Saturday, 2 February 2019

Urinary Segregation: Jacques Lacan on Sexual Difference

“It is Freud’s discovery that gives the signifier/signified opposition its full scope: for the signifier plays an active role in determining the effects by which the signifiable appears to succumb to its mark, becoming, through that passion, the signified.” (Lacan 2002, p.274). 
This blog introduces Lacan’s theory of sexual difference by using his ‘anecdotal’ example of urinary segregation. It is available here to use as a study tool.

Firstly we have Ferdinand de Saussure’s linguistic sign (Saussure 1966, pp.66-67) (above), which forms the basis of Lacan’s model. With his model, Saussure assigns the concept (the top level) to the signified, and the sound pattern (the lower level) to the signifier, explaining that their association is arbitrary (Saussure 1966, p.67).

The above image is Lacan’s topography of the unconscious (Lacan 2002, p.141). Note the similarity with Saussure’s, to whom Lacan attributes it. However, Lacan demonstrates the importance of the signifier by reversing the hierarchy here in his own algorithm. The signifier, the unconscious, cannot be a true representation of the signified, because no direct exchange exists.

This is Lacan’s illustration of “urinary segregation” (Lacan 2002, p.143). Lacan’s anecdotal graphic demonstrates how “the signifier in fact enters the signified” (2002, p.142). His aim here is to show how the signifier becomes materialised in reality. His example is based on the traditional “faulty illustration” (ibid.) but here he uses associated binary terms. Lacan explains that from the train windows the children in his story experience a different physical perspective due to their seating arrangement: the boy believes they have arrived at “ladies” and the girl at “gentlemen” (2002, p.143). So, what in fact is happening for Lacan is that the railway lines represent and actualise the bar in Saussure’s model, becoming “a barrier resisting signification” (Lacan 2002, p141). Thus, the real signifier here (the toilet doors) creates for the children an ideological binarity positioning them in opposing domains (Lacan 2002, p.144).

Related Links:
On Knowledge and Phalluses

Saussure, Ferdinand de. 1966. Course in General Linguistics, ed. by Charles Bally, Albert Sechehaye and Albert Riedlinger, trans. by Wade Baskin (New York, Toronto and London: McGraw-Hill).
Lacan, Jacques. 2002. Ecrits: A Selection, trans. by Bruce Fink (New York and London: W. W. Norton and Co.).

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Why Amartya Sen Remains the Century’s Great Critic of Capitalism

By Tim Rogan

Critiques of capitalism come in two varieties. First, there is the moral or spiritual critique. This critique rejects Homo economicus as the organising heuristic of human affairs. Human beings, it says, need more than material things to prosper. Calculating power is only a small part of what makes us who we are. Moral and spiritual relationships are first-order concerns. Material fixes such as a universal basic income will make no difference to societies in which the basic relationships are felt to be unjust.

Then there is the material critique of capitalism. The economists who lead discussions of inequality now are its leading exponents. Homo economicus is the right starting point for social thought. We are poor calculators and single-minded, failing to see our advantage in the rational distribution of prosperity across societies. Hence inequality, the wages of ungoverned growth. But we are calculators all the same, and what we need above all is material plenty, thus the focus on the redress of material inequality. From good material outcomes, the rest follows.

The first kind of argument for capitalism’s reform seems recessive now. The material critique predominates. Ideas emerge in numbers and figures. Talk of non-material values in political economy is muted. The Christians and Marxists who once made the moral critique of capitalism their own are marginal. Utilitarianism grows ubiquitous and compulsory.

But then there is Amartya Sen.

Every major work on material inequality in the 21st century owes a debt to Sen. But his own writings treat material inequality as though the moral frameworks and social relationships that mediate economic exchanges matter. Famine is the nadir of material deprivation. But it seldom occurs – Sen argues – for lack of food. To understand why a people goes hungry, look not for catastrophic crop failure; look rather for malfunctions of the moral economy that moderates competing demands upon a scarce commodity. Material inequality of the most egregious kind is the problem here. But piecemeal modifications to the machinery of production and distribution will not solve it. The relationships between different members of the economy must be put right. Only then will there be enough to go around.

In Sen’s work, the two critiques of capitalism cooperate. We move from moral concerns to material outcomes and back again with no sense of a threshold separating the two. Sen disentangles moral and material issues without favouring one or the other, keeping both in focus. The separation between the two critiques of capitalism is real, but transcending the divide is possible, and not only at some esoteric remove. Sen’s is a singular mind, but his work has a widespread following, not least in provinces of modern life where the predominance of utilitarian thinking is most pronounced. In economics curricula and in the schools of public policy, in internationalist secretariats and in humanitarian NGOs, there too Sen has created a niche for thinking that crosses boundaries otherwise rigidly observed.

This was no feat of lonely genius or freakish charisma. It was an effort of ordinary human innovation, putting old ideas together in new combinations to tackle emerging problems. Formal training in economics, mathematics and moral philosophy supplied the tools Sen has used to construct his critical system. But the influence of Rabindranath Tagore sensitised Sen to the subtle interrelation between our moral lives and our material needs. And a profound historical sensibility has enabled him to see the sharp separation of the two domains as transient.

Tagore’s school at Santiniketan in West Bengal was Sen’s birthplace. Tagore’s pedagogy emphasised articulate relations between a person’s material and spiritual existences. Both were essential – biological necessity, self-creating freedom – but modern societies tended to confuse the proper relation between them. In Santiniketan, pupils played at unstructured exploration of the natural world between brief forays into the arts, learning to understand their sensory and spiritual selves as at once distinct and unified.

Sen left Santiniketan in the late 1940s as a young adult to study economics in Calcutta and Cambridge. The major contemporary controversy in economics was the theory of welfare, and debate was affected by Cold War contention between market- and state-based models of economic order. Sen’s sympathies were social democratic but anti-authoritarian. Welfare economists of the 1930s and 1940s sought to split the difference, insisting that states could legitimate programmes of redistribution by appeal to rigid utilitarian principles: a pound in a poor man’s pocket adds more to overall utility than the same pound in the rich man’s pile. Here was the material critique of capitalism in its infancy, and here is Sen’s response: maximising utility is not everyone’s abiding concern – saying so and then making policy accordingly is a form of tyranny – and in any case using government to move money around in pursuit of some notional optimum is a flawed means to that end.

Economic rationality harbours a hidden politics whose implementation damaged the moral economies that groups of people built up to govern their own lives, frustrating the achievement of its stated aims. In commercial societies, individuals pursue economic ends within agreed social and moral frameworks. The social and moral frameworks are neither superfluous nor inhibiting. They are the coefficients of durable growth.

Moral economies are not neutral, given, unvarying or universal. They are contested and evolving. Each person is more than a cold calculator of rational utility. Societies aren’t just engines of prosperity. The challenge is to make non-economic norms affecting market conduct legible, to bring the moral economies amid which market economies and administrative states function into focus. Thinking that bifurcates moral on the one hand and material on the other is inhibiting. But such thinking is not natural and inevitable, it is mutable and contingent – learned and apt to be unlearned.
Sen was not alone in seeing this. The American economist Kenneth Arrow was his most important interlocutor, connecting Sen in turn with the tradition of moral critique associated with R H Tawney and Karl Polanyi. Each was determined to re-integrate economics into frameworks of moral relationship and social choice. But Sen saw more clearly than any of them how this could be achieved. He realised that at earlier moments in modern political economy this separation of our moral lives from our material concerns had been inconceivable. Utilitarianism had blown in like a weather front around 1800, trailing extremes of moral fervour and calculating zeal in its wake. Sen sensed this climate of opinion changing, and set about cultivating ameliorative ideas and approaches eradicated by its onset once again.

There have been two critiques of capitalism, but there should be only one. Amartya Sen is the new century’s first great critic of capitalism because he has made that clear.Aeon counter – do not remove

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Footfall in Brand Warrington

by Trent Dunlop

Another weekend rail strike. A friend of mine, who I have not seen for nearly twenty years, recently started working with me at my workplace for the busy Christmas period, after losing her job at the Marks & Spencer warehouse on the Grange Industrial Estate near Birchwood. Originally from Manchester, she moved to Birchwood in 1979 telling me of her happy days spent living in the New Town which, in synchronicity, saw the reopening of the exhibition ‘Days of the New Town’ by Susan Fitzpatrick in the local art gallery.

A mix of deadpan photographs and local’s photographs the exhibition can be read as either art or peoples’ history, and with just a basic written overview leaves it up to the viewer. Built on the cusp of Thatcher’s ‘Right to Buy’, Birchwood seems the last of the Utopian Modernist dream. The Park Ranger Service encouraged locals to volunteer, but never provided any training skills or job opportunities. A deadpan photo of a Fine Fare garage catches my eye reminding me of Twenty Six Gasoline Stations by Ed Ruscha.

Leaving the exhibition I head to the Beehive car park remembering my walk from last year when I was standing in the same spot watching the last of the Market being demolished to make way for the Time Square project currently on track to open in 2020, at a rising cost of an estimated £139 million for the new stakeholder capital multiplex cinema complex and council offices. It is a strange feeling: with the empty run down shops of the past on one side and the steel frame of the future buildings on the other, it heightens the senses to the psychic rhizomes. ‘No Deal Brexit’, government cuts, increasing homeless. An online Short, Sharp, Shock, and the Black Friday curse, as shoppers demand heavy discounting causing heavy competition and lower profit margins. Shares in Asos plummet by 42%. In a week’s time a homeless person being cruelly taunted by a gang of youths as he lies outside a shop front is filmed on a mobile phone. A future built on the foundations of austerity.

Approaching the skittles in the centre of the town a pop-up market is underway. I get attacked by an armchair quarterback, a cybernetic cowboy preaching at me like he's written the golden rule. A sidewalk supervisor, a frustrated artist, he is trying to force his narrative onto me on social media: I must buy ‘local’, support the town, save the High Street: some businesses have been here for over 100 years he tells me. But I don't want to buy anything. After a three day thread of online comments he finally goes away. A man on stilts dressed as a tree wanders past, the City of Culture is on the back burner - this is Brand Warrington. Food, drink, fridge magnets and spiritual healing! It feels like a ghostly apparition of Tony Blair's Millennium Dome appearing in drizzly Warrington. Inside the Golden Square Shopping Mall Father Christmas arrives whilst shoppers drink coffee whilst Arcade Fire’s song ‘Everything Now’ plays through the speakers in stores as 'The Folk of Warrington' satire page vanishes from Facebook. £500,000 to restore the Golden Gates outside the Town Hall, whilst the homeless shelter is under threat of closure. Two weeks in the future funding is found for the shelter up until May.

Sat in the semi darkness of the workplace canteen, boxes full of donations for the local foodbank on the counter. We brace ourselves for another night of Christmas peak period parcel sorting.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Non-Representational Theory - Part 1: 'Entering the Space of Encounter'

Edited by Candice P. Boyd and Christian Edwardes, Non-Representational Theory and the Creative Arts will be published by Palgrave MacMillan in 2019.

About the book:
This book presents distinct perspectives from both geographically-oriented creative practices and geographers working with arts-based processes. In doing so, it fills a significant gap in the already sizeable body of non-representational discourse by bringing together images and reflections on performances, art practice, theatre, dance, and sound production alongside theoretical contributions and examples of creative writing. It considers how contemporary art making is being shaped by spatial enquiry and how geographical research has been influenced by artistic practice. It provides a clear and concise overview of the principles of non-representational theory for researchers and practitioners in the creative arts and, across its four sections, demonstrates the potential for non-representational theory to bring cultural geography and contemporary art closer than ever before.
This is what the endorsers are saying:
Weaving together tales by scholars and practitioners, Non-representational Theory and Creative Arts is an important and timely contribution to the ongoing dialogue between cultural geography and creative art practice. Ambitious in scope, varied in style and innovative in format, the collection takes the reader on a compelling journey through stitches and studios, trees and art installations, water streams and ruins, geothermal vapours and musical tunes. It pushes for new tropes and vocabularies to talk about familiar and unfamiliar atmospheres, places, gestures, and all that stirs and eludes the human senses and imagination.
Veronica Della Dora, Royal Holloway University of London
Over the past fifteen years, non-representational theories have become central to the social sciences and humanities, inaugurating new ways of conceptualising and approaching the world. Featuring a multidisciplinary range of contributors who have been at the forefront of non-representational styles of thought and research, Non-Representational Theory and the Creative Arts is unique for its sustained and experimental engagement with the practices, styles and techniques of research that non-representational theories invite and offer. As such, it will become an invaluable resource for researchers hoping to learn new ways of encountering and presenting the world.
Ben Anderson, Durham University, UK
How might we envision a geography in the making, in the moving? With thought-provoking contributions that activate the affective force of the geologic, Non-Representational Theory and the Creative Arts explores the thresholds that move geography beyond representation toward its creative force. Entering the space of encounter, this book tests the limits of writing in a field that has always explored what lurks at the interstice of line and fold.
Erin Manning, Concordia University, Montréal

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Right Map Making

Here is a copy of Right Map Making: Five Ways to Make Maps for a Future to be Possible by Steven R. Holloway. It's a great 'manifesto' and I am posting it here as it is readily available online and I think he wouldn't mind it being on this blog. Dr. Holloway is an academic in the Department of Geography at the University of Georgia in the US, specialising in urban geography and diversity.

Holloway says: "The problem for the makers of maps being that our maps are, in part, engaged in the wanton destruction of the world".

You will need to download the image, or zoom in on your screen, in order to read the manifesto itself.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Art History’s ‘Wriggle and Chiffon’ Fashion Movement

When I worked in Trafalgar Square in London, I loved to visit the National Portrait Gallery. In the 1990s I remember working my way through its floors. I did one floor per week. It was a walk through history in terms of portraiture. At the time my favourite portrait was Giovanni Boldini’s Gertrude Elizabeth (née Blood), Lady Colin Campbell (1894) (below). She was an art critic, journalist and socialite and had a troubled marriage, plus much scandal surrounding her (mostly of a misogynist nature, it seems). I like this portrait as I think there is something defiant in her gaze.

This short post is a quick look at the way the chiffon is represented in these paintings and the effect I think it has on the subject of the painting: the women in these portraits. It is a style coined by Walter Richard Sickert: ‘wriggle and chiffon’.

Boldini was also known as ‘the master of swish’ which clearly lends itself to the movement in the chiffon, the ‘wriggle’ side of it clearly making reference to the female body that resides within it, although I am guessing that Sickert isn’t using this term in a positive way at all. There is something of an ‘illustration’ style to Boldini’s portrait, which makes it somehow familiar to us. You might expect to see this in a magazine rather than on the wall of a stately home.

While the above image is from many years later (late 1930s), and is a design illustration rather than an oil painting, you can get a bit of a flavour of what I mean. In Boldini's painting the dress is a pretty important component of the image. One might say that is the subject of the painting. However, I see the dress rather more as a vehicle to help represent the subject of the painting (Lady Colin Campbell, herself).

Also, of the ‘wriggle and chiffon’ moment is John Singer Sargent. Below is his portrait Lady Speyer (1907). He was also put under scrutiny by critics, with Roger Fry stating that it was a surprise that his work had been “confused with that of an artist”.

I think these critics, in their disregard of this moment in the representation of women’s dress in portraiture, have missed the point entirely. The painterly way the brushstrokes free the chiffon - indeed its ‘wriggle’ when it comes to life when being worn by the subject of the portrait – is what gives life to the image and the wearer of the dress!