SUPERCONVERSATIONS DAY 60: ASHKAN SEPAHVAND RESPONDS TO ANTON VIDOKLE, “[THE COMMUNIST REVOLUTION WAS CAUSED BY THE SUN: A PARTIAL SCRIPT FOR A SHORT FILM]” *
#It Is Not a Coincidence, It Is an Ecology
Welcome to a Comet: Rosetta Spacecraft orbiting Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on 6 August 2014.
My dear friend Namik recently said a line of great importance: “it is not a coincidence; it is an ecology.”
It is that moment when I feel like an oracle, when the output of one’s imagination, however out-of-this-world, appears in-this-world, as a delayed reality. It is that moment when an implausible fiction resurfaces as an undeniable fact, when creativity grafts itself into the world-sheet and grows – viral, lucid, resonant. HYPERSTITION. Am I responding to a script, or is a script responding to me? Seen outside of a linear continuity between credit and debt, we approach the realm of the imagination from an omnipresent circular perspective, an economy of lavish expenditure, within which all thoughts from all times are entangled with one another, forming dense spheres of atemporal, rhythmic immanence.
Eschewing the coincidental for the ecological, one point becomes crystal clear: thought must from now on insist on the COSMIC. Sure, the word evokes stardust, solar flares, magic mushrooms, and psychonauts, but it also means “order” - that which pertains to the order of things, the coordinates of this and that, seen as a whole, seen as one grand image. No longer does knowledge count as the minuscule, as the ever-increasing specialization towards the specificity of specifics, no longer does the eye turn towards the microscope to look at the small, to discover what is smaller than small – NO! Just as our ancestors slung their heads back to the sky to admire the marvel of the Milky Way, thought must always struggle to address EVERYTHING, and through that, it finally begins to articulate Something.
A graffiti slogan encountered on the streets of Berlin: Wem den Menschen über Wunder berichtet, sollte Selber das Staunen nicht verlernt haben. (rough translation: “He who brings news of wonder to others, should himself not have lost the capacity for awe)
The ecology that binds me to you here, dear Anton, without having exchanged a word between us and yet enveloped in a greater, cosmic conversation, is that from 2008 to 2010, encapsulated in the solitude of my arcane obsessions, I was working on a novel that I never finished, nor have made public since. The story you may already know – in the near future, a biennial takes place in a post-disaster Baghdad and on the opening night a group who call themselves the “Pancosmic Whirling Dervishes” enact a performance that appears to go terribly awry. An explosion rips through the foyer of the museum; the action is denounced as an act of terrorism, yet the artist, and the art-world-apparatus supporting him, insist that no, this was a concrete demonstration of a radical technique the Dervishes had expertly developed. Through this method of “catastrophic transubstantiation”, the material bodies of all present in the room were atomically recomposed into plant and mineral matter. The force of this implosive energetic reorganization certainly would be perceived as a great explosion, akin to the suicide bomber’s deadly rampage, and yet, for the Dervishes, as stated in their Manifesto, this was nothing more than an intensification of the rhythmic vibrations holding atomic bundles together. In this “art of the future”, the very substance of life is the material to be worked with, and its goal is to save us from ourselves, from the Catastrophe of Man, from the impending Doom of Desire, from the Illusion of Death – generously, we are transformed into a landscape, so that we may wait. Plant-time, stone-time, matter never dies.
I never finished this novel because in many ways, it became real. In 2009, the streets of Tehran filled up with people dressed in green, adorning their bodies with tree branches, singing songs, shedding blood, demanding change, and yet, in that coming-together to the rhythm of a people in love, an energetic transformation was generated. Because bodies came together. Things have never been the same since, despite the natural heliotropic cycle – after the manic peak, a state of collapse, leading to depression. A state of celebration parallels a state of war. The Arab Spring, the Occupation of the Parks – elation, pancosmic joy, music and dance. Only to fall apart – the Islamic State, terrorists-as-performance artists, dOCUMENTA (13) in Kabul, a looming Grexit, the Fourth German Reich. It also became real in the sense that others began to think about the things I had been thinking about, yourself included – but again, the eternal return promises that what I think, has been thought before, and what you think, will be thought again. Federov’s Cosmism reappears as my my Dervishes’ pancosmism. It reappears as your script. It reappears because energy never disappears.
I think the concern you and I are getting at is that when bodies come together, TRANSFORMATION happens. This is a body-politic, not as biopolitical critique, or as a recourse to a “performativity” of bodies. I am thinking of the body as an aggregate composition, a configuration of movements and processes that articulate conflict and negotiate the circulation, exchange, and expenditure of excess energy. In this sense, “politics” is a coming-together to be in a state of differentiation and dissensus, bodies enacting a choreography towards a rhythmic unfolding of the surplus they each individually generate. Bataille knew this, the first principle of his general economy: “the living organism, in a situation determined by the play of energy on the surface of the globe, ordinarily receives more energy than necessary for maintaining life; the excess energy…must be spent, willingly or not, gloriously or catastrophically.”[i]
Could this slippery notion we call “energy” be re-conceived as what Paul Valéry proposed with his concept of the “fourth body”? That what is expended, what is worked upon, what is shaped, in both glory and destruction, is the substance of imagination held within non-existence, the idea of having-body or becoming-body? A meta-body. An inter-body. A trans-form. Isn’t that what immortality implies? Is energy that substance that happens between bodies when they come together, like a song? Radiant mankind – the very stuff the art of the future wishes to make its own medium.
I leave you, Anton, with two excerpts from the one of the dusty manuscripts of my unrealized novel, both written eight years ago. My writing was a bit awkward back then, I must say. Anyway, the first tells the history of the Pancosmic Whirling Dervishes; the second presents one version of their Manifesto Towards an Art of the Future. This conversation has made me realize, it is now time to do away with mere coincidences, and to take up pride of place within the ecology we co-inhabit.
“Amir Al-Nabulsi studied graphic arts and printmaking at the Moscow Academy of Art during the Cultural Revolution of the post-Stalinist Khrushchev years. There he began designing posters and propaganda for the Soviet Space Programme, whilst coming into contact with the Cosmist writings of Nikolai Fedorov. Fedorov believed that the Earth is a set upon which the endeavour of humanity is towards the creation of the possibility of immortality. This immortality will occur through a unified effort to transfer human life into outer space. The future promise of a utopia can only be possible if all of humanity works together on the shared goal of eradicating death. According to Fedorov, if life is transferred to outer space, then all the souls of everyone who has ever died will be resurrected, and the perfect community of all humans who have ever lived will exist together in harmony. Fedorov’s theories made an impression on the artistic work of Al-Nabulsi, who transferred the ideas of an interstellar utopia into his poster designs. The image of radiant, post-terrestrial masses perpetuates throughout his work. During his 8-year stay in the Soviet Union, he made contacts with many North Korean artists, namely Nam Bung-Chok, and was invited to Pyongyang to teach at the People’s Academy of Political Aesthetics. He taught social design and utopian philosophy from 1959-65 in Pyongyang, where he most likely composed his manifesto on a “pancosmic” art of the future. This document would have an immense underground following in Central Asia and the Middle East from the mid-70s on. A former student of Al-Nabulsi, a Chinese expatriate by the name of Su Hiao Ling, started a wandering nomad academy of self-proclaimed dervishes along the Former Silk Road, travelling from Siberia to Baghdad, where, in 1971 he founded the theo-aesthetical mystical-scientific movement, the Pancosmic Whirling Dervishes.
In Al-Nabulsi’s manifesto, the art of the future is presented as an art in which the ruins of death, destruction, and catastrophe stand for the victory of resurrection that awaits man once the Earth has been cleared of humanity. An “art of the future” must mobilize mankind moving against the Enemy of Death and the Western Religious Tradition, a tradition of false consciousness that associates death as the beginning of an afterlife for only a select few. Al-Nabulsi’s “art of the future” was greatly informed by developments in quantum physics, particularly the notion that the universe is generating matter in order to become aware of itself. From this vantage point, there is no room for a Creator God and an Apocalypse that wipes away this Earth for a new world of heavenly reality, since when everything in the universe is capable of self-regeneration and self-sufficiency, nothing in this universe can be perceived of anymore as waste, including the ruins of war, the mounds of dead bodies, the sewage tanks of cities, or the piles of trash on the street. Without having to worry about eliminating waste, including the denial and management of the dead, humans can work together as “artists of the future” to generate an energetic substance within and around all existence that will eradicate death, unify the cosmos, and produce a God-beyond-the-limits-of-God out of Thought itself.
The Pancosmic Whirling Dervishes made missions from their base in Baghdad to different parts of the region, and on the eve of the 1973 October War between Israel and Syria, they were in the city of Quneitra holding a 3-day workshop on “catastrophic transubstantiation.” According to this theory, the self-sacrifice of a human body actually transforms the matter around it, so a suicide bomber or the victim of a military air raid will not die, but will instead atomically rematerialize itself and those nearby into nonhuman elements, merging with the landscape. Human essence transforms into the environment; what once were bodies, are now trees, bushes, stones, and soil. The site of a catastrophe, once the explosion has cleared, appears as a natural Paradise. By channeling cosmic awareness and manipulating the flow of energy, an act of “future art” could lead a group of Pancosmic Whirling Dervishes to re-summon the catastrophically transubstantiated souls of the seemingly-dead back into their bodies as they were before, resurrecting them once the disaster had passed and the time was right.
The original goal of the workshop was to travel together with all participants to the Enemy Border, where a series of rituals would take place that aimed to accumulate the energetic potency necessary to summon the transubstantiated souls of all who had died at the hands of the Enemy since 1948. When the October War started, the workshop was two days into session. The Pancosmic Whirling Dervishes immediately joined the defence as armed civilians. By the time the Arab armies had claimed victory over the Enemy, the Enemy was ready to take its final blow of revenge against Quneitra. Sensing the impending catastrophe which threatened them, the collected group of 128 Pancosmic Whirling Dervishes gathered at the town’s border, awaiting the Enemy tanks. Before the devastation of the town could begin, the Dervishes began a vigorous dance, accompanied by intensive chanting. Suddenly, their bodies imploded, releasing a massive outburst of energy stronger than any Enemy missile, ripping through the streets of Quneitra and eradicating every building and person in sight. By the time the Enemy tanks had arrived, they believed that their rockets and shells had levelled the town, unaware that the self-sufficient sacrifice of the Pancosmic Whirling Dervishes, who had successfully channeled the power of the cosmos itself, had indeed saved the town. Though it may have been annihilated physically, all the souls of those present in Quneitra had been recomposed into nonhuman bodies, merging with the landscape of the Golan Heights. Thus, the Enemy was tricked and it was eaten with pride and arrogance, thinking it had conquered life. This only further exemplified the delusion of the Western Religious Tradition, its separation between life and death, man and God, the chosen and the damned, and its blindness towards the radiant fullness of the present cosmos.”
Ashkan Sepahvand is a writer, translator, and researcher. From 2012-2014, he was a research fellow for “The Anthropocene Project” at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, where he co-edited the publication “Textures of the Anthropocene: Grain, Vapor, Ray” (MIT Press: 2015).