Thursday, April 19, 2007

Saturday, April 07, 2007


"For the past four years Adam has produced a body of work revolving around mice and rats. Small unnoticed moments, absurdity, sexual tension, humor and obliviousness are key components. He has participated in group shows in New York, London, Los Angeles and Moscow and has had three solo shows in NY in the last two years. "I intend for my work to give people a little shove out of their comfort zone, to encourage them to take a second look at things that are all around us, but we often prefer to ignore."

Friday, April 06, 2007

by George Orwell

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language -- so the argument runs -- must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.

These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad -- I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen -- but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:

1. I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien [sic] to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.

Professor Harold Laski
(Essay in Freedom of Expression )

2. Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate , or put at a loss for bewilder .

Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossia )

3. On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side ,the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?

Essay on psychology in Politics (New York )

4. All the "best people" from the gentlemen's clubs, and all the frantic fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.

Communist pamphlet

5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion's roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream -- as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as "standard English." When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o'clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma'amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens!

Letter in Tribune

Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse. I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose construction is habitually dodged:

Dying metaphors. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically "dead" (e.g. iron resolution ) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles' heel, swan song, hotbed . Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a "rift," for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning withouth those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line . Another example is the hammer and the anvil , now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

Operators or verbal false limbs. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are render inoperative, militate against, make contact with, be subjected to, give rise to, give grounds for, have the effect of, play a leading part (role) in, make itself felt, take effect, exhibit a tendency to, serve the purpose of, etc.,etc . The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as break, stop, spoil, mend, kill , a verb becomes a phrase , made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purpose verb such as prove, serve, form, play, render . In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining ). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and the banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard to, the fact that, by dint of, in view of, in the interests of, on the hypothesis that ; and the ends of sentences are saved by anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desired, cannot be left out of account, a development to be expected in the near future, deserving of serious consideration, brought to a satisfactory conclusion , and so on and so forth.

Pretentious diction. Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize, eliminate, liquidate , are used to dress up a simple statement and give an aire of scientific impartiality to biased judgements. Adjectives like epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable, triumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable , are used to dignify the sordid process of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic color, its characteristic words being: realm, throne, chariot, mailed fist, trident, sword, shield, buckler, banner, jackboot, clarion . Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac, ancien r&eacutgime, deus ex machina, mutatis mutandis, status quo, gleichschaltung, weltanschauung , are used to give an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations i.e., e.g. , and etc. , there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in the English language. Bad writers, and especially scientific, political, and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, subaqueous , and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon numbers. The jargon peculiar to Marxist writing (hyena, hangman, cannibal, petty bourgeois, these gentry, lackey, flunkey, mad dog, White Guard , etc.) consists largely of words translated from Russian, German, or French; but the normal way of coining a new word is to use Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the size formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (deregionalize, impermissible, extramarital, non-fragmentary and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one's meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.

Meaningless words. In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning. Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality , as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, "The outstanding feature of Mr. X's work is its living quality," while another writes, "The immediately striking thing about Mr. X's work is its peculiar deadness," the reader accepts this as a simple difference opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable." The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Petain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.

Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

This is a parody, but not a very gross one. Exhibit (3) above, for instance, contains several patches of the same kind of English. It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations -- race, battle, bread -- dissolve into the vague phrases "success or failure in competitive activities." This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing -- no one capable of using phrases like "objective considerations of contemporary phenomena" -- would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. Now analyze these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of those words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase ("time and chance") that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its ninety syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still, if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes. As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier -- even quicker, once you have the habit -- to say In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think. If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don't have to hunt about for the words; you also don't have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious. When you are composing in a hurry -- when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech -- it is natural to fall into a pretentious, Latinized style. Tags like a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind or a conclusion to which all of us would readily assent will save many a sentence from coming down with a bump. By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash -- as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot -- it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking. Look again at the examples I gave at the beginning of this essay. Professor Laski (1) uses five negatives in fifty three words. One of these is superfluous, making nonsense of the whole passage, and in addition there is the slip -- alien for akin -- making further nonsense, and several avoidable pieces of clumsiness which increase the general vagueness. Professor Hogben (2) plays ducks and drakes with a battery which is able to write prescriptions, and, while disapproving of the everyday phrase put up with, is unwilling to look egregious up in the dictionary and see what it means; (3), if one takes an uncharitable attitude towards it, is simply meaningless: probably one could work out its intended meaning by reading the whole of the article in which it occurs. In (4), the writer knows more or less what he wants to say, but an accumulation of stale phrases chokes him like tea leaves blocking a sink. In (5), words and meaning have almost parted company. People who write in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning -- they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another -- but they are not interested in the detail of what they are saying. A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:

1. What am I trying to say?
2. What words will express it?
3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

1. Could I put it more shortly?
2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. The will construct your sentences for you -- even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent -- and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.

In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a "party line." Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestoes, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases -- bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder -- one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker's spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism., question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, "I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so." Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.

The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as "keeping out of politics." All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find -- this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify -- that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one's elbow. Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against. By this morning's post I have received a pamphlet dealing with conditions in Germany. The author tells me that he "felt impelled" to write it. I open it at random, and here is almost the first sentence I see: "[The Allies] have an opportunity not only of achieving a radical transformation of Germany's social and political structure in such a way as to avoid a nationalistic reaction in Germany itself, but at the same time of laying the foundations of a co-operative and unified Europe." You see, he "feels impelled" to write -- feels, presumably, that he has something new to say -- and yet his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. This invasion of one's mind by ready-made phrases ( lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation ) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one's brain.

I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this would argue, if they produced an argument at all, that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words and constructions. So far as the general tone or spirit of a language goes, this may be true, but it is not true in detail. Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority. Two recent examples were explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned , which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists. There is a long list of flyblown metaphors which could similarly be got rid of if enough people would interest themselves in the job; and it should also be possible to laugh the not un- formation out of existence, to reduce the amount of Latin and Greek in the average sentence, to drive out foreign phrases and strayed scientific words, and, in general, to make pretentiousness unfashionable. But all these are minor points. The defense of the English language implies more than this, and perhaps it is best to start by saying what it does not imply.

To begin with it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a "standard English" which must never be departed from. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one's meaning clear, or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a "good prose style." On the other hand, it is not concerned with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial. Nor does it even imply in every case preferring the Saxon word to the Latin one, though it does imply using the fewest and shortest words that will cover one's meaning. What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When yo think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one's meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose -- not simply accept -- the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one's words are likely to mak on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally. But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never us a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article.

I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don't know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase -- some jackboot, Achilles' heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse -- into the dustbin, where it belongs.

Back in the 1950s, when every domestic scandal and nightmare, political or familial, wasn't the subject of a television show, the library was my peephole into the mysteries of the adult universe. The key question, when it came to interpreting the world back then, was this: Would the librarian who ruled over the juvenile section free you to enter the pay dirt of the rest of the library? Mine did. As a friend of mine, who arrived in this country as an immigrant at age 11, used to say of her library years, "I started with A." So did I. What an essential democratic institution the public library is.

Of course, today, the condition of America's public libraries is, at best, wildly variable. Some urban libraries of just the sort I used to haunt in my childhood have recently been losing out in the race for scarce tax dollars. They often face cuts in their hours, while their systems close branches and offer fewer services; others are carving out new roles for themselves as on-line information providers, advisers, and bustling cultural centers. So, while the bold architecture of the new main library in downtown Seattle has become a popular tourist attraction, libraries throughout the Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast struggle to rebuild or just hang on.

Many public libraries are experimenting with new roles beyond the boundaries of story hour and homework help. Public access to the Internet and computers, for instance, is transforming our libraries into de facto e-government access points for such disparate services as disaster relief, Medicare drug plans, and even benefits for children and families. The Salt Lake City Public Library, the subject of today's Tomdispatch (and Library Journal's "2006 Library of the Year"), prides itself, for instance, on being a place "where democracy happens." It houses an NPR radio affiliate and a film center, as well as a coffee house and deli that encourage people to linger and talk.

But even if you are lucky enough to have one of these "catalytic" libraries in your neighborhood, rather than a branch that just shut down for lack of funds, there's a public-library challenge-cum-nightmare that is rarely acknowledged. As Chip Ward, a Tomdispatch regular who just retired as the assistant director of the Salt Lake City Public Library System, makes clear below, public libraries have become de facto daytime shelters for the nation's street people; while librarians are increasingly our unofficial social workers for the homeless (and often the disturbed). It's a dirty little secret that tells us all too much about the state of our nation today. Tom

What They Didn't Teach Us in Library School: The Public Library as an Asylum for the Homeless
by Chip Ward

Ophelia sits by the fireplace and mumbles softly, smiling and gesturing at no one in particular. She gazes out the large window through the two pairs of glasses she wears, one windshield-sized pair over a smaller set perched precariously on her small nose. Perhaps four lenses help her see the invisible other she is addressing. When her "nobody there" conversation disturbs the reader seated beside her, Ophelia turns, chuckles at the woman's discomfort, and explains, "Don't mind me, I'm dead. It's okay. I've been dead for some time now." She pauses, then adds reassuringly, "It's not so bad. You get used to it." Not at all reassured, the woman gathers her belongings and moves quickly away. Ophelia shrugs. Verbal communication is tricky. She prefers telepathy, but that's hard to do since the rest of us, she informs me, "don't know the rules."

Margi is not so mellow. The "fucking Jews" have been at it again she tells a staff member who asks her for the umpteenth time to settle down and stop talking that way. "Communist!" she hisses and storms off, muttering that she will "sue the boss." Margi is at least 70 and her behavior shows obvious signs of dementia. The staff's efforts to find out her background are met with angry diatribes and insults. She clutches a book on German grammar and another on submarines that she reads upside down to "make things right."

Mick is having a bad day, too. He hasn't misbehaved but sits and stares, glassy-eyed. This is usually the prelude to a seizure. His seizures are easier to deal with than Bob's, for instance, because he usually has them while seated and so rarely hits his head and bleeds, nor does he ever soil his pants. Bob tends to pace restlessly all day and is often on the move when, without warning, his seizures strike. The last time he went down, he cut his head. The staff has learned to turn him over quickly after he hits the floor, so that his urine does not stain the carpet.

John is trying hard not to be noticed. He has been in trouble lately for the scabs and raw, wet spots that are spreading across his hands and face. Staff members have wondered aloud if he is contagious and asked him to get himself checked-out, but he refuses treatment. He knows he is still being tracked, thanks to the implants the nurse slipped under his skin the last time he surrendered to the clinic and its prescriptions. There are frequencies we don't hear -- but he does. Thin whistles and a subtle beeping indicate he is being followed, his eye movements tracked and recorded. He claims he falls asleep in his chair by the stairway because "the little ones" poke him in the legs with sharp objects that inject sleep-inducing potions.

Franklin sits quietly by the fireplace and reads a magazine about celebrities. He is fastidiously dressed and might be mistaken for a businessman or a professional. His demeanor is confident and normal. If you watch him closely, though, you will see him slowly slip his hand into the pocket of his sports jacket and furtively pull out a long, shiny carpenter's nail. With it, he carefully pokes out the eyes of the celebs in any photo. Then the nail is returned to his pocket, a faint smirk crossing his face as he turns the page to pursue his next photo victim.

Scenes from a psych ward? Not at all. Welcome to the Salt Lake City Public Library. Like every urban library in the nation, the City Library, as it is called, is a de facto daytime shelter for the city's "homeless."

Where the Outcasts Are Inside

In bad weather -- hot, cold, or wet -- most of the homeless have nowhere to go but public places. The local shelters push them out onto the streets at six in the morning and, even when the weather is good, they are already lining up by nine, when the library opens, because they want to sit down and recover from the chilly dawn or use the restrooms. Fast-food restaurants, hotel lobbies, office foyers, shopping malls, and other privately owned businesses and properties do not tolerate their presence for long. Public libraries, on the other hand, are open and accessible, tolerant, even inviting and entertaining places for them to seek refuge from a world that will not abide their often disheveled and odorous presentation, their odd and sometimes obnoxious behaviors, and the awkward challenges they present to those who encounter them.

Although the public may not have caught on, ask any urban library administrator in the nation where the chronically homeless go during the day and he or she will tell you about the struggles of America's public librarians to cope with their unwanted and unappreciated role as the daytime guardians of the down and out. In our public libraries, the outcasts are inside.

"Homeless" is a misleading term. We have homeless people in America today, in part, because we have no living wage, no universal healthcare, disintegrating communities, and a large population of working poor who can end up on the street if they lose one of their part-time jobs, experience an illness or an accident, or have a domestic crisis. For them, homelessness is generally temporary, probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There is little to distinguish such people from the rest of us and we usually do not notice their presence among us. Programs to help people in such circumstances may be inadequate -- and it is a shame they are needed at all -- but they usually work. For the people we point to on the street or in public places and normally identify as homeless, however, homelessness is a way of life and our best attempts to rescue them continually fail.

We commonly refer to them as "street people." We see them sleeping in parks, huddled over grates on sidewalks, resting or sleeping on subway cars, passed out in doorways, or panhandling with crude cardboard signs. Social workers refer to them as the "chronically homeless." Although they make up only about 10% of the total number of people who experience homelessness in a given year, they soak up more than half the dollars we spend on programs to address homelessness. There are at least 200,000 people across the nation living more or less permanently on the street, enough to fill a thousand public libraries every day.

Drunk as a Skunk

The term "chronically homeless" is also inadequate when it comes to describing these individuals -- it only tells you that their homeless state is frequent. It neither indicates why they are homeless and stay that way, nor says anything about their most salient characteristic: Most of them are mentally ill. The published data on how many homeless are considered mentally ill by those who study them varies widely from 10% to 70%, depending on whether all the homeless, or just the chronically homeless, are included (and depending on how you define illness or disability). How, for example, do you categorize alcoholics and drug addicts?

When Crash is sober, for instance, he reasons like you or me, converses normally, and has a good sense of humor. Unfortunately, he is rarely sober. In one of his better moments, he petitioned me to let him stay in the library even though he was caught drinking -- an automatic six-month suspension. "You know I'm a good guy and I don't bring that stuff into the library," he pleads. "C'mon, give me another chance."

Crash is sitting in his wheelchair in the foyer outside my office where I serve as the library's assistant director. It's hard for me to address Crash without staring at the massive scar on his face -- a deep crease that neatly divides it down the middle from scalp to chin. Unfortunately, his nose is also divided and the sides do not match-up, giving him an asymmetrical appearance like a Picasso painting on wheels.

"Alcoholics pass out in the library's chairs," I explain, "and if we can't wake you up we have to call the paramedics. If you piss your pants or puke, the custodians have to clean that up and they hate that. You guys fall down and knock things over. You're unpredictable when you drink. You disrupt others. Public intoxication is against the law..."

"Okay, okay," he interrupts me, "I get it. Hey, just thought I'd try and get back in is all -- no hard feelings, man."

No hard feelings I assure him. He smiles and we shake hands. I wish I could cut him some slack -- after dozens of confrontations with angry and threatening drunks, I appreciate a cheerful drinker like Crash -- but I can't afford to establish a precedent I can't keep. The rule is clear: no drinking in the library and no exceptions. As he waits for the elevator doors to open and take him down, I venture a question I've been holding onto for awhile. "I know it's none of my business, but how did you get that scar?"

"Car accident," he replies, "same one as put me in this wheelchair. That's why they call me Crash."

"Were you drinking?" I ask.

He shakes his head and sighs. "Drunk as a skunk… drunk as a skunk." As the elevator descends I think about just how hard it must be to be both wheelchair-bound and homeless. I wonder about the commonly held notion that alcoholics must "hit bottom" before they can rebound. Is there such a thing as bottom for guys like Crash? Is he any more capable of controlling his urge to drink than Ophelia can control the voices in her head?

Our condemnation of transient-style alcoholism is both hypocritical and snobbish. If you are unhappy and caught without a prescription in America, you self-medicate. Depressed lawyers do it with fine scotch. An unemployed trucker might turn to beer or meth. Anxiety-ridden teachers or waitresses might smoke pot or order just one more margarita. Indigent people who want relief from their demons drink whatever is available and affordable or swallow whatever pills come their way. Dr. Tichenor's mouthwash is a popular choice for street alcoholics and "Doc Tich," as the brand is commonly known, doesn't offer a pinot noir.

What Library School Didn't Cover

The strong odor of mouthwash on the breath of transient alcoholics who shelter with us is often masked by the overwhelming odor of old sweat, urine-stained pants, and the bad-dairy smell that unwashed bodies and clothes give off. It can take your breath away long before you can smell theirs.

The library wrestles with where to draw the line on odor. The law is unclear. An aggressive patron in New Jersey successfully sued a public library for banning him because of his body odor. That decision has had a chilling effect on public libraries ever since. When library users complain about the odor of transients, librarians usually respond that there isn't much they can do about it. Lately, libraries are learning to write policies on odor that are more specific and so can be defended in court, but such rules are still hard to enforce because smell is such a subjective thing -- and humiliating someone by telling him he stinks is an awkward experience that librarians prefer to avoid. None of this was covered in library school.

It's a chicken-or-egg world for the mentally-ill homeless. Are they on the street because they are immobilized by severe depression or is deep depression the consequence of being on the street? Any tendency towards a psychological problem is aggravated and magnified by the constant stress, social isolation, loss of self-esteem, despair, and relentless boredom of street life. Imagine the degradation of waiting an hour in the cold rain to get into a soup kitchen for a meal; the hassle of hunting endlessly for an unpoliced spot to sleep; the constant fear of being robbed or attacked by other street people; or the indignity of defecating in a vacant lot. It's a combination that would probably drive a mentally healthy person to psychosis and substance abuse. Street people, who suffer serious psychological disorders, are often substance abusers, too, and the drug that a psychotic person prefers, often matches the psychosis. I have learned, for example, that bi-polar users prefer cocaine when in their manic phases and schizophrenics gravitate, naturally enough, to hallucinogens.

Alcohol and drugs mix with depression, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, and paranoia in complex ways, so it is hard to pull any given disorder apart and understand just who this person in front of you, cursing or pleading or thrashing on the floor, may be. Public librarians, of course, are not trained to do this. We deal with behaviors that are symptomatic without understanding why someone is suffering or what we can do about it. And even if we did understand and had been trained for such situations, healing the homeless is not our mission. Taxpayers expect us to provide library services and leave the homeless to social workers. They give us resources only for one mission, not two.

What about those social workers then? They turn out to be too few, under-funded, over-worked, and overwhelmed. My initial unsuccessful attempts to get the social workers who operate the "homeless van" to stop in and assess a "regular" homeless patron who, we suspected, had suffered a stroke, reminded me that they had more pressing priorities. In the dead of winter, they struggle to get people sleeping in alleys or passed out on sidewalks indoors so they don't freeze to death. Theirs is an everyday "life or death" race. If a homeless guy is inside the library, then, "Hey, mission accomplished."

Navigating the Archipelago of Despair

A workshop I attended on treating Native Americans for alcoholism compellingly described how incorporating sweat lodges, healing ceremonies, and other elements from Native American culture into established treatment methods can improve their effectiveness for Native American patients. Of course, the social worker added, it's essential to provide a halfway-house option between rehab and release and that remains a huge problem. Typically, he told us, his clients wait three to six months to get into a halfway-house after rehab.

"And where do they go while they wait?" I asked, naively enough.

He shrugged and sighed. "Back with their drinking buddies in the park, under the bridge, wherever."

The inadequacy of existing resources and the absurdity of the conditions they endure are just part of the landscape, a given for social workers. Public librarians can cooperate with (and learn from) them, but we understand that they are overwhelmed and often unavailable. So, like it or not, we are ushered into the ranks of auxiliary social workers with no resources whatsoever.

Local hospitals are also uncertain allies. They have little room for the indigent mentally ill for whose treatment they often can't get reimbursed. So they deal with the crisis at hand, fork over some pills, and send the hopeless homeless on their way.

A manager at a shelter-clinic told me that he keeps a stash of petty cash handy because sometimes a taxi arrives at his door from one of the city's hospitals, carrying an incoherent patient without ID or any possessions other than the hospital gown he or she is wearing. When that happens, clinic workers are instructed to rush for the cab before it can unload its passenger and pay the driver to return to the hospital, puzzled cargo still in hand.

Throughout the fragmented system of healthcare for homeless people, from rehab to hospitals to jails, there are few ground rules or protocols for discharging the mentally ill and next to no communication between healthcare providers, police, social workers, and shelter managers in this archipelago of despair. Public librarians are out of the loop altogether; our role in providing daytime shelter for the homeless is ignored. When, in an attempt to build my own useful network, I attended conferences on homeless issues, I was always met with puzzlement and the question: "What are you doing here?"

"Where do you think they go during the day?" I would invariably answer.

"Oh, yeah, I guess that's right -- you deal with them, too," would be the invariable response, always offered as if that never occurred to them before.

Paramedics are caught in the middle of this dark carnival of confusion and neglect. In the winter, when the transient population of the library increases dramatically, we call them almost every day. Once, when I apologized to a paramedic for calling twice, he responded, "Hey, no need to explain or apologize." He swept his arm towards the other paramedics, surrounding a portable gurney on which they would soon carry a disoriented old man complaining of dizziness to the emergency room. "Look at us," he said, "we're the mobile homeless clinic. This is what we do. All day long, day after day, and mostly for the same people over and over."

Sanitizing Gels and Latex Gloves: Plying the Librarian's Trade

The cost of this mad system is staggering. Cities that have tracked chronically homeless people for the police, jail, clinic, paramedic, emergency room, and other hospital services they require, estimate that a typical transient can cost taxpayers between $20,000 and $150,000 a year. You could not design a more expensive, wasteful, or ineffective way to provide healthcare to individuals who live on the street than by having librarians like me dispense it through paramedics and emergency rooms. For one thing, fragmented, episodic care consistently fails, no matter how many times delivered. It is not only immoral to ignore people who are suffering illness in our midst, it's downright stupid public policy. We do not spend too little on the problems of the mentally disabled homeless, as is often assumed, instead we spend extravagantly but foolishly.

And the costs could grow far beyond the measure of money. If an epidemic of deadly flu were to strike, if an easily communicable strain of tuberculosis or some other devastating disease emerges, paramedics will be overwhelmed by their homeless clients who are at high risk for such illnesses. People who drink until they pass out tend to aspirate and choke, and people who sleep outdoors at night breathe cold, damp air. People who sleep in crowded shelters breathe each other's air.

Serious respiratory problems among the chronically homeless in a shelter are as common as beer guts at a racetrack. If an epidemic strikes, the susceptibility of the homeless will translate into an increased risk of exposure for the rest of us and, eerily enough, our public libraries could become Ground Zeroes for the spread of killer flu. Librarians are reluctant to make plans for handling such scenarios because we do not want to convey the message that America's libraries are anything but the safe and welcoming environments they remain today.

But here's the thing: It's not just about libraries. The chronically homeless share bus stops, subways, park benches, handrails, restrooms, drinking fountains, and fast-food booths with us or with others we encounter daily, who also share the air we breathe and the surfaces we touch. When sick or drunk, they vomit in public restrooms (if we are lucky). Having a population that is at once vulnerable to disease and able to spread microbes widely to others is simply foolish -- and unnecessary -- public policy, but in the library we focus on more immediate risks. We offer our staff hepatitis vaccinations and free tuberculosis checks. We place sanitizing gels and latex gloves at every public desk. Who would guess that working in a library could be a hazardous occupation?

In Place of Snake-Pit Hospitals, Snake-pit Jails

Ultimately, the indigent mentally ill are criminalized. If their presence in our libraries is a common and growing problem that we librarians would like the rest of society to be aware of, acknowledge, and commit themselves to helping us solve, here is a secret we would like to keep to ourselves: We are complicit. No matter how conscientiously and compassionately we try to treat our mentally disturbed users -- and at the Salt Lake City Public Library we work very hard to be fair, helpful, and tolerant -- librarians often have no good choices and, in the end, we just call the cops.

Take, for example, the case of a young man who entered the library fuming and spitting racial and ethnic slurs. He loudly asked some Hispanic teenagers, who were doing their homework, when they crossed the border and they reported his rude behavior. When a security guard approached, the young man started yelling obscenities and then took a swing at him. To his credit, the guard backed off and tried to calm him; but, on the next lunge, the guard took the kid down, cuffed his hands behind his back, and called the police. They recognized him. He had been let out of jail just two days earlier. Putting him back there, staff members argued, obviously wasn't going to make a difference. Shouldn't he be taken to a hospital for treatment?

The police pointed out that he was simply too strong and violent to be handled at a hospital, so he would have to go to jail. While waiting to be taken away, the kid turned some corner in his mind and left sobbing.

His behavior was not a measure of his character or even of his civility, but of how severe his psychosis had become without treatment and under the stress of prison. The man was sick, not bad. If we accept that schizophrenia, for instance, is not the result of a character flaw or a personal failing but of some chemical imbalance in the brain -- an imbalance that can strike regardless of a person's values, beliefs, upbringing, social standing, or intent, just like any other disease -- then why do we apply a kind of moral judgment we wouldn't use in other medical situations? We do not, for example, jail a diabetic who is acting drunk because his body chemistry has become so unbalanced that he is going into insulin shock, but we frequently jail schizophrenics when their brain chemistries become so unbalanced that they act out, as if punishment were the appropriate and effective response to a mental disorder.

And the police aren't happy about their role either. Cities are responding to such problems with mental health courts and the like for sorting out the mentally disturbed from other prisoners. Salt Lake City now has a model program, but nationally there is a long way to go.

According to the Department of Justice, there are about four times as many people with mental illnesses incarcerated in America today as under treatment in state mental hospitals. Some jails devote entire wings to the mentally ill.

Jails, of course, are intended to control, intimidate, and humiliate. Such a dehumanizing environment can be especially devastating for the mentally ill. I am particularly wary when dealing with street people who are recently out of jail because they are likely to be in an especially agitated state. Of course, cops and jailers are no better trained or prepared than librarians to handle people with serious psychological problems. This is a bond we share -- our unacknowledged charge and our inevitable failure to meet it.

In the 1980s, during the Reagan administration, the discharged mentally ill began to be "deinstitutionalized" from crowded hospitals with "snake pit" conditions where they got inadequate treatment. They were supposed to be integrated into local communities and cared for by local clinics. That was the dream anyway, but such humane alternatives to indifferent hospitalization failed to materialize.

The clinics were never built and the communities that were supposed to embrace the mentally ill didn't get the memo. The safety net that was to catch them proved to be chockfull of holes. Instead, they migrated to urban psychiatric ghettoes -- alleys, parks, abandoned buildings, vacant lots, and flophouses. As housing became more competitive and costly in the 1990s, they were further compressed into the margins of society where their suffering festered like an open wound. Now, it is up to the police to re-institutionalize them -- but this time in snake-pit prisons where they generally receive no treatment at all. So, in the last couple of decades, we have exchanged revolving doors to padded cells for revolving doors to jail cells with steel bars.

The cost of keeping a mentally-ill person in jail is not cheap. In Utah, it turns out to be the yearly equivalent of tuition at an Ivy League college. For that kind of taxpayer money, we could get our mentally ill off the streets and into stable housing environments with enough leftover for the kinds of support services most of them need to stay off the street. Again, the right thing to do for them may also be the most practical choice for us. We could solve the problem for less than it costs to manage it. In the meanwhile, they will cycle between the jail and the library. Is it any wonder that they crave a calm and entertaining environment after weeks, months, or years of fear and noise in jail? From a taxpayer's perspective, however, it seems cheaper to warehouse them in the library, between stints in jail -- or simply to pay no attention to where they are at all.

Refusing Treatment

Even if treatment options were not so scarce and inadequate, many of the mentally ill would not get treatment because they refuse to be treated. Paranoia is rampant on the street and paranoid people do not willingly submit to strange doctors and nurses who might "implant" something in them -- or worse. The cops, paramedics, and social workers can't take a person to the hospital just because he is ranting incoherently. He has to be a danger to himself or others.

Committing the mentally ill, homeless or otherwise, to treatment facilities against their wills is a civil liberties conundrum. As a political activist with controversial ideas, I am sensitive to the issues raised when citizens are forced into treatment. Images of Soviet dissidents getting dragged into psych wards and drugged come immediately to mind. But when a person is hallucinating and clearly upset, it is hard to accept, as I have often heard from social workers and the police, that "nothing can be done."

Sid was in his twenties when he came to us -- a tall, lanky, blond kid with a scraggly beard who walked around rumpled and slump-shouldered, his head hung in a beaten-dog kind of way. He avoided eye-contact and was very quiet most of the time. He liked to read graphic novels and comic books. Occasionally, though, he would jump up and move quickly outside where he would shout and twitch uncontrollably. He seemed to sense when his Tourette's Syndrome would strike and wanted to spare us.

On his worst days, he was troubled by hallucinations and voices he would answer in exasperated whispers. The police told me he had been raped by other transients -- a common occurrence on the street, bound to aggravate and complicate existing psychological disorders. When addressed directly, Sid was unfailingly polite and soft-spoken. Sometimes, we saw him eating scraps from garbage receptacles. The library staff worried about him, replaced his clothes when they fell apart, and bought him food when he grew thin and pale.

Sid, however, refused treatment. The case could be made that Sid was a danger to himself. After all, he often wasn't coherent enough to acquire food for himself. But nobody made that case. One day Sid disappeared. Staff members looked for him on the street and asked other homeless patrons if they had seen him. No one knew a thing and we never saw him again. I often wonder what happened to him. I like to imagine that he was rescued by family members who had been looking for him. It's far more likely that Sid's demons led him to a bus and that he's wandering the margins of another alien city where "nothing can be done."

We see so much despair of Sid's sort among the lost souls who shelter at the library that, by winter's end -- our "homeless season" -- we often find ourselves hard put to cope with our own feelings of depression and frustration. As one library manager told me, "I struggle not to internalize what I experience here, but there are days I just go home and burst out in tears." She is considering leaving the profession.

Another colleague started out in social work and transitioned to a library career when she found she couldn't handle the emotional stress of dealing with her down-and-out clients. Imagine her surprise to rediscover her feelings of despair while working in the library. "I deal with the same clientele," she told me one day, "but now I have no way of making a difference. I still go home feeling sad and discouraged that, in a nation as rich and powerful as ours, we abandon mentally ill people on the streets and then resent them for being sick in public."

There is hope, however. After decades of studies by various task forces, followed by experiments by local governments, a consensus has emerged that the most effective way to help chronically homeless people is to stabilize them in housing first and then offer treatment. Social scientists and policy-makers have concluded, logically enough, that it is hard to "get better" while living in a stressful, demeaning, and unstable environment and easier to recover when one feels safe and secure.

This "housing first" strategy isn't cheap, but it is far more realistic and effective than requiring people to get better as a prerequisite for housing -- and it costs much less than failing the way we do now. Salt Lake County, like many local governments, has created a ten-year plan to end homelessness based on housing-first principles. The wheel of reform is moving slowly, however, and many people who need help now will suffer and die on the street before things can turn their way (if they ever actually do). And the librarians at the City Library and the good citizens of Salt Lake will watch them struggle daily, while waiting for saner policies to take hold.

Gaining the World and Losing Each Other

In the meantime, the Salt Lake City Public Library -- Library Journal's 2006 "Library of the Year" -- has created a place where the diverse ideas and perspectives that sustain an open and inclusive civil society can be expressed safely, where disparate citizens can discover common ground, self-organize, and make wise choices together. We do not collect just books, we also gather voices. We empower citizens and invite them to engage one another in public dialogues. I like to think of our library as the civic ballroom of our community where citizens can practice that awkward dance of mutuality that is the very signature of a democratic culture.

And if the chronically homeless show up at the ball, looking worse than Cinderella after midnight? Well, in a democratic culture, even disturbing information is useful feedback. When the mentally ill whom we have thrown onto the streets haunt our public places, their presence tells us something important about the state of our union, our national character, our priorities, and our capacity to care for one another. That information is no less important than the information we provide through databases and books. The presence of the impoverished mentally ill among us is not an eloquent expression of civil discourse, like a lecture in the library's auditorium, but it speaks volumes nonetheless.

The belief that we are responsible for each other's social, economic, and political well-being, that we will care for our weakest members compassionately, should be the keystone in the moral architecture of a democratic culture. We will not stand by while our fellow citizens are deprived of their fellowship and citizenship -- which is why we ended racial segregation and practices like poll taxes that kept disenfranchised Americans powerless. We will not let children starve. We do not consign orphans to the streets like they do in Brazil or let children be sold into prostitution as they do in Thailand. We are proud of our struggles to meet people's basic needs and to encourage inclusion. Why, then, are the mentally ill still such an exception to those fundamental standards?

America is proud of its hyper-individualism, our liberation from the bonds of tribe and the social constraints of traditional societies. We glorify the accomplishments of inventors, innovators, entrepreneurs, pioneers, and artists. But while some individuals thrive and the cutting edge of our technology is wondrous, the plight of the chronically homeless tells me that our communities are also fragmented and disintegrating. We may have gained the world and lost each other.

The Penan nomads of Sarawak, Borneo, members of an indigenous and primal culture, have no technology or material comforts that compare with our mighty achievements. They have one word for "he," "she," and "it." But they have six words for "we." Sharing is an obligation and is expected, so they have no phrase for "thank you." An American child is taught that homelessness is regrettable but inevitable since some people are bound to fail. A child of the Penan is taught that a poor man shames us all.

Ophelia is not so far off after all -- in a sense she is dead and has been for some time. Hers is a kind of social death from shunning. She is neglected, avoided, ignored, denied, overlooked, feared, detested, pitied, and dismissed. She exists alone in a kind of social purgatory. She waits in the library, day after day, gazing at us through multiple lenses and mumbling to her invisible friends. She does not expect to be rescued or redeemed. She is, as she says, "used to it."

She is our shame. What do you think about a culture that abandons suffering people and expects them to fend for themselves on the street, then criminalizes them for expressing the symptoms of illnesses they cannot control? We pay lip service to this tragedy -- then look away fast. As a library administrator, I hear the public express annoyance more often than not: "What are they doing in here?" "Can't you control them?" Annoyance is the cousin of arrogance, not shame.

We will let Ophelia and the others stay with us and we will be firm but kind. We will wait for America to wake up and deal with its Ophelias directly, deliberately, and compassionately. In the meantime, our patrons will continue to complain about her and the others who seek shelter with us. Yes, we know, we say to them; we hear you loud and clear. Be patient, please, we are doing the best we can. Are you?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

by Michael Azzerad

At some point in their lives, probably every sleepless person has switched on the TV in the wee hours of a weekend morning and chanced upon a fishing show. Invariably, a beefy, half-forgotten retired athlete shares a boat with some laconic, baseball-hatted master of the piscatory art, patiently awaiting a bite. The pace is glacial, the visuals unmoving, the murmur of the narrative positively narcotic. It’s the visual equivalent of ambient music. When a hooked fish finally breaks the surface, it’s as momentous as when the creature bursts out of that guy’s stomach in Alien.

The comedic potential of this mise en scène did not go unnoticed by John Lurie. Watching some droll home videos of himself and his buddy Willem Dafoe fishing together, Lurie, a man who is nothing if not always thinking, swiftly came to a brilliant realization: Here was a way to deduct his vacations from his income tax! This was the genesis of Fishing With John.

Lurie has lead the legendary jazz group the Lounge Lizards for twenty years and starred in the Jim Jarmusch films Stranger Than Paradise and Down By Law. Both experiences probably taught him a little something about casting: Dennis Hopper, Tom Waits, Jim Jarmusch, Matt Dillon and Willem Dafoe may not be the first people to spring to mind if one were putting together a fishing show, but then that’s what makes Fishing With John so great.

Plunked down everywhere from Maine to Thailand, these sophisticates are escaping the hum and velocity of their lives and loving it. But they’re also kind of hating it—every guest expresses his misery and discomfort at some point, some more forthrightly than others. They are, so to speak, fish out of water. What makes Fishing With John special is the collision between the urban, urbane Lurie and his guests and the reality of their surroundings—witness Jim Jarmusch, clad all in Manhattan black, pondering the morality of fishing while riding on a sharkboat.

For a respite from all that nature—“A game of cards on dry land makes Tom feel much better,” says the narrator—these city boys do all the things the original fishing show guys were doing when the cameras weren’t rolling: drinking, smoking, gambling, playing ping-pong. But things really start to happen when they get out on the water, where, if you’ll notice, few fish are actually caught.

Sure, it’s about how it’s not the destination, it’s the journey, yadda, yadda, yadda, but there’s more. On one hand, with its parodies of bleak existential tropes, Fishing With John makes light of the tendency to read much into a blank slate; on the other, it’s a picaresque travelogue about camaraderie and interpersonal chemistry. Lurie and Dafoe banter about the homoerotic element of male friendships like two teenagers; Lurie impatiently yells at his friend Waits to “Row!” but endures being called “Johnny” by elder hipster statesman Hopper. He’s playful with his former boss Jarmusch and (barely) patient with the laconic Dillon.

The leisurely pace, unfurled with a musician’s sense of timing, owes a lot to Jarmusch’s bleak, deadpan directorial style. It’s why Fishing With John is still great even when the repartee is, shall we say, less than scintillating. Turns out there’s just something very funny about very interesting people having very dull conversations. For instance:

Jarmusch: “I’ll drive.”

Lurie: “You wanna drive?”

Jarmusch: “No.”

Much of show’s charm stems from its resemblance to a home movie—or maybe one of those TV blooper shows—with the guests’ charisma and notoriety replacing the familiarity of relatives and friends; that’s why their fishermanly bullshit sessions about things like armless truck drivers and colostomy bags are so entertaining. The show has subtly stacked the deck on several other levels, too: The cinematography is top-notch and the music, by Lurie himself, is superb (soundtrack available on Lurie’s label, Strange & Beautiful music).

Then there’s veteran narrator Robb Webb, who hits just the right tone of thoughtful wonderment even as he spouts platitudes, clichés and just plain nonsense like “I’d love a bite of your sandwich” just to see if we’re paying attention. The show is crammed with funny little asides, references and non sequiturs that fully reveal themselves only after repeated viewings. And just to emphasize the artifice, there’s the modernist touch of occasional absurd sight and sound gags like dog barking synchronized to the bouncing of a ping-pong ball.

Lurie tells Waits that if he lived in Jamaica, he’d probably make sculptures out of the stuff he found on the beach. It’s an apt metaphor for what he does with the show, reconfiguring scores of hours of raw videotape into a coherent creation, imposing at least some sort of structure onto these shaggy sea-dog stories.

But there’s only so much one can alter in post-production. The fact is, with a camera trained on them for days, there’s no way Lurie and his guests are going to be “on” for all of it. Within the uniquely intimate confines of a boat, their personalities (or lack thereof) stand in deep relief—they are cool, cranky, dull, spacey, scary. Even with no makeup or script, they’re still remarkably like the characters they portray on stage and screen. And therein lies the essential charm of Fishing With John—as Robb Webb puts it, these are real men doing real things.

A review by Bob Stephens

Human sexuality has often provided a basis for horror in literature and cinema. For example, the figure of the male vampire represents the elegant circumvention of Victorian repression, the double standard that discriminated against women, and amnesia has been a nightmarish mechanism for post-coital forgetting, the costly denial of having participated in a taboo act.

Canadian director David Cronenberg, very aware of the subversive effect of such an approach, has made a career of specializing in the linkage of sex with horror. His 1975 movie "Shivers," which is being revived for a six-day run at the Roxie on Halloween, is a fine example of his idiosyncratic, morbid preoccupations.

In "Shivers," a group of apartment houses, separated by its island setting from a big city, is the location of a disturbing parasite infestation, one that involves the sexual transmission of some bloody, nastily phallic creatures.

As the infection spreads, Cronenberg opens up a world of terror in which incest, pedophilia, homosexuality and heterosexual lust are punished by a lethal disease. Though some viewers have complained that the director's attitudes are mere moralizations, they conveniently ignore his equally repellent victimization of the sexually innocent, the aged and the disabled.

"Shivers" exhibits the major characteristics of Cronenberg's canon, his use of architecture as reinforcement of the film's creepy tone and the deliberate reduction of men and women to a single, compulsively sexual aspect of their identities.

The array of dwellings in which the movie is set constitutes a self-contained environment as isolated from its surroundings as a science fictional space station or undersea laboratory are from Mother Earth or terra firma.

Sterile-looking, de-natured domiciles promise safety for their inhabitants, protection from the hazards of urban existence. Layer upon layer of glass walls also symbolize the transparency of false emotions and the strange separation of people who live in proximity to each other.

When security is violated and their living spaces are penetrated, the buildings' function is reversed: They no longer serve as fortresses and become, instead, inescapable traps. The huge structures have endless corridors, barren hallways like tunnels that turn back upon themselves, leading nowhere.

Though "Shivers" occasionally echoes a couple of its forerunners, "The Tingler" (1959) and "Night of the Living Dead" (1968), the film achieves its own peculiar power with one ingeniously lurid scene after another.

There's a variation on a common male fantasy of surreptitious rape, the pornographic presence of a serpent in a woman's bath tub; a man experiences autoerotic pleasure in the subcutaneous play of parasites inside his belly; a suggestive comparison of a parasite's ravenous appetite with the revolting gluttony of a man eating a cherry pie; and a sardonic woman who's always carrying a glass of rose-colored wine - a drink that foreshadows, in its pink contamination of pure water, the bloodshed to come.

Cronenberg is obviously an artist who exploits our disgust at the gore and goo of carnality, our shame over, and fear of, physical decay. (Is anything more frightening than the violent eruption of incomprehensible symptoms of an illness?) Furthermore, he detects in our vague anxieties an unacknowledged, horrifying sensuousness, a pathological confusion of sex with death that often haunts us.

Finally, "Shivers" is an unnerving vision that overwhelms the medical profession's complacent rationalism. It takes malicious pleasure in the transmission of a sexual plague by a simple, superficially harmless kiss. Perhaps the most oral of horror films, Cronenberg's work reaches its chilling climax as the fashionable housing project is transformed into a hive swarming with cries of a dreadful, undesirable ecstasy.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

by Matt Taibbi

"Secretary of State Rice said it was like Germany after World War II. I would say it was like Germany, but Germany of 1648, before it was a modern state, rather than Germany in 1948... We were able to rebuild Germany and Japan after WWII, but there are real differences with Iraq. We defeated them with large numbers of troops and we imposed an effective occupation. We never defeated the Sunnis of Iraq and we never imposed an effective occupation controlling the country. Moreover, Germany and Japan had a tradition of democracy and free markets that we could build on. Iraq had very little." -- New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman

Thomas Friedman has been subdued lately. I get the feeling that he's taken some of the criticism of his nutty metaphors (I'm only one of a great many people who've been on him about this) to heart and decided to chill out, which in a way is kind of a shame. He's still an arrogant, wrong-headed prick, but he's no longer a walking literary time bomb like he used to be. I often feel now, like I did on the day Red Auerbach died, that the world has lost one of its leading lights.

I had high hopes a few weeks back when Friedman officially penned his five hundredth "Russia is finally turning the corner, because the middle class is really emerging there" piece. Russia and its middle class first started turning the corner during Clinton's first term. Anyway, the piece began it with the sentence, "Russia today is a country that takes three hands to describe. ..."

For three short paragraphs after that, the old magic came back. It was like watching Nolan Ryan's last no-hitter -- for one glorious day, the fastball went back up to 99 again. On the one hand, Friedman said, Putin's Russia can no longer be called democratic. On the other hand, Boris Yeltsin's version of democracy was a failure. This is the sentence that came next -- emphasis is mine:

And on the third hand, while today's Russia may be a crazy quilt of capitalist czars, mobsters, nationalists and aspiring democrats, it is not the totalitarian Soviet Union.

Even in remission, genius is genius. How do you get around the natural mathematical limitations of the construction, "On the one hand ... but on the other hand ..."? After all, we humans only have two hands. You or I would never have thought of it, but Friedman knew instinctively -- just add another hand!

But aside from that, the pickings have been slim in Friedman-land. That doesn't mean, of course, that he hasn't been wrong and stupid lately -- it just means he's been avoiding figures of speech. Most of what he's been doing since he got back from Russia is write columns complaining about the various unpredictable annoyances that are preventing the war in Iraq from being the smashing success it by all rights ought to have been. Last week, for instance, he wrote a piece called "The Silence The Kills" bemoaning the widespread failure of Arab cultures to condemn suicide bombers. The rhetorical crux of the piece rests upon the curious moral calculus that has defined the Bush presidency, a calculus I think is most easily expressed in haiku form:

The war in Iraq
A problem of perception
Terrorists are worse!

Friedman's haiku didn't scan -- it read like this: "Mr. Bush is losing a P.R. war to people who blow up emergency wards. Europeans are mute, lost in their delusion that this is all George Bush's and Tony Blair's fault."

What's amazing to me is that conservatives have been pushing this line of reasoning for five, six years now, and some people are apparently still buying it. Okay, yes, I jammed my own head up my ass -- but I didn't really, because look at how despicable the terrorists are! Why, they blew up a children's hospital! How could my own head be up my ass if terrorists can blow up a children's hospital? And the headless body points, gesticulates, etc.

Friedman, a former enthusiastic war apologist (for months before the invasion he applauded the crazy, nonsensical audacity of the war plan, likening it to a football Hail Mary pass -- "The Long Bomb," as he put it), went through his Hillary Clinton-like "Mistakes were made" about-face on the war issue last summer, in an impressively shameless column called "Time For Plan B." The piece was one of the most defiantly convoluted non-apologies in op/ed history, making sure to re-list at exhaustive length all the unassailably noble reasons Friedman supported the war ("Yes, I believe it was and remains hugely important to try to partner with Iraqis to create one good example in the heart of the Arab world of a decent, progressive state, blah blah blah ...") while also leaving no doubt whose fault it was that this excellent initiative foundered ("Whether for Bush reasons or Arab reasons, it is not happening").

I bring this up because Friedman's latest column, "Don't Ask, Don't Know, Don't Help," is yet another "the war should have worked" piece, and it's of a sort we're likely to see quite often in upcoming years.

What we have to remember about America's half-baked propaganda machine is that, dumb as it is, it always keeps its eye on the ball. The war in Iraq is lost, everyone knows that, but there are future wars to think about. When a war goes wrong, the reason can never that the invasion was simply a bad, immoral decision, a hopelessly fucked-up idea that even a child could have seen through. No, we always have to make sure that the excuse for the next war is woven into the autopsy of the current military failure. That's why to this day we're still hearing about how Vietnam was lost because a) the media abandoned the war effort b) the peace movement undermined the national will and c) the public, and the Pentagon, misread the results of the Tet offensive, seeing defeat where there actually was a victory.

After a few decades of that, we were ready to go to war again -- all we had to do, we figured, was keep the cameras away from the bloody bits, ignore the peace movement, and blow off any and all bad news from the battlefield. And we did all of these things for quite a long time in Iraq, but, maddeningly, Iraq still turned out to be a failure.

That left the war apologists in a bind. If after fixing all of the long-held Vietnam excuses Iraq could still blow up in our faces, that must mean that we not only misjudged Iraq, but we were wrong about why Vietnam failed, too. Now, if we're ever going to pull one of these stunts again, we're going to need to come up with a grander, even more outlandish excuse for why both wars were horrible, bloody failures. Who could come up with such an excuse? Well, a man who counts on three hands sure can. Here's Friedman quoting author Robert Hormats:

"In every major war that we have fought, with the exception of Vietnam, there was an effort prior to the war or just after the inception to re-evaluate tax and spending policies and to shift resources from less vital national pursuits to the strategic objective of fighting and winning the war," said Mr. Hormats, a vice chairman of Goldman Sachs (International). He quotes Roosevelt's 1942 State of the Union address, when F.D.R. looked Americans in the eye and said: "War costs money. ... That means taxes and bonds and bonds and taxes. It means cutting luxuries and other nonessentials. In a word, it means an Œall-out‚ war by individual effort and family effort in a united country."

Ever heard Mr. Bush talk that way? After Pearl Harbor, Mr. Hormats noted, Roosevelt vowed to mobilize U.S. industry to produce enough weapons so we would have a "crushing superiority" in arms over our enemies. Four years after the start of the Iraq war, this administration has still not equipped all our soldiers with the armor they need.

In other words, both Vietnam and Iraq failed not because they were stupid, vicious occupations of culturally alien populations that despised our very presence and were willing to sacrifice scads of their own lives to send us home. No, the problem was that we didn't make an effort to "re-evaluate tax and spending policies" and "shift resources" into an "all-out" war effort.

The notion that our problem in Iraq is a resource deficit is pure, unadulterated madness. Our enemies don't have airplanes or armor. They are fighting us with garage-door openers and fifty year-old artillery shells, sneaking around barefoot in the middle of the night around to plant roadside bombs. Anytime anyone dares oppose us in the daylight, we vaporize them practically from space using weapons that cost more than the annual budgets of most Arab countries to design. We outnumber the active combatants on the other side by at least five to one. This year, we will spend more on the military than the rest of the world combined -- more than six hundred billion dollars. And yet Tom Friedman thinks the problem in Iraq is that we ordinary Americans didn't tighten our belts enough to support the war effort.

Friedman should be hung upside down and have holes drilled in his skull for even suggesting this, of course. We're talking about one of the richest men in media, a guy who in recent years got still richer beating the drum for this war from his $9.3 million, 11,400 square-foot mansion in suburban Maryland. He is married to a shopping mall heiress worth nearly $3 billion; the Washingtonian says he is part of one of the 100 richest families in America. And yet he has the balls to turn around and tell us that the pointless, asinine war he cheerleaded for failed because we didn't sacrifice enough for it. Are you reaching for the railroad spike yet?

This being tax season, I want you all to think about this Friedman column as you prepare your returns, because I'll bet anything he's surfing ahead of a trend here. If the next president is John McCain, or even if it isn't, you can be damn sure that we're going to hear a lot about how we blew Iraq because there weren't enough troops or resources shifted into Iraq.

You're going to hear that we didn't have money to pay for body armor, when the reality is that the reason troops didn't have body armor in recent years is that congressmen robbed the operations and maintenance accounts of the defense budget to pay for earmarks/pork projects (they took $9 billion in pork and earmarks out of the O&M allotment in 2005, for instance). They robbed the part of the budget that paid for ordinary soldiers‚ gear so they wouldn't have to touch the F-22 Raptor, the CVN(X) aircraft carrier, or any of the other mega-expensive and mostly useless weapons programs. I mean, think about it -- how else can you spend $600 billion dollars on the military every year and not have body armor for the soldiers deployed at war? Somewhere, someone who doesn't need it has to be sucking up that money.

But trust me, the myth is going to be that you didn't cough up enough for the war. It's your fault we failed, not Tom Friedman's. So put all three of your hands in your pockets and dig out that change you're holding back. We'll need it for his next great idea.

Monday, April 02, 2007



Lebbeus Woods (Lansing, Michigan, 1940 - ) is an American artist who envisions experimental environments rather than designing practical buildings, comparing his work to the visionary power of cinema. He was quoted saying "the interplay of metrical systems establishing boundaries of materials and energetic forms is the foundation of a universal science (universcience) whose workers include all individuals...."

The majority of his explorations deal with the design of systems in crisis: the order of the existing being confronted by the order of the new. His designs are politically charged and provocative visions of a possible reality, provisional, local and charged with the investment of their creators. He is best known for his proposals for San Francisco, Havana and Sarajevo included in the publication of Radical Reconstruction in 1997. Sarajevo after its civil war, Havana in the grips of the ongoing trade embargo, and San Francisco after the Loma Prieta earthquake.

Woods studied architecture at the University of Illinois and engineering at Purdue University and first worked in the offices of Eero Saarinen, but in 1976 turned exclusively to theory and experimental projects. [1] He is currently a professor of architecture at the Cooper Union in New York City. In 1988 Woods co-founded RIEA, the Research Institute for Experimental Architecture, a non-profit institution devoted to the advancement of experimental architectural thought and practice while promoting the concept and perception of architecture itself.

Architecture and war are not incompatible. Architecture is war. War is architecture. I am at war with my time, with history, with all authority that resides in fixed and frightened forms. I am one of millions who do not fit in, who have no home, no family, no doctrine, no firm place to call my own, no known beginning or end, no "sacred and primordial site." I declare war on all icons and finalities, on all histories that would chain me with my own falseness, my own pitiful fears. I know only moments, and lifetimes that are as moments, and forms that appear with infinite strength, then "melt into air." I am an architect, a constructor of worlds, a sensualist who worships the flesh, the melody, a silhoutte against the darkening sky. I cannot know your name. Nor you can know mine. Tomorrow, we begin together the construction of a city.

His website (???)



Antonio Sant'Elia (April 30, 1888 - October 10, 1916) was an Italian architect. He was born in Como, Lombardy. A builder by training, he opened a design office in Milan in 1912 and became involved with the Futurist movement. Between 1912 and 1914, influenced by industrial cities of the United States and the Viennese architects Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos, he began a series of design drawings for a futurist Città Nuova ("New City") that was conceived as symbolic of a new age.

Many of these drawings were displayed at the first and only exhibition of the Nuove Tendenze group (of which he was a member) exhibition in May/June 1914 at the "Famiglia Artistica" gallery. Today, many of these drawings are on permanent display at Villa Olmo, near Como.

The manifesto Futurist Architecture was published in August 1914, supposedly by Sant'Elia, though this is subject to debate. In it the author stated that "the decorative value of Futurist architecture depends solely on the use and original arrangement of raw or bare or violently colored materials". As described in this manifesto, his designs featured bold groupings and large-scale disposition of planes and masses creating a heroic industrial expressionism. His vision was for a highly industrialised and mechanized city of the future, which he saw not as a mass of individual buildings but a vast, multi-level, interconnected and integrated urban conurbation designed around the "life" of the city. His extremely influential designs featured vast monolithic skyscraper buildings with terraces, bridges and aerial walkways that embodied the sheer excitement of modern architecture and technology.

A socialist as well as an irredentist, Sant'Elia joined the Italian army as Italy entered World War I in 1915. He was killed at Monfalcone. Most of his designs were never built, but his futurist vision has influenced many architects and designers.



Melancholy and Mystery of a Street

The Seer

The Disquieting Muses


Despite a few startling aspects, the projects are no utopias. Utopia tends to objectivize a future by trespassing spatial duress. It tends to contemplate time and space as two totally independent principles, whereas they are absolutely consubstantial with one another.

They are far different from any projection of ideal social organizations or any painterly master plans; their numerous sketches, drawings, models and other simulation devices, would rather question again and again the interpenetrating of time and space, by phasing and integrating an uncertain future.

But the refusal of utopia does not prevent the projects from playing with the powers of the imaginary -not to enforce the imaginary like a solipsism, but to interbreed its powers with other more physical forces emerging from the territory. The will for shape has grafted either on the great geographic undulations that dig the soil out and cover it up with vegetation, or on the mechanical traffic flows and their tireless pulse of polluting vehicles; the graft also operates on the dynamism expressed through the inhabitants' urge for change.

All elements speak of force and power: architecture is not sheer technique trying and renewing efficient proven typologies. It had better bring back any moment the memory of multiple shelters such as were invented through the ages of animal and human construction -back from the first cave dwelling settlements to El Lissitzky's horizontal skyscrapers, from the Carnac menhirs to the latest orbiting stations. Nature as well, is neither considered like some collection of objects -made out of stones, trees, plants or animals -- nor like natura naturata, but rather like an endlessly budding natura naturans.

Those forces should be scraped against one another; the memory of the architectural field, with its amnesia and sudden recollections, is peculiarly mixed with this lingering movement of the tectonic plates that gradually shapes the ground with the help of water, wind, ice and natural flowering.

Let's break first the circle of vision, and grasp the flow and turbulence that secretly govern all human settings -as evaporation and condensation would make and unmake the clouds in the sky. The contemporary city must be conceived as the condenser for a new existential order.
Therefore, the projects are either wondering about the substance of space or assessing the manifold housing processes, associating them with cosmogonies.

Fracture, for instance, is experimenting with the void. It displays a space free of all functions -services, facilities, stores, car-parks, are all integrated into the buildings- where human bodies would merely pass by facing one another over bridges and footbridges. Just as if the visual space up aloft became the actual scene for potential encounters. A dysfunctional rift creates a point of friction full of potential, breaks the activity sectors apart and renews the tension between them all.

Urban jungle is more concerned about the solid earth. The project considers the soil not merely as a sensitive skin collecting objects, but as a specific substance either of a mineral and mechanical quality, or on the contrary, as a planted impenetrable element, or even as a substance scattered with threatening wild animals. The city is conceived anew like needlework, made out of spatial strips of distinct characteristics.

Stacking tries to set rules for the creation of an amniotic space that would carry out the brief -housings, stores, sports grounds, companies, etc- through stacking rather than casual juxtaposition. The layers in constant connection with each other would generate a three-dimensional space continuum, and foster interference and correspondence.

Other projects are undertaking new methods in regards to the urban and architectural construct.

In-ex, for example, offers the action of drilling as an alternative to assembling. Genuine anti-constructions are invented in reference to the prehistoric cave: underground rooms gradually release themselves from the ground and let their outer volumes stretch out to the open air, exhibiting them as the negative forms of their interior spatiality.

Reversal plays as well on the reference to Leibniz's monad that exposes itself to otherness from the very depths of itself: the project seeks to conceptualize a device that would have the usual inner spaces take place in the outside, and vice-versa. Dense and active constructions are erected on the limits of the parcel whereas the hollowed center is planted with trees; it looks as if an extrinsic element of the city had come upon its core.

Wall-Wall opposes an active and noisy wall to an empty silent ditch. It questions both ways, positive and negative, of closing off a space and delimiting an insularity. The discussion about the origin of architecture then opens to something else than roof and shelter: a visible or invisible delimitation.

There is no planning here, but some interactions that may cause the interference and bypassing within a space at peace in the midst of a jumbled city. Such interference may then induce irreversible injuries, allowing for the void to spring again, together with the open nomad citizenship yet to come.