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Fascinating looking exhibition, conference and other events in Berlin this Spring and Summer at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt.

whole_earth_catalog

The exhibition, entitled, ‘The Whole Earth: California and the Disappearance of the Outside’, according to the website:

“…is one of the first to explore the history of the photograph of the “blue planet,” and reflects in a comprehensive way the power of the Whole Earth Catalog, the analog predecessor of Google (Steve Jobs). It was published in 1968 for the first time by Stewart Brand, who later coined the term “personal computer”: a compendium of useful utensils for the planetary future, it used the image of the whole planet for its cover. the whole earth takes up the historic moment of what was later called the “Californian ideology”: an alliance between hippie culture and cybernetics, nature romantics and technology worshippers, psychedelia and computer culture. In this exhibition, curators Diedrich Diedrichsen and Anselm Franke explore these countercultures in California of the 1960s and 1970s: with visual and audio documents, historical and contemporary artistic contributions. They reflect various impulses from politics, ideology, and popular culture for an environmentalist movement and the rise of a digital network culture.”

All very interesting stuff, particularly the notion that the ‘outside’ might in any sense have ‘disappeared’.  If anything, since both the publication of the ‘blue planet’ image in 1968, outsides, in the form of multiple xenospaces, have proliferated as we find ourselves more and more constrained by the idea or a world presented as both full and fully known.

Indeed, there is an intriguing historical contradiction in our constructions of ‘global’ spatiality here.  In 1957, for example, Russian-born philosopher Alexandre Koyré, published his famous book, ‘From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe’ (full text here on the quite odd, but very useful, ‘Sacred Texts’ site), which traced the profound change in Western consciousness and philosophy stemming from our opening up to the idea of the infinite revealed by early modern science.  The shift from a terra-centric ‘closed’ world, to a helio-centric ‘open’ cosmos fundamentally altered our relationship to, and understanding of, the possibilities of spatiality.

This was captured beautifully by John Donne in his poem ‘An Anatomie of the World’ from 1611:

“And new Philosophy calls all in doubt,

The Element of fire is quite put out;

The Sun is lost, and th’earth, and no man’s wit

Can well direct him where to look for it.

And freely men confesse that this world’s spent,

When in the Planets, and the Firmament

They seek so many new; then see that this

Is crumbled out againe to his Atomies.

‘Tis all in peeces, all cohaerence gone;

All just supply, and all Relation:

Prince, Subject, Father, Sonne, are things forgot,

For every man alone thinkes he hath got

To be a Phœnix, and that then can bee

None of that kinde, of which he is, but hee.”

The ‘blue planet’ image seems to have forced us, briefly perhaps, back in on ourselves, reinforcing the physical boundaries of the physical earth against Donne’s notion of fragmentation – all coherence gone.  Since then different forms of outside – though not necessarily new ones – have emerged in the rapidly expanding xenotopia that we actually live in, which is far, far bigger than the world we see either in the ‘blue planet’ or that we can represent the map.

All this will be the subject of a book I am in the process of writing (painfully slowly) for Mexican publisher Frederic.  In the meantime, I may just have to get to Berlin in June to see what the exhibition makes of it all.

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