Go here to see this in action (on some browsers, not all).
Rustom Bharucha reports that the Progressive Writers Association has its origins, according to ‘its most distinguished founder- member Mulk Ray Anand’ in ‘the expatriate community of India students in London, who had charted their first manifesto as “progressive” writers in 1935 in a Chinese restaurant’ (Bharucha 1998:29)
Bharucha, Rustom 1998 In the Name of the Secular: Contemporary Cultural Activision in Inidia Delhi: Oxford UP
From the good folk at Minor Compositions, a project for hipsters, creatives and others with too much to lose (please share widely):
Surviving as a cultural or artistic worker in the city has never been easy. Creative workers find themselves celebrated as engines of economic growth, economic recovery and urban revitalization even as the conditions for our continued survival becomes more precarious. How can you make a living today in such a situation? That is, how to hold together the demands of paying the rent and bills while managing all the tasks necessary to support one’s practice? How to manage the tensions between creating spaces for creativity and imagination while working through the constraints posed by economic conditions?
In a more traditional workplace it is generally easy to distinguish between those who planned and managed the labor process and those who were involved in its executions: between the managers and the managed. For creative workers these distinctions become increasingly hard to make. Today the passionate and self-motivated labor of the artisan increasingly becomes the model for a self-disciplining, self-managed labor force that works harder, longer, and often for less pay precisely because of its attachment to some degree of personal fulfillment in forms of engaging work. And that ain’t no way to make a living, having to struggle three times as hard for just to have a sense of engagement in meaningful work.
This project sets out to investigate how cultural workers in the metropolis manage these competing tensions and demands. The goal is to bring together the dispersed knowledges and experiences of creative workers finding ways to make a living in the modern metropolis. And by doing that to create a space to learn from this common experiences that often are not experienced as such while we work away in different parts of the city.
And a few things circulated from the UFSO:
Why thanks Neil:
Transpontine: South East London blogzine – things that are happening, things that happened, things that should never have happened. New Cross, Brockley, Deptford and other beauty spots. EMAIL US: email@example.com Transpontine: ‘on the other (i.e. the south) side of the bridges over the Thames; pertaining to or like the lurid melodrama played in theatres there in the 19th century’.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Convoys Wharf Latest
The future of Convoys Wharf, site of the former Royal Dockyard on the Deptford riverfront, has been discussed here before. A revised planning application for the site has recently been submitted by News International (former owners of the site) and Chinese property developer Cheung Kong (current owners).There is a lot of local concern about the plans – not just about the impact of what is proposed, but in relation to the loss of the potential once in a hundred years opportunity to do something special here that makes a positive difference to people in Deptford. Challenging these plans, put forward by two of the world’s most powerful conglomerates in the world, is a daunting prospect.Enter Deptford is…, ‘a group of local residents who want to ensure that the redeveloped Convoy’s Wharf offers the best for Deptford and its future. We are NOT affiliated to any political party, commercial interest or quango’. This Saturday 24th September, 10 am to 12 noon, they are organising a ‘planning objections workshop’ in the Blue room at the Albany, Douglas Way.They say ‘Many local residents are worried about the impact of the redevelopment, and are keen to ensure that their concerns are heard by the council. But the planning documents are numerous and complex, and many people who want to respond to the application simply don’t have the time to read them fully. Even those who do have time to read the documents may not know enough about the planning system to be able to write an effective response. So we are holding an URGENT planning objections workshop THIS SATURDAY MORNING at the Albany theatre in Deptford, to provide help and advice to people wanting to comment on this planning application’.
Is that all there is?
A couple of weeks ago I took a group of visitors to Goldsmiths on a guided walk around New Cross and Deptford, focusing on the history of the area and some of its buildings. It was an interesting group, mainly from USA and India, including among others critical architects, a photographer, a film maker and a singer/theatre writer.
The theme of their meeting was globalisation and preservation and this seemed very apposite to Deptford. After all it is arguably one of the birthplaces of a kind of globalisation, the East India Company having been based here, and various colonial and slaver expeditions starting out from the Deptford shipyards. And ‘preservation’ is part of what the argument about Convoys Wharf is all about – how can or should any development reflect the site’s history and preserve the memory of shipbuilding and migration (as for instance Shipwright’s Palace argue)? And what about the site of the historic Sayes Court garden?
One thing that is very striking about the area, looking at it through the eyes of visitors, is just how much it is a zone in transition. I kept finding myself saying on the one hand, ‘until recently this was here’ and on the other ‘soon there will be a new tower block here’. Another feature for an area so tied up with its riverine history is how cut off much of Deptford is from the river itself, not least by the walls around Convoys Wharf. The current planning application promises to restore public access to the river, and that is essential. But does that mean we should just accept any scheme that offers a view of the water?
Another theme that emerged from chatting to the visitors was how similar the experiences of urban development, and specifically riverside development, are across the world. Unimaginative identikit schemes, often by the same architects and developers in different countries, with ‘luxury flat’ tower blocks and sterile semi-public spaces. Is that all there is?
Seeing these images, and the way that this is still identifiably New York despite the dust, and the death that we know lies as under a shroud below (and the years of death to follow in the new imperialism) – this vertical perspective evokes that city like no other. I am forcibly struck by how this is not at all like looking down on London. It seems somehow important. Sure, most of us do look down on London in some way nearly every day (but not always from high buildings, or from a helicopter [though right now I am typing this from the eight floor of the New Cross estate tower block – with superb views]). Our usual view of London from ‘above’ is more or less glossy, and typically stylized: the tube view of London is that of the visitor who does not yet ‘get’ that the tube map is more art, not a guide to space – the stations are closer or much further apart than the design indicates (the tube map is a simplified, relative view of the network, where lines run only vertically, horizontally, or on 45 degree diagonals. It was designed by Harry Beck in 1931). The contrast with the horizontal evokes the visitors’ view of New York which must necessarily involve looking up from the street (or down from a plane as a prelude to control, Dick Tracy, Spiderman, Google™). In New York the skyscrapers fascinate the visitors from out of town, while the locals seem more concerned with moving across the grid. Recall the fabled comment of the film auteur Antonioni that he would only make a film in New York if the rectangle of the cinema screen were built on a vertical axis. This was reinforced in the televised scenes of downtown Manhattan on September 11, 2001 – the view as if in cinemascope from uptown or from Brooklyn just made the event look like a motion picture spectacle. But on the street, passers-by looked up aghast and saw their city anew. That I think was the strange thing of the day, well one of the strange things.
I recall TV images of people on the street that day staring up at the towers shocked and awed as the planes crashed into the buildings and they fell. Tourists aside, this looking up is usually unusual. Quotidian street protocol does not often include such moments – people look up at advertising hoardings, or the increasingly prevalent public screens of the city, tourists gawp at skyscrapers, but generally city folk mind their own business and carry on. Head down, sidewalk traffic, hustle and bustle, going somewhere. It was much more besides, but September 11 in New York was a neck strain, televised to all.
The people of the street are quintessentially the crowd, the masses of festivals, street party (lights out in New York), café’s (Ash Amin conducting a seminar), conviviality, the rows of shops, the enticements to buy, the seductions of commodification that grab us and make as part of the all consuming apparatus. The street market, with its connections and flows – commerce to the illicit trades, drugs, street people, organized crime, sex work (Berman 2006), restaurants, fashion, fantasy, spectacle (also Berman 2006). All the time careful to note as we pass: the infrastructure of the street; power supplies, underground cables, roadworks, traffic disruptions; a massive network of material labour which still produces the street; lighting: the streets as avenues of neon. CCTV, security guards, doormen, Jane Jacobs, out for a stroll. Taxis – in Cairo I am hailed by a taxi driver who says, without taking a breath: “in my taxi I will take you anywhere you want to go to my brother’s emporium” (see also Mathew 2005, and Kalra 2000b). Marshall escorts his students to his favourite bar. Cars and trucks: delivery vehicles, lorries, buses. The street also as the site of accidents, car crashes, stalled or too fast, traffic; bars, cafes, street food; cinemas, amusement arcades. Pollution – sewerage, drains, the gutter – rubbish, garbage disposal – Boy George working off his community service; rag-pickers – detritus held up to the gloaming by Siegfried Kracauer, who was not the least of these, whatever Benjamin says. Who makes and maintains the street? Monsieur Hulot has been mechanized, the steamroller more rapidly paves what took aeons before, a team of pavers pave the footpaths and painters paint the signage in rapid time.
The rackets, the numbers, dealers, look-outs, scams, pyramid schemes; passport and visa forgers, job search entrepreneurs, denizens of the doorstep, visitors to the soup kitchens, survival strategies of the many; looking out for the street-peddlers, the organ-grinders, and if we are lucky, the lazzaroni; if we are hungry, the Iskon krisna consciousness devotees offering free vegetarian recipe booklets; muggers, petty thugs, street-smarts, wise-guys, the cleaner, the fixer, marabout (Simone 2004:41); criminal slumlords, drunks, musicians; money-changers; carum players and pan-handlers, Reclaim the night, dykes on bikes, the strip, at sunset, and after hours, arcade workers, meter maids, hawkers, buskers, vendors of sweets and treats. Exchange at this level involves all sorts of informal economic connections. I walk with a roll of money seeking trinkets, transgressions and the routines of my 24 hours. The city is alive, has a pulse, skips a beat. Marshall Berman stops and shows me a sign in Times Square. There are all sorts of mixings, the transgressive has become the rule. For sale as well – everything on offer. Multiplicity with corporate sponsorship, and always escaping the ratchet that would bolt everything down and stop it from moving, pluralizing, hybridizing.
The street is horizontal plane – if we go up the lifts of the towers, even those in the Eiffel tower, we see the city as plan, as flattened space. But this view from the gods erases diversity and community in favour of a privileged and sanitized position. On the horizontal plane, the issues are about sanitary drainage and the cacophony of the crowd. This evokes the class and racial hierarchies of the Megacity which are visible at street level just as much, if not more, than in the high-rise and boardroom. An equally important but less uniform global heterotopia assembles at street level – in what has been called a culture of congestion – the ‘urban jungle’ is worryingly described as a ‘potent yet troubling term’ (Cairns 2000:125). There are reasons to both valourize and worry over this scene, since jungle bunnies is an unhelpful designation. Even as the ethnicity of the street-scape is apparent, it cannot be adequately discussed without reference to shifting articulations of racial hierarchy, national chauvinism, communal politics and geo-imperial consequences such as the war on terror or economic restructuring. Los Angeles as city of migration is differently diasporic than the migrations that have swollen Mumbai or Shanghai. The Megacity is always one of movement and babel.
Street politics also deserves mention, the tunes are buzzing round my brain, the page is organized to the tunings of ‘Street Fightin Man’, by the Rolling Stones; in cinema everywhere there would be moves from ;The Commune; or ‘Favela Rising’, Watts to the blak bloc; marchin’ chargin’ feet, offering rehearsals for police crowd control; the over policing of Eid in Manchester has a different soundtrack, sirens and bhangra; in Brick Lane street bombs made of nails, racists attack; on May day there are anti capitalist and anti-war rallies, and these affirmations of the spirit (Rosie) also serve as exercises in crowd control – hasn’t this always been necessary in the Capital? There is a history of house to house street fighting that stretches the horror from Berlin to Nablus to Falluja; the future urban wars will be still more brutal – and on to the future – ‘Terminator’ chronicles devastation, or ‘Bladerunner’ with its polyglot urban chiasmus that has been recreated so often in subsequent films like ‘The Fifth Element’… Slum clearance in honour of Indira’s lost son Sanjay Gandhi, who died in a plane stunt … The reserve army of labour is currently living in dormitory metropolises, 85% ‘occupy property illegally’ – if one accepts a notion of legal property at all in such a context, as Mike Davis suggests: ‘Street vendors and informal sector entrepreneurs’, as well as regularized low level service sector workers, often squat in subsistence accommodation within (long commuting) reach of the inner urban centres of commerce and wealth. In what Mike Davis calls ‘Haussman in the tropics’, the ongoing ‘conflict with the poor’ characterizes the situation of ‘most Third World city governments’ (Davis 2006a:99). Although his capitalization of the relational-hierarchical term ‘third world’ indicates some level of adherence to what Aijaz Ahmad had denounced as the three worlds theory (1992), it is clear that the street is uneven here. High housing costs, long commutes…
Of course the streets of the ‘gated community’ have gates and access security systems, which significantly changes the formation of ‘community’ in such places, as does the fabled presence of ‘armed response’ signs on the lawns of residents of Los Angeles, and the burly doormen outside the clubs and bars. Access is denied, the arcades are privatized. The electronic swipe-card ingress to urban compounds, the video surveillance of new build estates in London. The difficulty of walking the streets now because the way is blocked with fear. ‘If I had a shotgun what would you do?’ asks a guy near Madison. ‘Anything you like’ I reply. We laugh and can talk. But not everyone has it so easy. The necessarily scripted visit is a research requirement, and provokes a humbled awareness of the need for the researcher to begin to learn new rules, protocols and the order of any street – fifth avenue or a sewer ridden slum lane come close together for once. The word on the street is not free.
More pictures of NYC here.
Tuesday February 2nd
14-16.00hrs. Free. All welcome.
Council Room, Laurie Grove Baths, Goldsmiths University of London
Terms such as ‘complexity’ bring with them an assumed logic of addition. Events are taken to have become complex due to the planned or unplanned incorporation of new elements. And yet simple addition is no longer sustainable. For development to be possible another conception of complexity needs to emerge.
Moreover, the city is not a neutral site. Differentials of power are at work within the city.
A theory of complexity that allows for both design and analysis has to interconnect programmatic development with the unplanned.
The texture of the urban will demand therefore another vocabulary. The language of lines
and divisions and the feint of neutrality will cede its place to a rethinking of relations in terms ‘porosity’, fraying’ and ‘sites of trauma’ (amongst others). If there is a philosophical thinking of the city then has to begin with the recasting of relations that such a setting creates.
Andrew Benjamin is Professor of Critical Theory at Monash University, Melbourne, and a Visiting Professor at the Centre for Cultural Studies. He is author of number of books including, ‘The Philosophy of Architecture’, ‘Present Hope: Philosophy, Architecture, Judaism’ and, with Charles Rice, recently edited, ‘Walter Benjamin and the Architecture of Modernity’, published by re:press,http://www.re-press.org/
In preparation for this seminar, please read the text ‘Towards a Complex Urbanism’ available by email from m.fullerATgold.ac.uk
On the initiative of Moinak Biswas, Film Studies Jadavpur Uni, Kolkata, and with great input from Rosalind Morris, but initially inspired by the Preservation in Globalization workshop convened by Gayatri Spivak and Jorge Otero-Pailos, an interesting redevelopment seems possible. A disused factory site adjacent the Jadavpur campus was toured by our group in early December. A documentation of the site has begun by photographers invited by the Jadavpur Media Lab has generated some great pictures, see here. The site was left pretty much intact when the factory closed in 2003 – well worth a look.
Now (see below) there is a plan to gut the site and turn it over to the engineering faculty. The site is huge – there is room for something alongside. Hence, the following draft international petition:
For continued innovation at the National Instruments site, Jadavpur.
The redevelopment of the National Instruments site offers a rare opportunity to look forward and back at the changing dynamic of industrial production. The extant materials, documents, personal effects, and machinery (lathes, punch card clocks, work desks) provide a physical record of workplace experience now passing. Jadavpur University, with its reputation, scholarship and global reach is well placed to facilitate an innovative approach that builds upon the proud history of NI and looks forward creatively to new developments.
A simple shroud should not be passed over this accumulated wealth of objects, and labour, from the past. The factory remains might be best preserved by the University in a working space that is devoted to tracking the transformations of industrial production and workplace experience in India. That a museum and art/technology laboratory has been proposed is supported by international scholars, a large number of whom have visited the site and/or noted the initial documentary work produced by Moinak Biswas and his team. We consider this an excellent, exciting and potentially rewarding possibility for joint work and international co-ordination. Scholars would seek international funds to locate research projects on labour history, urban development, new economy (service sector, technology, privatization) and co-research in joint ventures with Jadavpur scholars and students. A truly international project to unite workers of the world might be reanimated here.
The idea is that various people will sign this and it be put to the Jadavpur heads to consider the proposal, from Media Lab and Film Studies, to do something interesting with the site. Well, I think its interesting. I used to work in a similar factory as a grubby teenager. My dad spent a very large part of his life in one – Stanley, Nunawading, Melbourne, Australia. I have a touch of the heebie-jeebie’s looking at the machines, especially the drills where I had spent long low-paid days… (the picture I have used is from a post by Madhuban Mitra and Manus Bhattacharya – with thanks)
Giving some history of National Instruments, and of the original preservation project and future plans, Moinak writes:
The factory started off in 1830 under the name ‘mathematical instrument maker’, then became ‘mathematical instruments office’, both serving mainly the ‘survey of india’ instituted by the east india company. During ww1 it got seriously involved with the defense dept., became national instruments factory; was relocated to the premises you saw in 1957, renamed ‘national instruments limited’ (NIL) as a public sector unit under the union govt. the factory mainly made optical instruments for survey, measurement, photography, etc. and was popularly known for its national 35 camera. It fell into some crisis first in the 60’s, and then into a more serious one in the 80’s, got referred to the board of industrial and financial reconstruction (BIFR). Manufacture stopped in 2003. most workers accepted the voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) and left in march, 2003. 64 employees remained on campus and witnessed the ruination. In 2009, jadavpur university took over the property with the aim of building an extension campus for the engineering faculty.
the media lab of the dept of film studies at jadavpur undertook extensive photo documentation of the premises in june, 2009. we commissioned 10 young photographers and filmmakers to shoot for 4 months on the premises, covering everything possible. we have a bank of 20 thousand still images and 60 hours of video footage. a blog from the stills (http://darklythroughalens.wordpress.com/) and a couple of films have been made. more projects will follow. we have shot interviews with many ex-employees. it’s now a substantial labour and industrual landscape archive.
but there should also be preservation of a different kind. the university has started renovating parts of the buildings, and will soon remove most of the equipment and files, etc. we were thinking of proposing the creation of a space, using one big room like the canteen you saw, which will preserve their products, some of the tools, machine parts, workers’ id papers, bills, service documents, policy documents, the punch card machines, etc, and at the same time be an active space for independent art practice, including independent film screenings, installations, etc. the major problem is to persuade the university to spare that space. it would pay more serious attention to an international community of artsits and intellectuals. but we should keep in mind what can be sustained and how far, given the public funded university framework in india, and given the fact that anything doing with art has first to prove its vialbility to the engineering faculty dominated.
This is great stuff – history and potential. But there are also things to debate. University take over of the fading industrial economy has a long track record (see here, here and here). Is it really possible to tamper with such trajectories? Besides drafting the above call at Moinak’s request, I also offered my two pice worth of cynicism earlier in the discussion [note: I was a bit ill at the time]:
Moinak, your sentence on the the creation of a space that will both preserve the NI worker’s “products, some of the tools, machine parts, workers’ id papers, … punch card machines, etc, and at the same time be an active space for independent art practice” is a great start. But I wonder if the museum/archive route is too passive, and might not claim much in terms of physical space in the building (when it all should be kept in those terms – see Mao Mollona’s excellent film on industrial steel machinery in Sheffield, where a fully functioning workshop has been maintained 1890’s era machines in working, and profitable, order). I also wonder if, importantly, the preservation argument does enough in conceptual terms within the overall regeneration/transformation of the economy and the University – a discussion I imagine that must be going on, and needs new thinking.
I am acutely aware that here “anything doing with art has first to prove its viability to the engineering faculty dominated”, and wonder if the focus of what we present might be geared towards this. That said, I am stumped for where to look for initial funds, or clearly marked ‘preservation funds’. It is not my forte. However, ongoing funding could also be geared into the conception.
An Art/Laboratory would probably have pedagogical, research and creative components.
At issue is who inhabits the space, what it provides, and outcomes now and for the future.
Thus, neither a mortuary service for fading industry, nor a hollow art scene doing a ghost dance for dead capital (tried and tested, but too often turned into mere foyer or coffee shop – eg Tate Modern), the project has far greater inter- and intra- disciplinary purchase, and potential as for very wide participation. The former workers, the Jadavpur students, local residents, the city in general, and both national and international research teams across many areas can be drawn into the nexus of this site conceived as instrumental to the transition between older and newer economic modes. Research, teaching and creativity all have a role in transition.
A range of projects, both national and international – but many funded internationally – could locate in dedicated space within the project:
Possible internationally funded Research Projects for Instrument Lab
– changing infrastructure of economies, history and globalization, technology and colonialism, warfare and commerce, education and training history (see journal of the Confernce of Socialist Economists)
– class composition and worker’s inquiry, labour history, transition economies and the transformation of work, co-research with workers of older and newer economic production (this is a project I would like to pursue between Goldsmiths, Queen Mary Business School and Jadavpur – funded by Economic and Social Research Council UK perhaps, the Co-Research would involve workers paid as researchers in both discontinued production such as National Instruments, as well as in new industries in Kolkata such as creative economy, service sector, media and telecoms. They would be researching, documenting and theorizing their own conditions of work – aim initially at a three year project @ £500k for 4 paid researchers on site, plus money for collaborative work).
– precision capitalism, mathematical arts of production, skill, craft and body/machine knowledge: instrument hand and brain, cyborg labs then and now (Fuller/Harwood/MUTE or RAQS?).
– obsolescence and regenerative second life, industrial remains and urban renewal, science and fiction, creative revival as life force in cities (see P.Hall and M.Castells: Technopoles of the World).
– photographic imaging and war/industry convergence (as digital is to analog; globalization is [not] to industry)
– teaching exchange, especially in cultural studies of work, education, training, urban preservation and curating (possible Network Grants at £70k each)
These projects in various ways – there would be many others possible – would be conceived to locate researchers at Jadavpur, employed locally and internationally, and would work with local constituents and stakeholders (workers, researchers, students, local residents, support staff). Each would entail a pedagogical exchange function, as well as a display (installations, museum, art) aspect. The point is to keep this alive to change, the transformation of work, of class composition, or urban environs, and of the university itself (as universities move to project based work, and older models of disciplinary containment are supplemented).
Ahhh, now I have written all this down I think maybe its not strong enough yet to stave off the impending disposal of most of the workplace artefacts, beautiful machines (valuable machines) and other remains, but those remains are the resource and raw material of something potentially great in the future. Our labour can reanimate them – the sweat of our friends to whom we owe a debt (not just of mourning).
Sorry for the Derridisms – the flu drugs again kick in…
Literature and Film Go Wild in the Streets: from Burning Books to the War on Terror.
Book burning is something close to the heart of novelist Salman Rushdie, whose work, The Satanic Majesties was famously burnt in Bradford twenty years back (and in India six months earlier) in 1989. This protest is said by many commentators to mark the public articulation and mobilization of a specifically Muslim South Asian presence in the UK (Malik 2009). There is much scholarship on this theme and the changes it rings in: Gayatri Spivak long ago pointed out how ‘the Rushdie affair has been coded as Freedom of Speech versus Terrorism’ (1993:237), and with its long history, the burning of books of course agitated the liberal sensitivities of many commentators who later were all in favour of the bombing of Baghdad, including, presumably various libraries, museums and bookshops. This is not to excuse the fatwa or to enter into the debates about censorship or appropriate handling of Islamic narrative (the six wives of the Prophet as prostitutes was always going to get Rushdie into trouble, as his sales publicist no doubt hoped, but horribly underestimated). The point that interests me here is the reconfiguration of the streetscape of diaspora and terror that this book burning achieved. An outrage reconfigures and then changes shape – as Rushdie’s characters also do – through the context of geo-political intrigue, investing these characters and issues with darker sentiments that is then played out in suburban space. The book burning on the street evokes other street politics – from burning cars and rioting (example: the film Sammie and Rosie get Laid – Frears/Kureishi) through to a more persistent low level everyday anxiety of racial profiling in a surveillance state. Where Spivak attends to a geographic and linguistic ‘really existing’ Asia that has now become the major location for the sharp end of the war on terror, from South East to North East (Philippines, North Korea) and North West to Middle East (Afghanistan, Palestine) we can talk of an expanded reconfigured Asia as host for a the theatre of war (Spivak quotes Koshy 2003:x) that ever more becomes a matter of urban/street conflict in locations like London, Manchester, Bradford and Birmingham. On streets like those of Lewisham, London, this Asia, and the visibility of ‘Asians’ loses geographical specificity and is embodied in the figure of the threatening Muslim: the people of the book become book burners and Jihadis. Various commentators do not seem to agree on how this came to pass or what should be the response, but clearly there can be multiple and varied globalized versionings of terror. The war on terror at home can be seen in the sociological reportage of Malik, Gopinath and Fekete, in the cinematography of Kureishi and Frears, and the theoretical reflections of Chow, Derrida and Sen.
I will be attending this important bit of theatre:
THIS MUCH IS TRUE
By Paul Unwin and Sarah Beck
On 22 July 2005 Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead by the Metropolitan Police at Stockwell tube station. It was a defining moment in London’s history yet too many questions are left unanswered.
Award-winning writer and director Paul Unwin’s (co-creator of Casualty and Holby City) and Sarah Beck’s play is a shocking, electrifying, insight into what really happened before, during and in the years following Jean Charles de Menezes’ death.
Weaving together new and personal testimonies from senior police officers including Andy Hayman (Metropolitan Police former head of counter terrorism), Brian Paddick, Jean’s family, his friends, the legal team (including Michael Mansfield QC), THIS MUCH IS TRUE brings the tragedy to the stage and reveals much that has never been said publicly before.
Cast: Amber Agar, Stefano Braschi, Alice Da Cunha, Gerald Kyd, Beatriz Romilly, Justine Waddell.
Directed by Tim Roseman with a multi award-winning creative team including Paul Wills, Mike Walker, Knifedge, Richard Howell and Daniel Pemberton.
I am off to Brussels soon to speak about cities….
You can read the verdict and see the press conference by the family campaign on the website at the end of this press release:
Press statement from the family:
Friday, 12 December 2008
Press statement by the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, the campaign and their lawyers Birnberg Peirce following the jury’s verdict
“Today is a very important day for our family and campaign for justice. We have spoken to Jean’s family in Brazil and they like us feel vindicated by the jury’s verdict. The jury’s verdict is a damning indictment of the multiple failures of the police and the lies they told. It is clear from the verdict today that the jury could have gone further had they not been gagged by the Coroner. We maintain that Jean Charles de Menezes was unlawfully killed” – Patricia Armani Da Silva, cousin of Jean Charles on behalf of all of the family.
The family’s legal team argued that evidence heard by the jury provided sufficient grounds for the jury to return unlawful killing (murder) in respect of the two police shooters, C12 and C2 as well unlawful killing (gross negligence manslaughter) in respect of the actions of three of the command team. We also submitted that, in accordance with Article 2 (ECHR) the jury should be permitted to return a meaningful narrative verdict that could identify all the police failings that caused or contributed to the death of Jean Charles de Menezes.
The five legal teams representing supposedly separate interests of the police combined ranks to oppose our submissions, maintain that the evidence only supported a lawful killing or open verdict. The coroner ruled in favour of the police. As a consequence the family sought to challenge the decision, lodging an urgent application at the High Court. Mr Justice Silber considered the challenge in relation to the narrative verdict only but ruled that the coroner had a wide discretion and he would not interfere with his ruling.
The family considered that the coroner had effectively gagged the jury. Any verdict returned by them would have at best limited meaning and would not have the effect of holding the police accountable for any failings. At that stage, having exhausted all legal avenues, the family instructed their legal team to cease participating in the inquest proceedings.
We have lodged grounds to appeal the decision of Mr Justice Silber and our judicial review challenge of the coroner’s decision in respect of unlawful killing remains to be considered.
To date, not one police officer involved has been held personally accountable for failings that led to the death of Jean Charles. In fact the two most senior officers in the command team have been promoted. The law as it stands, effectively provides legal immunity for police officers who shoot innocent people in the cause of protecting the public.
This case raises questions of critical constitutional importance. Should our armed police service be protected from meaningful criticism (let alone criminal sanction) or are the public entitled to go about their day to day business free from the fear that they could be shot dead without warning if mistaken for a suspected terrorist?
For further information and background information visit: inquest.justice4jean.org
Punch and Judy. The grim and glum reality of opportunism is today more and more prevalent, more and more accessed, acquiesced, more or more or less bad, worse than before. We are confronted on all sides by both overt and covert ‘research’ groups, by think tanks and lobbyists, who have decided – in a climate of total war – that we need to attend to (the control of) the global public sphere. The tanksters are interested in ideas, in projects and in strategies, they are interested in the management of feelings, the orchestration of responses, they are interested in refining a certain clarity of message. They bring us bread and circuses – both stale.
Their boosterism says nothing. The climate they encourage thrives on the sentiment of abstract disengagement – alongside the promulgation of procedure and the ‘dictatorship of the secretariat’ – they persuade us that we abjure our interest or involvement in political questions because a) things are too complex and b) complexity needs to be controlled.
These people are sceptics who rail against scepticism. They present themselves as those who present answers, but the way they do so cynically narrows the space of answers to a tightly controlled furrow. The engagement they favour is disengagement except on their own studiously abstract terms. There is no room for the questioning of sceptics in their cynical world.
And then they sometimes claim they are for democracy – but not broadband democracy or open debate – rather a pay-per-view, programme management, narrowcasting, niche-market democracy. Their democracy excludes debate, questions, objections and alternatives. They have long ago vetoed the possibility of thinking outside the box, for there lies danger, difference, a multiplicity that cannot be corralled. The box must always have a brand mark, a slogan, a font or a strapline – sometimes just a colour (the colour is always drab).
They promote their insights as research, as scholarship, as traditional values and as wisdom – but they are faceless, passionless, automatons – going though the motions (jack boots are not far away, but they forgo them for frequent flyer miles and airport lounge privileges).
I do of course think there are more than two sides – the lines shift and the players change, sometimes swapping, sometimes double agents. But there are some, the best you can say of them is that while they are one of ‘them’, they do at least talk like ‘us’. We should carefully watch these ones especially.
Who are they? In fact they are us. Turn again Dick Whittington, Turn again.
And why Dick Whittington? – see here for both the real and the Pantomime story, where a cloth-merchant adventurer pilfers some gold, travels to the orient to get rich, and returns to London to become Mayor. OK, this all happened 700 years ago, but the cat seems to have nine lives. These are notes for Pantomime Terror – inaugural on 30/09/08 (5.30, IGLT Goldsmiths).
The city is the border. Each time you wave away the Chinese DVD seller who approaches you in the pub; each time you glide past the Polish beer in the cornershop, choosing a stella or chardonnay instead; each time you discard the free advertising newsheet you’ve barely even read – a million instant statements of the border.
Sex worker postcards in the last remaining telephone booth (new in town!); spruikers on the curry shift entice you for a deal; dragging angry and Peckham through the CCTV streets at dawn – the border is the city and the walls between us all.
It could not be that we don’t know this: that the management of the border is a mass participation project operated absentmindedly by all of us all day. Through an overkill of commentary and a shifting, churning hierarchy, the profiles, stereotypes and judgements that are constantly made yet so often denied are the guilty enactment of this regime. Border Police do their work – spot check, detention, deportation – all the better because our everywhere everyday distracted border operation is there in all we do.
The regulations are on the streets, the regulators are here.
I have long been a fan of Owen Hattersley’s word and image hoard as found on “Sit Down Man Your a Bloody Tragedy”. It presents a (recently very) Keiloresque version of London that is a somehow both a well-informed mix of architectural-spotting psycho-geography and has the tone of an ethnography written by some 50’s era fixated interplanetary alien cosmonauts (with cannon ixus 750s on board). We know Owen from when he spoke at a workshop we organized at CCS a few years back and I think his stuff is pretty wonderful. I’ve been recommending it to students wanting evidence that something interesting is going on in London (and its been a constant source of great images – and wacked out soviet era postcards – for a long time).
And indeed, something must be going on in the UK since the government has released a brand new Security Strategy ‘to deal with national emergencies such as terror, disease pandemics and flooding’. I am looking forward to reading that! I betchya it doesn’t have very good pictures, but the portrait of a class cleansed urbane Britain that it offers will no doubt be crystal clear.
Own has a piece in the ‘New Statesman’, which you can find out about after directing your cursor *here*.
There was a chap in Calcutta back in the late 1980s who insisted that all religions were ‘the same’. He’d often say over and over: ‘apple is apple – one apple one god’. It seemed profound at the time, and I wished I’d remembered that today when I was giving a talk at Columbia University Ethnomusicology department (I’m not 100% sure that is the official name of the dept -thanks Tylor for organising – do see their mag Current Musicology). The issue at stake was whether comrade Aki Nawaz saw himself as some sort of representative of Muslim youth. I think not, even if Aki has been known to say stuff like ‘Islam is a more serious kind of punk’, its not always necessary to mark everything out in terms of the mainstream gut-reaction oppositions of the day, even so Fun^da^mental can speak as often from a ‘Muslim perspective’ as from any other. I see no problem with that given the amount of time, say, the Police are not asked if they are speaking from the perspective of the forces or order, I mean as Christians. I mean, isn’t that what keeps Sting going, despite all the Buddhist claptrap he is want to spout for sales purposes? (I know I know, that is hardly fair – ah well – but their reforming and playing here just means they are deserving some degree of lampooning. That old story of Burroughs, when introduced to the band, telling his friends to get rid of any gear they might be holding, still deserves a wry smile).
Speaking at Columbia was fun, in a well-kitted out room (projector, sound, stereo system all working flawlessly). Suffice to say the discussion was engaging, and had much to do with relative degrees of irony in politics (the talk was about hip hop and politics in the UK – surprise). Discussion helped along by Charity Scribner and David Graeber (soon joining Goldsmiths), an interesting PhD candidate called Tim, Stephanie the super-assistant, and of course the wonderful Sherilyn. We then repaired to 20-10 (??) for drinks, baseball, the worlds largest pizza slices, and disturbingly potent free drinks from the barman also called Tim (who seemed to like playing Steve Miller songs much more than is reasonable).
Before having to trek back uptown to retrieve a key to Charity’s flat because I had mixed up the originals I had cut this morning (for a dollar), I found this charming mark (see picture) someone had written in the concrete near the corner of Christopher St and 7th. Awwwww. How idealistic and romantic is that? No initials, no slogan – though this pavement mark was alongside a wallposter which read: ‘Slow down and smell the Garbage – NY easy’. Says a lot I think, in these humid summer days. I can hear Frank singing something about the city having been named twice or something.
On to High Falls.
I’ve just come back from the TCS workshop on Megacity – a volume of the TCS-NEP New Encyclopaedia Project… Megacity is a term for those urban conglomerations that – ill defined as yet – have about 10 millions or more population, expand beyond the confines of the modernist city (whatever that means) and are something more, or different, from the ‘global city’ of a certain urban sociology…. I was asked to present on the idea of the street, and I wondered how a certain kind of urban anthropology might reconfigure what as yet seems a pretty inchoate conceptualisation of Mega… but I was happy to have a go. Here are some of my first, somewhat pedestrian, ground zero perspectives on the city as it transmutes from modernist to megalopolis… This is a proposed encyclo entry that will either canvass the street as a single article, or suggest a cluster with several authors (as is the format of the NEP).
It might be good to start by trying to reverse the perspective that framed the discussions of the first part of the day. These had been about how to conceptualise the megacity, how to map it, diagram it, how to represent that which ‘cannot be represented’ (Andrew Benjamin with a new context for the words of Marx from the 18th Brumaire). I do not disagree with attempts at abstract comprehension, but I wonder – given the task of ‘problematizing the urban’ what it might be to start – so to speak – at the other end. So I began with a phrase, with the idea of ‘the word on the street’.
The assumption to break with here, to challenge, is the idea that at ground level there is chaos and disorder. That an intrinsic disarray was articulated as the condition of the rampant growth of the city into megacity seems to me to have missed something important about urban space. There is order, and it can be examined – though this takes time. For me to hold onto an image that evokes this, I have this terrible trinket of a lighter-representation of the twin towers with aeroplane which reminds me, all too graphically (see pic) of one among the many striking scenes of that precipitous urban event of 2001: people on the street staring up at the towers in shock and awe as the planes crashed into the world trade centre on September 11, 2001.
Quotidian street protocol does not often include such moments – people look up at advertising hoardings, or the increasingly prevalent public screens of the city, but generally they mind their own business and carry on. Head down, sidewalk traffic, hustle and bustle, going somewhere. It was much more besides, but September 11 in New York was a neck strain, televised to all.
So I started to read the classic city texts – Whyte Street Corner Society, Jacobs The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and newer ones like Duneier’s Sidewalk, and Berman’s On the Street, – which are each great – deeply worked, reliant on long fieldwork. And all that makes me wonder if we need to rethink the focus on the street in the megacity so as to be careful not to jump far too quickly to suggest uniformity, replication or a typology. The mass observation scenario of looking up on high as the image of the city transforms before our eyes is perhaps a reminder that life in the megacity cannot be grasped all at once or forever, that the city has many different and changing facades (sometimes brutal-tragic and sudden) and that the teeming cultural plethora of the city, for good or bad, is peopled by crowds of multiple provenance who come together on the sidewalk sometimes, but are otherwise also variously divided. The street is as complicated and complex here as it is, differently, just around the corner, or a few moments later in time. Would we need a reminder then that whether the aim is to plan, to theorize, to segment into creative or economic quarters, or to otherwise conjure the city, there will always be more, and more than a supplement or remainder, rather a glorious excess; a bleeding beyond the prescriptions of definition.
How would the protocols of urban anthropology look if we were to rethink them through the idea of the megacity? I wonder if we can ever think the street in a way that goes past those earlier renderings, updates them, or at least learns from their specificity. There have been many versions of urban anthropology that seek out the word on the street. The street is thought, a path of thinking; the street-map the synapses and dendrites of the mind (Simmel), an intersection a thought; if the road is a sentence (Derrida), the city is a text to interpret (Lefebvre); if the square or the crossroad is a node amongst flows (D&G), and traffic networks; labyrinthine plans and perspectives and views; transformed mapping with new technologies (Kittler), google earth and sat-nav replace the a-z, the imaginary city tracked through poster, project and propaganda, networked (AbdouMaliq Simone), the aspirational city of planning and commerce (Holsten) photogenic street-scenes to draw and attract; the vibrant, viral and virtual city which makes an image site of the street, overexposed (Virilio), heterotopia, hetero-dysfunctional.
If the street of the megacity is as likely to be a major thoroughfare such as Broadway Manhattan as it is to be a tiny, winding, obscure lane in Salt Lake City (Bidhanagar) the ever growing ‘edge’ of Kolkata. The point is that in such cities, people live. Questions of how they live (demography, quality, strategies), if its possible to live (adequate shelter, sustenance, services) and if its possible to live better (policy, organization), remain.
It may be that megacities are only coherent at a distance, as organisms that can hardly even be diagrammed. Sprawl/scrawl. When moving along the streets, when speeding along the city’s arteries, what we feel is the rush, and yet when on the street we can’t see the street we’re on (for all the street vendors, drug dealers, shop fronts, commuters, sweepers etc) but when we can see the whole of the street, we’re not really on it). The map is not the territory, the name is not the person.
Walking down Broadway with Marx’s Capital in hand, reading the signs, or down Nimtollah Lane with a dictionary (my Bangla is poor), I am faced with the multiple character of the megacity when the sheer abundance of ways the life of the street connects not so much to other streets on an A-Z map of the nation, but rather direct to the global ecumenium. The megacity has streets peopled by citizens of the world. They might be going somewhere or staying put, even stuck; they might be movers and shakers or ‘illegal’ and on the run. The city though is global when the street hosts the peoples of the world. This heterotopia is to be mapped otherwise than in a national history – rather start with the idle flim-flaneury of Benjamin in Paris, the derive of the situationists, or Ian Sinclair’s London wandering. (see Robert Bond 2006 ‘Speculating Histories: Walter Benjamin Ian Sinclair’ Historical Materialism 14(2):3-28). This is not old fashioned, though some may be walking with eyes locked on personal or public screens, saturated space of advertising, walking with one’s eyes on an electronic horizon.
I have walked, and plan again to walk, the length of Broadway ‘as research’. The Walking Day. From fetish object to so-called original accumulation.
A vast apparatus.
I have to take account of changing neighbourhoods and the abundant sociality of the street, the community and the suburb. The street is the place of sociality, and so of people Sidewalk by Duneier, Everyday Life de Certeau, or Lefebvre, but also exclusions, the banlieues, the barrio, the reserve army/dormitory suburbs, the commuters, from cleaners to office staff, to transport workers. I think of street culture and creativity, and the culture industry entrepreneurs and corporate opportunists that jump on it for packaging. Parafunctional spaces (an essay by Nikos Papastergiadis and Scott McQuire I have to dig out, given at an ArtSpace conference in Sydney), decay and renewal, from warehouse to gallery-zone…
The people of the street are quintessentially the crowd, the masses of festivals, street party (lights out in New York), café’s (Ash Amin), conviviality, the rows of shops, the enticements to buy, the seductions of commodification that grab us and make as part of the all consuming apparatus. The street market, with its connections and flows – commerce to the illicit trades, drugs, street people, organized crime.
Infrastructure of the street. Power supplies – underground cables, roadworks, traffic disruptions; a massive network of material labour still produces the street.Lighting – streets as avenues of neon (Scott McQuire), CCTV (Jeff Heydon). Security guards, doormen (Jane Jacobs). Taxis (Virinder Kalra, Biju Mathew). In Cairo I am greeted by a taxi driver who says without taking a breath: “in my taxi I will take you anywhere you want to go to my brother’s emporium”. Cars. Delivery vehicles. Trucks and buses. The street also as the site of accidents, car crashes, stalled or too fast, traffic.We watch them from bars, cafes, as we munch street food (Bhaskar Mukhopadhyay). Amusement arcades while away the boring hours.
Pollution – rubbish – detritus held up to the gloaming by Siegfried Kracauer. Pollution – sewerage, drains, the gutter – garbage disposal – Boy George, rag-pickers (Kracauer was not the least of these, whatever Benjamin says). Who makes and maintains the street? Monsieur Hulot has been mechanized, the steamroller more rapidly paves what took aeons before, a team of pavers pave the footpaths and painters paint the signage in rapid time.
This makes me think of Marx’s lists – describing the lumpen in the 18th Brumaire – the discussion I visited in Zizek’s slum (HERE), and echoing Derrida’s list iterations on the voyous that I plan to elaborate, having started HERE). Derrida does not quote Marx’s great text in Rogues, but I think its clear he has it in his head as he writes:
‘Voyoucracy is a corrupt and corrupting power of the street, an illegal and outlaw power that brings together into a voyoucraticregime, and thus into an organised and more or less clandestine form, into a virtual state, all those who represent a principle of disorder … a threat against public order … This milieu, this environment, this world unto itself, gathers into a network all the people of the crime world or underworld, all the singular voyous. All individuals of questionable morals and dubious character whom decent, law-abiding people would like to combat and exclude under a series of more or less synonymous names: big man, bad boy, player … rascal … good-for-nothing, ruffian, villain, crook, thug, gangster, shyster … scoundrel, miscreant, hoodlum, hooligan … one would also say today banger [loulou], gangbanger [loubard], sometimes even outside the inner city, in the suburbs, the suburban punk [loubard des banlieues]’ (Derrida 2005:66).
‘The word voyou has an essential relation with the voie, the way, with the urban roadways [voire], the roadways of the city or the polis, and thus with the street [rue], the waywardness [dévoiement] of the voyou consisting in making ill use of the street, in corrupting the street or loitering in the streets, in “roaming the streets”, as we say in a strangely transitive formulation. This transitivity is in fact never far away from the one that leads to “walking the streets”… Today the voyou sometimes roams the roadways [voies] and highways [voiries] in a car [voiture], that is, when he or she is not stealing it or setting it on fire’ [stealing or setting it on fire!– those rogues, note they are soon to be linked to greater rogues, in a strangely transitive formula -JH] … Voyous might also, on an international scale, and this gets us right into the problematic of rogue states, be involved in drug trafficking, in parasiting, or actually subverting, as terrorists in training, the pathways [voies] of normal communication, whether of airplanes, the telephone, email or the Web’ (Derrida 2005:65).
I just want to remark on these listings. The transitive next next next that escalates. It moves from the small metaphor to the hyperbolic of global connectivity. Even way back in his 1967 book Of Grammatology was a call for a meditation on the road and writing: ‘one should meditate upon all of the following together: writing as the possibility of the road and of difference, the history of writing and the history of the road, of the rupture, of the via rupta, of the path that is broken, beaten, fracta, of the space of reversibility and of repetition’ (Derrida 1967/1974:107).
And then – having to show that this is not just JD mouthing off – on to Marx, writing of how Boneparte gathered together in the society of 10 December, the riff raff of Paris:
On the pretext of founding a benevolent society, the lumpen proletariat of Paris had been organized into secret sections, each section led by Bonapartist agents, with a Bonapartist general at the head of the whole. Alongside decayed roués with dubious means of subsistence and of dubious origin, alongside ruined and adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie, were vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, mountebanks, lazzaroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, maquereaux [pimps], brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ grinders, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars — in short, the whole indefinite, disintegrated mass, thrown hither and thither (page 63 18th Brumaire)
So, my version of the street will include an expanding list, not all deviants or miscreants: but those who play the rackets, the numbers, the dealers, the look-outs, with scams, pyramid schemes, passport and visa forgers, job search entrepreneurs, denizens of the doorstep, visitors to the soup kitchens, survival strategies of the many, street-peddlers, organ-grinders (!), Iskon krisna consciousness devotees offering free vegetarian recipe booklets, muggers, petty thugs, street-smarts, wise-guys, the cleaner, the fixer, marabout (Simone 2004:41), criminal slumlords, drunks, musicians, money-changers, carum players and pan-handlers, Reclaim the night, dykes on bikes, the strip, at sunset, and after hours, sex workers, meter maids, hawkers, buskers, vendors of sweets and treats.
Lists, though, are Flat – and the City is High. Rossolini was apparently asked if he would make a film of New York, and replied that he would not do so as long as screens were not also vertical.
Maybe at this register the street must always be the horizontal plane if we are to see people there – if we go up the lifts of the towers, even those in the Eiffel tower, we see the city as plan, as flattened space. But this view from the gods erases diversity and community in favour of a privileged and sanitized position. On the horizontal plane, the issues are about sanitary drainage and the cacophony of the crowd.
The class and racial hierarchies of the megacity are visible at street level as much, if not more, than in the high-rise and boardroom. An equally important but less uniform global heterotopia assembles at street level – in what Koolhaus called a culture of congestion – the urban jungle is worryingly described as a ‘potent yet troubling term’ (Cairns 2000:125 – ‘jungles’ 125-7 in Thrift, Nigel and Steve Pile City A-Z New York: Routledge) but there are reasons to both valourize and worry over this scene.
The ethnicity of the street scape is apparent, but cannot be adequately discussed without reference to shifting articulations of racial hierarchy, national chauvinism, communal politics and geo-imperial consequences such as the war on terror or economic restructuring. Los Angeles as city of migration is differently diasporic than the migrations that have swollen Mumbai or Shanghai
Immigrants – the megacity is always one of movement and babel
Street Pirates – the island in New Cross.
Later I want to write of street politics, the police and control. Of reading the word on the street on the side of the Buses. And of house-to-house street fighting, the Arcades and Benjamin on the street and war. Also, of course, the sci fi streetscape: those imaginary simplistic multiculturalisms at the bottom end of Bladerunner and Fifth Element that deserve a much more critical (all too exotic) argument…
Not in my backyard used to be the somewhat mocking slogan attributed to (but rarely adopted by) suburbanites and urban yuppies who were opposed to developments like, I dunno, the inner Sydney airport runway; the relocation of some prison/asylum/shopping centre; the technopolisation of some research and development Project. NIMBY protests then seemed to fade off my radar a little, except in England where asylum centres raised the same sort of vigilante hackles as did paedophiles or such like. Clearly the spectrum of anti-development and urban cleansing projects is wide and diverse, but the opposition limited and often cack-handed. [sorry, not a technical term, but you will know what I mean]. I do have a certain nostalgia for some of the more creative adventures that belonged to Left-wing versions of such NIMBy sentiments – protests by anarchists against urban yuppie fortress home renovations (anti-new architecture by any other name – it as funny to see things trashed with style) and the Reclaim the Streets actions when they transformed the city into a wild disruptive – no-sign-of-them-going-home-soon party zone (this was before 24 hour inner-city O’Neil’s style yob club/pubs took over the high streets, and before RTS became just a friday bike ride…). Something has faded for mine, since back then – oh nostalgia for the g.o. days – Reclaim the Streets used to be especially critical when they linked up with the Liverpool Dockers. I remember particularly how hard the Police thugs cracked down on that pointedly political alliance when it began.
So, I am keen to follow the campaign that’s emerged in Tokyo to save the playground of the trendiest of youth culture club scene creative types. Shimokitizawa is a place where I had the good fortune to be often invited several years back when I was Visiting Prof at Nagoya City Uni, and more recently last April I gave a big talk in a crowded club that had bizarrely stopped to discuss hip hop, politics and the war on terror. Strangely fluid simultaneous translation in Japanese by my good friends Toshiya Ueno and Yoshitaka Mouri, and a dynamic debate that was electric, critical, engaging and went on long past the alloted time – then a TRON type race across the city in Toshiya’s manga-style sports car. So I’d found it more than ironic that, at the talk, people in the audience brought up the plan to ‘redevelop’ the very area we were in by running a huge motorway through the centre of the suburb. I’d heard such things before – thought it was another tribal-youth type NIMBy concern, but was surprised to hear of a raft of RTS type actions in planning; plenty of energy amongst the activist set… (though there are other parts of Tokyo I also enjoyed – peculiar little bars left over somehow from the 40s, 50s, 60s – they are not in the way of a highway [yet]).
Today the campaign has hit the front page of the New York Times. Check it out. In the absence of much else newsworthy, I am pleased to see this make a splash, and hope it translates to renewed RTS-enthusiasm that can aslo plumb the activism of the old Tokyo airport campaign and the like. Something to learn, I still think there is much good to be said for what happened in the Anti-roads and Reclaim the Streets UK protests in the mid 1990s, even if they were reclaimed for capital in the end – for that I blame in part the opportunist prat George Moonbot, speaking this week at the Conservative Party conference where he and his Guardian reading friends belong. For insight into those times, check early issues of Aufheben on the Criminal Justice Act and Anti-Roads.
An abstract I have sent in for a conference in Phnom Penh in January. The conference is called “Living Capital: Sustaining Diversity in Southeast Asian Cities”./ The paper I plan to write for this will cover research I’ve been doing for ages on knowledge culture industry and the like – I published something on this in Mute and a longer version the Nettime Reader way back when. Its time to look at issues behind the gleam once again…:
City Planning – for people, institutions and industry.
The problem with rapid urbanisation is not so much that there are vast numbers of new people in the city, but that public planners, social commentators, journalists and the reading public (readers of journalism, commentary and policy) see these arrivals as a problem. In contemporary cultural studies arguments have been put forward that revolve around the slogan: urbanization causes hybridity – referring to the cultural frisson and mix that is both a resource for a vital creative economy and something in need of an interventionist solution. This smacks of the twin fantasies of exoticization – “ooh, look, cultural differences” – and commodification – “they are differences we can sell”. That the planning and zoning of cities now includes routine acknowledgement of diversity, and embraces institutional forms and supports to mix such diversity with creative industry, is the current benchmark of capitalist development thinking. This thinking has a heritage that reaches back through the past sixty years of social engineering – the examples in this presentation will be the life-world-creative industry mix, showcased in recent so-called “technopolis” projects, such as the MultiMedia Super Corridor in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and the digital economy redevelopment of Hyderabad, in India.
[German version of my very old piece on MMC in DE:BuG here]
Žižek thinks the revolution begins in the slums. The point at which his new book gets real is urban. He takes a while to get there though. These are my reading notes as I work through the new book.
Žižek’s corrosive attacks on hypocrisy and liberal illusions interrogate the gaps (parallax, dialectical, distort, invert, pervert) in which ideological justification thrives. Politically incorrect and sometimes obscene moves are the only way to expose the weak, self- serving self-deceptions of those that betrayed the end game of Star Wars, the impossible resolution of the Matrix, and the traumatic unconsummated assault on Laura in Wild at Heart. An overabundance of examples illustrate Žižek’s new book – Woody Allen; Rashomon; Henri Bergson; Heidegger in the forest, writing greetings to Argentina; Trotsky (defended); Kurtz upriver; the Jews, Jesus and drug-induced religious experience; Minority Reports; Obi-Wan; Claude Lévi-Strauss; broken eggs and demonic chickens; Marilyn Munroe with Humphrey Bogart; and far too many laments for the ‘sad’ decline of the Left (he does protest too much).
I do not at all mind if Žižek is contradictory; precious; obscure or bitchy at times – often all at the same time. But I do mind when his endearing idiosyncrasies provide an alibi for less contradictory, more precious, wilfully ignorant obscure and boring bitchiness on the part of minor acolytes. Let me demonstrate my own implication here and make some serious points in the end about, of all things, what I think is wrong with Žižek’s answer to the question of: ‘what is to be done?’
Underprepared for the acolyte path, I am not able to get into all the ontological ontofukcery about the status of the parallax, its relation to Kant and Hegel, and the significance of Lacanian in-jokes (often for an in-group of one, though there are many in that schizo-group) and nor am I interested in the Pauline Church stuff or the petit a as it pertains to philosophy or paedophilia. I am much more interested in the implications for Marxist-Leninism and struggles against capital. This I take it is a shared interest – Žižek himself has done more of late than many to return the proper names of the revolutionary tradition to mainstream discussion, with texts on Lenin, Stalin, and his championing of Badiou’s Maoism. I prefer this roll call of communist thinkers to that other popular fat book which rescued such names from apparent obscurity – Hardt and Negri’s Empire (2000) – since in that book the tone was far more dismissive (but better than the barren fields of Eagleton’s prose; the opportunism of Hitchens; the sectarian squibs of Jonah Tennick – if that is The Left, then we really are in sad trouble). Žižek however has done much to redeem serious discussion of Lenin, Stalin, Mao et al, even as I think he is far too sympathetic to Hardt and Negri, whom he neologises as “HN” (giving credence to their own pretension to be a new M&E for the 21st Century – as inaugurated in Žižek’s cover blurb for their far too thick book).
Žižek says he has laid some ‘cruel traps’ here and there in his book for the resolute ‘democrat-to-come’ (Žižek 2006:11), so while I am not baited by that, let me get started and fall into a few of my own anyway. Žižek is well informed on Heidegger; on Lacan he seems like a chorus girl (can can kick, cha cha kick); on the Soviet terror contrite; on Lévi-Strauss perfunctory; on Trotsky correct (to denounce and qualify); on Hitler and Stalin he is euro-obsessive; and on Marx, he is mostly fine. Mostly? I am sorry to say that Žižek sometimes gets things wrong on Marx. My trap here is pedantry, but I cannot help pointing out that he twice quotes the wrong ‘opening sentences’ of Capital. I must presume Žižek quotes from memory. Speaking of ‘subjective illusion’, he says:
‘Let us read carefully the famous opening sentences of Chapter 1 of Capital: “A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood. Its anaysis shows that it is, in reality, a very trivial thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceities” (Žižek 2006:171 – emphasis is Žižek’s)
The actual opening sentence of Chapter 1 of Capital occurs some 38 pages earlier (in the Penguin edition). I feel curiously compelled to point out that the page reference Žižek gives for his ‘opening’ is to p163 of the [I think, superior] International Publishers translation of Capital. However, in that edition, p163 occurs a few pages into chapter 5 on ‘Contradictions in the formula of Capital’, and the quotation Žižek uses is from the beginning of section 4 (to be found on p163 of the Penguin edition, not the International Pubs cited). Nevertheless, Žižek correctly quotes his lines later on page 371, at least insofar as, second time, he identifies these lines as belonging to subdivision 4, and he gives the appropriate footnote to the Penguin (qwa qwa qwa)..
What is my point with this footnote fetish? It is time to carefully look at the actual (and also famous) opening sentence, which reads:
‘The wealth if societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as and “immense collection of commodities”; the individual commodity appears as its elementary form’ (Marx 1867/1967: 125 penguin edition).
This is a great opening line. Remembering that Žižek has italicised the words ‘at first sight’ and ‘in reality’ in the important, but different, passage he quotes (I shall now drop this petty routine on his sloppy referencing and sloppy Marxography – its unseemly and clerical anyway), the point is to illustrate an inversion in the ‘standard procedure of demystifying a theological myth’ where Marx is not bringing myth down to earth through critical analysis, but that ‘the task of critical analysis is to unearth the “metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties” in what appears at first sight to be just an ordinary object’ (Žižek 2006:351).
What this ordinary object is, of course, is the commodity [trinkets!]. And the many readers of the first chapter of Capital have had much much fun with commodities; with coats and linen; with spindles and thread; sugar and iron; with tables that have wooden brains, that dance off to market and the like (Derrida had made them spectral beings). All well and good. But I am inclined to read the place of commodities at the opening of Capital in a more fundamentally calculated way; as a crucial feint giving access to the organisation and purpose of the whole book, indeed to the entire architecture of Capital as presented by Marx. The authorly Marx mentions several times that there is a difference between the mode of presentation and the analysis. I think it is crucial that the commodity is the opening scene of a drama that has a wider purpose for demystifying – it is the opening to a work that will provide the ‘implied reader’ of Capital (I follow Gayatri Spivak 1985 here) with the x-ray vision to see through the trick of commodity fetishism, market exchange, control of production, distribution, valourisation, credit, the varieties of subsumption and the crises of capital, so as to sublate the productive power of capital away from the exploitative production for profit of commodity wealth into a more plentiful abundance of life and creativity for all…
What clinches this argument? The very wording of the opening sentence includes two visual references – remembering that Žižek had italicised ‘at fist sight’. In the Penguin edition the German word erscheint is translated as appearance. The German reads:
‘Der Reichtum der Gesellschaften, in welchen kapitalistische Produktionsweise herrscht, erscheint als eine “ungeheure Warensammlung”, die einzelne Ware als seine Elementarform.’
Erscheint occurs just the once here though, rendered as two instances of appears in the English as given earlier. This is grammatically acceptable, translation is no pure calculus, but I think there is significance in it as well. In the International Press edition the translation is better: ‘The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities”; its unit being a single commodity’ (Marx 1867/1967:35 my italic). Both editions then go on to say that our investigation therefore begins with the analysis of the commodity. My point is that revealed in the gap between the two English translations of Erscheint is the entire burden of Marx’s project – to expose the trick of commodity as a way to teach the working class to see. Erscheinung, in German usage, has a double sense. It has the sense of appearance both as how something looks, and the theatrical sense of putting in an appearance, staging something. The ‘presents itself’ of the International Edition gets closer to this sense, but does not capture the double, the trick that is perpetrated by the animated commodity – animated by the masses themselves, though they do not see it as such, yet.
So why am I concerned to pick up on this micro moment of Žižek’s book that covers so much other ground? I will illustrate with a diversion into the really lived experience of the masses. Žižek is my guide when he heads for the slums. To prepare the way, Žižek, in several sections of the book, has discussed Marx’s exemplary analysis of the civil wars in France, especially The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Boneparte. This amazing text, also much discussed by everyone from Spivak to Levi-Strauss, is full of phrases well know even to those who have not read much Marx: ‘history repeats itself the second time as farce’, ‘let the dead bury the dead’, ‘potatoes in a sack’, ‘they cannot represent themselves, they must be represented’ and so on.
Žižek describes the Society of December 10 as the ‘private army of thugs’ that Napoleon recruits to do his dirty deeds (Napoleon the third is Louis Boneparte; the nephew of the more famous Napoleon with his hand tucked into his tunic) and recites Marx’s alliterative paragraph on ‘vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, mountebanks, lazzaroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, maquereaux [pimps], brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ grinders, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars’ (Žižek 2006: 335; in Marx 2002:63 – Cowling and Martin translation). Žižek’s point is that this gang, hired from the residue or ‘excess’ of all classes is the ‘excremental remainder’ that, Marx shows, permits Napoleon the third to stand apart from all classes, play class off against class – the gap – and come to be the representative of that class of people who cannot represent themselves, the peasant potatoes in a sack.
In a footnote on page 417 Žižek suggests that Marx had a ‘barely concealed contempt’ for, and dismissed this ‘degenerate “refuse” of all classes’ as ‘lumpenproletariat’ which, Žižek adds, extrapolating from Marx’s case study, ‘when politicized, as a rule serves as the support of proto-Fascist and Fascist regimes’ (Žižek 2006:417n26). He says this apropos of a suggestion that contemporary slum-dwellers should also be classified as lumpenproletariat. This is a volatile suggestion, given questions of politicisation, the importance of an analysis that demystifies, that wants to provide an x-ray vision for the masses to see through the tricks of power. It deserves closer examination.
In the main body of the text (the above was a footnote – a peripheral and minor moment perhaps, set apart from the main story, where) Žižek has been discussing ‘improvisational modes of social life’ in the “really existing slums”. Following Mike Davis, his example has been the city of Lagos, in the context of reports that ‘now, or soon’ the planet will be predominantly urban: more people will live in cities than in the countryside. Žižek makes some apposite comments here about the role of fundamental Christianity as the hegemonic ideology prevalent in the slums, and while he warns us to ‘resist the temptation to elevate and idealize the slum-dwellers into a new revolutionary class’ he does suggest, with Badiou, that we ‘should nonetheless … perceive slums as one of the few authentic “evental sites” in today’s society’ (Žižek 2006:268). The excluded here have nothing to lose but their chains, they are free in a double sense (‘from all substantial ties’; ‘from state police regulation’) ‘even more than the classic proletariat’ (Žižek 2006:268).
This is heady stuff, but I think that despite the denial – the resistance of temptation –idealism has entered without an invite. Does Žižek know the slums? I can only think of the bustees of Kolkata that I have visited (bustee means something similar to slum), with their highly regulated codes and systems, their significant social and family ties, where pavement space, shanty huts, roadside and underpass locations are substantially organised, regulated, encoded – and not just by the Christian Church. (And many years of sociological, demographic, anthropological documentation: the work of Bhaskar Mukhopadhyay in Theory Culture Society vol 23 nos 7-8, 2006 might be a starting point, but there is much more). I would refer only to the difficulty of gaining access to these places, especially for a white boy from Australia, or no doubt a Lacanian film critic from Slovenia (see The Rumour of Calcutta Zed books 1996).
But all this is good stuff to debate – evental site and so on. It is when Žižek makes a peculiar parallel, and asks a provocative question, when he telegraphs a link between the slums and Harlem, in the process of advocating a new political programme, that I lose him:
‘The slum-dwellers are the counterclass to the other emerging class, the so-called “symbolic class” (managers, journalists and PR people, academics, artists and so on) which is also uprooted and perceives itself as directly universal (a New York academic has more in common with a Slovene academic than with blacks in Harlem half a mile from his campus). Is this the new axis of class struggle, or is the “symbolic class” inherently split, so that we can make the emancipatory wager on the coalition between the slum-dwellers and the “progressive” part of the symbolic class? What we should be looking for are the signs of the new forms of social awareness that will emerge from the slum collectives: they will be the seeds of the future’ (Žižek 2006:269)
Quite amazing – two classes contend… There is not yet, for Žižek, a connection between New York academic and Harlem (but this does exist) and he does not immediately say that Harlem equals slum (but his grammar implies it in a way that I would hesitate to attribute to conscious intent). Nonetheless, the conflation is there, and covered by an optimism that is quite touching, if naive. What then for the signs he seeks? There are a number of studies available of slum organisation; with more are emerging (see the forthcoming work of Annu Jalais). But in a world of urgent problems, why is urbanization continually called in to do duty for bourgeois fears (of a ‘population explosion’_ which leads to a threat to ‘us’ from those who now live amongst ‘us’. Perhaps the political project for progressives in the symbolic class will be to go to the slums in some form of a new urban Maoism mission. Žižek prefers Lenin, but his support of Badiou may suggest something else. And his listing of the lumpen is not without significance, naming the terrain of struggle:
‘We are thus witnessing the rapid growth of a population outside state control, living in conditions half outside the law, in dire need of minimal forms of self-organization. Although this population is composed of marginalized laborers, redundant civil servants, and ex-peasants, they are not simply a redundant surplus: they are incorporated into the global economy in numerous ways, many of them as informal wage-workers or self-employed entrepreneurs, with no adequate health or social security cover … (Žižek 2006:268).
Though I cannot disagree, except where Žižek suggests Marx was contemptuous of the lumpenproletariat, this list of complaints itself reminds me of the standard enumerations of symbolic class academic coding. I have written elsewhere on Derrida’s ten symptoms [in Bad Marxism]; and here am again reminded of Gayatri Spivak’s rewriting towards the end of her Critique of Postcolonial Reason, though I see her work as exemplary contrast, not only because it is symptomatic in Žižek that women are left out. There is perhaps still much to be learnt from a New York academic such as Spivak, who herself lives in Harlem, and does not ever seem to appear in Žižek’s reading lists. She makes much of the ways the financialisation of the globe, neo-liberal oppressions, structural adjustments and even well-meaning programmes, with NGO opportunism, have the most severe impact today on women (Spivak 1999).
In that footnote on the slum-dweller as Lumpenproletariat, Žižek perhaps is correct to suggest that a ‘closer analysis should focus on the changed structural role of these “lumpen” elements in conditions of global capitalism (especially large-scale migrations)” (Žižek 2006: 417n25). But he does not provide this analysis, nor refer us to those who do this difficult and necessarily nuanced work. I am starting to think this is more than just sloppy referencing. There are massive problems of a conceptual, practical and organisational nature that are rarely discussed in theoretical tracts like this even when they call for some new emancipatory movement (of signs from the slums, or of a multitude). What of the difficulty of speaking with, let alone organising with, the lumpen of the Paris suburbs (cf the work of Francoise Verges). The tactical, political, ethical error of sending ill-prepared cadre to the slums, the suburbs, or the mountains was a lesson learnt the hard way in Bengal, not learnt yet in Paris, and not helped by the comic image of ‘symbolics’ armed with Kant and Deleuze heading out to the shanty towns to compete with Pentacostalists for the souls of the oppressed. The obvious pun on Žižek in the slums is that his work may have a parrallaxative effect – a kind of Delhi-belly. Though it’s a pity that this is not very funny. Has the time has come for progressive symbolics to be better equipped, sent to training camps to brush up on class composition research methods, on questions of Leninist organisation, or the practical rules of engagement for ensuring Maoist party discipline? Time for something more than parallelograms to be deployed perhaps? Trapped as we are in academic theology, it may take some time before we are ready to act if we cannot even quote Marx with enough care to learn what his critique was about.
to be continued…JH
Jacques Derrida knew this, commenting on travel narrative – he identifies two ‘risks’ of travelogues in the possible meanings of the terms we use: ‘The first is that of selectivity’ and he describes a ‘recit raisonne’ as a ‘narrative that, more than others, filters or sifts out the supposedly significant features – and thus begins to censor’ (Derrida 1993:197-8); and the second, from the first; ‘raisonner also signifies, in this case, to rationalise … active overinterpretation’ (Derrida 1993:198). These two themes of perspective and ordering selection are the themes for a necessary work which will take up the call (this is not the only call) for a Marxist analysis of trinkets, and of the coin the buys them, so as to open up a ‘systematic reflection on the relations between tourism and political analysis’ at a time when tourism has become highly ‘organised’. Derrida writes that such an analysis ‘would have to allow a particular place to the intellectual tourist (writer or academic) who thinks he or she can, in order to make them public, translate his or her ‘travel impressions’ into a political diagnostic’ (Derrida 1993:215).
So, here is another little travel story. From the London Tube. And about a trinket called Dum Dum – double stupidity.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission report on the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes was revealed today – six long months after it was given to the Crown Prosecution Service, way back in January, and only now they are about, perhaps, to act on it .The report has been said to recommend that the 2 Police who shot Jean Charles, and the chief cop running the action (Cressida Dick), should be prosecuted for manslaughter. (Why not murder?). We have been here before, and everyone knows from the film Injustice that talk of even a manslaughter charge doesn’t mean there is much hope of a conviction of cops who kill (too many other examples go against that forlorn hope for legal justice). The resonances in this case are too strange for me not to think something very weird is going to happen every time I mind the gap.
For starters, the strange peripheral bit that grabs me is that the police shooters operating under Kratos shoot to kill ‘rules’ of engagement used Dum Dum bullets and these little beauties were said to be less dangerous for the general public. Of course this is madness – what are the BBC thinking in saying this? Is that what it said in the advertising brochure when the MET went to the arms fair to buy them, from the Lord of War himself AKA Nicolas Cage?.
It also seems patently wrong that there is a body set up to decide in advance that cops who kill should face watered down charges. Even though the Independent Police Complaints Authority does say the 2 cops and Commander Dick should be charged, they mean charged only with manslaughter – and this comes after the operation report of the action was ‘corrected’ or amended. Surely the courts themselves (if not the people’s court) should get to decide the significance of this? What is to say there are not other tamperings and fiddlings with the facts? And in singling out Dick and the trigger happy killers, have they not let Commissioner Ian Blair (head MET cop) off the hook as well – all these people are involved in a murder; I mean, they had him held down, pinned, motionless… this was a death in custody, wasn’t it? Another one.
I hate to say it, but this just presses all of my buttons. Dum Dum is in Calcutta, the capital of West Bengal, where you can find the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose airport, itself built on the site where British Raj era soldiers invented the bullet also known as ‘dum dum’ – an onomatopoeic name from the sound of the bullet leaving the gun, then exploding inside the target – a doubled report, a nasty little piece of weaponry, brutal in its effects. Used to kill Afridi tribesmen in the North West Frontier. Which charmingly links the police of the Stockwell killing directly to the colonialism of many years ago, but no-one will really be surprised. And of course this kind of Police protection (protection of us, they are there using Dum Dum bullets to protect us – I believe it!) is clearly linked to the themes of the film Injustice and deaths in custody – Jean Charles was in custody when he was killed, they have a duty of care. This is something I have written about elsewhere, both in terms of the concerns of the film, and in general with detention issues in the wake of the War of Terror. But now I am interested in how operation Kratos is an updated version of those old manuals of procedure that James Bond must have memorised, that offer up the blow by blow (literally) guide book of how to deal with protesters, miscreants, threats to the state and other average citizens. What did that Nick Cage type goon say at the arms fair anyway: ‘Hey, pssst, over here … these bullets are great, they explode inside the victims head’; ‘Yeah, wow, gimme a couple of dozen boxes, we can use them on public transport’; ‘Safety first, dib dib dib’.
Finally, it drives me nuts to endure the stupidity of BBC news reports that continue to repeat the fudge that implies Jean Charles was somehow not just a member of the public – a public, qivvering before its screens, that is now going to be so much safer because the Kratos shoot to kill policy is mitigated by these Dum Dum bullets… Such is the danger to our tube travellers and other denizens of the city that by the middle of last year this Kratos policy had been called upon 250 times, and almost used 7 times – and, obviously, really was used the once. Dum really Dum.
I am reassured once again that only in Nepal has there been any repeal of new terror laws – the rest of us are protected, so we can travel safe. As I keep saying over and over (refine and streamline, diagnose, repeat). Tubes run on time thank Ken, and they are safer now, thank Bliar. Aren’t we living in the best of all worlds?
> The travel text is from Derrida, Jacques 1993, ‘Politics and Friendship: An Interview’, in Kaplan, E. Ann & Sprinkler, Michael 1993, The Althusserian Legacy, Verso, New York, pp. 183-232.
> The picture is honour of Jean Charles de Menezes, tube traveller. In need of proper justice.
These opening moves for a talk on Derrida for the Met, which I want to twist to a discussion of Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire, Mao and Eldgridge Cleaver on the Lumpen – the rogues, the riff raff (voyous, translated as rogues or louts – just what minister Sarkozy called the Parisian suburban youth)…
Derrida’s Lumps: they cannot be represented.
I want to start my discussion of Derrida in France with a film that interrupts, in order to multiply the performative options available to a reading of Derrida that should serve – if I have my brief correctly – as an illustration of method and an application. Well, even if I have not understood correctly what was required, I feel I can twist this project to my own ends in this way anyway. I want to meditate on the way – on the path, the road, the – you will have guessed what it is by now – the boulevard.
So far so good, so far so good.
Ash Sharma and Sanjay Sharma wrote perceptively in the Kassowitz film La Haine (TCS 2000 vol 17 no 3), whose opening quote I just mention here. Writing about music and race, the Sharma’s were not thinking of Derrida in that essay, and its not clear that Derrida will be able to explain much at all really (he is dead of course, but there are strangely prescient comments in Rogues), but just because I was asked specifically to talk about Derrida, I wanted to bend the topic to something relevant and think about La Haine, street protest, burning cars and the youth of Paris – the better material will be about the organisation of these youths, that they are not necessarily all Muslim, certainly not all organised by Islamist groups (but could be if no-one else does)…and some comments on the way of Mao (yes, I apologise already if I drive too fast).
The first scene of La Haine is one where a molotov cocktail (we shall not be detained by thinking of Molotov – from the Russian molot, “hammer” – and the importance of his name for that preferred weapon for the confrontation of the street, first of all by the Finns, borrowing the technique from Spain, but adding the name from the Commissar. Later, the symbol of Paris 68). Fast forward to 2005: some say the ‘riots’ were not noticed for the first few days by Parisians because they have become so used to thinking that burning cars are a normal part of suburban life, they just went about their business, sipping their cocktails with elegant poise. Sipping café-au-latte in the cafes along the boulevards of course is an easy image to lampoon in this context. And the mention of Boulevards should alert us to something of a wider importance.
Before going down that road, let me interrupt, however, to read the text provided to pave the way for this talk. It is from Rogues, Derrida Chapter 5….
Rethinking urban theory as a pathology of trinkets.
Somehow I want to see a new psychoanalysis of urban space, but updated as a machinic ensemble of conceptual, informational inputs and outputs, internal cogs and gears of representation – a machinic ‘communication’ of a place in all its psychic, mythic and diverse ‘syptomologies’. Again I’d point in the direction of Derrida for this – his Archive Fever suggests the very beginnings of what could become a new urban version of psycho-geographic-analysis, of the spectral city in its multiple geo-psyche of sounds, spaces and represetation. The assemblage of all those snippets of info about a city is like the dreamwork that constructs a place from the pre- sub- or un-conscious babble that is city guide, A-Z, novels, bus routes, internet chat, traveller chat, movies, promotional ads, airline arrivals clips, local lore etc…
PUBLICity is an experiment for through which, in a kind of Zamizdat publishing style, a journal (Left Curve – May issue 29/2005 – http://www.leftcurve.org/) can bring varied examples of writing to attention so as to publicize aspects of global public life. The idea was to supplement our efforts with attention to things that may or may not have registered notice previously in the usual academic forums. Somewhat circular in intention and execution then, the Zamizdat style papers over the cracks in an uneven but dynamic global public sphere – this is an effort to pick up on what has been missed, to learn lessons from events that have not yet been covered, to renew our curiosity by exploring the gaps and venturing over new terrains. What may seem an eclectic kaleidoscope of pieces – diverse, short, writerly, interventions and reports – is meant to bring examples of planetary publicity into focus where perhaps social science has often been rather more parochial, or unable to comment with a rapid enough response. The section bypasses the usual referee process of the journal so as to comment on contingency now, rather than in the year or more structured by the necessary delays and relays of scholarly publishing. We are interested to tamper with the ways knowledge production might lag behind a thinking on the move that trawls through the detritus of urban life for evidence, rumours, trinkets and news that we will then take seriously and consider as the luminous and revealing produce of our times.
Unilaterally, the section editor sought a diversity of writing in terms of content, location, orientation and intention – always aiming to make more visible, and to think more creatively, through issues and concerns that might otherwise be missed, might be buried in the conventions or reportage, or be passed over without murmur. I’d like to think the kaleidoscopic here is a viewfinder for the souvenirs of global public culture. A prism house of language (giving publicity/mainstreaming news). Our contributions are from a wide range of places, angles and come in varied styles. The choice of topics and authors is not neutral, indeed the selections are structured by personal choice and evaluation (rather than by dictatorship of the secretariat), and though some effort was made to mix known authors with unfamiliar topics, or to juxtapose pieces in implicit dialogues of content and tone, any unity of format remains accidental. How should you read this section? Perhaps we could imagine that the articles are meant to work through curious correspondences as a kind of planetary arcades project (still awaiting its Benjamin) through which the readerly flaneur may browse. The section will morph and mutate as it grows, feedback is welcome.
Suggestions for topics to be covered from potential authors should, in the first instance, be sent to John Hutnyk at John.Hutnyk@gold.ac.uk by Nov 1st, 2006. Usual length will be approx 1000 words. In the section published in the current issue individual authors are identified, where appropriate, by name, city and email address to encourage correspondence.
My good friend from Melbourne, Scott McQuire, is here at Goldsmiths today to give a talk today (Monday 19 Sept, at 3pm in the Cinema/small hall). He’s the author of Visions of Modernity with Sage and The Look of Love (with photographs by Peter Lyssiotis), with Masterthief. Come and join us if you can. The details are here below. The Centre for Cultural Studies in the sponsor.
Details of lecture: by Scott McQuire (University of Melbourne)
Title of Talk: Public space in the media city
Starts: 15:00 – 19 September 2005 | Ends: 17:00 – 19 September 2005
Location: small hall. 3pm- 5pm. Goldsmiths Main Building. Monday 19th September
Paul Virilio argues that public space has given way to public image,
shifting the location of the public domain from the street to the
domestic display terminal. But what happens when the TV screen leaves
home and moves back into the city? The public domain of the 21st
century is no longer simply streets and plazas. But nor is it defined
solely by electronic space. Rather it emerges in the complex
interaction of material and immaterial spaces. In the hybrid spaces of
contemporary media cities, what forms of access and interaction might
support ‘democratic’ public space?