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:

"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)
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.

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.



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