Saturday, December 11, 2004

Marat/Sade Play Review (Sana)

Sana Haque
Play Review: The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charendon under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade
Playwright: Peter Weiss
Performance: The Shakespeare Theatre Company - Phoenix, AZ (October 2003)

Peter Weiss' play The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charendon under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade is a fascinating starting point for the analysis of many poststructuralist concepts and themes. Among these are the multiplicity of narratives and voices, the body as a site for the construction of identity, the deconstruction of authoritative truths, the exercise of power, structures of authority, and the ultimate ambiguity of all textual "meanings".
The play utilizes a complex structure in which the audience in the theater observes a play within a play that already has an "audience" present on the stage, as the inmates of the asylum at Charendon attempt to perform a play directed by the Marquis de Sade and focused on the life and times of the revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat. This element of "stories within stories" reflects the poststructuralist emphasis on multiple narratives and voices, destabilizing essentialist truths such as the ideology of the French revolution advocated by Marat in the play, which itself mirrors the revolutionary social ferment of the 1960's at the time Weiss wrote the play. As in poststructuralist thought, the diverse narratives that claim to speak the truth about the world (Marat's revolutionary fervor versus Sade's anarchistic nihilism, for example) are allowed to compete for the audience's attention without any one "truth" being established with absolute certainty. In fact, the verbal articulation of these narratives is itself often drowned out by the sheer physicality and incoherence of the inmates and their distracting actions and utterances (squeals, hysterical laughter, masturbation, facial tics, etc.).
This emphasis on the body and its materiality is another poststructural preoccupation that is amply explored in the context of the play. The inmates embody various forms of physical and mental disorder, sickness, and neurosis that reflect the chaotic breakdown of meaning and order in other aspects of human society, whether at the time of the French revolution or in the present day. The inmate who plays Marat, for example, is convulsed by severe itching and skin inflammation that obliges him to remain in a bathtub in order to find relief for his symptoms. The body also serves as a site for the exercise of power, as witnessed in the beating of inmates by prison guards who repeatedly intervene to assert their authority over them, the priest imprisoned in a straitjacket and physically silenced and constrained, and the chaos that breaks out when the prisoners revolt at the end, inflicting violence such as rape and assault upon the bourgeoisie family witnessing their stage performance. Power is also an element in the class struggle championed by Marat, the Marquis' desire for sexual sadist/masochist games, and the complex relationship between audience and performers throughout.
The confusion of identities and roles is another key theme of the play. As the audience, we are drawn into the "madness" on stage, as it becomes difficult to differentiate between the actors and their roles as asylum inmates playing additional roles, or between ourselves and the other audience present on stage for whom the secondary performance is ostensibly intended. This reflects the poststructuralist view that meaning is contingent and dependent upon interpretation, as texts are always ambiguous and open to multiple possibilities and that our social roles and identities are constructed by means of discourse and our placement in structures of power and relationship. Both the process of writing and performance are also deconstructed in a self-reflexive manner, as we witness Marat's struggle to develop his writings within the text of the play and the Marquis' attempts at staging a production in the context of a staged performance itself. This self-consciousness about process and the disruption of both narrative and audience identification that it entails is characteristic of the construction of postmodern texts.
In conclusion, the Marat/Sade play is a valuable complement to serious study on poststructuralism as it constructs a complex narrative that explores key elements of poststructural thought through its physical structure as well as themes in the stories it portrays.

Friday, December 10, 2004

The Concept of the Foreign (Sana)

Sana Haque
Text - The Concept of the Foreign: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue
Publisher - Lanham, MD: Lexington Books (2003)

This text is an interdisciplinary exploration of the "concept of the foreign", i.e. expressions of alterity, the strange, and the "Other", viewed through the lens of disciplines such as Anthropology, Literary Studies, Psychology, and Social Work, among others. The first section, entitled "Theoretical Dialogue", is an explication of qualities that define the foreign and the various methodologies and approaches taken by the book's contributors to the study of this concept. The second section, entitled "Local Manifestations", is a series of essays contributed by a range of academics on the topic, treating the notion of encountering and defining the foreign in specific contexts ranging from foreigners in the Egyptian nation-state to the construction of the artist as explorer of unfamiliar realms to the metaphysical experience of alien abduction.

Part One: Theoretical Dialogue

Rebecca Saunders explores the theoretical underpinnings of this investigation into the concept of the foreign in four introductory chapters, introducing key terms, definitions, and theories. In "Instability and Discipline", she explores the volatility of what constitutes the foreign in differing contexts, its capacity to unsettle and disturb orderly categories of thought, the attraction it possesses as the "dark" and secretly seductive side of human nature/culture, and its "propensity for inhabiting its antonyms - such as nations, homes, and selves" (Saunders, xi). In "Belonging, Distance" she examines in greater detail how the foreign is defined by notions of belonging and relative proximity, its inverse relationship to biological, familial, and "group" unity, and its connection to metaphors of dependence versus independence. In "The Pathologized, the Improper, and the Impure", she looks at the connections historically drawn between foreignness and other categories of disorder and darkness such as insanity, poverty, homelessness, and criminality, as well as its metaphysical status as "impurity, unconsciousness, irrelevance, and error" (Saunders, xi). Finally, in "The Present: Temporality and Materiality", she explores the intriguing connections between foreignness and temporality, from the past as foreign territory to its perpetually "translated" and mediated nature, and its troubled relationship with globalization, modernity, and the space of the present.

Part Two: Local Manifestations

- The Exile of Anthropology (Anthropology)
Peter Redfield and Sylvia Tomaskova examine the related experiences of ethnographic fieldwork and political exile as inverted images of one another. While the ethnographer makes a conscious choice to embrace the experience of cultural alienation and dislocation in an unfamiliar geographical location, the exile is involuntarily displaced from his or her "authentic" home and attempts to recreate images of lost familiarity in foreign territories.

- Foreign Bodies: Engendering Them and Us (Women's Studies)
Margot Badran uses her personal experience as the wife of an Egyptian man and a naturalized citizen to discuss metaphors and mechanisms for constructing notions of the foreign in Egypt. She explores how the foreign is gendered as female, whether it is the "foreign within" in the form of the indigenous woman who represents "nature", "instinct" and "earthiness", or foreigners from outside the bounds of the nation such as expatriates or new citizens who are excluded from full participation in national life.

- Expedition into the Zone of Error: Of Literal and Literary Foreignness and J.M. Coetzee's "Waiting for the Barbarians" (Literature)
Rebecca Saunders looks at three representations of the "zone of error" that constitutes the foreign - i.e. the difference between "literal" and "literary" foreignness, specific explorations of both in J.M. Coetzee's "Waiting for the Barbarians", and an application of this theoretical perspective to the South African system of apartheid. The "zone of error" is a space of doubt and metaphorical complexity that facilitates both the interpretation and construction of allegorical meanings.

- Encountering Alien Otherness (Philosophy)
Michael Zimmerman undertakes an exploration of the philosophical issues raised by the experience of alien abduction as abductees describe the intense psychological experience of being abducted and probed by aliens (as the ultimate non-human Other). He sees alien abduction narratives as a vehicle to examine the nature of encounters between human beings and radically different forms of alterity, whether psychological, material, or spiritual in nature, and the stimulus these provide to intellectual and moral growth for humankind.

- Xenotropism: Expatriatism in Theories of Depth Psychology and Artistic Vocation (Psychology)
Coco Owen looks at the work of four major psychologists, Freud, D. W. Winnicott, Kohut, and Hillman, to explore their usage of metaphors of the foreign to represent artistic activity and the realm of creative thought. This association of art with the foreign reflects its association with liminal, intuitive, and defamiliarizing modes of representation, which connect to the "id" or hidden depths of the human psyche and to the estrangement and alienation associated with the state of being "foreign".

- War to the Death: Nativism and Independence in Latin America (History)
John Chasteen provides an overview of the construction of identity and nationhood in Latin American countries following independence from Portugal and Spain. He describes the complex mix of racial and ethnic identities (African, Native American, European, etc.) that played a part in the formation of the contested concepts of "native" (Native American tribes, mestizos, etc.), "European" (i.e. those of Spanish or Portuguese descent) and "foreign" (the French, British, etc.).

- Changing Images and Similar Dynamics: Historical Patterning of Foreignness in the Social Work Profession (Social Work)
Izumi Sakamoto explores the historical development of the "foreigner" in the social work field in the United States, from the 19th century to the present day. The construction of parallel groups of "similar others" (e.g. Western European immigrants) and "dissimilar others" (e.g. African- or Native- Americans) largely determined access to resources, government support, and programs of assimilation.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Mythologies: Roland Barthes (Sana)

Sana Haque
Text: Mythologies
Author: Roland Barthes
Publisher: Hill and Wang (1972)

Roland Barthes' Mythologies consists of two sections, one containing a series of short essays on different aspects of French daily life written in a humorous journalistic style, and the second containing a longer theoretical essay entitled "Myth Today" that explores the methodology behind this deconstruction in greater detail. Barthes attempts to unravel the layers of meaning that lie behind seemingly innocuous everyday texts. His definition of "text" was one of the early formulations that expanded this notion to include any aspect of daily life with the potential to signify meaning (in the same way as a conventional linguistic sign). The texts that he "reads" in Mythologies include soap powders, children's toys, iconoclastic celebrities, tropes such as the idea of the "writer on holiday", women's magazines, and professional wrestling, among others. He deconstructs each image, product, discourse or act to reveal the ways in which it recreates and strengthens societal norms and values, reinforcing the hegemonic petit-bourgeoisie ideologies that dominated daily life in 1950's France.

One example of this method is the first essay "The World of Wrestling" in which he identifies the tawdry spectacle of pro-wrestling as the modern equivalent of ancient Greek drama performed in the amphitheater: "What is portrayed by wrestling is an ideal understanding of things; it is the euphoria of men raised for a while above the constitutive ambiguity of everyday situations and placed before the panoramic view of a univocal Nature, in which signs at last correspond to causes, without obstacle, without evasion, without contradiction" (Mythologies, 25). Barthes deciphers how wrestlers take on tragic or comic "stock" personas for the benefit of their fans and how their exaggerated gestures, drama, and Good vs. Evil conflicts perform a cathartic function for the audience, a venue through which frustrated emotion can find a release and the complexity of modern existence revert to black and white simplicity. As a result, "what is displayed for the public is the great spectacle of Suffering, Defeat, and Justice" and it can be said that "wrestlers [are] gods because they are, for a few moments, the key which opens Nature, the pure gesture which separates Good from Evil, and unveils the form of a Justice which is at last intelligible" (Mythologies, 25).

Another essay, "Novels and Children", explores how a feature story in the women's magazine Elle equates the literary output of women novelists with their corresponding domestic output, i.e. number of children. This serves to reinforce the traditional roles of housewife and mother even for those women granted success in creative pursuits. In "The Brain of Einstein", Barthes looks at society's fetishization of the great scientist's brain as an object possessing both exceptional mechanical power and an aura of esoteric energy. And in "Wine and Milk" the construction of French nationhood is examined through the symbolic vehicle of red wine, the consumption of which is indelibly tied to the concept of "Frenchness", while milk as the "anti-wine" is linked to strength, purity and traditional American values. The other essays deconstruct images along similar lines.

In the theoretical essay "Myth Today" Barthes builds on the ideas of linguists such as Ferdinand Saussure with his concept of the linguistic sign that consists of a signifier (the vehicle for the meaning) and the signified (the meaning being conveyed). In Barthes' application of this notion to the objects and practices of everyday life, he takes the analysis a step further and invests a further layer of meaning in each sign - the mythological meaning or cultural subtext that underlies the primary linguistic meaning. He names the language system that myth appropriates the "language-object", while myth itself is termed the "metalanguage", i.e. that language which is used to structure and manipulate everyday language. On the level of everyday language, the signifier is the "meaning" but on the level of myth, it becomes the "form". The signified remains the "concept" in both cases. That which is the "sign" on the first level, however, is equated to "signification" at the level of myth. For example, he deconstructs a photograph of a black man saluting the French flag on the cover of Paris-Match and explores the layers of meaning this image conveys, with the physical image on the paper serving as the original signifier and the signified being the literal reading of patriotism in terms of a loyal citizen saluting the flag, while the deeper or "mythological" meaning of the entire sign becomes a reinforcement of French imperialism by implying that France's non-White "citizens" in colonial territories were content and fulfilled in their role relative to the Empire. Myth being a "second order semiological system", the sign in the first system, which in this case is "the purposeful mixture of Frenchness and militariness" embodied in the figure of the black citizen saluting the flag, becomes a signifier in the second system that represents a bourgeoisie ideological glorification of Empire.

There are three potential ways to relate to myth, according to Barthes, as a producer, reader or decipherer of mythological speech. The task of the mythologist is to delve beneath several layers of meaning to uncover the ideological structure at the base, exposing the deceptive innocence of mythical speech as a sham. This process restores a sense of "history" and political relevance to naturalized images such as the "Negro-giving-the-salute" in the example above: "As the concept of French imperiality, here it is again tied to the totality of the world: to the general History of France, to its colonial adventures, to its present difficulties" (Mythologies, 119).

This mythological layer of meaning, then, despite its seemingly ahistorical "naturalness" and innocence, is determined by historical processes and motivated by the desire of dominant groups to maintain their ideologies and power. Myth, therefore, reflects the power structure in society at any given time. The hegemonic influence wielded by the petit-bourgeoisie, in Barthes' view, lies in their ability to construct an image of reality that seems most natural and "real" to the rest of society, even if it represents an ideal unattainable by these other segments of the population. It is the manufactured and ideological aspect of this taken-for-granted sphere of daily life that he wishes to reveal for what it is: "In the account given of our contemporary circumstances, I resented seeing Nature and History confused at every turn, and I wanted to track down, in the decorative display of what-goes-without-saying, the ideological abuse which, in my view, is hidden there" (Mythologies, 11). In keeping with this analysis, he goes on to delineate the difference between myth on the political Left and on the Right, noting that the Right is better at appropriating and manipulating mythological imagery. Myth is therefore "stronger" on the Right. It is weak on the Left because language on the Left is political and action-based, spoken "in order to transform reality and no longer to preserve it as an image" (Mythologies, 146). As the language of the oppressed, it lacks the richness and suppleness of myth on the Right, which is exemplified by the practices of inoculation, removal of history, absorption and neutralization of the Other, tautology, the promotion of mediocrity, the quantification of quality, and the "common sense" statement of fact.

Deleuze and Guattari: A Thousand Plateaus (Matt)

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus displays what may be characterized as a proto-hypertextual form insofar as it is organized as what the two term a rhizome, with a series of plateaus (chapters) that "can be read starting anywhere and can be related to any other plateaus" (22). This organization, along with the depth and complexity of the concepts that the two employ, renders the question of how one proceeds in reviewing the text somewhat difficult. In light of this difficulty, I will thus begin simply by identifying many of the more important concepts that the two employ throughout the text.

The authors develop a series of important binaries, though they are often careful to minimize the problematic implications of such an approach by emphasizing that such a method is an unfortunate necessity that must be passed through as one seeks to escape from such dualisms. The binaries frequently represent the virtual poles of a continuum that is actualized in mixtures, as when they note that "[t]here are knots of arborescence in rhizomes and rhizomatic offshoots in roots" (20). This arborescent/rhizomatic binary is perhaps one of the most important, with the former model, which Deleuze and Guattari claim has long dominated Western thought, being characterized by a strong principal unity, stratification, and hierarchic organization, while the rhizome is defined by its heterogeneity and its absence of hierarchy or unity. The latter is composed not of points and positions, but the dynamism of lines and trajectories and contains multiple points of entry.

Another key opposition that is developed throughout A Thousand Plateaus is that of the war machine and the State apparatus. This opposition is overlaid upon the rhizomatic/ arborescent, smooth/ striated, and nomadic/ sedentary oppositions developed elsewhere. The distinction is developed, in part, through reference to game theory; "[c]hess is a game of the State" that codes and decodes the striated space of the polis, while the war machine is more closely aligned with the game Go and its territorizlizations and deterritorializations of the smooth space of the nomos. The authors stress that the war machine does not in itself aim at war, but "necessarily adopts it as its object when it allows itself to be appropriated by the State apparatus" (513).

Issues of linguistics and semiotics play an important role throughout the text. In their prior work, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Deleuze and Guattari developed a rather systematic attack on psychoanalysis, which the two came to understand as merely one, though perhaps, the prime example of a type of linguistic and semiotic modeling underlying general formations of power within the West. Deleuzoguattarian semiotics is influenced heavily by the work of Louis Hjelmslev, who proposes the expression/ content distinction, which Deleuze and Guattari utilize as an alternative to the Saussurian understanding of the sign as the signifier/signified couple. The expression/content distinction is further complemented by the concepts of matter, form, and substance (Hjelmslev's 'net'). Matter refers to the plane of consistency or the Body without Organs, the "unformed, unorganized, nonstratified, or destratified body and all its flows" (43). Content is composed of formed matters, and has two primary aspects: substance, which relates to the the selection of matters, and form, referring to the order of selection. Expression refers to the functional structures with the two aspects of form, referring to organization, and substances referring to the compounds established. "Content and expression are two variable of a function of stratification" (44).

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Thinking about The Mouse (Cherie)

Title: The Mouse that Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence
Author: Henry A. Giroux
Pub.Date: 1999
Key Words: Cultural Studies, Popular Culture, Mass Media, Film, Television, Feminism, Postmodernism History, and of course Disney.
Pages: 186
Henry Giroux currently works at Pennsylvania State University. He received his doctorate from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 1977 and formally held a professorship at Boston University and residency at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He also served as Director at the Center for Education and Cultural Studies at Miami University. His main objective in study is integrating Cultural Studies into to the study of Education.
The Mouse that Roared is a critical look at Disney and how it has become synonymous with childhood innocence, fixed history, and polished fantasy. Giroux presents the argument that Disney is a powerful corporation whose ideology is based ultimately on the control of consumerism and that the altruistic attempts made to give “good clean family fun” are predicated on a false sense of a scrubbed history and controlled environment. Within this text Giroux tackles the subjects of Disney within the public setting, in theme parks, in education, and in film. He imposes that the Disney legacy is a controlling monolith of the marketplace which deteriorates democracy and endangers the unsuspecting youth.
Giroux shows that Disneyland and Disney World have painted an idealized history of the American past. In Disney there is no “other”; no slavery, civil unrest, racial tension or war. It is a controlled atmosphere at the cost of dominance, where regulation and homogenization are par and parcel for the employees as well as the “guests”. Giroux analyses several Disney movies including Lion King, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Good Morning Vietnam, and Pretty women. He warns that the stereotypes presented in these films are representative as fact to a child’s mind. For example “bad characters” speak with thick foreign accents, or jargon and are often portrayed darker than other “good characters.” Also there is a demeaning view of female characters; however strong, or independent, they ultimately defined by the men around them. Giroux states that children learn are learning more and more from popular culture and corporate consumerism. This is epitomized in the private town, Celebration, whose link I have provided ( This small town suburbia is nothing more than a Stepford Wives community that markets control over reality. Check out the website if you don’t believe me. Giroux points out the control of this homogenized culture that controls everything from color to education to contract (even buying out the secrecy of its residents).

Giroux presents in his conclusion three easy facts that are hard to establish in today’s corporate controlled society:
• Create a public awareness of controlling corporations and the media they produce – “critical consciousness”
• Close the gap between wealth and poverty
• Link public media spheres in order to create a democratic environment.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Linked (Matt)

Mathew Gacy
Albert-László Barabási. Linked.
Plume, 2003

Albert-László Barabási's Linked provides an overview of the scientific research into the nature of networks, beginning, for the most part, with the random network theories of Erdős and Rényi, formulated in 1959, and extending to Barabási's research as recently as 2003. Barabási finds that most of the complex networks that have been studied, including the internet, aspects of the metabolic and regulatory functions of cells, aspects of language, social webs, and the networks of Hollywood actors share a generic, scale-free topology. While the various quantities found in most naturally occurring phenomenon follow a bell curve, which would, for example, yield a characteristic scale or average of node connectivity, with a rapidly decaying curve preventing nodes with a degree of conectivity that deviates signifantly from this scale, the quantities describing the connectedness of nodes in a large network instead conform to power laws. Histograms characterizing power law distributions display a continuously decreasing curve that, in the case of networks, imply a large majority of nodes with small, relatively similar degrees of connectivity with a small number of nodes with far more connections. For example, while Barabási's measurements of a sample of 203 million Webpages indicated that 90 percent of those pages had fewer than 11 links pointing to them, 3 pages were linked to by more than a million others. Such nodes are known as hubs and help to hold the network together.

These findings lead me to question whether the apparent ubiquity of scale-free networks is merely a consequence of a functional superiority that nevertheless leaves the door open for actualizations of other kinds of topologies, or whether the apparent laws of large networks do, in fact, rule out large, socially relevant actualizations of Deleuze and Guattari's rhizomatic networks.

Index on Censorship: Writing on the Walls (victor g.)

Index on Censorship: Writing on the Walls
Vol. 33, No. 3, July 2004, Issue 212, 224 pgs.

Index is a London based quarterly journal. As the final page states, “Index remains the only international publication devoted to the promotion and protection of that basic, yet still abused, human right—freedom of expression”. This particular issue deals with walls-literal and figurative. Walls are ambiguous constructions; they keep in as they keep out. In our current global political climate, they have become even more ubiquitous. In this issue are found contributions by such folks as Umberto Eco, writing on the need for the dismantling of national walls in order for a (re)unified European state to emerge and continue in a key role on a global scale; on to lesser known folks, such as Mehrak Golestan, a musician and writer, covering the latest rap music video by Sheikh Terra and the Soul Salah Crew, a group of unknown British-Asian Muslim rappers promoting the political ideology of the Arab world with imagery of a Iraqi men gunned down by US Marines superimposed over Al-Qaida training camps and Hezbollah factions (as well as the subsequent censorship meted out to US teenagers who hosted the video on their blogs by both unknown parties and official bodies “instructing” the removal of the offending material).
Marcel Berlins, a visiting professor in media law at Queen Mary College, covers the topic of libel tourism taking place in England, a country know for its claimant friendly stance. What is at stake here is not simply the freedom of expression and the press within the borders of England itself, but across international lines. In an age where transnational corporations are more the norm than the exception, the publication of material in one country, then published in England, and then subjected to a lawsuit there, not only endangers those who produced the material, the writers/journalists/etc. in England, but in their own home countries. These writers are placed into a position wherein they must provide even more supporting material for the claims made in their writings. Even more troubling is the “outbreak of cold feet among publishers of vaguely controversial writings”. If publishers are unwilling to publish this material, then litigation in pursuit of economic compensation will effectively hinder the flow of ideas and thoughts challenging the status quo, and strengthening the state’s resolve to allow its populace to know only so much, or at least what it deems necessary.
Rubén Martínez, author of The New Americans, writes in “Fortress America” on the state of American citizenship in regards to a more global citizenship. The US-Mexico border is nearly a 2000 mile long, 4 mile wide line in the sand that is for all intents and purposes, not only meant to keep out the illegal immigration of Mexican nationals, but to keep at bay all of the developing world. As Martínez points out, “Americans do get around … as tourists, as consumers of the ‘other’”. Immigration laws, and national borders are constructs of the state, however, as Martinez points out, they are not of the natural order, “US immigration policy seems to be breaking the laws of nature—or at least globalization”. Which is ironic in lieu of the US need for a globalized economy; a globalized economy that fuels the machinery of US dominance abroad while maintaining an ever increasing isolationist stance here at home.
Wendy Pullan discusses the historical (and present) relation walls have with the notion of citizenship in “A One-Sided Wall”. According to Pullan, a senior lecturer of architecture in the U of Cambridge, “one’s right to reside inside [of walls] offered the freedom, and the responsibility of, to participate as a citizen”. However, historically, walls were not impassable, but permeable. The cities they circumscribed sometimes, if not always, extended beyond the city walls. The city did not stand alone, “commerce, politics, friendship, cultural exchange and war depended upon what lay beyond the walls … as much as the wall demarcated and separated, it was also a means of connection and mediation”. In contrast, today, walls today are more abstract, meant to demarcate nation-states in an ever more globalized and electronically linked world. And yet, Pullan concedes that the absolute removal of all walls is undesirable as well, “no one wants to live in a featureless and homogeneous world. Identity requires some form of recognition or attachment to place which in turn depends on structure and differentiation”. If identity, then, is somehow tied to location, how then, can identity be claimed as a fluid construct, when the location by which the identity is recognized by, remains stubbornly stagnant?

What attracted me to this journal? I saw three copies of it on the bookstore shelf for three months, and I imagine, I am perhaps the only person who bothered to pick one up. Perhaps it was the image on the front cover of a young boy walking between what appears to a 10+ high foot wall and a tangled webbing of barbwire that made me pick purchase this slightly expensive publication. In any case, what I have briefly touched upon above is a small sampling of the theories we have discussed in class being played out in the “real” world. We have discussed such issues as post-colonialism in the third world; how then, can we begin a discussion on the colonialist thug-like tactics being employed now by a once state-less people? How does the idea of a strictly Western, post-Renaissance invention that is “originality” give rise to patriotism and nationalism? And how does this notion tie in with the historical culture of a nation today? Theory, be it modern/pomo, post-structuralist, post-colonialist, feminist, queer, and media studies (the meat and potatoes of any respectable academician), I believe, offers us incredible and ingenious ways by which to cipher though the multitude of layers and meanings present and constantly being added upon in the world today. However, much like Sontag criticizes such intellectual luminaries as Jean Baudrillard, for espousing the belief that experience can be anticipated (a characteristic of modernity), that only images and simulated realities are all that exist now; I too, wanted to step back from the labyrinth that was becoming all these new theoretical ideas explored in that dank basement of a classroom and “see” for myself how they are enacted out and applied to in the “real” world. Furthermore, the reading of this journal is not just simply the result of pretty colors and pictures attracting the eye, but more so an investigation into what Toby Miller in Technologies of Truth. Cultural Citizenship and the Popular Media defines as technology and truth: “A technology is a popularly held truth, and a truth is an accepted fact. Their combination … with the political is intended to signify the abstraction of logic, the qualifier of struggle, and the genitive of reality.” I wished to explore how far the truth could be stretched while its mechanism of dissemination, technology, was hampered by walls; and in turn, how a publicaton such as this goes about furthering it's own non-state sanctioned truth.
This journal provides a lean and mean look to those (such as myself) interested in how borders and proverbial lines in the sand intersect with and affect/effect contemporary social, cultural, economic and political issues on both a local and global scale.

Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag (victor g.)

Title: Regarding the Pain of Others
Pub Date: 2003
Length: 131 pgs.

Sontag’s project in Regarding the Pain of Others is to do just that, regard the pain of others; or more precisely how we (me, you, the intellectual, those safe from harm Americans, the West, everything that is not the abjected other). Sontag, for the most part, employs photography in her elucidation of how it is exactly the pain of others is taken in, consumed, and likewise, what effects, if any, it has upon the viewer. This text is not an analysis in the strictest academic sense. It is more of an attempt by Sontag herself to come to grips with the prevalence of the world’s atrocity so commonplace today because of photography.
Regarding the Pain of Others pores over representations of atrocity from Goya’s The Disaster of War to the photographic documentation of the American Civil War, black lynchings in the South, Nazi death camps, to current day images of Bosnia, Serbia, Rwanda, and New York City on 9/11.
Sontag endeavors to answer crucial questions regarding not just about the intersection between spectator and representations of atrocity (war), but with the spectator and war itself. The following are a few of the key ideas that Sontag proposes:

-Grisly photographs confirm peoples’ previously held opinions – to this she employs the propagandist photography used by either side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “To the militant, identity is everything.” Depending on which side you are on, it is simply a matter of identifying with the victim and knowing who is culpable, thus perpetuating a cycle of violence goaded on by images.

-Intentions are not inherent in photography, meaning is situational and in flux – this is in keeping with the previous key idea. The photograph itself is capable of “speaking” for itself only so much. It requires an interpreter. And it is the agenda of this interpreter that the photograph assumes. The photograph itself has no agenda, it takes on the one of who is interpreting for it. Photographs of New York City on 9/11 can be viewed as an unwarranted and heinous assault upon the homeland by forces of evil. They may also be viewed as a striking back, justifiable retribution for long running penetrative American foreign policies.

-Photographs do not assist in the comprehension of a situation, that is up to writers to create narratives that help in understanding

-Meanings from photos are free floating, and can only be grounded by words

These two ideas of Sontag are somewhat contradictory to what has been previously been thought of a photograph capable of providing a sense of its own meaning. However, she is not entirely off the mark, photographic meanings are free floating, they do take on whatever definitions the spectator wishes to engender it with. And yet, by simply saying that the meanings can be grounded by simply attaching words to it, is rather naïve. Words themselves, unless they are stating the “facts” of the photograph, their meaning in turn, is just as suspect as the free floating meanings of the photograph, and by no means assisting in the comprehension of the photograph.

-The photograph is not an objective mirror, but an expressive medium capable of portraying multiple realities.

This text is useful in that it can serve as a primer for a “better” understanding of not only representations of atrocity, but in comprehending the after-shocks, the aftermath of viewing such atrocities within the spectator. What is roused within the spectator? Is she compelled to action? Or is he given to the shrugging of the shoulders because it is simply a photograph? How can we now think of the meanings and uses for these images? And of course to an extent, and Sontag’s underlying premise for this text, how do we come to think of war?
Regarding the Pain of Others closes with a description of Jeff Wall’s “Dead Troops Talk (A Vision After an Ambush of a Red Armey Patrol near Moqor, Afghanistan, Winter, 1986)” A made up scene of a real event, this photograph, as proposed by Sontag, does not attempt to offer an explanation. The dead and (just slightly) living characters within the photograph are either incapable or unwilling to provide the spectator with any reading of themselves. As Sontag writes, “These dead are supremely uinterested in the living: in those who took their lives; in witnesses—and in us. Why should they seek our gaze? What would they have to say to us? “We”—this “we” is everyone who has never experienced anything like what they went through—don’t understand. We don’t get it.”
This is a contemporary text, very much in keeping with the texts Sontag herself cites: Remembering to Forget: Holocaust Memory Through the Camera’s Eye, Barbara Zelizer; Body Horror: Photojournalism, Catastrophe, and War, John Taylor; A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis, David Rieff.
Much like On Photography, this text would be a prudent choice in not only understanding war photography per se, but such topics as the spectacle that is made of conflict, those forced to endure relocation, right on to the suburban prime-time television viewer.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Marat/Sade (Callen)

The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charendon under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade
Written by: Peter Weiss
Directed by: Wes Martin
Performed by: The Shakespeare Theatre Company
Venue: Phoenix Theatre’s Little Theater
Reviewed by: Callen Shutters

Attending the Marat/Sade play offered me a direct application of key elements of post-structuralist theory we have focused on this semester. By transporting me beyond the pages of a philosophical text, the play enabled me to experience first-hand an active portrayal of the deconstruction of Enlightenment norms in a play set, with purposeful irony, at the end of the Enlightenment. Specifically, Marat/Sade highlights, among many other elements, the breaking down of structures by critiquing and questioning norms about representation, power, and narrative form.
Representation plays a key role in the action of the play. One source of commentary on representation stems from the very format of the play. Marat/Sade is a play within a play, a metanarrative, in which the audience is actually the audience of the production that is put on by the asylum Charendon and directed by the Marquis shortly after the French Revolution. Players with The Shakespeare Theatre Company are actually residents of the asylum who perform as Revolutionaries in Sade’s play. Therefore, players and audience members have multiple roles in the action. Audience members are directly addressed and engaged by the chorus, players, and patients and also act as the audience in the actual play. Players are Revolutionaries, asylum residents, and actors. By forcing audience members and actors to take on multiple personas and simultaneously sort and analyze these roles, Marat/Sade creates tension and reflects the crumbling of structural norms about identity and representation. Other post-structural elements of representation in the play include objectivity, identity, spectatorship, and the notion of the gaze. Post-structural elements allow audiences to take in all the information and create their own descriptions of what is seen and unseen.
Another element the play highlights, which correlates to ideas about representation, is a concentration on real people and human nature. By giving voice and action to lower classes - even the “lowest” rung on the social ladder - the play allows the voiceless to be heard. One case in point is Duperret, who is in the asylum on charges of sexual predation. His needs as a patient overwhelm his role in Sade’s play and he masturbates throughout, not being capable or willing to mask his human desires. Strikingly human aspects of the play reflect other post-structuralist notions of representation including difference, being, and the science of humankind.
Power is also an important post-structural aspect of the play. Though the director of the asylum holds a position of control over the inmates, he lacks all ability to manage the activities of his patients. In fact, after the play about Marat concludes, the patients beat the director and ravage his wife and daughter as they conduct their own revolution on stage. Another stunted figure of power within the play is the Priest. As an icon of the church and religion, the priest continues to preach, though in the confines of a straightjacket. Presumably once a commanding figure in shaping morality, the priest is now subject to the guards of the institution who create order through muscle power. The priest’s limited movement and interrupted sermons cripple his influence over people and he is often the target of laughter on stage. Figures of authority are unable to contain the activities of those under their control, thus reflecting the inability of certain power structures to function in society.
Power is also correlated to post-structuralist ideals in the reintroduction of history through a new lens. As already stated, the history surrounding the events of the French Revolution are told and represented in a new perspective, through the eyes of people who experienced it and were imprisoned and defeated. This brings about a critique of Enlightenment political values, which are presented through the political discourse between Sade and Marat. These elements in the Marat/Sade play all serve to decentralize the rigid power structures of the Enlightenment.
A final example of how the play resonates with post-structuralist ideas is the restructuring of narrative norms. In addition to offering a play within a play and thereby altering roles of actors and audience members, other narrative norms of theatre production are played with and critiqued. For instance, the set of the internal play is forced to be imprisoned within the confines of the insane asylum. Political rhetoric spewed by Marat and Sade is surrounded by madness that resulted from these political stands, the French Revolution, and the Enlightenment. The “tools” to cure and deal with this madness, such as straightjackets, nurses, and bars, all are required to enable the players to cope and show the results while simultaneously showing the causes of the “madness” in the asylum. Even internally, the players are imprisoned by their maladies. Of the many examples include Marat’s relentless twitching and Corday’s inability to stay awake, not to mention Duperret’s powerlessness to keep his hands off himself. These elements all serve to destabilize preconceived notions of narrative by intermixing many layers of personas and narratives. Another element of the play that redefines notions of narrative is the division of the play. Specifically, the intermission is not in the middle but rather at the climax of the inner play, which serves to heighten tension and speculation within the audience. The many choices about narrativity in Marat/Sade serve to destabilize norms of narrative exposition.
Representation, power, and narrativity are just a few of the many elements of post-structuralism revealed in Marat/Sade. This play offered me a unique opportunity to see how some of these elements can be revealed through a narrative piece that, although set in the past, reveals much about a state of mind that resonates today.

Tuchman, Practicing History (Rachel)

Rachel Moe
Barbara Tuchman, Practicing History
Published 1981, 306 pages

Practicing History is a collection of essays by Pulitzer prize-winning historian Barbara Tuchman. The first section of Tuchman’s book is titled The Craft and emphasizes the various aspects of historical writing. The second section, titled The Yield, is a collection of her historical essays while the third section, Learning from History, touches upon the premise that history is not quantifiable. Tuchman writes for the general reader and is not concerned with the writing and research process used by the academic world. Her approach is refreshing and she gives valuable guidance on writing. Tuchman’s tips for writing historical accounts are of interest to me, because I will probably conduct a historical analysis of some aspect of the Hispanic media as part of my applied project.

In Practicing History, Tuchman dismisses any notion of pure objectivity and says that there is no such thing as a neutral or objective historian. She hesitates to answer the question as to whether her book offers any philosophy of history. She believes that philosophies “contain a risk for the historian of being tempted to manipulate his facts in the interest of his system, which results in histories stronger in ideology than in ‘how it really was.’” She does believe that the material must precede the thesis because the result will be invalid if it is written from hindsight instead of what was known and believed at the time.

Tuchman emphasizes the importance of using primary resources such as private diaries, letters, messages, and reports. She believes using secondary sources, other than to gain initial knowledge of a subject, is rewriting someone else’s book. She believes it is important to know when to stop researching and to have the ability to discard irrelevant information, because the selection of material determines the ultimate product. As a historian, it is important not only to be enthralled with the subject but also to know how to “communicate the magic.” Although research provides material and theory, she thinks that it is through communication that history is heard and understood. Tuchman gives numerous tips for writing history and uses selected essays to exemplify her advice.

Tuchman believes history is not quantifiable and she is suspicious of prefabricated systems of history. The systematizers “arrange systems and cycles into which history must be squeezed so that it will come out evenly and have pattern and a meaning.” She does not think history is a science because man is what she calls the “Unknowable Variable.” Human behavior is not predicable and illogical and includes a number of variables that are “not susceptible of the scientific method nor of systematizing.” It is impossible to isolate or repeat a given set of circumstances in history, which makes it difficult to use history as a way to predict future events.

Tuchman’s book has given me insight into the process of writing a historical analysis, which will be invaluable to me when I begin my own research. Her self-proclaimed lack of higher education (beyond her bachelor’s degree) gives her writing an interesting perspective that the academic world does not have. This perspective has allowed me to see the downfalls of trying to quantify history and the importance of communicating history clearly and concisely.

Many of Tuchman’s thoughts parallel Foucault in his book The Order of Things. For instance, the classification of history into systems and the idea that history is not a science are both topics Foucault examines. Tuchman also discusses the impact of narrative and the power of language, which are topics we have touched upon in class. Overall, in Practicing History, Tuchman shares an interesting and practical perspective about historical writing. Although we will never be able to escape biases and actually write an accurate account of “history”, we can continue creating stories that may give people a glimpse of the past, even if it is based upon the interpretation of the historian.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Campbell, David and Michael Shapiro (eds.). Moral Spaces. Rethinking Ethics and World Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. (Maria)

This is a project that examines the possibility for a relationship between ethical theory, ethical relations and world politics. In orthodox International Relations (IR) theory (realism, liberalism and their derivatives), ethical concerns are largely ignored and overlooked, that is, ethics and morality are seen as inappropriate in discussion of national interests, questions to security and sovereignty. In the discipline, normative theory is opposed to empirical theory and the guidelines of the former demarcate very clear boundaries for inquiry. The authors of the present volume argue an opposing view, namely, that territoriality, subjectivity and ethics are dependent on each other and inter-connected and thus, moral discourses have to allow for moral spaces of engagement between actors and states. They advocate move beyond a “theory of ethics” and towards an “ethical relation” in which the subject’s responsibility to the other is the basis of reflection. That is, the development of a theory of ethics might end up “eliding the ethical relation” in a way that the “concern with Ethics obscures the contingencies and complexities of the ethical” making “the striving for the rules and principles of justice, especially those that demand impartiality, effects injustice” (x-xi). Ethical inclusion and exclusion both imply a state of interdependence between moral obligations of agents and the spatial orderings of the world. Otherwise, as is practiced by Realism, geographical imaginaries only are maintained at the expense of an ethics of encounter in that “the state model continues to dominate both moral spaces and the mata-ethical thinking of those who analyze global interactions” (xii). More specifically as it pertains to migrants and refugees, an ethics of encounter would suggest an ethics of hospitality toward those who cross state boundaries. Because the refugee unsettles accepted modes of subjectivity, she requires a more sophisticated response away from a commitment to closure or resolution. For the purposes of this summary, I will only concentrate on the essays that were of importance to me and that pertained directly to my own research.

In his essay on “The search for responsibility/community” (pp. 1-28), Daniel Warner explores the relationship between the responsibility an individual has towards others both in a community and outside of it. The essay begins with Weber’s take on the ethics of responsibility built on an image of an individual responsible only to himself and to his perception of his responsibility. Thus is created a picture of the sovereign individual who is ‘by nature’ not bound by any authority. “The condition of being under authority is something that has to be created” (4-5). Weber’s choice for a charismatic leader is Matin Luther, but he is an asocial leader for “he has no understanding of the consequences of his actions for others” (5). Thus, in Weber’s ethic of responsibility judgment for one’s actions remains within the consequences of self-understanding only. Then he moves on to walk about Michael Walzer’s idea that the state and the individual within are inseparable and thus, outside intervention in the internal affairs of the state is unacceptable. What happens then to the individuals when they are expelled beyond the borders of the state? In search of an answer to this question, Warner brings Levinas’ idea that responsibility to the Other necessarily implies an engagement, an actual relation, a response to the call of alterity without necessarily reducing responsibility to the territorial limits of a state. Once we leave the confines of the state, the relationship between community and responsibility, for Warner, becomes crucial, the two are inter-definitional. Against an essential and general understanding of responsibility, there is a need to consider the situational and temporal implications of individualism vs. communitarianism. For Warner, the idea of responsibility re-situates the individual in her relation to the sovereign state. Warner brings forth William Connolly’s idea that the search for a territorial place is itself a highly problematic and probably irresolvable search. For Connolly, after Nietzsche, there is a very real separation between the physical sense of home and feeling at home. “We are necessarily strangers to ourselves, we do not comprehend ourselves, we have to misunderstand ourselves, for us the law ‘East furthest from himself’ applies to all eternity – we are not ‘men of knowledge’ with respect to ourselves” (19). For Realism, the concept of a politics of place limits itself to the confines of the sovereign state and there are few moral dilemmas that cannot be resolved within the confines of the nation-state, now become “a community wherein the desire for self-knowledge can be most easily integrated and fulfilled” (18). The possibility for exclusion is here possible only within the confines of a definite home space. However the latter, for Nietzsche, is beyond the territorial implications of territorial belonging as the human condition is defined by an inherent state of homelessness. That is, community cannot do away with homesickness as cannot responsibility with its dependence on “existential resentment” in the search for identity/agent. Furthermore, Connolly refers to an “an-arche – being without first principle – and the constitution of subject in relation to Other through heteronomouus and not autonomous responsibility” (21), the latter being Weber’s ethics of responsibility. In conclusion there is, contrary to what orthodox IR would suggest, in the relationships between subjects and states a constant refiguring of subjectivity, a contestation in the spaces between self and Other that is always implied in a relationship of responsibility. For Warner, contrary to Weber and Walzer, it is “in the workings out of the dimensions of response to the Other, that responsibility becomes meaningful and moral spaces opened” (23).

In Chapter Two (pp. 29-56), David Campbell continues the argument with a call for a deterritorialization of responsibility (theory) called for by the deterritorialization of states. For Campbell as well as for Levinas, responsibility comes before the very possibility of responsibility, that is, it is inherent in “being.” The totalities of modern political discourse are exposed for their failure to address the specific implications that any ethical theory needs to have for reality. Political totalitarianism thus allows for the privileging of certain groups over others and for the justification of subsequent use of violence in erasing difference and opposition. Being as a responsibility to alterity refigures subjectivity in relationship to alterity. Interesting here is to note that such a conception of responsibility puts into the question the very possibility of subjectivity outside of responsibility. Thus, Levinasian ethics suggests that “the ethical “I” is subjectivity precisely insofar as it kneels before the other, sacrificing its own liberty to the more primordial call of the other” (33). It seems to me here that Levinas is almost calling for a universal responsibility grounded in a very particular obligation to the other. Interestingly, it is through the other, through him who is alien, that man is not alienated. Thus Levinas bets on antihumanism because it “clears the space for subjectivity positing itself in abnegation, in sacrifice, in a substitution which precedes the will” (35). Humanism, for Levinas, fails to address alterity because it is not sufficiently human, even though his philosophy is situated within the logic of an individual, one-to-one relationships with the Other (36). No matter how inhumane and violent relationships between people can be, Levinas maintains that the self cannot opt out of a relationship with the other, it has no choice but to care, even in a politics of warfare. The entry of a third party poses a dilemma for Levinas and now the ethical relationship is complicated by the fact that the third, as an other, makes the self part of alterity too. “When others enter, each of them external to myself, problems arise. Who is closest to me? Who is the Other?” (37). Levinas brings the idea of proximity, both spatial, cultural, political and temporal one, that is, the entry of the third party makes ethical relationship with the other a political one, implicated within the relationship with the state. Interestingly, that allows Levinas to overlook the instances of injustice and violence that the state imposes not only on others but also on its own subjects. Here, in reference to the Palestinians Levinas admits that there are, indeed, those who are wrong and alterity is thus made into enmity. That idea poses an interesting question regarding the degrees to which the state can be challenged in defense of our ethical responsibility to alterity. In order to supplement Levinas’ thought, Campbell refers to Derrida and to the ethical basis for deconstruction in its orientation toward the call of the other, thus defying all attempts at totalization (by uncovering the mystical foundations of authority). Yes, there is a need for a decision that would combat any attempt at domination. Derrida’s concept of undecidability comes as a prerequisite for responsibility in that it allows for the possibility of a decision without the need to establish a monopoly or a closure on justice. Justice extends beyond the law; as the “pre-original, an-archic relation to the other, it challenges the unproblematic nature of any commitment to a decision and to non-violence (44). Thus, “the instant of decision is madness” where one must necessarily provide an account of the decision in order to combat theoretical as well as political violence and domination (45). The failure to do so confines ethics and theory within homogeneous territories of dichotomous, rather than a responsible, relationship to alterity. Derrida invokes the concept of “aporia,” an undecidable and ungrounded political space allowing for a moment of political hesitation implied in every decision. The specific prescriptions for action following introduce a double imperative: on one hand, there is the foreigner who need be integrated and on the other hand, there is always the need to recognize his alterity (49). The need to speak and act, for Derrida, is inherent in the reality of this “double contradictory imperative” (50). What is important for Derrida is that politics respond to the call by the other not by trying to eradicate and destroy his being, but by embracing and fighting on behalf of alterity. He calls for a politics that “will demand – and thus do more than simply permit – the decision to resist domination, exploitation, oppression, and all other conditions that seek to contain and eliminate alterity” (51). The importance of deconstruction, in the end, lies in its promise to fight both ontological and political totalitarianism through its “affirmation of alterity deterritorializes responsibility and pluralizes the possibility for ethics and politics over and beyond (yet still including) the state” (51).

To follow: the summary of one more chapter dealing with the relationship between states and refugees.

The Question of Modernity Pt. III (Darren)

Charles Taylor:
Two Theories of Modernity, 2001, The International Scope
Modern Social Imaginaries, 2002, Public Culture

Quentin Skinner:
Modernity and Disenchantment: Some Historical Reflections, 1994, Philosophy in an Age of Pluralism

These three essays were gathered together in an attempt to get a better handle on the phenomenon of modernity. As I kept coming across Charles Taylor’s name in current debate on the issue, including in Jameson’s A Singular Modernity I decided to turn to his work for insight and further exploration. I was not disappointed although I was left with the impression of Taylor of a man of great intellect and good intentions trying to buttress the crumbling walls of the great fortress that was once modernity against the enemies of post-modern skepticism as to its contents and accomplishments.
I have to admit that I remain unconvinced of Taylor’s assertions but I do feel I have a better grasp of what it is that certain people find worth defending in the modernist project as well as an understanding of what modernity must come to terms with if it is going to reinvent itself as a viable and desirable meta-narrative.
The first essay is actually a commentary and critical examination of Taylor’s earlier work by the philosopher Quentin Skinner. Written in 1994 it certainly demonstrates a particular commitment by Taylor to the lineage and ideals of the enlightenment as embodied in the modernist project. Skinner notes that Taylor conceives of modernity as a western centered cultural structure, thus giving it a location in both place and history, but also sees it as a movement that radiates outwards and downwards to the whole of the world. It is this second aspect that marks Taylor so strongly as a modernist. Further, Taylor sees that there are real and incontrovertible gains that have come about as a result of the modernist project. Taylor does not situate these gains as being either historically or culturally specific but instead posits them as real epistemic gains. Thus, for Taylor modernity has an inherent force that drives it out and down to the rest of the world. As of 1994, Taylor does not make an important differentiation that he comes to later; that between cultural and acultural modernity.
By 2001 Taylor has moved to making a clear distinction between cultural and acultural modernities. Cultural modernity is that which has arisen within a specific culture, namely western Europe and Anglo-America. On the other hand is acultural modernity which sees the time and place specific changes of modern transformation as culture neutral as a teleological point that all developing and advancing cultures have and will go through on their way to the wherever they are going to go. Taylor rejects this second form of modernity and its lack of subtlety and sensitivity. Taylor also rejects the majority of negative modernities, or those accounts that deny modernity in its entirety because he believes that the majority of them fall prey to the same totalizing and universalizing impulse as the dominant acultural theories of modernity. On Taylor’ account any account, positive of negative, that adheres to this claim of universality is dangerous and lacks reflective sensitivity to its own historical and cultural origins. In particular Taylor sees that acultural theories foreground and screen out in very revealing ways in regards to the underpinnings and tacit ontological commitments of modernity and that they have a vested interest in denying all form of contingency since any admission to it undermines their universal claims.
At this point it might be tempting to say that Taylor has taken a hard intellectual left in the direction of post-structuralism but this would be premature. What Taylor reveals in his 2002 article is that his modernist impulses are alive and well even if his vocabulary is highly sensitized and his appreciation of the difficulties that the modern project faces is refined. While still admitting of the two forms of modernity he notes in his 2001 article Taylor now wants to talk of modernity in its social sense as a new conception of societies moral order that, like the modernity he described earlier in his career, moves out and gains in intensity as it goes forth into the world. Taylor’s modernity may be social in origin but it is still striving for the universal and has real normative, and now Taylor adds ontic, force. This takes the form of three moves of the modern social imaginary that occur in the public, economic and political spheres. In all these spheres changes have occurred that can be traced directly to the rise of modernity and their effects have been moving out into the world ever since changing the world in their own image.
What ensures that Taylor remains a modernist and not a post-structuralist is that these events he describes hold no problem for his philosophy. Rather than finding the modernity he describes either suspect or corrupt he lauds the accomplishments it has achieved and in the end fails to turn a truly critical gaze upon the foundations of the project as a whole and all that it has claimed to achieve and in whose name. m. As long

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The Production of Space by H. Lefebvre (Aloy)

Book Report
Aloy Canete

The Production of Space
By Henri Lefebvre, Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith
Blackwell, Oxford, 1991, 454 pp.

In this book, Lefebvre makes a critical departure from the neo-Kantian and neo-Cartesian conceptions of space. Focusing on social space, Lefebvre argues that space is not an inert, neutral, and a pre-existing given, but rather, an on-going production of spatial relations. Lefebvre’s emphasis on the production of space situates himself firmly in a post-structuralist or post-modern critical discourse. He writes: “social space is not a thing among other things, nor a product among other products: rather, it subsumes things produced and encompasses their interrelationships in their coexistence and simultaneity—their (relative) order and/or (relative) disorder” (p.73). Lefebvre objects to the reification of space by rejecting the Cartesian model, separating “ideal space” from “real space.” Instead, space is a product of something that is produced materially while at the same time “operate[s]…on processes from which is cannot separate itself because it is a product of them” (p.66).

Lefebvre develops what he calls “a conceptual triad” in explaining how space is produced:

1. Spatial practice refers to the production and reproduction of spatial relations between objects and products. It also ensures continuity and some degree of cohesion. “In terms of social space, and of each member of a given society’s relationship to that space, this cohesion implies a guaranteed level of competence and a specific level of performance” (p.33).

2. Representations of space “are tied to the relations of production and to the ‘order’ which those relations impose, and hence to knowledge, to signs, to codes, and to ‘frontal’ relations” (p.33). They also refer to “conceptualized space, the space of scientists, planners, urbanist, technocratic subdividers and social engineers, as of a certain type of artist with a scientific bent—all of whom identify what s lived and what is perceived with what is conceived” (p.38).

3. Representational spaces refer to spaces “lived” directly “through its associated images and symbols and hence the space of ‘inhabitants’ and ‘users’…” (p.39). These are the lived experiences that emerge as a result of the dialectical relation between spatial practice and representations of spaces.

Lefebvre deploys this triad in analyzing the history of spaces. He argues that “social space is produced and reproduced in connection with the forces of production (and with the relations of production).” These “forces…are not taking over a pre-existing, empty or neutral space, or a space determined solely by geography, climate, anthropology…” (p.77). For Lefebvre, there is a parallel development between the hegemony of capitalism in the modern West and the production of “abstract space” (to which a large part of the book is devoted). Like abstract space, capitalism has created homogenization, hierarchization, and social fragmentation. For example, the spread of capitalization globally has engendered similarities than differences. While differences of local culture, history, and natural landscape are suppressed, spaces of modernity are divided into grids of private property, market and labor. However, Lefebvre does not at all see modernist spaces as an end of history. As Lefebvre puts it:

From a less pessimistic standpoint, it can be shown that abstract space harbours specific contradictions. Such spatial contradictions derive in part from the old contradictions thrown up by historical time. These have undergone modifications, however: some are aggravated, others blunted. Amongst them, too, completely fresh contradictions have come into being which are liable eventually to precipitate the downfall of abstract space. The reproduction of the social relations of production within this space inevitably obeys two tendencies: the dissolution of old relations on the one hand and the generation of new relations on the other. Thus, despite—or rather because of—its negativity, abstract space carries within itself the seeds of a new kind of space. I shall call that new space ‘differential space’, because, inasmuch as abstract space tends towards homogeneity, towards the elimination of existing differences or peculiarities, a new space cannot be born (produced) unless it accentuates differences. p. 52

In other words, Lefebvre sees the prospect of an emerging new spaces—a differential space—that serves as a resistance to the forces of homogenization present in abstract space. As such, in the contemporary moment, Lefebvre shows the dialectical conflict between abstract space and differential space.

The Country and the City by R. Williams (Aloy)

Book Report
Aloy Canete

The Country and the City
By Raymond Williams
Oxford University Press, New York, 1973, 335 pp.

In The Country and the City, Raymond Williams explores the ways in which images of the country and the city in English literature since the 16th century and how these images become central symbols for conceptualizing the social and economic changes associated with capitalist development in England. Williams debunks the notion of rural life as simple, natural, and unadulterated, leaving an image of the country as a Golden age. This is, according to Williams, “a myth functioning as a memory” that dissimulates class conflict, enmity, and animosity present in the country since the 16th century. Williams shows how this imagery is embedded in the writings of English poets, novelists and essayists. These writers have not just reproduced the rural-urban divide; their works have also served to justify the existing social order. The city, on the other hand, is depicted in English novels as a symbol of capitalist production, labor, domicile, and exploitation, where it is seen as the “dark mirror” of the country. The country represented Eden while the city became the hub of modernity, a quintessential place of loneliness and loss of romanticism. In the novels of Hardy and Dickens, there seems to be a feeling of loss, and at the same time a sense of harmony among the lonely and isolated souls. For Williams, “the contrast of the country and city is one of the major forms in which we become conscious of a central part of our experience and of the crises of our society” (p.289). What kinds of experience do the ideas appear to interpret, and why do certain forms occur or recur at this period or at that? To answer these questions, Williams argues that “we need to trace, historically and critically, the various forms of the ideas” (p.290). It is this historical perspective that makes Williams work essentially important for it rejects a simple, dualistic explanation of the city as evil in search of peace and harmony in the countryside. Instead, Williams sees the country as inextricably related to the city. In search of the historical, lived form, Williams distinguishes two of his best-known categories: “knowable communities” and the “structure of feeling.” Over the centuries, Williams describes the prevailing structure of feeling—traces of the lived experience of a community distinct from the institutional and ideological organization of the society—in the works of poets and novelists. In the same vein, Williams sees most novels as “knowable communities” in the sense that “novelist offers to show people and their relationships in essentially knowable and communicable ways” (p.163). In sum, Williams notably said: “It was always a limited inquiry: the country and the city within a single tradition. But it has brought me to the point where I can offer its meanings, its implications and its connections to others: for discussion and amendment; for many kinds of possible cooperative work; but above all for an emphasis—the sense of an experience and of ways of changing it—in the many countries and cities where we live” (p.306).