FlexploitationBrett de Bary, ed., Universities in Translation: The Mental Labor of Globalisation, Traces, Hong Kong University Press, Hong Kong, 2010. 408 pp., £56.50 hb., £28.50 pb., 978 962 209 991 3 hb., 978 962 209 992 0 pb. Andrew Ross, Nice Work If You Can Get It: Life and Labor in Precarious Times, New York University Press,
New York, 2009. 254 pp., £18.99 hb., £13.99 pb., 978 0 8147 7629 2 hb., 978 0 8147 7691 9 pb.Universities in Translation contains an anecdote from a Yucatan professor, Gabriela Vargas-Cetina, who was thrilled to discover that her students – normally quite uninterested in theory – were proving avid readers of Discipline and Punish. They told her they had discussed it all week, and thanked her especially at the beginning of the seminar for this eye-opening text explaining how society punishes deviance and how disciplinary structures permeate all social institutions.
But they were going to use it, they told her, as ‘a sort of manual to keep themselves in check, so as to conform as much as possible to normalcy and be able to get good jobs’. When the horrified VargasCetina told them that her generation saw this book as a tool to change the world, not a manual for self-vigilance, they discussed her idea among themselves again, before thanking her for ‘understanding the generation gap so well’.
Both Universities in Translation and Nice Work If You Can Get It are marked by a commitment to internationalizing accounts of the contemporary expansion of precarious and cognitive/immaterial modes of labour, modes which universities are often taken both to exemplify and to be in the forefront of promoting. In Nice Work If You Can Get It, the university is treated as but one example of this process, and placed in the context of a wider array of case studies of sites that are both subject to and reactions against it – from the anti-sweatshop movement and environmental architecture through to debates over the ‘creative industries’.
In Universities in Translation, universities are both the key point of analysis and the prism through which this topic is viewed.
What is striking across both books is the consistency between many of the different stories offered, in that they deal with a recently changed landscape marked by increasing precarious labour, vocationalism, technocratic managerialism and competitive self-exploitation.
Both foreground how whilst these conditions affect and are affected by people across a wide social spectrum; it is often a younger generation who are at the sharp end of these changes, as Vargas-Cetina’s anecdote illustrates. As Ross puts it, for American youth entering the labour market today, ‘stories about those decades of stable employment are tall tales indulged by the elderly, not unlike the lore of great depression hardship that baby boomers endured from their parents’. Similarly, he writes, Beijing youth are now predominantly raised to believe ‘they must be authors of their own lives’, their parents having witnessed the shedding of social securities and descent into precarious circumstances ‘on a much more momentous scale than anywhere else’.
Clearly the political geographies of the paths to this point of transnational cultural commonality are divergent. For Chinese workers, they are routes from (and alongside) autocratic communism to the savagery of free-market neoliberal capitalism; whereas for EuroAmericans the path is from Keynesian consensus to its unravelling by the savagery of neoliberal capitalism.
Ross is one of those keen to point out that now, with historical hindsight, the Keynesian moment where state security (in the form of public pensions, education and so on) offsets the wilder excesses of capital increasingly looks like a historical blip. But he points out that not only did the temporary Fordist truce rely on imperialism, rigid social hierarchies and a reservoir of unpaid domestic labour, but that today is no simple neo-Victorian age: preand post-Fordist moments are qualitatively different. For whereas the Great Depression was the result of a collapse of capitalist control, contemporary precarity is the result of capitalist control, as organizations have eagerly embraced the flexploitation of shortterm contracts and outsourcing as the new template for work.
The different roads travelled, globally, towards precariousness therefore often end up at a similar point – a crossroads that is the combined effects of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), the triumphs of the Washington Consensus and of neoliberal discourse from the bottom up – as we are encouraged to be entrepreneurial subjects scrabbling over each other for success in a so-called ‘meritocracy’. Whereas these tendencies often hit the young hardest, neither book seeks to blame solely ‘the youth’ for their acquiescence or the old for selling off their privileges. Ross, for example, points out that in American university labour activism it is casualized staff – who now make up two-thirds of employees – who have driven the fight for rights to a far greater extent than tenured radicals. Rather, both emphasize the connections that need to be forged across generations and from the inside and outside of universities against neoliberal practice in order effectively to reinvent solidarities for a new century.
The essays in Universities in Translation work to foreground the university as a site of rich contradiction: both subject to a dramatic restructuring over the last two decades, from public service to corporate entity, and one of the sites from which critiques of neoliberalism and managerialism – despite all the acquiescence and inaction in universities – continue to be most loudly generated. In this respect, they are often (like Ross) influenced by those postOperaismo theorists such as Hardt and Negri, Virno and Lazzarrato who view a cognitive workforce as harbouring potential political power, as well as being subject to new modes of flexploitation, even if the negative effects are most immediately evident.
The reports from different countries on the results of neoliberal restructuring have both strong commonalities and pronounced differences. The discussion of the Mexican academic whose accountability is no longer to the public or a broader conception of ethics, but to the administration of the university through a clerical bookkeeping of one’s acts, resonates with Laurent Dubriel’s account of a French university system in which a logic of bureaucratic rationality is lived as an end in itself.
Dubriel terms this erosion of power ‘facadism’: a condition in which the university is retained as a form whilst faculty become more inert, and are ‘driven, not driving’ and in which conflicts are internalized into the employee’s psyche. But Iwasaki Minoru’s discussion of Japanese universities’ hyper-accommodating response to pressures from business and government, in which ‘opening up’ to the outside world has only involved opening up to business, paints a picture by contrast with which Europe appears as a zone marked by strong public welfare and rampant political dissensus. Ross’s accounts of the failures of Euro-American overseas campuses also work to create a more variegated picture of the weaknesses as well as the ‘triumphs’ of contemporary educational outsourcing and colonization.
Similarly, the histories and local specificities of universities are differently textured even whilst they are intertwined. The legacies of Western imperialism remain: in the cases of Korean academics forced to publish in English journals and Chinese institutions seeking to emulate the ‘excellence’ of Harvard and Princeton, for example. In the USA, the ‘Campus Watch’ campaign was orchestrated by a bunch of neocons to target pro-Palestinian individuals and others opposed to US policy on the ‘war on terror’ (such as Ward Churchill, the Ethnic Studies scholar at the University of Colorado, sacked for arguing that the USA was not an innocent victim of 9/11). In China, a discourse of ‘anti-traditionalism’ has been mobilized to embrace capitalist entrepreneurship, begging the question of how it might also be mobilized beyond new habits of corporate obsequience.
The narratives used to explain the deeper historical development of universities in the West are often tales of transitional stages: from the Kantian university of enlightened men of knowledge, to the Humboldtian university of citizens of the nation-state, to the contemporary corporate ‘University of Excellence’ (as diagnosed by Bill Readings) in which ‘excellence’ is but an empty signifier. Andrew Jewett stringently argues that Western notions of academic freedom were in any case largely created by universities’ concentration, during the Cold War, on subjects important to federal agencies, which worked in tandem with the universalizing discourse of the humanities to prop up the values of Western civilization in a time of Strangelovian disharmony. Many contributions argue that the industrialized University of Excellence threatens the humanities most. In China, for instance, there is considerable debate over whether departments of philosophy should be eliminated; and in Singapore, US overseas campuses are being helped by the state to cater for ‘the future regional business elite’, generating ‘an apolitical population’ for which the humanities are often deemed an unnecessary and potentially destabilizing enterprise. These will be recognizable models to many working in UK universities. However, some gesture in Universities in Translation towards the transitions happening within the sciences would have helped think about how to build coalitions within institutions.
The alternatives offered by Universities in Translation are tantalizingly embryonic, or infuriatingly brief, depending on your perspective. The Korean research commune Suyu + Nomo is considered by Ko Mi-Sook as a space that sought to integrate intelligence into ‘the stream of everyday life’ through activities ranging from group yoga to students teaching children. A variety of projects that seek to break down intellectual enclosures and create intellectual commons are described or evoked, such as a one-page account of Edu-factory, the collaborative project/web journal which seeks to invent ‘a university of the common’. The Delhi-based Sarai collective is vaunted for its experimental projects that act as a meeting place for research on global media technologies and anti-imperial politics from below.
Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, in arguing that we have moved from an age of imagined community (based around print) to imagined networks (based around the net) looks to the open-source movement as an inspiration for ‘the open streams university’. This is an idea Andrew Ross (whilst more critical in pointing out the exploitation of prosumption’s ‘free labour’ and the corporate co-optation of open source) also picks up on, citing MIT’s free OpenCourseWare syllabus.
If these alternatives gesture towards an array of potential global responses, then they also gesture towards how, as Doreen Massey is quoted pointing out, there are different types of globalization, ‘despite our habit of talking as if there was only one kind – the neoliberal kind’. Universities in Translation is a book that instantiates these alternative forms of globalization both through its politics and as a collection that so obviously tries to extend its transnational conversation further than usual by carrying contributions from outside the global North or Minority World. At the same time – although this may seem churlish given the extent to which it works to extend its transnationalism – this very gesture inevitably brings to light its own privileges and exclusions: stories from Africa, for instance, do not appear, and the North American organizational basis of the collection often shows through in the weighting of contributions.
Regarding the effectiveness of such modes of countering neoliberalism in universities, analyses and prescriptions for alternatives vary: Iwasaki Minoru follows Readings in arguing for the university as a ‘community of dissensus’, whereas for Ukai Satoshi universities need to work to generate ‘a notion of perpetual peace’ by atoning for their historical complicity in imperialism. Helen Petrovsky fires out a warning from Russia to the popularizing scholar in the humanities who becomes a media character, ‘a product of the media themselves … a pure function of the media intimately linked to the contemporary institutes of power’; whereas Andrew Jewett argues that, whilst the kind of critical debunking so beloved by humanities scholars is one mode of political activism, it is ill-suited for coalition-building beyond the academy. Jewett suggests that we need to use alternative rhetorical strategies to build a base of support for ‘the idea that critical scholarship is a social good’, given the marked failure of this narrative thus far.
It is on this issue – considering how oppositional languages and strategies might begin to be forged – that Andrew Ross’s work on precarious labour is particularly strong. Ross’s analysis combines an understanding of the formal organizational instruments of neoliberalism with a sense of how its popular language has worked.
Noting that the demand for flexibility emerged not only through managerialism but also through Autonomia’s ‘revolt against work’ and the constraints of patriarchal and hierachical labour structures in the early 1970s,
Ross argues against a blinkered romanticization of Fordist security and for a recognition that the appeal of self-employment cannot be exclusively identified with the neoliberal entrepreneur, but needs to be espoused by individuals in more democratic environments. Self-direction, he argues, does not necessarily mean selfish neglect for welfare; for autonomy ‘is not the opposite of solidarity. On the contrary, solidarity, if it is to be authentic, has to be learned – it cannot be enforced – and this can only occur when we are free enough to choose it as an outcome of efforts and ideas that we share with others’.Nice Work therefore repeatedly argues for the promotion of models of ‘flexicurity’ in which pay and welfare entitlements for flexible and shortterm workers are strengthened, in direct contrast to neoliberalism’s love of flexploitation. Outside anglophone countries, this flexicurity model has had some success. Pioneered in Denmark and the Netherlands in the 1990s, and adopted by other Nordic countries, it is currently being pushed by European legislators as a goal for the EU as a whole. Alongside these legislative examples, Ross looks to the anti-precarity movement, the nascent interest in green-collar jobs and, crucially, the ability to build cross-class and cross-interest alliances to create new forms of solidarity. His case studies here include:
what green architects might learn from migrant labourers and what the anti-sweatshop movement can learn from anti-consumerism (and vice versa). Discussion of the creative industries in Europe, America and China analyses the intellectual traffic between different conceptions of cultural politics and the imbrication of the cosmopolitan legacies of Mao and Gramsci within these discursive streams as a means of considering their distinctive tendencies and possible potential. It traces the connections between a UK in which creativity has become regarded as a renewable energy resource to fuel economic growth, a greater scepticism in other parts of Europe towards this model, and a China in which an emergent creative economy is producing economic growth solely via export markets, due to anxieties over the power of cultural politics.Nice Work If You Can Get It’s key contribution lies in its demarcation and rearticulation of the faultline between work as creative self-realization and creative self-exploitation, and an expanding model of flexicurity which does not romanticize Keynesian securities and stratification. By paying attention to alliances within and beyond university labour, Nice Work, like Universities in Translation, provides some signposts towards new types of transnational and local solidarities. Together they represent an impressive and galvanizing beginning, whilst nonetheless pointing out how far there is left to travel.
Archi-osophersGevork Hartoonian, ed., Walter Benjamin and Architecture, Routledge, London and New York, 2010. 182 pp., £75.00 hb., 978 0 415 48292 9.
If there is anything missing in the ‘spatial turn’ in contemporary Marxism – the attention to cognitive mapping and urban space, extending from Henri Lefebvre to Neil Smith, David Harvey or Doreen Massey, to as far as The Wire depending on how loosely the term is interpreted – it is a lack of specific attention to architecture as such. Networks, infrastructures, enclosures and generic, standardized structures are studied, but architecture itself – particular buildings, particular architects, and the ideological choices behind their forms and ideas – are oddly considered less important.
This has its own reasoning, in the avoidance of the inflation of architects’ own agency and autonomy, which can be found perhaps in the Venice school of architectural historians centred around Manfredo Tafuri in the 1970s, and the avoidance of architecture as an allegedly ‘autonomous’ specialism, but it has the side effect of letting architecture, and architects themselves, off the hook. The work of Walter Benjamin, with its attention to specific architectural forms – the arcade, the department store, the ‘new glass culture’ of the 1920s – and its dialectic of abstraction and experience, has no such divide.
At the same time, although with rather less productive results, ‘theory’ has entered architecture. Without architecture being seriously theorized as a product of politics and economics, architecture schools have long been prey to the flattering mangling of Deleuze,
Heidegger and sundry others into descriptions of architecturally reproducible folds, rhizomes and chthonic dwellings (depending on your stylistic preferences).
Benjamin has been one of the principal victims of this process, his work either conflated with Heidegger into a concern with the eternal qualities of dwelling or used as a guide to the pre-modernist urbanism of flânerie. In the process, there is a persistent lack of attention to one of Benjamin’s ‘Brechtian maxims’ – the need to start from the bad new things rather than the good old ones.
In his introduction to the anthology Walter Benjamin and Architecture, Gevork Hartoonian explicitly takes issue with the use of theory in architecture schools, and claims that Benjamin has managed to exempt himself from the general farrago. While ‘many have not given up the attempt to “fold”, “deconstruct” or “phenomenologise” architecture, not only in seminar rooms, but also in the abyss of design studios’, ‘Benjamin’s case remains unique’, because somehow, ‘in the present trendy and exhausted mood of “philosophy applied to architecture”, he has survived.’ The anthology goes on to undermine this case somewhat.
Hartoonian makes two moves in his introduction, which are continued in many of the essays. The first is to make a convincing claim for Benjamin’s continued relevance in the context of twentyfirstcentury hypercapitalist urbanism, creating a less and less ‘concrete’ city: ‘Benjamin’s reflections … [are] of interest today when technification of architecture has pushed the art of building to the domain of phantasmagoria of commodity fetishism’ (sic), and hold out the promise, in a context where production and distribution become ever more invisible and quasi-magical, of ‘how to demystify technology’. He then states that the anthology will ‘perhaps not [be] a recipe for architects’, which is a relief. So, this is all well and good. Yet Hartoonian also has a couple of peculiar ideas about Benjamin.
In one alarming sentence, he claims: ‘Aloof from the extreme ideas formulated by the left and right wing politics of the mid1930s, [Benjamin] chose to navigate in the realm of solitude to be captured posthumously in whatever the adjective “Marxist-Rabbi” might mean today.’ Aside from the windy W.G. Sebaldry of all this ‘navigating in the realm of solitude’ (presumably hiding from the ‘dreaming collective’ that is the actual protagonist of the Arcades Project) there is the outright inaccuracy of the opening statement: Benjamin in fact had close links with communists, occasionally of a Stalinist bent, and was a persistent and perspicacious reader of theories of German fascism, from Junger to Schmitt – hardly aloof. The liberal Benjamin untouched by these two antipodes is a fiction. Benjamin’s paeans to a completely mechanized, totally anti-natural architecture, not to mention his theories of revolution, are ‘extreme’ or they are nothing.
The essays in Walter Benjamin and Architecture negotiate this gap between liberalism and a concrete attention to the urban phantasmagoria with decidedly erratic results. Some of it is good, if slightly predictable work – Andrew Leach’s analysis of Manfredo Tafuri’s sometimes tendentious, distorting use of Benjamin, or Andrew Benjamin’s typically allusive, elusive reading of Benjamin’s ‘Naples’, for instance.
But it is at the point where the anthology should be strongest – where it moves from the theoretical to the concrete – that it is most flimsy. As an example,
Magdalena J. Zaborowska’s essay on the ‘architectonics of race and sexuality’ in the differing portraits of Paris by Benjamin and James Baldwin promises much, but spends more time telling us how important an analysis of these spaces in their intersection with queerness and racial ‘otherness’ is than actually proceeding to analyse it. Baldwin becomes a cipher, a black and gay voice to bash sundry centrisms with (Le Corbusier receives a particularly factually inaccurate attack, via a mislabelled photograph of his Beistegui apartment), while his actual spatial politics are left tantalizingly unclear. The comparison of Benjamin’s Arcades and the interiors of Giovanni’s Room is inconclusive, leaving the main focus as an analysis of the repressed American protagonist of Baldwin’s novel as someone who fails to ‘dwell’ properly, being held back by his attachment to a clean, ordered and technological American (sub)urbanism, unwilling to give himself over to Paris’s primal pleasures. ‘Real cities like Paris live and breathe, take space, eat, excrete and stink to high heaven, no matter the WASP notions of purity and sanitized notions of national origins’, writes Zaborowska. The slum has so much soul, as ever.
Reading of all this earthy dwelling, one can’t help but wonder – for neither the first nor the last time – if the writer hasn’t confused Benjamin with his philosophical and political antipode, Martin Heidegger.Neil Leach’s otherwise interesting discussion of mimesis begins with a similar move, noting that in an ‘age of alienation’ and via the modernist campaign for transparency, light and air, ‘human beings are no longer ‘cocooned within their dwelling spaces.
Architectural spaces are no longer reflections of the human spirit. Something has been lost. For Benjamin, this is problematic, because human beings need to recognise something of themselves in their environment’. It’s daunting to untangle the misreadings here, but, in short, Benjamin’s analysis of the decline of the bourgeois interior is in no way a lament for a lost mode of dwelling; it is rather, for better or worse, a gleeful smashing up of all these ‘rooms that look as overcrowded as halls full of funerary urns’. The discussion of mimesis that follows is hence vulnerable to Jane Jacobs’ pieties about the ‘human scale’, which sit oddly with this enthusiast for the Galerie des Machines.
The three essays that discuss particular architectural artefacts are a guide to the book’s limitations, and, in one case, its missed opportunities. Daniel Libeskind is an architect keen on Benjaminian citations, regardless of Benjamin’s allegedly unscathed encounter with the architectural schools, and accordingly his principal, and by far most interesting, work, the Jewish Museum in Berlin, is the subject of a decent enough essay here by Terry Smith, ‘Daniel among the Philosophers’.
This at least draws attention to the ‘chutzpah’ of Libeskind’s move, one repeated throughout this anthology, of conflating Heidegger with Benjamin. In the voids and angles of the museum, Libeskind tries to ‘concretize a hopefilled negativity’ through a heavily dialectical, fragmented approach to space. Yet this isn’t laudatory of the architect’s ability to traverse these contradictions – instead this is fundamentally an analysis of a failure. Libeskind strained here to avoid ‘iconism’ and the reduction to one-liners and cliché, only to find the floor plan reproduced as a logo on the museum’s publicity material; and, as is well known, the power of the naked building was quickly stuffed full of theme park ‘experiences’ and a clutter of artefacts. Soon after, Libeskind became ‘the architect of choice when it came to building up hope within the aftermath of modernity’ at the World Trade Center and elsewhere, which is a politer version of Martin Filler’s jibe at an architect who had become a ‘human Yahrzeit candle’. If anything, the Jewish Museum is evidence that redemption, in the Benjaminian sense, can’t be merely architectural.
The persistent hint of memorializing piety that is never far away when Benjamin is discussed (but which is markedly absent from his own corpus) is brought into focus in ‘Port Bou and Two Grains of Wheat:
In Remembrance of Walter Benjamin’, Renee Tobe’s discussion of the memorial placed in the vague vicinity of the site where Benjamin killed himself. Here, the use of a staircase up to a dim, minuscule lightwell (‘the strait gate through which the Messiah might enter’, no doubt) is imagined as a ‘passage not to Paris, but to Paradise’. This is kitsch, and literary kitsch at that, most unlike the mass-produced dreamkitsch that intrigued Benjamin. By contrast, the most powerful and insightful essay in the book, by an extremely long chalk, discusses a far less self-effacing, though similarly deterministic, work of architecture: Mario Sironi’s 1932 Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution, analysed by Libero Andreotti as an example of the ‘techno-aesthetics of shock’. Interestingly, this is the most Benjaminian essay in the book while citing or invoking Benjamin far less often than any of the other essays – a disturbing and daring investigation into the technological and architectonic means of aestheticizing politics developed by Italian Fascist modernists, which neatly eschews the liberalism on show elsewhere by making clear the various ruptures Sironi had to make with his Russian constructivist sources. In a situation where superficial formal similarities are frequently used to equate various ‘totalitarianisms’ and their corresponding aesthetics, the essay is especially valuable – as is its dissection of shock as a means to impose upon rather than empower the spectator, something which could be adapted to the contemporary landscape of ‘shock and awe’ in media and warfare.
The promise of contemporary usefulness in Andreotti’s excellent essay draws attention to an especially glaring question, one which is otherwise absent throughout the anthology: the lack of any serious consideration of how Benjamin’s work might be applied in contemporary spaces. Hartoonian and others glance at the idea, before opting for something vaguer. The prospect of any of these assembled theorists and historiographers devoting their time to a combined economic and dream-analysis of the shopping mall, which is essentially the project of the Arcades, is hard to imagine. Instead of such vulgarity, the familiar spaces of European heritage urbanism – Les Halles, and Parisian garrets, rickety old Mediterranean streets, signature galleries in regenerated city centres, monuments – take up the space. Benjamin’s architectural theory loses its critical, disjunctive edge in these familiar spaces, but it need not do so elsewhere.
Postmodernism reduxReinhold Martin, Utopia’s Ghost: Architecture and Postmodernism Again, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London, 2010. 248 pp., £46.50 hb., £15.50 pb., 978 0 8166 6962 2 hb., 978 0 8166 6963 9 pb.proclaimed by Francis Fukuyama in 1992, appeared already confirmed in the collapse of architectural form into stylistic historicism and pastiche under way since the 1970s. Martin sets out to rescue the spirit of Utopia, as the promise of an alternative space and time to that of global capitalism, by relocating it, as a spectral presence, within postmodern architecture itself. ‘Utopia’s ghost’, he writes, ‘stands as the permanent possibility of its unexpected return, as ghosts tend to do’.
Chronologically and methodologically Utopia’s Ghost follows Martin’s earlier study of architecture and power: The Organizational Complex: Architecture, Media and Corporate Space (2005). There he had presented an analysis of the corporate architecture of the United States, in the 1950s and 1960s, in relation to the dominance of cybernetic models in science and their adoption as organizational paradigms by firms such as IBM and Bell Laboratories. Here, his period is the 1970s and 1980s, and in it he sees a continuation and development of architecture’s organizational role within the globalization of capital, as opposed to its reduction merely to a provider of dissimulating surface effects. In The Organizational Complex Martin argued that the corporate reorganization of space in postwar America constitutes a nascent form of what Deleuze termed a ‘society of control’; a space, that is, in which the mode of power defined by Foucault as disciplinary is released into an expanded terrain which comes to occupy the entirety of the social field. In Utopia’s Ghost Martin not only attempts to trace the further development of control society and its architectural dimensions through the latter part of the twentieth century, but adopts too Foucault’s own rethinking of contemporary power – complementary to, but preceding by some years, that of Deleuze – as the ‘environmental’ management of subjectivity by neoliberal governmentality.
Rethinking the postmodern from these theoretical perspectives involves Martin in a return to the key loci through which its history and interpretation has been staged. Among these, inevitably, is the Pruitt–Igoe housing development in St. Louis, a project which, as he notes, had even before its demolition in 1972 ‘become an icon of modern architecture’s presumed failures in the area of social reform’. Most famously it was Charles Jencks, in his 1977 The Language of Postmodern Architecture, who declared,
Architectural postmodernism, as Reinhold Martin observes, has served a number of thinkers, including Fredric Jameson, David Harvey and Andreas Huyssen, as a focal point through which to comprehend the broader cultural, social and economic significance of the ‘postmodern turn’. For Jameson, in his Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, architecture offered this privileged analytical perspective since it constituted a seam between the economic organization of society and the aesthetic production of its (spatial) art, which architecture must live more dramatically than any of the other fine arts (save perhaps film), but whose scars it bears more visibly even than film itself, which must necessarily repress and conceal its economic determinations.
Jameson was later to elaborate and refine this thesis so as to avoid the suggestion of a purely reductive, one-toone relationship between the economic and the aesthetic, writing, in ‘The Brick and the Balloon’ in 1998, that any such reductionism ‘fails to respect the specificity, the autonomy or semi-autonomy, of the aesthetic level and its intrinsic dynamics.’ Rather than an immediate relation between shifts in capital’s modes of investment and the development of new styles in architecture, Jameson proposes that other ‘levels’, such as new technologies, effectively mediate these relations.
In Utopia’s Ghost: Architecture and Postmodernism, Again, Reinhold Martin’s purpose, in returning to postmodernism, is to rethink the relations between its architecture and the forms of power with which its emergence coincided; to explore the possibility that ‘architecture offers something more than just material evidence of the “cultural logic of late capitalism”’, and that its spaces and surfaces do something more than ‘repress and conceal its economic determinations’. ‘So this is not’, writes Martin, ‘a history of postmodernism; it is a historical reinterpretation of some of its major themes. Its subject is architectural thought … as much as it is the architecture itself.’ Martin’s objective is not simply to rethink the past, however, but, through this reinterpretation, to rethink the future. Postmodernism, by almost all accounts, permanently foreclosed on the possibility of Utopia around which so much modernist and avant-garde architecture had focused its theory and practice. The ‘end of history’ in the globalization of capital and its ‘liberal democracy’, triumphantly Happily, we can date the death of Modern Architecture to a precise moment in time … Modern Architecture died in St. Louis, Missouri, on July 15, 1972 at 3:32 p.m. (or thereabouts) when the infamous Pruitt–Igoe scheme, or rather several of its slab blocks, were given the final coup de grâce by dynamite.
Following the remarks made by Foucault on neoliberal governmentality, in his 1978–79 lectures on biopolitics at the Collège de France, Martin, however, refigures the demolition of Pruitt–Igoe as symbolic of the point at which the market assumed responsibility for, and over, the social. Any orientation towards a collective and utopian impulse within public housing, as represented, however problematically, by Pruitt–Igoe, is replaced by the neoliberal impetus to produce the subject as a Homo œconomicus reflected in the fact that ‘in cities from New York to Mumbai, as a matter of state housing policy, governance has increasingly devolved onto the markets.’Equally inevitable is Martin’s return to the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, the focal point of Jameson’s account of architecture in his original ‘Postmodernism’ essay. There, Jameson writes that whereas high modernism had attempted to insert ‘a new Utopian language into the tawdry and commercial sign system of the surrounding city’, postmodern projects such as the Bonaventure ‘rather seek to speak that very language’. Symptomatic of postmodern architecture’s ventriloquizing of the sign system which surrounded it was, for Jameson, the Hotel’s reflective glass skin, in which, he wrote, ‘you cannot see the hotel itself but only the distorted images of everything that surrounds it.’ Yet Martin complains of Jameson that ‘he is not really looking at the mirror itself. Rather he seems to be looking into it, at its contents, which have been reduplicated and distorted by the curved surfaces to the point of unrecognizability’:Despite the traditional equation between mirrors and mimesis, an architecture of mirrors does not merely reflect … the protocols of new socioeconomic arrangements. It helps to produce those arrangements, in space and time. Architecture therefore does not (or does not only) ‘mirror’ late capitalism as its cultural equivalent. It belongs to late capitalism.
In ‘belonging’ to late capitalism the role of architecture is not, then, argues Martin against both Jameson and Harvey, to conceal its ‘economic determinations’, through the dissimulation or dislocation of its presence in the mimetic reflection of its surroundings, but to make apparent the economic operations of which it is a part: ‘Its function is not to hide but to reveal, to make visible the actual abstraction of finance capital, it spectral capacity to be here and here and here.’Martin attempts to exemplify this proposition in his analyses of other mirror-surfaced buildings of the period, including Pennzoil Place, Houston, and the Investors Diversified Service Center in Minneapolis, both designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee, in 1976 and 1974 respectively. These corporate buildings, he writes, employ extensive use of ‘rereflection’, a device he defines as a ‘mise en abyme produced by placing mirrors at specific angles to one another’.
Through the multiplication of inner and outer corners and their juxtaposition, these buildings produce a hall of mirrors that operate ‘like a diagram’ of finance capital’s selfsustaining feedback loops.
The ‘doubled-up’ volumes of this architecture, writes Martin, produce a ‘time–space that is neither interior nor exterior, neither here nor there, neither this nor that, neither now nor then’; they materialize, he adds, ‘a sense of inescapable ubiquity and recursivity’. There is, then, nothing hidden behind the mirror since the operations on its surface already exemplify the networked, fluid and omnipresent character of global capitalism: ‘What we are looking at – or more properly, what we are watching – is not the network hiding behind a mirror, but a network of mirrors, unfolding.’However differently interpreted, such analyses remain concerned with the surfaces of architectural postmodernism, and in order to locate the cybernetic organizational paradigms of the period, as well as the ‘environmental controls’ invoked by Foucault within architecture, Martin turns his attention to a corporate interior, that of the Union Carbide Headquarters, in Danbury, Connecticut, designed by Kevin Roche,
John Dinkerloo and Associates, in 1982. Prescient of more contemporary managerial strategies, Union Carbide sought in its new headquarters to produce an atmosphere of parity among its employees through the modulation of the working environment and its interiors spaces. Workers are here transformed into ‘human resources’, or ‘human capital’, each afforded a choice of office design and full control of their immediate environment as an incentive towards their being ‘personally involved’ in the company’s objectives. These managerial and design strategies suggest precisely the forms of subjectivation through environmental management that Foucault articulated in his account of biopolitics and neoliberal governmentality.
As Martin writes of the new subject of corporate space: ‘In biopolitical terms, such a figure is theoretically customizable under a computationally intensive human genomics as a well as under a computationally enabled, expansionist corporate consumerism and the subjectivities it proliferates.’In addressing, through the later thought of Deleuze and Foucault on power, the production of subjectivity within such environments, Martin elaborates a significant and largely overlooked dimension to the understanding of postmodernism. What is perhaps most striking here, however, though the author does not address this as explicitly as he might usefully have done, is how different his account of the subject’s relation to postmodern space is to that of Jameson.
For the latter the interior of the Bonaventure represented a larger ‘mutation in space’ which ‘had finally succeed in transcending the capacities of the individual human body to locate itself, to organize its immediate surroundings perceptually, and cognitively to map its position in a mappable external world.’ In Martin’s analysis, by contrast, the production of postmodern space, as exemplified at the Union Carbide Headquarters, or, elsewhere, in Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown’s Lewis Thomas Laboratory, Princeton, is oriented precisely towards the shaping of the subject’s cognitive and orientational capacities in accord with the corporate agenda. Where Jameson called for a ‘cognitive mapping’ to ameliorate the dislocative effects of postmodern space, Martin’s analysis suggests that architecture already provided such a mapping in order to render the subject ‘at home’ in the now ubiquitous space of the market.
Less persuasive are his attempts to locate the spectral presence of a modernist Utopia in the very spaces of the architecture supposed to have eliminated its possibility. Adopting, in the book’s final chapter, the ‘hauntology’ of Derrida’s Specters of Marx as his method, Martin suggests as candidates the ‘archipelago’ projects of Rem Koolhaas or Mathias Ungers, with their reference to modernist urban projects such as Magnitogorsk, and the ‘claustrophobic interiors’ of a Charles Moore condominium whose historicist eclecticism may, after all, be utopian in its ‘failure to add up’ and thus suggest ‘the forever-deferred possibility of arrival, of a break, of irreversible and maybe even revolutionary historical change.’ Yet as a method for rethinking the future such arguments seem not only, perhaps necessarily, insubstantial, but raise the question of the value of resurrecting, as the means to do so, any strictly modernist sense of Utopia. As Jameson, in his own response to Derrida’s hauntology, observed in ‘The Brick and the Balloon’, the ‘wish to be haunted; to long for the great passions that now exist only in the past’ was a nostalgia which could only manifest itself in ‘a replay of the empty stereotypes of all those things, and a vague memory of their fullness on the tip of the tongue.’
The same songJudith Butler and Catherine Malabou, Sois mon corps: Une lecture contemporaine de la domination et de la servitude chez Hegel, Éditions Bayard, Paris, 2010. 126 pp., €19.00, 978 2 227 48144 2.
This first collaboration between Judith Butler and Catherine Malabou returns to familiar themes in the work of both philosophers, taking the form of a dialogue that riffs on the work of Hegel and its relation to the larger canon of contemporary European philosophy. It tackles the question of the body (or absence thereof) as a philosophical problematic in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit through a debate-style exchange, which focuses on a brief and much annotated passage, ‘Independence and Dependence of Self-consciousness:
Lordship and Bondage’. The fulcrum of this exchange is the eponymous phrase ‘You be my body for me’, a citation from Butler’s exegesis of ‘Lordship and Bondage’ in the opening chapter of The Psychic Life of Power (1997). This imperative captures the enforced delegation of the body to the bondsman, a means for the lord to flatter his ‘disembodied desire for selfreflection’ (Butler). To prove itself to be ‘pure abstraction’, self-consciousness must expunge any attachment to life and to the body. It initially seems that the lord achieves this absolute detachment by instrumentalizing the bondsman, who in turn becomes ‘bound by his own indefectible link to life, that is to say his body’ (Malabou). This passage raises questions about the disembodiment of the Hegelian subject and the very possibility of detachment from and attachment to the body.
Is it possible to delegate the body to another? Is it possible to detach yourself completely from the body? And are we ever really completely attached to it?
Much of the context for these questions is provided by Malabou’s opening essay, which centres around three interpretations of this scene of attachment and detachment: Kojève’s Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, Derrida’s From Restricted to General Economy: A Hegelianism without Reserve, and Butler’s The Psychic Life of Power. Malabou calls these readings acts of philosophical ‘ventriloquism’, which draw out unarticulated meanings in Hegel’s text. Malabou as ‘ventriloquist’ leads us through Hegel read by Kojève, Bataille read by Derrida, and Foucault read through Hegel by Butler. There is a great deal of exposition here and the ‘ventriloquism’ of other philosophers and their Hegelian commentaries leaves Malabou’s own reading a little squeezed. This may be intended to make the book more accessible for those unfamiliar with Hegel and his commentators (‘Lordship and Bondage’ is included as an addendum).
Nevertheless, initiated readers may find this a little repetitive, whilst accessibility is perhaps undermined by the scope and complexity of philosophical themes and texts discussed.
The real stuff of Malabou’s reading of Hegel comes in the short concluding section in her essay ‘Plasticity and Hetero-Affection’ and in her response to Butler.
It is here that we get to see Hegel read by Malabou through a Derridean lens. Leitmotifs from her previous work emerge: principally, plasticity and ‘heteroaffection’ as structuring conditions of the subject. For Malabou, the separation of consciousness and body in the Phenomenology is not to be read as a neoPlatonic ‘devalorization’ of the body, but rather as ‘a deconstructive gesture before its time, denouncing the impossibility of auto-affection’. There is an originary scission in the Hegelian subject between the empirical and transcendental forms of the ‘I’: the body is the ‘place’ of this ‘discordance’, subject to ‘two masters (empirical and transcendental), all the while having none at all’. Malabou writes that this hetero-affection is structural to subjectivity and so concepts such as ‘I’, ‘my body’ and ‘my consciousness’ are problematic; for Hegel they are no more than ‘philosophical fictions’. In order to understand the subject and its attachment to the body, we have to turn to the condition of ‘plasticity’, the ability both to give and to receive form. It is through the subject’s engagement in this work of formation, the sculpting of the empirical and given, that an attachment to the body develops.
Whilst Malabou’s emphasis is on the structural scission of the subject as constantly other to itself,
Butler focuses on the confrontation between the universal and the particular, the interrelation of Gattung (‘genus’ rendered here as ‘species’) and the ‘I’. Butler contends that the central stake in the imperative ‘You be my body for me’ is the very idea of what it is to be related to an other. In a reading reminiscent of Hippolyte’s analysis of self-consciousness as being untenable in isolation, only able to ‘recognize itself in a world which it constructs, in the other selves which it recognizes’, Butler writes that the confrontation with the other permits an encounter with the self and also ‘the limit of what I can call “myself”’. Her reading focuses on the dissonance between the substitutability of the subject as one instance of life and the singularity of its determinate existence. The ability of the other self-consciousness to act as substitute for me is where the ‘I’ meets finitude; however, for this finitude to be possible, the ‘I’ has to be ‘animal, part of an organic nature’. Drawing from Derrida, Butler reads the body as the spectre haunting Hegel’s text, the unarticulated ‘presupposition’ that underpins all the themes of life, finitude, form, and so on; it is a ‘trace’ that ‘operates without being explicitly named’, the unnamed ‘mediation’ between substitutability and finitude. Ultimately, even the lord cannot eradicate this ‘trace’ as his consummation of the bondsman’s produce relates him back to it – attempting to delegate the body to the other always ‘brings us back to the bind of being bound’.The ‘dialectical’ conclusion of the dialogue between Malabou and Butler is summed up by the latter as a ‘chiasm’ rather than a ‘schism’, attributable to an ‘antagonism at the heart of Hegel’. This text certainly does not give the impression of any ‘schism’; apart from a refrain on the differences and similarities between Hegel and Foucault, the two collaborators are singing from the same philosophical hymn sheet and draw from the same group of modern European philosophers. This is an ambitious project for a book of this length, in terms of both themes and philosophical exegeses discussed. Its length understandably limits its scope, but the discussion would arguably have been enriched by an analysis of the politics of the imperative ‘You be my body for me’. The delegated relation is not an equal one (as de Beauvoir’s analysis shows): what is it to be forced to be the body for the other? Is detachment or attachment to that body the same for all subjects equally? This book raises some interesting and complex questions, but it is a little short to follow through. As such, it provides an introduction to the two authors’ interpretations of Hegel and their philosophical leitmotifs, which can be pursued in more depth in their individual works.
Trembling fascinationIsabelle Graw, High Price: Art between the Market and Celebrity Culture, trans. Nicholas Grindell, Sternberg Press, Berlin and New York, 2009. 244 pp., £18.00 pb., 978 1 933128 79 5.
At first glance Isabelle Graw’s location of contemporary art ‘between the market and celebrity culture’ appears to be critical, albeit a familiar and even self-evident criticism. High Price is replete with quotations from celebrity and fashion magazines, private observations about the art world, as well as theoretical speculations about ‘biopolitics’, ‘artist reifications’ and ‘artwork subjectivations’, which all seem intent on proving what needs no proof: that the market has a powerful impact on contemporary art. It is because of this impact that Graw advocates an artistic strategy of ‘market reflexivity’. This is not intended to be seen as ‘obligatory’ or as a ‘normative aesthetics’. But, clearly enough, the thrust of the argument is that artists should indeed be able to ‘practice market reflexivity’. Graw states further that ‘perhaps the marketreflexive artist must retain a measure of naïveté, or rather faux naïveté, since only a naïve view allows him to rise above the situation’.
Elsewhere she writes that ‘the marketreflexive artist may well act strategically, but without always knowing what he’s doing or why he’s doing it’.
Struggling throughout most of the book to provide a clear definition of contemporary art production under present market conditions, Graw resorts in the end to a sixty-year-old concept: Adorno and Horkheimer’s ‘unity of the opposites of market and autonomy’ from Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947). However, in Graw’s repackaging it remains unclear how the naïveté and market reflexivity distinguish the artist from any other ambitious person striving for success in a free-market society. And her attempt to define the source of the high prices of artworks rests upon questionable and contradictory comparisons and differentiations. For example, her differentiation of artworks and luxury goods concludes that one can drive a Mercedes Benz, but not an artwork. Therefore art (as the invariant substance of all artworks) owes its special status to its ‘detachment from the utility principle’. But what of luxury goods that are not meant to be driven, that are not useful, or artworks that are useful, or perhaps even meant to be driven, such as a Warhol-designed BMW?
More generally, Graw fails to address the fundamental question of value of artworks.
Rather than extending the questions of the Frankfurt School, Graw resorts to Bourdieu’s account of symbolic value. As readers of Bourdieu will know, the symbolic value of art is produced through the critical negation of prevailing, canonized artistic positions. The rule of art is to break the rules of established art. Yet we know that under capitalism everything has a price, a potential exchange value, including the symbolic value of artworks. This is where Graw locates the market value of art, which is paradoxically produced by an ostensible strategy of market avoidance, or ‘market reflexivity’.
From Graw’s perspective, the explanation for the high prices of contemporary artworks lies entirely in this production of symbolic value. However, it is perhaps the book’s signal shortcoming that it does not live up to the ambition of its thesis that Bourdieu’s rules of art no longer hold. Near the beginning of her text, Graw claims that the time for Bourdieu’s analysis of symbolic accumulation is now over. ‘It was years ago.’ The glamour magazines and private observations presented to the reader as evidence seem to imply that avoidance of market success no longer generates symbolic value.
If anything, the opposite seems to be true: the market alone seems to produce symbolic value today. But by the end of the book Graw withdraws from this claim and diagnoses another transformation. ‘Until recently the market model seemed to be triumphing, as the value of knowledge was measured more and more in terms of commercial success.’ Critical distance and knowledge are still needed after all, and are even in ‘growing demand’ at all art venues. It is because of this growing demand for symbolic value that the marketreflexive artist and his congenial sidekick, the critical art critic, are both needed to produce the symbolic value responsible for high prices.
The critic’s opinion is seen most often to prevail in the end. ‘Critics have often formulated justified objections to commercially successful practices that only made an impact indirectly or in the long run.’ Graw has her own ‘justified objections’. She believes that, because they are not ‘market reflexive’, the works of high-selling artists such as John Currin and Lisa Yuskavage will at some point see their value vanish from today’s record highs to next to nothing; whereas the works of Andrea Fraser or Merlin Carpenter, which actively and directly reflect their own involvement in the market, are destined to soar. The latter’s ‘naïve market reflexivity’ seems to make them interesting, meaningful and in all likelihood therefore, in the long run, valuable. So, bound to the production of symbolic value by the marketreflexive artist is the activity of the art critic, Graw’s own profession. And it is art criticism that is ‘voted beyond all else as a key creator of all-important symbolic value.’ This perspective reveals the book’s most interesting – if veiled and perhaps unconscious – contribution.
And, beyond the problematic equation of ‘art criticism’ and ‘knowledge’, or ‘public relations’ and ‘criticality’, the book can even be read as a political polemic. In so far as sustainable high prices on the art market are produced primarily by marketreflexive artists and knowledge-controlling art critics, the book may be interpreted as a welcome, though ultimately ineffective, attempt to make visible the largely under-analysed position and value of the art critic in the construction of art as a super luxury commodity. While the artist is often recognized for his value production, the art critic comes across here as a hidden proletarian, expropriated of the extreme value he or she generates at exhausting effort. ‘The reason critics in particular are so notoriously underpaid lies in the intangible nature of the surplus value they produce.’Graw’s analysis, however, doesn’t do much to make any of this more tangible. Take, for example, her critique of the notion of a consistent and uniform art market, which she sees instead as four distinct segments, the commercial art market, the knowledge market, the institution market and the market of major exhibitions, each involved in producing high market prices for artworks. Naming these segments ‘markets’ is speculative and arbitrary. If there is a distinction to be made, it is far more decisively between the commercial art market – where artworks (material commodities with symbolic means) are materially exchanged – and what Graw calls the knowledge market, the institution market and the market of major exhibitions; that is, the universities, museums, biennials and magazines that are distinct segments of the production of symbolic value, rather than different segments of the art market.
The latter can be understood as markets, but only in a very different sense from Graw’s claim, namely only in so far as they consume what Marx called the special commodity: human labour.
Graw’s failure to conceptualize these relations convincingly means that the book can be read and studied as a perfect symptom of the prevailing ideology of our time. This becomes clearer if one considers her core argument about market reflexivity. At first glance this appears as nothing other than a somewhat superficial appeal to the familiar terms of critical theory. On closer inspection, however, a surprising and novel evolution is at stake. The seemingly critical imperative of market reflexivity is no longer linked to the fact that capitalism subordinates every production and every realm of life to the logic of accumulation of surplus value and, subsequently, to economic and environmental crises. Despite her appeal to catchwords like ‘biopolitics’, Graw does not treat market reflexivity as a matter of criticizing social conditions, but instead, and quite openly, as a strategic concept geared towards producing sustainable market values for artworks.
This is evident when considering, for instance, the notion of naïveté that Graw appropriates from T.J.
Clark’s study on Courbet – Graw’s original paradigm for a marketreflexive artist. In his book Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution, Clark criticizes the conventional image of Courbet as a naïve, simple-minded painter, showing that Courbet’s naïveté is in fact a complex strategy, a mask used to, at one and the same time, belong and not belong to the very core of the Paris art world. In Clark’s view, Courbet’s strategy was inseparably connected to his revolutionary practice, which can in turn neither be understood as a naïve adventure nor separated from his artistic practice. But in Graw’s conception,
Clark’s revision is turned into an affirmative strategic paradigm to reliably produce sustainable market value under capitalist conditions. Political questions exceed-ing the art world and capitalism remain – aside from a few superficial remarks and clichés – firmly outside the scope of the analysis.
It is ultimately clear that Graw’s call for market reflexivity neither needs nor wants to imagine the possibility for different conditions of artistic production and distribution. Graw’s own naïveté is therefore not what she attributes to some of her favoured artists – such as the dream of aesthetic autonomy or another world not governed by capitalism. It is rather the naïveté of an unexamined belief that such dreams are uncool, unsexy, and at any rate impossible. As such, it is a rather straightforward recommendation that – since sustainable artistic value is produced by marketreflexive artists and art critics – works by the likes of Andrea Fraser and Merlin Carpenter are a safe investment. This relation to the market is without any sense of the content and imaginative reach of the former social and aesthetic critique it ostensibly rests upon. This loss of critical sense and fantasy is also detectable on a formal level in Graw’s language, dense in technocratic neologisms and empty cliché phrases – a problem that is attenuated in Nicholas Grindell’s English translation, which also manages to sharpen up some of the original text’s concepts.
In a passage unfortunately edited out from the English translation, Graw confesses that she follows the recent art market affairs ‘with a trembling fascination’, even though her own relation to the art market is marked by ambivalence (see Der große Preis, p. 234). She suggests that one should not be art market phobic or art market euphoric. But there remains no equivocation about the nature of Graw’s commitment to the art critic’s entitlement to a proportionate share of the value produced and the price achieved on the market. Not only shall collectors, auctioneers, dealers and artists become wealthy and illustrious celebrities:
so shall the art critic.
Less is not always a boreDavid Harvey, The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism, Profile Books, London, 2010. viii + 296 pp., £14.99 hb., 987 1 84668 308 4.
Derived from a Marxian account of crises of overaccumulation and under-consumption, David Harvey’s concept of the ‘spatial fix’ – first introduced to his work nearly three decades ago – refers to the ways in which capitalism seeks to overcome its internal crisis tendencies through a restructuring of space. More broadly, the concept of the ‘fix’ draws upon a tripartite model of space, indebted to Lefebvre, which argues that the material spaces of production fixed, for example, in Taiwan both require spatial representation and must be liveable – that is, experiential spaces. The valorization process is thereby also given to us in experience. This does not mean that such experience is merely the secondary subjectivizing of reality, but that the subject is both the one who determines the structure or space of representation by its situatedness in the world, and also its outcome, formed by its apprehension and imagining of the world, its representations of space.
Harvey’s overwhelmingly descriptive approach in The Enigma of Capital could be read, in line with this model, as offering a kind of phenomenality of accumulation, in which the reproduction of the means of production, or of socialist resistance, is a process of iteration and differentiation, spawning multiplicities of spatially aggregated resources. Such an emphasis both on the relationality of heterogeneous elements or multiplicities and on the constructed nature of space underlines the proto-phenomenological character of Harvey’s work. His description of the lived nature of space (combining the experientially material, the imagined/represented space and their conceptual reflections) is illustrated, for example, by the ways in which space is differentially apprehended via canals, roads, railways, planes, and so on. Hence, while the Aristotelian idea of a fixed space – itself lacking substance, but filled with it – is merely the same space seen differently according to what fills it,
Harvey’s view is rather that the relationality of spaces, produced by for example transport links, materializes different kinds of spaces – the spaces we encounter in everyday life – and that their absolute, physical existence is inextricable from lived space and the conceptualizations consonant with this. Thus, as against the primacy accorded to Aristotelian ‘substance’ as that which precedes its ‘qualities’, the claim that the qualities normally associated with experience – touch, colour, smell, taste – are inextricably linked to spatial extension as substance leads, in Harvey, to the assimilation of the world to experience. It is this, then,
Harvey argues, that leads to the constitutive ambiguity underlying the process of capital’s spatial aggregation as a bundling of ‘qualities’ that creates its own fix, in that substance effectively appears ex nihilo and, as such, is both present as accomplished fix and absent in so far as the event or process of the fix itself has no spatial location.
On this basis, the more historically specific argument of The Enigma of Capital is that capitalism, rather than being a fixed thing, can best be characterized by its flows – that is, as a process dependent on the relationality or mutual affinity of productive resources in a given location that temporarily satiate capital’s perpetual search for opportunities to expand.
Capital flow is mediated by seven common factors:
technologies, social relations, administrative systems, mental conceptions (objectively real spaces of representation), production systems, relations to nature and patterns of daily life. These factors are co-evolutionary and develop unevenly across the spaces they construct or fix. Hence, philosophically, Harvey follows Whitehead’s argument that the materiality of space is essentially seen not in the continuity of its substance but rather through its ongoing structural features, a dependence on the ‘cogredience’ (as Whitehead called it) of its elements to establish permanence or durée.
Harvey’s take on this is that different spaces will have their own forms of temporality or durée, given by the combinations of factors within them. Hence we might find that experiences of space vary profoundly between London and, say, the manufacturing centres of China’s Pearl River Delta, while labour-intensive processes produce a different sense of durée from Internet banking, and so on.Durées are punctuated by periods of upheaval, or creative destruction, in which capital mutates and migrates: a perpetual search for novelty which characterizes not only the development or evolution of capitalism, but, as with Whitehead, also the natural world itself. Hence process is best understood when framed as a ‘socio-ecological totality’ in which the seven types of elements mentioned above combine in dynamic but unpredictable ways as assemblages.
Harvey argues that, much as with the unpredictability and contingency of ‘Darwinian’ mutation, it is the uneven development between and among spheres of activity (spatial fixes) and their tensions and contradictions that drives change. One illustration used to back up this description of capitalist movement is the ways in which the products of the system become increasingly opaque: black-boxed against casual enquiry. Commodities ranging from information technology to financial products based on mathematical formulae are, on the one hand, supposedly ‘foolproof’, but, on the other, have unpredictable consequences, as the formula for the packaging of sub-prime mortgages demonstrates.
At this point one might conclude that capitalism’s heterogeneity and contingency are in danger of being overplayed: that such a conception of space risks, in a word, appearing too monadological in its thinking of these different ‘spheres of activity’. As Barbaras notes of Leibniz, the ‘relationality’, so to speak, of the monads may deal with the problem of substantial being in space, but only by shifting it to the exteriority of monadic structures in such a way that the concomitant of substantial being, empty space, necessarily reappears. In Barbaras’s own words, the Bergsonian appropriation of Leibniz, although introducing the idea of process as a negation of the substantiality of being, does so by replacing empty space with a ‘massive opposition between a nothingness that would be completely negative and a fully positive being’. This reintroduces a question of the dynamics of process and, as with the original empty space model, entails the self-defeating question: ‘how do we get something from nothing?’ Harvey’s Bergsonian emphasis on the externally related nature of co-evolving elements and their development as a process of replication/novelty (aggregations, mutations) reinforces this problem.
Noticeably, while Harvey explains the fixing of global flows of capital as a process of coevolving elements, it is not clear that this can adequately answer the question of what, for example, the specific globalizing processes are that may be shifting economic dominance from the West towards, say, the so-called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China). The transformation of the BRICs can’t really be explained separately, but only through their presence within the West as part of a dynamic of investment/consumption.
Hence whilst global capitalism appears as a series of separate geographical fixes, these, contra Harvey, are not fundamentally heterogeneous or discontinuous in this case, but are determined by one process or continuity – capital flow – which operates across different spaces and temporalities. There is, then, arguably, a different kind of space from the fully substantial, one that limits or feeds, ‘fixes’, these contesting but linked projects.
None of this should cancel out Harvey’s very real achievement in articulating a constructionist alternative to the objectivist dualism of traditional geography, which relativizes space but at the same time preserves its objectivity, anchoring its physical and intellectual moments phenomenologically. And, in this his most recent book, Harvey’s discussion of the fetishism of fixes is undoubtedly insightful in evoking Marx on the bourgeoisie’s obsession with the annihilation of space/technology in ever-new solutions to the ‘fetters’ on capital. The blackboxing effect of the fix is generalized to capital’s concealment of the historical situatedness and daily life of its projects, and to its effect on bourgeois self-consciousness as a self-destructive narcissism. Here, it is the substantial notion of space that rules: there is – to cite, ironically, Jessop’s comment on Harvey’s own work – no ‘constitutive outside’ to bourgeois space. It vampirically swallows its grounds (concrete labour/use value), its fixes are seen as a liberation from space and time, development annihilates the past – evidenced in a paranoiac fear of being ‘out of date’ – and the ascendant bourgeoisie appears as identical with the social order. As Harvey remarks of the 1980s, such a bourgeoisie thoroughly permeated the social fabric with the language of its project during this period, rendering its specific character invisible. It seemed to be everywhere and nowhere: neoliberalism uninterrupted.
An anticapitalist fix would obviously involve winning back spaces from the neoliberal project and entail a re-temporalization of spatial complexity. Yet, on this, Harvey again seems less than convincing, in so far as he rejects spatio-temporalizations which are not confined to particular places as lived and conceptualized. Global–local links and real abstractions are out because they don’t fit neatly into Harvey’s idea of monadic creative replication, aggregation as self-generating. Instead he tends to focus almost exclusively on the temporalities of the capital spatial fix.
Yet it may be that the materials and processes which get valorized are not only part of the discordant temporality of the capital–labour relation. Certainly it is in these terms that we might think through some of the complexities involved in the homologies which David Cunningham has pointed to between the abstractions of urban form and those of valorization. If we take as an example the urban space that is Milton Keynes shopping centre, it embodies the processes of rent and consumption, but also contains the non-homologous space, as Owen Hatherley observes, of Victor Gruen’s Weimar public modernism, designed inter alia as a space for ‘real popular interaction’, which in its orientation towards the summer solstice has older, calendrical rather than linear temporal resonances.
Space–time both reinforces and negates its objects:
modernist minimalism may connote the time–space compression of capital accumulation but it can also celebrate the ideal of public space. However, we can only understand this via a grounding of objects/places which opens them to alternative constitution, as a negation within the ascendancy of a specific dominant project.
Hence the ambiguities of space remain a site of ongoing contestation. This is something Harvey certainly recognizes in terms of the struggle over public and private terrain. What’s missing, however, is a sense of internal dynamism, processes of transformation which spatial ambiguity communicates through the interweaving temporalities of an object/space – in this case, the sedimented presence of a non-capitalist modernity.
Harvey’s Bergsonian evolutionism rejects this possibility of a less substantial space in favour of that of the fully given ascendant (neoliberal) project, and its concomitant internal processual opacity. (Interestingly enough, Whitehead’s programme argues in fact against the existence of any discrete spatio-temporal entities, an aspect of ‘organic philosophy’ that, he believed, had been falsified by the theory of relativity, and demonstrated that the same space/object precisely can have different temporal interpellations.) At the same time, it may be that the culmination of the book, entitled ‘What is to be done’, reveals Harvey’s actual inclinations, against the grain of the book’s dominant theoretical account, when he suggests that we can’t understand factory-based struggles outside their supportive urban context and their combined but differential space–time fixes. From this perspective, space looks less like heterogeneous unpredictable mutation and more like the conflictually continuous: the space of ‘less is more’ vis-à-vis the Enigma variations.