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ANAPHE, A COUNTER–UTOPIA

In 1794, Russian writer Mikhail Kheraskov published the utopian novel Polydorus. The novel narrates the adventure of Greek hero Polydorus, king of Thebes, on his journey to the island of Chryse, the ideal society – a utopian land of happiness – governed by the benevolent nymph Teandre. Unbeknownst to Polydorus, the gods deviate his boat’s trajectory and make him land on Anaphe, the island he mistakes for Chryse. 

Anaphe is the secret opposite of Chryse, and it pretends to be Chryse to attract and mislead innocent and naive travellers. Kheraskov’s Anaphe is allegedly a counter-utopia. Anaphe is ruled by Gorgona, a malevolent nymph that pretends to be Teandre. “Enter my cave, you have finally found me, the one that will appease your soul and make every day of your life joyful”, says Gorgona as she welcomes Polydorus to Anaphe. The nymph’s face is always covered by a veil and her cave is decorated with luxurious drapes and precious gems. 

Anaphe’s landscape is sprinkled with golden fields, lush forests, vast vineyards, and crystalline lakes with swans. Its valleys are filled with nymphs singing and dancing all day long. “Everything is festive, the island breathes joy, everything resembles a smile”.  “Licezrenie” is what reigns over Anaphe, a Russian term for immediate and easy happiness. 

The entry on Anaphe is subject to two requirements: wearing new clothes and obeying to Gorgona, no matter what. Persuaded he is on Chryse, Polydorus gladly accepts.

After a sumptuous welcome banquet, Gorgona takes Polydorus on a tour of the island. He notes that shepherds, farmers, everyone makes love freely, rapidly changing sexual partner. Sensing his perplexity, Gorgona explains that love is free and consensual on the island and that it lasts never too long for lovers to get bored and is never too strong for them to suffer. On Anaphe, love never equates to suffering, love is the opposite of boredom. 

Polydorus also notes that in between the dazzling temples there are hidden shanty towns. Gorgona promptly explains that on Anaphe the rich need the poor to feel happy about their privilege and that the poor need the rich to realize how unimportant wealth is when death arrives. Consensual inequality, according to Gorgona, is the social cement that allows Anaphe to be a happy viable society. In addition, through her magical powers, Gorgona can see and hear everything that happens on Anaphe, as a way to ensure fairness and justice. 

Polydorus also realizes that all Anaphiots have a single desire: seeing the real face of Gorgona. To this effect, the nymph organizes regular receptions for all her subjects where she promises to show her face to them. At such meetings, she appears with her face veiled, sitting on a throne made of diamonds. At every reception, she repeats the words: “I punish the rebels. I reward those who comply”. At such gatherings, Gorgona expects her subjects to behave as equals: everyone, rich or poor, must be the same, must be “indistinct”, the key to the happiness of every society. But then, at every gathering, she finds an excuse and delays the unveiling of her face in an timeless procrastination of her promise.

After the reception, Gorgona takes Polydorus to a cave made of transparent alabaster and they sit on wild animal skins. Gorgona agrees to partially unveil her face to Polydorus. Blinded by the beauty of her face and by the “swan-like whiteness” of her breast, Polydorus mistakenly calls Gorgona by his wife’s name, in an uncontrolled moment of homesickness. Infuriated by the hero’s faux-pas, the nymph turns Polydorus into a slave and orders him to perform the endless task of growing a pomegranate seed. Ashamed of his behavior, Polydorus accepts to comply and be punished. Later, with the help of his friend Triptolemus, Polydorus manages to escape deceptive Anaphe. He finally arrives on Chryse where he is welcomed by the real Teandre into the island’s “temple of wisdom” as a reward for overcoming so many obstacles and finding the right path to Chryse.

Piergiorgio Pepe’s research notes based on Breuillard Jean, “Fragments d’utopies dans la littérature russe du XVIIIe siècle : Levšin et Xeraskov” in: Revue des études slaves, tome 56, fascicule 1, 1984: L’utopie dans le monde slave.

 

COMMONS AS COUNTER–IDEOLOGY 

Long ago, Paul Virilio observed that we have entered the era of the real-time, or to use a slightly different but closely related term: the era of immediacy. This shift to the real-time, to immediacy, is primarily brought about by the introduction of evolving generations of real-time (communication) media on an increasingly global scale.

For him it was clear that immediacy of the real-time media destroys the possibility of democratic politics, which is based on time and reflection. A politics of the real-time, instead, can only be authoritarian: an event has taken place and is present from a distance in real-time and there has to be an immediate reaction. Without time to share – data, impressions, observations – and reflect, the decision-making process becomes inherently authoritarian. 

The core idea of the real-time economy is the aim, and indeed the ideology, to take all lag out of business processes. This objective/ideology is pursued by deploying information processing technologies, automated sensory and tracking systems, and high-capacity data network technologies (wired and wireless) throughout all stages of the production and distribution process: from the collection of base materials right up to the delivery of finished products and/or services to the end user/consumer. The aim of real-time economy is not only to make sure the production process never stalls, but more importantly, to ensure that the optimum volume of resources (materials, energy, human and knowledge capacities) is allocated to each successive stage of the production process, i.e., neither too much nor too little. 

To achieve this ambitious aim a continuous feedback process needs to be set up where all parts operate interconnected in real-time.

In the process of establishing such monitoring and feedback capacities a control system is constructed that aims to neutralize any risk posed to the lag-free operation of the system as a whole. 

The control mechanism becomes ubiquitous and infinitely malleable, literally programmed in the software and hardware of current networked socio-technical assemblages. 

Another critical factor for real-time systems and, by extension, the real-time economy, is the speed of analysis required to optimize real-time processes. Inevitably, as the technological systems accelerate largely automated logistic processes, the human factor in the chain increasingly becomes a liability.

While such processes of automation have a long history in the replacement of human physical labour, they now venture further and further into the domain of cognitive labour. 

Virilio contrasts two forms of time here: The Extensive Time or human perception and cognition where past, present, and possible futures are still available for analysis and reflection, and the Intensive Time, which is a technologically constructed time form where processes operate at a speed inaccessible to human perception and cognition. 

What is needed to transcend the logic of the real-time and the reign of immediacy is an ideological move. Such an ideological move implies first of all a deliberate insistence on the primacy of the political over the utilitarian logics of immediacy. 

Once the reign of immediacy is accepted as an ideology (geared towards the optimization of value extraction of the productive process through the deployment of real-time technologies that operate principally outside of human scrutiny) it becomes possible to understand deliberate interventions that disrupt the real-time processes as a counter-ideology, aimed at opening up spaces for reflection and (collective) deliberation. 

Deliberation requires time and reflection, but time is exactly what is not provided by the real-time logic. Quite the contrary, the ideology of immediacy considers ‘idle’ time as ‘lag’, which needs to be eliminated at all cost. What remains in the ultra-short ‘response-time’ of immediacy is affect, a-signified, non-conscious, precognitive and semantically unstructured. The commons need to transcend this real-time operational logic and has no choice but to challenge the reign of immediacy as a dominant form of social organization. 

The commons require a deliberately deliberative intervention that disrupts the real-time logic of immediacy and allows the political to enter. 

This leads to the final question, which is how to conceive of such a possible disruption. Leaving aside the most obvious candidates fir such a disruption–sabotage, physical blockage, Distributed Denial Of Services attacks, viral communication, insurgencies, terrorist attacks, strikes, occupations, squatting, or power cuts–which all carry their own undesirable side-effects, we may be well advised to devote some attention to the domain of aesthetics and the role of interventionist and participatory art practices might perform in opening up spaces for deliberation, commoning, and ‘real’ democratic processes.

Eric Kluitenberg, “The Commons as a Deliberative Counter-Ideology” (excerpt), in: Commonism, N. Dockx & P. Gielen (eds.), 2018

 

LA VIE MODE D’EMPLOI

Gaspard Winckler had died a few weeks after this meeting, and Bartlebooth had virtually stopped going out. From time to time Smautf would give Valène news of the absurd voyage that twenty years on the Englishman was pursuing in the silence of his padded study: “We’ve left Crete” – Smautf identified himself with Bartlebooth quite often, and spoke of him in the first person plural (it is true they had made all these journeys together) – “we’re approaching the Cyclades: Zafora, Anafi, Milo, Paros, Naxos, that won’t be plain sailing!”

Georges Perec, Life: A User’s Manual, Chapter XXVIII, 1978.

 

KISSIROPI CAVE SUPERNATURAL

The list of topics specified by the Folklore Centre asks for stories about local places; one such recorded by Imellos mentions an area to the south-west of the village known as Kissiropi. The story records the encounter between a villager (a midwife) and other-worldly creatures who need her help with the birth (in a cave at Kissiropi) of a ‘fairy child’. ‘Here in the south-west area of Anafi, at a place called Kissiropi, there’s a cave. One evening someone [human or otherwise is not stated] came [from there] and knocked on the door of the midwife to say his wife was in childbirth. The midwife got ready, she didn’t notice who it was, and followed him. But because he went in front of her and left the village she realised that something was out of the ordinary. She went into the cave, saw lights, a bed, and saw sheets on the bed which she recognised as those of her neighbour. She plunged her hands into the blood from the childbirth and stopped the flow [i.e., prevented a haemorrhage and the mother’s death]. She saw other women there. They said to her: if the child is male, joy to you, but if it is female, woe to you. But it was a girl. She moulded some of the candle wax and put it there [i.e. between the baby’s legs] and showed [them] it was a boy. One of the women there helped her [presumably to wrap up the baby and settle the mother]. After she had fixed up the new mother, the women took her back to her house, with a torch. They gave her a bag of garlic skins which she put in her pocket and as soon as she got near to her house she threw it away. ‘What did they give me, those disgusting women?’ she said. As soon as she got inside she filled the house with crosses – on the hearths, on the doors, and so on. The next day by chance she put her hand in her pocket. Two things had remained there and they were florins [i.e. the garlic skins (floudia in Greek) had turned into money, specifically golden coins (flouria); and of course she had thrown all the rest away]. The next day she went to find her neighbour and asked her about the sheets. She [the neighbour] said that they were in a trunk. She [the midwife] said ‘Well, I found them over there [i.e. in the cave]’ and they opened the chest and found the sheets were dirty just as they had been [in the cave, because of the childbirth]. And for three evenings he [presumably the person who had taken her to the cave] watched her. And that’s what they told me.’ 

Margaret E. Kenna, The Folklore and Traditions of Anafi, pamphlet, privately printed, 2018.