From the Archives: Evelyn Lord on ‘Scandalous Societies’ past and present

hellfire

From Secessio Vol.1 No.2, an excerpt of Evelyn Lord’s fascinating history of the secret clubs that have scandalised civilised society over the centuries. Evelyn is a Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge and author of The Hellfire Clubs: Sex, Satanism and Secret Societies and The Knights Templar in Britain. Read the full essay here.


In 1937 Bataille founded his own scandalous and secret society Acephale. Its aims and rites are still secret, but some hints of these were disclosed by a member later in the twentieth century, and can be tentatively reconstructed from the articles in the journal Acephale and Bataille’s other writings. Bataille’s aim was to bind together a community and awaken it to the fatality of destruction and death, through a new religion based on that of the Aztecs ‘fierce and malevolent’ religion, promoting an intense spirituality throughout either blackest death or intense eroticism (Surya 2002, 245).

The community was to be male, with one or two women, and at its inception had nine members. However, some members of Bataille’s circle were notably absent, and like the Beggar’s Benison pool of potential members they may well have been deterred by what might happen at the society’s meetings, as in 1927 Bataille wrote a gruesome and anally fixated account of a sacrifice, and there was evidence that Bataille was looking for a willing human sacrifice, and a sacrificer. Unsurprisingly, neither was forthcoming.

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Ambiances, Alloaesthesia: Senses, Inventions, Worlds

The proceedings of the 4th International Congress on Ambiances are now available for download via the HAL open science platform here. Conference abstract as follows:

After the Congresses of Grenoble (Creating an Atmosphere, 2008), Montreal (Ambiances in Action, 2012) and Volos (Ambiances, Tomorrow: The Future of Ambiances, 2016), this 4th International Ambiances Network Congress, entitled “Ambiances, Alloaesthesia: Senses, Inventions, Worlds” questions the renewal of the forms of feeling in a world that is undergoing major changes. It aims to consider how the contemporary environmental, social, technological, political and ethical changes are likely to affect the sensitive worlds, their ambiances, and the ways of experiencing them.

This conference brings together more than a hundred scientific contributions coming from an international base of academics, practitioners, artists and PhD students working on ambiances and atmospheres. They offer an up-to-date account of the variety of themes and issues within this field, showcasing the latest research and methodological approaches. Organized in sixteen themed sessions, the presentations examine the ongoing preoccupations, debates, theories, politics and practices of this field, drawing on multidisciplinary expertise from areas as diverse as anthropology, architecture, computer science, cultural studies, design, engineering, geography, musicology, psychology, sociology, urban studies and so on.

→ Visit the E-conference website
Visit ambiances 2020 webpage on ambiances.net

Call for Papers: Underground Atmospheres. Renewing the debate

Call for contributions for a special issue of Ambiances journal. Deadline for submissions: 12 May 2021.

The concept of underground spaces has emerged over the last twenty years (Admiraal & Cornaro, 2018) as a unifying issue for the professions working with the Urban (e.g. architects, engineers, geometricians, geographers). For a long time considered as a ‘residue’ of the city, neglected by actors, bereft of natural light and air, underground spaces have responded to the needs for storing and burying vital functions of the city (all sorts of networks) or, in some cases, for climate protection (e.g. Montreal). Therefore, for a long time, the underground remained the domain of engineers, military officers, accommodating security installations, parking areas, technical galleries (utilidors) and various urban infrastructures (Goel, Singh & Zhao, 2012). As for urban planners, they have long imagined a retrieval of this common ground often involving the imagination around futuristic cities and less so the trial and updating of knowledge and techniques inherited from vernacular architecture (e.g. water reservoirs, troglodyte dwellings).

The end of the 20th century and the processes of metropolisation and urban sprawl now make global cities face issues regarding the densification of their functions. The underground is expected to prove itself as a structuring space of metropolitan life. It emerges as a promising response to the unsolvable shortage of land in dense areas, but also to the issues of energy performance, management of resources and mobility (Malone, 1996). From a perception of the underground as a binding space, we are now witnessing, in France and abroad, a renewal of the vocabulary and of the policies willing to connect the undergrounds to the grid of urban vital functions. However, despite this effervescence, the updating of the regulatory and operational tools has not yet started. The high cost of underground construction, the complexity of operational montages (type macrolot), the risks induced by the recognition of a common land to be shared and the absence of exhaustive census call for a careful reading with multiple dimensions (e.g. environmental, social) of underground spaces, as well as a revision of the analysis and design vocabularies.

Questioning the underground in its ability to welcome, please, affect, comfort also means recognizing an old debate (structure, land, safety) with topical issues, such as the hybridisation of public spaces, the tourist attractiveness of cities, the role of the senses in the urban experience. This special issue aims to open a debate on an updated reading of the underground space and its role in the construction of urbanity (Levy, 1994). We use in particular concepts of ambiance and experience (Malpas, 1999), which have been present for over forty years in humanities and social sciences in France (Amphoux, 2003) and in Anglo-Saxon research (Buser, 2014). How can a multi-sensorial approach of underground spaces shape modalities of production, practices and design of those places?

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