Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Lefebvre, Rationality and Zoning. Part 2: Space is the most general of tools

Part 1 of this blog covered the zoning used by urban planners to rationalise space, and the cultural effects produced by that in relation to 'difference'. I also made reference to the naturalising function of this on space itself and how Louis Althusser's ideological state apparatuses theory can be applied to our individual subjectification process in this regard. Here's that blog:

Lefebvre, Rationality and Zoning. Part 2: The analytical activity that discerns differences

This blog looks at what Henri Lefebvre means by "abstract space" and then includes a paragraph of his from The Production of Space that relates to the rationality and zoning theme of these two blogs, while demonstrating its actual effects on space (urban and otherwise).

While'abstract' appears to be quite an innocuous and bland word - while at the same time having many theoretical interpretations, not least Marxian ones, which bring with it a whole load of deconstructionist baggage - for Lefebvre it has a very specific and far from insipid meaning when he applies it to one of his forms of space.

Thetypes of space Lefebvre uses are: social, absolute, abstract, contradictory, differential, etc. They can co-exist. This blog is only concerned with abstract space. I find the best way to understand abstract space is by applying some of the tenets of neoliberlism (capitalism, etc) directly to space. Therefore, if you have a general understanding of capitalism in postmodernity in regards to how it functions - e.g. homogeneity, abstraction (in the Marxian sense), the co-existence of dichotomies such as absence/presence (in other words dualities) and, say, a focus on the visual (or, if you will, the spectacle) - then you will get it. Add a bit of Baudrillard's critique of the sign in Simulacra and Simulation and you've pretty much got it nailed.

So,for Lefebvre, abstract space is perfectly able to cope with contradictions in regards to representation. It is also duplicitous - well, in fact, it is duplicitous because of this. As Lefebvre states: "it is both a result and a container". One of the cleverest tricks it employs, as discussed in the last blog, is the fudging of the apparent temporal direction in regards to cause and effect. Some of the binary oppositions it happily co-presents with absolutely no negation at all are: positive/negative, empty/full, constraining/stimulating, distance/limit, local/global, benevolent/malevolent, etc, the list is endless...

So,now you understand a bit more what abstract space is for Lefevbre, this is the paragraph I promised. Here he explains the result of abstract spaces raison d'etre:

"...absraction's modus operandi is devastation, destruction (even if such destruction may sometimes herald creation). Signs have something lethal about them - not by virtue of 'latent' or so-called unconscious forces, but, on the contrary, by virtue of the forced introduction of abstraction into nature. The violence involved does not stem from some force intervening aside from rationality, outside or beyond it. Rather, it manifests itself from the moment any action introduces the rational into the real, from the outside, by means of tools which strike, slice and cut - and keep doing so until the purpose of their aggression is achieved. For space is instrumental - indeed it is the most general of tools." (page 289)

The following two blogs relating to the cutting up of space may also be of interest:

Cutting up Space Part 1: L = S - [l + c + i = e + p]
Looks at a formula used in how land value is calculated in the marketplace.

Cutting up Space Part 2: The Laws of Form
Introduces G Spencer Brown's calculus of indications in relation to demarcating space.

Lefebvre, Henri. 1991. The Production of Space, trans. by Donald Nicholson-Smith (Oxford: Blackwell).

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