A BRIEF HISTORY
OF THE WORLD
A dispatch from
THE LIBERATED FILM CLUB
THE LIBERATED FILM CLUB—the second publication from TENEMENT PRESS—is a collection of unabridged transcriptions, special commissions and texts anchored in a series of screenings held at London’s CLOSE-UP FILM CENTRE (2016 to 2020) curated by Stanley SCHTINTER.
From its onset to its end—the CLUB guaranteed a wide wingspan for critical conversation. Screening LIBERATED FILM (titles drawn from SCHTINTER’s expansive archive of ‘lost, suppressed and impossible’ film), a guest would be invited to introduce a film; an audience seated to watch it through; but there’d be a disruption to that typical format. Neither the audience nor the guest would have any idea what film would be shown, and this anonymised arrangement would invite broad and antagonistic perambulation on the what, the why and the how of film; on the act(s) of showing, sharing and seeing.
Playing with the ways we reproach the institutions built around all of our cultures of making, and the manners and methods of an elsewhere dominant culture of consumption, THE LIBERATED FILM CLUB was a rare reflection on the act of reflection itself. This collection—an unabridged collation of works pertaining to this series (forthcoming with TENEMENT this October)—is a unique proposition. It is urgent, exciting and sincere in its silliness; challenging received notions of critical exchange, and abandoning entirely the dogma of atomised, predictable viewing. It is a profound celebration of community and conversation, and a timely paean to free, shared space.
See below for a contribution to this series from Chloe ARIDJIS, as introduced by SCHTINTER ...
It all started with a miniscule green flare in the sky that after wandering the universe and finding no corner in which to dwell collected enough star dust to grow into a tiny comet which then landed in Earth’s ocean and after a few days, nourished by salt water, exploded into tiny particles and each of these particles grew a webbed foot, and then several more, followed by a rubbery body and a pair of round eyes. And the ocean, sensing a new presence of life and happy to finally have company, adjusted its temperature to make itself more welcoming.
The Reign of the Axolotl, ancient salamanders—amphibians native to the canals of Xochimilco in Mexico City—begins. Axolotls are able to regrow severed limbs and retain their infant features throughout their lives, never undergoing metamorphosis; therefore, all appear to be the same age and there is no hierarchy within their society. They are peaceful but lack assertive personalities, and as the world expands and more species come into existence, the axolotls are eventually replaced by the Feathered Serpent Quetzalcóatl, God of Wind and Wisdom, who reigns harmoniously.
A solar eclipse unbalances the cosmological order, Quetzalcóatl is dethroned, and a kingdom of shadows is established. This long night leads to the Reign of Quetzalcóatl’s brother Tezcatlipoca, Smoking Mirror. Rivalry grows among the Aztec gods until they hand over earthly matters to man: Moctezuma is made emperor. The Spaniards arrive by sea, Moctezuma taken prisoner in his own palace. He is visited by Huitzilopochtli, god of war, as a hummingbird, who tells him the invading men are not gods and gives him a secret weapon. A bloody battle ensues. Defying all expectations, the Aztecs prevail, and the Spaniards are defeated.
In an obsidian mirror in Moctezuma’s palace, an Aztec priestess glimpses scenes from past centuries elsewhere in the world. In ancient Greece, people gather in a planetarium and dream of reaching the stars. Enormous water-powered machines in the shape of dragons are installed on rivers in Tang Dynasty China. Somewhere on the Indian subcontinent, a species of macaque establishes control over all the temples but continues the practice of Buddhism. Women and children build two visions of paradise on earth: Petra, and Palmyra. Hundreds of thousands of migrating humpback whales sing and breach.
A mysterious epidemic has toppled the Roman Empire, felling its highest officials. Mass poisoning is suspected. In the Middle Ages, a disastrous plague, spread by giant spiders, sweeps the European continent. The spiders are finally wiped out by resilient cats brought over from Egypt. Tamed gargoyles help to erect grand cathedrals while monasteries fill up with anatomists of melancholy and the convents with female scribes. A new type of candle is invented that burns for fifty-five hours, leading to widespread insomnia. Herds of elephants and prides of lions roam the African continent, crowding out the human population.
The Aztecs set sail for Europe on the Spanish boats that weren’t burned by Cortés, manned by conquistador slaves. The ships land at Palos de la Frontera and a war of religion ensues. The Virgin Mary is supplanted by Our Mother Tonantzin, maize replaces wheat as a staple, cocoa beans become the most valued currency. Madrid is the Aztec capital in Spain, but the human sacrifice required to honour and appease the gods is carried out at the Alhambra in Granada. The Aztecs are unable to extend their influence further into Europe as they can’t make it across the Pyrenees.
An enormous meteorite falls into the Zone of Silence, a mysterious part of the Mexican desert. All the principal Aztec priests travel to visit the crater; as they stand inspecting it, another huge meteorite falls and crushes them. The populace is freed, no more human sacrifice. Under the mantle of black dust that now enshrouds the country, the Spanish slaves revolt and spread Christianity. Meanwhile, Berber hordes paddle across the Strait of Gibraltar and wrest Spain from the Aztecs. Everywhere people are reading the newly invented printed books. An unknown breed of sea monster is spotted in the Pacific Ocean.
In Renaissance Italy, an artist draws a perfect circle while pigeons invade the town squares before moving on to Constantinople. Wooden flying machines are tried out, unsuccessfully, from rooftops, causing dozens of deaths. In Germany, Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher unsettles his fellow believers by casting demons on the wall with the help of a magic lantern. And thanks to Galileo and his telescope, mountains are discovered on the moon, unleashing a craze in the study of lunar topography. Astronomers are astonished to find that the moon is in fact the head of the dismembered Mexican goddess, Coyolxauhqui.
After a violent storm a series of dams bursts in seventeenth-century Holland, submerging its affluence under massive floods; entire communities migrate to the upper stories of windmills, and the country’s most famous optics laboratory is inundated. From the small population of Sephardic Jews is born a new language, Hebrish, a combination of Hebrew and Flemish. Magnitude 9 earthquakes along the entire Eastern Pacific trigger a gigantic tsunami; the sea recoils and rushes back, devouring all life and construction in its path. In Britain, King Charles I and his army prevail, Oliver Cromwell is beheaded and there is rejoicing in Ireland.
In Russia Catherine the Great builds her Amber Room; two wolfhounds from the palace get trapped in the amber and until they are freed the country is declared in a state of emergency. Much of Europe is overtaken by carnivals; masked orgies and incessant feasting fuel fantasies of inverting the established order. Spanish botanist José Celestino Mutis’s widely circulated book about the dreams of plants triggers a small epidemic of mental disturbances. Alexander von Humboldt visits Mexico and after becoming attached to the volcano Iztaccihuatl, ‘White Woman’ in Nahuatl, decides to reside permanently on her slopes.
On the eastern coast of the thirteen British colonies, American patriots revolt against foreign rule. During the Boston Tea Party, an entire shipment of chests of tea is dumped into the harbour, creating new breeds of overcaffeinated, electrified fish that rapidly grow in size and leap out of the water to bite British soldiers, drawn to the red of their uniforms. Iroquois, Algonquian, Wampanoag, Powhatan, Lenni-Lenape and other Indian tribes fight alongside the Patriots and independence is won. Tribal delegates take part in the Continental Congress.
In France it is the era of the air balloon, or montgolfière, enthusiasts: Louis VI sets his sights on the sky, hoping to expand his kingdom. All ascents are cut short by the French Revolution. The sans-culottes attack statues: to their surprise, certain statues fight back. The female knitters seated at the foot of the guillotine are found to be knitting back to life the cats killed in the 1730s cat massacre. Marie Antoinette escapes execution but is to be kept as a permanent exhibit in the former tiger enclosure at the Jardin des Plantes.
War breaks out between China and Japan over contested territory as well as claims to a rare species of dark blue nightingale said to summer in China and winter in the forests of Japan; for both countries, it is a national symbol. The war rages on for nearly two decades. After a year of deadlock, both sides back down and once they do, they realise that as a result of all the warfare, the fragile nightingale has gone extinct. Learning of the tragic loss, Maya in Mexico send flocks of resplendent quetzals to both countries.
The Industrial Revolution spreads across Europe. Thanks to the telegraph, occasional signals are picked up of ancient gods sending messages, but no one can interpret them. Women no longer work at the loom but receive equal wages to men in textile mills. An entrepreneurial Italian designs a tall, commanding puppet. For a brief time, this gives way to the Reign of Puppets. They supervise factories, drive steam engines, develop an obsession with cotton. The puppets are known to mistreat the children working for them. In a small town in Germany these conditions lead to the Children’s Rebellion.
Dozens of broad boulevards are laid out in nineteenth-century Paris during the renovation of the city. Congeries of spectres are released when the grounds are dug up and certain buildings demolished; the population more than triples. In Victorian England, mediums hold cabinet positions in the government and important matters are decided by tabletop conversations with spirits. Hurricane-force winds batter Patagonia, carrying thousands of feathers from Antarctic penguins to southernmost Chile and Argentina. Hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone are deciphered, yielding an account of attacks by Nile hippopotami and remedies for hippo bites.
Napoleon III sends Maximilian of Austria to become Emperor of Mexico. During a visit to the Yucatan, which is suffering a drought, Maximilian is pushed into the cenote at Chichen Itza to appease the Mayan rain god Chaac. Empress Carlota assumes his place, but grief drives her to madness; among her many follies, she endeavours to recreate Miramare, their castle in Trieste, on the coast of Veracruz. After a year she is deposed by Freemasons and ransomed by her brother Leopold II of Belgium. She spends her days in Bouchout Castle, holding long conversations with her pet armadillo.
After a 35-year-long dictatorship, Porfirio Diaz is ousted from power and immured in the Cananea copper mine; Francisco Madero seizes the presidency, setting off the Mexican Revolution. Revolutionaries across the land are assisted by armies of feral dogs, descendants of mastiffs and wolfhounds brought to the New World by Spanish conquistadors to attack and devour Indians, that have banded together to help overthrow feudal rule. A battalion of young girls under twelve-year-old Lupita Pérez joins Emiliano Zapata and victory follows victory. Lupita saves Zapata from an assassin’s bullet and he becomes president. He distributes all the haciendas to landless peasants.
Sailors on the battleship Potemkin fight their way past Cossacks to Czar Nicholas II’s palace and force feed the royal family rotten fish. The Romanovs are imprisoned, but rescued by a rain of wolves that descends moments before their planned execution. The family is granted asylum in Mexico, and sails before the revolutionaries can change their minds. Following Rasputin’s murder, fortune-tellers exert their power over villages and 12 years of fighting ensue. Stalin dies leading the failed Kerensky Offensive, and with Lenin’s support, Trotsky becomes head of Soviet Russia.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire has crumbled. Skies are permanently overcast, and a group of former ministers is seen in a field doing the Dance of Death. Among the 12 states carved out of the defunct Empire is Sintirom, a homeland where Romani people can wander at will. Rabid speculation in cocoa bean futures precipitates a worldwide stock market crash and a return to gold as the principal currency. Radio listeners in Spain, Italy and Germany are hypnotized by the voices of fascist dictators. Yeti yak herders are spotted in the Himalayas while a Sasquatch tribe migrates north to the Arctic tundra.
In the early 1940s mass extermination of Jews is averted just in time by the appearance of the Golem. The towering clay figure makes a dramatic return, resurrected by Jewish mystics in order to save their people. He appears in Prague, and after single-handedly vanquishing Nazi troops at the border he marches into Germany, smashing fascists with his fists. Once his people are out of danger, and their dignity reinstated, he collapses into the mud, vanishing without a trace.
At the height of the Cold War, an unprecedented number of birds is registered in both halves of Berlin, due to a high demand for passenger pigeons. A spy at the Sugar Research Foundation releases a secret study about sugar’s role in heart disease; sugar is banned in the United States, Cuba falls to Fidel Castro. The United States and the USSR argue over the laws of outer space—the legal status of cosmonauts, canines and launched objects—but these remain too abstract to enforce. Mao Zedong drowns while swimming in the Yangtse River, after colliding with a baiji.
Humankind finally recognizes that animals have figured at every stage of human history. Unprecedented concern for animal welfare overspreads the globe. Poachers are imprisoned throughout Africa. A new generation of doctors in China debunks the myths of traditional Chinese medicine, slashing the demand for tiger parts, sea horses, totoaba swim bladders and rhinoceros’ horns. Factory farming is banned, and slaughterhouses are slowly phased out in Europe and the United States—battles are still being fought elsewhere. The Japanese government shuts down the dolphin drive hunt at Taiji and outlaws whaling. The United Nations issues a 10-year moratorium on ocean fishing.
In Russia a famous troupe of clowns has taken control of the government. All circus bears are released but asked to report back should their advice be needed. Trade tensions erupt with Poland and Hungary over a new export tax on pickles and dessert wines. The country’s two most accomplished female mathematicians defect during a world tournament in Iceland. Relations with the rest of the world depend on the outcome of an ongoing game of chess.
Along the US/Mexican border, gangs of narcosatanists are dismembering young women. The murders, shrouded in mystery, have been impossible to stop—until a female army of Tzitzimimes intervenes, with the help of migratory jaguars. The Tzitzimimes, or monsters of twilight, is also the name of an all-girl rock band that has mesmerized Mexico. Meanwhile, the axolotls in Xochimilco continue to worship their ancient deity, the Supreme Axolotl, knowing that all history is circular; they sense a coming cosmic crisis and are hatching a plan, growing new limbs and preparing for a novel planetary order. The world turns on its axis.
Chloe ARIDJIS is the author of three novels, BOOK OF CLOUDS (2009), which won the Prix du Premier Roman Etranger in France, ASUNDER (2013), set in London’s National Gallery, and SEA MONSTERS (2019), recently awarded the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. ARIDJIS has written for various art journals and was a guest curator at Tate Liverpool. She stars in Josh APPIGNANESI’s psychodrama FEMALE HUMAN ANIMAL (2018) and received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2014. ARIDJIS is a member of XR Writers Rebel, a group of writers who focus on addressing the climate emergency, and dreams of a world in which animals cease to be exploited.
Stanley SCHTINTER “runs with wolves” (Sukhdev Sandhu).
THE LIBERATED FILM CLUB will publish
with TENEMENT PRESS on OCTOBER 23rd