North South East West
August 2004
Text for Fabrica

In August 2004 we were asked by Fabrica, an art academy based in Italy, to write a short text for a book they wanted to publish to celebrate its 10-year-anniversary. Entitled 'Fabrica 10', the subtitle of this book was 'From chaos to order', and the theme revolved around the idea of antithesis. We were specifically asked to write a text entitled 'From North to South'.

In our own naive way, we feel really inspired by the philosophy of dialectics (to put it simply: thesis, antithesis, synthesis), so we found it quite interesting to write a text on this subject. As we described earlier (in 'Lazy Sunday Afterthoughts', a text we wrote in 2003 for Dot Dot Dot), we like to play around with the concept of 'cross-dialectics': the idea that hidden behind the obvious dialectic, there is another one: the dialectic of the dialectic. In the case of 'From North to South', this means that for us the real tension is not in the relation 'North vs. South', but in the relation 'North vs. South' vs. 'East vs. West'.
We know, this is all hopelessly complicated; as we already said, it's just something we like to dabble in. But nevertheless, here's the text:

From North to South

We are born with an instinctive talent for dialectics. Throughout times, people have always tried to see the unity behind opposites, and the opposites behind unity. After all, we're nothing but products of a world filled with paradoxes and contradictions. As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus (540-480 BC) said: "Things which are put together are both whole and not whole, brought together and taken apart, in harmony and out of harmony; one thing arises from all things, and all things arise from one thing".

Maybe it's a ridiculous thought, but would it be farfetched to assume that one of the causes for this collective dialectical instinct lies in the fact that the earth is round? That (even in times when we thought the earth was flat) we always knew, by intuition, that if we kept on walking westwards, we would end up in the east?

There's the east/west dialectic. And there's the north/south dialectic. These two dialectics seem quite similar, but are in fact each others opposites. While the east/west dialectic is a relative contradiction, the north/south dialectic seems more absolute.
Why? Because there is a North Pole and a South Pole. Somebody walking south is walking towards the South Pole, somebody walking north is walking towards the North Pole. These two people will never meet; their destination is fixed. But there isn't an East Pole, nor a West Pole. Imagine one person walking eastward, another one walking westward: they will eventually meet at the other side of the world. Thus, the contradiction between north and south seems somehow more absolute than the contradiction between east and west.

But let's not fool ourselves. In the spirit of Heraclitus, we should realise that no contradiction is absolute, not even the contradiction between north and south. As Friedrich Engels suggests in the 'Dialectics of Nature' (1883):

"There are some things which people consider to be absolute and immutable opposites. For instance, when we wish to convey the notion of extreme incompatibility, we use the term 'polar opposites' – north and south are taken to be absolutely fixed and opposed phenomena. (...) Yet closer analysis shows that the North Pole is neither fixed nor stable. Detailed measurements and investigation has proved beyond doubt location of the magnetic poles is continually shifting.
They are moving very slowly – 0.3 degrees every million years. However, even this apparently imperceptible process of change gives rise to sudden and spectacular leaps, in which north becomes south and south becomes north (...) This revolutionary change has occurred many times during the history of the earth. It has been estimated that more than 200 such polar reverses have taken place in the last 65 million years (...)"

In other words, about 700.000 years ago, the north magnetic pole was located somewhere in Antarctica, the present south geographical pole.

So where does this information leaves us? It leaves us where we belong: in a world without absolute contradictions. A world where up is down, where in is out, and where, to paraphrase Jimi Hendrix, six repeatedly turns out to be nine.

Experimental Jetset,
Amsterdam 02.08.2004

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