Saturday, 30 November 2013

Becoming-Gerbil: Part 1 - Becoming-Genome

In 1980 Deleuze and Guattari published a book called A Thousand Plateaus which included a chapter entitled ‘1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible’.

In 2013 Richardson adopted Sister Moonshine.

This is a Deleuzo-Guattarian response to the experience of having a gerbil housemate!

Introduction to Series

There is so much that can be said about being-a-human-caring-for-a-gerbil that comes under the umbrella of Oedipal reterritorialization as it is for Deleuze and Guattari. For instance: there are no males - gerbil or human - who live in the house with Sister Moonshine and myself. Nevertheless, while there is a traditional classical hierarchy - human over animal - that is arguably going on, I attempt as much as possible to not impose my will/rules/power over her. But this is a fine balance, since there are some things I have to do in regards to her care which she doesn’t like much, for instance cleaning her cage out. But, our house/gerbilarium is not a patriarchy. We are sisters in fur/skin together, although Sister M is totally unaware of this. We also enter each other’s spaces: I enter her cage (well my hand does) and she comes out for a run on my bed. We have, somewhat, appropriated each other’s homes/territories.

This relationship is a damage limitation exercise based on the fact that someone put Sister M in a cage and she can no longer go back to her homeland, the Mongolian desert (not that she has ever seen the desert, neither have any of her recent ancestors). Unfortunately she cannot live in my house as a free being: she could disappear into the wall cavities forever or I could get out of bed one morning and accidentally stand on her. Nor can I move into her cage with her. So, Sister Moonshine and I are separated by bars. This becoming-gerbil series of blogs is about those bars of her cage and my attempt to overcome them by adapting myself, as much as possible, to her gerbil nature. In a way the bars are like the rail tracks discussed by Jacque Lacan in Ecrits (the ones that actualise the bar in his signifying model). Sister M looks at the bars and I look at the bars, but we are looking at the bars from a totally different space. (For a Lacanian analysis which discusses this further, please click here: Once Upon a Time) The qualities of becoming-gerbil which I would like to introduce over the next few blogs are: becoming-genome, becoming-small and becoming-furry.

1 - Becoming-Genome: Change, Compensation and Care

Sister Moonshine and myself were related about 80 million years ago. At that historically significant evolutionary point the rodent and primate lineage diverged and I took the primate path. However, this means that Sister M and I have a lot in common. Humans share a lot of DNA with rodents (hence why scientists use rodents in vivisection), even if a lot of that DNA is not ‘switched on’. What is significant about this in relation to becoming-genome is the concept of surface appearance or resemblance. For instance, at some point following this rodent/primate split, on the rodent line there followed a rat/mouse split. What becoming-gerbil is about is difference and relationships. It is about becoming as it is relates to adaptation, morphing and transforming.

When discussing becoming-animal Deleuze and Guattari state: “The becoming-animal of the human being is real, even if the animal the human becomes is not; and the becoming-other of the animal is real, even if that something other it becomes is not.” (2007: 260) They go on to say that becoming “concerns alliance” and “it is in the domain of symbioses that bring into play beings of totally different scales and kingdoms” (2007:263).

What this means for becoming-gerbil, and in particular becoming-genome, is the seeking out of a place where the gerbil can express her gerbilness as much as possible in the confines that the site and situation allow. Becoming-genome is about expressions of care. As the human care-giver of the gerbil, one places the needs of the gerbil as a high priority in order to attempt to compensate for the freedom that was taken away from her and her relatives when they were turned into pets in the 1960s (and prior to that used as laboratory animals because of their ‘placid’ nature). While it is impossible to redress the abuses inflicted upon Sister Moonshine’s ancestors, becoming-genome refers to the changes in the caregiver through nurturing her and educating the care-giver to be the best gerbil ‘parent’ possible. This involves adapting to Sister M, rather than expecting her to adapt to me, although that is no doubt occurring too.

Becoming Gerbil: Part 2 - Becoming-Small

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. 2007. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. by Brian Massumi (London and New York: Continuum).
Lacan, Jacques. 2002. Ecrits: A Selection, trans. by Bruce Fink (New York and London: W. W. Norton and Co.).

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Power, Planning and Pathways

Figure 1 – This map/plan shows the colour-coded routes proposed for the new campus.

In Discipline and Punish Michel Foucault makes it clear that the power/knowledge process does not fix docile bodies in space, but actually puts them in circulation in relation to power. Rather than demonstrate this through the more obvious discussion of surveillance, which appears as one of the primary modes of power in postmodern urban space, I should like to look at how the planning of the University of Leeds campus provides a much more subtle and less obvious way of controlling bodies, than does surveillance through CCTV.

Foucault explains that the modern factories of the 18th century were organised in terms of “disciplinary space”. (1991: 143) The space of the factory was designed so that individuals were kept in their own physical space and movement was controlled in order to prevent groups of people collecting together: “Its aim was to establish presences and absences, to know where and how to locate individuals, to set up useful communications, to interrupt others, to be able at each moment to supervise the conduct of each individual”. (Ibid.) In his discussion on a new approach to education in the classical period, Foucault describes how the model that is applied to the factory is also applied to the school. Space is organised in such a way to make processes as efficient as possible: “The disciplines, which analyse space, break up and rearrange activities, must also be understood as machinery for adding up and capitalizing time.” (1991: 157)

Figure 2 – This sketch is a vision of the new university.

This efficiency, in terms of organising space, is apparent when viewing the development plans of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon for the University of Leeds in the early 1960s. One of the maps in the plan shows the proposed pathways for pedestrians on the campus (figure 1). These new routes also included covered walkways that helped students move from one teaching building to another, while protecting them from the elements (figure 2). While it seems that the intention of the architects was to encourage students to ‘commune’ rather than to isolate them (isolation was the intention of the authorities during the classical period discussed by Foucault, however), nevertheless, and despite how altruistic it might have been, this is how the movement of individuals through space can be subtly controlled; as Foucault says: “Stones can make people docile and knowable.” (1991: 172) By creating pathways through space – and not just the clearly defined ones that are formed from paths, but also those that appear as spaces between buildings – individuals are encouraged to take particular routes and discouraged from taking other ones.

Although this might appear to be just a side-effect of urban planning, it is actually built into the very fabric of urban space. The pedestrian is made to feel they are taking a ‘natural’ path from A to B. Fran Tonkiss, a sociologist specialisation in urban space, explains how this works from the perspective of the users of space: “The divisions that people draw between things and places harden into objective facts which in their turn organise social meanings and social actions.” (2005: 30) After a time, and with repeated use, the path taken becomes subconsciously ingrained and it then becomes difficult to alter one’s route. This originates from the discourse of campus planning and development, but in practice it becomes the anatomy of the socio-spatial arena. The subject becomes knowable through their predictability, but also their individual social relationships become spatially ordered around communal hubs that play out in space.

Foucault, Michel. 1991. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. by Alan Sheridan (London: Penguin Books).
Tonkiss, Fran. 2005. Space, the City and Social Theory: Social Relations and Urban Forms (Cambridge: Polity Press).

Related Links:
The Parkinson Temple
Louis Althusser, Ideology and the Practices of the Institution

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Le Pont du Nord and Urbanized

I’ve recently watched two psychogeography/urban space films that I really enjoyed. They are Le Pont du Nord, recommended to me by Geoff Nicholson, and Urbanized which I found online while looking for films about postmodern architecture. I’d like to tell you a little about the films, and also provide you with further information.

Le Pont du Nord (1981) by Jacques Rivette

This rather quirky, post-French New Wave film starts of a bit slowly but because of its peculiarity you feel compelled to continue, which is well worth doing, especially if you are interested in the city or are a psychogeographer. Starring a mother and daughter (Bulle and Pascale Ogier) we see their characters form a strange relationship in the cityscape around the playing out of an urban game and clandestine chance meetings with strange characters in abandoned spaces. And…the film has the mandatory psychogeographers’ rucksack in it, too!

The special edition includes a super booklet with lots of information about the film and also some interviews. This is what Serge Daney says about the film:
Le Pont du Nord is also in fact a political thriller with a hunt for a woman and an urban setting, a documentary on the state of Paris in 1981, an old modernist film composed out of an incomplete and undecidable tale . . . One should see it like one slides a finger (nervously) along a dial in order to tune in to free-radio stations. Free, that’s what the film is – Rivette is the needle, and we are the dial.
I didn’t know the actresses, so looked them up online. Tragically Pascale Ogier died of a drug overdose a few years after making this film. It seems she was a talented actress and at the beginning of a promising career.

Urbanized (2011) by Gary Hustwit

It’s nice to see a documentary film about urban space and architecture which doesn’t feel Anglo-centric (I mean this more in relation to the style of the film, rather than the places discussed). By the independent filmmaker Gary Hustwitt, it takes a rounded look at urban space, housing and planning. I guess on some level it is about people, but I suppose films about urban space always are, since we are the colonizers of macro space. One of the speakers says “Urban design is really the language of the city”, which reminded me of Roland Barthes’ essay ‘Semiology and Urbanism’: “The city is a discourse and this discourse is truly a language: the city speaks to its inhabitants, we speak our city, the city where we are, simply by living in it, by wandering through it, by looking at it.” (2004: 168).

This is what Hustwit says about his film:
Before I started with urbanized I spoke with architects, city planners, academics, and developers. I went to conferences about urban issues, and soaked up as much information as I could about the state of cities today. For two and a half years, I filmed conversations with people who I thought were doing compelling work, and tried to document their creative processes.
You can click here to go to the website that includes information about all the films in the trilogy: Helvetica/Objectified/Urbanized

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Deconstructing the Redbrick: Spatial Ordering, Ideology and Campus Aesthetics

If any human/cultural geography, urban planning, cultural studies departments are interested in employing me to do a guest lecture for their students and/or colleagues, please feel free to contact me via this blog or on A CV is also available here: Tina Richardson's CV

Thanks in anticipation!

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Psychogeography of Academia or…

...Negotiating Your Way Around the Hellish Academic City Centre Loop!

I got an email from the Staff and Departmental Development Unit at the University of Leeds this week, announcing a new programme of training for researchers at the university. This is the graphic that accompanies their new programme. It had an interesting effect on me, being both a psychogeographer but also a (pre)academic who is about to launch oneself into the academic market. The aesthetics of the image is intriguing and I wish I had the time to do a proper deconstruction of it, like I have with a number of university images, however I’ll just stick to my initial reactions, which were:
1 – What an interesting ‘logo’ to choose. The bold primary colours make it jump out at you. The image is well thought out, funny and pertinent. ‘Who came up with the idea?’ I thought. And, of course, because I am a psychogeographer, I found it quite delightful.
2 – But then I saw ‘No Idea City Centre Loop’ opposite ‘Dream Job’ and my heart sank. Not least because of the terrible market for higher education jobs, but also because of the university lecturers’ strike this week. How disheartening!
Recently I subscribed to Times Higher Education, which is the most depressing magazine for a pre-academic to read. And, it is not like some magazines where you only get one a month. It is weekly. So once a week I sink into an existential crisis, just pulling myself out of it before the next week’s edition arrives. Only a masochist postdoc would enjoy putting themselves through that weekly.

While it is a really well-written/edited interesting magazine, it does contain a lot of articles like:

‘Failure is an option as US enrolment stagnates’
‘Politicians, don’t bury your heads in the sand, cautions Andy Westwood: the fees issue will have to be revisited eventually’
‘Use genuine all-rounders to eradicate zero-hours contracts, Philip Roddis advises the academy’

...I do appreciate this just reflects the market, but it nevertheless requires endless bootstrapping to keep one’s self-esteem up, especially after 9 years of academic training and the relinquishing of all financial security – something I am beginning to think was extremely foolhardy for a middle-aged new academic to do.

Historically I have been inventive in job-hunting and some of my best positions I actually got by myself and were not even advertised jobs. In one, after having a bad day at work, I walked in off the street to a company’s head office and asked them for a job, and they gave me one there and then. In another job – my best paid and most enjoyable job to date – the company created a position for me after receiving my letter in the post. Academia does not work like this though. Since it is the ‘public’ sector there are processes that have to be adhered to. My ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ does not seem to apply in a system of tick boxes, key performance indicator-like structures and over-worked lecturers who can barely keep on top of their work, let alone respond to my speculative letters (although some of them have – a 25% return so far, pretty good). Not that I am job-hunting in earnest yet, having not quite submitted my thesis, but I am doing job-hunting research, one could say...

The most worrying thing, I am finding, is the demise of the very subject that got me interested in becoming an academic in the first place – Cultural Studies. I fell in love with it on my ACCESS course (A-Levels for mature students). You can’t even study Cultural Studies at A-Level in school, but you can at a Further Education college if you do an ACCESS course. Within 5 weeks of the course I knew that this was what I wanted to study for my BA. It was as if someone had created Cultural Studies just for me. I wanted to become a Cultural Studies lecturer. But the subject – especially as a ‘pure’ subject – has dwindled during that time. That, and the lack of undergraduates wanting to take the degree since the course fee rises, means that the subject is being abandoned around the country, being paired up with other subjects, or is awaiting a rebranding exercise of some sort (if anyone wants a Programme Director to rebrand their Cultural Studies degree, I’m your woman).

So, I am on that roundabout above, going around in circles, trying to avoid ‘No Idea City Centre Loop’ and hoping I will eventually get off at ‘Dream Job’! As the psychogeographer said: Watch this space!