Textures of Urban Discourse: Reassembling the Relegated (Extract) Rough | Start Hands climb curved silver railings with blemishes of cloudy prints; a cold sensation travels through narrow fingertips dissipating into a wider plain of fine-lined skin; off-white bone nails tap dance into air. An attached torso passes pallid rectangles sweating with gloss and faded chestnut bricks clumsily bordered by escaping cement smears as bending legs crease cotton-elastane trouser threads in a canter down the steps. Each side continuously battles to be in front of the other; neither is ever victorious. Rubber soles chatter with tawny tinged square tiles, circular nodes and a less than optimistic yellow warning strip. After an arduous two-minute wait, a humming light crawls through distant ink-darkened walls abruptly followed by two piercing beams daggering the cylindrical projection of the tunnel; a decelerating rattle jolts to a holt with the screeching tune of fingernail-dry blackboard drags pitched at slightly different angles. Familiar dots of sound signal minor panic - the body retorts. Hastily hopping across grey matter - concrete to plastic turf - weight leans through muscles and stretches fibrous tendons then sloppily rests to a biased slouch. Sightline surveys limbs escaping seats of compartmentalised bodies ungraciously sharing floor space with oncoming lime laced forest green Nikes, grey suede bowed flats, chequered black and white chessboard pumps, DIY worn steel-ended boots, silver-cream rainbowed trainers and black heeled sandals holding salmon painted toes. Two red-faced lovers who always make up after quarrelling seal lips and suction kiss the space. As the static engine widens its yawn into action – interrupted by sporadic jarring hiccups - patriotic white and blue blur with the aforesaid into a squint of pale purple; reverberating internally, grey blubbery joints slackly give permission for carriages to move North East to North West, contouring elbowroom as the journey folds into infinity. A select centralised window swallows in rodent spores and toxic iron oxides as calculated camouflages containing decades of microbial commotion devour the fresh arrival. Shuffling away from surfaces, glass refractions begin to form deceiving shapes of self in a marathon race with an intricate database of wires, pipes, lines, leads, cables and cords. Electric signals seem to shoot across synapses and tangle into the nervous system of interior intestines. An anonymous announcer reads redlight – the current blunts and bleeds energy into the arena. Plump luggage, chiffon newspapers – one with blue capital letters filling a nearly completed crossword – freshly bound books and multiple smart-not-so-smart-phones absorb the spillage. Voids between armrests are politely unaware of the turbulence. On a background of midnight blue, fuzzy thin side-by-side magenta-rose-pink and cobalt-yellow-shamrock-green rectangles form an unsure era of repetitious squares, squeezing optical illusions as the machine stretches into movement again. Tones of air dimmer in density. At the chorus break, a forceful crescendo of congested nostrils and mouths with potent notes cramp into the cabin clashing in an uncomfortable orchestra of extended arms and compressed belongings. Stringed between two-dimensional expressions, aggravated eyes and wearied postures, off-key registers form the monotonous Monday movements of subterranean London. ‘In the ebb and flow of the crowds sucked in and crushed together by the coming and going of suburban trains, coughed out into the streets, offices, factories, there is nothing but timid retreats, brutal attacks, smirking faces and scratches delivered for no apparent reason’ (Vaneigem, 1967, p. 29). Belgium born theorist Raoul Vaneigem refers to a story of Jean-Jacques Rosseau being mocked by a villager amongst jeers of residents as he travelled through a settlement; confused and with little to reply in the moment, Rosseau was to spend hours afterwards generating thousands of possible sharp responses, conjured too far in the physical distance to ever be verbalised in front of the joker. Paralleling this ludicrous adventure to the most trivial incidents of daily life in a diluted form, Vaneigem situates the transient steps, glances and thoughts which barely register in consciousness as the endless rhythm of everyday humiliating human relationships, lingering in the mind as ‘dull irritation[s]’ (Vaneigem, 1983). Such disposition is analogous with French philosopher Guy Debord’s concept of the spectacle; in Society of the Spectacle 1967 Debord discusses how the conditions of modern societal production have resulted in life being ‘an immense accumulation of spectacles’ (Debord, 1967, p. 7), an abstract representation of everything that is directly lived. Both Vaneigem and Debord were principal members of the Situationist International (SI), an organisation of social revolutionaries composed of avant-garde artists and political theorists running from 1957 to 1972. With roots in the 20th Century art movements Futurism, Dadaism, Surrealism, CoBrA, Lettrism – often nonsensical, non-rational and playfully subversive in nature – the Situationists attempted to amalgamate a diverse field of theoretical disciplines to critique advanced Capitalism – a proliferating economic mode emulsifying human relationships and reinforcing exploitative Bourgeoisie class structures predicated upon racial, gendered and environmental violence – through anti-authoritarian Marxism. The SI opposed all ideology, conceiving all doctrines as abstract superstructures serving economic-bases while acknowledging Situationism itself as an absurd and contradictory concept. The group sought the abolition and realisation of art, favouring an experience outside of the conditioned; transcendence.
Building on Georg Lukács and Henri Lefebvre, Debord viewed the spectacle not as a collection of images, but as ‘social relations among people that is mediated by images’ (Debord,1967, p 7); there is no separation between what is regarded as ‘real’ life and the false represented one, as its dominating capacity causes the degradation of the self from being into having and ‘having to appearing’ (Debord,1967, p. 11) through pervasive commodity relations. For Jean Baudrillard, consumption is not merely a quantity of goods, it is ‘a systematic act of the manipulation of signs’, a semiotic activity pointing to an internalised classification system of social order while providing an illusionary sense of liberty (Baudrillard, 1968); (Baudrillard and Poster, 1988, p. 25). While green pebbles are pulverised, multicoloured limbs are stretched to splinters or frozen frigid by machines and what is left of bodies collapses into computerised clothes; fanatic Facebook feeds, insidious Instagram images and toilet tweets compulsively continue to screen counterfeit versions of self-completion. Any sense of expiry date in mainstream culture is over-salted with sugar, often acquired from the proletariat. Crumpling into commodities, one unconsciously assumes significance within the psyche through multiple social signifiers – unequal acquisition of material possessions marries achieved and acquired statuses, exaggerating the Lacanian mirror of one’s worth outside of the self as subject becomes indistinguishable from object. (Lacan et al., 1998). Self-expression is disappointingly read within the parameters of taste and affordability; its composition confounded the more dominant needs of desire are contemplated as one becomes an insatiable spectacle of their own life. Such desire is also altered by incubations of fear perpetuated through the relationship between power and ‘knowledge’. In Discipline and Punish 1975, Michel Foucault builds on Jeremy Bentham’s architectural design of the Panopticon - a central tower divided into cells in which persons inside cannot be seen but the observer can see all – to address the governing strategies for population control produced in institutions such as prisons and schools during the Industrial Revolution. These spaces distribute discourses of categories, concepts and typologies of communication focussing on individualised aims of correction; a person is aware of observation and therefore changes the conduction of their behaviour in relation to expectations of institution, taking on an imaginary responsibility for the power in a deceptive non-totalising manner (Foucault, 1991). Now embedded within arranged systems of distribution the need for surveillance or the application of external force is no longer needed to maintain power, ‘succeeded by internal policing’ (Fisher, 2009, p. 22). Rather than rigidity of centralised scrutiny, such conditions are slackened and highly distributed in today’s networked world, described by Gilles Deleuze as a process of ‘modulation, like a self-mutating moulding continually changing from one moment to the next’ (Deleuze, 1992, pp. 179–80); (Shaviro, 2003). Applicable to the technologically advanced corporate conditions of the city, modulation moves through camera glares and product propaganda stares to a ubiquitous system of data collection while tubular conveyor belts carry bodies through the daily home-work exchange. Habitual communal performances are subject to discipline inherent in the normative; the debit card is your oyster. As hard ‘facts’ and figures are passed from one system to the next, the global information economy of ‘knowledge’ burgeons. For Vaneigem, the dictatoriship of consumerism, cybernetics and the reign of knowledge encourages objective conditions of the time passing world; ‘In the realm of Power, mediation is the false necessity wherein people learn to lose themselves rationally…Quantification implies linearity. The qualitative is plurivalent, the quantitative univocal. Life quantified becomes a measured route march towards death’ (Vaneigem, 1967, p. 92). The qualitative – or its neighbour subjectivity - is embraced by American theorist Donna Haraway, who challenges the ‘sort of imperceptible conspiracy’ of dualistic, masculinist, disembodied and finalised bodies of scientific knowledge in Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective 1988. (Haraway, 1988). For Debord, humanity is in ‘a world that is really upside down, the true is a moment of the false’ (Debord,1967, p. 9), yet for Haraway, this (albeit abstract) topsy-turvy analogy is problematic, serving long standing Cartesian dualisms aligned to 14th-15th century Renaissance, a period of revived Roman and Greek (Platonian) classical humanist philosophy, and contemporary binaries of right and wrong, inside and outside, male and female, human and non-human, mind and body, idealism and materialism (Descartes and Cress, 1993). Haraway seeks to dissolve oppositions yet does not fully reject the notion of objectivity since ‘all language is tropic, including mathematical language’ (Gane, 2006, p. 153) – as such there remains a need to locate knowledge – she suggests the redefinition of complete objectivity to be replaced by situated knowledge within a context, whether it be historic, cultural, geographical, socioeconomic or anthropologic, a partially subjective language never to be understood universally. ‘Situated knowledges require that the object of knowledge be pictured as an actor or agent, not a screen or ground resource’ (Haraway, 1991, p. 198) - KNOWLEDGE is subjugated through networks of power, but Knowledge is singing (saliva and all), awareness of which rationally tunes the oppression of observation. While both Debord and Vaneigem are cautious of technological mediations as an additional layer of ‘reality’ and Situationist activity was focussed on direct action in the non-virtual world, Haraway embraces digital, mechanical and biological cybernetics ontologically in A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century first published in 1985. She questions the anthropocentric nature of being through the concept of the cyborg, a figure illegitimately born from ‘‘Western’ science and politics - the tradition of racist, male-dominant capitalism; the tradition of progress; the tradition of the appropriation of nature as a resource for the productions of culture; the tradition of the self from the reflections of the other’ (Haraway, 1985); (Haraway, 1991, p. 150). Simultaneously recognising and critiquing eco-feminisms orthodox partitioning of the oppressed maternal earth and paternal domination of technics, one of several dichotomies problematic of forming taxonomies and identifications of ‘the Other’, Haraway tensely shares French philosopher Bruno Latour’s nature-culture fusions, conceiving the cyborg in a postmodernist (or compost-modernist, as later explored), non-naturalist, genderless mode to be ‘a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction’ (Haraway, 1991, p. 191). Haraway dissolves rigid boundaries between animal-human-machine to address issues of class, race, disability, age, gender and sexuality through a reconfiguration of partialised language and an intra-sectional lens whereas the hegemonic hyperbole workings of Debord’s class focussed spectacle fails to take account of women and ethnic minorities (Jay, 1994, p. 431). Through Capitalist critique, the conditions of living within Debord’s pertinent yet ‘shallow’ spectacle will be deepened through Haraway’s cyborg as the oppression of the constituted ‘other’ – females, women of colour, workers and nature and animals - will necessarily be addressed. Elements of the spectacle could be seen to be synonymous with Haraway’s cyborg, particularly in relation to class alienation, cultural homogenisation and mass media, and furthermore Jean Baudrillard’s development of ‘hyperreality’, an amplification of commodity culture, collapsing sign and reality into technological simulation and virtual reality (Baudrillard and Poster, 1988). However, such approaches do not function at adjacent angles; hyperreality too embraces semiotic dualisms lacking analysis of the ‘real’ verses representational as abstract representation is a negative condition of capitalism, particularly in technologically advanced societies – Haraway’s weaving conception of reality embraces technologically lived social relations from a speculative feminist perspective as scientifically fictional, fantastical, factual, fabulated and figuring (SF), an important political construction constituting polluted notions of being (Haraway, 2016, p. 10). Such a monstrous concept is formed through networks of power between science, politics and technology yet it is often flatly applied to developments such as prosthetics and various forms of the virtual. However, this essay will position the complexity of cyborg identity politics alongside the techno-corporeal experience of city space and its articles – explicitly London – through an anti-spectacular approach – dérive – a practice of psycho-geography involving an experimental mode of behaviour of ‘drifting’ in contrary to the spirit of the accelerated modern urban environment. Considering the contemporary interface between technology and the body, an act of walking in opposition to authority seeks to imaginatively assemble overlooked objects within a critical socio-cultural context, ecologically entangling the political with the poetic through material-semiotic metaphors (and irony). A meander off-course will specifically explore the textures of the curiously abandoned York Road Tube Station, an almost-leftover node of modern infrastructure. Partial, cumulative and tangent reflections form the body of this essay as its meaning is enmeshed in its information processing and the cyber-woven boundaries between art and life begin to fray into one another, occasionally emitting the odd electrifying spark. Literary theorist Roland Barthes perversely describes dérive linguistically; ‘the pleasure of text is not necessarily of a triumphant, heroic, muscular type…My pleasure can very well take the form of a drift. Drifting occurs whenever I do not respect the whole, and whenever, by dint of seeming driven about by language’s illusions, seductions and intimidations, pivoting on the intractable bliss that binds me to the text (to the world).’ (Barthes and Miller, 1975, p. 18). Through the kinetic nature of language – beyond the prison of its own formulaic construction – one can be carried motionlessly through space and time, from the readerly to the writerly, beyond one’s own subject position, that of passivity to that of sensory enactment – necessarily destroying the Godly totality of an ordered argument. Barthes continues; ‘Drifting occurs whenever social language, the sociolect, fails me (as we say: my courage fails me). Thus another name for drifting would be: the Intractable – or perhaps even: Stupidity. (Barthes and Miller, 1975, p. 18). As dérive is reframed against determined, classed logic, Debord – sceptical of popular artistic ‘culture’ – upkeeps Dada’s anti-art of art, and curved-cornered keys jabbed by fidgeting fingers with poorly painted nails clumsily compose the words anti-essay, or anti-anti-essay.