Laurence A. Rickels

[intro] [first] [second] [third] [shaft] [notes]


It proves posssible to extract the photo-archival history of mining's documentation, and with it, a certain genealogy of media, already between the lines of Agricola's sixteenth-century treatise on mining. [3] While the illustrations in Agricola's study are more models than plans, their enabling conditions are the same: "Thus, two fifteenth century inventions, printing and perspective, provided necessary technical and conceptual groundwork for sixteenth century illustrated books on anatomy and engineering." [4] Mining was thus, along with anatomy, the first technical-scientific enterprise to make it into pictures. Pictures are always seconding the motion of the acceleration they represent as faster means of knowing, both at a glance and from above. Agricola's introduction of cut-away views of mining, in particular, begins "to manifest an ontological similarity to mining itself. The eye digs away from the side, a metaphorical miner cutting at right angles to the actual diggings being pictured. The line of sight intersects the plane of physical toil. A hierarchy of labour and knowledge is charted here, at this intersection of 'digging' and 'looking;' the mole-like work of the diggers is subordinated to command from above and beyond the mine. . . . Quite literally, the line of sight assumes the privileged status of supervision." [5]

In the language of dreams at least, or at the latest, building upward can also mean to build down there, in the underworld. We saw the interchangeability of one space, now high, now low, in Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Ernst Kris also takes building to the group-psychological high-low point: "Painters conclude pacts with the devil in order to compete with God, while builders, heirs to the builder of the Tower of Babel, commit suicide." [6]

The underworld is the internalization of the Tower of Babel. Schliemann's excavation of Troy shared not only with Dante's Inferno the same nine circles but also with Babel the diminishing width of the bottom -- the diminishing return, in other words, of the top. On his way to the internalization or excavation of a suicide pact, Schliemann traveled to California in search of his missing brother Ludwig, who had emigrated to the Coast in 1849. When Schliemann followed one year later, the brother was already dead. But at the same time the survivor was there in time for California's declaration of statehood -- an event of such performativity that Schliemann was instantly turned into a citizen too. It was, then, the brother's legacy (which Schliemann expanded by introducing the sale of conserving-canned-goods first to the gold-rush miners and their hangers on, then in Russia, where the Crimean War in particular helped him out) that backed Schliemann's final confrontation with the perfectly, prophylactically preserved Trojans which he dug up only to see break down to dust. While Schliemann's uncovery and recovery efforts remained within the limits of literary phantasm, their double plot pumped it all up with the stowaway identifications of unmourning. How else could this Blitz of a forgotten or denied past (which archaeology always, traumatically, secures) pack enough momentum to cause one once sceptical professor, who had ridiculed Schliemann's project in print, to commit suicide.

Once upon a time there were Japanese plans to build under the ground in a group effort to find more personal space uninvaded by the earthquakes that would get absorbed, all-naturally, below the surface. The underground setting, an environment limited in resources and in terms of waste disposal, is just the test case for population control which the Japanese have been making for centuries. At that same time focus was fixed on the origin of Sadam Hussein's bunkers, which overlapped with earthquake-proofing technology. It was time to fast-rewind to a primal origin of modernist architecture not only along the faults and divides of catastrophe but also deep down in the mines. [7]

The mine was our first completely artificial and technologized environment. The funereal flickering that for centuries accompanied disasters down the shaft was outshone, around 1870, by electric illumination, which threw the high beam on a new sensurround of techno-accidents (which, all agreed, still recalled earthquakes). In the light of electricity, accident could now be doubled and contained in the preemptive mode of preparedness. The funereal phase of technologization or industrialization had given way to the illuminated textuality of our consumerist skill at going with the infotainment flow of media technologization. Once the lights could be turned on and off, catastrophe could be simulated, control-released, and made interchangeable, along one line of simul-forecast, with the accident, the chance, the other, the other's death. The uncontrollable event, the advent of the other, is what we were given to rehearse or repeat in the inoculative mode of shock absorption.

Consider in terms of this new-found space of illumination (what Heidegger would later call, calling to mind television, Lichtung) the directions Wagner gives for the opening scene of the Second Act of his unrealized "Mines of Falun" opera:

The theater represents the depths of a completely unilluminated shaft. A weak light beam approaches from above. ... The back wall of granite brightens gradually and seems to draw back. A growing bluish light spreads everywhere. Wonderful crystal formations reveal themselves to our gaze. They take on gradually the forms of flowers and trees. Gleaming precious stones glow on them; other crystal formations take the shape of beautiful maidens, intermingling as in a dance. Surrounded by a curious glow there sits in their midst a beautiful woman, preciously adorned. One hears from up above Ulla's voice: Elis, Elis, I am yours! In an instant the shaft is transformed back into its earlier state. [8]

Wagner places the mine right where his opera would be, once he hid the orchestra and turned off the house lights: inside the electric-theatrical prehistory of cinema. The first occasion for Siemens in Germany to build an electric generator was for the running of the artificial grotto or cavern that Ludwig II, Wagner's first major groupie, built in the back of his Linderhof property for private communion with Wagner's total art. The king was seated, as group of one, in the swan boat while the orchestra, concealed of course, played on and on. As in Metropolis, where the underworld zombies labor not to produce what's for sale but only to keep the city (and the film) illuminated, running, animated, the Siemens generator at Linderhof supplied only animation: air and water current and lights, action. When the blue light was on, the king was in Capri, the first cavern spot to be libidinized early on for attraction of tourists. When the red light came on Ludwig was deep inside another tunnel of love, Wagner's legendary Venusberg.

From the shock absorption downed at amusement parks to film-administered doses of shock, it was the body of the group that got built. Thus, natural disaster, which now came only fully technologized, shared its aftershocks with every group member forever in the self-absorbed state of preparedness. Techno crash became the synchronic laboratory (like the one provided by disease and death on the person of the evolving human subject) for the diachronic prospect of evolution -- by the machine, the techno-body, the body of the group.

In eighteenth-century Europe, the removal of cemeteries from the center of town to the suburbs inaugurated a redistribution of modern architectural projections. The tomb took over the entire garden, now Elysium or Forest Lawn. On the way to these mortuary parks, the eighteenth-century project of relocation of the dead to the outskirts (which in Paris alone counted, in the space of one concerted effort, 50,000 exhumations) scooped countless examples of "live" burial. In the season finale of this eighteenth-century renovation of the image of death -- and of the dead -- we saw an epidemic outbreak of vampirism Back East in Europe and between the headlines of Western journalism, pop lit, and scholarship.

The representation or repression of the dead was no longer to take the exclusive form of some punitive, castrative skeleton. Going back to Greek models, death was now to be viewed as the twin sibling of sleep, as natural, even beautiful. But this doubling of sleep and death led, in the course of the relocation of graves, to uncanny prospects for waking up on the other side of this doubling, the endless divisions of burial alive. Thus the dead, this time in the temporal mode of doubling, just had to return. Fear of the dead, in the form of fear of live burial, and of one's own sleeping or unconscious state, drove the death-wish motor of their projective rebound.

In the twentieth century, Corbusier made the move into Freud's second system. The second tension (other than the one brought to us by haunting and exhumation) to be built into modern architecture (namely, catastrophe preparedness and shock proofing) hit the center of town (in other words, everywhere and everyone at once). The construction of Jonestown had begun. The replacement, beginning in the eighteenth century, the first full-on era of our technologization, of love and war by friendship and suicide had reached consciousness. Since, in Corbusier's words, "architecture dwells in the telephone," and any house is a "dwelling machine," one that should be as "practical" "as a typewriter," "surgery" had to be performed on city center, on the "heart" of the problem Corbusier was all set to solve. [9] He proposed a redevelopment program that World War Two realized on many other stations free of change. Thus in 1941 a certain Eric Estorick could report back, in the context of "Morale in Contemporary England," one of the many freebies Corbusier was foreseeing: "A new Coventry is being conceived now, which is to be zoned and planned so that out of the old life a newer and more spacious kind of living can come." [10]

Connect the dots to Corbusier's plans for Paris: "The quarters Marais archives, Temples and so on will be torn down. But the old churches will remain. They would display themselves in the midst of the green -- is there anything more seductive?" Between the green spaces (dotted with churches) Corbusier planned Babelesque skyscrapers, reverse shots of underworlds (which, as in Dante's inferno or Schliemann's excavation of Troy, were reversals of the Tower of Babel). He built up these "brains of the city" to exercise, via "telephone, cable, radio," machine-control over "time and space." Corbusier dropped or displaced the suburban trend of modern building which has nevertheless skirted the main issues of the center.

Total war had entered relations between self and other or, rather, between the ego and its introjects. The bunkers that survived World War Two were the legacy of an architectural directive or phantasm beginning way down in the mines. Corbusier's bunker-style designs borrowed air circulation and compartmentalization features directly from ship technology (another technology modeled after the projected survival of mine catastrophes) and suspension techniques from the means and proofs of shock or quake absorption underground and above.

What was mine had always and already grown outward: modern cities arose as vast interior spaces, the streets just like tunnels, or at the bottom, mine shafts. The invasiveness of technology across landscapes was being doubled and contained by sealing off artificial interiorities from what was merely natural. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, techno-aestheticist science fictions featured subterranean or submarine high-tech salons (like in Eve future and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) which to this day remain on one continuum with plane cabins, business offices, hotel rooms, the shopping mall, the movie theater.

[intro] [first] [second] [third] [shaft] [notes]