Wednesday, 28 September 2011

'The Burlesque of Psychoanalysis': Walking, Psychogeography and Schizocartography

"A schizophrenic out for a walk is a better model than a neurotic lying on an analyst's couch" say Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in their introduction to Anti-Oedipus (1972), the first volume of their Capitalism and Schizophrenia series. McKenzie Wark makes reference to this quote in his new text The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International (2011).

McKenzie says of Deleuze and Guattari:

By the time they wrote this, much of what had been critical thought had laid its weary head on that analyst’s couch - depressed, anxious, irritable, neurotic. Obsessed with old wounds. Unable to forget. Unable to get up. At its melancholy end.

Deleuze and Guattari's exemplary walkers were literary characters, but it turns out that Chtcheglov [also known as Giles Ivain and a member of both the Lettrist International and the Situationist International] was that schizophrenic out for a walk, and he already had a theory of his own nomadism. Years before Deleuze and Guattari, he already saw the dérive as a kind of analysis. "The dérive is certainly a technique, almost a therapeutic one." Unlike psychoanalysis, it did not sever language from the continuum of practices in which it is embedded. "The dérive (with its flows of acts, its gestures, its promenades, its encounters) was to the totality exactly what psychoanalysis (in the best sense) is to language" Chtcheglov writes. The Lettrist International refuse the separation of urban space from urban culture, each assigned to their own specialists. They refuse the separation of the external, social space of the city from the internal, private space of subjectivity. The subjective belongs to the city and can be analyzed experimentally, much as the city is subjective and can be reconstructed to expand our desires. (page 26)

My own psychogeographical practices bridge these spaces: the urban, the psychic, the social, etc. Schizocartography attempts to address the way dominant structures reroute subjective desires while at the same time producing an outlet where heterogeneous voices are encouraged to emerge form the postmodern terrain.

I have developed schizocartography from Félix Guattari's term "schizoanalytic cartography". Schizocartography enables alternative existential modes for individuals in order to challenge dominant representations and power structures. This provides an opportunity for multiple ways of operating in space and reading the environment; it critiques the conventional ways of viewing, interpreting and mapping space. This is my definition of 'schizocartography':

Schizocartography offers a method of cartography that questions dominant power structures and at the same time enables subjective voices to appear from underlying postmodern topography. Schizocartography is at once the process and output of a psychogeography of particular spaces that have been co-opted by various capitalist-oriented operations, routines or procedures. It attempts to reveal the aesthetic and ideological contradictions that appear in urban space while simultaneously reclaiming the subjectivity of individuals by enabling new modes of creative expression. Schizocartography challenges anti-production, the homogenizing character of overriding forms that work towards silencing heterogeneous voices.

While the term “schizoanalysis” is derived from “schizophrenia” (as discussed by Deleuze and Guattari), it does not promote mental illness; rather, “schizo” is used as a way of offering up the possibility of multiple voices, and alternative world-views, amongst other factors. Please see a sample of my other work relating to schizocartography:

A film can be viewed here: Hello! from Hunstanton

An online article is available in this journal: Using Schizocartography as a Method of Critiquing the University of Excellence

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Semiotic System of Capitalism (Fèlix Guattari) - Part 2

Below is the paragraph that follows on from my previous post, from Fèlix Guattari's Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics (1972) on the systems and processes of capitalism.

All [capitalisms] 'mystery' comes from the way it manages to articulate, within one and the same general system of enrolment and equivalence, entities which at first sight would seem radically different; of material and economic goods, of individual and collective human activities, and of technical, industrial and scientific processes. And the key to this mystery lies in the fact that it does not content itself with standardizing, comparing, ordering, informatizing these multiple domains but, with the opportunity offered by these diverse operations, it extracts from each of them one and the same mechanical surplus-value or value of mechanical exploitation. It is its capacity to re-order through a single system of semiotization the most diverse mechanical values which gives capitalism its hold, not only over material machines of the economic sphere (artisanal, manufacturing, industrial, etc.) but equally over non-material machines working in the heart of human activities (productive-unproductive, public-private, real-imaginary, etc.). (page 275)

Click here for The Semiotic System of Capitalism (Fèlix Guattari) - Part 1

Monday, 19 September 2011

The Semiotic System of Capitalism (Fèlix Guattari) - Part 1

Below is an interesting extract from Fèlix Guattari's Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics (1972) on the systems and processes of capitalism:

What capitalizes capital is semiotic power. But not just any power - because in that case there would be no way of demarcating the earlier forms of exploitation - a semiotically de-territorialized power. Capitalism confers on certain social sub-systems a capacity for the selective control of society and production by means of a system of collective semiotization. What specifies it historically is that it only tries to control the different components which come together to maintain its processual character. Capitalism does not seek to exercise despotic power over all the wheels of society. It is even crucial to its survival that it manage to arrange marginal freedoms, relative spaces for creativity. What is of primary importance to it is the mastery of the semiotic wheels which are essential for the key productive arrangements and especially those which are involved in changing machine processes (the adjustments of machine power). Doubtless it is obliged by the force of history to interest itself in all domains of the social - public order, education, religion, the arts, etc. But, originally, this is not its problem; it is first of all continuously a mode of evaluation and technical means of control of power arrangements and their corresponding formulations. (page 275)

Click here for The Semiotic System of Capitalism (Fèlix Guattari) - Part 2

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Schizoanalysing the University Campus: Three Little Films

Below are three psychogeographical films about the University of Leeds. They form part of a growing schizocartography of the campus.

Axis of Exploration and Failure in the Search for a Situationist 'Great Strike'

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This animated map is appropriated from the Situationist map by Guy Debord called Axis of Exploration and Failure in the Search for a Situationist "Great Passage" (1957). My map is based on the recent education-related strikes in Leeds, in particular at the University of Leeds and Leeds Metropolitan University in the last year. My own image takes sections from various University of Leeds maps, it includes a photo I took of the J30 strike in June.

The Situation at the University

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"Our central purpose is the construction of situations, i.e. the concrete construction of temporary settings of life and their transformations into a higher passionate nature. We must develop an intervention, directed by the complicated factors of two great components in perpetual interaction: the material setting of life and the behaviours that it incites and that overturn it." Guy Debord (Situationist International) 1957

The Sound of the Sixties

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This 3 minute film is an acoustic psychogeographical response to the area called the precinct at the University of Leeds represented by the architecture of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon. The film features two of the most impressive of the buildings designed by the architects: the Worsley Building and the Roger Stevens Lecture Theatre (now a Grade II listed building). It alludes to a moment-in-time architecturally, with the popular cultural reference of the title - The Sound of the Sixties, a radio and TV series playing pop music form that era - and the 1964 track by the R&B British pop band Manfred Mann. The song title 5-4-3-2-1 provides a countdown to the walk, which was actually 8 individual edited films, appearing in the sequence they were recorded.

So as to avoid being distracted by the campus scenery only the feet were shot, they being the instrument used to tap out the sound on the surface of the topography of the precinct. I considered just supplying the sound without the visuals of the walking feet, but I decided that the trace left by the feet becomes a form of cartography which has a number of functions that to me, as a psychogeographer, are important, and which also support the tenets of schizocartography.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Austerity & the University of Excellence Part 2

Discarded Phenomena at the University of Leeds.
Image CC Tina Richardson

We are not outside the university, we occupy it every day and this is the place from which any considerations for a future university will be made. However, we need to be cognisant of the problems that occur through living in a historical university: a past that refuses to completely disappear, that manifests itself in a contradictory and haunting co-presence, and that needs to be considered, first and foremost, as a place that is occupied by the people of the present. Any new way of living in the university will require an understanding of the complexity of space that the posthistoric university has inherited. We need to explore the university in an attempt to acknowledge its past, a search that may require a form of revealing to occur in order for us to understand what the university of today, and tomorrow, might mean.

What I would like to propose is a critique of today's university that helps to reveal a material life that can easily be forgotten when dealing with the abstracted notions and alienating practices associated with technological systems and knowledge generating processes. The university is a physical body existing in geographical space, occupied by people who traverse its roads, paths and corridors. To fully understand the university of today, and be able to respond to a new university, it needs to be excavated both archivally and topographically.

If we are to believe Félix Guattari, then we need to seek out modes that are counter to the dominant consciousness that appears in the form of power. All dominant powers require a particular worldview to take place in order for the status quo to be maintained. The university presents a particular outward face. This face is a consciously structured one that supports its specific messages. The university does not say everything about itself, in the same way that a business doesn't, because it would not be 'good practice'. The process of representation is a mediated one in which the university attempts to foster a like-minded view in the recipients of its representational medium, whether it be the university website, or how the campus looks.

In order that governing bodies can carry out policy, consent is the optimal reaction rather than opposition. Alternative voices are not encouraged, revolutionary ones need to be crushed or at the very least assuaged through hegemonic means; or, post event, they can be ignored entirely by being written out of history. However, these other voices and histories are still part of the body that makes up the institution as it appears today, even if they might be sidelined, for strategic reasons or otherwise. If the university is not conscious of its past, if it does not acknowledge its shadow qualities, it would be difficult for it to think of itself as a place of community, of consensus or belonging. In order to confront its unconscious the university needs to come to terms with its past-and-present relationships, especially those that stir up a sense of dissonance in the pit of the institutional stomach.

I would like to suggest that this can be done by looking for the hidden university, the one that is behind the veil of the manufactured image. It is the one that appears in the darkest part of the university: in its archives and in its lost or forgotten places. It can be found through a bottom-up method of psychogeographical exploration and archival research which will reveal a more complete university, one that can be traced in the palimpsest layers that form its spatial manifestation, and in its archival attempts at a de-prioritisation of certain data.

While we need to accept that the past still haunts the corridors of the institution, it needs to be acknowledged in its spectral manifestation. Neither should it be seen as something nostalgic, a time when ideas about the university were pure, honourable and righteous. The university always represents a mirror of society. While having the ruined signs of the ghost of university past all around us, the complexity of postmodern space - with its abyssal protocols and procedures - demands a renegotiation of that space. And I think Bill Readings expresses this most eloquently when he compares the university to an Italian city. So I will leave you with his quote:

Dwelling in the ruins of the University thus means giving a serious attention to the present complexity of space, undertaking an endless work of détournement of the spaces willed to us by a history whose temporality we no longer inhabit. Like the inhabitants of some Italian city, we can seek neither to rebuild the Renaissance city-state nor to destroy its remnants and install rationally planned tower-blocks; we can seek only to put its angularities and winding passages to new uses, learning from and enjoying the cognitive dissonances that enclosed piazzas and non-signifying campanile induce. (1999: 127)

Related link: Austerity & the University of Excellence Part 1

Readings, Bill. 1999. The University in Ruins (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press).

Monday, 5 September 2011

Austerity & the University of Excellence Part 1

The Parkinson Steps at the University of Leeds.
Image CC Tina Richardson

During modernity the university's relationship with commerce grew out of a direct response to an economic need, whereby the university reacted to demands for a certain type of knowledge requirement. In postmodernity the university has acquired the mantle of a business-oriented philosophy in its own right, this means that attempting to demarcate industry and institution as separate entities is far more complex. In order to compete in a globalised market the contemporary university is expected to think and operate as if it were a business: it has to take up the procedures and practices of commerce.

What this means for the university is that in its corporate incarnation it is essential that it becomes part of the globalised marketplace and in that move adopts the modes of operating that capitalism endorses. It needs to involve itself in the transfer of capital within society both at home and abroad. The university does this in a number of ways, from its relationship with industry in its vocational courses, to research that directly benefits business and technology.

However, even as far back as 1990 academics were writing about the negative aspects of applying a commercial formula to every aspect of education. In her essay ''Hard' Decisions and 'Tough' Choices: The Business Approach to University Decline' Cynthia Hardy says:
The tough choices advocated in business literature are likely to escalate the political conflict that surrounds declining resources, not resolve it. Draconian measures - terminations and program closures - can send shock waves through the university community. The more marketable individuals will leave to find less hostile surroundings; potential recruits will resort to political infighting, as they try to protect their departments. (1990: 317)

I provide this illustration not because I think academics do not know this already, but because I wish to emphasise that this current period of austerity is situated within the greater issue of how organisations operate under neoliberalism. And, not just organisations, but individuals also. We no longer look to the nation-state for our sense of cultural identity, nor the modernist university, but to the High Street. We are first and foremost consumers.

This is how Mark Fisher puts it: "Capital follows you when you dream. Time ceases to be linear, becomes chaotic, broken down into punctiform divisions. As production and distribution are restructured, so are nervous systems." And Félix Guattari would agree. He believes that while we have many subjectivities available to us, the prevailing consciousness is a capitalist one. He says that capitalism works in such a way as to prevent anything that is antithetical to its project from taking hold. The signs that capitalism creates discourage any singular processes of individuation and attempt to reroute subjective desires back into capitalist production: this is anti-production, and here Guattari situates it in the context of education:
It is impossible to separate the production of any consumer commodity from the institution that supports that production. The same can be said of teaching, training, research, etc. The State machine and the machine of repression produce anti-production, that is to say signifiers that exist to block and prevent the emergence of any subjective process. (1984: 34)

So what are we to do if this is less to do with the current crisis and more to do with 'the postmodern condition': the restructuring of education under neo-liberlism and the prevalence of a capitalist consciousness?

I think the clues are in the ruins of the university. Not only in those left by Bill Readings in his posthumously published book The University in Ruins but also in the material of the university which we inhabit today, the physical and abstract space of the university behind the spectacle.

Because the university needs to reduplicate itself internally, and also express that reduplication externally, what this means for the university is a spectacle-like appearance in the form of signs that appear as representable data, the output of the excellence process. These signs present the university in the guise of what Guy Debord would describe as "commodity as spectacle". Debord explains that the spectacle is "where the tangible world is replaced by a selection of images which exist above it, and which simultaneously impose themselves as the tangible par excellence." This is problematic for the university because it means it is removed from its original idealised functions - the pursuit of knowledge, high quality academic research, education for all, etc. Readings believes that the university as a concept no longer has any content: "The University of Excellence is the simulacrum of the idea of a university". And while this might sound negative, or even hopeless, herein also lies the possibility for it to be remade under a different concept; as Readings says "the wider social role of the university is now up for grabs".

In a time where grand narratives no longer hold sway, where culture and ideology is decentralised and where the once autonomous subject can even be argued to be posthuman, we need a different model of consciousness to help us negotiate the postmodern terrain and those institutions that are manifest in them. This is well-noted by Frederic Jameson in Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism when he calls for a new cognitive map:
It may now be suggested that this alarming disjunction point between the body and its environment [...] can itself stand as the symbol and analogon1 of that even sharper dilemma which is the incapacity of our minds, at least at present, to map the great global multinational and decentered communicational network in which we find ourselves caught as individual subjects. (2009: 44)

This is echoed by Fisher when he states: "To function effectively as a component of just-in-time production you must develop a capacity to respond to unforseen events, you must learn to live in conditions of total instability, or 'precarity'" (2009: 34)

So, if we are to believe that a predictable future is unavailable to us in this simulacra-like university that is inseparable from these global networks, how do we find the university of tomorrow?

Related link: Austerity and the University of Excellence Part 2

Debord, Guy. 2005. The Society of the Spectacle (Detroit: Black and Red).
Fisher, Mark. 2009. Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? (Winchester: Zero Books).
Guattari, Félix. 1984. Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics, trans. by Rosemary Sheed (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books).
Hardy, Cynthia. ''Hard' Decisions and 'Tough' Choices: The Business Approach to University Decline', Higher Education, 20, 3 (1990), 301-321.
Jameson, Frederic. 2009. Postmodernism or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (London and New York: Verso).
Readings, Bill. 1999. The University in Ruins (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press).