(design/edited Leo Edelstein and Yanni Florence)
Pataphysics Questionnaire
from the Industrial/Grave issue


In relation to human intentions it has been said that paradox is the logic of history.

Does your work have a moral significance?



Answer – No, in the sense that all my work explores that realm where a morally free psychopathology may be pursued as a game. I assume that the future of this planet lies within this colonisation of a benign psychopathology.

Yes, in the sense that I have complete confidence in the justice and probity of the imagination, and in the kindliness of dreams.

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In relation to human intentions it has been said that paradox is the logic of history.
Fine –

Does your work have a moral significance?
that also –

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Work, moralism, significance – they triangulate terror. I occupy, as a visionary, their blind spot. I want for my friends the unorganized, the interstitial and the intercalary. Count on the uncounted to count for something, but not to keep score. If there is a logic to history (fat chance!) count me out. Paradox is insight infused with the pleasure of the experience of irony. Hegel, I want you to know, I’m gonna miss you so much when you’re gone.

’Pataphysics is (so far) the Freemasonry of the wink-wink bookish elders of hip. I demand Zapataphysics of nonsensical, no-nonsense militant absurdity, a sinful synthesis of banditry and punditry, the best of all possible world-views. I want to live in a villa… a Pancho Villa. Don’t you?

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Rendan, ‘the clever ones.’ The sufis use a technical term rend (adj. rendi, pl. redan) to designate one ‘clever enough to drink wine in secret without getting caught’: the dervish-version of ‘Permissable Dissimulation’ (taqiyya, whereby Shiites are permitted to lie about their true affiliations to avoid persecution as well as advance the purposes of their propaganda).

On the plane of the ‘Path,’ the rend conceals his spiritual state (hal) in order to contain it, work on it alchemically, enhance it. This ‘cleverness’ explains much of the secrecy of the Orders, altho it remains true that many dervishes do literally break the rules of Islam (shariah), offend tradition (sunnah) and flout the customs of their society – all of which gives them reason for real secrecy.

Ignoring the case of the ‘criminal’ who uses sufism as a mask – or rather not sufism per se but dervish-ism, almost a synonym in Persia for laid-back manners & by extension a social laxness, a style of genial poor but elegant amorality – the above definition can still be considered in a literal as well as metaphorical sense. That is: some sufis do break the Law while still allowing that the Law exists & will continue to exist; & they do from spiritual motives, as an exercise of will (himmah).

Nietzsche says somewhere that the free spirit will not agitate for the rules to be dropped or even reformed, since it is only breaking the rules that he realizes his will to power. One must prove (to oneself if no-one else) an ability to overcome the rules of the herd, to make one’s own law & yet not fall prey to the rancor & resentment of inferior souls which define law & custom in ANY society. One needs, in effect, an individual equivalent of war in order to achieve the becoming of the free spirit – one needs an inert stupidity against which to measure one’s own movement & intelligence.

Anarchists sometimes posit an ideal society without law. The few anarchistic experiments which succeeded briefly (the Makhnovists, Catalan) failed to survive the conditions of war which permitted their existence in the first place – so we have no way of knowing empirically if such an experiment could outlive the onset of peace.

Some anarchists however, like our late friend the Italian Stirnerite ‘Brand,’ took part in all sorts of uprisings and revolutions, even communist & socialist ones, because they found in the moment of insurrection itself the kind of freedom they sought. Thus while utopianism has so far always failed, the individualist or existentialist anarchists have succeeded inasmuch as they have attained (however briefly) the realization of their will to power in war.

Nietzsche’s animadversions against ‘anarchists’ are always aimed at the egalitarian-communist narodnik martyr-types, whose idealism he saw as yet one more survival of post-Xtian moralism – altho he sometimes praises them for at least having the courage to revolt against majoritarian authority. He never mentions Stirner, but I believe he would have classified the Individualist rebel with the higher type of ‘criminals,’ who represented for him (as for Dostoyevsky) humans far superior to the herd, even if tragically flawed by their obsessiveness and perhaps hidden motivations of revenge.

The Nietzschean overman, if he existed, would have to share to some degree in this ‘criminality’ even if he had overcome all obsessions and compulsions, if only because his law could never agree with the law of the masses, of state and society. His need for ‘war’ (whether literal or metaphorical) might even persuade him to take part in revolt, whether it assumed the form of insurrection or only of a proud bohemianism.

For him a ‘society without law’ might have value only so long as it could measure its own freedom against the subjection of others, against their jealousy and hatred. The lawless & short-lived ‘pirate utopias’ of Madagascar & the Caribbean, D’Annunzio’s Republic of Fiume, the Ukraine or Barcelona – these would attract him because they promised the turmoil of becoming & even ‘failure’ rather than the bucolic somnolence of a ‘perfected’ (& hence dead) anarchist society.

In the absence of such opportunities, this free spirit would disdain wasting time on agitation for reform, on protest, on visionary dreaming, on all kinds of ‘revolutionary martyrdom’ – in short on most contemporary anarchist activity. To be rendi, to drink wine in secret and not get caught, to accept the rules in order to break them & thus attain the spiritual lift or energy-rush of danger & adventure, the private epiphany of overcoming all interior police while tricking all outward authority – this might be a goal worthy of such a spirit, & this might be his definition of crime.

(incidentally I think this reading helps explain N’s insistence on the MASK, on the secretive nature of the proto-overman, which disturbs even intelligent but somewhat liberal commentators like Kaufman. Artists, for all that N loves them, are criticized for telling secrets. Perhaps he failed to consider that – paraphrasing A. Ginsberg – this is our way of becoming ‘great’; and also that – paraphrasing Yeats – even the truest secret becomes yet another mask.)

As for the anarchist movement today: would we like just once to stand on ground where laws are abolished & the last priest is strung up with the guts of the last bureaucrat? Yeah sure. But we’re not holding our breath. There are certain causes (to quote the Neech again) that one fails to quite abandon, if only because of the sheer insipidity of all their enemies. Oscar Wilde might have said that one cannot be a gentleman without being somewhat of an anarchist – a necessary paradox, like N’s ‘radical aristocratism.’

This is not just a matter of spiritual dandyism, but also of existential commitment to an underlying spontaneity, to a philosophical ‘tao.’ For all its waste of energy, in its very formlesssness anarchism alone of all the ISMs approaches that one type of form which alone can interest us today, that strange attractor, the shape of chaos – which (one last quote) one must have within oneself, if one is to give birth to a dancing star.

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I make a moral judgement in the selection of work I undertake. This is based on an invariably faulty personal assessment of its future social benefit. This includes the benefit accruing from my inactivity.

I doubt whether architecture itself is capable of having a moral significance,

I hope the human behavior enabled by my work exercises others’ ethics.

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If I did not think that my work has moral significance, I could not go on working.

I would hope that four decades of teaching German language and literature, a subject generally subsumed under the Humanities, may eo ipso be considered a moral pursuit, just as the entire teaching profession, the undervalued, unsung, and underpaid men and women engaged in the augmentation of knowledge (nowadays more properly described as the reduction of ignorance), constitutes a great force for morality. I believe that my loyalty to a language that not so long ago was horrendously debased by Hitler and his henchmen (but also was the language of Moses Mendelssohn, Heindrich Heine, and Martin Buber) is something eminently moral. As a translator of works of literature and scholarship I have attempted to be a cultural mediator in the spirit of Stefan Zweig, whose life and work I deem to be a veritable school of morality. Zweig’s conviction of the moral superiority of the vanquished is particularly relevant in this century of the displaced person. Another of my dii minores, the vitriolic Viennese Karl Kraus, performed a necessary cauterizing function as a satirist, and his impassioned defense of language stamps him as one of the great moralists of our age. This is true as well of the equally principled Berlin satirist Kurt Tucholsky, whom I have also tried to serve. The fact that the end of both men was despair and silence only enhances their moral significance and is a great challenge to all survivors.

As a native Austrian, a naturalized American, and first and foremost a Jew I have been blessed with a number of lodestars of morality that have given what I believe to be an enduring moral dimension to my scholarly, literary, and pedagogical efforts.

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My work attempts to reflect the following:

To avoid capricious, moody, fashionable forms and instead express forms as space and structure through systems of organization, behavior and construction.

To conceive space and structure as a single thought without distortions, respecting physical laws and the nature of materials.

To express our time, to be ourselves, to develop modern thoughts, to share a common world with science and technology.

To be conscious of architecture’s Bill of Rights by respecting its intellectual, spiritual and physical integrity, today violated more than ever by imitators of glorious pasts.

To constantly move toward an ultimate environmental dream where architecture and green nature become the single texture of the earth as a single everchanging Garden of Babylon. ‘Architecture is always silenced by the outburst of spring.’

But perhaps moral significance in one’s work could be more deeply and meaningfully expressed by leaving this ‘civilized’ world and building, with one’s own hands, straw and mud, dwellings for the ‘lepers’ of the world.

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Dear Mr Physics:

‘Does my work have a moral significance?’

Them’s fightin’ words from where I come from!

I suppose I could answer by dissecting the question as I imagine many others will:

Is my work really my work?

What is true morality and is it anything I want to be associated with?

And finally, am I in any position to gauge the work’s significance anyway?

However, I’ll leave such surgery to others and simply state that my work may have moral significance to the extent that it reflects my perspective and values and to the extent that my perspective and values confront externally imposed ideologies. Then again, maybe not. Ultimately it strikes me that this is one of those questions that it is impossible to answer without stepping in the dogshit of pomposity. You can view this letter as my attempt to scrape my shoe clean.

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I believe that the theory informing my current architectural production, a theory I have come to call ‘failed attempts at healing an irreparable wound,’ has moral significance. Through my recent projects I have expressed my concern that the ethical imperative of architecture be fulfilled. Etymologically, architecture is about existence, about being in a state of peace. There is something ultimately hopeful about that proposition, even when viewed in the context of contemporary cultural disjunctions. To employ design strategies based on dislocation alone is not a valid approach, for it denies the essential optimism of the human spirit; but neither can we seek verification through historicism. As architects, we must search within ourselves for ennobling possibilities in an attempt to redress the flaws, or wounds, that we acknowledge to be unique to our era. An architecture emanating from such concerns becomes a poignant embodiment of values. Our ability to remain optimistic in the face of otherwise ominous visions represents the tempering of hope with pragmatism. The very quest for such possibilities is healing, and indicates an awakening to the pluralistic needs of contemporary society and the necessity of reconciling them through architectural expression. I am deeply committed to this quest, both in my writing and my projects.

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Q. D Y W H a M S

A. I = M C 2

(where ‘I’ am information)

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Say it also in relation to their absence.

It has whatever significance it is given.

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‘Paradox’ is a symptom of mental arrogance, the mind’s alibi for its failure to subdue reality. The boring little mind is more enraptured with its own breakdowns – precious ‘paradoxes’! – in the face of what’s actual than with actuality itself, which will always defeat mentality because subsuming it.

There being no such thing as paradox, there can be no answer to your question about the moral significance of one’s work – which calls for a judgment akin to an eyeball’s objective view of itself, and idea entirely accounted for by the word ‘impossible.’

Such impossibilities give rise to society and history, by which we are judged. To work is to offer oneself, nakedly, for judgment. (No cheating! To worm oneself around to a position of judging oneself is monstrous arrogance, as well as the surest harbinger of tyranny.) To work is to give oneself away.

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Irrationality disguised as rationality is the logic/illogic/motor of history, shoved forward by the ever faster momentum of media. Power & to outlive everyone else is the item!

I try to comment on the ferocity of events.

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Yes & No. I ‘catch myself thinking’ & write it down, ‘writing my mind’ as it were. Whitman called for candor. Candor ends paranoia. I suppose that’s ‘moral,’ without intention to be so.

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morality is the place where the significance of my work begins, the proximity of death to the human condition bothers me.

my struggle is like yours: it is happening at the end of a century. i am skirting the ideological limits provided by capitalism and communism. i am even discarding the new (though revisited) third position presently espoused by my west coast skinhead brethren. these historical antecedents and other factors provide the limits: the solutions are now the problem.

problem number one: in writing it is my intention to defeat death. i am sick of death and his walk through the less desirable neighborhoods of the city and the nation. death likes to visit those towns where working class doesn’t mean having a job, no, man, it means having food on the table. the land gives us bread and now, death takes us away. i do not care which crisis manufactured by the post modern malaise is hurting me: be it the death of a friend because of aids or the fact that every time i leave the house see i see homeless people on the street (and i squat, thank you). i do not care if the issue is loneliness, the few minutes that everyone has shared. death may be personified by an undercover cop from the red squad who has hated my guts for ten years, and loneliness looms up harmless in manner, just another middle class artist dressed in black, with his family’s money he can afford to gentrify the neighborhood. no, death is a cop and I am out to confront him, this is my imperative.

do you think it is easy being an american? to be a russian jew from california who speaks reagan’s english with an okie drawl? take a look at america’s psychogeographical map: it is a continuous cordillera of private misery marked in black and blue. the lower foothills surrounding these mountains are colored brown. we call them fear. never mind the ten million homeless or is it the twenty million hungry. fear is bald and dusty, eroding from yearning and want.

lesson number one: i want an act of freedom to occur every now and then. no story can end without an act of freedom, that is to say, no story can end without a re-invention of life itself. i don’t give a fuck if the post structuralists say the future is disappearing because more importantly, the past has already vanished. if a writer doesn’t attempt to wrest history away from the conformity that threatens to overwhelm it at every given second, then the narrative breaks down. the ability to tell a story becomes static. the final revisionist on the american landscape, our favorite cowboy, death wins again.

….. the writer is the barrel of a gun where you are the bullet leaving the safety of my chambers for a target of our choice….. these are the days when post war anti art and anti capitalist tendencies are being reexamined. former modes of dissent (if not departure) are now bestowed with new value by their entrance into museums and text books. If capital is holding up its old enemies to the light of commercial scrutiny (through the academy or corporation), be it phil ochs or the situationists, then it is fair to admit we are living in a historical rift, in a moment without opposition.

but then again, paradox: the negation begins with a simple affirmation of the flesh. i tell death to fuck off in the same way i would respond to a bad movie or an armed intruder. maybe it was a period of unfulfilled love, i don’t know, but the results are always the same: i fight death with my life.

without sentimentality or nostalgia, i accept certain historical appearances into my thinking. the three point tattoo of the french bank robbing anarchists, the tattoo meaning ‘mort aux vaches.’ the writings of valerie solanis, an individual who possessed the mettle to put warhol on his back. the millenarian thinkers, the blasphemers and ranters from the english civil war of the seventeenth century. and let us not forget the reappearing nightmare: art critics with haircuts like f. scott fitzgerald and the cops who look like your dad…..

the writer works a tired field. the writer is a sharecropper in a field of shit that wants to be plowed. to begin, may i propose the leveling of society, the setting into motion of a historical agenda that has not been resolved?

……better that the entire city should burn to the ground rather than have a single building obstruct a view of the sun from any woman, child or man…..

i am more effective fighting death as a writer than as a sniper. millenarian traditions ranging from the spanish anarchists (who used to shoot the priests and set fire to the cathedrals in the uprisings preceding the civil war) to the diggers of both cromwellian england and psychedelic san francisco support this effort against death. but i want to go further: i think this text will read better after it has been thrown into the flames and burned.

……whether it is along the docklands of east london, near wapping on the river thames or the chic south of market district in san francisco, a canadian construction group (olympia york) is building identical light industrial/high rise apartment complex parks. unification through repetition. in different countries an identical architecture is turning against its former inhabitants. two unique working class neighborhoods have been eradicated. in east london it took only five years. the south market in san francisco persisted in maintaining its character for ten years longer…….

when i walk alone near the ruins of market street, i no longer believe the city is a concentrated monument to politics, extracting an awareness of life from the presence of death. i believe that was a myth which has been superceded by the wrecking ball of olympia york from toronto.

maybe this is an hour to contemplate the usage of dynamite, i don’t know. i suspect the great cities of the world posses very little meaning to those people who live in them, anyway. whichever method hastens destruction, the negation of death, this is the element i want to come from.

history is a killer and death can do whatever he wants, but while i have the strength, i will try to re-invent life through words. it is time to pull the mask from the harlequin’s face…..fuck you, death…. this is what i say when i greet daily life. patience without resignation. fortitude without sacrifice.

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