Reading Capitalism Without Capital : The Rise of the Intangible Economy two points that caught my attention. Contrasting a typical gym of 1977 vs. 2017, to demonstrate the rise of intangible assets, among all the equipment — the weights, machines, lockers, mats — the authors joke that the “mirrors [are] the most heavily used equipment in the gym”. The second point was that the record company, EMI, invested some of the profits generated by the 1960s singing group, The Beatles, into research that lead to the development of the CAT Scan.
Looking at Habitat today provoked for me an image that is as far away as one could imagine.
Built for Expo ‘67, Habitat celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. At the time it was considered a marvel; the future of apartment or high-density living. I remember touring the building shortly after it opened. 20 years later, a friend of mine recalled spending the summer of 1967 billeted at Habitat. It was uncanny to ponder that our paths may have crossed some 20 years earlier.
Looking at Habitat across the harbour, just last week, it wasn’t these memories that came back, but rather those images of destroyed cities in Syria. Habitat looked like ruins of some bombed city. It was eery.
It’s been a while since I’ve returned to Montreal to visit, and approaching 40 years since I left.
What caught my attention was the name changes, often toward prominent political figures of the last 50 years. Naming a place after a person is a form of memorialization of that individual; a trigger for remembrance. Yet for many, the names no longer trigger a memory, rather, they act as a reference that can be searched with Google.
The intersection that was formerly Dorchester and University is now René Lévesque and Robert Bourassa. The humour of this connection caught my attention: the intersection of two premiers of Québec, two ideologies, the separatist and nationalist, two political parties, the Parti Québécois, and the Liberal Party. A juncture marked by two referenda that nearly ended in the dissolution of Canada.
Lévesque was a passionate man who believed in the separation of Québec from Canada; Bourassa was clinical, unemotional, an economist. I don’t think there could have been two so very different personalities.
I met Lévesque once, briefly in 1974, two years prior to him being elected as premiere of Québec. He was honest and straight forward, he was down to earth, not an elitist. He was a chain-smoker. Today he might be called a populist, but he was smart and quite capable of challenging the political intellectuals of the time. I would have voted for him, had he not had separation as part of his agenda, because I believed he would do what he promised, and if not, it was not for lack of trying.
Looking out the window of our room I saw below the statue of Samuel de Champlain, the “Father of New France” and founder of Québec City in 1608. To the left the Canadian flag flew at half-mast to recognise the death of Bernard Landry, a former Premier of the Province, and a separatist. The image struck me as the concurrence of three texts: a beginning and an end, in a place willing to remember both.
The leaves have finally dropped. And no sooner did they reach the ground than did a few snowflakes gently drift downward. It is -2C, and while it feels intolerable now, by the end of January it will be a heat-wave. The fall seems later this year.
On our recent trip to Provence, we gave our in-laws, who live just outside Marseilles, a couple bottles of ice wine. In my troubled French, I explained — or may be just a rationale to justify why a gift of wine to the French might make sense — that Canada is the land of cold, snow and ice, and thus an ice wine might be appropriate. I cited the song Mon Pays, C’est l’hiver, at which point one of the guests said: “Ah Charlebois!” I was impressed that they knew this singer, but I didn’t offer a correction.
Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver
Mon jardin ce n'est pas un jardin, c'est la plaine
Mon chemin ce n'est pas un chemin, c'est la neige
Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver
Dans la blanche cérémonie
Où la neige au vent se marie
Dans ce pays de poudrerie
Mon père a fait bâtir maison
Et je m'en vais être fidèle
A sa manière, à son modèle
La chambre d'amis sera telle
Qu'on viendra des autres saisons
Pour se bâtir à côté d'elle
Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver
Mon refrain ce n'est pas un refrain, c'est rafale
Ma maison ce n'est pas ma maison, c'est froidure
Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver
De mon grand pays solitaire
Je crie avant que de me taire
A tous les hommes de la terre
Ma maison c'est votre maison
Entre mes quatre murs de glace
Je mets mon temps et mon espace
A préparer le feu (et?) la place
Pour les humains de l'horizon
Et les humains sont de ma race
Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver
Mon jardin ce n'est pas mon jardin, c'est la plaine
Mon chemin ce n'est pas mon chemin, c'est la neige
Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver
Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'envers
D'un pays qui n'était ni pays ni patrie
Ma chanson ce n'est pas ma chanson, c'est ma vie
C'est pour toi que je veux posséder mes hivers
— Gilles Vigneault
On November 8, 1938, my mother and grandmother were visiting relatives in Kaiserslautern. The following day they received a telegram from my grandfather: “return to London immediately”.
“How could Columbus have discovered America when Native Americans were already here” (Bold, 140)? The answer is easy; history was written by Columbus. The Native Americans’ history is not included in the official record. Remembering is one way to make sure that history is written correctly and stays on track.
Mourning, as a special form of remembering, notes Clarence Joldersma: “… forces us to interpret the present as implicated in the suffering of others in the past while simultaneously presenting our responsibility to address this. Through mourning’s disruption of the present by the past, the past gains an ethical hold over the present” (Joldersma, 140). In other words, remembering the significant events of the past, and especially those where our ancestors suffered, should teach us and cause us not to repeat such actions. The question above, asks us to revisit the discovery question; may be restate it to recognise the archeological evidence.
On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, German President, Frank-Walter Steinmeirer asked us to remember and not forget:
These words, of course, refer to the mounting intolerance expressed through racism, white supremacy, etc., not in just his country, but in many parts of the world. But not stopping there, Steinmeirer speaks to the political leaders that accept such positions to achieve their own ends and position themselves to be the sole source of truth. When assessing such leaders, it is insufficient to measure only the good things done, without looking at the other side of the balance.
My mother and grandmother were able to leave England in the Spring of 1940, during the Battle of the Atlantic. My mother recalled ships around them being torpedoed as they cross the North Atlantic. So certain was their fear that England would fall, they were willing to take the risk of crossing. My relatives in Germany, for the most part, faired poorly during the War, losing everything: their homes, siblings, children, parents; their dignity; their culture. Many were killed or disappeared. The aunt my mother was visiting in 1938, lost both her sons. They were never heard from.
This is what I remember. This puts into perspective the implications of replaying those past mistakes; where the language of hatred can lead.
Joldersma, Clarence W. 2014. Benjamin's angel of history and the work of mourning in ethical remembrance: Understanding the effect of W.G. sebald's novels in the classroom. Studies in Philosophy and Education 33 (2): 135.
Bold, Christine. "Ethical Remembrance and Democratic Transformation”. A Review of Simon, Roger I. 2005. The Touch of the Past: Remembrance, Learning, and Ethics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Friday’s Munk debate — The Rise of Populism: Be it resolved, the future of western politics is populist not liberal: Stephen K. Bannon, David Frum — received quite a bit of attention. As Frum put it “… [populism is] the most important, the most dangerous challenge that liberal democratic institutions have faced since the end of communism …" It’s an important topic, one worthy of better understanding and not shying away from.
In the end, 72% of the audience of the debate sided with Frum. In my opinion, Bannon might have won the emotional debate (he is a smoother speaker) and that is what makes him dangerous. Bannon’s arguments were, in my option, both contradictory and impractical. However, that is not to say that a “Trump with a smile” couldn’t find a compromise position.
Bannon situated the problem with the “little guy”: they have borne the brunt of the failures of international trade deals (globalization), the economic crisis (of 2008), and the costs of the Iraq/Afghan wars (budget deficit and death), while the elites have orchestrated events and outcomes to their benefit.
Frum accepted that the “little guy” has suffered, and that successive US Administrations have failed to resolve these issues. However, he did not confirm agreement on the role of the elites in directing the outcome.
Through the debate it became apparent that the difference lies in their proposed policies and the method of execution. Bannon wants to deconstruct existing institutions, Frum wants to repair them.
In terms of execution: first, Frum accused Trump of being racist, possibly facist. While Bannon disagreed, he conceded Trump is an “imperfect instrument” . Second, Frum laid out a modus operandi of co-operation (with other governments) vs. dominance and bullying. Bannon’s approach takes the position of the primacy of the nation state, to ensure the interests of their citizens, and the destiny of the nation (culture, borders …) vs. dilution from external authorities (“Bad” Trade Agreements, Euro Zone, WTO, “Globalization”).
In wrapping up the debate, Frum asked us not to despair as democracy has survived similar challenges in the past, saying “the cruel always think the good are weak” but in the end “something positive will always defeat something dark.” Bannon, on the other hand, spoke of the inevitability of the outcome: “the only question is whether it will be populist nationalism or populist socialism.”
Both their arguments, however, exposed gaps. Frum never really addressed the class issue (elite vs. the little guy) but only agreed to the larger point that there are problems. He never offered how the Republican and Democratic establishments would organize to resolve the problems. This problem has evolved over that last 30+ years; it shouldn’t be a surprise. Frum did not offer the case that the establishment could get past the impasse; an approach to getting past their track record of broken promises to resolve the issues. Frum never took ownership. Bannon took ownership to solve the problem.
Bannon’s proposal, however, suffers contradictions as well. His attack on the elite is an argument for "economic democracy”: that we all have the opportunity to share in the fruits and benefits of growth. Yet, he is a proponent of capitalism; when did capitalism ever really help the little guy? It is a system that privileges those with the capital. As he points out in his opening statement, the little guy is without capital and was thus excluded from the economic gains of the last 10 years. Capitalism is an economic system, not a political one. Capitalism is for business, democracy is for people. In the best case, capitalism and democracy have only conflicting objectives; worse case, they are incompatible. Without guidance (pressure) from governments to contain business practice to operate within acceptable social limits, people will suffer. Why do we have pollution laws? Why do we have safety laws? Why do we have government services? Why do governments define standards?
The core challenges faced by the little guy are broadly recognised and agreed to, not just in the US, but in many parts of the world. However, different nations have responded differently. Canada has a stronger safety-net than the US, which has tended to soften the blow. Furthermore, Canada has a record of offering compensation for those negatively impacted by trade deals. Similarly in Europe.
These [economic] policies — this safety net — is viewed by many is the US as “socialism”, yet it is these little-guy-oriented considerations that Bannon is calling for. And this to me is the challenge. Capitalism is so ingrained into American society that any move towards social programs is viewed as the slippery slope to communism. Socialism erodes the profitability of business and tethers capitalism with the unwieldy ball and chain of taxes and controls.
To achieve the outcomes Bannon is looking for, through deconstruction, strikes me as impractical. The American system is geared to making small steps; big steps are difficult as finding a consensus becomes all that much more difficult.
But there is another problem, that Frum touched on, that lies in Trump’s execution. His actions and statements challenge trust and co-operation. He is disingenuous: Trump is leveraging the issues faced by the little guy, that many can agree to, to implement an agenda that goes beyond what is required to solve the problem, to implement policies that many charge as racist, isolationist; internationally he is seen as a bully.
While specific to the United States, until elected officials are decoupled from the influence of financial backers (i.e., the elites) and the electoral system is retuned to make politicians more accountable to voters’ demands (i.e., remove gerrymandering) it is hard to see that the conditions will align to benefit the little guy.
Bannon’s opening remarks were excellent, offering a good overview of his perspective. His departure point was what he referred to as the “inciting incident,” the financial failure of 2008:
 By calling Trump an “imperfect instrument” Bannon suggests a distinction between populism as a theory or strategy and Trump as an executioner.
 This in contrast with Trump’s regular comments on how well the [stock] markets are doing, and how that is benefiting the little guy.
 This generalization implies the elites are a single coherent group with one mind. Was the decline truly managed or was it simply incompetence or a chain of un-co-ordinated actions with limited oversight? However, it is fair to say that the de-regulation that preceded and thus was an enabler of the 2008 crash was pressed by business (who may be termed the elites).
 While the objectives of the ‘Party of Davos’ may be to decouple the elites from the middle / working classes, I submit this is nothing new. Has not the subjugation of the little guy gone on since Roman times and before? May be the relevant point is that this is something that we, as a mature society, want to change.
 The focus on manufacturing jobs seems short-sighted to me as many of these jobs will be replace by automation. Why not focus on jobs of the future?
 Capitalism is fundamentally undemocratic; it puts power into the hands of the capitalist, not the non-capitalist … the people without capital
 Yet, it is important to recall that capitalism, by its nature, shifts between boom and bust.
 Given the nature of capitalism, its ebbs and flows, a financial crisis is alway in our future.
A Conference Board of Canada report notes that Canada is one of the world's largest per capita GHG emitters, ranking 15th out of 17 OECD countries (1 being the best). The output averaged for an individual Canadian is just over 20 tonnes, in contrast to the first-ranked Swiss at around 6 tonnes per person. However, in the overall scheme of things, the Government of Canada reports that this country contributes just 1.6% of world-wide greenhouse gas emissions.
So, the argument goes, even if we do clean up all the emission, it won’t impact climate change, so why bother. It just makes us uncompetitive.
Another argument submits that Canada is in fact carbon neutral. This is based on Canada’s forests consuming as much carbon as we produce. However, climate change is impacting our forest’s health and thus its ability to consume carbon. Furthermore, there appears to be an increase in fires, which both produces carbon, and reduces the size of the store. As well, warming is thawing the permafrost, which has two effects: locked up methane is being released, and; melting water raises the water table, flooding out local forests.
May be it’s just being a good neighbour and sharing the pain.
Rooted in a term for homesickness, the definition of nostalgia offered by the OED is a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past.
As I recently worked my way through a century of family photo albums, few of the images, if any, evoked even the mildest sense of nostalgia. Rather, it was a chance encounter with an image of golfer Gary Player that did it. I was both surprised and may be a little bewildered. Why would the image of someone I didn’t know personally have such affect?
I think in part the mood the image evoked reconnected me to a time gone by; the early to mid 1960s. It was the era of Camelot, the Peace Corps, Jame Bond, Dr No. When I was young and naïve and full of hope. Vietnam had not taken over the news agenda; it was before the riots in Watts, before Chicago. Before the cynicism that emerged from Watergate.
The emotion and images of those times streamed back. I could feel tingling in my upper arms.
Nostalgia is a dream; a large dose of emotion peppered with fragments of images, a selected few, sanitized, simplified and reconstructed into a rendering, something we might call a memory of what happened. As suggested by Robert Franks’ book The Americans or some of the work by Gordon Parks, the reality of those times was less pleasant; reorienting the dream towards a nightmare. Behind every silver lining is a cloud.
Most photographs will have elements within them that attract the eye. Those that stand out (studium) are often the subject of the image. In contrast, those details easily overlooked are sometimes referred to as punctum. But, to be truly considered punctum, there must be something special, poignant, about the detail.
Things co-exist in both the present and the time of their creation. In doing so they tell us something about both. As a thing ages, its material decays, and eventually reverts back into the soil. Not all at once; some parts out-last the others, remnants of the larger whole. A clue of what once was. A window on the past: the people that worked and lived there; their goals, their troubles, their joys, their culture, their skills.
How far back does one need to go to declare something a remnant? 2000 years, or 5 minutes?
A Common Global Culture
The local cutlural markers are supplanted by a globally-common architecture incorporating glass and steel. While globalization is most often thought of interms of the economic impact, the shared architectural style reminds of the cutlural impact.
A monument directly refers to past events. Often it explicitly recalls what happened and when. A monument is both inclusive and exclusive. While it cites an event that is of significance to the builders of the monument, it often expresses one point of view on the matter. By citing one event, it excludes all other events that might have occurred in that place.
The monument at Vimy, France, recalls one of the several great battles engaged by Canadian Forces during the First War. The monument comprises not only the obelisk, and statuary, but surrounding fields and a museum. These battles are often identified as pivotal moments in Canadian history, marking points on this country’s emergence from colonial rule. The Monument marks not only the battle, but impact.
A street sign; a plaque that reveals the significance of a name, of a scar, of something otherwise invisible. These monuments are more subtle than the obelisk and statues. If noticed, they simply ask us simply to remember. Each of these examples cause us to pause, to develop a sense of reverence, and silence. The silence opens a space in our minds for us to fill with our reflections, to so we might feel the trauma of the event.
Some plaques are admissions of guilt. Recognising past atrocities asks the current generation to reflect on the mistakes of those who preceded them with the hope of not repeating them, and thus forms an essential component of ethical remembrance.
This plaque recalls the “death march” for 467 prisoners from Sonneberg Germany:
The 467 prisoners of the KZ Buchenwald sub-camp Sonneberg.
Monuments are frequently associated with historical figures, or significant events, such as battles (usually the victories). However, if we broaden our definition of monument to include informational plaques, we gain access to a perspective on the other aspects of past experiences.
This plaque informs the reader of one aspect of the toy-making industry in Sonneberg Germany:
This is where the characteristic mixture of residential and factory buildings, characteristic of the heyday of the Sonneberg toy industry around 1900, was most clearly preserved. The front buildings were elaborately designed as residential and commercial buildings and equipped with a highly articulated facade, while in the back of the factory buildings with half-timbered and slate facades were kept objective and sober.
The material of any place we visit is a tapestry weaving together the natural and the artificial, the modern and the past. While we walk through these things in the present, they also reference the past or stimulate our own imaginations about what once was. What do they tell us?
A monument directly refers to past events. Often it explicitly recalls what happened and when. A monument is both inclusive and exclusive. While it cites an event that was of significance to the builders of the monument, it often expresses just one point of view on the matter. By citing one event, it excludes all other events that might have occurred in that place.
Sometimes buildings are seen as monuments, yet they are less specifically focused on an event. Rather they attest to lived experience: places of work, play and residence. Not a single point in time, buildings span a period. They express meaning through their architecture, that exposes both form and function. An architectural style might correlate to a culture.
Naming defines something as a place. By naming we give [an un-named] space some meaning, we elevate it from the commonality. The relationship between name and space can become complicated. Most of us have a place we call home, but the actual place each of us call home is different, yet it often means many of the same things: safety, comfort, security, love, family. Conversely, a single space might have several names. For example, in 1793 John Simcoe named an area on the northern coast of Lake Ontario York in honour of the Duke of York. In 1834 it was renamed Toronto, a name rooted in the Mohawk word Tkaranto, meaning “where there are trees standing in the water.” Each of these names sets a different context for how we might interpret the place: the British name sets a colonial context and erases the original history of the place. The Mohawk name restores the place’s connection to its indigenous past, and the previous inhabitants of the place, and their way of life.
As the modern recedes into the past, its material decays, and reverts back into the soil. Not all at once; some parts out-last the others and remain as remnants of the larger whole. A clue of what once was. The people that worked and lived there. Their goals, their troubles, their joys.
In Nice, we visited the Musée de la Photographie to see the Franco Fontana exhibition. The work shown was focused on his land and cityscapes. His method of abstraction of these subjects results in a simplification that emphasizes the lines and shapes of the subject, over details of the content itself. The method of rendering the images complements this simplification, and for what ever reason, reminded me of Yozo Hamaguchi’s use of mezzotints. The results are often very poetic, highly aesthetic.
The use of aesthetics in documentary photography can present various ethical questions. Usually these are related to the concern that by beautifying something, that which might otherwise be considered traumatic, it becomes normalized as a result of making it more appealing or more acceptable. Ed Burtynsky’s work has received such criticism — making beautiful the destruction of our planet, our environment, and thus the allegation his work devalues the significance. Yet, the counter argument submits that the juxtaposition of the pleasant and the horrible offers a reference point to measure the degree of horror. How can one determine the scale of how horrible something is, and not be desensitized as it is viewed, if the subject is not anchored to a reference point? That which is destroyed.
The remains of a former building can stir the imagination. The Roman Theatre in Orange France built in the early first century AD, could hold 10,000 spectators. The statue of a Roman emperor over looking the audience reminds us of the power of Roman. The physical mass of the building re-inforces our sense of their strength, but also conveys a sense of their abilities, the Roman’s engineering skills. The ruin reminds of the collapse and the frailty of power. We might even cast our eyes downwards and gaze momentarily upon our navel to try and draw parallels between the rise and fall of Rome to our own times.
Sitting on the concrete seats, we co-exist in space, but not time, with those people who have come to this place for the last 2000 years. We are free to move among the different levels, but our Roman predecessors, constrained by class, were not.
Even though its history may be unknown to the visitor, the physical size of this man-made structure confirms this is a place, and one of significance. Oddly, this takes us back before modernism, before the time when perspective was captured in paintings, and the size of an object reflected its importance, not its distance from the viewer.
When Europeans first saw North America, what many reported seeing was a vast, empty space. When many North Americans visit Europe for the first time, they are enthralled by the history of the place. How one interprets what they see before them is informed by their understanding of its history. None and the space is a void, empty, nothing. One with a long history of events, memories, is a place. The latter might stir some emotion — a sense of home — the former can feel cold, inert. Space vs. Place.
When I look out onto the Mediterranean near Marseille, I am aware of the seafaring Greeks and Phoenicians who arrived on this bit of coastline over two-thousand years ago. But this is not my history; it’s a learnt history. This second-hand knowledge decouples me from this as a place. It subdues my sense of place. I can see this as both a space and a place. One man’s space can be another’s place. Just like the European settlers who arrived who saw space, vs. the indigenous peoples who lived in the place.
The definition of a landscape typically situates it’s subject matter in a natural setting. Certainly having land embedded in the term encourages us to take that view. Yet as we approach the details, the definition becomes malleable, like a bowl of jelly, difficult to grasp and hold onto. In part, it is because as one looks closer, those settings that we would like to capture in an image, that appear natural, have been manipulated in some way by the hand of man. We face the question of whether landscape includes more than pure, natural settings. For example, many will allow those pastoral scenes, depicted in so many famous English paintings, within the definition, and with that comes an acceptance of manipulated scenes.
If we accept to include such scenes, then the manipulations become part of the narrative of the image. To appreciate the implications this choice, one must recall that manipulation of the land is usually done for some purpose, to the benefit of people (e.g., agriculture) and often reflects cultural markers (e.g., architecture). Manipulations come heavily loaded with meaning and inference.
There might be a question whether there is a boundary: what is an acceptable amount of manipulation? An approach that limits manipulations would privilege the more natural settings; a more relaxed definition would widen the subject matter. The latter approach allows us to consider that Landscape could be seen as an umbrella term for a range of scenarios including cityscapes, seascapes, etc. As we further widen the definition, “the landscape” could be interpreted as simply the environment around us, leaving us with a question of why not simply refer to this as environmental (photography)?
Mitchell offers a solution to what might otherwise become a circular argument: landscape art is a medium, not a genre. So rather than focus on the content, and become consumed by what physical objects may or may not be included in the image, think of it as a mechanism to communicate something. Maybe we just shifted the bean using the discourse that is the shell game of critical analysis.
Notwithstanding, for me, Mitchell’s premise opens a broader range of useable subject matter and shifts the focus more on the message, which I think is where I want to be. Put another way, it positions landscape as a mechanism for communication, yet the imagery remains situated in the “land” (however loosely). By allowing images that include “the hand of man”, we enable the inclusion of the messages inferred by the manipulations such as culture, control over the environment and indeed, power.
With no sight of land in the image above, most, if not all the elements captured within it are made of the land: the brick walls; the concrete surfaces; the tiles on the roofs; the metal of the aerials. The convergence of multiple time periods is represented through “ancient” architecture and modern satellite dishes, offering a window onto several cultural questions, such as trans generational cultural change, the cumulative nature of culture, things lost and gained, etc.