A Radical Cartography: Spatializing Power

(Excerpt from an unpublished manuscript, “Militancy and the Spatialization of Power: Rethinking Intellectual Labor, Relocating the University,” co-written with a friend in 2014.)

[Call and Response]
Ten years from now…
The thing that’s going to be written about Seattle…
Is not what tear gas bomb went off on what street corner…
But that the WTO in 1999…
Was the birth…
—This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Looking at the climbing heights of university buildings, the permanent grace of great lecture halls, and the largess of administration buildings, one quickly understands how power finds profound expression in space. While symbols of power are spread through language, written in signatures, displayed on emblems, attached to commencement robes, and stamped on letterhead, these signs can be easily reversed, replaced, or just plain pushed aside. The meaning of buildings is open to interpretation, dispute, and amendment, which is something made obvious in battles over memorials, architectural objects made almost exclusively for their symbolic value.[i] But such struggles are not reducible to conflicts over meaning, as the production of space holds unique influence over how society is perceived, conceived, and lived.[ii]

Given the gravitational power of monumentalizing space, it is no wonder that social movements have supplemented state-built projects with their own memorials. In the ’60s and ’70s, black students demanded Black Studies programs; many occupied buildings, christening them with names such as ‘Malcolm X Hall.’[iii] In Buenos Aires, political discontents that were silently kidnapped, tortured, and executed are remembered with painted silhouettes on sidewalks and walls.[iv] And during the Iraq War, peace groups set up model cemeteries that brought the war home.[v]

Yet monuments, whether giving form to state power or challenging it, use space in the same way: they fend off the future by preserving either the present or the past.[vi] Monumentalization slows down the infinite speed of thought by introducing space, which submits it to the geologic time-scale of rock, sand, and paint.[vii] And with those mineralized monuments, architects construct temples to power that appear as permanent as the mountains they are built from.[viii]

But one need not conquer the earth by moving mountains. Consider the basic element of architecture: the frame.[ix] The frame distinguishes between an inside and outside, and it is with these slices of the world that the built environment is made. A floor carves out a home from the earth. A window lets a little bit of the earth back in. And furthermore, a monument freezes a frame to preserve what it has captured inside itself while blocking out the outside.[x]

Bricks and mortar are not wrong; in fact they are absolutely necessary, as all life depends on a minimal amount of preservation. But the spatialization of power often interferes with the capacity to temporalize finitude, which would make preservation selective rather than an imperative.[xi] Monumentalized space therefore defines the dead zones on our map –places to be subverted or simply avoided. When power is slowed enough to stand tall and be easily seen, it stops tapping into the power of indiscernibility.[xii] We therefore map fossils of power to see where things went wrong and living knowledge was sent to die.

Old, forgotten men in statuesque poses haunt most university quads; long departed from the flow of life, they keep vigil over the schools they helped build. Few serve as sites of conflict or points of contention. While near Wall Street, an enraged bull stands with its head down and horns up, as if frozen in the middle of an angry charge. Similar bulls, though ‘younger’ and ‘stronger,’ have been placed in Amsterdam, the early home of capitalism, and Shanghai, which is perhaps its next.

If these former living beings are the product of their environments, just as organisms emerge as ‘solutions’ to the ‘problem’ of their milieu, then they express the dead life of each place.[xiii] Both are the art of work, labor captured and permanently restrained, yet the dead labor they perform differs substantially. The great men of the University of Great Ideas are forms of life long passed and remain only as beautiful souls offering a gentle reminder of a time where reason or even national culture drove university life.[xiv] In contrast, the bulls are locked in mid-motion with their muscles tense, eyes directed at an invisible target, stopped right before they released their violent energy.

If an intellectual is to embody antagonism, they must oppose both of these calcified forms. Living knowledge betrays the great men of reason and the deadly bulls of capitalism. Yet the power of the university does not lie in its bricks and mortar, though its walls often stand as barricades to the encroaching interests of capital, but its power comes from deterritorializing living labor and releasing its antagonistic force into the world. Such an operation subtracts itself from the spatialization of power and circulates within cycles of struggle.

[i] Erika Doss, Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).

[ii] Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (Maiden, MA: Blackwell Press, 1991), 38-9.

[iii] Eric Simmons, “UCSB Black Studies Dept. Built From 1968 Black Student Union Protest,“ The Daily Nexus, 12 Feb 2001, http://dailynexus.com/2001-02-12/ucsb-black-studies-dept-built-from-1968-black-student-union-protest/ (accessed 4 Mar 2013).

[iv] Diana Taylor, “’You are Here’: H.I.J.O.S. and the DNA of Performance,” The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 161-189.

[v]  Ken MacLeish, “The Tense Present History of the Second Gulf War: Revelation and Repression in Memorialization,” Text, Practice, Performance VI (2006): 69-84.

[vi] Lefebvre has an extended consideration of monuments and monumentalization in The Production of Space, 220-228.

[vii] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, “Geophilosophy,” in What is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 85-113.

[viii] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 377, 402.

[ix] Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?, 183.

[x] Elizabeth Grosz, Chaos, Territory Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth (New York: Columbia University Press), 10-17.

[xi] Guy Debord argues that capitalism alienates time through space, and ultimately proposes liberating space through noncapitalist time. A summation of his point of this general argument in found in his The Society of the Spectacle, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York: Zone Books, 1994), especially in thesis 170, where he writes that “the requirement of capitalism that is met by urbanism in the form of a freezing of life might be described, in Hegelian terms, as an absolute predominance of ‘tranquil side-by-sideness’ in space over ‘restless becoming in the progression of time.’”.

[xii] Deleuze and Guattari speak of becoming-indiscernible in relation to linguistics, segmentarity, and animality. This is not a fading away, as in a ghost who leaves only a trace of life, but a guerilla operation. Once in the zone of indiscernible, the power of a form of life is derived not from itself but from its milieu.

[xiii] George Canuilhem, “The Living and its Milieu,” trans. John Savage, in Grey Room, No. 3 (Spring, 2001): 6-31.

[xiv] The critical reference here is Bill Reading’s The University in Ruins (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997).

 

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Upcoming Conference/Keynote

Excited to announce that I will be the keynote speaker at Western University’s annual grad conference on “Toxic/Cities,” held March 2-4, presented by the Graduate Programs in Comparative Literature, Hispanic Studies, and Theory & Criticism.

Consider submitting! CFP below.

Call for Papers

Toxic/cities

19th Annual Graduate Student Conference

March 2-4, 2017

Western University, London, Ontario, Canada

Deadline for submission of abstracts: December 2, 2017

Presented by the Graduate Programs in Comparative Literature, Hispanic Studies, and Theory & Criticism

Western University invites you to take up the topic: Toxic/cities

at the 19th Annual Graduate Student Conference, to be held from March 2-4, 2017 in London, Ontario, Canada.

Historically, the city has been considered a place of civilization, modernity, and opportunity; yet, for many the city is also a site of exploitation, excretion, and contamination. Millions of immigrants flocked to Ellis Island with the hopes of finding a better life in New York City; however, for many, the American Dream was shattered by the reality that the city can be monstrous and barbaric. Spanish author García Lorca wrote in his poem “The Dawn”: “The light is buried under chains and noises / in impudent challenge of rootless science. / Through the suburbs sleepless people stagger, / as though just delivered from a shipwreck of blood.” While some successfully navigate this darkness, many people encounter a place full of toxins and decay. A city that is both living and dead.

As Italo Calvino puts it in the last part of Invisible Cities, “The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.” The city, like an organism, is permeable and vulnerable to the very toxins it produces. People inhabiting toxic spaces can revel in this darkness or try to resist it. Decay itself can be revitalizing or lethal; dead communities can come alive. Conversely, the liveliest of communities can succumb to toxins and die.

 

This conference seeks to examine literary, historical, and theoretical investigations of toxicity in spaces, including but not limited to cities, suburbs, countrysides, or imaginary spaces. Topics for discussion include notions of abjection in literature and theory, contamination of language and degradation through translation, garbage art, indigenous eco-visions, rabid consumerism, scientific fallout, and disposable cultures. We encourage submissions from across these disciplines: literary, critical and cultural theory, cultural studies, philosophy, digital humanities, linguistics, film studies, visual arts, history, anthropology, and sociology. We invite submissions on:

  1. Toxicity
  2. Authors, languages, theories, cultures, texts, films, and artworks that depict contamination or decay.
  3. Decay in communication caused by literary, linguistic and cultural barriers, silence, censorship, semantic ambiguity, practices and cultures of ineffective language acquisition.
  4. Toxic consequences of:
    1. language evolution and variation, dialect contact, language attrition.
    2. birth of monstrosity, mutation, madness, mad science.
  • the pharmakon, dark vitalism/ecology, immunitary logics
  1. Recovery from periods of decline and decay (coming out of toxic environments).

 

  1. (Toxic) City
  2. Studies of spaces including but not limited to urban, suburban, rural, or imaginary spaces from a variety of approaches such as ecocriticism, sustainability, digital humanities, the Anthropocene, dystopian theory, etc.)
  3. The collapse or metamorphosis of religious institutions, political systems, social values, or economic policies that are in decay.
  4. Resistance to decay, ways of expressing resistance, autopoeisis as counter-discourse, immunization / inoculation, coping mechanisms, resolutions to toxic issues, positive visions of social cohesion.
  5. Decay as productive of underground networks of communication and speculative theory.

 Related fields and topics may include:

Feminist studies Utopia/Dystopia
Cultural studies Petro-fiction
Queer studies The post-human
Ethnic studies Experimental arts
Indigenous studies The DarkWeb
Disability studies Post-colonialism
Translation studies
Linguistics
History
Anthropology
Sociology
Philosophy
Music
Visual arts
Creative Writing / Expressions
Film studies

We are asking those interested in delivering 15 to 20-minute presentations to submit abstracts of no more than 300 words to uwo19mllgradconf@gmail.com by December 2, 2016. Please include your name, paper keywords, institutional affiliation, technical requirements, and a 50-word bio in your email. Abstracts and presentations in English, Spanish and French are welcome, and selected papers will be published in The Scattered Pelican, a peer-reviewed journal run by students of the comparative literature program, after the conference. *We are also accepting original artwork in the form of video, photography, visual arts, sound art and poetry.  For more information, including submission guidelines for artworks, please visit www.uwotoxicityconference.wordpress.com

Non-constitutive Rhetoric: Or the Banality of Control

I prepared this paper for the forthcoming National Communication Association conference for a panel on affect. As with a much academic writing, I followed fairly strict disciplinary constraints; in this case, I am bridging rhetorical theory and advances in affect studies from other fields. The argument is not terribly original, though I make a few important distinctions that weed out inadequate interpretations of affect and establish the political stakes of affect theory (from a Marxist perspective). I will cut out roughly 3/4 of the material (to about 1200 words) to reduce it to a 10 minute talk.

My purpose today is to update the rhetorical studies theory of subjectivity. I argue that ‘affect theory’ should replace the older psychoanalytic model of interpellation. To concretize my argument, I analyze banal rhetoric; namely, the cybernetic subjectivity produced by “stock listings, currencies, corporate accounting, national budgets, computer languages, mathematics, scientific functions, [and] equations” (Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, 80).

Before I dive in, let provide you with a short preview of my argument. I begin by considering an essential axiom of critical rhetoric theory: “rhetoric produces subjectivity.” The prevailing theory is that subjectivity is an ideological effect of an implied audience (Charland, “Québécois”; Delgado, “Chicano Movement”). The most popular explanatory mechanism is interpellation, which draws on Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory of symbolic mediation (Althusser, “ISA,” 162). I argue that this model is no longer appropriate, for as Eugene Holland argues, “what Althusser actually describes is not the ideological constitution of the Subject, but only of the citizen” (“Schizoanalytic Critique”). The consequence of my argument is that rhetoricians explaining subjectivity through interpellation limited their focus to the State and relations of obedience/disobedience.

Second, I explain how banal rhetoric reveals modes of subjectivity beyond the citizen-subject. My claim is that rhetorical power now “speaks, communicates, and acts ‘assisted’ by all kinds of mechanical, thermodynamic, cybernetic, and computer machines” (Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, 29). I analyze “the language of infrastructures” to show how rhetoric solicits subjectivity without constituting a people or even addressing a subject (Pasolini, Heretical Empiricism, 63; Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, 61). As such, I do not celebrate affects as a challenge to abusive power; rather, I follow in the footsteps of Frédéric Lordon, who argues in Willing Slaves of Capital that joyous affects are the very means of our contemporary exploitation.

Lastly, I suggest two consequences from studying banal rhetoric: one, artifact selection need not be tied to rhetoric that hails “the people,” invokes an identity, or provides a symbolic program of action (McGee, “The People”; Charland, “Peuple Québécois”; Delgado, “Chicano Movement”); and two, the political search for rhetorical resistance need not emerge from distinct counter-publics or out-law discourses (Warner, Publics and Counter-Publics; Sloop and Ono, “Out-Law Discourse”).

Briefly restating my roadmap: I begin by discussing interpellation, continue with a discussion of affect, and end with the consequence an affect theory of subjectivity for future scholarship. Continue reading “Non-constitutive Rhetoric: Or the Banality of Control”

Three New Publications

Krzysztof Kieslowski: I’m So-So…(1998) dir. Krzysztof Wierzbicki

Three new publications:
> “Philosophy, Science, and Virtual Communism,” Angelaki 20(4): Link, Liberated
> “The State, Concept not Object: Abstraction, Empire, Cinema, ” parallax 21(4): Link, Liberated
> “Confronting Connectivity: Feminist Challenges to the Metropolis,” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 12(5): Link (live Nov 19), Liberated.

Connectivity as Inclusive Disjunction

cloudAbstractly, connectivity operates through inclusive disjunction, a process that puts otherwise foreign elements into communication with one another through an encounter that does not require those pieces to operate through a shared logic.[i] Rather than in-folding some common term, such as the introjection of an imperial dictate, The Metropolis unfolds. It exposes interiors through a mutual opening up (to name a few: the privatization of economic risk through increased debt obligation, the removal of tariffs that protect national industries, or the exemption of citizenship rights against government assassination).[ii] In this sense, those who condemn capitalism as a homogenizing force are incorrect – inclusion can spread through divergence. The Metropolis retains differential relations of parts by selecting “a particular zone that varies with each” that will make possible its integration of the “sum of infinitely tiny things.”[iii] Furthermore, by being more than inclusion based on a common term (the law, a nation, a people), disjunction is pure relation, a movement of “reciprocal asymmetric implication,” that expresses only difference itself (and not imposing equivalence, resolving into a general category, or synthesizing into a superior identity).[iv] The Metropolis hence shares Deleuze’s “most profound insight” that “difference is just as much communication, contagion of heterogeneities,” which means, “to connect is always to communicate on either side of a distance, by the very heterogeneity of terms.”[v] The effect of this contagion does not result in a unity, combination, or fusion; inclusive disjunction maintains a “politeness” – “an art of distances.”[vi]

Continue reading “Connectivity as Inclusive Disjunction”

Confronting Connectivity


The future is ‘connectivity,’ or so say today’s tech execs. “Soon everyone on Earth will be connected,” they declare, followed by worn promises of increased productivity, health, education, and happiness.[i] On its face, they are simply echoing the old trope of the level playing field repeated by empire builders from Niccolò Machiavelli to Thomas Friedman. What then is new? How connectivity forges horizontal connections between the virtual and physical worlds. As a consequence, the digital logic of combinatorial difference is now used as a tool of governance to “intensify, accelerate, and exacerbate phenomena in the world so that a difference in degree will become a difference in kind.”[ii] In sum, connectivity is the new techno-utopian business strategy that braids the physical with the virtual to create a socio-political empire of difference.

Google’s connectivity thesis is a sign that power is logistical – its authority resides in roads, cellphone towers, and data centers, which are overseen by legislators who keep the flows moving. Continue reading “Confronting Connectivity”