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Critical Theory as Radical Crisis Theory: Kurz, Krisis, and Exit! on Value Theory, the Crisis, and the Breakdown of Capitalism

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Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen & Dominique Routhier (2019)

The essay introduces the work of Robert Kurz and the somewhat marginalized species of value critique that he is associated with: Wertkritik. On the basis of a critical historiographical account of the New Marx Reading,it argues that the theoretical and political differences between Wertkritik and other value-critical currents cannot be glossed over or dismissed as mere territorial strife but must instead be understood as an expression of a more fundamental disagreement about the nature of capitalism and the role of critique,the distinctive feature of course being the insistence on a proper theory of crisis. The essay presents Kurzs particular version of Wertkritik but argues against his abandonment of the notion of class struggle and proposes to supplement Kurzs analysis with Théorie Communistes more historically grounded analysis of the present period of capital.

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RETHINKING MARXISM, 2019 Vol. 31, No. 2, 173–193

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Expropriate Everything

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by J.Blumenfeld, Brooklyn Rail, Summer 2019

It’s an unusually warm Saturday in Berlin—if it even makes sense to refer to the weather as “unusual” anymore. I wake up early, read a bit, write some emails, change some diapers, and then head out to meet some friends at the café before the big demo. The Mietwahnsinn or “rent insanity” protest is an annual gathering of tens of thousands of people at Alexanderplatz who come together to loudly and colorfully decry the seemingly unstoppable rise of rents in the German capital. Like most big protests here, it feels like a party. Strolling down Karl-Marx-Allee, a massive boulevard built in Stalinist style for East Berlin, 40,000 human beings throb to the bass—young, old, parents, roommates, co-workers, students, tenants, and activists all drifting together in common disarray, like a roving concert, shouting about rent-sharks, high costs of living, and, most of all, expropriation. The word is on everyone’s lips, not least the city senate, the big property owners and real estate companies, the struggling tenants and just about anyone else who’s read the paper, watched the news, or walked the streets where posters, banners and graffiti calling for the expropriation of Deutsche Wohnen & Co are ubiquitous. In most cities, such radical slogans would be ignored or dismissed as the infantile fantasies of an ultra-left fringe. But not here. The demand to expropriate the largest profit-oriented property owners in Berlin—in other words, to socialize over 200,000 private apartments—is a serious proposal, one that may, in fact, take place. How did this happen?

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Theological-Political Fragment (Walter Benjamin, 1921)

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Only the Messiah himself consummates all history, in the sense that he alone redeems, completes, creates its relation to the Messianic. For this reason nothing historical can relate itself on its own account to anything Messianic. Therefore the Kingdom of God is not the telos of the historical dynamic: it cannot be set as a goal. From the standpoint of history it is not the goal but the end. Therefore the order of the profane cannot be built up on the idea of the Divine Kingdom, and therefore theocracy has no political, but only a religious meaning. To have repudiated with utmost vehemence the political significance of theocracy is the cardinal merit of Blochs Spirit of Utopia.

The order of the profane should he erected on the idea of happiness. The relation of this order to the Messianic is one of the essential teachings of the philosophy of history. It is the precondition of a mystical conception of history, containing a problem that can be represented figuratively. If one arrow points to the goal toward which the profane dynamic acts, and another marks the direction of Messianic intensity, then certainly the quest to free humanity for happiness runs counter to the Messianic direction; but just as a force can, through acting, increase another that is acting in the opposite direction, so the order of the profane assists, through being profane, the coming of the Messianic Kingdom. The profane, therefore, although not itself a category of this Kingdom, is a decisive category of its quietest approach. For in happiness all that is earthly seeks its downfall, and only in good fortune is its downfall destined to find it. Whereas, admittedly, the immediate Messianic intensity of the heart, of the inner man in isolation, passes through misfortune, as suffering. To the spiritual restitutio in integrum, which introduces immortality, corresponds a worldly restitution that leads to the eternity of downfall, and the rhythm of this eternally transient worldly existence, transient in its totality. in its spatial but also in its temporal totality, the rhythm of Messianic nature, is happiness. For nature is Messianic by reason of its eternal and total passing away.

To strive after such passing, even for those stages of man that are nature, is the task of world politics, whose method must be called nihilism.


Walter Benjamin (1892-1940): Theological-Political Fragment, date uncertain (probably either 1920-1921 or 1937-1938), unpublished in Benjamin’s lifetime, translated by Edmund Jephcott in Selected Writings, Volume 2: 1927-1934 (1999).

Understanding Walter Benjamin’s Theological-Political Fragment by Eric Jacobson  Jewish Studies Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 3 (2001), pp. 205-247


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The Social Function of Philosophy (Horkheimer, 1939)

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WHEN the words physics, chemistry, medicine, or history are mentioned in a conversation, the participants usually have something very definite in mind. Should any difference of opinion arise, we could consult an encyclopedia or accepted textbook or turn to one or more outstanding specialists in the field in question. The definition of any one of these sciences derives immediately from its place in present-day society. Though these sciences may make the greatest advances in the future, though it is even conceivable that several of them, physics and chemistry for example, may someday be merged, no one is really interested in defining these concepts in any other way than by reference to the scientific activities now being carried on under such headings.

It is different with philosophy. Suppose we ask a professor of philosophy what philosophy is. If we are lucky and happen to a specialist who is not averse to definitions in general, he will give us one. If we then adopt this definition, we should probably soon discover that it is by no means the universally accepted meaning of the word. We might then appeal to other authorities, and pore over textbooks, modern and old. The confusion would only increase. Many thinkers, accepting Plato and Kant as their authorities, regard philosophy as an exact science in its own right, with its own field and subject matter. In our epoch this conception is chiefly represented by the late Edmund Husserl. Other thinkers, like Ernst Mach, conceive philosophy as the critical elaboration and synthesis of the special sciences to a unified whole. Bertrand Russell, too, holds that the task of philosophy is “that of logical analysis, followed by logical synthesis.” He thus fully agrees with L. T. Hobhouse, who declares that “Philosophy … has a synthesis of the sciences as its goal.” This conception goes back to Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer, for whom philosophy constituted the total system of human knowledge. Philosophy, therefore, is an independent science for some, a subsidiary or auxiliary discipline for others.

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Is Green Growth Possible?

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by Jason Hickel & Giorgos Kallis (2019)

The notion of green growth has emerged as a dominant policy response to climate change and ecological breakdown. Green growth theory asserts that continued economic expansion is compatible with our planet’s ecology, as technological change and substitution will allow us to absolutely decouple GDP growth from resource use and carbon emissions. This claim is now assumed in national and international policy, including in the Sustainable Development Goals. But empirical evidence on resource use and carbon emissions does not support green growth theory. Examining relevant studies on historical trends and model-based projections, we find that: (1) there is no empirical evidence that absolute decoupling from resource use can be achieved on a global scale against a background of continued economic growth, and (2) absolute decoupling from carbon emissions is highly unlikely to be achieved at a rate rapid enough to prevent global warming over 1.5°C or 2°C, even under optimistic policy conditions. We conclude that green growth is likely to be a misguided objective, and that policymakers need to look toward alternative strategies.

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What is a Western? (Pippin, 2009)

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What is a Western? By Robert Pippin

It is generally agreed that while, from the silent film The Great Train Robbery (1903) until the present, well over seven thousand Westerns have been made it was not until three seminal articles in the nineteen fifties by Andre Bazin and Robert Warshow that the genre began to be taken seriously. Indeed Bazin argued that the “secret” of the extraordinary persistence of the Western must be due to the fact that the Western embodies “the essence of cinema,” and he suggested that that essence was its incorporation of myth and a mythic consciousness of the world. He appeared to mean by this that Westerns tended to treat characters as types and narrative as revolving around a small number of essential plots, offering various perspectives on fundamental issues faced by any society, especially the problem of law and political authority. Bazin expressed great contempt for critics who thought that Western plots were “simple” and insisted that the right way to understand such simplicity was by reference to the “ethics” of epic and tragic literature, and he called the great French playwright Corneille to mind as a worthy forerunner. The Western, he said, turned the Civil War into our Trojan War, and “the migration to the West is our Odyssey.” One could go even further, paraphrasing a German commentator. The Greeks have the Iliad; the Jews, the Hebrew Bible; the Romans, the Aeneid; the Germans, the Nibelungenlied; the Scandinavians, the Njáls saga; the Spanish have the Cid; the British have the Arthurian legends. The Americans have John Ford.


see also: Hollywood Westerns and American Myth by Robert Pippin (2010)

Housing: an anarchist approach (Colin Ward, 1976)

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Collection of essays on housing and the built environment from 20th century British anarchist and town planner, Colin Ward. First published by Freedom Press 1976 in London.

Originally published by Freedom press (print) and Libcom (online)

PDF: Colin_Ward_Housing_Anarchist_Approach_1976

Colin Ward is well-known as an authority on housing and as an anarchist propagandist. How do these two themes combine? This book brings together articles and addresses covering thirty years of advocacy of an anarchist approach to housing.

DIRECT ACTION, the first section, includes his now classic account of the post-war squatters’ movement and relates it to the current signifancace of the squatters in Britain and elsewhere.

HUMAN NEEDS identifies the missing component in public housing policies: dweller involvement; and anticipates today’s anxieties about the social effects of imposing official policies on people whose own perception of their housing needs has been systematically ignored.

SELF HELP includes account of do-it-yourself housing in Britain and abroad, the remarkable achievements of the squatter settlements in the ‘cities the poor build’ in the Third World sketches the outlines of an anarchist approach to the city.

PROFESSIONALS OR PEOPLE? is the question raised in the fourth section of this book. What went wrong with architecture and planning? Can we transform them from being the concern of a bureaucratic elite into a populist and popular activity?

DWELLER CONTROL argues that the only future for the public housing, whether in our decaying cities or on new estates, is the tenant take-over.

Winter is Coming: China 2018-2019 (Wildcat)

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Updated translation of “China: Der Winter kommt” from issue #103 (February 2019) of the German magazine Wildcat. We publish this as the first in a series of blog posts attempting to grapple with events and trends in China over the past year, on which we’ve remained silent partly because we were busy finishing up the second issue of our journal, and partly because we weren’t sure how to address some of these thorny issues. We find this article an excellent overview of the past year’s events, and thus a good starting point for our own engagement. It is the second part of a series, the first focusing on the Jasic struggle (which we will address in some of our upcoming posts). We look forward to the third part, which will explore economic trends in more depth.

via Chuangcn.org


“The economic winter is coming!” What was only occasionally heard from bankers in the summer of 2018 is now widespread table talk and the signs are everywhere and numerous: Employees were sent on unpaid holidays over the Spring Festival [i.e. Chinese New Year in January-February 2019], car sales collapsed last year for the first time in 28 years and have been declining for almost a year now, retail is weakening, venture capital is withdrawing, exports are sinking, trade war… The Chinese growth model of recent decades is coming to an end. “2019 won’t be a good year to buy an apartment or a car,” my colleagues say, “because we can’t predict how prices will change—and how long we’ll still have our jobs.”

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Pale Blue Dot

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Earth, as seen by Voyager 1 from a distance of more than 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers). NASA/JPL-Caltech, February 14, 1990

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Editor’s Introduction to Pashukanis

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A Contrary Little Quail

Editor’s Introduction to Evgeny B. Pashukanus’ The General Theory of Law and Marxism (1924)

by Christopher J. Arthur (1978)

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Evgeny Bronislavovich Pashukanis published his important contribution towards the materialist critique of legal forms in 1924. It remains to this day the most significant Marxist work on the subject. Indeed, such has been the paucity of original work this area that in Britain the standard reference work is even older: Karl Renner’s book on The Social Functions of Law – a product of the Marxism of the Second International. Needless to say, Pashukanis subjects Renner’s theories to severe criticism.

The present revival of interest in the theories of Pashukanis forms part of the current renaissance of Marxist debate. More particularly, it is part of a process of recovery of the heritage of Bolshevik thought repressed by the Stalinist bureaucracy and its international supporters; for example – in the field of…

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Nanni Balestrini (1935-2019)

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Nanni Balestrini was born in Milan in 1935. Known both as an experimental writer of prose and verse and as a cultural and political activist, he played a leading role in avant-garde writing and publishing in the sixties. His involvement with the extra-parliamentary left in the seventies resulted in terrorism charges (of which he was subsequently acquitted) and a long period of self-imposed exile from Italy.

For a brief explosive period in the mid-1970s, the young and the unemployed of Italy’s cities joined the workers in an unexpectedly militant movement known simply as Autonomy (Autonomia). Its “politics of refusal” united its opponents behind draconian measures more severe than any seen since the war.

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Legal Form: The Marxist Analysis of Law

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Legal Form – This collection of documents contains texts that (a) are widely recognized as “canonical” within the Marxist tradition, (b) grapple with legal questions from a standpoint informed by Marxist methods, (c) scrutinize a specifically Marxist approach to law in the context of a particular debate, and/or (d) examine the historical conditions under which a given account of Marxism and law was initially discussed. Some are exceedingly well known; others remain unread, or are largely forgotten. Save for the most relevant or “authoritative” figures, we have generally endeavored to include no more than one text for each author.

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Gillian Rose (1947-1995)

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The Melancholy Science An Introduction to the Thought of Theodor W. Adorno

Hegel Contra Sociology

Dialectic of Nihilism: Post-Structuralism and Law

Judaism and Modernity

Love’s Work

Mourning Becomes the Law: Philosophy And Representation

Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit: A Reappraisal (ed. Browning)

Gillian Rose died on the evening of 9 December 1995 after a long and courageous struggle with cancer. The hour of her death coincided with the closing moments of a conference dedicated to her work at Warwick University. Although her rapidly deteriorating health prevented her from attending as planned, the conference was inspired by the presence of her work, above all by its questioning of the division between the political and theological faces of Hegelianism.

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Suffocation of the Young:

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A Report from Brooklyn on Schooling, Childhood and Mental Illness Today

 Juan Chabrier (Brooklyn Rail, 2019)

At some point during the workday, you may have considered that your role in creating a product or service somehow plays an important part in sustaining the world we live in, even if that world leaves much to be desired. As the Oakland teachers end their strike, quick on the heels of the Denver, Los Angeles county, and red-state revolts, we’re reminded that our daily work not only recreates a world of things but also one of relationships and experiences: in short, all that which determines who we are. As far as contemporary schooling is involved in the production of childhood—a modern process that is clearly in crisis—we have a sense of the great stakes involved as the wave of intransigent education-worker strikes rolls across this country.

Childhood appears today as something uncanny. Social commentators and psychologists draw us to narrow parts of its unsettling presence without offering a substantive pattern or underlying explanation. In the US, an astounding one in five children has an attention or learning disability while parent-reported Autism Spectrum Disorder rates are now at 1 in 40. What’s more, both of these statistics are thought to be an underestimation of the real prevalence.1 Anxiety and depression in youth are reaching alarming levels and steadily rising.2 Sexual activity amongst youth has decreased by over 20% since the 1980s, while new media make pornography more available to the young.3 Most distressingly, that some children decide to pick up weapons and massacre their peers has become an expected occurrence. As teenager Paige Curry commented after the Santa Fe shootings last year, “I’ve always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here, too.”4

Parenthood, in turn, is occupied by guilt and worry, as an industry of advice columnists and child-experts provides a contradictory array of techniques, superstitions, and philosophies to navigate the contemporary situation. US birth and marriage rates across income levels are at historic lows in face of the perilous labyrinth of childhood and economic trepidation.5 Yet the “helicopter parent’s” worries and their accompanying gurus are more than just an automatic reaction. The recent intensification of parenting is but a reflection of prevailing social anxieties.

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We Need a New State Debate (Part Two) — Chris O’Kane

The second part of Chris O’Kane’s critical reevaluation of Marxist state theories and debates.

via We Need a New State Debate (Part Two) — Chris O’Kane — Legal Form

The State Derivation Debate [1]

The so-called second generation of Frankfurt critical theorists, Jürgen Habermas and Claus Offe, had formulated social-democratic theories of the state. They had argued that capitalism’s crisis tendencies had been overcome and that the working class had been integrated into contemporary society. All struggles were thus political struggles over the state’s management of economic relations, and social democracy represented the road to human fulfilment.

Johannes Agnoli had critiqued Habermas and Offe’s theories. For Agnoli the state was the political form of capitalist reproduction, not something to be understood as separate from economic relations. Keynesianism, moreover, had not overcome class struggle, but rather “statified” it by incorporating the working class into a vast bureaucracy. All struggles should thus be outside of and against the state in order to abolish it outright, and with it the whole of capitalist society.

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Basic Banalities (Vaneigem, 1962)

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Basic Banalities

Raoul Vaneigem

Internationale Situationniste #7 (April 1962)

Translated by Ken Knabb

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BUREAUCRATIC CAPITALISM has found its legitimation in Marx. I am not referring here to orthodox Marxism’s dubious merit of having reinforced the neocapitalist structures whose present reorganization is an implicit homage to Soviet totalitarianism; I am stressing the extent to which crude versions of Marx’s most profound analyses of alienation have become generally recognized in the most commonplace realities — realities which, stripped of their magical veil and materialized in each gesture, have become the sole substance of the daily lives of an increasing number of people. In a word, bureaucratic capitalism contains the tangible reality of alienation; it has brought it home to everybody far more successfully than Marx could ever have hoped to do, it has banalized it as the reduction of material poverty has been accompanied by a spreading mediocrity of existence. As poverty has been reduced in terms of survival, it has become more profound in terms of our way of life — this is at least one widespread feeling that exonerates Marx from all the interpretations a degenerate Bolshevism has made of him. The “theory” of peaceful coexistence has accelerated this awareness and revealed, to those who were still confused, that exploiters can get along quite well with each other despite their spectacular divergences.

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We Need a New State Debate (Part One) — Chris O’Kane

The first part of Chris O’Kane’s critical reevaluation of Marxist state theories and debates.

via We Need a New State Debate (Part One) — Chris O’Kane — Legal Form

We live in tumultuous times. Depending on whom you ask or even what day you happen to ask them, socialism is back, but so is fascism; neoliberalism is in crisis, but authoritarian neoliberalism is also on the rise. A range of scholars and public intellectuals have sought to understand such developments, using these and other concepts in various ways. These concepts have likewise come to play important animating roles in electoral campaigns, political parties, social movements, protests, marches, and spontaneous strikes. Yet these theories, articles, policy proposals, and political activities pass all too quickly over an issue that has been at the heart of debates over socialist theory and practice in previous eras of upheaval: the state.

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What is Trump?

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Dylan Riley

New Left Review 114, Nov-Dec 2018

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Debates around the politics of Trump and other new-right leaders have led to an explosion of historical analogizing, with the experience of the 1930s looming large. According to much of this commentary, Trump—not to mention Orbán, Kaczynski, Modi, Duterte, Erdoğan—is an authoritarian figure justifiably compared to those of the fascist era. The proponents of this view span the political spectrum, from neoconservative right and liberal mainstream to anarchist insurrectionary. The typical rhetorical device they deploy is to advance and protect the identification of Trump with fascism by way of nominal disclaimers of it. Thus for Timothy Snyder, a Cold War liberal, ‘There are differences’—yet: ‘Trump has made his debt to fascism clear from the beginning. From his initial linkage of immigrants to sexual violence to his continued identification of journalists as “enemies” . . . he has given us every clue we need.’ For Snyder’s Yale colleague, Jason Stanley, ‘I’m not arguing that Trump is a fascist leader, in the sense that he’s ruling as a fascist’—but: ‘as far as his rhetorical strategy goes, it’s very fascist.’ For their fellow liberal Richard Evans, at Cambridge: ‘It’s not the same’—however: ‘Trump is a 21st-century would-be dictator who uses the unprecedented power of social media and the Internet to spread conspiracy theories’—‘worryingly reminiscent of the fascists of the 1920s and 1930s.’¹

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Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture (Jameson, 1979)

by FREDRIC JAMESON

The theory of mass culture-or mass audience culture, commercial culture, “popular” culture, the culture industry, as it is variously known-has always tended to define its object against so-called high culture without reflecting on the objective status of this opposition. As so often, positions in this field reduce themselves to two mirror-images, and are essentially staged in terms of value. Thus the familiar motif of elitism argues for the priority of mass culture on the grounds of the sheer numbers of people exposed to it; the pursuit of high or hermetic culture is then stigmatized as a status hobby of small groups of intellectuals. As its anti-intellectual thrust suggests, this essentially negative position has little theoretical content but clearly responds to a deeply rooted conviction in American radicalism and articulates a widely based sense that high culture is an establishment phenomenon, irredeemably tainted by its association with institutions, in particular with the university. The value invoked is therefore a social one: it would be preferable to deal with tv programs, The Godfather, or Jaws, rather than with Wallace Stevens or Henry James, because the former clearly speak a cultural language meaningful to far wider strata of the population than what is socially represented by intellectuals. Radicals are however also intellectuals, so that this position has suspicious overtones of the guilt trip; meanwhile it overlooks the anti-social and critical, negative (although generally not revolutionary) stance of much of the most important forms of modem art; finally, it offers no method for reading even those cultural objects it valorizes and has had little of interest to say about their content.

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A Party of Autonomy?

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by Steve Wright (2005)

In loving memory of Ivan Conabere (1963-2002)—‘Uno di noi’

Autonomia operaia is a party, from the phenomenal, organisational and structural point of view—Judge Pietro Calogero (La Repubblica 1979: 120).

If only!—Mario Dalmaviva, Luciano Ferrari Bravo, Toni Negri, Oreste Scalzone, Emilio Vesce, Lauso Zagato (1979: 23).

This chapter seeks to explore, in a critical manner, the debate over the party-form played out within and around the groups of Autonomia Operaia during the late seventies, when that area of revolutionary politics was briefly the dominant force within the Italian far left. Having assumed a leading role during the initial stages of 1977’s ‘strange movement of strange students’ (Lerner, Manconi & Sinibaldi 1978), Italian autonomists finally found a mass audience for their debate around the meaning and purpose of political organisation. This was to be a many-sided discussion while it lasted, conducted not only between the various ‘micro-fractions’ (Scalzone 1978) that together claimed the label of Autonomia organizzata, but also with a range of critics ‘outside and on its borders’ (Martignoni & Morandini 1977).

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