OUBLIISM is an exclamation, a proposition, a text, and a video by artist Chooc Ly Tan, co-written with Shabaka Hutchings, Peter Lewis, Dada and Recent Astrophysics. Tan describes OUBLIISM as a manifesto in which OUBLII! is a call to ‘conceive new physical realities’, to give birth to ‘new worlds and system’. The artist creates the new declaration in hopes of generating new meaning and hence a new reality.
In order for a new reality to manifest itself, ‘to herald the genesis of cosmic time’, one must forget familiar concepts.
‘[OUBLIISM] tears to fractions all those grand words like ethics, culture, humanism, good, evil, beginning, end…’
OUBLIISM, Tan suggests, is both a word and a world. It is something one can be a part of. In fact, for her it seems to reside somewhere in London.
Perhaps in an attempt to visualize a new reality, new languages as well as new words have always been essential. Science fiction is exemplary of creating new worlds through language and changing our understanding of the world by populating it with new concepts and terms.
Recently, I have been taking part in the Future Polities reading group, organized by Living in the Future Magazine, where we have read Ursula K. Le Guin’s sci-fi novel, The Dispossessed (1974). Much like Tan’s invented manifesto, The Dispossessed uses the difficulty of language to question societal norms. It features an anarchist society on a moon (Urras) looking back at a world much like the Earth (Anarres). The two worlds orbiting in synchronicity present polar realities: one of a paradisiacal nature inhabited by a society of inequality and greed, and another of a barren silver-dust desert of few resources and humanist ideals.
The anarchic lunar society strives to achieve equality through a strict control of language. Their language, Pravic, shuns possessive pronouns, assuming by the principle of linguistic relativity that meaning can only be created once it has been expressed in words. In Pravic, words such as ‘his’, ‘hers’, ‘mine’, or ‘have’ are deemed ‘nonorganic’ and therefore are excluded from language. The inhabitants of this world would not attribute possession to things or people, referring to ‘the mother’ instead of ‘my mother’, or saying ‘the hand hurts me’ instead of ‘my hand hurts,’ and so on. As a teacher on Urras explains,
“Speech is sharing — a cooperative art.”
The novel’s complex emotional landscape presents the inherent contradiction in this governance of language: on the one hand, the limited vocabulary facilitates the concept of equality, and on the other it creates a mechanism of control within the mind of the individual. The female character Takver learns to overcome the internal conflict, when she defines love and is able to explain her own concept of a relationship. This also frees the mind of the main character, Shevek.
OUBLIISM’s manifesto video is punctuated with a collage of images of space and technology. In my research, I have found many parallels between the imagined worlds of science fiction and the history of exploration in our own solar system. In this sense, new realities and parallel worlds are found not only in science fiction, but in the material universe that surrounds us. In The Dispossessed, an alternate reality plays out on a moon, but our own moon is in many ways a world full of projected realities, fictions, and terminology.
In English, early attempts to name our Moon, have called her a goddess governing nature: seas, oceans, and food cycles. In return, she gave us new concepts of time, lunacy, and menstruation. It is in nomenclature that we define boundaries: spatial, temporal, social, and cultural.
Our world’s only natural satellite has had as many names as there have been cultures on the Earth. In the Algonquian Native American tradition, she has taken on 12 names at once, one for each month of the year. Now known as either the Anglo-Saxon ‘Moon’, or the Latin ‘Luna’, she has become a sphere of projections. Just like the people chained to the walls of Plato’s cave, for centuries we have observed the dark craters of the Moon, and began to allocate names to these shadows.
By observing the moon we have seen animals and faces in the shadows of its surface, and later seas and forests. We have given names to the geographical features of the landscape. The craters of the moon are populated with names of historical figures, scientists, astronomers, as well as dead astronauts and cosmonauts. Out of the thousands of named craters 20 are women of historical significance. But perhaps the biggest anomaly, are the 40 craters named with popular women’s names of differently cultures. These names don’t belong to anyone in particular. They have never had a body, historical or otherwise. The 40 women on the moon, like the moon goddess herself, are a cultural cosmic manifestation of an illusory female history on par with science fiction.