May 2nd, 2021
Illustration by Jhanvi Sanghvi
What is this piece of text that has brought us all together?
What about it is bringing us together?
Why is it important that it is written?
Why are we writing?
A common sense of purpose and collective action, create shared experiences of immense value; they become fundamental ways of connecting our humanities. It is also very subjective and time sensitive. For instance, in my personal life, I find it easier to stay connected with people I share something in the present with, rather than with people I have once had a shared purpose with; an institution (and hence its associated experiences, grievances, assignments etc.), a project, a common belief, a sport, a shared hobby etc. In the case of proseterity, and the minds shaping it, it is what this piece of text sets out to outline for us, as a document of a shared ethos. The (not) manifesto is laid out not as an outline to contain us, but one that is pellucid in nature and elastic in capacity. It is an open call for people to write, read, think and connect. This text, historically, could have been called a manifesto since no ‘movement’ it seems can happen without one. Or can it? Even though we never set out to title it as one, or title it at all, we began by referring to the piece of text as our manifesto.
The word manifesto has a long legacy - being passed from the hands of the kings and princely states, to the public in the streets through the Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels, and into the period we can call the historical avant-garde 1 mainly in the hands of activists and artists, often both since ‘artivists’ was not a separate title then. 2
It is interesting to see ourselves within this context. And so our ‘manifesto’ begins with a reflection on the
Puchner, Martin in Manifesto = Theatre uses this term to emphasize how that period is no longer continuous with ours.
First known use of the term ‘Activist’ (noun) was in 1920 according to the Merram-Webster dictionary.
By Vincente Huidobro, MANIFESTOS (1925) 3
Manifesto is akin to the word manifest which appears in the English language as a noun, a verb and an adjective. The adjective means ‘readily perceived by the senses and especially by the sense of sight’ or ‘easily understood or recognized by the mind’. The verb means ‘to make evident or certain by showing or displaying’ which is also the meaning for the Latin verb manifestare. 4 Its derivatives can be found in the Latin noun manus meaning hand and infestus meaning hostile or troubled. 5 Here, the significance of the root manus could be seen in the context of the act of creation. Since hands are the only way for human beings to engage and create something in the physical realm. Could then the word manifesto be read as a troubled hand that creates something that is easily understood by people?
Definitions according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Historic etymology according to Dictionary.com
Could then the word manifesto be read as a troubled hand that creates something that is easily understood by people?
Afterall, authors of manifestos are generally troubled by certain circumstances which lead them to write manifestos.
Characteristically, manifestos from the avant-garde heydays are forward looking and provocative. They are polemical and rhetorical. But more importantly, they are diagnostic in nature and seek reformation; they identify problems within the existing state of affairs and they call for change. Through them, they tend to offer utopian solutions that are often both outlandish and imaginative. In this way, a manifesto becomes a political tool that is subversive in nature and hopes to create a rupture in time by mobilising the society to act. It hopes to change the course of history. Every other manifestos asks for a break from the past in order to appear into a new future that it unequivocally claims will be a better one.
Manifestos calls for immediate action. They are often too eager to start acting towards the new future that it proposes. They tend to be short and direct with numbered or bulleted tenets. Surely, they were learning from advertising to make use of bold letters in order to communicate their polemic effectively, and with haste. Infact, manifestos can be seen as advertisements in themselves, since one of the most well known manifestos of all time, the Futurist Manifesto, was paid to be published on the front page of Le Figaro, which was then followed by many paid advertisements in newspapers, billboards and flyers. 6 In its bold heroism, a manifesto is performative and theatrical.
“To put out a manifesto you must want: ABC, to fulminate 1,2,3,
to fly into a rage and sharpen your wings to conquer and disseminate little abcs and big abcs, to sign, shout, swear, to organise prose into a form of absolute and irrefutable evidence...”[...]
“I write a manifesto and I want nothing, yet I say certain things, and in principle I am against manifestoes, as I am also against principles. I write this manifesto to show that people can perform contrary actions together while taking one fresh gulp of air”
At least in the area of self awareness, our sensibilities regarding some of the issues with manifestos align with that of Tristan Tzara who wrote one of the Dada Manifestos. The self awareness is quite in contradiction with the authoritative and absolutist attributes that are innate to the genre. So does a pure manifesto even exist? The manifesto becomes a lesser version of itself by such conscious perception of it and the act of reflection is in direct opposition to the forward looking attitude.
Puchner, Martin in Manifesto = Theatre, Theatre Journal Vol 54 2002
The manifesto becomes a lesser version of itself by such conscious perception of it and the act of reflection is in direct opposition to the forward looking attitude.
This opens them up to parody and disdain. Rem Koolhaas’s work, Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan is a great example to demonstrate this contradiction. The manifestos of the 60s had already begun reversing the futuristic confidence, the keyword here being ‘retroactive’. Manifesto, in its true sense if there ever was one, was already a thing of the past by then. A call for action has become a call for reflection and with these inconsistencies in its layers of meanings, we cannot proceed with a ‘manifesto’. At least not without doubts and discomfort in associating with the ‘classic’ idea of the manifesto.
Teresa Ebert in her piece ‘Manifesto as Theory and Theory as Material Force: Toward a Red Polemic’ 8 points out that a manifesto is a written piece of work. She calls it a genre of change-writing. It is a text for transformation where text is dragged within the public realm to challenge the status quo. 9 The ‘change’ is proposed and essentially thought to take place through the written word. Which brings me to the question of - Why write? Why do I write? Why do I believe writing to be a tool for change? The world is full of words anyway. Which of those matter? Which words or whose words get an audience? Isabel Allende on why she writes comes to my mind 10 - “I know that in a subtle way or in a hidden way, I want to have an impact on the reader’s heart and mind.” Allende describes herself as being very picky about words since they are the only material that writers have to work with. But, she emphasizes words are free and that one can use as many as they want! Isn’t that beautiful? It has so much power to subtly have an impact on the reader’s heart and mind! The reader is transported to the same moment that the writer was in, and the reader makes it their own. If one word doesn't do the job, just use ten instead! On this aspect though, Allende might differ with me since she would probably want to use fewer words!
I write because I like the distance, and therefore the time, that text as a medium creates between the producer of a text and the receiver of the text; the speaker and the listener, the writer and the reader. The process of writing is slower, and hence more deliberate than speaking. Which means that not only is the writer processing every word that is produced and is thoughtfully, consciously and with intent compiling them to make a sentence, a paragraph, an image and so on, but so is the reader; thoughtfully, consciously and slowly unpacking the contents and the meaning of every word, every sentence, every paragraph, every graphic at their own pace. Moving onto the next element of the text is in the hands of the reader. The pace of unpacking is also defined synchronously, by the reader and by the writer. Speech is the opposite where the pace is unilaterally defined by the speaker. I also like the ability to revisit the written exactly the way it was written, as if frozen in time, as opposed to memories failing the many inflections, expressions and tones that accompany speech. In my quest to be understood, and understood well, I seek refuge, shelter and comfort in the written word.
Ebert, Teresa L., Manifesto as Theory and Theory as Material Force: Toward a Red Polemic, JAC Vol 23 2003
With the idea of writing, a manifesto becomes a creation of the hand and it is interesting to keep its Latin root manus at the back of the mind.
Allende, Isabel in Why We Write, edited by Meredith Maran, Penguin 2013