Exploding Appendix Questionnaire: Oli SpleenJuly 12, 2019
Exploding Appendix Questionnaire: C. Derick VarnJuly 22, 2019
The Exploding Appendix Questionnaire is an ongoing data collecting exercise that, drawing upon divergent public figures from different intellectual disciplines and artistic practices, seeks to create an ongoing and ever-expanding map of ideas. Through this ever-expanding map of divergent views, we seek a kind of dialogue that, in both its overlaps and contradictions, creates a kind of hive-mind, which, in turn, helps contribute to the intellectual unfoldings of Exploding Appendix’s overall mission.
For the Exploding Appendix Questionnaire, we have asked some of our favourite intellectuals, activists, artists, creatives and commentators to contribute to a series of 11 generic questions. The same generic questions have been sent to everyone, and what you read below is one response to this.
1. Who are you and what do you do?
It is easier to start with what I do. I teach architecture and urban theory in the School of Architecture at the University of Sheffield. I am the director of the MA in Architecture Design program. This is what I do to pay my bills, but it is also what I do to feel that my life makes some sense. It is obviously very dangerous because when you mix your work with your passion, you get easily exploited. However, being full time and on the permanent contract at the University of Sheffield gives a certain level of emotional and financial stability; therefore, I do not complain. To answer a question who am I is a slightly more difficult task. I am a Polish immigrant living and working in the UK. I grew up as a, and I was pretty right-wing, conservative political catholic till my late 20s. I am not right wing, not conservative and not Catholic anymore, but the experiences I gather I found useful especially in the current climate of growing fascist tendencies across the world.
2. What are your biggest influences in art, literature, music and cinema?
This is another difficult question. The most significant influence comes from the edge of literature, it comes from the work of Mircea Eliade. However, his novels were definitely less important than his work on the history of religion and his diaries. Reading about the richness of intellectual life in Romania before the 2nd World War was fascinating and reassuring that there is intellectual life beyond the West. Obviously, his vision of religion was profoundly influential for me.
Concerning literature itself, I always believed that nobody shaped me more than Philip K. Dick; but now I think it is not the whole truth. I grow up reading a lot of Soviet science-fiction literature, and I believe that the optimism and humanism of these books have been crucial to me.
I listened to a lot of blues and some experimental jazz at home, my father was a fan. He also liked country music, but I never understood why. If I needed to choose one artist to listen till the end of my life, it would probably be Trent Reznor, however Tricky and Aphex Twins also may be considered.
I watch a lot of trash movies and some more experimental ones, but I can’t pin down anything really influential. Concerning art I would say the same, there is a lot of important stuff to me (Fra Angelico or Cy Twombly), but none really life-changing.
3. What, for you, is the purpose of art and culture?
To be honest, I am not sure I understand the purpose of art correctly. To me, art has an epistemological purpose, it penetrates edges of the known world, it does what science can’t. Obviously, art has also an essential emotional purpose, but I would not like to see art as an instrument of psychotherapy. To some extent, art to me has a similar function to religion – it makes me aware of the reality beyond the known and represented reality. It gives me hope that other worlds are possible. Culture is just too broad a term to seriously discuss in this short paragraph, culture is who we are as humans. Everything that we do constitutes our culture.
4. What makes something subversive?
I will answer indirectly, OK? My last book is about the post-capitalist city and Ernst Junger. Junger is usually seen as a pretty obscure far-right thinker and writer. He was connected with the so-called ‘conservative revolutionary movement’ in pre-Nazi Germany (however, in contrary to people like Martin Heidegger he never was a member of the Nazi party). Therefore every proper left-winger will try to keep away from him and consequently from my new book. However, the book is about the post-capitalist city, and if I needed to sum it up in one catchy sentence, I would say “even conservatism leads to communism”. It is not precisely what the book is about, but it is close enough and catchy enough. So do not expect right-wingers to be in favour of my work. I think this book is a good example of what I mean by subversive.
5. How would you approach the task of winning friends and influencing people?
I have a straightforward ethical code, I try not to be a jerk, and I try not to hurt people more than it is absolutely necessary. I am not saying I am always successful, but I am trying. At the same time, I must confess I am not a very social person. I am naturally introverted, therefore working as a teacher fulfils most of my needs for social interactions. I am not sure I really know how to influence people… I do not really try, it was never my ambition. What I try to do is to engage people in a discussion. I present my ideas, and I listen to the opinions of other people. Sometimes a conversation is very hot, but most of the times we become friends as an outcome.
6. What does individual freedom mean to you?
This is a tricky question. On the one hand, as something I practice, individual freedom is a space of unlimited creativity. On the other hand, I do not really believe in anything individual. To me, the subject is always relational; therefore, my freedom is defined by the context I am operating within. The subject is a cloud, which is a network itself. There is no one precisely defined ‘me’, I am instead ‘we’, I am a coalition and an alliance. As such a being I do not have one precisely defined freedom or will, there is always a series of negotiations of ‘us’ but also with other actors in the context. Context, in general, is probably the most important concept to me. Context is everything, it defines the density of interactions between ‘us’ and the rest of the world. My interest in postsecularity and religion is related to the concept of context. Transcendence allows us to open up any dialectical relationship, and it will enable us to see context as a process (contextualisation), not as a set or scene. To me ‘us’ is a porous being, the other actors – ideas and bacterias – are penetrating ‘us’ all the time.
7. Is there, for you, a relationship between the personal and the political?
Yes and no. I think of myself as a feminist, and I respect the slogan and the thinking behind ‘the personal is political’, but somehow I think we must protect our intimacy. Therefore the personal may be political, very often is political (because everything is political) but we must be able to make an exception and treat the personal as a sacred, transcendent space. Sometimes. Maybe.
8. What is the root of society’s problems?
What problems? Which society? The question – to me – is much too broad to answer. However, in an unacceptable act of generalisation, I can tell you what I see as fundamental flaws of our civilisation. Capitalism is the main issue because it escalates the worst aspects of humanity: greed, egocentrism, lack of empathy, rejection of taking responsibility for the consequences of one’s action. Capitalism destroys externality and creates a new externality where it dumps everything unwanted. Capitalism is based on a translation: being – financial equivalent – another being. This process of compressing and then decompressing of the reality is destroying the world. I am not saying that the end of capitalism makes us all ultimately happy, but I do believe it would be a step in the right direction.
9. Will technology liberate humankind?
Yes, but only when combined with social and political liberating movements and mechanisms. I have a soft spot for transhumanism, I think some kind of self-evolutionary movement will emerge, and I am definitely not scared of technology. But I see technology from a STS perspective, as social products and social actors. This is again the moment to come back to the concept of the context. Technology will liberate humankind only in a particular socio-political, economic and cultural context.
10. Do you have a vision for utopia?
Utopia as a horizon? Or utopia as a criticism? Or utopia as a project? As a horizon and a critique, the answer is yes, I have. As a project not so much, however, I would say I have a sketch. The utopia as a horizon is a space of absolute freedom to create and negotiate our own contexts. This is not about complete freedom without responsibility, but about the freedom to co-produce, co-create our own world. Utopia as critique is rather plural – utopias. There are simple templates I use to question elements of current society. Kind of thought experiments – “what if…” or “imagine this…”. Utopia as a project could be an extension of these thought experiments, but after milliards of iterations, utopia as a project must go through an extremely tough process of examination, it is a long process of asking “what if…”. To be clear, I do not dismiss utopia as a project, I definitely support any attempt to build a better, more inclusive world. To do this, we need to know what we do not like and what kind of ethics we would like to be a foundation of this better world. Sketching visions of the better world, these ‘provisional utopias’ will help us to achieve it.
11. Finally, where can people find more of your work?