Sunday, 3 December 2017

Foucault Does Las Meninas

This week I was teaching spectatorship (and looking, seeing, viewing, the gaze and scopophilia - from a cultural perspective) to the MA students. As well as looking at the usual suspects, like Laura Mulvey and John Berger, I also included Michel Foucault, since we had briefly looked at him the week before when discussing discourse analysis.

I decided to use Foucault's analysis of Las Meninas (Velasquez 1656) in The Order of Things since it famously appears in an advert by the Spanish department store El Cortes Inglés (see below), and these are Fashion Enterprise and Society students after all. Foucault's Las Meninas lends itself well to a critique of lines of sight from both an art history and contemporary fashion advertisement perspective (although I was surprised, following a quick bit of research into published articles, that this model of Foucault's had not been used in advertising - maybe more research would reveal that not to be the case, though).

I spent a while reading through Foucault's essay - it's quite challenging and interesting to mark the lines of sight down on a printed copy of the painting. I had done it before, a good few years ago, now, when, as an undergraduate I was studying Foucault (I actually found my old printout of Las Meninas in the book itself). I started again, however, and worked through the first few sets of lines of sight, and colour coordinated them. I also marked in the text itself where they are explicitly defined by Foucault, and numbered them in order (although it is a little bit more complicated than that).

Anyway, I have included the slides below (which in the original Powerpoint, are animated), in case anyone would like to see them (sadly my narrative that accompanies them is missing). The first image shows the first few lines of sight that Foucault mentioned, including the triangle (see yellow). I've also highlighted some of the 'frames' he signifies as being important, and the lines of sight connected to them.

The slide below includes the three significant 'positions' in the image, and what Foucault describes as the "three 'observing' functions [that] come together in a point exterior to the picture". I won't include 'the spoiler', but have a go at reading through the text and creating the lines yourself. It's a great read. You can also try and work on the spiralling lines that he mentions: "This spiral shell presents us with the entire circle of representation". I didn't include that as I was concerned about overwhelming the students. However, this was a breakthrough week for them and they definitely got it, as when I presented them with a Gucci advert to analyse in the workshop after the lecture, they did really well.

If anyone would like the slides, or would like me to do a lecture on it for their students, let me know. It's very interactive and its easy for the audience to place themselves in the position of observer (within the regular dynamics of a lecture theatre), and it is as if they are really looking at the painting itself - as if they are Velasquez or, indeed, Foucault...

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Review of You Are Here by Matthew Watkins

Review of You Are Here: An accelerating history of Canterbury from the Big Bang to noon August 15th 2014 by Matthew Watkins 

Matthew Watkins book You Are Here is, to his own acknowledgement, about many things: it starts with the physical and biological beginnings of the cosmos, but it’s really about the social and historical evolution of a Kentish city, Canterbury. How can these two be connected, you ask? Well, quite well so it seems, and Watkins has done this quite cleverly and stylishly by using lovely illustrations* to take us from the big bang (13,798,000,000 to 11,000,000,000 years ago - and Watkins should know since he is a mathematician and physicist) to his first mention of Canterbury (in 800 to 230 BCE), or at least the place it was eventually to become known as.

However, the book is also not just a history of Canterbury, it’s also a psychogeography of Canterbury. We can see this transition - from the accounts of social history, to Watkins own personal explorations of the city - when he starts to focus his discussion on its more urban aspect, 2004-2006. By the time we get to 2014, Watkins’ book has turned full-blown psychogeographical in his journal-type entries, which are oriented around his discoveries, made through walking the actual city itself. So, since this is a psychogeography blog after all, I will include a couple of the extracts that I particularly enjoyed below, one of which appears to come from a single dérive that lasted well over 24 hours - Guy Debord would be proud!

9:22 on 12th August to 00:31 on 13th August 2014

On my way back home from Rough Common I decided to walk the labyrinth below Eliot College. Its Portland stone was a bit more worn in now, I noticed, with some lichens and mosses having taken up residence. As I sat in the middle reading Jung’s analysis of physicist Wolfgang Pauli’s dreams and drinking a bottle of ale, two middle-aged women wound their way in and joined me. We talked about the soullessness of the University and ley lines. They described themselves as “semi-local”, out for an evening walk, one of them explaining that she was trying to mentally process actor Robin Williams’ recent suicide.

11:53:48 to 11:55:03 on August 15th 2014

Passing the City Arms pub, its A-frame blackboard on the pavement featuring the city’s coat-of-arms: three choughs (Becket’s family heraldry) and a golden leopard in a posture known to heraldry enthusiasts as passant gardant. Two men and a woman were sitting outside enjoying late morning drinks. I turned to look at the admission price for the Roman Museum across the street: £8 for adults. I wondered if my local Resident’s card would get me in for free. A few steps further, Club Burrito. The idea of a burrito suddenly appealed. I’d been walking for hours. But as well as being on a mission, I reminded myself that I wasn’t too well-off financially at the moment. This involuntarily triggered the execrable band Simply Red’s 1985 single “Money’s Too Tight (to Mention)” in my mind, which in turn produced a memory of a party in Whitstable in autumn 1988, the highlight of which was a drunken working class man who’d torn this record off the stereo while a couple of middle-class drama students were dancing to it shouting “You’re all living a lie!” at the stunned revellers.

Watkins journal entries end, in a way, like the book begins, with the physical laws of the universe exerting their influence on space and time - since they are what makes the universe what it is - and Canterbury, too. We count down - in the tiniest cosmic clock level increments - to his last entry, which is hand-written: “the barrier between worlds loses resolution, fragments, and all perspectives collide and fuse together”...

Sketch of Stewy’s ‘Robert Wyatt’ Graffiti

*Illustrations by Matt Tweed, Carol J. Watkins and Juliet Suzmeyan

Friday, 3 November 2017

Slutchers Lane

by Trent Dunlop

The haulage lorries have left, the security has gone, the building is empty and the demolition has begun...

I have noticed the comings and goings of the Spectra warehouse on walks around Slutchers Lane. Slutchers Lane is an interesting place to visit, located within easy walking distance of Warrington town centre. It is a long straight road, about a mile in length, leading to a dead end. It cuts through the middle of the edgelands and margins, surrounded by the River Mersey.

In 2016 the deputy leader of the borough council called for the name to be changed after telling the executive board that in an online urban dictionary Slutcher meant ‘filth, dirtbag , and whore’. He was ridiculed on social media and it was commented that he was a ‘Muppet’. The name stayed the same.

A road to my right leads to Bank Quay Trading Estate. Colourful signs point to scrap yards, back street garages, a martial arts club, an animal welfare centre, and a go-karting warehouse. The road leads past Arpley Meadows railway sidings, under a railway bridge, ending at a path leading to an industrial landscape of chemical plants and the hidden transporter bridge.

I walk past the station overflow car park and the futuristic 1980s small business units. To my left is a restricted road leading to Centre Park, a bland generic business park with equally bland hotels and landscaped pond. The autumn leaves from the trees are covered in warm shades of rusty orange and yellow along the road. Coming to the gates outside the Spectra warehouse, two yellow Cat demolition diggers are parked inside the gates (covered in various warning signs), with a barbed wire fence on either side. All is quiet, with no signs of life this Sunday morning. The road fizzles out at a barrier and another set of locked metal gates, beyond which is an empty overgrown field surrounded by a bend in the river. To my right is a narrow path which leads between the field and the railway line, leading to a footbridge over a viaduct. I walk down this path and turn left onto the overgrown field and start walking across it to the far end. Two mounds of rubble on an oblong concrete patch are the only traces left of what was a golf driving range, along with a few half buried golf balls in the field.

A dip takes me down to the back of the warehouse, Am I trespassing? I have not had to climb over any fences or walls. The demolition is going quickly and the warehouse is vanishing fast A massive patch of concrete is covered in fresh rainwater, the surface reflecting the sky, and looking as if a new lake has formed overnight, giving a strange effect of walking across deep water.

I enter through a hole in a wall underneath a semi-destroyed roof and start exploring. To my left, as I enter, is line of machines looking like a robotic involuntary Picasso sculpture. I alter the settings on my camera as I enter the darkness, trying to get a few sharp photographs. There is not much left inside and this would be called a ‘Derp’ in Urbex language: an empty space with not much of interest. But it is not just about photographs, and thoughts start to percolate, random images, plus memories and the history of the area.

In the 1970s Warrington was an industrial town and this was part of Thames Board paper mills, employing at its height over 2000 people. I remember it had a large wharf on the bank of the river. The river was biologically dead and the most polluted in Europe, with warm water, factory effluent, chemicals and poisons killing the wildlife. The water was foul smelling, a dark claret colour, with a white foam on top which would blow around the street and Bridge Foot on a windy day. A time when workers were looked after by the company with a living wage, holidays and a Christmas bonus, with parties for the children, and a ‘do’ out to a club, like the Golden Garter in Wythenshawe, for a meal and to watch Bernard Manning. The clang of steel in the night, smoke stack chimneys, shops shut and a day of rest on a Sunday. A town of many industries, before closure in the early 1980s, followed by the days of sitting at computer screens in call centres and offices and 24/7 culture.

I walk through massive empty workshops, up gloomy staircases, bare offices, and smashed toilets. Twisted metal is everywhere, the silence is eerie and I lose track of time. Clusters of fire extinguishers have been put to one side ready for removal, and an architect’s framed sketch is next to the exit ready to be salvaged. Glass and tiles crunch underfoot, sounding loud and exaggerated, before a siren of a police car or ambulance travelling down Chester Road, signals that it is time to leave.

Today the River Mersey is a success story: with seals, otters and salmon recorded in the water, and itself the star of a television programme presented by Jeremy Paxman. But time keeps moving and wildlife is again under threat as Warrington plans to become a city, with loss of green belt and part of a nature reserve, and residents fighting against the council for the future of the area.

I head home with a camera full of instant history and another part of my A to Z map out of date...

Saturday, 28 October 2017

An Open Letter to Chris Heaton-Harris MP

Dear Mr Heaton-Harris,

Here are the details of my lecture for my Brexit-related undergraduate module:

CULTZ8912 Cultural Theory and Brexit

Week 1: Brexit Schmexit: A Barthesian Semiology
Week 2: Michel Foucault: Madness, Civilization and Brexit
Week 3: Deconstructing (Br)exit and Brie(main)
Week 4: Althusser: Interpellating the Brexit Subject
Week 5: Butler and Brexit: Ender Trouble
Week 6: Brexit, Deleuze and Guattari: A Thousand Platitudes
Week 7: The Latent and Manifest in Brexit
Week 8: Subculture and the Meaning of a Stylish Brexit
Week 9: Fredric Jameson: Postmodernism or The Cultural Logic of a Late Brexit
Week 10: Jean-Paul Sartre: Being and Brexitness
Week 11: Žižek: Brexit Without Organs
Week 12: Guest Speaker

We are looking for a speaker for week 12 and wondered if you’d be happy to come along and talk to our students, please. Perhaps the Vice-Chancellor could call you to arrange that.

Thank you in anticipation.

Your humble servant, Dr Tina Richardson

Saturday, 21 October 2017

The Precession of the Demolition: A Baudrillardian Thought Experiment

By Fenella Brandenburg

I was talking to Tina Richardson this week, my new colleague, about the office that we share and the building we are housed in at the University of Leeds. It’s now known as '28 University Road' and is temporarily being used by our school, The School of Design. There is a notice on it that says 'Formerly Geography East'. Tina says she knows it as a geography building as she taught there a few years ago and some of her geography friends had their offices there, too. Apparently the building is due for demolition, and even though it looks like a dodgy little white stucco temporary building, it has an interesting history, being at one time a maltings.

As you can see from the above image, there is a big old map in the background, just outside our office. There is also another old map in the corridor. The building is very warm, although I have not worked out where all the heat is coming from (maybe an underwater spring reminiscent of Journey to the Centre of the Earth), and the corridor has a strong whiff of some kind of sweet-smelling mould, which I actually really like. It is quite scruffy and you could say it is 'falling apart', but it definitely has a charm and we both really like it there. In fact we don’t want to move, which brings me to the purpose of this guest post, which, in a way, I am writing on behalf of both of us: if we staged a pretend sit-in on the day the demolition begins - the day when university officials appear in hi viz jackets with their clipboards, and men with hydraulic excavators and loaders enter the building – what would happen?

Bear in mind this is not a real sit-in. It is just a pretend (fake), one!

Well, as has been written before by Tina Richardson in a post about staging a pretend faint in a public place (A Hysterical Simulacra), all the apparatus that would be employed in a real situation would also be employed in a false one, since, from the outside, both look the same. This is Jean Baudrillard’s concept of the simulacra. You will not be able to stage a fake sit-in, because, as Baudrillard says: “the network of artificial signs will become inextricably mixed up with real elements”. He goes on to explain that it is required that “everything is reduced to the real…to the established order itself” and the system operates in order to “devour any attempt at simulation”. In other words, the structure, as it appears in organisational form (what Louis Althusser describes as the ideological state apparatus), is unable to see beyond its own ideological appearance and incapable of seeing anything above its own order of simulation.

However, Baudrillard also goes on to say, and I think this is actually key in these types of thought experiments, it actually occurs even before “institutions and justice come into play”. Which is interesting as initially this sounds a bit like a contradiction. Nevertheless, what he says following this is: the simulation can never be punished as such, because it can only either be punished as a less serious offence (because of a lack of consequences), or as a crime against the judiciary when various state officials become involved (e.g. the police). He goes onto say that either way it is never punished for what it is, a simulation, “since it is precisely as such than no equivalence with the real is possible, and hence no repression either. The challenge of simulation is never admitted by power”.

So, what about staging a sit-in?

Picture this: myself, plus Dr Richardson, and the odd member of staff, a group of recruited students (maybe from The School of Performance and Cultural Industries) 'stage' our sit-in in the student common room, right near the entrance to 28 University Road. We all know that this is a performance. We are not there to make a protest or get in the way of the bulldozers. This is a simulation. The contractors open the door to see a whole load of protesters sitting in the common room, with their placards saying 'Save 28 University Road', 'Keep this wonderful heritage site!' and 'Don't demolish the famous maltings'. They go back to the site office to get the boss. He takes one look at the resistant academics and students and heads to the university administration building, returning with the man-from-estates who promptly calls the police for fear of any potential litigation somewhere down the line...

At what point did this simulation become real?

Sunday, 8 October 2017

A Psychogeography of Where I Grew Up

A psychogeography of where I grew up
(how forms and shapes have formed and shaped me)

By Ursula Troche

This is an account in (inter/cultural) translation and transposition. I’ve been inspired to write this because I realised that, just like the personal is political, the personal is geographical too! So there’s a nice kind of methodology in there, which is why psychogeography is so relevant!

Self- disclosure: Loehne – this is the place where I grew up, a place in the contradictory location of being both in the east and in the west. Not near the border with East Germany (or vice versa), but East-West-phalia. This is what it’s actually called: ‘Ostwestfalen’. It’s abbreviated as ‘OWL’ – and so it acquires a translated position as the land of the Owl!

Loehne, within it, is a town, not big, a town only just. Its main feature is once again an east-west connection, and this time of the bigger kind: it is situated on the east-west train-line that ran from Paris, or London via ferry, all the way to Moscow. Or vice versa I should say, because the train carriages that were used were original Soviet trains! Uniquely and exceptionally despite the Cold War and the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall, this train ran – everyday! Who could have been on it though? I was, sadly, too young to know. Besides this kind of wondrous line, little and absolutely unassuming Loehne lies on one of the main north-south links as well, so it’s been a big junction, with a massive train-depot that went with it. In hindsight, it looks like I grew up on a kind of magic crossing, like the meeting of ley-lines or so.

Small town big trains! There are lots of other towns in the area, but all of them small. So it’s an urban-rural mix, and this is reflected in terms of labour history as well: it’s got traditionally, in quite equal parts, workers and farmers.

Here the terms show their inadequacy too: as if farmers don’t do work! But if we think of workers as factory workers, i.e. those in a contracted situation rather than working for themselves, then Loehne is one of those places where workers and farmers meet. It’s not a farming community and not an entirely industrial community, it is both! There have only been some mines in the area too, though many more mines are to be found a bit further down from here. Basically the next big town to Loehne is Herford, the next city next to that is Bielefeld, and behind Bielefeld you have a rural area in the north, and the ‘mine field’ in the south: Dortmund, Bochum, Essen, and all the very big mining towns are to be found here: all the mine-biggies! I remember very well, whilst being at school, hearing when mine after mine was shut down just next door to me, and I was really surprised about why this was happening. There was no miner’s strike here big enough to make headlines, but there was obviously frustration and activism here too: the zeitgeist was the same, and the danger of an edge of an age reached. This topic is so big, and has such strong echo with northern England, that I’ve set aside a project for this – to come!

Mother, Father, Child – in the landscape

The geography of the area is: it’s a big and wobbly hilly valley tucked inside two strings of bigger hills, which are the last before the land becomes flatland, from where it eventually meets the sea. The hill-string in the south has a romanicised (-romanticised!) name (Teutoburg hills), the one in the north has a germanic name (Wiehen hills). The roman hill-string would be my dad: he, the one from far, mixed, cosmopolitan, once sephardic , and my mum the germanic hill-string: the parochial, local one – though in reality she was not quite local to the area. I was situated between my parental hills, so I was in the valley. My older brother would have been on top of the valley, I at the bottom. I was closest to the river then, I liked fluidity, I wanted to flow - but on the other hand the river could flood me over, so my position was unsafe too!

There was once a battle at the roman hills, between the Romans and the Germans, a battle which may have been reverberated symbolically in the sort of anti-marriage of my parents, who never got on. In transposed Freudian terms one might say that my mother and father were battling between being ‘ego’ and ‘superego’ whilst I was the little ‘id’.

I, the id from the valley, trying to rise and grow, either by acquiring ‘ego’ or superego’ aspects for myself, or by become an id-entity, by acquiring an identity! My personal landscape (‘psycho-geography?’) then, needs its own hills too.


I’ve avoided calling it a hometown, because it hasn’t been for a long time, though it is assumed to be this on many occasions. The term ‘hometown’ sounds too static for me, as if the concept of ‘home’ cannot move! I have not lived there as an adult, and so the attachment to place has not undergone the ‘independent movement’ that adulthood offers. Independent movement is key to grow into a town, and even if you have grown up somewhere, you might not necessarily grow into it (whilst growing up!), in this sense. I wonder what has impacted me most about Loehne: maybe the combination of railways and mines: my way to school led via a path which was a long-disused train-line that once carried workers to and from a mine up the road (or up the train, into the hills), where iron-ore was once mined.

I have become a miner perhaps in the psychological sense: I am mining my subconscious, there is so much ‘raw’ material inside, which can be used for the production of thought!

Related posts...
The Muso-Psychogegraphical Wanderings of a Retrospective Sojourn

Saturday, 30 September 2017

The Fourth World Congress of Psychogeography – Walk-Out by Fenella Brandenburg

As many of you know, Fenella Brandenburg is a regular contributor to this blog, so naturally I was hoping for a report from her of The Fourth World Congress of Psychogeography held at Huddersfield University in September 2017, not least because she and David Bollinger gave the keynote speech. However, her curt reply to my request was: “Are you kidding! There is no way I want to be associated with that load of bimbling idiots”. Which, it transpired, echoed her walk-out when she stormed off stage shouting: “This conference is a shambles!”. Prior to that remark she had slammed down her conference paper, turned to Bollinger and said: “If you think I am staying at yours tonight, you have another thing coming. I am off to check into the Holiday Inn. Now!”. With that she grabbed her suitcase and left the conference...

Anyway, in the absence of a post from Brandenburg, Tim Waters has kindly allowed me to reproduce part of his post here, and link to his full report of the conference.

Tim Water’s Report on the Conference

Extract of the keynote by Bollinger and Brandenburg:
To open the congress, we were treated with a very special talk. David and Fenella appeared from a cupboard where they had been waiting for 30 minutes before I introduced them. There were some audio problems and some people complained about not being able to hear it properly from the back. But they steamed ahead. There were several laughs and I think when people got the format they enjoyed it. The format was in the way of a read sequence of email exchanges between these two academics. David did say that one of his chapters of a forthcoming book was available to be viewed, and here it is: ‘Either put on these glasses or start eating that trash can! Psychogeographically walking with John Nada, Beryl Curt and David Bollinger’.

You can read Tim’s full report here.