All posts for the month March, 2013


Here is my abstract for a talk at Limmud on April 4

Stories of Shanghai’s contemporary rise are usually accompanied by images of the illuminated skyscrapers of Pudong. Under the spell of this spectacular vision, Shanghai’s hypermodern ethos appears to reanimate the raze and replace mentality of a previous age. The ‘clean slate’ modernism of Pudong – with its echoes of the International Style – belong to a lineage of Chinese Modernity that was forged in the May Fourth Movement. In this epoch, the modern was defined against the ‘shackles of tradition,’ which were tied to an ‘older’ conception of cyclical time. This talk, which comes out of a chapter of my forthcoming book Shanghai Future: Modernity Remade delineates a notion of Shanghai futurism that is rooted, not on the clear light of progress, but rather on a darker, more occulted idea of time that was, and is, haunting the city’s modernity.


This week I took my class to visit Bao steel, one of the largest SOE in Shanghai and the 2nd largest steel company in the world. We were awed by the vastness of the place. Located on the outskirts of Shanghai, Bao Steel is a factory complex as big as Macau. It has its own newspaper, power station, police, army unit and multiple harbors. It produces millions tonnes of steel per year and has joint ventures in Australia and Brazil, which supply it with iron ore. However, even more than the scale what impressed – or rather overwhelmed -was the raw and seductive power of the industrial machine (the “new beauty” discovered by Marinetti and the Futurists) especially when coupled with the pure intensity of molten metal (see Metalheadz post below).

More Photos after the jump

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My recent trip to Bao Steel reminded me of an old piece written by the ccru. To become legible it had to be rescued from a now obsolete word processing format. I thought I would reprint it here:

“What metal and metallurgy bring to light is a life proper to matter, a vital state of matter as such, a material vitalism that doubtless exists everywhere but is ordinarily hidden or covered or rendered unrecognizable, dissociated by the hylomorphic model. Metallurgy is the consciousness or thought of the matter flow, and metal the correlate of this consciousness. As expressed in panmetalism, metal is coextensive to the whole of matter, and the whole of matter to metallurgy…Not everything is metal but metal is everywhere. Metal is the conductor of all matter. The machinic phylum is metallurgical, or at  least has a metallic head, as its itenerant probe head or guidance device. And thought is born more from metal than from stone….The prodigious idea of Nonorganic Life…was the invention, the intuition of metallurgy. Metal is neither a thing, nor an organism, but a body without organs. The Northern or Gothic Line is above all a mining metallic line delimiting this body.” Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus. 

Terminator 2. Nonorganic life sent back from the future effects a final face-off between its metal body and the human organism. (Only in a Hollywood fairytale can this turn out well for the monkeys.)  Linda Hamilton, hardbody Human Resister, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, territorialized cyborg, deputed into the human cause recoil in horror from Skynet’s latest Terminator,  the T1000. An advance prototype mimetic polyalloy, it is a liquid metal morphing machine. Unencumbered by organic characteristics; integrity, rigidity, stability it operates through constant variation, composing and decomposing its body on the plane of consistency.

The Grundrisse. Sensing the emergence of capitalism’s metal body, anthropoMarx understands Capital as a melting machine, incarnating itself in fleeting commodities and taking on their form, but at the same time changing them just as constantly. Marx represses the positive power of nonorganic invasion, characterising it only negatively, as an inversion of organic vitalism, undeath: capital obtains this ability only by constantly sucking in living labour as its soul, vampire-like.

Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Teeming, seething, swelling, foaming, spreading like an––infectious disease, nameless: Deleuze and Guattari’s Gothic materialism locates the nature of horror as the apprehension of the Body without Organs, a Turing cop aversion to Spinozist single substance. What anthropol perceives as formless is in fact a snaking, feverish line of variation first tracked by metallurgy. Not everything is metal but metal is everywhere…: in the destratified matter at the core of the earth, in electric wires, in money, in the blood’s red pigment, and in the tools of agriculture and the weapons of the war machine. Working only in intensities, speed, temperature,  astride thresholds rather than between them, the metallurgist follows the machinic phylum out beyond the pleasures of the organs. Metallurgy’s Gothic technics constitutes the ultimate betrayal of the human, a pact made with the demon that allows the Golem to escape from the judgments of God.



mmm -  dinner

mmm – dinner

When my ayi returned from her village after new year she brought us a live chicken. My disconcerted feelings about coming home from work to a feathered creature hiding under the desk were matched by her incredulity that no one in our family had any idea how to handle, never mind kill, such a common part of our diet.

While a chicken roaming around on the rug may be a bit too close to home.


I have long grown accustomed to – and appreciative of – the wet market across the street where poultry and fish are sold live (and then killed and cleaned on the spot).

These local markets, however, are in danger of disappearing as Shanghai’s drive for development seeks to clean up, civilize and sanitize the trade and traffic of the street. (For more on the tension, inherent within capitalism,  between supermarkets — where all chickens come in plastic wraps — and street markets see this piece written 10 years ago after a visit to the Taipei night market.)

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urban jungles

From a while back….

1962. JG Ballard writes The Drowned World. His post-apocalyptic vision folds the line of time. As the planet overheats, a primeval swamp swallows the great urban centers. The ‘white faced buildings of the 20th century’ lie derelict, half submerged by an overgrown jungle intruding from another time.

Ballard was born in Shanghai. He is writing of his native place.

2008. On the main street and thoroughfares the city’s vegetative life is contained, managed, supervised. Peering through the city’s walls, however, is a hidden world of uncontrolled and uncontrollable vitality.

Through the iron gates, inside the labyrinthine laneways, in the cities empty spaces where torn down buildings have left fields of concrete and rubble, the subtropical flora seeps its ways through cracks in walls, pushes through the bricks and gratings, climbs over windows and doors.

Here is Shanghai’s unplanned growth, its urban jungles…

More photos online here

In preparation for the Hacked Matter Workshop some links on shadow markets & maker culture (+ 2 on time):

Robert Neuwirth. The Shadow Superpower. Foreign Policy. October 28 2011.

The Informal Economy Symposium.

Nick Land. Radical Manufacturing. Urban Future, 06 July 2011.  

The Economist, A Third Industrial Revolution, April 21, 2012.

Makeshift: A Journal of Hidden Creativity.

Neil Gershenfeld, How to Make Almost Anything, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2012.

Venkat, Welcome to the Future Nauseaus, Ribbonfarm May 9 2012.

International Society for the Study of Time.