Indefinite violence

Landscape as Method

In actual history, it is a notorious fact that conquest, enslavement, robbery, murder, in short, force, play the greatest part. In the tender annals of political economy, the idyllic reigns from time immemorial…As a matter of fact, the methods of primitive accumulation are anything but idyllic.
Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I

So-called primitive accumulation—the violent dispossession of the means of production through the expropriation of land—was built upon the spoils of uneven and combined, ‘universalizing and differentiating’ systematic colonisation—the violent exploitation of global resources and the oppression and enslavement of peoples—engendering the gradual structural shift from feudalism to capitalism as hegemonic mode of production and social relation in the early 16th century. If every mode of production is also a mode of reproduction as Marx argues, then, following the logic of capital’s perpetual need to ‘accumulate through dispossession,’ what would this process do to landscape itself? How is landscape manufactured in the widest sense and how might it be employed as a methodological tool to unmask the indeterminacy of this perpetual violence, one that is both visible and invisible, active and passive, objective and subjective, internal and external? How do ‘real abstractions’ such as nation, empire, state (liberal democracy) and law defend and facilitate it?

But first, how to think landscape as space inscribed by the violence of capitalist relations? Something like the representation or figuration of political economy as a whole or what Alberto Toscano and Jeff Kinkle call ‘cognitive mapping’ may provide the answer, or at least unveil the ‘tensions in how we approach the cognisability of nature and society, cosmos and capital’. They write: ‘The idea of cognitive mapping is embedded in an argument about historical change and the correlation between culture and political economy: each epoch develops cultural forms and modes of expression that allow it, however partially and ideologically, to represent its world—to ‘totalise’ it’. It is not, then, about exposing or presenting the ‘appearance’ of say poverty or wealth, domination or oppression, but to make legible, to chart, the totality of relations as such. Attempting this sort of investigation would at least make degrees of perception less recondite and more distinct in comprehending the structural or systemic centrality of capital’s predations through its affects as the ‘normal’ state of affairs.

The 19th century British painter Thomas Cole (1801–1848) settled in the United States in the 1820s and soon established himself there as one the leading figures in landscape painting, in effect, founding the Hudson River School, the first school of art in post-Revolution America. Influenced by contemporaries J.M.W. Turner and John Martin’s innovative work in the genre, Cole was inspired by their depictions of the romantic sublimity of nature, as well as the technically adept, ‘agricultural’ realism of John Constable, and the luminescent, idealised, classical landscapes of Claude Lorrain, combining them all into something new and unseen before in his adoptive country. In the early 1830s, Cole was commissioned to produce a cycle of five large-scale paintings collectively titled The Course of Empire (1834–1836), and individually known as The Savage State; The Arcadian or Pastoral State; The Consummation of Empire; Destruction; and Desolation. These works present the allegorical rise and fall of civilization in epic form, a critique, and no doubt one of the firsts, of imperialist corruption and greed, a treatise on the deleterious consequences of man’s expropriation of nature.

According to the New York Historical Society’s description—the paintings’ home since 1858—the cycle ‘follow[s] a dramatic narrative arc, anchored by the imperturbable mountain in the background, and expounded with rich and complex symbolic systems that illustrate this imaginary world’s history, including the course of the sun across the sky, the changing relation of man to nature, the role of animals, the arts, and the military…’. By diminishing, if not de-politicising, the artist’s clear intentions for making the paintings, his deep concern for nature and its preservation and his opposition to rapid industrialization and urbanization, seems to have been erased from official art history. As a kind of early environmentalist, Cole, although no revolutionary, sought to position himself against the aesthetic and political orthodoxy of his time that championed violent territorial expansionism and white propertied exceptionalism, a projection of imperial mastery over nature and a fantasy of the ‘civilising’ powers of progress. Landscape can thus be seen as a genre (the panorama), an ideology and a method.

Masao Adachi’s A.K.A. Serial Killer (1969) is a 126-minute experimental documentary film that recounts the story of the eponymous killer from birth to capture, having murdered people in cities across Japan. The film has four constituent parts: opening and closing titles (which are the same), filmed landscape scenes, sound and voiceover narration, but no actors, props or sets and no mention of the killer’s name nor a single image of him.

The titles read: ‘In 1968, four homicides were committed in four cities using the same gun. A 19-year-old boy was arrested and became known as ‘the handgun serial killer’. The film comprises still and panning shots (and a few zooms) of rural and urban landscapes (mostly without passersby), of which were no doubt seen by the protagonist in his upbringing and travels. Largely made up of exterior day and night shots, the film shows us images of the countryside, trains and train stations, towns, cities like Tokyo and Osaka, signage, graffiti, untranslated advertising (except Coca-Cola!), ports, shipyards, a U.S. tanker ship, military soldiers, police, machinery, ‘infrastructures of accumulation’ (bridges, roads, canals, motorways, phone lines and electrical wires), schools, businesses, factories and sunflowers. These scenes are punctuated by a kind of experimental free jazz style soundtrack featuring saxophone, flute and gong. And this is the full text of the intermittent voice­over:

Born in 1949, he was the fourth son of an apple grower from Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. He ran away from home twice after an initial move from rural village to a provincial city. He was arrested for stealing from a clothes shop but managed to go to Tokyo and found work in a fruit shop. After six months he stowed away on a ship, worked at an auto repair shop and stole again. He then went to Osaka working in a rice shop, then moved again, working as a hotel porter near an airport. He stole money and goods from a US military base, was put on probation, then worked at a laundry facility in Kawasaki City. One month later, he was put in his elder brother’s custody in Tokyo, taking up a job in a dairy whilst attending high school. This didn’t last long. More travelling and another attempted stowaway, returning physically bound and beaten to Yokohama port, then to another job and school again. He soon found himself at a U.S. naval base in Yukosuka, where, on 8 October, he stole a German-made .22 caliber Rohm RG-10 handgun, nicknamed ‘Rosco,’ as well as fifty rounds of live ammunition. The first incident happened three days later at the Tokyo Prince Hotel; the second on 14 October at the Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto; the third on 26 October on the street in a suburb of Hakodate City in Hokkaido; and the fourth on a street in Nagoya. The gun and ammo were buried outside a temple in Yokohama a month later, at which time he found another job and lodgings back in Tokyo. In April 1969, he retrieved the pistol.

Masao Adachi is a screenwriter, filmmaker and militant revolutionary. In the 1960s, a time of accelerated post-war industrialisation, neo-imperialism (the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty) and protest, he collaborated with directors Nagisa Oshima on scriptwriting, Koji Wakamatsu on making ‘pink’ films such as Female Student Guerillas (1969) and directed his own films including the propagandistic Red Army / 

PLFP: Declaration of World War. In 1974, he emigrated to Lebanon, where he spent over twenty-seven years living with the exiled Japanese Red Army, working for the Palestinian struggle for autonomy, leading to his imprisonment there and eventual extradition back to Japan. Adachi is one of the practitioners of fûkeiron or ‘landscape theory,’ which understands space as an abstraction of power relations between state and capital, a space in which we are all inscribed. The protagonist of A.K.A. Serial Killer is then not only the ‘absent’ murderer but also the oppressive Japanese landscape, subject and object of interrogation, as well as method of ‘de-capitalisation’. Adachi states: “The theme of the movie A.K.A. Serial Killer was decided—we resolved to depict the figure of arbitrary power that appeared in the landscape, comparing it with the alienated and threatened sense of existence experienced by [the murderer Norio] Nagayama himself. This was the beginning of the fûkeiron debates, wherein the subjectivity of each individual was simply swallowed up by the ‘reality of landscape being expropriated by power,’ and we made the besieged spirit of Nagayama the protagonist.”

Landscape as method is also about the contradictions of memory. In Eric Baudelaire’s documentary film The Anabasis Of May And Fusako Shigenobu, Masao Adachi And 27 Years Without Images (2011), the artist shows scenes of contemporary Japan and the Middle East, employing fûkeiron to retrace landscapes (physical and psychic) seen and imagined by exiled Japanese Red Army leader Fusako, her daughter May and Adachi, with voiceovers by the latter two, who were either denied or withdrew images from the world that are now being ‘returned’.

Alberto Toscano and Jeff Kunkle, Cartographies of the Absolute, Winchester: 2015, p. 22.

Ibid., p. 368.

This tendency is perfectly captured in Cole’s Hudson River contemporary Asher Brown Durand, in his work Progress (The Advance of Civilisation), from 1853, which unsurprisingly depicts a vast, realist landscape divided into three sections: indigenous people set in a wooded cliff surveying the valley below inhabited by agricultural production set against a horizon of an imagined city drenched in golden sunlight.

This is a rough paraphrase based upon the film’s English subtitles.

See the interview with Adachi


Starship 18: Gibt es Communities? Gibt es Geister? Lass dich testen! - Cover Ariane Müller
  1. Important information inside Christopher Müller
  2. Hast du schon House of Cards gesehen? Amelie von Wulffen
  3. A painting which serves as bait for young and beautiful souls: Beware Richard Hawkins
  4. Schweig! Vielmehr, sprich! Francesca Drechsler, Carla Lonzi
  5. Be quiet, rather talk! Francesca Drechsler, Carla Lonzi
  6. The state of the world ... Stefanie Fezer, Vera Tollmann
  7. A California Fire Robert M. Ochshorn
  8. The C-word Henrik Olesen, Ariane Müller, Calla Henkel, Max Pitegoff, Martin Ebner
  9. Und ich hab schon wieder Hunger (Erdbeereis) Lisa Holzer
  10. Miniatures Gunter Reski
  11. I just wanna go back Karl Holmqvist
  12. In concert Gerry Bibby
  13. Frau die noch etwas vorhat Ariane Müller
  14. An essay on the study of nature in drawing landscape, 2018 Florian Zeyfang
  15. Elipsis Mark von Schlegell
  16. Just Numb Lars Bang Larsen
  17. Movements Jakob Kolding
  18. Spirits, 2018; .. Simone Gilges
  19. Musix' lost it's Colour Eric D. Clark
  20. Forever Teddy Suite, 2018 Timothy Davies
  21. Der Beautiful Books Club (BBC) Stephan Janitzky
  22. Uniforms Robert Meijer
  23. Rauchen für die Reichen Hans-Christian Dany
  24. Photos from "Grounding" Klara Liden
  25. Imminence John Beeson
  26. The bells put their tongues out Michele di Menna
  27. Nullerjahre Tenzing Barshee
  28. I have had syphilis Puppies Puppies
  29. Sharks Jay Chung
  30. Landscape as Method David Bussel
  31. Drop Car Martin Ebner
  32. Tritt ins Kopf Max Schmidtlein
  33. Das Übergängliche Toni Hildebrandt
  34. Metamorphosis (High voltage pylon hat-stand) Julian Göthe, Martin Guttmann
  35. Drawing bias Adrian Williams
  36. VERTEX af Ei Arakawa, Sarah Chow, Kerstin Braetsch
  37. Anthropomorphism Ariane Müller
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