I started my FY writing class early this morning with a teaser about the debates
last night: who watched? next-day gut-level impressions?
The first comment in my 8:30 a.m. section: "George Bush came off as
really likable and genuine. He was angry at times, but he was real, like
somebody you’d meet at a bar. His vocabulary seemed more everyday.
He came right out and said ‘You can’t do that. The president can’t lead
Mm-hmm. Okay. The barstool intellectual stumble-de-do is exactly
the thing that worries some folks (although I won’t name specific names).
<loop> It’s a lot of work. You can’t say wrong war, wrong place,
wrong time. What message does that send? It’s a lot of work.
Six-party talks…if ever we ever needed China, now.</loop>
Students had great insights on the debates; they recognized nuance between
the candidates, articulated them with conviction that this election matters to
them. We shifted our attention after several minutes, even though some
students preferred a sustained conversation about the event over the other plans
for the hour. The connection, for us, came from the debate’s framed
emphases: foreign policy and homeland security. Homeland security
is particularly timely in these classes–the two I teach every MWF. The
courses are organized around questions involving spatial analysis–geographies
of exclusion, socio-spatial critiques of the campus and of hometown spaces, and
arguments about surveillance, privatization of public spaces, neighborhood
watches and localized security poses, perceptions of threat, and so on. In
fact, the second assignment is called, "Homeland (In)Securities."
So I wanted to move from the debates–how would we understand homeland
security if we could read the notion through last night’s debates alone?–to
our current, in-progress projects on hometown spaces, memory work, strangers and
safety, contested zones, etc.–how can we extend the idea of a controlled
surrounds (in the debates, taken to the limits of the globe, empirically
exhaustive) to the material-spatial patterns of policing, security,
"known" threats and deliberate municipal designs aimed at thwarting
I grumbled about Mike Davis’s "Fortress L.A." article (from City
of Quartz), earlier in the week, but I’m doubling back on those doubts now
that the classes read the chapter. Davis adopts a term I’m growing ever
more fond of as we move ahead with spatial analysis–archisemiotics.
Basically, Davis argues that L.A.’s architectural development implies
unambiguous messages about social homogeneity in the urban center. If we
accept the latency of meaning in the city-scape (buildings, barriers), reading
spaces becomes a process of seeing significance in spatial design as it
determines who can go where, when, for how long, etc., and imposes a character
on the peopling of the space, its social flows–viscocities. It makes
structures rhetorically significant, inscribing them to their perimeters with a
sentience–not unlike, according to Davis, the eerie, systematized conscience of
the building in Die Hard.
I suppose there’s a whole lot more to it than I can exhaust here and now–or
than I’d even care to considering I have one helluva cold. I just wanted
to register an few thoughts about teaching at SU this semester–because I
haven’t yet–and, too, comment on last night’s debate. The cross-over this
morning, even though I’m not teaching courses with an explicit focus on the
election, was striking–even exciting; it was a pleasant reminder that I’ll
never be too busy to savor moments when students are brilliantly conversant with
each other over hard questions.