Introduction Paragraphs to the Atlas of Transformation

1.1. "One morning, when Gregory Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin … 'What's happened to me?' he thought. It was not a dream. His room, a proper human room although a little too small, lay peacefully between its four familiar walls."1

1.2. Let us imagine a situation where from one day to the next the rules of the game change, a game in which we are all, like it or not, a part. We may put aside any objection about the possibility of carrying it out and the legitimacy of such a decision, because what makes revolutions such is the fact that they simply are not legitimate from the point of view of the old order being replaced, and no revolution seems possible before it is actually tried. For example, suppose we decide to change the rules of language, to deny them completely—we spurn all known words, forget about the existence of the alphabet, deny the existence of parts of speech, cease to use syntax, and so on. We proclaim a revolution of language and decide to transform the rules of the language game.

Assuming we do not decide to communicate in another way (telepathically, for example) we face two alternatives—the first, that we replace the old language with a new, artificial language created by the intellect (Esperanto, for example) or use for its creation new rules starting from zero, that is, set out on a path of construction.


The second alternative is to adopt a foreign language, but one already tried and tested (the route of voluntary colonization or assimilation), or to accept a set of rules with which we are satisfied, but which actually come from another language (again colonization or assimilation by foreign rules), or we decide to create a new language on the basis of rules which have nothing in common with language as such (ex­‑territorial rules), and which experience has proved in another game (for example, gesture, machine language); that is, we set out on the road to experience, or nature.

1.3. According to a number of authors in this book, the critical, crucial absence of transformational processes or, as Immanuel Wallerstein more precisely defined it, the "transformational TimeSpace"2 of the second half of the 20th century was the non­‑existence of political vision, ideological or intellectual paths of construction (or Utopistics in Wallerstein's term), which would motivate changes in society and provide it with a perspective of meaning (leaving aside issues of nationality and racial struggles for self­‑determination).

The modernist project, which in its homogeneity—political and civilizational—culminated before World War II, after 1945 broke into two powerful antithetically operating currents. On the one hand was the constantly strengthening and developing modernization, civilizational and technical, which without precedent rules everyday life on the planet (its contemporary outcome is globalization); on the other, the bankruptcy and increasing crisis of the political project of modernism (communism, and so on). Contemporary modernity stands only on the civilizational pillar, which causes continuously repeated questioning and searching for a corresponding model of social order capable of giving meaning to civilizational development, a different meaning from just uncontrolled self‑directed motion. That naturally leads to many diverse experiments and reversals—to an archaeology of modernist unity, to attempts to resuscitate the original political project of modernism, to lyrical celebrations of revolution, to attempts to block the civilization of "progress," to the resuscitation of premodern utopias, and so on.

With the fall of communism, any possibilities for the political project of modernity definitively collapsed for the West, even just in its virtual form; and the prewar unity of the project was definitively lost, even though Western civilization is in such an advanced stage of modernization that it would not seem possible to secede from it. The West thus found itself at a critical point of the political construction of modernity.


The postcommunist states—which at an ideological level had been up to then the architects of this construction and the upholders for the future of the political project of modernity—renounced this role through their revolution. The reasons for the renunciation were not ideological but factual, practical, and empirical—their state systems were totalitarian, colonialist, or colonized, as well as imperialist, or directed by imperial interests. The question as to whether it is possible to separate the "idea of communism" from the totalitarian practices of the ruling power, from imperialist interventions, and from the colonialism of the communist state, is today a fundamental challenge to the future continuation of the modernist project in the political sphere. We feel that the issue of the future continuation of modernist politics must be presented only in dialectics between totalitarian practices of power (praxis) and ideas (ideologies), through which neither praxis nor ideology is capable of responding independently and at the same time fulfilling the moral and ideological requirements of its own complexity.

1.4. The civilizational progress and non‑totalitarian majority democracy of the West became the main vanishing point of the transformational dreams of the East. "Catching up with the West" was the main aim of the postcolonial countries in transformation. What was the reason for this fascination with the West? It seems that it represented not the West itself, but a fascination with the idea of a return to the natural order.

The revolutions of 1989 unfolded their subconscious imaginative legitimation in binary relationship to the Bolsheviks' revolution in 1917 (and the subsequent colonialist restagings of this revolution in the satellite countries after 1945). The revolution of 1917 was one which destroyed the old, unjust order in the name of a new. The revolutions of 1989 were ones which overturned the new order, which had degraded itself into totalitarianism ("Above all, no more experiments," "No more third ways"). It was a retreat from "experiment" (the "Communist experiment") to "normality," and thus from abnormality to normality, from experiment to balance, to order, to the standard. The political imagination of the revolutionary time revolting against the new, construed order clung to its opposite—a return to the old, to the natural, to spontaneous order.3


The metaphor we used of a revolution in language demonstrates another transposition—the principle of taking over ex­‑territorial rules for the creation of a new language. The right­‑wing political elites were convinced that ex‑territorial market principles (the economy) were a well­‑tried set of principles which would serve as the rules for the creation of a new social order (society) from scratch. The rapid results of this transfer of ex­‑territorial rules were the market economy and the privatization of society and of relationships in society, and this transfer found itself simultaneously at the center of polemics in the transforming countries.


2.1. Everyone has an urge to look for the meaning of the historical, political, cultural, and social events, conventions, and stereotypes (the "Monster of History"), into which he or she has been thrown. We noted at the start that experience of the transformation in "Eastern Europe" represents an independent academic discipline. The region once known as Eastern Europe has an independent specificity in the context of transformational studies, a specificity with its origin in the post­‑World­‑War­‑II division of the world into spheres of interest at the Yalta Conference.

The division of the world by the great powers into West, East, and the Third World can no longer be mechanically accepted and used in the course of understanding the processes of cultural conventions, cultural production, and cultural representation in that region. An automatic acceptance of this division presupposes the recognition of the previously given great­‑power polarities in "cultural material"—cultural production is not looked at a priori as creation, as a contaminating semiosis, but as representative of the cognoscibility of the great powers' relationships of West—East—Third World (not to speak of the Fourth world). Therefore, in the course of examining the transformational processes, we tried to follow a path of searching for trans­‑local transformational specificities reflecting transformations in Greece, Spain, Portugal, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Chile, Mexico, and Argentina, in an effort to create a new, differentiated map of the world of transformation.

2.2. Our work on Atlas of Transformation took several years and had three phases. Its final form is the sum of this process, in methodology and in knowledge. We will not attempt to reconstruct our journey in the preparation of Atlas, not in chronology, theme nor linearity, because we believe that none of them has universal validity. The taxonomies are only proof of the asynchronicity and heterotopy of the processes of learning.

We have therefore organized the texts alphabetically. The book has a dictionary format, which makes possible the construction of antitheses in a non­‑linear form. Most importantly, for us as much as for the reader, it provides an opportunity to generate one's own trajectory from text to text, one's own uncanonized topography of thinking and ideas about changes.4

2.3. The first stimulus chronologically for the conception of Atlas of Transformation together with a series of exhibitions5 was the need to answer Kafka's question: "What's happened to me?"

We needed to formulate our (phenomeno­‑logical) experience with the world of revolution and transformation explicitly, to search for the boundaries between the role and thinking of an individual and movement in society, of passivity and activity; to search for keys which would give meaning to events in societies, imaginations, and transformations in which we were both passive and active actors. 1989: the Fall of the Berlin Wall or a Revolution? Were we a grain of sand in the sea of Gorbachev's perestroika, or did we take events into our own hands? 1989–2009: did we build a participative democracy, or did we establish supranational capital of the post­‑Fordist epoch? Where are the boundaries of causality between faith in a plural democracy and doubts about the free market?

Atlas later became a reservoir for us, an organism, a machine producing, construing, and de­‑construing knowledge from different fields. This phase could adapt itself to the object of study of the anthropologist, who later him/herself became an anthropologist studying, by an objectivist, depersonalized method, his/her own customs, rituals, and imagination in comparison with other material offered by science. This transfer of positions holds in itself a certain paradox, which evokes a particular measure of sensitivity and revision with a view to a strictly "empirical" description of any sort of theme or object of the humanitarian disciplines. The running of our machine producing knowledge was actually oiled by that sensitive transfer.


The third phase is the current phase—the confrontation of the return to our own primary experience, which was upset by a new theoretical apparatus in the meantime. The essentialization of primary or secondary knowledge does not seem to be sufficiently satisfying, and requires movement, urges one toward theoretical action or action theory, which both the preceding orders of knowledge contain, but which lead it into a continual instability of interchanges, antagonisms, and contradictions. As far as we would return to the earlier thesis of this text concerning the critical moment of the political construction of modernity, our requirement is not only to find an ideological way out of this crisis but also at once to set about testing it.

3.1. Atlas is an assemblage in which the individual components (entries) do not have their own set place—it is by reading that places are found for them. Just as an atlas begins with introductory maps, so the editors have experimented in offering at the beginning of the book a plurality of diagrams (of the body, machine, landscape, architecture/assemblage, and so on), creating schemes and models of relationships on how one can interpret and order the entries of the dictionary anew each time, but by a different method. There is no "main" diagram; none of them are above any others in the hierarchy. Their (non)spaces can interpenetrate on several levels and meet at several junctions. Each individual virtual assemblage originating in the head of the reader is possible and correct, because their number is not reducible or quantifiable.

3.2. We consider diagrammatic thinking to be part of visual recognition, as an interactive part of our reflections about the present and about changes. Our starting point is that the diagrammatic image offers an alternative (often subjective) semantic ordering of the entries and establishes new relationships and correlations on a primarily non­‑verbal basis between their often distanced points. These connections are not given in any essentialist way, but reveal themselves and become the basis for their subsequent theoretical verbalization. It is only in connection with portraying and visualizing them that the dictionary becomes a rhizomatic structure, confrontational, incomplete, and differentiated at the same time.


Neither the individual entries nor even the diagrams have an appointed, unified measure; we do not investigate entities only in their isolation, nor do we investigate macro approaches classifying groups of entities. We are aware that the encounters take place on numerous levels, which are not otherwise incompatible. The mixture that originated in this way is not attempting to be an analysis but an instrument for further exploration, a manual for the production of confrontational and antithetical interpretations.

3.3. Atlas consists of 233 items including texts (newly written, as well as a selection of previously published texts), artworks/illustrations and diagrams (newly created as well as borrowed). Each item has been filed under a specific entry. The list of entries was put together by the editors, the editorial board, and the authors of this book. The authors of the topically written entries knew the whole list of entries, but they did not know their content, so they could relate to them only as concepts without specific content. The key to the editors' choice of all the elements corresponded to the broad spectrum of motivations which characterize this publication. The purpose of this publication is the production of difference—in fields, methodologies, politics, dynasties, races, genders, etc.; the active representation of memory (and thus a process of return to the past motivated by the actual needs of the action); and the creation of possible alternatives of the future new order.

Atlas brings together a collection of empirical, symbolic, and critical texts from many academic disciplines—history, political science, art criticism, theory of criticism, literature, visual poetry, and verse—as well as a number of texts which were manifestos in their time. The point of this mass of fields is to create an autonomous space for reflection and the imagination so that it is possible, in the emancipatory movement from primary, objectivist, and engaged thinking, to proceed to activity. It offers themes for criticism, destruction, reflection, intellectual shifts, or imaginative conjunctions.

Zbyněk Baladrán, Vít Havránek


1 / Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis, trans. David Wyllie, EBook #5200, Project Gutenberg, (accessed April 12, 2010).

2 / Immanuel Wallerstein, Utopistics, The New Press, New York 1998, p. 3; and Immanuel Wallerstein, "The Inventions of TimeSpace Realities: Towards an Understanding of Our Historical Systems," in Unthinking Social Science: The Limits of Nineteenth­‑Century Paradigms, Polity Press, Cambridge 1991, p. 135–148.

3 / Peter Burke, A Social History of Knowledge: From Gutenberg to Diderot, Polity Press, Cambridge 2000.

4 / See Friedrich A. Hayek´s "spontaneous order" in The Road to Serfdom, 1944; The Constitution of Liberty, 1960; Law, Legislation and Liberty, 1973–1979.

5 / Titled "Monument to Transformation."