There’s been somewhat of a feeding frenzy in the media today regarding the infiltration of the Shard by Bradley Garrett and others. Bradley posted the images of his climb to the top of Europe’s new tallest building on his blog and soon after, the media caught wind of them and used them to fill out their bilious pages with striking images that no photographer working for any paper would be able to achieve ever. The media coverage of this event has been, for me, unsurprising given the enormity of what Bradley’s actions do to the collective psyche of the public writ large. Whatever people feel about his actions (I happen to think they should be highly commended and applauded), the infiltration of the Shard is a philosophical Event par excellence. Let me explain why (warning – philosophical ramblings ahead). Continue reading
Just a quick post to let you know that the guys over at American Parkour have published my Environment and Planning D paper ‘Parkour, the City, the Event‘. You can read it here. If you don’t have access to the full paper from the journal website or your library doesn’t stock it, then you can read the full, pre-copy edited article here (it’s pretty much the same, just a few minor changes to language etc). Of course, as usual, if you reference it, please use the full EPD paper.
Having described how I think that the image of a city in film can be an interesting and alternative way of capturing its complexity in a previous blog entry, I wanted to elaborate this idea after some interesting comments, most notably from my brother (cheap plug coming up), who hosts an excellent photo blog.
I was watching Cloverfield the other day, which as a film, is watchable, not as groundbreaking as everybody makes out (Blair Witch comes to mind, as does the excellent Korean film The Host), but what struck me was the visualisation of the destruction of New York City. From a shaky-cam point of view, or a more omnipresent God’s eye view that perhaps Independence Day offers (particularly watch the video between 3:05 – 3:09), the destruction of the city has always been used as a way of invoking total and utter chaos and dystopian ‘rapture’ to a narrative. In other words, in a film maker wants to ensure that their subject (be it an invading alien force, asteroid, sea monster or climate change) is ‘the real deal’, then get it to level a city (usually New York) and then we know the human race is in for it. Remember Jake Gyllenhaal, in the Day After Tomorrow, running from the cold?? Oh no, watch out! Its getting a bit nippy out! Run for your lives!!
In destroying cities, filmmakers are laying siege to the bastion of human development. Cities are the hubs of our inter-connected Castellian world and by destroying them on film is unraveling their complexity without our own perceptions/psyche/memories. If we refer to Bergson’s 1911 publication Matière et Mémoire, he stated that when an image is viewed, the association the content has with the viewers experiences, histories and (more generally) their mind manifests themselves as memories. The instant an image is viewed; subconscious memory (or automatic recognition) is masked by conscious memory (or acquired recognition). Hence,
“The faculty of mental photography…belongs rather to subconsciousness than to consciousness; it answers with difficulty the summons of the will. In order to exercise it, we should accustom ourselves to retaining, for instance, several arrangements of points at once, without even thinking of counting them: we must imitate in some sort the instantaneity of this memory in order to attain its mastery”.
(Bergson, 1911, English Translation, 2004; 101-102).
So when viewing the destruction of a city in film, the ‘instantaneity’ of automatic memory (which is where complexity is to be found – or ‘the void’ in Badiouian terms) is masked by our consciousness. This could be simply the realization that we are watching a film or a specific memory of that particular city or building. Badiou argued that the state of the situation requires a militancy which hides the ‘what-is-not-one’ (or inconsistent multiplicity, rhizome, body without organs etc), and it is this militancy of the consciousness which masks a cities complexity from us. Watching it unravel before our eyes when it is levelled allows to experience the ‘void’ or the rhizomatic nature of the urban, if only for an instant. But as Bergson states, “we must imitate in some sort the instantaneity of this memory in order to attain its mastery”. But as we’re fighting against our own ‘miltant consciousness’, this will take some doing. But if I have to watch anymore of those contrived, nihilistic, brain-dead Hollywood tripe-fests then it may be little bit easier…
People who read this blog will no doubt be aware of my fascination with Badiou’s theorisation of the ‘Event’, and while I am still grappling with the nuances, it is clear that it holds certain truisms with social theory. For me however, its conflation with excess of reality’ (form Baudrillard’s writings) is an issue. An event, Badiou argues is an irruptive force, the multiple of multiples coming to the fore; or the ‘what-is-not-one’ being exposed for what is it, pure multiplicity. Baudrillard states that 9/11 was an ‘absolute event‘, that in the hours (and perhaps) days after the twin towers fell, the world was in a state of shock. But more than that, society’s computation of the event into the realm of consciousness via information was halted, in other words, there was a disparity between the reality of the event and the understanding of the event. As the news channels continually showed Hollywood-style images of the unfolding attacks, society (as a collective of individuals at least) failed to keep pace with the amount of information available and as a result, there existed a state of ‘raw event’, with a gap between what was known and a constructed narrative (perhaps suggesting the proliferation of conspiracy theories?).
Fast forward from September 11th 2001, to 26th November 2008. The Mumbai attacks have been plastered all over the news websites and 24 hour news channels, and the stream of information has been constant. In the 7 years between 9/11 and these attacks (in no way am I comparing the attacks themselves, just the take up of them) the ‘plugged-in’ nature of our virtual society has increased beyond anything seemed possible initially. Facebook, Twitter, blogs like this, they have all increased the information flow and as a result, further intensified the speed, amount and variety of information that could be received. In the morning of the 27th, Twitter updates offered me Google Maps of the attacks; Sky News was telling me that the England cricket team were canceling their trip, only to then tell me that they would wait 24 hours before making a decision; the speed in which the Wikipedia page is developing is almost beyond belief; my Google Reader ticker went through the roof; and even the people.co.uk was running the story (only joking, it is currently telling me about John Seargant’s phone votes).
The shear amount of information available overwhelms the senses, and only serves to increase the uncertainty and the ‘excess of reality’. If, as Badiou states that an Event is an irruptive force, bringing the mutliplicity to the fore, then surely in a time like this, the connectedness and democratic way in which people receive information these days only increases this irruptiveness? The ‘gap’ between reality and understanding, which Baudrillard takes of, is furthered by the amount of information that has to be processed, and so the narrative (or story) which constructs the event retrospectively, will be more complex and will intertwine further with more marginalised news sources that were made more visible through our more connected information sources.
Badiou, in his book Being and Event, discusses at length the French Revolution as an archetypal Event, and the Chinese leader, Zhou Enlai, in 1950 was asked about the impact of the French Revolution, and his reply was “it’s too early to tell”. Events such as the Mumbai attacks of 26th November 2008, are quite clearly shocking, and lines such as “it’s all very confusing at this stage”, and “details are sketchy” are common on the news channels. Sources such as Twitter (which has been particularly rapid in the pick up and dissemination of information) will no doubt help in the clarification of some points, but aid in the complexity of others – which is the price we have to pay for the connected and democratic nature of news and information dissemination today.
I know that I probably watch too much TV, in fact, I once watched the whole first series of 24 in 18 hours, but when it comes to The Wire, I don’t think I could ever watch too much of it. The genre of cop drama/crime thriller has never been one to enthral me that much but this is a whole new ball game. Not only is it brilliantly written, with complex story lines that intertwine and then diverge with the single pull of a trigger, but it typifies the complexity of the urban in a way that very few urban geography textbooks or journal articles can.
In season 3, we are properly introduced to Major Howard Colvin, a policeman coming toward the end of his tenure, looking forward to retirement. He hatches a plot to move all the street drug trafficking of the streets of Baltimore to three ‘safe zones’ in the Western district, where he then proceeds to let the drug dealers deal freely, turning a blind eye. All the time, in the rest of the Western district, he implements a zero-tolerance rule on any drug dealing on ‘the corners’. The resulting ‘free zones’ are by no means pretty, but they do succeed in helping the crime statistics drop for the rest of the Western district.
What this series said to me was that it takes monumental events, such as the ‘safe zones’ in Baltimore to effect a reaction from the societal strata we find ourselves enmeshed in. The laws that govern our lands are constantly shifting, and indeed the dynamism of globalisation is an important process to study and be aware of. But the seismic shifts in regulation like that witnessed in series 3 of The Wire are the very catalysts of effecting real change. Alain Badiou’s theorising on the Event has much influence here and in many ways, Colvin’s safe zones could very well be seen as one of Badiou’s ‘Events’.
The pace of change is something that we have become accustomed to in this complex world, so much so that tiptoeing through incremental change can either pass us by (and therefore be erroneously and sometimes harmfully mistaken for stasis), or cause as desire for more irruptive measures.
This, however, should not be read as an excuse for legalising drugs, revolution or any other peremptory strike on society or the economy, merely a lean toward Beckett when he said, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better”. Trying to effect ideological change through titanic events that make the world sit up and notice can be detrimental and even harmful, but failing is what humans are good at, but progress cannot be made without it.