A Concept for Josette Jacobs and the NUON. (Version 1.0 -- 17 April 2001)

SUMMARY [Notes] [Literature]

The Challenge

The challenge is to represent sustainability.

Not as an object, simplified and abstracted but as a process, a present and a past, a history of interaction and interpretation, time-based and cumulative, not a drama but an epic. For we firmly believe that an object can not properly represent sustainability. Sustainability -- as a concept -- is too vague and slippery to be universally objectified. The artwork which sets out to represent sustainability can only be arrived at by initiating a process -- for the notion of sustainability (to all three parties involved here: the artist, philosopher and practioner) is by definition simply not simple, not in theory, not in practice.

The challenge then is to find a way to communicate this fact: that sustainability is neither simple nor absolute -- that sustainability is necessarily conditional, that it reflects a relative and particular perspective, the relativity of a particular time and space, the relativity of our individual and collective ideologies -- what we see as our history. (In this regard it can be said that love is simpler than sustainability. For unlike sustainability, love -- and this is the beauty of it -- can be unconditional.)

The Proposal

The proposal is to represent one hundred years of solicitude, a century of concern, a century of involvement in and within the world. To create a poetic chronical of human relations. A measure of our relations with others and with the environment.

To this end we propose to construct a calendar for the next hundred years. A public space in which we can record individual lengths of time. Lengths of time which exist between the stops and starts of our lives. A space to measure the duration one's own life streams. The periods of stability interrupted by changes. The duration of one's education, one's jobs, one's projects. The length of love affairs and relationships. The periods of movement, of travel, the periods spent living in particular places. Whatever one chooses. Whatever endures. Whatever one finds important, noteworthy, remarkable.

And all of this in public. A public calendar of countless concerns. (How many? We believe that there should be a limit to the number of concerns that a particular person can have running at once. Constraining the number of durations or 'timers' would help the user to clarify and prioritize his or her concerns. But what about the system as a whole? Should the system have a limit? An upper limit would not only facilitate the system's initial planning but would give a sense of scope to the whole endeavour. One hundred thousand users maintaining 10 concerns or 'timers' each would add up to a million concerns. Let us say "up to a million concerns.")

What we are describing is a simple application which will persist for a long period of time. This means a willingness to set up such a space and a commitment to maintain it. The prospect is not trivial. From the outset we see the need for a set of financial, administrative, and legal constructions to cover the contingencies of a century of technological and social change. Even in this regard the artwork seems to invoke an epic process, a poetic gesture, a procedure which is itself a test and measure of sustainability.

Why should this thing work? What would make it compelling? The simple answer: we count. We all like to count. If we stop to think about it we realise that there is no time without change and there is no change without memory, without history. And history begins with each of us counting. Children do it. Count and compare. Measure change and difference, and as such, duration. A large part of being human is deciding which things are worth sustaining and which things are not. One Hundred Years of Solicitude would remind ourselves of this and in doing so -- over the course of time -- would generate a new landscape, a wistful panorama of personal sustainabilities and lapses.

[Summary] NOTES [Literature]

  1. Solicitude

  2. NOUN. 1. The state of being solicitous; to exhibit care or concern, as for the well-being of the earth or another person. 2. A cause of anxiety or concern. Often used in the plural (solicitudes).

  3. Sustainability

  4. VERB. 1. Bear weight of, hold up, keep from falling or sinking. 2. Enable to last out, to keep from failing, to give strength to. 3. Keeping going continuously.

  5. Epic

  6. "The epic poem preferably describes man as he acts outwardly: battles, travels, any kind of enterprise that requires some sensuous breadth; tragedy (drama) shows man led toward the inside, therefore the plot of a genuine tragedy requires little space."

    (Goethe, On Epic and Dramatic Poetry, 1797)

  7. Anniversaries

  8. For the Anniversary of My Death

    Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
    When the last fires will wave to me
    And the silence will set out
    Tireless traveller
    Like the beam of a lightless star

    Then I will no longer
    Find myself in life as in a strange garment
    Surprised at the earth
    And the love of one woman
    And the shamelessness of men
    As today writing after three days of rain
    Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
    And bowing not knowing to what

    (W. S. Merwin)

  9. Commensurability

  10. Commensurability: the degree to which things are measurable by the same standard, or divisible without remainder by the same quantity.

    "I disagree morally, ecologically and aesthetically that 'universal time for all the citizens of the Earth is a good idea.' Such an arrangement would only serve to further alienate humanity from the rhythms of time by which nature is sustained. China is a good example of a nation whose policies are ecocidal, and its time world is the most alienated. Quite a contrast from the Taoist philosophy of time of dynasties past in which the guiding principle was the uniting of Heaven, humanity and Nature. Any move made in terms of time reform must be toward reuniting humanity with the actual rhythms and meaningful cyclical events of heaven and earth or this sick global culture will continue to spin out of balance and be lost in time. Suggestions made in the other direction may be beneficial to some aspects of science but they also reveal the fatal hubris of science."

    (Kevin Tobin writing on CALNDR-L, a mailing list about calenders)

  11. Gifts

  12. "Giving is the intention to turn away from one's own self-interest and to freely and willingly give what one has to others. Essentially it involves a transformation of attitude. Instead of a centripetal longing that constantly seeks to draw everything inward towards onself at the center, giving is a centrifugal longing that seeks to expel everything away from oneself into the hands of others."

    (Stephen Batchelor, Alone with Others)

  13. Difference

  14. "I once had a class of 15-year-old high school kids and I gave them index cards, and I said, "Write down seven things that will happen in the future." They said there would be revolutions and presidents would be assassinated, and we would all drown in ecological sludge. A very dramatic series of events. But I noticed that of the 198 items that they handed in, only six used the word "I." So I gave them another set of cards, and I said, "Now I want you to write down seven things that are going to happen to you." Back came, "I will be married when I'm 21," "I will live in the same neighborhood, I will have a dog."

    "And the disjuncture between the world that they were seeing out there and their own presuppositions was amazing We thought about this, and concluded on the basis of just guesswork that the image of reality that they're getting from the media is one of high-speed rapid change, and the image that they're getting in their classrooms is one of no change at all."

    (Alvin Toffler in conversation with Peter Schwartz)

  15. James Lee Byars and the 'World Question Center' (1971 and 1998)

  16. "James Lee inspired the idea that led to the Reality Club (and subsequently EDGE), and is responsible for the motto of the club. He believed that to arrive at an axiology of societal knowledge it was pure folly to go to a Widener Library and read 6 million volumes of books. (In this regard he kept only four books at a time in a box in his minimally furnished room, replacing books as he read them.) This led to his creation of the World Question Center in which he planned to gather the 100 most brilliant minds in the world together in a room, lock them behind closed doors, and have them ask each other the questions they were asking themselves. The expected result, in theory, was to be a synthesis of all thought. But between idea and execution are many pitfalls. James Lee identified his 100 most brilliant minds (a few of them have graced the pages of this Site), called each of them, and asked what questions they were asking themselves. The result: 70 people hung up on him."

    (John Brockman who conducted Byars' experment in January 1998.)

[Summary] [Notes] LITERATURE

Arnheim, R., Epic and Dramatic Film, in 'Film a Montage of Theories', E. P. Dutton, 1966.

Batchelor, S., Alone with Others: An Existential Approach to Buddhism.

Brand, S., The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility, Basic Books, 1999.

Gamarra, N., Erroneous Predictions and Negative Comments Concerning Scientific and Technological Developments, 1969 (revised).

Green, S. & Lorenz, R., How we speak of bio-technologies.

Gremmen, B. & Jacobs, J., Understanding Sustainability, in 'Man and World' 30: 315-327, 1997.

Jacobs, J., Duurzaamheid in Meervoud, 2001.

Kearl, M., The Times of Our Lives: Social Contours of the Fourth Dimension.

Kubler, G., The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things, Yale University Press, 1962.

Lee, L., Bad Predictions, Elsewhere Press, 2000.

Marquez, G. G., One Hundred Years of Solitude.

McCarthy, J., The Sustainability of Human Progress.

McCarthy, J., What is Progress?

McCarthy, J., The Doctor's Dilemma.

Mugeraur, B., Theories of Sustainability: Environmental Ethics, Mixed Communities, and Compassion.

Nahin, P. Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics and Science Fiction, Second ed, Springer, 1999.

Sponberg, A., Green Buddhism and the Hierarchy of Compassion.

Sponberg, A., The Buddhist Conception of an Ecological Self.

Thackera, J., Connectiviteit en Duurzaamheid: Een Voorgangsrapport over Doors of Perception.

Toffler, A., Shock Wave (Anti) Warrior, in Wired 1.05, 1993.

Volk, T., Metapatterns: Across Space, Time and Mind.

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