On Friday 20 February 2015, the Flaxman Library at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago will host a “biblioderive” (http://biblioderive.tumblr.com/about):
“Bibliodérive is the application of the Situationist International practice of the dérive or “drift” reapplied to the realm of research, libraries and archives. The Flaxman Library bibliodérive is a collection of generative, open-ended actions, or situations, taken to destabilize research practices […] It is a disruption in the traditional use value assigned to the library, the archive, to information storage and even to the very concept of research itself.”
Some students and I will contribute to the SAIC library’s bibliodérive with an installation and performance based upon the I Ching (周易), the Chinese Classic of Changes: “I-Ching-dérive Friday: 10:30am – 2:30pm drop in anytime, 6th floor Sharp, SW corner Go to the tea area (SW corner behind the current magazines) for a cup of tea. There formulate a question, a specific question or a general question, about your future, how to proceed with your life. Ask, trusting the oracle’s answer will be true. Go to la chambre du spectacle (603 Sharp), where you will undergo an ordeal of images, sounds, and words and thereby generate the six lines, the two trigrams, that will comprise your hexagram. Return to the tea area for another cup of tea. Consult the I Ching: The Classic of Changes for the meaning of your hexagram and the answer to your question. Leave the library. Change your life.”
The I Ching is the most ancient of the traditional Chinese classics. Its roots trace to the“dragon bone” divination practices of the Shang Dynasty (1766-1046 B.C.E.). Cracks made with hot iron on ox scapula or turtle shells are interpreted to foretell the future. From these cracks are deduced a symbol-system of lines. A broken line represents Yin (陰): the moon, the feminine, the receptive. An unbroken line represents Yang (暘): the sun, the masculine, the creative. Yin and Yang ever oppose and compliment one another. The Way of the universe, the Tao (道) is driven by this constant conflict of Yin and Yang, circulating in harmony. Symbols of Yin and Yang, broken and/or unbroken lines are arranged in sets of three. Eight possible combinations, eight trigrams called the baqua (八卦) symbolize the primary elements of the cosmos: sky (☰), lake (☱), fire (☲), thunder (☳), wind (☴), water (☵), mountain (☶), and earth (☷). These trigrams can be paired to create hexagrams, six lines piled, broken and/or unbroken, in sixty-four possible configurations. The legendary King Wen of the Zhou dynasty (1046-256 B.C.E.) appended a poetic image for each of these sixty-four hexagrams and presented the compilation as a book that embodied the entire cosmos and its constant changes. Later Confucius (551-479 B.C.E.) enshrined the I Ching in the Chinese literary canon by offering his own commentary. Until 1966 when Chairman Mao initiated the Cultural Revolution to wipe away all of China’s ancient traditions, the I Ching represented the epitome of scholarly study, offering ethical reflection on everyday life from the cosmic perspective of the Tao.
The Situationist International was a European movement of artists and activists led by theorist Guy Debord. According to Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle (1967), modern society is dominated by spectacle. Individuals no longer have an authentic relationship with themselves, one another, or nature. All is now mediated and so separated by images. Before this matrix of images, modern man can only gawk passively and obediently do what he is shown. The spectacle constitutes everyday life, organizing time and space. We wake and work to the clock. We walk the map the planners have set out for us. A synecdoche of spectacle is the street of the city lined with signs and advertisements, at once warning and tempting, pushing and pulling us. So the spectacle influences how we act and alienates us from ourselves and one another.
Debord and his comrades developed a series of practical techniques for eluding the influence of the spectacle — the practice of literary and artistic détournement, the creation of situations, and the dérive. The dérive or drift was a way of walking or wandering in the city. Forgoing the usual routes of traversing one’s everyday environment, allowing one to see hidden traps and perhaps observe previously unnoticed possibilities. So the simple act of wandering the city can be an aleatory itinerary for mental emancipation, a possible spontaneous exit into new awareness.
Debord’s evangelization of the dérive had its apotheosis in Paris in May ’68. Rather than drift through the city, student radicals literally destroyed the streets. Some anarchists, some communists, almost all under the influence of Debord’s Society of the Spectacle occupied the Latin Quarter, turned over cars to make barricades and tore up paving stones to throw at police. The students called on workers to join them, and ten million in solidarity answered with a general strike. Paris was papered with posters that took their lines from Debord’s writing. “La Beauté Est Dans La Rue!” The Paris protests of 1968, like the Cultural Revolution happening at the same time on the other side of the world in China, sought total revolution, a revolution that would break with the past, create a new kind of human habitat, and transform everyday life. Both revolutions relied on the zealous idealism of youth.
The Situationist dérive and the I Ching both promise emancipation and illumination, and both make crucial use of chance. A Sorbonne student wanders the streets of the Latin Quarter without a set destination, following whatever catches his attention, following wherever chance encounter may lead. A Confucian scholar asks a question and seeks an answer in a hexagram randomly generated line by line, either through a complex process of shaking out yarrow stalks or else simply by tossing coins. In our I-Ching-dérive, we will use an alternative method of randomly generating hexagrams, a chance practice that is also an ordeal of sorts, exposing the questioner to haunting historical forces — Paris ’68, when the prophecies of The Society of the Spectacle were brought to life and the Cultural Revolution, when scholars were scorned and all of the Chinese classics were fed to the fire. La chambre du spectacle will be a site of jumbled images, sounds, and words, offering a discombobulating synesthetic experience. Such an experience will color how one interprets the oracle’s cryptic and poetic message. To stimulate contemplation, tea will be served.