Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Lickless Dérive


Almost opposite Lickless Drive (off Low Lane in Horsforth, Leeds) there is a metal gate with large boulders in front of it, deterring any entry by car. If you pass through the partly-open gate and walk a few yards down the slope, this is what you'll find:


This liminal place looks like it is waiting for something to happen. The potential happening might be connected to the proposed Woodside Train Station which is meant to be located at nearby Woodside Quarry (although development seems to be on hold at the moment). In the meantime it is an interesting space with parts of buildings still remaining:


...and, the compulsory graffiti, some of which looks quite old, as even parts of the bricks have fallen off in places, the graffiti clearly pre-dating this.


This area is huge and is easy to see on google earth. I'm wondering if maybe these were industrial buildings of some sort, and were never actually homes. But it's hard to tell. This area, to the East of Low Lane, does have a lot of industrial-type buildings still, with a mill just up the road, now turned into offices. It's difficult to work out what this building originally was, as I was standing at the roof level of it.


I like the image below. The three broken walls echo the slope of the land behind them. It's interesting to see that the broken edges of the wall have been filled over with concrete.


This is what the OED says about the word 'liminal':
a.gen. Of or pertaining to the threshold or initial stage of a process. rare.
b.spec. in Psychol. Of or pertaining to a ‘limen’ or ‘threshold’.
Cultural Anthropol. Of, relating to, or characterized by liminality.
1967 V. W. Turner Forest of Symbols iii. 77 The liminal condition between two periods of active social life.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

St George's Field: Traversing Transversality


Gary Genosko describes Guattari's transversality as “the tool used to open hitherto closed logics and hierarchies.” (2008: 54) In a section of his book Félix Guattari: An Abberrant Introduction entitled 'Extension', Genosko discusses urban space and walking. He explains that a “transversal territory” which operates within unconventional power structures “is the site of pure potentiality and marked by such valorized terms as 'transgress' – 'deviate' – 'defy' – 'cut across' – 'disorganize' – 'smooth space'.” (Genosko 2002: 57) He says that this mode of operating in space provides an alternative form of articulation, providing one with a different self to that which is expected by the dominant powers in the capitalistic city. (2002: 58)

The act of traversing is a good example of a physical act of transversality. In mountaineering, traversing is the term used to describe how one moves sideways across a rock face, as can be seen below. This photo - taken in 2011 with a Diana F+ - shows a student who is traversing the old wall of the cemetery which now forms part of the base of the Henry Price Halls of Residence on the northern border of the University of Leeds cemetery St George's Field. This wall is located under the Henry Price building and the beams of the building can be seen in the top of the images. It is made from the original bricks of the cemetery wall and follows the original line.


Traverse is described in the Oxford English Dictionary as: "to pass or journey across, over, or through; to pass through (a region) from side to side, or from end to end". However it is further described as a type of writing: "To trace [...] continuously without lifting the pen or pencil", as a way of negotiation life: "To 'go through' life (life, time or anything figured as extended space or region)" and a form of reading: "to read through or consider thoroughly". This act of traversing in the cemetery also satisfies Genosko's list of verbs above in cutting across and deviating from the usual paths through the space. It is also an act of defiance and while the notices on the outside of the cemetery only forbid ball games, it is possible that traversing may be considered a transgressive act also. While the traversing student may not intentionally be acting defiantly, he does challenge the use of the space and also provides a new route that is inspired by his own subjective desire to respond to the environment in an unconventional way: "Transversality in the group is a dimension opposite and complementary to the structures that generate pyramidal hierarchization and sterile ways of transmitting messages." (1984: 22)

For Guattari it is desire that enables creativity to be expressed and challenges the accepted, and dominant, logic of a given situation. Desire is the productive, and constructive, force of life: "I propose to denominate as desire all forms of the will to live, the will to create, the will to love, the will to invent another society, another perception of the world, and another value system." (Guattari 2008: 318) To the student it might not be apparent they are crawling along the walls of the old cemetery, merely the wall of a modern building. Nevertheless, the very act itself questions both the permissions and power attached to allowing, and preventing, certain behaviours in particular places, and also the underlying logos of the space in the sense that individuals have certain 'common sense' actions expected of them.

Desire finds a route via transversality, allowing it to be released from overriding social forms that attempt to regulate the subjectivity of the individual.

Links:
St George's Field Fallow Again: A Schizocartography
The Psychogeography of Other Spaces

References:
Genosko, Gary. 2002. Félix Guattari: An Aberrant Introduction (London and New York: Continuum).
Genosko, Gary. 2008. 'The Life and Work of Félix Guattari', The Three Ecologies, trans. by Ian Pinder and Paul Sutton (London and New York: Continuum) pp. 46-78.
Guattari, Félix. 1984. Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics, trans. by Rosemary Sheed (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books).
Guattari, Félix and Suely Rolnik. 2008. Molecular Revolution in Brazil, trans. by Karel Clapshow and Brian Holmes (Cambridge, Mass and London: The MIT Press).

Sunday, 12 February 2012

How to (de)Construct a Place Setting in Three Easy Steps


1 - Define a place setting.

What is a ‘place setting’: the setting of a place, to set a place? The opposite of ‘to set’: un-set…unsettle. A place for whom/what? A set placing. A place for a subject. A setting of a scene. To set the scene for the subject of the place.

1 place /plays/ n 1a physical environment; a space 1b physical surroundings; atmosphere 2a an indefinite region or expanse; an area…4 a particular part of a surface or body; a spot…5b an important or valued position…7a a proper or designated niche…8a an available seat…8c PLACE SETTING

2 place vt 1 to distribute in an orderly manner; arrange 2a to put in, direct to, or assign to a particular place…2c to put in a particular state 3 to appoint to a position…5a to assign to a position in a series or category; rank 7 to put, lay…

setting /’seting/ n 1 the manner, position, or direction in which something (e.g. a dial) is set 3a the background, surroundings…5 PLACE SETTING


2 - Ascertain the limits of the place setting.


“How is it possible to determine, in such a situation, what truly belongs to the inside and what does not?" (Derrida 1987: 138).
The place setting exists as a singularity in space and time: on the spatial plane it exists on a surface without clearly delineated edges, and temporally it is unclear at which point the place setting becomes itself, or when it is no longer that of which it is known in regards to assembly/disassembly.

Somebody puts together the place setting. It could be the diner, it could be the cook, it could be the silver service waitress/waiter . . . it could be you. A number of possible people construct it. The placemat, cutlery, glasses, plates are laid out by following certain cultural conventions. The dining paraphernalia is placed on a surface, a table. Some of the items may rest on the placemat, if there is one, and some will not, for instance the glasses do not, although they too can sometimes sit on their own object, a coaster.

Where is the edge of the place setting? If you were to draw around the limits of the place setting you would quite probably draw around almost every single separate item that makes it up.

The margins are unclear. It appears that the outside of the place setting is also contained within the inside of it, in the fluid space between the items. The outside pours into the inside. What belongs to the place setting and what does not? Does the tablecloth belong to the place setting: the tablecloth could be removed and the place setting could still be considered to exist. What of the table? What could be utilised in the place of a table that would still enable a place setting to be called such: a kitchen counter, a TV dinner tray, a wooden packing crate. How many individual items that make up the place setting need to be removed for it to not be a place setting? Everything but a knife and fork . . . maybe . . .

How significant is the setting of the place setting: could one assemble a place setting on the pavement of a busy street, or in an art gallery? The context of the place setting might mean that a diner could not be present at the scene of the place setting. If it were physically impossible (or dangerous) for a diner to be in attendance, is it still a place setting: could a place setting be set on an airport runway and it still considered to be a place setting. It would certainly be recognisable as one, but how much does the context effect the place setting, inasmuch as it is part of the dining event. On a spectrum of contexts it is difficult to ascertain an absolutely clear point at which a place setting would not be considered to be such.

The place setting, in terms of its existence, comes into and goes out of being surreptitiously. At some point in its manifestation it becomes what is recognised as a ‘place setting’, but its materialisation is gradual and rather furtive. It is carefully assembled piece by piece, comes to rest for a period of time, then is gradually dismantled by the diner and/or an-other: disarranging the original construction. If the place setting was only considered to be a place setting at its most complete (prior to the diner’s arrival, prior to their unpicking of it), its disassembly could be seen as a destructive act. The diner destroys the place setting, like one might destroy a work of art. This could be considered an act of violence.

Considering the place setting to be a ‘place setting’ only when it is whole and complete, allows for it to be described as such even in the absence of a diner. If the place setting is set, but the diner never arrives, the place setting is still a place setting, even if its origins are not so sure. However, at some point, the items making up the place setting will all be removed.

If the place setting is seen as something more nebulous, uncertain in terms of when it begins and ends in time, the diner’s re-arranging of the items that form it, and the removal of those items during the dining process, could also be included in what is recognised as the place setting. But, we still have the issue of a beginning and end, though. Does the place setting begin when the placemat is laid or, maybe, when the first piece of cutlery is set down. Does it end when the final item is removed?

The place setting is a fragile thing.


3 - Ensure the place setting is ready for the diner's arrival.


The place setting awaits a subject. The place setting is calling a subject. The diner is hailed by the place setting, “interpellated” in the Althusserian sense, whether the place setting has their name on it or not, as it might at a formal dinner when written on a card. The place setting has a subject in mind, whether it is a named subject or a generalised other. The type of dinner will dictate, to a large degree, certain characteristics in the diner: it may dictate their class, wealth or social status; their associations with other diners (relative, friend, business associate); their membership of a certain group. All these qualities define the event, the place setting, and the subject. Therefore the place setting holds certain notions about the subject before they arrive at the dining table.

At a formal dinner the place setting exists for the sole purpose of a subject to be sat at it, and for that subject to utilise it within a given framework. It is an object requiring a subject to fulfil its purpose. The place setting anticipates an always already subject. In this sense the subject comes before the place setting, they exist before the place is set, as a knowable, expected attendee of the dinner. But, does the subject exist as a diner before the place setting is set? If the place setting is a one-time-only event, it is possible the subject only exists as a diner at the point they sit down at the table. If this is the case, then the place setting comes before the dining subject.

It appears that the tendrils of the place setting spread temporally in both directions. It forms a nexus which connect a past and future subject in the singularity of an event. This event, operating around the hub of the place setting, is also contingent in the changing of the subject. The subject will have been altered by the event and will not be the same subject that sat at the place setting at the beginning of dinner. Conversations might have taken place, dialogue exchanged, the subject’s psyche could be transformed, however minutely.

The place setting, as an assembly, is also part of the greater assembly which is the dining event. This could be considered to be like the Deleuzo-Guattarian “assemblage” which comes together and then disassembles. If it were considered in these terms, we could not separate the subject from the event, the subject does not attend the event they are part of the event. The place setting and the diner would be intrinsically linked, because they make up the processual dining experience.

The place setting retains the history of the event. Before the final items are removed, what remains of the place setting contains a trace of the event that has just taken place. The place setting is a recording device for the event as it is for the particular individual subject as diner. How the place setting is left at the point the diner leaves the table is an audit trail for the actions of the subject during their dinner party. If the recording could be played back the subject’s steps could be retraced. The used place setting, at the moment the diner leaves and prior to the point it is finally removed by the attending staff, alludes to an absence. The dining subject leaves their signature (their autobiography), in the rumpled silk placemat, in the not-quite-finished glass of vintage port, in the highly-polished unused silver dessert spoon. Disorder replaces order. But this disorder is telling. It speaks of a past, of an attendance.

Each individual diner will leave their history behind on the table: an archive of the event left behind in their wake. The dining subject has left their mark. Their absence leaves a sign of a past presence. ‘Elvis has left the building’ but he still exists in the discarded crumpled gig programme and trampled cigarette butts of the deserted dance hall.

The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago 1974-79, the Brooklyn Museum

References:
Derrida, Jacques. 1987. The Truth in Painting. Trans. by Geoff Bennington and Ian McLeod (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press).

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Using Psychogeography to Discover the Hidden Consequences of Social Reproduction


In the opening to her essay on the regeneration project at Grand Central Station in New York during the 1990s, Cindi Katz states: "The hidden city is itself an outcome and a representation of what might be understood as 'postmodern geographical praxis', but so too is the project of its unhiding." (2001: 93) Commenting on the complexity of heteretopic spaces, and their implicit heterogeneity, she discusses the partitioning of space through "domination and privilege". (2001: 94) This is done by looking at particular neighbourhoods, the relationship 'the other' has with specific spaces, and the process of hiding (in public policy) and unhiding (in this case a deconstructive form of revealing produced by her own critique). Katz states: "it is clear that the spatial forms associated with increasingly globalized capitalist production are indeed masterful at hiding the consequences and contradictions of the associated social relations associated with it." ( 2001: 96) Comparisons can be made between postmodern geographical praxis and psychogeography in the way that "Psychogeography comprehen[ds] buildings through their use, their history, and their collective and associative generation of meaning and mood". (Sadler 2001: 160)


Katz explains how the process of privatizing space is at the heart of the neoliberalist project such that this raises important issues in relation to place and meaning. This is also remarked upon by Michel Foucault. When commenting on the "human site" he says that it is a function of our times that a certain type of knowledge is required when examining space, such that "knowing what relations of propinquity, what type of storage, circulation, marking, and classification of human elements should be adopted in a given situation in order to achieve a given end." (2001: 238) This becomes pertinent when applied to the process of capital accumulation inasmuch as when the "given end" is the project of acquiring space, then a knowledge of how processes such as "circulation" and "marking" operate become useful in altering the appearance of spaces such that they manifest in a new way, occluding their socio-historical origins. Guy Debord also remarks on aesthetics and urban semiotics in a similar way to both Katz and Foucault. He states: "What is false creates taste, and reinforces itself by knowingly eliminating any possible reference to the authentic." (1998: 50) He explains that "Today [...] the tendency to replace the real with the artificial is ubiquitous [...] Everything will be more beautiful than before, for the tourists' cameras." (1998: 51) In Katz's case study, removing the signs of homelessness was one of the priorities of the Grand Central Partnership. Postmodern geographical praxis is what is employed to reveal these types of heterotopic inconsistencies.


Links:


The North/South Divide: Spaces of Illusion and Compensation in Leeds
Cindi Katz
Grand Central Terminal

References:
Debord, Guy. 1998. Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (London and New York: Verso).
Foucault, Michel. 2001. 'Of Other Spaces', The Visual Culture Reader, ed. by Nicholas Mirzooeff (London and New York: Routledge). pp. 237-244.
Katz, Cindi. 2001. ''Hiding the Target: Social Reproduction in the Privatized Urban Environment'', Postmodern Geography: Theory and Praxis, ed. by Claudio Minca (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers). pp. 93-110.
Sadler, Simon. 2001. The Situationist City (Cambridge: The MIT Press).

Thursday, 2 February 2012

The North/South Divide: Heterotopias of Illusion and Compensation in Leeds


Last week I was fortunate enough to be interviewed for an upcoming BBC Radio 4 programme on the North/South divide. So, on Thursday 26th of February the radio producer Mary Ward-Lowery and the insomniac writer-psychogeographer Ian Marchant came 'ooop norfff' to walk and talk with me in Leeds.

After researching Danny Dorling's work in this area, where the above map comes from, I decided to take them on a walk that looks at the north/south enclaves within these areas. For instance, a north/south divide actually within the north. I chose the border of Holbeck Urban Village and Holbeck 'proper'.

While I didn't take any photos on the walk, it is an area I have spent much time in before, so all the photos in this blog are of Holbeck in Leeds. The first photo below is from the, now, 'trendy' urban village, emerging as a post-yuppy space with modern flats for 'young professionals' and new-media companies. The other image is taken in the 'old' Holbeck itself, the streets where the people live while the redbrick terraces are being pulled down around them.


On the walk I decided to compare these adjacent areas with the similar, but much larger project at the Isle of Dogs in London, Canary Wharf. This area in Leeds does include Granary Wharf, so it's not that much of a stretch. London has its One Canada Square and we have our Bridgewater Place.

While I have lots to say about these postmodern urban village projects and how they effect the local community, what I would like to do is comment on this situation from the perspective of Michel Foucault and Cindi Katz. I won't include my deconstructive comments on borders and space that were part of the interview, as I think they could be included in the radio show, but will add to the border dichotomy by including some work I have done on space in the last week since the radio interview.


Katz explains how the process of privatizing space is at the heart of the neoliberalist project such that this raises important issues in relation to place and meaning. This is also remarked upon by Foucault. When commenting on the "human site" he says that it is a function of our times that a certain type of knowledge is required when examining space, such that "knowing what relations of propinquity, what type of storage, circulation, marking, and classification of human elements should be adopted in a given situation in order to achieve a given end." (2001: 238) This becomes pertinent when applied to the process of capital accumulation inasmuch as when the "given end" is the project of acquiring space, then a knowledge of how processes such as "circulation" and "marking" operate become useful in altering the appearance of spaces such that they manifest in a new way, occluding their socio-historical origins.


As Katz explains, this appears in the form of a "visible monumentality [that] is built on rendering invisible those who are on the losing end of the great and growing divide between rich and poor". (2001: 103) Foucault touches upon these binary states as they relate to heterotopias. He discusses how, in a deconstructive way, the act of creating a space forms partitions that define both sides of these boundaries: for example, defining an illusory space will reaffirm a real space, and, he continues: "Or [...] creat[ing] a space that is other, another real space, as perfect, as meticulous, as well arranged as ours is messy, ill constructed, and jumbled." (2001: 243) Foucault describes these two types of spaces as heterotopias of "illusion" (the former) and "compensation" (the latter). (ibid.) Which become particularly relevant in regards to the regeneration project in Holbeck.


Katz uses terms such as "reordering", "regulation" and "sanitation" when discussing the rhetoric attached to these projects. (2001: 102) She explains that this compensatory function has the effect of organising space and the lived experience, such that it fits into a specific agenda. (ibid.) The colonially occupied space of Holbeck is becoming a heterotopia of compensation, in the process of being marked by its new occupiers.

Links:
Spitfires on the Line
The North South Divide - Where is the Line?

References:
Foucault, Michel. 2001. 'Of Other Spaces', The Visual Culture Reader, ed. by Nicholas Mirzooeff (London and New York: Routledge). pp. 237-244.
Katz, Cindi. 2001. ''Hiding the Target: Social Reproduction in the Privatized Urban Environment'', Postmodern Geography: Theory and Praxis, ed. by Claudio Minca (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers). pp. 93-110.