Open Up the Northwest Passage
In 1566, Humfrey Gilbert initiated the campaign to open up the Northwest
Passage. 400 years later the call was taken up by the Situationist International.
George Gascoigne tells the reader in his introduction to Gilbert's Discourse
of a Discovery for a New Passage to Cataia how his hero is akin to
a bee in Queen Elizabeth's beehive who has waspishly gone astray, but yet
at last returns to his former abiding. Gascoigne himself was a kinsman to
Martin Frobisher, the Yorkshire man who first attempted the Northwest Passage.
It was during a visit to Humfrey Gilbert's home in Limehouse that he came
upon Gilbert's text and arranged to have it published. He assures the reader
that John Dee, founder of the British Empire, liked the text very much,
commending the author in his preface to the English translation of Euclid.
Gilbert cites both Plato and Ficino in support of his plan, mentions roman
coins found by the Spanish in American gold mines, and refers to the discovery
of Europe by some Indians in 1160, when a storm forced them onto the coast
of Germany. Gilbert was driven by the search for commodities, not Utopia.
Nearly 400 years later, the S.I. assembled in Limehouse searching for new
passageways. This was a contentious conference, the last that Asger Jorn
attended. It was only after Prem and the Nashists had left, that the S.I.
declared its resolve to follow a new direction:
The LPA is holding a rally near the site of the Alchemical laboratory of
the Society of the New Art, an organisation set up by Gilbert, Lord Burghley
and the Earl of Leicester (its exact location has yet to be determined).
It was also in Limehouse that Gilbert wrote his proposal for an Elizabethan
"Achademy", a proposal that was eventually realised by his fellow
Merchant Adventurer, Sir Thomas Gresham. Gilbert claimed to have constructed
remarkable navigational machines, an area of work that the Gresham College
was quick to concern itself.
"At this moment of history when the task is posed, in the most unfavourable
conditions, of reinventing culture and the revolutionary movement on an
entirely new basis the Situationist International can only be a Conspiracy
of Equals, a general staff that does not want troops. It is a matter of
finding, of opening up, the 'Northwest Passage' towards a new revolution
that cannot tolerate masses of performers, a revolution that must surge
over that central terrain which has until now been sheltered from revolutionary
upheavals: the conquest of everyday life. We will only organise the detonation:
the free explosion must escape us and any other control forever."
('The Counter-Situationist Operation in Various Countries', S.I.
No.8, January 1963)
Outside the nearby library, there is the baleful influence of the statue
of Clement Attlee, the mass murderer who signed the authorisation for dropping
the bomb on Hiroshima. The town hall across the road used to be a socialist
reliquary, where Prince Kropotkin's table was kept. Alongside this were
other relics of the communist saint, Sylvia Pankhurst. (She was beatified
by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and given the title Debre). These were
removed before work began on Canary Wharf.
The rally will celebrate a whole year since
the re-emergence of the LPA at the Cave at Roisia's Cross.
Return to ELPAN No.3
Return to LPA Home Page