Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Cartography: Representation and Revealing the Hidden

In 'Postmodern Temptations', in Postmodern Geography: Theory and Praxis, Claudio Minca explains that, historically, our concept of space has been dominated by the 'the metaphysics of representation', and in his essay he demonstrates the problem that this has created in regards to power and concealment. Minca says that the duality inherent in seeing abstract life and the concrete world as separate, has “colonized” our relationship with space (2001: 197-198). And, this worldview also has the dual effect of hiding that logic behind its structure:
The map, the classical tool of geographic descriptions of the world and its various 'parts', similarly embodies the logic of such a 'colonization'. It is through its simulation of more or less reliable reproductions of the territory, that mappings have succeeded in naturalizing the continual evocation of some underlying, objective reality which only awaits to be unveiled, to be narrated; a reality whose order – and whose very existence – necessarily depended on its representability.
(Minca 2001: 198).

Minca is saying that cartography has the process of naturalising the allocation (or acquisition) of territories that are inherent in its project. What it does is merely offer a representation of space as seen from a particular perspective; but over time this model of the world becomes concretised within a particular worldview. If this is the problem with the modernist geographic project of mapping, it is important to consider the impact of this on a postmodern cartographic project. It has been the aim of this project to lift the consumerist veil which cloaks the university, in order to challenge its corporate 'logic'. But, this is based on an assumption that there is an objective reality hiding underneath, that can be revealed. This assumption could be problematic if one is attempting to locate a locus of power within the university.

To further explain the problems of creating a cartography of the world, Minca provides a complex example of two types of maps: Map A is a map that is a representation of an area that sees itself as part of a project that exists because this materiality can only be realised through the actual territory; Map B is a hidden map of meaning that can only be brought to light through concrete actualisation; this is “the real referent” (2001: 212-213). A useful way of thinking about these models might be to apply the Freudian concepts of manifest (Map A) and latent (Map B) to them. Map A, then, becomes what appears to the dreamer (to the viewer of the map) and is a reproduction that becomes lost in the process of translation (the dreamwork). It is the exterior appearance of the dream that can be recounted upon waking; for the map it is what appears in place of the unrepresentable. Map B, as the latent one, becomes available through the decoding of the manifest map. It is the manifest map that draws the latent map into the light. Map B is interior and hidden. Minca explains that when Map B fits with Map A, we consider it to be 'real' (2001: 213). Overdetermination, in regards to maps, being the consequence of the (latent) elements of Map B being represented many times in the, fewer, manifest signs that appear in Map A. In a political sense, Althusser sees overdetermination as the multiple voices available in a given situation that represent different viewpoints. Even though the dream is the product of one person, it is often the result of competing internal voices that represents certain drives. The process of mapping, while the product of a particular worldview, can say as much about the terrain by what it disregards or sweeps aside, as it can by what it promotes in its ideological manifesto.

Minca describes this modernist cartographic model as “the 'secret' of the colonization of the world” because it is a closed logic and describes only one possible reality:
It is here that we come fact to face with the iron-clad logic of cartographic reason, a logic which recognizes the existence of the territory in the only form in which it is capable of conceiving it; as the representation of a plan, a project; essentially as the representation of the cartography which has produced it.
(2001: 214).

Minca's discussion on cartography hinges around the colonization of the world and not the form of representation capital takes in the postmodern world. However, what is comparable here is that capitalism represents a plan, even if that plan involves the illusion of incorporation (everyone can have a stake) or the idea that it has behind it that we are free citizens, existing in a free market, able to make free choices. Globalization is the culmination of this free-market model. But at the same time, the ideology behind this model disguises social relations. This is apparent in the way poorer countries, in their attempt to get a foothold in the dominant financial model, have to make sacrifices on a human level: for example, in negotiating with richer countries a rate to be paid for disposing of their nuclear waste for them. This exchange produces a whole new concept of space: territory is altered by becoming a prohibited space due to the dangers from radioactive matter imported from elsewhere in the world.

As Minca says of modern cartography, it is simply a representation of itself, of its own model. This is the simulacra of capitalism that the Situationists so abhorred, and of which Jean Baudrillard discusses when he talks about the simulated signs that proliferate in the postmodern environment, never finding a resting place. This is the power of capitalism's face; attempting to look behind that face might imply there is something static, solid and central hiding behind the surface. In an essay entitled 'Hiding the Target: Social Reproduction in the Privatized Urban Environment' Cindi Katz states that the concept of a “hidden city” implies that the globalizing machine takes advantage of the already existing imbalance in concrete social practices (2001: 93). But, she goes on to say: “The hidden city is itself an outcome and representation of what might be understood as 'postmodern geographical praxis', but so too is the project of its unhiding.” (ibid.). But, because there is no central place where capitalism exists, this does not mean it cannot be revealed. It just means, in a way, it is located everywhere. This makes the search for the signs of capitalism easier than first appears. In relation to the project at hand, the university, this becomes apparent when historically examining objects that exist in space.

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.
Minca, Claudio. 2001. 'Postmodern Temptations', Postmodern Geography: Theory and Praxis, ed. by Claudio Minca (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers). pp. 196-225.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Revealing Objects

In an article entitled 'A world you never knew existed', part of a series called 'Secret Britain' in The Guardian newspaper, Iain Sinclair discussed his process of psychogeography and how this helps reveal a hidden Britain. As previously mentioned, the dérives on campus were organised around the element of chance and directed us to locations which otherwise we would remain ignorant of: “These sites, come upon by accident, prick our imagination, provoke reverie.” (Sinclair 2009: 5). Sinclair explains how it is only at the point of near extinction that some buildings become visible to us for the first time (ibid.).

On the University of Leeds walks, one of the focuses of interest on The White Horseman Dérive was the space of a building that was no longer there, and which had in its place a steel frame, awaiting the materials that would then enable it to manifest itself as the new Charles Morris Hall in 2010. As Sinclair succinctly states: “When you don't see it, it is still there. And when you do, it is on the point of disappearance.” (ibid.). Félix Guattari explains that through its use of a system of signs “the capitalist Signifier, as simulacrum of imaginary power, has the job of overcoding all the other Universes of value.” (1995: 105). At the university, the “capitalist Signifier”, in the form of excellence, rewrites other systems of value. It does this by dampening the effects of anything that threatens it, and by reproducing those values and effects it finds beneficial to its task.

Sinclair explains how the most hackneyed of objects appear intriguing when examined from a new perspective (2009: 6), and this has been the case on the dérives carried out on the University of Leeds campus:
It is astonishing how the multitude of explorers, out there in the British landscape, bring back evidence of worlds within worlds. The smallest entries in the gazetteer of personal treasures plays its part in forming a coherent whole, a fiction of disappearance and restitution. (ibid.).

The found souvenirs from the walks, have acted not only as names for the dérives, but also have been evidence of a history: on one walk, The Lea Farm Drive Dérive, the found souvenir was a bus ticket which contained the data of someone's journey. To those on the walk, all that remained of the person and/or their journey, was the ticket which was left as a trace of that event: they had taken a journey to/from Lea Farm Drive in Seacroft, Leeds.

The objects that form the urban environment, often appearing as disparate elements in space, can become re-connected when expressed in a new subjectivity. This can be seen in how the dérives actually function. For example, in the White Horseman Dérive the method of randomness for finding stopping points was by throwing dice and attributing the numbers that came up to the numbers of buildings on the standard university map. By following the route decided by the dice this created a new relationship for these buildings; the buildings became part of a new process. The output of the dérives became an expression of this, produced by a specific aesthetic response from those involved, one not organised by conventional power structures.

Guattari, Félix. 1995. Chaosmosis: An ethico-aesthetic paradigm, trans. by Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press).
Sinclair, Iain. 'A world you never new', 'Secret Britain', The Guardian, April 2009, pp. 4-6.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

An Island of Heterotopia

At one time the cemetery of St George's Field in Leeds was on the edge of the university campus, but it now appears as an enclave within the campus itself. An aerial photo of the university, taken in 1953, shows it only bordered on one side by the university. Now, in 2009, it is bordered on all sides by university property. Over the years, the university has managed to appropriate the cemetery into its own space (this has been done in a spectacular way on one border of the cemetery: the wall of the cemetery that borders Clarendon Road has become the base of the Henry Price Building, a halls of residence). But, interestingly, the university also manages to somehow hide the cemetery, although it is not clear why this is the case. It is only signposted at the main point of entry, the main gate-house entrance, and no path for pedestrians exists near this entrance, only a road. The cemetery appears as a kind of island in the campus.

In his essay 'Of Other Spaces' Foucault classifies cemeteries as heterotopias. A heterotopia is an physical space that has the ability to incorporate a number of incompatible concepts of space within its single framework (Foucault 2001: 241). For the cemetery, these somewhat contradictory themes involve many aspects. For example, once the body is brought onto the ground of the cemetery it exists in a number of states, up to and including burial, and is regarded differently depending on those states. Foucault explains that it was not until the beginning of the 19th century that every person was given a right to their own box and space of land that accorded it; however, this coincided with the moving of cemeteries to the edge of towns and villages (ibid.). This is what the plaque outside St George's Field says:
Alarmed by the insanitary and overcrowded state of the Parish Church graveyard and body snatching, the Leeds elite bought £25 shares in the Leeds General Cemetery Company. It acquired St George’s Field and created this fine private cemetery, where many Leeds worthies lie.
Architect: John Clarke
Opened 1835

Because dead and decaying bodies brought with them the idea of illness and disease, this disturbed the Victorians, and cemeteries were “no longer the sacred and immortal heart of the city” (ibid.). Because of the acquisition of the cemetery of St George's Field by the Leeds elite, it became a private cemetery for the bourgeoisie. The utopian idea that graveyards enabled a space for everyone in their death, for St George's Fields at least, became changed to that of providing a space for those who could afford it.

Foucault explains that heterotopias are not like utopias, which are “sites with no real space.” (2001: 239). Utopias are unreal in that they are ideas about how society should be (ibid.). However, this notion of utopia is not opposed to heterotopia. Heterotopias are spaces that contain utopian notions but are different from all the other sites that they are connected to: “I believe that between utopias and these quite other sites, these heterotopias, there might be a sort of mixed, joint experience, which could be the mirror.” (ibid.). They are places where one sees oneself in a shadow-like form (ibid.).

Previously cemeteries (and churches) were the locus of the village, town or city, because they were tied in with the family, their history and lineage (2001: 241). The identity of the individual was heavily indebted to the family, and this was tied to geographical space at a time when people could not move about like they can today. The church, the centre of worship and congregation (and the moral compass), was attached to the cemetery which housed the bodies of dead relatives, providing a history for the family, and a security in a past, and hence a future. In their minds people could see themselves there in the graveyard: in the graves of their forefathers and in their own future place after death; like the mirror-effect of which Foucault speaks. The decline of the city-state, which came with the moving of the cemeteries to the outside of the centre of cultural space, heralds the beginning of a shift in cultural identity. This foreshadowed the decline of the concept of nation-state a century later.

What makes St George's Field particularly interesting as a heterotopia, is that in addition to the layers of meaning of space already associated with it because it is a cemetery, are those that have come about in recent history. Since the University of Leeds (and the accompanying Trust) became responsible for its upkeep, the space has changed again. The whole area has been landscaped, which has involved, among other things: making the original gravestones into paving stones that have become the actual paths of the cemetery; and relocating some gravestones into little oases, for the purposes of the aesthetics of the space, for example, by grouping them together under trees. Therefore, the bodies interned there cannot be located by their gravestones. This still causes distress for relatives today: Christine Bairstow wrote to the Yorkshire Evening Post in 2008, to protest about the fact she cannot locate her twin sister who died in 1946 (McTaggart 2008: 1). This makes the mirror motif of Foucault's even more complex. Christine Bairstow's twin (genetically as close a person to oneself that one can ever know) exists somewhere under the earth of the cemetery and cannot be located by her sister: she is simultaneously there and not there. This notion, while highlighting one of the qualities of a heterotopia, does not provide the counterpoint of the 'true' mirror: Christine knows her sister's body exists somewhere under the surface of the cemetery, but she cannot locate the actual point in space. On one of the dérives, a memorial to Christine's twin sister was discovered. She was 6 months old when she died.

In its redevelopment, another space has been juxtaposed on the cemetery: it is now a place of historic value in that it forms an archive for the university and for historians in general; it is also a space of aesthetic beauty, somewhere to be visited and admired for its landscaping and interesting architecture. It, too, provides a place of controversy: people cannot locate their relatives in space, since the gravestones have been relocated. In addition, the chapel (figure 9) now houses part of the university library archive. It is not used as a place of worship, but a place of storage. The God of religion has been replaced by technology's output, the God of bureaucracy. The space of the cemetery at St George's Field hangs on to a tenuous relationship with its past. Through its re-appropriation by the university - spatially and functionally - it has moved from sacred place and consecrated ground, to a symbol that reflects the function of the corporate university: the acquisition of property, the disregard of working-class space; and the firm emplacement of bureaucracy in its 'rightful' place at the centre.

Foucault, Michel. 2001. 'Of Other Spaces', The Visual Culture Reader, ed. by Nicholas Mirzooeff (London and New York: Routledge). pp. 237-244.