Project outlines.

2.2 Erasmus commentary
Synopsis produced to coincide with exhibition at Schipper & Krome,
Berlin, March 1996.

2.3 erasmus postscript
Chapter 13 of ERAMUS IS LATE written May 1996.



Erasmus is Late 1995
Published by Book Works, London.

The book Erasmus is Late concerns a dinner in London that flashes between 1810 and 1997. A central tension is created with the knowledge that this dinner is taking place on the night before the mob are redefined as the workers in the collective social consciousness. We are witnessing the last time that this previously locked layer of society could be assessed as an incoherent group. From this night on any position in society has to be negotiated rather than assumed. There are no God-given hierachies. Everyday is not the same, the near future is roughly predictable through Capitalist projection and therefore potentially changeable. We have growth. Modern destabilisation has set in. ERASMUS IS LATE also functions as a guide to London. The central character, Erasmus Darwin, wanders around various sites for the development of free-thinking. Meanwhile a number of people are waiting for him at his house. All are involved in a time slip. Each could be described as a parallel individual. Not the figurehead of any particular power structure but central to the development of other people’s ideas. Erasmus never arrives back home yet communicates with us and his guests through a opium haze. The guests come to terms with the potential of that night’s events in their own way. Yet the rest of us have witnessed something quite special. A debate about debate. An attempt to re-frame potential across time. Although the opportunity to encourage a particular form of pre-Marxist republican revolution has been lost, the conditions that provoked the rise of the soft left and late Twentieth century democratic market economies have been laid bare. The book, with illustrations by Gillian Gillick, functions as an extended commentary on the idea of parallel histories. Various artworks have been produced in relation to the specific ideas contained within the text. Each piece works as a provisional solution towards understanding the book’s function as a condensed central core of ideas rather than original research material or commentary.

Ibuka! 1995
Published by Kunstlerhaus Stuttgart.

The production of a musical scenario that focuses on one of the key characters from the book Erasmus is Late. A corrupted adaptation. Even so a stage setting must be visualised and various possibilities explored. Ibuka! is a musical entertainment that deals with the roots of our current situation and the embryonic status of socialism and Western European capitalism at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century. It’s a song and dance spectacular, despite the fact that none of the words or music have been written. For a number of exhibitions, deformalised and provisional solutions were devised as a reaction to the potential situations proposed within this scenario. A number of Ibuka! prototype objects were also produced such as banners, table/stages and logos. At each point it is clear that any Ibuka! realisation is operating at a point in between various effects. There is no overt determinisation of use or instruction for behaviour here. In some ways the whole project provides a series of objects that are designed for development rather than mute consideration. Work to turn your back on if necessary. The creation of a series of potential objects and props that permit the continuation of generalised debate and a fetish of presentation. Throughout IBUKA! there is a use of materials such as simple plywood, chip board, cloth, light and glass. A framework is created that operates within the backstage area but in clear view.


Erasmus Commentary
Synopsis produced to coincide with exhibition at Schipper & Krome, Berlin, March 1996.

Erasmus is Late in Berlin

We are introduced to the central characters in the book. Robert McNamara, Masaru Ibuka, Harriet Martineau, Elsie McLuhan, Murry Wilson, and the absent host, Erasmus Darwin. These are all secondary characters, meeting across time. A dinner is taking place on the night before the mob become the workers. Erasmus will not be in attendance, even though we are in his house, instead he will provide a corrupted guide to London, wandering in an opium haze. The book is going to flash between 1810 and 1997.

Chapter 1 (A house in Great Marlborough Street)
The exterior of a house in Great Marlborough Street is described. The house of Erasmus Darwin. It is the first of many places for free thinkers that are identified in the text. The guests start to arrive at the house and Harriet makes the first “contact” with the absent Erasmus. Her personality is outlined and her relation to the host. Erasmus is walking in a busy street that has not yet been named. He thinks/talks about a sense of time-slip and points out the problems of trying to communicate from a period that is so different from our own, yet is completely connected to it. The other guests do not understand what is going on.

Chapter 2 (A shop in Tottenham Court Road)
It is now clear that this 18th century, Libertarian opium eater is wandering in the London of 1997. A busy street, Tottenham Court Road, is described. It is a place to buy electronic goods. Although Erasmus is not sure what they are, he is attracted by their potential. The interior of his Great Marlborough Street house is described. Erasmus tells us how the thinking of his era provided the basis for both Socialism and free-market philosophies. His text is neither historical or contemporary. He ends by standing caught in the light of the shop windows, contemplating the possibility of a multiple vision. A series of tiny moral frameworks rather than over-bearing dogmatism, he is aware that the most dynamic people are involved in such thinking, but is wary to make the move into true ongoing invention.

Chapter 3 (Another shop in Tottenham Court Road)
Erasmus is still in the shopping street. His clothing and appearance is described. He explains his role at the centre of things as a parallel, secondary individual shifting around through time. Erasmus talks about the importance of discussion, but laments the fact that it is closed to him. Drugs are talked about and he tries hard to understand what he is seeing in the shop windows. Meanwhile, in the house, the other guests have arrived. Embarrassed conversation begins. The guests test each other, and begin an exchange. McNamara breaks the deadlock by explaining his belief in a empirical quest for analysis. Strangely, he also seems to desire a submission to the most controlling aspects of society. Masaru Ibuka lets Bob know that he understands where the ideas are coming from. The idea of the parallel individual is explained. Erasmus talks about his role. Multiple positions, pre-Marxist radicalism and a belief in mobile thought. He is not rigorous and he has no archive. This appears to allow him to travel across time. We are left with a confused Ibuka, standing by the fire. He knows he must contribute to the debate.

Chapter 4 (A night club in Charing Cross Road)
Erasmus is still thinking. He speaks of communication, state control, debate and the myth of free-will. Harriet challenges what she feels to be Erasmus’s amoralism. Erasmus is not at the dinner with her, but is looking at the door of a night-club in Charing Cross Road. He thinks about behavioural models and insomnia while alluding to the misuse of his famous younger brother’s forthcoming work on evolution. Rationalism and discussion cloaked within a sense of amateurism. Murry is starting to enjoy himself, but understands very little of the absent host’s rambling.

Chapter 5 (Back in Tottenham Court Road)
Erasmus is pleased with his multi-layered analysis. He explains that he is not feeling guilty about missing the dinner engagement. He already seems resigned to the fact that there will be no bourgeois revolution and that in the morning the workers will have their own identity and historical trajectory. He thinks about the idea of the “guide”, both physical and textual. Elsie, on the other hand, is concerned about the level of contradiction in the text. An increasing attention to detail is her model for how to proceed. We try to understand where Erasmus is heading while he thinks hard about some of the guests who are waiting for him. McNamara ends the chapter with a plea for the blurring of analysis and action to a point where it is impossible to divide the two, with disasterous consequences?

Chapter 6 (Grape Street Wine Bar)
Erasmus goes straight into the bar and orders a drink. Harriet is getting a little frustrated and tries to at least clarify a starting point for her fellow guests. Before we can find out what this will lead to, the story shifts radically to a new location under Centre Point that is also functioning as a tunnel system under the White House. McNamara’s story. A period of time in Washington in the early sixties.

Chapter 7 (The tunnels under Centre Point)
There is a brief explanation of why McNamara is sharing this story with us, followed by further elucidation. Back to Great Marlborough Street, where Harriet is dominating the proceedings. There is a fast paced debate about entry points into arguments and intellectual structures. An examination of hierarchies and censorship. Erasmus is not completely happy with it. He defends his apparent vagueness. A claim is made that sociology and semiotics will become the most important tools. The role of Erasmus as a compromised free-thinker is outlined once more and we run through the idea of what his brother will achieve. The chapter ends with the concept of time slips once more, with a small joke about worm-hole theory.

Chapter 8 (The Poster Studio)
Poster Studio is described. Erasmus bangs repeatedly on the door. We flash back to the tunnels under the White House/Centre Point. It is McNamara’s story again. McNamara and Herman Kahn of the RAND Institute are up to something. They talk about the idea of positioning and entry points within the political system. The story continues and we are introduced to two female characters, known only as “Fiddle” and “Faddle”. Back to London and Erasmus is thinking about questions of responsibility. A confused attempt to make a stab at the idea of psychology, especially the changes wrought by opiates.

Chapter 9 (Tottenham Court Road again)
It is now the middle of the night. Erasmus is extremely late for his own dinner. There is a brief return to McNamara’s story. Back at the house, Murry speaks. He tries to work out what is going on and is surprisingly articulate. There is some doubt that these are really his words or thoughts. He talks about refusal of taking a precise opinion. And the necessity of remaining flexible in all situations. Erasmus cannot let this go. He is concerned about the other’s perception of him as a lost figure, isolated and failed. He decides that from now on he will always speak through other people.

Chapter 10 (Richard Wolff’s Place)
It looks like Erasmus is finally going home. But once more he is distracted from a direct engagement with his dinner guests. He reflects upon the political, social, economic and technological developments of his time, while standing outside an editing studio in modern Soho in London. He can think in a complex way about the problems and benefits of the developments from the late Eighteenth Century. He talks about solutions such as the idea of flickering modes of behaviour while bemoaning the fact that the most dynamic ideas of his period were appropriated by the Right and some forget that they influenced the Left. Everyone can hear him now. Harriet finds his position depressing and doomed. A form of relativism that is of no use to anyone. A debate fetish that is connected to a misunderstanding of what will become known as post-modernism. Erasmus is reaching a series of micro-conclusions. He claims that the disastrous Utopias of the twentieth century were merely a last gasp attempt to find some certainty but were over stated with terrifying results.

Chapter 11 (London University)
A joke from Erasmus. He is aware that it is nearly morning, and that today the mob become the workers. But he has turned right round and headed back to Tottenham Court Road for one final look. At Great Marlborough Street, McNamara is getting bored and embarrassed by the earnest discussion. He tries to sum things up. Erasmus responds with a discussion of failure. It is quite clear that he will not make it home. But he must give it a try. Erasmus has finally realised what will be missed if he avoids the dinner.

Chapter 12 (Go Home)
The pace quickens. The table top is covered in notes. The guests are weary. Erasmus is finally warming to his analytical task. His memory is getting clearer and he is of more use in a traditional, linear, historical sense. He reflects upon what his brother will achieve and apologises for having been unclear. He conjures up an obscure analogy for his position. Ibuka takes up the story. Permission, the time slip, failure and sub-text. An intellectual framework for dealing with contradiction. Elsie adds some thoughts. McNamara’s heard enough. Erasmus feels sick, he has to rest. McNamara has not quite finished. Erasmus staggers towards the house. Everything has gone wrong. He realises he failed to enter any of the sites for free-thinking while abandoning the possibility of real debate across time. Erasmus is not going to make it. He has a final monologue. The fetishisation of the free-thinker. Bureaucracy and administration. Compromise as a way to live. There will be a gulf between planning and practice. Use it. It’s nearly five in the morning. Murry is the last to leave. Erasmus arrives shortly afterwards. Up the stairs and into the empty room. He has failed to communicate directly, but he has truly occupied a middle position.


Erasmus Postscript
A thirteenth chapter of the book Erasmus is Late. Written May 1996.

This would be Chapter 13. There ought to be one, yet at every point of the narcotic chase, the topographical stumble, the possibility of such an unlucky end point escaped the guests and the central absence, that old older brother. Yet at this point it might be appropriate to give these figures some lasting statements. A sense of separation and a degree of autonomy. Some history, as it stands in the most widely accepted sense. For while acknowledging the impossibility of such an act, it might be useful to disentangle these people for a while. Those secondary people, the individuals who are divorced from each other by time and understanding alone. It’s more an appendix than anything greater or lesser. Filling in some of the information on the people who played out the waiting game. Histories merging. The collapse into parallel positions and back out again, for the establishment of what has become a near dogma is already fading away. Working and reworking a set of apparent fictions into a series of more or less accurate rereadings of what actually took place, at least according to those who bothered to negotiate it for a lengthy period of time. So we are in effect at the beginning again. At that point where it might have been useful to point out some clear versions of what other people felt to be the key areas of potential. Let’s allow the friends of those newly centralised characters a chance to say a thing or two.

So it would be appropriate to mirror the process at work in the book, or at least the order of things. Harriet Martineau. Let’s not go into it again. Enough has been said about the character, as a separate entity to the person who appears in the earlier parts of the book. But now a friend must speak.
“And all his sisters recommended Poor Laws and Paupers Illustrated, which came in several pamphlet-sized parts. Its author was ‘a great Lion in London’, a fiercely independent lady, Harriet Martineau. She was the darling of the Whigs, a one-woman advertising agency, whose soap-opera novellas popularised and explained the reforms. ‘Erasmus knows her and is a very great admirer and everybody reads her books and if you have a dull hour you can, and then throw them overboard, that they may not take up your precious room’.

In London he did have Erasmus for company. Or at least some of the time, for his brother had taken with that literary lioness Harriet Martineau. In these weeks he would drift back in the evening, tired ‘from driving out Miss Martineau.’ Martineau herself was London’s prime literary apologist for the whole gamut of Whig reforms. She had even been introduced to the old Revd. Malthus. It might have been a meeting of minds, but neither had expected much more. With her ear trumpet and his cleft palate, it was a surprise anything transpired, but they transcended their impediments and made perfect contact. She heard every word without her trumpet, and gratifying words they were: he praised her poor-law tales as the very epitome of his views.

Talking of Malthus what about Robert McNamara? The drawn out star of an animated film and the ultimate compromised business into government shifter. Maybe just the first of many. And he didn’t want to do it in the first place. Nothing like modesty.
“After Berkeley, I attended the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, soaking up nuts-and-bolts skills I figured I would need to land a job. Many on the faculty appeared to believe that the purpose of business was solely to make money. But a handful of people, including Ross G. Walker, my financial controls professor and Edmund P. Learned, my marketing professor, took a broader view. They taught that business leaders had a duty to serve society as well as their shareholders, and that a company could drive for profits and at the same time meet social responsibilities. I think of this in a phrase Walker and Learned might have liked: “There is no contradiction between a soft heart and a hard head.” That has been a guiding principle in my life.”

Is that all it takes?

“On Thursday, December 8, 1960, seven weeks after I became president of Ford, I left my home in Ann Arbor early in the morning to drive to my office in Dearborn. I made a stop at the River Rouge Plant on the way, and when I finally reached headquarters at about 10.30am, my secretary, Virginia Marshall, handed me a long list of phone messages. I had directed her to force me to return every call that came in - including complaints - so, without looking at the list, I handed it back and said

‘Start down it.’

“About half an hour later, she announced, ‘Robert Kennedy is on the line’, I had never met him (seven and a half years later, I was to help carry his casket to the grave in Arlington National Cemetery) and had no idea why he had called, but he soon made it clear.

‘The President-elect would be grateful if you would meet with our brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver,’ he said.

“I told him I would be happy to do so - although I did not know Sarge or have the faintest idea why he wanted to meet. I suggested the following Tuesday.

‘No, no,’ said Robert Kennedy. ‘He wants to
see you today.’

I pointed out that it was already nearly 11:00am.

He replied, ‘You set the time and he’ll be there.’

So I said, ‘Four o’clock.’

“At four sharp, Sarge Shriver entered my office. He began the conversation by saying. ‘The President-elect has instructed me to offer you the position of secretary of the treasury.’

‘You’re out of your mind,’ I said.
‘I’m not qualified for that.’

‘If you hold to that position,’ said Sarge,
‘I am authorised to say Jack Kennedy wishes
you to serve as secretary of defense.’”

Well, well. Erasmus can see the logic linking Harriet to Robert. Strange. Not strange at all. Robert Strange.
Masaru Ibuka, always intrigued by these exchanges. There is a language problem but someone else can always speak for him.

“Ibuka and I took a long time deciding on a name. We agreed we didn’t want a symbol. The name would be the symbol, and therefore it should be short, no more than four or five characters. All Japanese companies have a company badge and a lapel pin, usually in the shape of the company symbol, but except for a prominent few, such as the three diamonds of Mitsubishi, for example, it would impossible for an outsider to recognise them. Like the automobile companies that began relying less and less on symbols and more and more on their names, we felt we really needed a name to carry our message. Every day we would write down the possibilities and discuss them whenever we had the time. We wanted a new name that could be recognised anywhere in the world, one that could be pronounced the same in any language. We made dozens and dozens of tries. Ibuka and I went through the dictionaries looking for a bright name, and we came across the Latin word SONUS, meaning ‘sound’. The word itself seemed to have sound in it. Our business was full of sound, so we began to zero in on SONUS. At that time in Japan, borrowed English slang and nicknames were becoming popular and some people referred to bright young and cute boys as ‘sonny’, or ‘sonny-boys’, and of course, ‘sunny’ and ‘sonny’ both had an optimistic and bright sound similar to the Latin root with which we were working. And we also thought of ourselves as ‘sonny-boys’ in those days. Unfortunately, the single word ‘sonny’ by itself would give us troubles in Japan because in the romanisation of our language, the word ‘sonny’ would be pronounced ‘sohn-nee’, which means to lose money. That was no way to launch a new product. We pondered this problem for a little while and the answer struck me one day: why not just drop one of the letters and make it ‘Sony’? That was it!”

That’s that then. And the root of an analysis of such a pleasurable affair? There is only one mother at a meeting such as this. But there are two fathers. Elsie McLuhan is not one of them. An analysis of behavioural traits that might be as they can be understood, later transferred to a younger man. Nearly the last lasting figure of the second order guests at our meeting.

“Elsie could be harsh with her sons as well as her husband. A liberal user of the razor strop, she was one of those disciplinarians who sporadically blow up at children from some obscure and unrelieved frustration. A lapse in complete attention from one of her children when she was addressing them could trigger a blowup. Such domestic fury had differing effects on the two boys. Maurice, like his uncle Ray in the household of Henry Seldon Hall, collapsed under the tensions of living with a volatile parent. In his maturity he became one of the most genial and puckish of men, almost compulsively so. It was the legacy of a certain strategy he had devised for coping with unpleasant circumstances, the strategy of the class clown. Marshall did not collapse under his mother’s emotional violence. Like Elsie herself in her father’s house, he never submitted in his soul to her outbursts. And, as it had in his mother, the stand exacted a price. In his diary at age nineteen, Marshall noted that his domestic situation was so painful that he could hardly bear to think about it. The emotional turmoil he experienced in his home life might account for the complaints of indigestion recorded throughout the diary, an indigestion he suffered for a great part of his life. But he resisted his mother beginning as a child, refusing to accede even to her modest demands. ‘If it was a picnic in the park, he didn’t want to go.’”

But to focus on domestic wrangles and details might give entirely the wrong impression.

“Elsie arranged her professional tours through a network of churches that agreed to sponsor her and despite the waning popularity of elocutionary performances as a result of radio and the movies, she was successful. By the mid-1930s she had performed, mostly in church halls, in all the major cities in Canada. Her performances consisted of ‘recitals’ of Browning and Shakespeare and ‘plays (classic and modern), character sketches, musical monologues, humourous and dramatic stories’ from more contemporary authors, now forgotten. A typical recital might include her one-woman performance of the trial scene from The Merchant of Venice, a monologue entitled ‘How the Larue Stakes Were Lost’ (In which a young jockey sacrifices winning a horse race to save a child about to be trampled underfoot by the horses), and a playlet entitled ‘Are You Using Life or Is Life Using You?’ - interspersed, perhaps, with a few numbers by the church choir or a violinist. She was very good at performing, and she was earning money, which she used to buy such items as a hardwood floor and Persian rugs for the house.”

While it seems a shame in many ways, an element of performance is bound to creep in. Yet as with Elsie the effect is more notable on someone else. The time has come to consider a way of changing someone’s behaviour to such an extent that it is no longer clear to them that they are the product of anything. The illusion of uniqueness is overwhelming. It had to be Murry again at the end.

“When we were almost finished, my dad pulled me aside and strongly suggested we record several of his songs too. How could he, I thought? It was insulting. He was muscling in on our action. First as manager, now as songwriter. I didn’t want to get into it. Not here. Not when we had finished a long session that had us all excited. He didn’t leave me any choice.

‘I don’t think that would be a good idea,” I said.

For a moment, he didn’t say anything. He just turned his back on me. Then he whipped around, pissed.

‘You’re going to record my songs or
the group breaks up,’ he shouted.

The other guys heard us arguing, and I tried to take control of the situation before it blew up by talking sense to my dad.

‘You don’t want to break us up, Dad,’ I said.
‘Look, everything is fine. We’re just getting going.
Why are you doing this to me?’

‘I don’t give a damn if you’re going or coming,’ he said.
‘My songs are better. You should record ’em.’
At that point, I didn’t have the nerve to take a swing at him, but I was that angry. Instead, I begged and pleaded, told my dad that I didn’t want to argue, that I liked his songs, loved them, in fact, but that I wanted to do my own original material.

‘Try to understand. They’re our songs. They’re what we want to play. We’ve worked hard for this.’”

Murry. Murry. Murry. That’s not the way to behave. But it might lead to something. Even if that is only a great deal of grovelling around on the floor desperately seeking cocaine. And thinking that a walk up a dormant volcano is any kind of real achievement, which, of course, no-one would doubt for a second. Is that the end point? Self-motivation and rescue from the depths through achievement? “I get around.” as Erasmus would have put it.