least as much as it is a means of satisfying needs.’ — CLAUDE LEVI-­‐STRAUSS, The Savage Mind (1966)

‘The logic of cybernetics, applied to the history of the universe, is in the process of demonstrating how the galaxies, the solar system, the Earth, cellular life could not help but be born. According to cybernetics, the universe is formed by a series of feedbacks, positive and negative, at first through the force of gravity that concentrates masses of hydrogen in the primitive cloud, then through nuclear force and centrifugal force, which are balanced with the first. From the moment that the process is set

in motion, it can only follow the logics of this chain.’ — ITALO CALVINO, The Complete Cosmicomics (1969)


Star clusters and a close planetary encounter will be visible this week. Saturn, Mars, and

Antares have been arranged in a triangle for weeks but have now moved to form a straight line,

ending at the red giant star Antares in the constellation Scorpius. After the sunset today, the three bodies will form a stellar lineup above the southwest horizon…






05:23 Â

After  spending  two  consecutive  lunar  cycles  sleeping  under  the  spaceship-­â€?like  canopies  of Â

the  Apollo  and  Lunar  House,  directly  off  Wellesley  road,  opposite  the  empty  Whitgift  Shopping Â

Centre  waiting  to  be  torn  down,  the  metropolitan  gypsy  has  packed  and  ready  to  get  away  from Â

the  city.  At  the  crack  of  dawn,  before  the  city  awakens,  he  sets  foot  on  his  journey  towards  the Â

horizon,  with  the  accompany  of  the  dim  lights  shinning  down  from  the  tall  street  lamps,  towards  the  landscape  once  his  Romani  ancestors  rode  their  wagons,  leaving  the  â€˜over  civilised  architecture  of  the  city’1  behind  his  shadow.   Â




Le Corbusier, Precisions on the Present State of Architecture and City Planning: with an American Prologue, a Brazilian Corollary Followed by the Temperature of Paris and the Atmosphere of Moscow, trans. Edith Schreiber-Aujame (Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1991), 9.




08:12 Â

When  the  peasant  poet2  walks  back  to  the  place  where  he  once  met  a  gypsy  with  his  urban Â

tribes,  there  is  nothing  left  on  the  site,  except  for  an  old  straw  hat  on  the  tarmac  floor.  He  picks  up  the  hat  and  puts  it  in  his  pocket,  thinking  it  might  be  useful  at  another  time.  Â


11:13 Â









A  day  has  gone  by  since  the  peasant  poet  went  back  to  the  Apollo  and  Lunar  building.  The  poet Â

has  planned  his  escape  from  the  asylum.   11:15 Â


Following  the  brief  instructions  the  gypsy  once  told  him,  he  too  now,  embarks  on  a  journey  on Â

foot,  following  the  tracks  of  Tram  Line  No.3,  in  search  of  the  mental  image  that  has  recursively  haunts  his  dreams,  which  will  eventually  drive  him  to  the  brink  of  his  consciousness.  Â


On 20th July 1841, after four years residence at Matthew Allen’s High Beach Private Asylum near Loughton, in Epping Forest, John Clare (1793-1864), England’s greatest peasant poet, absconded and began walking back to his home in Northborough in North Cambridgeshire, along the route of the Great North Road. He walked over 80 miles in four days, on foot, alone, penniless, sleeping rough and eating grass. According to legend, he met a gypsy on his way and thanks to whom he survived the walk.





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The  poet  walks  along  the  tram  tracks. Â














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The  tram  line  goes  into  a  tunnel.  A  tram  driver  drives  at  43.5mph  in  a  12mph  zone,  crashes  the  tram  at  a  turning  point, Â

killing  seven.  Â

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The  tram  line  runs  across  a  desolate  orchard.  Â

The  tram  line  enters  the  field.  8


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In 18th Century Britain, the modern freehold system was introduced in land ownership. In contrast with parks, which always represented the surplus land and the keeping of the game, wheat fields, at the time, had no picturesque quality at all. For in the agrarian society, farmers merely saw wheat fields as land based on profit – an everyday symbol of monotony and disgust. John Macarthur, “Disgust: From Savageness to Brutalism and The Revenge of the Picturesque,� in The Picturesque: Architecture, Disgust and Other Irregularities (London: Routledge, 2007), 103-107.




‘I long for scenes where man has never trod; A place where woman never smil’d or wept; […] Untroubling and untroubled where I lie; The grass below — above the vaulted sky.’ — John Clare, I Am (1844)

‘It is in vain to dream about a wildness distant from ourselves. There is none such. It is the bog in our brain and bowels, the primitive vigor of Nature in us, that inspires that dream’ — Henry David Thoreau, An American Landscape (1991)



The peasant poet awakes from an uneasy dream. The Croydon council has made a public announcement regarding to the Vision 2020

Masterplan — to increase the number of people living in the centre of the borough from 4,400 to 12


50,000, out of a total population in borough of 342,700, by building 20,000 new homes in the newly outlined Metropolitan Centre Opportunity Area. 11:02



The peasant poet keeps on walking, his legs staggering. Two paths converge, both meandering. Under the tall elm tree, the metropolitan gypsy sits. METROPOLITAN GYPSY: How did you get here, my dear country fellow? PEASANT POET: I followed your kindly advice and walked along the tracks of Tram Line

No. 3, through the tunnel then up the hill; and the northern gust finally brought me here.

Did you travel the same way as well?

METROPOLITAN GYPSY: I arrived here following the astral alignment above the horizon.

Until the next Asteroid Encounter appearing in the southeastern sky, I shall stay under this elm tree, away from any disruptions of civilisation, in the abyss of oblivion. ‘I see myself



forced to go back to the primitive conditions of human society in order to come out to that which I actually propose to set forth.’4

PEASANT POET: But what is this ‘primitive condition’ you are longing for? I see you and your ‘urban tribes’ already living a nomadic life, as hundreds of years your Romani

ancestors have been.

METROPOLITAN GYPSY: However you define us as ‘urban tribes’ or ‘metropolitan gypsies’, we are just another category of inhabitants in the city, you see, brought together by the same belief that we merely ‘don’t benefit from a fixed location in the city’5; hence, we

refuse to live in modern fortress or cells in isolated monolithic high-­‐rise blocks. Though some consider the moveable tent as the ‘most primitive mode’6 of roof covering, I don’t

think the nomadic lifestyle is necessarily a ‘primitive’ way of living.


Gottfried Semper, The Four Elements of Architecture and Other Writings, trans. Harry F. Mallgrave and Wolfgang Hermann (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 102. 5 Rem Koolhaas, “Berlin: A Green Archipelago,” in The City In the City, ed. Florian Hertweck et al. (Zurich: Lars Müller Publishers, 2013), 18. 6 Semper, Four Elements, 111.



PEASANT POET: I apologise if I have caused any misunderstandings, but I didn’t mean to sound condescending when using the word ‘primitive’; as you know, until the late

eighteenth century, ‘primitive’ had no other meaning than ‘at the origins’, or ‘original’7.

METROPOLITAN GYPSY: Will you explain to me what the ‘primitive’ mean to you then?

PEASANT POET: It is difficult to recall precisely, but I have been haunted by a recurring dream of my old country cottage.

METROPOLITAN GYPSY: Describe to me this damned image-­‐object8 in your dreams.

PEASANT POET: I have this unstable image, that vast plains of golden wheat field, ready to

be harvested, engulfing the whole landmass of this London suburban town, invading

previously inaccessible privatised hard boundaries. Then I saw my old country cottage

sitting peacefully on this endless spread of wheat field, and yet I could never find a gate to cross the field boundaries…


Adrian Forty, “Primitive: the Word and Concept,” in Primitive: Original Matters in Architecture, ed. Jo Odgers et al. (New York: Routledge, 2006), 5. 8 ‘We dream in images, Freud said. When the unconscious takes over, under the cover of sleep, we ‘regress’; we develop backward, retracing those paths that had led us up to the higher orders of cognitive power in the manipulation of words or symbols, back down towards an earlier, preverbal world of image-objects.’ Rosalind E. Krauss, “Isotropy,” in Formless: A User’s Guide, ed. Yve-Alain Bois et al. (New York: Zone Books, 1997), 103.



METROPOLITAN GYPSY: Curiously, if I remember correctly, the word ‘architecture’, or arkhe, from its Greek origin, has a meaning of a beginning that remains as the hidden

essence of a thing. Perhaps the concept of the architecture has already the primitive hut embedded, constituting its principle in the unconscious.

PEASANT POET: We are the ‘dreamers of dreams’9.


The metropolitan gypsy keeps the peasant poet company while they trail along the super

highway. High-­‐speed train screams. Propellers of the wind turbines in a distance operate with a low-­‐hertz sound.

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PEASANT POET: I sleep like a natural man now, making myself ‘an abode which covers but not buries’10, by using whatever materials immediately available to build only the simplest shelters; surviving by eating grass by the highway, ‘which tastes something like bread’11.


John Clare, By Ourselves, directed by Andrew Kötting (London: Soda Pictures Ltd, 2015), DVD. Marc-Antoine Laugier, An Essay on Architecture, trans. Wolfgang Herrmann et al. (Los Angeles: Hennessey & Ingalls, 1977), 11. 11 Clare, By Ourselves. 10



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The  poet  speaks  while  making  his  rustic  hut,  piling  up  some  trusses  of  clover  next  to  some Â

old  rotten  palings  of  an  abandoned  yard.   Â







07:10 Â Â

The  sun  rises  from  the  horizon  again. Â

  07:56  They  walk  down  the  lane  gently,  side  by  side.  â€˜Trees  are  very  thick,  which  seemed  to  extend  a  mile  or  two’12.  08:22 Â


METROPOLITAN  GYPSY:  And  yet,  my  dear  poet  friend,  where  can  we  find  the  primitive  hut? Â



PEASANT  POET:  Once  upon  a  time,  in  the  strange,  the  exotic,  and  the  unknown, Â

architecture  had  evolved  from  the  primitive  hut  throughout  continuous  progressive  states.  Following  the  accidental  discovery  of  fire,  savage  men  gradually  fashioned  rudimentary  12

Clare, By Ourselves.



shelters from mud and leaves and twigs in imitation of the nests of birds and beasts.13 If

you go over to Gaul, or Spain, or to Portugal, you can find there buildings just like these mythical original buildings.

METROPOLITAN GYPSY: I don’t agree such distinctions between the primitive hut of

antiquity and the actual hut inhabited by savages in far-­‐away places, since when explorers

discovered the buildings of distant and previously unknown societies, in the Americas and

South Pacific, the resemblance of these found structures to the primitive hut ‘only served to

confirm the classical tradition of architecture’,14 where pieces of wood raised

perpendicularly, give us the idea of columns; the horizontal pieces that are laid upon them, afford us the idea of entablatures. It is a recurring process of assimilation happening in

history. People have told me the same that, if you go to such-­‐and-­‐such a place, you will find buildings just like they’ve described, so of course their theory must be right. In the case of

the Swiss-­‐French architect Le Corbusier, his account of the origins of architecture starts off with speculative archaeological reconstructions of the primitive dwellings: places of

worship in the desert, Mesopotamian buildings, but then switches to Brittany, and then

finally to the Landes in south-­‐west France – from ‘entirely speculative and placeless

structures, to ones that are wholly specific and that you can go and see for yourself’15.


Vitruvius, “The Origin of the Dwelling House,” in The Ten Books on Architecture, trans. Morris H. Morgan (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1914), Bk. II. Ch.1.4. 14 Forty, Primitive, 4. 15 Ibid., 7.



‘From such specimens we can draw our inferences with regard to the devices used in the buildings of antiquity, and conclude that they were similar.’16 However, that depends on

whether you approach the subject from the past to the present, following a chronological

order; or do you proceed from the present to the past, following a logical order. The

primitive hut can also be seen as recovering the natural from the classical, — reversing

modern conventions by departing the stone temple for the wooden cabin, as the primitive man was ‘using tree timber only after becoming dissatisfied with the darkness of the cave’17.


PEASANT POET: When you ask the question ‘where the primitive hut can be found’, you already made the assumption that the condition of the primitive hut is ‘as found’, — the

procedure of locating the primitive here and now, in the familiar, reminding a retrojection

of the past on the basis of the present. ‘It is not ancestrality which proceeds givenness, but that which is given in the present which retrojects a seemingly ancestral past.’18

METROPOLITAN GYPSY: This process of tracing the history of the primitive hut can indeed


be likened to a similar process of tracking the hidden past of the arche-­‐fossil, – ‘materials

Vitruvius, Origin, Bk. II. Ch.1.6. Laugier, Essay, 11. 18 Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2012), 16. 17



indicating the existence of an ancestral reality or event; one that is anterior to terrestrial life’19, when we consider the primitive huts as constructed by some strange, exotic and

unknown savages remote from civilisation – on an isolated spit of land that the railway

does not reach, and as the land does not belong to them, they are simply tolerated guests, without any rights.

PEASANT POET: But how can a being manifest being’s anteriority to manifestation? If we compare the concept of arche-­‐fossil with that of leifossils20, – from which stylised

conventions would reveal themselves to the uninhabited archaeologist of culture as traces of terror or ecstasy, to conjure up primordial monsters, we could probably unravel the

sublimation of these Dionysian instincts embodied in ‘the primitive’.

METROPOLITAN GYPSY: Is it the permanence and the timelessness of delirium between the ‘angels of thought and the demons of instinct’21 in the synthetised approximation

between masonry and greenery you are suggesting?

PEASANT POET: Indeed, my dear gypsy friend, beneath the smooth marble façade of 19

classicism, there is ‘a primal energy, periodically suppressed and controlled by rational

Two examples of arche-fossil (or ‘fossil-matter’) are ‘an isotope whose rate of radioactive decay we know, or the luminous emission of a star that informs us as to the date of its formation’. Meillassoux, After Finitude, 10. 20 A concept suggested by German art historian Aby Warburg, as the unrestrained vitality of the earlier rites, an ‘elemental sprite… a pagan goddess in exile’. See Ernst H. Gombrich, “The Theory of Social Memory,” in Aby Warburg: An Intellectual Biography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), Ch. 13. 21 Simon Schama, Landscape & Memory (London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995), 211.



discourse, but always capable of boiling up from its deep sources and engulfing

civilisation.’22 As though the troops of Dionysus, bloody and orgiastic, were constantly

threatening to get to the upper hand on the followers of the deity of music, poetry, and

culture: Apollo; ‘I am the self-­‐consumer of my woes — they rise and vanish in oblivious

host’23, with honest courage, and myself, and my army, and my troops soon followed.

METROPOLITAN GYPSY: Can I be wrong in supposing the ‘two deities were entwined by nature’24 – in the depths of the mythical forest and the brightly mowed pasture, where

‘magic’ and ‘logic’ can be reconciled? 12:12

PEASANT POET: ‘The forest has claws.’ 25

It creates acoustic hallucinations where you only ‘to find your eyeballs turning into milk’26.


Warburg points out that the fateful braiding together of myth and modernity was a disquieting recognition of the limits, if not the impotence, of Enlightenment rationality. Gombrich, Intellectual Biography, Ch. 13. 23 John Clare, “I Am,” in John Clare: Selected Poetry and Prose, ed. Merryn Williams et al. (London: Methuen, 1986), 193. 24 Schama. Landscape & Memory, 210. 25 Clare, By ourselves. 26 Ibid.





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A  northern  gust.  Crossing  the  marshlands,  the  metropolitan  gypsy  and  the  peasant  poet  encounter  a  snake.   The  poet  pauses,  watches,  follows  and  irritates  it,  taking  strange  pleasure  in  looking  into Â

his  eyes,  and  hearing  its  hiss.  Â

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The  gypsy  kills  it,  then  proceeds  in  walking,  whistling.27   Â





27 ‘As Romanticism changes the focus of art from the perfection of forms to the perfection of individual life, the paradigm of aesthetics shifts to a person like Ruskin, prepared to expose himself to strong feelings and to make judgements; finding beauty or picturesqueness in one crumbling village but drawing the line at a different scene of degradation on the basis of his acute sensibility. In a fragmentary and incomplete text on this problem in the work of Keats and Coleridge, he tells a parable of a farmer and a poet who act differently when encountering a snake: the farmer kills it and ‘proceeds in his walk – whistling. A sick and sorrowful poet, meeting the same creature, pauses – watches, follows and irritates it – takes strange pleasure in looking into its eyes, and hearing it hiss.’ Ruskin’s general project is for a morally affirming, muscular Christian art that would have the farmer as its type. There is, however, a place for poets; the ‘strange pleasure’ of strong affect can be forgiven if it leads to ‘Lamia’ (Keats, 1819), or ‘Christabel’ (Coleridge, 1816) or perhaps the works of Ruskin.’ Macarthur, The Picturesque, 102.




‘The terrestrial globe is covered with volcanoes, which serve as its anus. Although this globe eats nothing, it often violently ejects the contents of its entrails. These contents shoot out with a racket, and fall back, streaming down.’ — Georges Bataille, The Solar Anus (1931)

‘While we consider the state of a body to be completely determined by the positions and velocities of an indeed very large yet finite number of atoms and electrons, we make use of continuous spatial functions to determine the electromagnetic state of a volume of space, so that a finite number of quantities cannot be considered as

sufficient for the complete determination of the electromagnetic state of space.’ — Albert Einstein, Annus Mirabilis Papers (1905)


The Supermoon, where Earth's satellite is near its minimum distance from our planet, will

coincide with lunar eclipse tonight. This phenomenon was last observed in 1982 and will not be

back before 2033. The moon will look rust-­‐coloured, because the Earth's atmosphere scatters blue 36


light more strongly than red light, and it is this red light that reaches the lunar surface. In the total lunar eclipse, the Earth, Sun and Moon are almost exactly in line and the Moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun. 08:56


PEASANT POET: Is the moon there when nobody looks?28 ‘I often hear voices but never walk back to see where they come from.’29

METROPOLITAN GYPSY: Do you believe in magic? Let’s play a game, shall we?

PEASANT POET: Only if you could tell me whether I will be able to make it back to my

native cottage at the end of this walk.

METROPOLITAN GYPSY: Not a problem at all, if that is your wish. May I have the straw hat in your pocket?


The poet passes the straw hat over to the gypsy. Sitting on a large flat boulder next to a

stream, the gypsy picks up twelve small stones, all of similar sizes, from the riverbed. He then 28 29

David Mermin, “Is the Moon There When Nobody Looks?” Physics Today (April 1985): 38-47. Clare, By Ourselves.



takes off the straw hat he is wearing, and throws all the stones in it. After that, he puts the two

straw hats side by side, one filled, the other one empty.


09:23 09:53 10:23


METROPOLITAN GYPSY: What I need you to do is to throw all the stones to the empty straw hat, one by one; and then repeat the process, until I ask you to stop. The poet does so.

Back and forth.

Back and forth. PEASANT POET: My dear gypsy friend, are you mocking me with this silly game? I don’t see where this is leading me at all.

METROPOLITAN GYPSY: ‘In the case of games the symmetry is therefore preordained and

it is of a structural kind since it follows from the principle that the rules are the same for 40


both sides. Asymmetry is engendered: it follows inevitably from the contingent nature of events, themselves due to intention, chance or talent. The reverse is true of ritual.’30

PEASANT POET: May I ask if that is the reason behind your persistence in meditating in the moonlight and observing astral projections, only to draw a parallel relation between the

human body structure and the cosmic structure – from which the contingent asymmetry

tells the traces of an event yet to come?

METROPOLITAN GYPSY: Contingency is necessity. Events are not consequential, but

happenings are. The only thing I am certain of, is that everything is connected — from the toe of my feet, to the most distant star in the whole cosmos. However, if we apply the

ideology of cybernetics to astrology, ‘where human creations are derived from a natural information process, itself conceived on the model of human machines’31; to think

operationally, once the process of positive and negative feedbacks has started, ‘it can only

follow the logics of this chain’32. ‘If this kind of thinking were to extend its dominion over

humanity and history; and if, ignoring what we know of them through contact and our own situations, it were to set out to construct them on the basis of a few abstract indices —

then, since the human being truly becomes the manipulandum he thinks he is, we enter into 30

Claude Levi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1966), 32. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind,” in The Primacy of Perception, trans. Carleton Dallery, ed. by James Edie (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964). Revised translation by Michael Smith in The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader: Philosophy and Painting (Evanston: Northwest University Press, 1993), 122. 32 Italo Calvino, “Cosmicomics: How Much Shall We Bet?” in The Complete Cosmicomics, trans. Martin McLaughlin et al. (London: Penguin, 2010), 83. 31



a cultural regimen in which there is neither truth not falsehood concerning humanity and

history, into a sleep, or nightmare from which there is no awakening.’33 What I am doing is

‘potentially the most abstract, concrete, individual, foolish, indeterminate, exactly

determined’34 action – mapping the two corresponding systems, both in constant flux,

interminably and irreversibly. It is an ancestral ritual, ‘individual in nature’ and ‘can be done in any form and over any span of time — from one second up to the limits of

exhaustion. It can be done fast or slow or both. Rhythmically or not. It can be done

anywhere in any weather conditions.’35 Tell me, my dear poet friend, at the end of the game, what do you feel? Yourself? The stone? The straw hat? Or the stream?36

PEASANT POET: There is nothing there, except for this strange yet enchanting sensation in my body I could not describe, ‘I hear circulation in my blood… ‘37 Leading me to ‘this actual

body I call mine, this sentinel standing quietly at the command of my words and my acts’.38

I measure the distance I have walked by my feet, as a way to position and relate myself to the land. It is simply beyond my imagination what nature would be without man. 33

Merleau-Ponty, Eye and Mind, 122. Walter de Maria, “Meaningless Work,” in Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists’ Wrintings, ed. Kristine Stiles et al. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 629. 35 Ibid. 36 ‘I will have built two small boxes. I put small things in the boxes. A sign explains the boxes to anyone who should approach them. It says ‘meaningless work boxes’. Throw all of the things into one box, then throw all of the things into the other. Back and forth, back and forth. Do this for as long as you like. What do you feel? Yourself? The Box? The Things? Remember this doesn't mean anything.’ Ibid. 37 Clare, By Ourselves. 38 Merleau-Ponty, Eye and Mind, 122. 34



METROPOLITAN GYPSY: I understand how you feel, nevertheless in a world ‘thinkable only as given-­‐to-­‐a-­‐living (or thinking)-­‐being’39, there is always an indication of man’s ‘guilty conscience, almost always kills itself or timidly prostrates itself before science’40.

PEASANT POET: And yet how are we to conceive of the empirical sciences’ capacity to yield knowledge of the ancestral realm? For example, a stupendous primordial drama, for a

modern metropolitan man like you, might evoke nothing more than bare contempt – for its pronounced incompatibility with modern science…

METROPOLITAN GYPSY: Will you go on, my dear natural poet companion?

PEASANT POET: According to Telluris Theoria Sacra41, the original, paradisiacal earth had

been a Mundane Egg, smooth and unwrinkled, not a scar or fracture in all its body, no rock, mountains nor hollow cavern. Its rivers had all run from the poles towards the torrid

zones, where they ran dry… To cover the face of the earth required a volume of water the equivalent of eight oceans, a liquid mass that could have been supplied alone from forty days of rain, however torrential. Beneath the shell of this egg-­‐world lay a wet yolk of

subterranean water, from the constant heat of the sun that dried out the shell, hence 39

generating pressure below. A vast flood was released when the egg was cracked open, the

Meillassoux, After Finitude, 15. Georges Bataille, “The Pineal Eye,” in Visions of Excess Selected Writings, 1927-1939, trans. Allan Stoekl et al. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 80. 41 ‘The Sacred Theory of the Earth’ by Thomas Burnet, 1681. See Don Cameron Allen, “Science and the Universality of the Flood,” in The Flood Myth, ed. Alan Dundes (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 357-382. 40



drainage of waters into the rifts and fissures produced the great river gorges, lakes, and oceans on what had been a featureless globe. And the most violent scars of the calamity were wild, vast and indigested heaps of stone — the ruins of a broken world. ‘Science,

proceeding on the basis of a mystical conception of the universe has separated the

constituent elements of the universe into two profoundly distinct classes: it had elaborated, through assimilation, the necessary and practical parts, transforming a mental activity,

which previously was only an instrument of exploitation, into an activity useful for man’s

material life.’42 How can we be so certain of the absolute object x43, if observations not only

disturb what has to be measured, they produce it. ‘Science manipulates things and gives up living in them.’44 In the primordial historicity, ‘science’s agile and improvisatory thought will learn to ground itself upon things themselves and upon itself, and will once more

become philosophy…’45 In this process, science has to erase the delirious parts of the primitive mythical construction, ‘in order to destroy them’46. The civilised society is

classified by its degree to which it had cast off the myths and magic of primitive religion – shown by the decline of the vitality and authority of nature religions; while on the other hand, in humanity’s progressive evolution, modern culture is increasingly shaped by


scientific, empirically derived knowledge, incompatible with natural origin, marking

Bataille, The Pineal Eye, 81. Since Kant, objectivity is no longer defined with reference to the object in itself (in terms of the statement’s education or resemblance to what it designates), but rather with reference to the possible universality of an objective statement. It is the intersubjectivity of the ancestral statement — the fact that it should by right be verifiable by any member of the scientific community — that guarantees its objectivity, and hence its ‘truth’. It cannot be anything else, since its referent, taken literally, is unthinkable. Meillassoux, After Finitude, 15. 44 Merleau-Ponty, Eye and Mind, 121. 45 Ibid., 123. 46 Bataille, The Pineal Eye, 82. 43



‘primitivism  as  a  relic  of  prehistory’47.  My  dear  gypsy  friend,  you  believe  man  is Â

inescapable  of  his  â€˜guilty  conscience’  when  confronting  the  absolute  object  x;  nevertheless,  â€˜when  man  seeks  to  represent  himself,  no  longer  as  a  moment  of  a  homogenous  process  â€“ Â

of  a  necessary  and  pitiful  process  â€“  but  as  a  new  laceration  within  a  lacerated  nature,  it  is  no  longer  the  leveling  phraseology  coming  to  him  from  the  understanding  that  can  help  him:  he  can  no  longer  recognise  himself,  instead  â€“  not  only  with  rage  but  in  an  ecstatic  torment  â€“  in  the  virulence  of  his  own  phantasms’48.  By  and  by,  science  has  become  an Â

expression  of  human  subordination;  and  the  act  of  destruction  is  simultaneously  an  act  of Â

liberation. Â Â Â






, Â

METROPOLITAN  GYPSY:  May  I  ask,  in  this  case,  how  could  we  still  draw  the  line  to  divide  â€˜the  primitive’ from  â€˜the  civilised’  â€“  if  â€˜delirium  escapes  from  necessity,  casts  off  its  heavy  mantel  of  mystical  servitude,  and  it  is  finally  only  then  that,  nude  and  lubricious,  it  plays Â

with  the  universe  and  its  laws  as  if  they  were  toys’49? Â




         -  , -,  therefore. Â


Robert Ackerman, J. G. Frazer: His Life and Work (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987). Bataille, The Pineal Eye, 80. 49 Ibid., 82. 48



14:04 14:27

A funeral procession walks past – a migration of souls. The road goes on.

PEASANT POET: This delirium of liberation cannot, however, change the reality that

human agency will always surrender to natural forces. Originally, myths, acting as belief systems, as you might think, were elaborated only to help frightened savages cope with

their incomprehension of natural process. They were seen by ‘the civilised’ as ‘mistakes’ and ‘unstable imagination’, which humanity imposes upon the connections between natural phenomena, other species, plant life and its uses, ‘committed in the grip of ignorance and fear’50.

METROPOLITAN GYPSY: And yet we still witness the persistence of myth in the modern

society, despite the fact that it has been busy destroying forests; our culture has been full, not drained, of such myths.


A straw bear walks across the elevated footbridge. A man on bicycle commutes to work.


Schama, Landscape & Memory, 209.




METROPOLITAN GYPSY: Considering our collective social consciousness, ‘myths might be

highly complex systems of understanding, with the power to generate and determine social behavior, rather than the other way about’51. It has been suggested that at the heart of

mythical thought is ‘the ability to re-­‐use available materials in order to solve new

problems’52, as an alternative means working to satisfying our needs.

PEASANT POET: In the same way, the savages show thirst for objective knowledge53, to the

same degree as satisfying their needs. Magic and science can be seen as ‘parallel modes of

acquiring knowledge’, for tribal magic and modern science ‘require the same sort of mental

operations’54. Stranger than the rest, there might not be such distinctions between the modern man and the primitive man. Conceding that, isn’t ‘the primitive’ we have been

discussing for the past three days, nothing but purely an ideal – a state which no longer exists, which perhaps never existed, and which will probably never exist in the future?

Since I couldn’t figure out whether the primitive hut came from the natural man or the natural man came from the primitive hut…


Schama. Landscape & Memory, 209. Levi-Strauss, Savage Mind, 30. 53 Lévi-Strauss argues that primitive peoples utilise intellectual methods that are similar to those of modern peoples, including scientists. ‘This thirst for objective knowledge,’ he states, ‘is one of the most neglected aspects of the thought of people we call primitive.’ Ibid. 54 Ibid. 52



METROPOLITAN GYPSY: Is the primitive not always rooted in human nature though55?

Perhaps that is exactly why it seems impossible to distinguish between what is primordial

and what is artificial in man’s present nature. You may believe this, but not unless you like, this paradox is marked precisely by our urge to trace ‘the primitive’. Driven by our

compellation to track back to the ‘actual equivalent’ of ‘the primitive’, we have fallen in the traps of the ‘non-­‐specific, non-­‐locatable property of the primitive’56 – a process where we only realise that the ideal will keep on collapsing into the real. It is similar to the

anthropologists’ ultimate dream, – to discover a tribe that has never before had contact

with western civilisation, wholly uncontaminated by the values of other cultures, and then

to see in what respects it corresponds to, and in what respects it differs from our own. ‘The

primitive’ only operates to sustain our belief systems; yet in the process of constructing the ideal of ‘the primitive’, it ‘brings us always back to ourselves, which we reveal in the act of

defining the other’57. The arche-­‐fossil is a mirror after all58.


Quatremère de Quincy, for example, refused to posit any geographical origin of architecture. Even Le Corbusier, in spite of his predilection for finding actual examples of the primitive, nonetheless initially acknowledged the non-existence of the primitive; in Towards a New Architecture, he wrote, ‘There is no such thing as primitive man; there are primitive resources. The idea is constant, in full sway from the beginning’, . nonetheless he too goes on identity extant “primitive” buildings in remote parts of France, and to make these his architectural paradigm. Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture, trans. Frederick Etchells (London: Architectural Press, 1927), 66. 56 Forty, Primitive, 8. 57 Marianna Torgovnick, Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992), 11. 58 ‘The arche-fossil enjoins us to track thought by inviting us to discover the ‘hidden passage’ trodden by the latter in order to achieve what modern philosophy has been telling us for the past two centuries is impossibility itself: to get out of ourselves, to grasp the initself, to know what is whether we are or not.’ Meillassoux, After Finitude, 27.




At the bottom of the hill, the peasant poet longs to rest. He lies down by a shed under some

elm trees, between the wall and the trees was a thick planting row, about six to seven feet wide.


PEASANT POET: Since ‘the primitive’ is nowhere, yet everywhere; I am ‘at once both closer and further away’ 59.

People are pulling my languages out from my ears; ‘I am, yet what I am none cares or knows.’60


METROPOLITAN GYPSY: Have you not realised, my dear poet friend, we are one and the same being.


The walk that the poet went on to trace the primitive hut can be seen as a journey of salvation, which has at its foundation the concern with a self-interest in being. ‘In returning to the primitive he is constrained by consciousness even as he aims to recover within himself the mechanisms of the unconscious, for he never ceases to have consciousness of his goal. Consequently, he is at once both closer and further away.’ Georges Bataille, The Absence of Myth: Writings on Surrealism, trans. Michael Richardson (London: Verso, 1994), 73. 60 Clare, I Am.




‘Natural man did not proceed society, nor is he outside of it.’ — CLAUDE LEVI-­‐STRAUSS, Tristers Tropiques (1955)

‘For indeed what is man within nature? A void in the face of infinity, a whole before the void, a centre between nothingness and wholeness… unable to perceive the void from whence he came, nor the infinite world in which he is submerged.’ — BLAISE PASCAL, Pensées (1669)


Late night tonight Asteroid Encounter will appear in the southeastern sky. Between the

orbits of Mars and Jupiter, the asteroid Pallas will be passing between the bright naked-­‐eye star

Enif and M15, a globular star cluster that’s 33,000 light-­‐years away. Seen from Earth, Pallas will be positioned about three degrees northwest of Enif, which marks the nose of the constellation

Pegasus, the mythical flying steed. It will also be one degree southeast of the M15 cluster, equal to about two lunar disks apart.




After walking 195,360 steps, or approximately 422,400 feet, which roughly equals to the

seventy-­‐seventh part of one quarter of the terrestrial meridian61, the peasant poet comes to a stop,

at an endless spread of wheat field, leaving a trail behind him; only to find that there is nothing at all standing in the fields.



PEASANT POET: Meeting no enemy and fearing none, ‘so here I am, homeless at home.’62 The metropolitan gypsy travels through the vast valleys and plains. He comes to a station,

catches the first train, and is lost in the crowd.


In 1791, the metre was defined ‘as being equal to the ten millionth part of one-quarter of the terrestrial meridian’. In 1875 it was institutionalised and internationalised through the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures, still in action today, and the Metre Convention treaty, signed by 17 countries. “Metrology: the Science of Measurement,” last modified October 28, 2013, https://unit01greenwich.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/metrology-the-science-of-measurement/. 62 Clare. By Ourselves.




Allen, Don Cameron. “Science and the Universality of the Flood.” In The Flood Myth. Edited by Alan Dundes, 357-­‐382. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988. Bataille, Georges. The Absence of Myth: Writings on Surrealism. Translated by Michael Richardson. London: Verso, 1994. Bataille, Georges. Visions of Excess Selected Writings, 1927-­‐1939. Translated by Allan Stoekl, Carl R. Lovitt and Donald M. Leslie Jr, 5-­‐9. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986. Calvino, Italo. “Cosmicomics: How Much Shall We Bet?” In The Complete Cosmicomics, translated by Martin McLaughlin, Tim Parks and William Weaver, 83-­‐92. London: Penguin, 2010. Clare, John. John Clare: Selected Poetry and Prose. Edited by Merryn and Raymond Williams. London: Methuen, 1986. Clare, John. By Ourselves. Directed by Andrew Kötting. London: Soda Pictures Ltd, 2015. DVD. De Maria, Walter. “Meaningless Work.” In Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists’ Wrintings. Edited by Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz, 629. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012. Einstein, Albert. "On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light." Annalen der Physik. 17 (June, 1905): 132–148. Forty, Adrian. “Primitive: the Word and Concept.” In Primitive: Original Matters in Architecture, edited by Jo Odgers, Flora Samuel and Adam Sharr, 3-­‐14. New York: Routledge, 2006. Gombrich, Ernst H. Aby Warburg: An Intellectual Biography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970. 64

Koolhaas, Rem. “Berlin: A Green Archipelago.” In The City In the City, edited by Florian Hertweck and Sebastien Marot, 11-­‐23. Zurich: Lars Müller Publishers, 2013. Krauss, Rosalind E. “Isotropy.” In Formless: A User’s Guide, edited by Yve-­‐Alain Bois and Rosalind E. Krauss, 103-­‐108. New York: Zone Books, 1997. Laugier, Marc-­‐Antoine. An Essay on Architecture. Translated by Wolfgang and Anni Herrmann. Los Angeles: Hennessey & Ingalls, 1977. Le Corbusier. Precisions on the Present State of Architecture and City Planning: with an American Prologue, a Brazilian Corollary Followed by the Temperature of Paris and the Atmosphere of Moscow. Translated by Edith Schreiber-­‐Aujame. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991. Le Corbusier. Towards a New Architecture. Translated by Frederick Etchells. London: Architectural Press, 1927. Levi-­‐Strauss, Claude. The Savage Mind. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1966. Levi-­‐Strauss, Claude. Tristes Tropiques. London: Penguin, 1992. Macarthur, John. The Picturesque: Architecture, Disgust and Other Irregularities. London: Routledge, 2007. Meillassoux, Quentin. After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency. Translated by Ray Brassier. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2012. Merleau-­‐Ponty, Maurice. “Eye and Mind.” In The Primacy of Perception, translated by Carleton Dallery, edited by James Edie. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964. Revised translation by Michael Smith in The Merleau-­‐Ponty Aesthetics Reader: Philosophy and Painting, 121-­‐149. Evanston: Northwest University Press, 1993. Mermin, David. “Is the Moon There When Nobody Looks?” Physics Today (April 65 1985): 38-­‐47.

Routledge, 2007. Meillassoux, Quentin. After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency. Translated by Ray Brassier. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2012. Merleau-­‐Ponty, Maurice. “Eye and Mind.” In The Primacy of Perception, translated by Carleton Dallery, edited by James Edie. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964. Revised translation by Michael Smith in The Merleau-­‐Ponty Aesthetics Reader: Philosophy and Painting, 121-­‐149. Evanston: Northwest University Press, 1993. Mermin, David. “Is the Moon There When Nobody Looks?” Physics Today (April 1985): 38-­‐47. Pascal, Blaise. Pensées. Translated by A. J. Krailsheimer. London: Penguin, 1995. Rabourdin, Caroline. “Metrology: the Science of Measurement.” Last modified October 28, 2013. https://unit01greenwich.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/metrology-­‐the-­‐science-­‐of-­‐measurement/. Schama, Simon. Landscape & Memory. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995. Semper, Gottfried. The Four Elements of Architecture and Other Writings. Translated by Harry F. Mallgrave and Wolfgang Herrmann. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Torgovnick, Marianna. Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992. Vitruvius. “The Origin of the Dwelling House.” In The Ten Books on Architecture. Translated by Morris H. Morgan, 38-­‐41. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1914. 66



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28. Night Sky Composite (NASA/MSFC/MEO) 29. By Ourselves (Andrew Kötting)


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