Friday, February 17, 2006

Thingers rather than thinkers I

Regine recently posted on Peter Sloterdijk and Gesa Mueller von der Hagen's interesting Pneumatic Parliament. A comment on the ready-made-democracy currently being exported to the Middle East,

Pneumatic Parliament
"The mobile, transparent and self inflating plastic dome can be used all over the world to house parliamentary meetings. It can be transported in a compact container and dropped into regions where a change of political system is deemed 'desirable.' Within 90 minutes, the structure can house 160 Members of Parliament, offering the architectural conditions necessary for democratic processes, and as such forms a futurist contribution to the worldwide distribution of Western democratic principles."

If I weren't so put off by the current "democratise or die!" ethos, I'd think this is a damn fine idea, or least the kernel of one. I'm all for temporary flexible architectures for temporary flexible politics.

A parliament meets to deliberate, to negotiate, to make decisions. But we've come to distrust parliaments as government: all talk.

In 1611, W. Vaugn wrote in Spirit of Detraction VII. iii. 309

"Such persons be but parliamenting Parasites..letting their tongues runne before their wits."

Source: OED

The Anglo-Saxon precursor to parliament was a Witenagemot - an "assembly of wise men" or council.

In 1591, Lambarde wrote in Archeion 252

"The word Witena..doth include the Nobilitie and Commons, because they be Counsellors of the Realme, respect whereof the assembling of them, was of some called Wytena Gemote."

In 1874, Green wrote in Short Hist. i. §1. 4

"Their homesteads clustered round a moot-hill..Here, too, the ‘witan’, the Wise Men of the village, met to settle questions of peace and war."

Source: OED

Wikipedia: Witenagemot
W.G. Collingwood, Law Speaker, 1870s"The witan was in some respects a predecessor to Parliament, but had substantially different powers and some major limitations, such as a lack of a fixed procedure, schedule or meeting place...Witans met at least once a year and commonly more often. There was no single seat of the national witan; it is known to have met in at least 116 locations...The meeting places were often on royal estates, but some witans were convened in the open at prominent rocks, hills, meadows and famous trees."

British artist W. G. Collingwood's 1870s depiction of the Icelandic Althingi (the world's oldest formal parliament) in session.

I see this "lack of fixed procedure, schedule or meeting place" as much more of an advantage than a limitation. That sort of flexibility is particularly well-suited to coming together around matters-of-concern when and where they arise. I also really like this sort of meeting-in-the-open, both metaphorically and literally.

An assembly is different than a parliament. An assembly brings things together - but not necessarily for decision-making. To semble is to "make like," and the prefix -a means to "motion onwards or away." Assemblies, then, also suggest convergence without consensus. The value is in the (be)coming-together, and without necessarily becoming-same.


Anonymous rowan said...

Speaking of ‘temporary flexible architectures for temporary flexible politics’, I’ve been thinking lately about Cedric Price’s Fun Palace project and how this project might be read in conjunction with Nancy’s thinking on community. Much has been written about Price’s project and his use of computing and communications technologies, his design philosophy and other influences (such as cybernetics and systems theory) – there is, for example, a fine essay, ‘Cybernetic Theory and the Architecture of Performance: Cedric Price’s Fun Palace’, by Mary Lou Lobsinger in the book Anxious Modernisms. But very little (to my knowledge at least) has been written about the social ambitions of his project, other than its promotion of ‘chance encounters’. What I have been wondering is whether it is at all possible to see in the technologised ludic space of the Fun Palace the conditions or potential for a Nancian conception of community as emergent and not formed through work or production? Or is this stretching things too far, and potentially doing a violence to both Price’s work and Nancy’s thought. Given your previously stated admiration for Price’s work, your present teaching interest in Nancy, and your remarks on 'assembly' and '(be)coming-together', I was wondering if you had any thoughts on this?


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